Tag: andrew

Sermon: Seeing Greater Things

Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow from John 1:43-51 about Jesus calling Nathanael.  There’s a great story from David Augsburger’s book at the end. I hope you have a wonderful Lord’s day!

Seeing Greater Things

John 1:43-51

43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.45Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

 46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. 
      “Come and see,” said Philip.

 47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

 48“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. 
      Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

 49Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

 50Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

A Skeptic Gets The Call

In today’s passage, we read the story of the second group of disciples that Jesus calls to follow him.  The first group according to John’s account, consisted of Andrew who immediately found his brother Peter saying, “We have found the Messiah.”  

The next day, Jesus finds Phillip, who like Andrew and Peter is also from the fishing village of Bethsaida.  Phillip in turn runs to find Nathanael.  The exchange goes like this:

Phillip to Nathanael: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

Nathanael (with a scowl on his face): “Nazareth! Can any good thing come from there?”

Phillip: “Come and see.”

Nathanael, who is called Bartholomew by the other gospel writers, follows Phillip reluctantly.  When they approach Jesus, Jesus himself calls out so that all around can hear:

“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing to hide.”  

To Nathanael, this sounds like a sales pitch.  Like someone is trying to butter him up.  Like a very insincere greeting.  It must have because Nathanael doesn’t say, “Thank you.”  Or “Please, don’t go on so. I’m just a fisherman.” Or anything.  Instead he asks Jesus a question that is loaded with skepticism:

“How do you know me?”  Now let me translate this from the original Greek for those of you who might not get the exact meaning.  Nathanael is really saying, “You don’t know anything about me, why are you flattering me?”

For Nathanael it was kind of like meeting someone at a party whom you have never seen, who starts telling you about your house, and your kids, and your job, and what the neighbors are saying about you.  How do you know me?  Where did you get all that?

I am sure Nathanael expected Jesus to be caught off guard.  After all, who doesn’t like a compliment?  And, most people are polite, even if the person praising them is overdoing it a bit.

Not Nathanael.  He puts Jesus on the spot.  But he’s not prepared for Jesus’ answer.  Rather than stumbling around, Jesus says, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Phillip called you.”  

(“Oh.  Oh, wow!”)  Because about that time, Nathanael is remembering that he was stretched out under the shade of a gigantic fig tree, taking a nap when Phillip interrupted him.

Nathanael’s brain is now working overtime.  Quickly he calculates all the people he remembers passing him as he rested under the fig tree:  

(“Well, there was an old woman with a water jar.  A noisy kid with a stick running and hitting rocks on the path.  An old man shuffling back to his home.  That was it!  No one else could have seen me.  How in the world does this Yeshua guy know I was under the fig tree?  My own family didn’t know where I was.  Wait.  No.  Yes.  NO!  YES!  The Holy One, blessed be his name, told him.  Wait.  That makes Jesus…what?….the Messiah!”)  

And all of a sudden without thinking further, Nathanael’s skepticism falls from him like a cast off coat, and he blurts out, “Rabbi….you…you are the Son of God, you…you are the King of Israel!”  

Now the tables are turned.  Jesus is clearly in charge of this conversation now.  He speaks to Nathanael, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.  You shall see greater things that that.”  

Then, after a pause, Jesus adds, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

One Story Leads To Another

End of story.  Except what in the world does it mean?  What could Nathanael see that would be more amazing than Jesus telling him where he had been only a few hours before?  And how had Jesus done that?  It had to be God, so at least Nathanael had settled that question.  

But now Jesus is saying, “You think that was amazing? You haven’t seen anything yet.”  And then Jesus says three very interesting things.  

Jesus could have stopped at any one of these sentences —

  • “You’re going to see heaven opened.”  That would be amazing, but he keeps going.
  • “And angels ascending and descending.” Remember angels?  Every time they appear people are afraid and fall down.  That’s amazing, but he keeps going.
  • “On the Son of Man.”  Jesus here means himself, but how can angels ascend and descend on him?  

Here’s where Nathanael has us beat.  Remember when Jesus said of Nathanael, “Here’s a true Israelite in whom there is nothing to hide?”  

I don’t think Jesus ever calls anybody else an “Israelite.”  There was no Israel anymore.  That was Old Testament.  The northern tribes, gone since 721 BC.   Now they all lived in Judea.  Or Galilee. Or Samaria.  But, not in Israel.  

But, remember where the name “Israel” came from?  God gave it to Jacob after Jacob wrestled with God one night.  Okay, stay with me now because the payoff is coming.

Jacob, remember, was the son of Isaac, who was the son of Abraham.  That’s how God always identified himself.  “I am the God of your fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

But Jacob, before he wrestled with God, had a dream one night.  He had cheated his brother, Esau, out of his birthright, and had fled from his homeland to escape Esau’s anger.  Actually, Esau wanted to kill him.  

One night as Jacob is on the run, he stops to make camp.  He takes a stone and using it for a pillow, falls asleep. Which if you used a rock for a pillow might make you have strange dreams, but the dream Jacob had was a doozy.

He dreamed that he saw a stairway, a ladder, with its feet planted on the earth and the top reaching into heaven.  The angels of God were ascending and descending on it in his dream.  Then, God appears standing at the top of the ladder or staircase saying, “I am the God of Abraham and of Isaac.”  But not of Jacob.  

Then God makes the same promise to Jacob that God made to Abraham and Isaac.  “Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and I’m going to give you the land on which you are lying.”  Now, at that point, God becomes the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob because God has now made the same covenant with Jacob that he made with Abraham and Isaac.  

Jacob wisely, and fearfully, recognizes that God is in that place.  He takes the rock that was his pillow and uses it to make an altar.  He pronounces the name of the place, Bethel, which means “house of God.”  And, he worships God there.  

Jacob is so overcome he remarks, “This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”  He had seen heaven opened.  

The New Jacob’s Ladder

When we were in the youth department at our church, we sang,

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder,we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, we are climbing Jacob’s ladder, soldiers of the cross.”  

And that’s it.  The new Jacob’s ladder, the new connection between heaven and earth is Jesus.  The angels will ascend or descend based on the word of Jesus.  The will of God will be done “on earth, as it is in heaven” because of the work of Jesus.  The connection between heaven and earth that was severed with man’s disobedience has been restored in Jesus.

No longer is heaven off-limits, or earth a struggling chaotic mass.  Now heaven and earth are again joined.  And they are joined by Jesus.  

The cross that is planted so firmly on Calvary’s hill reaches into the heavens.  God meets his people on that ladder which only Jesus can climb.  God meets his people in person.  Renewing the covenant, embracing the fallen, choosing the scoundrels, the outcasts, the tricksters, all of whom have no chance at seeing into the gates of heaven without someone to bridge the gap.  

The Ladder At Work Today

So, how does this new Jacob’s ladder, a.k.a. Jesus, work today?  Most of us haven’t seen any angels coming and going, or had any dreams of stairways to heaven.  

In his wonderful book, Dissident Discipleship, Dr. David Augsburger tells this story:

David Shank, a pastor in Belgium, followed a translator into a room filled with Greek, Spanish, and Serbian miners.  At a minute’s notice, he was to tell the Christian story. 

“Fellows, would you agree to play a game with me?” he asked. “Let me try to tell you about yourselves.  If I am wrong, you stop me.  But as long as I tell the truth, you let me go on.  Agreed?”  They nodded in skeptical consent.

“You’ve never had a real chance to get ahead in life until now, so every day you risk your lives to go down into these dirty Belgian mines to give your children a better chance, right?”

“Yes, that’s right, go on.”

“So you work like a slave, day after day, so your kids won’t have to do the same.  That’s your ideal. You get paid on Saturday. You stop at the cafe for a drink or two, a few hands of cards and a couple bets, and when you get home your wife looks at what’s left of your pay and says, ‘Not enough for the week.'”

“Yeah, go on.”

“When she criticizes you, what’s even worse, you know she’s right, you get mad at her; and you lose your head and hit her?”

“Right, but how did you know?”

“Then you feel ashamed, and you ask yourself, ‘Why did I do that?”

“True.”

“Then you can’t sleep and you lie there thinking ‘My kids are no better off than before, I’ve failed them,’ And you get mad at yourself, at the filthy job, then at your wife, your kids, the whole world.  After you fume for awhile you say, ‘Next week will be different.’ So you go back to the dirty mine.”

“Yes, that’s about right.”

“And when you’re a mile or two under the earth, you start to wonder, ‘What about all the gases down here? What if there’s an explosion? What about a cave-in? What then? What about the wife and kids? What about me?’ But there’s no one to talk to about this.  You’re alone and you feel rotten.”

“Yes, that’s true.”

“Do you know how I know all this?”

“No, that’s what we want to know.  You’re no miner. How did you get to know about us?”

“I got it out of this book.”

“What book?”

“It’s called the New Testament.  It tells about our hopes and God’s hopes for us.  Do you want to hear the rest of the story?”

“Yes, tell us the rest.”

“It says that at the very point  where we fail, where we betray our ideals and we are guilty and afraid, God wants to help.  And if we accept that help, there’s hope for our children.”  (Dissident Discipleship, p171-173.)

To see hopeless lives connected to the throne room of heaven by Jesus himself is a far greater thing to see than where some skeptic is taking a nap.

We follow Jesus sometimes because we’re amazed at the mystery of God.  We should follow him because we are amazed at the miracle of God’s love.  

Sermon for Sunday, Jan 27 — “Bless The World”

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow, January 27, 2008. The lectionary reading comes from Matthew 4:12-23, where Jesus calls Peter, Andrew, James and John, to follow him and he will make them “fishers of men.” Have a great day tomorrow!

Bless The World
Matthew 4:12-23
12When Jesus heard that John had been put in prison, he returned to Galilee. 13Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali— 14to fulfill what was said through the prophet Isaiah:15“Land of Zebulun and land of Naphtali,
the way to the sea, along the Jordan,
Galilee of the Gentiles—
16the people living in darkness
have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of the shadow of death
a light has dawned.”[a]
17From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”18As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20At once they left their nets and followed him.21Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, 22and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

23Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

Our Theme for 2008

Today we’re on the third part of our three-part theme for 2008 —

  • Tell the story.
  • Invite others.
  • Bless the world.

We took the first two Sundays in this month to say we need to “tell the story.” And, here’s what we said about “telling the story:”

  1. The story we tell is the story of God.
  2. The story we tell is found in the Bible.
  3. The story we tell is accepted by some and rejected by others.
  4. The story we tell is our story, too.

Last week we talked about inviting others. Remember the key point last week? Let me remind you —

  • Andrew invited Peter after Andrew himself had met Jesus and spent the day with him.

So, here we are at the final third of our three-part theme — bless the world.

Jesus Tells the Story

Matthew tells us the story of how Jesus begins his ministry. Matthew’s perspective is a little different from Luke and from John, and includes more detail than Mark. That’s to be expected because if any four of us were asked to tell the story of a person we all knew, we would each have different memories and stories to tell.

Matthew begins by reminding us again that Jesus fulfills the prophecy of the Old Testament. This was important for Matthew’s readers, and Matthew is establishing the legitimacy of Jesus to do what he does next. And what is that?

Jesus begins to preach, or better to “tell out,”  God’s story. When we hear the word “preach” now we almost always conjure up something slightly unpleasant. Like the experience you’re having now for instance. But, back to my point. We think of someone in a pulpit talking to us in a one-way monologue that we hope ends before noon, or the Methodists get to Pino’s. (A restaurant here in our town) Or, even worse, we think of someone who is fussing at us, or correcting us, or speaking down to us. Years ago, Madonna recorded, Papa Don’t Preach, to express that exact sentiment. We don’t usually like for someone to “preach at us.” I am aware of that, by the way, and appreciate your showing up here most Sundays.

But, back to my point, again. Jesus begins to proclaim, to tell out, to make sure those he encounters hear what he has to say. And, what does he preach about? The kingdom of God.

Mark makes this very clear very early in his account when he says,

“…the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe the good news.” Mark 1:15

Jesus does what we have chosen to do this year, tell the story. But, here is how Jesus does it: Jesus tells a story his hearers aren’t ready for. Jesus tells a story too good to be true. Jesus tells a story that few believe, even though they hope it is true. Jesus tells God’s story about God’s creation.

“But, wait,” I can hear you thinking, “didn’t you just tell us that Jesus came proclaiming the kingdom of God? Now you’re saying Jesus was preaching about creation. Which is it?”

Well, it’s both because creation is tied up in the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is, broadly speaking, God’s will for God’s creation. That’s why Jesus teaches the disciples, and us, to pray,

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

The coming of the Kingdom and the doing of God’s will in His creation (on earth) are virtually one and the same. That explains why Jesus preaches, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.” The accomplishment of God’s will in God’s creation is quickly coming about.

Jesus Invites Others

Which brings us to what Jesus does next — he invites others. Matthew records the account a little differently than Luke’s Gospel, which we read last week. But, again, Matthew remembers different details than Luke does, so we don’t need to worry about that. The point is that Jesus sees Andrew and Peter casting their fishing nets and says to them,

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

Jesus also invites James and John, sons of Zebedee to come and follow him also. Are you beginning to see where I got our theme for 2008? Jesus tells the story, Jesus invites others, guess what’s next? Jesus blesses the world by

healing every disease and sickness among the people.”

But, I’m getting ahead of myself, again. Let’s back up and look at Jesus’ invitation. “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” What does that mean?

Of course, it’s obvious that Peter and Andrew were fishers of fish. They were casting fishing nets into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus sees them and calls them. They were fishermen who made their living in the world of fishing. They fed their families from their fishing. They bought new nets and boats, and possibly clothes, with the proceeds from their fishing. The houses they lived in, the sandals they wore, the offerings they gave in synagogue or at the Temple all were the result of their fishing for fish.

So, it is not small thing that Peter and Andrew leave their livelihood to follow Jesus, who promises to make them “fishers of men.” James and John also leave their father in the boat while they are mending nets to follow Jesus. If James and John were called the Sons of Thunder, do you think Zebedee was happy with their leaving him to repair nets and fish by himself? Maybe Zebedee was the Thunder that James and John were the sons of!

In any event, the inner circle of disciples — Peter, Andrew, James and John — two sets of brothers leave their livelihoods to follow Jesus to a new vocation — being fishers of men.

Fishers of men, not for men

When we read Jesus invitation, “Come and follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” we hear it probably like it was first explained to us. Instead of fishing for fish, Peter, Andrew, James, and John, are now going to fish for men. I’ve even preached entire sermons on this idea of fishing for men. Here are three points –

  1. When you fish for men, you have to go where they are.
  2. When you fish for men, you have to use the right bait.
  3. When you fish for men, you’ll land some, but some will get away.

Obviously, that is not an expository outline from this passage, but all of those ideas are inferred from the idea of being a fisherman. We take the fishing analogy and extend it to the gospel. Which makes really great preaching, but really bad Biblical exegesis and interpretation, because that is not what Jesus is saying.

In New Testament Greek, which was the common language of the civilized world at the time, there is a word for “for”, but Matthew doesn’t use it here. Matthew literally writes the words of Jesus this way –

I will make you fishers belonging to men.

Which does not mean fishers for men. So, what is Jesus saying? Something like this — “You’ve been concerned with the world of fish, now you’ll be concerned with the world of mankind.” In other words, the focus of Peter, Andrew, James and John will turn from the fishing industry, to God’s purpose for creation, mankind included.

Jesus Blesses the World

Do the words you say ever come back to haunt you? Maybe preachers have that happen to them more than most, because we talk more than most folks, publicly at least. I remember saying a long time ago in an energetic discussion with someone over healing, “Well, Jesus didn’t heal everybody!”

Matthew contradicts me in verse 23 — “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.” But wait, there’s more. Before you think, “Well, curing every disease and every sickness” is not curing “everybody” — which is a logical thing to think, Matthew goes on in verse 24 –

So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them.”

All the sick…and he cured them.

If you were deaf, don’t you think that Jesus would be good news to you ears? If you were blind, don’t you think Jesus would be good news to your eyes? If you were demon-possessed, don’t you think Jesus would be good news to you when he frees you from the chains of demonic slavery?

The word we translate as ‘gospel’ is euanggelion, literally, ‘good message’ or ‘good news.’ And the gospel has to be good news or it isn’t the gospel. It isn’t about the kingdom. It isn’t the message of Jesus. But, the good news is not what we think the good news is. That’s why we have to repent — turn around in our thinking and acting — which is what repentance means. Change our minds and our ways. Do a 180. A u-turn. An about-face.

Why? Because we often think good news would be we get to do what we want to do. We think good news would be if everyone saw the world like we do. Good news would be that I’m okay, you’re okay. But, that’s not the good news. That’s old news, and it’s neither good nor true.

Jesus came with some real good news — God’s creation is going to be what God intended all along. Thousands of years ago, it was not in the will of God, or the plan of God, that sickness would afflict humankind. So, when Jesus comes preaching good news, preaching the kingdom of God, he demonstrates that the kingdom is near by healing everyone he can. Why? Because the good news is “God keeps his promises” — Acts 13:32. Look it up, if you don’t believe me. What could be better news than that?

Because up until Jesus comes, everybody is doubting if God is even interested in them anymore. Where is God while the Roman army occupies Jerusalem? Where is God when God’s people are harassed, arrested, and killed for wanting their homeland back? Where is God when the Temple is used as a place of commerce and merchandise? Where is God when the High Priest is in the pocket of the emperor along with their own king, King Herod? Is God going to do anything? Is God going to keep His promises?

So, Matthew reminds the people that Jesus fulfills Old Testament prophecy. Then, Matthew tells the story of Jesus, who tells God’s story, then invites others into it, and then demonstrates the story by blessing the world — healing every sick person. God is keeping His promises, that’s the good news.

We bless the world, too

Last Monday, we hosted a community-wide event celebrating the life of Dr. Martin Luther King. As I greeted the group that was assembled here last Monday, I noted that, as far as I knew, this was the first time in this community that white congregations and African-American congregations had come together on Martin Luther King Day. Applause broke out when I said that, because we all realized that we had made history that day. One of the organizers of the event, Mr. Cedric Hairston, assistant principal at Dan River Middle School, and formerly at Chatham Middle School, spoke toward the close of the service.

Looking at me, and in front of the whole assembly, he said, “Your church is doing good things in this community, and people notice.” We are blessing our world by uniting our community. We are blessing our world by inviting white children and children of color into our building to study and learn, to play, and to have a safe place after school. We are blessing the world when we open our doors to little children who are learning to play music and sing. We are blessing our world when we invite teenagers into our old fellowship hall to sing, and read poetry, and talk to each other, and have an event where they get to express themselves. We are blessing the world when we support the Northern Pittsylvania Food Bank, and provide emergency relief to neighbors in our community who need food and gasoline. We are blessing the world when we literally set prisoners free from the wrong thinking that has put them behind bars, to find new life in Christ, and new skills for living, like Karen Hearn does. We are blessing the world when we visit the sick, comfort those who mourn, and care for those who need our loving care.

So, we are doing all these good things, but we must remember the first thing — We are blessing the world, and will continue to bless the world, because we have found our place in God’s story. We know God is making all things new. We tell it over and over again. And we do it by crossing the old barriers of race and class that belong to a world that does not know God. And we do it by giving away what we have, rather than hoarding it to ourselves. And we do it by thinking of others first, and ourselves last. And we do it by giving of our time and our possessions because we know that Jesus did that and more for us. This is the kingdom of God, we are God’s people, we are to be a blessing to all God’s world.

Sermon for Sunday, Jan 20, “Invite Others”

This is the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow. My apologies for posting so late in the week, but it’s been an interesting week here. Maybe I’ll tell you about it later. Until then, have a great day on Sunday!
Invite Others
John 1:29-42
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”32 Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 33 I would not have known him, except that the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”

35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.

38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

What Kind of Inviting Are We Going To Do?

For the past two Sundays, we have been talking about our theme for the year –

  • Tell the story.
  • Invite others.
  • Bless the world.

On both the first and second Sundays in this month we focused our attention on “Tell the story.” We said that the story we are to tell this year is –

  • God’s story.
  • God’s story found in the Bible.
  • God’s story found in the Bible which will be accepted by some and rejected by others.

Then, last week we talked about this story being our story, too. We said that we are not just actors on a stage, but when we find ourselves in this story of God that has been going on since before creation, we become what God intended for us to be. Our story is found in the story of God and among the people of God.

So, today we come to the second part of our theme — “Invite others.” Now, you may think you already know what I am going to say about this simple and obvious phrase — invite others. Baptists have been doing this for about 400-years now. We’ve been inviting others to our churches, and to our socials, and to our Sunday School classes, and to our church activities for as long as we can remember. And, we’re good at it. Southern Baptists are almost 16-million strong now, although Frank Page, the president of the Southern Baptist Convention says himself that we couldn’t find more than about 5-million of us on any given Sunday. That may be optimistic.

When we started our church in Greensboro in 1986, we knew we had to invite others because there weren’t many of us. So, we did. Before the days of the “do not call” list, we conducted the first church telephone campaign in the state of North Carolina to introduce folks to our church. I will tell you that after calling over 10,000 homes, all those phone calls didn’t produce a single new member for us. Lots of work, and not much to show for it.

We also mailed thousands of direct mail pieces, did door-to-door flyers, neighborhood surveys, and advertised in the Greensboro paper when we had the money to do it. We were serious about inviting others. And, we were successful by church growth standards. After three years of meeting in the convention center at the Greensboro Airport Marriott Hotel, we bought property, built a beautiful worship center, and had over 400 in attendance on the Sunday we moved in. Amy, our youngest daughter, told me this week that she found the video tape of our first service in the new building at Cornerstone.

But, that’s not the kind of inviting I’m going to talk about today. It’s not that we don’t need to do that kind of inviting, because we do. We do need to invite folks to come to Chatham Baptist Church. We do need to reach out to our friends and neighbors more than we do, and in more effective ways than we do. But that kind of inviting is like “Phase 2″ to the kind of inviting I want to talk to you about today.

The Story of John and Jesus

To understand what I mean, we have to look back at the story in our scripture reading today. Last week we looked at the baptism of Jesus from Matthew’s perspective, but John has a little different take on things. John the Gospel-writer mentions John the Baptist early in his account of the life of Jesus — verse 6 of chapter 1 to be exact.

There was a man who was sent from God; his name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe.

Pretty well sums it up, but John goes on to mention that John the Baptist was not the light himself, he just came to testify of the Light that “gives light to every” one….

You might think that after that introduction, John the Gospel-writer would then shift his focus to Jesus, but he doesn’t. He’s not through with John the Baptist yet. In the next scene in Chapter 1, John the Baptist is asked by the religious leaders who he is. Is he Elijah? Is he The Prophet?

Now why are they asking him that? Because in every Jewish home, at sabbath and at Passover, a seat was reserved at the table for the Prophet Elijah, who was expected to return before the Messiah. The same thing is true about this unnamed Prophet from the book of Deuteronomy, where Moses says –

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own brothers. You must listen to him.

So, even though the Jewish religious leaders of the first century don’t get many points for flexibility, they at least wanted to find out if John the Baptist was somebody they should listen to. And, of course, John the Baptist tells them that he is neither Elijah or The Prophet. But then he quotes another prophet, Isaiah, to say that he is the voice of one crying in the wilderness to make straight the highway for our God. Pretty significant stuff, I am sure they realized.

And then the big question from the religious leaders — “Well, if you’re not Elijah, and you’re not The Prophet, why are you baptizing?”

John then has the opportunity to talk about Jesus. He says “there is one among you, you do not know.”

Then, the next day, Jesus appears again, and John cries out –

Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.

And, John goes on to tell those gathered around that Jesus was greater than John because he came before John. Which, if you realize that John is really about 6-months or so older than Jesus doesn’t make any sense. Except that John was speaking in theological sense.

Then John says something here that no other Gospel writer records. John gives the reason for his baptizing. John says that he baptizes, not because he is Elijah, and not because he is The Prophet, but so that Jesus might be revealed to Israel. We saw that story last week. Jesus came to John to be baptized. John does so, and the heavens open, the Spirit of God descends upon Jesus, and the voice of God says, “This is my son in whom I am well-pleased.”

Jesus is revealed to Israel because John was baptizing in the wilderness. And, John tells that part of the story, too. He says, “I didn’t know this about Jesus except that the One who sent me to baptize told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is he who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’”

John then says, “I have seen and I testify that this is the son of God.”

Jesus Is The Lamb of God

Back to our story. So, when John the Baptist sees Jesus that day, and exclaims, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” those who heard him, knew what he meant.

It’s interesting that John the Gospel-writer says that “Jews from Jerusalem” came to question John the Baptist. These religious leaders were from the Temple priests, no doubt. For in Jerusalem stood this magnificent edifice, covering an immense hillside in the city. The gold grape vine and cluster of grapes that adorned the entrance to the Temple dazzled all who saw it. The white marble and stone of the temple complex appeared to those approaching the city from a distance as though the sun were rising in the sky again. The Temple was a magnificent structure.

And, each year on the Day of Atonement, the high priest would enter alone into the most sacred room of the Temple, the Holy of Holies, in which had rested the Ark of the Covenant, long since lost, but, still contained the Mercy Seat.
On the top of the Mercy Seat, the high priest would sprinkle the blood of the sacrificial lamb, a lamb without spot or blemish — as perfect as a lamb could be — to atone for the sins of the people for one more year.

In another ritual, the Scapegoat would have the sins of the people pronounced on its head, and it would be led off into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people away from the presence of God. In these two symbolic acts involving animals, the nation of Israel hoped that its sins would be forgiven and removed from the sight of God.

John proclaims that here, in their midst, is The Lamb of God, not a lamb, but The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, not just the nation of Israel, but of the entire world. This is big news, bigger than anything they had ever heard before. And, so they paid attention.

Jesus Invites His First Followers

Two who heard John that day ran after Jesus, and when Jesus heard them behind him, he stopped and asked, “What do you want?” Later in his ministry, Jesus would ask that same question of James and John, who asked then for a seat for each of them at his right and left hands. Jesus, of course, corrects them, but then turns around and asks a blind man the same thing, who replies “I want to see, again.” Jesus heals him instantly.

So, Jesus was always probing people to find out what they wanted from him. Maybe he asked these two what they wanted because they were really John’s disciples and now had run after Jesus. Maybe he wanted them to question their own motives for following him. Kind of like the religious celebrities of today, who draw crowds to their conferences. As soon as they fall out of favor, or something new comes along, the crowds run to the next celebrity of the day.

Debbie and I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee, which is called Music City USA. Quite embarassing when we were teenagers, I must admit. But now we have a new appreciation for the whole country music industry. Not too long before his death, Johnny Cash took on the big record companies and high-powered country radio stations, accusing them of not playing his newest album, which would go on to win a Grammy award. So, it wasn’t that the music wasn’t good, or his name wasn’t known Cash said. They didn’t play his records because he wasn’t new.

Maybe Jesus wanted these two to think about why they were following him. We don’t know, but they reply rather weakly, “Where are you staying?”

Jesus says, “Come and you will see.” Later, he would tell his disciples that the birds had nests and the foxes had dens, but the Son of Man had no place to lay his head. But this time he’s staying with friends or family, so they follow him. John says they spent the day with Jesus.

Now, here’s where we have to fill in the gaps, with a kind of holy imagination. What do you think they did that day? Did Jesus tell them things about God they had never heard from their priests. We don’t know. Or maybe Jesus told them the entire story of God, and what God was really up to in this world, and the role that he was playing. We don’t know. Or maybe they just walked together, and these two saw Jesus put his hand gently on the head of little child playing along the roadside. Or heal a person with a life-long illness, or speak a kind word to someone who needed one. We don’t know. But we do know that after that day was over, at least one of them, Andrew, runs home to get his brother, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” And he brings his brother, Simon, to Jesus also.

And Jesus welcomes Simon by saying, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas (meaning Peter).” The Rock. Jesus invites Simon to join him, by giving him a new name, The Rock. Which is not what Peter is, but is what he will become.

Invite Others Into The Story of God

And, that my friends, is what we invite others to. Not to church, although we should do more of that. Not to Sunday School, although I could stop right now and invite some of you, but I won’t put you on the spot. No, what we’re inviting others to is to become what God knows they can be. In Peter’s case, it was a Rock. What is it in your life? Did Jesus give you a new name like Joy or Hope or Peace or Servant? Because that’s what he does. He calls out our true selves, not just our potential, but our real identity, the reason for which he made us.

We are inviting Jesus, just like Andrew did, to come and see because we believe we’ve found the One for whom we have been searching, the Anointed One.

You see, we are not inviting others to a set of doctrines. We’re not inviting others to a denomination. We’re not inviting others just to our church. We’re first of all, and most importantly, inviting others to “come and see” Jesus. Himself. In person. Live. Now. Here. Today. Because we have found him. Of course, Andrew will understand later that Jesus found him, and so do we. But for now, we are inviting others to meet our new best friend Jesus.

Now, this year we could launch a witnessing program. I’ve been in some of those. I’ve taken Evangelism Explosion, and a bunch of other courses that I can’t remember the names of now. But, as useful as those can be in some settings, that’s not what we’re going to do. We’re going to do what Andrew did before he invited Simon to meet Jesus. We’re going to “spend the day” with Jesus ourselves. Get to know him. Find out what name he has for us. Listen to him. Talk to him. Watch him work. Follow in his footsteps. Be his disciples.

Because you can’t invite others if you don’t know the story yourself. And you can’t know the story without knowing Jesus. Not the Jesus of doctrine, but the Jesus of daily living. The Jesus who asks, “What do you want?” And our answer will be, “Where are you staying, because we want to be there with you.”