We really need to revisit what it means to “follow” something or someone. While the word “repent” from our last Jesus Says lesson has fallen into general disuse, “follow” has become overused and diluted. We follow someone on social media in a loose barely touching kind of connection. We may follow a certain sport or team. But that “follow” runs the spectrum from a fully invested fan to someone who checks the latest scores every now and again. In a more specific way, we may follow someone down the hall or on the road. Although that may only mean we are traveling the same way at the same time. So, what does Jesus mean when He says “follow me”?
The gospels record many instances where Jesus invitingly commanded someone to “follow me.” Peter, James, and John along the shore of Galilee. Matthew/Levi at his tax collectors station. Phillip near Galilee. They all heard and followed. But not all who heard those words did. The Gospels also recall Jesus’ inviting command to the rich young ruler and another unnamed man that wished to first bury his father. They heard but turned away. It may seem that Jesus’ invitation to specific individuals doesn’t meet our “Jesus says” framework of general commands. Two thoughts on that.
The first is that “follow me” was a consistent call of Jesus to His disciples, whether they were named among the twelve or not. And by way of remembrance, the great commission which began this series is a call to “make disciples.” It would be perfectly natural and expected for “follow me” to echo throughout the ages.
There are also the other verses that contain “follow me” as an observational declaration instead of a straight up command. Consider, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27, NLT) And, “Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24, NLT) Lastly, “Jesus spoke to the people once more and said, “I am the light of the world. If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life.” (John 8:12, NLT) All of these verses connect with Jesus’ inviting command and provides understanding for what it means.
No, following Jesus is not following ala Facebook or even that of an ardent fan. This is a fully invested, life-on-the-line, feet in the game following. This kind of following is marked with intentionality, risk-taking, humility, and consistency. It requires investment and self-denial. The closest personal comparison I can relate to is my four years of High School football, but even that falls short. Military service is similar in many respects but following Jesus is not an exercise of uniformity but of conformity to Him.
Realizing that I may have left some behind let me circle back for a moment. Some of you may feel discouraged by that high bar of being all in. Jesus takes us where we are. I’m reminded of youth soccer and baseball programs. Especially those young ones that are on the field for the first time. Those who may not understand the rules of the game and may run the bases backward or shoot into their own goal. Who may get bored with the game and find other ways on the field to amuse themselves. But here’s the point they are trying, they are listening to their coaches, they are learning, and they are on the field instead of in the stands. Are you on the field?
Here’s the one big thing I’ve learned. Following Jesus is a day by day, moment by moment, cycle of listening and obeying. Each step taken with intentionality, humility, extreme grace, and fearless love. It means setting aside time; turning off our gadgets, tuning out the world, and focusing on Jesus. Reading the Word, praying, and listening for the Holy Spirit’s nudge. Following means turning our hearts towards Him as we encounter the joys and challenges of each day. Following means doing the stuff of Jesus, stuff within the limits of our humanity and those “greater things” which are empowered by the Spirit.
Jesus still calls “follow me” to all that have ears to hear.