“And he said unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19, emphasis mine)
That was pretty much the clarion call of Jesus. Simplistically explained, we as humans want to go our own way and yet somehow shoehorn the results from such paths into the “perfect will of God.” Can you imagine being thoroughly steeped in the way of life that came along with, er, was, uh, living in that time? Free will operates pretty much the same way it did two thousand years ago as now. And so when someone—even someone more intense/intelligent/charismatic than I (that’s not really what it’s about, it’s His love)—tells me to “follow me”, as Jesus did numerous numerous people, my instinct kicks in and all I wanna do is go my own way. Either that or follow them for a time and soak up what I can and then move on. With the fallen state of humanity it’s one or the other. This is one of the many reasons why Jesus says this:
“Verily, verily I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
The third chapter of John opens with Jesus visiting a Pharisee by the name of Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews.” They proceed to chat for a bit and after Jesus brings out the idea of “new birth” follows up with “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (verse 7) In other words, Jesus tells Nicodemus to calm down at the revelation of such a counterintuitive idea. He asks: “Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (verse 8) Implying perhaps that somewhere in the annals of Jewish law was a clue that may have pointed to what Jesus was getting at when He said “ye must be born again”. This is the answer to the aforementioned two different responses to Jesus’s call to “follow me”. When He remakes you by His Holy Spirit, you are able to lay down your own way and, here’s the thing, your own motives, and truly follow Him. But this is just the beginning.
“Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on Him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
I can imagine I would have been tempted to ask where we would be going, had I been there. Had I been one of the ones to whom He personally addressed (as in, in person) His two words of “Follow me.” Oh don’t kid yourself, the call has gone out into all the world and every heart has heard it and one point or another (see Revelation 3:20). But if I were fully ensconced in a life that included tending a small cart of produce my father had harvested or helping keep my family’s inn in the black, I would have needed some more information. I’ve asked this before but what was (is) it about Jesus that inspires people from all walks of life to give up that last word (“life”) and all its baggage and packing material to do something that necessarily places me, not last but most certainly, going forward, not first? It’s in His eyes. And so, fast-forwarding to today, I can assure you the “continu[ing] in [His] word” will unravel everything about your person in much the same way were you to take all the pieces of your life in the present and posit them back in first century Israel as a sort-of ancient version of yourself. He’s calling you. There are depths to us that we’ll never reach unless we continue following Him. As He’s the one who made us, and as such can remake us, He knows what’s down there. He knows the intricacies of our individual hearts and minds. As an aside, when He tells Simon Peter and his brother Andrew He’ll make them “fishers of men”, the deeper you go with Christ, the more fish (i.e. people) will you be able to influence.
The same ways of thinking affect us now as then. We can either follow Jesus or go our own way, thinking however erroneously, that somehow we’ll end up back at God. And just because He says “follow” doesn’t mean He won’t tell you what’s ahead (see Isaiah 45:11; John 16:13).
And, in an admittedly cheap bait-and-switch tactic, the title of this post is somewhat of a misnomer. There is no such thing as following Jesus too closely.