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“While walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon (who is called Peter) and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on from there he saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”

– Matthew 4:18–22, ESV

In this passage, we should not miss an essential point: Following Jesus requires leaving behind everything that would prevent a would-be disciple from following him. Following and leaving are inseparable. When Jesus called Peter and Andrew, they left their nets and followed him” (vs. 19). Similarly, James and John left the boat and their father and followed him” (vs. 22). For these four men, following Jesus forever precluded their continuing to be fishermen. If they had not left behind their nets, their boats, and even their jobs, they would never have followed him. Before they could follow, they had to leave. On that day, they ceased to be fishers of fish so that they might become fishers of men.

As we consider this passage, we naturally ask ourselves what Jesus meant by the words “follow me.” Certainly, he meant much more than that they were to be his traveling companions. We can see this in Jesus’s words, “I will make you fishers of men” (4:19). With these words, Jesus called them to submit to his authority and his teaching. If they would follow him, he promised he would make them to become men like himself (not in his deity but in his humanity). By answering his call, they became his disciples. (Throughout the four gospels, the apostles were called Jesus’s disciples.) For the next three years, Jesus taught and trained them that they might become “fishers of men.”

Now we come to the key question. What does this passage teach us? The principle of leaving and following (as I am calling it here) applies as much to us as it did to them. For all people in every age, following Jesus requires leaving the old way of life. Although we cannot physically follow Jesus, Jesus has called us to be his disciples. If we are to follow him, we cannot cling to life as we have known it. Rather, we must submit ourselves and all aspects of our lives to his authority and his leadership. He is our teacher and our Lord. By his Spirit and through Scripture, he will teach us, train us, and lead us. If we will follow him, he will make us to be like him and to be effective ministers in his kingdom.

“So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.”

– Luke 14:33, ESV

“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

– Matthew 16:24–25, ESV

“A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master.”

– Matthew 10:24–25a, ESV

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