Kindled Hope: Following Jesus – Sermon on John 1:29-42 (and 6:56-69)

 

March 6, 2016

Welcome to the New Testament! We managed to condense those four hundred years of prophetic silence between the last writings of the Old Testament and the birth of Christ into a single week! And since we heard the story of Jesus’ birth back in December, we’re skipping ahead about thirty years to the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee. This week, our story takes us to the day after Jesus is baptized. The hope that was kindling at the end of the last chapter in God’s story has caught flame in this new chapter. The kingdom of God is breaking into our world.

Here’s the scene: John the Baptist notices Jesus walking down the street, and points out the Lamb of God to a handful of his own disciples. John tells them about his own experiences of baptizing Jesus the day before, and his disciples take off after Jesus.

The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). – John 1:29-42

This story gives us three simple actions that point people to Jesus. First, John the Baptist notices Jesus. Second, he shares his experience with his own disciples. Then, John invites his disciples to follow their new teacher, and their lives are forever changed. The pattern is repeated as Andrew and the other disciple notice Jesus, they share time with him, and then Andrew shares his experience with his brother, Simon. Finally, Andrew invites his brother to follow Christ, and Simon is forever changed. He becomes Simon Peter.

Notice, Share, Invite: This sums up what we are to do as followers of Jesus Christ. We notice what God is doing in our lives, we share that God news with others, and we invite them to come and see Jesus for themselves.

John saw Jesus, and openly declared: “Here comes the Lamb of God, the One who takes away the sin of the entire world!” John had experienced something his disciples apparently had not, and he was eager to tell them about that experience. So, John told them what he had seen: the Spirit of God coming down from heaven like a dove, and resting on Jesus. John affirmed the identity of Jesus to these disciples. He said, “I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” John noticed. He saw with his own eyes, and he recognized what he saw. This was the Son of God, the One he’d been waiting for, the One he’d been preparing for.

In order to notice God at work among us, we have to be looking for it. As John’s disciples went after Jesus, his first words to them were “What are you looking for?” They had noticed Jesus, thanks to John, but his question must have brought them up short. What were they looking for?

Jesus asks the same question later in his ministry, when John sends messengers to Jesus from his prison cell to ask, “Are you the One? Or should we look for another?” After Jesus sends the messengers back to John with the words, “Go tell John what you see and hear. The blind see, the lame walk, and the poor have good news preached to them,” Jesus goes on to ask the crowd, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? A prophet?”

In other words, what are you looking for? How do you see God working around you? Noticing God at work requires our gaze to be pointed in the right direction. Jesus asks us, “What are you looking for?” just as surely as he asked it of those two disciples who left John and followed him down the road.

Their reply points to that second action – sharing. “Where are you staying, Teacher?” they wanted to know. The day before, their allegiance had been to John the Baptist, but once he had shared what he had seen when Jesus was revealed to him as the Lamb of God, there was no going back. John told them everything he had experienced, everything he knew about Jesus. Their response was a desire to know where Jesus was staying, where he was living, where they could count on finding him again and again. They wanted to share in that “abiding” with Jesus.

We are given the detail that it was about four in the afternoon when these two disciples met Jesus face to face. This would have been late enough in the day that it’s quite possible the disciples stayed with Jesus overnight, talking, listening, sharing life with their new teacher. Then, Andrew found his brother, and shared the news with Simon that “we have found the Messiah.” Andrew noticed; then he shared. He told Simon his story, just as John had told Andrew and the other disciple the story of recognizing Jesus as the Son of God.

John talked about what he had seen with his own eyes, and he didn’t mind repeating himself. Andrew was eager to tell his brother Simon about Jesus. When John the Baptist shared his story, he only needed a few sentences. When Andrew shared with his brother, Simon, he only needed one: “We have found the Messiah.”

It doesn’t take very many words to tell someone else about one thing that excites you, one reason you like to come to church, or one way you have noticed God working in your life. What is your story? I’m not talking about your church history, but your personal experience of Christ changing you. When your life gets turned right side up by Jesus, you want to tell someone about it. You want them to experience that same transformation, too.

That brings us to the third simple action: invitation. John the Baptist invited his own disciples to follow their new teacher when he pointed Jesus out to them and said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God I was telling you about yesterday.” When Jesus caught them following him and asked what they were looking for, Andrew and his friend asked, “Where are you staying?” Jesus didn’t bring up the map app on his phone and show them how to get there. He just said, “Come and see.” It was a little invitation, but it changed everything.

Jesus invited them into his life, and they followed him home. Then Andrew invited his brother to come and see the Messiah, and when Simon went with Andrew to meet Jesus, he was changed. He became “Peter.” It was a little invitation, but it changed everything.

Christ invites us to invite others. It can be a little invitation. But it can have a huge impact on the ones we invite to join us as Christ-followers. It can change everything. What is it about following Jesus that really gives you joy? Who do you know that needs some of that?

Notice, share, invite. It sounds simple, but it isn’t always easy. Following Jesus can be costly.

Later on in John’s gospel, we find that some of those who initially accepted the invitation had a hard time sticking with Jesus when he challenged them to go all in. For them, the cost was too high.

In John 6, Jesus describes himself as the Bread of Life, and he invites all who would live into the full reality of eternal life to take him into themselves, to feed on him. The disciples aren’t too sure about this idea. “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” they wonder.

But Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” …

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Some turned away, even after they had been invited, even after they had appeared to accept the invitation. The problem was an issue of trust. When it came down to it, they didn’t trust Jesus to be who he said he was, the Son of God.

The Greek word John uses to describe faith, or trust, is always a verb, never a noun. Faith is not something you have but something you do. Believing is an action, not a thing. And what is it we are asked to believe? Peter gets it right this time: that Jesus is the Son of God. What’s more, God loves you so much, he sent Jesus to die for your sins.

Maybe you think you aren’t someone God could love that much. Maybe it’s easy to imagine that God loves the world, but when it comes down to you, personally, you think you aren’t really worthy of God’s love. You can’t imagine how God could love someone like you, and you aren’t sure you want to trust him.

But there comes a moment when you must decide. You have to choose between trusting Jesus, or leaving him. You have to decide to go all in, or get out. Many of the disciples who had been following Jesus up to this point in the story “turned back and no longer went about with him.” They decided they couldn’t handle being a true disciple of Jesus. They couldn’t trust him to be who he said he was, to give what he promised.

So they left. When the picture of discipleship Jesus painted got too graphic for their tastes, they turned away. When his words upset the comfortable and familiar way they thought things ought to be, they gave up. It was too hard. Not too hard to understand, but too hard for them to accept.

So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

This is the first time in John’s gospel that he names the closest followers of Jesus as “the Twelve.” These are the ones who have been called out, the ones he had noticed, shared his life with, and invited personally into his ministry. They are the ones who started following him before they knew what they were getting into.

As the others leave, Jesus turns to his best friends and gives them an out. If they think the road is going to be too rough, now is the time to bail. Now is the moment when they must choose. Jesus looks around the group as he waits for their decision. He already knows that one of them, Judas, will eventually betray him. But Peter has the answer. Peter has noticed God at work in the person of Jesus. Peter has noticed how his own life has changed as he shared time with Jesus, and Peter has accepted the only invitation that matters. He says,

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Peter knew that he had found the source of all meaning in life. He knew that nowhere else would he ever find the words of eternal life. He had come to believe and know that there was no where else to go, no one else who could take the place of Jesus in his life. He realized that he had no hope, except in giving himself completely to Jesus.

Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” Are you looking for grace and forgiveness? Are you looking for eternal life? Are you looking for an abiding and deep connection with the God who created you just so he could love you?

The disciples asked, “Where are you staying?” Finding Jesus means finding the One we can depend on to remain with us, to stay with us, to share life and to change us through that experience.

And, together with Jesus, we can invite people who are looking for God, even if they aren’t sure that God is the one they are seeking, to come and see Jesus at work among us, changing us, loving us, giving us life.

Or maybe you are the one looking for Jesus. Maybe you are the one who needs assurance that he is with you, that your sins are forgiven, that God loves you and invites you to become his own beloved child.

If that’s you, let me invite you to know the Word who became flesh. Let me invite you to ask forgiveness of your sins, and to rest assured that Jesus loves you so much, he died for you, so that you could have eternal life, rich and full, beginning now.

Then you can stand with Peter and say, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” As a follower of Jesus, you then will be ready to notice God at work, share with others what you have experienced yourself, and invite them to “Come and see.”

So, come.

This sermon was adapted from two earlier sermons: “Come and See” –  on John 1:29-42 (1-18-2014) and “To whom can we go?” on John 6:56-69 (8-23-2015).

 

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