Anxiety & Depression, Injustice 9 Ways You Might Relate to the Followers of Jesus

By Michelle Williams

I love that our current sermon series, Witness, leading up to Easter is about Jesus through the eyes of his followers. We may embark on a spiritual journey with an intent or a strong desire to become sanctified—to become more like Jesus. But in recognizing all the obvious ways we fall short, sometimes it’s easier to relate to his disciples or other followers. I often find myself in that place reading through the Gospels, so much so that many of them have come to feel like old familiar friends to me.

Perhaps this is actually part of God’s design for us as we study his Word. Relating to the people chosen by Jesus to make God’s love more accessible to the masses isn’t a bad thing at all. If we can relate to even one of his disciples, it’s no longer a leap to imagine Jesus looking us in the eye and inviting us to, “Come, follow me.” In this sense, relating to the disciples of Jesus can be a powerful catalyst for spiritual growth.

Relating to the followers of Jesus shouldn’t be too incredibly difficult, because they sure were a diverse bunch. They were so different from each other that they actually would have had many socially acceptable reasons to dislike each other at the time. One was a despised tax collector, another a political zealot. Two of them thought they were just superior enough to deserve the seats next to Jesus in the new kingdom, and they weren’t trying to hide that prideful opinion! A few of them were fishermen likely considered lower on the social hierarchy. Another, the one who betrayed Jesus, served as their treasurer, and likely enjoyed a more prominent social status in life.

Side note—can you imagine the tension that must have existed between the disciples before they all got to know one another in the course of following Jesus? It gives perspective to those little nuances that sometimes determine whether or not we like the person standing in front of us. We can learn a lot from the accounts of these disciples coming together in unity for a greater purpose.

If you’ve never explored feelings of relating to the disciples or followers of Jesus, consider the following:

Feelings of Unworthiness

Peter, who would go on to become the rock of the church, tells Jesus in Luke 5:8, “Oh, Lord, please leave me—I’m such a sinful man.” When he realized whose presence he was in, he was struck with an acute awareness of his imperfections compared to the holiness of Jesus. He couldn’t imagine how he could do much to serve Jesus well considering his own brokenness. Yet, Jesus explains in Mark 2:17, “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.” Jesus helps us all to reimagine what we can do when we live with his power in us.

Compassion for the Pain of Others

Part of the reason Jesus was followed by crowds is many people knew and loved someone who needed healing, and they believed that Jesus could provide it. The compassion the disciples felt for those who suffer quickly became evident when we read about them bringing Jesus to the bedside of Simon Peter’s sick mother-in-law. We see compassion again in Luke 5:19 when some of Jesus’ followers lower their sick friend on a mat through a hole they created in the roof. Our compassion for the pain of others often motivates our desire to bring them to Jesus, because we know about and have experienced the healing Jesus can offer.

A Desire to Try Something New and Different

None of the disciples would have followed Jesus if they didn’t want to try something new and different in life. They all left something behind to choose a life of discipleship with Jesus. Matthew’s story may highlight a personal desire for change the most, as his presence among Jesus’ disciples invited pointed criticism from the Pharisees. I believe it’s also highly evident in Mary’s desire to sit with Jesus instead of helping in the kitchen where society would have expected her to be. The old way of life lacked something for them—whether it be a degree of comfort, excitement, hope, or something else. They were all ready for a new Kingdom to come, even if it would end up being different from their expectations.

Fear and Anxiety

Many of us can strongly relate to the emotional responses of fear and anxiety we witness in the disciples. In Luke 8:24, we see the disciples gripped by fear during a storm on the lake. They woke Jesus from his nap screaming about a certain fate of drowning. We also see in Luke 12:22-32 when Jesus encouraged his disciples not to be anxious with worry. Giving up their sense of self-sufficiency to seek the Kingdom of God went against their human nature. Jesus assures us all that faith in our good God can calm the storms of fear and anxiety.

Misjudgement or Lack of Discernment

Have you noticed how often Jesus corrected his disciples? We have plenty of examples throughout the Gospels to prove that human understanding often fails to comprehend the full logic of God. In Mark 10:13, we see the disciples scolding parents for “bothering” Jesus with their little children. Jesus responded with anger to their misrepresentation and explained to them that “anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” The story of Jesus healing the bleeding woman in Mark 5:30-34 also shows that Jesus felt a greater need to affirm the faith of the woman than the disciples understood. Their lack of discernment led them to urge Jesus to press on ahead because the crowd would make it impossible to find the person who touched his robe. Anytime that we find ourselves feeling like we unintentionally lost the plot or misjudged a situation, we can feel assured by these stories that Jesus desires to help us correct our course and continue doing the good works he called us to do.

Fear of Failure

Even if we hold a deep love and reverence for Jesus, we can still worry that we’ll mess up and make mistakes that could be destructive to our relationship with him. The disciples also experienced worry about not living up to the expectations of what it meant to serve the Messiah. In Mark 26:22 Jesus reveals at the Last Supper that one of them would betray him. “Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, ‘Am I the one, Lord?’” Whereas we may not often worry that we will betray Jesus, how often could a fear of failure prevent us from taking bold steps to serve his purposes? Throughout his ministry, Jesus assured his followers that they would indeed encounter trials, tribulations, and suffering. But he also taught them forgiveness and redemption through repentance, and he promised the peace that would come from remaining in his spirit with faith and perseverance through all of life’s difficulties.

Doubt and Confusion

“I do believe, but help me overcome my unbelief!” This quote from Mark 9:24 has to be one of my favorite examples of what it’s like to hold the tension necessary for faith. It illuminates the fact that certainty is not a fruit of the Spirit, and we live in a bewildering world that constantly stirs up unbelief. We see the confusion of the disciples surrounding Jesus’ prediction of his own death. Peter tried to deny Jesus’ attempt to wash his feet, and then Thomas expressed confusion about where Jesus was going and the way for them to join him there. Jesus didn’t give his disciples certainty, but he prepared them to hold onto their faith for the times when the spiritual powers of the bewildering world would try to overwhelm them with unbelief.

Enthusiasm or Passion that Exceeds Understanding

Enthusiasm and passion can be valuable motivators, and pouring out energy for the mission of Jesus feels pretty good for an eager Christian. However, we may find sometimes that strong enthusiasm or passion can lead us into methods that aren’t in line with or fall short of the teachings of Jesus. We’re in good company with that tendency, because the disciples of Jesus also demonstrated enthusiasm or passion that often exceeded understanding. How about that time that Peter stepped out onto the water with Jesus and then let his fear start to pull him below the waves? Many of the disciples initially opposed the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive perfume, calling it a waste since it could have been sold to provide for the needs of the poor. But Jesus acknowledged the value in her decision to honor him. According to Matthew 26:51-52, one of the men with Jesus pulled out a sword and slashed off the ear of the high priest’s slave the night that he was betrayed and arrested. “Put away your sword,” Jesus told him. “Those who use the sword will die by the sword.” These are all excellent illustrations of how a passion for doing good can lead to detrimental impulsivity when not balanced by the influence of the Holy Spirit. With conscious awareness, we can gain understanding from the Holy Spirit how to appropriately temper our enthusiasm with patience, self-control, discernment, and gentleness.

Boldly Opposing Injustice

Jesus was not quiet about challenging religious hypocrisy. The disciples may not have been the ones flipping the tables and clearing out the Temple, but standing by Jesus as he did was a bold opposition to injustice. The disciples probably demonstrated more boldness following the resurrection as apostles—but being with Jesus during his life on earth was a bold move all its own. Together with Jesus, they boldly rejected the social norms of the day as evidenced in their interactions with women, Gentiles, and spiritually oppressed, sick, and other people considered to be sinful. Women played significant roles in Jesus' ministry in various ways, such as providing financial support and being the first to witness Jesus after his resurrection. All of this would have been rubbing against the grain of their patriarchal society. Jesus demonstrated it because he wanted to show his followers how to take such bold steps.

If any of these suggestions help you begin to relate to the disciples, you’ll probably peel back the layers more quickly as you delve deeper into the Gospels on your own. These stories are rich with the complexity of real people doing the best they can to navigate their mysterious experiences with the divine. The disciples certainly make it believable that any one of us can make that choice to turn and follow Jesus, no matter our unique brokenness. We can, and when we do we will be met with the transformative power of encountering Jesus and receiving his grace. In that way, our brokenness becomes a pathway to deeper intimacy with God and a life more deeply rooted in the love and mercy of our risen Savior, Jesus Christ.


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