“Testimony and Knowing Christ”

John 1:35-42

March 31, 2019

Faith Presbyterian Church – Morning Service

Pr. Nicoletti


Our Scripture reading this morning is from the Gospel of John, chapter one, verses thirty-five through forty-two. Please listen carefully, for this is God’s Word for us this morning.

35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).

This is the word of the Lord.

“All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.” [1 Peter 1:24-25]

Let’s pray …

Lord, with the psalmist

we ask that your steadfast love would be upon us,

according to your promise.

Take not your word of truth from our lips,

for we know that our hope is in your revelation spoken to us.

Help us to keep you commands continually,

to walk in your ways in all areas of life,

to speak your truth to the people and the powers around us,

to find our delight in your testimony to us,

and to love your revelation to us.

Grant this now as we turn to your word together,

and all the days of our lives.

In Jesus name, Amen.

[Based on Psalm 119:41,43-47]

We noted last Lord’s Day morning that in the previous paragraph, in verses twenty-nine through thirty-four, John incorporates “a whole Christology into one brief scene.” [Brown, 67]

This morning we might note, as one commentator does, that in verses thirty-five through forty-two “John has used the occasion of the call of the disciples to summarize discipleship in its whole development.” [Brown, 78]

As he has up to this point, the Apostle John, the author of this Gospel, continues to craft the way he tells his story so that it gives us both the truthful narrative of the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, and also a series of pictures of who Jesus is and how we are to relate to him.

The theme that emerges in our text this morning is the role and the importance of testimony in our relationship with Christ.

Specifically, we find a progression of three testimonies in our text. And I think the best way to get at what our text has to say to us is to consider each of those testimonies one at a time, as they come to us in the passage.

So that is what we’ll do.

The first testimony comes up in verses thirty-five through thirty-seven.

We read: 35 The next day again John [that is, John the Baptist] was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.

We need to stop here and appreciate what is happening with these two disciples.

John the Baptist, we learned in the previous paragraph, was given a vision, a miraculous revelation from God, revealing to him that Jesus was the Messiah, the Lamb of God. As far as foundations for religious conviction, that’s not bad. Most people would love to have a direct miraculous revelation from God that tells them what to do and what to believe. And John the Baptist got that!

But the two disciples here in verse thirty-seven … they didn’t – at least not at this point in the story.

Andrew and the other disciple (whose identity we don’t know, but many suspect he is the Apostle John), they get no miraculous vision here.

What they get instead is testimony. In their case the testimony of John the Baptist. Someone else tells them about Jesus and who he is, and they have to make a choice as to whether or not they will believe the testimony they hear – whether they will receive it.

The Apostle John puts this reality up front, and it’s hard not to wonder if he does it with his audience’s situation in mind.

Because the Apostle John was an eyewitness to the ministry of Jesus Christ – not yet in the story as it’s being told, but by the time he is writing. By the time he is writing, he has seen the signs and miracles that we will read of in the chapters that follow. He saw not only the crucified Jesus, but the risen Jesus, and then the ascended Jesus. He saw it all firsthand!

But he’s writing to others now, through this Gospel, urging them to believe the same things … based not on their being able to witness what happened themselves, but based instead on their decision to trust his word … their decision to trust his testimony about who Jesus is.

And that might seem like a difficult thing to ask – to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Lamb of God, based on someone else’s testimony about events you never got to see for yourself.

And so, almost anticipating that, the Apostle John begins by pointing out that the first disciples, those who would become the Apostles, began their own walk with Jesus not that differently.

They did not begin with the miraculous vision that John the Baptist got … they began by hearing the testimony of another about who Jesus was … and then they had to choose whether or not to believe that testimony – whether or not to evaluate it as credible and put their faith in it.

That is an initial step of faith that many people struggle with.

The Bible makes stupendous claims – it testifies to all sorts of amazing things that it claims happened in the past, things which bear on the meaning, purpose, and only hope for human life! And it lays out its account of those events. And then it asks us to believe them.

And often people struggle with that. Even Christians have a difficult time with it sometimes.

On one level that is not new. On another level it has maybe taken on a unique flavor in our time and place.

Ian Provan, an Old Testament scholar up at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, has an article on just this topic titled “Knowing and Believing”. In this article Provan outlines the history of historical studies, and the tendency among modern people, and modern historians, to want to build their knowledge of the world without relying on the testimony of others. In the field of science this leads to a position that only sees what can be proved through the scientific method as real knowledge. In the field of history, this leads historians to view whatever accounts they find in ancient texts (including the Bible) with extreme skepticism, and to prefer things like archeological data instead. In modern people in general, this leads to a tendency toward skepticism regarding the Bible and its testimony about past events.

We modern people tend to believe that true and reliable knowledge comes through our observation of the world and through our reason, and that any claims received by testimony are something less than true knowledge … something more doubtful.

This was an increasingly popular way to view knowledge in the nineteenth-century. And while it has continued to be popular among many, its deficiencies were exposed in the twentieth-century – at least in academic circles, if not always in popular circles.

As philosophers of science soon pointed out, it is impossible to really do science, to accrue scientific knowledge, without choosing to put faith in testimony. Those training to become scientists were trained through education – through putting their faith in claims made by their teachers – by choosing to trust their testimonies. And it doesn’t stop there. Because to participate in any field of research a scientist was required to put faith in at least some of the testimonies they received from other scientists, about what they claimed to find in their own experiments. And when the scientist did perform their own experiments, even then, the only way they could pass on what they learned to anyone who was not in the room when the experiment was done was by asking them to trust their own testimony about what they did and what they observed.

When you think about it, the very idea of doing science apart from faith in the testimony of others is a myth.

Now, that doesn’t mean that such faith must be naive. A scientist is not called to believe every study he reads is accurate or was performed correctly. He does use his critical reasoning to decide which studies, which testimonies, to believe and which to doubt. But even when his decisions about which ones he will trust make sense and are thoroughly reasonable, at the end of the day, he is still putting his faith in the testimony of another.

Ian Provan points out that the same elements are of course true in historical studies as well – even archeology. “Even if I am the very person who digs up an artifact from Palestinian soil,” Provan writes, “I am still entirely dependent upon the testimony of others who have gone before me when I try to make sense of its significance – when I try to decide how I shall add my testimony to theirs.” [245]

“It is testimony that gives us access to the past, to the extent that anything does.” Provan writes. He goes on: “We cannot avoid testimony, and we cannot avoid interpretation. We cannot avoid faith. […] What is commonly referred to as knowledge of the past is more accurately described as faith in the testimony, in the interpretations of the past, offered by others. We consider the gathered testimonies at our disposal; we reflect on the various interpretations offered; and we decide in various ways and to various extents to invest faith in these – to make these testimonies and interpretations our own.” [245-246]

In saying all of this, Provan is not speaking uniquely about Biblical accounts of history – he’s making a statement that is true of all accounts of history. Testimony is the essential piece of anything we know about the past. It is the main way we know anything we might know about what came before us. We hear testimonies and we choose whether or not to put our faith in them. That is true whether we are talking about the claims of the Bible or an account of the American Revolutionary War. Sometimes we come to conflicting testimonies and we have to choose which one to believe. But even then, we are believing in some element of testimony. Testimony, decision, and faith are all unavoidable if we want to know about the past.

And Provan pushes the point further to say that this is not just true in academic areas, but in all of life. “Reliance on testimony,” he writes, “is fundamental to knowing about reality in general – as fundamental as perception, memory, inference and so on. We depend upon it extensively, not only in everyday life (e.g., when as tourists we rely on a map to guide us around a foreign city), but also in areas like legal process or scientific endeavor […]. We are, in short, intellectually reliant upon what others tell us when it comes to what we call knowledge. This is simply the fact of the matter, whether we like it or not.” [Provan, 246]

This is so true, Provan goes on to point out, that if an individual consistently refuses to trust everyone else’s testimony about reality, and instead insists on verifying every detail of life themselves before they will believe it, we usually regard this “as a sign of emotional or mental imbalance.” [Provan, 249-250]

Radical skepticism of testimony is impossible. But radical naivety that accepts all testimony is no better either. Instead, we are to encounter testimonies with critical thought – to hear them open-mindedly, to then make thoughtful judgments about their trustworthiness, and finally to choose to put faith in a piece of testimony or not, based on those judgments.

All of this means that testimony is an essential part of knowledge, and no less essential or valuable than our own observation.

Testimony then is not to be despised or rejected as a source of knowledge, but we are to hear it, evaluate it, and make a decision regarding whether we will put faith in it, and if so, to what extent.

Which brings us right back to John 1:35-37.

We are prone to desire the experience that John the Baptist had of seeing the Spirit descend on Christ, and we are prone to discount the testimony that the two disciples received from John the Baptist as inferior. In the same way, we are prone to desire the experience that the Apostle John had of witnessing the ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus directly … and to discount his words to us in this Gospel, his testimony to us about those events, as something less valuable … less trustworthy.

But to do this is folly. It is to require a different way of knowing than what we rely on in almost every other area of life. Each and every one of us bases our lives on truths about the world that people tell us, but which we never observe ourselves. We make decisions, big and small, on the testimony of others, whether a doctor giving a diagnosis, a financial adviser explaining an investment, a mechanic explaining the safety of our vehicle, a nutritionist explaining the health benefits of vegetables versus ice cream, or something else.

We hear testimony, and we decide whether to believe it or not, and then we act in response to that decision.

In a sense, as the Apostle John testifies to us in his Gospel about who Jesus is … or as the Bible as a whole tells us who God is and where we came from … they are doing nothing different from most other sources of knowledge in our life.

As in other cases, the rational response is not to meet the Bible with skepticism, but with critical engagement.

The Bible can’t be brushed aside but must be engaged with. Like the two disciples in verse thirty-seven, we need to make a decision as to whether we believe this testimony or not.

What we see in this first testimony in our text is that Christian discipleship begins with us receiving and responding to testimony about Jesus from others.

Every believing Christian in this room learned about Jesus from the testimony of another. Whether it was parents or a church while growing up in a Christian home, or someone else later in life – whether it was communicated in person or in written form – whether it was a Christian telling you their understanding of who Jesus was, or the words of the Bible written by a prophet or an Apostle, every Christian in this room learned about Jesus by believing the testimony of another.

Discipleship begins with us receiving and responding to testimony about Jesus from others.

And both the receiving and responding are important.

We’ve discussed the receiving. That is when we hear the testimony, evaluate it, and decide whether or not to put our trust in it.

But the two disciples don’t stop there – because they also respond to it. We read in verses thirty-seven through thirty-nine: 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and you will see.” So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.

The two disciples needed not only to receive John the Baptist’s testimony – they also needed to respond to it by following and coming to know Jesus themselves.

This is the challenge for some – including for some who grow up in the church. They hear the testimony of others. They may receive it as truthful testimony. But they don’t seem to take the next necessary step, which is responding to the testimony by pursuing a personal relationship with Christ themselves.

The two disciples in this passage do not respond to John the Baptist’s testimony when he says “Behold, the Lamb of God!” by saying “Oh … cool. Got it. Good to know. Thanks, John!” They got up and followed Jesus.

In the same way, the Apostle John, in testifying to us, does not want our reception of his testimony to end with mere agreement on the facts. He wants us to pursue Christ, in prayer, in attending to his word, in seeking him. Response is part of what comes from truly receiving testimony.

Where do you struggle with receiving the Bible’s testimony about the Lord? Or where have you received its testimony but failed to respond – to act in accordance with that reception?

Where do you need to follow in the footsteps of the two disciples here, to face the testimony of the Scriptures, and upon receiving them respond?

In verses thirty-five through thirty-nine we see the first of the three testimonies. Here we see that Christian discipleship begins with us receiving and responding to testimony about Jesus from others.

That’s the first thing we see.

The second thing we see is that receiving and responding to such testimony about Jesus is meant to lead to us giving testimony about Jesus to others.

This form of testimony follows immediately on the heals of the first – in verse forty through the first half of forty-two.

There we read: 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus.

Andrew’s reception and response to the testimony he received about Jesus led immediately to his giving testimony about Jesus to others.

We have here a picture of evangelism – of sharing our faith in Christ with those around us.

And one of the first things that should strike us is that for Andrew, sharing his knowledge about Jesus was an immediate result of his relationship with Jesus. It is the first thing Andrew does. The emphasis on that does not come through in our translation of verse forty-one, where it says, “He first found his own brother Simon” but several commentators translate the same phrase as “The first thing he did was to find his brother Simon”. [Brown, 73; Carson, 157; Michaels, 122]

John gives us a picture of Andrew in which there is no separation between knowing Jesus and telling others about Jesus. He won’t let us separate evangelism – sharing our faith with others – from our faith in Christ itself.

Evangelism is not an add-on. It’s not an extra. It’s not something over and above a normal relationship with Christ. Instead, it necessarily flows from a relationship with Jesus.

Now … at this point many of us start to feel guilty. Because most of us – not all of us, but most of us – know we do not share our faith as much as we should with those who do not know Christ. I know for sure that I do not.

Some have the gift of evangelism. But all have the duty of evangelism. And most of us who don’t feel especially gifted but know we still have the duty, just end up feeling crummy when the topic comes up.

Rather than that – rather than wallowing and tuning out because we feel guilty or terrified or both at the prospect of sharing our faith, let’s note four other things about Andrew’s testimony to Simon Peter.

First, the heart of what Andrew shared was simple testimony of what he had been told and what he had experienced regarding Jesus. John summarizes it succinctly. Andrew says to his brother: “We have found the Messiah.”

Training in evangelism is great. Studying how to defend the faith against common objections, studying how to critique dominant forms of unbelief in our culture, studying how best to communicate theological truth to a non-Christian – these are all good and valuable things. But this account of Andrew reminds us that we must not forget that none of those things are the point … and at times they are not even necessary.

The heart of evangelism is giving testimony. The heart of evangelism is bearing witness. The heart of evangelism is proclamation. It is telling someone else who you know Jesus to be, based on your experience and what you have learned from others. It is, in a sense, simple.

And all the arguments to defend the faith, all the critiques of unbelief – all of these are essentially means to clear the field, to bring someone to a point where they are willing to hear and consider that testimony. But the testimony is the point.

So, if sharing your faith is scary, if you don’t feel equipped for it … then remember from Andrew’s example, that testimony to who you know Jesus to be is the heart of it all. That is what you are called primarily to do.

Second, we can note that Andrew witnessed to someone close at hand. As one commentator puts it, Andrew is “the first in a long line of successors who have discovered that the most common and effective Christian testimony is the private witness of friend to friend, brother to brother.” [Carson, 155]

Before figuring out how you can connect with distant non-Christians, ask whom God has already placed close by. Ask whom you might be called to share with who is right close by you.

Third, we should note that Andrew took a risk. Sharing our faith is risky. We don’t know how someone will respond. In that way, sharing with a total stranger can seem much less scary. I mean … if they respond badly, you probably never have to see them again, right?

But sharing with those closer is riskier. If Simon Peter responded with mockery or offense, Andrew was still going to have to see him the next day. If we’re going to share our faith, we need to acknowledge and be willing to take on the relational risks that go with it.

Fourth and finally, Andrew had the trust and credibility to share with Simon Peter. They were brothers. They knew each other. Though risk was involved if Simon Peter responded poorly as we just said, even so, Andrew also had a better shot at a real hearing from Simon Peter because of the relationship they already had.

That should remind us that these verses are not a call to immediately declare the gospel to every non-Christian we know. Sometimes we are called to do that with someone. More often we are called to build a relationship with them first – to know them, to love them, to gain their trust – not through manipulation or treating them like a project, but through genuinely caring for and loving them.

Andrew already had a relationship with his brother when he testified to him regarding Jesus. Through that relationship he had already earned a hearing from his brother. His brother had grounds for listening to his testimony and giving it weight. We are often called to the same sort of thing.

In verse forty-one we get just a snapshot of evangelism. But we see how closely the Apostle John ties it to discipleship in general. We see also that at its heart evangelism is simply testimony to who we know Jesus to be. We see that we are called to bear witness to those close to us, we see that such witness caries relational risk, and we see that we are to bear witness especially to those we have earned a hearing with through the relationship we already have with them.

Where might God be calling you to share your faith like Andrew? And if not that, then where might he be calling you to love your neighbor, to love a non-Christian in your life, in such a way that it may lead to you sharing your faith with them one day?

We tend to think of evangelism as a big scary project. Start with one person. Who is one person you might be called to share your faith with, or even just get to know better so that someday you might share your faith with them? Begin small and practically. Whom might God be calling you to testify to now or in the future?

So, the first thing we see in our text is that Christian discipleship begins with us receiving and responding to testimony about Jesus from others.

The second thing we see is that receiving and responding to such testimony about Jesus is meant to lead to us giving testimony about Jesus to others.

Third, we see that we are called to believe testimony from Jesus about who we are and who will be in him.

We see that in verse forty-two.

Andrew brings his brother Simon to Jesus. Then we read: “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).”

What’s going on here?

Simon shows up and Jesus re-names him. And the name has significance that would be striking.

He renames him Kepha in Aramaic, which is Petros in Greek. Both names mean “rock”. And that meaning would have stood out, because “Neither Petros in Greek nor Kepha in Aramaic [was] a normal proper name” at the time. Instead they were nicknames, like “Rocky” in America. Even more than that, they were the kind of nickname that would often be given to reflect something true of the bearer’s character or career. [Brown, 76]

The thing is … while the nickname “Rock” gives the impression of a solid and unshakable character … those of us who know how he conducts himself in the Gospel accounts know that the Apostle Peter seems anything but solid and stable! At least at this point in his life, it seems impossible that Jesus could be naming him for a character trait already present in him.

What then is the significance of this renaming?

  1. A. Carson, reflecting on this question answers like this – he writes “When Peter is brought to him, Jesus assigns a new name as a declaration of what Peter will become. This is not so much a merely predictive utterance as a declaration of what Jesus will make of him.” In this verse, Jesus is presented as one who “so calls [people] that he makes them what he calls them to be.” [Carson, 156]

In renaming Simon, in calling him Rock, Jesus is not telling Peter what he is like now … Jesus is telling him what he intends to make of him.

The third testimony we see here is Jesus’s testimony of what he will make of the individual who follows him.

And what we see here is that we are called to believe the testimony from Jesus about who we are and who we will be in him.

Jesus declares who we are and who we will be in him in a variety of ways. He does it in our baptism, where the name of God is put on us so that we are declared to belong to Christ and so bear the name Christian.

He does it in worship, where he tells us that we are forgiven for our sins, and members of his family, invited to his table.

He does it in his word in all sorts of ways. There he tells those who trust in him that in him we are forgiven for our sins. He tells us that he is at work in us putting sin to death and bringing holiness and virtue to life. He tells us that we are adopted into the family of God. He tells us that we are part of his body, the Church. He tells us that we are members of his bride, the people of God. He tells us that he will cleanse us from our sin and shame. He tells us that one day he will make us new, so that sin will never reign again in our souls, and death will have no power over our bodies.

Through his word, through his sacraments, through gathered worship, Christ again and again testifies to all who trust in him who you are in him.

And some of us do a terrible job believing his testimony about us.

On one level it is understandable. We see ourselves … and his claims just seem so implausible. We feel our guilt, so we wonder if we are forgiven. We know the sin in our heart, and so we wonder if it could ever be uprooted. We know the treachery in our heart, so we wonder if we have any real part in the body, the bride, of Christ. We feel shame and so we wonder if we are really cleansed. We feel hopeless, so we wonder if the hope Christ promises can be true for us.

We might wonder if Simon Peter felt the same thing. We know from other Gospel accounts how unstable his faith and emotions and character were. If he had any self-awareness, what might he have thought when Jesus re-named him “Rock”?

Interestingly, whatever he may have thought, he does not argue with Jesus here. Or if he did, John did not record it.

We often do argue though. We dispute with Jesus – at least in our hearts. He tells us we are forgiven, and we dispute it. He tells us he is at work in us, and we doubt him. He tells us we belong to him and we question him.

For some people, the most difficult testimony to believe is Christ’s testimony about who you are and who you will be in him.

Which parts of what Jesus says about your status and future in him do you doubt? Which claim that he makes about you causes you to want to shake your head and say “No … that can’t be true of me …”

Maybe it’s the claim that you really are forgiven in Christ. Maybe it’s the claim that Christ really can help you repent of the sin you are struggling with. Maybe it’s the claim that you really belong among Christ’s people – that you are God’s child and a member of his family. Maybe it’s the claim that he really will take away all your shame. Maybe it’s the claim that he really will make you completely new one day.

Many of us struggle with something in what Christ testifies about who we are and who we will be in him.

Our calling though, is to believe him. He is the Christ, the Son of God, the Messiah. If he says something is true of you, it is far more true than anything you feel or see in yourself. The testimony of Jesus bears more weight than all your feelings and self-assessment combined.

And the reason that he is right and that you are wrong is not that you’re so wonderful already and you just don’t realize it.

The reason is that when Jesus identifies us, when he testifies to who we are and who we will be in him, he is declaring what he will make of us. And he is able to do what says he will do.

So, the first thing we see in our text is that Christian discipleship begins with us receiving and responding to testimony about Jesus from others.

The second thing we see is that receiving and responding to such testimony about Jesus is meant to lead to us giving testimony about Jesus to others.

Third, we see that we are called to believe the testimony of Jesus about who we are and who will be in him.

As Ian Provan reminds us, we live our lives by testimony, every minute of every day. We can’t avoid it, we can only choose which testimonies we will put our faith in, and which we will not.

Our text this morning reminds us that testimony is at the heart of Christian discipleship – at the heart of the Christian life. The Christian faith comes down, again and again, to how we will relate to different testimonies.

And so, let us be people who receive and respond to the testimony of the word of God and the people of God concerning who Jesus Christ is.

Let us be people who seek to give testimony about Jesus to those who do not yet know him – just as others gave testimony to us.

And let us be people, above all else, who hear the testimony of Jesus, about who we are in him and what he will make us to be and believe the testimony of the One who made the very cosmos – who loved us and gave himself for us.


This sermon draws on material from:

Augustine. Homilies on the Gospel of John 1-40. Translated by Edmund Hill. Edited by Allan D. Fitzgerald. The Works of Saint Augustine. Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2009.

Beal, Lissa A Wray. “1-2 Kings as Historiography” in “Introduction” in 1 & 2 Kings. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Vol. 9. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014.

Brown, Raymond E. The Gospel According to John. vol.1. Anchor. New York, NY: Doubleday, 1966.

Carson, D.A. The Gospel According to John. PNTC. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1991.

Michaels, Ramsey J. The Gospel of John. NICNT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2010.

Provan, Ian. “Knowing and Believing” in “Behind” the Text. Edited by Craig G. Bartholomew, C. Stephen Evans, Mary Healy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.