By Dr. Philip W. McLarty
Today’s text hits on two important imperatives of the Christian faith: Come and see, go and tell. First, experience new life in Christ, then share that experience with others that they may experience it for themselves.
In preface to today’s text, John tells us that priests and Levites had come from the temple to ask John what he was doing, baptizing people in the River Jordan for the remission of their sins. What’s this all about? Who gave you the authority? They asked him, point-blank: “Who are you?” He said,
“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make straight the way of the Lord…” John 1:23)
This was John’s role all along – to be the herald, the one to announce the coming of the Lord. And that’s what he told the priests and scribes. He went on to say,
“I baptize in water, but among you stands one whom you don’t know.
He is the one who comes after me, who is preferred before me,
whose sandal strap I’m not worthy to loosen.”
The next day, after the priests and Levites had gone back to Jerusalem, John is still at the river baptizing repentant sinners. He sees Jesus coming and cries out for all to hear,
“Behold, the lamb of God
that takes away the sin of the world.”
The baptism of Jesus, itself, is secondary, as far as this gospel is concerned. What matters is that the moment has come. This is he – the sacrificial lamb of the Passover meal, whose blood was smeared on the doorposts of the faithful that the angel of death would pass by and all those covered by the blood would be spared. (Exodus 12)
This is where we get such vivid imagery of Jesus’ atonement, such as:
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder-working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.
As for John, only this matters: “I have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34) The story continues:
“The next day, John was standing with two of his disciples,
and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God!”
The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.”
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We’ll learn in just a moment that one of the men is Andrew. I’m guessing the other is John, the writer of the 4th Gospel. Why? Because this is the way John talks – he seldom refers to himself directly. And too, what better way to know what happened than to have been there yourself?
The two men follow Jesus, and Jesus asked them, “What are you looking for?” In other words, “Why are you following me?” “What do you hope to gain?” That, by the way, is a good question to ask yourself: What do you hope to get out of being a Christian? If you’re in it for personal gain or a one-way ticket to heaven, you’re missing the mark.
The goal of the Christian life is transformation – dying to self and rising to new life in Christ. It’s to be part of the Kingdom, to experience the New Creation, to know the peace, love and joy of God in your heart – and to share it with others.
“What are you looking for?” Now, as then, that’s the question we ought to be asking ourselves. The would-be disciples answered with a question, “Rabbi, where are you staying?” In his commentary, Dick Donovan writes,
“A rabbi would have a place used for teaching disciples,
and their question could indicate a desire to go to that place for instruction.
However, the word translated ‘staying’ is …
used often in this Gospel to describe relationships.
Their question may be less about Jesus’ lodging arrangements
than with the substance of his being—
Who are you?—Where do you stand?—What are you about?”
(SermonWriter, Volume 18, Number 6)
Donovan points out that the same word for staying is also translated, abiding. This gets to the heart of Jesus’ message. For example, he tells the disciples,
• “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (John 6:56)
• “Abide in me, and I in you. Just as the branch can’t bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in me.” (John 15:4)
• “As the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.” (John 15:9-10).
The disciples weren’t looking for room and board; they were looking for a relationship, and that’s what we’re called to do. Know him in your heart. Trust the leading of his Spirit. Offer up every thought, word and deed to the glory of his name. Abide in him, and he will abide in you.
To do so is to becomepart of the Incarnation – God in Christ, Christ in you – and through you others will be drawn closer to him.
Jesus told the men, “Come and see.” Taste the first fruits of salvation, in other words. Experience new life for yourself, for once you get a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, you’ll never be satisfied with anything less. Come and see. In the words of a hymn,
Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
Of our life’s wild, restless sea;
Day by day, his sweet voice soundeth, saying,
“Christian, follow me.”
Sure enough, the men followed him and stayed with him through the day. But then something extraordinary happened: Andrew took off. If was if he couldn’t sit still for another minute. There was something urgent he had to do. John explains it this way:
“He first found his own brother, Simon, and said to him,
‘We have found the Messiah!”… (and) he brought him to Jesus.
This is one of the most touching parts of the story: Andrew loved his brother so much that, when he met Jesus and realized who he was, he couldn’t wait to tell his brother and bring him to meet Jesus for himself. When he got back with Simon in tow, John says,
“Jesus looked at him, and said, ‘You are Simon the son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas’ (which is by interpretation, Peter).
If the first part of the equation is, come and see, the second part is go and tell. When something big happens in your life, it’s only natural to want to share it with others: “You’ll never guess what just happened to me!” An old camp song puts it this way:
“It only takes a spark to get a fire going,
And soon all those around will warm up in its glowing;
That’s how it with God’s love once you experience it:
You spread the love to everyone,
You want to pass it on.”
For years the Billy Graham organization capitalized on this passage with a program called, “Operation Andrew.” In preparation for a big crusade, organizers would recruit hundreds of volunteers from area churches who agreed not only to attend the crusade, but to bring at least one other person with them.
You can do the math: Whatever the size of the congregation, it doubles when everyone follows the example of Andrew and brings a family member, neighbor or friend with them.
But before you sign up for Operation Andrew, know this: The word for witness in the Greek language is martureo. It’s used both as a noun and a verb. A witness is someone who has witnessed what’s happened and can bear witness to it. Here’s the catch. Dick Donovan writes,
“The Greek word martureo is where we get our English word martyr.
The reason is simple.
In the early years of the church—and in many places today—
witnessing for Christ has often led to martyrdom.”
To be a witness can be heady business. We see this in thriller novels or action-packed movies: Someone witnesses a crime and, when the perpetrator realizes he’s been seen, he tries to get to the witness before he goes to the police or testifies in court.
So, what does this have to do with being a witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ?
Consider this – I got it off the Open Doors website: Christians are the most persecuted religious body in the world today. Here’s just a sample of what’s going on:
• It’s estimated that, worldwide, a Christian is killed every eleven minutes because of his faith in Jesus Christ. Hundreds more are injured, maimed and tortured.
• In a report to Parliament, Sammy Wilson, reported, “Within the last month, hundreds of people … have been arrested and put in prison simply because of their faith, and when they go into prison they are denied due process.”
• Nigel Dobbs reported that Christians in Iraq, “are frightened even to walk to church because they might come under attack.” He says, “We used to have 1.5 million Christians (in Iraq), now we have probably only 200,000.”
• According to the website, “Syria tops the list, followed by Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Somalia, Afghanistan and Iraq.”
Physical persecution is only part of the picture. I read this week where David Green, Founder and CEO of Hobby Lobby is considering closing over 500 stores in 41 states across the country. Why? He writes,
“A new government healthcare mandate says that our family business MUST provide what I believe are abortion-causing drugs as part of our health insurance.”
He goes on to write, “Being Christians, we don’t pay for drugs that might cause abortions, which means that we don’t cover emergency contraception, the morning-after pill or the week-after pill. We believe doing so might end a life after the moment of conception, something that is contrary to our most important beliefs.”
According to Mr. Green, failure to comply with the mandate will cost his company $1.3 million per day in fines. In effect, it’ll shut him down.
Then there’s Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty. You know what he said, and you may or may not agree with him. I’m not here to defend him; only to ask, “Why is it that anyone can say anything he/she wants to on any given day supporting gay rights or banning the Nativity Scene in public places or abolishing prayer in public schools and be applauded; while, if you say what you believe about anything based on scripture, you’re sure to be lambasted and labeled a raving Fundamentalist?
I don’t mean to exaggerate. Sure, you can still bow your head and offer a silent prayer in a restaurant, and, as far as I’m concerned, as long as there are final exams, there will always be prayer in public schools.
So yes, we still have a degree of religious liberty, but that’s no excuse to be complacent.
There are individuals and groups at work today – some right here in northern Louisiana – who would like nothing more than to sway your children and grandchildren and friends and neighbors to embrace anything but new life in Christ.
Challenging them can be messy. In the words of John Russell Lowell,
By the light of burning martyrs, Christ,
Thy bleeding feet we track,
Toiling up new Calv’ries ever
with the cross that turns not back…
Call it a political battle, if you like. I think it’s more than that. I think it’s a spiritual battle, in which case the best defense is strong witness of faith, whatever the costs.
So, in closing, let me invite you first to put your faith in Jesus. Study his teachings. Follow his example. Come to know him daily as your Lord and Savior. Experience the joy of new life through a close and intimate relationship with him. Come and see.
Then go and tell. Share your faith with others – what you’ve learned, what you know to be true, what you’ve experienced in your own life. Witness to him, not only with words, but deeds of loving service – and not only by what you do, but by what you refuse to do.
Make no apology: Jesus died for the sins of the world and rose from the dead to offer the promise of new life, through faith in him. Come and see, then go and tell.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Scripture quotations are from the World English Bible.