Follow Me

Luke 5

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, with the people crowding around him and listening to the word of God, he saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signaled their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch men.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him. (Luke 5:1-11)

What would you have done?  Say you’re Peter and you’ve been fishing all night long (notice the operative difference between fishing and catching.)  You’ve been skunked – you were out all night long, you’re bone-tired, and you have nothing to show for it.  Now, all you want to do is get your boat secured, your nets washed and ready for tonight, and get home to sleep. 

All of a sudden, you see the crowd approaching, and they are following Jesus to the water’s edge.  Jesus walks right up to your boat and hops in and asks you to put out a little bit from shore.

Well, what can you say?  He’s just healed your mother-in-law (no jokes now).  And besides, he’s a pretty amazing person – so of course you are going to help out.  You shove out about 20 feet from shore and watch … and listen to Jesus speak like you’ve never heard anyone speak before.  He speaks with power and authority – not like the usual drivel you hear from the Pharisees in the synagogue about Sabbath regulations and cleansing rituals.  He talks about the kingdom of God and getting rid of sin in your life and loving other people – stuff that really matters.  He finishes talking, and you get ready to pull back into shore, when out of the blue he says, “Let’s go fishing.”  You give him one of those looks – you know, the kind of look you give someone who is out of his mind. 

You explain to him, “Master, we’ve fished all night long and haven’t caught anything.”  What you don’t say is, “You’re a preacher, I’m a fisherman – stick to what you know.  If I haven’t caught any fish, there aren’t fish to be caught.”

But he’s insistent – “Put out into deep water, and let down the net for a catch.” 

Okay, so what do you say?  Everything in you says, I’m tired, let’s go home, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.  Bless his heart, Peter finally says, “But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

They pulled out into the deep water, let down the nets, and immediately the nets are so full of fish they begin to break.  They signaled their partners in the other boat who come out to help them, and they filled both boats so full they began to sink.

Now what do you say?  Peter is impulsive, not stupid.  He fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”  He understands what he has just experienced.  This isn’t just a lucky call and a big catch – this is a miracle that speaks his language.  He knows fish.  He knows that this isn’t something you can trick your way into – he is absolutely blown away – they all are.  This is the kind of awe that shakes you to your bones. They are gripped with the kind of fear you get when you realize you’ve just had a close brush with death.  They were trembling.

Jesus says to Simon, “Quit being afraid.”  And then he says, “From now on you will catch men.”

Now what do you say?  Simon didn’t say anything, he and his partners just pulled their boats up onto shore – full of fish, nets in tatters, and walked away from it all to follow Jesus. 

You think that’s amazing?  Watch what happens next.  Jump to vs. 27 “After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi, sitting at his tax booth. ‘Follow me,’ Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” 

Jesus shows up at Levi’s tax booth (you’ll know him better as Matthew).  I’m sure you’ve heard about the reputation of tax collectors – they were despised by everyone.  The Romans hated them because they were parasites – quislings that fed off the system and took their bite out of the pie (a pretty big bite at that).  They were hated by the Jews as collaborators with Rome, and as extortionists who made a living off of cheating their own people.

Jesus walks right in and says, “Follow me.”  What would you say?  He’s got a lucrative job and makes a good living.  If he’s not respected, at least he’s feared.  His family lives comfortably and he travels in high circles.  Why would you turn your back on all that?  What would you say?  Levi doesn’t say a thing.  He locks the door and walks away to follow Jesus. 

Now, you’ve got to be amazed at Levi.  What he did is incredibly courageous.  Peter, Andrew, James and John – the fishermen – they walked away from their boats to follow Jesus.  But if it doesn’t work out, they can always go back, clean up their boats, repair the nets and they’re back in business.  When Levi walked away – that was it – there was no going back.  Rome wasn’t going to hold his job open in case it didn’t work out for him.  He’s on the street as soon as he closes the door.  But he does to follow Jesus.

And here’s what’s even more amazing. He’s so excited about it he throws a party – vs. 29 “Then Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them.”  He invites all his friends to come meet Jesus.  I loved a quote I came across from John Charles Ryle – “A converted man will not wish to go to heaven alone.”  Everybody who is nobody is there.  Luke says “tax collectors and others.”  When Matthew and Mark describe the party, they say “tax collectors and sinners.”  Who do you think is going to come to a party thrown by a tax collector?  Robert Munger said, “The church is the only fellowship in the world where the one requirement for membership is the unworthiness of the candidate.”

As you can imagine, it caused quite a commotion. And we see the Pharisees and teachers of the law, who will now be a constant tail as Jesus travels.  Vss. 30-32 “But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’”  Now watch the interaction – they complain to the disciples, but it is really Jesus they are talking about.  Have you ever been talked about in the third person when you’re standing right there?  It’s insulting.  Jesus goes ahead and answers – “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”    

Jesus defines his mission – and it’s not them.  As long as they think of themselves as “righteous” God can’t do anything with them.  Their minds are closed; their hearts are impenetrable. 

But Jesus finds his followers among the people you would least expect.  It’s not the religious and righteous who are most open to Jesus, but the sinners – those who don’t have their act together – those who have messed up and know it – those who know they need a Savior.  Jesus’ followers were anything but the cream of the crop.  But when he says “follow me,” they leave it all to follow him. 

That’s the kind of people he calls to follow him today. People like Peter and Matthew, people who have checkered pasts and questionable character. We’re just folks who have heard the good news of Jesus and said, “That’s for me.” And we followed.

But once you walk away from the fishing boat or close the office door, what next? For Peter and Matthew, it was fairly well defined. When Jesus said, “Follow me,” they fell in step and literally followed him. But what about you and me? What does it mean to follow Jesus here and now?

There were folks then who followed Jesus around hoping to see something amazing and spectacular. Their commitment was frying pan shallow and their motives were unclear. One time Jesus turned around and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” (Lk 9:23)

Those who thought that Jesus was just a nice amusement, a break from the monotony of their lives would learn there was a price that went along with following Jesus. When Jesus said “Take up your cross,” that meant only one thing – death – literally, not figuratively. The cross wasn’t a metaphor for a particular brand of religion, it was a means of execution. They had seen their fellow countrymen crucified on crosses outside the city gates of Jerusalem – a horrible, humiliating death for those who butted heads with Rome. Jesus was warning them that following him would put them in harm’s way – that you might very likely end up on the cross you carried. So the message was, don’t take this lightly. Following Jesus isn’t a weekend diversion, it’s a day-in-day-out way of life, and the cost is your very life.

In fact, Jesus followed that admonition by saying, “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” (Lk 9:24-25)

He’s telling them and us, “If you’re following me thinking you will get something out of it, you’re missing the point. When you follow me, you won’t get something out of it, you’ll lose everything, but in losing everything, you will gain the most important thing.”

Which begs the question, “Why are you following Jesus?” Is it a social thing? This is where your friends are, your network and support system? I hope that is true, but that’s not the reason we follow Jesus.

Is it a religious thing? You go to church because you’re fulfilling an obligation? I do hope your commitment causes you to follow God’s commands to worship him, but that’s not the reason we follow Jesus.

In Luke 17, we are shown the picture of a man whose life was heading quickly and inevitably toward death:

Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (Lk  17:11-19)

This man’s life was changed by Jesus and his gratitude to Jesus caused him to come back to praise God and thank Jesus.

If following Jesus comes from any other source or motivation, we will always come up against that brick wall that stops so many dead in their tracks. Religion will only take you so far; your social network is subject to fluctuation and change; obligation leaves us feeling tired and empty. Gratitude is the only thing that constantly refreshes our walk with Jesus. A few minutes ago we sang, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness. The Lord is my portion says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

That song reminds us that God’s goodness and mercy are what draw us to him. It is our realization of God’s grace and kindness that motivates us to follow Jesus. Only that steadfast love of God could cause us to want to take up our cross and follow him.

Paul writes: So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. (Col. 2:6-7)

If you are following Jesus for any other reason, you are losing out on the joy of being a disciple.

What does it mean for us today to follow Jesus? It means that every morning we wake up thinking, “How can my life bring glory to God today? What can I do that will reflect his light in this dark world?”

Walking more closely with Jesus ultimately means taking on his nature and characteristics. As Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 3:18, we are “being transformed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.” In his letter to the Galatians, Paul writes of the fruit of the Spirit which our lives begin to bear: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. These are the expressions of a life that is controlled by the Spirit, and so Paul writes, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal 5:25)

So, if you are following Jesus, your life will be a reflection of his as you become more like him in the way you think and act and speak. Each day is a challenge not just to live like Jesus, but to invite others to follow along with you as you walk with Jesus.