What it means to be a follower of Jesus

2 Dec 2018

What it means to be a follower of Jesus

A Serious Commitment

There’s an amazing sense of urgency in the first chapter of Mark’s account of Jesus. Repeatedly we read the phase “and immediately....”  Jesus called selected men to follow him and they responded straight away without hesitation. He calls to some fishermen, they HEAR and they RESPOND. They leave their family business and straightaway follow Jesus to hear his teachings and then to start to tell others about Jesus and his message. 
 
But what does it mean to our lives today to want to be a follower—a disciple—of Jesus?
 
In Luke chapter fourteen, Jesus explains that if we want to follow him, our love for our family and friends should be insignificant in comparison to our love for him (Luke 14:25-27). He continues by stressing that this is not a decision to be taken lightly: “whosoever does not carry his cross cannot be my disciple,” he warns (Luke 14:27). His listeners knew what it meant to bear their cross—on many occasions they had seen Roman soldiers forcing criminals to carry their crosses to the place where they would be crucified for their offences. Being a disciple is a very serious matter: we must “crucify the flesh” as the New Testament puts it (Galatians 5:24), which means fervently trying to kill off the natural desires of our human nature and, instead, to live a life like Jesus’.
The word “disciple” means to be a follower and a hearer of what is taught. In other words, we are learners, and Jesus is our master instructor. We see what this means in practice when we reach the book of Acts, shortly after Jesus has been crucified. There we see some of the uneducated fishermen who had been Jesus’ first disciples now confidently preaching about him, and what stands out from this account is that the people could see that having been with Jesus had “rubbed off” on those fishermen; these men were clearly different on account of having been taught by Jesus (Acts 4:13).
 
To be a follower of Jesus, then, we, likewise, must allow Jesus’ teachings to percolate through us so that we start to think and act like Jesus. If we allow that to happen, it should have such an IMPACT on us that others should be able to see it in our behaviour.

A Man Let Down Through a Roof

Jesus affected the lives of many people whom he encountered among the multitudes that followed him, but a handful of men and women stand out in the gospel records as having lessons for us on what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
The first we’ll consider is a disabled man who was let down through a roof. He met Jesus at a time when the house Jesus was teaching in was so packed that no-one else could get near the front door (Mark 1:32-34). This man was carried by four friends, and when they realise they cannot get close, they hatch a plan.
Having fetched rope, they struggle up to the roof with him, break a hole through the tiles, and gingerly let him down to where Jesus is standing. Jesus recognizes the paralyzed man’s great faith and heals him.
Would our friends do that for us? One important lesson from this is that if we want to follow Jesus, we need to ensure our friends are ones who help us to come to Jesus, rather than ones who hinder our progress.
 

A Man Who Lived in a Graveyard

 Another example is an insane man who lived in a graveyard. He had unnatural strength—Mark describes how “no one could bind him, not even with chains, because he had often been bound with shackles and chains. And the chains had been pulled apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces; neither could anyone tame him. And always, night and day, he was in the mountains and in the tombs, crying out and cutting himself with stones.” (Mark 5:3-5 NKJV). Luke adds that he was naked (Luke  8:27).
 
This encounter is just after Jesus’ amazing miracle of calming a violent storm on a lake that had threatened to drown Jesus and his disciples as they sailed across. It’s probable this demented man witnessed that event because, immediately Jesus lands, he rushes towards him yelling his name.
It seems likely this man suffered from trichinosis, a disease caught by eating raw pork and which can cause fits and delusions (the account comments that he was near a large herd of pigs). He asked Jesus, “Put whatever’s influencing me into the pigs.” It may seem strange that Jesus went along with the man, rather than telling him there was no such thing as an evil spirit, but because the man had suffered schizophrenia for so long, if he wasn’t given some sort of clear indication that he had been healed, he would have kept questioning if he really was free of his illness.  By Jesus providing him with a physical sign, Jesus ensured the man would always know he had been cured.
 
The man is totally healed and we later see him “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” (Luke 8:35). The phrase “sitting at the feet of...” is a phrase that signifies learning from a master teacher (for example, we see this in the book of Acts where Paul lists his credentials and states he was “brought up at the feet of Gamaliel” [Acts 22:3]). So, again, we see the importance of LISTENING to the word of Jesus and LEARNING from them—something we can do ourselves today by reading the four gospel records. By doing so, Jesus can bring sanity into our lives, even though we live in world that often feels deranged. 
Although this man afterwards wanted to follow Jesus, Jesus told him instead to go back and tell his friends, neighbours and family about Jesus and his teachings. So another lesson here is that followers of Jesus are expected to TELL others about Jesus and what he can do for us.
 

A Man Who Was Told to be Quiet

Another person healed by Jesus was a blind man named Bartimaeus. He was begging at the roadside when Jesus came past followed by a massive crowd. When Bartimaeus heard it was Jesus, he started calling out to him asking to be healed. Those nearby tell him to be quiet—one assumes they were straining to hear what Jesus taught as he was walking along—yet Bartimaeus just calls louder. Somehow Jesus hears him, stops, and tells the man to be brought. Bartimaeus gladly “throwing aside his garment, rose and came to Jesus” (Mark 10:50). The significance of that action is that a blind man would not be able to find his coat again afterwards, but Bartimaeus had such faith that he knew he would be able to see to find his cloak when he returned later.
When he reaches Jesus, Jesus asks him what seems such an obvious question: “What do you want me to do for you?” It was obvious this was a blind man who therefore needed healing, yet Jesus asks him because he (and God) want us to put our wishes into words; they want to have dialogue. As it says in the letter Paul later wrote to the Philippian church, “Let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). And having put them into words, Jesus heals him.
 
Although Bartimaeus had been blind, he had been able to see more than most of the religious leaders had ever seen—he had recognized that Jesus was God’s son. And he was healed for that faith. And that man’s response when he was cured was to “follow Jesus on the road” (Mark 10:52):  what had happened meant a whole new life for him.
In many ways this is similar to what happened to Saul, who was blinded during his journey to Damascus a few years later. As he lay there without eyesight, pondering the words he had just heard, we can imagine him saying, ‘Now I get it!’ and three days later, once he could finally see the truth of who Jesus was (an understanding to which he had previously been blind), God sent a disciple to return his physical sight (Acts 9:9).
As someone once said, ‘There’s no-one so blind as those who won’t see, and no-one so deaf as those who won’t hear.’ The lesson for us from the healing of Bartimaeus is that we must be prepared to see Jesus for who he is, as truly the son of God, and once we’ve recognized that, we must follow Jesus and listen to his teachings.
 

A Man Who Jesus Touched

Jesus encountered many people who needed his healing power. In Matthew’s gospel, we are shown a leper who cried out for help. It was such a virulent disease that the multitudes would have scattered as he approached, parting the way for him. Amazingly, Jesus touches the man (Mark 1:41). No-one ever dared do that to a leper, and maybe this poor man had even forgotten what it was like to feel a human touch!
Jesus cures his leprosy and tells him to go to the priest to be officially recorded as clean.
When we look at Luke’s account of this incident, we see this man falls on his face to address Jesus (Luke 5:12)—he had come on a journey that ended with him prostrate before the son of God.
 

A Woman Terribly Embarrassed

Leprosy was a very public disease, but the next person we’ll consider had a problem that was a very personal and extremely private sickness: she had an embarrassing haemorrhage (Matt 9:20). We’re not told anything about how this must have turned her personal life upside down, or how it would have meant she was barred from entering certain places, or just the sheer embarrassment it would have caused; we only know she had borne it twelve years (Mark 5:25-26).
 
This woman doesn’t want anyone to see or know—she wants to lose herself in the crowd—so she quietly approaches Jesus from behind in the sure faith that just a touch of his clothes would cure her. Jesus senses what
she has done and stops, and the woman, realising she cannot be hidden, publicly confesses the problem she hadn’t wanted anyone to know about; in response, Jesus heals her.
The lesson we can take from this is that being with Jesus can take away our embarrassment.
 
Lessons for a Twenty-First Century Disciple
So being a disciple means we must HEAR, LEARN and RESPOND to the words of Jesus as recorded in the Bible, allowing them to IMPACT our lives; we should then TELL others what we have learnt about his teachings. We should put our needs into words in prayer and WORSHIP, and rather than remaining blind to who Jesus is, we should acknowledge him as God’s son. And if we do that, he will take away our embarrassment. Following Jesus is something we must take very SERIOUSLY, so we must ask ourselves what being a disciple means to us and to our friends.
Perhaps our four best friends should be Matthew, Mark, Luke and John—the four gospel writers—because they can bring us to Jesus and show us how to become a true disciple. Through them, let us come to sit at Jesus’ feet and learn the gospel message.