Two important things are happening in this passage. First, little by little, we’re told who Jesus is. Notice all the different ways that people refer to him in this passage: Lamb of God, Rabbi or Teacher, Messiah, the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth, Son of God, King of Israel, Son of Man. Each time Jesus gains a new follower, our understanding of who he is becomes a little bit richer. And that’s the other important thing happening here. In this passage, Jesus is beginning to gather followers.
John the Baptist is standing there with a couple of his disciples, Jesus walks by, and John says to them, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” When his disciples hear this, they leave John and begin to follow Jesus. They literally follow him. That is, they walk where he walks, they stay where he stays. But, as disciples, they will also metaphorically follow Jesus. That is, they will try to live as he teaches them to live. This is captured by their question, “Where are you staying?” They want to be where is he and learn how to live from him.
And, for us, it’s the metaphorical following that is the most important part. Just imagine one of these disciples who literally followed Jesus, walking where he walks and living where he lives. And yet, imagine this disciple didn’t even try to live in the way that Jesus taught his followers to live. I think we would have to say that follower would be missing the whole point of what it means to be a follower. So, it’s important to pay attention to these two levels of meaning in the text. As we’ll see, you will always have this literal, first-face, value of the passage. But beneath that literally reading is a deeper meaning, and it’s that deeper meaning that pertains to us.
So, they’re following Jesus and Jesus turns to them and asks, “What are you looking for?” That’s quite a question. And just within the context of this passage, we can see that as each person refers to Jesus, they refer to him in a different way. One calls him the Lamb of God, another one calls him Messiah, and another Teacher. So, each one sees him from a different point of view, and with different expectations. All of them are appropriate, all of them apply, but they’re different nonetheless.
People come to Christ for all different kinds of reason, looking for different things, none of which are necessarily wrong. I don’t think there is only one acceptable reason to begin following Christ. But what happens over time is their reasons become more and more conformed to his reasons. This is the work of grace in the follower’s life. Over time, the follower becomes transformed more and more into the image of the teacher, so that eventually the follower of Christ can say with Paul, “It is not I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.”
But, again, it’s a process. Just think about these disciples as they are on this first day of following Jesus compared to what they will become later, say in the book of Acts. There is a clear difference. And yet, if you were to watch them moment by moment as they go through that process, the transformation happens so slowly that it is hardly observable. Nonetheless, if you compare the beginning to the end the contrast is obvious. So, it’s a process, and it’s a process that on this side of the blessed hope doesn’t end. In other words, no matter how long we’ve been living in faith, there is always room to grow. The scriptures state that we are to grow into the full stature of Jesus Christ. Well, that’s quite a stature in which to grow. So, we’re in this for the long haul.
At any rate, Jesus asks them, “What are you looking for?” And they respond with the question, “Where are you staying?” This is another place in the passage where we want to pay attention to the deeper level of meaning. At face value, what they’re asking Jesus is: Where do you live, where do you lay your head at night, where’s home? But, in the larger context of John’s gospel the answer to that question goes much deeper than simply where he lays his head at night. Without changing the words in the original language, we can rephrase their question. Instead of them saying, “Where are you staying?” we could translate it, “Where do you abide?” It’s the exact same word. Where do you stay? Where do you abide? Where do you remain? Where do you live?
Jesus isn’t going to answer their question directly. He simply says, “Come and see.” But where he abides is not the place where he lays his head at night. Later on, in chapter 15, Jesus will come out and tell them directly where he abides. He says, I abide in the Father’s love. I abide in the Father’s love because I keep his commandments. You also should abide in my love. Abide in me, just as I abide in you. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love. And then right after that he tells them the commandment: I give you a new commandment, love one another as I have loved you.
Or again he says in chapter 14: Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father and I will come to them and make our home with them. In other words, we will all live together. So, where does Jesus live, where does he stay? He lives in the love of the Father. And, his disciples will eventually learn that they too are to abide in the love of God by living and loving as Christ taught them to live and love. That’s the deeper meaning.
But at this point the disciples are simply asking, “Where do you lay your head at night? We want to stay where you stay.” And so, Jesus says, “Come and see.” Literally, he says, “Come and you will see.” In the original language it’s in the future tense. Come and you will see. In other words, it’s a promise. It’s as if Jesus is saying, “You want to see where I live, where I abide? Come and you will see. Follow me, (in other words, do as I have taught you) and you will see the love of the Father in which I live.”
And so, notice what it says. I love this part. It says, “They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” They came and saw and then they remained with him. There’s that word again. It’s the same word. They remained with him, the stayed with him, they abided with him. “Teacher, where do you live?” “Come and you will see.” And so, the came to him, they saw and they began to abide with him. My friends that’s a snapshot of the transformation that, by grace, God brings about in us through Jesus Christ.
Also, notice the timestamp. It says, “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.” That’s strange. Why the timestamp? Why are we being told the time this happened? Well, think back to some of the most memorable moments in your life. If you have children, you know the day and time they were born. If you are married, you probably remember the day. That’s what’s happening here. Obviously, these disciples didn’t have watches back then. So, it’s not an exact time. It’s not 4:35 in the afternoon. But they remember it was about four o’clock in the afternoon. They remember this moment when they first began to abide with the Lord. These are the first two followers of Jesus Christ; it deserves a timestamp.
So, one these two disciples go and finds his brother, Simon. He tells his brother they have found the Messiah. Simon comes to see and when he does Jesus renames him “Peter.” The next day Jesus sees Philip, says to him, “Follow me,” and he does. Then Philip goes to find Nathanael. Philip says to Nathaniel, “We have found the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus Son of Joseph of Nazareth.” Nathanael says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s hilarious, to me. At least, Nathaniel just threw some serious shade on Nazareth.
But also, this is the first time this good news that the Messiah has come gets some push back, some resistance. Up to this point, the pattern has been as follows: one of these newly minted disciples will go and find a friend or a family member and say, “We’ve found him, come and see!” And, they go and see and they stay. Up to this point, that has been the pattern. But with Nathanael, the pattern almost breaks down, because he pushes back. It’s at this point that Philip could have been tempted to enter into a debate with Nathanael. Philip might have been tempted to try and convince Nathanael of the truth. But he doesn’t do that. He simply repeats the invitation, “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself.
It can be so tempting, and I struggle with this myself, it can be so tempting to try and convince others of the truth about Christ. But the reality is, it is not our job to convince or convict. That is the work of the Holy Spirit. We are called to do three things:
1) We are called to proclaim Christ. If someone asks you about your faith, all you can really do is share your experience, your understanding of the good news, and the hope that is within you. If you share Christ, that’s sufficient.
2) We are called to live as the body of Christ. This goes back to abiding in his love. Jesus said, they will know you are my disciples by your love. Unless someone is gifted at it, I generally caution against trying to convince others of the truth through debate. Debating with others about the faith is a hazardous road to go down, because if the one they’re trying to convince reveals a flaw their reasoning, then it will appear they don’t know what they’re talking about, even if they do. But if we love people, others won’t be able to easily deny that. They may disagree with what we believe, but they won’t be able to deny our love. And when we tell them that God loves them, and that Christ loves them, they will see the evidence in us. So, we proclaim Christ and then we support that proclamation with our love.
3) Finally, we are called to continually extend the invitation: “Come and see.” Come and see for yourself. Because you’ll notice, it’s only when Nathanael approaches Christ himself, that he comes to know him, and comes to abide with him in the love of God. So, we proclaim Christ, we live as the body of Christ, and we keep open the invitation to come and see. Come and see for yourself where Christ lives. Amen.