This week, listen into one of Pastor J.D.’s recent sermons as he answers the question, “What Does It Mean Practically to Follow Jesus?”
What does it mean to become a Christian? According to the gospels, very simply, it means to follow Jesus. It doesn’t mean to start being perfect; it’s not to know every answer to every theological question, it’s just to follow Jesus. Jesus invites people everywhere and anywhere to follow him.
Now, I want to acknowledge that a lot of people don’t know exactly what that means. Back in biblical times, it was pretty straightforward. You literally just followed him—he went that way, you went that way. But today, he’s not physically here anymore, he’s invisible, so what does it mean to follow him?
Great question. Back in those days, when you wanted to follow a Rabbi, you would go and sit at his feet and he would examine you with questions and put you through a series of tests to see if you were worthy to be their disciple. If you passed, they’d invite you to follow them, at which point you’d literally go everywhere with them, listening to everything they taught, watching all the ways they’d interact, and trying to imitate their every move.
Ray Vander Laan, a historian who specializes in 1st century Israel, said that in those days the greatest praise you could give to a talmid (which is the Hebrew word for disciple) was “the dust of your rabbi is all over you.” That didn’t mean “Dude, you’re dirty! Go take a shower!” It meant, “You have followed your rabbi so closely that you’ve heard everything he said, seen everything he’s done, and everything he’s stepped in has splashed up on you.”
All of that should give you a picture of what it means to follow Jesus. Here’s Ray Vander Laan’s definition: “A talmid (disciple) is someone who seeks not only to know what his master knows, but also to do what his master does.” There are two elements there:
- The first: Learning. You want to know what your master knows. Listen, if you want to be a disciple, there’s no shortcut to this—there’s a lot of learning involved. If you are serious about being a disciple, your life will be filled with a lot of learning, listening to messages, being regularly in church, reading books, participating in small groups and leadership cohorts seeking to grow in your knowledge. You say, “But I’m not really an academic kind of person.” Look, you don’t have to be. I’m just saying if you’re in love with somebody, you’re going to learn all about them—and that’s a big part of the Christian life.
- But that’s just half of the discipleship formula…
- The other half is doing. A disciple doesn’t want to merely know what his master knows; he or she also wants to do what his master does. How did he live? What were his priorities?
- Following Jesus means seeking to know what he knows, and do what he does. Around the Summit, you’ll hear us simplify that into the 5 identities of the disciple: You become a worshiper, family member, servant, steward, and witness. That’s what he was.
45 Philip (went and) found (a friend named) Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
- Nathanael said, “Can anything good come outta there?” Totally snobby. But Philip doesn’t answer it; he just says, “Come see for yourself.” Some of you have a friend you want to tell about Jesus, but you don’t, because you are afraid of how they are going to react. Follow this example of Philip. Jesus doesn’t need your help converting them; he’ll do that. Just tell them your story like Philip did, and when they ask you an antagonistic question, you say, “Come and see for yourself… Come to church with me. Let’s read the Bible together.”
- Jesus does all the converting; we just need to extend the invitation.
- Think of it like if you were asked to defend a caged lion—you don’t need to defend the lion, just open the gate, and let the lion do his own defending.
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