If I knocked on your door and asked you if you would rather die than give up the teaching I’m ready to share with you, how would you respond? If I called you on the phone as you were eating dinner and told you to give up your home and your car and your relationships and follow me, how would that go over? I’m guessing not so well, right? I don’t think I’d have too many followers.
In John 1, we see Jesus calling his followers, and the commitment was that significant. But for him, it worked. In our lesson we see Jesus telling Philip, “Follow me.” Even though that meant giving up his home and his town and his relationships — really his life — Philip doesn’t bat an eye. He does what Jesus told him to do. He follows.
So are you ready to answer Jesus' call? Right now, through the pages of God’s holy word, Jesus calls you to “Follow me.” Are you ready? Are you ready to give up everything that you consider important in order to follow him?
It’s not so easy, is it? And even if we say it, how well do we carry it out? Think about it. Each of us, even though we are believers, we carry around a sinful nature that doesn’t want you to commit so whole-heartedly to Jesus and his word and his work. When opportunities to live your faith come up, there’s Satan telling you that you’ve got to take care of yourself before helping someone else. When you know that God wants you to be in his word and join with fellow believers in worship, have you ever come up with a “reason” not to? There are millions of “reasons” for not doing what God expects of us as his children, spending time with him in worship and Bible Study, spending our resources (time, talents and treasures) in his work. But, when we get right down to it, “reasons” isn’t the right term, is it? “Excuses” comes closer. Actually, “selfishness” is probably even more accurate.
And if it isn’t the selfishness, it’s the pride. For Nathanael in our text, it was Jesus’ hometown that threw him. His messiah would be someone more noble than that, from somewhere much more dignified than Nazareth. And we do the same, when our time and attention is instead drawn to the power and prestige at the workplace or the accomplishment and competition of the hobby, or just the rugged individualism that causes us to focus on anything but the cross of Christ.
And if it isn’t the selfishness or pride, Satan hits with guilt. Do you know that in the past week alone three different people told me that they doubted they would be in heaven if they died? All three times, it was in answer to that big question I ask so often: “If you died tonight, where would you end up?” And all three of them pointed to their sins as the reason they didn’t think they’d make it: “Too many. Too bad. I don’t deserve it,” they said. You see how Satan tries to attack from both sides. He wants us to go right from the pride where we think we don’t need God, to the guilt that tells us God couldn’t want us.
Put all of that together and do you see just how impossible it is for us to follow him? Yet Jesus says it. “Follow me.” But it’s not like me telling the starving man with a gangrenous leg freezing in the cold who just lost everyone he loved to “Have a nice day.” There my words have no power — in fact, everything in that situation just says it won’t happen. The difference is that when Jesus says follow me, his word has power. His word gives what it commands.
If I held up a glass of tap water and said, “Let this water teem with fish,” none of you would expect that I’d suddenly need an aquarium. I can’t even catch fish that are already there when I go fishing. Or if I tell the ground to produce animals, I can guarantee you that there will not be lions and tigers springing up from the tiles. I can’t even get the ground in my backyard to produce grass, and that’s with grass seed and water.
But when God says it… When God opened his mouth wide and said, “Let there be light,” suddenly, piercing the darkness, light came screaming out of the mouth of God at 186,000 miles per second filling the world with its brilliance. God’s word has power.
And we see it in our text. Jesus says, “Follow me.” So Phillip does. Jesus gave him that power with his very word. Like when he tells us, "Believe” and even with all the obstacles to faith, we do. Like when Jesus told the cripple, “Get up and walk,” he did. Jesus’ word has the power to accomplish what it commands.
And as Jesus says to you today, “Follow me,” his word has power. That same word that pierced the darkness on day one of creation pierced the darkness of sin and guilt and shame in your heart. As the water of baptism splashed in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Heaven opened and God’s powerful word made you what he there named you: His child.
That same word caused faith where there was doubt, trust where there was only fear, whether it was when a friend told you about the comfort they found in Jesus or some stranger at your doorstep explained the payment Jesus made for you. When Jesus says, “Follow me,” his word has power. His word gave you the forgiveness of sins his death won. His word gave you the peace with God he battled to establish. His word has power. So follow him. And next week, we’ll talk about what Jesus promises when we do. We will see great things.
Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Full sermons and more information can be found at www.abidinggrace.com.