What is it that each of us truly longs for? So often what we think we desire has been culturally conditioned. Some want to be rich, while others would settle for financial security; some desire to be famous, while most want at least to have meaningful relationships; but in essence people just want to be happy. What is intrinsic in the design of the human soul is the need to be loved, heard, understood, and accepted. These needs are ultimately found in a person, and that person is Jesus. For most people living in the daily grind of life, with all of its ups and downs, there is a part that desires life to be more than what it so often is.
In John’s gospel, we have the introduction of the first followers of Jesus and when they came into contact with Him. That encounter with Jesus brought about a change in their lives. It changed their priorities, desires, goals, and shaped their future. These early followers of Jesus discovered the ultimate reason for life, and it change not only the trajectory of their lives, but millions of lives since the first century. Not only did they come to know Jesus, but also lived to make Him known to others. Earlier in John chapter one, we see John the Baptist revealing Jesus to others, out of his own personal revelation when he was about to baptize Jesus. It is there that he sees the Holy Spirit descend like a dove upon Him.
Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him.
And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’
I have seen and I testify what this is God’s Chosen One.[i]
So, how do we come to find the ultimate reason for life? How do we come to know Jesus? What does that mean when God reaches out and reveals Himself not only to us, but those around us?
We read in Luke’s gospel the reason why Jesus left heaven and came to earth.
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.[ii]
Jesus came to find and save lost people and He does it through His followers.
John Maxwell explained the significance of making our lives focus on people.
The only thing that God will ever rescue from this planet is people. Therefore, if you want a ministry of permanence, you must build it in the lives of others.[iii]
Ministry is about caring for others, building them up, praying for them, and communicating grace and truth to them. As we go back in time and see how Jesus went about His ministry, we will learn what makes life worth living by following Jesus’ approach toward others. In John’s gospel, we see how people came to Jesus. There are four insights that reveal how we bring Jesus, the ultimate reason for life, into the lives of others.
THE FIRST INSIGHT IN BRINGING JESUS INTO THE LIVES OF OTHERS IS THE NEED TO HELP THEM VOICE THEIR DEEPEST DESIRES
Notice how Jesus asked key questions to people in order to awaken the deepest aspects of their souls. When two of John’s disciples came to Jesus, he asked the question, ‘What do you want?’
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’[iv]
D. A. Carson explains the potential depth of this question.
It appears that the Evangelist is writing on two levels. The question makes sense as straightforward narrative: Jesus ask the two men who are following him to articulate what is on their minds. But the Evangelist wants his readers to reflect on the deeper question: the Logos-Messiah confronts those who make any show of beginning to follow him and demands what they really want in life.[v]
Didn’t Jesus know what they wanted? Absolutely. He knows what is in the hearts of people. However, they needed to express their desire to him. Often we do not even understand what we truly long for. What we desire is a deep sense of God’s care over our lives. We desire to feel that God is with us and for us.
A. Jesus begins where people are at.
If we are going to be effective in communicating to people, we need to discover where they are coming from. What is it that they really want? This can only be known by asking questions. Genuine love and concern takes a real interest in others. Notice how Jesus focused on the people who were interested in spiritual things. Jesus saw two of John’s disciples following him and He raised the question of what they were after. Too often we share the gospel with the spiritually unreceptive. Jesus warns us against being indiscriminate with that which is precious. That which is precious and rare is not to be thrown away.
Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.[vi]
Our focus on sharing our faith should be on the receptive and those willing to listen.
In Peter’s first letter he addresses the issue of living a holy life as a stimulus for people to ask questions regarding how we can have hope in life. People are curious when we do not behave as they would in various situations. Some will want to know what makes a person of faith tick especially when we are responding in a biblical manner regarding trials (cf. James 1:2-5). How we live our lives is the most important ingredient in revealing Christ to others.
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…[vii]
To effectively serve others like Jesus we must discover what the desire or cry of their heart is. We must be prepared to listen, to ask open ended questions. We must learn to be gentle and respectful of others. Someone might point out, ‘What about the Pharisees?’ Jesus started there with them as well, but they hardened their hearts and became very critical of Jesus and His ministry. They were in essence rejecting God. The tragedy in their situation is that they thought they were serving God in the process, but the truth was that they were serving themselves under the disguise of being God’s servants and Jesus exposed them.
B. What was significant about their answer?
They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?[viii]
Their request for where Jesus was staying was really a desire for fellowship. They were also curious. Was this really the One that they had been seeking for so long? Was this the long awaited Messiah? They probably had many questions and hoped to spend time with Jesus seeking answers to their questions. We also have expectations about what the future holds. We may not have a messianic hope like these first century Jews, but there is a cry for significance, hope and desire for help. There is a messianic hope within each of us. We know that we are no match for the challenges of life by ourselves. And so, we keep searching for this security in our relationships with others, or we may look for it in our jobs, social status, achievements, or in our wealth.
C. God is at work in people’s lives preparing their hearts for His Son.
There was something awakened within the hearts of these men prior to meeting Jesus. There was an eager anticipation of what John the Baptist had been preaching. The message of God’s kingdom at hand certainly raised many questions. Andrew and the unnamed disciple followed Jesus to where he was staying. What we need to realize is that there are many people who are receptive to Jesus. Jesus said that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few (Matt 9:37). The problem is not that people are not interested. There are people searching for some sense of meaning to life. Often as Christ followers, we can get distracted by all the demands in our lives. Problems arise and we can become overwhelmed with the challenges that present themselves to us. We become consumed with our own affairs and tend to forget or lose sight of the fact that people without Jesus are lost. I’m not suggesting that we are totally insensitive to others, but we need to pray for a new spiritual awareness and vitality in our own lives. We need to begin to look around ourselves and see people as Jesus did, harassed and helpless, without Divine leadership in their lives.
THE SECOND INSIGHT IN BRINGING JESUS INTO THE LIVES OF OTHERS IS THE NEED TO CHALLENGE THEM TO DISCOVER HIM
Jesus challenges us to search. We need to challenge others to consider the claims of Christ. We are not responsible for saving people. That is God’s job! But we are responsible to challenge others regarding the claims of Christ. We are all called to be witnesses. Notice how Jesus invited them to explore their questions.
‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.[ix]
It is interesting that Jesus allowed these individuals to come into his life. We cannot effectively influence people from a distance. Not only did Jesus allow them to come with Him, He spent time with them. What we need to realize is that it takes time to effectively touch someone else’s life. However, one caution we need to factor in is that we can only effectively minister to a limited amount of people. Though Jesus related to many, he also focused on the few. Though many people came to Jesus with their needs, He was primarily training twelve men. That is one reason why we promote involvement in smaller groups and activities in the church. It is the only way people can really develop. Not one of us can be all things to all people. That is humanly impossible, but we can be something to a few people. We all need meaningful relationships, but we also need meaningful opportunities to serve others. That is how we grow spiritually.
What we can learn from Christ’s ministry on earth was his sensitivity to those He came across. He focused on others to share the good news with. We need to learn to be open to whomever God brings in our pathway. Many people today are lonely. Crowds do not diminish loneliness, rather it intensifies it.
How can Jesus touch their lives? He can only do it through you and me. The question haunts my mind, ‘How can we reach those living as if this life is all there is?’ Erwin McManus, tells the story of a visitor to his church.
Their spiritual journey involved Buddhism and the Sikh religion of India, but they had never seriously considered the message of Jesus Christ. McManus asked this man’s brother-in-law at the close of the Sunday morning service if he would talk to him about where he was in his journey regarding Jesus Christ.
The brother-in-law came back to share with McManus that his brother-in-law did not seem to be open to the gospel. So McManus worked his way to him, and began talking about his spiritual search. He told the pastor that he had read the entire New Testament that weekend.
McManus explained: ‘Sometimes I miss the obvious, but I thought that this probably indicated spiritual openness. He went on to tell me that everything he had read felt true to him and added that the morning message rang true to him. So I asked what stood between him and God, and he answered with one word: despair. This caught me off guard. I’ve heard a lot of reasons for not coming to Christ, but I have never had anyone articulate so clearly what lurks deeply in the heart of human beings who are separated from God.
I asked, ‘What do you mean by despair?’ He went on to explain that if everything he read was true, then the last forty years of his life had been wasted. All of a sudden I understood. Here was a man whose background and religious world view told him that to fix the problem in his life, he would have to die, be born again, and do better in the next life. When I explained to him that what was more important than the time he had lost was the time that stood before him, he looked at me and said, ‘Do you mean it’s not too late?’ When he understood that Jesus Christ could redeem all the years that he felt were wasted and give him new life, he surrendered his life to Jesus. The Gospel, in its essence, is a message of hope to a world full of despair.[x]
THE THIRD INSIGHT IN BRINGING JESUS INTO THE LIVES OF OTHERS IS THE NEED TO EXPRESS A MESSAGE OF HOPE
Hope to a despairing world is a precious commodity.
A. The exciting thing is that God can take us from where we are today, and make us into the kind of people that we long to become.
As much as we try to change, it is difficult. It takes a power beyond us to make that a reality. Notice the powerful words of hope that Jesus spoke to Peter.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (that is, the Christ).
And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter).[xi]
Not only do we find a stirring in the hearts of these men regarding the hope of the coming Messiah. We also discover that they wanted others to meet the Master. The nature of good news is that we what to share it with those who we are in relationship with us. Andrew brought his brother Peter to meet Jesus. When the longings of our hearts have been touched by Jesus, we are motivated from within to bring those we love to Him.
B. Hope is about giving us a new future, now.
By changing us, God changes our future.
What is significant about the meeting of Simon with Jesus is that Jesus gave Simon hope. It began by changing his name from Simon to Peter.
Simon was hot tempered, vindictive, volatile and violent in action. Jesus predicted a change in his unsteady personality. “You are…You will be…[xii]
How many today need to hear these wonderful words of hope. Jesus is here to change what we are, and to shape us into what we ought to be, what we long to be, what we need to be.
‘Out of the wavering Simon He made a stable and rocklike Cephas (Peter).’[xiii]
Years later when Peter was so instrumentally used by God at Pentecost to reach the Jews, and at Caesarea to open the gospel to the Gentiles; Andrew must have recalled with deep satisfaction that day when he brought his brother and their Master together. No one can foresee, when he brings a man, woman or child to Jesus, what Jesus will make of that person.[xiv]
The sad part today is that we are trying to change what is symptomatic, rather than address the real, root issues in people’s lives. Take any problem, and when you dig down deep enough you’ll discover that it really is a sin issue. We sin, others sin against us, or the general element of sin in our world is the heart of our problems. Addressing it any other way than God’s solution to the problem is inadequate. In essence we are telling people who are incapable of helping themselves to get it together and do the right things. We are asking them and ourselves to do what is only possible with God’s grace in our lives.
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins,
In which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.
All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.[xv]
Dead people do not save themselves. The concept that Paul is talking about is being spiritually alienated from God, which is the state of spiritual death. It takes God’s supernatural power to change the hearts of people. Anything less is only compounding the problems.
What are the keys to serving like Jesus? First, we need to find out where people are at. Jesus asked them, what did they wanted? Secondly, we need to allow people the opportunity to discover for themselves the reality of Christ’s claims. ‘Come and you will see.’ The promise of change is very real. ‘You are…but you will be…’ We can extend that kind of hope to people. Friends, hope is what keeps people going.
THE FINAL INSIGHT IN BRINGING JESUS INTO THE LIVES OF OTHERS IS THE NEED TO CHALLENGE PEOPLE TO A LIFE OF COMMITMENT TO CHRIST
Jesus is still calling us to follow Him, day by day. He is calling us to put our trust and then obey Him.
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, Follow me.[xvi]
Philip was also a resident of Bethsaida along with Andrew and Peter. I am convinced living in a small community, they had communicated about Jesus. Jesus challenges Philip to follow him. Some of you are here because of someone else’s influence in your life. Jesus speaks to each of us individually, ‘Follow me.’
To us who say we are Christians, ‘Are we following Jesus with our lives by ministering to others like Jesus? Look what happens when we do?
Philip found Nathanael and told him, We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote–Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked.[How does Philip respond? Just like Jesus. He says: ‘Come and see.’[xvii]
Philip brought his friend Nathanael to meet Jesus, by challenging him with the very expression that Jesus used with Andrew and John. Come and see. Nathanael honestly questioned the validity of anything good coming out of Nazareth. Most scribes in Jesus’ time believed that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, yet Nathanael’s response may have been from some civic strife between his hometown of Cana and Nazareth, both communities in Galilee. It is so sad when we miss the truth because we allow the blinders of prejudice to keep us from it. Nathanael was wise enough to check it out. Was he in for a surprise when he got to Jesus.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’
‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the king of Israel.[xviii]
Jesus’ comment to Nathanael came as a result of supernatural insight. What may be even more startling is that Jesus knew that Nathanael was praying to his Father. Not only did Jesus meet his initial objections, but also satisfied the initial cravings of his heart to know God better. However, Jesus makes a promise that even greater understanding, and a greater depth of relationship would occur in the future.
Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’
He then added, ‘Very truly I tell you, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’[xix]
Jesus used an analogy to reveal that greater things were ahead. He pointed back to the patriarch Jacob who, in his dream, recorded in Genesis 28:12-13, in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels ascending and descending on it. Jacob called that place Bethel because in Hebrew it means ‘House of God.’ God was making a promise to Jacob to protect and provide for his life. Here Jesus is making a promise to Nathanael that God would confirm who Jesus is.
What the disciples are promised, then, is heaven-sent confirmation that the one they have acknowledged as the Messiah has been appointed by God.[xx]
Years ago, I attended a seminary course with Dr. Leith Anderson. During a chapel service, Dr. Anderson shared about a trip that he had taken to Zaire.
It was while he was traveling in a jeep across a very desolate area of the country that a missionary’s daughter who was driving shared the following incident that had recently occurred at a missions conference in the country.
During the conference many people arose and shared how the grace of God had impacted their lives. Finally a very old man, who looked close to hundred years old arose and told the secret that had haunted him for so many years. He said that it no longer mattered that others would find out because the people involved were now long dead, and he knew he too would shortly die.
He told how when the first missionaries arrived in the Congo, which it was then known, the tribal people were very suspicious of them. They heard the story of Jesus, but they wondered about these strange people that had come to them, telling them that they would live forever. So the native people began to slowly poison the food of the missionaries and their families.
No sooner did the missionaries and their families die, then others would come and take their place. These too, they slowly poisoned as well. The missionaries never knew what was causing such a high attrition rate.
As the native people watched how these people gave their lives for what they believed, watched how they died, while continuing to put their trust in Christ, they too started to surrender their lives to Christ. They figured that anyone willing to give their lives for what they believed, then had something worthwhile to give.
He ended the service with a challenge about the many times we have been asked, ‘Do we really trust Jesus?’ That day he simply asked. ‘Can Jesus trust us?’[xxi]
Can Jesus trust us to bring his love and grace into the lives of others? Will we serve our community with this life giving message? Can Jesus trust us to do what needs to be done in our world? What are we going to say when we enter heaven? That we were so enamored with this worldly life that we pursued its pleasures and pastimes and failed to have a concern for other people’s eternal future? Finding the ultimate reason for life is simply knowing Jesus and making Him known to others.
[i] John 1:32-34, The New International version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.
[ii] Luke 19:10.
[iii] John Maxwell, 101% Principle, notes on p. 2.
[iv] John 1:35-38.
[v] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1991), 154-55.
[vi] Matthew 7:6.
[vii] 1 Peter 3:15.
[viii] John 1:38b.
[ix] John 1:39.
[x] Erwin McManus, An Unstoppable Force, (Loveland, Co.: Group Publishing Co., 2001), 161-162.
[xi] John 1:40-42.
[xii] Merrill C. Tenney, John: The Gospel of Belief: An Analytic Study Of The Text, ((Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975), 81.
[xiv] F. F. Bruce, The Gospel of John, (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1984), 57-58.
[xv] Ephesians 2:1-3.
[xvi] John 1:43.
[xvii] John 1:45-46.
[xviii] John 1:47-49.
[xix] John 1:50-51.
[xx] D. A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, 163-64.
[xxi] Leith Anderson, “Chapel Message at Briercrest Biblical Seminar”, April 20, 1993.