In order to be good evangelizers today, we should look at examples of conversion in the Bible. Of all the scenarios that we read about, one of the most interesting series of events is in John 1:35-50, in which we meet several of Jesus’ followers in their earliest days of discipleship. Let us take note of what it took to convert each of them, and what methods Jesus uses to persuade them of His authority. In each of these examples, we will see lessons that can be applied to our evangelism today.
Andrew, a follower of John the Baptizer
“Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked upon Jesus as He walked, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (John 1:35-37). It is admirable here that John has no qualms about leading others to Jesus, much to the reduction of his own following. It is, in fact, John’s entire purpose – what he strove for his entire ministry was preparing people for the coming of Jesus (Luke 3:4-6). So it should have come as no shock to him when Jesus did come and many of John’s disciples willingly followed Him. Also notice how clearly John explains the situation. It is not that he makes his disciples second-guess themselves, or make wild assumptions about who the Messiah is. With language that cannot be denied, he forces those around him to make a decision about Jesus. As for our evangelism, we have to be the same way. We must force people to make a choice: either Jesus is who He says He is, or He is an imposter.
· John did not let people make assumptions about Jesus. He clarified and explained in words unmistakably bold.
· He did not describe Jesus as “what you want to make of Him.” Rather, there is only one option.
· The two disciples responded to the message by obeying Jesus. Given more complete knowledge, there is nothing stopping them from following and proclaiming the Gospel. In the same way, the only appropriate (and saving) response to the Gospel message is obedience. When you hear about this man Jesus, and learn of His deity, what will you do? How will you respond?
· The two disciples did not maintain an unhealthy bond with John the Baptist, just as we should never choose discipleship under a human over discipleship with Christ. They respected John for what he was – a messenger, a temporary answer to sin in the world, a path-maker for the One who would complete all things. How often do people of the world place more importance on a figurehead (a preacher, televangelist, celebrity, cult leader, etc.) than actual obedience to God?
· John does not seem to be offended by those who left him for Jesus (John 3:25-36). And why would he? If anybody understood his place it was John. He did not have a big head about his role in the Gospel, nor did he feel that he was bigger than he actually was.
“And Jesus turned, and beheld them following, and said to them, ‘What do you seek?’ And they said to Him, ‘Rabbi (which translated means Teacher). Where are You staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ They came therefore and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour” (John 1:38-40). It almost seems that the two disciples are testing out Jesus, curious to see what He has to say and how He lives His life. It may be an assumption, but it seems that this would have been an ideal time for the two disciples to ask Jesus questions, probe His ministry, and inquire about the costs of discipleship. Having only been acquainted with John up until now, it would make sense for them to have some questions for Jesus. This series of events is admirable because it shows that they were not half-hearted about their desire to do what was right. Today, it seems that we try so hard to keep things impersonal and distant that we would never even think of approaching Gospel matters in this way. We hand out a business card, “do lunch” sometime, send an e-mail or a phone call – but would we ever consider following a complete stranger home to talk to him about matters of salvation. In door to door evangelism, I would hardly be allowed to stay on a person’s porch for five minutes, let alone enter his home and spend the entire day with him teaching the Gospel. In the same way, how many unbelievers do you know who would willingly come to your home and listen to you teach? Give the two disciples credit for their wholehearted desire to learn. The question we have to ask ourselves is: how far would we follow Jesus to learn about salvation?
“One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He found first his own brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which translated means Christ)” (John 1:40-41). Here we have the beginning of Peter’s walk with God. It is unclear what kind of religious life he may have had before this day, but it is certain that his first encounter with Jesus changed his life forever. A man who was once an uneducated fishermen would become one of Christ’s most devoted disciples and an apostle, as well as an elder for first church in Jerusalem and the writer of two New Testament epistles. Who knows what would have happened if not for the simple message of his brother Andrew. “Andrew was a man of action. He was able to make a decision and then act on it! When something needed to be done, he was ready to do it. When someone needed to do something, Andrew realized that he was someone, so he acted. It seems that a bit of the characteristic of Simon Peter’s impetuosity was also in Andrew. He did not take all day to act when something needed to be done” (Great Lessons From New Testament Characters, Cates, ed., 31).
A notably admirable quality of Andrew is his familial devotion. Notice that the very first person he talks to about Jesus is his brother. Obviously, he loves his brother and wants him to know about salvation through the Christ, but he might also see characteristics in Simon that would be valuable to the spreading of the Gospel. Do we ever approach our family members in the same way? There is nothing wrong with converting our families, and yet it seems like they are the last people we talk to about the Gospel. We are either too uncomfortable with the idea of convicting family members, or we do not want to alienate ourselves from them. After all, if I talk about the Bible to a stranger on the street and he rejects me, I will likely never see him again – I will have no ramifications to live with. But if I, by speaking the truth, drive a wedge between myself and a family member, nothing can change the permanency of the relationship and I will have to face him or her for long time. Family reunions will be awkward, a division in the family might occur, or, if it is a spouse who does not believe, a marriage will become increasingly difficult. We must always remember, though, that love of the family is second only to love of God, and “he who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:37). What we have to do is learn to balance our love of family members with their need to be saved. If we never speak to them about spiritual matters for fear of awkwardness, then do we really love them that much? How much love do you show by knowing the way of salvation and never sharing it with those who you claim to love most?
Simon Peter, also called Cephas
After hearing the message about Jesus Christ, Peter goes with Andrew to meet Him in person. “He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas’ (which translated means Peter)” (John 1:42). What is it exactly that converts Peter? One thing that we can consider about this verse is the fact that Jesus had a purpose for Peter in the work of the Gospel, and knew that purpose ahead of time. The moment the Lord meets Peter, He instantly makes a change in his life and declares that he is to be known by a new name, a word very closely related to “rock” or “stone.” It is this new name that foreshadows Peter’s role in the church and his own declaration of faith. When we come into contact with Jesus through studying His word, we too have a purpose. Each one of us comes to God with unique talents and gifts, and only God knows just how vast our potential is. It is up to us, though, to devote ourselves to realizing that potential and turning possibility into reality. Simon was called “rock” by Jesus because of the great spiritual potential he had for leadership and steadiness of faith. He was not always perfect, especially at first. It is the same man named “rock” who denies the Lord three times and is easily swayed by those around him (Galatians 2) who also becomes a steadfast presence in the church in Jerusalem and writes two beautiful epistles. The name Peter would have meant nothing, though, if the man had not lived up to his potential. And how sad it is to see promise in the eyes of young Christian converts, only to witness them fail spiritually.
Philip finds Nathanael
“The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me” (John 1:43). We all, at some point, have heard the call of Christ. He has said “Follow me” to everyone in every walk of life in every language. Just as it says in Romans 10:18, “But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world.” The question we have to ask ourselves, though is: When Christ says “Follow me” am I willing to drop everything and do so? When you overhear a conversation between two non-Christians about a Bible matter, do you jump in? When you are confronted by atheists, do you make the time to answer their questions appropriately? When the Mormons come knocking on your door, do you give up an hour of your day to study with them? Every one of us today is in one of two conditions. Either you are a baptized Christian with the obligation to follow Christ wherever He may lead you and to be ready to spread the Gospel under any circumstance (2 Timothy 4:2 says, “Preach the Word; be ready in season and out of season.”) or you are not baptized and you have the obligation to follow the call of Christ and obey the commandments in the Bible to believe, confess, and be baptized. What I like about Philip is that he obeys without question. When asked to follow Jesus, he basically drops everything and does so because he seems to know what is being proposed. The Son of God has asked Philip, personally, to join in Him spreading the Gospel. I suppose if that does not motivate a person to follow, then nothing else will. Philip realizes in this scripture what is at stake – His salvation!
“Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see’” (John 1:44-46). A couple of considerations for this section of text:
· Like Andrew, Philip was eager to tell others about the message of Jesus Christ. How eager are you? Even in the face of some reluctance on Nathanael’s part, Philip is not deterred.
· Philip did not consider the Messiah a legend, but viewed the Old Testament as an authoritative, historical document. Moses was a real person, as were the prophets, and their texts had meaning for their day.
· Many religions of today have little to do with finding anything concrete. They focus on the journey, not the destination. The seeking and not the finding. Some people spend their entire lives searching for truth, God, meaning, inner peace, etc., but here is Philip boldly proclaiming that everything the Jews had been anticipating was fully realized in Jesus. What other religion so completely fulfills us and leaves us with questions answered, mysteries unfolded (Ephesians 3:1-7), and fulfillment freely offered?
· I like that “Come and see.” In spite of Nathanael hesitance, Philip just nudges him along and encourages him to “see it for himself.” This is a powerful evangelistic tool because Christianity is not supposed be a religion based on blind faith, with no hint of proof and validity. In our own evangelism, it is good for us to offer firsthand evidence of the veracity of Christianity. Let unbelievers read the Bible for themselves, come to their own conclusions, and let the power of the Word do what God intended it to do.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said to him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these’” (John 1:47-50). The superhuman power of Jesus is recognized instantly by Nathanael, who is assessed by the Lord as an Israelite indeed. This is quite a compliment, for it shows that Nathanael was not only one who had pure heritage, but also lived his life in light of His calling as a member of God’s people. He was not a Jew in name only, but in nature, in character, in action. He set himself apart as an honest, upright, and moral man – probably the exact reason why Philip comes to him first. “No guile” means no deceit or dishonesty. His spirit is not bitter or unwholesome, but pure and gentle. A lack of guile would lead Nathanael to openly accept the things of the Gospel – unlike the Pharisees, he had no unhealthy attachment to Judaism which would lead him to be bitter in the face of the Messiah’s message.
Astonished, Nathanael quickly asks Jesus how He knows him, clearly having never been acquainted before. In response, Jesus informs Nathanael that He had witnessed his righteousness under a fig tree at some point before Philip approached him about Jesus. “The Jews were much in the habit of selecting such places for private devotion and prayer, and in such scenes of stillness and retirement there is something peculiarly favorable for meditation and prayer” (Barnes On The New Testament – John, Barnes, 189). While conjecture, it seems likely that Nathanael would pray under a fig tree on a regular basis, and that those prayers came to ears of Jesus. It is not that He was physically with Nathanael during this time, but that His presence was with the guileless Israelite. How comforting it is to know that every one of our prayers spoken in righteousness is also witnessed by God. Every moment spent in silent meditation is like a sweet aroma wafting to the King’s throne.
Nathanael’s faith is astounding, and admirable. With only the smallest bit of evidence, he is convinced of Jesus’ deity and confesses his faith in Him. If only all people could believe in the Christ with such little convincing! We have here faith as a mustard seed in its most practical sense. Starting out so small and seemingly insignificant, Nathanael’s faith is sure to grow by leaps and bounds upon the revelation of even greater signs, wonders, and words than those witnessed on this day. Most assuredly, Jesus promises that even more amazing things would happen, but what a unique and splendid display of faith Nathanael shows in light of such a small display of God’s power!
In all of these cases of conversion, there are lessons to be learned. What is most valuable is to see how the teachers and hearers approached the subject of Christ – there is no anger, no personal attacks, or hurt feelings. All of them simply come to Christ with a willingness to learn and eagerness to grow.