John. Baptizer And Evangelist
January 18, 2020 Pastor: Rev. George Fyler
John 1:29-42 ~ John the Baptizer/Evangelist
Epiphany 2 A, Christ Lutheran Church, Cleveland, OH, 1-19-2020
29 The next day [John] saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John bore witness: “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” John 1:29-34
In the Name of the Father and of the Son (X) and of the Holy Spirit. AMEN
Dear beloved of the Lord:
The days move rapidly in John chapter 1. John the Baptist has completed his first calling and smoothly transitions into his second as an evangelist. We make evangelism much more complicated than it needs to be. John gives us a simple example to follow. Behold, see how the Word of the Lord grows. God sends His preacher to direct his hearers to the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). God’s preacher’s point their congregations always to Jesus, the Savior, the Sacrifice for sin. Then the hearers follow Jesus. It was never about John. It was, is and always will be about Jesus. They follow Jesus and come to the place where He is staying. They remain with Him and hear His teaching. Then Andrew goes and finds his brother, Simon Peter, and brings him to Jesus to hear for himself. The pattern continues: Jesus calls Philip, who then finds Nathanael. Note, in every case the key element of evangelism is the evangel, which is to say the Gospel, which is to say Jesus. Evangelism is simply this: It is the speaking and giving of Jesus.
This is the vital truth the body of Christ must honor and maintain for every time, culture and situation. Mission work and evangelism are major themes of the Epiphany season. We have no shortage of books and blogs and websites and advice from the experts about how to do evangelism. Some of these may have their merit. Synod and districts have their programs, though they bend over backwards to call them anything but programs. Many who offer what they claim to be surefire methods of Church growth. “Just change your style of worship. Sing the right songs. Say the right things. Serve the right coffee. Bend your message to the will of the world. Not too much doctrine. Don’t insist on anything. Do not claim to know what is right and true. And, if you’re determined, and if you really want to grow, get rid of that cross with the dead God on it. It’s ugly. It’s offensive. It’s not what people want to see. It’s not what people want to hear.”
Please note, the very best that human wisdom can offer sounds nothing like our Holy Gospel. John simply points us to Jesus and proclaims: “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (v. 29). He points to Jesus. He speaks of Jesus. He gives Jesus.
That is what evangelism is. Notice it begins with God’s man sent to preach. John comes preaching a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He comes preparing the way of the Lord. And when the Lord comes, John decreases that the Lord may increase. John never preaches himself. He always denies that he is the Messiah. “After me comes a man who ranks before me, because he was before me.” (v. 30) John points away from himself to Jesus. This teaches something profound about evangelism and the nature of Church and ministry. Whenever a preacher magnifies himself … whenever a preacher becomes the substance of the message and the Church revolves around the preacher’s personality, the Gospel is obscured. The evangel is overshadowed by the man. A wolf has appeared in sheep’s clothing. A pastor sent by Jesus should disappear under the robes of his office. A faithful servant of the Word is ever and always pointing to Jesus and proclaiming Him “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Evangelism is giving Jesus. So, it starts here where Jesus is, in the flesh, with His Word and Spirit, in the water, in the bread and wine, bestowing His death and resurrection on sinners, reconciling them to the Father. The preacher points you to Jesus, and you are evangelized … you are “Gospeled” by preaching and Sacrament. Furthermore, you abide here where Jesus is staying, in His holy Church, and He Himself catechizes you by His Word. Then you go out to your home and to your community, to your vocations, your various stations in life, and you tell those in your life about Jesus, as Andrew told Peter. You bring them to Jesus, as Andrew brought Peter. You bring them to the place Jesus is staying. You bring them to Church. So, they can hear for themselves and be evangelized, i,e, “Gospeled,” by the Lord in His preaching and Sacrament.
It’s not much of a program, admittedly. Christ’s disciples don’t have to spend much on books or videos to learn how to do it. This is simply what Christians do. Parents bring their children to Holy Baptism and the Divine Service. They make sure the kids are in Sunday School and Catechism class. That is evangelism.
Spouses encourage one another and hold each other accountable to regularly attend Bible study and The Divine Service. That is evangelism. You have a friend or coworker going through a difficult time; you know they need Jesus. You send them a Gospel centered note of encouragement and invite them to come to Church with you. That is evangelism. You visit a loved one who is sick and pray with them for the Lord’s mercy. You rejoice with a friend on his birthday, giving all praise to Christ. You mourn with a wife who has lost her husband, and you console her with Christ’s resurrection victory over death. That is evangelism.
Do not forget what St. Paul tells us about our attendance at the Eucharist: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:26). Your presence at this altar, receiving the gifts of Jesus, is a witness proclaiming Christ crucified. It is an encouragement to your pastor and your brothers and sisters in Christ. It is a witness to the world of the Gospel truth. The very most important evangelism you can do is be here where Jesus is, forgiving your sins and giving you eternal life. The very most important evangelism you can do is go to Church!
That is what it means to follow Jesus, to be His disciple. Be here, where He is — hearing Him. This is what it means to be a royal priest of God. Point others to Jesus and tell them He is the sacrifice for their forgiveness and life. “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” As you do, the Word of the Lord grows.
Now I’ve learned, there is no surefire method of Church growth, and that is why every Synodical program will give way to a newer and better Synodical program, which will give way to an even newer and better Synodical program, and, well, you get the point. Every single one of these programs is exciting, bold, optimistic, and every single one of these programs fails to deliver the explosive growth we were hoping for.
Because shiny, expensive programs do not bring people to faith in Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit does that, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. The truth is, we never know what the Spirit will do when the Gospel, the evangel, is preached. We trust that He will work in it, as He has promised. We know the Word of the Lord will never return to Him empty (Is. 55:11). We know that faith comes by hearing the Word of Christ (Rom. 10:17). But we also know that this is a mystery. … We sow the Word, we witness, we invite people to Church, and we seem to get no response. We bring up our children in Church, but they don’t all stay in the Church. It is a tremendous heartache. Sometimes the congregation seems to be growing, and sometimes it seems to be shrinking. Appearances can be deceiving. Jesus once preached a sermon about eating His flesh and drinking His blood to the thousands who ate of the five loaves and two fish. The message was scandalous, and everyone left Him except for the Twelve. Everyone! Can you imagine the conversation Pastor Jesus would have to have with His district president about those results?
But He faithfully spoke the Gospel. He evangelized. And that is what we are called to do as the Church of God in this place. We are not called to succeed. Not if success is measured by posteriors in the pew or dollars in the offering plate. But we are called to preach faithfully. The results are up to the Lord. The Spirit takes care of that, creating faith where and when He wills in those who hear the Gospel.
Note how freeing this is. It isn’t your responsibility to make anyone believe in Jesus. You can’t save them, because you aren’t the Savior. Jesus is. Just go love them in the Name of Jesus and make no apologies about your faith in Jesus. Just talk about Jesus. Make no secret of the fact that you go to Church, that you pray and make your requests known to your Lord, that you read God’s Holy Word and you believe it. Make no secret of the fact that you would love to have your family and friends and coworkers and... everyone… come to Church with you, where Jesus is, for you and for them, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life. That’s evangelism. It’s not that difficult. It’s just a matter of being in Jesus, receiving Jesus, and giving Jesus, who fills you with Himself to overflowing. Evangelism is, simply and finally, about Jesus, “the lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world!”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son (X) and of the Holy Spirit
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ A. M. D. G.