Teaching series from John

The First Six Witnesses

John 1:19-51

Teaching t05615


Remind of purpose and plan. Having begun with his conclusions about Jesus, John now begins to present the evidence for these conclusions. He calls his first six witnesses, beginning with the testimony of John the Baptist . . . 

John the Baptist's Testimony

Read vs 19-28. John was a tremendously popular figure among 1st-century Jews. He had a huge following, not only in Palestine while he was alive, but also decades later among Jews far from his homeland (see Acts 18:25; 19:1-4). Many believed he was the Messiah, but John expressly denied this (vs 20). Instead, he identified himself as the one who prepared the way for the Messiah through his preaching and baptizing (vs 22-28).

During the inter-testamental period, Jews began baptizing Gentiles who wanted to convert to Judaism. This was a symbolic way of teaching them they needed to be cleansed from their sins before they were qualified to become part of God's family. This, of course, was true. The problem was that many Jews came to believe that just because they physically descended from Abraham, they were automatically included in God's family. They believed, for example, that Abraham was stationed at the gate to hell so that if any Jew was mistakenly sent in that direction, he would bring him to heaven where he belonged. [1]

John rejected this view. This was the primary significance of his ministry. According to John, the good news was that the Messiah was coming imminently. The bad news was that the Jewish people were unqualified to benefit from him because of their sins. That's why he insisted that Jews undergo baptism, thereby acknowledging that they were just as unqualified as the Gentiles to belong to God's family, that they needed God's forgiveness just as much as anyone else. By adopting this attitude of humility and undergoing the baptism which communicated this attitude, they were now ready for the Messiah.

Read vs 29-34. Vs 19-34 took place after Jesus had been baptized and tempted in the wilderness for 40 days. As the final Old Testament prophet, God gave him two great privileges:

He had the privilege of anointing the Messiah. In the Old Testament, God selected kings by sending a prophet to anoint them with oil (e.g., Samuel with Saul & David). The word "Messiah" means "anointed one"--God's chosen king. As the final Old Testament prophet, John anointed God's ultimate King by baptizing him. God hadn't revealed to him who the Messiah was, but instead told him it would one of his baptizees upon whom God's Spirit descended and remained (a supernatural event, obviously).

He declared that Jesus would fulfill the Old Testament sacrificial system. The purpose of that system had been to teach that we are sinful, that the penalty for sin is death, and that God in his mercy would one day provide a blameless Substitute to die in our place. What the animal sacrifices had only foreshadowed, Jesus had come to fulfill. That is why John called him "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (vs 29). This is why Jesus insisted on being baptized by John even though he was sinless. In this way, he presented himself as the One who had come to identify and bear the sins of God's people.

So John the Baptist's ministry demonstrates the perfect continuity between the Old and New Testaments. He himself is the bridge between the period of promise and the period of fulfillment. Having completed his mission, he now hands the baton to Jesus and urges his followers to follow Jesus.

In the remaining verses of chapter 1, we see Jesus' ministry influence begin to expand. John tells us how five men (one of whom is himself) came to believe in Jesus as the Messiah. About one year later, Jesus chose them to be his disciples/apostles). While the details are unique, this passage contains certain insights which help us to understand how Jesus influences people. Each of these principles also corrects a widespread misconception about Christianity.

Jesus Invites Personal Investigation

Read vs 35-40. These two men (Andrew and John the author) had been followers of John the Baptist. John B. is completely convinced that Jesus is the Messiah (vs 29,34 titles). But they are not so sure. They follow him tentatively, from a distance. When he asks them what they want, they call him "Rabbi" rather than one of the Messianic titles John used, and they ask him if they can talk.

Jesus does not reply, "What's this `Rabbi' business? Didn't you hear what John called me? I thought you guys were spiritual. I'm not giving you any further information until you call me the Messiah!" Instead, he invited them to investigate. He had them over for the evening and responded to their many questions (whatever they were). As a result of their investigation, they became personally convinced that Jesus was the Messiah (read vs 41).

Many people think Christianity demands blind faith--instant commitment to Christ without any supporting evidence. But Jesus wants people who follow him because they are convinced he is the truth. And he knows that solid faith requires evidence, which takes time to gather--so he invites personal investigation. John never forgot this feature of his initial encounter with Jesus. Because of the way Jesus responded to his request for evidence, he wrote this gospel for others who need to investigate (Jn. 20:31). And the early church consciously practiced this principle (read and explain Acts 17:2-4).

We understand that deciding to receive Christ, like any big decision, is a process. This is why we urge you to come to a Bible Study like this one, where you can begin to understand the claims of Christ and the evidence for those claims without exposure. This is why we make Christianity: The Faith That Makes Sense available to you. This is why invite you to ask your questions after the teaching (publicly or privately). This is why we urge you to quiz your Christian friends about the difference Christ has made in their lives.

But you need to investigate with the proper attitude. In Jn. 7:17 Jesus gives this conditional promise to some seekers: "If anyone is willing to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own." We might have expected him to say the reverse: "If anyone finds out that my teaching comes from God, he will be willing to do God's will." Give me enough evidence, and that will make me willing to follow Christ. But Jesus says it doesn't work that way. The proper attitude is to be willing in advance to do God's will. It means be able to say "If I see enough evidence that there is a real possibility that this is true, I am willing to ask Christ into my life." Why not start your investigation with a prayer to this effect? You can do this with intellectual integrity even if your an agnostic or atheist.

But for many seekers, lack of evidence is not the problem. Their problem is not with them believing in Jesus, but with Jesus believing in them. The following incident speaks to this problem.

Jesus Accepts Us As We Are, And Focuses On What We Can Become

Read vs 41,42. In vs 42, Jesus is not nick-naming Simon "Rocky" (Peter) because he looks like one. There are two items in this verse which make it clear that something much more profound is going on.

The word "looked" is an intensive form of the verb "to look" (emblepo). It means to "look into" or to "gaze intently at" or to "consider." Jesus is gazing into and sizing up the very heart and character of Simon.

And what did he see? That Simon was aptly named. He was probably named after Simeon, one of the 12 sons of Jacob, who was known for his rash and impetuous nature (Gen. 49:5-7). Simon's subsequent behavior certainly bore this out (EXAMPLES)!!

So Jesus gazes into Simon's heart and says, "You certainly fit your name!" Imagine how Simon must have felt at this moment. He was spiritually hungry, he wanted to know God--but he was also an unstable buffoon. But Jesus did not then say, "Come back when you're more stable--I can't deal with you the way you are now." Instead, he said "Yes, you are Simon, but you will be called the Rock." He sees his sins and shortcomings, and he lets him know what he sees. But that's not his last word. He also sees what he can become through the power of God if he follows Christ. He was sold then and there--and Jesus made good on his promise. Although Peter retained this fleshly capacity (Gal. 2), when he submitted to the control of God's Spirit he was a solid and stable leader of the early church.

Jesus wins people today the same way. He knows you completely as you sit here today. He knows all of your sins and character weaknesses--even ones you aren't yet aware of! If you follow him, he will point them out to you as you are able to bear it, and it will be embarrassing and painful sometimes. But he will always accept you as you are and have a vision for what you can become by God's power. And the issue with him will never be how screwed up you are, but only how willing you are to cooperate with his transforming power. The message of Christianity is not: "Get yourself together before you come to Christ," but rather: "Come to Christ as you are and he will change your life!"

We move now to a third misconception--not about Jesus, but rather about leading others to Jesus . . . 

Share What You Know With Who You Know

Most Christians think two ingredients are necessary to be effective in leading others to Christ. First, you need to be socially aggressive enough to relate comfortably to strangers. Second, you need to be biblically knowledgeable enough to answer virtually any question people ask. These are great qualities, but since most of us (including myself) don't have them, we conclude God can't use us to reach others for Christ.

But notice how people come to Christ in this passage. It breaks both of these "rules."

Andrew brings his brother Peter (vs 41). Read vs 43,44. Jesus calls Philip, but it seems clear that Andrew and Peter introduced him to Jesus (vs 44; vs 41 "first"). Read vs 45,46. Philip brings Nathaniel. Someone meets Jesus and is changed by him, then they do the most natural in the world--they invite their friends and family members to meet him, too. If you were to reprove them for "proselytizing," they would have looked at you like you were crazy. What could be more genuinely loving and totally natural than to invite the people you love to get to know the Person who has changed your life?!? (SHARING A GREAT CD WITH FRIENDS)

Philip certainly wasn't a biblical scholar. When Nathaniel correctly reminded him that the Messiah couldn't be born in Nazareth (Micah 5:2), Philip simply said "I don't know about that--why don't you come and see?" He didn't feel he had to convince Nate to believe. He just invited him to meet Jesus, and he was confident that Jesus could take it from there. Which is exactly what happened . . . 

They were effective because they shared what they knew with who they knew . . . 

This is not the only way to reach others for Christ. Some people are reached because they come in here as strangers and hear the message of God's love (or BOOK/RADIO/TV). Some Christians are gifted to reach out to total strangers and disarm their suspicions and lead them to Christ. But it is the main way in a healthy setting. The vast majority of Christians present were led to Christ by a close friend or family member.

Some of us need to share Christ with existing non-Christian friends. Those of you who are brand new Christians are in the best position to bring your friends and family members to Christ. You may feel incompetent to do this because you don't know much Bible. Yes, you need to learn your Bible, but in the meantime take a cue from Philip. Tell your friends "I don't know about that--but come and see." Tell them how Christ has changed your life, and about what you're learning, and invite them to accompany you to a Bible study where they can hear the Word and meet some of your new Christian friends.

Some of us no longer have any close non-Christian friends (who are open, anyway), so we need to form such friendships. Nothing could be more loving and natural than to get to know the people who live in your neighborhood, or at school or work, and to relate to them with genuine love and interest--and to share about our involvement with Christ and give them the opportunity to know him.


[1] William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1958), p. 39.