Following people on Twitter is easy. You set up an account, hit a few buttons and are instantly connected to what people are thinking, saying and doing around the world – you are a follower. You not only get to see what they are saying and doing but you can also share all of this by re-tweeting their thoughts and comments with your followers. Following people on twitter is easy which is why you can follow hundreds of people all at the same time. Following a sports team is easy. You can watch them play and celebrate when they win and cry when they lose, but it’s easy, it might cost you some money if you buy tickets to watch them play in person or purchase merchandise to show your support – but it’s easy. We make following easy – but following Jesus is not. The truth is that there is nothing easy about following Jesus and as we look at some of the stories of people who did follow Jesus we see that it called for them to sacrifice and serve but it was in following Jesus that they found salvation.
The first followers of Jesus were Simon, Andrew, James and John. They were 4 fisherman who were already connected to each other in several ways. Simon (who became Peter) and Andrew were brothers and James and John were brothers and as fishermen in Capernaum they all worked along the same stretch of shoreline, fished the same waters and maybe even partnered together in their fishing business. As Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee he called out for them to follow him and in Matthew 4 it says that Peter and Andrew “immediately they left their nets and followed him” and then James and John, “left the boat and their father and followed him.” While it seems like following Jesus was easy for them, it was not. Think about what they had to do to follow Jesus.
It says Peter and Andrew left their nets to follow Jesus. As fishermen, their nets were their livelihood; it was how they provided for their families, put food on the table and even helped care for and feed the people of their community. The people of Capernaum depended upon these fishermen to provide them with food. Following Jesus meant that Peter and Andrew were leaving behind a way of life that had been comfortable and secure for them and a livelihood that not only provided for them but for their family and others. They sacrificed a lot to follow Jesus – they gave up almost everything that brought them identity, security and a greater sense of purpose and they gave it all up for something that was completely unknown. Jesus didn’t defined for them what it means to fish for people, he didn’t tell them how he was going to provide for them or their families or what their future would be like, so the sacrifice isn’t just in what they are giving up but also the control of where they were going and sometimes it is giving up control of our lives and our future which is the greatest sacrifice of all.
The same is true for James and John. It says they left behind their boats which like the nets of Peter and Andrew meant their livelihood and business, but it also says they left behind their father. Here the sacrifice included family. These first followers of Jesus left behind significant relationships that defined them and people who loved and supported them and maybe needed them. Following Jesus could not have been easy for them and again, they had no idea where they were going or what they were getting themselves in to. They didn’t know what the future held for Jesus or for them so part of the sacrifice was giving up control.
These aren’t the only people who made great sacrifices to follow Jesus. Let’s look at Matthew, the man who wrote this gospel. Before he followed Jesus, Matthew was a tax collector which meant he had a lot of financial security. Working for the Roman government, his job was secure and he made a lot of money. Matthew would have been comfortable and while he may not have had a lot of friends working for the Romans, he had a lot of connections and status which brought him power Now look at what happens when Jesus calls him. Matthew 9:9
When Matthew got up and left his tax booth it meant he was quitting his job right then and there. You left your booth and you were leaving your job and there was no turning back. Matthew was finished and he didn’t just leave behind a job but all the financial security, status and position the job provided. He was also cutting himself off from all his contacts, all the leaders and rulers in Jerusalem who could have helped take care of him. These people would have nothing to do with him now. Matthew sacrificed a lot to follow a man that he may have heard teach and preach a few times and maybe saw perform a miracle of healing or two, but again he was headed off with Jesus into a very unstable and uncertain future. Like Peter, Andrew, James and John, Matthew was leaving behind a lot. He was sacrificing a lot.
Now let’s look at one more follower of Jesus who came along after Jesus’ death and resurrection and that is the apostle Paul. Before Paul became a follower of Jesus he was a prominent leader in the Jewish community. He had unquestioned power and authority in Israel and Paul could have had anything and everything he wanted. Jesus confronted Paul along the road to Damascus and first struck him blind and then sent him to a man named Ananias who restored his sight. When the scales fell of Paul’s eyes it says he got up, was baptized in Jesus’ name and then immediately began to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God. While the experience Paul had was dramatic, (I mean Jesus spoke to him, struck him blind and then restored his sight) think about what Paul had to leave behind to follow Jesus. He was leaving behind position, wealth and power. Paul was letting go of everything he knew and trusted in all of his life and he actually went from one who was persecuting Christians to being persecuted as a Christian. He went from being the hunter to the hunted. Paul sacrificed everything to follow Jesus.
And that’s what we see everywhere we turn in the New Testament, following Jesus calls for sacrifice. People left behind businesses, homes, families, wealth, position, status and power. They sacrificed security, comfort and control in order to walk into a completely uncertain and unknown future. Everyone who followed Jesus had to make great sacrifices and Jesus himself said that to follow him will require people to make great sacrifice.
In Matthew 19:21 Jesus said to a rich man, go sell your possessions and give to the poor, then come, follow me.
In Matthew 8 Jesus said to a man who wanted to go home and care for his family before he followed him, let them care for themselves, come follow me. To those who had responsibilities and obligations, Jesus said there are times you have to leave those behind to follow me. Jesus said to anyone and everyone who wants to follow him you have to deny yourself, take up a cross and follow me. Following Jesus is not easy because it always means we have to leave something behind. Following Jesus means sacrifice and so the question we have to ask ourselves is what have we sacrificed in order to follow Jesus? What have left behind in order to follow Jesus?
When I asked myself that question this week and looked back at my own life I realized that I’m not sure I have really sacrificed much or left much behind to follow Jesus. I left my job at the movie theater to go seminary – but it wasn’t much of a sacrifice because I didn’t like the job and didn’t want to keep going in that direction anyway. When I stepped out to become a pastor and come to PA it was a step of faith into a completely unknown situation – but I knew I would be financially and physically cared for by a church family.
So looking back I’m not sure I have had to sacrifice very much which makes we wonder if we make following Jesus too easy? Have I not pushed myself enough? Have I not given enough? Have I not stepped out in faith more? Have I not trusted God more in situations where he has been calling me to follow him? The answer to all of those questions is probably yes and what it tells me is that I need to think about what God might be calling me to let go of so I can more faithfully follow him. If at its core following Jesus calls for sacrifice, then I need to ask myself am I sacrificing and giving all that God is asking me to give?
The truth is that I don’t ever want to get to a place in my life where I am content and feeling like I have given or sacrificed all I need to in my walk with Jesus. I don’t believe Jesus calls us to follow him just once, I think it is a call or an invitation he makes often, maybe every day, and each time we hear him say “follow me” we are given the opportunity to let go of something, sacrifice something, in order to move forward. It might be a sacrifice of money or time or control of our future, it might be a sacrifice of status or standing or job or relationships or security – but in every call to follow Jesus, in every call to follow God, there is a call to sacrifice and let go of something and I want to be a follower who is willing to make that sacrifice and go all the way.
There are people all over the world today who are going all the way and who are sacrificing everything to follow Jesus, even their lives. In over 100 countries, Christians are being persecuted and killed for being followers of Jesus. There are churches being burned to the ground, ministries being attacked and children being subjected to terror and violence all because they say that they follow Jesus. There are people sacrificing their freedom and their lives to stay faithful to Christ and when I think of that it challenges me to ask myself what I might need to sacrifice not just to follow Jesus but to follow Jesus with them.
Can I sacrifice some of my time and be more faithful in praying for those who are being persecuted? Can I give more time in study so I can be more informed about our brothers and sisters in need around the world? Can I make a sacrifice and step out in faith to pressure governments to change policies which allow for the persecution of Christians? Can I get more involved and sacrifice my own self-image and status to stand up in this generation to say that I am a follower of Jesus? My guess is that there is a lot we could all sacrifice in order to follow Jesus and to walk with those who are being persecuted here and around the world.
Following Jesus is not easy and sometimes I worry that we make it seem like it’s easy to be a Christian, but it’s not. Following Jesus is not like following someone on twitter because at its very core it means leaving behind one way of life to live differently. It means sacrificing some of those things the first followers of Jesus sacrificed like security, comfort, control, family, friends, finances and even our future. Following Jesus fundamentally calls for sacrifice – what sacrifice will we make? What sacrifice will you make? What sacrifice will I make?
Following Jesus – Sacrifice
Identify all the things that these people sacrificed in order to faithfully follow God:
• Abraham: Genesis 12:1-9
• Moses: Exodus 3:1- 4:20
• Jesus’ Disciples: Matthew 4:18-20, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11, John 1:35-51
• Matthew: Matthew 9:9-13
• Paul: Acts 9:1-22
Jesus taught that following Him would call for sacrifice:
• Luke 9:23–27
• Luke 18:18-30
What sacrifices have you made in following Jesus?
What sacrifice is God asking you to make today in order to follow Jesus?
Christians around the world are sacrificing everything to follow Jesus. Spend some time in prayer for those who are being persecuted and find ways to support them. (To read about the plight of those who are being persecuted around the world check out www.persecution.org)