“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’” (John 8:12).
July 4 is a day of national celebration where we praise the work of our nation’s forefathers who relieved our ancestors from the oppression of the tyranny in Great Britain. As we enjoy barbecues, fires, and fireworks, we revel in the collective pride we take in our freedoms. Yet these days, as our thoughts turn to current leaders, this pride can seem soured or even misplaced. More now than ever, citizens see the flaws in leaders, justified or otherwise. And this makes it hard for some to follow any leader at all.
This got me thinking about what it means to follow, both as citizens and as Christians. As a kid, I often played the game “follow the leader” with some of my elementary school friends. The rules of the game were simple. One person—the leader—would start off on a journey, and everyone else—the followers—would have to do exactly as the leader did. If the leader went down a slide, so did the followers. No matter where the leader went, the followers had to, well, follow. And if you didn’t follow, or couldn’t follow, you would lose and have to wait until the next game started. If you can’t picture my elementary school days, go and watch Disney’s Peter Pan where John Darling leads the lost boys in a game of “follow the leader” while singing. They walk through thick jungle, over fallen trees, and even underwater! But none of them break stride; they all follow their leader to the letter throughout the whole journey.
As adults, we see many problems with translating this mindset into maturity. For children, following a leader is easy. No child will lead their friend into any real danger. On top of that, children need someone to lead them, since they are still learning about the world around them. But adults are much more wary. We see the darker side of this world and we raise our defenses. We become more self-reliant, more independent, and as such it becomes difficult to follow anyone blindly. There is so much mistrust of others that we’re tempted (and sometimes encouraged) to blaze our own trail and disregard leaders, especially if their character is in question. We know it’s foolish to follow any person blindly. “Follow the leader” doesn’t translate well into adulthood.
Yet it needs to translate into the Christian life. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus calls His disciples from all different situations to drop what they are doing and follow Him. No hesitation, no delay, and no questions asked. Any after-school special would place this scenario under “stranger danger” and warn kids to avoid such a man. In truth, this is how many people view the call to follow Jesus. To follow any person blindly can have disastrous consequences, as history has shown us.
But we Christians must be the voice that reminds the world that Jesus is not just any person. He is not just any man. John 8 tells us who Jesus is: He is the light of the world, the light shining in the darkness. He is not selfish like earthly leaders, nor is He driven by greed or any vice. Jesus stepped into the darkness of sin in our world for our sake, not His own. He suffered the pain and mockery of the crowds and willingly suffered death on the cross so that we could be forgiven of sins. And He rose again and ascended into heaven that He might prepare a place for us, so that when He returns He can take us to be with Him forever. Jesus is not like an earthly leader; He is the perfect leader, the One who will never lead you astray into darkness but will lead you into the light of life everlasting.
It’s easy to mistrust people who ask you to follow them blindly. We know from experience how nasty and evil people can be. But even as we remain wary of the world, may we never be wary of Christ’s call to follow, He is the only One worthy of our full devotion, and all who follow Him can be certain that He will always lead them on the right path.
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