Getting Acquainted with Jesus

The way in which Jesus picked his disciples is such an interesting story, because he chose to find disciples who were to become not just his students, but also his closest friends. He was soon known as a rabbi, a teacher, because of his knowledge of Scripture, but he did things no other rabbi would do. Right from the start of his public ministry, he demonstrated that his mission was to announce the Kingdom of God and he chose followers who he was equipping for future roles that they never anticipated.

“The Calling of Peter and Andrew,”
Caravaggio, c. 1602

The Gospel of John (1:25-51) tells us the fascinating story of Jesus’ first disciples and how their early friendship was formed. Two disciples of John the Baptist, Andrew and John, heard him refer to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” and they decided to follow Jesus to check him out. By the way, the Apostle John does not identify himself as one of these first two, but we know that he was. He never refers to himself by name in his writings.

When Jesus sees these two men following him, he asks them what they want and they respond with a strange question about where he is staying. They called him “Rabbi” (teacher) and he gives them an encouraging response: “Come and you will see.” This first encounter is very casual and informal. John tells us that Jesus spent the whole day with them and probably stayed with them overnight. They were just getting acquainted.

The next day, Andrew, leaves to find his brother Simon, and tells him, “We have found the Messiah,” and he brings Simon to meet Jesus. It seems likely that Andrew’s assertion about Jesus was the result of their conversation from the previous day and his evaluation of Jesus’ character. Andrew was hoping that Jesus might be a national deliverer, which was a widespread expectation in the early years of the first century in Palestine.

The circle of three has now grown to four. When Jesus first meets Simon, he says to him, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas [Peter].” What a way to start a friendship! Jesus accepts him as he is, but promises that he will become a “rock.” Volatile, impulsive Simon, a “rock” – who would have imagined, but Jesus knew what was in store for him.

The next day Jesus heads toward Galilee, his home territory, and he meets Philip, who is from the town of Bethsaida and is probably also a fisherman, and Philip in turn quickly finds Nathaniel and excitedly tells him that he and his friends “. . . have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth.”

Nathaniel’s first reaction is one of doubt and he exclaims, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Let me add a personal footnote here: I immediately identified with this comment, since a number of people over the years have made comments to me about my hometown — Cicero, Illinois. Can anything good come out of Cicero, Al Capone’s hometown?

It is so interesting to me that as Nathaniel approaches Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” I especially love this comment since I have a new grandson named Nathaniel and I pray that the same will be said about him!

Jesus’ group of friends quickly totaled five in number and their initial time together was just to get acquainted. At a later point, Jesus will ask them to follow him, to leave their fishing businesses behind, and to become his companions. Jesus’ initial time with these men is friendly and conversational and he even gives them nicknames. He spends the day with them and finds out who they are. This is the Jesus that we meet in John’s Gospel.

Unlike other rabbis who did not recruit their own disciples, but chose a select few from many applicants, which was the common practice in the first century, Jesus took the initiative with most of his disciples. He chose them. He issued the call – “Follow me.” In fact, these men might not have passed the qualifying tests for the best-known rabbis of that time.

These men will quickly learn that Jesus is not a typical rabbi, but truly an exception. They have expectations about him, based on John the Baptist’s testimony, but now they have to see if these expectations will be met. Is he in fact the Messiah, the one the prophets wrote about? The only way to find out is to follow him.

John’s Gospel tells us that one of the first experiences these new friends of Jesus have is going to a wedding with him in Cana. As noted in my previous post, Jesus’ first miracle – the changing of water into wine – was surely a shock to these fishermen and this was only the beginning. The next three years of their lives will involve experiences that they could never have even imagined!

So What?

  • One of the powerful insights that I gained from this study was how Jesus accepted these men as they were, but knew they would become different people after spending time with him. Peter, the impulsive one, would become a “rock” upon which Jesus would build his church. Andrew, Peter’s brother, who introduce him to Jesus, would also become a great leader in the early church. Common laborers, good fishermen, but Jesus knew they would be transformed over time into Apostles who would change the world after his resurrection. Doesn’t this give you hope? We too can be changed into agents of God’s Kingdom if we commit our lives to him.
  • Spending time with each other, investing in each other’s lives, is what Jesus did with his disciples. He was especially close to three of his disciples, but knew all twelve very well. For me, investing in the lives of others is a practical “take-away” from this story. For those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus, this is something we need to do.
  • Looking back over your life, can you think of changes in your character or your plans that took place once you decided to be a disciple of Jesus?