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First Impressions: John 1:29-42

January 13, 2011

There are two segments of the text from which to choose this week: verses 29-34 or 35-42.  I am using the latter, but both provide rich opportunities.  The first focuses on John’s witness to Jesus, and the second presents the story of Jesus and his first followers

1:29 The reading begins with John’s bold proclamation that Jesus is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  This gospel may contain much that is hidden, but it is not for the author’s being cute with Jesus’ identity.  “Lamb of God” is just the first of several titles used in this pericope alone, and it will become an even more important title as the passion of Jesus rushes toward its conclusion.

1:30-34 This section of text establishes Jesus’ identity with respect to John, who did not know Jesus, but whose role was to reveal Jesus to the world.  As in all the gospels, Jesus is presented here as one clearly superior to John.  In these verses, John describes the baptism of Jesus in a way that makes it seem as if the revelation was given only for John’s sake.  The descent of the Holy Spirit does not seem significant for the person of Jesus, and given that Jesus in John’s gospel is powerfully self-aware, that makes sense.  John, however, saw these things and now passes them on to his own disciples.  His work is almost done.  Jesus is about to be revealed.  John speaks another title in his testimony about Jesus: “this is the Son of God.”

Since I preached on the baptism of Jesus last week and Jesus’ unique role in God’s plan, I’ll ignore most of these verses in my preaching this Sunday.  The preacher might want to do a little study to set up John’s understanding of the Lamb of God as a way to foreshadow the passion which will be upon us in about three months.

Another possibility for preaching is the concept of testimony.  John’s role is to testify to Jesus, and that is the role of the church, as well.  What are the ways that we do that well as a community?  As individual disciples?

1:35-37 John points out Jesus a second time using the title “Lamb of God.”  This time, John’s own disciples leave the prophet to go after Jesus.  Perhaps the author of the gospel means this as a transition from John to Jesus, that John’s work is done, and now it is Jesus’ own time to take the stage.

1:38-39 Jesus notices the disciples and speaks his first words in this gospel: “What are you looking for?”  This is prime sermon material, and really invites the congregation to consider why it is they are here—in worship, reading scripture, attempting to live lives of discipleship.  Why are they doing these things?  What do they hope to accomplish or to gain?

John’s former disciples address Jesus using yet another title, “rabbi,” and they ask, “Where are you staying?”  It seems an odd question, especially to modern readers.  Yes, we enjoy tours of celebrity mansions and their five-star resorts, but why would anyone care where Jesus is staying.  Of course, that really isn’t the question.  The word here is frequently translated “abiding,” and it is one of John’s key terms.  To me, this implies a deeper relationship, a deeper way of seeing, knowing and understanding who Jesus is.  Perhaps John even means that these men want to know from where Jesus originally came (i.e. from the Father).

I will preach about this idea of abiding in our discipleship.  To know Jesus means to spend time with him and his sheep.  Our mission in the world is to abide with the world and those who need the Lamb of God.  This requires relationship, and not simply impersonal evangelism and ministry.  There is a quotation from Lesslie Newbigin in the current issue of Pulpit Resource (January-February-March 2011, p.15-16) that distinguishes between evangelism and proselytizing.  In one, there is true abiding, and in the other “we remain at a distance.”

Jesus’ response to the question “where are you staying?” is “Come and see.”  William Willimon, in the same issue of Pulpit Resource (p.14), suggests that the order of the verbs in Jesus’ answer is important.  Come first, and then see.  It is only as we follow Jesus, as we abide with Jesus, that we can expect to understand who he is.  This is a fairly frequent theme in John’s gospel.  Only as certain figures in the narrative begin to act in faith or hope or expectation do they get a glimmer of the true Jesus.  If we want to have all the answers, all the facts before we move into discipleship, we’ll never move at all.

1:40-42 These first followers then rush off to find others, including Simon Peter.  His brother, Andrew, uses the final title for Jesus in this text.  “We have found the Messiah.”  There are no secrets here.  When one sees Jesus in John’s gospel, one knows exactly who he is.  A preacher could use these last verses as one example of our communal and individual role as disciples.  We bring the news about Jesus to others.  In this case, one who receives the news is Peter, and just as the author hit us with the Lamb of God early in the story, so too he gives us the significance of Peter while still in the first chapter.  I don’t know why John reveals all his cards so early in the game, but he must have his reasons.

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