you are known by what you follow

You and I are born to follow. As children we naturally follow by watching and imitating others. We are told to follow the herd, the leader (footsteps), the rules, even the yellow brick road. Something happened between childhood and adulthood, when we are taught to lead our own life and follow our dreams or follow our heart. You are a follower before you are a leader.

The truth is, you won’t hear a graduate say, “I want to be a follower when I grow up!” His parents won’t spend thousands of dollars sending him to Followership Academy. As adults we don’t want our legacy to be known as a world class follower.

However, we are followers more than we’d like to admit. We are closet followers of various sorts. We follow things from fashion, passions and interests. We follow the lives of the famous, favorite sports team, even things we like on Facebook or Instagram. While we don’t want to be known as being a follower, we are known by what we follow.

In a sea of a million things to follow it is good to ask why follow Jesus? I am sure you’ve thought about it. I am sure someone has asked you why do you follow Jesus?

That’s what brings me to the book of Matthew. Matthew is a Handbook for Followers. Matthew was a founding member of Jesus’ 3-year apprenticeship on followership.

I will begin near the beginning of the story. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus had already began his ministry. He wasn’t well known yet. Matthew says of Jesus,

“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, (Jesus) saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

Jesus must have been a compelling man. Four men who were tied to their family fishing business left everything after Jesus said only ten words, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Their response is wowing. They immediately left their nets, boat, livelihood, and family to follow Jesus. Let that weight of that sink in for a moment. Jesus was that compelling. And he still is.

It might not startle us today, but it would have startled the early hearers of this story to learn about the type of people Jesus called. They were fishermen. They smelled like fish. They mouth was foul. They were a dirty bunch much like you’d see at the local pub, biker’s bar, or blue collar hangout. Yet Jesus called these men as his first followers. They were the most unlikely, unexpected, unworthy men. Some of us need to hear that today!

What is even more startling is what Jesus is calling them to do. He wasn’t calling them to a better fishing spot (that comes in a later story). He wasn’t calling them to a better job as good as “fisher of men” may have sounded. That’s until you understand how challenging people can be compared to fish.

These men knew who was calling them. Remember, Jesus was considered a rabbi. To follow a rabbi was a lifelong commitment. A student shadowed his rabbi and resembled his rabbi. Jesus asking these men to follow him would have been a high honor. The highest honor!

However, Jesus throws a major cultural curve-ball: rabbi’s didn’t call for followers. It was the other way around. Interested students would make a request to their rabbi of choice without guarantee of being chosen unless they were a star student. Jesus does the exact opposite he called students to follow him. He wasn’t acting like a normal rabbi. That’s okay because Jesus was the Rabbi of rabbis.

God throughout history is the main pursuer between man and God. In the garden, God pursued Adam. God called Abraham to go to the land of promise. God called Moses out of the burning bush. God led Joshua into the promised land and fought his battles for him. God called Samuel, Elijah, and Jeremiah to be prophets. As you look back over your life, surely God is the ultimate pursuer.

And Jesus pursued each of his followers. Jesus fielded his team with people that not only would have been picked last, but likely not at all. When you build a team you most often look for the strongest, wisest, or most skilled players. The misfits and stragglers are usually picked last. No mistake about it, Jesus oddly picked the last to be first. He picked the most unordinary team of ordinary men. Isn’t that a little comforting?

Imagine if Jesus had an assessment for his disciples. Something like this,

To: Jesus, Son of Joseph
Woodcrafter’s Carpenter Shop
Nazareth 25922
From: Jordan Management Consultants
Dear Sir:

Thank you for submitting the resumes of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant.

The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.  As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.
Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper. Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership. The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty. Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale. We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew had been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind, and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious, and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All of the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.
Sincerely,
Jordan Management Consultants

Eating Problems for Breakfast by Tim Hansel, Word Publishing, 1988, pp. 194-195

Aren’t you glad Jesus doesn’t give us assessments or look at our resumes like that before becoming his followers?  I sure am.  I wouldn’t make the cut.  Few of us would.

Jesus was calling these four men away from the only job they knew to something completely unknown. He was calling them to a career change without term limits. These men wouldn’t be going home at the end of the day. They would walk wherever Jesus walked, sleep where he slept, eat all their meals with Jesus, and listen intently as Jesus shared the Scriptures. By spending time with Jesus, these young men would grow to become just like him.

Later in the Acts of the Apostles, it is said,

“Now when [the council] saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)

Peter went on to be the rock of Jesus’ church. John became Jesus’ beloved friend. And Andrew would give up his life for the sake of Jesus—as did the other followers.

And then there’s you too! You are known by what (or Who) you follow. How do you resemble your Rabbi and who is follow him behind you?

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Jesus eats with sinners

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Most religious people would not catch themselves in a biker bar or talking with pimps and prostitutes, but when reading through the Gospels we catch Jesus talking to these kinds of people in these kinds of places often. Why does Jesus hang with sinners? Well, in Luke 5:27-32, Jesus eats with a tax collector and his companions, and it is here you get the answer.

What’s with the tax collector?

I-love-tax-collectorsIn Jesus day, tax collectors were hated. Some things don’t change! They were especially hated then because Israel was under Roman oppression. Certain Jews got the job of collecting taxes for Rome. They were viewed as a traitor or enemy who cheated their own people to get rich. For that reason, they were commonly avoided or the punchline of many bad jokes.

Who are the “tax collectors” in your life? Think of the person you avoid or talk bad about. Is it your beer drinking neighbor who parties too loudly, even on weeknights? Is it girl who is known by her second-rate reputation at your office. Is it the politician you love to bash?

Levi is a tax collector. He’s the guy you love to hate. But he’s also the guy Jesus loves to love. Jesus finds him. He doesn’t avoid him like someone with a virus. He finds him at the tax office counting his coins. Jesus doesn’t come in and blast his character or belittle his profession. He simply says a simple statement expecting a simple answer, “Follow Me.” Amazingly, Levi leaves everything and follows Jesus.

Who’s sick?

Levi’s life changed the day Jesus intersected him at his office. He’s so excited he throw a party. Since tax collectors don’t have many friend their friends are usually other tax collectors. The guest of honor at Levi’s party is Jesus.

Word spread faster than a British tabloid. The religious leaders came to Jesus’ disciples with their list of gripes and complaints. As the Pharisees see it, Jesus is in a lose-lose situation. Sinners are following Him. But Jesus sees it as a win-win. Sinners are following Him. Jesus defends Himself by saying, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.” (5:31) What did Jesus mean by this?

Jesus directs his words towards the religious leaders. They are (spiritually) sick and don’t even know it. They are like a man who will not admit that he is sick and refuses go to a doctor for help. In their pride, they will suffer defiantly, if not die. Jesus came to bring healing our sin sickness that leads to death. Pride leads to death, but humility leads to the cross.

Will you repent?

Jesus follows up his first statement by saying, “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentence.” (5:32; cf. 13:3-5; 15:10; 24:47; Mark 1:15; Acts 5:31) He’s not called to the righteous because they don’t think they have a need for Christ (when they really do!).

Jesus is called to the sinner who knows he is in need of Christ (cf. 1 Tim. 1:15) and humble enough to come to Him for a life transformation. To repent is to humbly turn away from your sin and your self-righteousness and turn towards Jesus and His righteousness. It’s a life-transforming turn.

Do you see the contrast between Levi’s response to Jesus and the religious leaders response to Jesus? Levi follows immediately and throws Jesus a feast. The religious leader grumble, question, and judge. Levi wants Jesus to transform him, but the religious people want Jesus to conform to them. Levi has an attitude of repentance, while the religious leaders think they have no need for repentance. The religious leaders measure their goodness among themselves, while Levi measures His goodness against Jesus. The religious leaders follow their code of conduct, while Levi simply follows Jesus. Being a follower of Christ is much different than being a religious person.

follower of Jesus vs religious person

A good question to ask yourself when reading this text is, Who do I respond like more often Levi or the Pharisee? If I were honest, I would have to say I respond more like the Pharisee. How about you?

So how do I change and love like Jesus loves? First, I must remember I was once like the tax collector to God. I lived the most unlovely life yet I was unconditionally loved by Him. I was infected by the most destructive disease known to man, sin.  I can love my enemies because I was once God’s enemy and He loved me.

Second, repent and run to Jesus Christ. Repentance is your only means of healing. Repent of your pride, repent of hoarding God’s grace, and repent of your hateful attitude towards the tax collectors in your life. When you repent don’t expect life or loving others easier. Sometimes it can be harder. Jesus got Himself killed because of the way He ate.

Third, with the remaining days of your life make it my aim to follow Him, which means eating with sinners too. Extend to all the life-transforming eternity-giving message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. No one, including you or the tax collectors in your life, are too sinful to enjoy the pleasure of sitting at Jesus’ table.