What does it mean to be a follower of the Christ? When you or I make a decision to “follow Christ”, how can we honestly plumb the depth of that decision? How can we measure it’s impact both then and in the life that follows that decision?
When Jesus began calling those whom he would have follow him we see an interesting thing. We are not given any insight into what might have lead up to their response to drop everything and follow. It must be assumed that James, John, Peter, Matthew and the others did not simply nor blindly leave their present life for an unknown life. True, they may not have calculated the cost of following, but neither did they simply pick up and follow an unknown for the unknown.
Jesus’ ministry was no secret. The word of his work spread like some powerful tsunami across the land of Galilee and beyond. With each healing, each exorcism, each work of miracle, the word spread. Many followed at a distance just hoping to ride the wave for a while with never any intention of committing themselves to following this miracle worker any further than his next miracle. Still others, it must be supposed, were transfixed by this son of God, his power and the power of his message. Hence, when Jesus crosses personal paths with the like of Matthew, it is no small thing when called he decides to follow.
When reading about Matthew’s call in Mark 2, I was struck by once commentator’s observation. When discussing Matthew’s response to Jesus and his willingness to forsake everything (Lk 5:28) the writers says, “He left his lucrative business and trusted that God would provide for his needs (Baker’s NT Commentary, on-line version).” How could any one possibly know what was in Matthew’s mind or heart regarding his decision to follow Christ. What, in the text, gives us even a remote clue that somehow Matthew knew that in forsaking everything, God would provide for his needs? Does anyone think for a minute that Matthew’s 401K was somehow depleted or for one second he pondered, “Gee, if I follow the Christ, how will I eat, where will I sleep, how will I pay my bills?” This seems to be a rather twentieth century imposition on the text. Yes, later in their ministry we see at least some of the disciples wondering what was in it for them since they had left everything to follow Christ. But to imply that was even an inkling in their heart at the time of the call is ludicrous. Jesus, if he really did know what was in the heart of all men, knew that these men would prove to be dynamic followers and ultimately pillars in the ministry of the Gospel. He was choosing his inner circle for crying out loud.
Similar to Matthew, many of us may have initially repsonded to the call with “prompt, unhesitating, obedience (F.F. Bruce, The Training of the Twelve, 23)”. But as the days go by and the cost of following exacts its toll, there may be second thoughts. A wondering if we made the right decision. If the sacrifice is worth it. Consequently, we slip into a rather convenient mode of following, often in name more than in principle. We like the idea of “Christian” but not necessarily the demands of “Christian.” We relish the emotion and good feelings that come from our association with Christ, yet at the same time find the moral code and obligation to our neighbor almost intrusive. We get pulled from one side of orthodoxy to another not truly certain which, if either, side is right. The implications and expectations can be daunting.
There is more to being a follower of the Christ than just following. Being a disciple of Christ means being a follower/learner. We must learn of HIM. Our sole obligation is to know the one whom we follow. Not just the words that surround him, but the man. We follow Christ – not Paul, not Peter, not even James. That is our call and our obligation. That is what it means to be a follower of the Christ.