THE GRAVITY OF DEPRAVITY
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 26, 2020
23 Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. 24 But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people 25 and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.
— John 2:23-25, ESV
In a pivotal scene in Alexandre Dumaś’ The Count of Monte Cristo, the protagonist and prisoner Edmond Dantes receives spiritual advice from his cellmate, Abbe Faria. “Here is your final lesson. Do not commit the crime for which you now serve the sentence. God said, vengeance is mine.” Dantes replied, “I don’t believe in God.” Then, with his last breath, Faria said, “It doesn’t matter. He believes in you.”
In the decades after Dumaś, the famous author’s prose became a proverb picked up by many people, especially on the religious left. “You may not believe in God, but God believes in you.” This has been quoted with Bible-like authority by people like the late Robert Schuller, the present Pope Francis, spokespersons for radical wing of the United Methodist Church, and the writers of the television show God Friended Me. The saying is sweet, sentimental, and sensationally wrong.
Not only is God not required to believe in those who do not believe in Him, but God does not even believe in some people who do believe in Him! If you think this sounds harsh or erroneous, take a second look at this segue in the Gospel of John. The original Greek word translated “believed” (vs. 23) and the one for “entrusted” (vs. 24) is the same exact word. The festival-attending, miracle-watching congregation claimed to believe in Jesus. But, Jesus did not believe in them.
There is a true proverb given by God that says, “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (ref. 1 Samuel 16:7). A profession of faith is an outward show of support for God that all too often wears off in time, and in modern times it wears off most of the time. A possession of faith is a powerful, permanent change wrought by the grace of God that perseveres in faithfulness until the end. Jesus knows the difference.
The Lord looked deep into the hearts of those who made professions of faith on this particular day. He did not need anyone to tell him that the hearts of men are fickle, that hypocrisy follows most professions of faith, and that the people who claimed to honor and love Him one day would be crucifying Him the next. “He Himself knew what was in man” (vs. 25). And, it was not true faith. Rather, the Lord saw the root, tree, and branches of unbelief. What is it? It is the dreaded disease known as depravity, and the gravity of depravity is that it has fallen upon the entire human race.
The Definition of Depravity
Our English dictionaries define depravity as “moral corruption” or “wickedness.” We generally do not apply the term to anyone except the most degenerate members of society, the criminals who commit heinous crimes like murder, torture, sexual assault, or swindling old ladies out of their life savings. The rest of us, which is most of us, are by proxy not depraved, at least by looking from the outside.
But God looks inside. He x-rays the heart. The Scriptures reveal what He sees. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah declared, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (ref. Jeremiah 17:9, KJV)” The New Testament Apostle Paul, also speaking of the human heart, wrote, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” These guys were not talking about the relatively small number of killers and rapists in the world. They were talking about you, about me, and about every member of the human race.
Depravity in the Greek language of the New Testament literally means “not saved.” Depravity is unbelief. Depravity is false, nominal, hypocritical, superficial belief. Depravity is the lack of desire to truly know, love, and worship God. Depravity is the sinful self-centeredness that renders belief in God and service to God unnecessary and impossible.
Depravity can dress up as a killer, or a pervert, to be sure. But depravity is also the suit of a hard working dad who never takes his children to church, the dress of a mother who loves her kids but not enough to urge them to repent and believe in Christ, the clothes of a child who grows up to be a law abiding citizen who never calls upon the name of the Lord. Depravity comes clothed in every color, creed, and nationality in the world.
Most depraved people don’t murder and don’t steal. But they do not repent, either, for they feel no need. Neither do they sincerely believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, although many have joined churches during a vacation Bible School, a summer youth camp, a frivolous revival service, or after an emotional reaction to some act of God, like these pilgrims at Passover.
Jesus peeked into their hearts and saw no genuine faith, only depravity. They did not believe. They could not believe. Depravity is the inability to believe. So how did humans get so marred in the first place?
The Origin of Depravity
To understand what Jesus saw on this day in the hearts of men, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of man. The book of Genesis reveals that God made mankind, male and female, in His image. We were made to live forever, like God. We were made in tri-unity, body and soul and spirit, in the image of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We were made with a moral compass like God’s, and the free will to choose between right and wrong. The Spirit connected us with God and enables us to know, worship, and serve Him. The Garden of Eden is a picture of this perfect time on earth, before depravity set in.
The perfect period lasted only as long, however, as the time it takes for man to sin. Remember it was a Heaven on earth if you will, in which God could not tolerate the presence of even a scintilla of disobedience or rebellion against Him. God warned that the wages of such sin would be the death penalty. Man sinned, so man had to die.
Only he did not die physically, like a condemned prisoner in a gas chamber. Man did not die emotionally, for their emotions ran the gamut of surprise, embarrassment, fear, and panic. But on that day, man and subsequent mankind died spiritually. Without the Spirit there can be no faith, without faith it is impossible to please the Lord, and the thing that replaced the Spirit in the heart of man is this thing we now call depravity.
Depravity is the inability to know, worship, and serve God. It is written on the hearts of all men who remain unsaved, unredeemed, unchanged by God’s grace. It is the principle spirit of the age, dominating the world outside the church and all too often creeping inside the church. These Passover pilgrims in Jesus’ day believe in Him, superficially. But Jesus could see inside of them, spiritually, and all He saw was depravity.
The Gravity of Depravity
Jesus preached a sermon on sin in which He said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea” (Mark 9:42). The fact is all lost people are walking toward the sea with this great millstone hanging around their necks. It is depravity. It is sin. It is selfishness. It is the inability to believe.
Depravity weighs heavily upon the human heart. It is the reason so many people make superficial professions of faith but do not follow through with obedience and perseverance. It is the reason most people make no profession of faith in the first place. It is the reason people break the Ten Commandments and the other laws of God. It is the reason people break commitments and hurt one another. It is the reason the vast majority of people on this planet are living like the walking dead. They live without God in the center of their lives and will not care until the day they meet God face to face, when it will be far too late to believe.
The really bad news is that there is nothing a person can do about their own depravity. You cannot wash it off or wish it away. Unbelievers simply cannot believe. People with no Spirit of God cannot understand spiritual truth, especially the gospel of the atoning death and saving life of the Lord Jesus Christ. Depravity already owns them and eternal death awaits for them, unless they are saved. And there is one remedy for depravity, except for one.
The Remedy for Depravity
The only remedy for depravity is found in the next chapter on the new birth. One must be born again, or literally born from above. The gift of faith does not come from within, it comes from above. God the Father must give the gift of faith in God the Son, delivered by God the Spirit to the human heart.
It is the new birth that defeats depravity and raises the dead. It grants spiritual life and gives spiritual understanding. It is the greatest miracle God ever ordained, and by the grace of God it happens every day.
John 3:16 is the most familiar verse in the Bible, some say the most important. If this is so, the context of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus becomes the most important conversation recorded in the Bible. If this is so, this transitional text that builds a bridge for the Lamb of God to crossover to the hearts of men must be understood as foundational.
Human beings are depraved, sinful, and spiritually dead. Our only hope is a resurrection from above called the new birth. Such new, real, spiritual, and eternal life is a gift of God’s grace, given through the gift of faith in Jesus Christ, via the agency of the word of God and the Spirit of God.
Have you been born again? Would you like to understand fully what it means to be born again? Then cross this bridge, step into the next chapter, and meet a man named Nicodemus.
THE FIRST AND LAST PASSOVER
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 19, 2020
12 After this he went down to Capernaum, with his mother and his brothers and his disciples, and they stayed there for a few days. 13 The Passover of the Jews was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple he found those who were selling oxen and sheep and pigeons, and the money-changers sitting there. 15 And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. 16 And he told those who sold the pigeons, “Take these things away; do not make my Father's house a house of trade.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.” 18 So the Jews said to him, “What sign do you show us for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.
— John 2:12-22, ESV
We are rapidly reaching the last of the firsts in the Gospel of John. We have already read about the first Word, the first witness, the first disciples, and the first miracle. Soon enough we will arrive at the first “I Am” statement (ref. John 6:35). Today, however, we attend the first Passover with Jesus. Or, was it His last?
The Gospel of John records three Passovers during the public ministry of Jesus Christ. This is the main marker that measures His ministry at approximately three years. The other Gospel writers record only the last Passover, plus Luke’s insertion of a much earlier one when the twelve-year-old Jesus was temporarily separated from His earthly parents. All four Gospels tell about the same story, of Christ cleansing the Temple, and most scholars claim it is the same story, which John chooses to insert at the beginning of his Gospel rather than the end. This would be no error, of course, since the Gospel genre does not require chronological order.
So, is this Jesus’ first Passover or is it Jesus’ last Passover? The answer is yes!
The First Family
Present politics aside, we Americans like to refer to our President’s family as the First. The wife is the First Lady, the children are the First daughter or the First son, and altogether they are the First Family. It is our way of saying, at least in some ways, they are the most significant family in the country.
Who, then, is the most important family in the world? What about the most important family in history of the world? My vote is for any family where you find the Lord Jesus Christ in the center, especially Jesus’ own first family. John gives us a snapshot of them in verse 13. God the Father is not visible, neither is Joseph the step-father, who is believed to be diseased by this time. Mother Mary is smiling brightly, surrounded by her firstborn and (contrary to Catholic theology) His biological half-brothers and half-sisters. Jesus’ fledgling band of first followers photo-bomb the shoot.
Here is a picture of the family of Christ at the onset of His public ministry. He had been born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, flashed His first miracle in Cana, and now relocated to Capernaum. His home base for the ministry would be in or near the house of Simon Peter, a stone’s through from the beautiful synagogue in that small, idyllic town on the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
After a few days of setting up camp, the Lord is ready to march His campaign to the cross. His first orders are to travel the hundred miles that rises a half mile above sea level from Capernaum to the city of Jerusalem. Once He arrives at the Passover, His actions and words will sound off like a thousand trumpets. There is no triumphal entry mentioned, so it could have been Jesus’ first Passover appearance as the Messiah. But He violently clears out the Temple, just like the other Gospel writers say He did at the Last, an act of which He probably couldn’t have gotten away with twice. So, was it the first Passover or the Last?
The First Passover
For now let us say this is the first Passover that John writes about in His Gospel, and we may well leave it at that. The chronology is not the important matter. The theology is, and we will discover it as the narrative unfolds. The key to the interpretation is the celebration of the Passover, the most important religious ritual in Jewish life.
The Passover was inaugurated by God through Moses before 1400 BC. The occasion was the tenth of ten plagues the Lord reigned down on Egypt in order to force them to release God’s people from slavery. It fired the starting gun for the exodus from Egypt to the Promised Land. As the morning revealed the death of all the firstborn of Egypt, the Israelites were spared. On the night before, God had commanded the Jews to sacrifice a lamb, put the blood above and on both sides of their doors, prepare a meal with unleavened bread, bitter herbs, and wine, and be prepared to be set free. It was the blood of the cross that spared them and set them free.
Jesus and his family and friends, being devout Jews, kept the commandments of the Passover. Public worship was very important to the Lord Jesus Christ, and it remains so today. His first family made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem for their first, middle, and last Passover together during Jesus’ ministry. They obeyed the word of God and observed the religious rituals of their day. They made preparations for the meal. They anticipated the holy worship service at the Temple. But they were shocked, and Jesus was quite angry, at what they found upon their arrival at this first, or last, Passover.
The First Priority
If you ask me what is the first priority of a child of God, I will tell you it is worship. We are to worship God the Father, through Jesus Christ the Son, in the power of the Holy Spirit. There are many other things that devout Jews under the Old Covenant did and sincere Christians under the New Covenant do, but they all fall under the banner of worship.
Worship begs for rites, rituals, and a regular meeting place. Of course we can and should worship the Lord in the ongoing, everyday road of life, in quiet times and easy chairs. But Scripture and history also assign regular times and formal places for corporate worship, and those places are referred to as “the house of God.”
The Jews had synagogues and the Temple. Christians have the local meeting place, kirk, church. The Jews met weekly in the synagogues and at the three main festivals each year at the Temple. The Christians’ only pilgrimage is weekly on the Lord’s Day to the Lord’s house. It is a small price to pay in light of the amazing grace afforded to us by the life, death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The house of God, then and now, is supposed to be a reverent place with regulated principles of worship. When the place is ignored or misused, or the principles are marched over by modern inventions, Jesus gets angry.
In the case of the first, or last, Passover, Jesus witnessed the reverence of the Temple being overcome by commerce. There was nothing essentially wrong with selling and buying animals for the sacrifices, but this was to be done earlier, outside, not “in the Temple.” Worship was supposed to be conducted with praise to God, prayers to God, offerings to God, and most importantly, the word of God. Worship that is not godward displeases God, as the Son of God shows us at this Passover.
I love the late, great Fred Rogers and his neighborhood, but Mr. Rogers Jesus is not. Instead of slippers and a sweater, Jesus took out a fist and a whip to defend “My Father’s house” of worship. “Zeal” is how all believers should feel when it comes to the time, place, and manner of holy worship.
If He were here physically today, what do you think Jesus would do with winky, blinky prosperity gospel preachers? What would he do on a stage full of smoke, mirrors, and rock bands so loud you cannot think, especially about God? What would He do in places where the word is not preached and the sacraments are not regularly and rightly observed?
Worship matters to God. It matters where it is done, how it is done, and most importantly, that it is done. Make sure you are making the trip, doing the time, and keeping the zeal for the worship of God in the house of God. Don’t make Jesus get after you with a whip.
The Last Passover
I want to think this was the first Passover in Jesus’ public ministry, for John is my favorite and he records it here, in the beginning, plus two more later on. I am persuaded, however, by the consensus of scholarship that asserts the parallels in the synoptic Gospels prevail in chronology. It makes sense to them, and me, that when Jesus showed up the religious establishment in this way, He signed His own death sentence that had to be carried out soon.
So was it the first Passover, or the last Passover? The answer is yes.
This is the first Passover in the Gospel of John, at least. And, it is the last Passover, not because of the time, or place, but because of the person. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the Temple, at the close of the Old Covenant and within a generation the Temple was no more. Now, in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our Temple. The Lord Jesus Christ came to the Passover, at the close of the Old Covenant, and the last Passover became the first Lord’s Supper. Now, in the New Covenant, Jesus Christ is our Passover (ref. 1 Corinthians 5:7). “The temple of His body,” crucified and resurrected, is the first, the last, and the only Passover we will ever need.
Like the door of a Jewish home on the eve of the exodus, the cross of Christ was stained with blood, upward, on each side, and downward, too. Today it reaches people who receive it, in repentance and faith, and apply it to the framework of their own hearts and lives. Those who do will go in and out to worship the Lord, on the Lord’s terms, in the Lord’s house, on the Lord’s Day.
WINE, WOMEN, AND SONG
Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
January 12, 2020
1 On the third day there was a wedding at Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus also was invited to the wedding with his disciples. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. 8 And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. 9 When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him.
— John 2:1-11, ESV
Two years before the great Loretta Lynn scored her biggest hit with the highly theological, “Don’t Come Home a Drinkin’ with Lovin’ on your Mind,” she had a similar song that made it all the way to number one. It was called, “Wine, Women, and Song.” It went something like, “While I'm at home a working and slaving this a way, you're out misbehaving and spending all your pay, on wine, women, and song.”
Wine, women, and song are issues you would expect to find negatively in a country song, but they are not things you would positively associate with the Lord Jesus Christ, especially if you grew up in a strict Baptist church. Wine and other alcoholic beverages are off limits, women in the congregation are not supposed to say a word, and the only songs you are allowed to sing come from the Baptist Hymnal or some southern gospel album about mama and mansions in Heaven. But the real Jesus is not the fundamentalist Jesus.
The real Jesus is the fun Jesus. Jesus made, drank, and enjoyed wine. Jesus included women in His entourage, beginning with His blessed mother and ending with a trio of women around the borrowed tomb. Jesus attended celebrations like weddings where there was an abundance of music, singing, and yea verily, even dancing.
But like everything else the Messiah did, Jesus partied with a purpose. The wine, women, and song in this story provide the backdrop for the first of seven “signs,” or miracles, that John wraps His Gospel around (along with seven strategic sayings that all begin with “I Am ...”). Each one, beginning with this one, points to Christ’s supreme deity, His strong compassion for people, and His sovereign power to meet every important need. Let’s go with Him to the wedding!
Wine, Women, and Song
I have heard a hundred hair-splitting sermons in my day that claim the wine Jesus made was akin to modern grape juice. Such teaching displays a naiveté of biblical language and culture. The first time wine is mentioned in the Bible, Noah makes it, drinks it, gets drunk, and passes out (ref. Genesis 9:21). You can’t do that with Welch’s.
The word for the wine that Jesus made was picked by Paul to warn against drunkenness (ref. Ephesians 5:18), so we know the wine had to pack a punch stronger than a country mule. The folks at this wedding had already “drunk freely,” which literally means they were intoxicated. Drunkenness may be sinful, but wine is certainly not. So when they ran out at this wedding, Jesus made more.
To further chap the backsides of Pharisees and Fundamentalists everywhere, Jesus made this top shelf wine because a woman spoke up and virtually ordered Him to do so. This was no ordinary woman, of course, but Mary the mother of Jesus (John never uses her proper name, only “mother,” perhaps because she was like a mother to him, too.). She knew Jesus was the Messiah, just as His first disciples did. She knew what He could do, anything, because He was and is the presence and the power of God. So Mary bid her son, God’s Son, to make some wine. After a wrinkle in their conversation which we will iron out later, Jesus acquiesced.
No rabbi had ever included women in the close company of disciples. Jesus began His ministry with a woman at his right hand and let many others lend a hand along the way. Mother Mary is Jesus first witness, at the wedding, while Mary Magdalene became His last witness, at the funeral (which Jesus ruined by rising from the dead). Wine and women are important to Jesus.
So is song, in this case a wedding song, a wedding song that was about to be drowned out by an embarrassing end. Weddings can be quite festive occasions in our culture, but they pale in comparison to the Jewish weddings of Jesus’ day. They typically lasted a week or more, with the actual ceremony in the middle (Tuesdays for the newly married, Wednesdays for remarriages). The fatted calf was killed and feasting was the order of every day. Wine flowed like a river, the kind of good wine that gets people singing and dancing, and it was a social disgrace (and in some cases a legal crime) if the host ran out of wine.
Jesus, at Mary’s bequest, refused to let the singing stop. He commanded the servants to collect 120 gallons of water (and water was almost as valuable as wine, if not more so in some places). Then He ordered them to use the wine serving vessels to bring a taste to the host. Everyone is at risk now, but following Jesus is always a risky business. Lo and behold, the water had been transformed into wine, and the most excellent wine to boot.
The wine flowed, women and men enjoyed a fabulous wedding reception, and songs of God’s glory and grace wafted over the entire crowd. In the center of it all stood the Lord Jesus Christ with a great smile upon His face, surrounded by a band of believing disciples.
Miracles, Messiah, and Disciples
You and I both know this story is not really about wine, women, and song. It is about miracles, the Messiah, and making disciples. John takes this wedding at Cana to a higher, spiritual plane, a particular motif that characterizes his Gospel. Let’s take the elevator and look at this wedding from upstairs.
A miracle is something supernatural, rising above the laws of science and reasonable explanation, that can only be performed or permitted by God. God gives them sparingly, for natural law and providence provide a stage big enough for His plan of redemption to unfold. Occasionally, however, God paints a “sign” (John’s preferred word), or miracle, to point us in the direction of salvation.
Moses and Aaron performed signs in order to point God’s people in the direction of the exodus and the promised land. Elijah and Elisha performed miracles to thwart the influence of faithless priests and evil kings who had turned Israel’s hearts away from God. Jesus and the Apostles performed signs and wonders to grab the attention of an Old Covenant being fulfilled and a New Covenant being offered, a covenant of salvation by the miracle of regeneration (like grapes turned into wine) by grace through faith in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In John’s Gospel, all signs point to Jesus, beginning with this one in Cana, a little village not far from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth. He was just beginning His messianic campaign that would end at the cross. He knew that at least at a few stops along the way, He would have to do something to prove Himself to be God and man. He debated with His mother, Mary, as to the timing of His first miracle because He could not let His popularity peak too soon. Persuaded, however, that it was time for wine, Jesus overturned nature to turn water into wine, something only God can do.
Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah. Jesus of Nazareth is the master of weddings and funerals, of land and the sea, of every geographical, physical, and spiritual area in our lives. Jesus Christ is Lord. This story alone should serve to make you love Him, trust Him, believe in Him, and become His disciple.
And make no mistake, discipleship is the bottom line here. Jesus did what only God can do because God loves people and calls us to follow Him. Jesus did what only God can do because He is the source of all goodness, joy, and true celebration. But at the end of the day, or at the end of this wedding, Jesus did what only God can do in order to accomplish this goal, “His disciples believed in Him.”
Disciples believe in Jesus. Disciples follow Jesus, through celebrations and storms. Disciples obey Jesus’ word, like the servant who took Mary’s advice, “Do whatever He tells you” (even if it doesn’t make sense sometimes). Disciples walk with Jesus on earth. Disciples will live forever with Jesus in Heaven, only disciples.
So come to the wedding and drink the wine of regeneration, made and poured out by nail-scarred hands. Listen to the woman who said, “Do whatever He tells you.” And sing the song of salvation until you arrive at the place where you will see the Lord Jesus Christ face to face, where the wedding reception never ends.
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