Recently I became a 30-something, which at first glance was quite depressing. There has been, however, one sweet consolation - I am now in my 'Jesus years'. These years in Jesus' life (between 30 and 33) were powerful, dynamic, miraculous and ultimately led to the greatest grass-roots revolution in human history.
Realizing this, I picked up my Reese Chronological Bible and each day, for the next 3 years, I will seek to read about exactly what Jesus was doing at my age!
For this second installment of 'Only the Injil' I wanted to look at how Jesus built momentum and gathered his first followers, or disciples. What is the picture you get in your head as you think of Jesus gathering followers? I wonder if we think much past the scene of Jesus walking along the beach, stretching out his hand and saying 'Come follow me' and then by some mystical powers people would drop whatever they were doing and follow him. Is that all there was to it?
> Jesus @ 30 years 11 months - Let's start mapping this out. It would seem Jesus called his first followers after coming back from 40 days in the wilderness. He had already made a very public appearance by getting baptized at the height of John the Baptist's ministry, so Jesus would have been well known to the people he called to follow him.
First of all, imagine with me the hoopla surrounding John the Baptist around the time Jesus got baptized. Mark 1:5 states that "All of Judea, including all the people of Jerusalem, went out to see and hear John". Everybody was there. This was like Superbowl Sunday and Jesus decides at this exact moment to get baptized! Think of the strategy as Jesus walks through the massive crowds and then the person they are there to see, John the Baptist, turns and says to everyone 'Look, it's the Messiah, he's the one you really want to talk to'.
The whispers would fly! Not only through the crowds gathered in the wilderness, but to almost everyone in the entire country as these spectators traveled back to their own towns. This 'publicity stunt' was the background for Jesus' return from the wilderness. Everybody knew who John said he was, and were waiting with anticipation to see what he'd do. This is an excellent lesson on momentum building. Jesus didn't just show up on a street corner and say 'Hey everyone, I am the Messiah", he was very strategic in how he used natural networks to spread his message and build curiosity and anticipation.
Now, if you look at the map of Jesus' travels it shows an interesting pattern. In John 1:35 John the Baptist is stationed in a town called Bethbara. On the map to the left this town is near the area simply called 'River Jordan'. John is walking around Bethbara with his disciples and Jesus shows up, fresh out of the wilderness, everyone wondering what he'll do. It's interesting to me that all Jesus really does here is piggy back off what is already going on with John. He leverages the momentum John has created. He shows up the first time where John is baptizing. He shows up a second time when John is teaching his disciples.
What is really amazing is what happens next! John is walking with two of his disciples, he sees Jesus and says to them 'Behold the lamb of God' (ie: hey, remember this guy I told you about?). John 1:37 then states 'the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus'. Did you catch that?? Jesus scoops John's disciples!! And John has no problem with this. Today's equivalent would be if a minister at one church encouraged their congregants to join another church with a better minister! We find out later in verse 40 that one of the disciples Jesus scoops is Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.
Now we see Jesus really start to teach us about networking. What is Jesus' next step? Does he set up shop in Bethbara and tell his new disciple Andrew to bring people to him for a synagogue class each Sunday at 11? No, John 1:41 says that Andrew finds his brother Peter and says 'We have found the Messiah!!". Peter comes and follows as well - 2 disciples for Jesus. Next we see Jesus travelling up to the city where Andrew & Peter are from which is Bethsaida. If you look on the map you'll see that it is a considerable distance up the Jordan River to the sea of Galilee, where Bethsaida is located.
Why does Jesus travel all this distance? He is working Andrew and Peter's natural network. He visits the town where they are from (John 1:44). He finds Philip, probably someone Andrew & Peter knew from town and then Philip brings Nathaniel - his brother? relative? we're not sure, but it is someone in Philip's network, which resulted from someone in Andrew's network, who was from John the baptists network.
I want to pause here to contrast what we are used to in church with what Jesus is doing here. Usually we experience church leadership that does not spend a whole lot of time exploring someones natural network of friends. When someone comes to church they are given a list of meetings and groups to go to, which may actually extract people from their natural networks!! Jesus does the opposite. He natural flows through the contacts that his new disciples are most comfortable with. One person at a time he works Andrew's network to gather his disciples. It's all there in John 1:35-51.
To many of us discipleship is a mystery. Over the years I have heard many complaints by Christians who have longed for someone to 'take them under their wing' and teach them about Jesus in a deeper, personal way. I've also heard lots of people yearn to know how to reach out to their friends, neighbours and coworkers. Jesus has the answer for both. For me I am thankful to God that this did happened when I became a Christian. I came into the church via a natural relational network (girlfriend) and met with many people who were more interested in me and my network than how many meetings I attended. One person I am most indebted to asked me where the teenagers I knew hung out. We would visit these areas (where I used to go drinking) with Bibles to talk to the people in my natural network. The emphasis was me going to them, not them coming us. Quite the difference.
I feel this is a very significant lesson for the church. We need to be going where people are. We need to not be so concerned about our holy hymn singing times and instead seek to reach out to real people, get into their lives so much that they will open up their natural networks to us, and as leaders, with grace and humility introduce ourselves and our faith to them. We may find that if we take this approach entire communities will open up (like Bethsaida) for us to show the love of Jesus.