140119 John 1:29-41

Last Updated on Monday, 20 January 2014 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: John 1:29-41
Theme: God Builds His Church One Soul At A Time

Perhaps you have noticed something special about this Sunday. The second Sunday after Epiphany has an obvious outreach emphasis. The closing hymn for today comes from the "Missions" section of the hymnal. In the Prayer of the Day we asked God: "Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ's glory, that he may be known, worshiped and believed to the ends of the earth."

This mission theme also comes out in the lessons for today. The next-to-last verse of the First Lesson (from Isaiah 49) has been called the Great Commission of the Old Testament, where the Lord says to his servant (Jesus): "It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth" (6).

Today we can look back and see how God's promise has come true. There are an estimated two billion Christians in the world. The Bible has been translated into dozens of languages. We can look at the evidence and conclude that the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ has been carried to every corner of the globe.

And this morning it is our privilege to see where it all began. It began on the east side of the Jordan River. It began where John the Baptist was baptizing. It began when John pointed to Jesus and proclaimed: "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (29).

There were no mass conversions that day. There is no record of a single person coming to faith that day. But the Holy Spirit was there doing his work, planting the seed, building the church. And that makes this gospel account more than just a recounting of events. In these inspired words John gives us the comforting reminder that...

GOD BUILDS HIS CHURCH ONE SOUL AT A TIME

I. Through public proclamation
II. Through personal conversations

John the Baptist wasn't the most creative preacher in the world. He really only had one sermon. The theme was: "The Messiah is Coming. Part One: Repent. Part Two: Be baptized." In spite of the narrow focus of his message, in spite of the harsh tone of his message John gathered quite a following. In fact, people came from all over to see him.

But one day John's message abruptly changed. Instead of telling the people that the Messiah was coming, he declared that the Messiah had come. And the people noticed. They couldn't help but notice because John pointed right at the man who was walking toward him and said: "Look the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (29).

And when the people heard that incredibly descriptive name, a name that is found nowhere else in the Bible, all kinds of biblical images flooded their minds. Some were taken back to Isaiah 53, to Isaiah's seven hundred year old prophecy about Jesus' passion: "He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth" (7).

Others went back even farther, to Egypt where the Lord demonstrated his power over the Pharaoh through ten devastating plagues. To spare his people from the tenth plague, to save the firstborn in Jewish homes from certain death, God instructed them to take the blood of a lamb and put it on the doorposts of their homes. And when the angel of death came in the night, he passed over the houses with the lamb's blood on the doors.

There were probably some people who heard that name and immediately thought of the temple because for them the image of the sacrificial lamb was very real. They had offered up lambs as sacrifices. They saw the blood. They smelled the flesh. And they understood what those sacrifices symbolized.

John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God to put those images in the people's minds, but he didn't stop there because he wanted everyone to know that Jesus was unlike any other sacrificial lamb. Jesus had come to make the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus offered himself as a perfect sacrifice. That is why John called him "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."

How could John make such a bold statement? How did John know that the man who stood before him was capable of doing something as great as forgiving the world's sins? It wasn't because Jesus had a certain glow about him. It wasn't because John could see something special in him. John knew who Jesus was and what Jesus would do because God had revealed it to him:

"I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. 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.' I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God" (32-34).

How did John know that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit? Because he had seen the Holy Spirit come to rest on him (in the form of a dove). How did John know that Jesus was the Son of God? Because he had heard a voice from heaven say: "This is my Son, whom I love" (Matthew 3:17).

At Jesus' baptism God revealed that the Lamb of God was the Son of God, the God-man who would live perfectly, suffer willingly, die innocently and rise triumphantly to take away your sins and my sins and the sins of the whole world.

And when John proclaimed this good news, everyone stood up and cheered. As soon as John the Baptist pointed the people to Jesus, he was immediately swarmed by adoring crowds. Actually we don't know if that happened. The Bible doesn't tell us what happened. John's account skips ahead to the next day, and even though the day changed John the Baptist's message was the same. Again he declared: "Look the Lamb of God" (36).

This time the message caught some people's attention. Two of John's disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus. Two people? John the Baptist announced: "The Savior of the world is standing right in front of you," and it made an impression on only two people? What's the matter with this picture? What was the matter with those people? Instead of asking questions like that, maybe we should ask ourselves what this account is saying to God's people today.

There are days (like the day of Pentecost) when God's kingdom grows by leaps and bounds, but that's the exception. Most of the time the growth is more modest. Instead of giving us quotas, God gives us the example of John the Baptist. He calls us to trust in the power of the Word. He calls us to trust in the promises of God. He calls his church to proclaim the gospel confidently and consistently, because you never know when the Holy Spirit will plant the seed of saving faith.

Because the Word and sacraments are here, the Holy Spirit is here. Because the Holy Spirit is here miracles happen here. Faith is kindled. Sin is forgiven. Souls are saved. But the Word isn't spoken only in church, and the Holy Spirit hasn't confined himself to the walls of this sanctuary. God builds his church one soul at a time. Sometimes he does it through public proclamation. Sometimes he does it through personal conversations.

The first personal conversation in this account went like this: "Jesus saw them (most likely Andrew and John) following and asked, 'What do you want?' They said, 'Rabbi,' (which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' Come,' he replied, 'and you will see.' So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him" (38, 39).

John doesn't tell us, so we can only imagine what that conversation was like. Imagine what you would talk about if you could spend an entire day with Jesus. Think of all the questions you could ask. Think of all the insight you would gain. Think about how much your faith would grow.

The time that Andrew spent with Jesus changed his life, so much so that he couldn't wait to share the gift he had been given: "The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah' (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus" (41, 42).

That's a nice story, isn't it? That's a happy story with a happy ending. John the Baptist connected Andrew with Jesus. Andrew connected Peter with Jesus. It sounds so simple. It sounds so easy, but it wasn't. When Andrew went to his brother, he was taking a risk. He didn't know how Peter would react. He didn't know what Peter would say.

Peter: "Sure, Andrew, I believe you. Our people have been waiting for the promised Messiah for hundreds, even thousands of years. And today he decided to reveal himself to a lowly fisherman like you. He even invited you over to his house. Maybe you have been out in the boat too long. Maybe you need some rest."

Telling his brother about Jesus exposed Andrew, but he cared too much about Peter to care about how he would react. He wanted Peter to know what he knew. He wanted Peter to have what he had. And so he dropped everything to find his brother and introduce him to Jesus.

We don't have to work too hard to figure out how these words apply to our lives today. God wants us to be like Andrew. God wants us to tell other people about Jesus, to be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks us to give the reason for the hope that we have (I Peter 3:15).

That's easy to see. That's easy to say, but it can be a very scary thing to do. "You want me to talk about Jesus with someone else, with someone I don't know, or with someone I do know? I wouldn't know where to begin. I wouldn't know what to say. What if they ask me questions I can't answer? What if they reject what I say? What if they reject me?"

There are lots of reasons why people don't want to talk about Jesus. Sometimes they can be legitimate. More often they are just excuses. But this account got me thinking that there might be another reason why people are reluctant to share their faith. Maybe the biggest reason we are hesitant to tell other people about Jesus is because we don't spend enough time with Jesus ourselves.

Jesus speaks to us in his Word. He invites us to come and see. He encourages us to learn and grow. He tells us to go and share. But when Christians don't spend time with Jesus, when we neglect him, when we neglect his Word, is it really a surprise when we fail to do what he says?

It wasn't a coincidence that Andrew went from Jesus' house to Peter's house. And it stands to reason that the people who are the most eager sharers of God's Word are also eager students of God's Word. The Word gives us the courage to speak the truth in love. The Word gives us the answers to life's toughest questions. God's Word is the answer. God's Word is the key. The more we grow in it, the more we will want to go with it. The more we spend time with Jesus, the more we will want to tell others about Jesus.

Our congregation worships in a building with a beautiful stone exterior, but this structure didn't just pop up over night. The construction took time, and these sturdy walls were built carefully and methodically by laying one stone on top of another. That makes this church a lot like God's church.

Think of every stone as a soul. Some of us were brought to faith through the public proclamation of the gospel. Others came to know Jesus through a personal conversation. But no matter how it happened, no matter where it happened, the Holy Spirit was there. And the Spirit still comes to us through the Word, doing his work, planting the seed, building his church, one soul at a time. Amen.

 

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Compelled by the love of Christ, St. Matthew’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and School seek to reach out to our families, community and world, using Law and Gospel to make disciples, growing and nurturing them in their Christian faith and life.

 

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Oconomowoc, WI 53066
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