SHORT CHRISTIAN READINGS SELECTED FOR FORMER JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES
Jesus said: "Come, follow me." (Luke 18:22)
By David A. Reed
"Come to me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest. ... Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart; and you will find rest for your souls. ... For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." -- Matthew 11:28-30.
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. ... I give eternal life to them. They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand." -- John 10:27-28.
Jesus of Nazareth lived 2000 years ago ... . He preached in ancient Jerusalem and the surrounding regions ... [almost exclusively to his Jewish brethren] . [Jewish r]eligious leaders were angry when Jesus exposed their hypocrisy, and jealous when he drew crowds of followers, so they falsely accused him of crimes and turned him over to the secular [Roman] authorities for execution -- a cruel death by crucifixion -- unknowingly fulfilling ancient prophecies about how the promised Messiah or Christ would die a sacrificial death to take away our sins and give his followers eternal life. But hundreds of eye-witnesses testified that Jesus rose from the dead. Before ascending to heaven, he promised to return, this time with great power, to replace human governments with the Kingdom of God. In the meantime, he would remain with us, invisibly. Appearing alive to eleven of his followers after rising from dead, Jesus said to them:
"All power in heaven and on earth is given to me. So go and make followers of all people in the world. Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach them to obey everything that I have taught you, and I will be with you always, even until the end of this age." -- Matthew 28:18-20 NCV.
Obeying this command, Jesus' followers wrote down the things he taught, and the things that he did -- healing people of all sorts of diseases, and even raising the dead to life -- and they preached that message to others, first in Jerusalem, then throughout the Mediterranean area, and to the ends of the earth. We have their testimony about Jesus and his teachings preserved for us today in the books of the New Testament in the Bible.
Jesus' invitation to "Come, follow me", is still open. He instructed his original followers to "go and make followers of all people in the world." And besides praying for those original followers, Jesus also prayed to his heavenly Father for future followers saying, "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message." (John 17:20 NIV).
So, the invitation is open to you. Jesus invites YOU to become his follower. How can you do that? What is involved in following Jesus?
As we just read above, people today can become followers of Jesus by believing in him through the teaching of his original followers -- the ones who wrote the Gospels and the New Testament in the Bible. Jesus commanded those original followers to teach future followers "to obey everything that I have taught you." (Matt. 28:20 NCV) So, following Jesus today involves believing in him and obeying the things he taught his original followers, as found in the Scriptures they wrote.
[Unfortunately,] if you ask [some Christians] today what it means to follow Jesus, you will hear many different contradictory answers to that question. But the only correct answer is the answer found in the pages of the Bible where Jesus' teachings are actually written down for anyone to read.
So, in order to follow Jesus, you need to read the Bible yourself, or to listen to someone reading it out loud -- the entire Bible, verse after verse and chapter after chapter, not just isolated passages quoted out of context, or included as part of someone else's discussion.
What about just joining a church and listening to what the pastor preaches on Sunday mornings? Won't that make you a follower of Jesus? [Unfortunately,] even though they quote from it, most churches today no longer preach the Bible. Many preach directly contrary to what the Bible says on important matters. And many others preach only part of what the Bible says -- just the parts that are popular, and that don't offend anyone. As Jesus' early follower the Apostle Paul warned,
"... the time will come when people will not listen to the true teaching but will find many more teachers who please them by saying the things they want to hear." -- 2 Timothy 4:3 NCV.
Paul warned that, already in his day, some churches accepted false teachers preaching another Jesus, a Jesus different from the real Jesus:
"You are very patient with anyone who comes to you and preaches a different Jesus from the one we preached. You are very willing to accept a spirit or gospel that is different from the Spirit and Good News you received from us." -- 2 Corinthians 11:4.
This same thing has been happening for centuries, with the result that there are many millions of people today who think they are following Jesus, or who say they are following him, but who are not following the real Jesus at all. Jesus knew ahead of time that things would turn out this way. He warned:
"Not every one who says to me, 'Lord, Lord', shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?' And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.'" -- Matthew 7:21-23 RSV.
The Apostles and other early followers of Jesus faithfully preached the message he had taught them, and they recorded this message in their writings that now make up the Bible's New Testament. But, even at that time there were portions of the Christian message that were unpopular and that people did not want to hear.
For example, when the Apostle Paul shared the Gospel message with Roman governor Felix, the governor listened gladly to the part about putting faith in Christ, but he did not want to hear the part about the lifestyle that Jesus commanded his followers to live, and about God's coming judgment. He listened to Paul talk about believing in Christ Jesus. But Felix became afraid when Paul spoke about living right, self-control, and the time when God will judge the world. He said, "Go away now. When I have more time, I will call for you." -- Acts 24:24-25 NCV.
Powerful and influential people today, often behave in much the same way as governor Felix, responding favorably to appealing parts of the Gospel message, but not wanting to hear the parts about living right, self-control, and the time when God will judge the world. In so-called "Christian" countries, such people may even join a church and consider themselves to be Christian. As major financial contributors, or as people who do a lot of the work in the church, they may tell the pastor they don't want to hear him preach on certain topics that they find offensive, or that they think might offend others in the audience.
The Apostle Paul faithfully preached the full force of Jesus' message, even though he was jailed and eventually killed for doing so, but many church leaders over the centuries have compromised the message to please their listeners. Likewise today, the pastor of a church may feel obliged to leave out offensive topics from his Sunday messages, in order to keep his job and to avoid losing church members. (I have heard even Bible-believing pastors of Bible-believing churches admit that they have done this -- leaving out mention of money, or of certain sins, or leaving out the full force of God's judgment message -- at the request of influential members of their church, or out of fear of losing their job.) When this sort of thing continues for years and then for decades, a church or denomination can end up preaching just a fraction of Jesus' message -- giving listeners an unbalanced or twisted view of what it means to follow Jesus, the real Jesus of the Bible. And that is exactly what has happened.
Very often today, churches that call themselves "Christian" preach a Jesus who loves and accepts everyone and everything, and who doesn't require anything of anyone. That is not the same Jesus who gave the command to baptize followers and to teach them "to obey everything that I have taught." (Matt. 28:20 NCV). That is not the same risen Jesus who sent this message to the Christian church in the city of Thyatira:
"I know what you do. I know about your love, your faith, your service, and your patience. I know that you are doing more now than you did at first. ... But I have this against you: You let that woman Jezebel spread false teachings. ... by her teaching she leads my people to take part in sexual sins ... I have given her time to change her heart and turn away from her sin, but she does not want to change. So I will throw her on a bed of suffering. ... I will also kill her followers. Then all the churches will know that I am the One who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each one of you for what you have done." -- Revelation 2:19-23 NCV.
Do you find that message offensive? Some people will stop reading this book right now, and toss it into the trash. Why? Because they have already chosen to follow a different Jesus -- not the Jesus of the Bible who spoke the words above.
How can you know if a church or a preacher is following the real Jesus and teaching everything that he taught? Only by prayerfully reading the Bible yourself, and becoming personally familiar with its message.
The purpose of this book is to draw your attention to key passages in the Bible that will help you learn how to accept Jesus' invitation to "Come, follow me" -- passages that highlight what we must do to follow Jesus, according to Jesus himself and according to his first followers.