If a random person asked you, “Would you like to follow me?” What would be your response? Most of us would respond, “No.” Our culture has trained us to think people should follow us, not that we should follow others. Most of us are excited to lead others. Yet few of us get excited to follow someone else.
But this shouldn’t surprise us. In the age of social media we don’t ask, “How many people do you follow?” No, we ask on Twitter and Instagram, “How many followers do you have?” Or on Facebook, “How many likes do you have?” We are focused on who is following us, not on who we are following or how we are becoming more like another person.
Scripture says we are to follow Jesus Christ and that means as Christians our lives can, and should, look different than the latest Instagram influencer. We see examples of different people following Jesus Christ in the first chapter of the gospel of John. Through them we can gain insight into what it means to follow Jesus today.
TO FOLLOW CHRIST MEANS WE SHIFT OUR PRIORITIES
The Example of Andrew and John
Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. (John 1:35-37)
John the Baptist is in the desert baptizing people and preparing them for Jesus’ arrival. Andrew and John get baptized then stay with John the Baptist as his disciples. The word for “disciple” (v. 35) means “learner.” This tells us they attached themselves to a particular teacher, in this case, John the Baptist. They probably wanted to learn more about Jesus and help John the Baptist with his ministry. But when these two disciples heard John the Baptist say, “Look! There is the Lamb of God” (v. 36, NLT) they leave John the Baptist and follow Jesus the Son of God. John the Baptist was supposed to prepare people for Jesus’ arrival and when Jesus shows up these two men—Andrew and John—follow Jesus. They abandon their current life to go learn from someone else. While John the Baptist was a great man of God, when Jesus showed up Andrew and John went to learn from someone that was better. John the Baptist showed Andrew and John what God would look like, and when God showed up Andrew and John left so they could learn from God directly.
The Example of Philip
The next day [Jesus] purposed to go into Galilee, and found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:43-45)
Jesus had someone on his mind when he headed north to the region of Galilee: Philip. We aren’t sure why he decided to pursue Philip. It could have been because Philip was a fishing companion of the brothers, Andrew and Peter. While the text doesn’t tell us why, we do learn that sometimes we search for God, but sometimes he searches for us. Here, Jesus searches for Philip and finds him and tells him, “Follow me” (v. 43). And Philip begins to follow Jesus.
This is important because we learn that Andrew and John and Simon Peter (who I haven’t talked about yet) were fishermen. They were from the town of Bethsaida which was a small town on the north east corner of the Sea of Galilee. Bethsaida means “house or place of fishing.” As fisherman they had daily obligations to catch fish. Their family depended on them to catch fish, sell those fish, and provide for the needs of their family. It was a cost for them to follow Jesus. To follow Jesus instead of fishing meant they sacrificed money and their relationships with the people that depended on them.
The Changes and Sacrifices We Might Need to Make
Seeing the change Andrew, Peter, and Philip made shows us that when we follow Christ sometimes we need to abandon things. Some things we drop immediately and move away from. Other things we have to slowly shed along the way as we follow Christ and learn from him. As people that follow Christ the first step is to abandon certain things in our lives that don’t match the Godly and God honoring path he wants us to follow. It might be what we watch, how we use our money, how we talk, or how we spend our time.
But these often are not a “switch” that we just turn off. Usually we slowly change and work these things from our lives over a period of time. (This is what Christians often call “Sanctification.”) The longer we follow Jesus the more these things fall away from us that are not good for us or not honoring to him. As we read our Bible, pray to God, and enjoy fellowship with other believers, these unrighteous things start to disappear from our lives.
TO FOLLOW CHRIST MEANS WE WALK ALONG HIS PATH
The Literal Example from Andrew and John
Let’s return back to Andrew and John. Jesus shows up and they abandon John the Baptist to follow Jesus.
The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. (John 1:37-39)
When Jesus turns back and asks John and Andrew, “What do you seek?” (v. 38) this vividly pictures the sudden act of Jesus hearing steps behind him. What Jesus means is “What is your purpose in following me?” Or, “What are you looking for?” And they reply, “Rabbi (which means Teacher), where are you staying?” (v. 38). They are essentially saying, “We need some time to talk about this. It isn’t something we can stand here on the road to discuss.”
But notice Jesus’ reply, “Come, and you will see” (v. 39). Jesus invites them into a relationship. He offers his time. He’s not too busy for them. He’s not impatient. It’s almost as if he says, “if you come—and I want you to—you will see.” The text says “they stayed with him that day” (v. 39). The phrase in Greek means “by his side.”
The Figurative Example for Us Based on Jesus’s Life
To follow Christ means we do the same things he did. Jesus loved all types of people, outcasts and those a part of the in-crowd; those ethnically diverse and culturally different. We too should love people that are different from us with the same openness that Jesus did. Jesus healed people from their sickness and ailments no matter their past history or societal status. We too should help people in emotional or physical pain by bringing them meals, helping them get to and from the doctor, and spending time with them during their grief. Jesus discipled people during his time on earth. We too should intentionally spend time with specific people, help them learn Scripture, and assist them to navigate life. Jesus suffered at the hands of non-Christians. We too should be prepared for persecution at our job or being ostracized by our family because of our faith in Jesus Christ.
To follow Christ means we stick with him. In vv. 38-39 the apostle John uses one of the Greek words I had to memorize in seminary, which means “I remain, live, abide, persist, wait for.” John uses the same Greek word later in his gospel when Jesus says, “Abide in Me” (John 15:4). This reminds us that to follow Christ means we remain with him. We live with him. We abide in him. In the good times and in the bad. Even though we cannot follow him literally like Andrew and John do here, we are supposed to stick with him figuratively.
To follow Christ means he’s Lord, no one else. We are only supposed to follow one person, and that’s Jesus Christ. Even though you might be in a church where there’s a pastor that’s hired to “lead” the church, you and the pastor follow Christ together. There’s only one senior pastor of the church, and that’s Jesus Christ.
TO FOLLOW CHRIST MEANS WE INVITE OTHERS TO WALK WITH US
Andrew Invites Peter to Follow Jesus
After Andrew and John follow Jesus and spend time with him, Andrew quickly goes out to tell others about Jesus.
One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:40-42)
Andrew goes to his brother, Simon (which we know was Peter), and tells him that he’s found Jesus. And this gives us a reminder that how we show others and share about Jesus often changes over time – in our different seasons of life and those who are a part of those seasons.
When we first become a Christian we have a passion to share the gospel because of life changed by Christ (even though we have not been following Jesus for a long time). But over time as we mature and grow as a Christian (Sanctification) we might not have as much passion, but we have a position of life lived for Christ. The position is based on experience following Jesus for many years through good times and bad. That position gives us authority to share our faith with others. Both are effective, but different. God can use our story to reach different people at different times. Here we see Peter’s passion.
It is important we share our faith because people are asking questions about God. Here we read that Andrew found his brother, Peter, and said, “We have found the Messiah (which translated means Christ)” (v. 41). People were looking for the savior, Jesus Christ, to come. They were waiting for him to come. And because they were waiting they were asking questions such as: When is he going to come? What will he look like? How will we know him when we see him?
People in our world are asking questions too such as: Why does the world appear to be getting worse? Why would my husband abandon me and my kids? How do I deal with this terrible boss? What do I do as I see my health getting worse and worse? While we, as the people that share our faith, cannot always answer these questions, Jesus can help us broaden our perspective and understanding of them.
Philip Invites Nathanael to Follow Jesus
Like Andrew, Philip, goes to find someone new and tells him about Jesus.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)
Notice here how it’s one-to-one, then one-to-one. God doesn’t call us all to be amazing evangelists like Billy Graham or Greg Laurie. Those evangelists reach a lot of people, but sometimes going to one person at a time and working with that person is just as impactful. And Jesus too, while he often spoke to large crowds, also spoke to one or two people alone at other times.
We Need to Go to People and Invite Them to Follow Jesus
We cannot be as direct as Andrew and Philip were. We can’t physically bring Jesus with us and say, “Look at this guy.” Jesus is in heaven now. But as followers of Christ we are intimately connected with him through the Holy Spirit.
Sometimes we bring people to Jesus. We do that in a few different ways. Inviting people to a church service on Sunday. Asking them to go to our Bible study that we are part of during the week. Inviting them to attend special services like Christmas Eve.
Sometimes we bring Jesus to people. It’s getting harder to have people join us at church for events, so sometimes we need to bring Jesus to them. At our church we have donated school supplies to the school across the street to show our care for the students in our community. During the COVID pandemic we delivered more than 250 encouraging cards to the hospital staff thanking them for their service and letting them know we were praying for them. We host a “Harvest Party” in the afternoon on October 31 as a way to provide a safe place for people to bring their kids in a contained area before it gets dark and cold. Those are just a few of the different ways we can “bring Jesus to people” that might not come to a church service.
Following Jesus is hard. It requires us to shift our current priorities from our preferences to his priorities. It means we follow on his path doing the same things that he did. And following Jesus causes us to invite others to follow him with us.
No one is going to praise us for being being followers of Jesus. In fact, our family, friends, and coworkers might even criticize us for following instead of leading but it’s the best position we could ever ask for.