Sermon: Not Knowing Jesus?
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!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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?” 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ). 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). The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.
Let’s go back in time this morning. We are in the early years of the first century A.D. It is 30 A.D. to be precise, the year when Jesus is “about” thirty years old beginning his public ministry as told in our scriptures (Luke 3: 23). Imagine the setting – we are in ancient Palestine. Picture the area of land between the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea and a large, inland lake called the Sea of Galilee – this area of land between these bodies of water was called Galilee. The town of Nazareth where Jesus grew up lies roughly halfway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee, a town with about 200 people in Jesus’ day. The town of Bethsaida was located on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee, and the Jordan River ran south from the lake.
Now, picture Jesus coming from Nazareth to the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan River. No one knows him. He’s arrived on their shores – a stranger in their midst. Jesus is baptized in the Jordan River by the prophet John the Baptist, and John testifies that when he baptized Jesus, he experienced a divine vision – he saw God’s Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, resting on Jesus, and John hears a voice from heaven say: “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased,” (Matthew 3: 17). John testifies that Jesus is the Son of God. Soon after this event, Jesus comes walking nearby where John and his followers are gathered, and John looking at Jesus says: “Look, here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1: 29). Two of John’s disciples or followers standing there hear John say this.
Now, imagine. You don’t know who Jesus is. You’ve never seen him before. But John, your leader, says these amazing words. You hear these shocking words from your leader, and they are shocking words, for you as a Jewish person would immediately think: “Take away the sin of the world? Only God can do that. Only the High Priest in the temple goes into the Holiest of Holy once a year to offer sacrifice as atonement for the sins of the people, to ask God for forgiveness, and John, our leader, is saying that this person is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world?” Now, these thoughts are racing through your mind in split seconds. Imagine yourself hearing these words from your leader John, looking at him in amazement, and then I imagine myself immediately looking right at Jesus with a mixture of curiosity, intrigue and awe. John, the great prophet, who has been baptizing people in the Jordan River, telling them to repent and turn from their sinful ways, to prepare for the coming of a Great One who will be revealed to Israel, John who says: “I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3: 11) – John says this is the person? This person standing right here in front of me? This is him? My interest in Jesus is immediately focussed and very intense. I wouldn’t be able to take my eyes off him. I would become instantly intrigued.
And two of John’s followers who hear John’s words, Andrew being one of them, begin to follow Jesus. Would you? I would. I would want to know more about this person. Here is a man, a mortal, an ordinary looking man who is called the Son of God? Who will baptize with the Holy Spirit, according to John? Who is this person? What does he have to say? Wouldn’t you want to know? Jesus sees Andrew and the other disciple following him, and he turns to them and says: “What are you looking for?” They call Jesus “Rabbi” – meaning teacher, and they ask Jesus where he’s staying. Jesus says: “Come and see.” So they do. They spend the day with Jesus. And after this time with him, they are so moved and changed and convinced that Jesus is the Anointed One, the Messiah, that Andrew goes and finds his brother Simon and brings him to Jesus. This is Simon who will be called Peter, for Jesus calls him by this name in our scripture passage. “You are Simon – you are to be called Cephas,” which translates as Peter.
The next day, Jesus finds Philip, who finds Nathanael and says to him: “Come, we’ve found the one who Moses and the prophets spoke of – it is Jesus from Nazareth,” and Nathanael half-jokingly and perhaps half-mockingly says: “Nazareth? Are you kidding me? That little town? What good can come out of Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding me.” Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him sitting under a fig tree before Philip approached him. Jesus saw Nathanael from afar before he even met him in person? And later, by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus calls the fishermen Simon Peter, Andrew, James and John saying to them: “Come! Follow me! I will make you fishers of men.” Jesus calls them to join his ministry.
Imagine the questions in the minds of these newly-found followers of Jesus. Imagine their thoughts and reactions. Who is he? Where did he come from? Isn’t he the son of Joseph from Nazareth? What’s he doing? Where’s he going? John the Baptist called him the Son of God. He will give us the Holy Spirit, John said. What teaching is this? Is he truly the Messiah? The long-awaited one? He seems to be. He sounds like he is. When you’re in his company, you’re convinced that he is. He’s talking about the good news, the kingdom of God. The time is fulfilled, he says. What does he mean? What’s he talking about? Should we believe? Should we follow him? Where are we going? Where is he taking us?” The disciples didn’t know. They didn’t have all the answers.
These are the same questions we have today. Who is this Jesus? Who is he? What’s he talking about? I don’t understand. What is his meaning? The Son of God? What does that mean? When we encounter Jesus, it doesn’t matter who we are, or where we are, or what year it is, our questions are the same. We find ourselves thinking that we just don’t know. We just don’t know all the answers.
But as the disciples followed Jesus and stayed in his company, many of the questions they had were answered. The longer they stayed in the presence of Jesus, the more they learned from him and about him. They got the bigger picture of who Jesus was, and why he came to earth. He is the Bread from heaven, he says? He came from heaven? He came to save us? To offer us a different way? A different way to God? We don’t have to follow the religious laws but we are to follow His Spirit, he says? This is a different way – a different freedom from our sins and laws and bondage to structures and people and hierarchies and oppression! Jesus offers us a different way. We are to follow his Spirit, he says. It is the divine Spirit of God. This Spirit loves us and forgives us. This Spirit will be with us always, Jesus says. This is the good news, the new kingdom of God! We must tell everyone about it!
Jesus calls us to be his disciples. Will we follow? Will we tell people the good news which Jesus brings? Like the disciples of long ago – the longer we stay in the company of Jesus, the longer we pray to him and learn about him in our scriptures, the more we find out about him – we get the bigger picture, too. And don’t forget – Jesus sees our potential, just like Jesus saw the potential in the disciples he chose long ago. God is perfectly capable of honouring ordinary people just like me and you and the seemingly insignificant places where we come from, too, just like little Nazareth of long ago. And don’t forget – we don’t have all the answers, just like the disciples of long ago. We just don’t know everything, either. And that’s OK. We’re not meant to. We’re just meant to follow. And love Jesus. And love God. And commit. Give Jesus our loyalty and our heart. And he will take care of the rest. Before you know it, you have become a disciple.