Of all the places for Jesus to begin his ministry, it makes sense to me it would be from within what the Baptist was doing by the Jordan River. Here is where spiritually hungry people would be most open to hearing and receiving Messiah.
So, the very next day John the Baptist was still preaching repentance and baptizing people, preparing them to follow Messiah. And, here Jesus came again as well.
The Baptist had already been preaching, and plunging the repentant into the Jordan’s cool waters, when Jesus made his way toward them. Out of the corner of his eye, the Baptist noticed the solitary figure whose walking kicked up whorls of dust into the hot, desert air. Even across the distance and the shimmering heat their eyes met, and John felt the same tumultuous stirring of the Spirit he had experienced each time he was near Messiah.
Andrew, nearly twenty, and young John, just a lad of fourteen, raised their heads to watch their rabban*. They both had noticed the shift in the Baptist. They, too, could feel their hearts strangely begin to pound, their faces grow flush, their breath become labored and their hands tingle. The sun seemed brighter and hotter, the river to begin pulsating, its cool water eddying and purling around them, and the air becoming less heavy with the scent of wet clothes and hair.
The sounds of the people, the burring locusts, the ever-present wind all dimmed as the Baptist lifted his voice and thrust forward his hand, to point towards Jesus.
“Behold!” All heads swiveled, all mouths fell open, as they followed his pointing finger.
Jesus walked with a measured pace, almost as if to continue past the rapt crowd and their taut prophet.
“The Lamb Of God.” Though the Baptist did not shout, his voice seemed to roll from heaven itself, with such power and depth their very bones felt as though to vibrate from their joints. John looked at Andrew questioningly, and Andrew looked at their rabbi with the same question.
Who do we follow? We have pledged faith to you as your talmidim . . . But, here is God’s Lamb . . . The Baptist’s gaze held steady as he continued to hold his arm out to Jesus, and it seemed all the energy of the cosmos swirled around them. The sky grew bluer, the clouds whiter, the sandy earth a brilliant ochre, olive trees and grasses turned a luscious, verdant green as the Lamb of God walked through.
Then, Andrew gestured to John, and both began to make their way to Jordan’s shore. They wrung out their undergarments, picked up their cloaks, moved their way through the crowd, and craned around those who blocked their view of Jesus’ receding form.
Just as they had broken free of the press, without warning, Jesus stopped and turned.
“Who or what are you seeking after?”
They understood the rabbi’s meaning, for he had used a well-known saying among their people: what was their quest? Was it to worship God? Who or what, indeed, did they so earnestly desire?
Surely he had seen they were talmidim of the prophet? Then, in that moment, it dawned on them both that they had been drawn, or perhaps sent, to this one whom the prophet had been speaking of, the one who baptized in God’s Holy Spirit.
Andrew could sense John anxious beside him, and spoke for them both, “Rabbi.” His throat caught, and his mouth felt suddenly dry. With a cough, he managed to ask, “Where are you staying?” Andrew hadn’t realized how tightly he had been clutching his prayer shawl, but now he felt the tense ache in his fingers. John, also unknowingly, had reached over to hold Andrew’s sleeve. Both held their breath, waiting for Jesus’ answer.
Jesus watched them, warmth and depth in his expression.
Then he smiled, and it was as though the sun’s rays shone from his face. “Come and see,” he said, with a nod towards Bethany, gesturing for them to follow him.
And they did.
Jesus’ question, “What are you looking for?” were the first words Jesus said in John’s gospel, maybe the first words He spoke as He began his public ministry, and they are words meant for every person who reads and hears John’s gospel.
“What are you looking for in life? What are you looking for from Me?” Jesus invited Andrew and John to get to know him personally, just as our Lord invites you and me today. It was about 4 o’ clock in the afternoon, and they ended up spending the whole rest of the day with the Lamb of God.
And they fell in love with him.
No doubt the Lord told them something about his mission, revealed their own hearts to them and answered their questions. Evidently, they were so entranced they could hardly tear themselves away.
Yet, at some point, Andrew realized he had to go get his brother, who was also spiritually minded although, it seems, he had not chosen to become a disciple of a rabbi. Perhaps it is because Simon had already married, and was supporting his wife and son, and his mother-in-law. Presumably, Andrew knew just where to find his brother, with his boat, mending his nets in preparation for a night’s fishing trip.
In just the short time Andrew had spent with Jesus, he already knew in his heart Jesus, Lamb of God, was the promised anointed one they had been waiting for, for a thousand years and more, for in his urgent insistence, he exclaimed to his brother,
“We have found the Messiah!” (Which is translated ‘Christ’)John 1:41
Stupendous news, there was no other way to call it. Simon evidently believed Andrew implicitly, losing no time and giving no thought to dropping everything in order to hurry back to Jesus with his brother.
And was that when the deep friendship between Jesus and John began? During that while when they were together, waiting for Andrew to come back with Simon?
And what must it have been like for Simon, to see Jesus for the first time, and feel his heart burn as Jesus looked at him intently, reading his heart?
“You are Simon, the son of John, you shall be named Cephas (which is translated Peter).”John 1:42
Peter, a rock, solid, dependable and true. In the years to come, Peter would surely look back on this moment again and again, remembering Jesus’ prophetic voice.
*I am thankful to a friend whose scholarship I respect for asking me about calling John the Baptist “rabban.” (Small case “r”) I confessed I’d done some research, but had not done a deep dive, as she had done. In her assessment, only such recognized institutional teachers such as Gamaliel might be called “Rabban” in first century Judaism, and even at that, some scholars consider the term an anachronism from a later time.
I realized I needed to do some digging of my own and began to read both sides of this issue. I landed with Bruce Chilton in his article The Gospel according to John’s Rabbi Jesus, in which he states, “[B]eing called ‘rabbi’ did not involve an institutional qualification until a much later period, well after the destruction of the temple, although it seems clear that during the first century a Jewish teacher in Galilee whose wisdom was valued would be called ‘rabbi,’ or one of several variants with or without the possessive suffix, including rab, rabbouna, rabbouni, and rabban.”
Chilton, Bruce. “The Gospel according to John’s Rabbi Jesus.” Bulletin for Biblical Research – Vol.25(1), pp. 39-54 1 January 2015.
[Andrew finds Simon | The LUMO Project, http://www.freebibleimaghes.org]