Audio available below! Enjoy the preaching!
Look for the patterns in every story in God’s word, and you have a key which unlocks great mysteries.
I am really glad I have a chance to study these things with you. I have always been interested in the 12 Disciples, their lives, their ministries, what the various tradition say about them. Not much is told in the scriptures, but there are good reasons to believe the traditional stories that have been passed down about each Apostle. The traditional stories about the Apostles are really fascinating and fantastic, and sometimes a little tragic because they pretty much all die torturous executions. I won’t get into it here, because my focus is to dig into the passage we do have, supplement it a little bit with other passages from the Synoptic Gospels, and really try to unearth some buried treasure. Mark my words, there are priceless gems just beneath the surface waiting for us to discover them, and the further in we mine the richer these jewels become.
I believe that most of you would like to know God’s word better. I also think that many of you don’t know where or how to start. It can be intimidating. Sometimes, the bible can seem hard to understand, even impossible. Today I hope to change all that by sharing some simple, ready to use, bible study tools. There are a lot of great free tools out there online and on your cell phone. Maybe you are a tech savvy person, and you’d like to download the Bible App for your smartphone. I think that’s great. Or, maybe you are a little more old school. That’s no problem, because there is an awesome website called crosswalk.com with free commentaries articles and bible dictionaries. Maybe you hate computers, well did you know most public libraries have bible commentary and study materials in their non-fiction section?
Failing any of those options, I think it would be worth our time if I share with you a few simple bible study tools I use in my own personal devotion time. As we make our way through today’s bible lesson, I am going to introduce to you a series of STUDY HABITS. I am not going to be content with giving you a fish, in this case lessons from God’s word, but I am going to try to teach you how to fish, so you can study and learn on your own.
STUDY HABIT 1: It is always good to be aware of the broader context, when studying a passage. Look for the Who, What, When and Where. The passage you are reading today might make more sense if you keep in mind what you read yesterday.
The disciples each have a unique interaction with Jesus, which convinces them to obey and follow him. This occurs at Bethany, where John the Baptizer had been preaching and baptizing. For the second day in a row John sees Jesus, cries out a witness regarding the Lord’s true identity, and redirects his own followers’ attentions to Jesus. As if to make absolutely sure that Andrew and the Other Guy could know who Jesus is, he tells them the exact same message, “Behold the Lamb of God”. This clear reference to a perfect sacrifice, prepared by God, would have been instantly recognizable by any religious Jew, while simultaneously remaining mystifying at its being used of a man. The term itself, being used of a man, would have raised eyebrows and questions. It is also interesting to note that, all subsequent lambs of God were actual lambs, and had previously only atoned for Jewish worshipers. Now, John is saying that Jesus will function as total, worldwide, Jew and Gentile Lamb. As explicit as this saying seems to us, knowing what we know about the Lord and the complete revelation of scriptures, it would have been extremely perplexing (bordering on distressing) to hear John the Baptizer proclaim Jesus to be the Lamb of God.
STUDY HABIT 2: Outline the Passage by listing the highlights. Briefly summarize the text. A good outline will help you remember what you read. For the purpose of teaching this bible lesson to you, my outline will be much more involved and complete. Yours only needs to be a few sentences about each major event or topic.
Andrew: Disciple of John the Baptizer. John tells Andrew to behold Jesus, “the Lamb of God”. Immediately he gets up and literally follows Jesus, until the Lord turns around to question him. Jesus ask him what he wants. He wants to know where the Lord is staying. In a way, Andrew is implying that He wants to go wherever Jesus goes. If he is staying under a roof, Andrew wanted to be there also. If Jesus was going to sleep under the stars, Andrew would make his bed beside Him. Even though this was Andrew’s town, he was going to go with Jesus. Andrew calls his brother Simon.
SIMON: Brother of Andrew. His is a fishermen by trade. Jesus lays eyes on him and grants him a destiny. Just like the cement sets and hardens, as soon as Jesus proclaimed that “You will be called Cephas” his destiny was cast in stone. Simon listened to his brother, Andrew’s admonition that this man Jesus was the Messiah, and had to have a look for himself. We don’t know what level of belief was in his heart prior to meeting Jesus, but one can assume that he instantly gave Him his allegiance. This can be inferred, because Simon left his town and his given name, to travel with Jesus to Galilee. How would you like it if as soon as you laid eyes on a new friend, he totally re-interpreted for you your entire life’s calling and destiny? Some of us would be scared. Some might be a little put of. Some would disbelieve. The thing about Simon is, he had probably been a stone all along, but he just needed someone to see it in him and reveal it to him. You can take it to the bank that when Jesus gives you a mandate, it is because he really truly knows you. And, he can really truly bring it to pass.
Philip: Resident of Bethsaida. It simply says Jesus finds him, as if he is just sitting around, waiting around, doing nothing with his life. When Jesus finds him, everything changes. Jesus commanded him to “Follow me.” And he did so. Not only that he goes and “finds” his brother who was just sitting around, waiting around, goofing off under a tree. Like Andrew, Phillip goes and finds his brother to tell them they found the Messiah! John’s gospel says Jesus found them, yet Philip tells Nathaniel that they found Jesus. Isn’t this interesting. In their excitement over the most important discovery of all time, the disciples actually get the order wrong. Maybe it is because it was so personal for them. They felt that the thing they had been looking for their entire lives had suddenly materialized, so it was easy for them to think “I found Jesus.” Imagine your surprise if some great treasure you had always desired came to your town one day and “found” you. You’re sitting there, minding your own business, maybe closely scrutinizing the teachings of the local treasure hunting guru, when up saunters the treasure and says, “I finally found you, come follow me.” It would be a little flabbergasting.
Nathaniel: The relaxer. Apparently this guy had a habit of napping under this particular fig tree. It is clear that Andrew and the Other were in Bethany, because they were followers of John the Baptizer. But, why were Philip and Nathaniel in town? The word says Philip, Peter, and Andrew were from the town of Bethsaida, but it does not overtly say that Nathaniel was from there also. We might assume that he was since, he and Philip are brothers, but sometimes what the text doesn’t say is just as important as what it does say. At any rate, just like his brother Philip, Nathaniel is just chilling out, passively watching the day float by, when the most exciting news in all of time gets delivered to him from his brother. But, Nathaniel, knowing what he does about Galilee is understandably skeptical. If, Philip came and said, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus who was born in Bethlehem…” Maybe that would have triggered a more positive response from Nathaniel. Apparently, Philip was so convincing and Nathaniel was so intrigued, that he was able to put aside his biases and have a look for himself. When Jesus told him that he knew him, even when he was sitting under that Fig Tree, Nathaniel was sold. By the way, you do not find Nathaniel listed in the other gospels as a disciple. This is confusing, right? Most scholars agree that Nathaniel is called by his Surname in the other gospels. They name him Bar-Talmai, which in English is rendered Bartholomew.
The Other Guy: This unnamed individual was, along with Andrew, a follower of John the Baptizer. He probably saw for himself, or heard from his friends, that just days before his master had baptized Jesus and declared that the Holy Spirit rested upon him like the form of a dove. And that John himself has proclaimed that Jesus is the one whom he had been sent ahead of, in order to prepare God’s people for their Lamb who would take away the sins of the world. Who is the identity of the other guy? Did he become a major disciple? Why doesn’t the Author give us his name? Some traditions hold that the Other Guy is John the Author of the book. In other areas of this book he makes reference to himself as the Other Disciple. He is peculiar, in that he often leaves his own identity anonymous, when including his interactions in the narrative.
STUDY HABIT 3: Apply it to my Life. I think one of the things studying scripture should do is inform the way we experience our world. Learning the Bible should have direct implications for how we live in, view, and interact with our society. Otherwise, it is nothing more than an academic exercise, resulting in good information but no transformation.
- Verse 35-39: The invitation to come and see; stoking curiosity to provoke interest. Jesus could have said, “Im going to Eli’s house, we are gonna eat some matzo and drink some manischevitz, and talk about righteousness and religious stuff. Probably later after that we’ll get some rest, and start fresh the next day. Sound good?” It would have sounded boring, and probably never would have provoked the kind of righteous curiosity that leads followers into the loving embrace of discipleship. Andrew and the other guy would have stuck with John the Baptizer. But, Jesus didn’t give a list of dry facts about the circumstances of his evening. Oh no. What he did was encourage their curiosity, which had been fanned by the Holy Spirit and sparked by the words of their former rabbi, John the Baptizer. God;s word says, taste and see that I am good. It invites interactive participation.
- Verse 43: The invitation to come and follow; experience Jesus to know him. The only way to experience Jesus is to follow him. No one who merely questions him truly experiences him in the fullest way. You cannot investigate the truth claims of Jesus, then just leave him at that. Jesus cannot be truly known, in the sense that he saves you and you have intimate fellowship with him, outside of a follower to master relationship. Philip is told, commanded even, to follow Jesus. He had a choice to go back to chilling out or do something constructive with his time. In short order, Philip gets convinced that the Rabbi who just called him is in fact the Messiah all of Israel had been looking for. This discovery was so exciting to him, he just had to share it with his closest kinsman.
- The urgency to recruit; an urgency of Joy. The relief and happiness that Philip had was welling up inside of him. He needed an outlet. Have you ever experienced this? It’s like the joy is so intense, that you need a conduit, but also sharing the joy adds to it somehow and completes it. Sharing your joy rounds it out, makes it fuller and more profound.
- The affect of Jesus; His character is His influence. Knowing next to nothing about this man’s past, family, identity they are transformed in a matter of days. He did not use convoluted logical formulas, or entice them with riches and promises of power, prestige, or acclaim. He simply lead from the core of his character, and they intuitively responded appropriate to his calling.
- A much earlier confession; shows the primacy of all disciples. In the other Gospels no one calls Jesus the Son of God, King of Israel, Messiah until much later in the story line. This is their very first interaction with Jesus, and they are already there. In Mathew it is Peter first proclaiming that Jesus is the son of God, but here, in John, it is Nathaniel Bartholomew. This is a fascinating confession. Its timing and source make it unique among the gospels. What could John have been trying to say, by introducing the Christ concept so early? His first words are Christ centered, it is basically the first concept he introduces in his book. Why shouldn’t the rest of the book follow the precedent he just set? You don’t go zero to sixty, just to slam on the breaks!
- The planted seed; overcoming ignorance, busyness, and objections. Witnessing about Jesus will always have hurdles to get over. People’s hearts are blinded by the devil, and let’s face it, God is an inconvenient fact to sinners. Persistence, winsomeness, loving confession, and rational explanation can compel non-believers. This passage shows us that what worked for them, was bringing people to Jesus, not simply telling them about him. These believers sought out, then witnessed to their loved ones, then, finally, they physically brought them into the presence of God.
- Rabbi to Messiah to Son of God; the stages of belief. It is an orderly, logical progression. Andrew knew he was a great Rabbi, even though he should have known more than that, solely based on John the Baptizer’s witness. Even among unbelievers you will get some who say that Jesus was a good teacher. He was a moral guy, who just wants us all to love each other and become self actualized. Or, he was a hippie flower child living among first century prudes. But, one can only maintain that belief at a very shallow level of Jesus involvement. Once one has experienced Jesus a little bit more, one tends to see that Jesus was much more than a good teacher. The next step in logical progression of God’s self revelation of Jesus is that he is the Messiah. Messiah is a hebrew or aramaic word for “Anointed One”. It is a symbolic word of dynastic royalty and spiritually preferred “choseness of God”. Philip saw that Jesus was not just a rabbi, he is the Messiah which was told about in Moses and the Prophets. One Jewish rabbi, Sholem Asch, concluded that, based on the facts of fulfilled prophesy, and the historically accurate biblical accounts we have in the Gospels, that Jesus must be the messiah (of the gentiles not the Jews). Also, Rabbi Yitzhak Kaduri posthumously revealed to his followers, via a sealed note, that Jesus was the Christ. This came as a shock, make no doubt about it. In fact, even Mohamed the prophet of Islam acknowledged that Jesus was the messiah to the Jews. But, it takes one more step to become a full fledged follower of Jesus. You must receive by his Holy Spirit, that he is the Son of God and King of Israel, just as Nathaniel proclaimed!