35The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). 43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
I would like to introduce you this morning to a word that you may not be familiar with. It is a word that the church used to talk a lot about, but not so much anymore. But it is a good word, a great word even, and one that we must learn again if we are to be the kind of church we have been called to be.
The word I’m talking about is the word “disciple.”
Now, some of you are immediately suspicious that I might be playing a game with you. Some of you might even think that I am trying to insult you. Let me assure you that I am doing no such thing.
I realize that probably all of us in here have heard the word “disciple,” but, as a church culture – meaning, as a conservative, evangelical church in North America – it is just possible that some of us have actually forgotten that Jesus came to call us to be disciples. In other words, He called us to a life of discipleship.
I think that many Christians today have forgotten that the Christian life is supposed to be a life of discipleship for a couple of reasons:
1. First of all, many of us have emphasized conversion so strongly that we see it, conversion, as the main thing with discipleship as the less important thing. This can happen sometimes in very evangelistic churches like ours. Sometimes, out of a sincere desire to see people come to Christ, we can almost neglect discipleship in order to focus on conversion. We may say, for instance, “I want to see people saved.” And, of course, we should want this. Something is wrong if you do not want to see people saved. But let me ask you a fairly awkward question: after a while, what happens to the church when all we talk about is seeing the lost saved without ever talking about seeing the saved grow into full-fledged disciples of Jesus? I’ll tell you: an emphasis on conversion to the neglect of discipleship will inevitably make us ten-miles-wide and one-inch-deep. I think this may be a reasonable picture of the church today: we’ve all been saved, but are we all disciples?
Now, this is another sermon for another day, but many of us are of the opinion that it is reasonable to ask a man who is not a disciple of Jesus whether or not he has truly been converted at all. In other words, can you come to Jesus for salvation if you have no intention of following Him as a disciple? I think not, personally, and I think the New Testament bears that out. But, for our purposes this morning, let us just observe the following: when the church exalts conversion to the neglect of discipleship, it only hurts itself.
One more thought here: let us remember that mature disciples are more effective in reaching the lost for Christ. Meaning, in time, if we do not focus more on discipleship we will have a church of people who “asked Jesus into their hearts,” but who never learned to walk with Jesus, and that includes learning to share the gospel effectively.
2. Second, the idea of discipleship has suffered in recent years because sometimes we seem to have reduced Christianity to a moment based on knowledge instead of to a life based on a relationship. In other words, we almost talk about Christianity as if it is nothing more than mere agreement with an idea. We say, “Believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins, and you are a Christian.” But the Bible never presents the Christian life in merely this way. This Christian life is not less than this, of course, but it is more than this. To be a Christian is not merely to agree with something. To be a Christian is to agree with the truth, accept the truth, and let the truth of the gospel of Christ take root in and change your life.
Somebody once said that a student is a person who wants to know what his teacher knows. A disciple is a person who wants to become what his master is.
Let me ask you: which one or you? Are you a student of Jesus, or a disciple? Are you an observer of Jesus, or a disciple? Do you agree with Jesus, or are you following Jesus?
Are you a disciple?
“Why,” you may ask, “does it matter? What’s the big deal?” That is a good question, and it deserves an answer. The reason why it is important that we reclaim this idea of discipleship, of being disciples of Jesus, is that our witness is weakened, our church is wounded, and mission is undermined when we fail to be disciples.
You see, to be a disciple is to be on a daily journey of looking more and more like Jesus. Disciples grow consistently toward being more like their masters. This means that if we fail to be disciples, we fail to look and sound more and more like Jesus, and the lost world is consequently less and less interested in seeing what we say.
For instance, consider these words by John Stott:
Why is it that our evangelistic efforts are often fraught with failure? Several reasons may be given, and I must not oversimplify, but one main reason is that we don’t look like the Christ we proclaim. John Poulton has written about this in his perceptive little book A Today Sort of Evangelism:
The most effective preaching comes from those who embody the things they are saying. They are their message…Christians…need to look like what they are talking about. It is people who communicate primarily, not words or ideas…Authenticity…gets across from deep down inside people…A momentary insincerity can cast doubt on all that has made for communication up to that point…What communicates now is basically personal authenticity.
Similarly a Hindu professor, identifying one of his students as a Christian, once said, “If you Christians lived like Jesus Christ, India would be at your feet tomorrow.”
Another example is of the Reverend Iskandar Jadeed, a former Arab Muslim, who has said, “If all Christians were Christians there would be no more Islam today.”
Another wise Christian teacher, Dallas Willard, has put it like this:
“So the greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heart-breaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as “Christians” will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”
And again, Willard writes, “Most problems in contemporary churches can be explained by the fact that members have never decided to follow Christ.”
When John shows us the beginnings of Jesus’ ministry, he shows us Jesus calling people to discipleship. Let us make sure we do not miss this fact, for it is as true today as it was then: when Jesus calls us, He calls us to be disciples, not merely converts and not merely students. He wants you to follow Him and be consistently transformed into His own image.
Fortunately, John’s account of the calling of the first disciples gives us amazing insights into the nature of discipleship. What does it mean to be a disciple? Let’s look and see.
I. A Disciple is a Person in a State of Movement Toward His Master.
Let us look at the first two disciples who follow Jesus:
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
If you read that too quickly, you may miss the very interesting contrast in two of the main verbs in this passage. In verse 35, two of John’s disciples are “standing” with their master. In verse 36, Jesus is “walking” by. In verse 37, the disciples see Jesus and “they followed Jesus.”
John’s choice of verbs is not incidental. These two men were standing with John the Baptist, then they were walking with Jesus.
This is fitting, in a way, because John the Baptist’s ministry was one of anticipation and announcing. They stood and proclaimed what was coming. But when Jesus came, they no longer stood and announced, they saw and they followed.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, the difference between being a disciple and being a mere believer can be seen in the contrast between these two verbs: standing and following.
Some of you accepted Jesus many years ago, and you have stood right there, in that moment, with that understanding of who Jesus is and what the gospel is all these years. You have not moved forward. You are, for all intents and purposes, still in 4th grade Sunday School. You have no greater knowledge of God’s Word, no greater understanding of Christian truth, and no greater sense of the work of Christ in your life than you did when you were maybe 8 or 9 and first believed in Jesus.
That is “standing” Christianity. That is immobile Christianity. That is stuck, unmoving, sedentary Christianity. That is a Christianity of profession, but not of life. That is Christianity without discipleship, the so-called acceptance of Jesus without acceptance of the life of Jesus.
But disciples move. Disciples gravitate constantly toward the object of their affection, Jesus the Lord. Disciples do not consider themselves as having arrived, but this one thing they do: they forget the past and “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14).
In verse 38, Jesus quizzes the would-be disciples: “What are you seeking?”
It is a great question for us today: what exactly do you think following Jesus means? What are you hoping to find? What are you willing to lay down to follow Him? What, exactly, is it that you think you are doing when you call yourself a Christian? Do you realize that Jesus asks for your entire life? Do you realize that Jesus wants it all?
“Rabbi, where are you staying?” they ask. “Come and see” is His answer.
Here is the invitation to discipleship. “Come and see.”
Listen: You cannot see if you will not come.
Sometime will try to see without coming after Jesus. But that does not work. Jesus calls us further and deeper and higher than we were when we first met Him.
Jesus calls us to movement, to motion, to followship, to being a disciple.
Are you a disciple? If so, you are constantly moving toward Jesus.
II. A Disciple is a Person Whose Identity is Changed by His Master.
But there is more. A disciple is not simply in a state of movement. In fact, his or her very nature and identity is in a state of transformation by his master. A disciple is somebody whose name is changed in following Jesus. Listen to verses 40 through 42:
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Here we see the beginning of Simon Peter’s life with Jesus. Andrew, his brother, finds Peter and announces, “We have found the Messiah.” When Peter comes to Jesus, Jesus says, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
To be a disciple is to have your name changed by the Master. We all had a name before we met Jesus, and, when He is through with us, we have a new name. We must come to learn what our new name in Christ is.
The story is told that the Queen of England once toured a large nursing home in England. She was surprising the elderly men and women and encouraging them with uplifting words. The whole nursing home was abuzz with the Queen’s unexpected visit!
In one particular room, an elderly woman was lying in her bed. Upon seeing the Queen, she did not react at all and appeared not to recognize who the Queen was. The Queen leaned over her bed and the lady looked up at her blankly. The Queen smiled sympathetically, patted her hand, and gently asked, “Madam, do you know who I am?” After a moment of curious staring, the lady said, “No, dearie, but the nurse out in the hallway can help you with that if you’re confused.”
Well! Peter must have been confused about his name. “You are Cephas,” Jesus said, “but you will be named Peter.”
Understand that Jesus was not playing with words in renaming Peter. Instead, he was telling Peter that his very identity would be transformed as Peter followed Jesus and became a disciple.
Many of you had a name when you came to Jesus. Some of you were named “Bad Temper.” Some of you were named “Greedy.” Some of you were named “Profanity.”
Before you came to Christ, your character was formed by your distance from God, by your vices and your sins. Some of you used to be named “Adultery,” “Arrogance,” “Selfishness.” Some of you might have been named “Anger” or “Gossip” or “Self-righteous.” Some of you were named “Religious” or “Spiritual.”
All of us come to Jesus with a name. But then you accepted Christ as Lord and Savior and He gave you a new named: “Saved,” “Redeemed,” “Forgiven,” “Born again.” In fact, one of the glories of salvation is the knowledge that we will have the name of Christ stamped upon us, as Revelation 22:1-5 reveals:
1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.
But the Christian life is not simply a game of waiting for something to happen when you die. This is where being a disciple comes in. At conversion you were given a new name. But in discipleship you actually become your new name. When you move toward Jesus and walk with Him, He grows you into your new name.
As a disciple, your name starts to fit you. It is no longer a declaration of a position before God. It begins to become an accurate description of your very character.
So as you walk with Jesus day by day, watching Him and learning from Him, your name is changed from “Anger” to “Gentleness,” from “Bitter” to “Forgiving,” from “Unfaithful” to “Faithful,” from “Religion” to “Relationship.”
People often say, “Jesus loves you right where you are.” And that is true, thank the Lord, for where we are is where we’re at! But let us make sure that we understand that while Jesus loves us right where we are, He never leaves us right where we are. Jesus meets you in the valley, but it is not His intent to leave you there. He wants you to walk with Him, and, as you do, you are changed by Him.
When we become disciples, Jesus changes our name.
III. A Disciple is a Person Whose Faith is Expanded by His Master.
After Peter sets his feet on the path of discipleship, Philip and Nathaniel do the same. Nathaniel’s case, in particular, is interesting and helpful:
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
When Philip tells Nathanael about Jesus, Nathanael has trouble believing. The main problem is that Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus is from Nazareth, which, to put it mildly, is not the kind of razzle-dazzle place most people would expect the Messiah to come from.
Nathanael is a lot like us. He has a surface-level faith. His faith is dependent upon his own understanding of things. When Jesus comes along, He fits into Nathanael’s faith like a round peg in a square hole. It just does not seem right.
Then, of course, he comes to realize that this Jesus is none other than “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel”? Why? Because Jesus demonstrates His divinity by showing Nathanael that He knew him before He met him, that He had seen him sitting under a fig tree before Philip even called to Nathanael.
Nathanael is amazed by this. His skepticism gives way to awe. Suddenly this Jesus that did not fit his expectations exceeds his expectations. When Nathanael expresses amazement and praise, Jesus says, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” One of those things, Jesus tells Nathanael, is that he “will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (v.51)
Do you see what is happening here? Jesus, here in this initial meeting with Nathanael, is already expanding Nathanael’s faith. He’s expanding his faith concerning what type of Messiah Jesus is. He’s expanding his faith concerning Jesus’ on character and nature. And He’s expanding Nathanael’s faith concerning what is about to happen to him as he walks with Jesus.
To be a disciple is to have your faith, your perspective, your understanding, and your knowledge of God in Christ increasingly expanded so that you can know Him more, walk with Him more faithfully, and love Him more completely.
Many of you have experienced this. When Jesus met you, you were lounging beneath a fig tree. But now that you have walked with Jesus, you are learning and seeing wonderful things! You look back over your walk with Jesus and see how He has grown you.
This is the way of the disciple. Disciples expand in their grasp of Jesus. Disciples have their skepticism hammered into awe, their doubts formed into faith.
But some of you have not experienced this. You are attempting something that simply will not work: you are attempting to receive the benefit of Jesus without ever having to follow him. Some of you want Jesus to come to you under the fig tree, bless you, then leave you alone. Some of you want Him to save you without you having to follow Him.
It is a tragic thing when a man or woman wants Jesus to be Lord without wanting themselves to be a disciple. It is a selfish kind of Christianity, is it not? Listen to how Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola put this in their Jesus Manifesto:
Our problem is this: We have created a narcissistic form of Christianity, in which “conversion” is less a turning toward Christ than a turning toward success or fame or fortune. Narcissus never had it so good than in best-seller Christianity, which has become self-centeredness wrapped up as “spirituality,” which has become the latest fashion accessory for the person who has everything…We have made conversion primarily about ourselves, a finding of ourselves and a fulfilling of ourselves. We’ve made it a journey of self-discovery rather than a journey of God discovery. Yet conversion is not about us, but about God’s overture of love, without which we are devoid of sufficient motive or power to change and be changed. True “conversion” is to lay hold of Christ, or rather, as Paul corrected himself, to allow Christ to lay hold of us. True “conversion” is directed toward the one to whom we convert, the one to whom we turn. It is a life of “fullness,” in which the “fullness” is Christ.
You are not the point. And we are not the point. Jesus Christ always has been and always will be the point. All the arrows point to him and not to us.
In truth, to refuse to walk with Jesus, to refuse to be changed by Jesus, to refuse to follow Jesus, to refuse to be a disciple, is to rob yourself of the greatest blessing the Christian has: daily fellowship with Christ Himself.
Some of you simply want to be converts without being disciples. But God is not mocked. You cannot claim Him as Lord if you refuse to follow Him as a disciple.
Some of you have never come to Him at all, and you desperately need to. Today can be the beginning of a wonderful journey in your life if that is you.
Would you come to Jesus? Would you become a disciple? Will you follow Him?