The First Disciples
I have a question for you all this morning: Do you have what it takes to a be a good follower? I spent a lot of the last summer attempting to lead my Father or my sister in the car behind. I hate being the lead car in a convoy when the followers don't know where they're going. You can't just drive through an intersection, you have to calculate if there's enough room for two. You can't hurry through the lights if they're on the change – if you go through the yellow light they're stuck going through the red or losing you. But some people make it easier than others. Some people are very attentive followers – they stick close behind and pay attention to what the car in front is doing. They anticipate difficulties, so they're on high alert as you come into a potential problem. And they signal clearly and early so you can tell they're still with you. Others aren't so good at following – they just drift off behind you leaving huge gaps for someone else to come into; they're not paying attention so they might just miss you turning off right in front of them, or they're miles behind when you're coming to the lights so they're bound to be separated from you.
So which are you? Are you a good follower, or a bad one? When it comes to following Jesus this is one of the fundamental questions – how well are you following?
Big idea – discipleship means following Jesus wherever he takes us. It starts with the testimony of others who know him, and leads to us testifying to others about him. And it changes us to make us more like Jesus.
So we have three points:
1. Discipleship means following Jesus
2. Discipleship starts with others telling us about Jesus, and leads to us telling others about him
3. Discipleship means we change to become more like Jesus.
1. Discipleship Means Following Jesus
Have a look with me at verse 35:
"The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" "Come," he replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour."
It's quite a simple story isn't it, and it's making a very simple point, very concretely.
When two of John's disciples heard what John said about Jesus being the Lamb of God they got up and started following Jesus – literally walking after him, following in his footsteps.
And it's almost funny isn't it – John points Jesus out and they get up and just start following him. And it looks like they're just going to walk after him, but Jesus he turns and speaks to them. And when Jesus asks them what they want they don't have a clue what to say. So they panic and blurt out the truth – they wanted to find out where he was staying! Do you think they were just going to follow him all the way home and then hang out outside? It sounds like it…
They may have been pretty clueless, and we can laugh. But still they make a good start, and Jesus draws them on. He doesn't laugh at them, he invites them to 'come and see'. Then he graciously spends the day with them, probably answering their questions and teaching them. At this point they aren't officially Jesus' disciples, but already they're not far off. Jesus was drawing them on to greater commitment, a more deliberate following.
And this is what Jesus was all about – gathering disciples. He will tell the disciples in John 12:32 that he has come into the world to gather all men to himself – 'when the son of man is lifted up he will draw all men to himself'. And these men will form the beginnings of a movement that will grow to encompass men and women, young and old from every tribe and tongue and nation – a crowd beyond number… but that is a long way off. At this point they're just a couple of guys following Jesus home.
But that is a simple and vivid picture of what it means to be a Christian – it's simply to follow Jesus home. As we work our way through John we'll see that Jesus true home isn't where he was staying that day, nor is it Nazareth or Bethlehem – he came down from heaven, and after glorified his Father's name he went back. His home is at the Father's side, and that is where he leads his followers. John is dropping hints about this even this early in his story – those who believe in Jesus will follow him, follow him right the way home.
Following Jesus is the essence of discipleship, the essence of what it means to be a Christian. In fact, that's likely why this story is here - John says that he wrote this gospel so that we can read it and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in Jesus' name – that's John 20.31. And so here he gives us a couple of little pictures of what it will look like to believe in Jesus as the Christ and Son of God and have life in his name. And it looks like this – following Jesus.
Of course it gets more sophisticated than simply putting our feet in Jesus foot prints – but the essence is just that – following along after the master.
And when we stop and think about it we're always following someone. Go to any high school or shopping mall and you'll see students marking themselves out as different and individual by copying other people who are different and individual, often forming into groups of people who are all different and individual in the same way… online and we group ourselves around those we 'like' or 'follow' and the wise and witty things our heroes say are swiftly 'retweeted' by the rest of us.
This trend for following sometimes takes us on interesting by-ways – like the lady in the paper this week pioneering a new movement in fashion – the 'Kate-anista's' – women who copy the fashion stylings of the Duchess of Cambridge; or it can take us on more well trod paths – like rock star Tom Petty who died this week – his road to rock and roll was a totally clichéd – he fell in love with Rock music when he saw Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show and took it up seriously after he saw the Beetles on the same – just like Bruce Springsteen and just about every other American rock star of the era!
The truth is we're natural followers, any trump with a big personality can get a following, even if they really aren't good for us. Very few are natural leaders, but almost all of us can be led. It doesn't take much to turn a crowd into a mob, or to harness discontent to manipulate and use others.
So I guess the question is who are you following? Have you caught a glimpse of the glory and majesty of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world – and are you willing to get up from your comfortable life and follow him where he goes? Or are you still scratching around among the other available options – following after people who are bound to let you down?
So point one is simple – Discipleship means following Jesus.
And if this little passage teaches us about being disciples it's worth noting two of the details of discipleship that we see here. So my next two points pick up on details of the discipleship that is put before us here.
2. Discipleship Starts When Others Tell Us About Jesus And Leads Us To Tell Others About Him Too
We've already seen how the two disciples up and followed Jesus when they heard John the Baptist's testimony about him – let's pick up the story in verse 40 and see what happened after they met Jesus for themselves:
"Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus."
Well here's some news – one of these blokes was Andrew, whose brother was Simon Peter, the best known of the all of the disciples.
So who was the other guy? It could be that he's some unknown, but I think it's more likely the other bloke is John himself, who wrote this gospel.
John never names himself in the gospel, when he has to write about what he did he never uses his name - you can track that through in chapters 13:23, 20:2 and 21:20,24. So it would fit with John's reluctance to name himself. And in verse 39 – John mentions a little detail -'it was about the tenth hour'. That's the sort of detail that you would normally leave out– it doesn't explain anything else or take the story forwards, so you wouldn't normally include it – unless you happened to be there and it had left an impression on you… This sounds like the sort of detail that says 'I was there and it was like this…'
Anyway, whoever the second disciple was, one of them was Andrew. And the first thing he did when he left Jesus was to go and find his brother and tell him all about Jesus.
Specifically he says that Jesus is the Messiah – the Christ. Messiah is the Hebrew word, also used in Aramaic. The OT was written in Hebrew, but by Jesus' time the Jews mostly spoke Aramaic. But the New Testament is written in Greek – which makes it accessible to the whole world. So 'Messiah' is the Hebrew word 'anointed' – referring to someone who is set aside by God for a special task, in this case to rule. Christ is the Greek for 'anointed'. John does this, he inserts key phrases in the original Aramaic in which Jesus spoke them, and then interprets for a Greek speaking audience. This is another sign that he was there and heard it first-hand, he remembers things in the Aramaic and is translating it from experience.
Now this Messiah is the centre of Jewish hopes for the nation. As we read in 2 Sam 7 God promised a descendant of David would sit on David's throne and rule for eternity – over the years more and more OT prophecies added to this original promise so that the Jews were waiting for a great conquering ruler and King who would bring in the era of fulfilment of all of God's great promises to them. But it's been 400 years since the prophets spoke– 400 years of silence and building tension. And the tensions building since John the Baptist started preaching like a prophet in the wilderness - could he be the Messiah, is the Messiah about to arrive?
And Andrew says to Peter – he's here, we've found him. The one everyone's waiting for has finally come! And he brings Peter to Jesus.
John is giving us another little picture of what it means to follow Jesus – following Jesus involves sharing the great news about God's rescuer – it includes introducing others to him.
And again there's nothing overly complex going on here, this is just standard behaviour isn't it? The things we get excited about we love to share with others. When this church first started I was a major dealer in West Wing DVDs. We got a complete set for a wedding present and were forever telling people what a great show it was and lending out the DVD's so people wouldn't miss out. It wasn't anything too unusual, 10 years ago that's what you did with a box set.
It doesn't really matter what we're passing around, we're natural sharers of things we love – because if it's good we want other people to enjoy it too, and then we love to discuss it and dissect it together. If we've been on a good holiday we'll tell you about it when we get back, if it's a good movie we'll tell our friends they have to see it, if it's a good book we'll press it into people's hands. We love to share the things we love.
And so it should be with Jesus – he's the best thing ever! He loves us like no other, he knows us inside out and he knows how to truly help us. He sees our biggest need and he came to earth to die in order to fix it. He knows the worst of us, but he loves us all the same. And his love is wonderful, too good to describe. And he is the answer to our friends deepest problems, their darkest secrets, the worst fears, he could totally change their lives.
If we love him we'll tell people about him. That's just standard discipleship 101, that's part of the really basic essentials of discipleship – we follow him, and we tell others about him. We started following Jesus because someone else told us about him, and we'll tell others about him too.
So I guess the question for us is – those people who're looking in our lives, can they tell we love Jesus? Are we full of him, full to overflowing, full to the point that we just can't help telling people about him? Are we like Andrew running with joy to tell the people we love that we've found the one who makes sense of life? If we're not, what does it say about our love for him? What does it say about our following Jesus?
And if you don't know Jesus can I just tell you how brilliant he is? If you're not following him you're missing out – big time. Don't stand on the outside looking in, do like Andrew and Simon and try and see if you can get closer to Jesus – the best way is to pick up a gospel and read it for yourself, come and meet him, he's amazing.
So one of the key, basic, fundamental characteristics of following Jesus is that we tell other people about him so they can follow him too. The other comes in the last verse of our passage, and it's point three:
3. Discipleship Changes Us To Make Us More Like Jesus
Did you see this in verse 42? Look down at it with me again. Andrew brings Peter to Jesus and what happens:
"Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas' (which, when translated, is Peter). You will be called Cephas."
Again John is giving us the original as Jesus said it in Aramaic, and then translating for his Greek readers.
What's going on here? Jesus knows Simon from the beginning, and Jesus doesn't just see what he is now – Simon son of John, but he sees something much more significant, he sees what Simon will become – he will be called Cephas, or Peter.
Why is this important? Jesus is showing his lordship over Simon by giving him a new name (echos of the creation story when Adam named the animals perhaps – John is presenting Jesus as the bringer of the new creation).
But more than that Jesus is pointing to a fundamental change in Simon, he will become Peter. Peter, like Cephas, means Rock. And as has been pointed out there are few people in the NT who are less like a rock. Simon Peter is nothing like a rock. He is up and down and easily swayed from one pole to another – remember when Jesus went to wash his feet in John 13.8,9, within a single verse Peter goes from 'you shall never wash my feet' to 'well then, not just my feet but my head and my hands as well'. It was Peter who declared that he would die with Jesus rather than betray him, only to betray him just hours later (13.37, 18.15ff, 25ff). It was Peter who so often spoke for the disciples, getting it either spectacularly right or spectacularly wrong!
In short Peter was impetuous, volatile, changeable – anything but a rock!
But Jesus is in the business of changing us. When Jesus looked at Peter he saw what he would make Peter into – not some inbuilt potential, but Jesus knew what he would do with Peter, all that he would have to do to change him, all that Peter would have to go through – not least the humiliation of denying Jesus three times before lowly servant girls – in order that he could be humbled enough to depend on Jesus absolutely and not on his own strength. Jesus knew that he, by the work of his Holy Spirit, was going to transform volatile Simon into solid Rock Peter.
This is what happens when we follow closely along behind a leader – we become like them. This is why parents are terrified when their daughter brings home the school bad boy isn't it? They're afraid she'll be led astray. This is goths start wearing all that black, or skaters start practicing their moves, or rockers pick up a guitar and start working on skills, why so many boys spend hours with a football. We want to want to emulate our heroes, we want to be like them, we want to be them.
And when it comes to Jesus he is not in the business of leaving us where we are. He loves us despite all our sin and hopelessness and rebellion. But he doesn't want us to continue living in them – he wants to free us from sin and lead us to holiness, to goodness, to faith and hope and love, to patience and kindness and gentleness and self-control. He wants to take our miserable lives and give them the full renovation they need so that we'll become like him.
Discipleship – following Jesus – is a journey, we start where we are, and we move towards Jesus, becoming more like him as we go.
So I guess the final question for us is: are we willing to be changed? Do we still have a sense that we're on a journey, that there will be a price to pay, but there is a prize to win – change will cost us, no doubt; but the reward will be great. We can't all become Peter and be a world famous disciple, but we are all being made into rocks that can be used in building God's temple!
So in this little passage we learn a lot about basic discipleship – it means following after Jesus; it starts when someone tells us about Jesu s and it leads us to tell others about him too; and it takes us on a journey, making us more like him. So let's follow the good example set for us this morning and come up close behind the master and follow him wherever he goes.