Thoughts on a Pilgrimage to the Holy Land Part IV: What does it mean to follow Jesus?

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When standing alongside a dirt road in the wilderness areas of Galilee, Jesus’ command to follow him takes on a certain practicality (see the picture above). It involved actually following Jesus as he walked along the way. If one had decided to follow Jesus you would have heard parables about God’s coming kingdom as you moved through the foothills. If you remained with him you might have heard what we now know as the sermon on the Mount. You would have learned that the gentle, the poor in spirit, and the bringers of peace, stood to inherit all the promises God had made to his people. This man and his words may have stirred your heart. It may have opened your imagination to begin to dream again of a world renewed by the presence of God. The wonders would have come too. The blind received sight, the lame walked, and mourning mothers had their dead children returned to them. The good news was preached to the poor. All of this as you traversed in and around the villages surrounding the Sea of Galilee.

Today we took the three-minute walk from the remains of the synagogue in Capernaum to the likely location of Peter’s home. There, in the walk from the synagogue to Peter’s house, the earliest disciples would have seen the kingdom preached and then enacted through Jesus’ healing of Peter’s mother-in-Law. For them following Jesus meant walking with him as the showed them what kingdom of heaven looked like. As the mighty works multiplied, and his control over nature manifested itself, they may have begun to ask themselves the same questions the remain with us to this day. Who is this man? The Messiah? A great teacher? Yes, but also, maybe more.

The faithful would have continued on from Galilee to that final visit to Jerusalem. Once there they would have come to understand that the critique Jesus had leveled against the cities and towns of Galilee extended to them too. The last journey to the cross was a trip Jesus would take alone. The sin and death that had plagued God’s people would be defeated. The kingdom, defined by the love and compassion envisioned on the Mount of Beatitudes, would be displayed for all the world to see on Mount Golgotha.

All this is to say that the gospels are, at the very least, the fruit of discipleship. They are the testimony of those who walked with Jesus. A trust in the gospels is nothing less than a trust in the effectiveness of the disciples’ teacher. In that sense they are infallible. If you want to know what it was like to follow Jesus, read the gospels. They tell you. If the apostles and their disciples failed to capture who Jesus was he is lost to us. I believe that Jesus was a better teacher than that.

Furthermore the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. Disciples of Jesus have been formed for thousands of years by reading these texts. Every revival in the history of the church has included a recovery of the teachings of Jesus. It remains so. What does it mean to follow Jesus? It means what it meant for his earliest disciples. Open the pages of the gospels and walk with him as he travels up and down the roads of the Holy Land. Listen to the vision of the kingdom. Do not be afraid. Travel all the way to Jerusalem. Mourn his death. Rejoice in his resurrection. Then, empowered by the Spirit, live and preach the kingdom.

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