Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Following Jesus (John 1:35-42)

We’ve been away from our study of John for a while, so let me remind you of what came before this text: The first 18 verses of John 1 form that majestic prologue that gives us such a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ as the divine, eternal, incarnate Word of God. We met John the Baptist in those verses and saw how God had called Him to be a unique witness for Christ. Beginning with verse 19, we saw John the Baptist testifying to Jewish leaders and to his own disciples about the coming of the Messiah. He pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, giving us that great prophetic imagery of Jesus as the sacrificial substitute who would shed His own blood on the cross to redeem us from sin. John the Baptist said, “This is the Son of God.” And so now, we find John the Baptist standing with two of his disciples. One of them, we are told, is Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The other is not named, but in keeping with how this writer customarily veils his own identity, it is easy to conclude that the unnamed fellow is John, the son of Zebedee, the brother of James, the soon-to-be apostle of the Lord Jesus who wrote this book and four others of our New Testament.

In verse 37, after hearing the testimony of John, we are told that these two men “followed Jesus.” Eighty-one times in the New American Standard translation of the New Testament, we read of the idea of “following Jesus.” It is perhaps the most common way of referring to the Christian life. It is a life in motion, it is going somewhere, being led along by Jesus. So, the metaphor arises within the New Testament of the Christian life as a “walk,” and Christians become known as “people of the Way,” for they are following after Christ in the way that He is going, and indeed He speaks of Himself as “the Way” (John 14:6). Now in some of these 81 occurrences, nothing more is implied than a casual, curious kind of following – people want to see where He is going and what He is going to do, but they are not personally determined to go there with Him and experience those things for themselves. The same is true of many in the world today. But others have committed themselves to following Jesus by faith, to be with Him, to know Him, and to serve Him.

Now, when John records that he and Andrew began to follow Jesus in verse 37, which of these two senses of the word does he intend? Certainly the idea of a curious onlooker is present. They are following in a somewhat detached way to see what John the Baptist sees in him, to see why their teacher has pointed to this other teacher as superior to himself. But of course, John is writing these words some sixty years after that day—sixty years in which he has become and remained a faithfully committed follower of Jesus in the other sense. So, perhaps this is a double-entendre here. “We were following Him; we would soon become His followers.” I imagine that here in our midst today are people who are at various stages in that process. Some are here out of custom or compulsion and have no interest at all in following Jesus. Others are here out of curiosity, and are interested in just seeing where it is that Jesus is going, but haven’t decided yet if they will pursue Him. But others are here out of commitment. You have become His follower, and maybe you have followed him for a week or a month, or a year or two, or ten, twenty, maybe fifty or sixty years. Our experience in following Jesus is not altogether unlike that of John and Andrew in this passage. We learn some things about following Him from them, and we begin to see those things played out in our own lives. I want to mention four of the aspects of following Jesus that are present here in these verses.

I. We follow Jesus because He draws us to Himself. (vv35-37)

If you are a follower of Jesus today, think back to when you first began to seek Him. Can you honestly say that, out of the blue, you just decided that you wanted to go from being a rebel to being a worshiper? Or would you say that you began to seek God in response to something that you believed He was doing to get your attention? I believe that many of us knew immediately that we were responding to God’s initiative, His stirring in our hearts, when we began to seek Him. Others may not have recognized it immediately, but over time, hopefully came to the conclusion that when it comes to our relationship with God, He always makes the first move. Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” And we won’t be able to prove Jesus wrong on that. Apart from an awakening of grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we remain, as Paul says in Ephesians 2:1, “dead in our trespasses and sins.”  

Look at our examples here in the text, Andrew and John. These are just ordinary guys, not too different from you and me. They are fishermen working in their families’ businesses based out of Galilee, and somewhere along the line they crossed paths with John the Baptist. Maybe they heard a buzz about town concerning this guy so they went out to the wilderness to have a look. Here’s a wild-eyed, strangely dressed, prophet out in the desert telling people that they need to repent and get right with God because the Messiah is coming! That message only appeals to people who know that they are sinners and that they need what he is talking about. But that awareness is not something that we reason ourselves into. That is born of the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. When John the Baptist preaches that message, it is the Holy Spirit who speaks to the hearts of Andrew and John and says, “Yes, this message is for you.” And so, they begin to learn from John the Baptist. They become his disciples, undoubtedly an unofficial kind of role, as they both continued in their fishing business as well. But one day, they are with John and they hear Him refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He is the Son of God who John has been preaching about, the Coming One who will rescue humanity from sin. And on the next day, He passes by again, and John says, “Behold the Lamb of God.” Now the Holy Spirit has confirmed in their hearts that what John the Baptist is saying is true, and so they begin to follow Jesus.

I can recall several times in my life when people spoke to me about Jesus, and I disregarded them. People tried to confront me about my sin, and I ignored them. But their words never left me. It took me being all alone on a dark and quiet night, at the end of my rope, for their words to come back to mind. God in His providence had so arranged the circumstances of my life that I realized that I could no longer get through this all on my own. And I started to remember what I had heard others say about God, about Jesus, and about my sin. Over the course of coming days, and weeks, and months, God drew me closer and closer to Himself, making me all the more aware of my hideous sinfulness and His unfathomable grace, until finally, alone with my Bible, I confessed, “God I know you are there and you have been chasing after me to grab hold of my life. You have my attention and I am listening.” And twelve hours later, after hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, I became one of His followers. But it was all in response to the work of God to draw me by His grace to Himself.

Your external circumstances were undoubtedly different in some detail and degree, but the internal spiritual realities are the same for all of us. God is drawing us by the convicting work of His Spirit to realize our sinfulness and our spiritual helplessness. And by His providence, He is placing people into our lives to speak truth about Himself and about the salvation that we can find in Jesus. And the next thing we know, we are believing things we never believed before, and thinking in a way we have never thought before, and desiring things that we never wanted before. We are responding to His initiative to work in us by His Spirit, His word, and His witnesses. And the same will be true of others as God works through us to be witnesses to them. Following Jesus begins when we respond to the work of God to draw us to Himself. And then, no sooner than we have begun, we will be faced with a challenge. We see that next in the text.

II. When we begin to follow Jesus, He will challenge our motives (v38).

We live in a world that caters to convenience. Today, you can do your banking, pick up your medicines, and grab a bite to eat without getting out of your car. Most of our banks, pharmacies, and fast food restaurants have drive-through windows. But you must not forget where you are. If you pull up to the drive-through window at Wells Fargo and order a Big Mac, a large sweet tea, and some cough syrup, they will tell you that you are in the wrong place. They don’t offer what you want, but if you need to do some banking, they will be glad to help you. They can’t give you whatever you want, because they are a bank, not a pharmacy or a restaurant. You have to want what they have to offer, or else they can’t help you.

Well, people begin to follow Jesus for all sorts of reasons. But, it isn’t long into the journey before Jesus will challenge the motives of us all. He did that for Andrew and John here. Notice in verse 38, he asks, “What do you seek?” Now don’t think for a moment that He really doesn’t know. He knows everything. He knows what they are seeking, but He asks so that they can examine their motives for themselves and acknowledge the truth of the matter. Think about that question for a moment. What do you seek? Why are you here? Why do you have an interest in Jesus, in the Christian faith, or in the Church? What would your answer be? Jesus already knows the answer, but He wants you to wrestle with that question for yourself. Think of the number of possible answers that people might give to that question. Some business professionals are told that a good place to make important contacts is at the local church. I once heard a professional golfer whose career had unexpectedly improved say that he credited it all to his newfound faith in Jesus. There have been many lonely people who have been counseled at one time or another to go to the church, and there they can find new friends. Singles are sometimes told that church is a good place to find a mate. And of course, today, we have this putrid doctrine being pushed through books and television by famous so-called preachers saying that if we will follow Jesus and have enough faith, evidenced by your generous financial contributions to their ministry, then you will be healthy, happy, and rich. And people believe these things and they begin to show an interest in Jesus.

So, Andrew and John, what do you seek? Notice how they answer: “Rabbi, where are You staying?” I think there is more to this answer than we see in print. I think that the answer they give to Jesus is significant, for it indicates that they are not seeking a “what,” but a “who.” They aren’t seeking something from Him; they are seeking Him. They want to be with Him, wherever He is staying. And it is a good thing that they do, because Himself is all that Jesus promises to give to anyone, and it is graciously and gloriously enough! He is who we need, He is all we need, and He is infinitely greater than anything we could ever desire!

You and I may have been seeking any number of things when we first gained an interest in Jesus. I suppose many of us were initially attracted to Him to escape the horrors of hell or to enjoy the splendor of heaven. But if He never has before then I believe that this very day, Jesus would want to check your motivation at its core. What do you seek? Missing hell is not the point. Gaining heaven is not the point. He is the point. You see, if you don’t want to be with Him, then hell would present you with a great opportunity to avoid Him. And if you don’t want to be with Him, then heaven is going to be a miserable place for you. But if you long to be with Him above all else, if your motive is to have Him, for Himself, then you shall find that He will open Himself to you, and in Him you will find a treasure greater than anything you have imagined. He is the treasure! So, what are you seeking? If the answer is something other than Jesus Himself, well you may have come to the wrong place seeking the wrong things. So, what are you seeking? How you answer that question will have an affect on this third aspect, for when we are truly seeking Him for who He is we find …

III. Jesus invites His true followers into closer intimacy with Himself (v39-41)

If you have been following Jesus for long, I am sure you have noticed, and probably with some pain and frustration, that He does not always grant everything you ask for. I don’t know of a single prayer that is guaranteed to get the answer that you want, except for this one: “Lord, I want to know you more.” In fact, I have come to suspect that at the root of all of His answers, including the times when His answer is no, the prayer that He is ultimately answering is this one. When He grants my petitions, it is so that I will know Him more; and when He denies them, suspends or postpones them, it is so that I will know Him more. “Andrew, John, what do you seek? Rabbi, where are You staying?” And Jesus says to them, “Come, and you will see.” He is inviting them closer to Himself, that they might know Him more.

Now our text tells us that it was about the tenth hour. According to the old standard of measuring the hours of the day from sunrise, we gather that it was about 4:00 in the afternoon. Soon, the sun will set, and they will need shelter for the night. Jesus is inviting them to come and spend the rest of the day and the night with Him. According to the customs of hospitality in that day, this would almost certainly include the evening meal. Who could turn down such a glorious invitation? So they went with Him, and they stayed with Him, probably all through the night, and shared the evening meal together. Now, we do not know what transpired in that time together, but what we see in verse 40 tells us that the time these men spent with Jesus had a profound effect upon them.

As a result of this time spent with Jesus, they grew in their understanding of Him. Notice that in verse 38, they address Him as “Rabbi.” The word literally means “my great one,” or “my exalted one,” but as John tells us here, the common usage of the term is “teacher.” It was a term of respect given to anyone who was viewed as a teacher. A good example of this is seen in John 3, when Nicodemus will address Jesus as “Rabbi,” even though he was not as of yet committed to Him or to His teachings. But something happens to these men as they spend time with Jesus. When they go out the next day, Andrew runs straight to his brother Simon and says, “We have found the Messiah!” Now this is a far different way of referring to Jesus. “Messiah,” the Hebrew term, and its Greek equivalent “Christ,” both literally mean “Anointed One.” Throughout the Old Testament, anointing had been an important part of the process of setting apart kings, and priests, and prophets. But promises had been made to Israel all along that a day was coming when there would be a greater Prophet, a greater Priest, a greater King who would come. This ultimate Prophet, Priest, and King, is the Messiah—not an anointed one, but the Anointed One! And because of the intimate time spent with Jesus, Andrew has come to the realization that Jesus is that Messiah.

As we spend time with Jesus, we too will grow in our understanding of who He is. Some of you may be like the men we see in verse 38. You are intrigued by Jesus, curious about Him, but not sure that He is much more than merely an exalted teacher. I am reminded of C. S. Lewis’s famous statement in Mere Christianity. Lewis says:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: “I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.” That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.[1]

So we must all grow in our understanding of who He is, and that happens as we spend time with Him in intimate fellowship. We grow from seeing Him as a good man and a teacher, to seeing Him as the Messiah, the Prophet, Priest, and King, the Lord God, the Savior, and our ultimate treasure in this life and the next.

But we also see that John and Andrew were affected by this time spent with Jesus in that they begin to have a greater impact for Him. Immediately, Andrew goes out to find his brother and bring him to Jesus as well. It’s a funny thing about Andrew: he shows up three times in John’s Gospel, and every time, he’s bringing someone to Jesus. I want to be that guy! And it seems that all this is standing in the way of you or me being that kind of Christian is our need for spending more time with Jesus. As we draw closer to Him in intimate fellowship, taking as it were our meals with Him and spending our days and nights with Him, we are emboldened to proclaim Him to others and to bring them in to meet Him. Jesus says this in John 15:5, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  Mark 3:14 says that Jesus appointed His disciples that “they would be with Him, and that He could send them out to preach.” But He would not send them out until He had brought them near to be with Him. Andrew exemplifies this.

As we follow Christ, He continually invites us into intimate fellowship with Himself, with the result being that we gain a greater knowledge of Him and we begin to make a greater impact for Him. Now, as Andrew brings Simon to Jesus, we see the final aspect of following Christ here in this text:

IV. As we follow Jesus, He promises to transform us (v42)

As Simon is brought to Jesus by his brother, Jesus looks at him and says, “You are Simon the son of John.” That is correct. How did Jesus know that? Well, maybe Andrew had told him, but he didn’t need to. Jesus knows everything there is to know about you, including a great deal that you do not even know about yourself. And part of what Jesus knows about you is not merely who you are, but what you will become as you follow Him. So He identifies who Simon is, but then He says, “You shall be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).” Cephas, a Hellenized form of the Aramaic name, and Peter, the Greek equivalent, both mean “Rock.” The statement is a promise, not a wish or a hope. Jesus is not saying, “I really hope you will become a rock-solid guy,” or “If you really apply yourself, one day you can be a sure and steadfast fellow.” Jesus says, “You shall be called ‘a Rock,’ because I will make you into that kind of person.”

Simon was a man whose emotional instability would become notorious through the events recorded in the four Gospels. John MacArthur says of Simon that he was "brash, vacillating, and undependable. ... he fit James's description of a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (James 1:8).”[2] And it is interesting that from this point on, sometimes Jesus will call him Peter, and sometimes He will call him Simon. But there is a reason behind whichever name He uses. He will call him Peter when speaking of him as a faithful follower. He is being what Christ has promised to make him. But when Peter acts impetuously, foolishly, and carnally, Jesus will call him Simon. He is acting like who he was before he met Christ. But Jesus has made a promise to Peter. Just as surely as He has changed his name, He will transform his nature over the course of a lifetime until he becomes a man of rock-solid faith. I imagine when Peter stood to deliver that marvelous sermon in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost, Andrew looked on and remembered the day that he brought him to Jesus. No one could have known what God would make of that cranky fisherman on that day – no one, that is, but Jesus. He saw Simon for who he was, and called him Peter because that is who He would make him.

When you and I began to follow Christ, there is a sense in which we all received a new name: we were called the sons and daughters of God; we were called saints; we were called “Christians,” which means “like Christ.” And these new names were given to us with the promise that Christ would transform us as we follow Him throughout the days of our lives. He will make us what He has called us. At times, our behavior and our attitudes do not reflect our new names and demonstrate how far we have left to go in the process of transformation. But Christ never revokes the new name. Still, we are called saints, sons, daughters, Christians, because still He is at work making us into the fullness of those names.

Recently, the NBA’s most notorious bad-boy, Ron Artest, changed his name to Metta World Peace. Metta is a Buddhist term that means loving-kindness and friendliness, and World Peace, of course is self-explanatory. He said that he hoped this new name would “inspire and bring youth together all around the world.”[3] But last Sunday, Metta World Peace delivered a malicious elbow to the head of James Harden, resulting in a concussion for Harden, and a 7-game suspension for Metta World Peace. The headlines on one news site read, “Artest Suspended Seven Games.”[4] Catch that: Artest, not World Peace. It seems that the writer of that article understood that even though he has changed his name, he is still acting like the same old Ron Artest, the bad-boy of the NBA. It is relatively easy to change one’s name. Changing one’s nature requires the transforming power of Christ. We can change our names, but not our natures. But when Christ changes our name, He promises that He will transform our nature to reflect who He is making us to be.

Meanwhile, we continue following. Andrew and John followed Jesus along ‘til about sundown. And finally, Jesus invited them to just come over to His place for the night til the break of the next day. And you and I have been drawn and invited to follow Christ, knowing Him better, serving Him more, undergoing the transformation as He changes our nature to match our name. And the sun will set on this world, and Jesus will invite us into His eternal home, where there is no night, and thus we will be with Him there forever, treasuring the glory of His presence for eternity. John will write much later, looking back on a lifetime of following Christ, “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God; and such we are. … and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is” (1 John 3:1-2).

[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 52.
[2] John MacArthur, MacArthur New Testament Commentary: John 1-11 (Chicago: Moody, 2006), 67.
[3] Ben Bolch, “We Have World Peace: Ron Artest Gets Name Change.” Online, http://articles.latimes.com/
2011/sep/16/sports/la-sp-ron-artest-name-20110917. Accessed April 26, 2012.
[4] “Artest Suspended Seven Games.” Online, http://www.mydesert.com/article/20120425/SPORTS02/
204250329/Artest-suspended-seven-games. Accessed April 26, 2012.

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