On multiple occasions Jesus said, “Come follow me.” What did he mean? and why did some respond immediately and some went away sad?
In Bible times there were “disciples” or apprentices of multiple kinds of trades. A fisherman would take on an apprentice and together they would go into business with the master fisherman who would take on a leadership role; and the apprentice would submit to the leader to learn everything he could to be able to go into business himself one day.
The same was done for craftsmen, sword-makers, carpenters, and religious education.
When a rabbi would take a disciple, this was a master-pupil relationship. Sometimes the pupil would spend a month or so away from family to live with and follow the rabbi. Great respect was given to rabbis; it was the highest honor to follow a religious leader in a discipleship relationship.
In that culture, “Come follow me” was a command for someone to semi-literally follow behind a rabbi as a disciple. So when Jesus said to Peter and Andrew, James and John, “Come follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” This explains why they dropped their nets immediately (giving up the family business) to follow rabbi Jesus.
When Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “One thing you lack, sell all your possessions and come follow me,” Jesus was saying, “Be my disciple and follow me around everywhere I go and I will teach you to be a disciple-maker.” But the guy didn’t want to give up his wealth, and so he went away sad (Mark 10:21-22).
Notice Jesus didn’t run after him and say, “Dude, I was a little harsh, let me re-think this and negotiate terms with you so it is more comfortable.”
We learn a lot about leadership here. And we learn a lot about followership. We learn what it meant back then to be a follower of Jesus. But does this verse apply to Christians today?
What does “Christian” even mean? It means “Christ-follower.”
So if I am rich, do I need to sell all my possessions before becoming a Christian?
This is where the verse is often misapplied. “Follow me” was a phrase Jesus used for people to literally follow Jesus in the flesh while he was on earth. So after He died, was crucified, buried, and raised – how can we “follow” Jesus today?
The words of discipleship in the gospels do not 100% crossover into our culture today. We are called to be Christ-followers in that we follow His principles and teachings where we are, and we take this knowledge into everyday life. And so we are followers in the sense of being “Christian” (or ones who adhere to His teachings and way of salvation – Acts 11:26) or “an imitator” (ones who imitate the ways of Jesus without being able to literally follow behind Him – 1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus commanded His disciples (those who literally followed him around) to be disciple-makers (i.e., to help people become disciples, Christians, imitators of Christ) by teaching people the word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we learn this in Christian community called church.
The word “gospel” means the “good news” about who is Lord of the universe. Jesus is Lord, He is King. And He had a victory, He conquered sin and death and was raised. So King Jesus wants you and me to follow Him. We learn about Him from pastors and Christians who are trying to help you know Him or from reading the New Testament.
We who claim to be Christian are called to be Jesus’ disciples, which means obediently following the commands of Jesus in the New Testament. And Pastors have the privilege of teaching people what the Bible says. And we all are accountable to the Bible.
This is the calling of Paul, “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” What he means is, “Follow me as I follow Jesus and try to preach the word and make disciples while being unstained from the world.”
May this be our goal.