We sometimes view the gospel stories as fairytales. When Jesus called his first disciples, for example, we might picture Jesus floating up to them, with a halo softly glowing over his head, putting his soon-to-be disciples into a religious trance as he says, “Follow me.”
But as Jesus called his disciples, the situations are real and concrete. Peter, James, and John are fishing together—just another day at the office. Levi is sitting at his tax booth collecting (and over-collecting) the tax money his fellow Jews owe to the Roman government. Jesus walked into these everyday situations, feet firmly pressed to the ground, and gave a simple but demanding call: “Follow me.”
Peter, James, and John got a taste of who Jesus was as he directed them into a miraculously burdensome catch of fish. James and John were amazed; Peter actually fell on his knees and confessed his sin on the spot. Jesus offered them a new vocation: they would now fish for people. It seems that Matthew simply saw Jesus walk up to his tax booth and heard Jesus speak two words: “Follow me.” That’s not a lot to go on.
Jesus’ call is incredibly vague in both cases. What would it mean for these fishermen to now fish for men? What would this tax collector be doing when he began following? Remember that the disciples didn’t receive their Great Commission—where Jesus told them to make disciples of all nations—until after he rose from the grave. When Jesus called them, he didn’t give them a job description or a specific task for them to work on other than the vague statement that they would be fishing for people.
This means that following Jesus is more about the Person than the task. These disciples were not rallying behind a movement or a cause. They were intrigued by a Person. They didn’t know with any detail what Jesus was calling them to, but there was something about Jesus that made him worth following, regardless of the specifics. In other words, it seems that these disciples would have followed Jesus no matter what he called them to.
We get frequent reminders in the gospels that the disciples didn’t sign up because they loved Jesus’ mission. They often seem confused when he tells them that he will die and rise again. When Jesus is arrested, they all scatter. Peter is bold enough to follow Jesus to the trial, but his noble quest ends in a threefold denial. Jesus’ game plan could not have been the driving factor for these disciples.
But in the disciples we see men who were willing to follow a Person. Peter, James, and John immediately pulled their boats to the shore for the last time and “left everything and followed him.” Jesus had only to speak two words to Matthew and “leaving everything, he rose and followed him.” Though the disciples were initially confused by Jesus’ mission, when Jesus rose from the dead and told them to bring the gospel into the whole world, they did exactly that, as the book of Acts records.
This leaves us with a question. Are we so intrigued by the Person of Jesus that we would follow him regardless of what he asks us to do? If the story of your calling was listed in the gospels right after Matthew’s, what would it say? If Jesus walked into your place of work and told you to follow, what would you need to set down and leave behind in order to follow? Can you honestly say that you are so committed to Jesus—not as an idea, but as a Person—that you would take up the call to follow? Be honest here: what hesitations would you have in accepting a vague call to follow? What things would you be frightened to give up? And most importantly of all, having heard Jesus’ call to follow, would you take that first step and follow your Master into the unknown?