Follow Me... An Invitation to Eternity

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Follow Me... An Invitation to Eternity

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Nearly 2,000 years ago a couple of fishermen were going about their own business casting nets into the Sea of Galilee in hopes of their next big catch.

Today, like every day, Andrew and Peter were steadily plying their trade, as did their ancestors before them. The rhythm of life, just like the steady lapping of the waves on the shore, was slow, steady and assuring.

Their life was not complex, but it was nonetheless demanding. They knew the best times to come to the shore and launch their boats. The men cast their nets with an expertise developed since childhood and would pull them in with patience and precision.

Next, the catch for the day had to be separated. Then, their sturdy hands would turn the boat's rudder towards shore. Once on shore they would clean their nets and hang them out to dry. These nets were precious—being the ultimate tool of their trade on which their survival depended. Practically speaking, the nets meant everything!

Last, but not least, would come the grunt work of hauling the fish to market. Their day was almost done—or at least they thought so, but little could they know that the familiar rhythm of life was about to abruptly change.

An invitation and an immediate response

A man of Galilee that they had known and spoken with before was standing by the shore. He used the acoustics of the still water to send one simple, yet direct, message to these two burly fishermen.

The words were a curious blend of invitation and command—"Follow Me." He went on to declare that He would make them "fishers of men" (Matthew 4:19 Matthew 4:19And he said to them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.
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).

Indeed, these two initial words would not only alter two lives but, along with others, alter the course of history.

The book of Matthew describes their response by stating, "They immediately left their nets and followed Him" (verse 20). The power of the moment is the reality that they dropped their nets and handed over their past, present and future to the man on the shore.

The first recorded words of Jesus Christ to Peter were "Follow Me." Peter would hear these words more than once. Little could he realize where the journey would lead and what Christ would have in store for this son of Galilee.

After years of following Jesus of Nazareth over the roads of Galilee, Judah and Samaria and even into the challenging environs of Jerusalem, Peter would have to come to fully face himself and further let go of the "nets" of life.

Peter receives a repeat invitation

Jesus would have one last recorded conversation with His beloved fisherman. It was after Jesus' death and resurrection, in those last few days before He ascended to heaven, that the echo of those first two words of personal engagement would be visited once more on Peter's ears. It would occur where it had all started—on those same shores by the same sea.

Often life is a circle, and God brings us right back to the initial classroom of life to get the lesson! As a preamble to hearing the invitation one more time, the apostle John in his Gospel account points out Peter's consternation and bewilderment over Christ's words regarding the future of John and himself.

Jesus' words indicated that Peter would suffer a challenging martyrdom while John's life would apparently travel a different road (John 21:18-24 John 21:18-24 [18] Truly, truly, I say to you, When you were young, you gird yourself, and walked where you would: but when you shall be old, you shall stretch forth your hands, and another shall gird you, and carry you where you would not. [19] This spoke he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he said to him, Follow me. [20] Then Peter, turning about, sees the disciple whom Jesus loved following; which also leaned on his breast at supper, and said, Lord, which is he that betrays you? [21] Peter seeing him said to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? [22] Jesus said to him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? follow you me. [23] Then went this saying abroad among the brothers, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not to him, He shall not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to you? [24] This is the disciple which testifies of these things, and wrote these things: and we know that his testimony is true.
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). It is here that Jesus said to Peter, "If I want him [John] to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me" (verse 22, New International Version).

It's within these first and last recorded comments of Christ to Peter that we discover the ever-present echo of Jesus' invitation to disciples for all times—an invitation that simply stated, "Follow Me." This is where His conversation always begins and never ends with those chosen by Him (John 15:16 John 15:16You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain: that whatever you shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you.
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).

Are you willing to go the same way?

"Follow Me" is the ever-present guiding echo that encases the journey of a Christian pilgrim as he or she navigates the challenges of a world that's turned from God. Akolou-theo, the root Greek word translated "follow," brings forth a variety of definitions that convey companionship based on union or likeness. Thus it gives the sense of "one going in the same way" (Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, 1985, New Testament Section, "Follow").

In the Gospels this word is used 77 times of following Christ. It's been said that if God says something once it's important. What then is the significance when the concept of "following" Jesus is given 77 times?

Of course, the command for this spiritual journey is easy to read, but it's challenging to undertake. And it's intended to be just that—challenging.

In contemplating the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7, we realize that it's humanly impossible to abide by its tenets without supernatural help. Christ lifted the bar so high it cannot be raised higher. A full and honest read of Jesus' words reminds all that He never said it would be easy, but rather that it would be worth it. But it comes at a cost! God still expects us each of us to "leave our nets."

Excuses to avoid the invitation

After his initial conversation with Peter, Jesus would further explain to others what it meant to "follow Me." The formula never changes as the account in Luke 9:57-62 Luke 9:57-62 [57] And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said to him, Lord, I will follow you wherever you go. [58] And Jesus said to him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man has not where to lay his head. [59] And he said to another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. [60] Jesus said to him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go you and preach the kingdom of God. [61] And another also said, Lord, I will follow you; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. [62] And Jesus said to him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
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bears witness: "Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, 'Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.' And Jesus said to him, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.'"

It is here that Jesus engages the earnest would-be disciple to fully consider what demands the future might bring and to prepare for a life quite unlike the one he's been living.

"Then He said to another, 'Follow Me.' But he said, 'Lord, let me first go and bury my father.' Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.'"

This man was not talking about attending a funeral right then. He seems to have had either unfinished business at home with an ailing aged parent who was not yet deceased or, if the parent had actually died, perhaps a complicated inheritance that would take time to sort out. (Or it could be a reference to the year-long Jewish mourning period of that day, after which bones of the deceased were reinterred in an ossuary or bone box.)

In any case, Jesus was not demeaning the dead or genuine responsibility to one's family duties. Rather, He was making a demand statement on the would-be follower to hand over his present life into the care of God's providence.

"And another also said, 'Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.' But Jesus said to him, 'No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'"

This third individual was not talking about a quick trip back to say goodbye to some guests who'd just stopped by. Instead, while considering a life of following Christ, he wanted to take time to visit his past associates and cuddle up to a known world of companions he would be required to put behind him.

It is right here, among three would-be followers, that Jesus offers a profound and gripping message to those who would be granted the gift of eternal life by our Heavenly Father and follow Christ into eternity.

As the stunned followers begin to understand the depth of His challenge and invitation, we can almost read Jesus' lips in discerning what He was basically saying: "The bottom line of My message is this: When My call comes, you are to drop your nets immediately just like My friends Peter and Andrew. As you do, understand that My desire and prerequisite for companionship with Me is surrendering your past, present and future and handing it over to Me in faith and confidence that My perfection is always going to trump your human best."

The apostle John recorded Jesus' expectations in these terms: "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27 John 10:27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
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).

Will you drop nets or drop anchor?

Allow me to speak plainly: Some of you reading this column may be related in mind-set (at least for the moment) to the individuals we just read about in Luke 9.

Let's fully understand that Jesus' call to "Follow Me" is not isolated to the confines of the Middle East. This call comes every day, in unique ways, all over the world—into factories, schools, offices and homes just like yours.

You may have heard God's call for years now, just as much as Andrew and Peter heard the voice of Christ come over the water. But instead of coming to the proverbial shore and immediately dropping your nets, you have dropped anchor where you are, at a safe distance from commitment to Someone offering something far greater than yourself.

Again, let me make it very plain: There is a profound difference between simply knowing who Jesus Christ is while safely viewing Him from a distance and walking step by step with Him towards eternity.

This new column in The Good News, titled "Follow Me," is designed not only to guide you to open the pages of your Bible, but to encourage you to open the doors of your heart to "get out of the boat" and prepare to "drop your own personal nets," whatever issues they may be, and follow Jesus Christ without reservation—walking with Him wherever He chooses to guide.

Yes, heed His call with all your heart and leave to Him the consequences of your obedience. And yes, when we stumble and lose our way, remember the reverberating echo of God's love is always present—"Follow Me!" We are going to trace our Master's walk through the imprint of His perfect life, His challenging death and glorious resurrection to fuel our commitment to follow Him in every aspect of our lives.

Perhaps the voice of "Follow Me" is best heard in the story of a man whose plane crashed in a deep jungle. There he was stuck in the bush until he came on a hut in a clearing. A native man appeared from out of the hut. The forlorn pilot asked if he could get him out of there, and the native man confidently responded, "Yes."

Thus, they began the journey. Hours went by as the native man forged ahead, slashing away with his machete at the tangled brush in front of them. Finally, the anguished pilot frustratingly cried out to the man, "You said you knew the path out of here to rescue. Where is it?"

The guide slowly turned around. And with a smile on his face and a piercing gaze into the pilot's eyes, he proclaimed, "I am the path."

With this story in mind, may this and future columns help us in our journey to always look to and heed Jesus' call of "Follow Me." As we remember, He never said it would be easy, but He did say it would be worth it. We must always trust in Him to lead us. The same One tells you this very moment in John 14:6 John 14:6Jesus said to him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.
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, "I am the way, the truth, and the life."