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Cover image: “Come Follow Me” by Brent Borup.
Sam was nine and eager to be accepted in the new town where the family had followed his father’s transfer with the FBI. The invitation to play with the neighborhood kids was a relief since he didn’t know anyone. As the evening developed Tom, a neighbor, challenged everyone to a game of “follow-the-leader.” Looking back, Sam could see that Tom was more athletic and older than all of the other boys so following him brought an automatic sense of inadequacy and failure.
Nephi recognized that we all have the invitation to follow the Savior.[i] But can we follow such a being as “the Son of God?” Understanding His true nature is paramount in answering that question. If Christ were “God incarnate;” only mortal by appearance, assumed for purposes of teaching mortals, as taught by some, then the answer is “not really”. If Christ was only a man until filled with the Spirit at baptism which then left Him at the end, on the cross, as taught by others, then no, He would be “unfollowable.” But if Christ is the son of God, born to a mortal woman with the inherited capacity to feel, be tempted, and die combined with, the power to overcome death then the answer is “possibly,” depending on when He used power beyond what we can do. The biblical record shows that Christ never used His proprietary divine power until the garden and the cross.[ii] Yet the example He set during His morality, represents a steep climb often misunderstood. Though perfect, Christ was not fully perfect as a three-year old, though He was a perfect three-year old. John the Baptist, His cousin made it clear:
“And I, John, saw that he received not of the fulness at the first, but received grace for grace; And he received not of the fulness at first, but continued from grace to grace, until he received a fulness” DC 93:12-13
Two sequential processes occurred in the Savior’s growth and progression towards the fullness we all seek and are promised. One, He was perfected by His Father as He worked through Jesus to give divine grace to others.[iii] Two, that perfection came incrementally from one level to a subsequent higher level or greater refinement.
Even though the Savior’s invitation to His disciples was to “come follow me”[iv] They struggled as they gradually grew to trust the hope that He really was “the son of The Highest, “[v] their Messiah.
As it became evident to them that He was who He claimed to be, the challenge to follow him pushed the boundaries of their faith. On one occasion after they had been given priesthood power and Jesus had taken the three chief apostles up the mount, they were approached by the father of a young man who was possessed. They tried to “follow” Jesus and heal him but couldn’t. When Jesus returned, the father went to him saying:
“’I brought him to thy disciples, and they could not cure him.’ Then Jesus answered and said, ‘O faithless and perverse generation, how long shall I be with you? how long shall I suffer you? bring him hither to me.’ And Jesus rebuked the devil; and he departed out of him: and the child was cured from that very hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus apart, and said, ‘Why could not we cast him out?’ And Jesus said unto them, ‘Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.’” Matthew 17:16-19
Not only could they not do as He did but in trying and then asking for instruction, they discovered that their faith was less than a grain of mustard seed, hence insufficient. At a later time, they would ask him how to increase their faith. In repeating this seeming metaphor of condemnation, He also gave them, what to us is a cryptic parable.
“And the apostles said unto the Lord, Increase our faith. And the Lord said, If ye had faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye might say unto this sycamine tree, Be thou plucked up by the root, and be thou planted in the sea; and it should obey you.” Luke 17:5-6
Let’s pause to understand what the Hebrew mind would have heard in this part-one of His answer. First, faith is the key to following Jesus. But it is faith in Him, not in the hoped-for outcome. It is a trust that He knows what is best and so He determines that outcome.[vi] The first question then to ask in taking up our cross of discipleship is, “What is His will?” Sometimes, for various reasons, we may not be able to know that in advance. For example,
- We may not be experienced in recognizing the voice of the Lord.[vii]
- Or, we may be asking wrong questions that make it difficult to understand the binary answer we are expecting.[viii]
- Or, He may require us to exercise faith by stepping into the dark of uncertainty before revealing the next step, let alone the whole path.[ix]
It is to this last example that “faith as a grain of mustard seed” is referring. So, secondly mustard-seed faith, to the Hebrew mind, was the concept that no matter how small your faith might be, you must use it, act on it, in order to allow God to accomplish His will through you. The reality that the tree didn’t immediately move to the sea doesn’t mean that your faith is smaller than the mustard seed but that you didn’t act on your smallest amount of faith as it currently exists. The power to command and be obeyed comes incrementally in divine synergistic partnership. Starting with a saw, shovel, and wheelbarrow may not seem like faith but Joseph Smith taught that “faith is a principle of action.”
Note that they wanted HIM to increase their faith, but He was telling them how THEY could increase their faith. Then He adds a part-two in helping them avoid the “natural man” hazard that accompanies personal growth.
“But which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink? Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.” Luke 17:7-10
Part one told them how to exercise the smallest amount of faith, while part two focuses on what often blocks faith. His question to them was to help them see how we all tend to do our duty hoping to be at least deserving. The fact that the servant was hired to do a series of jobs and he was not to wait for praise or confirmation of his standing with the master. I am thankful for King Benjamin’s elaboration on the “unprofitable servant.” He helps us understand that service to God can never put Him in our debt. We cannot get ahead of Him in our “windows of heaven”[x] relationship with Him. Faith is a relationship issue between Jesus Christ and each of us. Do we trust Him, His wisdom and timing… or not?
Then there was the obedient rich young man who “ran” to “kneel” before him asking for personal direction in order to gain eternal life. The Savior tested him, and he passed. The text says that Jesus loved him but, then invited him through personal financial sacrifice to “come follow me.” Though Christ had not asked this degree of financial sacrifice of Zacchaeus,[xi] this young man needed to consecrate all the great riches which he possessed that had become a personal stumbling block to his discipleship.[xii]
Then, as He gathered His apostles into the upper room as the last meeting they would convene during His mortality, He taught:
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto my Father.” John 14:12
What!? To believe on Christ is to do what He did!? How are we to do all that He did? And then to do greater works than “these.” What could that possibly mean!? What are “these!” Gethsemane and Golgotha would take Him where they could not follow.[xiii] But, following Him in doing His work is exactly what He was asking. His effect upon one small segment of the world needed to be multiplied over millions of miles and generations of families by those who call themselves His disciples. His need is not because of His limitation but because true change comes through immersion in the activities that portend the change, even cause the change. Math is learned by doing math not just reading or hearing about it! He offers to mercifully involve us if we are willing to allow His grace to flow through us in loving service of others, thereby mentoring us, perfecting us. “Come follow me” isn’t an optional game but an essential, transformational means of saving each of us, all of us; that the world should not be wasted at His coming!
“In our pre-existent state, in the
day of the great council, we made a certain agreement with the Almighty… We agreed, right then and there, to be
saviors for the whole human family. We
went into a partnership with the Lord.
The working out of the plan became then not merely the Father’s work,
and the Savior’s work, but also our work.” [xiv]
[i] 2 Nephi 31:10 And he said unto the children of men: Follow thou me.
[ii] Walk on Water-Elisha; Raise the dead-Elijah; Provide food or drink when there was none=Elijah.
John 10:17-18 Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father.
[iii] John 15:3 “the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works.”
[iv] Matt 4:19; 9:9; 16:24; 19:21, etc.
[v] Luke 1:32 “He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest”
[vi] Dan 3:17-18; See also Elder Dennis E. Simmons, April 2004 Conference, “But If Not”; Also Elder Lance B. Wickman, Oct 202 Conference, “But If Not”
[vii] Joseph Smith, “A person may profit by noticing the first intimation of the spirit of revelation; for instance, when you feel pure intelligence flowing into you, it may give you sudden strokes of ideas, so that by noticing it, you may find it fulfilled the same day or soon; (i.e.) those things that were presented unto your minds by the Spirit of God, will come to pass; and thus by learning the Spirit of God and understanding it, you may grow into the principle of revelation, until you become perfect in Christ Jesus.” History of the Church, 3:381; from a discourse given by Joseph Smith on June 27, 1839, in Commerce, Illinois; reported by Willard Richards.
[viii] DC 9:8-9 But, behold, I say unto you, that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong
[ix] Elder Boyd K. Packer, ““I returned to Elder Lee and told him that I saw no way to move in the direction I was counseled to go. He said, ‘The trouble with you is you want to see the end from the beginning.’ I replied that I would like to see at least a step or two ahead. Then came the lesson of a lifetime: ‘You must learn to walk to the edge of the light, and then a few steps into the darkness; then the light will appear and show the way before you.’ Then he quoted these 18 words from the Book of Mormon:
“‘Dispute not because ye see not, for ye receive no witness until after the trial of your faith’” (Ether 12:6). Ensign Aug 2013, “Move Forward with Faith”
[x] Malachi 3:10 “prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.”
and Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.”
[xi] Luke 19:8-9 “And Zacchæus stood, and said unto the Lord; Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house”
[xii] Jacob 2:18-19 But before ye seek for riches, seek ye for the kingdom of God. And after ye have obtained a hope in Christ ye shall obtain riches, if ye seek them; and ye will seek them for the intent to do good—to clothe the naked, and to feed the hungry, and to liberate the captive, and administer relief to the sick and the afflicted.
[xiii] John 13:33 “Little children, yet a little while I am with you. Ye shall seek me: and as I said unto the Jews, Whither I go, ye cannot come; so now I say to you.”
[xiv] Elder John A. Widstoe, “The Worth of Souls” The Utah Genealogical & Historical Magazine 10/34, p 189