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Introducing disciples

After he had spent a while with Jesus, Andrew found his brother Simon and brought him to Jesus. That was the beginning of the recruitment of disciples by one sharing with another their own experience of the Messiah.

As John the evangelist tells the story, Andrew had spent part of a day with Jesus, and apparently stayed the night where he was staying. The first thing he did next morning was to find his brother and tell him, obviously with some excitement, that he has found someone special. It was something he wanted to share, and the person he naturally turned to was his brother who was his work mate and daily companion. He cared enough for his brother to wish that he could share the excitement. That is the most basic model of evangelism: having something to share with someone you care about; tell the good news naturally to someone with whom you normally communicate things of importance.

Actually, and this is more important than it might at first appear, Andrew did do a little more than tell Simon about Jesus, he brought him to meet Jesus. That is also at the heart of the gospel. People need to have some personal experience of the Lord in order to make their own response to him. Andrew did tell Simon what he thought of Jesus: "We have found the Messiah"; but he allowed Simon to establish his own relationship with him. Jesus, of course took the initiative when he met Simon, and the kind of relationship that developed between them was one summed up by a change of name from Simon to Peter (the rock), showing that a change of character was taking place in the new disciple.

There is plenty of evidence that the change in Simon Peter took place over quite a long time, but the first meeting with Jesus was obviously important and set the pattern for what was to happen over several years.

Sharing the good news without waiting

There is something significant for us to be learned from this. Andrew brought Simon to Jesus. It was Jesus himself who brought about the change in Simon. Note that: Andrew brought him to meet Jesus; but what happened to Simon was something that came from Jesus. People still bring others to Jesus, but it needs to be recognized that it is one thing to introduce people, it is quite another to manipulate or pressure them into a particular kind of response. Sometimes when people think of themselves as being evangelical, and talk of bringing someone to the Lord, they have in mind helping someone to have a certain kind of spiritual experience much like their own, and one can sympathise with that motive when it means a great deal to them, but it is not as admirable when it is more a matter of trying to make others like oneself. Sometimes quite strong pressure tactics are employed to bring about the desired response. That sort of manipulation may be wrong, but I think we have moved too far in the opposite direction. It is true that people do need to make a response and we should not be shy of that expectation in spite of the abuse to which it sometimes leads, but the lesson from this first example of evangelism in John's Gospel is to leave people free, after we make our own belief clear, to respond to the Lord in their own way, and to trust that Jesus will take the initiative to offer a relationship in which the new disciple's life will be changed. It that way we can express our trust in God and our respect for others who have the potential to become the children of God.

Another lesson to be learned from the example of Andrew and Simon Peter is that Andrew had first to spend some time with Jesus, enough to form an opinion and develop some excitement about whom he had met; but Andrew certainly had not known Jesus for very long or very well. It is not necessary to wait until you know a great deal about him to tell others of Jesus, just as people often fall in love and make commitments before they know their partner very well. You might still be puzzled about him. It is not required that you have it all worked out in your own mind or that you know the answers to all the questions that a person might ask.

We can see an example of how initial doubts and queries can be answered in the story of another two disciples which follows in John's gospel immediately after that of Andrew and Simon. Philip, who came from the same town as Andrew and Simon, was called by Jesus to follow him and he went and found Nathanael:

The answer is "Come and see." Let the meeting with Jesus provide the answers. Now you might say, "That is all very well for the people like Andrew and Philip who had the privilege of meeting Jesus in the flesh and bringing others to meet him in the same way, but we can't do that!" That is true, but think about the ways in which you can know the presence of Christ: there is a sense in which you can see Christ in others who witness to him, he is known in the scriptures, in preaching, in various ways in Christian worship, in personal and group prayers, and most especially in the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. He can also be known in the people we serve when they are in need. To introduce people to Christ today we need to maintain communion with him and to serve him in these ways, and they are ways in which others can share. You can say, "Come and see", inviting others to share in your meetings with him.

Now let it be emphasised again, you do need to share honestly what you know from your own experience, but what you know from your experience does not have to be very much. These early examples given by John came very early. Indeed, it seems that the example of Andrew came even before Jesus had called him and before Andrew had seen any of the great things that Jesus did.

The inspiration to follow the Lamb of God

Let's go back to the beginning of the story. It began when Jesus came to see John the Baptist. Andrew was then a disciple of John the Baptist. He and another, who might have been John the brother of James, heard John the Baptist call Jesus "the Lamb of God" and testify that he was "the Son of God".

We will think a little more of what that saying means in moment, but its most important meaning is that John the Baptist claimed that Jesus was the Messiah (the one anointed by God to rule in his Kingdom), and the Son of God:

We discussed the baptism of the Holy Spirit last week with reference to a different account of it in Matthew which was taken originally from Mark. When Mark tells it, it is Jesus himself who is described as seeing the Spirit come from heaven like a dove, but in John's account, God gives John the Baptist the same insight. In fact, John the Baptist is unique in having this direct revelation. It was on the basis of what John said of Jesus that Andrew and the other disciple went after him:

That was how it all began in the valley of the Jordan, according to John, who adds later,

According to Mark it was in Galilee that Jesus called Andrew and Simon to follow him when he was walking along the shore and they were fishing [Mark 1:16-20]; and in Luke's account it is only after they had seen Jesus do some marvellous things, like the help them find a great catch of fish, that they became his disciples [Luke 5:1-11]. It is not surprising that the gospel writers tell the story in slightly different ways. Taken together we have a picture of a developing relationship which was brought to a point of commitment during the early part of the ministry of Jesus in fishing towns on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, but which had its earliest beginnings when Jesus met with John the Baptist and his disciples, some of whom later followed Jesus. It was in that very early period before they had seen very much of him that Andrew introduced his brother Simon who became Peter, "the rock".

So let us encourage one another to share what we know and introduce people without waiting until we have travelled a long way and learned a great deal. Let others learn with us as we travel with the Lord.

To what purpose was all this discipling? There are many answers to that. By knowing Jesus people know God and that in itself is a great good, part of the purpose of life itself. It also joins disciples with Jesus in his mission for the sake of the whole wide world. That, you might say is what Christians, evangelicals especially, always say. But it is true. It is simply inescapable that being a disciple of Christ is involves us in sharing our knowledge of him, introducing others to him, even, at least for some of us, going to the ends of the earth to make him known. That is because of his own nature and mission, not, hopefully, ever to make others like ourselves, or to conquer and dominate people of other cultures and nations, (though neither should we be afraid of the fact that cultures and nations change when people are changed through their relationship with Christ). People do need help and guidance in their discipleship within their culture and circumstances, and sometimes we might serve them well by urging them to make a commitment. That will not necessarily make them become like us. The expression of their faith may be different from ours. We introduce people to Jesus in freedom to respond in their own way, but it is still part of knowing him to share knowledge of him.

Lamb of God: king and servant

Let me try in a rather indirect way to illustrate this requirement to share. Jesus identified himself with "the servant" whose work for others is described in the prophecy of Isaiah, to which the New Testament writers so often referred. We find this especially in what are called the "servant songs". One is in Isaiah chapter 53, about the suffering servant, which we have often recalled when thinking of Jesus as Saviour -- as on Christmas day when we remembered the message of the angels to the shepherds: "to you is born this day a saviour"; perhaps more often the suffering servant is remembered at Easter [See Isaiah 53:1-10

The quietness of Jesus at his trial reminded the apostles later of the suffering servant. Paul and Peter called him the sacrificial lamb, like the lamb of the Jewish Passover festival [Exodus 12], during which he was killed:

The feast, of course, is the Eucharist, in which we share in the life of the Lamb of God.

That is one part of the understanding that came to them later, but Andrew could hardly have had any conception of that depth of meaning at the time when John the Baptist said Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! [John 1:29]. Nevertheless, though he could not have understood it fully, John's witness was sufficient for Andrew to begin following Jesus. We need to see a little more to this vision of the suffering servant: it was not all about suffering, there was also triumph. Isaiah 53 concludes:

The combination of the suffering servant with the triumphant ruler is seen most clearly in the Revelation image of Christ as the Lamb of God ruling from the throne of God:

This Lamb of God (this sacrificial servant) is also the king of Kings and the Lord of Lords. His rule reaches to the ends of the earth, throughout all ages, in this world and the next. It is because he is the universal saviour of all humankind, that all have a right to learn of him; for he belongs to all, as all may belong to him. The outreach of the Lamb of God, Servant of God, is shown in another way in the servant song we read from Isaiah this morning. It is one of those rare passages in the Old Testament in which the inclusion of other nations in the gathering of the people of God is clearly proclaimed:

The Spirit who sends out witnesses

That should be clear enough. He was not the Messiah only of his own people, or of his own time and place; but, if we believe the prophecy and the later witness of the apostles, God intended to give a light to all nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. His followers must be prepared to share in that mission.

Let me emphasise this need to share in his mission by making use of a couple of rather obscure and strange little symbols. John the Baptist inspired Andrew to follow Jesus after he saw that Jesus was anointed by the Spirit of God. Like Jesus himself, John saw the Spirit descend on him like a dove. It may only be a coincidence, but the Hebrew word for "dove" is "jonah". And what has Jonah to do with this? The prophet Jonah got into trouble at sea because he was running away from a task God had given him to take his message to the people of Ninevah. Jonah was hauled back to do his duty of taking the word of God to people beyond his own nation. The gift of the Spirit had with it the challenge to go out as a light to the nations. This very sign did came up again later in the mission of Jesus:

Was that intended by the sign of the dove? There is an even more obscure little use of this sign. Jesus said to Simon: You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas" (which is translated Peter). The name of Simon Peter's father is translated John in contemporary English, but more literally what Jesus said was "You are Simon bar-Jonah", Simon son of Jonah. Whether or not it was intended, here we have at the very beginning of the outreach to the ends of the earth the one who would later lead the church, and his brother Andrew, being sons of a man whose name came from one who tried to avoid his call to mission and whose name also symbolized the Spirit -- the Spirit who sends people out to the most distant parts of the earth with the sacred and eternal message of eternal salvation.

Dare anyone be a Jonah?

So by the power of the Spirit we who were far away could be brought into the fellowship of disciples who introduced one another to Jesus. All glory be to him. Amen.

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