Before he asked the disciples to believe anything or do anything, Jesus first called them to follow him. What that immediately meant was leaving behind the life they had known to walk about with an itinerant preacher. What a change of life that must have meant! We do not know what all the disciples were doing prior to being called to follow Jesus but we do know that several were fishermen, one was a tax collector, and one a political activist advocating resistance to Rome. Whatever occupied their time prior to meeting Jesus, upon responding to his call their new vocation meant wandering around the Judea, Samaria, and Galilee areas with a young teacher who had a habit of causing confusion and stirring up contention. It meant not knowing where their next meal would come from or what the next week would hold. It meant being associated with one who was as likely to provoke a response of anger and hatred as he was to elicit agreement, approval, and applause.
Jesus had a way of making enemies. The entire Gospel of John unfolds like a cat and mouse game between Jesus—who would emerge suddenly in public and create a spectacle before slipping away—and those who were waiting for the perfect opportunity to take his life (2:24, 5:18, 7:1, 8:59, 10:31, 15:18, 16:33). Those following him often expressed confusion about the actions he took (4:47) and the words he spoke (6:60). Yet, despite their lack of comprehension of what he was up to, they were willing to risk their own lives to follow him (11:16). Why? Because, in the words of Simon Peter, they had no other place to turn and Jesus had “the words of eternal life” (6:68).
What does it mean for us to follow Jesus today? Certainly it must mean attentively studying what he said and did and diligently practicing what he taught. Should we as contemporary followers of Jesus expect the same response from others as his first followers experienced? During his final discourse with his followers, the night of the Last Supper, Jesus says:
“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.” (John 15:18-20, NIV)
Challenging words! Words that ought to cause us to ask ourselves and one another, “What does it mean to follow Jesus?” It is this question that we will explore this fall in chapel.