Epiphany 4 January 28, 2018
1 Samuel 3:1-10
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
129, 270, Lutheran Service Book 861 (alt. TLH 422), 52
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” Then John gave this testimony: “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.” The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them 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. It was about the tenth hour. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ).
Everyone wants to be a leader. There are books written about leadership. There are leadership seminars you can attend. In school too, students are encouraged to lead, to get out in front. Leaders are often honored and admired by others. They get to make decisions and carry out their plans. It makes one wonder—is it ever any good to be a follower? What if you are one who walks in the pathway of another, who does what someone else tells you, or who tries to imitate the life of another? Being called a “follower” can sometimes feel like an insult. But when it comes to our relationship with Jesus, we are glad to be called followers! We do not need to get out “in front” of Him. In fact, when we try, it spells trouble for us. In today’s lesson we see many good reasons to follow Jesus. And since we live in a world that does not want to follow Him, may it encourage us to appreciate our role as followers.
John the Baptist was a popular prophet. People went out into the desert to hear him speak. They followed him down to the Jordan River so they could be baptized by him. He was a leader who made even the chief priests and teachers of the law nervous.
Yet John was not interested in leading, he was interested in following—in following Jesus. As soon as Jesus came onto the scene, John did not hesitate to tell the crowds of “a man who comes after me has surpassed me.” John viewed Jesus as the greater leader, the One who was truly worth following.
Why did Jesus hold a position of leadership over the great John the Baptist? Because, as John says, “he was before me.”
At first that might seem like a strange thing for John to say. John was six months older than Jesus. His mother, Elizabeth, had become pregnant and had given birth before Mary had, but John still says that Jesus came first.
It wasn’t that John suddenly forgot his own birthday, but it was because John recognized that Jesus was the Son of God. He saw that Jesus shared in the godhead with the Father. Jesus possessed the power and wisdom of God. Jesus knew the mind of God. He had the characteristics of God, even that of being eternal, having no beginning and no end. So certainly Jesus came before John. It could not be any other way. John had even seen special testimony to confirm it. At Christ’s baptism, the Spirit of God Himself had come down from heaven in the form of a dove and rested on Jesus. John said, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”
That’s a good reason to follow Him, isn’t it? When we listen to Jesus’ word, do what He says, or trust in what He does and will do for us, we yield to Him because He has surpassed us, because He is God in the flesh whose ways are higher than ours.
Still, there are moments when we try to get out in front of Jesus, when we think we know better than He does. There are times when we try to lead based on our own thinking or ideas rather than following Him, His word, and His will. Sometimes people hear His voice, but they choose to ignore it, to push it aside and go in a different direction because they want to do what they want to do. They want to lead rather than follow. When that happens to you, repent and remember that there is no shame in being a follower here! To follow Jesus is to follow none other than the Son of God—the wisest and best man who ever lived, who is so much greater than we are or ever will be!
Let’s look at another reason John gives us to follow Jesus: Twice John says, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. ”
Now it might not seem like a lamb is anything worth following, and usually it isn’t. Lambs are helpless creatures with few defenses. Lambs are hardly leaders. To understand John’s statement here, you need to think of how lambs were used in the religious ceremonies of the Israelites long ago.
The people John was talking to—what did they think of when he pointed to the Lamb of God? Their minds would have gone immediately to the sacrifices that they routinely brought as part of their worship. They had been taught that disobedience against God was serious. The commands of the Lord mattered, and when they were broken, everyone knew that the penalty was a life. The wages of sin is death. So they brought a lamb. The lamb was sacrificed to God on the altar and substituted as the life that was given for their sin.
When John the Baptist called Christ the Lamb of God, it brought to people’s minds the idea of a sacrifice. This time, though, Jesus would be the One offered for sin. It would happen in just three years’ time on a cross outside Jerusalem, and the sacrifice would not just be for the sins of a few, but it would be an offering for the sin of the whole world.
What makes you really want to follow a leader? Isn’t it when you know that leader will do anything for you, even give up their life for you?
So here we have Jesus. When John calls Him “the Lamb,” we can picture Him going to the Garden of Gethsemane, praying until His sweat drips like drops of blood, being betrayed and arrested, crucified with two thieves, and forsaken. We picture Him carrying the sin of the world on His shoulders, dying for everything that we have ever done, being sacrificed on account of us.
When two of John’s disciples standing nearby heard him call Jesus the Lamb of God, what did they do? They followed Jesus.
That is why we follow Him too. We follow Him because He is the Lamb who dies for our sin. We follow after Him saying, “Jesus, I have done wrong too. I have sinned against heaven. I am impure and unholy. I need your sacrifice for my own.” We follow Him with hearts of faith that humbly trust in His cross, that humbly believe that His death is the substitute for our own, that His punishment is the substitute for our own. We follow after Him, reaching out and putting our wrongs upon Him.
There are a lot of reasons to follow Jesus. The two who followed in our lesson were counting on the Lord teaching them. When He turned and asked them what they wanted, they called Him “Rabbi” which means “teacher,” and they wanted to know where He was staying so they could spend the day learning from Him.
Now I read recently that the average college graduate leaves school with a debt of $37,312. It tells you that school is big business, and big deals are made over teachers and teaching. But is it worth it? Can the teaching really be that valuable? It depends. Jesus’ teaching is valuable to us because from Him we learn things that we could not learn anywhere else. By His word He reveals Himself to us.
It must be revealed, for example, that Jesus is the Son of God, or we would not know it. It must be revealed that He died and rose again for the sin of the world, or we could not believe it. We cannot make up for ourselves who Jesus is or define Him according to our own ideas (although many unbelievers try to do this), rather He is made known to us by what He says and by what He does.
Jesus is the greatest teacher, the greatest Rabbi, showing us the way to heaven. He does not teach us what steps we must follow in order to get there, but He teaches us what He has already done to secure our everlasting life.
Often the teaching of Jesus collided with the teaching of the religious leaders of His day. And it still does. When Jesus speaks, He speaks like someone who has authority, and His words are convincing—they convince many around the world of the truth. But His words are not always popular. In our time, when Jesus accepts the Biblical account of Creation and the Flood, His teaching is ridiculed as unscientific. When He explains that faith in Him is the only way of salvation, His teaching is reviled as unloving.
But as for you, when you listen to Him, you can be confident that you are getting the teaching of God.
The world’s teachers may try to lead you away from the teachings of Jesus (either knowingly or unknowingly), but as for you, be a follower of Christ.
When it comes to our relationship with Jesus, it is better to be a follower than a leader. We follow Jesus because He is the Son of God with power, because He is the Lamb of God who died for us, and because He is the great Rabbi who teaches us things that nobody else can teach us. But as a follower of Jesus, there is one instance in which you might do just a bit of leading at the same time, and it wouldn’t be out of place. That is, if you want to lead, lead others to Christ.
Be like Andrew, who immediately went and found his brother Simon and said, “We have found the Messiah.” Be like John the Baptist, who used his popularity and position to point others to the Savior. If you lead others in the direction of Jesus, then you will be both leading and properly following at the same time!
Savior, I long to walk Closer with Thee;
Led by Thy guiding hand, Ever to be
Constantly near Thy side, Quickened and purified,
Living for Him who died Freely for me. Amen.
(The Lutheran Hymnal #422:4)
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.