Deep down inside, I think we all want a fresh start in life. We all want to change. Most of us are not happy with the way we are. So we think, Well, maybe it’s my environment. If I just lived in a different place or had different clothes or had a different home. …
I remember years ago when my son Christopher came home with a rat for a pet. We went out and got a cage for it, and then he decided to build a little house for the rat to live in inside the cage. With some popsicle sticks and bits of wood, he built a little house with a little roof. He even put a nameplate above the doorway. We all thought it was so cute. We went to bed that night, thinking the little rat would go into his little house and sleep. But the next morning, the house was gone and the rat was fatter. What we thought would be a nice place for the rat to live basically looked like lunch to him, because a rat is a rat.
The same is true of us. The only way we can experience lasting change is if we change on the inside, because the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.
The Bible tells us about someone whose life was radically changed after a short moment of contact with Jesus. Matthew left his career, left his wealth and left his powerful position to simply become a follower of Jesus. Two words from Jesus forever changed his life: “Follow Me.”
Matthew was a tax collector, which meant that he worked for the Roman government. At this time in history, the Romans occupied Israel. The Jews resented the Romans, and the Romans taxed them heavily. So for Matthew, a Jew, to work for the Romans was essentially like being a traitor to your own people. Tax collectors in Israel were barely above plankton on the food chain. Matthew had aligned himself with the enemies of his own people. It seemed as though he went out of his way to offend his fellow Jews and even to resist God himself. He didn’t have many friends. He would have been isolated. He would have been hated. When he would see people on the street, they wouldn’t have made eye contact with him.
And although Matthew was wealthy and successful, something was missing. Matthew had everything the world says you should have to make you happy – but he wasn’t happy. And he turned his back on the very God who could help him. But then one day he got past religion and encountered Jesus Christ. Jesus saw Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth and said, “Follow Me.”
Matthew had been watching Jesus at a distance, from his collection booth. He admired him. He saw how Jesus would take little children into his arms and bless them. He saw him teach people. And he probably thought to himself, Man, I wish I could be a follower of Jesus. But he would never want someone like me.
Then one day Jesus looked over and saw Matthew. He made eye contact with him. And in the original language, the word the Bible uses for “saw” means that Jesus saw right through Matthew. Then he said, “Follow Me.” One way to translate this phrase is “follow with Me” or “walk with me as a friend.” Jesus was saying, “Matthew, I want to be your friend.”
Yet some people don’t see God that way. They think that God is out to ruin their lives, to make things hard for them. But nothing could be further from the truth. God loves you, and His plan for you is good. The Bible says, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).
Jesus told a story about a prodigal son, which is really a snapshot of God. The younger son decided he didn’t want to live by his dad’s rules and regulations anymore, so he demanded his inheritance from his father. He didn’t want to wait until his father died. So the father gave his son his portion of the inheritance. The boy left home and went out and blew all of his money on wild living. But one day, he came to his senses and realized how empty his life was. He decided to go back home and ask his dad to make him like one of the hired servants, because he no longer was worthy to be called his son. While the boy was still a long way off, the father saw him in the distance, ran to him, threw his arms around him and said, “This son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:24).
That is how God sees us, even when we have sinned against him, even when we are rebelling against him. Even when we are running from him, God misses us. He longs for friendship with us. He wants us to return to him.
The word “follow” that Jesus used also could be translated, “walk the same road.” It is in the present tense, commanding the beginning of an action and then continuing habitually in it. In other words, Jesus was saying, “I command you to follow me each and every day.” Following Jesus is not something we do only on Sunday. He wants us to follow him the other six days of the week, too. He is not simply Sunday Jesus; he is everyday Jesus. He wants to be a part of everything we do. He wants to be a part of the work that we do. He wants to be a part of our relationships. He wants to be a part of our vacations and our holidays. He wants to be a part of everything, wherever we go.
Matthew knew a good thing when he heard it, and he got up and followed Jesus. Another biblical account tells us that Matthew left all, stood up and followed him. He left all. He understood what a privilege it was to be offered this opportunity to follow Jesus Christ.
I am so glad that I responded to the invitation to follow Jesus four decades ago. That day, my life took a different direction. And I have never regretted it.