What does it mean to follow Jesus?

Last week in our Mark series we talked about the good news, that the kingdom of God is at hand, the future has come into the present, and that Jesus says to us, “Stop running from me, confess your sin, and believe in this good news; I have come to share myself with you and adopt you into My family!”

So the question I have for us this week is this based on what Jesus says in Mark 1:15, ‘believe in the gospel’ that I have come to bring you.

Believe the Gospel or Follow Jesus?

What does it mean to believe in the gospel? To answer this question, it’s always helpful to keep our nose in the story and see how it unfolds and what it might say to us this morning. We will not answer this question in whole this morning, but we will scratch the surface and begin to lay some needed groundwork as we navigate the spiritual and religious chaos of our day.

Mark 1:16-17: 16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.”

There it is…did you catch that. Jesus goes on to Galilee after inviting all who were listening, to ‘believe in the gospel’, and comes up to Simon and Andrew while they were fishing and says, “Believe in me Simon and Andrew.” No, Jesus doesn’t say that. He says, “Follow me.”

Verse 15: ‘believe in the gospel. Verse 17: ‘follow me’. Maybe what Mark is getting at here is that to ‘believe’ in the gospel is to ‘follow’ Jesus…that which you truly believe is what you follow, what controls or moves you.

So they, without question, drop their nets (literally leave their vocation and livelihood) and join Jesus’ seemingly start-up business:

18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

The same thing happens with James and John, but this time, the text says that they left their father Zebedee (their family business), and followed Jesus:

19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.

What Does it Look Like to Follow Jesus?

In this text, it seems that belief becomes 3 things when you follow Christ:

1) Belief means you ‘decisively’ follow Jesus – immediately they dropped their nets and followed without hesitation (v. 18, 20). They chose to find allegiance with Jesus over their vocation and livelihood. They chose to associate with Jesus over and above associating with their family (which is not a call to not associate with your family, but you may need to make that call if it’s between Jesus and your family (Matt. 12:48-50). So believing in Jesus means making a decision to renounce all other allegiances to false gods and tyrants, and set your gaze on Christ alone.

2) Belief means you ‘entirely’ follow Jesus – they left their vocation, their nets, their family. There is no mixture as to where their allegiances were. They entirely believed in Jesus (v. 18, 20) and were willing to do what ever it took to follow Him. This is not a call for you to leave your job right now, but Jesus may want you to. For now at least, this is a call to your heart asking you this: “Is there a cost too high that would keep you from following Jesus?” Put another way, “What would be a deal breaker for you in your relationship with Jesus? What kind of bargains have you made in your heart that have passively or actively said, ‘I will follow you, but if you allow this to happen, I’m gone!’ ”

Many “Christians” are professed ‘believers in Jesus’, but they have made bargains in their hearts and are not really following Jesus, but instead, they are following Him so that they can get the desired results that they want out of life, salvation, family, etc. This is not following Jesus. This is following yourself as Lord.

3) Finally, belief in Jesus means you ‘evangelistically’ follow Jesus – Jesus says: “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men!” Following Jesus is not a private matter, or personal between you and God, or your family. He will make us fishers of men! He didn’t call it “Good News” to keep to ourselves. No! He wants us to fully embody the Good News of Jesus Christ for the transformation of lives and to be restored in our relationship with God.

A Short Detour

I do not believe that when Jesus ‘I will make you fishers of men‘, that He was referring to the “bait and switch” evangelism that matches our way of fishing with a hook, lure, and power bait that smells like real fish food, only to trick the fish into biting our bait so we can consume them like we would at a fish fry. This is not the evangelism that Jesus had in mind. Rather, as we discussed last week, I believe Jesus had in mind a good news message that fished for lost and dying men and women in a sea of chaos who need to receive their adoption into a new family, one that produces life rather than death; love and sacrifice, rather than hatred and competition. You tracking with me?

Public vs. Private

Alright, back to the private vs. public matter of the gospel. Here’s a little early Church history. The Church began in the midst of a powerful Roman empire that had no patience for any sect, religious group, or leader that challenged the “lordship” of Caesar. Before Jesus came on to the historical scene, there had been many self-proclaimed “Jewish messiahs” who marched into Jerusalem trying to fulfill prophecy, gain a following, and essentially over throw the Roman oppressors who were thought to be the final evil empire before God would deliver Israel. After Jesus came on the scene, performed many miracles, and was eventually crucified, the Romans (and the Jews) thought that His “small” following would come to an end. When it did not end, but instead grew in number and in power, the Roman government eventually sought to declare the Church as a ‘private religious gathering’ (Greek – heranos) rather than a ‘public gathering’ that declared ‘public truth’ (Greek – ekklesia; this was a secular Greek word) that took place in towns all throughout Rome.

It’s interesting that As we learn from the Apostle Paul’s writing’s, the early Church rejected the status or ‘heranos’, and they were eventually persecuted because of it, as they claimed to be “Kingdom citizens” over and above being “Roman citizens”. If they would have been willing to accept the term ‘heranos’, needless murder would have been avoided. Why in the world would they not bend to Rome? They died to call themselves the “ekklesia”, a public gathering in the public marketplace that declared a public (universal) truth, because Jesus came to be the public Lord or all, not as a tyrant or usurper, but as a loving King who humbled Himself to die for the adoption and salvation of His people. Jesus was Lord of all, not Ceasar; and this was worth dying for.

We are the ‘Heranos’

From the Enlightenment to today, the Church (at least in the West) has no longer been recognized as a public gathering declaring public truth (ekklesia), but has surrendered to ‘Rome’ and the ‘private sector’, losing her potency and witness. For many Christians in our culture, it’s easy to say, with no power behind it, “I believe in Jesus” or “I’m a Christian” and it stops there. There is no passion behind what we say anymore.  There is not the evidence in our lives of “decisively, entirely, and evangelistically” following Jesus with all our hearts running out to hear a crazed man in the desert to repent and confess our sins! We are the ‘heranos’, and the ‘ekklesia’ has been done away with.

The Church went from being the holder and herald of the life transforming news that Jesus is Lord and has made a way for sinners to be reconciled to the God of the universe, to the Church which is just one of many options that doesn’t look very attractive.

Jesus came to restore the whole world and declare Lordship over all things (Matt. 28:18; Eph. 1:20-22; Col. 1:15-20)

Do you believe that?
Then if you do, why are you holding back the good news?
Is the world broken?
Does their need to be change?
Do you think Jesus Himself is the answer for the world?
Is He the utopian dream?
Do you believe that He can still bring people in droves here in Phoenix to run out to the desert to here a crazed man speaking a message of freedom through Jesus Christ, adoption into God’s family, to receive forgiveness of sins?

Adoption is Public

The most important event that has ever happened since the creation of the world is the coming of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, into the world. Therefore, the most important thing anybody could ever learn, or any church could keep clear in its vision, is why Jesus came and never relegate this truth to the private sector:

4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons [and daughters]. 6 And because you are sons [and daughters], God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” 7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son [or daughter], and if a son [or daughter], then an heir through God.

The Bible speaks very clearly on this point of adoption, being children of God. Just for starters, read: John 1:11-13; Romans 8:15-16; Ephesian 5:1-2; Phil. 2:14; and 1 John 3:1.

So the purpose of God in sending his Son Jesus to the world, has not been completed. There are more orphans who have not received their adoption as sons or daughters, and guess what, the world is claiming them as her children, and they are getting devoured, chewed up, and spit out.

Jesus said to his disciples in John 20:21: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. Matt. 28:19: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. Few things could be clearer—the purpose of the body of Christ is to extend the mission of Christ in the world.  This is why Jesus tells His disciples, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

The Public Mission

So as a church, we want to take this seriously, this following Jesus stuff. It was a big deal to Jesus to adopt us and give Himself to us, so it is a big deal to us, to tell and display to the world that we go the best family ever! This world (all the orphans), will know that you in Jesus’ family by the love you have for one another, first within the family of God, and also those who are on the outside looking in.

For the Church to again become “a public society that embodies God’s social order for the sake of the nations”, it must live within and proclaim God’s whole story of redemption faithfully and humbly, not choose bits and pieces of it that sound good to you or fit within your vision of a good society. We need the whole story to be embodied by the whole Church as they ‘decisively, entirely, and evangelistically’ follow Jesus. We need love people and offer hope through Jesus Christ, not love them so we can convert them.

We must learn to live in the story line of the biblical narrative and re-tell that story to various cultures in their language, with their symbols and meaning, with their real life examples and struggles, and never make the Church about a particular people gorup, nations, or ideology. The Church must be pointing to Jesus being Lord, not Caesar, or consumerism, or capitalism, or nationalism, or denominationalism, or any other ‘ism’ being Lord.

As the late Abraham Kuyper has been so rightfully quoted, “Every thumbs breadth” of this universe belongs to the sovereign Christ. When the Church believes this and allows this universal, true story to speak to her existence and have a louder voice than all of the other false stories, then she will truly be a missional Church; then she will fight for her message (God’s message), that the whole earth is the Lord’s and God alone holds salvation for the nations. When she believes this not just cognitively, but passionately and holistically, then she will once again gain the rightful title of “ekklesia” and shed off that dreadfully sad and pitiful term, “heranos”. God help us!

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