Calling Disciples

John now turns his attention to Jesus, specifically the beginning of His earthly ministry. Jesus starts by calling disciples, men who will learn from Him and accompany Him in His ministry. His first followers began as followers of John the Baptist. None of them had angelic messages or voices from on high; they simply reacted to the person of Jesus Christ. Why is that noteworthy? Because that is exactly how you and I are “called”. I’ve never met a person who claimed that they was a follower of Christ because they had experienced a personal audience with an angel, prophet or indeed God Himself. They simply reacted to who Jesus is.

35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated 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 Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated 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 is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42)

As a preacher and prophet, John the Baptist had attracted a group of loyal-followers, disciples. John knew that he was only the “forerunner“, the “herald” for the coming Messiah, so far from being “possessive” of them, he pointed them to Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God!” Two of John’s disciples took the hint that they should follow Jesus instead of John. One of them was Andrew, and some Bible scholars have speculated that the other one was John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, particularly since John never mentions himself by name in his Gospel.

John’s story of the calling of disciples begins in verses 35-42; taking it as a whole, we see two main components, the first being John’s testimony that Jesus was the “Lamb of God.” This is the confession that marks the difference between a world that is lost and a follower of Christ. The second aspect is the response of the two disciples of John who heard it: they followed Jesus. Notice however that their initial following of Jesus was literal in the sense that they were going to go where He went as opposed to give Him their lives. When Jesus saw them he simply asked them what they wanted, a question that He would ask many over time. The two did not give a great theological reply; they just wanted to see where He was staying, maybe to have a chance to talk with Him later. Jesus gave them a classic reply, “Come and you will see.”

Evidently Andrew, in his “off-duty” time, was a disciple of John the Baptist, because as this scene opens, Andrew wasn’t out fishing but was with John the Baptist. Andrew, while not mentioned in previous scenes, had probably heard quite a bit of what John the Baptist had said about Jesus. Thus, when John said “Behold the Lamb of God“, he was prepared to find out more about this man named Jesus.

Heeding John’s testimony, Andrew and the other disciple went with Jesus and spent the rest of the day with Him. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon (the “tenth hour“, according to first-century Jews’ reckoning of time), so the disciples began what would become a lifetime of discipleship. Hospitality customs were such that someone who was providing a room for the night to a visiting Rabbi would also open their home to whoever was with him.

Andrew, while he never rose to be in the limelight with Peter and the other leading Apostles, can be seen as the “great-introducer“, and he starts with his own brother, Simon. That he had already accepted John’s testimony about Jesus, that He was the Messiah, is evident in what he told Simon, “We have found the Messiah”. Even though the religious leaders would assess them later as being “uneducated men“, they knew more than the religious leaders gave them credit for.

In truth, this is the matrix for all personal evangelism: Someone hears about Jesus and they want to check it out. Our approach is “Come and see”. In the case of our text, they arrived at Jesus’ lodgings at around 4 in the afternoon. Time in the Gospels is reckoned more or less as a twelve hour day from roughly 6 am to 6 pm. The tenth hour would be about 4 pm. During their visit, Andrew goes off to get his brother Simon, who comes along to see Jesus. Andrew was now certain about the identity of Jesus. Jesus, in verse 42 tells Simon that he will be called Cephas. Note that the synoptic Gospels record this name change roughly in the middle of Jesus’ ministry; is this a conflict? It is not a conflict because Jesus did not change Simon’s name to Cephas; He only said that he will be called by that name: future tense, it will happen someday. As we will discover later on, Peter’s new name came with a new occupation.

Perhaps the most important thing Andrew ever did as a disciple was to introduce his brother, Simon, to Jesus. Simon, as is well known, would go on to serve a foundational role in the establishment of the Christian church, and that is foreshadowed here in Jesus’ renaming Simon as Cephas or Peter. Aramaic was the common language of first-century Jews in Palestine, and Cephas comes from the Aramaic word that means “rock”. Peter is from the Greek word that means the same thing. Jesus would again identify Simon as Peter, the Rock, later in His ministry (Matthew 16:13-20), but this record in John’s Gospel that Jesus identified Peter as the “rock”, as having a key role in the disciples, long before Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. He would be essential for laying the foundation of the church by preaching on Pentecost, by being the instrument through whom God worked to convert the first Gentiles to Christ, and by writing part of the New Testament (Acts 2:10; 1 and 2 Peter).

We have noted that Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, does not play as large a role in the foundation of the early church as does Peter. Yet, it was through Andrew that Peter first met Jesus.

The next section takes place on the next day as Jesus moved on and in the process came upon Phillip. He simply said to him, “Follow me.” Phillip’s response was immediate: He followed Jesus.

43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of 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 any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to 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 and said to 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 and said to him, “Because I said to you that 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 the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

Jesus began calling disciples with Philip, who later found Nathanael. It isn’t recorded what their occupations were, but whatever they had been doing, they forsook and started following Jesus.

Why was it important that Philip was from Bethsaida? Bethsaida was a small fishing village, so it is likely that Philip knew Peter and Andrew. As we will see, Jesus and His disciples formed a tight-knit community.

The “bait” Philip used was their knowledge of the Old Testament, Moses and the Prophets. As was common in that culture, Jesus was referred to by who His “father” was and where He was from. Nathanael was naturally skeptical; “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, because Joseph was a carpenter and Nazareth was a sleepy-backwater town in Galilee with no real significance. It isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, unlike Bethlehem.

The New Testament tells us clearly that Nazareth was an insignificant, even despised town. Even fellow Galileans looked down on Nazareth, as is evident by Nathanael’s response when Philip told him about finding the Messiah, Plainly, Nathanael could not believe that the promised Savior would come from such a humble locale. It’s kind of like Minco, Oklahoma: Nowhereville! Nathanael, it should be noted, is likely the same person as Bartholomew, who is listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples in the Synoptic Gospels.

Funny, it is interesting that the Son of God should be from “Nowhereville”, and He was born in a stable, to an unwed teenager, while on a road trip, and He died on a cross, naked and penniless. There is no worldly appeal to Him; there is only who He is to draw a person closer. Philip’s reaction is a classic: “Come and see”.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, we see an interesting statement, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael wasn’t just a nominal-Jew who just went through the motions in his worship. Rather, Nathanael knew and was trusting in God’s promises to provide a Redeemer for Israel.

48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” How did Jesus know Nathanael? Jesus was God-Incarnate, God in the flesh, and He revealed some of His supernatural knowledge to Nathanael.

Based on what Jesus had just revealed to Him, Nathanael made an incredible statement, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Nathanael immediately recognized that he was standing before the long-promised Messiah, and Jesus promised that what Nathanael had just witnessed would pale in comparison to what he was going to witness later on, the glory of God.

When the skeptical Nathaniel first meets Jesus he is surprised by what Jesus knew about him. His reaction was to believe what Phillip had told him, and he responded in faith. Jesus has an interesting reply to Nathaniel’s expression of faith: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Jesus begins His final comment in this chapter with “Truly, truly I say to you” the first of 25 times in this Gospel to introduce an important statement, and then proceeded to make a statement that reminds us of Genesis 28:12, Jacob’s ladder. “…you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This statement gives the commentators some trouble, but my take is that His disciples would see that Jesus was directly connected with heaven, speaking for heaven and being of heaven. Jesus and the Word cannot be separated. This is also His first use of the title “Son of Man”, which will become His favorite way of referring to Himself. In calling Himself the “Son of Man“, Jesus was affirming His full-humanity, which was necessary for Him to become our Sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of God.

Once again, we see one man, Philip, once he was called by Jesus, going out and finding another man, Nathanael. As Andrew introduce Peter to Jesus, Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Isn’t our calling to introduce people to Jesus?

Fishers of men

We now go to Matthew 4:18-22 to pick up the call of the four fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John:

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

The Sea of Galilee is an inland lake which is about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. In other parts of the New Testament, it is also called the Lake of Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberius. It is fed from the North by the Jordan River, beginning at its headwaters, and drains out to the South through the Jordan River to the Salt Sea (Dead Sea). Many of the events in the life and ministry of Christ took place along the Sea of Galilee. Because it is ringed by mountains, it is well-known for its violent storms.

Even though Jesus had met Peter and Andrew before, we now see Him call them to be His disciples. Peter, Andrew, James and John were commercial-fishermen, so they left a lot behind when they started following Jesus. We are told later on that Peter had a family, so following Jesus was not trivial. Matthew, or Levi, was a tax-collector before Jesus called him, so he left a very lucrative occupation behind (Matthew 9:9-13).

We should note that “Follow Me…” is not merely a “suggestion“, it is a COMMAND. Could they have blown Him off and said “We’re not interested”? They could have, but they didn’t.

Note that Jesus doesn’t recruit His disciples and “fishers of men” from the religious intelligentsia but from ordinary people from ordinary walks in life…people like us.

“God doesn’t call the “qualified”, He qualifies the called!”

The cost of discipleship…

19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:19-22)

Discipleship has a cost, as His first disciples quickly found out. Discipleship also has a cost for us, because, even if we aren’t called to leave our old occupation behind, we certainly do have to leave our old lives behind, including our old sinful ways of thinking and our old sinful ways of living. Whatever the cost of discipleship is, our heavenly-reward will make it all worthwhile.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

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How Human Was Jesus? Part 2

In my first segment on the humanity of Jesus, I focused on the physical evidences of His humanity. While it may be uncomfortable to some to think of Jesus in this way, if He was less than fully-human, displaying all the physical attributes of His humanity, He could not have been our Redeemer. Because some in His day believed that Jesus only “appeared” to be human, the Apostle John focused in one His humanity, not only in the Gospel of John, but also in 1st and 2nd John.

We only get a few snapshots of His early life in Scripture, as if we are only seeing pages ripped out of the photo-album of His life, but those snapshots paint an incomplete picture of Him. What about the rest of His thirty years before His baptism by John the Baptist? Jesus didn’t simply get born, and voila, He was a man. He experienced life as any child does as he or she grows into adulthood.

As a baby…

Jesus entered our world as every child has since Adam and Eve had their first child. He was born, and His birth was in a filthy, smelly stable. Nothing clean or sanitary about His birth. He was wrapped in whatever rags were available. Scripture calls them “swaddling cloths“. There were no Pampers, He had no “baby-clothes“. He was simply wrapped up with what was available.

We are told that He was circumcised and named on His eight day of life, as was the custom. There had been no “baby-shower“, so He didn’t have some cute outfit for this ceremony. When He was forty days old, His parents took Him to the temple to dedicate Him to the Lord, and offer the sacrifices which were required for His mother’s ceremonial purification. His “baby-album” ended with this snapshot.

Was He a cranky baby when He was cutting teeth? Teething is not a pleasant experience for any baby, and I am sure that He was no exception. He experienced the pains of baby-hood just as every child does.

Did He ever have an ear-infection or runny nose? Only about half of all babies born made it to their thirteenth birthday. Infant mortality was very high.

What were His first words? Was He a “super-baby” speaking in whole sentences almost immediately, or were His first words “Ma-Ma” and “Da-Da“? Babies have been learning to talk since the first one was born, and He was no exception.

Did He crawl before He walked? How many times did He skin His nose or knees learning to walk? Floors back then weren’t well-padded carpet. The very poor had dirt floors in their homes. He didn’t enter our world to live in luxury. He left that behind so that He could experience life with the poorest of us. How old was He before He got His first pair of sandals? Did His parents have trouble keeping clothes on Him? Young children, who have never been taught that their bodies are shameful, will happily run around naked any chance they get.

As a toddler…

The next snapshot we get was when His life was threatened and His parents were forced to flee to Egypt. That was a long, hard journey, which may have taken several weeks to complete. They rode donkeys, and if they had a tent, camped in it. Otherwise, they slept on the ground under the stars. There were no motels along the way, perhaps a rustic inn or two, but nothing we would find appealing.

How many siblings did He have by then? Joseph and Mary didn’t consummate their marriage until after Jesus was born, and probably not until after her purification was complete. Did Mary get pregnant on their wedding-night?

Did they travel to Egypt with both a toddler and a baby? Scripture makes it very clear that Jesus had brothers and sisters. That was a journey unlike any we have ever experienced. They were also traveling to a foreign country. It is one thing to travel by car for hundreds of miles and stay with family and friends or in a hotel, but quite a different story traveling that same distance on foot or on a donkey with one or more young children.

Out of Egypt…

Once the threat was no longer there, God told the family to go back home, except that it wasn’t back to their hometown. They would have to start in a new community – Nazareth. Joseph didn’t have his old carpenter shop to go back to. It wasn’t easy starting all over again. There wasn’t a department store on every corner where they could get everything necessary to set up their new home.

Meanings…

You are probably thinking “Steve, why all the detail?”. Until we deal with the nitty-gritty of His life, we won’t really understand why He was described as “A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief“. The nitty-gritty IS what makes Him one of us, fully-human. I grew up poor, but we were rich by comparison.

In the temple…

The next snapshot we find in Scripture is when He was twelve years old. His parents had journied to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. As they traveled back home with their friends and neighbors, Jesus came up missing. His parents asked around if any of their friends and relatives had seen Him, but no one could remember exactly where they saw Him last. They were panic-stricken.

It wasn’t safe to travel alone, which was why they traveled as a group. As a father, and as someone who has been involved with many missing-child searches, I can relate intimately with how they felt. There was only one thing to do, turn back and search until they found Him. That search took three days.

As a foretaste of His roles as our Prophet and Priest, His parents found Him in the temple in Jerusalem discussing Scripture with the religious teachers. They were amazed at His knowledge at such a young age, and they would continue to be amazed throughout His ministry.

Was He Just a rebelous almost-teenager, or was there a connection with God the Father that His parents didn’t understand? “And He said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in My Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49) Jesus, Emanuel, God with us, was no ordinary child.

His parents didn’t understand, because the mystery of the Incarnation was as huge a mystery to them as it is to us today. “And they did not understand the saying that He spoke to them. And He went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them. And His mother treasured up all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:50-51)

As an adolescent…

Even though Jesus was no ordinary child in a spiritual sense, He still went through the trials of puberty. As the Creator of our bodies, He experienced first-hand what it was like to go through everything a young boy experiences. How old was He when His voice started cracking and deepening? Did He go through a precocious puberty, or was He normal for His age? Did He ever have pimples? How old was He when peach-fuzz turned into a real beard? Babies don’t become men overnight, and He was no exception.

Questions…

Have you confronted His full humanity yet, or are you content with the sanitized version of Jesus Christ? If we ignore what it actually took for Jesus to go from being a new-born baby to being a grown man, it is quite easy to see Him as a “super-human“. Turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding thousands of people, healing sick people and even raising the dead are more the marks of a “super-human“, not what we would expect of an ordinary guy, and yet, as a human, a man, He was totally-ordinary. God didn’t come down and merely inhabit a human body. God became human. He was the God-Man, and He often celebrated His humanity by using the title “Son of Man“, not the exalted titles of His deity.

As a teen…

What was the first thing He built in His dad’s shop? Was it as perfect as He was? Did He struggle with learning all the languages of His era? Many Jews of His day were multi-lingual, and even though Hebrew was the national language of the Jews, Greek, Latin and Aramaic were also in common use. The Roman empire had conquered all of the know world, and all of the languages of the various countries in the empire could be heard in the streets, particularly in Jerusalem.

Manhood…

When did Jesus have to become the man of the house? How old was He when His dad died? Joseph is never mentioned in the accounts of His ministry. I am sure that He mourned the loss of His dad as any other young man would. One of His tasks as the oldest son was to make sure His mother was well cared-for, and even as He suffered on the cross, He commissioned John to be His mother’s care-taker. As He bore our sins on the cross, He didn’t neglect His human responsibility. How many other family-members did He lose on His way to the cross? Had He already lost some of His siblings?

What if…

What if we could look at a complete photo-album of His life? What uncomfortable truths would it reveal? How would our perceptions of Jesus of Nazareth be changed? Would we still worship and adore Him, or would the nitty-gritty of His life scare us away? Would we, like His brothers and sisters, think that He had lost His mind when He claimed to be God?

Why?

Why have I tried to build a photo-album of word-pictures of Him? God didn’t see fit to provide us more details, but that doesn’t mean that those details aren’t important. The Apostle John told us the purpose of his gospel; “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30-31). John ended His gospel with these words; “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did. Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (John 21:25) Your redemption, your salvation, and mine too, depends on His full humanity.

Your turn…

Are you ready to kneel beside that manger and adore the Great I AM? Would you kiss the face of God? Would you cry with the Word who became flesh as His tender foreskin was cut and removed? Would you crawl around on that dirty floor with the Prince of Peace? Would you hold out your hands as the Everlasting Father took His first few steps? Would you play hide-and-seek with the Mighty God on the dusty streets of Nazareth? Would you listen intently as the Wonderful Counselor spoke His first few words? Would you marvel with the teachers as Emmanuel, God with us, spoke wisdom way beyond His years? Would you admire that beautiful wooden sculpture which He made with His own hands?

Are you ready to step down to the edge of the river to be baptized with the Lamb of God? Would you gladly introduce your friends to Jesus? Would you forsake everything to follow Him? Would you dine at the table of a tax collector with Him? Would you have had a heart-attack when you saw Him walking on water? Would you weep with Him in front of the grave of a close friend? Would you throw your garment down before Him as He rode that donkey into Jerusalem? Would you vie with John for the place closest to Him at that Last Supper? Would you be embarrassed as He laid aside His garments to wash your feet, taking on the role of a servant? Would you weep at the foot of the Cross as the Messiah bore your sin and shame, naked, battered and beaten? Would you be grief-stricken with Mary Magdalene when you found that His tomb was empty? Could you contain your joy when you received word that your Lord was alive, risen from the dead? Would you run to the empty tomb with Peter and John? Would you offer Him that bread and fish? Those who knew Him best were never the same. They had been with Jesus.

Do you want the healing of spirit and soul that only comes from the Great Physician? Come to Jesus. Come to the God-Man. Embrace and adore the Son of Man. He is the KING of kings and the LORD of lords, and our own flesh and blood is at the Father’s right hand, forever. You will never be the same.

Come and behold Him,
Born the King of Angels.
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Oh come let us adore Him,
Christ, the Lord!

In Christ,
Steve