Have you ever done anything completely unexpected, unplanned, sudden, extreme? Something that others would think crazy or irrational – and perhaps your husband, your wife or your parents might agree with those others! Let’s look at some people who did that sort of thing because Jesus called them to follow him.
Some of the examples are well-known: Peter and Andrew were casting a net into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus said “Follow me!” (Matthew 4:18-20; Mark 1:17-18). They were in the middle of productive work, yet they left their nets and followed him.
James and John were with their father mending their nets when Jesus called them to follow him (Matthew 4:21-22; Mark 1:19-20). Immediately, they left the boat and their father and followed Jesus. How did their father Zebedee feel? Was he pleased? Surprised? Angry? Later we read of Zebedee’s wife also following Jesus, but never Zebedee himself. He may not have been so happy with his sons, and possibly not with his wife either.
Matthew was busy at his tax collector’s booth when Jesus said “Follow me” (Matthew 9:9; Mark 2:14; Luke 5:27-28). He was doing important work, even if it wasn’t popular. What did he do with the money he had already collected that day? Did he get someone else to take over his work? Whatever happened, we know that he followed Jesus.
In John 1:43, Jesus found Philip and said “Follow me”. He was already away from his home in Bethsaida (John 1:44), probably because he was listening to John the Baptist’s teaching. He followed.
We also have some less well-known examples of Jesus telling people to follow him, and of others offering to follow him. It’s worth looking at what we know of them.
Once, Jesus was about to leave a certain area in which had been preaching. As he told his disciples that he wanted to cross over the Sea of Galilee, an expert in the law said that he would follow Jesus wherever he went (Matthew 8:19-20). Jesus warned him that he, Jesus, had nowhere to sleep, so it wouldn’t be easy. Following Jesus is still not easy, although it’s not necessarily because of not having anywhere to sleep. Jesus also said that anyone who wants to follow him must pick up his own cross and carry it while he follows Jesus (Matthew 16:24; Mark 2:14; 8:34; Luke 9:23).
A cross was only ever used to kill people.
‘Your cross’ was the cross on which you would be killed.
Jesus knew what was coming for him – death on a cross – and he tells us that anyone who won’t take up his own cross and follow Jesus is not worthy of him (Matthew 10:38).
Jesus did things every day that made his death inevitable. He corrected the religious leaders, he criticised hypocrisy, self-righteousness and greed; in doing so, he was taking up his cross and walking to his death. Do you want to be worthy of him? Then do what he did, by seeking the kingdom of God above everything else. If we do the same, we are taking up our cross and following Jesus.
At much the same time, Jesus told another man to follow him, but he replied that he had to go and bury his father first. Jesus told him that he should leave the dead to bury their own dead (Matthew 8:22; Luke 9:59-60).
Another was willing to follow Jesus, but first wanted to go and say goodbye to his family. Jesus said that nobody who put his hand to the plough (ie. by agreeing to follow Jesus) and turned back was fit for the kingdom of God (Luke 9:61-62). Our spiritual direction must come first, and sometimes that will cause painful separation from our family.
There was one occasion where someone wanted to follow Jesus and Jesus said ‘No’. This man had a problem like schizophrenia and was cured by Jesus. At that time, the locals asked Jesus to leave and the man wanted to follow him. Jesus told him to stay and tell others about what God had done for him. Possibly this was because if Jesus left as the populace had asked, there would be no-one to preach unless the man stayed and did the preaching himself (see Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-39).
Matthew 19:16-22 is a well-known story about a rich young man who wanted to get eternal life. He thought that one special deed might do it (given that he was also keeping the Law of Moses, so it wasn’t really just one good deed). Jesus tells him that if he wants to be perfect, he needs to sell what he owns and follow Jesus. If you like, it was just what he had asked for: do one good deed, and keep being godly.
Unfortunately, the young man went sadly away. It was too much. He just couldn’t do it. People have often argued that this man had a particular problem with money, but if this were the case, then we should find it easier to give away everything we have than that man did! Would you find it easy? Could you sell everything you have? Your house, your car, your furniture, everything – if Jesus was here to follow?
Jesus does tell us to follow him. In John 10:27, Jesus says that his sheep hear his voice and they follow him. In John 8:12, he tells us that if we follow him we will have light to see by. Light to guide our life.
Some other Bible Tales articles about Jesus.