And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:17-18 ESV)
When Simon and Andrew heard those words “Follow me” and immediately left their nets, do you think they knew what it would mean to follow the Christ? The Jews were looking for a Messiah, someone who would deliver them from the Romans and set up once again the true Kingdom of God. When they followed Jesus, were they thinking about the personal advantages of being close friends with the one who would save Israel? Were they thinking of the positions of honour and responsibility they might have in a new regime? Would they have followed Jesus if they had known then that it would be hard; that first there would be suffering?
In Mark 1:17, the term “follow” is actually two Greek words: a word that means “come”, and a word that means “to the back”. This is what we think of when we use the word follow — of coming behind someone. The word “followed” in verse 18, is another Greek word which means to join roads or to accompany (especially as a disciple). When Jesus asked these men to follow him, it was clear that he was the leader. When they accompanied him along the road he was walking, and became his disciples, he would make them become something new, something that would draw men to God: in their case, fishers of men.
Jesus began his ministry with his baptism, and then time on his own dealing with temptation and perfecting his trust and reliance on his Father. When he came into Galilee, he came proclaiming the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Unbelief or faithlessness has always been a problem for mankind. Adam and Eve didn’t trust in God’s goodness, the people of Israel, even after seeing incredible signs and wonders to convince them of the power of their God, still chose faithlessness – self-reliance rather than God-reliance. They chose to follow their own hearts instead of following God.
They forgot God, their Savior, who had done great things in Egypt, wondrous works in the land of Ham, and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them — had not Moses, his chosen one, stood in the breach before him, to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Then they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents, and did not obey the voice of the LORD. (Psalms 106:21-25)
But they say, “That is in vain! We will follow our own plans, and will every one act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.” (Jeremiah 18:12)
The people in Jesus’ time were the same, and we are no different today. So this is where we all have to begin — with faith.
Jesus’ first message to the people was to repent (to think differently or change one’s mind) and believe the gospel (have real faith in all of God’s promises). Changing the mind to develop this kind of faith does not just happen all at once though. The disciples (most of them) would develop it by following Jesus because Jesus is an example of what real faith looks like. He trusted in the goodness and promises of his Father so much that he only spoke His words and did His works, and in the end gave up his life.
For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment — what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.” (John 12:49-50)
Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:34)
So how do we follow Jesus today to a change of heart and true faith — faith that trusts in the plan of God, and is therefore obedient? Following Jesus does not guarantee that we will be changed (Judas followed Jesus, and then betrayed him) but the hearts of eleven other men were changed.
Four ways to follow Jesus:
1. Accompany him as a disciple and learn all he has to teach us. Obviously we cannot do this in the same way as the disciples did, but that is why we have their written accounts, and the rest of the Bible:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)
2. Learn to think of yourself as a sheep (this requires humility), stay with the flock, and listen to the Shepherd’s voice. A sheep must trust the shepherd.
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. (John 10:14-16)
3. Walk in his steps, and imitate him: desire to be just like him. Obviously this is hard to do — but in a similar way that our heart influences our actions, our actions when we choose them deliberately, believing them to be for our good, will change our hearts.
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
4. Let go of self-reliance. Understand and accept that following Jesus is to the death of self and human pride. We cannot save ourselves.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35)
In the end, when we choose to repent and believe, following Jesus will make us into someone new, someone better, someone who can be a light for others, and who can draw men to God.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
And I heard a voice from heaven like the roar of many waters and like the sound of loud thunder. The voice I heard was like the sound of harpists playing on their harps, and they were singing a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and before the elders. No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins. It is these who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These have been redeemed from mankind as firstfruits for God and the Lamb… (Revelation 14:2-4)