Sermon 09-08-19: “What Are You Seeking?”

September 11, 2019

Sermon Text: John 1:35-51

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Beware of the “Barefoot Beer Bandit.” That was the urgent message that police in Florence, Kentucky, sent out to the public in July. An unidentified man, who was barefoot and wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey with the number 32 on it, was captured on video walking into a convenience store and stealing a case of beer. This prompted rookie Bengals running back Trayveon Williams who currently wears number 32, to tweet a link to the story with a facepalm emoji and the words, “Come on, man!”

Understandably, Williams was embarrassed to have this particular fan representing him by wearing his jersey. 

I point this out because, as you’ve probably heard before, the word “Christian” itself means “little Christ”—as if the rest of the world is supposed to learn something about Jesus by watching us. The apostle Paul tells us that we are to be “ambassadors for Christ”[1]; that is, we are quite literally supposed to represent Jesus in the world and to the world. When I was a kid in church, someone performed a contemporary Christian song that urged us to remember, “You’re the only Jesus some will ever see.” And that message probably made many of us think, “Uh oh.” 

If I’m the only Jesus some will ever see, I’m afraid those people might be lost! 

You know how some Christians put the fish decal—the icthus symbolon the back of their cars—as a way of announcing to the world, “I am a Christian, and I want everyone who’s behind me in traffic to know it.” I don’t know how wise this is! 

A couple of years ago, that satirical “Christian news” website The Babylon Bee had a phony news article about a new product that Lifeway Christian Resources had created: the “retractable fish decal.” At the push of a button on your car’s dashboard, you can make that fish decal disappear. The article said:

“Want to cut someone off, but worried you’ll be a bad witness? Now you can slap the red button on your dashboard and a small panel will rotate on your bumper, hiding the fish from view,” a company spokesperson said. “Flip people off on the freeway, drive down the shoulder during a traffic jam, all without worrying about marring the good name of Christ.[2]

Needless to say, when you get right down to it, we often represent Jesus about as effectively as the Barefoot Beer Bandit represented Trayveon Williams. Except here’s the weird part: Trayveon Williams, or any other professional athlete, is not responsible at all for who gets to wear his jersey. Yet it’s clear from today’s scripture—and the rest of the New Testament—that Jesus is entirely responsible for who gets to be his disciples. If we are Christians, if we are born again through faith in Christ, that means that Jesus Christ, through his Holy Spirit, chose us to be his disciples. As Paul says in Romans 8:30, “And having chosen them”—that is, us Christians—“God called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory.”[3] If we are Christians, we are chosen and called.

Consider today’s scripture. Two of John the Baptist’s disciples, Andrew and an unnamed disciple—do we know who the unnamed disciple is? Probably the author of the Gospel of John himself—the apostle John. I’m going to call him John. Anyway, they are students of John the Baptist. And John the Baptist had undoubtedly been teaching them about Jesus and preparing them for Jesus. So much so that when he sees Jesus coming toward them and says, in verse 29, “Behold, the Lamb of God,” they know what he means by that: here’s the man whom John the Baptist believes to be the Messiah. So the apostle John and Andrew decide that this is someone they ought to follow. 

But they likely imagine they can follow Jesus anonymously, from a distance, in the background. But Jesus won’t let them remain anonymous. We see this elsewhere in the gospels. Remember the woman with the discharge of blood. She thinks, “If I can just touch his garment—I don’t have to meet him, or talk to him, or tell him that I’m sick—if I can just touch his clothes I’ll be healed.” And she is… except Jesus won’t let her off the hook. He calls attention to her. He forces her out of hiding, until she makes a public profession of faith in him, and becomes his disciple.

The woman wanted Jesus to perform a physical healing for her, and he gives her that, of course. But he gives her so much more! 

Same sort of thing happens here, with John and Andrew. They follow him anonymously, from a distance, with no intention, apparently, of knowing him personally. So he turns around and asks, “What are you seeking?” In other words, “Why are you following me? What do you want from me?” Whatever they want from Jesus is obviously less than Jesus wants to give them. And they’re understandably embarrassed and don’t know what to say. “Rabbi, where are you staying?” “Come and see,” he says to them. And given that it’s late in the afternoon, the invitation to come to his home is also an invitation to have dinner with him—it becomes an invitation to be his friend; to know him personally, intimately; to be with him.

In fact, let me show you something interesting: In Mark’s gospel, when Jesus appoints the twelve disciples—an event that takes place some time after the events of today’s scripture—look at the job description. Mark 3:14-15: “And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach and have authority to cast out demons.”

You tell me: What is the first and most important job of a disciple? To get busy and go out and do stuff for him? No. The first and most important job—which it says right here—is to be with Jesus. Remember Mary and Martha a couple of weeks ago? Martha was all about doing stuff for Jesus—and she resented her sister for doing nothing other than spending time with Jesus. And Jesus said, “No, Martha. Mary has chosen the better thing. Being with me is the first and most important task of a disciple!”

Here’s something that scares me: I’ve seen this at literally every Methodist church I’ve been part of. Confirmation class. When 12- and 13-year-old kids spend six, eight, 12 weeks learning all about the Christian faith and then they have their big day. The whole family is there. They stand before church and get confirmed. They recite some words. They “remember their baptism.” Or some of them also get baptized. Lots of pretty pictures are taken. But the idea is, from this point forward, they will live the rest of their lives as disciples of Jesus Christ.

And I promise you, this happens every year: Many of these young people never come back to church. Like the very next week they’re gone. Or as soon as they get a driver’s license. Or as soon as they go off to college. If Jesus asked these young people, when they were getting confirmed, “What are you looking for from me?” how would they answer? I’m just looking for a check box, after which I can go back to business as usual—living my life as I usually do. And I think, “Where did we go wrong as a church? Being a disciple isn’t a one-time event or a decision. It’s a lifelong relationship with Jesus. It’s living our lives with the deep conviction that your relationship with Jesus is your number one priority! 

When young people in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod are confirmed, here’s a question that they’re asked: “Do you intend to continue steadfast in this confession and church and to suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from it?”

How would our young people answer that question? How would you and I?

[Josh Villars…] 

All that to say, many of these young people and their parents want a lot less from Jesus than he wants to give them!

The same is true for Andrew and John. They want a little bit of Jesus; he wants to give them a lot more.

Many of you know Steve Paysen, an evangelist connected to Ebenezer Baptist. His wife, Julie, is president of the Chamber of Commerce. I see Steve at the coffee shop a lot, and he was telling me a little bit about his story. His early life before Christ was dedicated, almost literally, to sex, drugs, and rock and roll. One night, as usual, he was out partying. He came home and literally passed out. He wasn’t even sure how he got home! He woke up in the middle of the night. The TV was on. But not just any TV show… it was a Billy Graham Crusade. He said he didn’t even hear the main part of Billy Graham’s sermon. He just heard the part at the end, where Graham tells the audience how they can have “peace with God” through a personal relationship with Christ. And Graham invited his audience to repent, believe in Jesus, and pray the sinner’s prayer. 

Steve felt convicted; he felt the tug of the Holy Spirit. And he prayed that prayer. Sincerely. And he said it felt as if something inside of him changed. He felt different. So the next night he was hanging out with his drinking buddy… at the bar. And he told his friend what happened the night before. “I was watching this Billy Graham Crusade. I prayed this prayer.” His drinking buddy grew up in the church, although he had been away from it for a while. But his friend said, “Man, it sounds like you got saved.” And he’s like, “What does that mean?” And Steve said for the next several weeks—unbeknownst to either of them—his drinking buddy friend was discipling him on what it means to be a true follower of Jesus. And the Holy Spirit used his friend—and today Steve is responsible for leading literally thousands of men and women and boys and girls to a life-changing, soul-saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

My point is, when Steve prayed that sinner’s prayer while watching Billy Graham on TV, he only wanted a little bit of Jesus—just enough, perhaps, to get his many sins forgiven and go to heaven when he died—but Jesus wouldn’t leave him alone until, well… he got a lot more of Jesus! Until his life was completely transformed. Until he became the person he is today—the kind of person who, among other things, sits in a coffee shop and finds opportunities to talk to other people about Jesus.

Now let’s look at Peter. I don’t know what he was looking for when he came to Jesus, but Jesus gave him so much more!  In verse 42: “Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas.’” And Cephas, John alerts his non-Jewish readers, is an Aramaic word that means Peter—the “Rock.” Jesus has given Simon son of John a new name, a new identity: He is Peter—which literally means Rocky. Why does Jesus give him this new name? It must be because he’s strong, he’s immovable, he’s unshakable, he’s unbreakable, he’s constant… he’s consistent.

And doesn’t that describe Peter? Of course… Peter is like a rock. For instance, when our Lord beckons him to walk out to him out on the Sea of Galilee, what does he do? He sinks like a stone! So, see, he is the Rock! 

Or how about when he tells Jesus, during the Last Supper, “Even if all fall away because of you, I will never fall away.” And what does Peter end up doing at the very first sign of trouble or danger? He denies even knowing Jesus—three times! In other words, he falls away. Or how about when the apostle Paul calls Peter on the carpet for hypocrisy in Galatians 2: At first, Peter thinks it’s perfectly O.K. to eat with his Gentile brothers and sisters until some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrive at the church. These Jewish believers don’t think that they should “mix” with Gentiles. And Peter is afraid of being judged by them, so he separates himself from the Gentiles. He fails to do the right thing not because he’s afraid they’ll hurl stones at him; he fails to do the right thing because he’s afraid they’ll hurl insults at him.

Some “rock,” huh? 

But Jesus gives him a new name, not based on who Peter is right now, but based on the man that he knows that Peter will become: the man that Christ himself, through the Holy Spirit, will make sure that he becomes. He’s not “the Rock” right now. But by God’s grace he’s going to be! He’s going to become that man, as Jesus tells him at the end of John’s gospel, who will be brave enough, strong enough, rocky enough, to be led to a cross of his own—where he would be crucified, following in the footsteps of his Master.

Jesus gave Peter a new name because he knew the person that Peter would become in the future. 

So here’s what I want you to do: Think back to when you first became a Christian, when you first made a profession of faith, when you first walked down an aisle and prayed the sinner’s prayer, when you went through confirmation and made public your commitment to Jesus Christ. What “new name” would Jesus have given you back then… to reflect the person you’ve become today? 

Or would your name be just the same? If it would be just the same, I’m telling you—with the full authority of God’s Word—that’s a problem!

Once, a fellow Methodist pastor heard a sermon of mine and said, “You seem to be preaching for conversion”—as if that were a bad thing! I am always preaching for conversion. I do want lost people to hear and respond to the gospel and be saved. But I’m also preaching for my conversion, even though I’ve been a Christian for 35 years… and your conversion, even though you may be a Christian. There are parts of our lives that still need to be converted! Today, for instance, I’m trying to convert us to the idea that there is nothing better than having Jesus as our life’s greatest treasure. The only reason we don’t make Jesus our greatest treasure is that we don’t believe he is. We believe we’ll find our treasure elsewhere—in career success, in family and friends, in love affairs, in money, in fame, in material possessions, in sports, in leisure time, in social media, in physical fitness. Yet those things won’t ultimately satisfy us.

Remember a month ago when I preached on Acts 12 and when Peter was in prison? The next day, as far as Peter knows, he’s going to be executed. He doesn’t know yet that an angel is going to rescue him. Now, about 15 or 20 years earlier, Peter was on a boat on the Sea of Galilee, afraid for his life that he’s going to die in a terrible storm. “Don’t you care that we’re going to drown?” And what’s Jesus doing? He’s sleeping! Peter is falling apart out of fear, and Jesus is sleeping—because he trusts in his Father to take care of him. And 15 or 20 years later, in Acts 12, what is Peter doing when he’s facing imminent death? He’s sleeping. He’s no longer falling apart; he’s no longer scared out of his mind. Because he, like Jesus, trusts in his Father. That’s the kind of “Rock” that Jesus had in mind when he called Peter! That’s the kind of faith I want to have! How about you?

By God’s grace, he will make us into these kinds of people! Amen.

1. 2 Corinthians 5:20

2. “Retractable Christian Fish Bumper Decal Now Available,” babylonbee.com, 9 March 2017. Accessed 7 September 2019.

3. I chose the NLT because the verse’s meaning requires less explanation and will be clearer to a casual hearer.

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