Everyone is following something or someone. Who we are following says a lot about us. The key question therefore is who we are following. There are things that we very obviously choose to follow such as sports teams, political parties/politicians and celebrities. There are also less obvious things which we perhaps follow without realising, such as popular ideas pushed by the media or the influence of friends. In the world of social media, each of us following and being followed by others. Whether we realise it or not, social media companies hold significant influence over what we see. It’s big money to hold data on where we go and what we look at! Advertisements driven by that data are specifically targeted for maximum impact! We are continually facing choices about what it is that we are following.
The ideas of following and being followed were also common place in Jesus’ time, however they looked somewhat different! In the New Testament the word follow is used 148 times in the NIV. Of that number 109 occurrences appear in the Gospels or book of Acts. In Jesus’ time it was normal for Jewish Rabbi’s to have followers. These followers would hang on their every word, follow in their steps and do all that they could to ensure that they missed as few pearls of wisdom as possible. It was not an occasional or intermittent relationship, but something that was intense and ongoing. I love the way that Rowan Williams describes it:
“To be a student of a teacher was to commit yourself to living in the same atmosphere and breathing the same air; there was nothing intermittent about it.”Rowan Williams, Being Disciples: Essentials of the Christian Life, London: SPCK, 2016, 1-2.
It is interesting to see how Jesus calls his disciples to follow Him. His encounters with Simon, Andrew, James and John offer us a crash course it what it means to follow Him…
Step 1: Come & See (John 1:35-42):
The first encounter Jesus has with Simon and Andrew is recorded in John 1. These verses describe an encounter between Jesus and John the Baptist. He sees Jesus and exclaims: “Look the Lamb of God” (v36). As a result, two of his disciples (Andrew & probably John) leave John the Baptist to follow Jesus instead.
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” 39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).John 1:35-42 NIV
When Jesus calls them later to come and follow it is a big deal, but Jesus’ first step in this passage is to call them to come and see. Jesus asks Simon & John what they want, and in response they ask where He was staying. Jesus invites them to come and hang out with him and they end up spending the rest of the day with Him. Some think it may have only been days, weeks or months until the encounter described in Matthew 4/Mark 1 when Jesus calls them to come and follow.
The 1st thing Andrew does was to tell his brother Simon about Jesus! I love the simplicity of his testimony, that they had found the Messiah. From now on Jesus says, Simon will be called Cephas / Peter. This was a first step for Simon, but it’s clear that Jesus recognises his potential from the outset. His new name was prophetic of who he would become, and what Jesus would ask him to do!
Step 2: Come & Follow (Matt 4:18-22):
Both Matthew & Mark record a near on identical encounter between Jesus and the four disciples – Simon, Andrew, James & John.
18 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. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him. 21 Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22 and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.Matthew 4:18-22 NIV
Jesus calls them to Come follow me and I will send you out to fish for people. He is very definite that they would do the following and Jesus Himself will do the sending. So what does it mean to fish for people? Jesus was speaking here with fishermen and Jesus used a fishing analogy to make his point. This was unique! He does not use the same analogy with others (e.g. Matthew the tax collector in Matt 9:9-13). My experience of fishing is non-existent and if I’m honest I don’t feel particularly motivated to change that. But this call is not so much about fishing, but about being the kind of person who invests their life in the people around them. We might not be a fisherman, but we are a *something*. Jesus wants to use us in whatever it is that we spend our time doing: that’s discipleship, and as we go about following Jesus, we gradually become more like Him so that others around us can see Jesus in us.
These disciples leave everything to follow Jesus and trusted Him to provide for their needs. Following Jesus is going to be costly perhaps even in the area in which we are most skilled or knowledgeable. For Simon Peter, this meant letting go of his life as a fisherman. It’s not that Jesus wants to tear us away from the things which we’re good at but rather that following Him must involve putting Him first. Their boats, nets, lines, & hooks were familiar to them and likely made them feel successful, safe, and secure. Jesus however would show them that He alone would be enough for them.
Three examples from later in Matthew’s gospel make this clear in the areas of family (Matthew 10:37-39), wealth and possessions (Matthew 19:16-30) and security (Matt 8:19-22). These are very hard hitting passages where Jesus puts His finger on the things that matter most to the people He is encountering. It is not that these are bad things in themselves, but it is possible for them to become ultimate things, and take the rightful place of God in our lives.
Step 3: Come and Step out (Luke 5:1-11):
Luke’s account focus’ mainly on Simon Peter and includes some different details. They aren’t necessarily inconsistent with Matthew/Mark, but it’s also quite possible that this was another occasion entirely when Jesus gave a similar call to come follow. It is particularly interesting that Luke records Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law immediately before this encounter contrary to the order in Matthew/Mark! If it is a subsequent event, then it would appear that they had gone back to what they knew – to fishing!
1 One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. 2 He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. 7 So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. 8 When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” 9 For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” 11 So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.Luke 5:1-11 NIV
Jesus sees fishermen washing their nets and decides to jump into Peter’s boat. He tells him to pull out into deep water and let down the nets for a catch. He would have been tired after an unsuccessful night’s work, but Jesus tells him to go back out! He’s also just cleaned his nets and they will need cleaning again if he heads back out. Simon Peter knows it’s crazy and it’s going to mean a lot more work, but he says: “But because you say so, I will let down the nets” (v5). In faith he obeys, even though in reality it was him, rather than Jesus, who was the expert. When they go back out, they find so many fish that their nets begin to break and they have to call for help. In response Simon Peter falls at Jesus’ feet saying: “Get away from me, Lord. I am a sinful man” (v8). This was huge – while he could have asked Jesus to join his fishing business, instead he tells Jesus to go away. Why? Did he think he would make life harder for Jesus? Did he feel too sinful? Did he just not want to change? I think it is this…that when we see Jesus as He is, we also see ourselves for who we really are. The right response to Jesus is to fall on our knees before Him. Peter did that, but he simultaneously tells Him to go away. We can all relate to feeling weak, inadequate or unprepared to follow Jesus. Yet throughout the story of the Bible, He never asks people to be the finished article – just to be willing to step out with Him in faith, and He will do the rest! Jesus responds by saying: “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people” (v10b). This was the moment when Jesus called them to follow Him. We know that they “pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed Him” (v11). They had spent their lives fishing for a living but now they would fish for people. Jesus then led them out fishing, where they could watch Him at work – to the synagogue, to people’s homes and to workplaces!
If Jesus called people based on any worthiness or merit on their part, then the reality is that no-one would be good enough. Instead, Jesus calls the disciples, and by implication people like us, because He loves us and because of all that He achieved at the cross. The gospel says that none of us are good enough in and of ourselves, but the cross changes everything. What a privilege it is to participate in the purposes of God being worked out, in and through our lives.
A lifetime of following
Following Jesus is a choice which we must actively make every day. After Jesus’ crucifixion Simon Peter denies Jesus three times, but later in John 21 Jesus reinstated him by asking him three times if he loved Him. Then Jesus commissions Peter to care for His people and He indicated the kind of death by which Peter would one day bring Him glory. Jesus then told to him to, “Follow me!” Peter looked around and seeing John asked: ‘what about him? (21:21)’ Jesus’ reply is fascinating; “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me” (21:22). In following Jesus we do not concern ourselves with what others are doing, but about our own following.
Jesus’ call today is for each of us and it is going to have big implications about who we marry, the career we pursue, what we do with our money, where we find our security and all sorts of other things too. Is Jesus enough for us? Are we brave enough to follow? If yes, then we should go with all our courage to follow Jesus throughout our lives. Your answer to this question will change everything!
See other posts in this series: Breaking the Mould
- Brave Enough to Follow
- A life of Abundance
- Living Distinctively
- Renovation of the Heart
- Above All Else
- Why Worry
- Building with Wisdom
- Faith, Fear and Doubt
- The Need of the Hour