A FIRST LOOK AT THE FIRST DISCIPLES
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 5, 2020
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 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?” 39 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. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 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).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 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.” 51 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.”
— John 1:35-51, ESV
All of us have a biological lineage and if we are Christians, we have a spiritual heritage, too. If you need help with your family tree, you can use 23andMe, Ancestry.com, or some other service to find out more about your bloodline. I am actually using one of them now to see if I have any rich old uncles who need a breath of fresh heir.
If you want to know where you came from spiritually, today’s text will help. As disciples of Jesus Christ, someone led us to the Lord, who themselves became disciples through the witness of other disciples, and so on and so forth it goes all the way back to Jesus Christ. In this second substantial narrative of John’s Gospel, we get a first look at six of the original twelve disciples, one of which is probably your spiritual great-granddaddy.
A First Look at the First Disciples
As Jesus drafts a team of twelve to accompany Him on His three-year campaign to the cross, some common themes emerge concerning discipleship. All Christians come to Christ in approximately the same way, through God’s sovereign call and responsible disciple making. True disciples like these also give evidence of their corporate and personal relationship with Christ. A first look at the first disciples reveals the pathway and signs that mark one’s arrival into the kingdom of God.
All disciples are dependent. They are chosen by God and are brought to Jesus Christ by other Christians. It is clear from Jesus’ conversation with Nathaniel that the Lord knew these first disciples before they first followed Him. The immeasurable contribution of John the Baptist is also in the background of their calling, for John pointed the way to the Lord before they came to the Lord. No one can take credit for their own salvation, for it is a gift from God, wrapped and delivered by another child of God.
We must remember lost people are, well, lost and dependent upon God and God’s people to show them the way home. God sovereignly chooses His elect (ref. Ephesians 1:4) and Christ calls people to follow Him before they call upon the name of the Lord (ref. John 15:16). Those who are not yet disciples of the Lord are spiritually dead (ref. Ephesians 2:1ff) and incapable of seeking or speaking to the Lord (ref. Romans 3:10ff), until they are born again by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (ref. Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5; etc.)
All disciples are enlightened. Intellect alone cannot fathom the gospel and the kingdom of God. It requires the effectual call of the gospel, ignited by the Holy Spirit, who then indwells and enables true disciples to discern spiritual doctrines. This text mentions a few rather important ones.
When John the Baptist pointed the way to the “Lamb of God,” twice, it dawned on the previously dimwitted disciples that Jesus of Nazareth was someone who was somehow the atoning sacrifice for the sins of God’s people. In Him they would find forgiveness. In Him they would find deliverance. In Him they would find salvation. So they followed, for three years, as the lessons of the Lamb of God unfolded.
When the called Jesus “Rabbi (which means Teacher),” they knew it had more to do with the cardinal doctrines of the New Covenant they were to receive and deliver. It also meant that Jesus was the supreme teacher and undisputed leader of His followers, the Lord. His command of “Follow Me,” which the Gospels record twenty times, it the quintessential invitation to salvation, but it comes with a cost to pay and commandments to obey.
When they declared they had found “the Messiah (which means Christ),” it meant they had stumbled upon what Jews had looked for all of their lives, and what Christians look back to for all of theirs. He is the divine creator of all, the divider of time, and the difference between Heaven and Hell. The disciples were born again, saved by grace, and they soon got to work.
All disciples are actively engaged. They choose to follow Christ and bring others to follow Jesus. The responsibility of man runs through the Gospel of John on a parallel track with the sovereignty of God. When they were called, Andrew and Simon and Philip and Nathaniel and John and James all willingly and actively began following Jesus, and that does not mean they merely went in the same direction. “Follow Me” is the clarion call of Christ in the New Testament that demands all of life to be surrendered to the Savior and Lord.
One sure sign that a person is a disciple is their desire to see their family and friends become Christians, too. John the Baptist told everyone about Jesus. Andrew told his brother, Simon. Philip told his friend, Nathanial Bartholomew. John the Apostle told his brother, James. There you have the first half of a dozen disciples. Throw in Thomas and Matthew, another Simon and another James, and two Judases (one good one and one very, very bad one), and you have the twelve, being and making disciples for the Lord Jesus Christ.
A Closer Look at Each Disciple
Once the team begins to be assembled, you can see how each one fits into the corporate nature of biblical Christianity. But Christianity is a personal relationship with the Lord as well. Every disciple is different. Hereditarily we are like thumbprints, molded yet unique. Biologically we have diversity of appearance, intelligence, and skill. Spiritually we have different gifts for speaking and serving in Christ’s church and out to the world.
Andrew and Simon (Peter) were brothers. Andrew was the server and Simon Peter was the speaker. Andrew, the younger, found Jesus first then brought his older brother to Christ. Andrew is found in the Gospels finding people and bringing people to Jesus, whether it be his brother, a lad with five loaves of bread, or some Greeks who wanted to meet Jesus shortly before He died at Calvary. Jesus knew Simon’s potential for powerful Pentecostal preaching before the stumpy fisherman ever opened his mouth, so Jesus made him the rock (Cephas in Aramaic, Petros in Greek, Peter in English), the leader of the first disciples. They were speakers and servants of Christ.
Philip and Nathaniel (Bartholomew) were friends. Friends lead friends to Christ. Philip is quoted a couple of times in the New Testament but Nate isn’t. Mostly they just hung around Jesus, worshiped and served Him, and influenced other people to believe in Him. That’s not a bad life. But that is what disciples do, they worship and serve the Lord in a way that rubs off on other people. They were speakers and servants of Christ.
John (the Apostle and author of the Gospel) and his brother, James, are not mentioned here by name, but they were there. John was one of the first two, along with Andrew (vs. 35). John and James were fishing partners with Simon Peter and Andrew, and all four were called to follow Jesus Christ at the same time. John, the younger brother and youngest of all of the disciples, and James were both bold speakers for the Lord, so much so they were nicknamed by Jesus the “Sons of Thunder” (ref. Mark 3:17). Ironically, James was the first to die and John was the longest to live, but they both lived and died for Christ, which is what a disciple does, speaking and serving for the Lord.
Speaking and serving for the Lord is more than preaching a sermon or bringing somebody food. Rather than merely individual acts, they portray the entire lifestyle of a disciple of Christ. The way you speak, at home, school, work, everywhere, reveals your loves and loyalties. We all serve somebody, as Dylan said, and people can tell who or what it is, be it God or money. A first look at these first disciples makes us look at our own lives for evidence of dedicated discipleship. I pray we can take a close look and find words and deeds that keep Christ on display for all to see.
A Promise Made to All Disciples
Wouldn’t it be great to have been one of these first disciples? At this beginning stage of their lives with Christ their eyes were open, their hearts were full, and the adventure of a lifetime awaited. Then Jesus made a promise to them that stands for all disciples. “Greater things than these” all disciples will see.
Andrew and Simon, Philip and Nathaniel, John and James had yet to see Jesus perform His first miracle (ref. John 2:1ff), but they were all in. Miracles they would see, parables they would hear (though none are recorded in John), and the worst and best was yet to come. These disciples boarded a Messianic roller coaster and rode with Jesus as His popularity climbed and crashed. These first believers responded in disbelief when Jesus told them that He would be betrayed, arrested, executed and buried. These first Christians’ hearts burst when the women told them the tomb was empty and that they had seen the risen Lord. And these first disciples all lived relatively short lives of dedication, persecution, and vindication before they each went to be with the God and Savior who first called them to be His disciples. I do not know what they saw, or how they felt, or what it is like when they climbed the ladder to glory, but I am sure it is “greater things” that we can ever see on earth.
Take a fresh look at these first disciples and follow Jesus as a true disciple of the Lord. You are not the first, and I pray you won’t be the last, but you will have the adventure of a lifetime, and a glorious life to come. Great things you will see and do, and “greater things” will await you when the journey reaches its end.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org