Jesus said to Peter, “Come, follow me!” This was a very personal decision for the fisherman. Peter had to decide if he was willing to leave his established life and trust Jesus with his future. Peter took ‘the plunge.’ He became a disciple of Jesus. He soon developed a very close personal relationship with the carpenter-turned-preacher from Nazareth.
Jesus still urges us today, “Come, follow me!” He is currently in heaven at the right hand of God, but God’s Holy Spirit, also known in the Bible as the Spirit of Christ, speaks to our hearts now just as clearly and forcefully as Jesus spoke to Peter almost two thousand years ago.
Like Peter, we must decide if we can trust Jesus enough to leave our current way of life behind and trust him with our future and our eternity. When we do, we find an enriching and empowering personal relationship with Christ through the indwelling presence of God’s Spirit in our hearts.
But Peter learned that he was getting more than just a personal relationship with Jesus.
Peter also learned that following Jesus was a group project. He and Jesus did not leave the crowds behind and have a best-friends-forever bond, keeping everyone else at ‘arm’s length.’ Following Jesus meant being close to the others who were following Jesus, like James, John, Andrew, Matthew, and many more.
In one of his most important sayings in the New Testament, Jesus said to Peter, “You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18). Students of God’s word dispute the exact meaning of this statement but clearly Peter was being included in Jesus’ Church in some vital way. By following Jesus, Peter became an essential part of Jesus’ Church.
Like Peter, we become an important part of Jesus’ Church when we become followers of Jesus. Jesus is the ‘head,’ and his Church is the ‘body.’ It is impossible to be connected to the ‘head,’ without being part of the ‘body,’ which is composed of other believers. This fact does not cancel our personal relationship with Jesus, it enhances it.
Peter was a Jew, but his decision to follow Jesus required him to rethink his perspective on his Jewish roots in some profound ways. In a vision from heaven, God himself insisted that Peter kill and eat food that was prohibited by the Old Testament dietary laws (see Acts 10). The vision forced Peter to redefine his understanding of being a Jew.
By accepting Jesus’ claim to be the fulfillment of God’s Old Testament promises and prophecies, Peter found himself out-of-step with most of the Jewish community in the first century. Peter and other Jewish Christians were shunned and persecuted for accepting Jesus as the ultimate fruit of the Jewish root and tree.
We, too, may find ourselves shunned (canceled?) by our culture when we decide to follow Jesus. But there is more.
Those of us who are Gentile believers also have a new relationship with the patriarchs, promises, and prophecies of the Old Testament. The Bible tells us that we were once separate and without hope, but through faith in Jesus we have been brought near (Ephesians 2), grafted in (Romans 11), and made a part of God’s people. In Christ, we also trace our spiritual roots back to Abraham (Galatians 3).
As followers of Jesus, we are now citizens of his kingdom, members of his family, and living stones in his temple, the Church. We are essential parts of the body of Christ. Together with all other believers, Jew or Gentile, we are the Bride of Christ.
We enjoy a personal relationship with God through faith in Jesus. We have a family relationship with our brothers and sisters in Christ’s Church. We share the same ancient roots through our common forefathers in faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We have the same promises from God of a place in his victorious eternal kingdom.
As we follow our Lord Jesus, let us always seek to know him better, to fellowship with our brothers and sisters in the Lord often, and to understand and appreciate fully our rich Old Testament heritage.
May our Lord give us eyes to see and a heart to respond to him and his truth in all things,
Brother Richard Foster