Sermon #168: The Heart of Evangelism
Sermon #168 St. James the Less #75 1/19/20
John saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 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.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”
The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 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?” 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. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). John 1:29-42
Evangelism. What images come to mind when you hear that word? Are they mostly positive or negative?
There are a few that stick out in my mind. I think about a guy with a bullhorn who was yelling at all of us as we walked past him on the Vegas strip, saying that we were all doomed (but that’s happened to me in Nashville as well). Or the time there was an altar call at my friend’s VBS when I was ten.
But I have fonder memories as well. I remember when Billy Graham visited Nashville twenty years ago, and my whole family went to, what was then Adelphia Coliseum, to hear him in person. I think about the missionaries I’ve met over my life who have left their home and traveled to different parts of the world to preach the good news. Or even the quiet form of evangelism that happens every Sunday at Holy Trinity in Nashville with the food ministry at Church in the Yard.
Growing up in the Episcopal Church all I heard was that evangelism makes us uncomfortable. Many people found their way to our denomination because we weren’t out there with our bullhorn yelling at people as they walked by. Many people come to our church because it seems like a refuge from that kind of evangelism. And in some ways, they’re right.
But I also don’t think that means we can ditch evangelism altogether. Saying the Episcopal Church is uncomfortable with evangelism, in my opinion, is really a lame and lazy excuse!
Just because it makes us uncomfortable doesn’t mean we don’t have to do it. We actually don’t have a choice.
When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” There are no other options.
He doesn’t say, “But if that makes you feel uneasy then don’t worry about it, I’ll take care of it.” No, Jesus’ last command to his followers was all about evangelism. We may have an opinion about how churches do evangelism, but we don’t get a choice about if we want to do evangelism or not. We are called to “go and make disciples, period.”
Lucky for us, this morning our gospel reading from John is a roadmap for evangelism and discipleship. But it is not the kind of evangelism that most of us naturally think of. If anything, this passage from John may make us reconsider what evangelism really looks like.
Our passage will show that evangelism comes down to five key words and actions: pointing, following, questioning, inviting, and transforming.
So let’s jump into the reading. The first thing we see is Jesus walking past John the Baptist, and John starts preaching and pointing at his cousin, saying, “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” We don’t know who John is preaching to, but he’s adamant that Jesus is the Son of God.
Though the crowds had been flocking to him for baptism, now he is pointing them to Jesus.
This is the first step in evangelism. We’re not pointing people to us, we’re not trying to glorify ourselves. John was becoming quite popular and influential. He had a voice that people listened to and admired, and yet the second that Jesus shows up, he starts pointing to the One who his greater than him.
John doesn’t seem jealous or angry that Jesus showed up, rather he can barely contain his excitement, “This is the One,” he says, “we’ve all been waiting for!”
Evangelism is never about us. It is always about Jesus, and so our message must always be focused on Jesus and pointing people to him.
Then the next day comes and John is standing in his same spot, knowing that Jesus was likely to walk by, and this time he has made sure that he has some of his disciples with him.
And lo and behold, Jesus walks by and John is pointing and says, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples look at Jesus, look at John, look at each other, and then start walking towards Jesus.
John has just lost two of his followers, his faithful disciples, and you don’t see him running and yelling at them, “I told you to look at him, not to go and follow him!” He’s not angry at them or Jesus, he’s not envious that they would rather be with Jesus than him.
He was effective in his preaching; he was doing his job. He preached with passion and joy that the Anointed One was finally here, and what may be even more amazing, the disciples actually followed!
They took the risk of offending John and started walking with this stranger. They risked going from what they knew in John to walking with this unknown Jesus.
Some scholars will say that they weren’t truly converted to being followers of Jesus until later in the chapter when Andrew says, “We have found the Messiah.” But actually, I believe the conversion happens right here when they decide to follow Jesus.
After a little bit, Jesus hears some footsteps and looks behind him to see John’s disciples following him. He then asks them what seems, at first glance, to be a very practical question, “What are you looking for?”
But that is not a simple question. These are the first words Jesus says in the Gospel of John. No polite greetings, no “My name’s Jesus, what’s yours?” His question cuts right to the core of their motives. “What are you looking for?”
If they are looking for a nice teacher, they won’t find it here. If they are looking for a spiritual guru, they won’t find it here. If they are looking for popularity, wealth, or power by being associated with Jesus, they might as well walk away.
Jesus’ question harkens back to the book of Genesis. Right after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit, they hear God walking in the garden, and they hide themselves and then God calls out to them, “Where are you?”
The rest of the Bible is the story of God searching for his people and calling out to them, “Where are you?” In the same manner, Jesus asks a deep and provoking question to these disciples, “What are you looking for?”
When it comes to following Jesus and walking the road of a disciple, we are constantly presented with this question. What is it in life that we are looking for? What do we long for? What do we truly desire?
Evangelism must ask this question. We must ask it of ourselves, but we must also not be afraid to ask others this question as well. We are all searching after something, and I think we all know what it feels like to seek after the wrong things.
We go down that road, and at some point realize that we desire something more meaningful and lasting.
The question that the Church, that you and I, cannot be afraid to ask is, “What are you looking for?” And we can ask it because we have the answer. That the One who first asked that question to the two disciples WAS THE ANSWER.
The disciples didn’t really have time to think about the deep theological nature of this question. Instead they, in turn, ask Jesus a very practical question, “Where are you staying?”
And yet again, Jesus gives a very simple and yet profound answer, “Come and see.” He doesn’t shoo them away with a generic answer, “Oh, down the street.” He doesn’t tell them to schedule an appointment, or anything like that. Instead, he personally invites them to come and see.
He invites them to walk and talk with him, to be around him where he is staying, and in fact to begin a relationship and friendship with him. There’s no doubt they talked about where they were from, about their family and their faith.
He didn’t say to them, “Now fellas, before you follow me you need to repent and believe.” It had nothing to do with conversion, rather it was the most human and patient response he could’ve had; at its core it was a relational invitation, “Come and see.”
Then one of the disciples named Andrew is inspired and decides to use this personal kind of evangelism. He goes to his brother and tells him that they have finally found the Messiah, and Andrew brings Simon to Jesus.
He finds someone who would love to hear this good news, and he thinks first and foremost of a family member! He goes and tells Simon all about it, but he doesn’t then send Simon to Jesus on his own. With a very loving, intentional act, he walks with his brother to meet the Lord.
Andrew was invited by Jesus to come and see, and Andrew in turn invites his brother to do the same.
Evangelism among family and friends can be nerve wracking, it can ruin any good family dinner, but it doesn’t have to. Especially when it comes to those we love, Jesus shows us we don’t have to argue about faith and science, we don’t have a sophisticated argument for why there is suffering in the world; all we must do is personally invite them to come and see what Jesus has done for us. Come and see, we have found the Messiah.
The last lesson we get about evangelism from this passage is about transformation.
Andrew has invited his brother to meet the Lord, and upon introductions Jesus looks at him and gives him a new name. “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” which in Aramaic means “rock.”
As we have said before, name changes in the Bible are major events. They typically signify that something has changed in a person, or that God will use them in a special way. Think of Abram and Sarai who become Abraham and Sarah. Jacob becomes Israel, and here Simon becomes Rocky.
Though Andrew is the one to introduce Peter to Jesus, it is Peter, and not Andrew, who will become the rock from which the church is built. Peter is transformed by Jesus. It is not instant. He will have his failures along the way, but this is the moment that Peter’s life is forever changed.
So what do we learn from all this? Evangelism at its core is relational. It’s all about God and it’s about people. The work of evangelism and discipleship is the primary work of the church, and that includes all of us.
The amazing work you and I are called to is filled with a lot of pointing, following, questioning, inviting, and transforming.
Evangelism is not about knowing all the answers, or having the most complicated theological arguments memorized. It’s all about God and his love for his people, everything else is just footnotes.
2nd Sunday after the Epiphany. John 1:29-42. Commentary used: Frederick Bruner. Photo here.