Disciple Making

I bet I can name one thing that will trigger a flurry of mental gymnastics.  The mere mention of this one thing is enough to launch your brain into overdrive excuse-making mode.  What is this dreaded thing?  The sign-up sheet!  “Here’s a sign-up sheet for all the ways we need your time, effort, and resources ASAP.  Since we know our need is the most important thing in your life, we feel we’re doing you a favor compelling you to sign our sign-up sheet.”  By now I’m sure you’ve got at least 7 air-tight reasons why, “just this time,” you regrettably can’t sign our sign-up sheet.  Or maybe you’re eager to sign-up, whatever it is!

Everyone has their reasons for being eager or skeptical regarding whether to follow Jesus. At root of our reasons is the assumption that we are in charge of our lives, what decisions we make, and who we choose to follow. We hold this assumption because it protects us and keeps us in control. Or so we believe. But what if it is actually the other way around? What if Jesus is the one in charge of our lives? What if, instead of you gathering your preferred teachers and role models to build your “best life now” according to your plan and schedule, what if Jesus is the one gathering disciples by calling people to follow him? If this is what Jesus does, then wouldn’t it be perfectly reasonable to expect surprises, challenges, spiritual insights, even a complete reorientation of priorities and direction in your life? The Bible’s account (found in John 1:35-51) of how Jesus built his Church by calling the first disciples to follow him reveals a pattern primarily driven by an invitation to “come and see.” Those who stay with Jesus will learn doctrine about him and powerfully encounter him. Come and see, then become a disciple-making disciple.

Preparing Disciples: Come and See

The herald: “Behold the Lamb of God” (vv. 35-37)

As the one who announces Jesus to the world and prepares his own followers to become disciples of Jesus, John the Baptist is a herald. A herald is not merely one who shares good news, like “The Washington Capitals finally won the Stanley Cup!” The kind of news a herald announces is world-changing. The message of a herald demands a response, either a pledge of allegiance or rebellion.

For example, in ancient times when a herald arrived in your town to announce the victory in battle between your king and another king, no one could afford to shrug their shoulders and go about business as usual. If the other king won, then a new regime now ruled over you. Your life would never be the same again, and you had to make a choice to be a follower or a fighter. So “the next day” when John the Baptist saw Jesus walking by, he announced to his followers, “Look! That man is the Lamb of God. Leave me, follow him instead, and become his disciple. Because that one takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). No other teacher before or since has claimed that kind of power. This one is unique. In effect, John the herald of the Lamb of God proclaimed to his followers (and to us today), “Go and see.”

The master: “What are you seeking?” (vv. 38-41, 45)

Of course it’s always a good idea to have some information about Jesus so you know who you’re coming to see. Americans have a hard time understanding what a Rabbi was in Bible times. John the Gospel writer translates “Rabbi” as “Teacher.” That was a helpful comment to his first century Jewish and Greek audience, but we need a little more explanation.

When you think of a teacher in a religious context you probably imagine a pastor who preaches a sermon explaining a Bible passage, or a Bible study teacher. Someone you come and see once or twice a week, for an hour or two, to get your spiritual tank filled until next Sunday. Anything more than that, like pledging personal allegiance to your teacher, will probably get you labeled as unhealthy. Family and friends might whisper, “I wonder if she’s in a cult?” or “His pastor has a creepy hold on him.” Americans are very averse to any religious authority holding too much influence over them. We prefer to pledge our allegiance to teachers in the secular sphere, and sometimes give them Rabbi-like authority over our lives. You might say, “my mentor/life-coach/therapist says I should do such-and-such.” And you do it! That’s a faint idea of how a disciple followed his Rabbi in Bible times. But it’s still not a great analogy since no one faults a person for firing their teacher because, after all, it’s your life and you’re in control. We hate to use this word, but “master” is the best way to characterize the role a teacher held in relation to his disciple. So when Jesus noticed two of John the Baptist’s disciples (Andrew and possibly John) following after him, he asked “what are you seeking?” It was important that Jesus establish the terms of his relationship with them at the very beginning. These two disciples were seeking a new master to follow, and asked Jesus if they could stay the rest of the day with him. Probably they wanted to ask Jesus questions, observe him, and listen to him teach. And what a teacher Jesus showed himself to be! Years later, both those new disciples recalled the exact time of day they met the Lamb of God who reoriented the rest of their lives. How could they forget that momentous day and time? It was forever engraved on their minds. It all started with Jesus inviting Andrew and John to “come and see.”

This passage shows us another expectation that was in the air during that time. The Jewish historian Josephus records the region of Galilee had recently seen a few messianic imposters. People were looking for the arrival of the Anointed One (Messiah=Christ). So after Andrew had spent a day with Jesus, the first thing he did was go home to find his brother Simon and announce to him, “We have found the Messiah/Christ!” And then Andrew simply brought Simon to see Jesus for himself. One reason why this is significant is, by their own words, actions, and life commitments, Andrew and Peter both answer Jesus’ earlier question, “What are you seeking?” You see, a lot of people come to check out Jesus for what they might get from him. They might be looking for life purpose, or meaning, or respect, or influence, or power over others, or wealth, or even pardon from the penalty of their sin. But Andrew brings Peter to come and see Jesus who is the prophesied and promised Messiah, the one who is God’s appointed master over his people. A new king has arrived with the anointing of Almighty God. He is the Savior of sinners. And we must follow him.

Philip, only a little while after following Jesus, sought out his friend Nathanael to tell him the good news of Jesus and invited him to “come and see.” Philip also gave evidence what his answer is to Jesus’ question, “What are you seeking?” Rather than simply claiming we have found the Messiah, Philip provides Nathanael a few more details. What is he seeking? “Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” The promise of a coming Messiah has a history that we read about in the OT. Not just in a prophecy or promise here and there. Everywhere in the OT we find the authors writing what I call “Christ-haunted” texts. The Messiah cannot be found explicitly in every OT passage like he is promised in Genesis 3:15, but every story whispers his name in one way or another. Jesus himself believed and taught that the whole OT points forward to him in one way or another (Lk 24:27, 44). Since this is true, we can summarize the process that God used to prepare the early disciples as, first, send a herald to point people to Jesus, and second, seek him as the one who claims the titles of Master, Messiah, and Bible Fulfiller. Now that you’ve been prepared for discipleship, come with your questions, your doubts, your fears, and your hopes. Jesus invites and welcomes you—just as you are. Come and see!

Gathering Disciples: Come and Be Seen

The seer: “Behold an honest Israelite indeed” (vv. 42-44, 47)

You’ve come to see Jesus for yourself and figure out whether the stories about him and what he does are for real. But now we’re all in for a tremendous surprise. Those early disciples certainly were shocked by who they saw. What they discovered is they had come to see Jesus, but it turns out it was Jesus who had first seen them. Consider what happened when Simon first saw Jesus. Jesus looked him up and down (we might say he sized him up), and predicted Simon would have a new name someday. This is saying more than it first appears. Simon would have immediately understood the importance of this name change, even though he probably didn’t comprehend the full meaning right away. One thing Simon knew was Jesus saw him like no one had before.

Jesus also saw Philip before anyone invited Philip to come and see. It says the next day Jesus decided to leave where he was staying and go to Galilee. Why did Jesus go there? He was seeking to gather particular men to be his disciples. When Jesus found Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip was from unbelieving Bethsaida and likely a Hellenized Jew (his name is Greek). Out of the midst of a fishing village full of people who would reject Jesus as the Messiah, Jesus saw one man who he wanted to be his disciple. Those two verses (43-44) can give you a great amount of comfort if you grasp their significance. Someone once objected to my sharing the gospel to him that my being a Christian has very little to do with whether the gospel is true or not. He argued that if I had been born in India, I’d probably be a Sikh like him. On its face that seems not only plausible but compelling. But the story of Jesus and Philip dismantles this objection. Philip was from Galilee, a place full of spiritual darkness. His hometown was the little village of Bethsaida, a place Jesus said would suffer a harsher judgment on the last day than the wicked cities of Tyre and Sidon (Mt 11:21-22). And yet Jesus sought out Philip, going to where he lived, and gathered him among his disciples. This is why the Bible’s teaching on election—God’s sovereign choosing of his people for salvation—is so comforting. With Philip, a Christian can confidently say that Jesus saw me, sought me, and found me despite where I lived, what I’ve done, who my family is, and what worth I might or might not appear to have for God. So before you come and see, realize that Jesus is the Seer who sees you. Come and be seen.

There is one more person in this story who encounters the penetrating gaze of Jesus. Philip, a brand new disciple, tells his friend Nathanael about a man named Jesus from Nazareth. And all Nathanael can think is “Nazareth?!” Even though the OT is filled with place names, famous and obscure, there is no mention of Nazareth. Bethlehem and Jerusalem are the places the OT associates with the Messiah. Not Nazareth. But invited to “come and see,” Nathanael goes along with Philip, taking with him a large dose of skepticism about this man from Nowheres-ville: hill-billy Nazareth. Here’s where it gets interesting for Nathanael the Bible student. As Philip and Nathanael approached Jesus preparing for personal introductions, Jesus called his disciples to attention and proceeded to describe Nathanael. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” What does Jesus mean? He’s drawing a contrast between the patriarch Jacob (renamed Israel) who was a liar and cheat, and Nathanael the Israelite who is straightforward and careful in keeping God’s Word. Nathanael is startled by Jesus’ accurate description of his character. He had come to see Jesus, but instead he had come and been seen by Jesus the Seer. How did Jesus know Nathanael? How did Jesus know Simon? Jesus knew them, and he knows you and me, because he is no ordinary Rabbi. He is the Master, the Messiah, the Prophesied One who knows all and sees all.

The seen: “How do you know me?” (vv. 42b, 48-49)

Back to Simon. Jesus knew what Simon would become someday. Hence the name change. Most parents choose a name for their baby because it sounds good. They don’t put much emphasis on the meaning of a name. Yes, there are baby name books that list the name followed by its linguistic historical meaning, but you don’t look up a meaning to find the associated name. You look up a name you like, then you smile or frown at its meaning. Choose a potential name first, then decide whether you can live with its meaning. But that’s not the way naming a person in the Bible usually works—especially when someone gets a new name. Jesus exercised authority over Simon when he renamed him. That’s a master’s right! He saw an impulsive, unstable, passionate fisherman and said,

Not the Original Rock

“You shall be called Rock” (that’s what Cephas and Peter mean in Aramaic and Greek). Basically Jesus is declaring Simon will be a transformed man through his experience of following Jesus as a disciple. Simon’s character will change so much because of his encounter with Jesus that people will call him “Petros.” That’s the first century version of The Rock! When you come and see Jesus, don’t be surprised that it’s the other way around. Jesus sees you. Come and be seen.

What did Jesus say when Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Instead of offering a shallow pop psychology answer, or describing a vague “cold-read” of Nathanael’s appearance, Jesus gives the kind of answer Nathanael knew Jesus couldn’t fake. Before Philip called Nathanael, when he was under the fig tree (probably resting, studying, meditating, and praying—that’s what people did under fig trees back then), Jesus says, “I saw you.” Remember Nathanael is a student of the Bible, which makes him skeptical of fantastic claims of particular religious teachers being the Messiah. He’s especially doubtful of would-be messiahs from Nazareth. So it’s remarkable that Jesus’ intimate, personal, and detailed knowledge of Nathanael would so thoroughly convince such a studious skeptic to become a believer on the spot. For Nathanael replied to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus saw and knew Nathanael by divine foreknowledge, and Nathanael, who was not so easily impressed, recognized he had come and been seen by this supernaturally insightful man from Nazareth, this Jesus Son of Joseph.

Shaping Disciples: Follow and See

If God has a particular method of preparing disciples, and Jesus has a way of gathering those disciples, then we should expect there is a particular manner by which Jesus shapes his disciples once he gathers them. Based on the last 2 verses in this story, I call Jesus’ plan for shaping disciples “follow and see.”

The revealer: “You will see greater things than these” (v. 50)

Nathanael was impressed with Jesus and how well Jesus had seen him. But Jesus gently challenged him. Don’t stop following Jesus and learning about him after your first wonderful encounter. There is more to come. Jesus promised to reveal to Nathanael “greater things than these” (these being his divine foreknowledge of Nathanael under the fig tree). Based on a reading of the rest of John’s Gospel, we can pretty well discern what these greater things are. Through chapter 12, John will recount seven stories of miracles Jesus publicly performed that function as signs (proofs) verifying Jesus’ identity as the Son of God, and authenticating his message of the arrival of God’s kingdom and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus works the first of these seven signs to begin shaping the disciples, especially Nathanael, the former skeptic. Only three days from now Jesus will change water into wine at a wedding in Cana—Nathanael’s hometown. By these seven signs Jesus will reveal even greater things than his ability to see into the deep recesses of our hearts. But if you and I are going to see these great things, we have to keep following Jesus. After you come and see, and after you’ve come and been seen, you’ve got to continue to follow Jesus to keep on seeing him. That’s the way God has designed the disciple making process. Jesus reveals his greatness to those who follow and see.

The ladder: “The Son of Man” who opens access to heaven (v. 51)

What do all these miraculous signs mean that Jesus intends to give us? In one sense each sign will reveal new insights, fresh truths about Jesus, always concealed in the OT but begging to be uncovered by Jesus. Yet in another sense all the signs have one overarching meaning. Look at the last verse in the passage. This is a very strange saying if you don’t know what he’s alluding to. Since Jesus had just brought up the topic of Jacob, his disciples would have caught the reference to Jacob’s Ladder. In Genesis 28, Jacob is fleeing into the wilderness from the wrath of Esau after stealing his brother’s first-born birthright and blessing. That night, alone and having lost everything, Jacob sleeps under the stars and God gives him a mysterious dream in which Jacob sees a stairway to heaven. Angels are going up and down the stairway, traversing it as a bridge or “ladder” from heaven to earth. Jacob awakes, realizes that in his dream he has seen the gateway to heaven, and so memorializes with a monument the place where he slept, naming it Bethel (House of God). Now speaking to his disciples Andrew, John, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, Jesus claims Jacob’s Ladder is actually a person called “the Son of Man,” which is the most common self-designation Jesus uses for himself in the Gospels! Have you grasped the importance of what Jesus is saying? He’s claiming the way from earth to heaven has been reopened, as it was in the beginning of creation when the Lord walked with his people in the Garden of Eden. And that way is none other than Jesus himself! It is as if Jesus has punched a hole through the floor of heaven and lowered himself down to earth. He’s not at the top of the ladder calling us to climb up to him. No, Jesus is the ladder, he has come to us. So the meaning of all the signs is one: as the divine man from heaven, Jesus is the way from earth to heaven. Do you see it? Do you believe Jesus is who he claims to be? The Lamb of God, the Master, the Messiah, the Prophesied One, the All-Knowing Seer, the Son of God, the King of Israel, the Great Revealer, the Son of Man, the Ladder to Heaven? If you do, then praise the Lord for revealing it to you. If you don’t yet see who Jesus is, if you still have questions, doubts, or fears, then that’s okay. Follow and see. Follow and see.

Let me draw three brief applications for us about disciple making.

  1. Come and see means come and ask questions, expecting personalized answers. At its core, Christianity isn’t a way of looking at the world or a set of rules. It isn’t a philosophy to learn or a law to keep. At its core Christianity is a person who brings good news to humble people who ask their most heartfelt questions regarding their most pressing problems. He loves and cares for you as a person. So put aside your excuses. “I’m too liberal—Jesus and I wouldn’t do well together.” “I’m too messed up—Jesus wouldn’t want me.” “I’m spiritual but not religious—Jesus is too traditional for me.” Bring him your questions, doubts, fears, and hopes, expecting to be cared for because he knows everything about you and still loves you.
  2. Come and see means come with others. The pattern of evangelism is this passage is people become disciples first through the invitation of a friend or family member. This kind of relational evangelism doesn’t require you to know the answers to their questions. Like Andrew and Philip, just say, “I don’t know, but let’s go think about Jesus together.” Anyone can say “I don’t know, but come and see,” especially to someone you already know well. Then you can both learn about Jesus and encounter him together. John wrote his Gospel so we could read his eyewitness testimony and weigh what he saw and heard. Invite your friends to read the Gospels together. Invite them to come and see Jesus through a worship service. To any place where Jesus is proclaimed and present, invite them to come and see.
  3. Come and see means you need to move from one place to another. Lots of people claim detached abstract beliefs like “I believe in God” or “I believe the Bible.” But to say that is to reveal you haven’t yet come and seen Jesus. The one who claims all the titles we ascribe to him is either worthy of all your worship, wonder, and devotion, or he’s an imposter to be soundly rejected. Which is he? How will you know unless you come and see? What you dare not do is put Jesus on the shelf alongside all your other beliefs—nice and safe where they cannot grab hold of your heart. If he is indeed the Ladder from heaven to earth, come down to us as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, then you must follow him with all your heart. Come and see!

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