If you do a search for the phrase “follow me” in a concordance, it is amazing how many times Jesus used the phrase! It is usually in the form of a command expressed as an invitation. It was well understood by the people he Was talking to what it meant. When Jesus said to Peter, “Follow me” Peter did not ask “just what do you mean by follow me, Sir?”
It meant to leave whatever occupation you had, and consider the man who commanded you as your new leader. Peter left the boats and nets of his father’s business and “followed Jesus”. His new job would be to train for a position in God’s kingdom and to recruit more people as the boss indicated (he would be a fisher of men).
You had to be pretty sure your new leader knew what he was about because you have given up your means of making a living. There is no religious connotation attached to the phrase, no concept of suffering, only that the leader/rabbi expected commitment as Jesus would stress over and over as I am sure you are familiar with the accounts.
For example he said to the rich young man, one thing you lack, sell all you have (his security he relied on) and follow me. Jesus recognized his suitability for the kingdom and invited him. As we know at first he could not give up his security, but Jesus assured us that God would help us.
Another wealthy man was Simon the tax collector. He certainly new how government works and its relationship with business world. He took great interest in what Jesus was saying about the kingdom that God was going to set up through Jesus. He even ran ahead and climbed a tree so that he could hear what Jesus was saying. Jesus saw the qualities he was looking for and invited Simon – and he followed Jesus.
I like the account of the two blind people sitting next to the road, where Jesus was going to pass. They were blind but could hear perfectly well. They had undoubtedly discussed this new coming kingdom and had planned to be there when Jesus passed by. To be sure, Jesus healed their blindness and, as I am sure they had already decided before hand, they followed Jesus.
Then in Mat 16:24 “Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”
We are so used to images of crosses and people suffering on them, and of pilgrims struggling up the Via Dolorosa lugging ridiculously small crosses symbolizing the Christian life, it has become a tourist attraction.
Not What Jesus Meant
But that is not what Jesus had in mind at all. Jesus is dynamic leader and he wants us to be excited about the kingdom that he represented and was actively recruiting people for, as God was directing him.
He certainly was excited and committed to setting up God’s kingdom. You can be sure that his Father had communicated the wonders of the kingdom and the reasons for it.
He is a leader who got his hands dirty (he put a comforting hand on the leper when he healed him), who leads by example. He does not want to make following him hard, instead he promises he will help carrying the load.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.
Matthew 11:28-29, NLT
Jesus is already out there working for the kingdom. He is in this example carrying most of the load (using a yoke, or a stake or cross), he knows what it takes to follow him, he has taught many kingdom candidates (trainees) and will teach you how!
He took his first twelve recruits and they followed him as he went from village to village teaching people about God’s kingdom. He also healed people and cast out demons to show the authority God had given him.
When he knew they were ready, he sent them ahead to other villages to do the same. When they came back from their assignment they were excited and exclaimed that even the demons obeyed them!
Can you imagine what a huge deal that must have been – in our “modern” world we have become so jaded that we easily fail to sense their excitement.
What a wonderful experience it is being a disciple of Jesus!
Yes but, what about the following verses that follow: “For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Jesus had no illusions of the difficulties that lay ahead for his recruits; not because of his teachings or the concept of the kingdom, but because the evil one and his seed, as foretold by God in Gen 3:15, would try and prevent the kingdom, God had made that clear to Jesus. But he would again lead by example, by suffering the attempts of Satan and his people to stop the kingdom. As his recruits we must expect the same. If the enemy hates the leader, they would hate us also
Finally, being a disciple of Jesus is not a painful struggle lugging your “cross” every day. It is an exciting project to be a part of. It was designed by Father himself millennia ago. Jesus continues to be our leader carrying the heavier part of the load with us as we follow him.
During the training process, while exciting, is tough. Satan is wily enough to tempt you with the “boat and nets” we left behind and you can decide to say: “I’m going fishing again!” That is why Jesus reminds us, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back [to the things left behind] is fit for the kingdom of God.” Luke 9:62
After his resurrection, as always involved in his recruits progress, was waiting for Peter on the shore, with some supper ready. He asks Peter “do you love me?” three times. In other words, is he still sure of his loyalty to Jesus as the leader he had set out to follow? Peter, smarting a bit from being shown his lack of trust wanted to know about John, after all he had also gone fishing.
And the leader’s response?
Jesus said to him, “If I will that he remain till I come, what is that to you? You follow Me.” John 21:22