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Why Follow Jesus?


When I was getting ready to graduate from college and go off to seminary, my father sat down with me one day and offered me the chance to take over the nonprofit ministry he had started almost thirty years before. I would have had a steady income, the opportunity to lead a significant Christian ministry, and the freedom to take it in new directions. But I wasn’t sure that following in my father’s footsteps in that way was what God wanted me to do. So I told my father I wasn’t sure. After graduating from seminary, I started into parish ministry and have never looked back.
I do not know how many generations in Simon and Andrew’s, or James and John’s family were in the fishing business. However, I imagine it was quite a few. There must have been great pressure on them to carry on the family tradition, if only to make a living. But they did not. They chose to follow a different dream, the dream of God’s kingdom. Mark tells us about that in Mark 1:14-20….
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

To my mind, this text raises a very simply question: Why follow Jesus anyway? Obviously, being part of the “kingdom of God” movement got John arrested. Such events as these should have given Simon, Andrew, James, and John, enough reason not to follow Jesus, but they followed anyway. They left their nets and their families, their family businesses, and everything they knew, and they left it all immediately to follow the preacher from Galilee. Why?

I think there was something about Jesus’ message and something about his person that made Simon, Andrew, James, and John want to follow him. Let us look first at Jesus’ message….

Jesus proclaimed the good news of God. There is so much bad news in the world, it is no wonder that Simon, Andrew, James, and John found Jesus’ message refreshing and attractive. In Proverbs 25:25 we read, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

What was this good news that Jesus proclaimed? The use of this phrase, in the way Jesus used it, goes back at least as far as Isaiah the prophet. In Isaiah 52:7 we read,

How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Jesus was preaching this same good news of the reign of God, the kingdom of God. Despite outward appearances, with Rome ruling over Palestine, according to Jesus, God was still in charge.

Don’t miss the fact that Jesus is making a great claim here. John the Baptist proclaimed that the kingdom was coming. Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled. The kingdom of God has come near.” In other words, “The kingdom has come near in my coming.”

Furthermore, Jesus demanded a response to his message. He was like a waiter asking for the order. He issued a clear invitation: “Repent and believe in the good news.”

Tom Wright explains what repentance would have meant for Jesus’ first century Jewish audience….

First, it meant turning away from the social and political agendas which were driving Israel into a crazy, ruinous war. We can imagine someone saying that today in a country where ideologies are driving half the population into violent behaviour. Second, it meant calling Israel to turn back to a true loyalty to YHWH, their God. And, as anyone with a smattering of knowledge of the Bible would recognize, this was what had to happen before God would redeem Israel at last. The call to repent is part of the announcement that this is the time for the great moment of freedom, of God’s rescue.[1]

So that is repentance. Jesus was calling people to a change of mind that would result in a change of direction. But what does it mean to believe? Jesus invited people to believe in the good news. Jesus called people not simply to believe a certain report, but to believe in it, to entrust themselves to it.

The story is told that a national magazine assigned a photographer to take pictures of a forest fire. They told him a small plane would be waiting at the airport to fly him over the fire.

The photographer arrived at the airstrip just an hour before sundown. Sure enough, a small Cessna airplane stood waiting. He jumped in with his equipment and shouted, “Let’s go!” The pilot, a tense-looking man, turned the plane into the wind, and soon they were in the air, though flying erratically.

“Fly over the north side of the fire,” said the photographer, “and make several low-level passes.”
“Why?” asked the nervous pilot.

“Because I’m going to take pictures!” yelled the photographer. “I’m a photographer, and photographers take pictures.”

The pilot replied, “You mean you’re not the flight instructor?”[2]

Sometimes our trust is misplaced.

However, when Jesus calls us to place our trust in the good news that he proclaims, our trust is not misplaced. I do not know of anyone who has truly trusted in Jesus who has been disappointed.

Part of the invitation that Jesus issues here is not simply to believe in the good news, but to follow him personally. The message and the messenger are inseparably connected. If we believe his message, then we will follow him, not just a set of instructions, but him.

Greg Gilbert writes,

I started trying to teach my son to swim early on. It was a chore. A year or so old at the time, the little guy didn’t like getting water in his face in the bathtub, much less this massive ocean of a pool he was staring at now. At first, “teaching him to swim” meant getting him to splash around a bit on the top step, and maybe putting his lips in the water enough to blow bubbles if he was feeling really brave.

Eventually I convinced him to walk around with me in the shallow end, with a death-grip around my neck of course. Once we mastered that, it was time for the Big Show—Jumping Off the Side. Fulfilling my God-given duty as a daddy, I lifted him out of the pool, stood him on the side, and said, “Come on, jump!”

I think at that moment, my one-year-old son wrote me off as a crazy man.
The look on his face, in about two seconds, went from confusion to dawning understanding, to amused rejection, to outright contempt. He frowned and said, “No. I go see Mommy.” Again acting faithfully on my solemn responsibility as a father, I refused to surrender, chased him down, and eventually convinced him (with various bribes) to come back to the pool.

And so we came to the moment of truth.

I jumped into the water again and stood in front of him with my arms outstretched, watching him bob up and down in his swimmy-diaper as one-year-olds do when they kind of want to jump, but not really. “Come on, kiddo,” I said. “I’m right here. I’ll catch you. I promise!” He looked at me half skeptically, did one more little wind-up, bouncing at the knees, and then fell into the pool with what was more a flop than a jump.

And I caught him.
After that we were off to the races. “Doot ‘gain, Daddy! Doot ‘gain!” And so commenced half an hour of jump, catch, lift, reset, jump, catch, lift, reset.
When it was over, my wife and I started to worry that maybe our son had gotten a bit too comfortable with the water. What if he wandered out to the pool when no one was there with him? Would he remember all the times he’d safely jumped into the water and decide he had this pool thing whipped? Would he jump again?
Over the next few days we watched him around the pool, and what we saw both comforted me as a parent and touched me deeply as a father. Never once did my little boy think about jumping into the water—at least not unless I was standing underneath him with my arms out, promising to catch him. And then he would fly!
You see, despite all his apparent successes, my son’s trust was never in his own ability to handle the water. It was in his father, and in his father’s promise: “Come on kiddo. Jump. I promise I’ll catch you.”[3]
In a similar way I think, Jesus invites us to follow him personally, to trust in him and not our own abilities, to jump when he says jump. He also promises that if we do that, he will make us into fishers of people. He will make us into reproducers who can effectively call others into his kingdom movement.
Why did Simon, Andrew, James and John follow Jesus? I think it was partly because of his message, but it was also because of his person. As I have suggested already: there was something about Jesus that was unlike any other teacher these men had ever met. His claims were unique and his personality was magnetic. Greg Gilbert’s son trusted him and followed him into the water because Greg was his dad. I think there was something about Jesus that made Simon, Andrew, James and John recognize in his words, the sound of their heavenly father’s voice.
Mark Galli writes,
President Theodore Roosevelt was a charismatic figure who made quite an impression on people. One journalist, William Allen White, wrote of his first meeting with Roosevelt in 1897:

He sounded in my heart the first trumpet call of the new time that was to be…. I had never known such a man as he, and never shall again. He overcame me. And in the hour or two we spent that day at lunch, he poured into my heart such vision, such ideals, such hopes, such a new attitude toward life and patriotism and the meaning of things, as I had never dreamed men had…. After that, I was his man.

Then Mark Galli draws this application….
If a mere mortal can have such an effect on another, how much more our Lord? If we will spend time with him in prayer and in Scripture, we too will find our hearts filled with vision, with hopes, with a new attitude toward life and the meaning of things, and afterwards we too will say with thankfulness, “I am his.”[4]



[1] Tom Wright, Mark for Everyone, 9.
[2] Source unknown; submitted by Brett Kays to preachingtoday.com.
[3] Greg Gilbert, What Is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010), pp. 71-72; submitted by Van Morris, Mount Washington, Kentucky, preachingtoday.com
[4] Mark Galli, managing editor, Christianity Today; source: Thomas Bailey and David Kennedy, The American Pageant, ninth edition (D.C. Heath, 1991) p. 676

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