Isaiah 49:1-7, John 1:35-51
January 26, 2014
Last week we talked about the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, which he started off with a “bang!” That is, he started with, what came to be known as, a big event. Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan, and there was a vision of the Holy Spirit and the voice of God. That was an event that really made people start to notice him! It really “put him on the map!”
If you think about it, God often works that way in the Bible. I like to say that “when God starts something, he really starts something!” Think about the day of Pentecost. Think of the dramatic, “miraculous” events that happened that day. That was the way the Church began. And of course, there are many other examples.
Well, here at the start of Jesus’ ministry we have this dramatic event with the dove and the voice of God. With that, his public ministry was off and running. And then today, the first thing we read about after that is the story of Jesus calling his disciples. (Well, that’s the first public thing he did. In some gospels he’s taken immediately into the wilderness to be tempted.)
I’m grateful to John for his account of this. In the other Gospels, Jesus simply walked up to people like these fishermen and said, “Follow me,” and they dropped everything and followed. In one case, James and John left their father still sitting in the boat! And that does say something about the nature of Jesus, how he inspired obedience in these men right away. It is amazing to us that they up and left everything at his word. That’s important. But I like how John gives us some of the dialogue. And this is great stuff! Because these men appear human here, don’t they! They show feelings. They show excitement. And they show that they have human reactions to things. Here we even have Nathanael making this wisecrack about the people of Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked. (The answer to that, of course is “Yes! Martin Guitars!”)
I like that John included that reaction, because we then have Jesus acknowledging it! In this story there is the understanding that Jesus had some kind of “supernatural vision.” He was able to see these men, and to know about them even before he met them! So when he sees Nathanael, he’s already aware of what he had said. And he says, “Behold an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” In other words, “Here’s a guy who doesn’t try to fool people.” “Here’s a guy who says what’s on his mind.” And we get the impression that Jesus isn’t paying Nathanael a compliment.
Did you ever know anyone like that? Did you ever know someone who was always saying, “I’m the kind of person who always says what I’m thinking. I always speak my mind, whatever it is.” Did you ever know anyone like that? And did you ever want to say, “You know, that’s not always a good thing.” I think Jesus was doing a little of that here.
In all this, I think we’re getting to see these men as real people. They’re not just “holy people with halos,” like the statues that have been made of them over the years. (That’s how we often think of them, isn’t it?) But as it turns out they’re human, they’re flawed, and yes, they often “don’t get it!” And yet these are the men Jesus chose to be his future leaders. I want you to see that today. And I also want you to see that calling people to service became his model for ministry, right from the start.
Now, it’s been said that Jesus was modeling his ministry after the rabbinical style. And that’s an interesting study. We could look at his ministry throughout the Gospels – especially Matthew’s Gospel – and we’d see how he was following very much along the lines of the other Jewish rabbis. But what I really want us to see is that the ministry of Jesus Christ started out with him including people in it’s leadership and mission. And that characteristic continues to this day. From the very earliest days of the Church, and even before the Church was the Church, people have been called to service. And we are part of that tradition. We are part of that call – all of us!
Think about that. In his first big speech, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of that model in his ministry. Maybe you remember his words. He said, “You are the light of the world.” Well, as it turns out, Jesus said that because he knew his Isaiah! And he knew that calling people to ministry was God’s model, too.
As a prophet, Isaiah gave the people God’s words. He said to them, “I give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) He said, “I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness. I have taken you by the hand and kept you. I have given you as a covenant to the people a light to the nations…” (Isaiah 42:6) Do you see? When we were talking about Epiphany we read these words. “Arise Shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” Do you remember that one? Well, that passage ends, “…but the Lord will rise upon you, and his glory shall be seen upon you, and nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
So Jesus was continuing what had been God’s style from the beginning. Throughout the Bible, he called people into service. But he didn’t call extraordinary people. He called ordinary people and then he used them to do extraordinary things! In Deuteronomy, he reminded the people of Israel why they had been “chosen” in the first place. “It was not because you were the most numerous people that I chose you, for you were the fewest.” (Deuteronomy 7:7) Those were the people he called to be “the light to the nations.”
Think again about these men Jesus chose. They were not the most powerful. They were not the most prestigious. They were probably not the most religious! It was said that the other rabbis would call as their disciples the smartest and the best. Some even said they chose only “the best of the best.” But Jesus chose those who were ordinary people. And Paul could easily have been thinking of them when he told about the kind of people God calls into service. To the Corinthians he wrote, “Consider your call.” he said. “not many of you were wise by worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many of you were of noble birth…” Then some of my favorite words. “…but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are…” (I Corinthians 1:26-28)
Do you get the picture? Do you see the design of God’s kingdom? And do you see that as the model of Jesus’ ministry? God chose the ordinary to do extraordinary things! And God has even chosen the likes of us. And yes, we’re human, like those fishermen. We’re flawed. We’re reactionary. We’re “the foolish, the weak, and the low and despised.” But we have been chosen to continue the very ministry of our Lord and Savior.
So that’s what I want us to think about today, and in the days to come. Last week we had a “Recommitment Sunday.” We took time then to renew our faith, and to restate our baptism vows. Now what I’d like us to do is to be renewed in our commitment to the ministry of Jesus. And I want us to remember today that we are the ministry of Jesus! All of us! Look around you. This is the model of Jesus’ ministry. These are the kinds of people he calls!
So think about that as we close today. Take a few moments in prayer, and ask God what he wants you to do as part of his ministry. Will you serve on a committee? Will you help someone who is struggling? Will you give of yourself in a greater way to support the ministry of the church? Will you paint a room? Will you help with relief efforts for people in need? Will you be a prayer warrior? Will you see yourself as called by Jesus Christ to be his servants? Think about that as we pray.
Eternal God, you have called us into service in your kingdom. Show us where and how you want us to serve. Help us to be open to your leading in our lives. And give us the strength and the inspiration of your Spirit so that we will be able to serve you faithfully. For we pray in Jesus’ name, and for the sake of his kingdom which is in our midst. Amen