I grew up reading comic books and watching Saturday morning cartoons. I could not wait to watch Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends along with Super Friends. It was a great morning every Saturday and always worth waking up early to watch. Superheroes have made a revival in pop culture over the last 14 years or so with movies like Iron Man and Avengers dominating the screen. I wonder if this American Idol of wanting power and harnessing it for “good” has infected the church more than we think. It seems that Christianized self-help has dominated the top sales position (no I’m not naming names yet…). When we look at the Scriptures, we realize that it is not a better self that we want but rather a spiritual death to self.
So does God want us to be a better version of ourselves or does He have another idea and plan? Around 13 times Jesus calls people to “follow me.” The depths of Jesus’ words are not apparent to the western reader at first. However, as we read through the Gospels, we see Jesus’ fuller meaning to “Follow me.” What we find is a depth of request that is personal and asks for an emptying of self and communion with God in such a way that is transformative to the core! A better self is not the fruit of following Jesus but rather a death to self and a complete transformation.
Come and see:
Jesus is confronted by some young disciples. Presumably, they are tongue-tied when Jesus asks, “What are you seeking?” (which is another way of asking, “What do you want?”). Having an audience with the Savior of the world, the One who Israel has waited for and the fulfillment of Scriptures these young men ask, “Where are you staying?” Jesus responds, “Come and see.” This is not an invitation to just go and visit the place where Jesus is sleeping that night. This is an invitation to a relationship. This is beyond the moment of physical location but rather a spiritual request to see how the Savior lives. This will lead them to a new crossroad in their lives. (See John 1:35-42)
These young men have an amazing interaction with Jesus! However, in John there is an indication that although they follow Jesus, it is unclear where they are at in the “discipleship commitment” as they seem to go back to what they were doing; whereas in Matthew 4, when Jesus calls Andrew, Simon Peter, James, and John from fishing He expressly states, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” It is an interesting command.
Follow me – This is an act of the will. It requires our brain’s engagement to respond.
I will make you – This is a transformation of the heart. Jesus is letting them know that He will do the work. The responsibility is on Christ to change the person? the heart? once the will is submitted.
Fishers of men – Jesus is calling these men on mission with Him. This is what they are going to be about and it will require action (some preparation, some engagement, some work, some flexibility, some course correction, some mending and some follow up… this was all implied by Christ to these men who fished for a living).
At this point, it may feel like Jesus is going to make them better. It may feel like He is going to make them super. However, we see that Jesus calls James and John the “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) and corrects them when they want to sit at Jesus’ right and left (Mark 10:35-45). He calls them not to a position but to drink of the cup that Jesus drinks from and to be immersed in the life that Jesus is immersed in. Following Jesus is a mission, it is a calling, and it comes with requirements! The Sons of Thunder are not called to a better version of themselves. They are called to a transformation. A place where the “old has gone and the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Simon Peter is the leader of the disciples (if that is fair to call him that). He is not immune to Jesus’ correction either. Jesus does not nurture and develop Simon Peter’s attributes but rather calls them out, empties them, and restores him to Jesus’ plan (Mark 8:33, Matthew 16:23 and John 21:15-19). Simon Peter is not a superhero. His attributes get in the way of Jesus’ mission. And the narrative of the disciples with Jesus is wrapped up with Christ’s final command to Simon Peter at the end of the Gospel of John, “Follow Me!”
Jesus’ final statement to Peter on the seaside shore occurs after the resurrection. One of the implications of Simon Peter’s desire to go back to fishing is that he thinks he cannot follow Jesus. Jesus restores Simon Peter. This restoration is a call to die. This restoration is a reminder that following Jesus is not about becoming the best version of self. No matter what our culture communicates there is only one Superhero, and His name is “Jesus.”
Despite our sinful nature we are able to crucify it in Christ (Galatians 2:20) and live in Him. Our life in Christ keeps us on the path of follow-ship. The destination is not as important (we will get there… that is His work) but the journey of choosing to follow, allowing Jesus to have His way in transforming us and being on Jesus’ mission is the important part, and the part that we have action in.
Let me encourage you to take some time this week and read the following passages. In reading these passages please take a little time to understand the context around them. Then ask yourself – How does this direct my mind (my will), my heart (Jesus’ work in my life), and my actions (my mission with Jesus)?
Please read: Galatians 2:20; Luke 9:23; Luke 14:33; 1 Corinthians 15:31; Romans 6:1-11; Luke 14:27; Philippians 1:21; Romans 12:1; Colossians 3:3; 1 Peter 2:24; Romans 8:18; John 12:24-26; Romans 6:23; and John 3:1-36