Good morning! I brought with me a piece of show and tell. It’s a local newspaper called ‘The Recovery Times’ - local, that is, to the greater Chicagoland area. A few weeks ago, someone in Chicago who had been cleaning out their storage unit came across this old paper from 2013, and slipped it into my mother-in-law’s mailbox. They figured she may want it, because right here in the middle, is a full page story that features a picture of her son, and her cute little grandkids, and her daughter-in-law - me!
This whole page is dedicated to the stories of my mother, and my adoptive father. Each of them put their testimony into words that would be circulated throughout the Chicagoland region, for the sole purpose of bearing witness to the power of God to literally save lives!
Both of my parents have gut wrenching testimonies about how God rescued them from their former lives of addiction, violence, and self-destructive behavior. So gut wrenching in fact, that while I had long been aware of each of my parents' stories - I knew what kind of lifestyles they had been brought out of - I’ve always known their ‘testimonies’ but still, back in 2013, I just couldn’t bring myself to read it in print.
Ahead of its release, my mom had forwarded me a draft of her half of the article - her story, where she mentioned me by name and included my picture - and I hate to admit it, but I got about a paragraph in and I had to stop reading. I felt like she was telling our family business, it upset me. It was too much. Too raw , too painful, and way too close to home. I did not feel emotionally ready to read it in print. So I didn’t.
That is, until about a week ago, when my mother-in-law sent me this hard copy in the mail, over a decade later. With my mom passed on, and her words immortalized in print, I finally sat down to read her written testimony.
More on that in a few minutes…
But for now, I get to kick off a new series this morning! But before I do that, let me pray for us.
As I mentioned we’re kicking off a new series today. It’s a 10 week series that we’re calling “Witness” - Jesus through the eyes of His followers. This is a series that will lead us right up to Easter Sunday, and a little beyond. Now, I know some of you are already thinking 10 weeks?! That’s a long series! What could be so important that we would camp out on this one subject for 10 weeks?
Well… Jesus! Jesus is that important!
We want to see Jesus. I want to see Jesus! And I want to encounter Him with all of you!
There are lots of different ways we can learn about Jesus. We can study His teachings. We can marvel at His miracles. And -
We can learn about Jesus through the life-changing experiences of those who followed him.
That’s what this series is all about! Over the next 10 weeks, we’ll be looking at Jesus through the eyes of His disciples, exploring some of the transformative moments that His earliest followers experienced: from John the Baptist, to Lazarus, to Mary Magdalene and others whose unique perspectives deepen our own understanding of who Jesus is!
And along the way, it is our hope that you would encounter Jesus! That he would reveal Himself to you in ways that will refresh you, and encourage you, and invigorate your faith!
So with that in mind, I want to call the ushers forward. They’re going to pass out cards to each of you. These cards are yours to keep. They’re meant to help engage your heart and mind as we look at these stories each week.
Every week you’ll get a new card, but the questions will remain the same, so for those of you who are watching online - first of all, welcome!!! Glad to have you with us! Please take this moment to go and grab something that you can write with so you can jot down these 3 questions. Question number 1:
1. How do I relate to the disciples?
Each week as we look at these different characters, what part of their story do you relate to? Do you see any part of yourself in them? Can you relate to the way they react to certain things? Do you identify with this disciple in any way? How do I relate to the disciples?
2. How did I encounter Jesus?
Matthew 5:16 says
Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
“Glorifying God" means valuing Him for who He really is. And this is important! We sing about it all the time “we give You glory, Lord!” What do we mean when we say that?
Giving glory to God means acknowledging God’s true character.
That’s so important, I’m gonna say it again:
Giving glory to God means acknowledging God’s true character.
Throughout this sereis, Jesus is going to reveal His true character to each of us. And when we see it - when we recognize these truths and write them down - we are glorifying Him - honoring Him - consider these notecards an extension of your praise and worship! We are ascribing weight, worth, and glory as we acknowledge the true character of Jesus. How did I encounter Jesus, today? What truth about himself did he reveal to me?
3. What is God’s invitation to me today?
Throughout this series, we want to put ourselves in the story. We want to see Jesus as though we were first hand witnesses to his life and times, just like His early followers were. We’ll read it together in a few moments, but when Jesus says “come and you will see” that’s a direct invitation to us as well. In Matthew 11:28, Jesus says
“Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest... Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
The invitation is extended to ALL of us. So what’s God’s invitation to you, today?
Keep these questions in mind as we begin this series today by taking a closer look at Jesus’ invitation to those initial followers. The earliest disciples.
So open your Bibles with me to John chapter 1:35, that’s page 882 if you’re using a house Bible. And this will be our first stop along the way as we look at the calling of Peter, Nathaniel, and Matthew.
However, I can’t talk about Peter’s calling without talking about his brother Andrew! And I can’t talk about Nathaniel without talking about his friend Philip! So we’ll be looking at a handful of disciples this morning, and trying to see the true character of Jesus, revealed to us through their encounters with Him, as we move along.
So, as you’re turning to John chapter 1, I want to give a little background info:
In John chapter 1, John the Baptist is baptizing along the shores of the River Jordan. He was calling people to repent, and announcing the arrival of the long awaited Messiah!
Now, you’ll hear a whole lot more about John the Baptist next week, but it’s important for us this morning to identify the role that John the Baptist had in the calling of those early disciples, specifically, Andrew and Peter.
So read with me in John chapter 1, starting at verse 35:
John 1:35 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. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “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.
When we look at the initial calling of those early disciples, sometimes we get Jesus passing by, and directly calling individuals to ‘follow him.’ We’ll see that in the case of Matthew, in a moment. But other times, we see people playing a pivotal role in another person’s life by pointing them to Jesus!
John the Baptist pointed his own disciples toward Jesus. And this was highly unusual! Rarely and only in extreme circumstances would a teacher send his own students to go follow someone else! But here, that’s exactly what we see him doing. He is bearing witness - that Jesus - that man passing by right now - He is God’s Chosen One! And he tells his own disciples: Go follow him! He’s the one I’ve been telling you about!
And John’s disciples did just that. They left him behind, and curiously approached Jesus. They asked Jesus where He was staying, which was a polite way of asking if they could hang out with Him all day! And here we see Jesus give the invitation: “come, and you will see!”
Clearly, that was a life changing invitation. Because Andrew, one of the 2 disciples that followed Jesus that day, became convinced that Jesus was exactly who John the Baptist said he was! Andrew just hung out with God’s Chosen One - and the first thing he did was go and tell somebody!
Continuing on in verse 40:
John 1:40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 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).
Andrew is a witness! And verse 41 says the FIRST THING HE DID was tell his brother Simon “we found the Messiah”, and he brought him to Jesus! And when Simon is brought to meet Jesus, he is given a peculiar new name - Jesus calls him Cephas, “the rock.” Simon was one of the most popular names a Jewish man could have, but Jesus demonstrates his authority by re-naming Simon. He’s no longer just another Simon in the world - he is ‘rock.’ What a curious honor that must’ve been. Peter had to have wondered, what does this man see in me, that he would call me ‘rock?’
Peter was an uneducated fisherman. But Jesus saw something greater. One chapter over, in chapter 2, the writer of John tells us that Jesus
“knew what was in each person’s heart.”
He saw to the heart of who Peter was, despite his low status, and despite his lack of education. Jesus saw Peter - a man of strength and substance.
There’s a whole lot more that I could say about the calling of Peter, I had to cut quite a bit for time, so if you want to know more, tune into this week’s episode of the Between Sunday’s podcast. You can find it on youtube or wherever you listen to podcasts. But for our purposes today, we’re gonna keep going!
Let’s continue on in verse 43:
John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
Philip, Andrew and Peter were all from the same hometown of Bethsaida. The name Bethsaida means ‘house of fisherman.’ That means Philip was most likely a fisherman, and in this instance, Jesus calls Philip directly. Which is remarkable, because Teachers, or “Rabbis” didn’t typically call disciples to follow them. Usually, either the disciple would ask to follow a particular Rabbi, or the disciple’s parents would make an arrangement for their child to study under a particular Rabbi.
But the picture we see here is one of Jesus finding Philip and putting his hand on his shoulder, and looking directly in his eyes and commanding, “walk behind me.” Only on extremely rare occasions did a teacher call his own disciple, and Jesus called Philip. The invitation was up close and personal. It wasn’t an ‘all call’ general announcement to see who wanted to sign up to be a follower. It was direct. From Jesus to Philip, eye to eye - come follow me.
And look at what Philip does next, in verse 45:
John 1:45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
Philip goes and tells somebody! His encounter with Jesus was something he couldn’t keep to himself! He went to LOOK for Nathaniel. He had one friend in mind! He knew Nathaniel had to see this, too! But when he finds him, Nathaniel doesn’t seem all that interested!
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
Nazareth was a small, inland town of about 1,500 people - not a major city like Bethsaida. To put it in our terms, how many of you are familiar with the town of Sheridan, Indiana? Not far from here. Well Sheridan would be about twice the size of Nazareth! Think more like, Arcadia, ok, small little town. And Nathaniel is immediately skeptical that anything worthwhile could come from such a small, seemingly insignificant place! But Philip’s enthusiastic invitation must have been enough to convince him that he had to ‘go and see for himself!’
47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”
49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”
Nathaniel’s encounter with Jesus is remarkable! He goes from cynic to true believer - and all because he believed that Jesus had seen him. Somehow, Jesus saw him, and knew him.
His friend Philip had invited him to come and see for himself! And what he saw was exactly what Philip had said - that this man was the One whom Moses and the prophets had written about! This man, Jesus, from the small town of Nazareth, was the Son of God - the King of Israel!
John made sure to include these powerful stories in his gospel, to show us that Jesus is all knowing. That he knows what’s in each person’s heart, and that He has the power to transform that heart.
And perhaps nowhere is that power to transform a heart more evident than in the calling of Matthew, the tax collector. So turn with me now, to Matthew chapter 9, starting at verse 9. That’s going to be page 806 in the house Bible.
Tax collectors were synonymous with thieves and extortioners. They were known to steal from their own people, in order to pad their own pockets.
And to make matters worse, they were agents of the Roman government! Tax collectors like Matthew were Jews collecting money from other Jews to give to the enemy! Tax collectors were despised as traitors to their own people! What could Jesus possibly want with a traitor! In his camp?
Let’s read about it in Matthew 9:
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Matthew got up and followed him.
Matthew knew his role in society. He knew he was an outcast. He knew he was betraying his own people. And it must’ve surprised him to have been given this personal invitation by this Holy Man, this Rabbi, to come and follow after him. How would you react? Knowing how unworthy you were to be invited to be this man’s disciple? Knowing how hated you were by society? What would you do with an invitation like this?
Apparently, Matthew felt like telling somebody!! Lots of somebody’s!
10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?”
I always wonder if Matthew heard this? And if he did, how awful did it make him feel?! The religious elite were so quick to remind him, and everyone else - who he really was in their eyes. To them, Matthew was and always would be the scum of the earth!
But Jesus doesn’t see it that way. Listen to the way He responds to the religious elite.
12 When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
Doesn’t that last line just take your breath away?! Jesus said, “I have come not to call those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners!”
If I am Matthew, at this banquet I’m hosting, with all these friends I invited over. Now I know - Jesus didn’t invite me to follow him because of my potential. He didn’t call me because I had money, or power. He came to me because I was sick. He knows how much I need Him, and out of His mercy, He invites me to learn from Him, and be his disciple. He’s the doctor, and I’m the one who needs healing. He knew it when He called me! He sees me, sinner that I am, and invites me anyway!
In Matthew’s case, as in the case of Nathaniel, and Peter, and Andrew and Philip - , Jesus called his disciples from exactly where they were - no matter where they were!
From the poor and uneducated, the doubtful and cynical, even the greedy and deceitful.
Jesus gives the invitation to follow Him, freely, and to all who would simply come!
Think about it, Jesus welcomed Nathaniel - someone whom He had identified as a man in whom there was no deceit - a true Israelite! And that same Jesus, called Matthew - a man who built his life on deceit, a traitor to Israel!
How could both men be given such an invitation to become one of His followers?! And who is this Jesus that he sees through to the very heart of a man?
We learn about Jesus through the life-changing experiences of those who followed him.
And from these stories, we can see that Jesus sees us! He sees us and He knows our hearts. And it doesn’t matter whether He sees a heart that is true or a heart that is twisted, He still extends the invitation to come and follow Him. Follow me, He says! Come and see!
Come and bear witness to the things that are true about me:
Witness my power to seek and to save that which was lost! And go tell somebody! Witness my power to heal the sick! And go tell somebody!
Witness my power to raise dead things back to life,
- and when you do you’re gonna want to go tell somebody!
Come and bear witness to the things that are true about me, and go tell somebody!
Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world…16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. NKJV
Giving glory to God means acknowledging God’s true character.
This is what it’s all about! We behold Him, and we reflect His light to the WORLD! TO THE WHOLE WORLD! We give Him glory, by telling the world WHO HE IS!!!
This is the Great Commission - go into all the world and preach the gospel - it doesn’t mean we’re all professional preachers - it means that like the disciples, we share our stories with one another, and with our families, and friends, co-workers, and neighbors. We share our stories with our communities, and throughout the world, wherever we may find ourselves because that’s how the world will encounter JESUS!!! THEY’LL ENCOUNTER JESUS WHEN WE START TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US!
We learn about Jesus through the life-changing experiences of those who follow him.
This written testimony that I have right here, it’s just a continuation of that sacred call, that Great Commission. My mom had a life-changing experience with Jesus, and she wanted to tell somebody! She was bold enough to tell the truth about what Jesus had done in her life.
“As a sweet little church girl, I never imagined I would someday be where I was: I was 21 years old, 3 months pregnant, single, in fear for my life, and all alone because my live-in drug dealer boyfriend had just been murdered!
I remember my 21st birthday. I was pregnant again, but THIS time, I decided that I’m keeping the baby! I don’t care what my boyfriend says, I’m going to deliver in September with or without him!”
Let me pause right here for a minute and introduce myself.
Mom and me.jpeg
My name is Maron, and I’m that baby.
“I figured that my boyfriend might leave me, but I never imagined that he would leave me as a victim of a drug deal gone bad. The coroner described the cause of death as a “gunshot wound to the chest.” How did it come to this? I was left pregnant, mourning, and all alone in my apartment. At this point, I just wanted to fall asleep and remember nothing! During all of this, my parents and the people they knew at church were praying for me. As a child, I heard many Christians testify that they could ‘feel’ prayers. So I prayed, ‘Is that possible, God? If so, please God, let ME feel their prayers. Put me to SLEEP!’
I will never forget it. INSTANTLY, God completely wrapped me in a hovering cocoon of INDESCRIBABLE PEACE, God’s peace! It felt so wonderful! I enjoyed this beautiful presence. That night, I was forever changed by a loving touch from the Real God who gave me peace beyond my understanding! In the days that followed, I had a deep experience with God. I repented of my past, and guess what? He forgave me! God delivered me… and He can deliver you, too. I will be the first one to tell you that my life has not been perfect. It still has its trials, but God uses them to draw me closer to Him. God guides us, He helps us, He heals us. Everyday is a testimony to His power, awesomeness, grace, mercy, forgiveness and love! “
And there it is. A very abbreviated version of my mother’s testimony, which is, by extension - my testimony. The story I had been so hesitant to read, the story I had avoided reading for 10 years now reads like this:
My mother bears witness that Jesus is forgiving.
She bears witness that Jesus is present even in the darkest of moments.
She bears witness that Jesus restores.
That Jesus gives peace.
That Jesus silences fear.
That Jesus answers the prayers of His people!
Her story bears witness that Jesus heals.
Jesus gives life meaning and purpose.
Jesus takes horrific situations and redeems them for His glory!
Jesus seeks after those rebellious hearts that have wandered far from Him, and He calls them again, softly and gently - to come home.
Come and see!
Jesus rescued my Mom when she was sick and needed a doctor!
And you know what, He did the same for me!
And through our story, the true character of Christ is revealed! She has passed on, absent from the body, but PRESENT with the Lord, and I live to bear witness of what God has done, and what he longs to do for every heart that would accept the invitation to come and see!
Oh that we would all be as bold in our witness! That we would stop trying to hide our light under a basket - that we would stop hiding from one another, and START TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT WHAT GOD HAS DONE IN OUR LIVES! You don’t have to write it in the newspaper. Just go tell somebody.
We learn about Jesus through the life-changing experiences of those who follow him.
Like Andrew to Peter saying “We have found the Messiah!” Like Philip to Nathaniel saying, “come and see for yourself!”
We are those witnesses! We’ve got to go tell somebody about Jesus! It could change their life! Our testimonies are powerful! Scripture tells us that we overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the “WORD OF OUR TESTIMONIES.” When we let our light shine, when we stop hiding and LET OUR LIGHT SHINE, darkness has no power over us!
Some of you need to go tell somebody – and some of you need to go ask somebody! Ask someone, what have you seen? What do you know to be true about Jesus. How did you ever get through that tough season in your life? What gives you so much peace? Why do you hold on to faith in Jesus the way you do?
Ask somebody. Listen, on any given Sunday, I know I’m talking to as many Nathaniel’s as I am Philip’s. I’m talking to as many cynics and skeptics as I am to zealous believers.
1 Peter 3:15-16 says
If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. 16 But do this in a gentle and respectful way.
If someone asked you about the hope you hope as a believer – could you explain it? Some of us need to practice sharing our testimonies, some of us might even need to write it down! You can practice by sharing your stories with one another! Start now!
Bear witness! Tell of all He has done! Let His light shine through YOUR story, for your community to see. For your family to see! Our redemption stories echo down through the ages, giving God glory, from generation to generation! We are still part of that one unified story that leads to Jesus! And we bear witness that his Kingdom has been inaugurated here on Earth as it is in Heaven! How do we know? Because we’ve seen Jesus, through the eyes of those who’ve followed him. And we testify to His presence in our own lives! Jesus knows us, He sees us, and He invites us still to come and see.