written by: Charles DeVane
Sometimes a person can say a lot with just a few words. I heard of a man who joined a monastery where the monks take a vow of silence. Each year at their annual review, however, they were allowed to speak two words. After the first year this man said, “Bed hard.” In the second review he commented, “Food cold.” By the third year he said, “I quit,” to which the leader of the order replied, “Good, you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
We can complain with few words, and we can cheer people’s hearts with few words. Who doesn’t need to hear those three words, “I love you,” every day? Then there are those other three words I love, “Time for supper.” I could go on, but you get the point.
The Gospel of John contains several short, sweet and deeply spiritual sayings from Jesus that deserve our utmost attention. Seven times Jesus says, “I Am,” revealing who He is – God and man. Once and only once Jesus uttered one word, tete, lestai, translated by three English words which mean “It is finished.” This reveals what He has done to save sinners. His person and work can be revealed in just a few words. Another key word in John’s Gospel, of which some form occurs 71 times, is “believe.” Therefore, this Gospel puts forth the imperative that we believe in the person and work of Jesus Christ.
But how do we do that, or how do we express saving faith? Well, if I could pick one concise statement of Christ’s that best summarizes the call and claim of the gospel, I would choose this one found in John 1:43 – “The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’”
I don’t know how many times Jesus actually said these two words, maybe hundreds, perhaps thousands. I do know that five times in Matthew, four times in Mark, four times in Luke, and five times in John they are explicitly recorded. I also know that you can ask yourself no greater question in life that this: What does Jesus mean, what does Jesus offer, what does Jesus require, when He says, “Follow Me”?
When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” He makes you an offer of friendship.
In the immediate context, Jesus was speaking to a man who, among others, would become His close friend (ref. John 11:11, 15:14-15). All four Gospels generally refer to Jesus as a friend of sinners (ref. Matthew 11:19). I guess since we are all sinners (ref. Romans 3:10), we all have the opportunity for friendship with Jesus Christ.
Thinking of Jesus as our friend is probably the most popular way of interpreting “Follow Me.” We like the idea of going on a stroll with Jesus, having a friendly chat, and just generally hanging out with the Lord. That’s why the media portrays Jesus almost exclusively as a friendly, non-judgmental person. That’s why there are t-shirts that say, “Jesus is My Home Boy.” That’s why, as Sojourner Magazine reports, there is a stuffed Jesus doll that you can squeeze and it will tell you sweet and cuddly things.
Now I am not going to say that Jesus is not friendly. He is. As a matter of fact, the Bible tells us He was friendly to just about everyone. He even referred to the unsaved person in the parable of the wedding feast as a friend (ref. Matthew 22:12). When Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus with a kiss, Jesus referred to Judas as “friend” (ref. Matthew 26:50).
So, claiming Jesus as your friend does not necessarily make you one of His followers. Followers are more than friends, and Jesus meant much more than friendship when He said, “Follow Me.”
When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” He provides a model for you to copy.
The “moral example” theory of Christ is as old as the gospel itself. It claims that the purpose of Christ on earth was to live a good life for others to follow, and those who do more good than bad in this life will make it to Heaven.
Now this view would seem to have some biblical support. When Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, He told them plainly to follow His example (ref. John 13:15). Paul admonished Christians to follow his example as he followed the example of Christ (ref. 1 Corinthians 11:1). This is what disciples do: they duplicate the life of their mentor in their own actions and attitudes.
But there must be more to the gospel call than this, or else we would need to re-write the Old Testament, remove many of the words of Christ in the Gospels, and re-interpret the writings of Paul in the New Testament.
When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” He aims to rescue you from sin.
The Old Testament prophets promised a Savior who would suffer and die for our sins (ref. Isaiah 53). Jesus made many statements indicating His purpose in life was to lay down His life, sacrificially, on the cross (ref. Matthew 20:28). Paul constantly preached Christ crucified as the remedy for sin and the reconciliation of sinners to God (ref. Romans 5:8, 8:3; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21, etc.).
Jesus knew the New Testament before the Old Testament was written; He knew the Old Testament before creation began; and from eternity past Christ knew He was the Lamb of God slain before the foundation of the world (ref. Revelation 13:8). Therefore He knew when He said, “Follow Me,” that He was speaking to sinners who need to be saved.
If your ship was sinking and a Coast Guard officer said, “Follow Me,” what would you do? If your house was on fire and a fireman said, “Follow Me,” what would you do? You and I are sinners, friend, and Jesus has come to us and said, “Follow Me.” The only way to follow Jesus from earth to Heaven is to accept that our sin and selfishness is a reproach to a high and holy God (ref. Isaiah 59:2), that our good works are as filthy rags in His sight (ref. Isaiah 64:6), and the only way to be forgiven and free is to accept the shed blood of Jesus as the offering for our sin (ref. 1 John 1:7). Otherwise, you go down with the ship and perish in the fire.
But there is still more. Jesus is not merely fire insurance. My fourth and final point takes us to where we can truly sum up what it means when Jesus says, “Follow Me.”
When Jesus says, “Follow Me,” He stakes a claim to become your Lord.
Jesus did not come merely to be Philip’s friend, your friend, or my friend. Jesus did not come merely to set a good example for school children to follow. Jesus did not come merely to die on the old rugged cross. In case you have not heard, “He is risen from the dead and He is Lord.” And as the song continues with the words of Paul in Philippians 2:10-11, “Every knee shall bow, every tongue confess, that Jesus Christ is Lord.”
The way of salvation is to follow Jesus as Lord (ref. Romans 10:9). To respond rightly to the two titanic words, “Follow Me,” we begin a journey with Him that never ends (the verb is expressed in the present active imperative), yield to Him a throne on which no one else can sit (ref. Luke 9:23), and work in His vineyard like it is nobody else’s business (ref. Luke 9:59-62).
In other words, Jesus must be Lord of all, or He is not Lord at all. And if Jesus is not your Lord, then He is not your Savior, He is not your Teacher, and He is not truly your friend. You see, it means so much when Jesus says, “Follow Me.”
“Follow Me.” It is easy to hear, isn’t it, but hard to do. As a matter of fact, without God’s grace, following Him is impossible. Being a follower of Jesus Christ requires divine help (ref. John 6:44), a divine word (ref. Romans 10:17) and a divine transformation (ref. Titus 3:5). Yet all of this divinity is put on display, not in a library of books, nor in the megabytes of a computer, not even in the science of a thousand generations, but in two simple words from the Savior and Lord: “Follow Me.”
Have you heard them? Have you responded rightly to them? Have you learned what it means when Jesus says, “Follow Me”?
© Dr. Charles F. DeVane, Jr., 2005
Pastor, First Baptist Church of Blakely, Georgia
2ProphetU is an online magazine/website, started by Warren Wiersbe and Michael Catt, to build up the church, seek revival, and encourage pastors.