1, 2. What is the best invitation a human could receive, and what question might we ask ourselves?
WHAT is the best invitation you have ever received? You might think of a time when you were invited to attend a special occasion, perhaps the wedding of two people very dear to you. Or you might recall the day you were invited to take on an important job. If such invitations have come your way, you were no doubt thrilled, even honored, to get them. The truth is, though, that you have received a far better invitation. Each one of us has. And the way we choose to respond to that invitation affects us profoundly. It is the most important choice we will make in life.
2 What is that invitation? It comes from Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of Almighty God, Jehovah, and it is recorded in the Bible. At Mark 10:21, we read Jesus’ words: “Come be my follower.” That is, in effect, Jesus’ invitation to each one of us. We do well to ask ourselves, ‘How will I respond?’ The answer might appear to be obvious. Who would refuse such a splendid invitation? Surprisingly, most people do refuse. Why?
3, 4. (a) What might be considered enviable about the man who approached Jesus to inquire about everlasting life? (b) What good qualities might Jesus have seen in the wealthy young ruler?
3 Consider as an example a man who received that invitation in person some 2,000 years ago. He was a highly respected man. He had at least three things that humans tend to consider desirable, even enviable—youth, wealth, and power. The Bible record describes him as a “young man,” as “very rich,” and as a “ruler.” (Matthew 19:20; Luke 18:18, 23) However, there was something more important about this young man. He had heard of the Great Teacher, Jesus, and he liked what he had heard.
4 Most rulers in those days failed to give Jesus the respect he deserved. (John 7:48; 12:42) But this ruler acted differently. The Bible tells us: “As [Jesus] was going out on his way, a certain man ran up and fell upon his knees before him and put the question to him: ‘Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit everlasting life?’” (Mark 10:17) Notice how eager this man was to speak with Jesus, running up to him out in the open, just as any of the poor and lowly people might have done. Further, he knelt respectfully before Christ. So he had a measure of humility and an awareness of his spiritual need. Jesus valued such good qualities. (Matthew 5:3; 18:4) Little wonder, then, that “Jesus looked upon him and felt love for him.” (Mark 10:21) How did Jesus answer the young man’s question?
The Invitation of a Lifetime
5. How did Jesus respond to the wealthy young man, and how do we know that poverty was not the “one thing” missing about him? (See also footnote.)
5 Jesus showed that his Father had already supplied information on the vital question about gaining everlasting life. He pointed to the Scriptures, and the young man affirmed that he was faithfully obeying the Mosaic Law. Jesus, however, with his extraordinary insight, saw what was below the surface. (John 2:25) He perceived a spiritual problem in this ruler—a serious one. Hence, Jesus said: “One thing is missing about you.” What was that “one thing”? Jesus said: “Go, sell what things you have and give to the poor.” (Mark 10:21) Did Jesus mean that a person must be penniless in order to serve God? No.* Christ was revealing something of great importance.
6. What invitation did Jesus offer, and what did the wealthy young ruler’s response reveal about his heart?
6 To lay bare what was missing, Jesus offered the man a wonderful opportunity: “Come be my follower.” Just imagine—the Son of the Most High God invited that man, face-to-face, to follow him! Jesus also promised him a reward beyond imagination. He said: “You will have treasure in heaven.” Did the wealthy young ruler seize this opportunity, this glorious invitation? The account reads: “He grew sad at the saying and went off grieved, for he was holding many possessions.” (Mark 10:21, 22) So Jesus’ unexpected words revealed a problem in the heart of this man. He was too deeply attached to his possessions and, no doubt, to the power and prestige that came with them. Sadly, his love for such things far outweighed any love he had for Christ. The “one thing” missing, then, was wholehearted, self-sacrificing love for Jesus and Jehovah. Because the young man lacked such love, he turned down the invitation of a lifetime! How, though, are you involved?
7. Why may we be sure that Jesus’ invitation includes us today?
7 Jesus’ invitation was not limited to that man; nor was it restricted to just a few people. Jesus said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him . . . follow me continually.” (Luke 9:23) Notice that “anyone” can be Christ’s follower if he truly “wants to.” God draws such honesthearted ones to his Son. (John 6:44) Not just the rich, not just the poor, not just those of a certain race or nation, and not just those living during that time period but all are given an opportunity to accept Jesus’ invitation. So Jesus’ words “Come be my follower” really do apply to you. Why should you want to follow Christ? And just what is involved?
Why Be a Follower of Christ?
8. What need do all humans have, and why?
8 There is a truth that we should acknowledge: We have a profound need for good leadership. Not all humans admit to having that need, but it is there nonetheless. Jehovah’s prophet Jeremiah was inspired to record this eternal truth: “I well know, O Jehovah, that to earthling man his way does not belong. It does not belong to man who is walking even to direct his step.” (Jeremiah 10:23) Humans have neither the ability nor the right to govern themselves. Indeed, human history is largely a record of bad leadership. (Ecclesiastes 8:9) In Jesus’ day, the leaders oppressed, abused, and misled the people. Jesus astutely observed that the common people were “as sheep without a shepherd.” (Mark 6:34) The same is true of mankind today. As a group and as individuals, we need leadership we can trust and respect. Does Jesus meet that need? Consider several reasons why the answer is yes.
9. What sets Jesus apart from all other leaders?
9 First, Jesus was chosen by Jehovah God. Most human leaders are chosen by their fellow imperfect humans, who are often deceived and who tend to misjudge. Jesus is a different kind of leader. His very title tells us that. The word “Christ,” like the word “Messiah,” means “Anointed One.” Yes, Jesus was anointed, or specially appointed to his sacred office, by none other than the Sovereign Lord of the universe. Jehovah God said of his Son: “Look! My servant whom I chose, my beloved, whom my soul approved! I will put my spirit upon him.” (Matthew 12:18) No one knows better than our Creator what kind of leader we need. Jehovah’s wisdom is infinite, so we have ample reason to trust his selection.—Proverbs 3:5, 6.
10. Why is Jesus’ example the best one for humans to follow?
10 Second, Jesus set a perfect and an inspiring example for us. The best kind of leader has qualities that his subjects can admire and imitate. He leads by example, inspiring others to become better than they were. What qualities would you respect the most in a leader? Courage? Wisdom? Compassion? What about perseverance in the face of hardship? As you study the record of Jesus’ life course on earth, you will find that he possessed those qualities—and more. The perfect reflection of his heavenly Father, Jesus possessed every divine quality in full measure. He was all that a perfect human could be. So in everything that he did, in every word that he uttered, in every inner feeling that he revealed, we find something worth imitating. The Bible says that he provided “a model for you to follow his steps closely.”—1 Peter 2:21.
11. How did Jesus prove to be “the fine shepherd”?
11 Third, Christ fully lived up to his claim: “I am the fine shepherd.” (John 10:14) To people in Bible times, that figure of speech struck a familiar chord. Shepherds worked hard to take care of the sheep in their charge. A “fine shepherd” would put the safety and well-being of the flock ahead of his own. Jesus’ ancestor David, for example, was a shepherd as a youth, and on more than one occasion, he risked his life to fight off an attack on his sheep by a vicious wild animal. (1 Samuel 17:34-36) Jesus went even further in behalf of his human followers. He laid down his life for them. (John 10:15) How many leaders have such a self-sacrificing spirit?
12, 13. (a) In what sense does a shepherd know his sheep, and in what way do they know him? (b) Why do you want to be under the leadership of the Fine Shepherd?
12 Jesus was “the fine shepherd” in another sense. He said: “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” (John 10:14) Think of the word picture that Jesus was painting. To a casual observer, a flock of sheep might seem just a mass of woolly creatures. The shepherd, however, knows each sheep individually. He knows which ewes will soon need his aid when they give birth, which lambs still need to be carried because they are too tiny and weak to walk far on their own, and which sheep have recently been ill or injured. The sheep know their shepherd as well. They recognize his voice, never mistaking it for that of any other shepherd. When there is a tone of alarm or urgency in his call, they respond quickly. Where he leads, they follow. And he knows just where to lead them. He knows where the grass is lush and green, where the streams are fresh and clear, where the pastures are safe. As he watches over them, the sheep sense that they are secure.—Psalm 23.
13 Do you not long for leadership like that? The Fine Shepherd has an incomparable record in treating his followers just that way. He promises to guide you to a happy and fulfilling life now and on into an eternal future! (John 10:10, 11; Revelation 7:16, 17) We need to know, then, just what is involved in following Christ.
What It Means to Be a Follower of Christ
14, 15. In order to be a follower of Christ, why is it not enough to claim to be a Christian or to form an emotional attachment to Jesus?
14 Hundreds of millions of people today likely feel that they have accepted Christ’s invitation. After all, they choose to call themselves Christians. Perhaps they belong to the church in which their parents had them christened. Or they may claim to have an emotional attachment to Jesus and accept him as their personal Savior. But does that make them followers of Christ? Is that what Jesus had in mind when he invited us to become his followers? There is much more to it.
15 Consider the world of Christendom—those nations whose citizens for the most part claim to be followers of Christ. Does Christendom reflect the teachings of Jesus Christ? Or do we see in those lands hatred, oppression, crime, and injustice much like that found throughout the rest of the world? The respected Hindu leader Mohandas Gandhi once said: “I know of no one who has done more for humanity than Jesus. In fact, there is nothing wrong with Christianity.” He added: “The trouble is with you Christians. You do not begin to live up to your own teachings.”
16, 17. What is often missing among professed Christians, and what distinguishes genuine followers of Christ?
16 Jesus said that his true followers would be known not just for their words or for the label they apply to themselves but primarily for their actions. For example, he said: “Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of the heavens, but the one doing the will of my Father who is in the heavens will.” (Matthew 7:21) Why do so many who claim Jesus as their Lord fail to do his Father’s will? Remember the wealthy young ruler. All too often, “one thing is missing” among professed Christians—whole-souled love for Jesus and for the One who sent him forth.
17 How can that be? Do not millions who call themselves Christians also claim to love Christ? No doubt. But love for Jesus and for Jehovah involves far more than words. Jesus said: “If anyone loves me, he will observe my word.” (John 14:23) And again speaking as a shepherd, he said: “My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) Yes, the true test of our love for Christ is not merely in our words or in our feelings but mainly in our actions.
18, 19. (a) How should learning about Jesus affect us? (b) What is the purpose of this book, and how will it benefit those who have long considered themselves to be followers of Christ?
18 Our actions, however, do not simply spring from nowhere. They reflect the person we are deep inside. It is here that our work must begin. Jesus said: “This means everlasting life, their taking in knowledge of you, the only true God, and of the one whom you sent forth, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:3) If we take in and meditate on accurate knowledge about Jesus, our heart will be affected. We will come to love him more and more, building in ourselves an ever greater desire to follow him day by day.
19 Herein lies the purpose of this book. Its aim is, not to give a complete summary of the life and ministry of Jesus, but to help us see more clearly how to follow him.* It is designed to help us look into the mirror of Scripture and ask ourselves, ‘Am I truly following Jesus?’ (James 1:23-25) Perhaps you have long considered yourself to be a sheep guided by the Fine Shepherd. Would you not agree, though, that we can always find ways to improve? The Bible urges us: “Keep testing whether you are in the faith, keep proving what you yourselves are.” (2 Corinthians 13:5) It is worth our every effort to make sure that we are indeed being guided by our loving Fine Shepherd, Jesus, whom Jehovah himself has appointed to lead us.
20. What will we consider in the following chapter?
20 May your study of this book help you to strengthen your love for Jesus and for Jehovah. As such love guides you in life, you will find the greatest measure of peace and contentment possible in this old world, and you will live to praise Jehovah forever for providing us with the Fine Shepherd. Of course, our study of Christ must be based on the right foundation. It is fitting, then, that in Chapter 2 we will examine Jesus’ role in Jehovah’s universal purpose.
Jesus did not ask everyone who followed him to give up all possessions. And although he did comment on how difficult it is for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, he added: “All things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:23, 27) In fact, a few wealthy people did become Christ’s followers. They received specific counsel in the Christian congregation, but they were not asked to donate all their wealth to the poor.—1 Timothy 6:17.
For a full, chronological summary of the events of Jesus’ life and ministry, see The Greatest Man Who Ever Lived, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.