St Michael’s, 29th January 2017
Reading – John 1:35-42
Have you ever had the unfortunate experience of being accosted by a sales rep? Perhaps you’ve had a double glazing salesman turn up on the doorstep determined to tell you every last detail of this wonderful new window system he is desperate for you to buy. Or you’ve been down to a car showroom and been exposed to the smooth talk of the dealer determined to help you choose the shiniest and most expensive motor in the range. Or maybe you’ve encountered one of those slick TV evangelists with a shiny suit and impossibly white teeth trying every trick of the trade to get you to accept his message – and usually donate to his cause at the same time.
If that has been your experience of the Christian faith, then all I can say is that I am terribly sorry. When you look at the Bible, you won’t find anyone anywhere applying high-pressure tactics to get people to believe. Yes, the first believers argued for their faith and they were careful to explain the good news of Jesus Christ, but they never forced anyone to make a response. They respected their hearers too much to pressurise them into a decision.
So our reading this morning starts with John the Baptist seeing Jesus of Nazareth walking past. And all John the Baptist says to his two followers is quite simply, Look, the Lamb of God. Now to us talking about someone as the Lamb of God may seem quite a strange thing to say, but in those days it meant something really quite important. The people of God at that time were looking for someone who could offer the perfect sacrifice for all the wrong we have ever done. In fact, they had been waiting centuries for this particular individual because many hundreds of years earlier God had promised that one day such a person would come – the Lamb of God, who would take away the sins of the world.
That’s why as soon as John the Baptist said Look, the Lamb of God his two followers decided to follow Jesus. We don’t know how much or how little they believed what John was saying, but they reckoned it was at least worth finding out whether John’s claims were true. So they go after Jesus, trying to suss Him out, seeing what kind of person He might be. What they haven’t yet realised, of course, is that Jesus already knows they are there. He is fully aware of their doubts and questions, their curiosity and their hopes. But what He doesn’t do is turn round and give them a smooth sales talk, explaining exactly who He is and why it is such a good idea to join Jesus of Nazareth Ministries Incorporated.
No, Jesus simply turns round and asks, What do you want? Because, you see, Jesus doesn’t see these two men following Him as sales targets, or numbers to be added to His cause. He sees them as people and He wants them to tell Him all about their hopes and fears, their joys and their questions. So instead of giving them answers to questions they may not be asking, He wants them to tell Him their own unique, personal story. And for me, one of the things I find so lovely about the stories of Jesus is that He never has a set formula for dealing with people. He loves each and every person who comes to Him as they are, and He makes time and space to listen to them, before telling them the good news they need to hear.
Well, clearly these two men are intrigued by Jesus’ question. It has thrown them slightly off guard and perhaps made them realise this Jesus is rather different from any other religious teacher they have ever met before. That’s why they ask Teacher…where are you staying? They want the opportunity simply to be with Jesus, to get to know Him and find out for themselves whether He really is the person John the Baptist has told them that He is.
And again what is striking is the simple nature of Jesus words: Come…and you will see. Again, no high pressure sales tactics. Just an invitation to come and spend some time with Him. Now we would love to know exactly how these two men spent their day with Jesus. We are not told. But there’s no indication it was some kind of sales seminar where Jesus worked on them until they made a response. After all, Jesus would have been busy with plenty of other people coming and going. But then again the best way to learn whether somebody is who you think they are is simply to watch them, see how they deal with other people, find out whether their life matches up to their words. And that’s what these two men did. They saw, they watched and in the end they believed.
You see, something in what these two men saw of Jesus caused them to understand and to put their faith in Him. Listen carefully to what the gospel writer tells us in verses 40-41: 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”.
Now when we read these verses we have to realise that Andrew and Peter were hard-working plain-spoken fishermen. They hadn’t the world’s best education and they didn’t have much time for airy-fairy ideas and big, bold claims. They were down-to-earth, practical folk who were hard to impress. Yet when Andrew spent a day with Jesus, he realised there could be no doubt about Jesus’ identity. Jesus was the promised one of God, the one filled with His Spirit to come and save the world. And as soon as he realises that, he instantly goes off to find his brother and lead him to Jesus.
And what Jesus says to Andrew’s brother is truly extraordinary. Verse 42: Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). Why is it that Jesus tells Simon his name? After all, we can be pretty sure Simon knows who He is! The answer is, Jesus wants Simon to realise He already knows everything about him. He knows every detail of his life as a fisherman, the things of which Simon is proud, the things Simon would rather forget. And He wants Simon to realise that despite all these faults and failings He is still willing to call Him into His service. Because the wonderful thing about Jesus is that He doesn’t wait for us to be good enough before He asks us to follow Him. Jesus in fact would much rather have hard-working plain-spoken folk in His service, who know they are less than perfect, who are aware of their faults and failings.
So how does today’s passage speak to us? After all, we can’t hop on a plane, travel to Israel and meet Jesus face to face. We can’t stand in the physical presence of Jesus or spend the day watching Him at work. This may be a nice story from long ago, but how exactly does it relate to life right here in twenty-first century Devonport?
Let’s go back to what I said earlier about Jesus being the Lamb of God. As I explained earlier, when John the Baptist called Jesus the Lamb of God he was telling his followers that this Jesus would be the one to offer the perfect sacrifice for all the wrong we have ever done. So what sacrifice did Jesus offer? The short, and amazing answer, is that Jesus sacrificed His very self. On the cross Jesus died to pay the price for all our faults and all our failings and took the punishment we deserved. Now if Jesus had stayed dead and was simply buried in a borrowed grave, that would be the end of the story, and he would remain just another prophet or wise man lost in the pages of history. But the fact is – and this is something that has been proven again and again – three days Jesus rose again from the dead. He broke the power of death and evil and proved that yes, He really was and is the Son of God who can change lives forever and for good.
So if we ask how this story relates to right here in twenty-first Devonport, the short answer is that Jesus is alive. We don’t have to hop on an airplane to find him, because Jesus is already here. He is as much present and real today as he was to Andrew and Simon Peter two thousand years ago. And the question Jesus posed to John the Baptist’s two followers is very much the question He asks each one of us today: What do you want? He wants us to tell Him our secret hopes and fears, maybe those questions we have never admitted to anyone else that we carry round in our heart. How exactly Jesus wants to meet with you I cannot say. Because as I said earlier, Jesus never treats anyone as a number or a sales target. He already knows your needs, already knows your faults and failings and He is willing to love you and help you just as you are.
Now in one sense of course we cannot go and see where Jesus is staying. But because Jesus is alive and interested in each and every one of us, what He wants to do instead and come and stay with us, to live in our hearts as our friend, our partner and our guide. Later on in the Bible we hear how Jesus says to the members of a particular church gathered in worship:
Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.
And ever since that time, folk have understood these words to be Jesus’ personal invitation to all who would hear and listen to His voice. Jesus stands at the door of all our hearts, not trying to break down it door, but simply knocking, simply asking to be let in. He wants to come and give us the answer to our deepest questions, to meet our fears and our failings with love and hope and forgiveness.
My job this morning is not to give you the full works as to why you should accept Jesus. All I would say is that when I was nearly thirteen years old I recognised the call of Jesus on my life and I let Jesus stay with me. If you ask the church folk here at St Michael’s you will find each have their own story of how Jesus met with them – some when they were young, some when they were older. Some have had dramatic experiences of encountering Jesus, some very quiet and apparently ordinary experiences. The point is, Jesus already knows you, already loves you in spite of yourself and His greatest desire is that in turn you know Him for yourself.
So my simple prayer for each and every person gathered here this morning is that just like Andrew, you can go out from here and say, We have found the Messiah. After all, if Jesus is alive, if He is the one who already knows and loves us, and if He is knocking at the door of hearts, surely it makes sense to let Him in?