COME, FOLLOW ME
#12 in the Series “All I Have Commanded You”
John 21:18-22: I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go." 19Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, "Follow me!"
20Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") 21When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"
22Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me."
Mark 1:16-20 16As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 17"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men." 18At once they left their nets and followed him.
19When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. 20Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.
As we come to the end of this series of articles that seek to encapsulate the entire teaching of the Lord Jesus, I want to give one final review for the purpose of trying to seal in your minds and memories the complete picture of His message. At the beginning, I suggested to you that the teaching of the Lord Jesus could be pictured as a wagon wheel, a wheel on which we are riding to Heaven. The wheel has a rim, a hub, and ten spokes. The rim of the wheel, the commitment through which the followers of Jesus relate to the World and all of its temptations, desires, and experiences is Matthew 6:33—1. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.”
I divided the spokes into two groups of five. The first group consists of those teachings in which Jesus calls us to a life that is both abundant and heroic:
2. John 3:7 “You must be born again”—in following Jesus we commit ourselves to allowing Him, His Spirit and His word to transform us and to keep on transforming us.
3. Matthew 5:48 “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect”—which is to say that compassion becomes the prime filter through which we related to others, because God’s perfection is centered on His compassion.
4. Matthew 18:35 “Forgive your brother from your heart”—As followers of Jesus we are committed to true reconciliation, offering sincere forgiveness because we don’t want to be under God’s judgment.
5. John 13:34 “Love one another as I have loved you”—Loving as Jesus loved means sacrificing my own desires and interests to seek what is best for the other person.
6. Mark 8:35 “Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, tand take up his cross, and follow me.”
The second group of five spokes involves the teachings of Jesus that call us to live in the freedom that God intends for us to have:
7. Matthew 11:25-30 “Come to me all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest”—Jesus offers us the freedom to rest from our labors.
8. Matthew 6:20 “Lay up for yourselves treasure in Heaven”--Jesus wants us to have freedom to have possessions, ones that we will never lose.
9. John 14:1 “Let not your hearts be troubled”--Jesus wants our lives to be free from anxiety.
10. Mark 12:17 “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s”--Jesus wants us to have freedom of conscience.
11. John 8:32 “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free”--Jesus wants us to have freedom of inquiry.
The final teaching of Jesus (or perhaps the first, if you believe that I have proceeded backwards) is the hub of the wheel. It is what ties all of the spokes together. It demonstrates that Jesus is not merely teaching what we should do, He is modeling a way of life for us. Right after Jesus begins to preach the Gospel in chapter 1 of Mark (which most Bible scholars consider to be the first Gospel ever written), He invites Andrew, Peter, James and John to “Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). The last instruction Jesus gives to Peterin the final gospel is “Follow me” (John 21:22). This same instruction is repeated in one way or another some 20 times in the four gospels, nearly balanced in number between them. This is to say that each Gospel writer understands this particular instruction of Jesus to be at the heart of His message.
If you understand that the instruction to “follow me” is the hub of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, the obvious question to ask is, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” I will answer this question a little more fully later, but observe that for the first disciples following Jesus meant simply to accompany him. They believed that God had entrusted Jesus with a mission, that Jesus (and not they) understood what that mission was, and that they needed to trust him to the degree that they walked with him wherever He went, to listen, to observe, and ultimately to repeat to others what they had witnessed.
In its simplest form, the instruction still means the same for us. Jesus has promised that he will always be “with us.” He is in the world through His Spirit and His People, preaching that the kingdom of God is near and shining the light of that kingdom into the darkness of this world. As Henry Blackaby has so effectively argued in his book Experiencing God the disciples of Jesus look to see where Jesus is at work in the world and they join Him in doing what He is doing. And where is Jesus most likely to be? In the same place that He has always been: where people are either suffering or in need.
I have never felt the need to oppose the “prosperity gospel”, because I do believe with all my heart that God protects, blesses, and prospers His children. At the same time, however, I remember that the way of Jesus is not the path of least resistance, but the narrow and difficult way, narrow and difficult because if we follow Him, we will forever find ourselves drawn not to comfort but to those who are starving, those who are in prison, those who are sick in soul and body, and those who are outcast.
Still, there is a second question: how can I know that I am following Jesus? How can I know that I have truly discerned where He is at work and joined him? Jesus himself said that there would be many false prophets who would lead his followers astray.
You will understand how tricky this question is if you apply it to Peter himself. What was the one moment when Peter began to truly follow Jesus? It would seem that the most obvious answer is that Peter began to follow Jesus when he left the nets beside the sea of Galilee after Jesus said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”
In the second sermon of this series I suggested that Peter had a whole series of experiences, any one of which could be understood as a “being born again” experience. Many of these could also be understood as experiences where Peter began to follow Jesus in a new and deeper way: walking on water, confessing Jesus as the Messiah, seeing Jesus glorified, denying Jesus, experiencing the Resurrection, seeing Jesus ascend to heaven, experiencing the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and finally the experience that Jesus prophesies in the passage I have quoted from John: Peter will ultimately suffer death for love of His Lord.
As I look at the life of Peter and his experience of accompanying Jesus, it seems to me that there are five progressive tests of what it means to follow Jesus. When you experience each level, each produces a greater and firmer conviction that you are indeed following Christ.
The first test is the experience of correction. “Those whom God love He disciplines.”
The second test is staying within the boundaries of the field of Christian freedom. Those boundaries are delineated by holiness, freedom, compassion, and truth
The third test demonstrates that I am following Jesus over the short term. When I am asking for guidance in decisions rather than asking for God to bless decisions that I have already made.
The fourth test demonstrates my following of Jesus over the mid-term. Over a period of time I see myself making decisions in different ways than I naturally would have. I see my decisions affected by Jesus´s teaching in distinction to human nature.
The fifth test demonstrates that I follow Jesus over the long term. I can know that I am following him if I find myself in places and situations that it would have been impossible for myself to find myself in without Christ.
Jesus alludes to the final level of following him when He says to Peter, “I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). The proof of our following Jesus is not the way we feel, not because we in our own effort are trying to imitate Him—ultimately, we know we are following Jesus when we have done things that cannot be explained any other way.
A significant result of following Jesus is that one comes to have a beautiful but unique spiritual identity—both as an individual and as a group. There really is freedom in Christ, and that freedom is apparent in the immense variety of legitimate and faithful Christian experience. One is tempted to say the greater the variety, the greater the faith. The skeptic or the spiritually immature will say, “How can Christianity be true if so many groups claim to represent it?” Jesus says “Whoever serves me must follow me” (John 12:26)—not a law, not a tradition, not a denomination, not a religion, but Jesus who goes to find every people, nation, culture, tribe, language, and human need. Is it any wonder that those who follow him should represent him with a vast variety of practices, organizations, beliefs, and disciplines? Anyone familiar with the teachings of Jesus would expect no less.