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Why People Follow Jesus, Part I

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Introduction1

What a difference there is between saying “I do” to the one you love, and saying “I will” to your local Army recruiter. “I do” is the commencement of a life-long relationship, one in which love and commitment will grow, and intimacy will be a delight. That life appropriately commences with a honeymoon. “I will” gets you another kind of relationship, with your drill sergeant, and it commences with boot camp. Here, you have committed yourself to several years of duty. Calling it a delight would be a stretch of the imagination. Both the “I do” and the “I will” are important, but they are certainly not the same.

Sadly, I fear that there are a number of Christians who think of being a disciple of Jesus as an “I will” situation, rather than as an “I do.” They think of the Christian life more in terms of duties than in terms of delight. Don’t get me wrong. The Christian life does have its duties and obligations, just as marriage does, but these “duties” should also be our delight. The Christian life is not meant to be something we merely endure; it is meant to be something that we enjoy.

I would ask you to think back on that time when you first came to faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. Was this not a joyful experience? Did you not delight in the realization that the penalty for your sins had been paid? Did you not rejoice in knowing that you had been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light, and in the assurance that you had turned from the path that led to death to the path of life?

As we consider the subject of discipleship, I would like to do so by going back to the beginning. Where and how did discipleship begin? What was it like? I believe that the way discipleship begins is the way it ought to be from that moment on. Is this not what Scripture teaches?

Therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him (Colossians 2:6).

And so our purpose in this lesson is to consider the commencement of discipleship as we find it in three chapters of John’s Gospel: chapter 1, chapter 4, and chapter 21. Chapter 1 describes our Lord’s initial invitation to five men who would become His disciples. Chapter 4 is the account of the conversion of the “woman at the well” and of many in the Samaritan town where she lived. Chapter 21 is our Lord’s confirmation of His call to discipleship, particularly Peter’s call. Listen well, for this is how discipleship began, and it is thus the way discipleship should be.

The Initial Invitation to Follow Jesus
John 1:19-51

19 Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 He confessed – he did not deny but confessed – “I am not the Christ!” 21 So they asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not!” “Are you the Prophet?” He answered, “No!” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you? Tell us so that we can give an answer to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” 23 John said, “I am the voice of one shouting in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” 24 (Now they had been sent from the Pharisees.) 25 So they asked John, “Why then are you baptizing if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not recognize, 27 who is coming after me. I am not worthy to untie the strap of his sandal!” 28 These things happened in Bethany across the Jordan River where John was baptizing. 29 On the next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one about whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who is greater than I am, because he existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him, but I came baptizing with water so that he could be revealed to Israel.” 32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God.” 35 Again the next day John was standing there with two of his disciples. 36 Gazing at Jesus as he walked by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned around and saw them following and said to them, “What do you want?” So they said to him, “Rabbi” (which is translated Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 Jesus answered, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day. Now it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, was one of the two disciples who heard what John said and followed Jesus. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which is translated Christ). 42 Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 43 On the next day Jesus wanted to set out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 (Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter.) 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael replied, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “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 said to him, “Because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 He continued, “I tell all of you the solemn truth – you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:19-51).2

John’s ministry in relation to the coming of the Messiah is presented in two stages in our text. In verses 19-37, we find his initial ministry described. We might summarize John’s message in this way:

“Messiah is coming; indeed, He is in our midst. I am not the Messiah; He is One who is much greater than I. At the moment, I do not know who He is, but what I do know is that He will soon be revealed, and you need to repent to be ready for His appearance.”

Initially, John the Baptist did not know the identity of Messiah with any degree of certainty. He did know that he was not the Messiah, but rather that he was the forerunner of Messiah, the prophet whom God had appointed to designate the Messiah as Israel’s king.3 He knew the Messiah was One who was far greater than he.4 He believed that the Messiah would come to bear the sins of the world5 and that He would likewise judge those who rejected Him and persisted in their sins.6

John knew also that he was called to baptize. I believe that the Scriptures indicate at least two reasons for John’s baptism. First, baptism was the symbolic ritual whereby the Jews publicly repented of their sins. Second, baptism was the means by which God would identify Messiah for John:

32 Then John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending like a dove from heaven, and it remained on him. 33 And I did not recognize him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining – this is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have both seen and testified that this man is the Chosen One of God” (John 1:32-34).

And so it is that we come to the second stage of John’s ministry as described in verses 29-36. Since John did not know who the Messiah was, God informed him that Jesus would be one of those he would baptize. His baptism would be unique in that John would see the Holy Spirit descending upon Him and then remaining. In this way, God would indicate the identity of the Messiah to John. When John baptized Jesus, the Spirit descended upon Jesus and remained on Him,7 so from that point in time onward, John introduced Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”8

John the Baptist was standing with some of his disciples when Jesus was walking nearby. He once again identified Jesus as the promised Messiah:

“Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36b)

Hearing this, two of John’s disciples left John and began to follow Jesus. Jesus turned, looked at them, and asked them what (not who) they wanted (by following Him). They responded by asking Jesus where He was staying. Surely this was more than a matter of mere curiosity; I believe this was a polite way of asking Jesus if they could follow Him. Our Lord’s response was an invitation, “Come and you will see.” It was about 10:00 in the morning,9 and they spent the rest of the day with Jesus. What a day that must have been!

John names Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, as one of the two former disciples of John who just now “transferred their membership” to Jesus. Andrew could not wait to tell his brother about Jesus – they had found the Messiah! I now realize that I formerly failed to read this text carefully enough. I erred by assuming that this was a traditional introduction – Andrew brings Peter to Jesus and introduces him to Jesus. But this is not what our text says:

Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (verse 42)

As I now read this verse, I see that Andrew was in the process of bringing Simon Peter to Jesus. The two are approaching Jesus, but before they have a chance to say anything, Jesus speaks. He looks at Peter and says, “You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas.” By so doing, Jesus is making it clear to Peter that He already knows him. He does not have to be introduced. He identifies Peter by name, and even indicates his father’s name. And then He proceeds to give Peter a new name, which indicates something about Peter’s future. If what I am suggesting seems far-fetched, it will become increasingly clear in the light of conversations that will follow in the Gospel of John.

In verse 43, Jesus calls Philip, who, like Peter and Andrew, was from Bethsaida. Philip then found Nathanael and told him the good news about Jesus:

“We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law, and the prophets also wrote about – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (John 1:45b).

Nathanael was not immediately impressed or inclined to accept Philip’s assessment of Jesus. Philip makes no effort to convince Nathanael that Jesus is the Messiah. He simply repeats the invitation that Jesus gave to the two disciples of John: “Come and see.” I think we might paraphrase Philip’s words this way, “Don’t take my word for it; come and see for yourself.”

How often we attempt to convince men that Jesus is the Messiah, rather than to urge men to “come and see for themselves” by reading the Scriptures. How often some men reject Jesus on the basis of what others have told them, or (worse yet) on the basis of what they have seen in the lives of some who claim to know Him. Men need to be urged to listen to Jesus’ own words, and then to decide whether or not He is the Messiah.

Philip did “come and see,” and what he saw convinced him:

Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” (John 1:49)

What was so compelling that Nathanael was transformed from a skeptic to a disciple? John tells us:

47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and exclaimed, “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “How do you know me?” Jesus replied, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you” (John 1:47-48).

Once again, Jesus says something to a potential disciple before any other words have been spoken. Instead of giving Nathanael’s name (as Jesus did with Peter), Jesus identifies Nathanael by indicating his character: “Look, a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael did not respond by saying, “Who, me?” Instead, he replied, “How do you know me?” Nathanael was amazed that Jesus knew him intimately; Jesus knew far more than just his name, and his father’s name – He knew his character. If he was impressed by this, Jesus would really amaze him with His next statement: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” We don’t know what Jesus saw under that fig tree – but Nathanael did! Jesus knew all about him. Jesus was omniscient! Jesus was God! He was the Messiah; He was the King of Israel!

Our Lord’s words in verses 50 and 51 are even more amazing to us, though it would seem that Nathanael did not understand them at the time. Jesus was referring to Jacob’s dream of a ladder reaching into heaven in Genesis 28. At the time, Jacob was awe struck at the realization of where the ladder was placed (that physical spot in Israel – the place he named Bethel), but as we are about to learn from our next text in John 4, it is no longer a matter of the place of worship, but rather the person to worship. Jesus is Jacob’s ladder. He is the mediator between God and man, between heaven and earth.

John 4:3-42

3 He left Judea and set out once more for Galilee. 4 But he had to pass through Samaria. 5 Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon. 7 A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) 9 So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you – a Jew – ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? 12 Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 16 He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” 17 The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ 18 for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” 27 Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman. However, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” 28 Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” 30 So they left the town and began coming to him. 31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. 35 Don’t you say, ‘There are four more months and then comes the harvest?’ I tell you, look up and see that the fields are already white for harvest! 36 The one who reaps receives pay and gathers fruit for eternal life, so that the one who sows and the one who reaps can rejoice together. 37 For in this instance the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you did not work for; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.” 39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the report of the woman who testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they began asking him to stay with them. He stayed there two days, 41 and because of his word many more believed. 42 They said to the woman, “No longer do we believe because of your words, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this one really is the Savior of the world” (John 4:3-42).

Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman while He waits for His disciples to return from town. I note first of all that Jesus got this woman’s attention by establishing a relationship with her, a relationship unlike any she had ever known with a man, a relationship that her religion and Judaism prohibited. He was a man; she was a woman. The disciples were amazed to see Jesus speaking to a woman.10 Beyond this, she was an immoral woman, as Jesus was about to reveal.11 I am reminded of the separatist attitude of the Pharisees as revealed in Luke 7:

36 Now one of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. 37 Then when a woman of that town, who was a sinner, learned that Jesus was dining at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfumed oil. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. She wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfumed oil. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner” (Luke 7:36-39, emphasis mine).

If Jesus knew about Peter and Nathanael (as He surely did), then He also knew about this woman’s immorality. That will become apparent in a moment. But in spite of her sin, Jesus seeks to draw her to faith, and thus to discipleship. A Pharisee would be horrified at the thought of such a relationship with Messiah.

In addition, the woman at the well was a Samaritan; Jesus was a Jew. She was amazed that Jesus would be dealing with her as He did.12 Jews and Samaritans differed greatly in their beliefs about God and about the coming Messiah.13 In spite of all these apparent barriers, Jesus will become her Savior, along with many others who lived in her city.14

Jesus graciously directed His conversation with this Samaritan woman in such a way as to get to the heart of the matter: her sin, the nature of true worship, and the identity of Messiah. There was no value in debating whether God should be worshipped on one mountain or another, because He was to be worshipped in Spirit and in truth.15 When the Messiah comes, He is the One who is to be worshipped. Worship is no longer a matter of finding the right place, but of recognizing the right person. And Jesus was that Person.16

Their conversation was interrupted by the return of our Lord’s disciples. We hardly find it shocking to read that their concern was with the lunch they had just purchased in town, rather than with loosing this woman from the bonds of sin. She left her water pot and hurried back to the city to tell the others about Jesus. Her message was simple: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?17 As a result of her testimony, many came from the city to hear Jesus themselves, and many believed. Jesus remained with them for two days, affirming their relationship with Him through faith.

In the broader sense, the woman at the well became a disciple, a follower of Jesus. And she did what disciples were meant to do. She believed in Jesus, and then she told others about Him. I would like to pause for a moment to make some observations and applications, based upon these two “disciple” texts – the calling of the five disciples in John 1, and the calling of the woman at the well (and others) in John 4.

First, let us consider who Jesus called to a relationship with Himself. These folks were not among those voted “most likely to succeed” by their peers. The disciples were Galileans, not highly respected by the religious elite:

45 Then the officers returned to the chief priests and Pharisees, who said to them, “Why didn’t you bring him back with you?” 46 The officers replied, “No one ever spoke like this man!” 47 Then the Pharisees answered, “You haven’t been deceived too, have you? 48 None of the rulers or the Pharisees have believed in him, have they? 49 But this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!” 50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, 51 “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” 52 They replied, “ You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” (John 7:45-52, emphasis mine)

Several of the disciples were fishermen, and none were men of status, position, or educational standing. As their opponents would later note, they were not men of learning:

When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13, emphasis mine).

The woman at the well and the people of her city were Samaritans, about as low on the social scale as one could get (at least this was how the Jews perceived it). And remember that the woman’s moral life had to be a matter of public knowledge in her town.

Are these the kinds of people you would choose to represent Messiah and to announce His appearance? I think not. But I think I can see several reasons why our Lord would have purposely chosen such individuals.

These were the kind of people our Lord had come to save:

16 When the experts in the law and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this he said to them, “Those who are healthy don’t need a physician, but those who are sick do. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:16-17).

26 Think about the circumstances of your call, brothers and sisters. Not many were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were born to a privileged position. 27 But God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, 29 so that no one can boast in his presence (1 Corinthians 1:26-29).

Beyond this, however, those our Lord chose to bear witness of Him were the people considered unsaveable by the Jewish religious leaders. The religious elite assumed that they had 50-yard-line seats in the kingdom of God and that the lowly masses were condemned:

    “But this rabble who do not know the law are accursed!”18

Jesus turned the tables on the religious elite by offering hope to the hopeless and warning to the presumptuous:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:3-5).


28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry” (Matthew 11:28-30).

“ For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven – only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. 22 On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, and in your name cast out demons and do many powerful deeds?’ 23 Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you. Go away from me, you lawbreakers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

27 “Woe to you, experts in the law and you Pharisees, hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs that look beautiful on the outside but inside are full of the bones of the dead and of everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you look righteous to people, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:27-28).19

The self-righteous religious leaders had convinced many that they were the gatekeepers of heaven. They were certain that they would be there, and that the masses would not. Certainly “sinners” would not be there. And yet Jesus chose to save sinners, while He condemned the self-righteous. When Jesus chose to save those who were undeserving and unimpressive to be His disciples, it gave hope to all those who considered themselves unworthy. Jesus came to save unworthy sinners by grace, not to pass out merit badges to those who try harder. Trying harder is what kept the self-righteous from heaven.20 If Jesus had chosen the “elite,” the undeserving would reason, “I’ll never make it.” But when Jesus called those who were regarded as “losers” to be His disciples, it greatly encouraged other “losers”: “If He can choose them to follow Him, then I believe I can follow Him as well.”

If you were demonstrating the cleaning power of a new brand of laundry soap, would you use the filthiest clothes you could find, or the cleanest? I’d pick the worst possible clothing, with the most impossible stains. If the laundry soap can take the stains from these garments, then it will work for me as well.

Second, I want to call your attention to how quickly and willingly these new followers of Jesus began to witness to others. Jesus gave no instructions to any of His followers to “go tell others,” but they did, and they did so almost immediately after they met Him. It seems to me that many Christians appear to feel that you must first be commanded to go and make disciples and that you can do so only after considerable instruction. These early followers of Jesus knew very little about Jesus, except that He was the most amazing person they had ever met – and He claimed to be the Messiah. They did not debate with those who doubted; they did not seek to use any apologetics to convince the skeptical. They simply encouraged others to see for themselves and draw their own conclusions. The woman at the well doesn’t even seem to be fully convinced herself:

“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” (John 4:29, emphasis mine)

I am almost tempted to say that new believers do not need to be commanded to evangelize or to learn how to do so. They intuitively and spontaneously do so. I fear that one might say that new believers too quickly learn not to evangelize. In part, this may be due to the negative reaction they get from those who are offended by their direct and enthusiastic approach. And it may also be due to their exposure to older, more “cautious” Christians. I fear, too, that these new believers are swept into the church and encouraged not to return to their old associates (lest they be tempted to return to their old sinful lifestyle). Pretty soon their unsaved friends are gone, and their new friends are all Christians. The opportunity to evangelize their pagan peers is lost. The woman at the well went immediately to her friends and acquaintances with the good news about Jesus. They were the ones who needed to hear, and hear they did.

Third, I want you to take note that when our Lord called these folks to follow Him, He made it very clear to them that He knew all about them. This is a most important point, and it is one that is emphasized in both John 1 and John 4. When Jesus saw Peter coming toward Him, He identified him and his father before Andrew could even introduce him. He then gave Peter the name Cephas, indicating His knowledge about Peter’s future. Jesus knew who Peter was and what he would become. I am certain that He knew Peter would deny Him as well.21

It is very clear that Jesus knew all about Nathanael at the time He called him. Jesus knew that he was “an Israelite in whom there was no deceit”,22 as well as knowing what he was doing under that fig tree before Philip called him.23 Nathanael rightly said, “How do you know me?” Jesus knew Nathanael completely at the time he was invited to “come and see” who Jesus was.

The same is true for the woman at the well. Jesus needed to expose her sin so that she would trust in Him as the sin-bearer (as John had identified Him – John 1:29, 36). That is why it is twice said that Jesus told her everything she had done (John 4:29, 39).

What does this mean? What is so important about our Lord knowing everything about those whom He called? I believe that the Spirit of God is emphasizing a very important truth here. He is making it clear that our Lord is omniscient – He knows all. We are being informed that our Lord knew all about the people He called when He called them. Nothing that any of these people had done, or would do, would come as a surprise to our Lord.

Recently, several people I know have sold their old home and have purchased a newer one. I don’t know a lot about real estate, but I do know that when the buyer signs a contract, there are certain provisions included in the contract for unforeseen events. If during the inspection of the home a major problem is discovered, provision is made to set the contract aside, to fix the problem at the owner’s expense, or to reduce the purchase price. Such provisions in a contract are necessary and important because there are almost always some unexpected surprises. When our Lord calls us to follow Him, He knows us intimately and completely; there will be no surprises to Him. And thus we can be assured that we are secure.

On the other hand, when our Lord calls us, we know very little about Him. There will be many surprises as we get to know Him more intimately. But every surprise is a pleasant one! It just gets better and better. Can you imagine how many pleasant surprises these new disciples experienced? The five disciples of John chapter 1 would soon accompany Jesus to a wedding where they would witness Him turning water into wine, the first sign to manifest our Lord’s glory.24 In John’s Gospel, they would see Jesus heal a paralytic,25 feed the 5,000,26 walk on water,27 give sight to the blind,28 and raise the dead.29

Have you ever bought a used car? It was probably shiny and clean, inside and out. But often when you look more carefully, you begin to see the flaws. There may be a slight dent or a scratch here and there. There may be some rust that you did not detect in your initial enthusiasm. The motor may leak a little oil, or – worse yet – burn a little oil. The more you look, the more problems you can expect to find. The exact opposite is true when we trust in Jesus. We find Him without any flaws. Indeed, we will spend all eternity discovering more and more of His perfections. He knows us completely, and He chooses us anyway. We know Him only in part, but it only gets better as we come to know Him more intimately.

John 21

1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Now this is how he did so. 2 Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael (who was from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of his were together. 3 Simon Peter told them, “I am going fishing.” “We will go with you,” they replied. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 4 When it was already very early morning, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 5 So Jesus said to them, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” They replied, “No.” 6 He told them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they threw the net, and were not able to pull it in because of the large number of fish. 7 Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” So Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, tucked in his outer garment (for he had nothing on underneath it), and plunged into the sea. 8 Meanwhile the other disciples came with the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards. 9 When they got out on the beach, they saw a charcoal fire ready with a fish placed on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just now caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three, but although there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 “Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said. But none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

15 Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” 16 Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Shepherd my sheep.” 17 Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. 18 I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.” 19 (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.) After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.” 20 Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) 21 So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” 22 Jesus replied, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” 23 So the saying circulated among the brothers and sisters that this disciple was not going to die. But Jesus did not say to him that he was not going to die, but rather, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours?” (John 21:1-23)

You might accuse me of cheating here. I said that we were going to look at the way our Lord first called His disciples and seek to discover what it was about Jesus that attracted men and women to follow Him. How can we go to the last chapter of John and still be talking about the initial calling of the disciples?

I believe I can demonstrate that the events described in John 21 are reminders of how discipleship began, not only for Peter, but also for his fellow-disciples. To begin with, the fishing incident described in John 21:1-14 is a throwback (pardon the pun) to the call of the disciples as recorded in Luke 5:

1 Now Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing around him to hear the word of God. 2 He saw two boats by the lake, but the fishermen had gotten out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, which was Simon’s, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then Jesus sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and lower your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing! But at your word I will lower the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets started to tear. 7 So they motioned to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they were about to sink. 8 But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” 9 For Peter and all who were with him were astonished at the catch of fish that they had taken, 10 and so were James and John, Zebedee’s sons, who were Simon’s business partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” 11 So when they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him (Luke 5:1-11).

A lot of water has gone under the bridge in John’s Gospel since the calling of the disciples in chapter 1. In addition to witnessing many of our Lord’s miracles, Jesus has told His disciples about His rejection, crucifixion, and resurrection, and about the coming of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus was arrested, all the disciples fled, and Peter denied our Lord three times. Now, after His resurrection, our Lord has already appeared to them on two occasions.30 And now He appears a third time in John 21, and He does so while they are fishing. Had they concluded that it was “back to business” as usual? Did they think it was all over now? Then they were wrong! Our Lord is going to confirm their calling, beginning with a general confirmation and ending with a specific exhortation to Peter, who had denied Him three times.

I believe that this final chapter of John was intended to bring to mind the original call of the disciples. The similarity between this “fishing story” and the call of the disciples after their fishing success in Luke 5 is deliberate and purposeful. Jesus is reissuing His call to discipleship. Their discipleship has not ended; it is just beginning. Now they really will become fishers of men.

In our Lord’s dealings with Peter in John 21:15-23, He refers to him three times as “Simon, son of John.31 This is how Jesus referred to Peter the first time they met, in John 1:

“You are Simon, the son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:42)

There is no other place in the New Testament where Peter is called “Simon, son of John.” Our Lord is therefore reminding Peter of their first meeting and thus of what motivated him to become a disciple in the first place. And so three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Him, and three times Peter (somewhat painfully) affirms his love for the Savior. Each time that Peter confirms his love for Jesus, our Lord commissions him to care for His sheep:

“Feed my lambs” (verse 15).
“Shepherd my sheep” (verse 16).
“Feed my sheep” (verse 17).

Peter’s “discipleship” is to be fulfilled as he cares for the sheep of his Master. This was our Lord’s calling as we read in John 10. He came and laid down His life for His sheep:

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. 13 Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away. 14 “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me – 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd. 17 This is why the Father loves me – because I lay down my life, so that I may take it back again. 18 No one takes it away from me, but I lay it down of my own free will. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it back again. This commandment I received from my Father” (John 10:11-18).

Now that the Good Shepherd has given His life for His sheep, He is concerned that His sheep will be properly fed and cared for after His departure to the Father. Peter is commissioned to tend our Lord’s sheep.32 What our Lord says next to Peter indicates to him that he, too, will lay down his life for the sheep.33 Twice our Lord will say to Peter in this intimate conversation, “Follow Me!34

Our Lord’s conversation with Peter was a confirmation of his calling as a disciple. The fact that Jesus would ask Peter three times if he loved Him was a gracious reminder of Peter’s three-fold denial, just as his three-fold recommissioning was an encouraging affirmation of his discipleship. Peter’s failure (denial) under pressure was not the end of his relationship with Jesus; it was the humbling experience that Peter needed to be equipped to minister to others. Jesus had indicated this before he stumbled:

31 “Simon, Simon, pay attention! Satan has demanded to have you all, to sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. When you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death!” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow today until you have denied three times that you know me” (Luke 22:31-34, emphasis mine).

Let us take note of the fact that just as our Lord foretold Peter’s failure in the hearing of the other disciples, so He now affirms Peter’s apostleship in the hearing of his fellow-disciples. How easy it would have been for them to reject Peter’s leadership because of his failure. Our Lord makes it known to Peter and to his peers that he has been restored.

Notice the basis of Peter’s ministry here – his love for the Master. That is why Peter (and the others) followed Jesus in the first place. It is why they follow Him now. They love Him. Their status and their service as saints are not conditioned upon their perfection, but on the perfection of the Master. Their service is not motivated by guilt (as can so often be the case with ministry in the church), but upon grace. They serve Jesus out of pure delight. Following Jesus is not based upon duty, but upon beauty – the beauty of our lovely Savior.

Why do people follow Jesus today? It is not because those who bear witness to Jesus are perfect. It is not because our arguments are so compelling. It is simply because unworthy sinners have experienced the saving grace of Jesus and then pointed others to Him as well. Men and women are not convinced and converted by us; our task is merely to point them to Jesus and let them learn of Him.

When I was in prison ministry, I was teaching a seminar in a maximum security prison in Texas. Some of the volunteers who came to the prison with me were ex-offenders. One of the men had served time in this very prison. An inmate asked me if some of the ex-offenders could share their testimony. I will never forget one man’s testimony as long as I live. He shared that he had stolen an expensive motorcycle, had been arrested, and was awaiting his trial. He was obviously apprehensive about the future. Someone suggested to him that he needed to read the Bible. And so he got one – actually (so he confessed), he stole one. He was living in a house with some other members of a motorcycle gang. As he began to read the New Testament for the first time, this man read the stories of Jesus in the Gospels. He was so touched by the beauty of Jesus in the Gospels that he began to sob. In order to keep the other gang members from hearing him, he went into the bathroom and turned on the water so that his weeping would not be heard. And so, being brought to Jesus in the Bible, he was saved, and now he followed Him by going back into the same prison where he served his time. All he needed was for someone to point him to Jesus, and when he saw Him, he loved Him.

My friend, have you met Jesus? Have your read of Him in the Bible? Have you heard His call? He invites you to trust in Him and to follow Him. He knows everything you have ever done, and will ever do. He is not shocked by your sin because He has taken it on Himself. Don’t take my word for it. Hear Him for yourself. You will never be disappointed. You may stumble and fall, as Peter did, but be assured that your eternal future does not rest upon your perfection, but on His. Follow Him.


1 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 3 in the Following Jesus in a Me-First World series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on October 1, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 Just as Samuel designated Saul, and later David, as Israel’s king.

4 See John 1:27.

5 See John 1:29, 36.

6 Matthew 3:10-12.

7 John 1:32.

8 John 1:29, 36.

9 A.T. Robertson remarks, “To his latest day John never forgot the hour when first he met Jesus.” A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (electronic edition, BibleWorks 6, en loc).

10 John 4:27.

11 John 4:16-18.

12 John 4:9.

13 John 4:19-26.

14 John 4:42.

15 John 4:24.

16 John 4:26.

17 John 4:29.

18 John 7:49.

19 Also consider the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The Pharisees assumed that the rich would go to heaven, and that the poor (especially beggars) would not. In this story, Jesus reverses their “reality.” The poor man goes to heaven, while the rich man goes to hell.

20 See Romans 9:30—10:4.

21 See Luke 22:31-34.

22 John 1:47.

23 John 1:48.

24 John 2:1-11.

25 John 5:1-9ff.

26 John 6:1-14.

27 John 6:16-21.

28 John 9:1-41.

29 John 11:1-44.

30 See John 21:14.

31 John 21:15, 16, 17.

32 Peter will pass this commission to shepherd the flock of God on to others in 1 Peter 5:1-4.

33 See John 21:18-19.

34 John 21:19, 22.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life