Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2017
[Note: The Divine Service at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Bonne Terre, Missouri, for January 15, 2017, has been iced out. So I am posting the sermon for the equivalent Sunday, the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Series A, from January 20, 2008. CH]
“Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find” (John 1:29-42a)
The Epiphany season traditionally is a time for emphasizing the church’s work of evangelism and missions. Why is that? Well, think of the event celebrated on the Epiphany festival: Wise men from the east, being led by a star to find the Christ child–in other words, the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. Or think of the word, “Epiphany”; it means “manifestation,” “appearing,” literally, a “shining forth.” In the Gospel readings during the Epiphany season, we see Jesus shining forth into a sin-darkened world. And now, in our day, the church is the beacon Christ uses for that shining forth. What we heard earlier in the reading from Isaiah applies not only to Christ but also to his church: “I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Today, then, we’re going to see how Christ will use us to be that light shining forth. Only we’re not going to talk about bringing salvation to the end of the earth as much as we’ll talk about bringing it to the places right nearby. Local evangelism, personal witnessing–that is our focus today. In today’s Gospel reading, we see several good examples of personal witnessing. Of course, the first priority is that this text would witness to us, bringing us the good news of salvation. Only then, with faith and forgiveness in Christ, and alive in his Spirit–only then can we hear it also for what it tells us about our witnessing to others. But the gospel is powerful enough to do both, bring good news to us and help us bring good news to others. In that light, then, today we will pick up “Three Evangelism Pointers: Point, Invite, and Find.”
The first point then is to point! The “pointer” in our text is John the Baptist: “John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” John the Baptist points people to Jesus. In an old church in Isenheim, Germany, there is a magnificent altar painting of the crucifixion of our Lord. The body of Christ is shown hanging on the cross, contorted with pain and agony. The hideous horror of death is depicted in all its terror. Christ’s dying body is painted with a gruesome, almost greenish, tinge. At the base of the cross you see the women crying. Off to the side, there stands a rugged character, clad in a rough garment made of animal hair. That person, of course, is John the Baptist. But if you think about it, you realize that such a scene could not have been actually possible. John the Baptist was beheaded long before Jesus was crucified. But as to the great truth that it conveys, the painting is absolutely accurate. For what strikes you when you see the painting is what John the Baptist is doing. He is standing there with his arm extended, pointing to Christ on the cross. And the interesting detail is the finger with which John is pointing. It is long–a little too long, really, to go with the rest of his hand. You see, the artist, Matthias Gruenewald, deliberately painted it that way to call attention to John’s ministry as a “pointer.” John pointed people to Jesus Christ–and him crucified as the sacrifice for sin. And as you see John standing there, pointing to Christ, your mind automatically fills in those famous words from our text today: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
What a message of both Law and Gospel this is! “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” We hear the Law when John refers to “the sin of the world.” Notice that he says “sin,” not “sins.” How come? One commentator puts it like this: “The singular ‘sin’ raises attention above individual sins (which people attempt to play down and excuse) to the abominable condition of the entire human race in its state of rebellion, separation from God, and spiritual death. It is this whole deadly mess which the Lamb of God removes, lifting it off us by his sacrifice.”
John says “the sin of the world.” And we are the world! It was our sin, our part of the whole deadly mess, that is included in “the sin of the world.” Think of a big ball of mud and dirt, as big as the world itself, and we each have contributed our part. It is that whole world of sin–the sin of the world–that would crush each one of us, and all of us together, under its weight.
And so John preaches Gospel, beautiful Gospel, when he points us to “the Lamb of God, who takes away” the sin of the world! That huge boulder of guilt and death, weighing us all down–Jesus Christ comes and takes it away! Christ picks up that big ball of sin, lifts it off us and puts it on his own shoulders and carries the full weight of it to the cross. My friends, Jesus takes away all our sin, the whole deadly mess. Trusting in him, you and I are forgiven and free.
Jesus takes away the sin of the world, and he does this as “the Lamb of God.” The Lamb of God: What all the sacrificial animals of the Old Testament pointed ahead to, that Christ accomplished. He shed his blood as our substitute. He died that we might live. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him”–on Christ, the Lamb of God–“the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” That’s what John is saying here when he calls Jesus “the Lamb of God.”
So our first evangelism “pointer” today is simply to be that kind of “pointer”–a John the Baptist type of pointer, pointing people to the Savior, Jesus Christ. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” You and I know Christ to be our Savior. He has taken away our sin. And that is why and how we are able to point others to him as well.
The first point is to point. The second evangelism pointer is to invite. And the one doing the inviting in our text is Jesus himself. Two of John’s disciples hear John calling Jesus “the Lamb of God.” They begin to follow Jesus, and this is what happens: “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to him, ‘Rabbi, where are you staying?’ 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.”
The curiosity of these two had been aroused, and Jesus took note of it. He stopped what he was doing for a moment and engaged them in conversation. He drew them out a little bit with an open-ended question, “What are you seeking?” They wanted to know where Jesus was staying, so they could go and find out some more about him. He simply says, “Come and you will see.” That is Jesus’ invitation to these two. Once they get to where Jesus is staying, then they can spend some time getting to know more about him.
Now this is an example for us in our personal witnessing. In our daily encounters with people, we have opportunities to engage people in conversation. We can draw them out with open-ended questions. Or they may approach us with questions of their own. When we recognize those open doors, when the other person’s curiosity or interest has been aroused, what can we do then? Well, we don’t necessarily have to launch into an hour-long discourse on the person and work of Christ and the doctrine of justification–although I won’t say that couldn’t happen, if the interest is there and you can do it in words the person will understand. But you might just simply invite the person and say, in effect, “Come and you will see.”
Invite people to come and see. Invite them to the place where Jesus is staying and where they can spend some time finding out more about him. Jesus is staying where his gospel is, and that is here in church. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” Jesus is here, really present, and through the preaching and teaching of the gospel, he is giving out his gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. Therefore one of the best things you can do is simply to invite that person to come and join you here in church. You can do that with confidence, because this is where Jesus is staying with his gospel, this is where he has promised to be present.
Be an inviter. In a book called, “The Inviting Church,” the author reports the results of a survey of newcomers in congregations from around the country. The survey asked the question, “What brought you to church?” Here are the results: 2% had seen an advertisement; 6% came through an organized evangelistic outreach program; 6% had been invited by a pastor; 86% came by invitation of a friend or family member. Did you catch that? 86% came because someone they knew invited them! It should come as no surprise that friends and family members influence other friends and family members.
But this raises an important question: Is there someone you know–perhaps someone in your family or at your work or maybe your next door neighbor–is there someone you know whom you could invite to join you at church or for Bible class? Wouldn’t it be great if St. Matthew’s could be known as, “The Inviting Church”? That will happen when we invite the people we know–our friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors–when invite them to join us at church. “Come and you will see.”
Point. Invite. And now, third, find. The “finder” we read about in our text is Andrew, one of those two who came and saw. Andrew “first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’” The invited becomes the inviter! Andrew had been invited to come and see, and now he, in turn, finds somebody else to invite. Isn’t that the way it is with us? Jesus has invited us to come to him. We have been where he is staying. And what we have found is so wonderful that we can’t help but want to go and find someone else to share in our happiness. That’s what Andrew does. It’s even the first thing he does. There is some excitement, some enthusiasm, in Andrew because of his encounter with Jesus. He can’t wait to tell somebody what he has found.
One day the Greek scientist Archimedes sat down in his bathtub to take a bath. He noticed that the water rose and overflowed the tub a bit when he put his body into the water. Suddenly the light came on in his mind. He had just figured out what in physics is called the principle of displacement. Well, old Archimedes was so excited by his discovery that he got up out the bathtub and started running down the street naked, yelling “Eureka!” which in Greek means, “I have found it!”
Now I’m not advocating that you run up and down the streets of Bonne Terre in your birthday suit yelling, “Eureka!” I’m not sure that would be the most effective evangelism method. But I am saying that you and I have found something even greater and more exciting than what Archimedes discovered. It’s the good news of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Let the gospel be good news for you once again! Consider how wonderful your Savior is, all the great things he has done for you, and all the great things he still has in store for you! Do that, and you too will have some of the contagious enthusiasm of an Archimedes or an Andrew.
Andrew “first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’” Andrew found two people, really. He found his brother, and then he said that he had found the Messiah. Now as to his “finding” the Messiah, the question is, really: Who found whom? Of course, it was really Jesus who found Andrew. Just like it was Jesus who found us, lost and wandering in our sin. It was Christ who found us, but the sense of excitement and discovery we experience makes it seem like we found him. And because of the joy we find in Christ, we then want to go and find someone else who could use that life also. We go and find our brother, our sister, our neighbor, our friend, our co-worker. And we say, “Listen to what I have found!”
We find our brother and say, “We have found the Messiah.” We invite our friend, saying, “Come and you will see.” We point people to Christ and say, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Point, invite, and find–three evangelism pointers for us today. But the beginning point–and ending point–is that Christ has found you and invited you to himself. He, the Lamb of God, has taken away your sin. And now through you, this same Jesus continues to do the pointing, inviting, and finding. The Epiphany light is shining! It is shining for us, and it will shine forth through us to others.