April 14, 2013
If you’ve never watched “The Gospel Blimp,” I encourage you to do so (you can watch a fuzzy version of the 1967 film at vimeo.com/45680269). It’s a hilarious satire of some well-meaning but misguided Christians who want to share the gospel with their neighbors. They get together to strategize about how to do it, a blimp flies over, and someone comes up with the idea of getting a blimp and using it to preach the gospel to the entire city.
So they raise the money, buy some land for the hangar, and get the blimp. The whole operation requires a corporation, a board of directors, an office, and much more. The guy who came up with the plan quits his job and goes full time with the blimp. Eventually he hires a PR agent who outfits him in a uniform and promotes his image as “the Commander.” He has to neglect his family to play golf with important contacts, but the cause is worth it!
They finally get the blimp airborne and it rains down cellophane-wrapped tracts all over the city. But the people in the town are annoyed at having their yards littered with these droppings from the sky. Next they outfit the blimp with a loud PA system and make themselves even more obnoxious to everyone.
But one guy decides to leave the board of the blimp. Meanwhile, the board sees him going to the beach on Saturday with his beer-drinking neighbor. They’re concerned that he’s becoming “worldly.” By the end of the movie, he and his wife have led their neighbors to Christ. But the blimp crowd still doesn’t get it.
The message of that movie is that the best way to share the gospel with your neighbors is to befriend them and tell them about Jesus. That’s the message of John 1:35-51:
Because Jesus is the Savior that everyone needs, friends bring friends to Him.
John the Baptist points two of his disciples (Andrew and probably John) to Jesus as the Lamb of God (1:35-36). They follow Jesus and Andrew finds his brother Simon Peter and brings him to Jesus (1:41-42). Jesus finds Philip and says to him (1:43), “Follow Me.” Philip quickly finds Nathanael and tells him (1:45), “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote.” Although Nathanael was skeptical, Philip simply replies (1:46), “Come and see.” And so Nathanael met Jesus. All of these men’s lives were drastically changed because they met Jesus.
The Gospel of John is all about who Jesus is and the first chapter gets a running start in telling us. We have seen that He is the eternal Word who was in the beginning with God and who was God (1:1). Jesus has life in Him and that life is the light of men (1:4). He is the true light that enlightens every man (1:9). He gives to all that believe in Him the right to become children of God (1:12). The Word also became flesh and dwelt among us, glorious as the only begotten or unique Son of the Father (1:14). He is full of grace and truth (1:14). He is greater than John the Baptist, who testified of Him (1:15). He is greater than Moses and the Law (1:17). He is the only begotten God who explains the Father to us (1:18). He is the Lord (1:23). He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (1:29). He is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit (1:33). He is the Son of God (or, chosen One of God; 1:34).
Our text repeats some of these for emphasis, bringing out no less than 12 truths about who Jesus is as John shows us five men who meet Jesus and follow Him. Remember, John’s overall purpose for writing is (20:31) “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”
John 1:35-37: “Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.” John has mentioned and will continue to mention a sequence of days. Some have suggested that since John 1:1 begins the same way as Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning,” that John is outlining a new creation that centers in Jesus Christ. It has also been pointed out that the sequence of days in John 1:19-2:1 parallels to some degree the last week of Jesus’ life introduced in John 12:1 (see Merrill Tenney, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. by Frank Gaebelein [Zondervan], pp. 38-39). At the very least, it conveys a vivid recollection of an eyewitness who remembered this life-changing week when he and some others, who eventually became Jesus’ apostles, met the Savior.
Last week we looked in detail at John’s proclamation in 1:29, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” We saw that it focuses on Jesus as the supreme and final sacrifice for sinners that all of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed toward. Whether the two disciples, Andrew and John, were not present the day before when John made that proclamation or whether it took the second time on the second day to sink in, we don’t know. But they knew that they were sinners who needed Jesus as their Lamb, so they followed Jesus.
John translates the term for his Greek readers. “Rabbi” was an honorary title that students would use to address their teachers. Even the Pharisee, Nicodemus, addressed Jesus as “Rabbi” (3:2). Of course, Jesus is the Teacher, par excellence (13:13-14). We all should be students of His teachings and His example.
Again John translates the term. “Messiah” (used only here and in 4:25 in the NT) means “Anointed One” in Hebrew; in Greek, Anointed One is “Christ.” In the Old Testament, “Anointed One” is used of the king of Israel (1 Sam. 6:16; 2 Sam. 1:14), the high priest (Lev. 4:3), and of the patriarchs (Ps. 105:15). Daniel (9:25, 26) refers to “Messiah the Prince” in his prophecy of the 70 weeks. It’s a title for the one prophesied of in the Old Testament who would be supremely God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king.
Andrew found first his own brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. Then we read (1:42), “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” “Cephas” (which John again translates for his Greek readers) comes from the Aramaic word for rock, and Peter is the Greek word for rock. But John’s focus here is not so much on the meaning of the name, but rather on Jesus’ authority over people and His power to change them into what He wants them to be so that He can use them in His sovereign purposes.
It would be rather unnerving to meet a man only to have the first words out of his mouth be the audacious declaration that he is changing your name! Our name is our identity! Jesus didn’t ask Simon if it would be okay with him if He changed his name. He didn’t suggest it as a possibility and say, “Think about it for a while; maybe it will grow on you.” Rather, Jesus declares authoritatively, “You are Simon; you shall be called Peter.” Got it? As the Sovereign Lord, He has that kind of authority over us!
“We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote.” The Law and the Prophets is a common term to refer to all of the Old Testament. There are over 300 prophecies plus many types in the Old Testament that point to Jesus (Luke 24:25-27, 44-46).
John often uses irony and this is probably an instance of it. Actually, Jesus was born in Bethlehem and was not the biological son of Joseph. He grew up in Nazareth and was “as supposed the son of Joseph” (Luke 3:23). It was commonly rumored that Jesus was born of fornication (John 8:41). But Philip’s description of Jesus brings out His humanity: He was a man who came from a small town in Galilee, raised by Joseph who was married to Mary. John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 75) points out that although Philip erroneously thought that Jesus was a native of Nazareth and the son of Joseph, he led Nathanael to the Son of God who was born in Bethlehem. Sometimes God overrules our inaccurate witness to bring people to the truth about Jesus!
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, He said (1:47), “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael was startled that Jesus seemed to know him even before they met, but then Jesus adds to it (1:48), “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Apparently, Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree, meditating on the story in Genesis 28 about Jacob’s ladder (1:51). Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of Nathanael’s character and his private activity was enough for him to declare (1:49), “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”
Jesus has a way of unmasking us and boring into our souls to reveal what we really are. He later reveals that He knew what Thomas had said privately to the other disciples about touching Jesus’ wounds (20:25, 27). Hebrews 4:12-13 says, “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” Jesus (the Word) knows all about you, so it’s pointless to try to hide from Him. The good news is that He loves you in spite of knowing all about you, and He wants to change you for the good!
This is a Messianic title. In the Old Testament, Israel is God’s son (Exod. 4:22-23; Deut. 1:31; 32:6; Jer. 31:9, 20; Hos. 11:1), and in John, Jesus is presented as the true Israel (D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 162). But “Son of God” also refers to God’s promises to David that one of his sons would sit on the throne of Israel forever (2 Sam. 7:12, 16; Ps. 2:7; Matt. 22:42-45). Nathanael was probably referring to this Messianic designation of “Son of God.” But as John’s Gospel shows, the title also describes Jesus as the eternal Son of God, in intimate relationship with the Father as the second person of the Trinity. Thus, “Nathanael spoke better than he knew” (Carson, ibid.).
This was also a Messianic term, related to the Davidic Covenant (2 Sam. 7:12). At this point, Nathanael and the others who meet Jesus and proclaim Him to be the Messiah and King have a political understanding of those terms. They think that He will free Israel from Roman rule and usher in a new Davidic age of peace and prosperity. They still need to learn that His kingdom was not of this world (6:15; 12:13; 18:33-37; 19:19). But at least at this point, by acknowledging Jesus as the King of Israel, Nathanael is acknowledging Him to be his own King (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 168). So should we!
Jesus tells Nathanael (1:51), “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” In 1:50, the pronouns (“you”) are singular, but in 1:51, “you” is plural. Jesus addresses this promise to these five disciples. This is the first time Jesus uses the double affirmation, “Truly, truly,” which occurs only in John and points to a significant truth to follow. As I said, Nathanael had probably been meditating on Jacob’s dream about the ladder between heaven and earth with the angels ascending and descending on it. But here, they ascend and descend on Jesus. He is the only way to the Father (14:6), the only link between heaven and earth. By seeing the heavens opened, Jesus is promising the disciples that they will have greater visions of divine truth (Carson, p. 163). We can only know the Father through believing in Jesus the Son.
This also stems from the imagery of 1:51, relating to Jacob’s dream. After his dream, Jacob declared (Gen. 28:16), “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.” He added (28:17), “This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So he named that place “Bethel” (“House of God”). Jesus is the new dwelling place of God with man (14:23). We are to abide in Him (15:4).
“Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite way to refer to Himself (12x in John; 66x in the Synoptic Gospels). The term comes from Daniel 7:13-14, where Daniel sees one like a Son of Man who approaches the Ancient of Days, who gives to Him an everlasting kingdom. Since Jesus refers to these verses at His trial to testify to the high priest that He is coming again in power and glory (Matt. 26:64), there may be an allusion in John 1:51 to the second coming (J. C. Ryle and James Boice both take it this way).
Leon Morris (pp. 172-173) points out four reasons that Jesus adopted this term for Himself. First, it was a rare term without nationalistic associations. People would not view Him as a political Messiah. Second, it had overtones of divinity (because of its connection with Daniel 7:13-14). Third, He adopted it because it implies the redeemed people of God. Fourth, it had undertones of humanity. Morris says (ibid.) “He took upon Him our weakness. It was a way of alluding to and yet veiling His messiahship, for His concept of the Messiah differed markedly from that commonly held.” He adds (p. 173), in the Gospel of John “the term is always associated either with Christ’s heavenly glory or with the salvation He came to bring.”
All of these gloriously piled up terms to describe Jesus show us that He is the only Savior that everyone needs. I had hoped to go through these verses and elaborate more on these five men who found Jesus, but I’ll have to do that next time. But to conclude, note that …
One striking thing in the Gospel accounts about how people met Jesus as Savior is the variety of circumstances and the variety of gospel presentations. The gospel message is always the same, but there was no uniform, memorized gospel presentation. While it’s not wrong to learn a gospel presentation, such as the Four Spiritual Laws or the Evangelism Explosion outline or the Way of the Master approach, we need to be careful to tailor it to each person as best we can. Notice the different ways these men came to Jesus:
The first two, Andrew and presumably John, were disciples of John the Baptist. They heard him declare Jesus to be the Lamb of God and they followed Jesus (1:36-37). John means that they followed Jesus literally, walking after Him (1:38), but he probably also means that they began to follow Jesus as His disciples. Jesus’ opening words to Philip were, “Follow Me!” There is no such thing as truly believing in Jesus as your Savior and not following Him obediently as your Lord.
John the Baptist was content to let his disciples go after Jesus. The goal of every disciple-maker is not that his disciples would follow him, but that they would follow Jesus. Also as I mentioned, there is no indication that these men followed Jesus the first time when John declared Him to be the Lamb of God. But the second time, the message hit home. Studies have shown that on the average, it takes seven times for a person to hear the gospel before he believes. So keep telling people about Jesus, even if they’ve heard it before. You may or may not see the person respond, but the seed of the gospel may eventually sprout.
Note also that it is by exalting Christ that people are drawn to Him (J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels [Baker], 3:68). John proclaimed Jesus to be the Lamb of God, and that resonated with Andrew and John who felt the need for a Savior from their sins. Andrew told Peter that they had found the Messiah, which intrigued Peter enough to go see for himself. Philip extolled Jesus to Nathanael as the one about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. Although Nathanael was skeptical at first, Philip’s gentle invitation, “Come and see,” drew Nathanael to the Savior. Jesus called Philip directly and with authority: “Follow Me!” We have no idea how much Philip knew about Jesus before this, but something about Jesus’ manner and command drew Philip after Him.
Also, you never know how God may use your witness. Andrew’s witness brought Peter to Christ. Andrew never preached to large crowds (so far as Scripture records), but his one on one witness to Peter led to thousands coming to Christ when Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost. Peter became the leader of the twelve and Andrew was apparently content to let him take that role. Every time we encounter Andrew in John’s Gospel, he is bringing someone to Jesus (6:8; 12:22). That’s not a bad legacy!
Few people would know the name of Edward Kimball. He was a Sunday School teacher who led one of his pupils, D. L. Moody, to Christ. Kimball was a timid, soft-spoken man. He decided to talk with Moody, who was a 19-year-old shoe salesman, about his soul. Moody was untaught and ignorant about the Bible at this point. When Kimball got near the store where Moody worked, he almost chickened out. But he finally went for it, stumbled over his words, and said later that he never could remember exactly what he said—just something about Christ and His love. He admitted that it was a weak appeal. But Moody gave his heart to Christ then and there. Later God used Moody mightily to lead thousands to Christ in America and England. His impact continues today through Moody Bible Institute, where thousands of Christian workers have been trained and sent out all over the world (from John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men [W Publishing Group], pp. 69-70).
But the point is, Jesus didn’t launch His kingdom through a mass mailing or by preaching to large crowds at an evangelistic campaign. There was no corporate headquarters or organization. There was no Gospel Blimp! It began quietly with two of John the Baptist’s disciples. Andrew told his brother. Probably, John also later told his brother, James. Philip told Nathanael. All of them recognized in Jesus the Savior that they needed. They all got excited about who Jesus was and that excitement spilled over into telling their relatives and friends.
That’s how the Lord wants the good news to spread out from us. If you’re excited about Jesus, then tell your family and friends about Him. Make a list of the 8-15 people with whom you have regular contact, who don’t know the Lord. Begin praying for opportunities to talk to them about their need for Jesus. Because everyone is a sinner alienated from God and because Jesus is the only Savior who bridges the chasm between us and God, friends want to bring their friends to Him.
Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2013, All Rights Reserved.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation