Why would I follow Jesus?

(Part one)


By Dr. Norman Wise


“(9) As Jesus went on from there, He saw a man called Matthew, sitting in the tax collector’s booth; and He said to him, “Follow Me!” And he got up and followed Him.” [Matthew 9:9 NASB]


What is there about Jesus of Nazareth, who is believed to be the Messiah of Israel that would motivate us to “follow him”?


First, we would have to consider if there is reason to believe that Jesus was a true historical figure and if we can know who he is.   In that way, at least we could examine what can be known of the historical Jesus and see if something about his character of competence would attract or compel us to want to “follow” him.  The answer here is that there is good historical evidence of Jesus of Nazareth and we have enough information to examine to tell us who the historical Jesus was and examine his claims of being the Messiah of Israel.  [1]


Before this however, we need to ask ourselves; what does it mean to “follow Jesus”?


This is not common language in our culture.  We at least don’t like to think of ourselves as “followers” but as independent thinkers developing our own individual paths.  “Following” someone seems strange to us, we all like to use our own GPS to life and find our own ways.


My wife Terry hated having computers determine the route we would take driving.  We would get direction from the GPS giving us specific directions and she would complain how that wasn’t the best way to go.  She loved to determine her own course and direction on trips.  I think she reflected that intelligent, independent, and creative spirit that many of us feel is just the better way to live life.


So how does this reconcile with being a “follower” of Jesus?


To “follow” someone is to trust, believe, and admire their knowledge, opinion, and lifestyle to such an extent, that they embody “success” to us.  We trust in their character and competence.  To reflect them would be to become our true and successful selves.   We would want their soul to become incarnate in our souls.  The way we reflected them would be unique because of our uniqueness, but our desire to be made in their image would be a controlling factor in our lives.


Now, clearly one would have to have come to some very strong conclusions about a person to desire to “follow” them.

We may in a restricted sense want to “follow” someone in a skill.  For example, at one time, I “followed” Bobby Fisher as a master of chess and tried to be “like him” in how he played.  But I did not want his lifestyle or beliefs to be mine.  I just wanted his skill.  To be able to think like him when playing chess.


I appreciated Stephen’s Covey’s thoughts about time management but I was not attempting to adopt all the patterns and beliefs of Dr. Covey as my own.


Most of the time our following is limited to respecting someone’s expertise in one aspect of life.  It normally would be unwise to really decide to follow someone and want to become their “clone” since this may reflect a high degree of co-dependency.


So, the very idea of “following Jesus” as the ultimate Master of our lives, in which our definition of success would be to reflect, resemble, and react in the same manner as Jesus of Nazareth would, is a very wild concept.  What could lead a person to conclude that this was really to be their great passion and purpose in life?  Only if we became fully convinced that Jesus of Nazareth represented the most wise, ethical, effective, and productive life in all the history of the world.   Then and only then could we fully follow him.


We must understand that those who follow Jesus have four points of contact with Jesus of Nazareth.


The first point of contact is the eyewitness accounts of Jesus found primarily in the gospels.  From these we learn about his birth, life, teachings, works, death, and resurrection.  If we are to know who Jesus of Nazareth is the study of these historical records is vital if we are to know enough about him to decide to follow him.  [2]


“(16) For we did not follow cleverly devised tales when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of His majesty.” [2 Peter 1:16 NASB]


The second point of contact is the theological reflections guided by the Holy Spirit by the writers of the New Testament in which the full meaning of who Jesus of Nazareth was and did, is expanded upon and given fuller meaning and expression.


“(16) So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time, we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now!” [2 Corinthians 5:16 NLT]


The third point of contact with Jesus of Nazareth is by connecting the Jewish vision of Messiah from the writings of Moses and the Prophets to him.   We can then add to our understanding of his character and competence all those attributes that we would give to the Messiah of Israel.


“(15) Moses continued, “The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.” [Deuteronomy 18:15 NLT]


The fourth point of contact with Jesus of Nazareth is an existential encounter of the living Messiah Jesus who touches us in moments of private and public worship.  It is to this Jesus we pray and daily desire to have fellowship with in a spiritual and emotional sense.  This is the living Jesus today known in our subjective lives.


“(17) When I saw him, I fell at his feet as if I were dead. But he laid his right hand on me and said, “Don’t be afraid! I am the First and the Last. (18) I am the living one. I died, but look–I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and the grave.” [Revelation 1:17-18 NLT]


So, if we are to “follow Jesus” we must personally contact Jesus of Nazareth intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.


Our vision of the Messiah Jesus would have to impress us to such a degree that we would abandon just living our lives for our own purposes and adopt his purpose for our lives instead.   Now such trust in the character and competence of Jesus, Son of David could grow and weaken.  It would have to be nurtured and encouraged.  We would have to at some point seek it to find it.


Following Jesus is not simply an act of the will.  It is the fruit of a vision, an experience, an encounter, and a meditation.   The better we see the Lord Jesus, we will be lead to admire, love and trust him.  If we want to become followers we must seek such a meeting.


“(1) There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. (2) After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”” [John 3:1-2 NLT]


Will you seek an encounter with Messiah Jesus today?  Which of these four points of contact could you use?  Lord, we believe help our unbelief!  Help us to see YOU more clearly this day.


(This is the first of a series of articles focused on the question of following Jesus).

[1] The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ by Gary R. Habermas

Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham

[2] https://thebibleproject.com/resources/?swoof=1&product_cat=rs-nt&paged=1