The Call to Follow Jesus


Text – John 3:30;  1:35-50;  Zechariah 3:6-10

Reader:  Ceres Guerrero

In her book, A Man Called Peter, author Catherine Marshall tells how her late preacher-husband felt a sense of destiny a sense of call in his life. The call of God upon his life happened after one dark night in Scotland when Peter, then a young man, decided to take a shortcut across the Scottish moors. He knew there was a deep deserted limestone quarry in that area, but he was confident that even in the dark he could avoid it. Suddenly, he heard someone call in a deep voice, “Peter.” There was great urgency in the voice. Peter stopped and responded: “Yes, who is it? What do you want?” There was no answer. He walked a few more steps and then heard the voice calling more urgently, “Peter!” He paused, then he stumbled, and fell on his knees. Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing there. He was at the very edge of the abandoned stone quarry and in the pitch black darkness, he hadn’t been paying attention and had forgotten about the deep and dangerous limestone quarry in his path. Just one more step would have meant certain death but that voice calling out his name stopped Peter Marshall in his tracks and literally saved his life.

I am convinced that each of us has been called by God at distinct times to fulfill a specific purpose, to fulfill a spiritual calling in this life. We are all called to become a part of the Master’s plan. It is up to us to, 1. Open our ears and hearts to His voice, 2. Submit our lives to doing what He is telling us to do. In these past several weeks, we have heard about the purpose God had for Jesus’ life, then in the lives of John the Baptist and his parents Zechariah and Elizabeth, as well as our own Helen Emokpae. Today’s Gospel of John text tells us about five other individuals who were called by God to do His bidding. We are turning to the end of John 1 where one day right after Jesus had been baptized by John the Baptist, we read that John understood the greatness of Jesus and that his own ministry was coming to a close. God had chosen John the Baptist as a messenger, the one who would preach and prepare people’s hearts for the time of the coming Messiah. After he baptized Jesus, he still continued his ministry but John, once he fully realized that the Messiah was his cousin Jesus, he knew his time in the spotlight was fading and so he told his disciples:

He must become greater; I must become less. (John 3:30)

John briefly continued ministering in Galilee with his disciples but his ministry had changed into a time of teaching those who followed him.

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. (John 1:35)

Those two disciples were Andrew and, it is traditionally believed, John the author of this book, whose distinctly form of writing meant that nowhere does John refer to himself by name when his actions were mentioned. As for John the Baptist though:

When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36)

John was starting to know who Jesus was. Point of fact, Jesus had also come to realize who he was, or to at least publicly reveal it. The name Jesus used for himself in the third person was as the “Son of Man”, a term that denotes greatness and shows his call as the Messiah. That name comes from the prophet Daniel’s revelation about the coming Son of Man. Daniel had a vision and so he wrote about it.

In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13,14)

And so, the greatness of Jesus was gradually being revealed to people. John the Baptist revealed he was the Lamb of God. Jesus revealed himself to be the Son of Man, i.e., the Messiah.

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “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. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. (John 1:37-40)

So, John the Baptist had at least two of his disciples leave him to follow Jesus. We will save commentary on John, the author of this Gospel book, for another time, but as for Andrew, he became one of first witnesses as to who Jesus is. Andrew’s family lived in the city of Bethsaida on the northern shore of the sea of Galilee but later moved to Capernaum where he and his brother Simon had a fishing business. Their partners in business likely were another pair of brothers, James and John, the author of the book. After having heard John the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus was the “Lamb of God”, the first thing Andrew did was go and tell his brother Simon Peter. It seems that Andrew was somewhat reserved though with strong convictions whereas his brother was much more outgoing and brash. Both types of personalities can be used to serve the Lord. Andrew never preached to thousands as his brother Simon Peter did. But Andrew brought people, including his brother Simon Peter himself to Jesus. Andrew believed John the Baptist’s description of Jesus as “Lamb of God” and what that meant. Further on in the Gospel book, we will read about the event known as the feeding of the 5,000. When all the other disciples despaired about not having enough food to feed the masses, Andrew brought to Jesus one little boy who offered his five loaves of barley bread and two small to perform a miracle, which Jesus didl fish as food for the masses, believing that Jesus could use that food which Jesus did, pulling off the most beloved miracle of all the miracles he did. Andrew didn’t need to be in the spotlight; all he wanted to do was to bring people to Jesus. Unlike Peter and James and John who all jockeyed for power and prestige amongst the 12, Andrew was simply appreciative to be in the Lord’s presence.

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. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). (John 1:41,42)

Andrew’s brother, Simon Peter was a natural leader, as we all know. But he was also clumsy, hasty, quick to judgement and prone to making rash declarations. Peter’s life we have spoken of often in past sermons and because we will be doing so later in this sermon series, for now we will leave him and go to the next person called by Jesus.

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43)

Like Andrew and Peter, Philip was from the town of Bethsaida where all of them would have grown up attending the same synagogue, a neat little bit of trivia to enjoy. Philip was most likely a professional fisherman along with the apostles Nathaniel and Thomas, as well as the four apostles already mentioned today: Peter, Andrew, James and John. In the lists of the 12 apostles in the Gospel books, Philip’s name is always listed in the fifth position after the two sets of brothers: Peter and Andrew, James and John. Similarly, Philip’s name in the Gospel books is always followed by a sixth person, Nathanael, whom Philip introduced to Jesus. Philip does not take a prominent role among the 12 apostles, but he was an evangelist, bringing Nathanael to Jesus, and later, in John 12, bringing (with Andrew) some spiritually inquisitive Greek people to Jesus. Since Jesus’ calling of Philip happened near the town of Bethany, beyond the Jordan River where John the Baptist and his disciples were ministering and baptizing, it is likely that Philip, like Andrew and John the writer of the Gospel book, was also a disciple of John the Baptist. Philip, who had been seeking “the One Moses wrote about in the Law” not only dropped everything to follow Jesus but showed he had a heart of conviction, believing what he believed, and knowing the value of sharing that with others.

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. (John 1:44-46)

On his way to Galilee Jesus meets Philip and says “Follow Me.” Philip then went and found his friend Nathanael and told him that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, was indeed the Messiah written about in the Law. Nathanael was skeptical to such a proposition! Regarding his name, Nathanael was a son, a “bar” in Hebrew, of a man named Tholomew. Simon Peter was actually called Simon bar Jonah, Simon son of Jonah, so Nathanael’s fuller designation would have been Nathanael bar Tholomew, Nathanael son of Tholomew. The other Gospel books all call him Bartholomew. In any case, Nathanael bar Tholomew was from Cana, a relatively upscale town compared to its neighbour Nazareth. In fact, a Roman garrison was stationed in Nazareth. The Jewish men of Nazareth who made money doing business with the Roman soldiers there were considered traitorous collaborators, while the women who did the same were considered worse. Such was the reputation of the residents of Nazareth in the other towns of Galilee. Thus, it is not surprising that Nathanael Bartholomew sniffed at the thought of the Messiah coming from Nazareth. Philip doesn’t argue with him but simply invites Nathanael to “come and see”, a wonderful example for us of meaningful witnessing for Jesus.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:47,48)

Nathanael had been sitting under a fig tree prior to conversing with Jesus. To us 21st century Canadians, that Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree is devoid of meaning. But back then, devout Jews chose to sit under a fig tree to pray or to read Scripture, particularly when they were focusing their thoughts on the coming Messiah, whom God called in the Book of Zechariah, “my servant, the Branch”. The Branch, the Messiah, would defeat Satan by removing the filthy clothes of the world’s sins and placing them onto himself. This would be what Jesus the Messiah would absolutely do for us on his cross. The Book of Zechariah was written after the return to Jerusalem of the first wave of returning Jewish settlers after the 70 years of exile in Babylon had ended. So, in that book, Satan is there, falsely accusing the high priest at that time, a man by the name of Joshua, of being a dirty sinner. Remember, it was the high priest who would present to God the guilt and sin offerings of his people, asking for forgiveness on their behalf in exchange for their sacrificial giving. In the Book of Zechariah, God responded by rebuking Satan and then having one of His angels dress Joshua in the finest clothes, and then the fig tree importance is told.

The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here. Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zech 3:6-10)

Imagine spending your whole life combing through the Mosaic Law and the Prophets to learn as much as you can about the coming of the Messiah and then one day your friend boldly declares He has arrived! How would you react? You would think that Nathanael would have been overwhelmed with joy, drop everything and run to the feet of his Master! And yet he didn’t. At least he didn’t until Jesus spoke to him. Then Nathanael realized that his friend Philip was right: Jesus was “the Lamb of God who came to take away the sins of the world” as well as “the Son of God”, both statements which John the Baptist had made just the day before about him. Jesus truly was “the Messiah” as his good friend Philip had claimed about him. Here is how Nathanael reacted to Jesus telling him private things known only to himself:

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” (John 1:49)

That is some declaration! But, remember that Nathanael was a devout Jew, a student of Scripture. He had read lots about the Messiah and thus he realized that Jesus was the one he’d studied about for so long, only to discover that the Messiah both knew him and his thoughts.

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 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.” (John 1:50,51)

Jesus acknowledged Nathanael’s faith based on his reading about the Messiah and choosing to sit underneath a fig tree and being impressed by Jesus telling him what he had been doing, but then, using the Genesis 28 dream by the Jewish patriarch Jacob – whom Nathanael would have revered – in which Jacob saw a ladder set up on earth that reached all the way to heaven and had angels ascending and descending on it. Nathanael would see something far greater than what Jacob dreamed about, Jesus claimed. Nathanael would see the reality of angels ascending and descending back and forth from earth to heaven and back again all on Jesus, meaning that Jesus was the way to heaven, and the connecting route of heaven to earth. Having been called by Jesus to be one of his disciples, and having decided to follow Jesus, Nathanael Bartholomew would get to see that Jesus was the ladder by which the realities of heaven will be brought down to earth. As a disciple of Jesus, Nathanael would witness firsthand evidence that Jesus was far more than a person from Nazareth but was the Son of Man, the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

Andrew and Peter, John the writer of the Gospel, Philip and Nathanael, they all saw Jesus and believed in him. They were each called by Jesus to follow and serve him. We think about how blessed they were to physically see and touch Jesus, but in response to that thinking, I simply want to finish by reminding you of Jesus’ words found later in John’s Gospel, when he spoke to those 5 apostles who were the focus of this sermon but also to Doubting Thomas and the other apostles:

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29b)

You may not have seen Jesus physically but you have experienced him and you have been called by him to believe in, follow, and serve him. Will you do that? Most people who don’t believe in Jesus base their beliefs or the lack of it also on unqualified impressions. They may have heard people who claim to know the Bible talk about it, but they have never studied the evidence – the Bible – for themselves. To them, Philip’s invitation to “come and see” Jesus for themselves applies as much today as it did to Nathanael almost two thousand years ago.

So, Peter Marshall was obliviously on a dangerous stroll on a pitch black night where he suddenly heard someone call in a deep voice, “Peter.” He stopped and responded: “Yes, who is it? What do you want?” There was no answer. He walked a few more steps and then heard the voice calling more urgently, “Peter!” He paused, then he stumbled, and fell on his knees. Putting out his hand to catch himself, he found nothing there. He was at the very edge of the abandoned and dangerously deep stone quarry. in the darkness, Peter Marshall hadn’t been paying attention and had forgotten about the deep and dangerous limestone quarry in his path. Just one more step would have meant certain death but that voice calling out his name stopped Peter Marshall in his tracks and literally saved his life. That voice of God calling out to him not only saved his life physically but also changed the course of Peter Marshall’s life for it confirmed for him that God had a purpose for him living and thus one for his life. Peter Marshall understood that night as being the one in which he was being called by God for ministry. He would go on to serve God as a church pastor, and as the chaplain to politicians in the U. S. Senator. God had called him. How about you? God is calling you! What has He said? What is He calling you to? God has most likely already called you. Will you listen and respond in service to Him? Amen.

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