SERMON FOR SUNDAY, JANUARY 14, 2018
My grandson Sam, who’s thirteen years old, was for a long time, the only boy cousin on my side of the family—five girls and Sam. He was excited when Billy and then Lucas and George were born and the excitement hasn’t ended. All of them, and especially three year old Lucas, absolutely adore Sam—and the feeling is mutual. When we all gathered at Emily’s house on Christmas, Lucas could hardly contain his excitement. The first words out of his mouth when we arrived were, “Sam’s coming.” When we were at the lake last summer, Billy and Lucas would wake up and come downstairs and say, “Where’s Sam?”
And the good thing is that Sam loves his little boy cousins just as much as they love him.
When I read John’s gospel, it’s easy to imagine that Jesus had this same kind of relationship with his younger cousins. Throughout the gospel, John refers to himself as “the one whom Jesus loved.” And clearly, the love that he has for Jesus is extraordinary—it’s a love that, more than anything else, John wants all of us to share.
In the very first chapter, we find the apostle John, John the Baptist and Jesus—all of whom have surely known one another all their lives. We know that John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth is a cousin to Mary the mother of Jesus. And we know that John is only a few months older than Jesus. With the bond that Mary and Elizabeth share in the extraordinary circumstances surrounding the birth of their sons, they must surely have spent time together. Surely John the Baptist and Jesus know one another well.
And we know that James and John are the sons of Mary’s sister, Salome, making them Jesus’ cousins. While the circumstances of Jesus’ birth seem to indicate that Mary’s family had distanced themselves from her following her unexpected pregnancy, the relationship must have been restored at some point, at least with Salome, as we know that she was with Mary at the cross. And while Jesus’ brothers thought that Jesus was crazy when He began His public ministry, clearly John the Baptist and the apostle John responded very differently.
We don’t know the ages of Jesus’ disciples, but it’s believed that John was perhaps the youngest, almost certainly younger than Jesus. It’s easy to imagine him looking up to Jesus as a favorite older cousin as they were growing up.
John was the only apostle who was not martyred and he lived to be a very old man, probably into his 90’s. His gospel was written much later than the others, likely about 60 years after Jesus had returned to heaven. So he’s had a long time to reflect on all that happened, he’s seen the spread of the gospel, and he’s seen the change that occurs in the lives of those who follow Jesus—beginning with himself.
Because the temperamental young man that Jesus referred to, along with his brother James, as “sons of thunder” has grown into a man so filled with love that it just seems to pour out of him. in fact, there are stories in other literature that say that when John was old and he could no longer walk and needed to be carried about on a pallet, wherever he went, he would say to everyone he saw, “Little children, love one another.”
Matthew was one of the twelve and surely knew Jesus well; Mark recorded the story of Peter’s relationship with Jesus and Luke tells the story according to his research, according to the interviews that he conducted with Jesus’ family and others who knew him. But John writes from a lifelong personal relationship with Jesus—with the cousin that he grew up with long before he realized that this man was also the long-awaited Messiah.
And the primary purpose of John’s gospel is to let everyone know that Jesus truly is the Son of God, that Jesus deserves our worship and our praise—that Jesus deserves to be loved above all else.
And so, if you’d like to open your Bibles to John’s Gospel, when John writes in chapter 1, beginning with verse 9, “The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him,” it’s easy to imagine that as John writes these words he might be thinking of Jesus’ own family—that he might share Jesus’ pain at their refusal to believe that He is the Son of God.
And when John the Baptist says in verse 31, “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel,” we can be sure that John isn’t saying that he didn’t know Jesus—he’s saying that he didn’t know that Jesus was the Son of God. Although we have to wonder if he didn’t have some idea as clearly his mother Elizabeth knew that Mary’s baby was the Lord.
But it doesn’t appear that John the Baptist has any doubt as we read beginning with verse 29:
Joh 1:29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Joh 1:30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’
Joh 1:31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”
Joh 1:32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him.
Joh 1:33 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.’
Joh 1:34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”
John the Baptist saw the Spirit, in the form of a dove, descend on Jesus; he heard the voice of God saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” And he knew that Jesus is the Son of God.
Then we discover that the apostle John was a disciple of John the Baptist, as we read, beginning with verse 35,
Joh 1:35 The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples,
Joh 1:36 and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
Joh 1:37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
Joh 1:38 Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, “What are you seeking?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
Joh 1:39 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.
Joh 1:40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
Joh 1:41 He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
Joh 1:42 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).
So John and Andrew began immediately to follow Jesus—younger cousin John seems to have no doubts at all that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. And while he doesn’t immediately understand all that this means, he’s anxious to learn. Anxious to discover more about this older cousin.
And by the time he writes it all down, he not only has a much greater understanding of just who Jesus is and was, but he also understands that everything changed when Jesus came into the world.
So when he begins his gospel with the words, “In the beginning…” John is making it clear that when Jesus came into the world, everything changed. A new creation was beginning. He wants us to remember that the book of Genesis begins with the words “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And he wants us to understand that with the words, “In the beginning was the Word” he is introducing the beginning of a something totally new.
He wants us to understand that, with Jesus, everything has changed. And that, in order to be a part of this new creation, we too must change.
Verse 12 says, “To all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”
The apostle Paul wrote that we are “new creations in Christ Jesus.” This is what John is talking about.
And as John the Baptist speaks of Jesus’ baptism, we find that the change is the result of the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven. In the beginning, God created the world—He created the physical world that we see around us and He created physical man. And while God was present with His people, even sending the Holy Spirit into people at various times for various purposes, it was nothing like this.
The apostle John tells us that on that day when Jesus was baptized, John the Baptist “bore witness: ‘I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him’” (John 1:32).
“It remained on him.” In Jesus, heaven has come down to earth. The Holy Spirit came down and remained on Him. And everything changed.
But not everyone believed. Jesus’ brothers didn’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God until after the resurrection. What about you? Have you ever doubted whether Jesus was really God? Ever thought He was just a mere man? Maybe a prophet? John’s gospel leaves no room for doubt.
“The Word was God.” How many times in the Old Testament do we read of the “word of the Lord” coming to the prophets? Of the psalmist speaking of God’s Word: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105). We read that God’s Word brings about change: “My word that goes out from my mouth … will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
And now the Word of God has come into the world in the form of a man—in Jesus. Come to live among us.
When Andrew and John followed Him, Jesus turned and asked, “What are you seeking?” What are you looking for? What do you want?
The same question that He asks every one of us. What are you looking for? What do you want from Jesus? Are you following Him? Following Him the way you follow friends on Facebook or Twitter? Checking in with Him when you happen to think of it or when it’s convenient? Reading His words occasionally?
Is that what Jesus expected when He asked John and Andrew, “What are you seeking?” Was He hoping they’d say, “We just want to hang around for a while and get to know you a little bit. We’ve been following John the Baptist and it’s been pretty exciting to listen to him—he gets really fired up. And watching him eat those locusts—it’s amazing. Everybody’s coming out to see Him and thousands of people have been baptized. He’s been saying for a while that someone is coming who’s more important that he is—and today he said that you’re that person.
What were they seeking?
Were they hoping that Jesus would become famous and that some of that fame would rub off on them?
That first day when they turned away from John the Baptist and followed Jesus, do you think they expected that everything in their lives would change forever? Because that’s what happened. They must have been pretty impressed because immediately Andrew went to find his brother Simon and bring him to meet Jesus.
When’s the last time you were so excited about Jesus that you couldn’t rest until you shared Him with your brother or your friend?
Are you a follower of Jesus Christ? Or do you just like Him? How do you know?
John and Andrew went with Jesus “and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day.”
For some of us, that’s all we do. We stay with Him for a day. We stay with Him just long enough to decide that He really is God and that we’ll believe in Him for salvation. We want a relationship that we can benefit from. We want salvation, we want God to answer our prayers, we want Him to bless us with good health, good relationships, and a happy life—but we don’t want to change the way we live. But is believing in the Son of God really enough? Even demons believe in Him.
Others of us go a bit further. We want to get to know this Jesus. We decide to believe in Him and in the gospel enough to contribute comfortably to His church. We decide that as long as we don’t have to change too much, we’ll do some of what God asks. If it doesn’t hurt too much—if it doesn’t interfere too much with all the things we want to do.
This is where many of us are. We’ll follow Jesus anywhere—as long as there’s a good benefit package. As long as we don’t have to risk any of our earthly treasure to do it. As long as it doesn’t mean putting Jesus ahead of our family and friends.
And finally, there’s a third group. These are the people who believe in God and in the gospel of Jesus Christ enough to give their lives to it. They surrender earthly treasure, earthly ambition, to truly give it all for Jesus. They become different people. This is what Peter and John did. They turned away from their former lives and allowed themselves to be totally transformed into true believers of Jesus Christ. They heard Jesus’ words and they really believed them. They understood that Jesus wasn’t kidding when He said, “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life?” (Matthew 16:25-26).
Are you willing to give your whole life for Jesus? To let go of all those things that you think are so important in this world to really follow Him? Or would you rather lose Jesus in order to hang onto your earthly treasures?
Maybe you’re not sure which group you belong to. Ask yourself: have you done one thing today or yesterday because Jesus said, do it? Or have you not done something that you wanted to do because Jesus said, don’t? When’s the last time you didn’t do something that you wanted to do so that you could do something that God was calling you to do?
It’s simply absurd to say you believe, or even want to believe in Him, if you don’t do anything He tells you. if you can think of nothing He ever said that has had even a little bit of influence on what you do or don’t do, you have good reason to consider yourself no disciple of His.
Paul wrote to the church at Galatia, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Are you ready to let your personal hopes and dreams die? All of them? Do you really believe that God’s plan for your life is better than anything you could ever come up with on your own?
Paul told the Ephesian elders that “I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). Are you willing to give up everything else in your life for the opportunity to tell others about the grace of God?
The apostle John, on discovering that his cousin Jesus was the Son of God, immediately set aside everything else in his life to follow Jesus. Not just for a day, not just for a week—not even just for the three years of Jesus’ public ministry. He followed him every one of his 90+ years.
Did he consider this to be a great sacrifice? Did he mourn all the other things he could have been doing? Did Paul or Peter or any of the rest of the disciples?
No—nowhere is there the slightest indication that they ever regretted their decision to follow Jesus.
And yet in our world today, a world where billions of people say they believe in God, we see little difference in the way most of them live their everyday lives.
How about you? What are you looking for?
Are you looking for some knowledge about God? Or are you looking to be transformed? To be changed into people who give our all for Jesus every single day.
Because it is only when Christianity, when following Jesus, causes us to really enter into the story ourselves, when it causes us to live out the story of God, that we become the people that Jesus calls us to be. That we become true followers. Because God’s story isn’t over—it’s still being told today. And each one of us has the potential to become both a chapter of history and a part of His story.
In Isaiah 49:6 God says to Isaiah, “I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” God’s not talking about the salvation of the one telling the story—He’s talking about the salvation of those who are going to hear it, who need to hear it, wherever they may be.
What we’re all looking for without even knowing it is a place to stay, a place to remain always. Jesus is that place, a person who is Himself a home, a way of life. Jesus knows that what the disciples really want is a place to belong. He says, “Come and see.” John and Andrew go with Him. They end up staying and His story becomes their way of life.
“What are you looking for?” says Jesus who were told by someone else where He could be found. “Come and see,” He said to people who wondered if they had a place in His story. The thing that moves people from one question to the other, from “What are you looking for?” to “Come and see” is the story the church has been called to tell. It’s the only story the church has to tell, the story of its home, the place from which we draw hope and strength and power. That place is a person and the best way to tell His story—perhaps the only way—is with our lives.