How to know whom to follow
If someone approaches you and asks you to follow them, then how do you decide if you are going to agree and go with them?
Well, I suggest it depends on two things. Firstly, it depends on who they are. For example, are they trustworthy? Do they have a track record of dependability? Have they ever let you down in the past? And secondly, it depends on where they are going. Are they leading you somewhere you would like to go? Have they been there before? Do they know the way?
For example, I am a keen angler, and fishing is all about location and local knowledge. When a friend of mine, who is an experienced angler, tells me he wants to show me a good fishing location, I do not doubt it and follow him. Why? Because I know him, I trust him, he has a great track record, he has never let me down, and he knows how to get there. Also, because I want to find a good fishing spot!
Jesus asked people to follow him, and Christians assert that he is still asking us to do the same, and therefore the same two questions apply: Who is this person called Jesus who is doing the asking, and where is he wanting to take us?
Throughout the gospel narrative, Jesus asked people to follow him, and the place where he was heading was Jerusalem; it was the city where he would eventually meet his death. Although Jesus hinted to it, I suppose that if his disciples had fully understood that Jesus would die in Jerusalem they would not have followed him, and certainly, when his death was imminent, they all deserted him. Yet, Jesus' call to follow him was something more than simply physically following him to Jerusalem to witness his death on a cross.
The whole gospel narratives are themselves an invitation to follow Jesus. The writers of the gospels want you to read their story, discover who Jesus is, and when you turn the final page, they want you to have made the choice to follow him. Why? Because it is possible to follow Jesus today, in the here and now, however the call to follow Jesus is not to a physical place; we cannot follow Jesus to the physical city of Jerusalem. The call to follow Jesus is to somewhere much more exciting.
You see, Jesus, as he travelled to Jerusalem was not simply asking his followers to follow him to a physical place, he was leading them to meet with God. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus makes encountering and connecting with God possible. It is why when Jesus died, the temple curtain was torn in two, for there was no longer separation between the people and the 'Holy of Holies' where God resided. It is why Jesus used metaphors such as a shepherd leading people to new pastures, or why he described himself as a gate or a narrow door. It is why he said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me." The invitation to follow Jesus was and is an invitation to the very throne room of God.
Jesus leads us to God, and so important is the decision to follow Jesus that when Jesus described what it meant to follow him, he used hyperbole – exaggerated rhetorical language to get across his point. When people asked to follow Jesus, you can read his responses in Luke 9.57-62, where he effectively tells them to, "leave everything behind and keep your eyes fixed on me, because I'm leading you into the very presence of God".
One night, when I was driving in the UK, I encountered a severe snowstorm. The edges of the roads were completely invisible, and the only way I could stay on the road was to fix my eyes on the tail lights of the snow plough in front of me. If I had kept my eyes fixed on the rear-view mirror, I would have veered off the road and crashed. In the same way, Jesus used the metaphor of someone ploughing a field, and that if you are continually looking behind you then you are not going to find the Kingdom of God. To reach the destination – the throne room of God – we need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and follow him.
So how do we begin to follow Jesus? Where do we start? The good news is that God meets us where we are. There is nothing we have to do other than choose to trust in Jesus. Remember the story that he told of the prodigal or wayward son? The son decided to return to his father but the father ran to greet him. In the same way, God, your heavenly Father, is running towards you to greet you, to embrace you, and to welcome you.
Jesus is dependable, trustworthy, will never let you down, and knows the way to the throne room of God. I am reminded of the lovely hymn chorus that reads:
“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.“
• The Reverend Gavin Tyte is the pastor at St Mark’s Anglican Church. Visit stmarks.bm