What are you seeking? Really, what are you seeking? You could’ve slept in today, you could’ve had a nice relaxing morning at home, you could’ve caught up with a friend over breakfast, you could’ve gone for a run, you could’ve done a million other things this morning. So, when it really comes down to it, why did you come to worship today? What are you seeking? I’m sure present among us here are a number of answers to this question. Some of you are here seeking relief from guilt over wrong done or good left undone, others of you are here seeking to show someone else how religious or devout you are, still others of you are here because you want God to give you something and by coming to church you think He’ll be more inclined to do so. Maybe, just maybe, there are some of you here today who want Jesus simply for Jesus’ sake. Maybe some of you are here this morning because you want to know Jesus better. Today we’ll see 4 men who wanted just that. They leave all they know, follow Jesus, simply because they want to know Him more.
Recall that John the Baptist had been telling his followers about the coming One who is greater than everyone and since this coming One, since Jesus had come on the scene John is now seeking to send his followers to Him. It’s here in our passage today we see the beginning of the transition from the ministry of John the Baptist to the ministry of Jesus.
Follow along as I read our passage today, John 1:35-51.
As soon as the passage begins we see John continuing to do what he has been doing for some time now. Two days prior John had told the Jewish religious leaders of the greatness of Jesus. The next day John saw Jesus and proclaimed to all his followers that Jesus was the “Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Now, from v35-42 we see the dawn of another day where John is standing with two of his followers. And from v43-51 we find yet another new day upon us where Jesus is calling more disciples to Himself. As we did last week, today we’ll use these two days as our two headings for this text.
Day One: John the Sender
In v35 when John the Baptist sees Jesus again he says directly to two of his followers, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” These two seemed to get that John wasn’t merely repeating the same message from the previous few days, but was directly addressing them and urging them to leave and follow Jesus. And in v37 that’s exactly what they do, “The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” You would think that Jesus, who’s just starting His ministry and perhaps wanting to gain a following, would respond by saying something like ‘Great, thanks for believing in the cause, you’ve made a great choice, quickly sign here on the dotted line before you change your mind.’ But He does no such thing. v38 shows how Jesus responds to this saying, “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’”
This question, ‘What are you seeking?’ are the first words of Jesus in John’s gospel. Let’s take a few minutes to notice two things in this question.
FIRST note the response of the two who had come to follow Jesus in v38. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Surely they didn’t leave the Baptist to come over inform Jesus about where He’s staying to make sure He knows the best and most affordable accommodations in town. What they were communicating to Jesus is that what they wanted with Him could not be settled in a few minutes and that they wanted to come with Him and have a long talk. Jesus, knowing the day was growing late (v39 says it was the 10th hour, or 4pm – which was quitting time in Israel) and seeing they wanted to get to talk with Him to get to know Him better, was eager to give them what they wanted and told them to ‘come and see’ where He was staying. So off they went.
SECOND what Jesus asked these two men is a question that we can and should ask of ourselves today. Many people say they follow Jesus, but not many people follow Him for the right reasons. Remember Jesus said in Matthew 7:13-14, “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Just a few verses later in Matthew 7:21 Jesus also said, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven…many will say to Me…’did we not do many mighty works in Your name?’ And I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’” These two passages mean it’s very possible to think you’re a Christian, to think you spend every day of your life serving God, to spend every Sunday of your life in worship and still miss the point of it all. So church, what Jesus asked these first disciples I now ask you, “What are you seeking?” Have you come here today to continue some kind of religious habit or to put on a façade before others? Or have you come to know Jesus more? This is what Andrew and the unnamed disciple wanted, and do you see how this impacts Andrew? He was so moved by spending the evening with Jesus that he went and found his brother Simon and said in v41, “We have found the Messiah, the Christ.” Then in v42 Simon comes to see Jesus with Andrew and Jesus renames him from Simon to Cephas (or Peter). Many speculate as to why Jesus renames Simon to Peter here but John Calvin cuts through it all when he comments, “…all this amounts to nothing more than that Simon will be a very different person from what he now is.”
You see Church, among all the reasons people follow Jesus, there is one reason that is true, to know Him as He is. Not as we want Him to be, not as we’d like Him to be, but to know Him as He is. When we come for this reason, we’ll find that Jesus makes us into very different people than we once were. John Calvin encouraged the readers of his commentary on John by saying this, “This kind and gracious invitation, which was once made to two persons, now belongs to all. We ought not therefore to fear that Christ will withdraw from us or refuse to us easy access, provided that He sees us desirous to come to Him; but, on the contrary, He will stretch out His hand to assist our endeavors. And how will he not meet those who come to Him…that He may bring them back to the right road?”
Day Two: Jesus the Ladder
As the second day in our passage begins in v43 we see Jesus heading off to Galilee where He found a man named Philip and said “Follow Me.” Just as Andrew, Simon now Peter, and the unnamed disciple of the previous day had experienced Jesus changing their lives, Philip now experiences this too. That someone like Philip is changed into someone new is meant to be surprising to us because we get some background info on him in v44. He’s from Bethsaida, the very place Jesus would later rebuke for their general spirit of hardened unbelief, in spite of the numerous miracles He did there. Even among such a spiritually blind and dead people Jesus calls one of them to new life.
What does Philip do in this new life of following Jesus? In v45-46 we see him going to tell another about Jesus. He finds Nathanael and says “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip knows a few things, but we can see here that he doesn’t have a thorough understanding of who Jesus is yet. He knows that the all of the Old Testament, from Moses through the prophets, had a greater Prophet in view who has now come! But while he knew and understood this he had a foggy idea of Jesus’ virgin birth, His divinity and humanity, and who His Father really is because he refers to Jesus as from Nazareth and the ‘son of Joseph’ rather than from Bethlehem and the ‘Son of God.’ Nathanael took Philip’s thin theology and cast immediate doubt on it. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Rather than debating him there on the spot about the quality of Nazareth verses other towns in the surrounding region Philip gave a great reply, one that you and I should probably use more than we’re do now. He said, “Come and see.”
Nathanael agrees to go with Philip to see this Jesus and in v47-51 we witness a conversation Nathanael has with Jesus that changes everything for him. As he is approaching Jesus says in v47, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” By saying this Jesus means that within the people of Israel there are two groups. There are those who are Israelites in name only, and there are Israelites who are Israelites indeed! The former group is proud of their heredity, that they are Abraham’s flesh and blood circumcised descendants. But though this group may truly have descended from Abraham they pervert the faith of Abraham by adding all kinds of man-made inventions and regulations to it. Contrasting this group is the latter group in view, those like Nathanael, Israelites indeed! These too are descended from Abraham and circumcised like he was, but unlike the others these Israelites share the faith of Abraham. In this sense they resemble the humbled Israel of Genesis 32 rather than the prideful Jacob of Genesis 28. Nathanael wonders at this and asks in v48, “How do You know me?” Jesus again causes him to wonder by responding “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
This is a puzzling moment in John’s gospel. We don’t know what this refers to. Did Nathanael have some kind of memorable spiritual experience with God under a fig tree earlier in his life? Does the image of fig tree mean ‘a home’ here as it does in other parts of Scripture, or does Jesus literally mean a fig tree? We don’t know what Nathanael experienced with God under a fig tree or in his home, but we do know two things for sure – Nathanael remembers it, and when he learns that Jesus knows of this moment as well he makes an immediate confession of faith saying in v49, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael’s confession is very similar to the confession of the woman at the well in John 4 who went around saying “Come, see the Man who told me all I’ve ever done!”
Jesus answered Nathanael in v50-51 saying, “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.” This statement took Nathanael and all those present with them back to Genesis 28 when prideful Jacob was on the run after stealing his brother’s birthright. Alone, scared, and worn out from fleeing Jacob laid down, found a rock for his pillow, and went to sleep. He would never forget what he dreamed. Genesis 28:12 gives us the dream, “And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!” A few verses later we read that when Jacob woke he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God…the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:16-17). You see what Jesus is doing in quoting this verse? He’s telling His first disciples that He is the ladder! He’s telling them He is the means by which God descends to us, and He is the means by which we ascend to God! These are the greater things He speaks about in v50. And just as Jacob awoke from his sleep in Genesis 28 to praise God in a fearful gladness, so too, will these first disciples, and we ourselves, will be brought to a fearful gladness when we behold the work of God in setting a ladder from earth to heaven, that is Jesus Himself.
But there’s a difference between what happened with Jacob and what happens with the disciples and with us. You see, when Jacob awoke he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” Too many people come to church week after week, sing the great songs of our faith, hear the preaching of the Word, see the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, see the love between us, and even though God is in this place, they go away not knowing it. By God’s grace, I pray that’s not true of you today, and that you’ve seen glory in the work of Christ today.
Two concluding reminders today:
a) Be reminded of the gospel. Pastor Scotty Smith comments on this passage saying, “The most important qualification for Jesus’ disciples is to know…who He is and what He has done…In the span of 16 verses, Jesus is identified as ‘the Lamb of God,’ ‘the Messiah,’ ‘the Son of God,’ ‘the King of Israel,’ and ‘Son of Man’ – all messianic names that take on a fuller meaning throughout John’s gospel. At the heart of all these names is the truth that Jesus has come…to be the ladder from heaven to earth of which Jacob dreamed (Gen. 28:12).”
Be reminded of this very thing this morning. “We do not climb our way up to God; God in Christ came down to us.” As these first disciples left John the Baptist and all else they know to follow Jesus, may you hear this gospel today and do the same.
b) Be reminded of sharing the gospel. Do you see a pattern in these first disciples? Do you see the pattern that we’re to have present in our own lives? Jesus calls us to Himself, changes us, makes us new, and then we go tell others about Him. I know this is hard, and that we often find it easier to talk to God about men than it is to talk to men about God. But if we don’t regularly share the gospel with others, there’s something deeply wrong with our faith.
So let me make it a little easier for you? This coming Easter we’ll be continuing in our series through John’s gospel, and on Easter Sunday morning we’ll be on the most famous verse of the Bible – John 3:16. Lord willing, we’ll gather together to sing about this verse, pray about this verse, and the whole sermon will be just on this verse. It’s going to be a good day to invite a friend to come with you. Nothing will change about our service, it will be what we do each Sunday we gather together. But it’s Easter, and since many unbelievers will be looking to go to church anyway, why not invite them here, so they can hear the gospel, and then take them out to lunch to talk about the gospel afterwards? Perhaps God may do a work and change everything for them on that Sunday morning?
John the Baptist came proclaiming ‘Behold the Lamb!’ Once we behold this Lamb may our lips will forever proclaim ‘Worthy is the Lamb!’ (Rev. 4-5)
 Herman Ridderbos, The Gospel of John, page 81.
 Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John, page 156-157.
 John Calvin, Calvin’s Commentaries, paragraph 72061 of 99995 (via Accordance Bible Software).
 John Calvin, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 54.
 Martin Luther, Reformation Commentary on Scripture, page 61.
 R. Kent Hughes, John: That You May Believe, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 57.
 Study Notes, Gospel Transformation Bible, page 1409.
 Ibid, page 1409.