To follow Jesus means we follow Him for who He is and not who we want Him to be. There is a biblical Jesus and a worldly Jesus. The worldly Jesus is the one the world sets forth. He is the ecumenical Jesus who never judges, never offends, never stands up for truth, never divides, embraces other religions, wants to improve the world rather than convert the heart, and lets everyone into heaven. There are many moral people who follow this Jesus, and the world loves them for it. In the end, this is a Jesus of their making who fits their agendas. It’s a Jesus who serves them.
But what does the Bible reveal about Jesus? The Bible reveals Jesus is God who added humanity to Himself (John 1:1, 14; 5:18; 10:33; 20:28), and that He is worthy of worship (Matt. 2:11; 14:33; 28:9). He lived a sinless life (2 Cor. 5:21; Heb. 4:15; 1 John 3:5), willingly went to the cross and died in our place (John 3:16; 10:14-18), and was buried and rose again on the third day (1 Cor. 15:3-4). Concerning salvation, Jesus is the only Savior (John 14:6), and it is only by grace through faith in Him that one is eternally saved (Eph. 2:8-9). There is no salvation apart from Jesus (Acts 4:12).
During His incarnation, there was a time when Jesus was popular with the masses because He fed them (John 6:1-14), but when they wanted to take Him by force and make Him king, He withdrew from them (John 6:15). The same crowd later pursued Jesus, not because they embraced Him or His teaching, but because they wanted another free meal (John 6:24-26) and He corrected their selfish motives (John 6:27). Jesus was kind to the sick and helpless (Matt. 8:1-3; 20:34; Luke 5:13), yet He did not hesitate to condemn the religious and powerful (Matt. 23:13-36). For the most part, Jesus was rejected by the majority of those who heard and saw Him (John 3:19; 12:37; 15:24). At times He caused division (John 7:43; 9:16; 10:19), even among His own disciples (John 6:66), as well as members of a family in the same household (Luke 12:51-53).
Jesus called men to follow Him (Matt. 4:18-19; 9:9; John 1:43), and He had many female followers as well, several of whom funded His earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3). To follow Jesus means to learn His teaching, obey His commands and model our life after Him. Followers of Jesus were to share the gospel (Matt. 4:19), not be bound by the world’s values (Matt. 8:19-22), treasure Jesus above one’s profession (Matt. 9:9), be committed to Jesus above family (Matt. 10:34-38; cf. Mark 1:20), and deny self and take up one’s cross daily (Matt. 16:24; cf. Luke 9:23). There is no place for personal glory or selfishness in serving the Lord, as one’s life is given for His glory and the benefit of others (1 Cor. 10:32-33; Phil. 2:3-4). To follow Jesus is a lifelong pursuit.
Steven R. Cook, D.Min.