“Follow Me”

Jesus Calls the First Apostles

Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

In the Great Commission, Jesus told His apostles to go out and make disciples. A disciple is a follower of Jesus. Therefore, the Great Commission was about finding people who would follow Jesus.

This is also what Jesus did while on the earth – He made disciples. But while His apostles would call people to follow Jesus, He would tell them, “Follow Me.

There are a few examples in the gospels in which Jesus offered this invitation – “Follow Me.” In this article, we are going to look at these statements in the book of Matthew and make some applications.

“Follow Me” and Become Fishers of Men

Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ Immediately they left their nets and followed Him” (Matthew 4:18-20).

On this occasion, Jesus called Peter and Andrew to follow Him. Immediately after this he called James and John in the same way (Matthew 4:21-22). This call to become “fishers of men” was a call to preach the gospel. He would later send them out on a limited commission (Matthew 10:1-7). Then before His ascension, Jesus also sent them out with the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Not everyone who is a disciple will teach publicly. James wrote, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Even further, not everyone – even among those who teach publicly – will travel the world as the apostles were commissioned to do (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Yet we are all to help lead others to Christ – “holding forth the word of life” as we live “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation” (Philippians 2:15-16, KJV). We do this by “always being ready” to tell someone of our faith that is found in Christ and explained in His word. As we do this, we must also be careful to “let [our] speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that [we] will know how [we] should respond to each person” (Colossians 4:6). Even though we are not apostles – and most of us are not preachers – we can help lead others to Christ.

“Follow Me” and Let the Dead Bury the Dead

Another of the disciples said to Him, ‘Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead’” (Matthew 8:21-22).

It may seem a little shocking to read Jesus’ statement to one who just lost his father. However, this was not a lack of compassion. Jesus was making a point about priorities. Those who follow Jesus must be willing to put Him over others – even their own family. Jesus said elsewhere, “He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37).

We have certain responsibilities to our families as spouses, parents, children, and more (Colossians 3:18-21; et al.). Yet we are to put our relationship with Christ first. Jesus demonstrated this for us during one of His speaking engagements. He was informed, “Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You”; yet He responded, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers? […] For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:46-50). Family relationships are important, but following Christ is more important. Furthermore, if we follow Christ, we are part of a family of like-minded believers that can help encourage us as we continue to follow the Lord.

“Follow Me” and Work for the Lord First

As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, ‘Follow Me!’ And he got up and followed Him” (Matthew 9:9).

Though it is not specified in this passage, Jesus called Matthew to follow Him for the same reason He called Peter and Andrew – to go out and preach the gospel (cf. Matthew 10:1-7; 28:19-20). When he was called, Matthew abandoned his post in the tax collector’s booth and followed Jesus.

The point for us to take from this is not that we must abandon our secular work in order to follow Jesus. Paul told the brethren in Thessalonica that they were to “follow [his] example” of “working night and day” in order to “not be a burden to any,” and that “if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either” (2 Thessalonians 3:7-10). Regarding one’s physical labor, the apostle wrote elsewhere, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord, rather than for men” (Colossians 3:23). Yet we must put our service to God first. Jesus told a parable about a rich land owner who was described as a “fool” because he neglected the condition of his soul in order to focus on the work he needed to do in this life (Luke 12:16-21). As disciples, Paul said that “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10). As we serve the Lord, we are to “do all in the name of the Lord Jesus” (Colossians 3:17). We have responsibilities here in this life, but we are to put our work for the Lord first.

“Follow Me” and Take Up Your Cross

Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it’” (Matthew 16:24-25).

This statement is a little different from the other ones we have noticed. In the other examples, Jesus was giving an explicit command for people to follow Him. Here, Matthew recorded this as an “if anyone” statement. However, while we do have a choice as to whether or not we will follow Christ, the wording is not meant to imply that failing to do this is acceptable. The expectation or command is implied.

Jesus set the example for us by taking up His cross and laying down His life for us. Paul told the brethren in Philippi, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus… Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8). In order to be one of His disciples, we must be willing to do the same thing for Him. We must be able to say, like Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). This means that we must be willing to suffer in the flesh as He did (1 Peter 4:1) and “share in the sufferings of Christ” (1 Peter 4:13). No matter what tribulations we may have to endure, we must be willing to go through them in order to follow Christ.

“Follow Me” and Become Complete in the Lord

And someone came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?’ And He said to him, ‘Why are you asking Me about what is good? There is only One who is good; but if you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.’ […] The young man said to Him, ‘All these things I have kept; what am I still lacking?’ Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and see your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.’ But when the young man heard this statement, he went away grieving; for he was one who owned much property” (Matthew 19:16-22).

At first, this young man who came to Jesus may have seemed like a promising prospect to become one of His disciples. Yet Jesus knew his heart and knew that there was something in his heart that would hinder him from following. This would need to be dealt with before he could faithfully follow the Lord. Jesus’ words to the rich young ruler were specifically about his wealth. However, the principle goes deeper than that.

We must not allow riches or anything else hinder us from following Christ. Regarding wealth specifically, Jesus said, “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). But again, wealth is not the only threat. The Hebrew writer said, “Let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Anything that will cause us to turn our eyes from following Jesus – whether it is sin, wealth, or any other “encumbrance” – must be set aside. This is the only way we can “wish to be complete” in Him (Matthew 19:21). We are not to remain in a state of spiritual immaturity – as was the condition of the Hebrew Christians that resulted in their rebuke (Hebrews 5:12-14) – but we must “press on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1). Discipleship is about giving our lives completely to the Lord. This means we need to be willing to give up anything that hinders us from doing this.

Conclusion

It is not always going to be easy to follow Jesus, but it will be worth it. Notice the assurance that Jesus gave to Peter regarding this:

Then Peter said to Him, ‘Behold, we have left everything and followed You; what then will there be for us?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Truly I say to you, that you who have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

‘And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life’” (Matthew 19:27-29).

We have the hope of eternal life through Christ (John 3:16; Romans 6:23). This is far better than anything we may have to give up in order to follow Him. But in order to begin and then continue following Him, we must recognize the value of Christ over everyone and everything else. Then we must “press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:14) and “be faithful until death” (Revelation 2:10) so that we can receive the reward He has promised those who would follow Him.


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