"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander." ~ 1 Peter 3:15-16

The Follower of Jesus

"It was a simmering afternoon. The intense rays from the blazing sun were scorching the paths extending out from the crossroad and caused a blurry horizon when we looked at the mountains. We were on our way to Jerusalem . Suddenly, we noticed that the dust became rather unsettled down the road ahead of us. A blurry figure was emerging slowly from behind the hill. As we were trying to figure out what was approaching us, we came to see clearly that it was a man dressed in clothing with bright and rich colors, a sign of nobility.

We continued walking towards him and saw that he had a pinkish glow on his round face. Bartholomew immediately mumbled how that man must have been well nourished. I almost forgot that we did not have proper meals for the past couple of days since we started our travel. I looked at the man again and realized that he had an aura surrounding him. I could not find words to describe what it was, until Philip whispered to me that the man might be a ruler, probably a leader of a synagogue nearby or some high ranking and reputable person in Jericho .

As we passed by the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who was traveling with us, approached the man and asked him, 'Do you want eternal life?' John quickly nudged me as he turned around and gave me a bright grin like a young schoolboy. I then remembered that our Friend did manage to pull off something similar with a Samaritan woman besides the well some time back.

All of us were leaning towards the man, eager to hear what he would say. The man gave a curious look at Jesus from head to toe and answered, 'Good teacher, the eternal life that you offer sounds good to me. Why don't you come to my house right now so that we can bring it to my storeroom where I kept my other valuable possessions. So come, hurry up and follow me.'"
~ (Adapted from Luke 18:18-27)

Recently, a brother shared with me that he had read a commentary which says that many followers have turned against the Lord and treated Jesus as "Santa Clause", effectively rendering Him as their follower instead. After hearing him, I made up my mind and decided to write something on the topic. So I thought I might as well start off with a story which hopefully will stimulate your interest to investigate and further explore. Are we supposed to call Jesus to follow us, or are we called to be followers of Jesus?

Do you know what was the primary reason that people went to Jesus in the New Testament? Yes, you are right. Miracles. The people in the New Testament, both Jews and Gentiles, raced to Jesus like bees to honey for miracles. Given that the medical technology back then was not well advanced, I can fully appreciate why people gravitated towards Jesus during those days. This was partly because medical treatments were not as readily available, accessible and affordable a it is today. But we are not unlike the Jews and Gentiles in those days.

As a modern equivalent, we often seek Jesus because we assessed that we have some needs which need to be satisfied or fulfilled, and we think that Jesus is able to do just that. The needs can range from wealth, health, fame, respect, authority, power, food, roof over the head, marriage, relationship to freedom or some other things which only the person will know. While there are certainly valid needs, some "needs" should also be more appropriately termed as wants rather than needs. Yet, the bottom line is that it is all about "ME". We go after Jesus because it is about ME. If there isn't anything in it for ME, I will not be bothered or interested. Paul David Tripp in his book "Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands" also said something similar to my delight while I was reading his book.

"In our self-absorbed culture, we need to see the grandeur of this kingdom. We cannot shrink it to the size of our needs and desires. It takes us far beyond our personal situations and relationships. The King came not to make our agenda possible, but to draw us into something more amazing glorious, and wonderful than we could ever imagine... The good news of the kingdom is not freedom from hardship, suffering, and loss. It is the news of a Redeemer who has come to rescue me from myself."

While I do not intend to place a moral value over whether it is wrong or right to approach Jesus with a me-centred mentality especially on one's first encounter (my mum was saved because she sought for healing!), it is crystal clear that a follower of Christ cannot remain me-centered, or at least not for too long, according to Jesus. It is an oxymoron to have a self-centered follower. By definition, a follower seek to do the will of the One being followed and to pleased Him in every possible way, with the help of the Spirit, of course. In order to drive the point home, I wonder if it is a coincident that the three accounts of the Gospel mentioned the following not once but three times in total, fearing that we might forget about it. Let us take a look at them.

Matthew 16:24 - Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Mark 8:34 - Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

Luke 9:23 - Then he said to them all: "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."

If you noticed, there are three recurring elements, from the above three verses, namely (1) deny ourselves, (2) take up our cross, and (3) follow Him. And there is also one condition or assumption, (4) that there is a hungering desire to seek after Christ or go after Jesus. We will not be touching on (2) and (3) since they each could be a lengthy topic in themselves. Rather, I hope that you will be able to see that there is a clear link between (4) and (1). That is to follow Christ requires a denial of self, and you simply can't have both (see Matt 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24). There are also many reasons for following Christ, some noble and some not so noble.

Lastly, let us take a close look at the conversation between Peter and Jesus in John 21:18-22 after Jesus had lovingly re-affirmed Peter.

"'I (Jesus) tell you (Peter) the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.' Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, 'Follow me!' Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. When Peter saw him, he asked, "'Lord, what about him?' Jesus answered, 'If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.'"

Does it puzzle you that Jesus mentioned that the kind of death which Peter would face (neither comfortable nor pleasing), would actually glorify God? Bearing in mind that Peter's death happened after the cross where all believers, including Peter, are seated with God in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6), does it then trouble you that even a believer like Peter, who is in Christ with every blessings from God, still have to go through that kind of death? And the seemingly strange reason is just that God may be glorified.

You may be thinking that it is ridiculous! Isn't it when believers live well, eat well and prosperous abundantly that God gets the glory instead? Well, I do have such thoughts once in a while and perhaps Peter did entertain similar thoughts. However, Peter apparently tried not to be so direct in voicing his opinion because he had learnt from his mistakes, not once but twice. So he indirectly expressed his lamentations by comparing John to himself. And Jesus' final reply was a deathblow on Peter's heart issue. In fact, Jesus' answer to Peter, "What is that to you?" could well be addressed to our idolatrous hearts which are prone to wander.

Do you seek to follow Him because you want something which someone else has? Do you seek to follow Him because you want the things He could give and offer you more than you want He Himself? Let us then not be drawn away from Christ, for only He alone is what we really need. We need a Person, not things. Let us constantly remind ourselves and encourage one another to examine our motives and to strive to keep our hearts pure. For indeed, blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matt 5:8). Now, since we know that a follower of Christ has to deny himself or herself, do we still profess the desire to be His follower?

If you feel like giving up, my only encouragement (even to myself) is to make His love the motivating factor to follow Him. Think about how great the mystery is, that the Father would send the beloved Son down to earth and even unto the cross for the sake of sinners who sinned against Him; that the incarnation would take place when He owes us nothing; that He would call us to be the beautiful Bride of Christ as part of His ultimate purpose when we are merely dirt in the universe; and that He would pour His Spirit in us when clay pots are better than us for they never complain. Let us then ponder and treasure the glory, mystery and riches of Christ and always remembering Philippians 2:6-11. Let His divine love constraint us from beginning to end. May the Spirit make Him truly the centrality of our faith.

And then, follow Him, and follow Him well in the Spirit until that day when we will see His face and behold His glory directly.