For awhile now, I have been calling myself a follower of Jesus in an attempt to differentiate from the religious institution. I thought it was a good way to open up a conversation with others and avoid the stereotyping that goes with the word Christian. While the media and other groups like to classify all Christians in a negative light, my desire is to show that is not the narrative that Jesus teaches in the Bible. Christ loves everyone and has a desire for all to know Him. In my attempt to let others know I follow Jesus, not an institution, I realized that just following is not enough.
Following can be very easy. Following does not require any thought. Simply go in the direction the leader is heading. Go to church, listen to the sermon, worship for a few songs, go home. Read the Bible, pray and do a Bible study. It is easy to get into a rhythm of following that is, well safe. It is safe because there are others doing the same thing. It is safe because it doesn’t require anyone to take any risks. Peter exemplifies this on the night Jesus was taken to by tried. The night Jesus was captured and brought in front of the religious leaders who judged Him and found Him guilty of nothing but disrupting the religious institution of the day. What did Peter do as the guards were taking Jesus away? Mark 14:54 tells us, “Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire.”
Peter followed Jesus at a distance. He didn’t want to get caught by the guards. He didn’t get too close. He didn’t let anyone else know that he knew Jesus, for three years in fact. Peter was one of the three closest friends to Jesus. Peter followed Jesus at a distance. When he got to the courtyard of the high priest, what did he do? He sat down and warmed himself with the fire. He was close to Jesus, but not too close. He was willing to accept a warm fire instead of the Spiritual fire that came directly from Jesus. One might even say that Peter looked more like the non-followers than a true disciple of Jesus. How many of us have been content to follow Jesus and follow Him at a distance? Go to church on Sunday, where it is safe. Surrounded by other believers or at least would-be believers. Then satisfied to warm ourselves by the fire during the week, not getting too close to the Spiritual fire of the Holy Spirit.
It is easy to say, “I am a follower of Jesus” but does it look like Peter when he betrayed Jesus? There is another way. It looks move like Peter after Jesus raised from the dead and visited him on the beach. Jesus asks Peter if he loved Him three times. Which redeemed each of the three times Peter denied him to others. This act of forgiveness transforms Peter from a follower to someone who is waking in step with Jesus. In Matthew 11:28-30 it says, “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (MSG)
After Pentecost and Holy Spirit was poured out on humanity, we have a chance to walk with Jesus instead of just following Him. I love how the Message version puts it, “Walk with me and work with me – watch how I do it.” We are invited to walk with Jesus and work along side Him and Holy Spirit. We don’t have to trail along at a distance. We don’t have to be timid and wait until Sunday to come alive. We can walk with Jesus every day, watch what He is doing and be His hands and feet. We have an opportunity to BE Jesus to a hurting world. Religion may not be attractive to non-believers, but Jesus is. His love, compassion and grace draws people to Him. We can be that love, compassion and grace to everyone around us.
Today, I choose to walk with Jesus, not just follow Him. What do you think?