The First Followers
The First Followers (John 1:35-51)
Never more did Jesus reveal Himself as the One who knows us through and through as He did in His encounter with the first followers. In a remote part of the planet the most significant meetings of men in history took place near the river Jordan. The meeting of Jesus Christ with John, James, Andrew, and Peter has had more impact than any other such meeting in history, with the possible exception of Paul. The first followers of Jesus varied radically in temperament and needs, but the same message about the Messiah galvanized them into world-changing discipleship.
The Lord Jesus Meets Us as Individuals
For the thoughtful He answers life's big question: "What do you want?" (v. 38) James and John, who had come from the area of Bethsaida Julius north of the Sea of Galilee, were asking the big, ultimate questions of life. Their background in a Greek-influenced city had given them sensitivity to such questions. They were already agog with expectancy that God was about to do something in their lives. To them Jesus simply said, "Come and see" (v. 39). Perhaps you are already asking the big questions about life, death, and eternity. Jesus' word to them is also His word to you, "Come, and . . . see" (v. 39).
For the promising He offers new character: "You are Simon. . . . You will be called Cephas" (v. 42). Jesus gazed at Peter and through Peter as if looking at a far horizon. Simon Peter was all potential, but very little reality. His original name suggests the capricious character of a dove, flighty and unpredictable. The "dove" will become a rock, but not for a long time and only after a painful process.
Thank God that He looks at us and sees potential, not just what we are. The gaze of God looks beyond today and sees us for what we will be tomorrow.
For the reluctant He takes the firm initiative: "Finding Philip, he said to him, 'Follow me'" (v. 43). James and John sought Jesus. Andrew brought Peter. Jesus Himself stayed behind to find Philip. In some ways Philip is the dull disciple. Wherever he appears in the record, he does not understand what Jesus is doing. Nevertheless, Jesus stayed behind to find Philip. If you are reluctant to seek Him, His loving initiative will seek you.
For the cynical He reveals supernatural insight: "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree" (v. 48). Nathaniel had a tendency toward cynicism and an inclination toward the dark side of things. Unlike John, Nathaniel had to be convinced in the face of the evidence. For such distrustful belief, Jesus operated in the realm of the clearly supernatural. He revealed to the doubting man what Nathaniel had been doing and thinking in such a way that the latter knew Jesus was more than a mere man.
Christ has a way to get at every kind of needy person. He knows how to approach you if you do not run. Let Him work with you in the individual way He desires.
The Lord Jesus Meets Us All with the Same Message
The personal center of the message never varies. Christian testimony relates to Christ alone as central: "Look at the Lamb of God," cried John the Baptist. He did not point to a system or a tradition. He declared a Person. When Nathaniel hesitated in doubt, Philip called him toward a Person (v. 46). There is nothing ultimately attractive about doctrines, churches, denominations, preachers, or any other related concerns. The only attraction we have is the Person of Jesus Christ. Even His enemies admit His attractive powers. We must repeat Christ alone (vv. 29, 36, 39, 46).
The personal priority of the message never varies: "the first thing Andrew did was find his brother" (v. 41). An encounter with Jesus is never in isolation. Inbred into the very experience is the thrust to tell. Andrew knew no theology or sophisticated system to tell Peter. He simply pointed Peter to the Person of Jesus Christ as his first priority.
The personal proximity of the message never varies: "Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida" (v. 44). Start with those closest when you tell. These men had grown up together, matured together, worked together, followed the path of John the Baptist together, and then they met the Christ together. Nothing is more natural and possible than for those who have done everything else together to come to Christ together. Go home and tell.