Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2017, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: John 1:29-42a
Sermon Theme: “Evangelists for the Lamb of God”
(Sources: Anderson’s Cycle A Lectionary Preaching Workbook; Brokhoff, Series A, Preaching Workbook; original ideas; Online Evangelism Jokes; “Lamb of God,” Wikipedia; “Paschal Lamb,” Britannica; “Sacrifices and Offerings,” jewfaq.org; “The Five Offerings,” telus.net; Emphasis online Commentary; Emphasis online Illustrations; Harper’s Bible Dictionary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since we are all called to be evangelists, many church members and some pastors go overboard in an attempt to obey this call. Some pastors take the local telephone directory, divide it up, and give each member of the church several dozen names to call to try to get them to come to church. Other pastors send the whole congregation out knocking on neighborhood doors. That is not the Biblical method of evangelism, and it can backfire.
There’s the story about two church members going door to door, hoping to talk someone into following Jesus. They knocked on the door of an un-churched woman who could not stand evangelists trying to convert her, whether they were Jehovah Witnesses or Lutherans.
She told these two men that she did not want to hear their message and slammed the door in their faces.
To her surprise, however, the door did not close, and, in fact, bounced back open. Convinced these pushy evangelists were sticking their foot in the door, she reared back to give it a slam that would teach them a lesson, when one of them said, “Ma’am, before you do that again, you need to move your cat.”
Some pastors prefer going door to door themselves rather than sending church members out to evangelize. There was one such zealous pastor of a small village church in Kentucky. He tried for years to convert one particularly vicious old mountaineer name Jim, who was notorious for his godlessness and his hatred of the church. Jim was hard-headed and stubborn, and seemed to enjoy his evil attitude and resisted all efforts to be converted.
The pastor cornered him on the street one day, and said, “Jim, aren’t you touched by the story of the Lord who died to save your soul?”
“Ha!,” Jim replied with contempt, “are you aimin’ to tell me the Lord died to save me, when He ain’t never seen me or knowed me?”
“Jim,” the pastor explained with great fervor, “it was a darn sight easier for the Lord to die for you because He’d never seen you, than if He knew you as well as we all do!”
You know, there are many ways to practice evangelism, but in today’s world, John the Baptist’s method probably would not work, even though it DID work well for Billy Graham in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Andrew’s method worked well in Jesus’ day, and it’s still the best modus operandi.
Andrew tells his brother Peter about Jesus, like dropping a pebble that forms many ripples. In this personal way, God uses ordinary people as instruments for bringing people to see Jesus. They serve as midwives to re-born babes in Christ. Ananias was used to bring Paul into the church. Philip was used to win the Ethiopian eunuch. God used Staupitz to help Luther find the way to grace. God uses parents to bring their children to Christ. All of us can bring husband, wife, brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends to see Jesus.
Andrew was rather ordinary, like the rest of us. He didn’t have any spectacular gifts and he wasn’t a great leader like his brother Peter, but he was spiritually strong. His greatest gift was to invite folks to come and see this Jesus. He must have been kind of a self-effacing man who had the attitude voiced by John the Baptist, “He must increase but I must decrease.” Andrew realized that he didn’t have the burden of changing people; all he had to do was bring them to Jesus. That is our calling, too, to enthusiastically invite people to ”come and see” who this Jesus might be.
By the time John the Baptist began preaching repentance to the people, there was a widespread feeling that the Messiah was finally about to appear. Although most of the people looked for the wrong kind of Messiah, the Old Testament prophets had made it clear in their prophesies what He would be like. An important ingredient in any evangelism is to have a deep, sincere belief that Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world, and Salvation is through none other.
In our sermon text, the Messiah’s forerunner, John the Baptist, gave folks the affirmation that Jesus was indeed the Christ when he said to the people and to his disciples, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
This was a very important aspect of his telling about Jesus, especially since most of his audience was made up of Jews. John was actually giving the future disciples of Jesus and all potential evangelists, an incredibly important fact, a fact they would have understood better than people in today’s world.
This Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Agnus Dei, the paschal lamb of paschal lambs. While Andrew, and later, Peter, would have understood this, like the Roman soldiers who also came to be baptized, to most folks today, it’s just so much gobbledygook. Even though many Christians sing the “Agnus Dei” in the liturgy of the worship service, they have no idea why Jesus would be so called.
You can’t tell people about Jesus if you don’t know the facts yourself.
Judaism was a religion that involved grain and animal sacrifices. The Jewish sacrificial system was extremely complicated, and what I am going to say doesn’t begin to explain the entire system. The common animal sacrifices at the Temple were the Burnt Offering, the Peace Offering, the Sin Offering, and the Guilt Offering.
The Burnt Offering called for a bull, or sheep, or pigeon, and it was made to express total surrender to God and as atonement for unintentional sin.
The Peace Offering was to be any animal without blemish, and it was made for the purpose of thanksgiving and fellowship.
The Sin Offering called for a young bull, or a goat, or a dove or pigeon, and it was made as atonement for unintentional sin and for cleansing from defilement.
The Guilt Offering was done to atone for the sins of stealing things from the altar and for sins that you may or may not have committed.
In addition to these animal sacrifices at the Temple at prescribed times, during the Passover celebration, an unblemished, year-old lamb was sacrificed and eaten at a Seder meal (which is what the Last Supper was). It was known as the “Paschal Lamb,” “paschal” meaning Passover, that is, the “Passover Lamb.”
The first “Paschal Lamb” was sacrificed at the first Passover, on the eve of the Exodus from Egypt, the most momentous event in Jewish history. According to Exodus 12, the Jews marked their doorposts with the blood of the lamb, and this sign spared them from destruction. In early history, the Paschal Lamb was sacrificed in the Temple at Jerusalem, and later eaten by the family sacrificing it. In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul referred to Jesus as the Paschal Lamb for the first time, and thereafter, Christ was seen by Christians as the spotless Lamb of God who by His death freed mankind from the bonds of sin.
If you look at those animal sacrifices, you will notice that none of them provided remission of all sins, — just atonement for unintentional sin – and they had to be done again and again. There were no sacrifices for INTENTIONAL sin.
Christ’s one time only sacrifice of Himself on the cross made all those on-going sacrifices unnecessary for salvation. For the Jews, the sacrificial system ended when the Second Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. The Old Testament Prophets had warned the people against putting too much trust in the Temple and its sacrifices in Isaiah 66:1-4 and Jeremiah 7:1-15. The Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in 586 B.C. Some orthodox, conservative Jews today, who obviously don’t believe the Messiah has come yet, would like to return to the old system of sacrifices. For followers of Jesus, Christ is the all-sufficient sacrifice.
In the 21st Century, we are faced with the continued decline of membership in mainline Christian churches and increases in membership in the newer Bible churches. The newer Bible churches seem to be filled with many Andrews who are eager to tell their friends and relatives about Jesus and invite them to church.
Please notice an extremely important element of evangelism in this Biblical method in our text. Before Jesus began His ministry, to heal the sick in body and soul, to care for the widows, children, etc., He called 12 spiritually strong, reasonably young, workers. Churches go through cycles. Here at St. Paul’s we have just been through a cycle of having many children. In the current cycle, we have only a few. Most of us who led the children in the previous cycle are now getting too old to work in that field of ministry.
Our efforts in the current cycle should focus on evangelizing more spiritually strong, reasonably young, workers who can minister to children and to the elderly. Without more Andrews, Peters, Jameses and Johns on board, the fields may be ripe, but the harvest very difficult.
In this New Year, I would encourage all of you to be Andrews, inviting your friends and relatives to church with enthusiasm. We must have faith that God will send more workers, as well as those who have needs. Our enthusiasm comes from believing that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, that He is the Son of God, God incarnate, and that He is the only way through which we can be saved, and that He will send workers into the fields to help us. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.