I don’t really know how to start this article so I guess I’ll just start typing and see what happens. Lately, I’ve been studying a lot about what it really meant when Jesus said, “Come, follow me”. The pastors and teachers I’ve heard speak about this over my past 25 plus years as a Christian have usually stressed how incredibly obedient the men were to just drop everything and follow Jesus. They then ask us, will we do the same?
The thing is, given the context that usually comes with that question, I honestly think my answer would be “no”. I mean, why would I? Would you? We know our answer is supposed to be “yes”, so there’s obviously something we’re missing and not being taught about these passages.
I believe it’s the actual context. It’s background information. It’s cultural information. Let’s take a look at some of these things.
First off, we hear about Jesus as rabbi, but what did that really mean back then? How did one become a rabbi, and, when he did become a rabbi, what was he supposed to do?
Back then, in that location, the education system was one in which boys, and usually girls too, would go to school where they would learn to read, write and memorize the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible. If they were able to do that by the age of 12, then some, who were at the very top of the class, would be selected to continue on in their studies. The young men who were not selected would begin work with their family’s trade, commonly something like fisherman or stone cutter, etc. The girls did not continue on and in general, once they began menstruating, they were announced as women available for marriage.
Of the select boys that continued on, they would now learn to memorize the rest of scripture, what we now know as the Old Testament. At the end of this stage, they were usually 18 years old and once again, this would be the “end of the road” for many young men. They would not be selected to study under a rabbi and would be told to return to their trade/family business. Only a few, the best of the best so to speak, would be selected by a rabbi to continue on. The selection process was grueling and, as I mentioned, most were turned away. The students that showed the most promise, the most hope, to become just like their rabbi were selected by that rabbi and extended an invitation to “Come, follow me.”
It’s important to pause here and actually hear what Jesus said. He didn’t say “Come, believe in me” or “Come, I want to have your attention for a short period of time.” No, He said, “Come, follow me”.
As those men left their boats and nets to follow Jesus, now their rabbi, they knew they were signing up for a 24/7 apprenticeship. This was no longer a day of classes, rather this would be years of round the clock learning, watching, studying, noticing, imitating, doing, and being with their rabbi. The whole point of “Coming and following” was to become just like their master, just like their rabbi. Our Bibles translate this as becoming disciples, but a better translation for our modern day might be becoming “apprentices”.
When you think about an apprentice to an electrician, for instance, the whole goal in the apprenticeship is for the apprentice to be able to do everything the electrician does. The goal is not to just listen, not just to gain an intellectual understanding, but rather to actually become just like the electrician and to actually do what he does.
This is what it meant to “Come, follow me”…to dedicate your life, every moment, to becoming like your teacher, to learning to replicate him, to doing what he does.
And at this time, it is important to realize that there were many rabbis and teachers. Jesus was not the only one. Jesus was the only Messiah, but he wasn’t the only rabbi in the culture at the time and there were plenty that went before him. This would be a well understood commitment that these men were making.
So, let’s get back to our ever popular passage of Jesus calling the brothers to leave their boats and fishing gear and “Come follow, me.”
First off, it maybe wasn’t as “out of the blue” as some describe it to be. There’s good scriptural evidence that at least some who were called already knew who Jesus was. For instance, in John 1:35-42 we see that Andrew and his brother Simon (Peter) already met Jesus a couple days after He was baptized by John the Baptist. They spent at least a day with him, if not more. This wasn’t just any guy calling to them. They knew who he was or had at least heard of him.
Secondly, think about it- these guys were out fishing. That means, they didn’t “make the cut”. Maybe they went into the trade at age 12 or maybe they didn’t get turned away until age 18, but either way, these guys were not selected to continue on and become disciples and one day rabbis themselves. Maybe they hoped they would have made it, maybe they decided they weren’t cut out for it, but either way, here they were fishing. So when Jesus, who they knew, whom they had heard of, calls to them to “Come follow me”, this was like the equivalent of an overlooked college quarterback who didn’t get drafted, now being given an official personal invitation to come join the NFL. Of course they were going to go! For the record, in that scenario, so would I. Immediately!
I think it’s so important to understand the backdrop of the Bible, the cultural context, and the way these words we now read would have first been heard and applied. It brings the meaning alive for us and it challenges us in our own faith walk. It allows us to re-examine our own hearts and our dedication to Jesus. Do we want to be people who are happy to say “Yes, I believe” and leave it at that? Or, do we want to be those who desire to truly “follow Jesus” and become His disciples?
Either way, His love for us is present and never changing. Our salvation and righteousness is found in our belief and confession of who He is and His work on the cross. However, His desire for us is clear. His instruction to us and plan for us is not limited to salvation. His mandate, given to us first in Genesis 1:27-28, and spoken freshly through Jesus Himself in Matthew 28:19-20, is to become His disciples and then flood the Earth with His Kingdom by making more.
For me, I want to be His apprentice. I don’t just want to believe in Him, I want to follow Him. Yeah, I definitely want to follow Him.