1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
January 19, 2014
John the Baptist and the Lamb of God Who Takes Away the Sin of the World
Matthias Grünewald 1512–1516
In her book Unbinding the Gospel Martha Grace Reese tells about a woman who had been looking for a church during a tough transition time in her life. She talked with several friends about what she was going through. One Sunday she visited a church near her home. She was shocked to find five of her friends and coworkers with whom she had shared her struggle belonged to that church and were in worship that day. Not one of them had suggested their church might be able to help. Not one even indicated they were part of a church. None of them had shown any sign of Christian faith. (Chalice Press, 2006, p. 77)
I have had opportunity to know Martha Grace Reese who is part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and led a four year evangelism research project in mainline churches funded by the Lilly Endowment. She concluded that “the heart of evangelism is love – of God, of church, of others.” (p. 5) Evangelism is not about programs and techniques but about these three relationships.
This reality confronts us with sobering questions. Do we have enough love for God to tell what God has done for us through Jesus? Do we have enough love for our church to invite other people to check us out? Do we have enough love for the people in our lives who do not know Jesus to introduce him to them?
If these questions don’t make you squirm enough, they point us to an even more unsettling question. Do we know Jesus well enough to introduce him to people who don’t know him or are confused about him?
In John 1:29-42, John the Baptist, Andrew and Jesus himself all give us practical, simple, accessible clues about how we can introduce Jesus to the people God sends across our paths.
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”
37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.38When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39He said to them, “Come and see.”
They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter).
John had started a popular spiritual revival. Huge crowds were flocking to the Judean wilderness to hear him preach and to be baptized in the Jordan River. Along came Jesus, and John did not engage in jealous competition. He not only pointed people to Jesus, but explained that the whole point of his life was to reveal Jesus. John the Baptist accomplished his purpose when his two disciples followed Jesus. The point of evangelism is not to build our own religious movements or congregations but to introduce people to Jesus.
The first thing Andrew did after spending an afternoon and evening with Jesus was to find his brother Simon Peter and tell him, “We have found the Messiah!” No dissertation of proof-texts or arguments. Andrew simply reported his conclusion with enthusiasm.
When Andrew and John the Baptist’s other disciple, perhaps the Apostle John, asked Jesus where was staying, he simply invited them to “come and see.” He didn’t explain “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world,” or give them a systematic theology. He simply invited them to be with him.
Back in July I told about a man who wanted to go on a youth mission trip. “I have skills and tools that can help. I don’t believe, but I won’t upset the kids’ faith. I’ll go in another room when you have Bible study and worship.” He did that for three or four years in a row. When he was baptized and joined the church, he said that what brought him to faith in Jesus was listening to youth from the other room. “Jesus was so real and so important to them, I just had to follow him too.” They knew Jesus well enough to introduce him to this man without even realizing he was listening in. What can we learn about Jesus from John the Baptist and Andrew?
John the Baptist called Jesus “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament have two images of lambs. One is the sacrificial lamb that takes the punishment for sin with its life. The other is the triumphant horned sheep who banishes defeated sin to exile. The word John used for “lamb” is only used two other times (Acts 8:32; 1 Peter 1:18-19), perhaps intending enough ambiguity for both images. We rather easily say that Jesus died and rose again so our sins are forgiven. But to know Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is to experience our own liberation from sin, guilt and shame. To introduce Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world is to confidently offer that same liberation to someone who is burdened by regret.
John the Baptist introduced Jesus as the one on whom the Holy Spirit remains and who baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Certain excesses in some Pentecostal circles are only one reason that many Christians leery of too much emphasis on the Holy Spirit. We like to keep our lives safely under control, and we’re afraid the Holy Spirit might lead us out of our comfort zones. Yet, baptizing us with the Holy Spirit is central to Jesus and introducing him to people. As we read in 1 Corinthians 1:7, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are what inform and empower all of our ministries, especially evangelism. The Holy Spirit directs people who are spiritually hungry across our paths and prods us to speak to them about Jesus. To know Jesus well enough to introduce him to others is to tune into the nudges, energy and personal presence of the Holy Spirit.
John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the Son of God. Andrew told Peter Jesus was the Messiah. So his Gentile readers could understand, John translated “Messiah” as “Anointed.” Similarly, “Son of God” and “Messiah” are foreign concepts to our secular friend and neighbors. We have to translate for them. Orthodox theology of Christ is not going to do the job. We need to communicate that by our own intimacy with Jesus, we have a relationship with God and a vision for our own lives.
During the Fifth Crusade in 1219, Francis of Assisi was appalled at the violence inflicted in the name of Christ and went to see Malik-al-Kamil, the sultan of Egypt with the intent of converting him to Christ or becoming a martyr in the process. Rather than arguing about Islam and Christianity, Francis told the sultan why he followed Jesus and invited him to join him on that journey. Though some legends say the sultan was baptized on his deathbed, he did not convert to Christianity, but is reported to have said that if all Christians were like Francis he would consider becoming one. In the eight centuries since Francis of Assisi, a vital relationship with Jesus is still the essential prerequisite for effective evangelism.
John the Baptist testified that he saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove and remain on Jesus. On the basis of what he saw, John the Baptist testified that Jesus is the Son of God. Have you seen anything that you know is from God that is worth testifying to? Does your relationship with Jesus make any difference to you beyond showing up in church on Sunday mornings?
Allan Eubank is a retired Disciples of Christ missionary who still lives in Thailand. In his book God! If You Really Are God he tells the stories of people who came to faith in Jesus by being invited to ask for some response from God in their lives. Allan makes the point that evangelism is not about convincing people with arguments but inviting them to come and see Jesus. You do not need theological training to invite people to come to church and see if Jesus meets them here. Or to invite them to read a Gospel with you and see if Jesus meets them there.
Inviting people to church is not about recruiting members for an organization. Evangelism is not about the survival of this or any one other congregation. The future of this congregation does not depend on maintenance but on mission. We come back to love at the heart of evangelism. Do you love Jesus and people enough to risk the future of the congregation so more people can get to know Jesus? We invite people to church so they can be exposed to Scripture and have friendships with people who know Jesus. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 14:25, when an outsider comes into any church gathering they “will bow down before God and worship, declaring, ‘God is really among you.’”