FOLLOWING ON JESUS’ TERMS
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
February 23, 2014
While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he 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.
— Matthew 4:18-22, ESV
We live in the age of social media. Everyone everywhere seems to be ever-connected with smart phones, tablets, and even that old-fashioned device known as the computer. Almost everyone I know has “friends” on Facebook and “followers” on Twitter. These means have made us the most interconnected generation in the history of humankind, yet we are also setting records for levels of loneliness, anxiety, depression, and various other ills. It seems that some souls with scores of social media friends cannot find one friend they can truly count on at the end of the day.
This is not to say that God scorns social media. If Jesus had waited until this day for His first coming, He would have been a YouTube sensation. His hits would have been legion, and the Lord’s accounts on Facebook and Twitter would have an astronomical number of friends and followers.
But Jesus did not come to save the world through social media. He came to save one soul at a time through ministry and methods that are much more personal, powerful, and persevering. Though His imperative invitation was a simple, “Follow Me,” His acceptance required much more than a like or a tweet; it required a total commitment of one’s life.
Look at the example of four of Jesus’ first followers. They were fishermen from Capernaum in Galilee. Simon Peter and Andrew and James and John were two sets of brothers who were familiar with John the Baptist and had already become friends with Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus wanted more than a superficial friendship. He wanted more with them and more from them. And what He wanted more than anything else can be summed up in those two famous words, “Follow Me.”
Most people follow Jesus socially. But what does it mean to follow Jesus seriously, unto salvation and eternal life? Jesus commands true followers to follow Him totally, vocationally, and finally.
Total commitment seems a little out of vogue in today’s world. Commitment is not always convenient, and total is just too much. We tend to keep our jobs, friends, even spouses, until something or someone we think is better comes along. We treat the Lord Jesus Christ and His church this way, too. Thousands, even millions, have made commitments to Christ in their youth and kept it; until, making money, having friends, engaging in sex, or other pleasures seemed frankly more fun that following the precepts and principles of the immortal, invisible, almighty God.
This was not so with the four fishermen. Simon Peter and Andrew had a good life and fishing business. Clues indicate that James and John had it even better. Yet they dropped their nets at the drop of a hat when those words dropped from Jesus’ lips, “Follow Me.”
They followed in repentance. They followed in faith. Repentance plus faith equals total commitment to Jesus Christ. Repentance turns and follows Jesus in mind, heart, and will to pursue what is on His mind, in His heart, and is plainly His will. Faith places a trust and love in Jesus that is far greater than any other trust and love found on earth. There is room for other pursuits, other loves, as long as they are all under the lordship of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ.
How do we know they committed totally? Because in their cases, they committed vocationally, too.
Your vocation is the main thing you do to sustain your life. It is your job, your profession, the people and place to whom you devote the bulk of waking hours. It is an important part of your life. In the life of a true follower of Christ, your vocation belongs to God.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John traded one vocation for another in order to follow Jesus Christ. They quit fishing for fish in order to start fishing for men on a full-time basis. Many men and women have heard this call. They have left their nets, or offices, or other places of work to work in the fields of homeland churches or foreign mission fields to further the gospel of Jesus Christ. And why not? Those who are totally committed to Jesus Christ yield their vocation to Him, and He has the right to change it if He so chooses. Would you leave your vocation for another, if the Lord told you to drop those nets?
Most likely, He won’t. God most often chooses to use people in their present vocations rather than ask them to loose one for another. There are fish everywhere, including right where you live and work. Faithful Christians who are totally committed to Jesus Christ use their vocation as a means of ministering to others, with their means, and with meaningful relationships within the workplace. All Christians are in full-time ministry. Most just do it in the factory, or classroom, or office, or wherever they may work. And remember, your work ethic, integrity, and kindness speaks as loud, if not louder, than your words of witness and invitation.
A large segment of the American church is retired from vocational employment. Your vocation is the non-vocation of retirement, a non-vocation I’m told that can be more hectic than any other vocation in the country. While retirement is not a biblical concept nor a human right, it is a privilege deserved and reserved for those who have given the better part of their lives to an honorable vocation. Do retire from your job, if you can, but never retire from the job and joy of being a totally committed follower of Jesus Christ. Retirees should have more time set aside for visiting, ministering, volunteering in the church nursery or food pantry, and otherwise serving Christ by serving others in the church and community. The four fishermen never retired and they never got tired of living their lives for the glory of God and the good of the gospel.
True followers of Jesus Christ commit to Him totally, serve Him vocationally, and finally — yes, finally.
This week I received a letter in the mail from a ministry that boasted of hundreds of young people committing their lives to Christ in a single event. It is a good ministry, and if you’re going to boast about anything, boast about Jesus. But, how do they know these young people really committed themselves to being fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ?
We are a country of counters, and the counting culture has cut deeply into the church. We count everything, especially people making professions of faith in Christ, or getting baptized, or attendance, or any other countable external evidence of persons coming to Christ. But what really counts in a person’s Christian commitment is not how they start, but how they finish.
Starting with Jesus Christ is relatively easy, at least in our culture. Finishing with Jesus is another matter altogether, which is why most people don’t. Like my New Testament professor in seminary said, “A faith that fizzles before the finish was faulty from the start.”
Simon Peter followed Jesus, finally. He stumbled at the cross but recovered at Pentecost. He faced hardships and obstacles and persecution that eventually took his life, but he never quit following the Lord Jesus Christ. Andrew followed Jesus, finally. His fame diminished and his influence waned, but he didn’t follow Jesus for fame and fortune. He followed Jesus to the end. James followed Jesus, finally. He was the first Apostle to be martyred, tragically dying young. But he would no doubt prefer a short life with Jesus than a long life without Him. Wouldn’t you? John followed Jesus, finally. He lived the longest of all the Apostles and in many ways suffered the most. His legacy is enshrined in Holy Scripture and if you want to know more about what it means to follow Jesus on Jesus’ terms, read his books.
“Immediately they … followed Him.” The simplicity and profundity of these words in the original language is remarkable. They began to do something that they kept on doing, continually, all of their lives. They followed Jesus, totally and vocational and finally.
The calling of the first four disciples of Jesus should serve to help every disciple examine their calling. What is your level of commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ? What influence does Jesus have on your job, and what influence for Jesus do you exhibit on your job? Are you in this for the long haul, is Jesus your life in such a way that you will follow Him closely until your death? Follow Jesus, on His terms!
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org