Finding the Messiah
John 1:35 - 51
Finding the Messiah
What do you need to know in order to follow someone?
What do you need to know about someone, in order to follow them?
How much do you need to know, to, kind of, throw your lot in with someone?
If you’re being influenced by someone to the point that it’s going to cost you time, or money, or effort, what do you need to know about who they really are?
Maybe you saw in the news a few weeks ago, the story of the Chinese video blogger who calls herself “Your Highness Qiao Biluo.”
She had more than a hundred thousand followers, with some in her audience giving her gifts of over 10 thousand pounds as she live-streamed her thoughts and advice on the internet.
But on 25 July this year, she experienced a technical glitch, and the video filter she had been applying to her face failed, and it turned out that Your Highness Qiao Biluo was not a pretty 20-something, but a 58 year old woman!
The hashtag “old lady face” immediately started trending on social media, and tens of thousands of her followers dumped her, saying they’d been misled.
If you’re going to give 10 thousand pounds to someone you’re following, you probably do want to know who they are.
I was thinking about Your Highness Qiao Biluo this week, because the question raised by that incident, plays out when it comes to Jesus, as we see in this section of John’s eye-witness account of Jesus’ life.
What knowledge about Jesus would shape the way you respond to him?
Who is Jesus?
What do you need to be convinced of about him, in order to remain his follower, no matter what?
And if you’re new with us today and you’re not a Christian, but you’ve come along to try and find out about Jesus, we’re so pleased you’re here!
I wonder what you think someone would need to tell you about Jesus, in order for you to follow him, for your life to be shaped and influenced by him.
1. People follow Jesus because of what John says about him (v 35 – 39)
All of that is exactly what’s happening in this part of John’s gospel account, isn’t it?
Not that Jesus’ video filter fails, but the question of what people know about Jesus translating into them becoming his followers.
First of all we see people following Jesus because of what John the Baptist says about him;, that he is the Lamb of God.
See verse 35, The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
I was teaching some kids the Bible in a school once, and one student asked me “Why is Jesus called the Lamb of God? Why not “the cow of God”?
Which is a reasonable question, especially if this was just a random name;, pick an animal.
But it’s not.
For Jesus to be called the Lamb of God is to sum up a whole theme of Old Testament promise, from Abraham in Genesis 22,
To the Exodus and the blood of the lamb that signified salvation in the midst of judgement,
To the lamb lead to the slaughter in Isaiah 53, as he takes the penalty for the sin and rebellion of God’s people
All of these a picture that our rebellion against God has a penalty that needs to be paid.
John the Baptist probably doesn’t understand the full significance of what he’s saying. But John the Evangelist, John who’s writing absolutely does.
Jesus is the Lamb of God.
And so now armed with this new knowledge of who Jesus is, even partial knowledge as it probably is, two of John’s disciples followed Jesus.
We see down in verse 40 that one of them is Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. The other one might be John himself, we don’t know, and it doesn’t really matter!
What does matter is that John the Baptist’s testimony means people stop following him, and start following Jesus.
Which, as it turns out, is the whole point of John’s ministry.
A few years ago, one of the Anglican dioceses I was connected to released a graph showing the stages of church life;
Some churches were on the ascendancy and growing,
Some churches were stable,
And some were declining, in numbers and giving, and all those sorts of things.
And they identified churches that were at different stages of this timeline, which was a little bit controversial, because no one wanted to be known publicly as the church on the downward slope, the one in decline.
But that’s John, isn’t it?!
Not only are people leaving him, they’re leaving him because of what he’s saying about someone else.
But this is entirely the purpose of his ministry,
This is the high point of his ministry.
John’s declaration about Jesus meant enough to his disciples, that they knew they ought to be following Jesus, rather than John.
Which makes these 2 disciples a terrific example of Christian faith.
Lots of people think that faith is what you have when there’s no real evidence. When science, kind of runs out, then you just have to “take things on faith.”
But that’s not what the Bible means when it talks about faith.
This is what Christian faith is;,
People believing something about Jesus, and being so convinced by the evidence, that you take steps, you live in the light of it, and these two absolutely do that, don’t they? They’re now following Jesus around the Judean countryside.
Which should make all of us ask, have we responded to Jesus like this?
So their example is poses a question for us.
We’ve all heard something of Jesus, even if today is the first time we’ve heard anything.
Are we willing to live in the light of what we learn about Jesus? For that to shape our lives.
2. You can’t be a disciple of Jesus at a distance (37 – 42)
Because, secondly notice that these 2 realise that you can’t be a disciple of Jesus at a distance. You have to be up close and personal.
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “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.
It’s a good question, isn’t it? “What do you want?”
I think John includes it in his gospel account, because he wants to ask us the same question; “What do you want?”
What are you looking for in Jesus?
Why have you come to him?
Because, as we’ll see when we get to Nathanael, how we come to Jesus, and why we want to consider Jesus really matters.
So an important question, but I must admit, I’d always thought that the disciples’ response is a little bit silly!
They’re following him because they understand something of him being the Lamb of God, and yet when he asks them “What do you want?”, they reply “where are you staying?”
You might be the Lamb of God, but all we want to know is where you’re going for dinner!
It always felt like one of those stories when the genie offers someone a wish, and they say, “hmmm I wish I’d thought about this earlier.”, Wish gone!
It just seemed such a wasted opportunity to get Jesus to tell you stuff!
But the more I read this, and the more I thought about what John is trying to show us about what it is to believe in Jesus, and follow Jesus, I realised this is exactly the right question.
“where are you staying?”
We want to be with you.
The word disciple, just means to be a learner.
And in the first century AD, if you were a disciple of someone, you physically followed them around. That was how you learnt from them.
There was no distance education,
No online learning.
You were with your teacher, learning all the time.
You travelled with them,
Ate with them.
We see in the next chapter, Jesus’ disciples even went to a wedding with him.
Those of you who are teachers, there are a few in our church family, can you imagine this?!
Your students following you around, 24/7.
When you go to visit your parents, there they all are with you, your whole class, crammed into mum and dad’s front room, learning from you, how you relate to your parents.
When you’re driving down the A3, all your students in the car with you, learning how you respond to drivers who cut you off!
Now, for us, the up close and person is impossible in a physical sense, isn’t it?
We inhabit the wrong moment of history, and the wrong part of the world for that to be possible.
But people did,
Andrew, and Simon Peter, and the others did,
And so our experience of Jesus, up close and personal, is through the eye-witness testimony of these men who were at the right place at the right time, and who were called by Jesus to be his witnesses.
We can be followers of Jesus, those who learn Jesus, because these men were there,
They were up-close and personal,
They could see him and touch him.
Theirs was the definitive Jesus’ experience.
And because we’re removed in space and time, from when Jesus walked on the earth, for us to “learn” Jesus, up close and personal, we have to be firmly immersed in their eye-witness testimony.
Imagine saying, “I’m a follower of Jesus,
I’m a Christian,
I’m a disciple”, and yet distancing yourself from the eye-witness testimony about Jesus, that is our sole means of learning what he’s like.
Imagine someone saying they follow Chelsea football club ...
"But I've never been to a game ...
Never watched one on TV ...
Never listened to an interview with a player or the manager" ...
And yet churches and denominations are full of people who do that, aren’t they?
They say, “I’m a follower of Jesus”, but they don’t want to read the Bible,
Or they try and change what the eye-witnesses said;, “Jesus didn’t really say that”, or “he didn’t really mean what he said about sexual ethics, or about marriage, or how we use our money”, as if what someone today imagines Jesus to have said, is more important and more accurate than the eye-witness testimony about what Jesus actually said.
Of course, those are easy finger-pointing jabs, aren’t they?
The same spotlight can be turned on us, when we say, “we’re disciples of Jesus,
We want to learn Jesus”,
But are we immersed in, and engaging with, the testimony of the eye-witnesses?
I remember once hearing John Stott from All Souls Church here in London saying, the person who has a Bible and doesn’t read it, is no better off than the person who doesn’t even have a Bible.
If we’re disciples of Jesus, we must be up close and personal with Jesus through the testimony of those who were there.
Being a follower of Jesus means bringing others to him (v 43 – 46)
OK, so come down into the next section, because here we see that apart from Philip, to whom Jesus says directly, Follow me, everyone else here comes to Jesus, because of what someone else says about Jesus.
Did you see that?
There was John the Baptist;, “Look, the Lamb of God!” leading to Andrew and the other disciple following Jesus.
Andrew then went and got Simon, verse 41, and he brought him to Jesus,
And now here, Philip, having been called by Jesus, what’s the first thing that he does?
Verse 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.”
Now, we’ll come to Nathanael’s response in a moment,
But let’s just realise that this has always been how the Christian community grows.
Someone becomes a follower of Jesus, and they witness about him to other people,
Some of whom become followers of Jesus themselves, and they in turn witness to other people.
To “witness” to Jesus sometimes has a lot of baggage associated with it, like you need to use a particular Christian language or approach.
I remember a young university student telling me once that when it came to sharing his testimony, the story of how he came to follower Jesus, he could only do it standing up, not sitting down!
But to witness to Jesus is not some special technique, it’s just to speak about Jesus, who he is, what he’s done, and to urge people to consider following him.
And this has always been how the good news of Jesus goes forward.
No conversion at the point of the sword,
No sub-set of special Christian people who do all the work of telling others,
We used to live near a large army base, and so I’d read the Bible with numbers of soldiers.
I remember one young man, as soon as he understood that Jesus took the penalty that he deserved for rebelling against God, the following Sunday he drags his wife and kids along to church, saying, “You’ve got to hear this.”
Being a follower of Jesus has always meant making sure other people know, so they can follow him too.
And if we stop and think about it, none of this should be a surprise for us, should it, because if we’re a follower of Jesus, which, I guess most of us are, that’s how we’ve come to Jesus;,
Someone told us about him;,
A kids’ leader or youth group leader,
A Christian friend,
Being a follower of Jesus, has always meant, telling other people about Jesus.
Sometimes it’s hard. Yep, absolutely.
Sometimes we don’t know what to say.
Maybe we worry about answering the questions that might come,
And that’s why it’s great for us to be mindful of the fact that we’re all on mission, witnessing to Jesus together.
And I think actually moving out of the building holds this more firmly in the forefront of our gaze.
We’re on mission together,
We can encourage each other,
We can work together to bring people to events where they’ll encounter Jesus as he’s presented in the Scriptures,
We’ve been given these resources like the A Better Life booklets, that we can use to share the eye-witness testimony about Jesus with our friends.
The thing is, this can sound like, someone, me, waving a big stick and saying “you have to do this.
You’re a rubbish follower of Jesus, unless your life looks like this.”
Which is absolutely not my goal, and certainly not John’s goal.
But think with me about the 3 statements about Jesus people made when spoke about him.
Verse 36, he’s the Lamb of God
Verse 41, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ),
Then 45, We have found the one promised in the Old Testament.
There was some big news this week, wasn’t there?
Supreme Court Decision.
I think lots of us, probably had a conversation about Parliament and the Supreme Court decision when we heard about.
But no one forced us to do that, did they?
There’s no sense of guilt, “Oh, I have to talk to my family about this decision.”
We talk about it because we recognise it’s momentous news.
No one forces these men to tell their friends, their family, about Jesus,
They simply recognise that what they’ve learnt about him is momentous news.
Good news, even.
The Lamb of God,
God’s promised leader and rescuer,
The fulfilment of all God’s promises.
If we look at our own life, and we realise, “well, I’m a follower of Jesus, but I’m not doing this, I’m not telling other people about him,
The solution is not just to try harder to do a better job of it.
I suspect that will only lead to guilt, and anxiety, and frustration.
But let’s get ourselves a better understanding of the momentous news of who Jesus is;,
The creator God come in the flesh,
The one who can forgive us for everything we’ve ever done wrong,
The one who stands in our place, taking the penalty for our rejection of God, our life-long attempts to push God to the very edge of our lives, and beyond. All that which the Bible calls “sin.”
And here he is!
That’s momentous news!
And if we grasp that, we’ll really have something we want to tell people!
How do we deal with our friends’ scepticism? (v 45 – 46)
Let’s acknowledge the reality though, that not everyone will respond warmly to what we say about Jesus.
This might be only the third instance of Christian evangelism ever, and already there’s pushback.
See verse 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.”
But perhaps like in your efforts to introduce people to Jesus, the response is not immediately overwhelming!
But Nathanael is immediately sceptical because Jesus doesn’t sound very impressive by the standards of his culture.
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
And as John records it, the name Nazareth stands in the emphatic position at the beginning of the sentence.
Nazareth! As if!
Nazareth was a bit of a nowhere town. Home to about 2000 people. It doesn’t get a single mention in the Old Testament, and it was looked down upon by pretty much everyone in the area.
I don’t yet know what the equivalent town is in the UK, which is perhaps a good thing because if I named it, no doubt somebody here would turn out to have come from there and I’d offend people!
But I grew up in a village called Longwood, which was a tiny dot on the map. Less than a hundred houses. And everyone thought that Longwood was about as out-of-the-way and insignificant as you could possibly get.
Except people in Longwood, who looked down on the neighbouring village Bradbury, as even more out of the way and more insignificant!
That seems to be what’s going on here. We learn at the very end of John’s gospel that Nathanael was from the village of Cana, which was hardly a thriving metropolis!
But for whatever reason, scepticism about Jesus abounds!
Here it’s about geography,
And what kind of king people thought God should send,
Today, among our friends, the scepticism is about, relevance, isn’t it?
“How could Jesus, who lived 2000 years ago, possibly make any kind of difference to my life today?,
And haven’t Jesus’ followers caused lots of wars, and so, why would I listen to what he says?”
But, we don’t want to get frustrated at people’s scepticism about the claims of Jesus.
These are enormous claims to make, aren’t they?
We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote
That is, “Jesus is the fulfilment of all God’s plans and promises!”
Do you automatically believe people when they make those kinds of claims?
I can give you life!
I can restore what’s, messed up about our world.”
You and I don’t even believe the Nigerian prince when he emails us to say we’ve inherited his millions!
A degree of scepticism about these enormous claims is quite right and proper.
We shouldn’t be frustrated or discouraged when our friends and family don’t immediately believe that Jesus offers them what they need most of all.
I don’t want my friends believing every single thing they ever hear.
And so I think it’s encouraging that Philip doesn’t try and demolish Nathanael’s pre-suppositions;, “Let me give you the reasons why you’re wrong about Jesus.”
Sometimes that’s right and appropriate;, asking questions that highlight the inconsistencies with someone’s worldview, the framework through which they look at life.
“Come and see,”, said Philip
You got questions about Jesus,
You’re sceptical about his claims,
Come and see
There is no better way for someone to have their questions about Jesus answered, than to come and see,
To encounter Jesus for themselves.
It’s why we’ve produced those “A Better Life” booklets, so you can do exactly what Philip does with Nathanael;, say “come and see Jesus”, and then your friend or colleague can encounter him, just as we do, in the eye-witness testimony of those who knew him best.
Now, our friends’ scepticism may not evaporate when they encounter Jesus. We pray to God and ask that that will be the outcome, but we don’t know.
And yet this is how people come to trust in Jesus for forgiveness and relationship with God.
This is the way for scepticism to be addressed.
Come and see.
Jesus, the Messiah, is the way to God (v 47 – 51)
And so Nathanael does come and see Jesus, but what he learns is that Jesus is so much more than the kind of Messiah he’d been expecting.
Look with me from verse 47, if you will. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
He’s not saying, “Nathanael’s never told a lie”, but he’s saying Nathanael comes to Jesus, genuinely open and honest, and willing to consider Jesus without ulterior motives or a hidden agenda.
He’s been told to come and see for himself if the claims about Jesus really are true. And that’s what he does.
Willing to make a decision about following Jesus, based on the evidence.
So this is, how to approach Jesus, in a way that Jesus himself commends.
If you’re here today to find out about Jesus,
If you’ve got questions about who Jesus is, great!
But don’t approach Jesus with your big long checklist, trying to work out if he measures up to your standard,
Or trying to work out if he agrees with you on all the positions you already hold!
But come and find out, is he the Messiah?,
The long-awaited king?,
The fulfilment of all God’s promises?
Does he seem like someone you’d be willing to follow even if it got costly or difficult?
Those are the questions we want to ask, rather than coming with some agenda to see if Jesus fits neatly into the way of looking at life that I’m already committed to.
But Nathanael is a bit taken aback! 48 “How do you know me?” Which I think is a touch amusing.
Jesus has just given him this massive compliment, and Nathanael responds, “oh, so, obviously you know me!”
But presumably he understands Jesus’ words in the sense Jesus intended them.
He is coming to Jesus to find out, to learn more, not just to critique Jesus from his already established position, and so he’s amazed that Jesus seems to know all about him.
But Jesus responds, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 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.”
And at this point you might be thinking, “hang on, I’ve read the rest of John’s gospel,
There is no event in the life of Jesus where Nathanael, or anyone else for that matter, sees Jesus with angels going up and down on top of him!”
I always think of it as some kind of enormous escalator like the ones in Angel tube station! Which is quite appropriately named! And the escalator goes up to heaven, and there’s angels going up and coming down, standing on the right, passing on the left! with Jesus standing at the bottom.
It is the sort of image you’d remember if you came across it, isn’t it?
When did Nathanael see this strange sight?
But actually you might remember it, or something like it, if you’re familiar with the story of Jacob in the Old Testament.
Let me read you part of an episode from his life, in Genesis chapter 28.
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., 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac., and then God repeats some of the promises he’d made to Abraham, and he finishes with these words, All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. That being a restatement of the promise made to Abraham that really drives all of the story of the Old Testament.
And when Jacob woke up he said “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven”
And Jacob calls the place Bethel, which means “house of God.”
In his dream, Jacob is shown a way open to heaven.
And the angels ascending and descending, on this stairway, they’re God’s workers.
It’s like the gates of heaven are thrown open,
The front porch is all lit up, and Jacob can see everyone coming and going.
Now, Jesus’ promise here is not that Nathanael will have a strange and exciting dream like Jacob did,
But that Nathanael will see heaven open.
He will see a way to God,
He, and of course the other disciples, will witness God throwing wide the gates of heaven in a way that will make Jacob’s amazing dream pale in comparison.
Jacob had named that spot “the house of God”, Beth-el, but Bethel is no longer the house of God, the place where God dwells among his people,
The place where you go to encounter God.
That “place” is now Jesus.
Jesus is God dwelling among his people,
Jesus is where you go if you want to meet God.
If you’re with us today and you’re not a Christian, but you’re here because you want to know how to encounter God, you’re in exactly the right place!
But not because this building is “the house of God”, that would be a bit weird!
But because here in God’s Word you can meet Jesus,
Jesus offers us access to heaven, relationship with God himself, through his life, and death, and resurrection.
By standing in our place,
By taking the punishment that we deserve for our rebellion against God, Jesus throws the gates of heaven wide open. He connects heaven to earth in a way that has never been possible before.
Jesus himself is the place where God is revealed, and where heaven and earth meet,
Where God and humans connect.
What Jacob, and in fact all of Old Testament Israel could only literally dream of, Nathanael and others would see in reality.
Jesus is the way to God.
And Jesus’ language about himself, the Son of Man, underlines this for us.
If you’ve got little kids you’ll know that Elmo from Sesame St always refers to himself in the 3rd person.
It’s “Elmo does this”, and “Elmo would like that, ”
And the Sesame St people say that’s because many 3 and a half year olds, that’s how old Elmo is, many 3 and a half year olds refer to themselves like that.
Jesus too, uses this round-about 3rd person way of speaking about himself for a reason.
If he was to call himself “The Messiah”, which is what others are recognizing him as, aren’t they?, lots of people would misunderstand that, because those terms were so loaded, both politically and religiously,
Son of Man, on the other hand just means “a human”, much like Aslan in the Narnia stories refers to the humans as “sons of Adam and daughters of Eve.”
But again in the Old Testament, God’s prophet Daniel has a vision, and he sees someone who he describes as “one like a Son of Man”, a human, who ascends to heaven and receives from God, all authority over heaven and earth.
Nathanael could not have missed the parallel.
Jesus is saying, “I am the one with the connection to heaven”
“I am the one like the Son of Man in Daniel’s vision, who ascends to heaven having accomplished the task set before me”
“I am the one with God’s power and authority”
Of course, it takes the rest of John’s gospel for the complete picture of that to be painted,
But You will see, Jesus says, and they do.
The first time I walked into St Andrew’s Church in Wimbledon, I spotted the kneelers, the cushions that people kneel on to pray.
And there was one that someone had lovingly crocheted years ago, with the colours and crest of Wimbledon FC!
Now, I’ve got no problem with a blue and yellow Wimbledon kneeler!
But it got me thinking, “what are the things people think they need to do, in order to communicate with God?”
How do we find the channel to God?
Is it about having the right posture when I pray?,
Or finding the right words?,
Or being good enough so that heaven will be open to me?
How do I get access to God?
Well, we can see the answer, can’t we?
Jesus gives us access, to God.
The grammar John uses speaks of heaven being opened, and remaining open.
Coming to God, or communicating with God is not about discovering the right tricks,
It’s not about coming up with the right words,
Or finding something inside me that connects to something beyond.
It’s about coming to Jesus,
The place where heaven opens, where God is made accessible.
Heaven is thrown open.
Jesus stands at the gate of this newly opened heaven, welcoming people in,
And what we see of Jesus makes him absolutely worth following,
And with such momentous news, we want to say to people, come and see!