We could spend a lifetime mining the veins of Jesus’ life and ministry and barely scratch the surface on discipleship, which, in the end is the activity of Jesus shaping those who follow Him. Indeed, that word “follow” is a key piece to this endeavor. My own rubric–moving toward Jesus and taking others with us–is directly tied to the language of following Jesus. It is extremely important.
Of course, one of the primary moments in which we see this word employed is Mark 1:17, which reads, “And Jesus said to them, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.'” Simply put, these famous words find Jesus inviting Peter and Andrew to get behind His back and track with Him, follow Him, be or even go after Him. This is the language picture shaping the words “move toward Jesus.” Another way to say it might be “line up behind Jesus.” When correlated to their decision to follow after Him, as seen in Mark 1:18, which could be stated, “they joined Him” or “they cleaved to Him,” the idea of moving toward Hi becomes still clearer and more foundational.
Come After Me
We see this also, famously, in Luke 9:23. Here we read, “And [Jesus] said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.'” Here Jesus offers practical details regarding what moving toward Him includes.
Denial of Self
Denial of self is the choice to not make life about me. It is more than simply denying myself a pumpkin latte or that lustful glance. It is about denying myself the opportunity to center the world around me. Rather, Jesus is my all in all.
Taking Up the Cross
Taking up the cross–daily, Luke adds–speaks to a willingness to pay the price for surrendering to Jesus. We so water this down, even if playfully. We say “the Vikings are the cross we Minnesotans much bear.” Yet taking up the cross as exhorted by Jesus demands a total life commitment along with possible (probable?) suffering. Moreover, it can include joy, as seen with Jesus in Hebrews 12:2, where we read that “for the joy that was set before Him [Jesus] endured the cross despising its shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Then there is following Jesus, or moving toward Him, but now through the sieve of self-denial and suffering joyfully even unto death. This, of course, is a high demand. It is the demand of on a disciple. To line up behind Jesus is to do so denying one’s self and carrying one’s cross.
This vision, seen in Mark 1:17 and Luke 9:23, is how Jesus shapes those around Him. Yet our temptation is to say, “What about endless Bible studies, service projects, and prayer meetings?” Obviously, these matter. We need to hide God’s Word in our hearts, serve and not be served, and call unto the Lord so He can tell us great and wonderful things we do not know. Of course!
But Jesus gives us something still more transcendent and yet accessible. He gives us Himself. It is vital we grasp this. When we move toward Him, follow Him, line up behind Him, two powerful opportunities open up that shape us: proximity and portrayal.
Proximity and Portrayal
Being Proximate with Jesus
Opportunity one is we become proximate to Jesus. We have proximity to Him. And note, through Jesus enjoyed moments of solitude He was never isolated from people. To be with Him is to also be with people. Following Him is to engage Him and others. This is parallel to the greatest commandment to love God with our hearts, souls, minds, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. These go together. Being proximate with Him means being proximate with people for whom He came; image-bearers.
Opportunity two is we then may portray Jesus. In short by being with Him we learn how He sees the world, the ways He is compassionate, the scope and beauty of His love, the depths of His suffering, the power of His sacrificial life, and so much more. His obedience to the Father schools us, and the resilient and holy rhythms of His journey inspire us.
Proximity and portrayal are the results of moving toward Him. These are how He ministers to us. These are what He gifts us. He brings us to Himself, and then shows us how to truly live.
Yet there are some additional pieces to consider. First, Jesus is purposeful and personal in how He meets us with proximity and opportunities to portray Him to a watching world. Mark 6 helps us here.
When [Jesus] went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And He began to teach them many things. And when it grew late, His disciples came to Him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages to buy themselves something to eat.” But He answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to Him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And [Jesus] said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” Then He commanded them all to sit down in groups on the green grass. So they sat down in groups, by hundreds and fifties. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, He looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And He divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied.Mark 6:34-42
Here He engaged the disciples directly, purposefully, caringly, and with vision and empowerment.
Jesus is also exceedingly patient. Right after the great call of Luke 9:23, the disciples go sideways with Jesus. Having been rejected by the Samaritans, Jesus’ disciples, being defensive of Him, asked, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” (Luke 9:54). He rebuked them, but on they went. What long-suffering! He was patient, yet honest and direct. Note further, regarding patience, the disciple Judas Iscariot. When Jesus called him out at the Last Supper all were surprised. Why? Jesus had never once, it appears, given any hint of suspicion toward Judas. That is patience; that is grace.
But it also speaks to unrelieved pressures or tensions Jesus willingly allows to unfold in our lives. So much is left unsaid or undone by Jesus. The disciples want clarity and decision. We all do. Whether it is their befuddlement because He would not tend to the dying Lazarus (see John 11:5-8) or their questions regarding the end of days (see Mark 13:32-37), some ambiguity was Jesus’ response. Here I must say our discomforts can become our unraveling. Ultimately, tensions, unresolved, challenges our need for control, flying in the ace of self-denial and taking up our crosses each day. Yet, for Jesus, such is an important part of shaping our lives.
Proximity and portrayal. Or, as the Apostle Paul offers, “imitate me as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus’ influence was infinitely complex yet absurdly simple. His life rubbed off on those around Him and they never recovered. This is the essence of discipleship. Let us be proximate with Him and portraying Him, so all who imitate us imitate Him who shapes us.