We continue our sermon series “Beyond the Manger”, looking at the early life and ministry of Jesus. Jesus has been baptized, he’s been tempted, and now it’s time for him to begin his ministry.
Let’s stop for a minute and think about where Jesus is at this point. He’s had the Holy Spirit descend upon him. He’s heard a voice from heaven saying that he is, in fact, the divine Son, and that God the Father is well pleased with him. He’s gone out into the wilderness, spending time fasting and praying. He’s been working out, with the help of God the Father, exactly what he should do and how he should do it. And then, at the end of working that out, he’s tempted by the devil. But Jesus not only resists the temptation, he overcomes it and triumphs over it. And he’s ready to take the next step to get started with his mission on earth.
We generally think of that next step as Jesus calling the disciples. And you know, this shows how sometimes we really need to take a closer look at some of these Bible passages that we think we know. Because we all have said it that way: “Jesus called the disciples.” I’ve said it that way, too. But if you look at John’s account here, which is the first five of Jesus’ disciples being called, Jesus actually only called one of them. He accepted them all, of course. He wanted them all. But he was not the one who initiated things with four of the first five disciples.
Look at how this works. John the Baptist is standing there with two of his disciples. Jesus walks by. John the Baptist says who Jesus is. And immediately the two disciples leave John the Baptist and start following Jesus.
Those are the first two of Jesus’ disciples. We’re told that one of them is Andrew. The other one is not named. We assume it’s the disciple John, the one who wrote this gospel, and that he simply did not want to use his own name. There are other places in the gospel of John where he avoids using his own name, so we assume that’s what’s going on here. But the point is that these first two disciples were not chosen by Jesus. They chose to follow Jesus, not the other way around.
And the third disciple, Simon Peter, was not called by Jesus, either. He’s Andrew’s brother. We’re told that after Andrew decided to follow Jesus, the first thing he did was go find his brother Simon Peter and tell him they’d found the Messiah. Then it says, “and he brought him to Jesus”. Jesus did not go find Simon Peter. Andrew brought Simon Peter to Jesus.
The next disciple is the only one of the first five that Jesus calls. It’s Philip. We’re told that Jesus “found” Philip, and said to him “Follow me.” But then, look at what happens. Philip goes and finds Nathanael and tells him they’ve found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about. Nathanael is skeptical, but Philip just says, “Come and see”, and he does.
So four of the first five disciples were not called by Jesus at all. Two of them came on their own, after hearing what John the Baptist said, and the other two came because someone they knew brought them to Jesus. And maybe you’re thinking, “So what?” What difference does it make how they got to Jesus as long as they got there? And in one sense, you’re right. As long as we get to Jesus it really does not matter how we get there. But I think there are some lessons here for us. Because I think the way these disciples found Jesus mirrors the way we find Jesus today.
Some of us are like Philip. Some of us are just kind of going about our business, living our lives, and suddenly Jesus comes along and speaks to us. It could be through a direct contact, actually hearing the voice of Jesus or of an angel. That may seem far-fetched to some of you, but I’ve talked to enough people and heard enough stories that I believe it does happen that way sometimes. Or, it could be the Holy Spirit speaking directly to our hearts and souls somehow. But that’s one way we find Jesus--through the Lord taking the initiative and speaking directly to us.
But there was only one of the first five disciples who found Jesus that way. It was not the way it happened for the majority. And I think it’s not the way it happens for the majority of us, either. It’s great when it does, don’t get me wrong. But for most of us it happens in another way.
One of the other ways it happens is the way it happened for Andrew and John. They were already following John the Baptist. They’d heard John the Baptist’s preaching about repentance and forgiveness. They’d heard him tell them that he was preparing the way for when the Savior came. What that means is that Andrew and John had a background in the faith. They were open to the message of salvation. And when they found Jesus, the one who could give them that salvation, they were ready to follow him right then.
Some of us are like that. Some of us have grown up in the church. We’ve heard the word preached. We’ve heard about repentance and forgiveness and God’s love. We’re open to the message of salvation. And when we find Jesus, the one who can give us that salvation, we’re ready to follow.
But some of us are like Simon Peter and Nathanael. Jesus did not send us a direct message. We did not grow up in the church. We were not looking for the message of salvation. But then, someone came along and told us about it anyway. And they brought us to Jesus. Maybe some of us were like Simon Peter, who seems to have come right away when his brother went to get him. But some of us are like Nathanael, openly skeptical of what we hear. And someone says to us, “It’s okay if you’re skeptical. But come and see. Come and see for yourself.”
What this shows, I think, is that God has all kinds of ways of calling people to him. God gives some people a direct message. And that’s awesome when it happens, but it’s not something in our control. God either does that or God does not, based on whatever reasons God may have.
God calls some people through their parents or others making sure they grow up in the church and have a background in the church. And that’s a wonderful thing, too, when it happens. But if you’re an adult now, you either grew up in the church or you did not. We cannot go back and change the past, even if we’d like to. However we grew up is how we grew up, for better or worse.
But sometimes, God uses people to call other people. God used Andrew to call Simon Peter. God used Philip to call Nathanael. And God can use you and me to call people to God, too.
Now, notice, God did not have Andrew and Philip call complete strangers. Andrew was Simon Peter’s brother. Philip and Nathanael don’t appear to have been related, but from the way it’s written they clearly knew each other. The people Andrew and Philip went to were people they already had a relationship with. Simon Peter knew he could trust Andrew. Nathanael knew he could trust Philip. That relationship had already been established.
And notice, too, that Andrew and Philip did not use any fancy words to persuade Simon Peter and Nathanael. Andrew simply told Simon Peter, “We have found the Messiah”. Philip uses a few more words, but he basically says the same thing. “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote.” And when Nathanael is skeptical, Philip does not argue with him. He does not go into a big spiel to try to persuade him. He simply says, “Come and see.” See for yourself. We’ll show you what we’ve found, and you can decide whether I’m right or not.
That’s all God asks us to do. We don’t have to go onto a street corner and confront strangers with the gospel. All God asks us to do is to go to people we know, people we already have some sort of relationship with, people who know they can trust us. Go to those people, and tell them what we’ve found. Tell them what our faith means to us. Tell them how important our faith is to us. Tell them how our faith helps us. Tell them what this church means to us, how important this church is to us, how this church helps us. And if they’re skeptical, we don’t need to argue with them or go into a big spiel to persuade them. All we need to do is say, as Philip did, “Come and see”. See for yourself. We’ll show you what we have here, and you can decide for yourself whether we’re right or not.
We won’t always succeed. For all we know, Andrew and Philip might not have always succeeded. Maybe they went to some other people and got turned down, we don’t know. But we’ll succeed sometimes. And when we do, we’ll have done what Jesus told us to do. We’ll have made disciples of Jesus Christ.
We come to God in all kinds of ways. Sometimes God brings people to himself directly. But sometimes, God uses us to bring people to him. May we always be open to sharing our faith. And when people are skeptical, may we always invite them to come and see.