Isaiah 11:1-10, John 1:35-46
December 9, 2007
Last week we looked at one of the three themes of Advent. That one had to do with the Second Advent of Christ. We remembered then Jesus’ promise to come again into this world. Today we look another themes of the Advent season. This is one in which we celebrate the beginning of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. And that includes the ministry of Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist.
Think about that. Up until this time, Jesus had spent around 30 years of his life in relative obscurity. We know very little of that time except for the one story we have in Luke’s Gospel. That was the time he was 12 years old, and his family was on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. And when they left for home Jesus stayed behind in the city. Do you remember story? Of course, one of the things we need to remember about that story is that 12 years old then is not same as it is today. And we often picture a child when we think about that story, don’t we? In that age, life was much shorter, and 12 was probably more of an adult than we might think. By that time, Jesus was probably through his regular schooling and probably his Bar Mitzvah! We’ll talk about that one after Christmas some time.
That’s the only story in the Bible about Jesus’ childhood. Luke then tells us that he “returned to Nazareth with his parents and was obedient to them.” And then the story ends with the words, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.” (Luke 2:51-52.” In those two short verses is encompassed the next 18 years of Jesus’ life.
Fast forward to the time we’re thinking about today. At that time, John came on the scene. And remember that John is Jesus’ cousin – or uncle, or nephew – we aren’t sure which since his mother Elizabeth is simply described as being Mary’s “kinswoman.” So John came on the scene and he started to fulfill that role in the coming of the Messiah which the Old Testament prophets assigned to the prophet Elijah. He started to “prepare the way.” Our Call to Worship contains some of that prophecy.
Now, understand that John’s ministry was very important to those people! The people believed John was a prophet. And that was saying something! There had not been a prophet in Israel for many hundreds of years. And many thought so highly of John that it was hard for them to make the transition to the importance of Jesus. The Gospels give us an indication of that. In the great Prologue of John’s Gospel we read, “He was not the light, but came to bear witness to the light.” Then a little later John tells the crowds, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one whom you do not know, even he who comes after me, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” Every of the Gospel writers quotes those words. They may not quote all of his other words the same way, but they all agree on that “untying of the sandals” thing.
So John comes on the scene, preaching and baptizing in a way that gets him noticed, and which “ruffles some feathers.” But then he points to Jesus. And in John’s Gospel this takes place in a little bit differently. He always “fleshes out” the stories more. John sees Jesus coming and he says, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And then he explains how he came to that conclusion, which is pretty amazing if you think about it. He tells how the Holy Spirit revealed to him how he would know the Messiah when he came. In verse 33 he says that the spirit told him, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, that’s the one.”
Now, just imagine what it must have been like for him! He was told to look for one who was being sent by God, and the spirit descends on his cousin! That had to have been weird for him! But John goes with it. And he begins proclaiming Jesus to be Messiah, the Son of God! Amazing!
That brings us to the scene we have today in verse 35 and following. Here we find John standing with two of his disciples. (Yes, John had disciples, too!) He sees Jesus walking by, and he says, “Behold, the Lamb of God.” And the two disciples got up and started following Jesus. One of them was Andrew, the brother of Peter. And when Jesus turned and asked them what they wanted, they ask where he is staying. And Jesus said these words I’ve used for my sermon title, “Come and see.”
Well the word started to spread. One of the disciples whose name was Andrew told his brother Simon (who would become Peter) who then met Jesus, and then Jesus met Philip, and asked him to follow. Then Philip went and found Nathaniel. And we have this little exchange here. Philip was very excited, and he told Nathaniel how this Jesus was the one of which the prophets spoken! And Nathaniel then makes some disparaging remarks about people who live in Nazareth. How could Jesus be the Messiah if he came from there? Philip was not deterred! He probably just smiled, and then said these words Jesus himself said, “Come and see!” That’s it. No explanation. Just “Come and see!”
Those are the words I want you to think about today as we think about our Advent celebration. “Come and see.” As we think about God coming to earth in human form, I want us to think about the “experience of God.” I want you to think about how you have come and known him. And I want us to see how important that is to our faith.
In the 34th Psalm, David says, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me…” and then, just a little later, he writes, “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Happy is the man who seeks refuge in him.” What a great metaphor for seeking and experiencing God – “taste and see.” I can’t tell you how important that is to our faith. Because faith is not about learning what we believe. Faith is not about making sure that we have the right Theology, or Christology, or Eschatology, or Soteriology, or Trinitarian Doctrine.
In my library, I have several complete “Systematic Theologies.” They are books – volumes of books, in which the beliefs of Christianity are written out systematically. I have the Systematic Theology of Charles Hodge in three volumes. I have the Systematic Theology of Carl Barth in I don’t remember how many volumes. (Germans never write short books!) And I have a couple of others. And it’s also been said that the Book of Romans, especially the first 8 chapters, is the Systematic Theology of the Apostle Paul. It’s everything we believe laid out systematically.
Well, I’m glad to tell you today that you don’t have to know all that stuff! Certainly it’s good that somebody has thought about all that so we can have that as a resource. But to be part of God’s kingdom, now and in the future, you don’t have to write or even read a Systematic Theology. You just have to know God. And the best way to know him is through the Son he sent so we can know him! The best way to know God is to “come and see.”
I hope you see how important that is. Because then, when we talk to others about knowing God, it’s the same thing. We can’t just tell people about our faith. We can’t just tell them the story, or give them the doctrine. We can’t say, “I want you to know the peace and joy I have in my life, so here let me read you the Systematic Theology of Charles Hodge.” That won’t do it. We must compel them to “come and see.”
Have you noticed lately that a lot of commercials lately have started to promise they can “answer all your questions?” Listen for that! It’s as though that’s the main selling point of their product. “We’re the Hair Club for Men. Call us. We can answer all of your questions.”
I say that because unfortunately something happens when we try to reach out to someone. When we try to talk to someone about knowing God, or helping someone in a time of crisis – hoping to point them to God, something happens. Something happens where we forget our experience, and we fall back into thinking we have to explain it all. And then we get hung up, “I don’t know enough to share my faith with someone.” “What if they ask a question I can’t answer?” We forget that it’s the experience of God that drew us to God in the first place. We didn’t have all our questions answered. We simply answered the call to “come and see.” That’s’ what we need to tell others. “Come and see.”
My friends, answering people’s questions is not the aim of Christian outreach. This is not the “Hair Club for Men.” We don’t have to answer all their questions. And I’ll tell you another important thing. We need to recognize that, in our world, some people have very legitimate questions about the Christian faith. “Why does Christianity sound so ‘exclusive’?” “What about other religions?” “Why does God allow suffering?” Those are valid questions! And we must validate them! We cannot belittle those questions or we will lose those people right off the bat! We need to remember that Jesus (and Philip) did not say, “Come and I’ll answer all your questions.” They simply said, “Come and see.”
Jesus came to this earth to “make faith personal,” as one pastor from Atlanta said recently. Sure, through Jesus we know more about God. And I’m sure that’s one reason he came. But the big reason he came is that the creator wanted to share life with those he created! God wants to be in relationship with us. Christianity is not a bunch of mindless and will-less robots serving a bigger God. “It’s what a friend we have in Jesus.” It’s not “For God so wished the world would get things right that he sent his Son…” It’s for God so (what) loved the world!” And at Christmas time we celebrate “Immanuel.” Not God ruling us as king, but God with us!
John wrote in his first letter, “See what great love the father has given us that we should be called Children of God. And so we are.” (I John 3:1) That’s what we need to know in our lives. That’s what we need to tell people. Not “we can answer all of your questions.” Not even “we have all the answers.” We need to tell them that in time their questions may become smaller. Or they may disappear completely. Or they may linger in their minds and pop up from time to time. We don’t know. But what we do need to do is bid them, “Come and See.”
Eternal God, your love for us is everlasting, and your faithfulness is to all generations. We thank you for your great love that we cannot begin to understand. But we will come and see. We will experience the relationship with you first hand. Let your spirit open us more fully to your love. Let it change us. Let it make us more like Christ, in whom you showed us your love. For we pray in his name, Amen.