35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 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. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 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).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 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.” 51 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.”
In our passage for this morning, we see the beginning of John’s description of Jesus’ ministry. Not only had the Christ come (last week), but He also started functioning as the Christ (this week).
If you didn’t already know, what do you imagine that would mean? In light of all the OT passages we’ve considered, concerning the nature and mission of the Christ, how do you picture His ministry beginning? The Jews certainly thought He’d come to smash the Romans and restore Israel to prominence. The disciples seemed mostly confused for most of Jesus’ ministry. The crowds expected to see miracles (like a circus act). But again, what about you? If you hadn’t already read the story, what’s your sense of how the Christ would have begun His ministry? Teaching and preaching? Performing signs and wonders? Forming an army? Taking care of the poor and sick? Starting a social media campaign to create momentum? Would He have come out firing, trying to create a big name and a big splash? Would He have begun in a more low-key and humble way?
As we’ll see today, contrary to many expectations, a key piece of the beginning of Jesus’ ministry was to call a few humble followers to Himself. While John the Baptist quickly garnered a rather large following, Jesus took the opposite approach.
To help us all see, appreciate, and apply this story and the principles in it, I mean to (1) give a brief profile of each of the disciples called by Jesus and then (2) give a brief description of what Jesus called them to. My hope is that in seeing the simplicity and seriousness of the faith of these men, we would be encouraged to imitate them in both. The big idea of this passage is that it is right to respond to Jesus’ call on our lives by following Him wherever He leads and whatever it costs.
A BRIEF PROFILE OF EACH DISCIPLE
John 1:35 marks the transition from John’s focus on the ministry of John the Baptist, whose job it was to prepare the way for Jesus, to the actual ministry of Jesus. Appropriately, then, the scene opens up with John the Baptist standing with two of his followers, seeing Jesus approach, again declaring Him to be the “Lamb of God,” and then fading entirely into the background (even while releasing two of his own disciples to follow Jesus).
In that we see another clear display of John’s understanding and glad acceptance of the humble ministry to which he had been called. He must become lesser, Jesus must become greater, and so it was.
In our passage five men end up following Jesus as His disciples. Let’s briefly consider what we learn about each from these few verses.
Andrew and John
The first two men who followed Jesus were initially disciples of the Baptist. Look at v.35.
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
The events of 35-42 took place two days after John the Baptist’s first encounter with the Jerusalem delegation (19-28) and the day after Jesus was first introduced in the narrative portion of John’s Gospel (29-34). In this scene, the Baptist was with two of his followers when Jesus returned. John repeated his refrain from earlier (“Behold, the Lamb of God”), making sure his disciples didn’t forget the purpose of their ministry—preparing the way for and bearing witness to the Christ.
Apparently, John had taught them well, since upon seeing Jesus, both men left John and followed Jesus. It’s worth noting that John the Gospel writer’s description of the disciple-handoff is curious. It seems like as Jesus was passing by, the two men just started following behind him and that it was only once they were a ways down the road that Jesus happened to notice they were there.
38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’”
There’s no mention of Jesus inviting them or the men asking to follow. Likewise, there’s no immediate mention of why they felt compelled to do so at that time. They just started walking behind Jesus until He saw and questioned them.
How would they respond to Jesus query? What were they seeking? We’ll see in a moment that their reply was just as curious as their initial approach—it doesn’t reveal much at all of their motives. Before we get there, however, this is a really, really important question for each of us to consider.
What are you seeking? Why are you interested in Jesus? What is it from Jesus that you would like? Maybe another way to word it is, why are you here this morning? Or, why are you involved in a Christian church? What are you really after?
As I mentioned earlier, there is no shortage of wrong answers in the Bible. Likewise, there is no shortage of wrong answers today. Wrong answers (that is, answers that do not honor God and miss the point of Jesus’ coming to dwell among us) are:
- Because your parents made you. Kids, your parents’ faith in Jesus will not save you. It’s good that you obeyed your parents and came this morning, but that will not by itself make you right with God.
- To get your religious or spiritual fix. I don’t know that I’ve met many people who would say it quite like that, but I’ve met many who certainly act that way. Being around a church and church things, being around Jesus, is simply a way to feel spiritually validated.
- To earn God’s favor. Are you seeking Jesus in order to make God happy with you, to accept you for your good choices? Are you here because God accepts good people and going to church is what good people do?
- To enable you to live your best life now. Some come to Jesus because they think of Him as a cosmic vending machine. If you are sick and want to be well, if you are lonely and want companionship, if you are poor and want money, if you are hungry and want food, if you have any worldly desire and want it met, pray to Jesus and he’ll give you the desires of your flesh.
- Because it’s what you’ve always done on Sundays. Habit. Routine. Family tradition. It’s just what we do
- And on and on.
There may be some goodness in each of these, but by themselves they are wrong answers. The right answer, the only right answer, the only answer that leads to peace with God, is to look to Jesus as Savior and Lord, to submit to him as King and trust Him for the forgiveness of your sins. Again, this will become increasingly clear as we work through John’s Gospel, but for now, I urge you to keep this question in front of you and not to let up until you truly know the answer. Prayerfully ask God to help you discern your real motives. And ask Him to increasingly conform them to that which Jesus offers and deserves.
Well, back to the text and the question before the two men following Jesus. What were they seeking from Jesus?
38 And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
Like I said, their answer doesn’t provide a ton of clarity. The men wanted to know where Jesus was going and (implied in the question) whether or not they could follow Him there.
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.
The culture was quite a bit different then and there, but this is still a pretty remarkable thing. These men followed Jesus, Jesus accepted them, and together they went off. Clearly, there was something in what John had told them, something in what Jesus said, did, and was, or something that God was working in these men to cause them to follow so blindly and thoroughly. Actually, almost certainly, there were elements of all three in play.
But who were these men?
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew…
Andrew was a simple fisherman from Bethsaida and, as we are about to see, the brother and recruiter of Simon Peter. He would follow Jesus from this point all the way to martyrdom.
That, of course, leaves us to wonder who the other man, the other disciple of the Baptist, was. Curiously, the Gospel writer never says. We know, however, that it was most likely John (the Gospel writer) himself. For reasons that I spent some time explaining in the first sermon on John, John never mentions himself by name in his Gospel. He refers to himself in generic terms like here, “one of the two”. Later he’ll refer to himself as “the disciple whom Jesus loved”. But he never calls himself by name.
John too was a humble fisherman. He would become one of Jesus’ inner circle (along with Peter and James) and, as you know, the author of this Gospel, 1, 2, 3 John, and Revelation. He would follow Jesus from here all the way to exile on an island called Patmos.
The third disciple mentioned in our passage was the one who would become the most well-known of all, Simon Peter.
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 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).
Simon Peter was also a fisherman. He was married (the only one said to be in the Gospels). He is portrayed as highly emotional and impulsive before Pentecost. He wrote 1 and 2 Peter and is the source for Mark’s Gospel. He followed Jesus to his own crucifixion (possibly upside down).
The two most intriguing aspects of Simon Peter’s introduction in John’s Gospel are that (1) within a few hours of being with Jesus, Andrew became so certain of the Christness of Jesus that it compelled him to share that with his brother, and that (2) at their very first encounter Jesus renamed him.
May both be lessons for us. That is, may we seek to be so amazed by the person, nature, and work of Jesus that we cannot help but to tell others about Him. Grace, truly knowing Jesus will always have this effect. He is (as we find out in just these few verses) the Lamb of God, Rabbi, the Messiah, him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, the Son of God, and the King of Israel. May we seek proper awe and wonder at those thing from God in increasing measure. Your view of Jesus is too small if you are ever silent.
And second, may we acknowledge Jesus’ unique power to name us, to declare who we are at the core of our being. You are not what anyone but Jesus says you are and you are only what Jesus says you are. May we all stop seeking to find our identities in/from things that are made, rather than in their Maker. If you are not a Christian, you have been named enmity. If you are a Christian, you have been named sons and daughters of God! In this simple passage where Jesus turned Simon into Peter, we see a deeper power of God than anyone could have known.
It wasn’t until the next day, the fourth day according to John’s timeline, that the final two disciples are mentioned. The fourth disciple named in John’s Gospel was Philip.
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
All four of the Jesus’ first disciples (named in John) were from the same city, Bethsaida. Unlike the first three, however, John says that Jesus sought out Philip. The first three went to Jesus, but Jesus went to Philip. We’re not told the reason for this, but it is clear in the passage.
We don’t know a lot about Philip, but he too is said to have followed Jesus from here to martyrdom.
Finally, we come to Nathaniel, the fifth disciple mentioned by John. Like Andrew, Philip was so convinced that Jesus was the Christ, he couldn’t keep it to himself.
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.”
It’s really remarkable that with so little in the way of explanation, these first followers of Jesus were entirely convinced that He was the Christ God promised to send. “We have found him of whom Moses…and also the prophets wrote…”.
Nathanael’s response, however, was different than the rest—at least initially.
46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth, was not a city of prominence. On the contrary it was a humble city, much like the men Jesus was calling. Nathanael’s response would not have been unusual.
Once again, the simplicity and purity of Philip’s response is something for us to learn from and aspire to. Once you have tasted and seen the goodness of the Lord, evangelism really is as simple as inviting non-Christians to “come and see.” Or, as Andrew did, bringing people to Jesus. There is certainly a place for answering skeptical questions, carefully walking through the Bible, and committing to long-term relationships with people for the sake of the gospel. However, all of those things find their proper context when we are so captivated by the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ that our first and genuine invitation to them is, “Come and see” or “come with me to Jesus”.
Have you ever been to Fogo? No? Come and see. Then you’ll understand. Have you ever watched the 2000 men’s basketball national championship game? You haven’t? Come and see what great basketball looks like. Have you experienced colors of fall in the North? No? Come and see. I won’t have to say a word for you to be amazed. And 1,000,000 times more than any of those things, have you heard the good news about Jesus Christ? No? Come and see and you’ll never be the same!
Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
And in a way that only Jesus can deliver, Nathanael went and saw!
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 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.” 51 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.”
Jesus granted Nathanael eyes to see by giving him a small glimpse of the all-knowing nature of God. And that was enough. The mere sliver overwhelmed Nathanael to the point that he was convinced that Jesus was the “Son of God” and “the King of Israel.” What a gift of grace it is when Jesus grants us eyes to see. Many after him would see similar things and remain hard-hearted toward Jesus. But by the grace of God, Nathanael saw and SAW.
Even though Nathanael was rightly amazed by what Jesus revealed to him, Jesus quickly made it clear that this was just the beginning. “Nathanael, you are rightly amazed by the power I just showed you, but you haven’t seen anything yet! You will see much, much greater things than that! You just wait…follow me and wait!
And he did. Nathanael followed Jesus from here to a martyrs death many years later.
As you know, Jesus would call seven more disciples to Himself. Here, though, we get our first glimpse of the ministry of the Christ, and the ministry of the Christ was to call men—simple, humble men—to Himself.
THE CALL: FOLLOW ME
All of this raises an important question. What was Jesus’ call on these men? We’ve seen the beginning of the answer already, but I want to make it even more explicit. Coming to see this in the NT was one of the most significant, life-shaping things I’ve ever come across. A number of years ago, I wrote this:
Jesus’ main call on the lives of His first followers was, “Follow me”.
Many people, when they think of Christianity, think of all kinds of things like belief in God and “nice Jesus” and going to church and reading the Bible and up-front pastors and saying prayers and following rules. However, while each of these things may have a place in Christianity, they can only be properly understood under the umbrella of following Jesus.
To be sure, Jesus called His followers to repent (Matthew 4:17), believe (Mark 5:36), have faith (Mark 11:22), love (Matthew 22:36-39), glorify God (1 Corinthians 10:31), etc. However, these, and all the other callings that Jesus issued are contained in the two simple words, “Follow Me.” Follow Me away from sin. Follow Me into holiness. Follow Me into believing all that the Father is. Follow Me in trusting all that the Father says. Follow Me in loving God and mankind. Follow me in glorifying the Father. Follow Me wherever I lead and whatever it may cost you!
Indeed, Jesus main call on the lives of His first followers was, “Follow me”.
We catch the first glimpse of that in Andrew and John’s response to seeing Jesus. It becomes even more straightforward in Jesus’ words to Nathanial. It will become clearer still as we see what Jesus said to those He encountered throughout His ministry.
Grace, the heart of what it means to be a Christian was and still is, following Jesus. We need to be careful to let the Bible define for us what that means, but the whole of the life God calls us to is simply following Jesus. We tend to make it more complicated, but being Christian is following Jesus in faith.
If someone asked, are you a Christian? You might quickly and easily say, “Yes.” But if someone asked, are you following Jesus, you might need to think a little harder. “Are you a Christian?” can (wrongly) come across as a mere question of principle. But “are you following Jesus?” seems to cut closer to the heart, calling for both principle and practice. It effectively asks, do you not merely believe certain truths about Jesus, but also, is your entire life conformed to His example—your thoughts, words, actions, money, hobbies, relationships, etc. Are you continually in the process of becoming more like Jesus in every way? That’s what it means to follow Jesus and that’s really what it means to be a Christian…to have faith in Jesus such that your whole life is marked by trust in His sufficient sacrifice on your behalf and rightful rule over every aspect of your being.
Simple but serious.
In elementary and middle school, many recesses were spent playing some team game—football, basketball, baseball, etc. Each time, two captains were chosen and they’d pick their teams. Inevitably, whoever picked first, picked (what they thought to be) the best player. The second pick would pick the second best player. And so on down the line. The goal, every time, was to pick the players that would best allow the captain’s team to win whatever game we were playing.
What we see in this passage is something entirely different. As we’ll see with increasing clarity as we learn more about the disciples Jesus chose, these men were anything but the most attractive, talented, wealthy, influential, strong, or religious. They were not the men you would pick to win a battle or political election or popularity contest or seat among the Jewish leaders. Why, then, did Jesus pick them?
He picked them to help fulfill His mission of filling the world with the good news of His kingdom. And He picked them precisely because there was nothing in them that the world would find impressive or that was especially competent to fulfill the mission. He picked them so that as the gospel spread and His kingdom grew, everyone would know that it was through the power of God alone.
And so the call stands before us today. Will you follow Jesus as King and Savior? Jesus called people to follow Him without a lot of explanation or answers. He didn’t give them an exhaustive discipleship plan that they could evaluate and decide whether they were up to it. He simply offered people the chance to follow Him under His terms, in His timing, and for His purposes. They were free to accept or reject His offer and to leave at any time. What they were not free to do, however, was dictate their own terms or follow according to their own schedule or take their own path. It is for these reasons that many never followed Jesus to begin with and that many stopped following Him as the cost became too high. And so it is even still, Grace. Will you follow Jesus knowing that it means giving up everything in order that you might gain everything? That’s the offer we see so clearly here in John’s Gospel. As you consider it, remember, he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.