The First Disciples

Rev. David Bast Uncategorized

READ : John 1:35-46

When Jesus launched his public ministry the first peope he encountered were a most unlikely group of helpers.

The United States recently went through the strangest presidential election in its 213-year-long history. The vote was so close, and so hotly contested, that for 36 days after the election no one knew who had actually won. But eventually things were sorted out and a conclusion was reached: George W. Bush won, and would become the 43rd president of the United States of America.

But then the real work started, because in America after the election comes the transition when a new president has to scramble to find all the key people who will help him put his programs and policies into action. He obviously can’t do everything. He needs an administration, a group of advisors and assistants who will help to implement his policies. So where would you start if you were president? Well, obviously, you would start by recruiting your Cabinet and other top assistants by searching out the best talent in the country. You would go to the leading universities for the finest brains; you would turn to the military and to the major corporations for leaders; you would search through Congress and the state governments for politicians with wisdom and savvy. You would build a team of people with impressive resumes, loaded with experience and backed by a demonstrated record of achievement. That’s what you would do. That’s what I would do. It only makes sense.

But that’s not what Jesus did. As he began his ministry, Jesus had only three years of time ahead of him, three years in which to prepare, train and equip his disciples, his leadership team. Jesus’ twelve disciples would have to take over when he was no longer there. Their mission was not just to keep the Christian movement going but to expand it immeasurably by bringing the gospel to the very ends of the earth. So how did Jesus go about recruiting these top assistants? Where did he go to fill his cabinet, so to speak to the ruling Sanhedrin? To the Office of the High Priest? To the first century equivalent of the University of Jerusalem?

No, he almost seemed to pick up these first followers at random. Jesus gathered his disciples one or two at a time as he walked along the road or by the seashore, a fisherman here, a tax collector there. The disciples we meet in the pages of the New Testament certainly weren’t the “best and brightest,” the most important and influential people that Jesus’ society had to offer. On the contrary, they strike us as common and not particularly distinguished in any way. As a group the Twelve were nothing special. It almost looks as though Jesus went out of his way to pick the most ordinary people to do the work of his kingdom; in other words, he chose people just like you and me. Here’s something important to remember. You don’t need to be highly placed or wealthy or well educated or a member of society’s elite in order to serve the Lord Jesus. You don’t even have to have a lot of gifts and abilities by nature. The only qualification for being his disciple is that when he calls you, you come and follow. That is what a disciple does.

A Disciple Sees Jesus

Consider how the gospel of John describes the first encounters between Jesus and his disciples. Here’s a passage from John 1:

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

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

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

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

So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

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

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

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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.”

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

“Come and see,” said Philip.

John 1:35-46, NIV

From this story three qualifications emerge for people who would be disciples. If you want to be a follower of Jesus Christ the first thing you must do is to recognize him for who he truly is: the Messiah, the Son of God, the Lamb of God. There are many things which compete for our attention every day, many interests that catch our eye. We live in this media-dominated, consumer culture where life seems like a slick magazine with a full color advertisement on every page. We are continually bombarded with alluring images of things and celebrities that try to capture our interest and win our allegiance. Now more than ever disciples can rightly be described as those whose attention is drawn primarily to Jesus, people who, in the midst of a thousand different interests and fads, look to Jesus and find their eyes focusing supremely on him. A disciple is a person who sees Jesus Christ and sets him above all other things.

John the Baptist was both the last Old Testament prophet and the first Christian preacher. Like any good gospel preacher, he takes every opportunity to direct people’s attention away from himself toward Christ. John sees Jesus and testifies to him as the Savior of the world: “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (vv. 35-36). Now two of John’s own disciples, Andrew and one other who’s not named but is probably John the evangelist, who with consistent modesty never names himself in his gospel. These two are immediately attracted to Jesus and set out to follow him. That’s a paradigm of the way the preaching of the gospel works: Christ is proclaimed, people’s eyes are opened and they turn to him.

But real disciples do more than just recognize Jesus as someone who is significant. They also begin to understand who he actually is. I don’t know if you noticed all of the descriptive phrases used for Jesus in that brief passage from John 1: he is the Lamb of God (v. 36; and we saw something in last week’s message of the depth of meaning of that phrase); he is the Messiah or the Christ (v. 41), the one promised in the Old Testament (v. 45); he is also the Son of God and the King of Israel (v. 49). Here in just a few verses of the opening chapter of John, before Jesus has even begun his public ministry, we find a remarkably full description of his person and functions. A fairly complete Christology, or doctrine of Christ, could be constructed just from these titles alone: Lamb of God, Messiah, Son of God, King of Israel. While those first disciples undoubtedly did not yet understand the full meaning or implications of what they said about Jesus still those confessions are very impressive. How did John and Andrew and the others know so much about him so soon? The only answer must be that this knowledge was given to them, revealed by God himself through the Holy Spirit. The truly wondrous thing here is that Jesus actually knew his disciples before they knew him (see vv. 42 & 47- 48). We think that we discover Christ on our own, that we figure out the truth by careful investigation and rigorous seeking. But the truth is, he really finds us first, he recognizes us, he chooses us even before we choose him. St. Augustine wrote that we’re all like Nathaniel, the disciple Jesus saw sitting under a tree in Palestine. “In his mercy he has seen you before you knew him, when you lay under sin.” Have we first visited Christ, and not he us? Have we, the sick, come to the physician, and not the physician to the sick?

A Disciple Follows Jesus

Andrew and his companion model the next decisive step in the life of discipleship they followed Jesus (v. 37). It looks at first like a simple statement of fact, and in a sense it is, but this is a momentous step (literally) to take because, you see, the truth is, a lot of people hear about Jesus. They see Jesus, or they even recognize some of the truth about him, but fewer follow him. The Bible says that even the demons “believe” in God in the sense of acknowledging him, but it doesn’t make any difference to the way they act (James 2:19). What sets disciples apart, what in effect really defines them, is that they act upon the truth about Jesus. They change their lives. They give up everything to cast their lot with the Lord. Disciples are people who have simply decided to follow Jesus, “no turning back.”

Notice how it happened there for those first disciples (vv. 38-39). They struck up a rather ordinary conversation with Jesus late one afternoon. The decisive encounter seems very casual at first, even mundane just another chance meeting with someone on the street. There’s no lightning and thunder or voices from heaven, no blinding light on the Damascus road (as there would be for another disciple later on). All that happens is that these men meet with Jesus. They talk to him for a while and find out a little bit about him, and then they decide to let him interrupt their schedules so that they can accompany him where he’s going. I’ve already quoted St. Augustine; here is the comment of another great theologian, John Calvin. He said that real disciples are those who “acquire a taste for Christ . . . Nor should we be satisfied with a bare passing look, but [like Andrew and John we] must seek his dwelling place, that he may receive us as his guests. For there are many who merely sniff at the gospel from a distance and thus let Christ slip away.” No, if you see him, if you recognize him, never let him go. Follow him always forever.

A Disciple Brings Others to Jesus

Finally, a disciple is one who brings others to Jesus? What could be more natural than Andrew’s reaction after meeting the Lord? “The first thing Andrew did,” we read, “was to find his brother (Peter) and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ And,” John adds, “he brought him to Jesus” (vv. 41-42). This is disciple- making at its most basic (and effective) level. No great crowds, no eloquent speeches or compelling sermons, just one ordinary person telling someone he knows and loves about the Christ he has met. Philip is another illustration of the fact that disciples are called to be evangelists. He rushes out to find his friend Nathanael and he excitedly pours out his news about Jesus, adding a simple invitation: “Come and see” (v. 46).

It you read what Philip says carefully, you see that he makes a number of mistakes about Jesus. He says he’s born in Nazareth and is the son of Joseph. But that doesn’t really matter that he doesn’t have quite all his facts straight or that he may not know all the answers. Philip isn’t giving a lecture in theology or debating comparative religions; he is simply trying to introduce a friend to Christ. All you need to evangelize really is to have met the Lord yourself. Ordinary disciples can do that, in fact, ordinary disciples must do that. Most of us are just the opposite of Andrew and Philip we have all the knowledge we need about Jesus, and all our facts are correct and in order, but we never bring anyone else to meet him, or invite a friend to “Come and see.”

These, then, are the qualifications for true discipleship. What defines a disciple is recognizing Jesus (recognizing the truth about who he is and realizing his importance and surpassing worth), following Jesus secondly (turning from a self-centered life to a life of obedience and fellowship with the Lord), and finally witnessing to Jesus (introducing others to Christ by inviting them to meet him and experience his renewing life). So how do you measure up? Does your life exhibit the marks of a disciple?