Billy Graham died earlier this week, at age 99. He preached the gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. But what is interesting is that most people who attended to hear him preach were brought by someone: a friend, family member, or someone from work or church. Former Archbishop Peter Jensen was one of those who came to Christ, as did his brother Philip. People found their friends and family and brought them to Jesus. And nothing has changed in 2000 years.
John chapter 1 starts off with a very, very, big Jesus. Jesus was with the Father for all eternity. It is Jesus who created all things. And it is Jesus who makes the Father known by becoming human. Amazingly, the Word became flesh.
Now you may think that once God became human, then the angels might have looked at each other and said, “Well I guess this is where we come in! Who else is going to announce to the world that God has become human?” But it was God who said, “No, I want ordinary, clumsy, mistake-ridden humans to do the work of bringing people to me.”
Last week we saw that the first human to point to Jesus would be John the Baptist. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He prepared a nation to meet Jesus, so we read in John 1:35-37:
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. (NIV)
John pointed straight at Jesus as the lamb of God. He is the one who would be slaughtered in our place. And immediately, two of John’s disciples became Jesus’ disciples. They leave the successful ministry of John the Baptiser, who had Israel in a spin, to follow Jesus, who as yet was not known.
As a side point, John the Baptist will be the last mere man to have disciples or followers, for after John, the only one who is entitled to this privilege is Jesus. Only he is to be followed, only he is to be trusted, only he is to be obeyed. That alone should have been enough to stop cults, Christian hero worship, or preacher groupies.
In a recent radio interview about Billy Graham, I loved hearing how Peter Jensen said that with Billy it was all about Jesus. When you left one of his meetings, you left singing the praise of Jesus, not Billy. In the same way, I love how John the Baptist is so focused on Jesus, that when the crowds move from following him to following Jesus, and when his disciples move from him to Jesus, there is not a hint of envy or jealousy.
I remember when MBM was just 30 or 40 people, and I met up with a man for a few months to read the Bible. He became a Christian, and I spent time discipling him. At the end of this process, he said to me, “Ray, thank you so much, but I have decided to go to Craig Tucker’s church.” Craig is a friend of mine, who at the time pastored a local presbyterian church. It was then that I was faced with the question, “Would I be a cult leader, or a pastor who believed in grace and let him go freely and willingly?” So I said, “Sure, no problem.” A few years ago my mum said to me, “Ray the new Catholic priest at your sister’s church knows you.” It was the same guy. So I called Craig and said, “Bro, I sent him converted and discipled to you. What happened?” I said to my mum, “See Ma, I leave the Catholic church, and I put a person in my place!” You have to laugh.
John truly believed that Jesus must increase and he must decrease. If anyone made Jesus the main character of his life, it was John.
What is interesting is that Jesus stops the two new disciples with a question. John 1:38-39:
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. (NIV)
What do you want from Jesus? For many people want many things—health, wealth, a friend, an example, a therapist. These disciples want relationship. They want to stay with Jesus in his home. A true disciple seeks a personal relationship with Jesus, and not just information. They ask, “Where are you staying?” and remained with Jesus that day. In the same way, the Holy Spirit remained with Jesus throughout his ministry. A true disciples remains with Jesus. In John 15, Jesus says, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (v. 4). This was not just a phase of life. The decision to follow Jesus is a decision to remain with Jesus for one reason, that Jesus said, “Apart from him you can do nothing”.
What we see now is one person after another following Jesus. First it is Andrew and the other disciple who heard John the Baptist, probably John the writer of this Gospel. Then it is Simon Peter, then Philip, followed by Nathanael. And with each new person who follows Jesus, some new insight as to who Jesus is given, and new testimony is provided. Let’s look at verses 40 to 42:
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (NIV)
Andrew is only mentioned three times in John’s Gospel, and each time he brings people to Jesus. A true disciple introduces people to Jesus. In John 6, Andrew will bring the boy with the loaves and fishes to Jesus. In John 12, he who had a Greek name will bring the Greeks to Jesus. And in this verse we are told that the first thing Andrew does is to find his brother and tell him, “We have found the Messiah. It’s as if he is saying, “We are now saved, and we want you to be saved, too!”
You can’t help but be moved by his instincts—to bring his family and friends and even strangers to Jesus. Once you meet the Messiah, the lamb of God, you want those you love to meet him as well.
Philip who comes from the same town as Andrew and Peter does the same thing that Andrew does—there must be something in the water, there! In verse 45, we read:
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.” (NIV)
John our Gospel writer is giving us a chain of witnesses, each one testifying to another. And this phenomenon is as true now as it was then.
One of my highlights at MBM was the day when we had an interview with 13 people, up the front at the high school, when we saw the flesh and blood effect of this ‘chain of witnessing’. It started with Julie when she was in year 7 at High School. As you know, Julie recently passed away. But as a twelve year old girl, she gave her friend in year 7 the little book by Josh McDowell, “More than a Carpenter”. That little book sat there, biding its time. Years later her friend read it with her boyfriend, and they both responded to Christ. Within one year, 17 people were doing bible studies in their home. One of the 13 who came up the front on that day, Jim, shared how the changed lives of the others in that chain had impacted him. For the first 6 months, Jim came to MBM stoned. He is now a presbyterian minister. Anyway, Jim said that when he had heard that when one of the guys in the line up had got a job, he figured there must something in Christianity—for both Jim and this guy himself agreed that he was the laziest person in the world. Changed lives cut a path for the gospel, which then changed more lives.
As a church we don’t do many events anymore. We have found that ‘events’ involve lots of effort for us but little fruit. We don’t want to choke up the church calendar and fill up your lives. We would rather you to be spending time with your family and friends. Real fruit in sharing the gospel is found where transformed Christians impact upon others and bring them to Jesus.
What is clear in this passage is that God uses different ‘connections’ that people have one with another to bring people to Jesus.
In our passage, we have the family connections between Andrew and Peter. In that example, one brother introduces another brother to Jesus. And that sort of thing happens all the time now too. After I became a Christian, one of the first people I witnessed to and saw become a Christian was my sister Liz. Similarly, a number of our staff mention a parent who influenced them for Jesus.
There are location connections, which God also uses to bring people to Jesus. In our passage, Philip, Peter, and Andrew are all from the same town in Galilee, Bethsaida. And that happens for us, too. I think of Grant Borg, who was witnessed to by a man at his local gym. His friend at the gym encouraged Grant to read the New Testament.
And there are friendship connections, like that between Philip and Nathaniel. In my own life, I think of my friend Anne. She was a Christian, I wasn’t, and I knew she had something I didn’t have.
One person introducing the next person to Jesus—the kingdom of God has been growing in the same way for the last 2000 years. People find the truth, they follow the truth, and they share the truth.
We had 53 people at our first ‘Explaining Christianity’ course, and I honour each person here who invited someone to that opportunity to meet Jesus.
Of course, when you want to find your friends or bring your brother to Jesus, it’s not all smooth sailing. When Philip tells Nathanael that Jesus from Nazareth is the one they’ve all been waiting for, Nathanael’s first reactions is that it’s a joke. Verses 46 and 47:
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (NIV)
A true disciple comes to Jesus with their doubts. Nathaniel can’t imagine anything good coming from Nazareth, the armpit of Israel. Nathanael calls it like he sees it. With this guy, what you see is what you get. Now Nathaniel wais from Bethsaida, and Jesus was from Nazareth. There was a rivalry between Bethsaida and Nazareth, like there is between Melbourne and Sydney, or Parramatta and Penrith.
But Jesus, too, calls it like he sees it, and Nathanael is taken aback by Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of him, in verses 48 and 49:
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” (NIV)
It’s one thing to have insight into a person’s personality, but it’s another thing to know something without being told.
My brother-in-law’s brother is Brad. Brad is a teacher and he loves working out the family birth order of people he knows from their personalities. He asked me one day, “Where are you in your family?” I said, “Guess, Brad.” He said, “You’re not first born and not the youngest, nor the middle child. You’re second youngest!” Wow, he’s right, that’s amazing. That is impressive, but what Jesus knew about Nathanael could not be worked out by clever deductions. Jesus knew what only God could know.
It is interesting to notice that while the world and Israel do not know Jesus, Jesus knows everything. He knows where Nathanael was before he laid eyes on him. Nathanael wants to know how Jesus knows him. And the only satisfactory explanation for Nathaniel is that Jesus is both the king of Israel and the Son of God. A true disciples confesses Jesus for who he is.
In John 4, we find Jesus talking to Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus had never met her before that moment, yet he told her that she had previously been married to five men, and that the man she was currently living with was not her husband. How did Jesus know that? Because he is the Son of God, and she loved it. She went off telling her village, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.” She loved it—even though it could have been embarrassing—because he is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He knows what we are like. He knows what the Father is like. And it is Jesus who brings God and humans together. It is Jesus who brings heaven and earth together.
In this chapter, John chapter 1, we have been hit one after another by different titles given to Jesus. One person after another sees Jesus, confesses him, and gives him a title:
- The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world
- Rabbi or Teacher
- The Messiah or Christ
- The one who knows us
- The King of Israel
- The one promised by Moses
- The Son of God
These descriptions have all come from the lips of others. But at the end of John chapter 1, Jesus will describe himself. Verses 50 and 51:
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
Here is the great climax of all of those titles given to Jesus. Jesus says of himself, “I am the heavenly Son of Man, the ruler of the universe. You will see the heavens open, and God’s angels going up and down on me.”
This description Jesus gives of himself draws on something that happened 2000 years before. In Genesis chapter 28, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, had a dream of a stairway reaching from heaven. In Genesis 28:12, Jacob “had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.” And when Jacob awoke from his sleep, we read in verse 17 that “He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.’” Jesus says of himself Nathanael and his companions will see the angels ascending and descending on him. They will see heaven opened, and stay open. It won’t be in a dream, as it was for Jacob.
Jesus is saying, “I am the ladder, the stairway to heaven. In my death and resurrection, I will be that mediator. My cross is the gate of heaven. In me, heaven and earth connect. In me, we can bridge that gulf between heaven and earth.”
On social media, many people have loved quoted Billy Graham when he said, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.” When you come to Jesus and his cross, you move from death to life. Spiritually, you move from earth to heaven. Jesus is the gate of heaven. Jesus is the only the way out of this world to heaven.
It’s like we are born blind, feeling our way in this dark world. We are lost in some massive dark room, and we can’t get out. And on our own, we are the blind leading the blind. Then someone gently takes us by the hand and says, “I know the way out”. His name is Jesus. So let’s pause. Some of you want to take Jesus’ hand, so come now. And the rest of us want to bring someone to church next week, to meet Jesus do his first miraculous sign recorded by John—turning water into wine.