Follow me. That was the summons of Jesus Christ to his first disciples. And as he would say shortly before his death, “If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also” (John 12:26).
It’s no surprise that ‘following Jesus’ became a mantra of the church. It was, after all, what Jesus himself taught, “And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me'” (Luke 9:23); as well as the apostles after him, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21).
Bonhoeffer captured this principle when he wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” And yet, we must not misunderstand the path on which Jesus has called us to follow him. For as he said to Peter, “Where I am going you cannot follow me now” (John 13:36). For the grain of wheat had to fall into the ground on his own (John 12:24). “But,” as Jesus continued, “you will follow afterward” (John 13:36).
You see, Jesus walked a particular road we could not (and cannot) walk, the road to Calvary. As his statement to Peter implies, we cannot follow him in his Messianic responsibilities, that is, we cannot fulfill the particular calling(s) that Jesus had as God’s Messiah (the Christ), the Savior of the world – only Jesus can fulfill that.
So, yes, we follow Jesus. Yes, we’re to be Christ-like. We obey his teaching and imitate his moral life. However, let us not forget that Jesus did something that we could never do; he plays a part in God’s plan of salvation that we could never play. He is the one mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He alone died a vicarious death, making atonement for the sins of his people, and triumphantly rose again as the firstborn from the dead, defeating the power of death – since it had no claim on him.
That’s what Easter is all about – what Jesus has done! You see, Easter reminds us that there is a way in which we cannot follow Jesus. But praise God for it, because it was that way whereby Jesus opened up the way to the Father, in order that we might follow him forever.
As we reflect this weekend on what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection, let us thank him that he stumbled down a path of suffering and stood up in victory over the grave – all on our behalf. He promised us that, because he did so, we “will follow afterward” – we too will be raised, and this mortal body will put on immortality! Therefore, in the meantime, let us follow in his steps by enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel, recognizing that our lives are the rippling echoes of the resounding gong of his own example.