My Beloved Disciples

Text: John 1:35-42a
Date: Epiphany II X 1/16/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI

The Apostle and Evangelist St. John must have loved recalling and telling of this, his first encounter with and his first steps in following Jesus. For, then everything was so new, so fresh, so exciting. He was a disciple of John the son of Zechariah who, everyone said, was a real, true prophet of God. And people, lots of people, were responding to his preaching: “Repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins.” I’m sure young John was among the first to be baptized. I wonder if he then served as an usher of sorts, directing people into and helping them out of the Jordan River. This was really new and not like the, at times, boring round of chants and readings in synagogue and sacrifices in the temple.

So the Evangelist tells us of one day, when the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him, he said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” Now this wasn’t the first time Jesus had visited the scene. You will notice that unlike Matthew, Mark or Luke, John does not write a record of Jesus’ baptism. The only reference to that shows that it must have happened the day or days before this because on this day the Baptist tells how he saw, when Jesus was baptized, the Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove. So I wonder why Jesus was hanging around? Why did He come back each day? For we read “the next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’” (Jn. 1:35-36). Well, one reason Jesus hung around a few days was because, among other things, He had in mind drawing, attracting, calling these two disciples of John to be His own disciples. Today we see the Epiphany light shine on and in the hearts of two men who would be among the Twelve witnesses of our Lord’s life and teaching, and His death and resurrection, Andrew and the beloved disciple, young John.

Before we talk about the conversation between Jesus and His two new disciples, however, a comment about the repeated message and preaching of John the Baptist. Actually, this is a thought expressed by Paul E. Kretzmann in his “Popular Commentary” in the early 1920s. He observed, “The day following the Baptist again stood, and with him two of his disciples. And again he looked upon, fixed his eyes upon, Jesus, who was walking about near by, crossing his field of vision with the object of reaching the place where He lodged. Again John sounded forth his Gospel message of the Lamb of God” (emphasis mine). Having emphasized the word “again” three times Kretzmann then notes, “We should never grow weary either in preaching or in hearing the precious news of salvation. John had testified of Jesus the day before, without results. Here he again sounds the same glorious truths, and his words make a deep impression. For this time the two disciples heard, and also gave heed to, what he was saying. The repetition probably aroused them out of their attitude of indifference; they followed Jesus. The testimony concerning Christ will always lead to Christ, the Savior of the world. Jesus knew, according to His omniscience, that they were there; He knew also what was going on in their hearts, that they had been touched by the testimony of John.”[1]

“Never grow weary…in preaching or in hearing the precious news of salvation.” It is like the apostle Paul wrote to the young preacher Timothy, “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season;” that is, whether the message is popular or unpopular, seemingly effective or not at any given time, “reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths” (2 Tim 4:1-4). And that itching ear syndrome has happened time and again, repeatedly throughout history.

In one sense, every Christian sermon is the same. It just varies in some of the details or the delivery. But every Christian sermon is about the truth, the precious news of salvation as proclaimed by the Baptist: Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. For the goal of every sermon is the creation and strengthening of God’s gift of faith in those who hear—faith in this Jesus. As the “Lamb of God” He is the one and only offering to God in His death and resurrection that actually takes away the sin of the whole world; takes it away by means of paying the price, the wages of sin and thus opening the kingdom of God to all believers. That’s great news if, for no other reason, than that it answers the age old question of how a person becomes “good enough” to be accepted by God and delivered from His wrath and punishment. The answer: not by works but only by faith in Jesus, the Lamb of God who has taken away your sins. The Holy Spirit creates this saving faith, not in any other way, but by the preaching of the Gospel and administration of the Sacraments in those who hear the good news that God justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ’s sake (Augsburg Confession, Article V). After all, as Kretzmann noted, it took a couple of days with Andrew and John. So also, each and every heart and soul is “ready” at differing and various times and possibly even never depending on all sorts of situations and circumstances beyond our control or even knowing. Examples from my experience as a pastor abound.

The second point is that the creation of saving faith takes time—teaching, instruction and time. Jesus saw John and Andrew coming to Him. Every believer is to know that God saw your coming to faith from the beginning. Moreover, God begins the conversation. “Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’” Faith needs to be grounded and given direction; grounded in the fundamental issue of deliverance from sin and death, and given direction to discover that deliverance by faith in Jesus. Maybe John and Andrew knew something about discipleship, what we call “catechesis,” for they answered asking Jesus, “where are you staying?” implying the desire for a time of instruction and learning. What a wonderful invitation, then; you can almost see Jesus’ smile when He says to them, “Come and see.”

Discipleship and catechesis implies that God doesn’t just want your head but your heart and life. “He wants those that contemplate discipleship under His merciful care to consider in advance what they are doing. For that reason the catechetical preparation for confirmation is indispensable under ordinary circumstances. In extraordinary cases the very thief on the cross is accepted in his last hour, but normally a Christian should be fully persuaded as to the course he is choosing in following Jesus.”[2]

John remembered. He remembered this first conversation with Jesus because the very words would ring with the truth later regarding the Lord’s goal and purpose. When He asked the two, “What are you seeking?” it calls to mind the almost identical question He put to those who came to arrest Him in the Garden before His crucifixion. When “Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons…Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, ‘Whom do you seek?’ They answered him, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am he.’ Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, ‘Whom do you seek’ And they said, ‘Jesus of Nazareth.’ Jesus answered, ‘I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.’ This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: ‘Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one’” (Jn. 18:3-9). The question, “What are you seeking?” is met and connected to our Lord’s passion, suffering and death as the key to saving faith.

Further, when Jesus invited the two with the words, “Come and see,” a catechized disciple can’t help but think of Easter Sunday when Peter came to Jesus’ tomb, looked in and saw the linen cloths lying.” Then John himself “also went in, and he saw and believed” (Jn. 20:3-10). Also, when the risen Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene, He asked her, “Whom are you seeking?” It was only as He spoke her name, “Mary,” that her eyes were opened and she saw and believed. This, of course, is the continuing goal, first, of catechesis and of continued Bible study, the opening of the eyes of faith. And there are other passages called to mind by Jesus’ probing question. The greater, the more thorough the catechesis, the understanding of scripture, the deeper, stronger and more profound the faith.

The season of Epiphany announces the coming of the Light of Christ and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit working faith in the heart through the Word and Sacraments of Christ. Next Sunday John the Baptist’s service is coming to an end and Jesus’ earthly ministry of preaching, teaching and healing begins in earnest with the goal of His supreme sacrifice outside of Jerusalem on the Cross. May the Lord Himself continue to open the eyes of your heart even “as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Cor. 1:7b-9).


[1] http://www.kretzmannproject.org/

[2] Kretzmann, ibid.