18 While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 19 And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed him. 21 And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.
— Matthew 4:18-22, ESV
Some people talk too much, and don’t say much when they talk. Some people can say a whole lot in just a few words. One person can say even more with just two.
A young woman became a nun and pledged herself to a convent that required vows of chastity, poverty, and silence. The nuns were allowed just two words per year. These could be spoken in an annual review with the mother superior, who would then offer advice.
At the end of her first year, the novice said, “Food cold.” At the end of the second, “Bed hard.” Then, after three years she said, “I quit.” The mother superior replied, “It’s just as well, you’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”
The Lord Jesus Christ could say a lot in a few words. As a matter of fact, He could preach the gospel using just two words, and often did. I do not know how many times He actually said them, the four Gospels quote the two words from Him about twenty times. I suspect there were hundreds more instances. Since Jesus’ first coming, and until Christ comes again, His two words ring out innumerable times through His voice, the Holy Scriptures, and the Holy Spirit.
The two words are, of course, “Follow Me.” These two words are, to borrow two more from C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity.” They proclaim, in two more words, “good news,” or as we often say in one, the “gospel” of the kingdom of God, where Jesus Christ is Lord.
No one should consider himself or herself a Christian unless they have heard and heeded the two words of Jesus, “Follow Me,” in an understanding and commitment similar to that of Peter, Andrew, James, and John. In these two words the first disciples heard other words, too. And these words will make you want to be a Christian, a disciple, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus was not afraid, as some men are around other men, to tell someone He loved them. He expressed it often in His ministry and made it His chief compliment and commandment. Love is what the first disciples heard when Jesus said, “Follow Me.”
You don’t invite someone to come and live with you, spending most hours of most days with you, unless you love them. Peter, Andrew, James, and John were invited to give their lives to Jesus and spend their lives with Jesus. Peter would take Jesus into his home, Andrew would take Jesus into his kitchen, and James and John would sit beside Jesus at the table. It was a close, intimate relationship, which lasted only three years on earth, but forever in eternity.
I hope the first word you hear when you hear Jesus’ two words, “Follow Me,” is “love.” You know John 3:16 by heart. You can substitute your name for “the world.” Jesus is God, and God is love, and the main reason Jesus commands us to follow Him is so we can have a loving, intimate, personal, and corporate relationship with God.
But enjoying this kind of relationship with God, on earth and into eternity, requires hearing and heeding these two words, “Follow Me.” They are words of love. Indeed, Jesus loves you just the way you are. But, He loves you too much to leave you that way, which is why you need to hear a second word when Jesus says, “Follow Me.”
The second single word Jesus meant to communicate in the two words, “Follow Me,” is “repent.”
Repent is not a harsh word, as when put in the mouths of actors portraying caricatures of a half-crazed John the Baptist or a mean-spirited fundamentalist preacher. With Jesus, who often said it, it is a loving word, an exciting word, an inviting word to a new and infinitely better way of life.
Peter, Andrew, James, and John were living their lives a certain way. They were concerned with making money, form themselves and their families. They were fishing for fish, their chosen profession. They respected the God of their Jewish fathers, but did not seem to have an outstanding or personal relationship with Him.
Furthermore, these were flawed men. Peter showed the capacity for both arrogance and cowardice. Andrew was a small thinker, sometimes plagued with doubt. James and John once wanted to kill and entire village of Samaritans, revealing more than a little racial and religious prejudice. All of us are flawed, all of us are sinners, and most of us are happy to ignore most of our sins as we sustain a run-of-the-mill, average, everyday life, like these four before they followed Jesus.
Jesus wanted more for them. He wanted them to change, to turn, to repent. He opened their blind eyes toward sin and gave them the strength to turn from it. He showed them the path that led to the kingdom of God and they ran onto it. He bid them, “Follow Me,” and they did, not perfectly but earnestly, not suddenly but gradually, not temporarily but permanently. It was a true repentance born out of genuine faith, which Jesus commands each time He says, “Follow Me.”
Love is easy, change is hard. What makes both possible is faith. Faith is active belief in a person for who they are, what they stand for, and what they bring to life.
What made Peter, Andrew, James, and John leave their nets and boats and families to, “Follow Me,” according to Jesus, was their glad, gradual, and growing faith in Him as the Messiah. At first their faith was glad and exciting, but showed many flaws. Over three years it grew, painfully at times but persistently, with the hardest lessons being learned during the final exams at the last Passover. But their faith flew as Jesus ascended into Heaven and the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost.
To “Follow Me,” according to Jesus, you must believe in Jesus. You must believe He is God and man, Lord and Savior, Master and Messiah. It can be exhilarating at first, as many “born again” experiences can be, but it gets difficult. You can fail, but you cannot quit. If you hang in there, and you begin to realize it is God who chose you, saved you, and is hanging on to you, you begin to excel with confidence and joy.
When you hear, “Follow Me,” do you believe Jesus loves you? Do you believe Jesus can change you? Do you believe in Jesus, that He is who He says He is, has done what the Bible says He has done, and will give you the forgiveness and eternal life He has promised? Then, prove it, like these four men, by truly following Jesus by obeying His commandments, beginning with the first, “Follow Me.”
When looking for a companion word for love, the world often offers freedom. “If you love something set it free, it it comes back to you it is yours, if it does not it never was.” If is funny such words are never used in a wedding ceremony. “Do you promise to love her and set yourself free from her,” is not said, but in a proper covenant ceremony the two words that go together are love and obey.
Jesus even said, “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). The four fishermen who left their boats and nets to follow Jesus, to love Him and turn to Him and believe in Him, certainly obeyed Him.
Peter led the church and spread the gospel, eventually giving up his life in Rome, all because of his love, repentance, faith, and obedience to Christ. Andrew went north and east, settling in Scotland, which is why the birthplace of golf is the named for the death place of St. Andrews. James never got out of Israel, became the first martyr, killed by the evil Herod Agrippa for following and preaching Jesus. John lived the longest, followed Jesus the closest, and took the gospel the farthest, going from Jerusalem, through Judea and Samaria, to the uttermost parts of the earth. These men loved, preached repentance and faith, and obeyed the Lord unto the end, which is just a new beginning, if you do as Jesus asked, “Follow Me.”
You and I will not be Apostles. Our names are not written in the Bible nor will we write a book that belongs in the Bible. There will be no church anywhere with St. (Your Name) written on the sign. But the ground at the cross is level and the hearing of the call is equal for those four, for you, and for me. “Follow Me” is the gospel to be loved and give love, to repent and believe to be saved, and to obey and follow the Lord as the proof and fruit of your salvation. Unless you experience all four of these single words, you haven’t heard and headed Jesus’ two words, “Follow Me.”
In my office at home there is a painting. It is a beautiful piece by an artist commissioned by my daughters, given to me as a present. It depicts the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee, near Capernaum, and two first-century fishing boats. The boats are empty. The men are gone. They have left after hearing Jesus call, “Follow Me.”
I love this painting and what it represents. It makes me think of Peter, Andrew, James, and John, the first Christians, and what they must have felt when they heard the two words. It reminds me of when I left my sin and rebellion as a college baseball player and began to follow Jesus, only to be made fun of by some and misunderstood by many. It reminds me of the day I left my home in Valdosta, Georgia and a lucrative business career to go to seminary and embark on a life of pastoral ministry. It makes me hear the words of Jesus again, “Follow Me.”
Today I invite you to hear these words afresh and anew, “Follow Me.” You do not have to leave your job or home to become a missionary or a pastor. But you must leave whatever is in the way of fully following the Lord. Love Jesus more than life. Repent and believe in Jesus, in the gospel, and the abundant and eternal life it brings. Obey the Lord, in family matters and business matters and church matters and in all that matters, for all that does matter is living a loving, repentant, faithful, and obedient life for the Lord Jesus Christ who still calls, with just two words, “Follow Me.”