(A) Introduction (Read the reference.)

Five of the first six disciples began their association with Jesus a long way from home. John, James, Andrew, Peter and Philip all lived in Bethsaida or neighbouring Caperanaum beside Lake Galilee. They had probably travelled together about 80 miles south to Bethany, an obscure settlement east of the Jordan and near the Dead Sea, to participate in the religious revival attending the preaching of John the Baptist. These men knew each other. James and John, the sons of Zebedee, who may have been cousins of Jesus, were the partners of Andrew and Simon, the sons of John, in a Galilean fishing business. Philip was a friend of Andrew and also of Nathanael.

All six men were united in their desire for Messiah to come and restore Israel to God's favour. It is what led five of them to abandon work and travel into the wilderness to listen to the Baptist. They must have been enormously excited by John's forecast that the arrival of God's anointed was imminent. How John, Simon and the rest longed to meet him. Yet none of them got the Messiah they wanted!

The first disciples came to Jesus in ones and twos. There is a marked contrast between the way Jesus recruited followers and how the Holy Spirit swept 3000 into the Kingdom on the Day of Pentecost. Many in Britain yearn for the Spirit to come in revival power. In the long history of the church Jesus has continued to attract followers in dribs and drabs. I suppose that of all the Christians in the world the majority have come to Jesus much like Andrew or Peter or Philip or Nathanael.

Jesus' original followers did not all come to him in quite the same way. There was a variety of experience. John and Andrew were encouraged to speak with Jesus by John the Baptist. Simon and, probably, James were brought to Jesus by their brothers. Jesus went to find tentative Philip and Nathanael needed a little miracle to convince him that at least one good thing could come out of Nazareth. However, John's account makes it very clear that each of the disciples had to encounter Jesus personally.

Men and woman are still brought to Jesus in very different ways depending upon their individual circumstances. There is no standard conversion experience! The only common feature is that every Christian must have a personal encounter with Jesus and go on to make a commitment to him.

(B) John points Andrew and John to Jesus. 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!" v35and36.

I wonder why John the Baptist pointed these two in particular to Jesus? He does not seem to have directed many of his disciples specifically to Jesus. He retained a strong personal following well after Jesus commenced his ministry. See John3v22to26.

I suggest the Baptist drew the attention of John and Andrew to Jesus because they were all Galileans. Indeed, Jesus and John may have been cousins. It is also likely that these two disciples of John the Baptist were especially eager for the coming of the Messiah. This was their consuming interest. Both Andrew and John were ready to investigate Jesus further - unlike the majority in my country today who have no interest in learning more about the Saviour.

During the last 15 years of my career as a teacher I was given the opportunity to conduct school assemblies. My main aim was to direct the attention of my hearers to Jesus in the hope that some would be keen to find out more about him. In October 2004 I enjoyed a display put together by my friends and former colleagues, Mrs Sibley and Miss Arnall, to celebrate the 40 year history of Debenham High School. I was fascinated by some of the school day reminiscences of old pupils. Charlotte wrote: Mr Reed, by contrast, was one of the loudest teachers, and we could hear who was misbehaving in his Geography lessons from the relative safety of a nearby Maths lesson. There was certainly no misbehaving in Religious Studies classes, for fear of his very loud shout, and he patrolled the corridors discovering people lurking where they shouldn't have been and making them jump with a sudden bellow. His assemblies, however, were some of the most thoughtful, fulfilling the purpose of school assemblies and teaching us, with simple stories and anecdotes, meaningful lessons that have stayed with me for years.

(C) Jesus made his position clear.

John and Andrew were prompted to follow Jesus by the Baptist's rather enigmatic description of him as the Lamb of God. Jesus turned round and asked them: "What do you want?" Their reply is very strange if taken literally: "Rabbi (Teacher) where are you staying?" It is most unlikely that the two young, politically aware students were concerned about where Jesus was staying. That is not what interested these men caught up in a religious movement that was engendering tremendous excitement and expectancy. I do not think that John was the man to dissimulate. Jesus did not call him a 'Son of Thunder' for nothing. He was straightforward and asked what he really wanted to know.

The response of Andrew and John in the Greek literally means: 'where do you remain?' It is likely that this was an idiomatic expression. We have lots of these expressions in English; 'a flash in the pan' and 'let the cat out of the bag' being just two examples. Two of our idiomatic expressions are very close to 'Where do you remain?' namely, 'Where do you stand?' and 'What's your position?'

John the Baptist did not actually say of Jesus: "Look! Here's the Messiah." He never quite said that. I do not believe he even used the words: I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God. v34. In all probability this is a comment made by the author of the Gospel - John the Apostle. It is unlikely that Andrew and John knew exactly what the Baptist meant when he called Jesus the Lamb of God. So they asked Jesus to let them know where he stood - to make his position plain.

That is precisely what Jesus did. He took the two eager inquirers and spent the rest of the day explaining where he stood. He showed them the passages in the Law and the prophets that referred to him and convinced them that he was the Messiah. He won their personal allegiance. Andrew, speaking for both of them, said: "We have found the Messiah."

It is of the deepest significance that right from the start Jesus called men to himself. He did not call men to a cause, a crusade, a political manifesto or religious movement, but to himself. I am afraid that from time to time the disciples forgot this and went astray. They were secure whenever their love and loyalty was to Christ alone. Jesus had to remind Peter right at the end of his time on earth: "You must follow me." John21v22.

Christians are not called to a body of doctrine, to defend a denomination or to support their local church. Jesus demands our personal allegiance. He is the main man! We do well to heed the advice of the writer to the Hebrews: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith... Heb12v2. Christians lose their way when Jesus ceases to be their priority - and it can so easily happen.

          Anywhere with Jesus I can safely go!
          Anywhere he leads me in this world below!
          Anywhere without Him dearest joys would fade -
          Anywhere with Jesus, I am not afraid.

(D) Peter is brought to 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. v41and42.

Why does Andrew go first to Peter? He was in the vicinity, camping out in Bethany. Peter, too, was caught up in the campaign of John the Baptist. He shared the desire of Andrew and John for the coming of Messiah. So Andrew goes to Peter because he is sure that he has found the Messiah. He goes to him first because he loves his brother.

Some of us have good cause to thank God for the testimony of our families. My parents made Jesus real for me. Grandfather Reed never wrote me a letter without commending his Saviour. I was helped to apply for baptism by the example of my brother Paul. I knew that I should be baptised but resisted the prompting of the Holy Spirit for many months until Paul's decision to be baptised encouraged me to do the same.

Most of us love our families. I love my brothers, my nephews, nieces, grand nephews and nieces. I attended Paul's sixtieth birthday party in November and it was a great pleasure to be with my family and to hug my niece and grand nieces! The majority of Christians long to bring their family members to Jesus. Very few Christian parents forget to pray for their unconverted children!

We must not forget that for Christians there is a relationship that transcends family ties. First of all we love Jesus and secondly we love our fellow believers. Jesus said: "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." John13v34and35.

(E) Jesus calls Simon a rock! Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon the son of John. You will be called Cephas." (which when translated, is Peter). v42.

Although Simon was larger than life I am not sure that I would have called him a rock! He was emotional, impulsive and changeable. He was a fissured rock - flawed by an overwhelming desire to be well thought of. All these characteristics are well illustrated in John13. I will elaborate on Peter's weaknesses when I deal with this passage later in this series of expositions.

How was Simon a rock? Princess Diana called Paul Burrell, her butler, "My rock." He was utterly devoted, loyal and prepared to do anything for her. Paul Burrell served the Princess with enthusiasm. Peter's relationship with Jesus was very similar. He was a devoted, committed and faithful disciple. There is nothing he would not have done for Jesus. He was quite prepared to fight and die for his Master. When Jesus told the eleven at the Last Supper that he was going away where they would not be able to follow Peter said: Lord why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you." John13v37. Later, at the arrest of Jesus, Peter drew his sword and took a swing at the servant of the high priest cutting off his ear. Misguided the big fisherman may have been, but he cannot be accused of lack of devotion.

Eventually Peter's love and enthusiasm made him Christ's instrument for building the early church. His belief in Jesus; his willingness to confess and serve him is the rock on which the church is built. Faith and service are the characteristics of all who follow the Saviour.

(E) Philip is called directly by Jesus. The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip he said to him, "Follow me." v43.

Philip was in all probability known to Peter, Andrew, James and John. They all lived in or near Bethsaida. It is likely that Andrew and Philip were close. Much later when some Greeks came to Philip wanting to be introduced to Jesus he went to Andrew for moral support. See John12v20and21. So I expect Andrew told Philip everything that Jesus taught him from the Law and the Prophets.

Philip did not go to Jesus. He was diffident and unwilling to push himself forward. We see this in the incident referred to above. Perhaps, he said to himself, "Jesus won't be interested in me." Philip may have been slightly perverse. Whenever a new head was appointed to a school at which I taught I would never go along and introduce myself. On the one occasion Debenham High School was visited by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Schools - Chris Woodhead - I made sure he never met me!

Fortunately for Philip Jesus went to him! That was very gracious of the Master. When Jesus said to Philip: "Follow me;" he showed confidence in him. Philip was not the sort of man to take the initiative and so it must have been a great comfort to have been chosen by Jesus. Jesus was both making a commitment to Philip and asking for a commitment from Philip.

Jesus still sometimes makes a direct approach. I read recently the testimony of James Weller (1806 to 1847) in 'The Ministry of the New Testament' published by the John Metcalfe Publishing Trust. One winter while working at threshing James Weller was taken with violent pains (later found to be an incurable affliction of the liver) which compelled him to give up work and fall upon the parish for maintenance. He moved with his family to Maidstone to attend the infirmary. Confined to bed by his sickness and meditating on death and eternity, he thought 'I am a lost man'. Trying to pray, words failed him. He saw clearly the justice of God in his eternal overthrow and bade adieu to the world, closing his eyes with an Amen to his own destruction. He recalled, 'I thought I was sinking body and soul into the pit: when, glory be to sovereign grace, I experienced in an instant, a change in my feelings; a sweet glowing flowed into my bosom and ran through the whole of my frame from head to foot ..... my chains were taken off, my guilt was removed, my sins were pardoned and my heart was made soft, so that it appeared melting within me; and the glory that I both saw and felt of salvation through the blood of the Lamb was joy unspeakable and full of glory.' Well that is a deal more dramatic than Jesus' simple words to Philip but nevertheless James Weller was called directly by the Master. For the rest of his short life he had a strong sense of being chosen and it gave him great assurance of a Saviour's love.

Nathanael is won over over.

(1) He was a man of good character.
Unlike crafty Jacob Nathanael was a man in whom there was no guile. Jesus said: "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false. v47. So what were the characteristics of guileless Nathanael:

    (a) He was frank. He makes an honest objection to Jesus being Messiah. Philip tells Nathanael that they have found the one of whom Moses and the prophets wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Nathanael snorts: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" v46. Nathanael's protestation is understandable. There was nothing in the Scriptures about the Messiah coming from Nazareth a quite unremarkable Galilean town.

    It is a great pity the opponents of Jesus do not make their objections to him known. There are folk in our congregation who shy away from following Christ. They never offer an explanation for their unwillingness to commit to him. What is it about the Saviour that they find off putting? If only people would say then their problems could be addressed. Sadly, relatively few are without guile and willing to express their views honestly.

    (b) He was open to persuasion. Philip replied to Nathanael's objection by saying: "Come and see." It is to Nathanel's credit that he went. He was prepared to meet Jesus and listen to what he had to say. He was willing to investigate the claims of Jesus. Nathanael had an open mind.

    Most people in Britain have closed their minds to Jesus. They do not want to hear anything about him. Some years ago I was walking with my form to the annual school carol service in Debenham Church. I was talking to the lovely, blond-haired Victoria when another girl bustled up. Christina said, "Why have we got to go to this old carol service, Mr Reed!" I replied, "Well, Christina don't you think it is appropriate for pupils of a Church of England school to thank God for Jesus at this time of year." Christina almost snarled, "I don't believe in God or Jesus." Whereupon the delicious Victoria sniffed, "If you are going to talk about religion - I'm off." She marched away at speed! The incident left me feeling indescribably sad. Our young people know nothing of Jesus and want to know nothing of him. They have shut him out.

    (c) He was reflective. Nathanael had spent time before Philip's visit sitting quietly under his fig-tree reflecting on Jacob's experience at Bethel. Maybe he thought about the wonderful promise God made to Jacob: All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. Gen28v14. I think he was puzzled at why God was willing to bless and help such a crafty, deceitful character as Jacob. Then there was the vision; what could that mean? A stairway resting on the earth with its top reaching to heaven and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. Gen28v12.

    It is sensible to meditate upon the difficult passages of Scripture that make little sense to us. I find Romans9 extremely hard to understand. I must confess that for many, many years I considered that Paul was writing just so much nonsense in this chapter. I never expected to be reconciled to Paul's sentiments but very gradually the light begins to dawn.

    (d) He made a spontaneous and generous declaration of approval. Philip probably told Jesus about Nathanael. Maybe it was as Jesus was praying about Nathanael that the Holy Spirit gave the Master special knowledge of him. So Jesus was able to say to Nathanael: "I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you." v48. This singular, miraculous, information convinces Nathanael that Jesus was a rabbi (teacher), the Son of God and King of Israel. He bares his soul in a spontaneous outburst of approval.

    Are we like Nathanael? For 15 years I taught in quite a difficult comprehensive school in Bury St Edmunds. The pupils never gave me a word of praise! I noticed the difference during the last 13 years of my career at Debenham High School; there the children would express affection, friendship and thanks. The occasional appreciative or loving remark is enormously good for morale especially if it is spoken guilelessly. I wonder if we are too mean spirited to show admiration. A willingness to commend others is a most endearing quality.

    It is wrong to think that nobody has an experience like Nathanael any more. I have heard testimonies in which the convert will say, "The preacher seemed to know all about me. It was just as if he was talking to me personally." Where ground has been prepared for the good seed the Holy Spirit will ensure that it falls in just the right spot at just the right time.

(2) Nathanael still had much to learn.

    (a) Nathanael was told that he would see greater things than Jesus' ability to know about a person before meeting them. Both Nathanael and the woman of Samaria were greatly impressed by Jesus' miraculous knowledge. I think it was the nature of the insight that made the biggest impact.

    I know Christians who seem to need miracles. They witness far more signs and wonders than ever I have. I have never experienced a miracle. It is well to remember the words of Jesus: "You shall see greater things than that."

    (b) What was the great thing that Nathanael would experience? Jesus told him: "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." v51. I am by no means certain what Jesus meant by this! Many of his statements were enigmatic and exasperated his disciples! However, I will tell you what I think Jesus meant.

      (I) Jesus calls himself the Son of Man. This is a strange expression. We are all sons of men! It will help if we think for a moment of a similar phrase: a man of the people. This is used of someone of high status who actually stands apart from the rank and file but yet closely identifies with them. That is how Jesus uses the term, Son of Man. He was the Son of God and King of Israel but he was also the Son of Man. He identified with humanity. Jesus was the representative man, the second Adam, one of us.

      (II) The ascent and descent of angels on the ladder between earth and heaven signified to Jacob God's interest and commitment to the world of men. God showed him this vision before he made the promise: "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Gen28v15. God has never been detached from the affairs of men.

      When Jesus said that the angels would ascend and descend upon the Son of Man he is indicating that he, himself, reveals God's intense commitment to mankind.

      (III) Jesus is God's ladder between earth and heaven. As the Son of Man he represented us on earth. Here it was that Jesus died for us and made sacrifice for our sins. As the Son of God he represents us in heaven where he sits at God's right hand, our Great High Priest ever interceding on our behalf.

      Jesus opens heaven and reveals the Father heart of love. This is love: not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1John4v10. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this; while were were sinners Christ died for us. Romans5v8.

      Jesus opens heaven and gives us access to God. He is the ladder by which we reach God. Jesus is the Way to the Father.

      These are the wonderful and liberating truths that Nathanael finally understood and embraced. No miracle begins to compare with what Jesus did in his body upon Calvary's tree.