How Disciples Are Made
A sermon based on John 1:43-51
Sunday, January 15, 2012 – Epiphany 2B
The story is told of a young woman who wanted to go to college. But as she read the question on the application that asked, "Are you a leader?" her heart sank. Being honest, she wrote, "No. I'm not really a leader," and returned the application, expecting the worst. But to her surprise, she received this letter from the college: "Dear Applicant: A study of the application forms reveals that this year our college will have 1,452 new leaders. We are accepting you because we feel it is imperative that they have at least one follower."
We don't naturally follow, do we? We like to lead. We like to be in charge. We like to call the shots. But that's not what Christianity is about. Oh, sure, there are opportunities to be leaders, but we're really called to follow. We're called to follow, not some earthly leader, but Jesus. Those who follow him are his disciples. But if it doesn't come naturally that we follow, then how are disciples (or followers) made? In the words of the disciple, Philip, "Come and see…"
Listen now to John1:43-51, the Gospel Lesson for this Second Sunday after Epiphany and learn how disciples are made…
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.
"Come and see," said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
48 "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."
49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
50 Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51 He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
I. Jesus Says, "Follow Me"
So, how are disciples made? Well, let's start with Philip. How did Philip come to know Jesus? What does John say? Jesus found him. Not the other way around. Jesus took the initiative. Jesus called Philip to be his disciple.
How about Nathanael? How did he come to know Jesus? Again, Jesus took the initiative. Sure Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus. But Nathanael wasn't buying Philip's story. You see, being a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false, he knew his Scriptures. And so he assumed that Jesus couldn't possibly be the Messiah because he was from Nazareth. And, as we heard last week in the verse the King Herod discovered in his "Bible study," the Scriptures clearly said the Messiah would come from Bethlehem.
But when Nathanael was confused and could not believe in Jesus, Jesus came to him. And by demonstrating his omniscience, indicating to Nathanael that he saw, that he knew, exactly where he was: under the tree, that he knew exactly what Nathanael was doing, exactly what he was thinking, he proved to Nathanael who he was.
When Philip and Nathanael could not have known who Jesus was, when they could not know their escape from sin and hell, Jesus revealed himself to them so they could confess, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God!"
And really, is it so different for us? Jesus took the initiative with you and me too. Jesus has called us to follow him. But sometimes we follow him like we follow a "friend" on Twitter or Facebook. We "Like" Jesus and we check in on him from time to time to see what he's up to. We go to church occasionally or scan our Bibles to see his most recent "wall post." But then we leave, go back to our business and follow our own pursuits. Because we, like those 1,452 college applicants, think we're really the best leaders.
We don't really want to follow. We don't really want to follow Jesus when he tells us to quit that particular sin we find so appealing. We don't really want to follow him when following means we might get ridiculed. We don't really want to follow Jesus when it might be inconvenient or I might have to give up something I consider my own.
And for refusing to follow him, we deserve to be left in the dust.
But thankfully, when Jesus said, "Follow me," he didn't mean "Follow my example." He didn't mean "Follow in my footsteps as you do exactly as I do, as you love perfectly, as you give 100%, as you obey all my commands."
No! When he said, "Follow me," he meant it sort of like the way a firefighter leading someone out of a burning building cries, "Follow me!" "Follow me to safety! Come this way and I'll show you the way out that your life may be spared."
Sort of like… but not exactly… Because even that we couldn't do. So Jesus did more than just show us the way out of the burning building; he carried us out. He picked us up and rescued us from hell. Jesus found us. Not the other way around. Jesus took the initiative. Jesus called us to be his disciples and he called us to safety.
And how'd he do it? Look at the last verse. Speaking to a true Israelite, who would know his Scriptures well, Nathanael would certainly have picked up on Jesus' clear allusion to Jacob's ladder, that stairway that Jacob saw in his dream with angels ascending and descending:
"I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
How does one get into heaven? The Son of Man, that is, Jesus, is the ladder. When we couldn't climb up to God, he descended to come down to us. And Jesus followed the law perfectly. He followed the Father's will. He followed the plan. And becoming sin for us, he took our sin away. And when he calls to us by his Holy Spirit, "Follow me," he creates the very faith in our hearts that put our trust in him, making us willing to follow him out on a limb and put our entire trust in him and in his work for us.
Far more exciting that having Jesus read his mind, Nathanael would see Jesus rescue him from hell and carry him to heaven. Through Jesus, disciples are made. Through Jesus, saints are made. Through Jesus, we are saved. And now, through us—his saved, sainted, disciples—other disciples are made…
II. We Say, "Come and See"
How are disciples made? Jesus calls them. But how does Jesus call them? Through other disciples. Most likely, Philip heard about Jesus through Andrew and Peter. That's why John includes that detail, "Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida." In fact, if you back up just a few verses in John 1, you'll find that Andrew and Peter were called to be Jesus' disciples only the day before, when John the Baptist (another disciple of Jesus) pointed them to him.
How did Nathanael come to meet Jesus? Philip brought him. So, the Holy Spirit brought John the Baptist, who brought Andrew, who brought Peter, who possibly brought Philip, who brought Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew. And according to historian, Eusebius, and church father, St. Jerome, Nathanael took the Gospel to India and shared the good news with people there.
See how God works? While he could have sent angels to share the Gospel with trumpet blasts or sent his Holy Spirit directly to individual hearts, that's not the way he usually operates. Usually he works through people, like John and Andrew and Peter and Philip and Nathanael… and you.
How do your neighbors come to faith? How do your co-workers believe in Jesus? How do your family become true disciples? Well, Jesus still calls them. You can't create faith in their hearts. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But how do they meet Jesus? Through you.
So what's the strategy? It's the same as Philip's. And what was that? Well, he didn't study for six months first, then say, "Here, Nathanael, let me prove to you who Jesus is." He didn't say, "I can answer every objection that you might have." No. He simply said, "Come and see." "Come and see for yourself. Come, meet the man. Let him convince you. Let him call you."
You don't need to prove to others that Jesus can help them. You don't need to argue the point. Don't need to have every Bible verse in the Bible memorized, or a rehearsed speech down pat. And you don't need to have an answer for every objection they might have. All you need to do is invite them to meet Jesus for themselves. Just do like Philip did and say, "Come and see. Come and see this Jesus in whom I believe. Come and let him convince you by his love."
So, here's your challenge: Right now, think of someone who needs to meet Jesus. Maybe it's someone who already professes to know him, but still doesn't really follow him. Maybe it's someone at work or someone at school. Maybe it's someone in your family or someone at home. Now, here's what I want you do… And here's what we're eager to do in thanks to Jesus for making us his disciples and rescuing us: Invite them. Invite them to worship to come and see Jesus. Invite them to watch the webcast of our worship or Bible study. And follow up with them to see what they thought. Invite them to come to our next movie night to begin the dialogue of faith. Tell them, "Come and see," and introduce them to Jesus.
And the cool thing is, you won't be doing it alone. The same Jesus who saw Nathanael sitting under the fig tree… sees you. He will be with you, at your side, strengthening you and encouraging you, reminding you that through you, he makes disciples. So you tell them, "Come and see." Then Jesus will tell them, "Follow me."
Don't be upset if you have to say, "No. I'm not really a leader," but thank God that you are a follower of Jesus. You are his disciple. Now go. And make disciples. In Jesus' name, amen.