Ed Kimball was a Sunday School teacher. He was rather timid too. For a year a young man who worked in a shoe shop had attended his class every Sunday. Ed felt prompted to visit the guy at work. But as he approached the shop, he decided to come back another time. He was halfway down the street before he found the courage to go back and talk to the young man. Ed found him in the back of the store, wrapping shoes. He heard himself say, “I wanted to let you know how much Christ loves you.”
The Lord brought his Sunday School teacher to talk to him at just the right time. Dwight listened to the good news, bowed his head in the back of shoe shop and received Christ. He later wrote:
“I was in a new world. The birds sang sweeter. The sun shone brighter. I’d never known such peace.”
After moving to Chicago to be a salesman, like his teacher, Dwight also became a Sunday School teacher. He organized a Sunday School, recruiting both the students and the teachers. God so blessed his efforts that D. L. Moody, as he became known, left the business world to work full time for the Lord. By the time his life work was over, he had made such an impact on both America and England that he was described as: “the greatest evangelist of the 19th century.” All because a timid Sunday School teacher named Ed Kimball stepped out in faith. Nothing unusual in that. This is the way God has been building his church for 2000 years, one person at a time. It began with the very first followers of Jesus.
Lets look at John 1. As we sit at the feet of the Master, notice three parts:
Andrew tells Peter and they follow Jesus (John 1:35-42) – Philip tells Nathaniel and they follow Jesus (John 1:43-49) – Jesus confirms their faith and promises more (John 1:50-51)
In each encounter we discover more about Jesus. In each we discover how to share Jesus with others.
“The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.” (John 1:35-36)
John describes Jesus here as the Lamb of God. At Passover each family would bring a lamb to atone – to hide their sin temporarily, from before God’s eyes. Until the next annual sacrifice. But here John describes Jesus as The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Not just hides, not just covers but literally takes away. And not just Israel’s but the sins of the whole world. No wonder the disciples who heard John say this, followed Jesus.
“Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.” (John 1:38-40)
Notice how Jesus responds when they begin to tag along. He simply asks “What do you want?” Why are you here? Because someone brought you? Because it is expected of you? Or because you want to find out more about me? Andrew and John, spend the day with Jesus – talking, listening, eating, resting. That is all it takes. See the impact.
“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). (John 1:41-42)
After spending an ordinary day with Jesus, what is ‘the first thing’ Andrew does? Find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah”” (John 1:41). Notice the sequence. He tells Simon about Jesus. He brings Simon to meet Jesus. He and Simon follow Jesus.
“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.” (John 1:43-44)
On this occasion, the challenge comes from Jesus. “Follow me.” A simple, clear, personal, direct, command. “Follow me.” Philip obeyed. What happened next?
“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. “Come and see,” said Philip.” (John 1:45-46)
How does Philip describe Jesus? As someone who can be positively identified by his location – Nazareth, by his reputed father – Joseph, but above all, by the Scriptures. The first disciples identified Jesus as the Messiah because their heritage was rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, in God’s self revelation, and in his repeated promises to send a deliverer, a savior, a redeemer. They recognized Jesus because they realized the Scriptures pointed to him.
We don’t have time to look at some of them but verse 21 alludes to Deuteronomy 18:15-19 and verse 51 alludes to Genesis 28. The point is, the coming to earth of the Messiah, the Son of the Living God, was not an accident. It was not unexpected. It was not a surprise.
When Nathaniel hesitates and argues with Philip, how does he respond? Philip says the same thing Jesus said, “Come and see” (John 1:39). On another occasion. Jesus would invite all in the Temple “Come to me and drink” (John 7:37), and later to his disciples by the shore of Galilee “Come and have breakfast” (John 21:12). “Come” is the great invitation to experience God. Notice the steps Philip took:
He tells Nathaniel about Jesus “We have found the one…” He urges Nathaniel to meet Jesus “Come and see…” He brings Nathaniel to Jesus. He sees Nathaniel trust in 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.” (John 1:47-49)
When Nathaniel came to Jesus, he discovers that the Lord already knows all about him. What a shock. Nathaniel moves from bring a doubting skeptic to a convinced believer within minutes of meeting Jesus. In one sentence, Nathaniel acknowledges Jesus to be: Rabbi – my teacher (John 1:49) Son of God – Divine (John 1:49) King of Israel – Royalty (John 1:49)
“Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)
“Son of Man” was our Lord’s favourite title for himself. He uses it 83 times in the gospels. Although on the surface an innocuous humble title, it actually speaks of both his deity and humanity. The term “Son of Man” is taken from a vision in Daniel 7. Let me read it to you.
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.” (Daniel 7:13-14)
Jesus links Daniel’s “Son of Man” to the dream of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. Jacob sees a stairway from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending. Jesus says “I am the ladder”. He is God’s mediator between heaven and earth. Jesus is nothing less than the bridge between heaven and earth. Collectively, the experiences of John the Baptist, and of Andrew, Peter, John, Philip and Nathaniel, together, give us an awesome picture of Jesus:
The Lamb of God – The Passover sacrifice (John 1:35)
The Messiah – God’s Anointed One (John 1:41)
The One Moses and the Prophets wrote about (John 1:45)
Rabbi – my teacher (John 1:49)
Son of God – Divine (John 1:49)
King of Israel – Royalty (John 1:49)
The Son of Man (John 1:51)
No wonder the first disciples are eager to tell their friends.
What can we learn from them? It is really quite simple and rather unsophisticated. It was spontaneous, It was natural, It was effective Why? Because they had met the Lord Jesus Christ. They could not help but tell others about Jesus.
If you want to become more fruitful in leading others to Jesus, you don’t necessarily need lots of training. There is a much simpler more natural way. Peter wrote,
“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.” (1 Peter 3:15).
That’s actually only half the verse. The verse begins,
“But in your hearts revere 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” (1 Peter 3:15)
We tend to put the emphasis on being ready and knowing what to say, but Peter, perhaps remembering his first encounter with Jesus says “revere Christ as Lord….” If you want to lead people to Jesus, there is no substitute for a regular quiet time, alone with Jesus, listening to God’s word, talking to him in prayer. There is no substitute for meeting weekly with Jesus and his family in a small Bible study group and on Sundays. If you want to be fruitful, spend time with Jesus and others will know.
“Come and see” is the most effective invitation I know. Then watch Jesus do his transforming work in your friends and family.
In the Acts of the Apostles, what was it that confounded the religious authorities?
“When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13).
They had been with Jesus. That’s why their witness was so contagious. Why their courage so inexplicable. They had been with Jesus. Would that the people who know us reach the same conclusion.
Remember the rather timid Sunday school teacher, Ed Kimball, who shared his faith with an 18 year old shoe shop assistant? His disciple’s name was actually Dwight L. Moody. But that was only the beginning of the story. Moody eventually came to Britain and on one occasion preached in a little chapel pastored by a young man with the imposing name of Frederic Brotherton Meyer. In his sermon Moody told an emotionally charged story of a Sunday School teacher he knew who personally went to every student in his class and won them to Christ. The message changed F.B. Meyer’s entire ministry, inspiring him to become an evangelist. Over the years, Meyer went to America several times to preach.
Once in Northfield, Massechusetts, a confused young preacher sitting in the back row heard Meyer say, “If you are not willing to give everything to God, are you willing to be made willing?” That remark led J. Wilbur Chapman to accept the call of God on his life. Chapman went on to become one of the most effective evangelists of his time. A volunteer helped set up Chapman’s crusades and learned to preach by watching him. His name: Billy Sunday. Sunday eventually took over Chapman’s ministry, becoming one of the most effective evangelists of the 20th Century. Inspired by one of those Billy Sunday crusades in 1924 in Charlotte, North Carolina, a committee of Christians committed themselves to reach their city for Christ. They invited an elderly Mordecai Ham to hold a series of evangelistic meetings in 1932.
A lanky 16-year-old boy sat in the huge crowd one evening, spellbound by the message of the white-haired preacher who seemed to be shouting and waving his long finger directly at him. Night after night the youth attended and finally went forward and gave his life to Christ. His name was Billy. Billy Graham.
In over 50 years of ministry, Billy Graham has probably communicated the gospel to more people than any other person in history. And it all started with a timid Sunday School teacher named Ed Kimball. Sufficiently concerned for one of his students he simply visited him at his work place. Millions upon millions have been affected by his decision to go to that shoe store. And millions more, God willing, will continue to feel the impact. Could the Lord use you like that? Remember to sit at the feet of the Master and find out.