Our passage for today describes how Jesus saw Peter & Andrew, and James & John, with their boats and nets and relatives, that He said to them, “Follow Me.” And they got up, left everything, and followed Him.
What would YOU do today, if Jesus Christ came to your office — or to your home — or stood before you in this church — and said, “Follow Me”? Let me tell you: HE IS!
I. THE CONSISTENT COMMAND TO FOLLOW
“Follow Me …”
Jesus’ repeated call to people was to FOLLOW Him:
— Here He commands both sets of brothers, Peter & Andrew, and James & John, to do the same thing: “Follow Me.”
— In Matthew 8 when some men were asking about being His disciples, He gave them that command: “Follow Me!”
— Then later in Matthew 9, He finds Matthew the tax collector (probably the author of this book) and He told Him: “Follow Me!”
— In Matthew 10, Jesus is speaking about the meaning of being His disciple, and He says, “And he who does not take his cross and FOLLOW after Me is not worthy of Me.”
— In Matthew 19 Jesus meets the Rich Young Ruler and after testing him about his money, He tells him: “Come, follow Me.”
— And at the end of the book of John, after Jesus had been crucified, and buried, and resurrected, and He appeared to His disciples, just before He left earth, He told Peter one last time: “Follow Me.”
Over and over and over Jesus told those He met in scripture: “Follow Me.” And this is what He commands us today, too. This is a consistent and vital part of what it means to be rightly related to the Lord. We are to follow Him.
II. WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “FOLLOW”?
A. Let me first tell you what following Jesus does NOT mean:
— Following Jesus doesn’t mean just going to church.
I think many people would foolishly say: “Yes, I follow Jesus; I go to church.” But just “going to church” is not following Jesus. Going to church should be a part of following Jesus; but there is much more to it than just that. You can go to church and not be a follower of Jesus at all. In fact, you can go to church and be possessed by a demon! In Mark 1, the Bible says Jesus went into a synagogue to preach, and :23 says there was a man in the synagogue with a demon who cried out against Jesus. So don’t take a lot of solace that you are a follower of Jesus just because you go to church. All kinds of people who belong to the devil go to church. “Going to church” is not the same as following Jesus.
— Following Jesus does NOT mean just believing in who He is.
James 2:19-20 tells us “You believe that God is one? You do well; the demons also believe and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” James says the demons “believe” in who Jesus is.
John 12:42 tells us “Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.” The Bible says these people “believed” who Jesus was; but they were ashamed to confess Him, and they were lost.
They weren’t saved because they didn’t FOLLOW Jesus. Just “believing” is not following.
Following Jesus does NOT mean you “like” Him.
There are several Twitter accounts I follow because I really like the quotes they post. There is an A.W. Tozer account (although A.W. Tozer is dead), they have someone who posts his quotes online, so if you “follow” him, you can read little one-line quotes from his books or sermons that they put on Twitter. So I “follow” him; I like to read his words.
BUT WE HAVE GOT TO UNDERSTAND TODAY: THIS IS NOT WHAT IT MEANS TO “FOLLOW” JESUS! “Following Jesus” means more than just “liking His words” and enjoying reading what He has to say.
B. SO WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “FOLLOW” JESUS?
For those first disciples, “following” Jesus meant literally, physically, leaving where they were and following Him wherever He went. Peter & Andrew and James & John all did that.
— :20 says Peter and Andrew “immediately … LEFT their nets and followed Him.” They literally left where they were and walked with Jesus.
— :22 says James & John did the same thing: “Immediately they LEFT the boat and their father, and followed Him.”
— Matthew did the same thing in Matthew 9:9. He got up from his tax collector’s office and walked after Jesus.
All of these men literally left what they were doing; left things behind, and started following after Jesus:
They left their jobs, they left their nets, they left their families, they left their priorities, they left their plans, they left their appointments, they left all kinds of things, to follow Jesus.
1. So we see that following Jesus means that we are going to do some things differently; that there will be some things we will leave behind.
Now we are in a little bit different situation today than those disciples were, in that Jesus does not physically stand before us, calling us to walk after Him. But let’s don’t lose too much in the translation. “Following Jesus” still means leaving some things behind, to follow Him in a brand new life:
— It means you leave behind the life you might have had planned, that was centered around you. When you follow Jesus, your life is about HIM; it is centered around Him. Now the question of your life is no longer not what you want to do; it’s what HE tells you to do. It’s no longer what you “feel” like doing; it’s what His word instructs you to do. Your life is not about what you can “achieve” here on earth, but what you store up in heaven. You are leaving behind your old way of life, to follow Jesus in a brand new kind of life.
— It also means you leave behind your sin. Following Jesus doesn’t mean that you can keep on doing whatever you were doing before, only now your sins are forgiven because you have Jesus to “clean up after you.” No, really “following” Jesus includes leaving behind your sin to follow Him in a new and holy life.
I pointed out on my blog this week that perhaps one of the most amazing displays of the grace of Jesus was when He dealt with the adulterous woman in John 8. Caught in the very act, and shamed publicly, Jesus told her: “Neither do I condemn you.” This is Amazing Grace — just like the song says! But don’t miss His last sentence to her: “Now go and sin no more!” Truly following Jesus does NOT mean you just go on and do whatever you want to, and Jesus will forgive you. No; following Jesus means imitating Him “who was tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Following Jesus means living a holy life, like He did. You leave your sins behind.
Years ago someone said if you look on the road behind Jesus and His disciples you will find all kinds of things that were left behind:
— there were fishing nets left behind
— there was a boat left behind
— there were family members left behind
— there was a business left behind
— there was money left behind
— there were sins left behind
— there sinful partners and relationships who had to be left behind
— there was ego and selfishness and self-centeredness left behind
— there were careers were left behind
Following Jesus means leaving some things behind. A good question you should ask yourself is: What have I left behind for Jesus?
— Are there some things you no longer do because you are following Jesus?
— Are there dreams you longer dream because you are following Jesus?
— Are there people you can no longer associate with because you following Jesus?
If you are really following Jesus, there WILL be things left behind in the road after you. It just makes sense: if you’re following Jesus it means you’re NOT following something else. It means you are leaving something behind. What have you left behind for Jesus? What SHOULD you be leaving behind, as you follow Jesus?
And although there is not a “physical Jesus” for us to follow here on earth like Peter & Andrew & James & John did, we see in some other places in God’s word what it means for us to “follow” Jesus:
2. Following Jesus means spending time with Him.
That’s one of THE most important elements of following Jesus. Walking with Him. Spending time with Him. That’s what the first followers of Jesus did. They just walked with Him; asked Him questions; listened to His answers. They just spent time with Him.
Mark 3:14 says that when Jesus called the 12 to follow Him, that He did it: “SO THAT (the purpose) they would BE WITH HIM, and that He could send them out to preach.” Jesus called His followers to minister — and we are going to talk about that presently — but FIRST He just called them to BE WITH HIM.
In fact, this is what salvation really IS. God made us to “be with Him” forever, but ever since the time of Adam & Eve, we have all sinned, and our sins separated us from God. If God hadn’t done anything for us, NONE of us would have ever been able to be with Him in heaven, because we have all sinned. But Jesus came, to die on the cross and pay for our sins, to bring us back to God, not just so we could be “saved”, but I Peter 3:18 says “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, THAT HE MIGHT BRING US TO GOD.” The whole purpose for which we are “saved” is that we might come back to God, to be WITH HIM.
So the big privilege of being “saved”, of “following Jesus”, is that we get to be with Him. That is what we are saved FOR. We will “be with God” forever in heaven, but we get to START being with Him right NOW, by faith, as we walk with Him in His word and prayer and worship every day.
This is the great privilege for which Jesus bought us for Himself with His death on the cross. But if you are not walking with Him every day in His word and prayer and worship, then you are not really following Him.
But following Him also means more than just spending time with Him. In Matthew 10 Jesus talks a LOT about what it means to really follow Him. Let’s look at some highlights of He said:
3. Confessing Him
— :32 “Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.” So part of what it means to follow Jesus is to publicly align with Him as your Lord & Savior. (Remember, this is just what those Jewish leaders in John 12 were not willing to do.) Today we do that first of all in baptism, which is like a “public notice” of our commitment to follow Jesus. And then God gives us opportunities all through the course of our daily lives, to stand for Him publicly. Do not back away in those times; claiming Jesus publicly is part of what it means to follow Him.
4. Becoming Like Him
— :25 “It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher.” So part of following Jesus is that we are to become like Him:
— first of all in our character, which we see outlined in the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12.
— then we are also to become like Him in our ministry. We are to follow Jesus by DOING the things that He would be doing in this world. Down in verse 23, we find the ministry of Jesus here on earth outlined for us: what did He do when He was here? (We are going to look at that passage in depth in a couple of weeks). But make no mistake, “Following Jesus” means doing what He did when He was in the world: “worshiping God, and serving Him by reaching, and teaching, and caring for people.”
5. Loving Him
— :37 “He who loves father and mother more than me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me.” Jesus says we are not to love anyone or anything in this life more than Him — so part of following Jesus is LOVING Him.
When you are really saved, you don’t just “fill out a card”; you fall in love with Jesus. I Peter 1:8 says “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls.” When you really get saved, Peter says, you LOVE Jesus for who He is, and for what He has done for you. A big part of “following” Jesus is just LOVING Him. Just like Mary, whom Luke 10 says just sat at the feet of Jesus, loving Him, and listening to His word.
All these things are part of what it means to “FOLLOW” Jesus: it means we leave some things behind; it means we confess Him publicly; it means we spend time with Him, becoming like Him; it means we do the things that He did when He was here on earth, and that we just LOVE Him!
If that is what it means to “follow” Jesus, can you say that you are following Him today?
— Have you confessed Him publicly in baptism, and do you continue to confess Him in front of others when situations arise?
— Do you spend time with Him in His word and prayer and worship? Are there times when you just “love Him” and sing to Him — not in church, but when it’s just you and Him, because you really love Him from your heart?
— Are you becoming more like Him: more humble, more dependent upon Him, more holy?
— Are you doing what Jesus would be doing in this world? Are you going where Jesus would be going? Listen: if you are not going where Jesus would be going in this world, and you are not doing what Jesus would be doing in this world, then in what sense can you really say that you are “following” Jesus?
“Following Jesus” means a whole lot more than just clicking a button on Twitter or Facebook. It means leaving your old life — and all kinds of other things — behind, as you confess Him as the Lord of your life, and base your whole life around Him.
III. WHAT WILL HAPPEN AS YOU FOLLOW
“And I will make you fishers of men.”
As you follow Jesus, your life is all about Him. As we have seen, HE will be the center of your life. But as you follow Him, He is going to give you ministries to PEOPLE. He said “I will make you fishers of MEN.” As you follow Jesus, PEOPLE will become the focus of your ministry.
That was true of Jesus when He walked here on earth. He was all about reaching and teaching and caring for people:
— He said “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” (Luke 19:10)
— When James & John wanted to call down fire from heaven to kill some people who wouldn’t take Jesus & His disciples in, Jesus rebuked them and said “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of. I did not come to destroy men’s lives, but to save them.” (Luke 9:56)
— Jesus said He came for the purpose “to give My life as a ransom for many.”
And on and on. Jesus came to glorify God — He was all about His relationship with His heavenly Father. But His ministry here on earth was all about touching PEOPLE, in all kinds of ways.
We need to remember that. Following Jesus will lead you to minister to the people Jesus loves.
— Following Jesus is not just about “learning facts.”
I Timothy 1:5 says: “The goal of our instruction is LOVE from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” He says all the reading and studying of God’s word that you do, is to grow you in LOVE! If your study of God’s word does not make you love God and love His people more, then you have missed the whole thing!
I shared last week about how I had memorized the first 5 Psalms and the last 5 Psalms, and that’s good, but listen: scripture memory is not an end in itself. If my scripture memory does not impel me to love God more and minister to His people better, then I am no more than a 21st century Pharisee! Following Jesus isn’t just about learning a bunch of verses or facts; it’s about loving people!
I have read where many of our school teachers these days are grieved by the emphasis that has been placed on the end of year test results. They assert that education is more than just being able to give answers on a single test. And I believe many of us are sympathetic with that sentiment.
But we also need to understand that this is true of Christianity as well. Christianity is not some big “school” where we have to learn all these “right answers” to spew out on a test when we get to heaven. We are to get into God’s word every day for the purpose of learning to love HIM and love His people like He does. And if we’re not doing that, then we’re missing it. Following Jesus is NOT just about learning a bunch of facts.
— Following Jesus is also not about ministering to a building. Many Christians make that mistake. They make their religion all about the building — constructing a beautiful facility, keeping it up, and making sure it stays beautiful — as if the “building” was what Jesus called us to minister to.
I know of a church that years ago, that had a young pastor come, and he led the church, which had been dying, to reach out to their community, with flyers and invitations for people of all colors to come to their Bible school — and literally hundreds of people came from neighborhoods all around. This went on for several years. Then the pastor left, and some time later he went back to visit the church, and it happened to be during VBS week. And as he walked around, one of the church members said to him: “Do you notice how quiet it is?” He said yes, in fact he did. Then they said to him: “Yeah, this is such a great VBS this year. It is a lot quieter around here, and the church is a lot less messy than it was before, since we didn’t go out and invite all those kids from the neighborhoods”!
Listen: if following Jesus is all about keeping our buildings clean, then let’s just lock the doors and keep ALL the people out. We can keep it really nice and tidy then! But Jesus didn’t call us just to maintain nice, quiet, beautiful, clean buildings. He didn’t say: “Follow Me, and I will make you keepers of buildings.” He said, “Follow Me and I will make you fishers of MEN.” Now: we DO use buildings for Kingdom purposes, and we should build them as we need them, and we should keep them as beautiful as we can for God’s glory — but we also need to make sure we don’t get distracted: it must never be about the buildings themselves but the PEOPLE God called us to reach, and teach, and care for, in those buildings. Following Jesus is not about buildings, it’s about people.
The same thing is true of money. Just like buildings, money is something we USE for God’s work, to minister to people. But we aren’t here to stockpile money. We don’t live for the world’s “bottom line.” If you think the “bottom line” of our church is the amount of money we have in our general fund, you’ve got it wrong. Our “bottom line” is the way we touch PEOPLE for the glory of God.
I love the last scene in the old Jimmy Stewart movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” George Bailey had tried all his life to “make something of himself” and make some money, and get out of Bedford Falls. But in the end, when everything came crashing down on him, it was all the PEOPLE he touched and helped, who came back to bail him out. And he realized: life is not about money; it’s about the people you touch with your life.
That’s what Jesus is saying to us here. He says: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” And this one of the ways we can really evaluate ourselves. How are we doing at following Jesus — how can you really know? One of the best ways you can know is by this: Are you fishing for men, like Jesus said we would if we were following Him? Are you reaching people? Are you discipling people? Are you caring for people? Are you touching PEOPLE with your life? Jesus said that’s what following Him is all about.
After Jesus’ death and resurrection, He took some time to talk with Peter about all he’d been through, and how he had denied Him three times. And at the end of it all, Jesus said to him: “Follow Me!” Peter had some questions; he had some things he wanted to know; he wondered what was going to happen to John, but Jesus said to him, “What is that to you? You follow Me!” “Follow Me.” When all was said & done in the Gospels, Jesus’ command was the same to Peter as it had been when He first found him here in Matthew 4. It was still: “Follow Me.”
And I have no doubt that this is what Jesus is telling us today too. You don’t have to sit there today and wonder, “If Jesus were standing right here, what would He say to me, today?” You don’t have to wonder that; we KNOW from this scripture what He would say to you — Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever — His message would be the same to you today, as it was over and over and over again in His word: it’s “Follow Me!”
— Some of you here today can call yourselves followers of Jesus — and you really ARE — but the truth is, you have not been actively “FOLLOWING” Jesus for some time now. Some time ago, you stopped. I don’t mean you stopped going to church — you may or may not have — but the truth is, you stopped really following Jesus — walking with Him daily; getting HIS direction for your life; doing what He would do in the world; ministering to people. You never retire from that. But today, you are hearing His voice again — and it’s saying to you the same thing He said the last time you heard from Him: “Follow Me.” Respond to Him. Tell Him: “Yes Lord”. I’ll get back behind You, and I will follow You again.
— Or maybe you’d say you’re a follower of Jesus, but there is just a particular area in which you have not been following Him, and today He’s telling you in that area: “Follow Me.”
— Maybe you are His follower, but you have not confessed Him in baptism
— Maybe you are not spending time with Him every day — one of the most important reasons He called you to follow Him in the first place!
— Maybe you are not becoming like Him in some area of your life; you’ve been content with the same sin, and He’s telling you, if you are really going to follow Me, you are going to have to leave that behind. Ask Him to give you the grace & strength to do that today.
— Or perhaps in some ways you’ve been a pretty good disciple, but you have gotten sidetracked, and you have not been ministering to PEOPLE like Jesus did. You aren’t witnessing; you aren’t making disciples & teaching; you aren’t helping and caring for people — the very ones Jesus came to serve. And He’s saying to you again: “Follow Me” — and let’s minister to people together as you follow!’
— Or maybe you have never really followed Jesus for the very first time. You can follow Him right now, if you are willing to turn from your sin, and turn to follow Him as your Lord & Savior. Pray and ask Him to help you do that, right now!