If someone said, “I see potential in you,” would you believe them? Do you have a positive view of yourself? Or a negative one? Maybe you are just feeling that blase feeling so many of us have being feeling since the Covid pandemic and amid the turmoil in our world. Do you feel stuck? Read on…I think there is a solution!
In the previous post, in our study this week of John 1:43-51, we jumped over to Matthew 4 to learn more about the story of Jesus’ earliest interaction with his disciples. After the events of John 1, it seems Jesus and the five men (who are not yet disciples at this point), travel from the place they first met (near Bethany by the Jordan River where John the Baptist’s ministry took place), walking 80 miles north to their home region of Galilee. After they arrive in Galilee, the men return to their fishing jobs and Jesus, led by the Spirit, spends 40 days in the wilderness where he is tempted by the devil. When Jesus returns from his 40 days away, he seeks out the men he already met. Walking by the Sea of Galilee, he finds them at their job, and he now formally invites them to follow him, as told in Matthew 4:
“’Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’ At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.”
To these fishers of fish he is saying, “I have an opportunity that will transform you into fishers of men, if you follow me.” So far, we have heard Jesus utter the first and second words of discipleship: “Come and see,” (read the post about this phrase here) and then “Follow me.” (Read the post about this second phrase here.)
Following implies something more significant than simply observing. Following is entering into the pathway and life of another. Jewish rabbis had followers. John the Baptist had followers. What Jesus was asking of these men was not abnormal for Jewish society. But what was abnormal was that he would ask men like them. Typically a rabbi would gain followers from the elite rabbinical schools. A rabbi would not look for followers among the working class, like fishermen. A rabbi would not look for peasants who had little hope of a future beyond their meager existence. Why? A rabbi wanted people who were on an impact trajectory, and those fishermen were not living a life that seemed like it could matter.
Jesus, however, was not your typical messiah or rabbi. He sees the impact trajectory in everyone. He says, “Come and see, follow me. Learn from me.” You might not think you have potential. You might think you are stuck in a dead-end job, an empty life. You might think you are not worthy to really serve Jesus. Jesus says, “Come and see, follow me, let me show you how I see you.”
That invitation is for you and me. Follow him and learn who he says you are, and then learn from him how to live in line with who he says you are. What patterns of life does Jesus teach and model for us? Those are the habits and practices that are not just for his era, but for life in 2022. What are they? Not sure? Learn from him how to live.
So often we are learning from lesser things. We are often disciples of TV preachers or TV shows or sports figures, movie stars, artists, singers. We are too often disciples of celebrity. We are all disciples of something. A disciple is one who is following and learning from another. An apprentice. But are we following lesser things? Jesus breaks through all that and says to us “Come and see, follow me, I will teach you how to live, how to really live, and how to help others really live.” Make yourself an apprentice of Jesus.
Return in your Bibles to the story we are following this week, John 1:43-51. In John 1:43, Philip responds to Jesus’ invitation, “Follow me.” Apparently Philip says, “Yes, I will.” We know this because of what we read in John 1, verses 44-45: Philip goes to another guy from their town, Nathanael, and says the same thing Andrew said to Peter, “We have found the Messiah.” Peter is intrigued and goes to meet Jesus. (See John 1:41 and this post where I talk about this part of the story) But Nathanael has a different reaction than Peter’s reaction. Look at verse 46.
Nathanael says, “Nazareth? Can anything good come from Nazareth?” I guess Nazareth didn’t have such a great reputation. Jesus’ hometown was small, backwards. It was so small, modern archaeologists for centuries wondered if it was a made-up town because they couldn’t find archaeological evidence for it. One scholar notes that “The earliest archaeological discoveries were made…in the 1880s, but despite over 80 years of subsequent excavation, the site was almost entirely unpublished until 2006.” There really was a town called Nazareth. But Jesus’ first few years were not in Nazareth.
After Jesus was born, the family lived as refugees fleeing persecution in Egypt. When the threat was gone, they moved back to their hometown Nazareth. They could have relocated to a city or town much more fitting for the Messiah, like the city of Jerusalem. But they chose to go back to small town Nazareth, perhaps to keep Jesus out of the eyes of any other power-hungry leader who might want to knock off contenders to the throne. Nazareth was a good place to hide.
Nathanael is thinking, “Really? The Messiah? From Nazareth? You’re out of your mind.” We do the same thing. I grew up in Lititz, PA, one of the coolest small towns in America. When you drive through Lititz, any other town in Lancaster seems, well, not so cool. Or compare Lancaster City to Lebanon or York or Harrisburg. When I was in the Clergy Leadership Program, early on we pastors in the program were getting to know each other. A woman from Harrisburg asked me “Where are you from?” and I said, “Lancaster.” And she shocked me saying, “Oh, Lancaster is so cosmopolitan.” I knew Lancaster was very nice, but never thought of it using that word, but I said, “Yes, yes it is.” I don’t think I said anything about Harrisburg, which I have only very rarely visited, so she piped up and basically said, “Harrisburg? Nothing good comes from Harrisburg.” In Nathanael’s mind, the Messiah certainly would not come from Nazareth.
Then his friend Philip, who had only just met Jesus, makes a fascinating response to Nathanael. We’ll learn about that in the next post.