On following

What does it mean to follow? How is it that we are to follow something, or Someone, we can’t see? I think that the only way we can find this out is to look at what the Bible, or God’s word, tells us. Let’s look at a few examples of what it means to follow Jesus.

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20 NIV emphasis added)

Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him. (Mark 2:13-14 emphasis added)

I find it amazing that these men, these first disciples, dropped everything to follow Jesus. They left their homes, their lives, their families, their dogs, their comforts, they left everything. There must be some cost to following Jesus then, right? It is a cost worth paying, in my eyes.
Here is an example where a man says he wants to bury his father before he follows Jesus, and another where he first wants to say goodbye to his family. Let’s see what Jesus said in response to both men –

He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62)

As you can start to see – there is something more God is calling us to here. We aren’t called to say He is our lord, and go on with our lives. His disciples didn’t do that – they followed Him, they lived life for Him, they gave their lives to him.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done. (Matthew 16:24-27)

Jesus is saying here that we are to deny ourselves – deny our wants, our desires, our dreams even. We shouldn’t look to gain any material thing from this world, because that isn’t what matters. What matters is the will and desires of God’s heart. But, He goes on to say that by losing our life (denying ourselves), we will find our life. I believe He means that we will find our new life, the life we are called to live for Him.
Take this for example – Jesus is telling His disciples that He will be killed in the near future, right before He talks about us losing our life, and Peter jumps up, pulls Jesus aside and rebukes Him. He tells Jesus that this, the will of God, will not happen. Jesus responds by saying, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns (Matthew 16:23)” It is fairly apparent that we should keep our eyes and hearts on God’s wants, and not our own. Otherwise we risk being called an adversary to God, for that is what Satan means – adversary.
I fully believe that these verses point to God calling us and us responding without hesitation. It’s a scary thought to think God wants us to drop our wants, our desires, our lives even, to follow Him. I think what is often left out of our evangelism is the cost of following Jesus. For, there is one.
Some may be shaking their head in vehement disagreement at this point – saying, “That’s not it! That’s not it, I say!” Our flesh has a funny way of deceiving our minds. Don’t let yourself be led astray by it, subdue your flesh and your mind. Make it obey God’s calling for your heart. Some may even be shaking their head in agreement. Are you following Jesus’ call?
God wants us to prosper and He wants us to have heart-joy. By following His will and His call, whatever it may be for you (teaching, going on missions, visiting the sick, clothing the needy), we will prosper and find joy. We will be taken care of.

Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?
“Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:22-33)

What I am reminded of is the epic tale of The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R Tolkein. In it, there is a band of people who are on a mission to save the lives of MiddleEarth from the evil wielded by Sauron(I believe this is the right name). They fight all kinds of evils and go through all kinds of hardships because of this mission they are on. They strive on, because they know it is the only hope they have to save all. We have a mission or quest much like this one. Better still, it is one given to us by God. Yet there is still more! We have the promise of being taken care of by the One who can do all. Many are called to this mission, but not all will go on it.

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”(Luke 14:16-24)

This is a parable told by Jesus, and I take it to mean that some of those who are offered the mission will make excuses to not do it. Jesus wants His house to be full when the banquet starts. Which brings us to the mission. We should be filling His house for Him. We are the servant.
To be clearer on what the mission is, let’s go to Jesus after His resurresction from the dead –

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

“Go and make disciples of all nations…” This is called by many “The Great Commission” and I fear that some believe this to be the sole responsibility of the apostles of Christ, to which He spoke this verse. I ask then, how are they who are dead going to fill Jesus’ house for the banquet? Others may say that this is only for certain people, and not for everyone. However, we are all apostles of Christ if we accepted His calling and are to follow him. This verse may connotate that we are to go on missions to other nations and make disciples of them. If you don’t feel called to doing that – the United States is a nation…
Paul tells us that we each have a gift, whatever it may be. It may be the gift of teaching, it may be the gift of healing, it may be the gift of preaching, it may be the gift of visiting the sick, it may be the gift of feeding the poor. Whatever it may be – it is your gift. I do not think it is a gift given us to make any one person better than another. But, I do think it is a gift given to us to give to another. We should use our gift, and by using it, help the church body (no matter denomination) fulfill the great commission. Deny yourself and make time for your gift to be given to others.

7 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts. (1 Corinthians 12:27-31)

Paul goes on to say that love is the greatest [to be given]. My point is that we all have a part to play, if we so choose, in God’s plan. Follow Jesus. Know Him like you know no one else.

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)