Scripture readings: 1 Sam. 3:1-10, 11-20; Ps.139:1-6, 13-18 1 Cor. 6:12-20; John 1:43-51 Sermon by Martin Manuel from John 1:43-51
Our Journey with Jesus
Today is the second Sunday after the Epiphany, which commemorates the revealing of Jesus. Our Gospel reading today is John 1:43-51. Let’s begin with an enactment:
On YouTube at https://youtu.be/bnb-8veFppQ
The Gospel reading on the day of Epiphany is Matthew 2:1-12, the story about the revealing of Christ to the Magi, and through them to King Herod and the residents of Jerusalem. On the first Sunday following Epiphany this year (last Sunday), the Gospel reading was about the baptism of the Lord by John the Baptist, which brought about another revealing of Jesus as the Son of God—this time to John the Baptist. The Gospel of John goes on to explain that John the Baptist then testified about his epiphany to some of his disciples. In doing so, he identified Jesus to a small number of disciples, who, in turn, embarked upon a journey with Jesus.
The flow of this story, starting with Jesus’ revealing, transitioned to his identification. What followed? The Lectionary readings today help us understand. In 1 Sam. 3:1-10, we read of God revealing himself to Samuel. In Ps. 139:1-6, 13-18, the Psalmist recognized God’s comprehensive knowledge of him and marveled at God’s handiwork in his body. In 1 Cor. 6:12-20, Paul reminds us that our bodies are the temple of the indwelling Holy Spirit. Combining these readings, we see the transition from revelation to identification, and from there to a journey with Jesus—a journey we take together.
What did it mean to the first disciples to journey on earth with Jesus, the Son of God who is the son of man? And what does it mean to us to journey, by the Spirit, with Jesus today? We will learn the answer as we proceed.
Jesus calls his disciples
Just as God called Samuel, Jesus called his disciples:
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 1:43)
The meaning of the Greek word translated follow conveys the idea of traveling on the same road together with one who is leading the way. The result is a journey together—the initiator leading the way and the invitee following. Philip did not initiate his journey with Jesus—Jesus found him then called him to journey with him. The Gospel of John does not explain how Jesus knew Philip. It does tell us in v. 44 that Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from Bethsaida, a fishing village on the Sea of Galilee. Other followers of Jesus lived there too, including brothers James and John—the John who authored this Gospel.
Disciples share the message
Philip did not keep the exciting news about Jesus to himself—he told his friend:
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.” (John 1:45)
Previously, Andrew had done the same, seeking out his brother, Peter, and telling him the good news (vv. 40-41). Here we see a common thread in the natural response to recognizing and identifying an exciting revelation from God. Samuel, pressured by Eli, repeated the message given to him. The Psalmist testified to what he observed. These disciples, called to journey with Jesus, shared their epiphany of Jesus with others.
As often occurs, Philip’s friend Nathaniel reacted with skepticism:
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. (John 1:46a)
To this response, Philip wisely extended an invitation: “Come and see,” said Philip (John 1:46b). Not only did Philip share the message, he encouraged his friend Nathanael to openly and honestly investigate.
Jesus knows his disciples
Although young Samuel did not know God, God knew him. In the same way, God knew the Psalmist. The Holy Spirit, indwelling each member of the body of Christ, knows them. One attribute of the Father, Son, and Spirit is omniscience—complete, comprehensive knowing. So it’s no surprise that Jesus, though limited in his humanity, through the Spirit knew his disciples even before they met.
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)
Nathaniel was stunned at this greeting. Instead of Jesus saying, “Hi, I’m Jesus, what’s your name”? Jesus introduced himself by declaring to Nathaniel that he already knew him. Not only did he know him in a general way, he knew of a specific incident that Nathaniel realized only God could know of! Jesus had done the same to Peter at their introduction, as recorded in John 1:42, not only knowing who Peter was but who he would come to be!
Disciples recognize and journey with Jesus
Not allowing himself to be confused by doubting thoughts about coincidences, Nathanael quickly recognized Jesus:
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” (John 1:49)
What a profound conclusion, arrived at so quickly! This was a rare occurrence, even for a disciple.
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (John 1:50)
Like a parent taking their child on a sightseeing trip that exposes the child to sights that enrich the whole experience, Jesus promised Nathaniel and the other early disciples profound discoveries as they continued to journey with him. 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 1:51)
Jesus seemed to enjoy saying something to provoke deep thought in his disciples. This was one such statement. He was drawing on an experience in the life of the Patriarch Jacob, recorded in Genesis 28:11-16. Jacob, who previously had not encountered the God of Abraham and Isaac, had an epiphany in a place that he named Bethel, meaning “House of God.” Jacob was deeply impressed with his dream of angels ascending and descending a ladder stretched between heaven and earth. He viewed Bethel as the gate of heaven. Jesus was wanting Nathaniel and his friends to realize that he is the true gate of heaven—not only as the Son of God but also as the son of man.
Heaven and humanity are linked through Jesus, and his followers are the immediate beneficiaries. The disciples would experience recurring evidences of this reality as they journeyed with him. Like this experience of Nathaniel’s, they each would come to see the glory of God in Jesus. What they would experience would cause their interest in him and reverence for him to grow.
As we know, Samuel eventually recognized and responded to God. The Psalmist understood about God through observing that God knows him. Mature members of the body of Christ, the church, experience the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit and the honor this brings. All these are outcomes of a journey with Jesus.
Our journey with Jesus
Our journey with Jesus is much more than a spiritual trip that occupies the passage of time in our lives. What takes place on this journey builds faith and inspires transformation.
Jesus began to signal the progression of experiences in the journey with his first disciples by telling Nathaniel that he would encounter amazing and miraculous experiences. The story of Jesus’ first-century disciples hanging out with the Lord, may seem to be an unachievable ideal. We may find ourselves sighing and thinking about how special it would be for us to experience the same thing. But is it possible that we could have similar experiences now? Does the Gospel account imply that, like these early disciples, we too can journey with—hang out with—Jesus and with the Father, through the Spirit?
The answer is YES! The living, risen and ascended Jesus, is today who he was then. We can count on him to lead us through amazing, encouraging, and transforming experiences as we journey with him.
Our journey with Jesus begins with his calling. We are not the initiators of that calling—it didn’t start with us deciding to give our hearts to him. We had no clue about him until he opened our minds and hearts to realize and respond to his call. Sometimes it may be difficult to recognize exactly when that call occurred, nevertheless it did, and it originated not with us, but from above. As we responded, a rich journey of learning ensued. Through those experiences, we grew in faith and in knowing the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit.
Through this journey, we have opportunities to share our encounters and the knowledge they bring with others, telling them about this Jesus and the difference he has made our lives. When we share this good news, we receive all sorts of reactions, including resistance and skepticism. When that occurs, we may have to tactfully and wisely invite our friends to “come and see”—without pressure, giving them opportunity and time to see for themselves. Remember, the call does not come from us.
Also, it’s important for us to realize that our friends are already on God’s radar, so to speak. They are completely known by the Father, Son, and Spirit long before we enter the picture. The Holy Spirit is already at work within them, working to lead them to Jesus. We can trust him to do that work and trust that, in time, they will have their eyes opened. A challenge for each of us is to try to discern the current activity of the Spirit in their lives and participate with the Spirit at that point in our friend’s journey with Jesus. If there is no indication of interest, it might not be the right time. We should always pray for discernment.
John’s Gospel goes on in its remaining 20 chapters to detail the progression in the growth of Jesus’ disciples during their journey with him. We do not have time to read about it now, but if we jump ahead in the story, we find John, late in life, still musing on the journey with Jesus and its ultimate outcome, which is fellowship with Jesus and the Father through the Spirit. Note what John wrote in his first epistle:
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John 1:1-3)
The early followers of Jesus, the original apostles, had a special role in the development of the faith and growth of all the followers of Jesus who would come behind them. They were eye-witnesses of Jesus Christ; they learned from him first-hand; they were sent directly by him to proclaim his message, the gospel, to everyone else who would follow.
As they journeyed with Jesus, experiencing the many faith-building and knowledge-growing experiences that Jesus had promised, they served as the ears, eyes, and hands of each of those who would receive the gospel afterward through their preaching and writing. John told the readers of his Gospel and epistles that his intent was that the fellowship that they, the apostles, enjoyed with Jesus and the Father would be shared with many others. This is one reason why we should regularly study the writings of the apostles in the New Testament.
Fellowship is a word that today is rarely used outside of religious settings. An investigation of this word in Greek, as used by John, enlightens us to the awesome blessing that we are granted as an outcome of our journey with Jesus. That word is koinonia, which the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament defines as a term that describes…
… the living bond in which the Christian stands. Here, too, the word implies inward fellowship on a religious basis. To be a Christian is to have fellowship with God. This fellowship is with the Father and the Son. It issues in the brotherly fellowship of believers. The believer’s communion with God or Christ consists in mutual abiding, which begins in this world and reaches into the world to come, where it finds its supreme fulfillment.
Elsewhere, koinonia is defined as partnership. But living bond suggests an even stronger partnership that is deeply inward instead of just superficially outward (as in a business partnership). This living bond is between each Spirit-led human believer and God the Father through Jesus Christ. Together, these believers, by the Spirit who unites them, have a bond with one another—an experience they share with each other.
Koinonia is also translated communion in some New Testament passages, applying the word to the sharing of the bread and wine that are, for us as a congregation, the sharing in the body and blood of Christ. Referring to the Lord’s Supper as Communion helps us understand (and thus experience) the full depth of the relationship we have together with the Father, the Son and the Spirit, as we journey together with Jesus.
As we have seen today, the lessons about Epiphany in the Gospels do not conclude with the manifestation of Jesus. That appearing is a vital beginning of a process that leads to identification of Jesus and then a journey with Jesus that is full of faith-building, knowledge-expanding experiences that lead to life transformation. Each of us has been called to that journey. Each of us has an opportunity to share what we are learning on that journey with others.
So, hold on to your seats! What we will encounter as we journey with Jesus will be spiritually breathtaking as it expands into full fellowship—full koinonia (in the deepest sense of that word) with the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit! Enjoy the journey! Amen.