Sunday, January 16, 2011
Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany (January 16, 2011)
“Knowing Jesus” (John 1:29-42)
Apparently, there are some masked men and women running around Seattle fighting crime. They call themselves the Rain City Superheroes. There’s Phoenix Jones. There’s Thorn. Oh, and don’t forget Green Reaper, Gemini, and Catastrophe. These are their secret identities. They all dress up in disguises and carry tasers, nightsticks, and pepper spray. Phoenix Jones also wears body armor … probably a smart move. Who are these people? One of them could be your neighbor. Another could be one of your relatives. You never know.
You think you know someone. You’ve been acquainted with them for years. And then they turn out to be someone or do something surprising, startling, shocking. Loren Krueger didn’t have a secret identity. He wasn’t a superhero. But he sure surprised the people of his hometown of LeRoy, Minnesota, population 925. Krueger was a retired farmer living in a humble white house in LeRoy. He had no heirs. He was a widower twice over. His only son had died from cancer. When the elder Krueger died last year, the people of LeRoy were surprised to learn that this 94-year old man had quietly amassed a fortune. What’s more, he willed all his money to various organizations and groups throughout the town. The senior center, fire department, and ambulance service each received checks for $220,000. St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, his congregation, received one million. Even the Lutherans received a check for $400,000. All in all, the town folks were the beneficiaries of close to three million dollars. Evidently, no one knew Loren Krueger had that kind of money.
Perhaps what you’ve encountered with the people you know isn’t so heroic or generous. Your surprise was finding out how someone you thought was a friend had been gossiping about you to all your other friends. Now you knew how they really feel. You felt as if you had been betrayed, stabbed in the back. You thought you knew them.
Now you’d think that John would have known Jesus, yet at one point in today’s Gospel, John says “I myself did not know him.” John and Jesus were related. We sometimes are given the impression that they knew each other when they were growing up … that is, if you believe what you see in artist’s depictions over the years. The truth is the Bible doesn’t tell us if Jesus or John had any contact prior to our Lord’s Baptism other than when they were both in their mothers’ wombs when Mary came to visit Elizabeth. Jesus grew up in Nazareth up in the north near the Sea of Galilee. John grew up in the south not far from Jerusalem. Many of you probably only saw your cousins on certain holidays, like Christmas. That may have been the case with John and Jesus … not Christmas, of course, but Passover or other festivals when families often traveled to Jerusalem if they were able.
When John said that he didn’t know Jesus, he probably meant that he did not know Jesus’ identity as the promised Messiah until that identity was revealed to him. Jesus came to John to be baptized. Even then, John recognized that Jesus was the one who should be doing the baptizing. Jesus had no sins to confess, as did all the others who came to John. Jesus insisted. Then the heavens were opened, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus like a dove, and the Father’s voice proclaimed him as his Beloved Son. At that point, John began to freely and openly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Christ. That was what he came to do. His mission was to “Make straight the way of the Lord,” (John 1:23) to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, and then to step aside because his work was finished. Now the Messiah had his work to do.
Many people claim that they know Jesus. They might like the old Doobie Brothers song, “Jesus is Just Alright With Me.” They might go so far as to say that Jesus is their “friend.” In reality, though, he is only a passing acquaintance. They have never really read the Bible or at least the Gospel accounts. What they know comes from what they’ve heard on the History Channel or the Discovery Network, which have a penchant for highlighting the most sensational interpretations or which say that the Bible is full of myths and legends. They might say that Jesus was a good teacher. A prophet. At best a “healer.” At worst a “magician” or “charlatan.” But the Messiah? They probably have no clue what that even means. You have to have more than a passing familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures before you can begin to know who the New Testament Messiah is.
What were the expectations in John’s day? Back then, people tended to focus on the promises in the Scriptures of a kingly, conquering Messiah. With the Roman Empire in charge, there were widespread, great hopes that a Divine Deliverer would come and kick the Romans out and crown himself as king of a renewed kingdom of Israel with Jerusalem as the capital. People either neglected or misinterpreted those passages that also spoke about a suffering Messiah.
What about you? What kind of a Messiah do you want? One who will heal you of all your diseases? One who will ensure you success in every area of your life … find you a job, a house, a good parking space at WalMart? One who will take all your problems away and cater to your every whim?
The real question should be “What kind of a Messiah do you need?” John the Baptist answers that question for us. He points us to Jesus, saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” John also reveals the divine identity of this Messiah when he says, “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” John was conceived and born before Jesus, so how can John say, “he was before me”? Jesus was “before” John because he existed in eternity as the Son of God, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity.
By calling Jesus the “Lamb of God,” John recalls the thousands upon thousands of animals which were offered under the Old Covenant. Sheep, bulls, goats, birds all had their blood shed in the tabernacle and later the temple as a temporary covering over of sins that had been committed. But now, here is the ultimate Lamb. Here is the Lamb who will supplant and supersede all the previous sacrifices. Here is the unblemished Lamb that will be offered once and for all. Here is the Lamb whose blood will be shed on the cross. And this Lamb does not just cover over individual SINS that are committed. This Lamb will take away the SIN of the world … the whole, entire, messed up, screwed up, corrupted condition that we have inherited from Adam and the particular sins that we ourselves have committed because of our sinful condition. This is what we need deliverance from. This is the kind of Messiah we need. One who forgives our sins so eternal fellowship and friendship with God can be restored to us.
Now we can have more than just a passing acquaintance with Jesus. We can truly know him. His identity is not a secret. It has been revealed to us in Holy Scripture, including John the Baptist’s testimony. He’s not a crimefighting superhero … but he did do battle with our adversary Satan, delivering us from evil by defeating the devil at the cross and the empty tomb. He’s more than a multi-millionaire from Minnesota … his treasures are priceless. Through Holy Baptism we are made to be heirs of all that he earned for us … resurrection, everlasting life with God, eternal bliss and joy in his presence. In the Lord’s Supper, what he promised to us in his last will and testament are given to us to eat and to drink … his very body and blood for the forgiveness of sins.
This is the blessing of Epiphany. Jesus shows forth his true identity. It’s no secret. And it’s no secret how he feels about you. He doesn’t keep his true feelings hidden, like friends who may betray you. Jesus will never betray you (and he knows how that feels, too). He loves you. He is present for you with his grace and mercy to comfort you and to support you. You belong to him.
John pointed his disciples to Jesus. His work was coming to a close. Jesus’ work was just beginning. Later, John said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30) John intended for his disciples to make the transition from following him and to now follow Jesus. In our Gospel reading, two of John’s disciples began to follow Jesus and Jesus invited them to “Come and … see” what he was all about. One was Simon Peter’s brother Andrew. Andrew in turn told his brother about this Man they had met, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” Did Andrew fully understand that Jesus had come to be a suffering Messiah? Probably not. Only after Pentecost did the disciples fully realize the implications of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
The point I want you to see here is how Andrew responded to Christ’s invitation. He went out and invited others. That’s our model, too … to invite others to come and see … and to truly know Jesus as he wants to be known. Follow him and invite others to the place where you hear his Word and learn about him. Spend time with Jesus with your “fellow followers” in Word, worship, prayer, and the Supper he sets before us … so that he is not just a passing acquaintance, but someone whom you know as your ever-present Savior, the Lamb of God who takes away your sin.