Pointing to the Christ

Kevin Gasser

Staunton Mennonite Church

1/20/08

 

35The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, 36and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

37The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. 38When 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?” 39He 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. 40One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). 42He 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).

 

            Manners are important.  We probably all learned some manners early on in life.  Keep your elbows off the dinner table.  Don’t chew with your mouth open.  Don’t spit in public.  Be respectful of other people’s space.  I could go on and on.  Even now when I go home my mother is still teaching me to mind my manners.

            But there is one thing that my mother taught me, and your mother probably did as well, that I am going to argue with today.  My mother taught me that it isn’t polite to point.  But today I am going to tell you that as Christians, we all should be pointing.  Just like John the Baptist, we need to be pointing to the Christ.  Today I want to ask three questions.  “How do we point to Jesus?”, “Why do we point to Jesus?”, and “Who can we point to Jesus?”

How do we point to Jesus?

            Our scripture for today begins with John the Baptist standing with two of his disciples.  And as they were standing there, Jesus walks by.  And the text says that John exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  I don’t think John just whispered this statement to the two disciples standing next to him.  He exclaimed it.  My Bible has an exclamation mark in it.  There is some passion in John’s voice.  There is some excitement in John’s voice.  It wasn’t like, (in a muffled voice) “Look, here is the Lamb of God.”  An exclamation is loud.  “LOOK!! HERE IS THE LAMB OF GOD!”  The two disciples standing next to John the Baptist were probably not the only people to hear this exclamation.

            And when you are exclaiming something, you have to have the body motions to go along with it.  I wouldn’t expect John to be standing there with his hands at his side, stiff as a board yelling this proclamation.  No, he was probably animated, arms and legs flying around.  Grabbing hold of the disciples cloaks to make sure he had their attention he extended his arm and straightened his finger and he said, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  John probably did something that many of our mothers would tell us is rude.  He probably pointed to Christ.

            If you look at my computer, you can see that I have a somewhat famous picture set as my wallpaper.  I have a picture that was painted by Matthias Grunewald above the altar in Isenheim Germany in a monastery.  In this picture, front and center we find Jesus Christ hanging on the cross.  To his right is a woman, often assumed to be Mary Magdalene, kneeling on the ground at the feet of Jesus.  To the right of Mary Magdalene we find the apostle John with Mary the mother of Jesus and John is comforting her.  But what is interesting is what is going on to the left of Jesus.

            On Jesus’ left we find a person that we know was not present at the crucifixion of Jesus.  We find a man dressed in camel hair and a leather belt, with shaggy hair and unshaven, toting a book of scripture.  The man to Jesus’ left is clearly John the Baptist.  We know that he was not present at the crucifixion because John the Baptist was beheaded by King Herod.  But for some reason, Grunewald believed that John the Baptist was an important enough figure in the gospel of Jesus Christ to include in this painting.

            But what is really interesting about John the Baptist in this painting is not that he is there, it is what he is doing.  John has the book of scriptures in his left hand, open to a passage in what we would call the Old Testament.  And as John looks at the scriptures in his left hand, his right hand is extended with a long boney finger doing just what he did when he saw Jesus on that day from our scripture when he was with his disciples.  He is pointing to Jesus.

            It was this act of John, this pointing toward Christ that Grunewald found to be John’s defining role.  As great a man, as great a prophet as John the Baptist was, he was nothing more than a man.  But he was a man that knew his calling; his calling was to point to Christ.  He was not the Christ; his job was to point to the Christ.

            One of the greatest theologians of the 20th century has to be Karl Barth.  Karl Barth is well known for having written a multi-volume resource on systematic theology called Church Dogmatics.  He spent years writing the 14 volumes of his seminal work, and if you read just a paragraph of one of these volumes you can see that they are not an easy read.  Especially because Barth wrote in German.  Barth put a lot of work into Church Dogmatics and his thought remains highly influential to this day.

            Why do I bring Karl Barth into this message today?  Because Karl Barth wrote the majority of his 14 volumes for Church Dogmatics from a desk in his office.  And hanging over that desk was a reproduction of Matthias Grunewald’s Isenheim Altarpiece.  No matter how famous Barth got, no matter how much attention and praise he received, he wanted to remember something.  He was not the Christ.  He was more like John the Baptist.  Because he was pointing toward the Christ.

            Our society tends to look up to certain kinds of people.  Rock stars, actors, even heiresses to multimillion dollar hotel chains are venerated, though I am not sure I will ever figure out why.  But this is also true in our Christian world.  We venerate, or hold in esteem religious people in the public eye.  People like Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, and Karl Barth have gained a lot of respect from a lot of people.  And sometimes they gain this respect for good reasons.

            For instance, tomorrow our country will observe Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  MLK has earned the respect of a lot of people.  He worked for Civil Rights in America, and he did so founded firmly in his faith in Jesus Christ.  But even though MLK has done some amazing work in the area of Civil Rights, he is not the Christ.  Even though Billy Graham has held evangelistic crusades that have turned many people toward a life of serving God, he is not the Christ.  Even though Mother Theresa dedicated her life to the poor and the orphans in Calcutta touching who knows how many lives, she is not the Christ.  Even though Karl Barth was one of the most influential theologians in the 20th century, he is not the Christ.  Like John the Baptist before them, these influential people were not the Christ.  But they knew their calling, and their calling was to point to the Christ.

Why do we point to Jesus?

            When we return to our story, we find that the two disciples of John the Baptist have begun to literally follow Jesus.  They were walking a few steps behind Jesus and he notices them and he turns around and he asks them a really good question.  He asks, “What are you looking for?”  And they answer, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”

            What are you looking for?  That, my friends, is one good question.  What are any of us looking for?  In Jesus’ day we need to remember that the Jews were living under the occupation of the Roman Empire.  And there were at least three different options available to the Jews under the Roman Empire.  There was the option to try to escape from all of the occupation and dwell alone in the wilderness.  There was the option of trying to rally enough troops to battle against the Roman Empire in hopes of over throwing them.  And there was a third option, try to get along with the Romans so that they would not wipe you off the face of the earth.

            So the first century was a time when the people knew that life was not as it should be.  There was something wrong with the status quo.  But even with the options available, the people didn’t know what to do about it.  What was the best answer for all of the troubles facing the world?

            When Jesus asked the disciples of John what it was that they were looking for, he knew what they were after.  They were looking for the Messiah or the Christ.  They were looking for the one that would restore God’s chosen people and bring about righteousness and peace.  But the disciples were not exactly sure how to get those things from this man, Jesus of Nazareth.  So when Jesus asks them what it is that they were looking for, they stumble in their answer.  They really don’t know what it is that they are looking for, but they think that this man can provide it for them.

            The disciples of John only knew that Jesus could offer them what they so desperately needed because John first pointed them to Jesus.  They could have gone blindly through the rest of their lives not knowing what it was that they really needed.  They might have tried to fill that void in their lives, that sense that something is not right, with any option that appealed to them at the time.  But John the Baptist pointed them in the direction of Jesus.

            I think you can see where I am going with this.  Because so many of us today sense that not everything is right with this world.  We know there must be more to life than the American Dream, to get rich and die in a big house.  If that was the point of life, then life would be pointless.  Why store up for yourself treasures on earth where moth and rust consume and devour? 

            It has been said that each one of us is born with a Christ size hole in our heart.  And anything that we try to substitute for Christ will not adequately fill that hole.  We can try to fill it with sex and drugs, money and power, sports and fame.  But nothing else will fill that hole.  It is like these children’s toys.  You cannot fit a round peg into a square hole.  You cannot fit any other option into the hole in each of our lives.  Only Jesus will fill that hole.  But we do not recognize what it is that will fill that Christ sized hole until we actually find Christ.  And we cannot find Christ until someone points us toward him.  And I want to talk more about this pointing people toward Christ next week.  This pointing to Christ is what we call Christian discipleship.

Who can we point to Jesus?

            The final point in the story for today is an important one.  When one of the disciples of John leaves the presence of Jesus, he runs off to find his brother.  This disciple of John is none other than the future disciple of Jesus, Andrew.  And his brother is Simon, also known as Peter.  When he find Simon, this former disciple of John the Baptist shows just how much he has learned from John.  Because he begins to mimic John.  How is that?  Because Andrew points his brother to Jesus.

            You see, we can point to Jesus all the time, and we should point to Jesus all the time.  Our work, or talk, our language, all of our being should be pointing to Jesus.  But all of this pointing is much more effective when we are pointing others to Jesus, rather than just pointing in private.

            Imagine with me if you will, that you are going to someone’s home for a wedding.  You have never been to the place you are going, and you are not at all familiar with the area.  So you call the person whose home you are trying to reach.  This is a person that is known for using their hands a lot when they talk.  So you get a hold of them and you ask for directions.  And he begins to give you directions over the phone, “You go to the water tower and you turn this way.  Then you go the third stoplight and you turn this way.  Then we will be on this side of the road.”

            For someone who has made that trip before, this might be adequate.  But for someone that is making the trip for the first time, they are likely to get more lost than ever before.  Why?  Because they can’t see what way you are pointing.  In fact, you might even be misleading the person.

            Pointing to Jesus requires that we do more than just live pious lives.  Pointing to Jesus requires more than not cheating on your taxes and your spouse.  Pointing to Jesus means that you live as Jesus lived and you tell others why you are living in such a way.  I believe firmly that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers and to feed the hungry.  I think that all Christians should be doing these things as well.  But I want everyone to know why I do these things.  I do them out of my love for Christ.

As I think about what my life has in store for me next year, I realize that there are a lot of things that are still up in the air.  I know that I will have to have another part time job and I know I want to work in some kind of service type of setting.  I want it to be in a very public place where I can interact with as many people as possible every day.

Now say I am working in whatever job I find for about six months and people are saying things like, “Kevin is a good guy.  He cares for the environment, he cares for the poor.  He treats everyone with respect…etc.”  Well, that would be nice.  I like to be liked, don’t you?  But if my co-workers or the customers don’t know why these things are important to me, than that is a sin on my part.  It is the sin of silence.

It is a sin if the people around me don’t know why these things matter to me.  It is a sin if I don’t say, “Peace and Justice issues are important to me because they are important to Jesus.”  People should never confuse my desires for peace with some anarchist, flag burning, America bashing person.  My beliefs are formed by my belief in Jesus Christ.  Pointing others to Jesus takes more than just living a life according to the Gospel.  Pointing others to Jesus involves telling others why we live differently from the world around us.   So to answer the question, Who should we be pointing toward Jesus?  The answer is everyone we come in contact with.

How do we point others to Jesus?  With our words and with our lives.  Why do we point others to Jesus?  Because everyone needs him, even if they don’t know it yet.  Who do we point to Jesus?  Everyone.

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About Kevin Gasser

I envision this site to be a place where I can post my weekly sermon text and invite feedback from anyone who is interested in the church, theology, or life in general. Please note that these sermons are rough drafts of what I plan to say from the pulpit, so typos are common.
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2 Responses to Pointing to the Christ

  1. One way we have found to easily share our faith is through lifestyle evangelism. We wear a lot of Chrstian cloting, like Christian T-Shirts and stuff and that almost always restuts in a conversation about Jesus. These are natural opportuities and not forced. people are curious when they see us wearing our witness. They say the average Christian T-Shirt is read by 3,000 people before it wears out. So we are glad to be walling billboards for Jesus 🙂

  2. kgbuckeye says:

    Mike,

    I appreciate new ways to engage people in dialogue about religion. Christian T-Shirts can be a way to start such conversations. My challenge to people wearing these T-Shirts, posting Christian bumper stickers, posting Christian bloggs on the internet, etc., is to make sure we are living out our faith, not just communicating it with our words. A consistent witness in word and deed is the most effective way to spread the news of the Kingdom of God.

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