Meditating on Great Themes in John: 3. The People Interactor
John 1:35-38 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. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
This first chapter of John comes over to me like a New Year’s Eve celebration at midnight, heralding in the New Year. First of all there is this tremendous spectacular about ‘the Word’, a coming life that brings light, who comes from heaven now in human form. Massive concepts lighting the sky. Then it goes dark again for a moment until two searchlight beams burst out to reveal the Word in flesh but as a Lamb ready to be sacrificed. Two powerful beams. And then it goes dark again but now come a series of flash-light bulbs going off, revelations about this Word made flesh, revelations out of the mouths of humans. The search lights revealing the lamb had come from the mouth of a prophet sent by God; these flashlights going off come from the mouths of ordinary human beings, and they come as the Word starts to interact with them, and such is the interaction that they each make their brilliant contribution to the revelation.
John has just said for the second time, “Look, here’s the Lamb” and this second time we find, “two of his disciples…. saw Jesus passing by….heard him… they followed Jesus..” (Jn 1:35-37) There is a hunger in these two men. They have been with John but the hunger continues so when the Lamb is pointed out, they followed him. Their following is obvious and so, “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” (v.38a) They rely, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (v.38b) The Lamb is obviously also a teacher. Has John told them that or is it obvious? He gives them a simple invitation: “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” (v.39) “So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.” (v.39) It was about 4pm and so they go and spend the rest of the day with him. So far, so good.
But watch what happened: “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.” (v.40-42) We don’t know what was said in that relatively short time but somehow Andrew has been convinced that all of Johns words were true – this is the anointed one, the anticipated one, the Messiah. The light bulb flashes and so here in this very first chapter yet another description is given of Jesus. We have seen the Word, the life, the light, the coming one, the Lamb of God and now, the Messiah. Familiarity perhaps dulls our reception of these incredible revelations.
So Simon comes with his brother to see this one and “Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter)” (v.42) Comment is often made on the name meanings, Simon meaning small stone, Peter meaning rock. This small stone is going to become a rock, something larger, more observable, reliable, steady and dependable. Jesus reveals himself as one who looks at us and sees our potential. Jesus sees and knows.
The story moves on: “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (v.43) Jesus is obviously staying in this place for a while and so the next day he goes out looking for Philip. Now we don’t know if Philip had been the other disciple with Andrew or just another one who was around to see John the Baptist. Not only have we seen Jesus the one who calls men to follow him, but now we see him as the one who goes looking for men (and women).
Now Philip’s response is similar to Andrew’s: “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.” (v.45) Another light bulb flashes. This is the prophesied one, the one Moses spoke about, the one we’ve been waiting for (another way of saying, the Messiah).
Nathaniel is skeptical about the description but comes to see for himself. “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” (v.47) As he approaches Jesus takes the initiative with a description of Nathanael. It could be taken as bantering skepticism. Nathanael has just been skeptical about Jesus, he challenges the truth, he needs to know the truth. Jesus sees into Nathanael and immediately knows this. We might paraphrase Jesus’ words as, “Aha, here is one of God’s people for whom the truth is important!”
Nathanael answers a little defensively, “How do you know me?” (v.48a). Jesus gives an interesting reply, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (v.48b) Now we don’t know quite what that means but somehow it is, for Nathanael, like God has seen him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (v.49). Another light bulb flashes. Whether he had been in a closed courtyard where no one could have seen him and whether he had been praying and questioning, we don’t know, but Jesus ‘word of knowledge’ speaks volumes to him!
The Word, the light bringing life, the coming one, the Messiah, the teacher, the prophesied one, and now the Son of God. Revelation after revelation! But we have been remiss for we did not pick up the earlier descriptions. In verse 14 Jesus was described as “the glory of the One and Only,” and the footnote says, “or the only begotten”. That is repeated in verse 18 and in verse 34 John the Baptist made that incredibly clear declaration, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” So again and again John the writer is leaving us with no room to doubt what he believes. This Jesus is the eternal word, the life that brings light, the Lamb of God who saves people from their sins, the Son of God who has come to reveal his Father in heaven. Flash, bang, crash, more flashes, the light of revelation comes again and again in this first chapter. If not a firework display, surely a kaleidoscope. How wonderful!