You know some things about Jesus. I mean, you have a picture in your mind. A visual image, perhaps. A sense of what Jesus was like. How he treated people. His tone of voice, maybe. Certainly, the issues that he cared about most.
As a follower of Jesus that mental picture is vital to you. It probably motivates you. It may inform your decisions about politics, or vocation, or parenting.
Now stop for a moment. Have you ever really thought about where that picture came from? Where did you learn about Jesus?
You’ve been putting puzzle pieces together.
It’s an easy question to stutter over. I mean, Jesus is just Jesus, right? Church kids like me have known about Jesus all our lives. It feels like the picture didn’t come from anywhere, but that’s not true. If you’re like most people, your picture of Jesus is a composite. It’s been assembled from puzzle pieces picked up as you’ve moved through life.
- You got a handful of pieces from your own church or religious tradition. If you grew up in church, you heard certain stories over and over. Maybe one of those stories captured your imagination, or spoke to a deep need in your heart. Now that story is the lense through which you imagine Jesus. If your church spoke of “doing the Lord’s work,” or “obeying Jesus,” there was probably a clear indication of what those things meant. You got a sense of what Jesus must care most about. Was it evangelizing? Was it avoiding bad behavior? Was it sticking up for people or calling them out?
- Your own family gave you another handful of pieces. Was Jesus talked about a lot, or barely at all? That gave you a sense of how important Jesus was. When he was talked about, what was the tone? Was Jesus someone you were disappointing Was Jesus someone who cared for you? And of course, your experience of your own mother and father shaped your pictures of how Jesus relates to you.
- The culture around you gave you a few more puzzle pieces. Was Jesus seen as a polite, religious figure, the perfect pastor? Was Jesus talked about as an iconoclast, breaking down social barriers? Was Jesus on your side, or against your side? Was Jesus shown with your skin color or someone elses? How did that impact you?
- As you grew you took in stories and ideas about Jesus. Books, academic lectures, popular movies, conspiracy theories, theological conversations, bad TV Shows. Each of these offered you more pieces to the puzzle. Some of the pieces made sense to you. Those got added to your picture. Others seemed alien, irreconcilable, and you let those pieces go.
As time passed you fit all your pieces together. Life experience has worn off their edges. Now your picture looks seamless. It feels right.
So, who are you really following?
If you’re a follower of Jesus this raises a very important question.
If your picture of Jesus is a composite of puzzle pieces collected throughout your life, who are you really following?
Is “Follower of Jesus” just code? Does it really mean that you’re a member of a certain denomination or theological community? It is just a signifier that you like Jesus but don’t like insitutional church?
(You know… it’s more comfortable to say “Follower of Jesus” these days than it can be sometimes to say, “Christian.”) What does it mean for you?
In the past decade I’ve grown more excited about Jesus and less excited about what has often been done in Jesus name.
In the past couple of years I’ve felt a visceral reaction in my gut hearing people who proudly wear the label “Christ Follower” say deeply hurtful, exclusionary, and dehumanizing things about people they disagree with. The wider my online community grows, the more I see this. Maybe you relate. Maybe you’ve felt these same feelings.
This is a call to consider carefully what we mean by “follower of Jesus.” I’m mindful of the many puzzle pieces that have influenced my view over the years. I also know there are many other puzzle pieces I’m not even aware of. This has driven me to get more and more clear about who Jesus was, who Jesus is for me now.
I want to be clear about what I mean when I say I’m a follower of Jesus. I want to be clear when I encounter something that seems misaligned with Jesus’ heart. When that happens, I want to know it’s not just my own prejudice or preference asserting itself with a halo. Maybe you want this too.
Isn’t it time you learned from Jesus Himself?
The puzzle pieces you’ve been given, they aren’t all bad or wrong. But they are just puzzle pieces. Jesus’ invitation to us was not to put puzzle pieces together, but to learn from Him.
Jesus invited us with these words:
“All of you, take up My yoke and learn from Me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for yourselves.” 1
He asked us to learn from him. Not just to learn about him. But to learn from Jesus.
Jesus’ first follower were called disciples. A disciple was not a fan, or a hanger-on. A disciple was someone who was so intrigued by a certain teacher, that they spent as much time as they could with him. Why? So that they could learn how to do life the way the teacher did. It wasn’t just about learning information. It was about learning a new way of being. Less a student, more an apprentice. (Here’s more on this idea.)
In my next post I’ll tackle the how. How do we go about learning from Jesus? I mean, it’s not like he’s sitting in the coffee shop across from us, right?
Today I’ll leave you with this: To claim to be a follower of Jesus requires us to get clear about who exactly we are following. This isn’t something that someone can do for you. Like any relationship, it’s something you must pursue for yourself.
(Note: Part 2 of this post can be found here: How do we learn from Jesus when Jesus isn’t physically here with us?)
- Matthew 11:29 ▲