Could you do it? Could you do what these fishermen do? Just give up everything— in an instant(!)— and Go Follow Jesus?
Did that question linger in your mind after going through our gospel reading? You watch how these four fishermen act. They are busy working, Jesus appears, and they go follow him. You almost automatically compare your life to their actions— and as you do, maybe you’re not so sure you could do the same thing.
It’s tough, isn’t it? It sounds like Jesus is asking a lot. Come, Follow Me. You flip through a mental checklist of your responsibilities. You have a home. You have a family. You have obligations at work, at school, at home, with friends. You cannot abandon all things! And maybe that adds to the queasy feeling inside. Come, Follow Jesus? I can’t! It requires too much!
Understand, Jesus is not asking you to sell your house, abandon your family, leave your city, and become a missionary in the some remote corner of the world. That’s not what he means when he says: ‘Come, Follow Me.’ In fact, he does not even place that demand on these fishermen either. You know that because you see them fishing.
This is not the first time they meet Jesus. The first time they met Jesus was in our reading from last week; Jesus calls them to be his disciples. Andrew and Peter recognize Jesus as their spiritual Leader. Then Jesus adds even more followers. He approaches Philip and says: Follow me (John 1:43)— and he does! Philip rushes off to his brother, Nathanael, and gushes about finding the Savior (1:45). Nathanael trudges back with Philip to meet Jesus, only to hear Jesus say: I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you… and if you’re amazed I know that, then you will see greater things (1:48-50).
When we reach our reading today, these men already call Jesus “God” and “Lord.” They are his disciples, his followers. Now, you see them back home, back at work, separated from Jesus. It means this: Jesus’ call to ‘Come, Follow Me’ is not a command to abandon everything and become physically tied to him. The twelve disciples are not Jesus’ roommates for three years; they do not eat and sleep and live together. Instead, when Jesus says: ‘Come, Follow Me,’ these men maybe spend a week(?), a day(?), a few hours(?) listening to Jesus teach. When their time together reaches its end, they return home— back to their families, jobs, and responsibilities.
That call to ‘Come, Follow Me’ means devoting your heart to his teachings, making his Word the number-one priority in your life.
Maybe this is where it gets tough. ‘Come, Follow Me’ Jesus says. That means, hold to his teaching because you are his disciples (John 8:31). Hold to his teaching even if it puts you at odds with your family. Yet, how tempting to stand by, watch your child skip worship, and say nothing because you do not want to make them angry with you. How tempting to stay home from worship when family visits instead of making worship a priority—and inviting your family to worship! ‘Come, Follow Me’ Jesus says— even if it means placing me ahead of your family.
That means compare your thoughts, words, and actions to the Word of God. Follow God’s clear teaching even when you do not want to. Forgive, as God has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32)— even when that means forgiving a sibling who attacked your reputation first. Honor God with your body (1 Corinthians 6:20)—even when your mind tells you the way you live is harmless. Watch the words that come out of your mouth (James 3:10)— even when everyone else curses around you. ‘Come, Follow Me’ Jesus says— even when your heart does not want to obey.
That means spending time with God in his Word. ‘Come, Follow Me’ Jesus says, making me a priority. Yet, I can always make time to putter around the house, but when it comes to reading a small portion of the Bible, I instantly create endless excuses as to why I suddenly do not have time. ‘Come, Follow Me’ Jesus says, make me your number-one priority.
Could you do that? Just give up everything— in an instant(!)— and Go Follow Jesus? It’s tough— and so often the heart creates excuses as to why you cannot put Jesus first. “I have no time.” “I have family over.” “I’ll make time later.” It seems, well, that these disciples did not have so much to leave behind.
Did they? Just look at them. Peter and Andrew stand on the shoreline, throwing nets into the sea. You call that “work.” This is their job; they are fishermen. They are in the middle of the workday. And Jesus suddenly appears with three words: ‘Come, Follow Me!’
Do you think they had reasons to turn him down? The fish are biting— and if you know just one thing about fishing is that you want to be on the water when the fish are biting. This is not a hobby; this is their job. They need the fish in their net so that they can provide food for their families. Stopping now could impact their bank accounts! “Sorry Jesus, we’re working. We do not have time right now to put you ahead of our own personal schedule.”
Look at James and John. It appears they manage the family business. They have hired hands; they have people employed to work with them. Those two men need to be present to lead. “Jesus, it’s fishing time. We have to work now. We’re too busy. Can you come back at noon—when the fish have settled down? Can you come back in the evening—when we’re done for the day, have the nets folded and the boats pulled up on shore? Can you just come back at a more convenient time?”
See who else is in the picture. Zebedee— the father of James and John! He raised them! He helps them. And the boys respect him and watch out for his physical needs too. “Jesus, we cannot leave him. It would disappoint him. We need to be with family right now.”
Who could blame them if they made those excuses? Who could fault them for watching over job and family? Who could find anything wrong if they did request Jesus to return at a more convenient time? It sounds like there are more pressing matters than to hear Jesus speak at the moment! Yet, they still Go, Follow Jesus!
There’s nothing in our reading to suggest that their lives were simpler or less complicated than ours. There’s nothing in our reading which demands that you change your career to follow Jesus. There’s nothing in our reading to suggest they had nothing left to lose. It really leaves one lasting conclusion: the reason I have trouble putting Jesus first in my life is because I find Jesus to be too inconvenient.
I will follow only when his words agree with my thoughts. I will follow only when his words match what I feel is fair. I will follow only when his words agree with what I want to do. I will follow only when Jesus follows me. If I am truly honest with myself, I do not want to follow Jesus because I love this life more than him.
Jesus would have every right to close his mouth, take away his Word from my ears, and move on. He has every right to leave me following my own way and to be that wandering sheep who has gone astray, to turn to my own way. Instead, the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6).
Jesus comes to rescue me away from the destruction of my heart—and he accomplishes this mission by following the Word of God himself. Yes, Jesus is born under God’s Law (Galatians 4:4)—meaning, he, too, is expected to put God’s Word in the number-one spot of his life.
He does! Jesus makes the time to worship every week (Luke 4:16). When Mary and Joseph chastise Jesus for teaching in the temple, he explains that he must be in his Father’s house (Luke 2:49). In fact, the Word of God is his number-one priority even when it does not appear convenient. Religious leaders arrest Jesus because God’s Word offends them. Pontius Pilate sentences him to death because Jesus would not take back his teachings. Jesus suffers, is crucified, and dies because he treasures God ahead of his own life!
He does this so that he might remain perfect. He does this so that by his perfect life you may enter eternal life. God lays on Jesus your self-centered stubbornness and mine and Jesus willingly carries them to the cross. He pays for them with his life. By his life, we are healed.
Jesus put the Word of God in the number-one spot of his heart. God is pleased with this. He raises Jesus from the dead. He receives him into heaven. He places Jesus at his right hand. Now, Jesus reigns—just like he said he would do.
“The time has come… The kingdom of God is near.” The kingdom is near because it is in you. The kingdom of God is not a physical kingdom— with boundaries, a palace, troops, and a throne. The kingdom of God describes a king ruling.
In baptism the Holy Spirit placed a throne in your heart. Through the Word of God and the water, Jesus marches to sit on that throne. Now, he speaks from that throne and you listen. He orders and you obey. He warns and you avoid. He leads and you follow. You love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul— not because you must, but because you want to.
How could those disciples put Jesus ahead of work, business, and family? Well, when they saw Jesus, they saw him as he truly is: The One who leads them from this life to the next.
Imagine standing in a dark cave, miles below the earth. A guide stands next to you with a flashlight in hand; its brilliant white light pierces the darkness. You stand next him with no flashlight. Who would you follow to leave the cave: the guide or yourself? The guide with the flashlight will lead you out of the cave quickly and safely.
To Come, Follow Jesus is to follow the One who holds a light in his hand in order to guide you through this uncertain life. As your remain in the Word, in your Bibles, reading brief portions of it every day, your heart is filled with comfort and peace. You see Jesus ruling. You see Jesus prepare heaven for you. You see that he has been keeping his promises to be with you in sickness, as you parent, as you job-hunt, as you make ends meet. You see all these glorious things he has done for you.
So, you follow— even when it puts you at odds with your family. You know God’s Word is not meant to harm, but to lead all people to eternal life. You follow— even when it means you feel otherwise. You may feel that you can trust yourself, but God tells you that he will never fail you. You follow—even when it feels like you have no time. You discover that making God a priority will give you plenty of time to spend with him.
This is tough to do. Tough—not because of some fault of God. Rather “tough” because a part of us does not want to hear these words. Tough because we want to find some way around them. Tough because it calls us to live different. But that is who you are—different because Jesus rules your heart. With his Word taking center place you march on in life, hearing the call: Come, Follow Jesus.