When Jesus began His public ministry in Galilee He commanded certain individuals to follow Him. He first approached Andrew and his brother Simon (whom Jesus renamed “Cephas,” which means a stone) at the Sea of Galilee and said, “Follow me” (Matthew 4:19), or as recorded in the Gospel of Mark, “Come ye after me” (Mark 1:17). The next day Jesus found Philip and said, “Follow me” (John 1:43). While Jesus was ministering in Galilee, He passed by the table of Matthew (Levi) the tax collector and said, “Follow me” (Mark 2:14, see also Matthew 9:9-10; Luke 5:27-29).
In each of these situations, those called responded immediately by following Jesus. Andrew and Simon left their fishing nets, Matthew “left all, rose up, and followed him” (Luke 5:28), and Philip went and found Nathanael and said, “We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write” (John 1:45). During the time of Jesus, the disciples of a rabbi would be with him all the time. They would go where the rabbi went and do what the rabbi did. As a rabbi, Jesus chose twelve close disciples to follow Him and to learn from Him.
The command “Follow Me” was not limited to the twelve apostles. He called others, but some gave excuses for not following Jesus when called.
Now when Jesus saw great multitudes about him, he gave commandment to depart unto the other side. And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead. (Matthew 8:18-22; see also Luke 9:57-62)
Others were unwillingly to give up their attachment to things of the world.
Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me. But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions. (Matthew 19-21-22; see also Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18:18-30)
Many people did respond to Jesus because they believed He was the Messiah. For example, two blind men sitting by the road cried out to Jesus, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, thou son of David.” Jesus had compassion on them and touched their eyes and immediately their eyes received sight and “they followed Him” (Matthew 20:29-34).
Today Jesus is calling each of us to follow Him and be His current-day disciples.
If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour. (John 12:26)
If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24; see also Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23)
One Bible commentator says, “The first thing involved in following Jesus is a cleaving to Him in believing trust and obedience.” With that trust and obedience (faith) come great rewards. In fact, as you study the commands of Jesus you will see that there are many promises associated with the commands. With the command “Follow Me” Jesus promised life, salvation of one’s soul, and eternal rewards.
Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works. (Matthew 16:24-27; see also Mark 34-38, Luke 9:23-26)
Jesus also promised that He would make us “fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19) if we followed Him. It is exciting to realize that He is the One who makes us fishers of men as we choose to follow Him and ask Him to use us. His light will shine through us, and just as fish are attracted by light, people will be attracted to us, giving us the opportunity to share the reason for the hope that lies within us. “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15).
As I think about the command “Follow Me” I am reminded of the chorus, which includes the words:
I have decided to follow Jesus (repeated 3x)
No turning back, no turning back.
The cross before me, the world behind me (repeated 3x)
No turning back, no turning back.
Even after we enter the kingdom of God by grace through faith we are to be daily followers of Jesus, “the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). Have you responded whole-heartedly to follow Him, or have you been giving excuses? Until we surrender ourselves to the Master as His disciples, we will not experience the joy of the associated promises and of being made into “fishers of men” that God can use to bring others to faith in Jesus, the King of kings.