Showing posts with label John. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John. Show all posts

Monday, January 17, 2011

What Are You Seeking?

Scripture Text: John 1:29-42

Last week, we learned that the baptism of Jesus was for us. He didn’t need baptism because he was without sin. We also learned that because of his baptism, those who are in Christ receive multiple gifts through Christ. He gives the gifts he didn’t need to those who are in deep need, who are dead in sin. Jesus gives those folks the exact things they need – The gift of forgiveness of sins, and the gift of abiding, steadfast presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

This week John the Baptist makes another appearance. There are two significant sections in the reading this week from the gospel of John. There are, therefore, two main points to this sermon. First point, the only way to know Jesus and to see who he really is is by the revelation of God in the new birth proclaimed in baptism. Second point, those who receive this gift of seeing who Jesus is are transformed into witnesses and are empowered by the Holy Spirit so that others whom Christ is calling may fellowship with him and receive his grace.

Context

Immediately before our reading, John is interviewed by some priests and Levites sent from the Pharisees in Jerusalem who are curious to know what he’s doing. They ask them the question: “Who are you?” John tells them that he is neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet anticipated first by Moses. What are you doing, then, if you’re none of those people, the interviewers ask. John replies by telling them I’m the guy that Isaiah foretold, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as the prophet Isaiah said” (1:23). Okay then, say the interviewers, why do you baptize, if you’re none of these other famous people? John gives a reply, but doesn’t quite answer their question. His reply is:
[1:26] “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, [27] even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
And now it’s the next day. John the Baptist sees Jesus coming toward him and exclaims, “[29] Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! [30] This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’

Notice the imagery here. John calls Jesus “the Lamb of God,” which seems to be a clear refers to the sacrificial lamb of the Passover, and other Old Testament sacrifices for sin. John is basically saying, this is the man who will take away all sins through his sacrificial death for others. This would have been a shocking thing to say about a human being. How exactly could John have made the determination the Jesus was this “Lamb of God?”

The answer to that question comes in the verses that follows:
[30] This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ [31] I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Here, John finally gives the answer to the question from his visitors the previous day. Why do you do this, the interviewers from Jerusalem want to know? I do this, so that the promised one of God might be revealed to Israel.

John’s eyewitness testimony continues:
[32] And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. [33] I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ [34] And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
First point: The only way to know Jesus and to see who he really is is by the revelation of God in the new birth proclaimed by baptism.

You will notice that John did not know the full extent of Jesus’ identity until Jesus was baptized. John likely knew of Jesus by virtue of the relationship between his mother, Elizabeth, and her cousin Mary. But he didn’t know who Jesus really was until it was revealed to him by God when Jesus was baptized.

I can see one huge implication for this text for those of us here in the room who are listening. Jesus’ full identify is only provided to and only seen by those to whom it is revealed. You cannot truly know Jesus unless the Holy Spirit reveals him to you. Jesus is a human being, but he is also God. Any human can be casually known in passing or in brief conversation. But you cannot know the fullness of who Jesus is unless God reveals it to you.

How is Jesus revealed? The first way is by the power of the Holy Spirit coming upon you to open your eyes to the truth of God’s Word. He is revealed to you whenever baptism is administered, the moment when God’s saving work is enacted publicly before the church and by other witnesses. Jesus’ identity is revealed in the Supper, where we receive not just bread and wine but the very spiritual food of the body and blood of Jesus, who is the host of the meal. Unless the Holy Spirit resides in you, the bible will appear to be just another religious book, as it is treated in the contemporary university. Apart from the revelation of God, baptism is just fancy washing ceremony done in obedience to some religious rule. Apart from the revelation of God, the Lord’s Supper is just a simple meal. But for those to whom the fullness of Jesus’ identity has been granted by the Holy Spirit in the new birth, the bible, the font, and the table are the very means of grace, of forgiveness, of salvation, of sanctification, and of eternal life, because all of them reveal the glorious Savior.

Second point: Those who receive this gift of seeing who Jesus is are transformed into witnesses and empowered by the Holy Spirit so that others whom Christ is calling may fellowship with him and receive his grace.

Next day, the next scene. John is standing with two of his disciples. He sees Jesus and calls out, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” Hearing these words, John’s two disciples begin to follow Jesus. So John has witnessed that Jesus is the Lamb of God, and John’s two disciples begin to follow Jesus. As the two are following, perhaps a bit unsure of what is going on, Jesus suddenly turns around and asks them the question: “What are you seeking?”

What are you seeking? These are very profound words. What are you seeking by following Jesus? Have you asked yourself the question recently? Ask it now. Why are we hear today? Is it to seek after Jesus? Or something else? And if your seeking after something else, what is it?

This question Jesus asks is huge! Why is this question huge? Because the answer will ultimately reveal what is at the center of the human heart, that is, of what we worship. The answer will reveal what we are truly seeking after. If you were to ask this question that Jesus asks to anyone you might meet on the street, how would they answer? Here are some possibilities: Happiness, fame, money, a fruitful marriage, retirement, success, property, a family, relief from pain, a gas station, food, a hotel, good health, a Kleenex, it could be anything, couldn’t it? Let me ask you this now: If someone stopped you on the street and asked you what you were seeking, what would you say? The answer always will reveal what is at present the most important to us.

This penetrating question from Jesus to those who would follow him is, in fact, the most important question you can ever be asked as a human being. The answer to the question reveals what is at the bottom of the human heart. This is the question that is at the heart of faith, salvation, and discipleship. The answer to this question reveals for the world to see who we really worship.

How did these two guys answer? “[38b] And they said to him, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ [39] He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.’ So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. [40] One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother.”

Notice how Jesus is addressed here? John called him “the Lamb of God,” but they call him “rabbi.” Jesus asks them what they are seeking. They respond that they are seeking to be where he is staying! Getting closer now. So they go off and stay together in fellowship. That’s all we know. We don’t know what they discussed, or what they ate or drank. All we know is that they go off to spend time with Jesus where he is.

This is what happens next:
[40] One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. [41] He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). [42] He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
Can you see the pattern here? They two disciples seek after the place where Jesus is and something huge has happened. By following him in faith to the place where he was staying, they see Jesus for who he really is. They have been granted the gift of knowing who he really is! I think we know this for two reasons: First, Andrew no longer calls Jesus “teacher,” but “the Messiah.” Second, after spending time with Jesus, Andrew has suddenly become a witness to who Jesus really is, just like John the Baptist was a witness. Andrew then runs off to find his brother Simon and announces, “We have found the Messiah.” Andrew then brings his brother to Jesus for an introduction. And in the presence of Jesus, Simon receives a new name, a clear sign of the call of God.

This is the pattern of new birth and discipleship. The Holy Spirit opens a person to the truth of the gospel by means of witnesses. John the Baptist was a witness to his own disciples, who then followed Jesus and came to know him as the Christ. Andrew, having had this truth revealed to him, becomes a witness by and gives his witness to his brother Simon, announcing to his brother that he has found the Christ. Simon in turn is brought to Jesus, and Jesus marks calls him and gives him a new name. A new life has begun! Peter, too, will follow and become a disciple and also a witness to Christ.

And so it goes. Jesus enters the world. The Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to be the Son of God to John the Baptist and to other believers. They come to Christ, and then they in turn go out, empowered by the Holy Spirit, and witness to the good news of the Christ to others.

Peter will become a prominent apostle, but will later deny Jesus three times, but will be restored by Jesus at the end of the gospel. Having been so restored, what does Peter do? He becomes the first to preach the gospel at Pentecost. He will be persecuted, jailed, and rescued for the proclamation of the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. He was transformed from one who sought after Jesus and became one who sought to bring others to Jesus, just as Andrew has sought him out. And this pattern has gone on and on and on for over 2,000 years, and now we are sitting here today as a result of that witness. The question for us is now: What are we seeking? What are we seeking by being here? Are we looking for good advice? To be seen as good people by others? Or are we seeking after Christ, to fellowship with him where he is? Are we then being transformed by him through the means of the Word and Sacraments? Are we witnessing, bringing others to Jesus where he is?

The larger church in general in this community has to a certain extent fallen by the wayside like Peter did with his denials of Jesus. Today, our denials of Christ come in a couple of forms. The first is a result of complacency. We’ve become far to comfortable in our faith. The second form of denying Christ comes from our fear of the culture’s hostility to Christianity. The good news for us, however, is that with Jesus there is always more and more grace. By the power of the Holy Spirit, not even these denials can overwhelm the power of his grace, and a people can be restored to their baptismal calling to witness to the power and might and glory of the risen Christ.

Would you join me in praying for the whole church to experience a revival of its baptismal calling? Lord, we pray that you will grant us the gift of boldness so that we are able to speak to someone outside of our immediate families or this church about Jesus. Grant to our pastors and elders the gifts of leadership inspire the people to courageous witness. Show how we can help each other and hold each other accountable with evangelical witness we are charged with by none other than our Lord himself. Let us feel the fire of the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, that together we may become far more bold in our individual and corporate witness to the glory of Christ. Lives are in peril. We are called to act. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
January 16, 2011
Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Sunday, January 02, 2011

God With Us: Word Made Flesh

Read the Scripture:  John 1:1-18

So much has been written and said about this rich text.  It’s very difficult to condense it down into just a few words.  Someone once wrote that this is John’s Christmas story to the church, and I think that’s a pretty good summary, for this reason: In the incarnation of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh, salvation has come decisively into the world.  I invite you to really think about that for just a moment.  Salvation has come into the world.  So much of what we call “religion” in contemporary society consists of people putting together elaborate lists of rules and regulations so that humans can reach up to God, to come up to God’s level, as it were. We build grandiose edifices and structures and systems in an attempt to obtain the things of God, things that we might find helpful to us in life. Salvation from sin doesn’t work that way.  Salvation doesn’t come to us through us constructing towers and ladders of religion.  Salvation only comes from God directly.  Salvation comes to us by means of the transcendent God of the universe coming down to earth.  Salvation comes to us only when the eternal Word becomes flesh to dwell with us.  When that happens, we get far more than just the things of God.  What we get is God himself in human flesh.  In Jesus we receive, as a free gift, the one true God who speaks to us with his mouth, who sees us with his eyes, and who touches us with his hands.  If we were to try to touch God in our sin, we would be incinerated, just as Uzzah was struck down when he tried to keep God’s most Holy Ark of the covenant from falling into the dirt and mud.  But in Jesus, God incarnate, we instead get stories like the one where Thomas is invited to reach out and touch the very wounds of the Messiah, the Word made flesh, the Word who is God, and not be incinerated.  In Jesus, God has come to us.  That’s just amazing.

The importance of this truth cannot be overstated. This truth alone sets Christianity apart from all other religions in the world.  The essential teaching of Christianity is that we are sinners who, due to our rebellion, are disqualified from ever being with God.  There are no human means by which we can fix this problem.  And so God fixed the problem for us by becoming flesh.

James C. Goodloe IV, preaching on this passage, gives a great summary of the gospel hope in this text.  He writes:
“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word was God.…The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Here we find hope, joy, and gospel. Here we find strength, comfort, and courage. Indeed, here we find love, peace, and life itself. For these three—Word, light, and flesh—address the silence, the darkness, and the loneliness of the world and of our lives. These three tell us the good news that in Jesus Christ God has spoken, God has triumphed, and God has reclaimed us as his very own.”
I love that.  God has spoken.  God has triumphed.  God has reclaimed us as his very own.  So many people live in isolation, in physical and spiritual places of silence, darkness, and loneliness.  Are you living in silence?  God brings his hallelujah chorus to you in Christ.  Are you living in darkness, dreading the future, and dreading death?  The eternal light of eternal life has come into the world!  Are you experiencing loneliness or are feeling friendless?  God comes in the flesh to provide His eternal companionship.  God’s glory is revealed to us in his Son, and here we learn just who the Son is.

He is the Word of God, the agent by and through whom all things were made in the universe.  He wasn’t created, he was with God from the beginning.  More than that “the Word was God.”  That is why Jesus is called God incarnate.  He is God in the flesh.  He ate with sinners and tax collectors.  He was born into this world, the world you are in it now.  This is God who is in the manger! Can you see now how far he came down to save us?

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men” (v 4).  John was sent by God to tell others about the light.  The light himself, Jesus, charges his disciples to go into the world not just to proclaim the light, but to show it to everyone.  Jesus is the true light who enlightens. The only enlightenment we need in life is Jesus.  Do you shine with his light in your life?  Have you been so consumed with passion for him that your life literally beams with joy at the precious salvation you have received?  If so, will you not tell others about it?  Will you not bear witness to it?  This pass year we temporarily parted ways with our brother Arnie Untiedt.  I’ll never forget my last visit with him.  He knew his death was very near, but he couldn’t stop telling me how he was full of joy and of the certainty of his hope in Jesus Christ.  I think he was probably more alive at that time, a leg missing due because due to diabetes, and about to enter into eternal rest, than I had ever seen him before.  That is the power of gospel living.  It’s the power to say to death, “So what?”  or, as Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:55:
 “Death is swallowed up in victory. "O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
His Own People Did Not Receive Him
[9] The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. [10] He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. [11] He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. [12] But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, [13] who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.
As we approach the conclusion of the Christmas holiday, we should be challenged a bit by what John writes here.  The very creator of the world has come, but the world did not know him.  “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”  We should ask ourselves each Christmas, each day, have we missed him?  Have we been so caught up in ourselves and our obligations and duties and shopping and gift given and gift receiving that we actually missed the light of the world?  The question is crucial because it says here that the right to become children of God is given to those who receive him.  Not everyone receives him, and even his own people forget about him.  Children of God will always look to Christ throughout life, because he is the only reason for our hope.

Grace Upon Grace
[14] And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. [15] (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) [16] And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. [17] For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. [18] No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father's side, he has made him known.
With the coming of Jesus into the world, the glory of God has been revealed to us, full of grace and truth.  That means you cannot know what grace is apart form knowing the Son of God.  You cannot know what truth is apart from Christ, the embodiment of truth.  Perhaps the most precious verse in the 18 we’ve read today is verse 16:  “And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  The way this phrase is structured in the Greek gives us the full meaning here.  This is not moving from one kind of grace to another, the way a checker moves from one square to another.  Instead, this means those who have received Christ receive grace upon grace, grace that flows forth as a fountain flows from an aquifer infinite in size.  That means our sins can never overwhelm his infinite grace.  The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.  Grace covers our sins by the blood of Christ, and there’s no way our transgressions can exceed the mercy of his grace for those who have received him.  That’s why Christians are counseled to rest in His grace.  There is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness, before or after we receive Christ into our lives.

Before Jesus, before the incarnation of Christ, there was silence, darkness, and loneliness.  These characteristics look like depression, except this is a kind of spiritual depression. Years ago, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote a book called Spiritual Depression.  The book was written to help all Christians who go through seasons where they feel detached due to sin. David Mathis found this quote and I think it fits here for this first sermon of the New Year, when so many Christians will go about the business of resolution-making.  If you find yourself experiencing theses symptoms of Spiritual Depression, what can be done?  Jones’ writes:
Would you like to be rid of this spiritual depression? The first thing you have to do is to say farewell now once and forever to your past. Realize that it has been covered and blotted out in Christ. Never look back at your sins again. Say: ‘It is finished, it is covered by the Blood of Christ’. That is your first step. Take that and finish with yourself and all this talk about goodness, and look to the Lord Jesus Christ. It is only then that true happiness and joy are possible for you. What you need is not to make resolutions to live a better life, to start fasting and sweating and praying. No! You just begin to say:
"I rest my faith on Him alone, Who died for my transgressions to atone."1
The key to Christian happiness is not to make resolutions to do a bunch of things, to make, as it were, a bunch of new rules to follow in order to secure happiness.  Instead, for Christians who have accepted Christ by faith, the solution to spiritual depression is to once again fall back on what God has already done by becoming like us in Jesus Christ, in every way except sin, so that we might once an for all be unburdened and set free from the silence, darkness, and loneliness of the world.

When God speaks his Word, the universe is created.  When God speaks, healing happens.  When God speaks, sinners are convicted of their sins.  When God speaks, sin is forgiven.  When God speaks, new life is created. When God speaks, the dead are raised. My prayers this new year is that you will hear God speak decisively through his Son, the Word made flesh, and that you will live as someone who is a child of God, so that others may see the glory of God through you.  “From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”  We have seen and heard the God who speaks.  He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me” (Revelation 3:20).  Is his voice speaking to you, right now?  Then open the door and be saved.

Now to the One who by the power at work within us is able to do far more abundantly than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

1Lloyd-Jones, Martin. Spiritual Depression. Eerdmanns: Grand Rapids, 1965. 35.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
January 2, 2011
Second Sunday in Christmastide
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew