C.S. Lewis observed that even atheists have moments of doubt. Maybe you have begun to doubt your doubts. Maybe you have begun to wonder about the meaning and purpose of your life. Maybe you are wondering, Can God change someone like me? Well, the answer is yes. He can and He will.
In the Bible there is a story of a man whose life was radically changed. His name was Matthew, and he was a tax collector. Being a tax collector meant working for the Roman government. But Matthew was a Jew, so he was seen as a traitor, because Rome was the occupying force in Israel at that time. He was seen as a collaborator with the enemy, a turncoat, someone who had abandoned his people. To be a tax collector in that culture was the worst thing you could do. Think of an ambulance-chasing lawyer mixed with a used-car salesman who works as a telemarketer at night, and that is the idea of how a tax collector would have been viewed in the first century.
Matthew probably thought Jesus never would call someone like him. But then his life changed, and his world was rocked when Jesus said two words to him: “Follow Me” (Matthew 9:9). And Matthew got up and followed.
That night, Matthew invited Jesus and His disciples to be His dinner guests, along with his fellow tax collectors and other notorious sinners. He had his life impacted by God and wanted to tell his friends. Matthew was a successful man. He was a wealthy man. Being a tax collector for Rome meant that not only would he be paid by the government, but he could add to the taxes he collected from others and become very wealthy.
Matthew had reached the pinnacle of success, yet there was something lacking in his life. He had money. He had power. But he was lonely. And he was looking for the meaning of life. He had gone out of his way to offend his fellow Jews and even to offend God himself.
In the same way, there are people today who go out of their way to be offensive, to live a radical life – just to get a little attention from other people. Maybe they were turned off by church. Maybe a pastor or a minister or a priest somehow misrepresented God to them, and they don’t want anything to do with Christians.
But Jesus did not say, “Follow My people.” Rather, he said, “Follow Me.” And Jesus never will be hypocritical. He never will be inconsistent. He will be everything that He has promised to be.
Does that mean it is necessary to give up something to follow Jesus Christ? The answer is yes. It means giving up emptiness and loneliness and guilt and the ever-present fear of death. In its place, Jesus will give fulfillment and friendship and forgiveness and the guarantee of heaven when we die. It is God’s trade-in deal for us, because Jesus is still saying, “Follow Me.”
But what does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? When Jesus said, “Follow Me,” it could be translated, “Follow with Me,” meaning companionship and friendship. Jesus was essentially saying to Matthew, “I want to be your friend, your companion. I want to be someone you can open your heart to, someone you can reveal your secrets to.”
Do you know God in that way – as a friend? A lot of people think that God is out to ruin their lives, to rain on their parade, to not let them have any fun, to just be mean. They think the Bible is a book filled with a bunch of rules and regulations to make their lives miserable. But nothing could be further from the truth.
God said, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you … thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope” (Jeremiah 29:11 NKJV). God’s plans for you are better than any plans you have ever envisioned for yourself.
That was exactly the situation with Matthew. Jesus was saying to him, “Follow with me. Let me be your friend. Let me be your companion.”
But the word “follow” that Jesus used also speaks of walking the same road. It is the idea of beginning something and finishing it as well. Jesus was saying, in other words, “Matthew, not only do I want you to follow me as a friend, but I command you to follow me each and every day.”
Some people have a Sunday Jesus of sorts. They basically say to God, “I will see you in church this Sunday for about two hours. That is your time. You can do whatever you want with it. But after church is over, I’ll see you next week.” But Jesus doesn’t want to be a Sunday Jesus. He wants to be a Monday Jesus, a Tuesday Jesus, a Wednesday Jesus – an everyday Jesus. He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives: what we do with our time, how we behave in life, what we do in public and what we do in private as well.
Matthew knew a good deal when he saw it. The Bible tells us that at Jesus’ invitation, Matthew got up and followed him (see Matthew 9:9). Matthew recognized the immense privilege that was being offered to him, and without hesitation he stood up and followed Christ.
Do you realize what a privilege it is that Jesus calls you to follow him? He called me when I was still in my teens, and I followed him. And I have never looked back at that decision with a single regret.
When Jesus calls us to follow Him, it is a yes-or-no proposition. Jesus said, “He who is not with Me is against Me” (Matthew 12:30 NKJV). To not say yes is to automatically say no. To be undecided is to be decided. Don’t say no to Jesus. Say yes to Him. You will be glad you did.