Follow Me – Part 1 of 4

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee he saw two brothers, Simon (also called Peter) and Andrew his brother.  They were fishermen, and were casting their nets into the sea.  “Follow me!” said Jesus.  “I’ll make you fish for people!”  Straightway they abandoned their nets and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-20 KNT)

Early in college I wanted to go to medical school.  I knew the path was long and arduous but I never have been one to turn back from a challenge.  I wanted to prove to everyone, especially the medical school admissions committee, that I could do everything.  I was enrolled in 21-24 credits in courses like Zoology, Organic Chemistry, Calculus, Observational Drawing, 20th century German Culture, Art and Architecture, Interpersonal Communication, Cellular Biology, etc.  I was involved in some extracurriculars.  I was the President, Vice President, Secretary, Treasurer and Publicist for five different school clubs, including the Honors Society.  I was going to medical school, especially with the 4.0 I was sporting.

Then Jesus began to move in my life in deep way.  Through a series of intellectual experiences (through reading), prayer, dreams and conversations it became clear that Jesus was calling me to follow him.  At first I thought following Jesus and my own career path choice were compatible.  I would simply be a medical missionary giving 1-2 months of my time to overseas missions each year.  I have since learned that our first choice and Jesus’ first choice rarely lineup.

I had no idea what it meant to “follow Jesus” in this way.  I talked with my pastor and he was concerned that I was going to drop out of school.  I had never even thought that was a possibility.  I spoke with some trusted mentors, Dean and Brian, who ministered on campus and they prayed with me.  I decided to change majors from Cellular Biology to Communication.

I was set.  I dropped all of my science classes and enrolled in several speech communication classes.  Like Peter who returned to fishing after Jesus’ death I got scared and returned to my pre-med route the day before school started.  Everything seemed okay, but i knew I was disobeying.  The first day of organic chemistry class was test of everything covered the previous semester.  I had earned a 98% the previous semester so I wasn’t worried.  I had the test in hand and began to look it over.  The questions were straight forward but there was one problem … I couldn’t answer any of them!  Literally I turned my test in blank.  It was as if my mind was erased.  I confessed my disobedience and withdrew from my science classes.  I realized that Jesus was not calling me to follow him on my own terms, but on his.  And his terms did not involve me going to medical school.

I imagine this is a lesson that Peter and Andrew had to learn as well.  Fishing is what they knew.  It was how they made their living.  One day, as he was walking along beside the Sea of Galilee, Jesus called out to them with two little words that changed their lives forever, “Follow me!”

Jesus’ command to follow him shows up several times throughout the gospels.  Here, Jesus tells Peter and Andrew that he will make them fish for people.  In another place he tells a would-be follower to “leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Follow Me – Part 2 of 4)  He simply tells Levi, “Follow me.”  He says if we want to follow him we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses. (Follow Me – Part 3 of 4)  Still, he says to another group of would-be followers to forget about having a home, bury dead family members or looking back. (Follow Me – Part 4 of 4)

With this command, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people,” we are dealing with an invitation so all encompassing it can be scary to accept it.  Jesus invites us to lay down our nets and follow him.  He is inviting us to set aside anything and everything we hold dear for a life of following him.  Three things are clear in this command to follow.  First, all we are guaranteed is Jesus.  Second, it involves gathering people.  Third, it is not what we had planned (or were even trained to do!).

First, Jesus invites us to follow him.  Not a denomination.  Not a charismatic, religious leader.  Not our self.  Not a set of doctrine, even if it is Christian.  As important as these things may be Jesus simply invites us to follow him.  We would do well to remember his words in the Gospel of John, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you!  The branch can’t bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains in the vine.  In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain in me.  I am the vine; you are the branches.  People who remain in me, and I in them, are the ones who bear plenty of fruit.  Without me, you see, you can’t do anything.” (John 15:4-5 KNT)

The goal of following Jesus is this, “… knowing him, knowing the power of his resurrection, and knowing the partnership of his sufferings.  It means sharing the form and pattern of his death, so that somehow I may arrive at the final resurrection from the dead.” (Philippians 3:10-11 KNT)

Second, the command to follow Jesus will involve people; lots and lots of people.  Jesus told his disciples, “I’m giving you a new commandment, and it’s this: love one another!  Just as I have loved you, so you must love one another.  This is how everybody will know you are my disciples, if you have love for each other.” (John 13:34-35 KNT)

Loving people is not easy.  Before we can love people we must learn to like them.  Before we can like people we must learn to enjoy people, to delight in God’s creation.  Perhaps this is how Peter understood Jesus when he wrote, “God has bestowed upon his, through his divine power, everything we need for life and godliness … So, because of this, you should strain every nerve to supplement your faith with virtue, and your virtue with knowledge, and your knowledge with self-control, and your self-control with patience, and your patience with piety, your piety with family affection, and your family affection with love.  If you have these things in plentiful supply, you see, you will not be wasting your time, or failing to bear fruit, in relation to your knowledge of our Lord Jesus the Messiah.” (2 Peter 1:3, 5-8)

Perhaps the church’s greatest evangelistic tool is a body that enjoys people, likes people and loves people in plentiful supply.

Third, following Jesus is rarely something we planned or trained for.  It is important for us to recognize this truth.  Too often we think our ways are God’s ways and that what we are doing is exactly what Jesus wants us to do.  We need to recognize though, that every time Jesus invites someone to follow him there is a change in agenda.  Simon and Andrew were invited to leave the family business and become unemployed, homeless apprentices to an out of work carpenter.  Levi was invited to leave a lucrative financial position for a small Father-Son business with no pay.  The man in the tombs was immediately sent home to become an evangelist among his own family.  The woman caught in adultery was told to go and sin no more.  None of these were qualified or trained to perform their new assignments.  Nonetheless, they obeyed.

We often fail to follow Jesus and gather people.  Sometimes we are afraid of failure.  Other times we are afraid of rejection or ruining our friendships.  More often then not, we fail to follow Jesus because we think we lack the necessary skills.  God’s Holy Spirit qualifies us along the way.  Our job is simply to obey and follow.

We may not be in the fishing business but Jesus is still in the business of calling disciples to follow him.  We must keep in mind that with the call, “Follow me!  I will make you fish for people,” comes the following:

  1. There is no guarantee but Jesus.
  2. It involves learning to enjoy people, so we can learn to like people, so we can learn to love people.
  3. It is rarely something we are prepared for; we must simply obey.

Let us pray,

Jesus, all we want is to know you and the power that raised you to life; to suffer and die as you did; so that somehow we, too, may be raised from death to life.  Help us to learn to enjoy people, to delight in them as you do.  Help us to like people so that we may love people.  Help us be a witness to you and the Father by the way we love one another.  Remove our doubts and fears about not be ready or qualified.  Instead, give us the grace to be obedient.  In your name we pray.  Amen.

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