A giant river doesn’t “just happen.” If you have ever traveled westward through Tennessee and crossed the Mississippi at Memphis, it is really an impressive sight. The next time you do that, leave some extra time to visit the Mud Island River Park. There is a river walk there that extends for many blocks that is a replication of the path of the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. Water flows through ever widening channels in the sidewalks that model the twists and turns of what Abraham Lincoln called “the Father of Waters.” It ultimately empties into a huge swimming pool – which is the “Gulf.” The display includes a variety of cascading fountains of water channeling into the main stream – each depicting the various tributary sources of the Old Man River.
People who are “giants of the faith” don’t just happen either. People who accomplish great things for God were not born winners and leaders. There are a lot of tributaries. Long before they were used by God in His service, they were mere followers and fledgling disciples barely inside the gate of the Kingdom of Light. They looked at Jesus and saw him as the way, the truth, and the life. They began to follow him, learning from his teaching and life. And over time, small opportunities became larger service venues; and they fulfilled the truth that he who is faithful with little shall be made faithful with much. Before they excelled at leadership, they learned followership.
In today’s reading we see the calling of the first disciples – a pair who were formerly the followers of John the Baptist. When it says in verse 37 that they followed Jesus, this has the double inference of physically walking on with him, as well as being committed to Christ in a teacher/student capacity. Only one is specifically named, and that is Andrew; but it is quite certain that the unnamed other initial disciple is our author John – whose brother James would also be one of the twelve.
Andrew immediately goes to find his own brother Simon and shares with him the good news that the Messiah Christ has been found, and he brings him to Jesus. On every occasion when we see Andrew in the biblical record, he is bringing someone to Jesus (and this little fact is so engrained in my mind that I have to think every time we talk about the “Matthews” for the My Hope Project … and I have a couple of times used the name Andrew when I’ve meant to say Matthew).
Jesus looks at Simon, and with divine knowledge of what will transpire in this aggressive and impetuous fisherman’s life, he says “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter.) Jesus anticipates how Peter will be a “rock” of faith in the confession of Christ’s messianic character, and later, a major foundation stone of the church.
The next day, Christ calls to Philip to come and follow him. And like Andrew, Philip shares this great news of Jesus of Nazareth with Nathanael – who blurts out the common view of Christ’s inauspicious home town, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Philip just says to come and see …
As Nathanael was walking toward Jesus, the Lord says of him that he was a man with a pure heart, causing Nathanael to ask how Christ knew him at all. Apparently when Philip found him, he was resting under a fig tree – a sort of saying that is something like our phrase “taking a break.” The several remarks of Jesus would seem to indicate that he knew Nathanael was pondering the issue of the Messiah, and even thinking of the story of Jacob’s dream as revealed in Genesis 28:12. Nathanael’s response to this divine insight was immediate belief – to which Jesus essentially says, “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”
Peter, John, Nathanael, Andrew … all would be witnesses of incredible events over the next three years. Their lives would be forever changed and their faith immortalized.
Jesus is a master at taking ordinary people who are willing to follow him and walk with him and turning them into leaders and champions of faith. But you have to walk before you run, and you have to keep doing both for a long time in the same direction. Often the rewards seem far away and the current obstacles too insurmountable. But the Lord says to us to stay faithful, keep walking, and keep learning from Jesus – God up close!
John 1:35-51 The First Disciples
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. 38 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.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter.)
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
50 Jesus said, “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.”