Are there people you follow on Twitter? How about on Facebook? Are there one or more blogs you follow? Do you have a favorite baseball team you follow? Are you excited about the beginning of another football season because you have a favorite college or pro team you follow? Is there a favorite TV show you follow? We have many options when it comes to who and what we want to follow, don’t we?
The person I am most interested in following is Jesus. There is nothing wrong with any of the other options mentioned in the first paragraph; it’s just that the most important person to follow is Jesus. And to follow Jesus does not mean we cannot follow someone on Twitter or have a favorite team we follow.
During His ministry Jesus called people to follow Him and explained what that meant. Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34, and Luke 9:23 all record Jesus as saying, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” There is additional important teaching from Jesus that follows this verse, but this verse is the essence of it.
To be Jesus’ disciple is to follow Him—that’s what it means to be a disciple. His first disciples literally followed Him from place to place, but today we do not have that privilege. New Testament and Greek scholar William Barclay suggests a number of ways follow was used in classical Greek that adds to the meaning of following Jesus: among other associations it was used of a soldier following his commander, it was used of slave attending his master, it was used of following or obeying someone’s advice or opinion, and it was used of obeying the law.
In His own words Jesus said to be His disciple requires the denial of oneself. When He adds a follower must “take up one’s cross” He deepens the qualification of denying oneself. Those who first heard Jesus offer this challenge would have understood that taking up one’s cross meant to carry a crossbar to the place of one’s execution by crucifixion. While crucifixion was a reality for some early Christians, taking up the cross for us has to do with self-denial. It means we must completely give ourselves to the Lord and surrender to Him. Only Luke has the added word daily in connection with taking up one’s cross, which tells us it is not something that is done only once but is to be a way of life. The reality is that to follow Jesus often calls us to sacrifice.
Those first disciples who followed Jesus gave up something to follow Him. Peter, Andrew, James, and John gave up their work as fisherman (Mark 1:18 and Luke 5:11). Matthew gave up his lucrative career as a tax collector to follow Jesus (Matthew 9:9). We don’t know about the others, but we can be sure they too gave something up. And it seems consistent to conclude that those who follow Jesus today will be expected to give something up in order to do so.
Let’s ask again what we did in the title of this post: who are you following? Or, even more direct, are you following Jesus? Simply appreciating and admiring Jesus will never be enough. We are called to follow Him; and that means a denial of self and a taking up of our cross to do so. How a person responds to Jesus is the most important decision they will ever make.
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