“The quiet, passionate insistence of his ‘Follow me” is spoken to those with every power wide awake. If we let the Spirit of God bring us face to face with God, we too shall hear something akin to what Isaiah heard, the still small voice of God, and in perfect freedom will say, ‘Here am I; send me.” (Oswald Chambers).
The first direct encounter Jesus had with his disciples, and one of the last ones, both involved large catches of fish. The message Jesus left them, in both instances, was “Follow me…”
Jesus had already become well known, as he walked along the shores of the Sea of Galilee. Crowds pressed on him wherever he went. John the Baptist worked to prepare many people for the arrival of the Messiah, and some of those people recognized that Jesus of Nazareth was the One. The king had come and had begun to establish his kingdom.
Jesus was compassionate and willing to teach the crowds, those sheep without a shepherd. But he desired a small group of men who would join his ministry and walk with him day after day.
These would be the first disciples. He chose fishermen, tradesmen, and tax collectors. Not rabbis, scholars, or teachers.
“Come, follow me,” he said, “and I will send you out to fish for people” ((Mt. 4:19). Leave your nets. Leave the family business. Leave all other priorities you’ve had. Sell everything and give it all to the poor. Let the dead bury their dead. Just follow.
He didn’t tell them what to expect. He didn’t present an itinerary, a job description, or a benefits package. He didn’t hand them a contract to sign. They were to simply follow, no questions asked. They would learn as they went.
And learn they did. They learned to be followers, which is what disciples do. Disciples follow a teacher and his teaching, becoming wholly identified by it and with it.
When we follow a leader, we assume he is leading us somewhere. Where were the disciples following him to? Where was he headed as they followed?
Jesus was headed to his death, and then, to his resurrection. And he told his followers this: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Mt. 16:24; Mk. 8:34; Luke 9:23). Follow me into death and into resurrection life.
What a challenge! Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow, no questions asked. And if you’re not willing to do that, you’re not ready to be a disciple (Lk. 14:27).
If you want to minister to others, these are also the qualifications for leading and feeding his sheep. Loving him enough to be willing to abandon all and lead while following.
Jesus wasn’t fooling or playing. But he did make one pretty great promise in the deal:
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Follow the light, he says. It doesn’t mean that you’ll always know what you’re doing or where he is leading you to, just that you won’t stumble in the darkness along the way.
Is that enough? Can we trust him to lead, even when we know he’s leading us toward death to our own wishes and ambitions? Death to all that we have counted on to make us feel safe? Death to the philosophies of the world that creep in to corrupt us?
And maybe even literal death for being a follower. Most of those first disciples, after spreading the gospel of Jesus far and wide, were martyred for doing so. Are we prepared for that?
As I tune into the news these days, even for a minute, I cringe and have to turn it off. Almost all of what is being said and done in the public realm, amidst the crowd, only distracts from my commitment to walking the path of discipleship.
Some people can be deeply involved in the kingdom, and deeply engaged in politics at the same time. I think I’ve done it at times, but I recognize that in this particular season, I can’t.
Attending to current events doesn’t help me in my following. I can’t risk taking my eyes off the feet of the one who walks just ahead of me, showing me the way. I suspect I’d quickly fall into a deep, dark ditch.
Lord, I’ll leave my nets. Without you, I fish all night and come up empty. With you, my nets burst with all that you provide, and I am satisfied.
Let me never stop following you.