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Phase One of Jesus' Discipleship Ministry - Come and See

by Bill Hull

The first phase of Jesus’ disciple-making ministry was a time for them to gather information and investigate. The disciples made a preliminary commitment and learned about the person of Jesus and the nature of his mission. At the conclusion of this phase, Jesus issues a challenge and gives the disciples an opportunity to think about what he is asking of them.

Here are more details on this phase:

  • Text: John 1:35–4:46
  • Participants: John, Andrew, Nathaniel, Peter, Philip, and a few others
  • Time Frame: Four Months

We pick up the story after Jesus was baptized by his cousin John the Baptist and spent forty days in the wilderness resisting the devil’s temptation. Soon afterward, Jesus returns to the Jordan and walks by John the Baptist who is standing with his disciples. “John looked at him and declared, ‘Look! There is the Lamb of God!” When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus” (John 1:36–37 NLT).


Following Jesus required a certain amount of faith and getting the feet moving. After the two followed him for a while, Jesus turned around and asked them: “What do you want?” (John 1:38 NLT). Apparently, they were stunned at such a direct question. For a moment they fumble before they ask Jesus a question: “Where are you staying?” Note how Jesus replies. His answer is simple but will change their lives: “Come and see” (John 1:39 NLT).

Notice also that Jesus doesn’t answer the question that is most likely on their minds, “Are you the Messiah?” He is not ready to tell them everything they want to know. But he invites them to explore who he is. In fact, he invites them to join him where he is staying.

As the story continues, Jesus meets three others, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael, who are brothers, friends, or neighbors of the first two. What strikes us immediately is that Jesus already has some knowledge of these men. He first shows this knowledge to Peter. “Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, ‘Your name is Simon, son of John—but you will be called Cephas’ (which translated means Peter)” (John 1:42 NLT). This is Jesus’ first meeting with Simon, yet Jesus knows enough about him to give him a new name, Peter (“the rock”). Put yourself in Simon’s shoes for a moment. How would you feel? I imagine Jesus’ knowledge of him played with his mind a bit because it likely indicated that Jesus knew something about Simon that Simon didn’t know about himself.

Jesus demonstrates a similar form of knowledge of Nathanael. “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is not deceit’” (John 1:47). This statement strikes a chord with Nathanael who is astounded that Jesus knows him. After Jesus speaks of seeing Nathanael prior to meeting him, Nathanael is convinced that Jesus is “the Son of God . . . the King of Israel” (John 1:49).

Nathanael learns, as we all do, that God knows every detail of every person’s life. C. S. Lewis speaks of God existing outside of time and encourages us to think about what it would be like to have ten thousand years to review and contemplate every second of each person’s life. While God’s knowledge seems astounding, the fact remains that he knows us this well. God has the time, space, and the cognitive capacity to know each of us fully.

This truth ministers to our deepest need to be intimately known and loved. Early in his ministry, Jesus demonstrates that he possesses this personal knowledge, and it seems to tip the scales and lead the disciples to trust him in ways they can’t explain or fully understand. This is an early form of belief, but the Jesus way of discipleship begins with his personal knowledge and awareness of his disciples.

Come and See What?

Since Jesus already knew these men, and this period in his ministry was designed for them to get to know him. This may seem obvious to some, but our churches tend to overlook this simple step. We often invite the public to “come and see” our buildings, listen to our singers, hear our preachers, and watch our liturgy. But this experience can be impersonal and more about showmanship than discipleship. Sometimes this approach is rooted in our doubts, perhaps the belief that what excites seekers is not Christ but the accouterments surrounding Christ. We want to convince the world that we are not dull.

But in most cases, this approach won’t work. People know when they are receiving a sales pitch. While some may gulp down the snake oil, the rest are looking for something authentic, someone who knows them and who sees them. We don’t need to water anything down. In fact if anything, we need to be clear that we aren’t just messing around and having a good time. I’ve sometimes wondered what a sign in front of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s church would read. Maybe something like, “Come die with us at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00.” Being clear about the cost, about dying into order to live, is more authentic than talking about having your “best life now.” When we choose to lead others the way that Jesus did, we begin by asking people to come and see who Jesus is—his life, his death, and his resurrection. Who he is and what he has done will draw them in, because Jesus himself is the draw.

What Does This Mean for Us

Simply by being with Jesus for several days then weeks, his first followers grew committed to him. They didn’t fully understand everything he was doing or who he was, but they knew enough to follow him. Revealing himself is still his strategy today. People meet Jesus both in the Gospels and as they see him at work. When we love others in humility and serve them, we give evidence that Jesus still cares, still knows people, and still sees them. What does this mean for our evangelism? It means our focus should not be on inviting people to come and see who we are on Sundays and to enjoy the quality of our show. Instead, we must invite seekers into our lives Monday through Saturday and also to our churches on Sunday because in the ordinary parts of our lives, Christ shines the brightest.

We need to rethink where we make the most impact, where we spend most of our time, and where our disciple-making efforts should be focused. If we follow Jesus’ example, we will naturally begin with the people closest to us who we have intentionally invited into our lives. When we let them get to know us over time, ministry happens.


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Follow Bill Hull on Twitter here and Facebook here

This excerpt has been adapted from Conversion and Discipleship.

Image credit: Unsplash.

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