Point Them to Jesus (John 1:35-51)
Topic: One Mission: I am Not Ashamed Passage: John 1:35–1:51
I. Your Family Tree
How far are you able to go back on your family tree? On my mother's side, I know that Joseph Ernest Treat married Nancy Boling sometime during the Civil War era, and that my great grandfather, Joseph Arthur Treat, was born in 1885. On my father's side, solid information seems to exist all the way back to my great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Peter Morgan, born in 1745 in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
But what about you? How far back are you able to trace your family tree? Keep that question in mind as we return to chapter one of the Gospel of John.
II. The Passage: “We Have Found Him” (1:35-51)
This morning we will be looking together at the final section of this chapter, a section that begins in verse 35. You may recall that in our previous study, we talked about John the Baptist; about both the man and his ministry at the Jordan River. Two days before the day on which our passage this morning takes place, John had made it clear to some of the Jewish religious leaders that he was not the Messiah, merely what we might call an “advance man”. He was preparing the way for the Savior by preparing the hearts of those who needed to be saved.
But the next day, according to verses 29-34 of this chapter, John did more than just talk about the Messiah. He identified him! He pointed him out! Or as John clarified, when Jesus of Nazareth showed up at the riverbank, God pointed him out for John, so John could point him out for others.
1. Andrew and Peter (vs. 35-42)
But listen to what takes place on day number three, by John's reckoning. Look at verse 35...
The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,  and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”  The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.  Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”  He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.  One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).  He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Now, it's important to remember what the Gospel writer told us way back in verses 6-8 of this chapter: There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him.  He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.
This is exactly what we see here, isn't it? John is bearing witness. Just as he had identified Jesus as the “Lamb of God” the day before (in v. 29), he makes the same declaration in v. 36 when Jesus returns to the river on day three. But this time, two of John's disciples actually listen to his endorsement. They get it. Not only is Jesus the “Lamb of God”, but as they had heard, he also “ranks before” John (v. 30). John baptized with water, but Jesus “baptizes with the Holy Spirit” (v. 33). John may have been the “voice” promised in Isaiah, but Jesus is “the Son of God” (v. 34). John only came to prepare the way. And so these two men begin to follow Jesus instead.
Who were these two disciples of John that are now seeking to become disciples of Jesus? Well, verse 40 tells us that one of these men was Andrew, the brother of Simon. The other man is not identified by John, but in all likelihood, the other man was John, the author of this Gospel. That seems to fit with other clues we find in this book about the author. And it seems to fit with the writer's focus on John the Baptist.
But clearly, the second man's identity is not important here. What's highlighted in the closing verses of this passage (in vs. 41 and 42), is how Andrew finds and introduces his brother to Jesus. He declares to Simon what John the Baptist has not yet declared explicitly. Verse 41: “We have found the Messiah.” And when he brings Simon to Jesus, Jesus already seem to know him. In fact, gives Simon a new name: Cephas (which as John tells us, means Peter). Both Cephas (which is Aramaic) and Peter (which is Greek) mean “rock”.
2. Philip and Nathanael (vs. 43-51)
But look with me at how John provides a similar account in the very next passage. Verse 43...
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
So, like Andrew a day earlier, this man Philip also wants to introduce someone to Jesus: his friend Nathanael. Now, did you notice that rather than being pointed toward Jesus, as John the Baptist had done with Andrew, Jesus himself identifies and invites Philip to be a disciple. It's not clear what Philip knew at this point. What is clear is that Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from a town called Bethsaida (interestingly, John repeats this fact in 12:21). Now, Bethsaida was in Galilee, to the north. And according to verse 43, that's exactly where Jesus is headed.
John's original readers may have know that, according to the other three Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark, and Luke) most of Jesus' ministry was in Galilee). Therefore, it's not unusual that the first three disciples mentioned in John are also from Galilee, and that these men eventually return there with Him.
But before they do that, this man Nathanael is added to their number. Now, according to the other three Gospels, “Nathanael” is not listed as one of those first, twelve disciples of Jesus who became apostles. Or is he? Matthew, Mark, and Luke all place these six names first in their list of apostles: Simon, Andrew, James, John, Philip and Bartholomew. Notice how Bartholomew is paired with Philip. Could this be another name for Nathanael? It's certainly possible, especially since Bartholomew simply means “son of Tolomai”. It's more of a last name than a first name.
So what exactly does John want us to know about this man, who may be the “son of Tolomai”? Well, first, we know from verse 46 that he had a pretty low opinion of Nazareth. But we also know from this passage, that like Peter, this man is known to Jesus... even before they meet. According to Jesus, Nathanael is a 'straight-shooter'. He's not two-faced. He doesn't flatter. He speaks his mind (as we just saw in verse 46). This observation gets Nathanael's attention, doesn't it? V. 48... “How do you know me?”. Now... this is where Jesus really get his attention.
Jesus basically tells Nathanael, “Before you met up with Philip, when you were by yourself under that fig tree, I saw you there.” Now, somehow, based on the timing and location and people involved, Nathanael understands that Jesus simply could not have known that inform-ation apart from divine revelation. And so this man who looks down on Nazareth finds himself bowing down to Jesus of Nazareth: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Talk about a clear confession! But please don't miss how Jesus responds in vs. 50 and 51. “You think that's impressive, Nathanael? Just wait... you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Okay. What exactly does that mean? As a Jew, Nathanael would have recognized that Jesus was alluding to the story of Jacob's dream in Genesis 28, a dream in which he saw angels moving up and down a ladder that rose from the earth into heaven. I think what Jesus is telling Nathanael here is that the signs he will go on to witness in the ministry of Christ will drive him to make the same confession Jacob made...
“Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” ...“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” (Genesis 28:16–17)
III. With All These Examples
So why has John included verses 35-51 in his Gospel? What would we be missing if he had not written these things down? Well, at its most basic level, I think we can say that this section is important for two reasons. First, it provides a clear transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to the ministry of Jesus. Andrew embodies that, doesn't he? But second, this section also introduces us to some key disciples who will reappear throughout the book; especially Peter, who is mentioned almost thirty more times in the Gospel of John.
But what I believe is also significant about these stories is how they point us to the importance of pointing others to Jesus. Do you see that? God points John to Jesus. Then John points Andrew to Jesus. And then Andrew points Peter to Jesus. That's a kind of spiritual family tree, isn't it?
In fact, the book of Acts actually reveals more branches. For example, the Ethiopian eunuch mentioned in Acts 8 is pointed to Jesus by a different Philip, a man who was probably pointed to Jesus by Peter's evangelistic message in Acts 2. And as we just heard, Peter was pointed to Jesus by his brother Andrew, who was pointed to Jesus by John the Baptist, who was pointed to Jesus by God the Father. Wow! How far back are you able to go on your spiritual family tree?
Brothers and sisters, friends, the clear emphasis of John chapter 1 is this theme of bearing witness to Jesus. God bears witness to John. John bears witness to the Jews, including Andrew. Andrew bears witness to Peter. And Philip bears witness to Nathanael (even Nathanael bears witness... to the reader!). And all of them are bearing witness to Jesus, the “Word”, “the Light”, “the Son”, “the Lamb”, “the Messiah”, “the King”. With all of these examples placed before us, it should drive each of us to ask, “Am I bearing witness to Jesus? Am I pointing others to Christ, just as I was pointed to him?”
If you can testify like John the Baptizer, like Andrew, like Philip, like Nathanael, then prayerfully consider what God is showing us here about bearing witness; about pointing others to Christ:
1. There are people in your circle who need Jesus. While John was meant to have a very public ministry, notice that Andrew and Philip didn't rush to the highest point in Jerusalem to shout it from the rooftops, nor did they start a door-to-door ministry in Bethsaida. When the realized the truth about Jesus, they simply went to a person God had already placed in their circle; Andrew to his brother, and Philip to a friend. I think that's where all of us should begin. Ask yourself this, “Have I been faithful to point my friends and family to Jesus?” If not, why not?
2. Even if they don't know it, they are longing for Jesus. When John the baptizer, Andrew, and Philip pointed others to Jesus, they presented him as the One for whom the people had been expecting: “the Lamb of God”, “the Messiah”, the One promised in the Law and Prophets. We should do the same today. Even if people are not waiting for the Messiah, even if they are not looking for a coming king, everyone is longing for a savior. Yes, some think in spiritual terms; but many others think in romantic, or political, or medical, or business, or activist terms. Brothers, sisters, let's prayerfully point them to Jesus in light of those longings.
3. Point them to Jesus, then let him do the rest. It should be crystal clear to us that Jesus was more than ready to meet Simon Peter. He was more than ready to meet Nathanael. Others wanted these men to know Jesus. But Jesus already knew them. As Jesus would put it later in John 10:27... “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Do you believe Jesus has sheep among the people in your circle, sheep who need to hear his voice for the first time. I think God wants us to trust the he does. And because He does, we can leave the results in his hands. Like John, Andrew, and Philip, our job is simply to bear witness.
Is Jesus “the Lamb of God” who went to the cross to take YOUR sin? Is Jesus “the Messiah”, the king who reigns over YOUR life? Is Jesus “the light” that has pierced YOUR darkness and given you understanding? These are not simply titles to be confessed. They are realities to be embraced. And if you have embraced these realities, then... bear witness. God wants to encourage us this morning with these examples, examples preserved in his inspired word.
Maybe, just maybe, God has used me to bear witness to you this morning. I hope I have. My goal is always to point you to Jesus, just as God did through people in my life. Have you found Christ this morning? Better still, has he found you? Ask God to help you point others to Jesus. And give thanks for your spiritual family tree, even for those names you do not know... yet.