RESET: Focus on Jesus
January 15, 2017
A rather familiar poetic meditation commences the first chapter of John. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…” in lieu of the birth narratives found in other gospels. Following that opening, we find a passage ripe for our season of Epiphany with revelations of God and God’s actions, and it may help for us to have a running start to best understand the context for our text today.
It has been 30 plus years since stories spread about a baby born in Nazareth, but the baby and his family disappeared. Then a few months prior to this scripture, throngs of people witnessed Jesus being baptized and the Spirit of God descending upon Him as a dove and then again, Jesus disappears from the scene. John the Baptist had foretold of the coming of the Messiah and then was the one who baptized Jesus… obviously, he was someone in the know. So people and religious officials were asking John the Baptist questions. Was John the Baptist a prophet? Maybe, Elijah? What was the meaning of his baptism? With all these questions, what are they looking for? They were “seeking” the promised Messiah? A Redeemer? A savior? With every inquiry, John the Baptist points to Jesus.
Scripture: John 1: 29-42
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is 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 ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32 And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33 I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”[i]
35 The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed[j]). 42 He brought Simon[k] to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter[l]).
Upon whom are we focused?
John the Baptist sees Jesus approaching him, and announces, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John clearly wants to redirect the focus of the people, so he begins to testify about Jesus. First there is the reference to Jesus as the ‘Lamb of God,’ which brings many ideas to mind depending on the audience’s experiences. Some may have thought of the conquering lamb of the apocalyptic prophecies; while others considered the sacrificial lamb offering atonement for our sin; and yet others the Paschal lamb as a symbol of our deliverance. Regardless of your idea of the lamb’s role, John identifies Jesus as the one who collectively takes away the sin of the world. John goes on to testify to Jesus’ authority as coming before him in time. He speak of Jesus’ ordination by telling of the dove descending at his baptism. And he testifies to Jesus’ power by witnessing to the Holy Spirit’s work in baptism. John is so adamant about redirecting their focus, that six times in these initial verses, he testifies to seeing, knowing and revealing Jesus to those who are seeking the Messiah.
As we begin the new year, setting goals and examining our priorities, where is our focus directed? What concerns are overtaking our time and attention? What keeps us distracted from the Lamb of God? John the Baptist is calling us to redirect our focus and to see Jesus not as a character from the scriptures, but as God who transcends time, and who is actively transforming the kingdom of God around and through us. So where are you focused for 2017?
What do we do with our focus?
In the warm summer of August of 1963, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr delivered what has become known as the “I have a dream” speech. Best known in general society as a non-violent civil rights activist, Dr. King was a Baptist minister passionate about realizing the kingdom of God here on earth. His passion, rightly, was about racial inequality in our nation and in a portion of the speech he equates the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence as a check to be cashed toward a guarantee of "unalienable Rights" of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." He goes on to say “we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we've come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.”
Hearing this, I believe that Dr. King had a passion within him that was bigger than one issue or limited to his time or space. I believe that Dr. King was speaking about the vision larger than our founding fathers. I believe he was speaking of God’s vision in which justice was a reality for all of creation. Dr. King was seeking answers to the same questions being asked in our text today… where is the Messiah? Our redeemer? He is asking questions about our vision… “what are we looking for… in our world, in our society, and in our relationships? And then asking “What are we doing about it?”
- 3 key phrases
Like Dr King, John the Baptist is trying to redirect our focus in verse 35, and he compels us to direct that focus into action. As Jesus walks past, and John declares, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” These disciples who had followed John the Baptist listening to his first-hand testimony, immediately turn and follow Jesus. Jesus takes notice of their presence and asks them “What are you looking for?” As we have seen, the disciples are not the only ones asking questions, but these two are open to change and willing to action. Surprisingly, the Disciples respond with a question of their own… ”where are you staying?” This question fits well into the narrative as a way of continuing the conversation, but this question is not so much about a physical place as it is about a spiritual place. As faithful students, they are more concerned with where Jesus abides in his connectedness with the Father and his way of living, than with his place of residence. To this earnest inquiry, Jesus issues an invitation to “come and see.”
- Disciples abide
We who believe in Jesus have a daily choice to make. To come and see by following in the way of Christ or to walk in the other direction. To be a disciple means more than merely following, we are choosing to abide with Jesus. That’s what disciples do; they abide with and do as the master does. There is nothing in the example of these disciples that implies a life of sitting and discussing the problems of the world while spiritually feasting at the teacher table. Instead, these disciples chose to “abide where Jesus abides.” Jesus ate with sinners; healed the lame; spoke up for injustice and loved the poor. What about us? Can we truly be satisfied with sitting in our cathedrals waiting to be spiritually fed, or are we willing to abide where Jesus does?
- Disciples testify
The disciples first came to recognize Jesus because of the testimony of John the Baptist. Similarly, we have each come to know Jesus because of the life and testimony of others in our own lives. Our testimony can be strong in words, but it is much more powerful in our actions. Tomorrow is a day our nation sets aside to remember the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was a man of action -speaking up for injustice, and warned "a time comes when silence is betrayal." Dr. King challenged his audience by describing God’s dream for our world, and implored the audience not to be passive about the cause of justice. Quoting the prophet Amos he cried, “No, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until ‘justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.’"¹ As a result, many righteously unsatisfied people today choose to use the MLK Holiday as a “day of service” for others. I challenge us to use it as a day also for Christian disciples to testify of God’s kingdom.
- Disciples act
The mark of a disciple is one who matches passion with action. I admit that as a wife, mother, daughter, graduate student and pastor, I want to think that my life is too busy for “social causes.” But the truth is that God’s vision is more than one man’s dream, it will take all of us. It is more than something we squeeze into the left over time in our lives. We, who call ourselves disciples are working for God’s kingdom to come on earth, as it is in heaven. We are working to be the change we want to see in the world, and that does not happen by waiting for the time, the money, or the resources to be right. The time to start is now. Not sure where to start? I’ll ask you to examine the passion Christ has already placed within you.
- Are you concerned about racial, ethnic or gender inequality in our nation and world? Speak up.
- Do you believe in rights of all voters, native Americans, or non-traditional families deserve your time and support? Write an elected official.
- Does the future of our environment perplex you or maybe it’s the future of all children at every age: those in foster care, public schools or their chances for future employment that keeps you from resting peacefully? Nurture them.
- Is it overwhelming poverty, lack of clean water or safe housing for all that gnaws on your conscience like pangs of hunger in our neighbor’s bellies? Take action.
- Does the plight of oppressed world refugees and immigrants cause you to grasp on to your own freedom with gratitude? Advocate for their rights and freedom as God’s children.
Our focus, as disciples of Jesus, is to work towards the building of a New Heaven and New Earth where “the God’s home is among mortals. God will dwell with us; we will be his peoples, and God himself will be with us; for he will wipe every tear rom our eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.” To be focused on Jesus means that as disciples we are to believe, we are to follow Christ by abiding with him and we are to testify with our lives. When we are faithful disciples, like Andrew, we will bring others to Christ; and when we know Christ ourselves, like Simon, our lives will be transformed forever. Friends, I invite you to consider today on whom you are focused and what that means for your actions this year. Is it time for a reset?
Discussion Questions for January 22: Inviting
Share with your group about a time when circumstances beyond your control “reset” your life.
Share with your group when you sensed Jesus inviting you to follow him.
Share with your group a commitment you’re willing to make regarding following Christ more closely in this new year.
Share with your group a commitment to share the invitation of christ and bring others to him (as Andrew did,) through his body, the church.