John 1:35-51

John 1:35-51

SERIES: The Gospel of John

Building from Scratch

SPEAKER: Michael P. Andrus

Introduction:  Suppose for a moment that Dr. Paul Cedar, the President of the Evangelical Free Church of America, were to come to us and say, “The largest city in the United States without an Evangelical Free Church is Atlanta, Georgia, and we would like you to go there and establish a church.  We don’t want to waste any time, so, to help you we will provide unlimited financial resources so you can recruit the finest staff in the world.  Pick a dozen of the best leaders you can find, and we’ll foot the bill.”  How would we proceed?

I suspect we would begin by scanning the horizon for men and women of proven ability and lots of experience.  All the recruits would have to have been Christians for many years and have a high level of spiritual maturity, because a great church like we would be building is no place for amateurs to practice.  The anchor man on the staff would be the best Bible teacher and communicator available, which means we would probably go after Stewart Briscoe or E.V. Hill or Charles Swindoll or Joe Stowell.  Next, we might want a full-time music minister—someone who could lead us into the very throne room of worship, but also with experience in choirs, orchestra, small groups and voice—perhaps a Don Wyrtzen or Howie Stevenson.  Then we might turn to someone skilled and experienced in training people to do personal evangelism and discipleship.  How about Lorne Sanny or Jerry Bridges of the Navigators or Howard Ball of Churches Alive?  

A youth pastor might be next on our list—a real pied piper with the energy of youth but the wisdom of age.  We might settle for Greg Speck for Sr. High and Dawson McAlister for Jr. High.  Josh McDowell would be our choice for College Pastor or Singles Ministry.   We’ll keep our own Karen Woolsey for Children’s Ministry.  Then we would need a C.E. Director, so let’s go for Howie Hendricks or Roberta Hestenes.  Since Marriage and Family Life is under attack in our nation, let’s try to hire Dr. James Dobson to be Minister of Family Life and Larry Crabb or Gary Smalley as Staff Counselor.  For Missions and Outreach Charles Colson should fill the bill, and for Church Administrator, John Ashcroft, who will soon be looking for a job.

How’s that for a dozen staff with which to build a church?  Of course, people of this caliber wouldn’t come cheap, but remember, we have unlimited resources.  And talk about church growth!  As soon as word got out that we had brought together such a lineup, I suspect people would start moving to Atlanta just to attend this new church.  Willow Creek, watch out!

You know, Jesus Christ was given an assignment to build a church, in fact, the Church.  His Father gave Him unlimited resources and the pick of the crop with which to do the task.  And whom did He choose?  Not a single famous person or a religious scholar, only one or two with any formal education, several who were strictly uncouth, one with foot-in-mouth disease, and several social outcasts.  Was He really that bad a judge of character?  No, He was that good a judge of character.  For 11 of the 12 men He chose, following 3 1/2 years of painstaking discipling, became the pillars of a Church which has survived almost 2,000 years and has several hundred million members.  

Where will our choices be ten years from now?  You may be interested to know that I used this very illustration in a sermon in March of 1979 and now just 13 years later, over 40% of the candidates I chose are out of the ministry today.  

We want this morning to look at Jesus’ initial contact with four of His disciples to learn what God has for us.  Let’s read John 1:35-51:

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Our text begins with an account of how Jesus met His first two disciples, and in the course of just a few verses, we are introduced to …

The essence of discipleship (35-39)

John the Baptizer, as we noted last Sunday, is ministering on the east side of the Jordan, calling upon people to repent and baptizing them.  But John has no interest in a personal following; all he wants to do is point people to Jesus.  For the second day in a row, he sees Jesus and responds, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  

“Looking” is the first key word in becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Someone must get our attention and point us to Jesus.  The two followers of John mentioned in verse 35 have been attracted to the Baptizer’s message; perhaps they have been convicted of sin or apathy; and perhaps they have felt like their lives are empty and directionless.  At any rate, they are searching for answers.  But unless John had told them where to look, their search might have been in vain.  They would have just ended up like all those who travel down the dead-end streets of religion, psychology, and self-help, hoping desperately to discover the meaning of life.  John simply said, “Look, the Lamb of God.”  

But looking is not sufficient of itself to produce a disciple.  There are millions who have looked at Jesus and that’s all.  They recognize the claims He made to be the Son of God and the Savior of the world, but they are too busy or too distracted to check out those claims. They have sadly opted for the agnostic approach—”I don’t know who he is but someday I hope to look into it in more detail.”  True discipleship involves a second key word: 

“Following.”  “When the two disciples heard John say this, they followed Jesus.”  These two men, one of whom was Andrew (v. 40) and the other undoubtedly the Apostle John (who is writing this book), have enough understanding of the OT Scriptures to know the significance of John’s claim.  The Lamb once promised to Abraham and predicted by Isaiah is the promised Messiah, and they want to know more about Him.  They are ready to follow, which they do, apparently at some distance. 

There are many today also who follow Jesus at a distance.  They call themselves Christians, they may be able to share a spiritual encounter they had 10, 20, 40 years ago which constituted a turning point in their lives, and, if hard pressed, they can recite several probable answers to prayer over the years, but their principal spiritual goal in life is more of a negative one—don’t lose sight of Jesus.  One might call them the “private eyes” of the church.  A private eye follows his target from far enough behind so as not to be obvious, but close enough so as not to lose contact.  Which brings us to the third key term is discipleship:

“Staying.” Verse 38 reads, “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’  They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?'”  When He responded by inviting them, they went and spent the day with Him.  Jesus doesn’t take pleasure in being followed, in the sense of being tailed; He would much rather have us in as a guest.  And He is quite willing to take the initiative to turn a follower into a stayer.  Notice that while Andrew and John were following, Jesus turned around and asked them, “What do you want?”  What a simple but profound question!  And one that everyone of us should be asking ourselves.  

You see, people follow Jesus for many different reasons.  During His earthly ministry some followed Him as people flock to see a magician.  They were intrigued by His miracles.  Others, like Judas, followed Him for nationalistic reasons, hoping that Jesus would become the catalyst for a revolution against Rome.  Today some seek Him for the same reason they join the Chamber of Commerce—it’s good for business.  And others are just searching for security or peace or happiness.   But a few, like these two disciples, follow because they are simply confused, sinful people looking for forgiveness of sin and something to live for.  

Why are you following Jesus today?  Why are you here this morning?  Is it out of habit?  Do you like to impress your friends with your religious faithfulness?  Do you get a warm feeling from the music or intellectual stimulation from the sermon?  Or are you seeking answers to the problems of sin and guilt and your eternal destiny?  If the latter, then you need to stop following and begin staying, i.e., abiding with Christ.  I fear that perhaps the greatest problem in the church today is that so many are content with being merely “acquainted” with Jesus.  Churches are full of people satisfied with a one-hour-a-week relationship—no accountability, no service, no personal communion, no life-changing commitment.

These two disciples are not satisfied with a conversation on the road; they want to linger with Jesus, sit at His feet, and learn from Him.  Since Jesus is no longer with us physically, what does it mean to “stay” with Him today?  It means spending quality time in His Word, in prayer, in fellowship with His people—coming away from the rat race for extended times of meditation and enjoyment of God.  

Having examined the essence of discipleship, let’s consider …

The raw material Jesus used in calling His first disciples (40-51).

Andrew, the shadow disciple (40-41).  I like to call him “The Shadow Disciple” because he was always in the shadow of his brother Peter.  In fact, here when we are first introduced to Andrew, he is identified as “Simon Peter’s brother,” and this is before the reader is even introduced to Peter!  Have you ever been known as so-and-so’s brother or son or wife or friend?  I had that experience as a boy.  My father was for years a denominational leader as well as a Christian college president.  We had all manner of dignitaries in our home and, inasmuch as I favored my father somewhat, I was often recognized but no one knew my first name.  I was often asked, “Aren’t you Roger Andrus’ son?”  For a while I rebelled against that association and tried to carve out a name for myself.  I was successful to the extent that the question too often became, “This couldn’t be Roger Andrus’ son, could it?”  

I think it would have been easy for Andrew to resent being called Peter’s brother, especially after Peter became part of the inner circle of three disciples.  After all, was not Andrew a disciple before Peter?  And wasn’t Peter introduced to Jesus by Andrew?  Yet this man seems quite content to stand back and let his brother have the limelight.  Andrew is the patron saint of all those who humbly and loyally and ungrudgingly take the second place.

However, it would not be right to pass over Andrew with the mere observation that he was a shadow, for the most important factor about him is that he seemed always to be introducing others to Jesus. There are only three times in the Gospel story when Andrew is brought to center stage.  The first time is here when he brings Peter to Jesus.  The second is in John 6:8-9, when he brings to Jesus the little boy with the five loaves and two small fish.  And the third time is in John 12:22, when he brings the inquiring Greeks into the presence of Jesus.  

It was Andrew’s priority to bring others to Jesus.  He couldn’t keep Jesus to himself.  And you know something?  Andrew became the spiritual grandfather of every person converted under the great and effective ministry of his brother Peter—5,000 souls here, 3,000 there.  Our tendency is to praise the Billy Grahams and Francis Schaeffers of our day.  But what about the S.S. teacher or the parent or the youth worker who brought these great servants to Christ in the first place?  Don’t ever sell yourself short simply because you haven’t been called to a public ministry.  

The second disciple named is, of course, Andrew’s brother,

Peter, the diamond-in-the-rough disciple (43-45).  Verse 42 says, “Jesus looked at Peter.”  That sounds innocuous enough, but it is really quite profound, for the Greek word for “looked at”here is not the ordinary word which signifies a glance.  Rather it is a word which means “to gaze intently, to study, to peer beneath the surface.”  Among the other ten times this word is found in the NT are the following:

Mark 8:25:  The blind man at Bethsaida is healed by Jesus and it says, “His eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw (same word as “looked” in John 1) everything clearly.”  He looked at the world like no one ever looked at it before. 

Mark 14:67:  While Jesus is on trial before the Sanhedrin Peter is spotted in the courtyard by a little servant girl, and it says, “When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him.”  She studied his face.  “You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus,” she said.

Luke 22:61:  Just a few hours later Peter denies Jesus three times, “Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.  The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.” Imagine the power of thatlook.  I suspect it was not a look of fiery darts but rather one of sorrow and pity, but certainly it was penetrating. 

Now I’ve focused attention on this term, “looked,” for a reason.  I believe Jesus’ penetrating gaze was the basis for His next statement:  “You are Simon the Son of John; you shall be called Cephas (which translated means Peter).”  If Jesus had only at Peter, as we so often look at people, He would have seen merely a fisherman, and a rather obnoxious one at that!  But Jesus gazed deeper into Peter’s heart and saw, not what he was but rather what he could become.  He went beyond the fish smell, the verbal tirades, the insufferable ego, the embarrassing gaffes.  He saw the potential for a courageous communicator and a fearless defender of the faith.  In fact, so sure is Jesus of Peter’s potential that He renames him.  Instead of Simon, he’s going to be known as Cephas or Peter, a name which translates into English best as “Rocky.” 

But Jesus knows that giving a person a new name doesn’t automatically or immediately make him a new person.  He is also willing to help him reach his potential.  We don’t see this in our text today, but all you need to do is read the rest of the NT to find a multitude of examples of how Jesus molded and pruned and stretched and prayed over this lump of clay He had chosen to be His most visible human representative.  Peter was indeed the diamond-in-the-rough disciple. 

Friends, we need to imitate Jesus in our attitude toward people.  It’s so easy to write people off, to conclude that they are hopeless and give up on them.  But Jesus never gives up, because He knows that who we can become is far more important that who we are now.  Someone once happened upon Michelangelo chipping away at a huge shapeless piece of rock.  He asked the sculptor what he was doing.  “I am releasing the angel imprisoned in this marble,” he answered.  Jesus is the one who sees and can release the potential in us.  He is the Lord of possibilities.  

The third disciple to whom we are introduced is …

Philip, the ordinary disciple (43-45).  In verse 43 we read that Jesus found Philip and commanded him to follow Him.  We are not told whether Philip, too, was a disciple of John the Baptist, though this seems likely.  The Apostle John mentions Philip on several occasions, and each time he seems somewhat in over his head.  Bible scholars suggest that he was probably of limited ability, very ordinary.  For example, at the feeding of the 5,000 Philip’s contribution was the observation that even with 8 months’ wages they couldn’t feed that big a crowd.  When the Greeks came to him asking to see Jesus, we are told he didn’t know what to do.  He had to consult with Andrew before any action was taken.  And it was Philip who interrupted Jesus’ beautiful discourse on the many mansions in the Father’s house in John 14 with the request, “Lord, just show us the Father and it will be enough for us.”  

The fact that on this occasion in John 1, Philip did not seek Jesus but Jesus went to find him, may also indicate some lack of initiative.  If so, it is encouraging to observe that Jesus went out of His way to find this perfectly ordinary Philip and enlist him in the apostolic band.  Why?  Because most of us are perfectly ordinary.  To be a disciple of Jesus it is not necessary to be the cream of the crop or the pick of the litter—just a faithful servant.  

Despite his apparent limitations, however, Philip employed the simplest and best evangelistic method known.  According to verse 45 he tells Nathanael who he believes Jesus to be, and when Nathanael raises an objection, Philip simply answers, “Come and see.”  There’s an important lesson there.  You may not be brilliant or well educated or eloquent or gifted with debating skills, but you can always say, “Come and see.”  Not very many people have been argued into the Kingdom anyway.  I heard about a bishop who preached an elaborate discourse to prove the existence of God, at the end of which a simple old woman, who had not followed his reasoning very intelligently, exclaimed, ‘Well, for all he says, I can’t help thinking there is a God after all!” 

There is a place for intellectual defense of the Gospel, but it must be done by those truly expert in the field (like Dr. Walter Brown who was here two weeks ago), and it can never take the place of simple proclamation of the message.  The best way to convince a man of the uniqueness of Jesus is to confront him with Jesus.  Walt Whitman was listening one night to an astronomer lecturing on the stars.  The hall was stuffy, and the lecture dull, and the charts and diagrams unilluminating, until, says Whitman, “I could bear it no longer, and I rose and wandered out into the night and looked up at the stars themselves!”

Sadly, there are thousands of souls who pore over the charts and diagrams of religion, but no one ever says to them, “Come and see!  Come and see Jesus.”  For us today that means exposing them to the accounts of what Jesus said, what He did, and how He has changed our lives.

Nathanael, the skeptical disciple (46-51).  Perhaps it’s unfair to speak of Nathanael as the skeptical disciple because he certainly was not in the same league with Doubting Thomas.  But I see him as symbolic of those whose initial reaction to Jesus is skepticism.  His response to Philip’s claim that he had found the one who fulfilled the OT prophecies was this:  “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”  

Now to translate that into our vernacular it would be something like someone from West County saying, “Can anything good come out of E. St. Louis?”  Or someone from Dallas asking, “Can anything good come out of Fort Worth?”  It indicates strong regional rivalry.  After all, Nathanael is from Cana, a neighboring Galilean town to Nazareth.  The jealousy between one town and another was often notorious, and Nathanael knew of no OT prophecy that promised a deliverer from Nazareth.  Bethlehem, yes, but not Nazareth.

But Jesus is prepared for Nathanael’s skepticism and addresses him as follows: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”  Is Jesus trying to win him by flattery?  Not at all, because what Jesus says is not flattery—it’s the truth.  And the proof is found in Nathanael’s answer, “How do you know me?”  Now think carefully for a moment.  What would the average person’s response be if they received a compliment like Jesus gave to Nathanael. “Aw shucks, I’m not that good.  I try to be honest, but sometimes I blow it.”  Or, “What do you want from me?” 

But when Jesus identifies him as guileless, he doesn’t try to deny it but simply wants to know how Jesus knows it.  And Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, while you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Now we do not know the significance of that fig tree, but possibly Nathanael had a very special spiritual experience with God under a fig tree, where he believed himself to be all alone with his thoughts.  Whatever the significance, Nathanael grasps it immediately.  And he discovers that he wasn’t alone after all—that Jesus had been there all the time.  Here is a man who can see into his most intimate and secret thoughts, which he had never even put into words.  This man must be God’s promised anointed one and no other.

Now as you know, smiles don’t show up on the printed page, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus has a smile on His face when He speaks the words found in verse 50 to Nathanael:  “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.  You shall see greater things than that.”  He then adds, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”  The meaning of verse 51 is obscure but it is apparently a figurative way of saying that Jesus will reveal heavenly things to mankind, for He is the ladder between heaven and earth.  The important thing is that Nathanael’s skepticism has been dispelled, and that is just the beginning for him.

Four disciples.  Raw material, very raw.  Not one of them would have been on your list or mine as potential leaders to start a church.  But Jesus saw them in terms of what a three-and-a-half-year discipleship course could produce.  

Finally, this morning, let’s look at …

The witness of Jesus’ first disciples (35-51)

The reason this is important is because the Apostle John’s stated purpose in writing this Gospel is to bring people to faith in Christ.  Remember John 20:31:  “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”  Everything John chooses to include in his Gospel has the goal of introducing unbelievers to the light.  When viewed in that perspective, what do these first disciples tell us about Jesus?  

Well, if we consider John the Baptizer as the first witness, we learn in verse 36 that …

Jesus is the Lamb of God.  He is the one whose sacrifice will take away the sins of the world.   

Andrew and John call Him “Rabbi” in verse 38, indicating that …

Jesus is the Teacher par excellence from God, the one who reveals to His people all they need to know about God, and themselves, and eternity.  

Andrew finds his brother Peter and witnesses that …

Jesus is the Messiah.  Messiah is the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word, “Christ.”  It means “the Anointed One,” the one whom God has appointed to deliver His people.  

Philip then claims that …

Jesus is the One who fulfills prophecy.  Verse 45:  “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote.”  All through the OT, beginning at Gen. 3:15, proceeding to the Prophet of Deut. 18, the Lamb of Isaiah 53, and the Refiner of Malachi and nearly every point in between, the OT looks forward to the coming of Christ.  

And Nathanael adds two more truths:

Jesus is the Son of God, and …

Jesus is the King of Israel.  Inasmuch as Nathanael has just been called an Israelite, when he calls Jesus the King of Israel, he is acknowledging Jesus to be his own king.  He submits himself to Jesus’ authority. 

Now think about this for a moment.  These men have known Jesus for less than twenty-four hours.  How can they possibly know these astounding truths about Him in such a short time?  Frankly, I think the answer is that Jesus’ nature and character are more than obvious to most people if we will but introduce them to Him.  They simply need a first-hand experience with the Lord.

John Wesley had always considered himself a Christian until the day his ship became the object of one of the terrible Atlantic storms.  Then fear took hold of his heart.  He noticed that the only people on board who were not stricken with fear were a small band of Moravian missionaries.  When the storm was over, he asked one of them, “Were you not afraid?”  “Afraid?” asked the man, “Why should I be afraid?  I know Christ!”  For the first time in his life Wesley realized that he did not, and the great man of Methodism learned that a second-hand religion will not do in the storms of life.

Conclusion:  If Jesus could see so much in so little, and if these disciples could see so much about Jesus in such a short time, what does this say of our need to point people to Him, or even to come to faith in Him ourselves?  He is willing to accept anyone who is willing to become a disciple.  In fact, He actually desires the unimpressive, and that is a comfort for most of us, whether we are a shadow of someone more capable or more popular, or a diamond-in-the-rough, or just an ordinary person, or even a bit skeptical when we first hear the Gospel.

He will come out to meet us; He will disciple us; He will teach us; and in almost no time we will recognize Him as the answer to the question Jesus Himself asked, “What do you want?”  

DATE: October 18, 1992





John 2:1-11