Earlier this week I posted that the kingdom of God is available to everyone. It is not limited by location or race. If Jesus flung open the gates to the kingdom, does this mean that we are all set? Are we automatically in because of the work of Jesus? Absolutely not. The final characteristic of the kingdom is that it requires a response. Look at two of the shortest of Jesus’ kingdom parables, the parables of the hidden treasure and the pearl.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it. (Matthew 13:44-46)
In other words:
Supporting a child through World Vision: $32 a month
Obediently honoring God with our finances: 10% of your income
Serving the under resourced in a shelter: two hours of your time
Living the kingdom life: priceless
The kingdom is priceless, as we often preach from these parables, but Jesus has more to say here. Notice that neither of these parables ends with the discovery of the great treasure. In each parable the one who discovers the treasure goes to great lengths to lay hold of it. Each was willing to part with everything he owned to gain the priceless treasure. These parables teach that the kingdom is valuable beyond measure, but they also teach that there is action required on our part to take hold of the kingdom.
So what is the response? Is it an intellectual one? Does Jesus ask us to respond to the kingdom’s presence by proclaiming a belief that he is the Messiah? Should our response be extra effort applied toward personal morality, or is the response, as my generation seems to be teaching, a renewed push for social justice? What response did Jesus ask for from his followers?
As Jesus walked beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and believed in him. (Mark 1:16-18 emphasis added)
As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and found the nearest soup kitchen to volunteer. (Mark 2:14 emphasis added)
Twenty times in the Gospels Jesus directly invites someone to follow him. The Gospel writers only tell the stories of Jesus calling five of his twelve apostles. When he encounters Peter, Andrew, and Matthew he calls them with the words “follow me.” They don’t tell us what he said to James and John, but Matthew 4:22 tells us that they immediately “left the boat and their father and followed him.”
In fact, seventy-two times in the Gospels Jesus and others refer to following him. The term is used so much that it seems clear that this is Jesus’ central request to the people of his day, and it is also his central call to us today. This is the simple truth of what Jesus asks from all of us. In his book Jesus with Dirty Feet, Don Everts writes, “Jesus was not a Christian. He never asked anyone to become a Christian… He simply called people to follow him. That’s it. That despite its simplicity is it. He called people to follow him.”
As basic as it may seem, this is the simple (and costly) response to the kingdom’s availability. “Follow me.” Let me ask this question, what does it mean to follow Jesus? Practically speaking, how can we follow Jesus today, 2000 years after he physically walked the earth?