Sermon, October 11, 2020 | Grace Reformed Church
We continue this morning our study of the Gospel According to John, and this morning we will be finishing the first chapter. It’s getting much more exciting! Things are starting to happen, more and more people are entering the scene. Two weeks ago the only people on the stage were John the Baptist and this Pharisee delegation from Jerusalem. Then last week we saw Jesus finally enter the stage, and John the Baptist recognized him as the Messiah, but even more than that, the Lamb of God. We looked closely at that name last week, Lamb of God, and saw that it had two connotations, both that of a sacrificial lamb, but also a lamb that would fight, would be a warrior king for his people. Those were the two images that that designation “Lamb of God” was meant to imply.
And now we turn to our passage today. Jesus entered the stage in the last passage, but John continued to tell the story from the perspective of John the Baptist, maybe you noticed that. John declares him the Lamb of God, and then continues to prove by what he says that Jesus is God. Jesus doesn’t speak in this telling of the baptism. Well, now Jesus hits the ground running and we see him start to take action in his ministry as he calls the first disciples. Let’s read now, John, chapter 1, beginning in verse 35 and continuing to the end of the chapter.
Listen, this is God’s Holy Word.
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.”
Last week we focused on one name, one title for Jesus, but wow, in this passage there sure is a lot of name-calling, isn’t there! The disciples call Jesus names, Jesus calls them names—lots of names! But as I said last week, these titles for Jesus sometimes get lost on us because we hear them so often, or they at least lose their potency. So it’s worth our time to consider them as they are recorded for us.
In our American heritage, titles have been really downplayed. I know it doesn’t always seem like that, but they have been. When the writers of the Constitution chose the title “President” for the leader of the Executive Branch of the government, it was an intentionally plain, intentionally simple, lest the leader of the country think themselves too important. In fact, when John Adams, who had been influenced by spending a good deal of time in Europe, when he suggested that the President should be referred to as “His Excellency,” he was roundly rebuked, and they settled on the completely innocuous designation, “Mr. President.”
No, our country was founded on the principle that men would be valued by their work, by their wisdom, by their learning, not by some title that had been granted to them by some far-off monarch—Duke of this, Duchess of that, Member of this order or that order—there’s really very little of that here, and really only a handful of family names that raise eyebrows, even 200 some years later. No, we’re not obsessed with titles.
When R.C. Sproul preached on this passage about 20 years ago, he shared an anecdote that teaches us something of titles, though, when we talk about Christ. He says
I believe the most titled person in all of human history is Jesus of Nazareth. I remember attending an academic convocation at a theological seminary where the guest speaker was a distinguished New Testament scholar. These convocations are usually the occasion for the presentation of weighty academic papers. But on this occasion, the New Testament scholar did something that had never been done before in this institution. He went to the lectern and began a thirty-minute talk in which, without comment, he recited the titles of Christ that are found in the New Testament. He mentioned such titles as “the Christ,” “the Son of God,” “the Son of Man,” “Lord,” “the Consolation of Israel,” “the Lion of Judah,” “the Alpha and Omega,” and many more. Then he sat down. There were enough scriptural titles that God the Father had been pleased to ascribe to His Son to fill a half-hour lecture period.
And the big difference is this—our Founding Fathers rejected titles because they saw them as bestowing rank upon a person that hadn’t earned it, that received a title or rank because of their family, their class, and a number of other reasons that had nothing to do with that individual, only what they had been born into. That’s one way that we as a nation have recognized that all men were in fact created equal. But there’s a difference here. Jesus was fully man, but he was also fully God. This is a man of no equal. Jesus actually deserves every possible title that God has placed on him in scripture, apparently a half-hour’s worth.
And which titles have been introduced to us here in this passage today? Well, let’s remember them as we walk back through the story. It begins with “the next day.” And there’s another “the next day” in verse 43. And it’s preceded by another “the next day” back in verse 29. So first, to keep our chronology in check, the first day, in verse 19 is when John is confronted by the delegation seeking to find out if he himself was the Messiah. The day after that, when John tells the crowds that the “Lamb of God” is here, is the day Jesus is baptized. The day in our passage here, is the day after that.
And the story starts out much like the last one—Jesus walks by and John once again declares “behold, the Lamb of God.” Only this time he’s not just talking to whomever was gathered, he says this specifically to the two disciples standing next to him. And there is an interesting bit of symbolic wordsmithing here also. In the last story, it says that Jesus came John, and John declared him to be the Lamb of God. This one says that Jesus walked by.
That seems plain and uninteresting enough, but remember what John’s job was, his primary function was in the salvation story—he was there to be the herald that pointed to Jesus, pointed directly to the Messiah, and he accepted that task with Christ-like humility. Once Jesus arrived, his job was not to latch onto Jesus himself, it was to declare, point, and then get out of the way. He made straight the highway for Jesus (like it says in Isaiah) and then Jesus is going to what? Walk by, on that highway. So in the first story Jesus comes to him in order to be titled and baptized, and now Jesus is walking by John, walking past, and what does he do?
Well, he again says “behold,” but why? To tell his disciples, specifically the two that were next to him, to tell them, “look, the Lamb of God! I’ve been telling you the Messiah’s coming, now here he is, stop following me, and go follow him.” You have to step back for a moment and marvel at the humility of John the Baptist. He doesn’t want his followers, his disciples to continue following him, now that the Messiah is there to follow. And so the two disciples of John the Baptist go, and they follow Jesus.
And Jesus notices that they are following him, and he turns and speaks for the first time in John’s gospel, and he says something curious, he doesn’t say, “why are you following me,” or “who are you looking for,” he says what are you seeking. And they respond by humbling themselves to him by calling him “rabbi.” And John translates that for us to mean “teacher.”
So they declare him their teacher. The one possessing the knowledge that they desire. They want what he knows, they want to be taught by him. So they ask, “where are you staying?” Basically, can we come with you and be taught by you? May we all sit down and can we learn from you, learn all that you would teach us?
Can you picture them nervously waiting for his response? We’ve been told that this is the Messiah, is he really going to want to spend time with us? A contemporary metaphor is completely insufficient for this. But, imagine you are a child again, and say you had a dream of becoming a baseball player. What if you were a kid and your dad said hey, look, there’s Mickey Mantle, and he’s in the prime of his career. And you chased after him until he turns around and acknowledges you. And you say, “hey, do you want to take me to your house and spend the rest of the day teaching me about baseball?” What do you think the chances would be of that paying off? Probably not good.
And these disciples, of course are in that kind of situation, but with the Son of God. The Messiah. And how does Jesus respond? Come and see. And they stayed with him the whole day. Wow. What an opportunity! John the Baptist has now completely passed the torch in the form of his two disciples.
A quick sidebar here, this next verse and a half, 39b through 40, give us a couple of important hints about this entire book that we’re studying. It says
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.
So, that’s fairly straightforward, we’re just identifying someone, but think a little deeper. This is the verse that establishes the Apostle John as the author of this book. What? I didn’t hear that, “oh, by the way, this is John writing.” But the first hint is that these two disciples of John the Baptist, only one of them is named, one of them is Andrew, and it says that Andrew is Simon Peter’s brother. So who is the other one? Well, it is most easily assumed that the other is John himself. And the most compelling reason we think that is because he humbly does not name himself, and, he records the exact time of day that these two met Jesus. Someone telling someone else’s story probably wouldn’t include such a thing, but wouldn’t you remember the time of day it was when you met Jesus? It makes sense that the author of this book, the one to whom Jesus handed his mother for her care while hanging on the cross, was one of the inner circle, one of the first disciples, and we meet him here. I just thought I’d note that briefly.
So they spend the day learning from Jesus, and they clearly, through that experience are convinced that their old boss John the Baptist was absolutely right. Because they immediately become missionaries. Andrew runs to Simon, his brother, and says, “you’ve got to come now, we have found the Messiah.” And Simon comes running, wouldn’t you? And Jesus changes his name, and calls him Peter.
What a day! Not one to forget, for sure. But it goes on, the word is spreading quickly.
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.
The next day, so this is the fourth day of the story now. Jesus decides to go to Galilee and as he’s going he sees Philip and commands him to follow, and Philip was. Philip was from the same town as the brothers who had become disciples yesterday. Do you think they might have known each other? And what does Philip do? He finds Nathanael (who is almost certainly the Bartholomew that we read of in the synoptic gospels), he finds him and says “we found him!” And this is a curious exchange that takes place next:
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.”
I was puzzled by this a bit before I studied it, because it really sounds like Nathanael is extremely dismissive, faithless. But, it makes more sense to interpret his comment, “can anything good come out of Nazareth?” as a comment on prophecy. You see, these were all good Jewish men, and they would do what Jewish men would do, they would study all of the law and the prophets, and they would know the prophecies that foretold the Messiah, and not one of those mentions Nazareth. Philip says the Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth, and Nathanael says, “nothing good is prophesied to be coming out of that little nothing of a town, are you sure?” Nathanael does not know at this point that Jesus was not born in Nazareth, he was actually born in Bethlehem, and we know there is prophecy about that. And Philip says, “come and see.”
And when Nathanael meets Jesus, he isn’t skeptical for long, because Jesus puts his divine knowledge on display by saying that he saw him under the fig tree. Coincidentally, under fig trees is where young Jewish me would often sit studying the scriptures—Nathanael could have been sitting under that tree reading the very prophecies of Christ that he was looking for.
And Nathanael responds with three names: Rabbi, the Son of God, and the King of Israel. You notice that it actually didn’t take much convincing, Jesus really gave him a rather small token of knowledge. In his mind, Nathanael could have easily retorted, “maybe he saw me there before and I didn’t notice,” or “lucky guess, I sit under fig trees a lot.” No, he dives right in. And for his faith, Jesus gives him a promise:
Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
Wow. What a couple of days. What are the names we’ve collected in this story? There are several. We hear of Jesus the “Lamb of God” once again. Twice Jesus is referred to as “Rabbi,” and that is more than just a position, it is a title of respect that humbles the person saying it to the teacher. Jesus is called the Messiah, which is the Christ in Greek. He is called the Son of God once again, the King of Israel. And then lastly, Jesus calls himself, the Son of Man.
We’re only going to focus on two of these. Lamb of God we looked at last week, Rabbi is a teacher, Son of God we’ve looked at, and is often paired with King of Israel in scripture. So briefly, let’s consider Messiah, or Christ.
Messiah literally means “anointed one.” And Christ is just a translation of the Greek word “Christos,” which means the same thing. We sometimes get confused in how we refer to Jesus, because it’s easy to just kind of use Christ as his last name, and that’s not what it is. When you say Jesus Christ, you are saying Jesus the Christ. That name, you and me, naming him that is a testimony. If we were designating just a person we would refer to him as Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, in historical, non-Christian literature that is exactly how he is referred to.
But no, when we say Jesus the Christ, we are declaring that that is exactly who he is. It is a testimony, and we should think of it as such. He is the anointed one, he is the one promised in Genesis 3. He is the anointed King of Israel talked about throughout the Psalms, he is anointed not just to save but to rule, to be King over his people. These are things that we are saying when we say Jesus Christ.
And the second name I want to draw attention to is the one Christ gives himself in this passage, and that is Son of Man. You may be surprised that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man more times than any other title. It seems strange, right? Does that diminish him somewhat? Does it focus on his humanity and make him seem a bit less divine? Perhaps you’ve thought these things when you’ve read the 80 times that Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man.
Well, there are actually two specific things that Jesus is calling up symbolically when he says this to Nathanael. He not only says that he is the Son of Man but that Nathanael will see angels ascending and descending on him. The ascending and descending suggests a ladder, a path between heaven and earth. That image appears back in Genesis, specifically to Jacob in Genesis 28:12:
And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!
Jesus is declaring that heaven is open, I am the path between heaven and earth, the path is me, he says. And then he calls himself the Son of Man, which comes directly from the passage in Daniel that we read earlier.
and behold, with the clouds of heaven
there came one like a son of man,
and he came to the Ancient of Days
and was presented before him.
14 And to him was given dominion
and glory and a kingdom,
that all peoples, nations, and languages
should serve him;
his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
which shall not pass away,
and his kingdom one
that shall not be destroyed.
The Son of Man in Daniel is one who will be given dominion over the entire creation and all people will bow down and serve him, and that kingdom will have no end. It’s a beautiful picture, squares absolutely with Revelation, and like I said is the name that Jesus uses for himself more than any other.
Okay, so we talked through the entire story, unfolded it a bit, answered some questions we might have about the more curious phrases that we find in it. So what? What do we take from this story about the calling of the first disciples? What is our response?
Well, one of them is what we’ve already done a bit, and that is to marvel at the greatness of Jesus the Christ, marvel at his greatness by meditating on his names and what they mean. To take comfort in the fact that Jesus is who he is. Our culture, and much of the church doesn’t suffer from having too high a picture of Jesus in our minds, it is always one that is too low. We are surrounded by a culture that encourages us to look to Jesus like a consumer, because that is how all other religions treat their holy figures, like consumers. What can I get out of this god? How can I live my best life now by practicing yoga, or reciting some wise sayings of Confucius, or Buddha? Oh, when I dip my toe in that religion, I just have a better attitude, or I feel like my day goes better. We see this all the time, dabbling especially in Eastern religions because of what I can get out of it. One of the big pushes right now is “mindfulness,” which is largely derived from Eastern meditative practices.
But Jesus is above all of that. It’s not about you, he’s here to be the Son of Man. The Son of Man who has been given all things by the Ancient of Days. He’s not here to make you comfortable, or materially wealthy, he’s here to love you and be glorified—that’s why he came. He came to gather his people and be their king. And that isn’t a scary thing, is it? It might be when we think of earthly kings, but Jesus comes and establishes his glory through his humility, through his sacrificing for his people. Amen for that. We certainly see a high view of Jesus in this passage, do we not? The disciples he gathered to himself here were not looking to derive earthly benefit from being with Jesus, they wanted to be in the presence of the Messiah. What could be more valuable than that?
And that brings us to our second application, and that is how Jesus begins building his church—since that’s what he’s doing when he gathers the apostles, building his church. How is it that Jesus primarily chooses to build his church? Even though Jesus was there in the flesh, even though he could be seen, and could speak to people, and call them by name, how did he typically go about it? It was through people. This is a great call to bear witness to Christ, because it is through you and me and every Christian that he is building his church. Who will hear the Word unless someone speaks it to them? Who will receive Christ unless someone bears witness to them? The primary way God has chosen to spread the gospel is through the witness of Christians. Here in this passage, five people are brought into the church. The first two were led to Christ by the witness of John the Baptist—he showed them the Word, and the Word they received from Jesus that afternoon convinced them he was the Messiah. What happened next? John and Andrew immediately became missionaries, and who did they spread the word about Jesus to first? To their family, to their brothers.
Jesus calls Philip and Philip immediately goes and finds his brother Nathanael. Other than Jesus calling Philip, every other person in this story is brought to Christ by the witness of a teacher or a brother. Amazing. We shouldn’t ignore this fact, and we should be encouraged by it to spread the word about Jesus the Christ to everyone we meet. But let’s not stop there. Let’s not neglect the mission field that God has place closest to us. It seems odd, but sometimes we focus too much on reaching out to people we really don’t know. Local charities, national mission organizations, international missions, and the like. Those are definitely worthwhile and in need of our support, but what about our families? What about our close friends? Is it not these relationships that God most often uses to build his church? Andrew doesn’t run to the street corner and say, “I found the Messiah!” He goes and tells his brother.
So that’s another important lesson here. What is the appropriate response to meeting your Savior? Go tell someone! The gospel is meant to be treasured, but also to be shared. And that should be a focus of ours, individually and as a church, that we exist to glorify Jesus, yes, and to tell others about him. Amen.
Gracious Heavenly Father,
We praise you for the gift of this passage today, and for your teaching us through it. It is remarkable the lessons you have for us in every bit of your word, even in the simpler passages. Give us a zeal for you that drives us to tell others about you, even those closest to us, those with whom we have a deep relationship. We know it is sometimes more difficult to share the gospel with those, because we have in a relationship so much to lose, but to risk the loss of a relationship is nothing compared to the loss of a soul. Give us boldness, give us strength, and give us grace. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, amen.