“ And He said to them, ‘Follow Me’. . . . And they immediately left the nets and followed Him” (Matthew 4:19-20).
My Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Lord,
In chapter 4 of Matthew we discover our Lord’s very first words to His disciples. In this setting, Jesus is initially addressing the brothers, Simon Peter and Andrew. In verses 21-22 our Savior sounds the same command to another pair of blood-brothers, James and John.
It is in this brief episode that the simple words quoted above are discovered: “ Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.” Then, as they say, ‘the rest is history,’ for the two pairs of brothers did exactly as Jesus had commanded; they “ followed Him” (v. 20, 22).
Back in the mid-1970’s when I first sensed God’s call upon me to become a pastor, my Granddaddy Calvert (who was himself a Baptist pastor), gave me a book by the Scottish theologian William Barclay. Entitled simply as New Testament Words, Barclay explores the meaning of many of the most important words to be found in the New Testament. It has been a wonderful treasure to me since the day I received it as a gift so long ago.
I can still remember how I immediately plunged into the book and my eyes were instantly drawn to the fourth word Barclay treated. It is the New Testament Greek word akolouthein, the very term rendered as “ followed” in Matthew 4:20 and 22.
Dr. Barclay refers to it as “ the disciple’s word.” That is, it was the word that seemed most to characterize the disciple’s relationship to Jesus and to inform us as to the fundamental meaning of discipleship itself. It is this word that indicates the unique attachment of the disciples to their Savior.
This rich term suggests a number of significant shades of meaning and application.
In the world of Classical Greek, this was the word that spoke of a soldier’s duty to his commanding officer. One would “ follow” his general or captain even into the fiercest conflict.
It was also the term that depicted the relationship of a first-century slave to his master. The servant’s main task was to do as commanded, follow orders expeditiously, and faithfully attend to his master’s affairs.
These two shades of meaning are most important as we try to understand how we are related, or attached to, our Lord and Savior today.
The New Testament seems to pick up both of these meanings when it describes the Christian. We are, as Paul makes clear, the “ bondservants” of Jesus (Col. 4:12). And, as we remember, the most basic Christian confession of faith is, “ Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:11).
Christians like you and me, then, are slaves who are always under the command of Jesus. And this is what it means to be one of His ‘followers.’
As Barclay puts it,
“ The Christian is in the position of the soldier who follows Jesus Christ, and who must immediately obey his leader’s command. The Christian is in the position of the slave, who must obey as soon as his master speaks.”
Our encouragement for today is found here in this simple identification of who and what we really are. Like the original Disciples, we are those who have heard and responded to the summons of Jesus to come and “ follow” Him.
And this implies several practical things:
- We can trust Him to rule the world, as He has done with perfect wisdom since creation.
- We can be OK with not knowing what is coming next, since it is our loving Shepherd who is leading the way.
- We can rest in the assurance that He is always very close to us, no matter where His path takes us, or how dark and foreboding the journey might become.
- We can be at peace knowing that He is both our Commander and Our Defender. He will not permit even one of His precious, elect sheep to ever be lost!
- And we can rejoice that His purposes for this world, and for our individual lives, will be fulfilled as He has ordained from eternity!
Our job today is very clear.
Let us seek to “ follow” Him more closely.
And let us trust Him more fully!
I love you all more than words can express,