It’s easy to get John the Evangelist mixed up with John the Baptist, especially when we read a passage from John’s Gospel that describes John the Baptist as an evangelist! But that is what we have in front of us today. Last week, we heard Matthew’s version of the Baptism of Jesus. This week, our story takes us to the day after Jesus is baptized. John the Baptist notices Jesus walking down the street, and points out the Lamb of God to a handful of his own disciples. John shares his own experiences of the day before, and his disciples take off after Jesus. What happens next reminds me of one of those spy shows, where a professional spy is being tailed by someone, and suddenly turns to confront the follower. In this story, there isn’t a car chase, and we don’t see any hand-to-hand combat. This confrontation turns into an invitation. Three simple actions, expressed in two questions and an answer, show us how to share our faith with others and point them toward Jesus. Hear the Word of the Lord, from the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 29-42:
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).
There is a subtle pattern that runs through this passage. It 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. 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 changed. He becomes Simon Peter.
Notice, Share, Invite: Three simple actions. According to Luther Seminary professor David Lose, this is the essence of evangelism. He writes, “At its heart, evangelism is noticing what God is doing in our lives, sharing that with others, and inviting them to come and see for themselves.” So why do we find it so hard to think of ourselves as evangelists? Why are we so afraid of spreading the Good News to others?
Maybe part of our fear comes from the fact that we just don’t notice God at work in our lives. Think about it for a moment: how have you experienced Christ? How have you noticed God working in you, or in the life of the church? How has your life changed since you met Jesus? And if you don’t see God at work, why not?
John saw Jesus, and openly declared: “Here comes the Lamb of God, the One who takes away the sin of the entire world!” That’s quite a proclamation! But 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? What did they really want to find? 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?
If we are to find God, to notice God working around and among us, we need to know what we are looking for. The direction of our gaze is important. We may be looking in all the wrong places, noticing all the wrong things, and miss the Kingdom of God if we do not keep our focus on Jesus himself. I used to tell music students, “Listening is paying attention to what you hear.” There is sound all around us all the time, so we need to be careful how we filter that sound, how we decide what needs our attention. The same is true as we look for God at work: we need to pay attention to what we see.
Let me give you some examples.
During Advent, some of us went caroling one Sunday afternoon. It was really cold, so our group was small, but we represented people of every age from seven to eighty-seven. As we stopped to sing at several homes, we were met with hugs, tears, smiles, and gratitude. The people who heard us sing were deeply moved, and the people who did the singing saw some folks they hadn’t seen for years, or – in some cases – had never met. This is God at work.
Every third Wednesday, some of us meet up at Ridgeway on 23rd, to sing old familiar hymns with residents of the memory care unit. As we sing, people who can no longer read remember all the words to “Amazing Grace” and “The Old Rugged Cross.” We say the Lord’s Prayer together, with one voice. This is God at work.
On Wednesday nights, people come here to eat a warm, tasty, nutritious meal together. Children learn Bible stories, Confirmation students dig into what it means to be a Christian, and teenagers talk about their concerns with trusted leaders, while adults meet to study God’s Word together. God is at work.
Once a month, I meet with other pastors over lunch, as we pray for one another and for our churches. Some of these pastors come from denominations that do not recognize the authority of women in the pulpit, yet these men welcome me, pray for me, and pray for you and our ministry together. This is God at work.
We need to notice it, and call attention to it, just as John called attention to the Lamb of God, walking toward him. Jesus asks, “What are you looking for?” of us, just as surely as he asked it of those two disciples who left John and followed him down the road. So, what are you looking for? Take a moment, and write down one way you’ve seen God working in your life, or in the life of this congregation lately. Go ahead. I’ll wait…
God is at work now, just as he was at work when Jesus asked those two disciples, “What are you looking for?” Their answer 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. The scripture isn’t explicit, but 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.
What is your story? I’m not talking about your church history, but your personal experience of Christ changing you. 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.
What’s your ‘elevator speech,’ the one you could tell on the way up to the third floor if someone getting into the elevator with you asked, “Why are you a Christian?” Maybe you aren’t ready to give an entire speech, but we often have opportunities to share how God is working in our lives. If we don’t practice telling those stories, the opportunities may fly past us. Maybe we’re nervous about sharing our faith stories because we’ve never done it. The only way to learn how to do something is to practice. So, let’s practice for a minute. Turn to someone next to you, and tell each other one reason why you like coming to church here. Go ahead, I’ll wait…
That wasn’t so hard, was it? 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 the one thing that excites you, the one reason you like to come to church, or the one way you have noticed God working in your life. And when we share that good news, we want the person listening to us to come be part of it, 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 tell them. He 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, whom he had just met, 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. What is it about being part of this church that really gives you joy? Who do you know that needs some of that? If you don’t know anyone outside this church, how can you remedy that situation?
You may be surprised to learn this, but seven years ago, I was classified as an introvert. I did not spend time with anyone outside of church or the Christian school where I taught. I would much rather eat lunch at my desk than in a noisy restaurant with a table full of people, all talking at the same time.
And this bothered me. How could I share the Good News, how could I call myself a minister of the Gospel, if I insulated myself from the very people who needed to hear that Gospel? So I prayed about it. And slowly, I started to notice how God was working on me, putting people in my path that I would have ignored before, but who needed to talk with someone about their questions and their doubts. As I shared this awareness of how God was working in me with others, I discovered that I was not alone. And I realized that, for me, being an evangelist is not buttonholing strangers on the street and asking them if they know where their souls will go when they die. It isn’t demanding that they make a decision on the spot and pray the Sinner’s Prayer after I have eloquently explained the plan of salvation. That isn’t the way Jesus worked, and it isn’t the way most of us are wired to work, though some may find those methods effective.
But I can do this: I can notice God at work in me and around me. I can share those experiences with others, and I can invite them to be part of what God is doing.
Notice, share, invite.
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 reach out to people who don’t know him yet, people who are looking for Jesus, even if they aren’t sure that God is the one they are seeking, and we can invite them to come and see Jesus at work among us, changing us, loving us, giving us life.
Or maybe that person is you. 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. Let me invite you to come and see Jesus. Amen.