And a great crowd followed Jesus...
Following Jesus sounds pretty good when it is convenient and trendy. But what about when it is not so easy? Or when it demands more than we are willing to give? Following Jesus is not like following our favorite sports team or political figure. It is easy to be a fan when they are doing well, not so easy when they are getting ridiculed. Ask any Patriots fan living outside New England as the DeflateGate scandal has gone on.
Jesus has always had fans. Even when conducting his earthly ministry, he commonly had great crowds following him from town to town, hoping to get a glimpse of the man that everyone was talking about. In the gospels, the word "follow" (akoloutheo) is used 76 times and 14 of those are in reference to the crowds that followed Jesus.
Jesus also uses this word to call people to be his disciples. When he approaches Levi (Matthew), and calls him to be his disciple, he says, "Follow me (Mk 2:14)." I have recently done a word study in the gospels for follow (akoloutheo), and it is illuminating to see what we can learn about what it means to follow Jesus as his disciple.
One thing that is very clear, there is a big difference between someone who follows Jesus as his disciple and someone who follows Jesus as merely a fan. Following Jesus means being more than just a fan.
4 ways that following Jesus means being more than just a fan
Fans just go with the flow
Fans are just part of the crowd. They do not feel any sense of confidence in the mission, they are just moving with the flow. Fans are swept away when the waters rise, because they are not grounded. If you asked them why they follow Jesus, they cannot give you an answer that will withstand the strong current of culture, circumstance or calamity.
Followers of Jesus are like the man in Psalm One, who is firmly planted by a stream of water. They know where they are going and will not be confused or tricked into alternative schemes. A fan is like the chaff, blown around like the winds, taken wherever they are lead.
Do you know why you follow Jesus? Do you feel grounded in your identity as his follower and your commitment to his mission?
Fans are primarily in it for themselves
We don't always realize it, but being a fan is really about us. My son loves the Okee Dokee Brothers, and as an adult who has to listen to music geared toward kids, it is actually very good. He and I went to one of their concerts at the Minnesota Zoo where we got to meet then and get their autographs. It was a blast! Liam still talks about it and says to me every now and again, "Dad, remember when we went to that concert at the zoo. That was great!"
We did not go to the concert for the Okee Dokee Brother's benefit. It wasn't about their good. It was about us. I have no problem with that when it comes to bands, sports teams, movies, etc. But when it comes to Jesus, I don't want to be a fan who is in it just for me.
I don't want to follow Jesus so that I can just be a fan who seeks my own benefits.
Fans leave Jesus when things get hard
There were often crowds that followed Jesus. When he enters Jerusalem before his crucifixion, there are numerous people who lined up to place garments and palm branches on the road for him to ride upon. In less than a weeks time, the crowds had changed their minds. They were no longer clamoring to get near Jesus, they were calling for his death.
Fans only follow Jesus when it is convenient. They leave him behind when everyone around them has decided to move on. As your friends, families and culture rejects Jesus, do you leave him behind as well? Or do you persist as his follower, even when it is no longer convenient?
Fans won't carry their cross
It is clear from Jesus' teachings that following him will bring challenge and difficulty. Jesus calls us to carry our cross (Mt. 16:24), giving up our own preferences and prestige to love others and bring honor to his name. That is not always easy. It often causes suffering. Fans don't want to endure those difficulties. And when difficulties come, they may want to blame Jesus and move on. Fans won't carry their cross. They will attempt to "gain the whole" world at the cost of their souls.
Are you a follower or a fan?
When you think about your relationship with Jesus, are you a follower or a fan? Is your commitment to Jesus unwavering? Or is it just convenient for you right now?
If you have created a list of criteria for following Jesus, if you say, "I will only follow Jesus if...," then you might just be a fan. If your motivation for following Jesus has more to do with the approval you can get from others, then you might just be a fan.
Consider your commitment to him and resolve to follow him on his terms. No matter the circumstance. No matter the decision of those around you. Follow him, not as a fan, but as a true disciple.