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Lesson 9: Meeting Jesus (John 1:35-51)

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April 21, 2013

It would be a wonderful experience to go around the room and let each person tell how he or she came to know Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. We all have different stories and experiences.

Some of you, like me, grew up in the church. My parents had grown up as “cultural Christians” from the Midwest, but they came to personal faith in Christ in the first year of their marriage. One of my earliest memories is when I was three-years-old. My mother was ironing and my dad, who was going to school full time plus working a full time job, was still in bed. I told my mom that I wanted to ask Jesus into my heart. So we woke up my dad and knelt by the bed while I prayed. Was I saved then? Probably not, but it was a beginning on the path toward Christ. Other commitments to Christ followed over the years. I can’t say exactly when I was born again. But during my first two years of college, I made a commitment to follow Jesus as my Savior and Lord.

Others of you came from unbelieving homes, where the name of Christ was only used as a swear word. Perhaps your home had constant fighting, abusive speech, and multiple divorces. You lived in fear that your parents (or the current boyfriend) would fly into a rage and hit you. You didn’t know what love and kindness were. But then you heard about the love of the Savior, who gave Himself on the cross to redeem you from all your sins. You came to Him and found the love that you had never known.

Probably some of you were going full-bore in sin. You lived to do whatever felt good at the moment. But there was always an emptiness of soul that these momentary pleasures could not satisfy. Someone shared with you about the lasting peace and joy that only Christ can give. You turned from your sin and asked God to apply the blood of Christ to your guilty soul.

There are probably as many stories as there are people here, because we’re all different and we met Christ in different circumstances and through different means. But if you truly know Christ as your Savior and Lord, you know that there is a vast difference between knowing about Christ and knowing Christ personally. If you grew up in a religious home, you knew about Christ, but that didn’t change your life. But coming to know Christ personally changes you. Your desires and focus for life change. As Paul put it (2 Cor. 5:17), “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

Meeting Jesus personally will change your life forever.

In John 1:35-51, we read the story of five men who met Jesus at the start of His ministry, as told by one of the men, the apostle John (probably the unnamed disciple mentioned in 1:35-40). The firsthand nature of his account is seen in his mention of the successive days of these events (1:29, 35, 43, 2:1) and the time of day when he met Jesus (1:39, “the tenth hour,” probably about 4 p.m.). All of these men met Jesus personally and began to follow Him. Eventually He called them to be His apostles. But here, they meet Him and He invites them to follow Him as disciples (or learners).

Last week, we looked at these verses from the standpoint of how Christ’s kingdom began simply and expanded when friends told their friends about Jesus and brought them to Him. But I couldn’t cover everything in that message, so today we’re going to work through it again from the perspective of how when we meet Jesus personally and begin to follow Him, He changes us and uses us for His kingdom purposes. If I skip over something in this message, hopefully I covered it last week, so I refer you there.

1. There is far more about Jesus Christ than we can ever know.

Last time we did an overview of what John 1 tells us about Jesus. Without going through the wonderful testimony of John 1:1-34, in 1:35-51 we saw that Jesus is proclaimed as the Lamb of God (1:36); the Teacher (1:38, 49); the Messiah (1:41); and, the authoritative Lord who changes people for His sovereign purposes (1:42). He the one of whom the Old Testament speaks (1:45). As a man, Jesus is of Nazareth, the son of Joseph (1:45); He is the omniscient one who knows each person (1:47-48). Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel (1:49); He is the only bridge between heaven and earth; the dwelling place of God with us; and, He is the coming Son of Man (1:51). This bears repeating because seeing the wonderful person of the Lord Jesus Christ draws us to Him. As we see more of who He is, we are changed into His likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).

That’s just a summary of who Jesus is from our text! When you realize that all of the Old and New Testaments proclaim who Jesus is, you can see that there are far more glorious truths about Jesus than we can ever know. When you meet a new friend, you begin with an introduction and then you spend time over the years getting better acquainted. So it is with Jesus (except that the years will continue throughout eternity; Eph. 2:7). But the question is, are you spending consistent time alone with Jesus now, getting to know Him through His Word, so that He might dwell in your heart through faith (Eph. 3:17)? Relationships take time and effort!

2. We begin with Jesus by trusting Him as the Lamb of God who takes away our sin (Andrew and John; 1:35-40).

Andrew and John were already disciples of John the Baptist, who was preaching a message of repentance and baptism for the forgiveness of sins (Luke 3:3). Although they had grown up in good Jewish homes and had practiced all of the prescribed rituals and sacrifices, these two young men came under the conviction of the Holy Spirit that they were sinners. They knew that their religious activities and heritage could not atone for their sins. And so they were baptized by John.

But John kept speaking of the One who was coming after him, the thong of whose sandals he was not worthy to untie (1:27). John denied being the Messiah, but said that he was merely a voice crying in the wilderness, “Make straight the way of the Lord” (1:23). When John saw Jesus and proclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God” (1:29, 36), that was all that Andrew and John needed to say, “We’re going to follow the Lamb! We need Him to be our Lamb, to take away our sins!”

To become a Christian you must become aware that you are a sinner in the sight of holy God and that all of your good works can never atone for your sins. You can never work your way to heaven by your good deeds. You need a Savior and Jesus is that Savior, the Lamb of God, whose death on the cross was the culmination of the entire Jewish sacrificial system. God didn’t sacrifice His own dear Son as an example so that basically good people could learn how to be even better. God gave His Son to save sinners who cannot in any way save themselves. Just as the Jews in the Old Testament looked in faith to their sacrifices as God’s ordained means of forgiveness in that era, so we must look in faith to Jesus as the Lamb of God who died to pay for our sins.

When Andrew and John began to follow after Jesus, He turned and saw them and said (1:38), “What do you seek?” This is the same Jesus who, a few verses later, tells Nathanael that He knew his character and his actions before He ever met him! So Jesus didn’t ask Andrew and John what they were seeking because He lacked information. Rather, He asked them the question so that they would think about it. “What are you seeking by following Me? Do you want status and power by being on the inside circle when I come into My kingdom? Do you want Me to give you a comfortable life with plenty of material benefits, free from pain and sorrow? Do you want Me to forgive your sins and give you inner peace? What do you seek?” He asks you the same question!

I remember that when I confirmed my commitment to Christ as a teenager, one of the things that I sought was a happy marriage. The assistant pastor in our church was in his late twenties and happily married. I thought, “If the Lord can give me a happy marriage like that, then it’s worth it to follow Him.” That was an immature and self-centered reason to follow the Lord! He rightly could have said, “Get lost kid! Come back when you have some better reasons for following Me!” But, He graciously took me in at that infantile stage of faith and began to work with me.

Andrew and John answer (1:38), “Rabbi, where are You staying?” It seems like an odd reply to Jesus’ question. Probably they wanted more time with Him than a roadside talk would provide (Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans], p. 156). John Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], p. 71) saw in their reply the lesson that “we ought not to be satisfied with a mere passing look, but that we ought to seek his dwelling, that he may receive us as guests.” He explains, “For there are very many who smell the gospel at a distance only, and thus allow Christ suddenly to disappear, and all that they have learned concerning him to pass away.” The point is, if you have met Christ as your Savior, then you’ll want to spend more time with Him to learn more about Him. It was only after Andrew and John spent that evening with the Lord that they became witnesses to the others.

Jesus’ reply is always His invitation to all seeking hearts (1:39), “Come, and you will see.” If you’ve never met Jesus as your Savior, He invites you (Matt. 11:28-30), “Come unto Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” If you’ve met Him as Savior, His invitation to you each morning is (John 21:12), “Come and have breakfast.” Find in Jesus each morning nourishing food for your soul.

3. Jesus begins with us where we’re at, but He changes us into what He wants us to be (Peter; 1:41-42).

After their evening with Jesus, Andrew immediately found his brother Simon and said to him (1:41), “We have found the Messiah,” which John translates for his Greek readers as “the Christ.” As we saw last time, it points to Jesus as God’s anointed prophet, priest, and king, prophesied of in the Old Testament.

You may wonder how the disciples knew at this early stage that Jesus was the promised Messiah when the Synoptic Gospels indicate that they didn’t seem to understand truly who He was until much later. It wasn’t until Matthew 16:16 when Peter confessed, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” But here Andrew is proclaiming Jesus as the Christ from the outset.

The answer is probably that the disciples, like many in that day, were looking for the Messiah. But they had a different idea of what that Messiah would be and what He would do for them than what Jesus came to do (Morris, p. 160). You’ll recall that even right after Peter gave his great confession of Jesus as the Christ, he rebuked Jesus for saying that He was going to be killed and raised up on the third day (Matt. 16:21-23). That didn’t fit with Peter’s expectation of the Messiah as a conquering King whose rule would usher in a golden age for Israel. The disciples had to learn that He was the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 before He would return as the King over the nations (Rev. 19:11-16).

But Jesus took Andrew and John and Peter where they were at and began immediately to mold them into what He wanted them to be. As we saw last time, Jesus’ opening words to Peter must have been a bit jarring (1:42), “‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter).” How would you feel if the first words out of the mouth of someone you just met were to change your name? Peter may have thought, “I need to run for cover!” But there was something so captivating about Jesus that Peter submitted to Jesus’ agenda for his life.

Jesus has that kind of authority and power. He begins with us right where we’re at, but He changes us into what He wants us to be. If I were Jesus and knew what He knew about Peter, I might have said, “Nice to meet you, Simon,” and left it at that. Jesus knew beforehand that Peter would fail Him miserably, but He also knew how He would change Peter into the bold apostle who preached on the Day of Pentecost when 3,000 were saved.

In the same way, Jesus knows all about you and your future before you ever meet Him. He graciously begins with you in your immaturity and selfish reasons for following Him, but He gradually begins to teach you that following Him means denying yourself and taking up your cross (Matt. 16:24-27). He shows you how much you must suffer for His name’s sake (Acts 9:16).

We’ve seen that there is far more about Jesus than we can ever know. We begin with Him by trusting Him as our Lamb that God has provided to take away our sins. Jesus begins with us where we’re at, but He begins to change us into what He wants us to be.

4. We continue with Jesus by following Him as Lord (Philip; 1:43-44).

In 1:43, “he purposed” could refer to Andrew or to Peter. D. A. Carson (The Gospel According to John [Eerdmans/Apollos], p. 157) argues that it is Andrew because it enforces the point “that everyone else who comes to Jesus in this chapter does so because of someone else’s witness.” This supports John’s practical emphasis on the importance of our witness for Christ. But most commentators and translations (NASB, ESV, NIV, NKJV) understand “he” to refer to Jesus. At any rate, as soon as Jesus and Philip meet, Jesus says, “Follow Me.”

All that we know about Philip (apart from his name in the lists of apostles) we learn in the Gospel of John. We don’t know how much he knew about Jesus before this initial encounter. Either before or shortly after he knew that Jesus was the one about whom Moses and the Prophets had written (1:45). But he also describes Jesus as being from Nazareth and the son of Joseph, so he probably didn’t understand that Jesus was from Bethlehem, born of the virgin Mary. All we’re told is that Jesus commanded Philip to follow Him and based on Philip’s excited words to Nathanael, he obeyed. There must have been something about Jesus’ authority and presence that caused Philip to respond to Jesus’ command.

We’re also told here (1:44) that Philip, Andrew, and Peter were all from Bethsaida. Calvin (p. 74) points out that this demonstrates God’s grace, since Jesus later pronounced judgment on the people of that city because they had rejected the witness of His miracles and had not repented of their sins (Matt. 11:21). But where sin abounded, God’s grace super-abounded. He chose these three disciples from that faithless city.

When Christ calls us to salvation, He also calls us to follow Him as Lord wherever He chooses to lead us. Marla and I just read Evidence Not Seen [Harper], an autobiographical account by Darlene Deibler Rose of her time in an awful Japanese prisoner of war camp in Indonesia during World War II. She and her husband had gone there as missionaries to reach some of the primitive people in the interior of Papua. But the Japanese imprisoned them, along with all foreigners. Her husband was taken away without warning, and she never saw him alive again. She endured time on death row in solitary confinement in a bare cell, subsisting on a meager bowl of worm-infested rice each day. It’s an amazing story of the faith and endurance of a woman who followed Christ as Lord.

While the Lord doesn’t call us all to that kind of life, He does call us all to follow Him wherever and however He commands. He is the Lord and we’re His slaves. While He always has our ultimate good in mind, the path sometimes is pretty rough! The call to be a Christian is the call to follow Jesus wherever He commands.

5. We mature with Jesus as He reveals truth to us about ourselves and about Him (Nathanael; 1:44-51).

We looked at Jesus’ encounter with Nathanael last week. He is probably the same as Bartholomew, who is linked with Philip in all three Synoptic lists of the apostles (Matt. 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14; but not in Acts 1:13). His initial response to Philip’s statement that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, was not enthusiastic (1:46): “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” But Philip convinced him with the simple reply, “Come and see.”

Jesus instantly let Nathanael know that He knew him inside and out. He knew that Nathanael was a man without guile or deceit (1:47). He told it like he saw it. Jesus’ words to Nathanael are a play on Jacob’s name and character. Jacob was a deceiver, whose name was changed to Israel. Here, it’s as if Jesus is saying of Nathanael, “Look, Israel without a trace of Jacob left in him!” (L. Trudinger, cited by Andreas Kostenberger, John [Baker], p. 82.) Jesus apparently knew that Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree, meditating on Jacob’s dream of the ladder coming down out of heaven (1:51). So He said to him (1:50), “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

Nathanael is the first man in John’s gospel who is said to believe in Jesus and he is the first to receive a promise from Christ. His testimony teaches us that there are degrees of growth in coming to know Christ. Nathanael was already a student of the Scriptures, searching them to know who the Messiah would be (1:45). But he needed to meet Jesus in person. That meeting brought him to believe in Jesus as the Son of God and the King of Israel (1:49). But Jesus would reveal still more to Nathanael in the future. As we’ve seen, Jesus is far greater than any of us realized when we first came to believe in Him. So the Christian life is a wonderful relationship in which we come to know Jesus in a deeper and deeper way (Phil. 3:8-14).


Each of these five men had different personalities and gifts. The Lord would use each of them in different ways. Peter and John were more well-known than the others and both men would write inspired Scripture. Peter was changed from an impulsive, speak first and think later, man into a solid, faithful leader in the early church. John, originally a “son of thunder,” became the apostle of love. Andrew is always listed fourth in the lists of apostles. He was content not to be first or to preach to large crowds. But in John’s Gospel, he is always bringing someone to Jesus.

Philip seems to have been a man of somewhat limited ability, focusing on the negative (John 6:7; 14:8). But he was a faithful servant of Christ. Tradition says that he later had an effective ministry in Asia Minor and died there as a martyr. We know almost nothing else about Nathanael. He is in the group of apostles that goes fishing after the resurrection and encounters the risen Lord on the shore of the Sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Listed as Bartholomew, he was with the apostles waiting in the Upper Room for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13). Early traditions say that he ministered in Persia, India, and Armenia and probably was martyred (John MacArthur, Twelve Ordinary Men [W Publishing Group], p. 147).

But each of these men met Jesus and He changed their lives drastically for time and eternity. Whatever your personality or background, if you will come to know Jesus personally as your Savior and follow Him as Lord, He will use your life for His eternal purpose.

Application Questions

  1. Why is it important to emphasize that Christianity isn’t just knowing about Jesus, but knowing Jesus personally? What are some important differences between these two conditions?
  2. Can a person be saved without some degree of conviction of sin? Why must the fact that we are sinners be a part of any gospel presentation, even to “good, religious” people?
  3. If a Christian told you that he tried to spend time each day reading the Bible and praying, but it wasn’t doing anything for him, how would you counsel him? Be specific.
  4. John Calvin begins The Institutes as follows: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” What are some practical implications of this statement?

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

Related Topics: Discipleship, Soteriology (Salvation), Spiritual Life

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