The Second Sunday after Epiphany January 18, 2015
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
40, 353(1-4), 353(5-7), 398
May the love of God the Father fill you with wonder; may the sacrifice of God the Son fill you with gratitude; and may the indwelling of the Holy Spirit fill you with faith, hope, and love. Amen.
Dear fellow Christians:
The English language has an idiosyncrasy whereby the same word can be used to both ask and answer a question: Now? Now! Today? Today! Immediately? Immediately!
“Really” is another of those multipurpose words with an incredibly wide variety of meanings and shades of meaning which are often distinguishable only by context and voice inflection.
Had Peter used that word in reply to the message brought to him by his brother in today’s text, it would have been most interesting to hear the inflection in his voice. Try to imagine this as you read the text found in the Gospel account of John, the first chapter:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward Him, and said, “Behold! 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 is preferred before me, for He was before me.’ I did not know Him; but that He should be revealed to Israel, therefore I came baptizing with water.” And John bore witness, saying, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and He remained upon Him. I did not know Him, but He who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘Upon whom you see the Spirit descending, and remaining on Him, this is He who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and testified that this is the Son of God.” Again, the next day, John stood with two of his disciples. And looking at Jesus as He walked, he said, “Behold the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. Then Jesus turned, and seeing them following, said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which is to say, when translated, Teacher), “where are You staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where He was staying, and remained with Him that day (now it was about the tenth hour).One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
So far the verbally inspired words of our God. Since we know and believe that these are the words of our perfect God and not the words of fallible man, therefore we give these truths our undivided attention as we pray: “Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
Before we dig into these words from our God, I want you to think back for a moment to a part of our communion liturgy when we sing “Oh Christ, Thou Lamb of God, that takest away the sin of the world…” three times in a row. What goes through your mind as you make your way through that part of the service? I remember as a boy thinking that it was sort of a waste to spend the time and effort to sing the same words three times in a row. I think differently now. I realize now that it often takes me two times through before I even start to pay attention and even when I am paying attention I am reminded of different truths each time through. The same sort of thing happens in our liturgy when we sing “Lord have mercy… Christ have mercy… Lord have mercy” all in a row.
We would do well to admit that we have a problem when it comes to spiritual laziness. There are many things in life—many bits of information—that are safely forgotten or neglected. There is no shame, for example, in being really bad at Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. Not so with God’s Word.
Though we can all agree on this point, still if we read the Bible much at all we may quite often read it with little or no thought as if simply sounding out the words holds great merit or benefit for us. Scripture teaches us with perfect consistency that Christianity is a matter of the heart and that the thoughtless and heartless observance of certain rituals is of little or no spiritual value. We would also do well to ask ourselves what in this world we could possibly spend our time and energy on that is more important than paying attention to God’s Word and thereby feeding our eternal souls.
I have little doubt that what we are seeing is just another natural product of our passive entertainment lifestyle. We have grown accustomed to an unhealthy dose of mindlessness in our lives. Nearly all television shows are designed to be watched more or less in mental neutral. So also music, books, computer games, and movies are almost all geared toward thoughtless, passive stimulation of anything but productive and edifying thought. This creates a new and difficult challenge for modern Christians as we attempt to let the Word of God occupy a higher, nobler position in our lives as we struggle simply to pay attention at all the right times.
Our text offers some evidence of the lack of thought and understanding that also afflicted even the Godly men of Jesus’ day. Here we find the great John the Baptizer doing what he was called to do in and around the Jordan River. His work was to call the Jews to repentance and to baptize the penitent in preparation for the coming Messiah. As John was baptizing, Jesus Himself came to John at which point he makes a rather incredible statement: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” [v.29]
How many times have we referred to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” without ever stopping to consider what that title means? We have, for example, sung those words twice today already in our hymns and liturgy. My rather imprecise estimate is that I still say or sing the term at least 100 times without thought or meaning for each time I really hear and contemplate those amazing words. It is simply an amazing truth that God, who had no sin and, therefore, needed to make no sacrifice, nonetheless made a sacrifice of His own Son. He needed no sacrificial lamb, but made His own Son exactly that.
The term John coined for Jesus is purest Gospel. It explains in a single phrase exactly what our God has done for us. Though our Creator had no sin of His own and was in no way to blame for the sin of man, He nonetheless provided the remedy for man’s sin. Again, the remedy, amazingly, was His own Son whom God the Father sacrificed for the sum total of all the sins of His rebellious creature. God the Father saved every single one of us by sending His own Son to pay for our sins. Who could possibly have imagined such a plan for our salvation?
We cheat ourselves and we deny the Word of God full admission into our own hearts whenever we fail to reflect on such a things. We repeat words phrases that are both good and true—things like, “grace” and “faith” “redemption,” but we rob ourselves of their power and meaning through our own thoughtlessness and laziness. We read passages like: “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19) with barely a thought as to the incredible truth these words convey. Think of it! God sacrificed His holy Son to pay the debt of His rebellious creature—to pay my debt, your debt. God Himself did that for us.
The fact that we tend to ignore and, therefore, miss some invaluable truths isn’t really new, is it? John’s disciples undoubtedly heard his great testimony and endorsement of Jesus the first time he said it. Yet, they still remained with John. John had to repeat his striking witness again the next day, and this time we see the kind of “hearing” our God wants to see in each one of us. This time Andrew—Simon Peter’s brother—and another disciple with him actually act upon the words of truth that they heard from John. This time they forsake the great forerunner in favor of the One whose way John had been called to prepare. Our text says simply, “The two disciples heard Jesus speak, and they followed Jesus.” [v. 37]
That is the kind of hearing our Father wants to see in each of us. Not the thoughtless, heartless, passive reception of words, but the true, take-it-to-heart hearing of those words of truth, together with the heartfelt action that results from such true hearing.
Nor do we want to pass over the masterful question Jesus asks these two men. Note that Jesus does not ask them, “Whom do you seek?” but “What do you seek?” [v.38] With this simple question the Good Master encouraged Andrew and his companion to search the depths of their hearts. In effect He was telling them to take a good hard look inside and to ask themselves just what it was that they were really wanting. Maybe at this point in their spiritual development they didn’t even know the answer, but they soon came to know where such answers could be found, and they followed the only One who could give them those answers.
The fact is the Word of God—including also this Word of God—is more than just history. God’s Word is, and is intended to be, living and active in our hearts, minds, and actions. Today, for example, we are to hear the title used by John the Baptizer to describe Jesus and marvel anew at the depth and meaning of such a title —God, sending His own Son as the innocent sacrifice for our sins.
We are to hear our dear Lord Jesus asking of us the very same question that He asked of Andrew: “What is it that you seek during your time of grace on this earth?” With great shame we recognize and acknowledge that we have often spent ourselves—our time, effort, talent, and treasure—for what is of no value. So also Jesus asks us, not whom we seek for we all know the answer to that question. Rather, He wants us to examine what we are seeking as His children—what are we seeking really”?
From our text we are to be reminded that Jesus doesn’t want us to simply let His words enter one ear and exit the other. He wants us to really hear and act on them. We are also taught not to just walk through this life as the godless do, but to examine what it is that we are really all about and to let God determine our walk and purpose.
This brings us to the final “really” in our text. Just what do you imagine Peter’s reaction was when his brother walked up to him and spoke those incredible words recorded in our text: “We have found the Messiah.”? [v. 41] Would anyone have blamed Peter had he reacted skeptically with a deadpan, “Really?” Think of it! Since the Fall in the Garden of Eden mankind had been waiting for 4000 years for the promised Messiah. Kings and emperors had longed to witness the fulfillment of God’s own promise. The centuries had come and gone. Great men and women were born and died. Countless false messiahs had come and gone. Still the One promised did not come, and then the promise is suddenly fulfilled and the long-awaited King of kings reveals Himself to a couple of small-time fishermen in Galilee? Really?
Put this into modern perspective. Who here today would still be waiting for a promise that was given in 2000 BC? Would or could such a promise or prophecy even be remembered? And then what about the announcement? Who here would ever imagine that the fulfillment of that promise would be revealed to a plumber in Mott, or a used car salesman in Rugby, or to any other unknown, seemingly inconsequential human being as the world reckons such things?
The reality is that Peter, on his own, would almost certainly have scoffed at the idea. Yet Andrew did the very best thing he could possibly have done: “he brought his brother to Jesus.” [v.42] It was from Jesus Himself that Peter was convinced of the truth. It was the working of the Holy Spirit through the words of Jesus Christ that Peter came to know Jesus for who and what he really was.
Take strength and comfort from this. You and I are considered nobodies by the world around us. Society laughs at the idea that you and I might know something that they do not, or possess something they lack. Yet, as all of Jesus’ chosen men were of little consequence in their day, so also rejoice in the fact that God the Holy Spirit has seen fit to reveal the true nature of Jesus Christ to you. You do not just know of Jesus, you really do know him for who and what He is—the Son of God and Savior of the world, your Savior.
Knowing this simple magnificent truth, what is it then that our lives are really all about? Let the honest answer for each of us be that we are seeking to rise to our calling as ambassadors of Jesus Christ on earth and that we regard ourselves as pilgrims just passing through.
God grant that each of us might listen carefully and truly hear every single word of our Savior and that each one of us might respond with the faithful sort of action demonstrated by Andrew in our text—leading others to their Savior’s side with this simple message: “We have found the Savior! Come and hear him.” Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.