READ : John 1:35-51
When Jesus launched his public ministry the first people he encountered were a most unlikely group of helpers, but these first disciples can show us what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
Imagine you needed to recruit and train a group of people to carry out the greatest and most important mission in world history. How would you go about that task? Well, obviously, you would start by searching out the best talent in the country. You would look in the leading universities for the finest brains; you would turn to the military and the major corporations for leaders. You would build a team of people with impressive resum?s, loaded with experience and backed by a demonstrated record of achievement. That’s what you would do, isn’t it? That’s what I would do. It only makes sense.
But that is not what Jesus did. Jesus had only three years in which to prepare, train and equip his disciples, his leadership team. Jesus’ 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 find them? To the ruling Sanhedrin? To the Office of the High Priest? To the first century equivalent of the University of Jerusalem?
No, he seemed to pick up his disciples almost at random. Jesus gathered them 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 society had to offer. On the contrary, they strike us as common folks who were not particularly distinguished in any way.
As a group the Twelve seemed to be nothing special. It almost looks as though Jesus went out of his way to pick only 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 in order to serve the Lord Jesus. You don’t even have to have a lot of gifts and abilities by nature. I think of a man I know called Ali who is a humble carpenter but has been very effective in his closed Middle-eastern country at leading people to Jesus Christ. 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 Recognizes 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 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. . . . 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. . . .
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
. . . 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
In this story we can see three characteristic actions of people who become disciples of Jesus Christ. If you want to be a follower of Jesus the first thing you need to do is to recognize him for who he truly is. There are many things which compete for our attention every day, many interests that catch our eye. We live in a media-dominated, consumer culture where we are continually bombarded with alluring images that try to capture our interest and win our hearts. Now more than ever disciples are those whose attention is drawn to Jesus Christ, people who, in the midst of a thousand different interests and causes, look to Jesus and find their eyes focusing supremely on him. It’s really quite simple: a disciple is a person who puts Jesus Christ first in his or her life, setting him above everything else.
Like any good evangelist, John the Baptist takes every opportunity to direct people towards 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 disciples, Andrew plus another, respond. 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 really recognizing Jesus means more than just being attracted to his personality or his teaching. It also means understanding who he actually is. 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 function. Jesus is the Lamb of God (v. 36); he is the Messiah, the Christ (v. 41), the one promised in the Old Testament (v. 45); he is the Son of God, the King of Israel (v. 49).
How did John and Andrew and all the others know all those things about Jesus? What enabled them to recognize and accept the truth about Jesus when so many others did not? Where did their insights come from? The only answer must be that they came from God himself. As Jesus said to Peter when Peter acknowledged him as the Christ, the Son of God, “Blessed are you . . . for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 16:17).
The truly amazing thing is that Jesus actually knows his disciples before they know him (see vv. 42, 47-48). We may think that we have discovered Christ on our own, but the truth is he really finds us first, he recognizes us before we recognize him. St. Augustine once said that we’re all like Nathaniel, the disciple Jesus saw sitting under a fig tree: “In his mercy,” said Augustine, “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 as well – they followed Jesus (v. 37). It looks at first like a simple statement of fact, and in a sense it is. Yet this is a momentous step (literally) because the truth is, a lot of people hear about Jesus, they see Jesus, they may even recognize some of the truth about him, but they never actually follow him. 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, no turning back.”
Notice how it happened there for those first two disciples (vv. 38-39). They struck up a rather ordinary conversation with Jesus late one afternoon. The decisive encounter seems very casual at first, 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 a few moments ago from St. Augustine; here is a comment from 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 [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.” Isn’t that a great line? People just sniff at the gospel and let Christ slip away without following him themselves.
A Disciple Brings Others to Jesus
Finally, here’s what a disciple does. A disciple brings others to Jesus as well. 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 he brought him to Jesus” (vv. 41-42), says John. This is disciple-making at its most basic (and effective) level. No great crowds, no eloquent speeches or compelling sermons, just one ordinary believer telling another person, someone who he knows and loves, about the Christ whom he has met. Disciples are called to be evangelists, to be sharers of the good news of Jesus with their family and friends. As soon as Philip meets Jesus he rushes out to find his friend Nathanael and excitedly shares the news, adding this simple invitation: “Come and see” (v. 46).
Philip doesn’t quite have all his facts about Jesus straight yet nor does he know all the answers. But it doesn’t really matter; he is simply trying to introduce a friend to Christ. All you really need to evangelize is to have met the Lord yourself, so that you can invite others to “come and see.”
So this is what disciples do. They recognize Jesus, that is, they realize the truth about who he is and what he came to do. They follow Jesus, turn from a self-centered life to a life of obedience and fellowship with the Lord. And they witness to Jesus, introduce others to Christ by inviting them to meet him and experience his renewing life for themselves.
So how do you measure up? Are you doing what disciples do?