My father loves to work on puzzles. Every time I would go and visit him, there would be this 1000-2000 piece puzzle that is set up on the table behind the couch in various stages of completion. Usually there would be a farmland picture he would try to put together.
I never enjoyed working on puzzles. Nothing against puzzles per se, but my personality would have trouble sitting still, doing the painstaking work of looking for time pieces that completed the hubcap on the tractor or the cumulonimbus cloud over the silo. I wanted to play piano or go play ball—something else besides the mind-numbing process of probing for those pieces.
In our Christian lives, we want all the pieces of the puzzle to be in place yesterday! And it’s frustrating in our Christian walk when some of those pieces are missing. It’s not simply about trying to determine in the manufacturer left one out, or if the vacuum sucked one or two or ten up by mistake.
But that’s not the case here. God provides us with all the pieces necessary. The writer of Hebrews tells us that for believers, Christ will “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:21).
He equips us with everything we need to do everything He wills for us. Yet, some pieces are missing for so many—not because they aren’t there. They are missing because we have left them in the box.
John 1:35-51 helps us with these pieces. John the Baptist has pointed from afar about the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ—the one who would deliver His people from their sins! As we will see, the apostle John points his disciples to Jesus as he comes closer. What happens in this passage provides the missing pieces of the puzzle of our Christian life. Once these pieces are in place, you will see the grand picture and design of what our life should be like in Christ. We will
Are these pieces missing in our Christian lives?
- Missing piece #1: Is our Christianity about being with Christ? (John 1:35-39).
35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
John the Baptist came on the scene for the express purpose of pointing people to their coming Deliverer, Jesus Christ. He had no other aim. If he did anything else, such as call people to repentance for sin, it was only to prepare their hearts for when the Savior would come.
That’s what takes away the edge of sadness from this. Sadness? In verses 35-36, John is with his disciples. We ministers and leaders get very close to those who are ministering with us. So when John points to Jesus, as soon as he said it, what did they do?
They followed him! But this thrilled John! They followed Jesus, not really knowing what to do, and he said, “What are you seeking?” Do we understand what a penetrating question this is? We are all here this morning, whether we realize it or not, in the presence of Jesus. His Word is opened and preached, He resides on the praises of His people, we are His body—He is here this morning. And so are we—so what are we seeking?
Do we want Jesus to make our lives better? Give us something we want to make this world smoother? Provide better financial advice? Marital advice? We must be careful not to simply use Jesus to leverage what we want. Christ must be sufficient! This is a missing piece of the puzzle of our lives—is being with Christ enough? Or will we only be happy with Christ-plus?
In Acts 4, we see the apostles Peter and John before the council for preaching Christ in the temple area. When they stood and gave testimony, Peter was filled with the Spirit. He testified boldly that Christ is alive and they would preach in His name, “and there is salvation is no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
What was their reaction? “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). Churches was professional pastors with a lot of letters behind their name. Christians often believe that the work should be done by trained professionals. But oh my goodness… it’s not about education or being among the erudite. It’s not the seminaries that teach ultimately, but the Spirit!
And speaking of the Spirit, we are one up on these men who were at Jesus’ house. Because Jesus told them at the end of his earthly ministry that he must return to the Father and it was for their good. If he didn’t go, the Spirit wouldn’t come. This was “Christ in them.” They would fellowship with him no matter what, where, or when. He would guide them into all truth, comfort them in all turmoil, walk alongside them in the storm.
Is this the missing piece of the puzzle—wanting all the benefits of Christ, but not wanting to spend time with Christ himself?
- Missing piece #2: Is our Christianity about finding and bringing people to Christ and His people? (John 1:40-46).
40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter[c]).
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
The identity of one of the two disciples who left John the Baptist to follow Jesus is revealed: Andrew, the brother of none other than Simon Peter. If you look at each of the gospels, Peter is always mentioned first, followed by either James or John. Andrew is always mentioned fourth! But God used Andrew as an instrument to call him to be his disciple.
Notice a word in verse 41: “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” He went to his brother first. We talk about going to our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the ends of the earth, as Jesus commands us in Acts 1:8. We are to reach our hometown, state, country, and all nations. What we tend to forget is an important piece of that Acts 1:8 puzzle: our home and our family!
Former professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Oscar Thompson, wrote a very helpful evangelistic book entitled “Concentric Circles of Concern.” In this book, he shares how our evangelism should be like a rock thrown in the middle of a lake. From the center where the rock entered the water, ripples come out from that point. Thompson tells us that we are that person ‘thrown,’ if you will, in the midst of where we are, and our relationships are like the ripples, from closest to furthest.
Immediate family—relatives — close friends– neighbors and business associates—acquaintances — Person X
But we must recognize that sharing the gospel and planting those seeds with those who have the closest relationship to us. Our evangelism must not stay exclusively at Person X, people we have no initial relationships with. Elmer Towns used the acronym FRAN, an acronym that we use for our prayer time for those who do not know Jesus.
What’s the point of this? The point is that we have people closest to us who need to know Christ.
But the other word is found. Andrew found Peter and brought him to Jesus. Philip is from the town of Bethsaida (which may mean they all lived there or that they were from the same town). But by God’s providence and sovereignty they were all connected in that way. Philip found Nathanael. How did he approach this?
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.” Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46).
Andrew appealed to the Messiah, Philip appealed to what was written in to the Old Testament about the coming Christ/Messiah. Here we see two areas of intentionality: one, we must be intentional in finding those close to us who need Christ. Secondly, we need to be intentional about the Word—and how the Word changes us.
Friends, never underestimate the power of the Word of God! Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis authored a book that I would love to gear a leaders’ retreat around entitled, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping Around Gospel and Community. This is based on their life in their church plant in England. They affirm that evangelism is a community project. They recognize that evangelism produces “guilt and despondency” that is in part due to “ungodly attitudes such as pride or the fear of man.”
They also affirm that not everyone is eloquent or engaging. So they tell us that there is a three strand approach to evangelism:
- Building relationships
- Sharing the gospel
- Introducing people to community
They say this:
One of the practical benefits of the three-strand model of evangelism is that it gives a role to all of God’s people. By making evangelism a community project, it also takes seriously the sovereign work of the Holy Spirit in distributing a variety of gifts among his people. Everyone has a part to play—the new Christian, the introvert, the extrovert, the eloquent, the stuttering, the intelligent, the awkward. I may be the one who has begun to build a relationship with my neighbor, but in introducing him to community, it is someone else who shares the gospel with him. That is not only legitimate—it is positively thrilling.
Community project? John the Baptist to Andrew to Peter to Philip to Nathanael and all points in between.
In what ways, dear friends, can you build relationships with people around you? In what ways can you plant the seed of the gospel? In what ways can you introduce people to our church and other believers, not in a one-and-done fashion, but developing relationships in bringing them into our community of real people dealing with real things with a real Savior?
- Missing piece #3: Is our Christianity centered around the sovereignty of God in all things? (John 1:42, 47-51).
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,[d] you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Yes, evangelism is a community project, and God will use us as his instruments to bring his good news to them. But we also see a spiritual, supernatural aspect to this.
Notice in vv. 35-36: John the Baptist was standing with his disciples and Jesus walked by. He said, “Behold!” and they left and followed. Do you believe that Jesus merely walked by coincidentally?
In verse 41-42, when Andrew brought Peter to Jesus, “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). So did Jesus simply have a lucky guess or predict who this is?
Now let’s get to this passage regarding Nathanael: “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” How did he know this? “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
From our vantage point, we are intentionally getting into the Word and finding others to get the Word in them. We may even feel that it’s all on us! If we don’t do it right, say it right—then everything is up.
But behind the scenes is a God who is working and drawing and calling. We this with the disciples. In Mark 3, when we have another angle of Jesus’ calling the disciples, we see here: “And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him.” The ones who came to Christ were not simply random men who just so happened to be in the right place at the right time. God is working from heaven to put them at the right place at the right time to hear the right message and to turn to the right!
In John 6, when the 20,000 of those who were fed at the feeding of the 5000 men, Jesus gave a difficult teaching that ran them all off. “This is a hard saying, who can listen to it?” All that were left were the 12. Jesus asked them in verse 67: “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God?” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve?”
Nathanael’s heart was changed by the Spirit. He got it! Jesus had his aim to bring Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael into the fold along with the other 8 who would follow him.
This fuels our evangelism, which is so often marked with fear. God is working in those who will come, and has for all eternity. You did not come by chance, you came because of the work of God in you, changing your heart, drawing you to himself. He calls you to repent and believe the gospel and surrender to Christ. Surrender your all! And when you know, you realize that God was forming and fashioning your heart to himself.
Has God opened your eyes? If you are one who has rejected Christ’s call up to this point, has he opened your eyes and shown you the glory and beauty of Christ and the deceitfulness of your sin that keeps you from him? Won’t you come to him by faith?
Dear Christian, has God opened your eyes? Have you seen the glory of Christ, having seen heaven opened and pouring out his favor on the Son of Man?
Dear Christian, has God opened your eyes to the fact that He is sovereign over all things, in control of all things, and that you do not have to worry about self anymore? He holds you in the palm of his hand! You have no need to fear!
Dear Christian, has God opened your eyes to the fact that you must live intentionally? As Andrew found Christ, then found Peter; as Philip found Nathanael—we must find those who need Christ and build those relationships, share the gospel, or at least bring them into this community of faith to be around other believers who are living and loving Christ as no other!
(This sermon was preached on Sunday, June 24, 2012 at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO. You can listen to the sermon at our ARBC sermons page. If it’s not up, keep checking back.
Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church: A Radical Reshaping of Gospel and Community (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008), 62.