Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

Finding Disciples
Pastor Steve Schell
John 1:43-51
It only took two days for Jesus to gather the first five, and probably six, of the twelve apostles he would send out “into all the world” a few years later (Mk 16:15). Two days! It started on the first day with John and Andrew following Him back to His lodging place; then Andrew found his brother Peter, and John probably found his brother James, though John doesn’t like to mention himself or his family. Then on the second day Jesus found Philip, and then Philip found Nathaniel and brought him to meet Jesus. In that brief period of time Jesus recruited half of the key leaders He would mentor for the next three and a half years, half of the elders who would lead His church after He returned to heaven. And the men He met on those two days were arguably most of the strongest names among the twelve: Andrew, Peter, John, (James), Philip and Bartholomew (Nathaniel). These are the names mentioned most often in the gospels. These were the authors of two of the four gospels, actually three because Peter was the source of information of Mark’s gospel. These names authored nine of the books of the New Testament. Paul and Luke wrote most of the rest.

How did such a special group of people meet Jesus in such a short period of time? Why were they all gathered there in one location? The answer, or course, is that they had come to the Jordan River to be baptized. They were part of a crowd of people who were doing all they knew how to do to draw closer to God. This wasn’t a random group; it was a gathering of people who were hungry for God and who were willing to act on that hunger. Most had walked for days to get there and were camping wherever they could find shelter in order to listen to a prophet tell them that they were sinners who needed to repent because the Messiah was coming soon. So when one of those hungry people met Jesus and realized who He was, they immediately could think of someone else who had also come to that gathering who was as hungry for God as they were.

The crowd, which was gathered at that riverbank, wasn’t made of Israel’s rich and powerful; it was probably a strange assortment of people from every walk of life, but from God’s perspective, these were the spiritual elite of the nation. Many in that crowd knew they were “poor in spirit” (Mt 5:3); many were hungry and thirsty for righteousness (Mt 5:6). Every one of them had been willing to interrupt their busy life and walk into the Judean desert to spend time seeking God. Of course, not everyone who felt this kind of hunger and thirst was able to make the journey to the river. All the spiritually hungry in Israel weren’t there, but among those listening to John the Baptist, the percentage was high. Spiritually speaking, this group was full of potential disciples (Ac 1:21-22).

Nathaniel (Jn 1:43-51)
Let’s look at Nathaniel; he’s a great example.
• DBS (Tues-Sat)

The Father’s gift
Later on in this gospel, John will record some statements by Jesus that many have found puzzling; statements that often have been badly misinterpreted. Yet they contain a profound truth that we need to hear. Listen:
• “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out” (Jn 6:37).
• “This is the will of Him who has sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing…” (Jn 6:39).
• “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” (Jn 6:44).
• “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me” (Jn 6:45).
• “I have manifested Your name to men whom You gave Me out of the world; they were Yours and You gave them to Me…” (Jn 17:6).

These and other passages speak of God the Father giving certain people to His Son as a gift. In other words, coming to the Father through repentance and faith prepares people spiritually to believe in Jesus. Who are the people who belong to the Father? In this case it’s those who, at least, wanted to go out to the Jordan River to be baptized because they were hungry and thirsty for God; it was the people in Israel who were humble enough to repent and who had enough faith to believe that God would fulfill His promise to send the Messiah. And Nathaniel is a great example of such a person.
• He’s not spiritually passive. He had already taken a bold step toward God by traveling to hear John.
• He has integrity. He’s honest about his own spiritual condition, and undoubtedly, he was one of those who were baptized.
• He has faith in the God of the Bible. Though there were many passages he didn’t understand, it appears he chose to meditate on the Word rather than avoiding it out of frustration.
• When he saw a miracle, he boldly acknowledges it. He didn’t look for natural explanations.

Because he had already begun pursuing the “light,” God gave him (Jn 13:20-21), Nathaniel had no trouble accepting Jesus once he saw that God was with Him. He became one of the “gifts” the Father gave to His Son.

People sort themselves. Those who are hungry for God do things that people who aren’t hungry for God, don’t. Enormous crowds listened to Jesus preach. During His ministry thousands came to Him for healing, deliverance and even to have their children blessed, but only a fraction of those actually went on to become disciples—those who would believe in Him and serve Him for the rest of their lives. What we’re observing take place during those two days by the Jordan River is not a matter of God playing favorites; it’s a matter of Him knowing ahead of time those who would become true disciples of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ Church would need such people to carry on after He ascended. The faith would be passed on from one generation to the next by disciples, not large crowds. Disciples would be the “building blocks” for the future. So the Father brought them to Jesus and:
• These are the ones with whom He spent most of His time.
• These are the ones to whom He explained the deep truths (Mt 13:10-11).
• These are the ones He taught how to minister as He did (Mt 10:1-15).
• These are the ones He prayed for, along with those who would become disciples through them (Jn 17:6-26).
• These are the ones to whom He promised answered prayers (Jn 15:7).
• These are the ones He said would bear much fruit (Jn 15:8,16).

When we read about the disciples in the gospels, we often focus on their weaknesses and failures, particularly Peter. But Peter’s foolish mistakes were an expression of his hunger to learn. He was so hungry to understand that he was willing to give wrong answers to Jesus’ questions. He was willing to try something and fail, but it was that very quality of eagerness that released him to grow. In time he became one of the most significant apostles of the early church.

If all we focus on is their weaknesses, we’ve missed the most important facts about these disciples: these were the ones who left their homes and families to follow Him; these were the ones who stayed loyal to Him even as the religious and political leaders grew hostile. It’s true. All but John hid during the crucifixion, yet in the long run, every one of them (except Judas Iscariot) remained faithful to Jesus for the rest of their lives and all died a martyr’s death, except John who was miraculously protected from execution.

Our assignment (Mt 28:19)
What does all of this have to do with us? Well, if we’re already disciples, it shows us a very important truth about how to fulfill our assignment. Before He ascended into heaven Jesus gave us this command: He said, “Go…and make disciples of all the nations…” (Mt 28:19). The process of finding and training disciples didn’t stop when Jesus left. We are supposed to keep on doing what He did. Just like Andrew found Peter, and Philip found Nathaniel, we’re supposed to find those whom the Father has drawn to Himself and then introduce them to Jesus. Someone found us, and now God wants us to find others. Notice: our assignment is not to gather crowds, though that may be part of the process, but to make disciples. Our job is to look for those who are looking for God. And that’s not everybody. Many are not looking for Him, at least not yet. In fact, in some times and in some places, it’s only a very few. They’re the ones who are not spiritually passive. They’re the ones who are willing to honestly face their spiritual condition. They’re the ones interested in what the Bible has to say and may even have tried reading it, though they may not have understood what they read. They’re the ones who will acknowledge a miracle when they see one and don’t quickly resort to natural explanations.

By watching for these “potential” disciples we’re not saying God doesn’t want everyone to come to Him and become His Son’s disciple. He does, but He’s not the one who decides this, we are. Yes, He’s reaching out to every person, and we should never give up praying for even the most resistant individual we know. But God isn’t the one who puts spiritual hunger in the human heart, at least not without our permission. Like it or not, some people are looking for God and some aren’t. And the lesson we learn from these two intense days by the Jordan River is that people who are looking for God are a special group of people, and we need to watch carefully for them and then introduce them to Jesus as soon as possible.

1) Can you think of someone that you would describe as “spiritually hungry?” The person may be a Christian or a non-Christian. What are the signs of spiritual hunger that you see in that person? Do you see signs of spiritual hunger in yourself?
2) Jesus tells us to “make disciples.” How are disciples made? (Hint: read Mt 28:18-20)
3) Where would you go looking to find “potential disciples?” 

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