School Theme Verse
"Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will send you out to fish for people."
«Vengan, síganme —les dijo Jesús—, y los haré pescadores de hombres»
The Theme + Biblical Context
“Come, follow me” is Jesus’s call to discipleship and is found at the beginning of each of the four gospels (Matthew 4:18-22; Mark 1:16-20; Luke 5:27-28; John 1:43). In each case, Jesus seeks out and calls someone by name and that person responds in faith and obedience. God calls; people follow. That’s the Christian life in summary: God’s gracious calling leads to a life of obedience. Grace produces discipleship. While the theme for the year arises from Jesus’s call to discipleship found in the gospels, the call to follow is the story of faith found throughout all of the Bible. God calls; his people follow.
God calls, Abram follows.
In Genesis 12:1-4, God called Abram, and he followed. “Go from your country…to the land I will show you… So Abram went.” As the Book of Hebrews puts it: “By faith Abraham, when called…obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going” (11:8). But Abram’s call and his life of following God was not just for Abram’s sake. It was for the sake of the whole world! Through Abram’s following - through his life of faithful obedience - God promised to bless all the nations of the world (Gen 12:3). Five times in this passage, we are told that God will bless the world, a striking reversal of the five curses mentioned in Genesis 3 as a result of the fall. In God’s call of Abram, God was forming a new people who would be a light to the nations.
God calls out of bondage, Israel follows.
The story of the Exodus is one of God calling and his people following as well. In the burning bush, God called Moses to set God’s people free. Moses, albeit reluctantly, followed. The entire exodus event of God liberating his people can be seen as God calling his people out of bondage and their struggle to follow that call. The prophet Hosea, for instance, describes God’s rescue of Israel in terms of a call to follow after God:
God rescued the Hebrew people out of Egypt, but their following, like ours, was imperfect. It seemed that God led them out of Egypt into the dead-end of the Red Sea. They were tempted to give up or turn back. But God made a way where there was no way. Following God’s lead was - and is - not easy. By fire and cloud, God led the people for forty years in the desert. The people followed, but they also grumbled, dreamed of going back to the “comforts” of Egypt, and tried to do things their own way. And yet…God continued to lead them in often surprising ways and provide (just enough manna!) what they needed for their journey.
Following God in the Ways of Wisdom.
Throughout the wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Psalms, Proverbs, etc.), the life of faith is frequently described in terms of following in God’s ways or walking the paths of righteousness. Faith is not mere intellectual assent to various abstract propositions, it is a way of life. Proverbs 8-9, for instance, wonderfully personifies Lady Wisdom calling out in the city streets, summoning the wise to follow her ways:
“Leave your simple ways and you will live; walk in the way of insight” (Prov. 9:6).
The Psalms, too, suggest that faith is not static or mere belief, but rather a life lived in following after God. Psalm 23, classically discusses the life of faith in terms of a sheep and shepherd; the shepherd leading and guiding through all of life’s trials and joys. The shepherding image is one that the Gospel of John picks up as well:
“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” (Jn. 10:27)
Jesus calls his disciples.
Throughout all of Scripture, the life of faith has been one of God’s gracious calling and humanity’s obedient response. And so when Jesus began his ministry he sought out and called by name a group of disciples, a new community. Each of the four gospels echoes the refrain: “come, follow me.” At the beginning of the gospel of Mark, Jesus makes a bold announcement: “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near!” Jesus is about to do something world-changing and begin the work of salvation, but what comes next is a surprise. Commentator R.T. France notes the striking surprise:
“After the ringing announcement of vv. 14–15 [“The kingdom of God has come near”] we are prepared for stirring events of at least national, if not cosmic, importance. What we find is very different: ‘… Jesus wandering by the sea, bidding some common laborers to accompany him on a mission." (Myers, 131).
That’s the beauty of God’s work of redemption. Even in calling his disciples, Jesus surprises: he calls fishermen and tax collectors to be part of the mission of making all things new. And lest we think too highly of ourselves, this is good news for us ordinary folks, too. As God called Abraham, as Jesus called the disciples, so now the Spirit continues to call us to follow and be God’s witness to the world. As 20th century theologian Karl Barth wrote, “the call to discipleship is the particular form of the summons by which Jesus discloses and reveals himself to individuals in order to claim and sanctify them as his own, and as his witness in the world.” (Barth 7)
The call to “follow me” is a call to discipleship. In the New Testament this is the major theme of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Whereas the term “Christian” is only used three times in the New Testament, the word “disciple” is used 269 times! But what does it mean to be a disciple - a mathetes? Quite literally, it means to be a student - or better yet, an apprentice. We are called to keep learning to live in the way of Jesus. We are called to keep being formed in the image of Jesus. Dietrich Bonhoeffer summarizes this well in his book, The Cost of Discipleship. He writes, “And what does the text inform us about the content of discipleship? Follow me, run along behind me! That is all.” (Cost of Discipleship 49).
Whether we or our students have been doing this “discipleship-thing” for many years or have yet to begin, the call to discipleship is a call to take the next step. Theologian Karl Barth put it this way:
“The call to discipleship, no matter how or when it is issued to someone, or whether it comes to a person for the first time or as a second or third or hundredth confirmation, is always the summons to take in faith, without which it is impossible, a definite first step.” (Barth 19, emphasis added)
I love this from Barth. The call to discipleship is to take “a first step.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who wrote The Cost of Discipleship (an absolute classic!), notes that from first to last, the Christian life is one of answering Jesus’ call to “follow me.” Bonhoeffer notes that “follow me” were the first words spoken to Peter and the very last words spoken to him. From first to last, the Christian life is one of following Jesus. Bonhoeffer writes:
“On two separate occasions Peter received the call, ‘Follow me.’ It was the first and last word Jesus spoke to his disciple (Mark 1:17; John 21:22). A whole life lies between these two calls. The first occasion was by the lake of Gennersareth, when Peter left his nets and his craft and followed Jesus at his word. The second occasion is when the Risen Lord finds him back again at his old trade. Once again it is by the lake of Gennesaret, and once again the call is: ‘Follow me.’ Between the two calls lay a whole life of discipleship in the following of Christ. Half-way between them comes Peter’s confession, when he acknowledged Jesus as the Christ of God. Three times Peter hears the same proclamation that Christ is his Lord and God - at the beginning, at the end, and at Caesarea Philippi. Each time it is the same grace of Christ which calls to him ‘Follow me’ and which reveals itself to him in his confession of the Son of God.” (Bonhoeffer 37)
What I love about this observation is that Peter had not done anything to initially deserve Jesus’s first invitation to follow (Mk. 1:17). It was all grace. And Jesus’s last invitation to Peter to follow, comes after Peter had betrayed Jesus three times. Even after Peter had failed, Jesus still invited him to follow (Jn 21:22). It was grace in the beginning; it was grace at the end.
As we follow Jesus, we learn from his teachings, we learn from his actions, and we learn from his interactions with others. Archbishop Rowan Williams wonderfully notes that to follow Jesus, to be apprenticed to Jesus, is to witness Jesus - to listen and to watch how and where Jesus works. Williams writes:
“Being where Jesus is means being in the company of the people whose company Jesus seeks and keeps. Jesus chooses the company of the excluded, the disreputable, the wretched, the self-hating, the poor, the diseased; so that is where you are going to find yourself. If you are going to be where Jesus is, if your discipleship is not intermittent but a way of being, you will find yourself in the same sort of human company as he is in. It is once again a reminder that our discipleship is not about choosing our company but choosing the company of Jesus – or rather, getting used to the fact of having been chosen for the company of Jesus.” (Williams, Being Disciples, 11)
“Come, follow me,” said Jesus. He said it to his disciples along the Galilean shore and he continues to say it today. Come, learn from me. Come, walk in my ways and not in the ways of this world. Individually and as a school community, there is no better way for us to step into a new school year, and a second century, then to respond in faith to Jesus’ gracious call: “Come, follow me.”
—Mark VanderWef | Chaplain, Grand Rapids Christian High School