Message Monday: Training the Twelve – Nathanael Bartholomew and Simon the Zealot: Disciples of Preference (John 01:44-51

05 Mar


  • Today as we begin I want to share with you a short parable I wrote.
  • The parable takes place in the church of the discontent.
  • The church had a number of groups that comprised its membership.
    • There were the clappers who believed every occasion was one to clap hands in praise to the Lord and the anti-clappers who believed it more spiritual to be moved quietly.
    • There were the ameners who desired to vocally affirm every godly point and the anti-ameners who desired to meditate on the words spoken.
    • There were the suit and tie folk, always dressed in their best for the Lord and the come as you are folk, dressed in everyday clothes because God is an everyday God.
    • There were technophiles who loved screens in worship and technophobes who loved the touch and feel of hymnals and bibles.
    • The list could go on and on, because in this church was every type of preference one could imagine.
  • Into this church of the discontent walked a man one day that disturbed every expectation.
    • Rather than a suit and tie or the hipster clothes of the come as you are folk he wore a Galilean robe and worn leather sandals.
    • There were times when he “cracked the whip” to remind people to pray and times when he wept over the lost as others still were shouting hosanna.
    • Though he never used a screen or a hymnal the miraculous seemed to surround him, and he enjoyed speaking at length about the mundane passages from God’s Word.
  • What do you think the church of the discontent did to this man?
    • Did they welcome him into their midst and learn to enjoy the fresh ways he led them in worship?
    • Did they become convicted or how sinful it was to allow their preferences to drive them to discontent rather than to worship?
    • No, the church of the discontent decided to confront this man and refused to receive Him.


  • Friends, did you identify with any of those preference groups above? There are many more preferences that we could identify, but I believe you get the picture.
  • Our enemy wants to use our preferences to distract us from serving the Lord and to divide us over non-essential issues.
  • Preferences do not affect whether or not we…
    • believe the Bible is God’s holy, authoritative, infallible, inspired and inerrant Word,
    • believe in our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three persons one God,
    • believe that sin separates us from God, and because it infects every human soul, every person is worthy of God’s just judgement and condemnation
    • believe that God chose to save through Jesus Christ’s substitutionary death in our place, washing our sins away with his precious blood
    • believe that for sinners to be saved, they must adopt an attitude of repentance from sin and self and faith towards Christ, following Him alone
    • or believe that our mission as believers is to glorify God by making disciples for Jesus Christ everywhere we go.
  • Preferences help us to reach different kinds of people for the Lord Jesus Christ, but preferences can lead to hurt feelings, broken relationships, and even more distasteful acts.
  • Today, we need to discover how God can utilize our preferences and how we can guard against the enemy’s influence over our preferences through examining the lives of two disciples of preference – Nathaneal Bartholemew and Simon the Zealot.

Message Points:

  • To begin with, you may be asking yourself, didn’t we already hear that Philip and Nathaneal were friends? Why were they not considered together?
    • I chose to consider Nathaneal and Simon together for two reasons.
    • First, they both were disciples of preference. Nathaneal would have preferred a Messiah that did not come from Nazareth. Simon preferred to have nothing to do with Rome.
    • Second, these two disciples were from the little village of Cana, where Jesus performed his first miracle.
  • Cana, as a village was off the beaten path from the rest of Galilee – on purpose.
    • The village’s Hebrew name means zealous, which ordinarily is a righteous activity.
    • The Scriptures in John 2:17 quotes a Scripture from Psalm 69:9 telling us that zeal for the God’s house consumed Jesus.
    • The positive connotation of zeal for the Lord was likely why the village would bear such a name.
    • Perhaps like the mill villages that sprung up all over the Upstate of South Carolina, Cana was a village that offered people the Israelite version of the American dream.
    • 1st Kings 4:25 defines that dream. Listen to the verse, “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba lived in safety, everyone under their own vine and under their own fig tree.”Figs
      • Every Israelite would have gone to Jerusalem three times a year for the feasts.
      • But Cana promised that apart from those times when zeal for God’s house should consume you, you can live the Israelite’s dream.
      • Each person could have their own private Garden of Eden.
        • That is the meaning behind the reference to sitting under vine and their own fig tree.
        • That was a symbol of prosperity, to sit under them and enjoy their fruits.
  • Galilee where Cana was located was a region looked down upon by most Jews.
    • The Romans had built several towns in the Galilee, one of which was Sepphoris.
      • That city was a combination of Jews loyal to Rome and the new Roman and Herodian population. The culture was extensively Greco-Roman.
      • Around the time of Jesus the Herod’s invested a great deal of money into the city so that it could become the “Ornament of Galilee” on a major trade route and respectable by Roman standards.
      • It was so close to Nazareth that local tradesmen, like carpenters and builders from that village would likely have been recruited to build the town.
      • Sepphoris was so solidly Roman that its people did not join the Jewish Revolt in AD 66.
    • On the other hand, Galilee was also the home of Judas the Galileean who founded the Zealot movement. We read about him in Acts 5:37.
      • Like the Pharisees the zealots interpreted the Scriptures literally. But they were looking for a Messiah who would come as a conquering king.
      • Since only God should rule over them as king, and thus they believed they were serving God by eradicating any Roman or sympathizers.
      • The inhabitants of Sepphoris and anyone who built the city would be branded traitors worthy of death by the zealots.
      • The Zealots lead an insurrection in AD 6 from Galilee against the Romans.
      • While quickly put down, the Zealots were undeterred. They formed into cells of secret assassins called “sicarii” or “dagger men”, terrorizing the region by slicing the throats or stabbing enemies of israel.
      • It was the Zealots during the Jewish Revolt that refused to allow negotiations with Rome at the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Titus the Roman general decided to destroy the city largely because of their refusal to negotiate.
      • The Zealot movement began in Galilee over a preference for self-rule, and certainly there were many from Cana who identified with the sentiment.
  • Let’s begin by examining Simon the Zealot. We only read of him in Scripture in the lists of the Twelve. Apart from that we know little about him.
    • In Matthew 10:4 and Mark 3:18 Simon is called the Canaanite in older translations and in more modern translations they gloss over the original word simply calling him Zealot. The original language word means “of Cana”, which is important because it gives us the location of his hometown.
    • In Luke 6:15 he directly given the title “the Zealot”. The fact that all his life this is how he was known makes the point that Simon was not only a part of that group, but well known for the affiliation.
    • By his hometown, we can be sure that Simon had the same preferences as his fellow Galileans and Canaanites. By his tile, we can know that Simon was willing to insist upon those preferences with violence and even death.
  • John’s gospel is the only one to mention Nathanael by that name, and only John records any events that give us a window into his life.nathanael
    • In the synoptic gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke this disciple receives the name Bartholomew.
    • That name means “son of Tolmai”. Nathanael means “God has given”. Nathanael Bartholomew is one of the disciples for whom we know his Frist and last name.
    • It is in John 21:2 that we read that Nathanael was from Cana in the Galilee.
    • He too had similar preferences as those of his home region and town. Just notice what he said in John 1:46.
      • His disdain for Nazareth was not because he was in a bigger or more illustrious village.
      • They were likely the same size and Nazareth may have even been bigger.
      • But Nazareth was on the main Roman road. It was seen as a sympathetic town to Rome, because of the day laborers to Sepphoris.
      • Phillip, who did not leave out any details, told Nathanael who Jesus’ adoptive father was, Joseph.
      • With the proximity of the towns and the fact that Jesus would perform his first miracle impromptu as a guest at a wedding likely meant that Nathanael even knew the family.
      • Verse 50 tells us that Phillip had found Nathanael under his fig tree. Remember the symbol of the Israelite dream? To sit under your own vine and fig tree. Nathanael was likely also looking down on Nazareth because those were common working folk. People living in Cana were living the Israelite dream.
      • Nathanael could not imagine the Messiah coming from the Roman-sympathizing village of Nazareth, much less from that poor, disgraceful Jewish family.
  • This leads us to recognize our first point – preferences that become expectations prejudice us against Christ (John 1:44-46).
    • Remember we are not talking about essentials of our faith. We should expect that believers among other essentials will trust the Bible, want to worship our Triune God, look to Jesus alone for salvation, and seek to make disciples by spreading his gospel.
    • A good guide to know what we see as essential beliefs for members of this church is our statement of faith. A statement of faith gives us the boundary between essential beliefs of a congregation and areas of preference.
      • Those issues explicitly spoken of in the statement of faith are ones that we should insist upon as essentials of our faith.
      • We should only have as essentials those beliefs that we can clearly agree that Scripture teaches.
      • Those issues no spoken of in the statement of faith are ones that are areas of preference where we should not insist, but give grace.
      • In areas of preference, we follow Paul’s discussion in Romans 14 which reminds us that we should not judge a servant of God, nor become a stumbling block for a brother.
    • If we begin to insist upon our preferences, expecting that we can fellowship only with people who share them, we will become prejudiced, not only against others, but against Christ.
      • Listen to this quote by Andy Davis in his book Revitalize. He is speaking about worship, but I believe it applies to many other areas of preference.
        • “God likes more forms of worship than you do. Along with that [comes] a helpful corollary: it is good for you to worship in forms that you do not like – but that God does.”
        • Let me also share my similar statement. God loves all kinds of people and Christ died for them all. It is good for us to appreciate and fellowship will all kinds of people that we not at first appreciate – but that God does.
  • When we begin to refuse to worship or fellowship with others who genuinely seek God, but do so in ways or from backgrounds that we do not prefer, we have prejudiced ourselves against the work of Christ.
  • John MacArthur says in his biography of Nathanael, “Prejudice is ugly. Generalization based on feelings of superiority, not on fact, can be spiritually debilitating. Prejudice cuts a lot of people off from the truth. As a matter of fact, much of the nation of Israel rejected their Messiah because of prejudice.”
  • So how do we correct this error?
    • The seeds for the correction are ones we have already seen.
      • Phillip appeals to Nathanael that Jesus, as unlikely as it seems, fulfills the prophecies of Scripture. In other words Phillip appeals to what he and Nathanael agree are essential.
      • Then Phillip says in verse 1:46 responding to Nathanael’s expression of prejudice “Come and see”. This         at its core is a call to come and experience Jesus.
      • It is with essential beliefs and personal experiences that the Holy Spirit can govern our preferences for God’s glory.
      • The same is true for Simon the Zealot. In the Matthew and Mark he is listed just before Judas Iscariot.
        • This may have been a way of showing         just how unlikely a follower Simon was.
        • Many would have expected that Simon would betray Jesus when he submitted to a Roman trial and cross rather than overthrow them all.
        • But remember what the name Simon means? Simon means “listener”. Simon the Zealot evidently heard the Scripture and listened to his own personal experiences with Jesus and his own preferences were brought under the control of a greater Master.
  • This leads us to consider our 2nd point: Jesus wants us to prefer Him above anything or anyone (John 1:47-48).
    • Nathanael knew that the Scriptures taught that everyone should submit to the Messiah. Jesus simply had to prove himself to be the Messiah for Nathanael to follow Him.
      • Notice that Jesus calls out to Nathanael first. He says to him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
      • First, notice that Jesus appeals to his greatest hope – to live the Israelite dream. Jesus says he is truly and Israelite.
      • Second, notice that Jesus appeals to one of the greatly honored qualities of an Israelite, sincere belief.
        • Remember that Jesus had another word for the official religious leaders of Israel – He called them hypocrites.
        • In speaking to Nathanael he said that his belief was sincere.
        • Paul too spoke of this in Romans 2:28-2928 “A person is not a Jew who is one only outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. 29 No, a person is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a person’s praise is not from other people, but from God.”
    • Friends, sincere belief is just as necessary today for salvation as it was for every Jew throughout history.
      • Coming to church will not save you.
      • Being baptized will not save you.
      • Sharing your faith will not save you.
      • Living our American dream will not save you.
      • Only through sincere belief in Jesus Christ can you be saved.
        • You might ask how can I have that sincere belief, or what must change in me?
        • First, you must change your attitude about yourself and your sin. You must repent or turn away from your way of living.
        • Second, you must change your attitude about Christ. You must have faith that He alone can save you, and that you will follow what He alone says for the rest of your life.
        • Only then will your life change, and every preference will fade away so that only Jesus and His way remains.
    • Notice that this exclusivity concerning Christ is exactly what Jesus proves to Nathanael, and to every believer.
      • Nathanael responds to Jesus by saying, “How do you know me?”
      • Jesus then gives Nathanael a window into who He really is. He does something that only God can do. He tells Nathanael where he was, and what he was doing all from his divine omniscience.
      • Jesus wants Nathanael to know for sure that he alone has the exclusive power to save sinners.
      • Do you believe that? Do you know that to be true? If not take just a moment and ask Jesus to prove to you that he alone can save sinners.
  • Finally then, we must turn to the change in Nathanael.
    • Look at how he responds. He immediately changes and calls Jesus not only Rabbi, but Son of God and King of Israel. There is no hint of his preference for a Messiah from somewhere else.
    • Jesus then tells him that he will see greater things than these. He then adds a reference to Jacob’s experience in Genesis 28:12.
      • Remember that Jacob is the original Israelite. God renames him that.
      • On his journey of faith God showed up to him in a dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending from Heaven. Jacob was so moved that he said “If God will be with me and watch over me, then the Lord will be my God!”
      • By quoting this passage, Jesus says to Nathanael, everything else that you will experience, know that I am with you and watching over you, and I will bring you home to heaven with me.
  • This is our 3rd point: If we prefer Jesus, everything we experience will increases our faith (John 1:49-50).
    • Tradition tells us that Nathanael, far from allowing his preferences to become prejudices went to minister in Persia, India and finally to Armenia. There, perhaps on the shores of the Black Sea or the Caspian, Nathaneal was tied up in a sack and cast into the sea according to one tradition or crucified according to another. Perhaps both are true as he was crucified and then his body disgracefully disposed of.
    • Similarly tradition tells us that Simon the Zealot traveled to Mauritania in Africa and then all the way to the British Isles, spreading the gospel amongst these heavily Roman areas. It was there that he was crucified never flinching in his conviction that Jesus died to save all sinners.


  • My prayer friends is that we will not become the church of the discontent, but continue as church of grace and love.
  • How appropriate it is to be sharing this message after watching Billy Graham’s funeral.
    • Of the words spoken Ruth Graham, Billy’s daughter caught my attention.
    • She shared how difficult it was to disappoint her parents, and how she would have preferred to never have done so.
    • She shared how she had experienced two difficult divorcees and dreaded going home to see her parents.
    • She said that her father was not God, but he taught her more about God on that afternoon than she had ever learned.
    • He met her on the last bend of the driveway, and went first to embrace her, and welcome her home.
  • Friends, no matter what amount of sin or suffering you have experienced, our God wants to embrace you and welcome you home.
  • He is waiting for you, will you turn to him, away from your preferences or prejudices, and to his amazing love?


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Posted by on March 5, 2018 in Ministry of the Word


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