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The First Disciples

The Gospel of John: Believe  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  35:41
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We all like to follow someone at various times in our lives. We may be motivated by curiosity, fear, ambition, knowledge, information. Sometimes our following is a simple and non-committed social media follow - we might just want to be in the know. Other times our following results in a certain college choice or degree field. We may even follow certain people at school in order to gain influence or avoid pain.
whom we follow makes a difference in our lives- for good or ill.
back in the New Testament, following a religious leader was an important part of life, especially for the spiritually minded. Today, we are going to look at some of the first followers of Jesus, and how they came to follow him.
rather than dividing our consideration of the text into three or four points, we are just going to walk through the text and reflect on the Words, phrases, and verses.
John 1:35 “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,”
Up to this point in the book of John, we were introduced to Jesus as the Word made flesh. Last week, we considered John the Baptist and his ministry. Th apostle John gave us a bit of a glimpse into two days in John’s life, a day of questioning and a day when John had been with some of his disciples and had told them “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (v. 29). So here, John was with two unnamed disciples. According to the way that John is telling the story, that was the day before the events we are considering today.
John 1:36-37 “and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.”
So, John again points out Jesus to his disciples. Remember, John’s ministry was all about preparing the way for Jesus. He baptized in order to ready people for Jesus. Now, as Jesus is coming onto the scene, he is making it very clear to his disciples - who Jesus is and what his role would be.
I think it’s important to note that discipleship was and may still be a big deal in Judaism. But I believe it’s an even more important issue here in Christianity. It was not uncommon for religious leaders to have students following them. It’s almost as though John, as he is leading and teaching these two men he is pointing them to the ultimate object of their faith. John was not concerned at all about showing them to a better teacher/leader - after all, that was his calling.
So these disciples hear John’s testimony about Jesus and seem to switch allegiance - they begin following a new rabbi.
John 1:38 “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?”
In the first century, it was often up to a student to seek out a teacher or a rabbi. These two disciples begin following Jesus on the testimony of John and so Jesus seems to be inquiring of their intentions, their motivation. And so they respond with another question.
John 1:38 And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?””
They are not interested in a quick answer, but it seems they are more intrigued by a longer conversation. They seem to want to sit and get to know this rabbi, this Lamb of God.
Jesus replies.
John 1:39 “He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.”
Jesus invites them to join him and seems to welcome the conversation.
Most likely, it was about 4PM when they went with Jesus to where he stayed.
I don’t want to read into this too much, but it seems there are some cultural elements at work. These two unnamed disciples seem to understand that the answers to their questions may not be addressed in a short conversation. For that matter, they may not even know what questions to ask, but they know that this person is someone worth spending some time with.
This attitude toward hospitality and investment of time is a lost gift in our western culture. We want quick answers to shallow questions and sometimes fail to invest the time needed to really get to know one another and get to know the issues.
I once heard someone comment about a trip the he made to Europe. This man was meeting with a few other people at a restaurant. As they sat down, the waiter came to them and asked for their orders - to which the host replied - we’ll just start with drinks and then in about an hour, we’ll order.
Am I willing to invest that kind of time with Jesus? Can I just sit with him and listen? Am I willing to leave enough margin in life to have those kinds of conversations with others? Oh that we would slow down and learn. Oh that we would bask in the knowledge of our Savior. Leave space to listen and just be with other people.
John 1:40-41 “One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).”
So John (the author), finally gives us a bit of insight into the identity of one of these disciples - Andrew. It seems that Andrew knows understands just how special and important Jesus is and he doesn’t want to keep this opportunity to spend time with Jesus to himself - so he grabs his brother. Andrew wants his brother Simon to know about Jesus.
Milne, in his commentary writes:
“Here lies the secret of the extraordinary spread of Christianity in the early centuries, as the historian Gibbon noted, ‘it became the most sacred duty of the new convert to diffuse among his friends and relatives the inestimable blessings he had received.’” (p. 58)
John 1:42 “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).”
So Jesus sees Simon and changes his name to Peter (gk) - or Cephas (aramaic) - which means rock. In some ways, John - the author - frequently uses double meanings and layers of application or consideration through the book. There may be a bit of double intention here. The first mental reference that comes to my mind about Peter’s name is actually in the book of Matthew when Peter confesses that Jesus is the Christ - to which Jesus replied “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my church.” (Mt. 16:18). But that is not John’s gospel. Sure, the foundation of the early church, Peter became a rock - he was a foundational element to the early days of the church’s establishment - but I think Jesus as referring to the rock of peters confession. But, I think that one of the other things that Peter’s new name seems to represent is almost a hard-headedness. Time and again Peter questions and resists Jesus. He doesn’t seem to initially get it - but eventually he has a pivotal role to play.
I hope that for you and me, we can find some encouragement and hope in the example of someone like Peter and in Jesus’ work with him. We may not get it the first time (or the second or third), but I hope that we will not give up pursuing Jesus - letting his words and his teachings permeate us and penetrate our hard-heads and hard hearts.
So, it seems by the end of this day, there are now three disciples following Jesus - Andrew, Peter, and an un-named disciple.
John 1:43-44 “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.”
Little is known about Philip. He is clearly one of the twelve, but most of what we learn about him we learn from John’s gospel (Milne).
But there is an interesting element in the calling of Philip. One commentator (Milne) noted that in most religions and in Judaism - the student would seek out the teacher. But here - Jesus is the one that is doing the calling. Jesus is the one that initiates.
There is a sense in which none of us truly seek out Jesus. The bent of our hearts are angled away from Him. But, as we walk through life and experience pain, as we encounter someone who introduces elements of the faith to us like, or as we observe the faith of others - these experiences become like pebbles in our shoes, we are drawn to bend down and take time to investigate this discomfort - to remove the pebbles, as Kevin DeYoung might say, - only to find that it is the Holy Spirit of God who is using these circumstances to draw us to Jesus - calling us to investigate (DeYoung - podcast).
So, if you are not yet a follower of Christ, have you really taken time to consider the pebbles that he has been placing in your spiritual shoes? It could be that he is calling you to walk with him, to learn from him, to be with him for eternity.
So Jesus sees Philip along the way to Galilee and calls him to follow.
John 1:45 “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.””
Now, we don’t know exactly what Philip had heard from Jesus or the other followers, but it was clearly enough for him to being to connect the dots between the writings of moses and the prophets - recognizing that Jesus is the one they wrote about. He doesn’t give him a special title, but simply calls him Jesus of Nazareth - the Son of Joseph.
I love what happens next.
John 1:46 “Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.””
I guess that Nazareth was not highly respected. Nathanael may not have been speaking from any biblical knowledge, but rather from a social prejudice. Some commentators suggest that Nazareth did not have a great reputation. Philip simply urges him to press beyond his prejudices and observe.
FF Bruce notes in his commentary (as quoted by Carson)
The Gospel according to John (4. Jesus Gains Two More Disciples, Philip and Nathaniel (1:43–51))
‘Honest inquiry is a sovereign cure for prejudice. Nazareth might be all that Nathanael thought, but there is an exception to prove every rule; and what an exception these young men had found!’
I have heard that at different times people have viewed our church with some suspicion. Some have felt judged, others have been hurt by words that have been poorly spoken, others feel that we are bigoted. whats worse is that all of those things may or may not have been true of our church. It pains me to think that there may have been actions or words that have misrepresented Christ. Especially words that I may have said - after all, we can only control what comes out of our mouths. As you interact with folks who may have preconceived ideas about our church or about baptist churches as a whole, let me encourage you to respond the way that Philip did - encourage them to “come and see” to check it out. “Honest inquiry is a sovereign cure for prejudice.” We are not and never will be perfect - but we are, individually and collectively, in a refining process. I hope that we can allow people to see the work that God is doing in and through us.
So Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus...
John 1:47-49 “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!””
So, in this little exchange, Jesus seems to communicate to Nathanael some inside knowledge about him. It made enough of an immediate impact in Nathanael to cause him to want to follow and to acknowledge that Jesus was the Son of God and King of Israel.
He seems to step into faith on what felt like a divine encounter or miracle. There are some people who come to faith through miraculous encounters - but ideally, miracles can be a shaky foundation for faith. (Carson).
Jesus responds to Nathanael in an interesting way:
John 1:50-51 “Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.””
It’s difficult to know exactly what Jesus is referring to here. Is he thinking of something that will happen on the Mount of Transfiguration or is he thinking about something later on or maybe something that is not recorded in Scripture? I’m not sure.
But, I think that one point we can glean from this is that in our journey with Jesus, we will see so much more than we expected. We will encounter richness and depth of his love in profound ways. We will come to realize that Jesus is who he says he is - and more.

Closing thoughts

I realize that walking through a text this way is quite different from how we usually do this. As we close, I want to make a couple of points for us to ponder and ask a couple of questions for each of us to consider.
First of all:
Following Jesus results in a new calling/vocation/goal - we see this a bit more in the other gospel accounts, but following Jesus changes everything. It changes our perspectives, purposes, plans.
Following Jesus requires a new leader - John’s disciples ultimately had to leave him in order to follow Jesus. In order to truly follow Jesus - we have to follow him - we can’t follow fakes or ideas about him - we have follow him.
Following Jesus is initiated by Him - Jesus starts the process. He does this in miraculous ways - like he did with Nathanael. He does this through relationships, circumstances, and more. He uses his Holy Spirit to draw us (something he will tell us more about later in the book).
So, let me close with a couple of questions:
Who are you following? - Are you following Jesus or someone else? Are you truly following Jesus or just the idea about him? Are the humans you are following leading you to Jesus or away from him?
Who is following you and where are you taking them? As parents - what are we doing to direct our children/grand-children toward Jesus? Are we leading our friends and co-workers toward Jesus or toward something else - success, achievement, financial security, pleasure?
(possibly Kevin DeYoung/pebbles discussion)
Let’s pray
Burge, Gary M. The NIV Application Commentary: John.Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000.
Carson, D. A. The Gospel according to John. The Pillar New Testament Commentary. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press; W.B. Eerdmans, 1991.
Crossway Bibles. The ESV Study Bible. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008.
Milne, Bruce. The Message of John (The Bible Speaks Today). Downers Grove, IL. Inter-Varsity Press, 1993.
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