Sermon on John 1:35-51

by Pastor Keith Graham

Please read John 1:35-51, and keep your Bible handy. Thank you!

The manifestation of Jesus Christ to the nation of Israel came by way of His baptism by John in the Jordan river. There, in the spirit and power of Elijah, the Messiah's herald declared His supremacy. "This One is mightier than I; I am unworthy to loosen His sandal thong." He pointed to the Lamb of God - Who though younger than His kinsman John, was mysteriously before John! "To fulfill all righteousness", yet not for Himself, the One without sin humbly submitted to John's baptism of repentance. After Christ's baptism the Spirit Who had caused his miraculous conception in the virgin's womb, the Spirit Who had descended upon Him like a dove while the majestic voice of His Father in heaven proclaimed His delight in His Son - that same blessed Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by the evil one for forty days.

Christian disciples Matthew, Mark and Luke begin their Holy Spirit inspired accounts of the public ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ several months later than these events, in Galilee. The apostle John, after his lofty and sublime proclamation of the eternal Word made flesh, is the only gospel writer to record certain events from the very earliest days of Jesus' public ministry, before He "withdrew into Galilee" (Mark 3:7) to preach the gospel of the kingdom with abundant miracles attending and attesting to Him.

From John the apostle, an early disciple and eyewitness of the Divine words and works of Jesus, we learn a little about those earliest days. After His baptism and temptation, Jesus labored for a season in the same region where John preached and baptized, as well as in Jerusalem. This was not where Jesus labored exclusively - we know from chapter 2 verse 11 that "the beginning of His miracles" was at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. However, He did CONCENTRATE His attention in Judea for a while, before devoting Himself to Galilee.

We see this time of activity by two messengers - One Divine - foretold in prophecy: "Behold, I will send My messenger, and he shall prepare the way before Me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to His temple, even the Messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the LORD of hosts." (Malachi 3:1) Temporarily, the baptizing forerunner and the Lord Who "came to His temple" ministered together, before John was arrested and eventually beheaded by Herod.

Now let's briefly summarize what "the other John", the disciple whom Jesus loved, records for us in the text we've read, the last seventeen verses of the first chapter of his gospel:

On one day during this period of overlap, the baptizer and two of his disciples encounter Jesus as He is going somewhere, as we see in verse 35. The baptizer bares record of Jesus, that He is the Lamb of God. These two disciples go after Jesus, and stay with Him that day. One of them, Andrew, invites his brother Peter to come and meet Jesus. The next day, Jesus "would go into Galilee", John says. Now as we've seen above, this is not to begin His Galilean ministry in earnest. After the wedding in Cana, where Jesus does His first miracle, Jesus does not stay in Galilee very long, but returns to Jerusalem. The reason for bringing out these details will become evident as we go along.

While on this temporary return to Galilee, where He has lived all his life, and to which He will eventually return for more extensive ministry, Jesus calls Philip, who finds Nathaniel. Jesus then discloses Himself in some remarkable way to Nathaniel. And so the account concludes with these men having entered into a relationship with the Lord Jesus: the brothers Andrew and Peter, John the one who recorded these events and very likely his brother James, as well Philip and Nathaniel. Eventually all of them become serious disciples, following Jesus in earnest.

Thus from Jesus' baptism and co-labors with John the baptizer in Judea, through His disclosure to Nathaniel that He saw and knew Nathaniel before Nathaniel had ever seen Him, we see Divine power at work to search hearts, change names, call men to follow Christ, and reveal His glory. This is the essence of God's work in discipleship, and this is what we are going to discuss today. God's agenda is to transform those who are fallen into those who follow, redeemed in Christ Jesus and fearing no condemnation, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.

Let me repeat those four aspects of God's work in making disciples:

  1. God searches hearts
  2. He changes names
  3. He calls us to follow
  4. He reveals His glory

Now let's consider them in turn. First, God searches hearts.

Just and devout Simeon, a man filled with the Holy Spirit himself, foresaw this refining work of the Lord's Christ when the infant Jesus was brought into the temple:

"Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: 'This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign to be spoken against, so that the THOUGHTS OF MANY HEARTS WILL BE REVEALED. And a sword will pierce your own soul too."

This Divine work of Christ appears in several ways in our text in John's gospel.

Notice how the one Who preached heart searching messages of repentance along with John in Judea responds to those two disciples of the baptizer when they come after Him:

Jesus turns to face them. When He asks, "What do you seek?", it is not a polite inquiry to a couple of strangers who seem disoriented. Jesus is not asking "May I help you?" Under His searching gaze, they reply, "Where are you staying?" His reply invites further inquiry by them about this "Lamb of God", as their teacher the baptizer had mysteriously termed Him. Jesus invites them to COME AND SEE... come to the place where He is.

Zechariah the prophet wrote of "The eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth." (Zechariah 4:10). Jesus the Lamb has those eyes, as John tells us much later in the Revelation God gave Him:

"And I beheld, and, lo, in the midst of the throne and of the four beasts, and in the midst of the elders, stood a Lamb as it had been slain, having seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven Spirits of God sent forth into all the earth." (Revelation 5:6)

What is the purpose of this heart searching work of God? How do those who long to be true disciples benefit from it?

The searching is that we may be purified, not condemned. In 2 Chronicles 16:9, Hanani the seer says these words, which were perhaps in Zechariah's mind later - "For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth, that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His."

Likewise Malachi, after announcing the coming of the Lord to His temple, proclaims that He is like a refiner's fire...He comes to purify the sons of Levi, that they may offer a offering in righteousness. As a disciple, you are a "son of Levi"! You are a servant in the living temple of the living God - that is, His church, and your reasonable service of worship is to offer your very self. Those searching eyes look at you in the spirit of Romans 12:1,2 -

"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God."

Those searching eyes see into the innermost depths of our hearts, and shine a purifying light. They invite us to advance in the way of holiness, to seek to ascend to new heights in our relationship with the Lord.

Jesus' encounter with Nathaniel is another way in which we see those heart searching eyes at work in the passage before us. And what a comfort there is in realizing that Jesus does not say, "Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no SIN", but "in whom is no GUILE". Christ did not delight in Nathaniel being as yet without sin, as God's people will be one day in glory. Jesus delighted in Nathaniel's willingness to confess, repent, and grow...that was the way in which Nathaniel was "without guile". Today, those roving eyes of the Lord search for men and women like him.

We do not know what Nathaniel was doing under the fig tree, but Jesus knew, and when He revealed to Nathaniel what He knew, Nathaniel rejoiced; He confessed Jesus to be King of Israel.

Today, if you hear His voice...if you feel the power of those searching eyes peering into your soul by His Word and His Spirit, do not fear! God's work of making disciples goes on from here!

The second aspect of God's work in making disciples is that He changes names.

What's in a name? PLENTY! In Scripture, God's name is more than just a verbal symbol, it is His authority, His dignity, His "reputation", so to speak. The third commandment is all about misuing God's name; to do so is a crime against God! Names are important among mankind as well. Someone who has a good name has a priceless treasure, and to slander another - to besmirch his name - is a great crime against that one.

In verse 42 of our text, Jesus says to Andrew's brother, "You are Simon, you shall be called Peter (the Rock)." Peter wasn't the only one to whom Jesus gave names:

Mark writes about the brothers James and John that Jesus "...surnamed them Boanerges, which is, the sons of thunder..." (Mark 3:17)

Consider then whom we have among the disciples: We have Peter the rock, speaking of steadfastness. We have the sons of thunder, testifying of the power of the heavenly word they proclaim. We have the guile-less one, speaking of uprightness.

We who are disciples today are one with the earliest disciples! As part of that living temple, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, we share in those names.

Following Jesus will result in drastic changes of who we are. Our basic I.D. is radically different as a disciple. When a woman is married, she takes her husband's name. Her family and friends have to get used to thinking of her as Mary Smith instead of Mary Jones. Her driver's license and their bank accounts must show the change. We are made one with Christ. The DISCIPLES were first called Christians at Antioch, Luke tells us (Acts 11:26). The word means "little Christs". We share His family name. His Father is also our Father.

3. The third aspect of Christ's work in making disicples is that He EFFECTIVELY calls us to follow.

As we begin to look at this aspect of discipleship, it will become apparent why I described the chronology of Jesus' relationship with His earliest disciples.

Andrew, Peter, and the other original disciple of the baptizer apparently did not continue to follow Jesus whole heartedly from that early encounter onward.

The other original disciple of the baptizer who first heard the baptizer bare witness of Jesus was most likely John himself, who never mentions his own name in his gospel, but calls himself the DISCIPLE whom Jesus loved". It is very likely that, like Andrew, he introduced his brother James to Jesus in those early days.

We see then, that the call to follow Him which Jesus gives the fishermen brothers in Galilee - Peter and Andrew, James and John - was not their very first contact with Jesus! They were not suddenly dropping their responsibilities and going after a complete stranger.

(Sermon Interruption Link: an essay discussing this point. Please imagine that a baby in the congregation cried loudly here...)

What we see in Matthew, Mark, and Luke is a finalizing...a determination that yes, they are going to follow Jesus. This becomes more apparent if we look at Luke's complete account of what happened on that occasion, which is more detailed than the equally inspired accounts we have in Matthew and Mark. It is easily inferred from Luke 5 that Jesus and these men already knew eachother.

The point is, that when Jesus retires from Judea into Galilee following the arrest of the baptizer, the fishermen brothers are apparently not with Him, but are EFFECTIVELY CALLED as Jesus begins His Galilean ministry.

This begs us to ask what forces caused Peter and the others to "peter out" the first time before the finally decided to follow? Was he evading the haunting witness of John, that fiery, repentance preaching prophet whom his brother Andrew admired? Was it Jesus' association with John and hence disfavor with the Jewish authorities? Was it a strange uneasiness in getting to know Jesus? There's good reason to think that could be. Consider this...

Although the humanity of Christ was and is quite real, being in His presence even during His earthly humiliation would have been unlike being in the presence of any other person. There is no living soul to whom you can begin to draw close and not begin to see their warts, their peeves, their inconsistencies. Draw closer and we begin to see each others' major flaws, wrongful passions, and besetting sins. The closer those disciples drew to Jesus, they only saw more and more human perfection!

Imagine this scenario: Peter is introduced to a Man Whom his brother Andrew claims is the Christ of Israel, the One for Whom the nation has waited for centuries, and about Whose person and agenda there are as many speculations as there are Israelites! When Peter meets this Man, He immediately says to Peter, "You will be called the rock." How would you react if when you first met someone, they gave you a new name? After this, getting to know Jesus could have only been a combination of delight and fear for Peter. From what we know of Peter, it would not be surprising if the latter vanquished him, and he departed at least temporarily from Jesus.

No wonder Luke tells us that when Simon Peter saw Jesus miraculously cause them to catch a net loaded with fish, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord!"

Now all this speaks volumes to those who struggle with following Jesus. Perhaps you are like those earliest Peter. Awakened, began to struggle with Jesus' call. Perhaps you fear that you are "too sinful" to follow Jesus.

FEAR NOT! The man whose name is changed to "the rock" starts off unstable but winds up solid! God is at work in discipleship!!! We do not choose Him, but he chooses us! If you are being called by Jesus to follow Him, the "Master Fisherman" will not fail to catch you. (John 15:16)

Jesus found Phillip, not vice versa...and told him "Follow me." As in Nathaniel's case, the Spirit of Jesus persuades us with supernatural persuasion that Jesus is the Son of God, and our King!

Following Jesus in discipleship means costly obedience, as Luke tells us:

"And He was saying to them all, 'If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.'" (Luke 9:23)

Obedient discipleship is life-long. Even after years with Jesus, Peter had to be encouraged onward again -

Speaking of Jesus' words to Peter in John 21:19, John writes: "This spake He, signifying by what death he (Peter) should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, He saith unto him, Follow Me." And Jesus said the same thing to John himself - "Follow Me" - in the next breath! (See John 21:22)

4. Finally, in making disciples of the Son by the power of the Spirit, God reveals His glory...

After the "fig tree incident", Jesus told Nathaniel he would see greater things than a display of His supernatural ability to know of earthly things. Indeed, what greater things Nathaniel and the other disciples saw! Jesus told them they would see the heavens open, and angels ascending descending...upon HIM! No doubt Jesus spoke these words with Jacob's vision of a ladder with ascending and descending angels, recorded in Genesis 28, in mind.

Filled with the consciousness of His Own Messianic calling, being at or near the very place where Jacob dreamed, He proclaims Himself the fulfillment of the covenant, the true ladder, the bridging of the gap between heaven and earth. Even in His earthly humiliation, what glory!!!

Angels are the messengers of God, serving the heirs of salvation, and it is upon the person and work of Jesus that they move. At Jesus' command, the angels of God encamp about the righteous, unseen and mighty protectors. And this magnificent statement refers not only to those blessed spirit beings themselves, but to the greatest message from God, the Gospel! The Gospel of Jesus is the great Ladder between heaven and earth. By it, grace is mediated down and prayer mediated up. Disciples today see Christ's glory through that gospel.

By the word of God, the Spirit of God shows us the glory of the Christ of God. We have seen a glimpse of it today, in considering the calling of His first disciples. We began by touching upon Jesus' eternal existence with the Father, His miraculous birth attended by mighty signs, His baptism and public manifestation to His generation, His victory by the power of the same word of God over a superhuman adversary who assaulted Him in a rugged wilderness, and an earthly ministry that records only a fraction of his miracles.

We see His glory through His substitutionary, sacrificial death on behalf of His disciples, His victorious resurrection for their justification, and His ascension to the Father's right hand, where He ever lives to make effectual intercession for the weak, stumbling, prone-to-fear disciple...

Being a disciple of this One is no mere earthly affair! Real Christianity is supernatural. The same power that was at work in and through Jesus, and at work in Andrew, Peter, John, James, Philip, and Nathaniel is at work His disciples today.

The flesh says, "Show me, then I'll change and follow."

The Lord's way is OPEN YOUR HEART to the One Who searches them for your good. Let Him CHANGE YOUR NAME, the very essence of who you are. FOLLOW - come into the path of obedience. Then, you will be SHOWN even more, even the very glory of God!

Desiring to see His glory leads us onward. Follow Him...follow Him to eternal life!

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