John 1:40 “Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.” John 1:43 we read “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’”
One or other of the ‘follow’ words appears more than 70 times in the Gospels, nearly always as ‘follow me’ or ‘follow him’. So following is a very important and significant word about our relationship to Jesus.
There has been a very distinct and valuable turn by many people towards talking in terms of ‘following’ rather than any of the possible alternatives recently. Not so long ago the common term was ‘deciding for Jesus’ and before that it was ‘born-again’. But the first of these is a very imprecise and somewhat wooly term to use while the second has been taken over by all sorts of people just to mean somebody taking up again a sport or an activity that they used to take part in but had not done so for some time.
Instead of those terms many people are talking about those who are converted (yet another old and Biblical term that is no longer much used) as having set out ‘to follow Jesus’ and those who are going to church but have made no profession of faith as those ‘who are not yet following Jesus’.
There is considerable merit in this. ‘Following Jesus’ indicates not only the starting point of making a profession of faith but the setting out on a journey which will last for a long time – in fact the rest of life – and will include a commitment, therefore a life-long commitment, to following Jesus.
But the obvious question is ‘what does following Jesus’ or following anyone actually mean. We use ‘following’ in much the same sense when we talk about following a team in some sport, such as football. (Apologies here to American friends who have the curious idea that a game in which foot is seldom applied to ball is football! I am talking about what you call ‘soccer’ where foot and ball often meet up.) Those who ‘follow’ a team such as Manchester United act in certain fairly well defined ways. They go to meet – well, watch – their team as often as possible; they worship – well, cheer them on – as vigorously as they can; they rejoice visibly and audibly when they do something good, like score a goal; they identify themselves with the team by wearing their colours in a scarf or a shirt; they spend considerable sums of money to support their team and in various ways assert that support to their friends and other people.
We can parallel all those things in what we should do as we ‘follow Jesus’. We should meet with him, at church, in small groups, in our private prayer as often as possible; we should worship Jesus and the Lord God in our singing etc. ; we should identify with Jesus in many subtle ways – the ways we behave, the things we say, perhaps too the words we do not use, where appropriate in the wearing of small emblems indicating our allegiance; we will be prepared to use our resources to support the Lord’s work in many different ways.
Certain words have sneaked into those last paragraphs, almost without me noticing. Words such as: cheering on, vigorously, identify, support, assert, allegiance, use of resources. All those words have a place in our thinking about how we are to follow Jesus.
Not all of them can be found in this passage in John 1, but many of them can. Andrew was quick to identify himself with Jesus, to support him, to give him his allegiance, and to use his resource of time. Philip did exactly the same things in his search for Nathaniel. It seems likely that Philip was a rather ordinary sort of guy with no great leadership qualities yet evident, whereas Nathaniel was probably the village wise man. That did not stop Philip sharing his discovery of Jesus with a man he probably looked up to as very much his superior.
I’m sure I don’t need to labour the lessons for us that are so clear in this passage. Follow Jesus – it is by far the best way to journey through life and arrive at a worthwhile destination.