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Follow Me: A Call to Radical Discipleship

The following sermon was a keynote address at the 2022 Just Jesus Conference


Several times throughout the gospels, Jesus uses the words 'follow me.' It is an invitation, a royal summons, which, if accepted, changes everything. It’s an invitation that has already changed the course of history.


Let me name just a few who have answered this call.


William Wilberforce followed Jesus into a revolution called love in which he raised public awareness about the evil of slavery with pamphlets, petitions, protests, and political engagement. In 1833, the House of Commons voted to free slaves across the British Empire.


In the 19th Century, former slave Harriet Truman followed Jesus and embarked on a conspiracy of compassion. Knowing her identity in Christ, Harriet challenged the oppressive exploitation of slave plantations and brought freedom to 300 slaves.


Catherine Booth and Desmond Tutu join this cloud of witnesses and follow this pattern of kingdom insurgency as they spoke out against Victorian exploitation of the poor, apartheid, and segregation. The world was changed because of their faith put into action.



Martin Luther King and the Civil rights movement in the US dreamed a dream, a kingdom dream in which people would be judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. In following Jesus, they took action, protested, broke the law, boycotted, organized, trained others, suffered, were abused, victims of police brutality, they were stabbed and shot. Yet, this following of Jesus delivered results, changed the system, and created fresh possibilities that were in line with both justice and mercy.


Martin Luther King said, 'Justice is what love looks like in public.' And Cornell West said, 'Tenderness is what love looks like private.'


In this room now are those who follow Jesus in public and private, in justice, tenderness, and compassion, providing food for the hungry, hope for the traumatized, blessing for the broken, welcome for the excluded, refugees, and asylum seekers. It's the call of Jesus in 2014 that brought about the beautiful and wonderful community of Lighthouse.


And this invitation from Jesus, even in our winter of austerity and pain, holds the possibility and potential, when led by the Spirit of God, to cause justice and kindness to permeate our hearts, communities, cities, our nation. It is an invitation in which the old way of life is left behind, and Jesus becomes our compass and guide.


You see, Jesus, our friend and King, still speaks and says the words 'Follow me.' In response to this call, as we hear His voice and respond in faith and action, we become followers of Jesus. You can't be a follower of Jesus without following Jesus, putting Jesus at the center. A call to be formed and shaped by Rabbi Jesus so that we can look and love like Him in our own context.


Let me give you a few examples from the Gospels.


In the opening chapters of Matthew's Gospel, Jesus had just begun His public ministry. He had been baptized and commissioned by the Father. He then ended up in the wilderness, tempted and in conflict with Satan.


Jesus then begins announcing that 'the reign of God has come,' 'the kingdom of God is at hand,' 'the government and goodness of God are at work to set the world to rights.' What God had promised He would always do, He is now doing.


Jesus was saying that now the final act of history, in which we will see reconciliation and recovery for a troubled and traumatized world, has now broken into the present. Jesus was both announcing and enacting the kingdom and centering it on Himself. He is the game-changer, the story-maker, and hope-bringer, the gateway to the kingdom, or as Origen of Alexandria said, Jesus is the 'auto-basilica,' the kingdom Himself.


In a world of violence, oppression, sin, and injustice, Jesus is saying a new day has dawned.


In our own world of war in Ukraine, climate breakdown, increased deprivation, and destitution in our own communities, the kingdom dream, focused around King Jesus, offers a beauty, hope, and power that can change the world.


Jesus inaugurates, embodies, and enacts the kingdom, a kingdom that will one day be consummated in the reconciliation of all things, a kingdom that presses into the present, bringing peace to those in distress, comfort to those who are grieving, forgiveness to those racked with guilt and shame, a kingdom of healing in which those battered and bruised by the storms of life can know comfort for their wounds, a kingdom of non-violent love that embraces the pain of the world and stands fast against the forces of oppression and domination, a kingdom of shalom that stands against injustice, a kingdom that offers a community of hope to those who suffer the emptiness of loneliness, a kingdom of justice that stands up for the powerless and stands beside the weak. And we are invited to collaborate, participate as followers in this kingdom, in this holy rebellion and conspiracy of compassion.


So the first text:


Matthew 4:18


And then Jesus approaches Peter and Andrew mending their nets, and Jesus says, 'Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.' They immediately left their nets and followed Him.


Jesus is inviting them to follow Him. To follow Jesus is to go the way of the Kingdom. To follow Jesus is to embrace the kingdom. To follow Jesus comes at a cost.


Following Jesus came at a cost; it still does. Peter and Andrew left their employment, family, and embraced a downward mobility in terms of status, identity, and financial security. Jesus is clear elsewhere that to follow Him is to embark on a path of suffering. To follow Jesus is to suffer. Jesus said, 'If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.' Little did Peter and Andrew know on that day when they left their nets the true extent of the cost of the kingdom. For 30 or so years later, they were each crucified, Andrew in Greece and Peter in Rome.


But it was worth it. In following Jesus, they would be with Jesus, embodying the vision and values of the kingdom. They were now living a better story, and as fishers of men, they would be joining Jesus in His mission of the proclamation of the kingdom, encouraging the response of those who listen, thus enabling them to enter that kingdom.


A few chapters later in Matthew's gospel (Matt 9:9), we see Jesus coming to Matthew, a Tax Collector. We can note a few points about Matthew.


Firstly, he is a tax collector. He works in the administrative wing of the Roman Empire. The Romans were an occupying force who used local collaborators to tax ordinary people. In the time of Jesus, many were living in poverty, with the vast amount of wealth in the hands of a few. This wealth was used to line the pockets of the elite of the empire and further the aims of Rome. Rome offered 'peace, stability, and protection' but was built on the backs of slaves and at the edge of the sword. Tax Collectors were known not only for supporting the empire but also for lining their pockets while they were doing it. Perhaps Matthew felt trapped in the system of exploitation or didn't think much about it.


How does Jesus respond? He doesn't attack Matthew, reject him, or oppose him. Instead, he invites him to disentangle himself from this system and embrace a new story, with new possibilities. To say Yes to Jesusus is to say no to being a mouthpiece or aid to the forces of domination.

To follow Jesus is to move away from Systems and Structures of Domination


Matthew is given a new imagination, a new hope, whereby those involved in peddling economic exploitation can repent and walk a different way. A way in which divine favor rests on the poor, the outcast, the meek, the justice seeker, and the peacemaker.


We ourselves don't live within the Roman Empire, but we too live in a world of domination. The unholy trinity of consumerism, unrestrained capitalism, and allegiance is putting us on a road to existential ruin. Antonio-Huiterrex, the UN Secretary-General, said that we are on the highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator. This unholy trinity has seduced us, formed and shaped us to such an extent that we are seemingly willing to plunge ourselves further into climate hell because we cannot imagine a different way to live.


Secondly, as a tax collector, he is marginalized. A social outcast amongst his peers. A traitor to the growing nationalism of his day. If you were going to design a synagogue mission action plan, you wouldn't necessarily have Matthew as part of this. What would other synagogues think? What if he brings his friends?


A few verses later, Jesus is socializing with tax collectors and sinners (the unclean). This upset the religious elite and religious gatekeepers. But Jesus responds, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.'


Jesus invites the broken, the marginalized, compels them to come in. Jesus has a bias for the marginalized. And he calls us to do the same. To follow Jesus is to embrace the marginalized.


I want us to turn our attention to two more passages that use the phrase 'follow me.'


In Matthew 19, a young professional runs up to Jesus and asks him, 'What good must I do to enter eternal life?' Another way of saying this is that the young man was asking how can I be part of this coming Kingdom. Jesus says that to enter the kingdom, you must keep the commandments. And the man begins to tick off his ethical checklist. 'He doesn't steal, doesn't lie, doesn't commit adultery, doesn't lie, doesn't steal.' But Jesus cuts through this ethical checklist and gets to the heart of the matter. This young man is rich, perhaps hoarding and accumulating wealth at the expense of the poor.


Economic self-interest is the single biggest obstacle to embracing the fullness of the kingdom of God.


Jesus says if you want to follow me, you need to untangle yourself from the economic systems of your age. To follow Jesus means being willing to share our time, treasure, and talents with others. This economic aspect of Jesus' ministry, uncomfortable as it is, is a key part of Jesus' kingdom mission.


One last passage as I close in which Jesus says that those who follow him will partake in eternal life, in the fullness of the Kingdom.


'My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.' - Jn 10:27–30.


Jesus is still speaking. He says to us today, 'Follow Him;'


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit."






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