29The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ 31I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” 32And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. 33I 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.’ 34And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.” 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).
I want to thank everyone who helped by stepping in at the last moment during my absence last week. We were back in Ohio for my grandfather’s funeral, but it was also a time to catch up with friends and family members that we hadn’t seen for some time. But being back in my old neighborhood did more than provide time to catch up on social matters. It allowed us to catch up on a few errands as well.
One of my high school friends married into a family that owns a meat processing facility and storefront. This family is comprised of a bunch of big, burly men with long beards. Recently they started selling their own kind of seasoning, which they call “The Bearded Butcher Blend Seasoning.” Sonya mentioned at one time that she wanted to try this seasoning, so as I was driving by, I made a quick stop and picked up a variety pack. And there in the store, sure enough, are the bearded butchers themselves.
They are really quite intimidating to see, hoisting cuts of meat and throwing them around with their bare hands. One of these bearded butchers is about 6’3” tall and wears a size 13 shoe. Do you know what he weighs?
(Yes, that was an extremely long setup for a bad joke.)
We are in the season of Epiphany in the church calendar. Advent was a time of waiting for Jesus to come, and Epiphany is the realization of who Jesus is. When someone says that they have had an epiphany, they often mean to say that they just had a really good idea. It is like a metaphorical sheet has been lifted and now they are able to see something new for the first time.
This is why we include stories of the Wise Men in Epiphany. They were among the first to have the sheet removed to see Jesus for who he was. And today’s text includes the story of John the Baptist and the first disciples of Jesus recognizing who he is.
But before we get to all of that, I want to make sure that you are all aware that tomorrow, January 16, is my son’s birthday. Seven years ago, Paxton came into our lives, kicking and screaming. I remember the event very well. We put off going to the hospital for as long as we could, mostly because Sonya didn’t want to get sent back home because she was experiencing false labor. After a few hours we called my family in Ohio to let them know what was happening and we made the trip to the hospital, overnight bag in hand, walked right up to the nurses’ station, and requested a room. Yes, we got some strange looks riding up that elevator.
I’ll save you the gory details about the next couple of hours. At 8:16 pm, on Saturday, January 16, 2010, our 7 lb., 14 oz. Paxton was born. I didn’t make it to church the next morningJ.
8:16 pm. I didn’t need to look that up, I just remembered. I had to look to see what time church started today, but I remembered that Paxton was born at 8:16 pm. When I need to write down my wife’s phone number, I have to look it up. But I remembered 8:16 pm.
Isn’t it interesting the way the details of certain life events stay with us? It is usually the events that change our lives in one way or another that we remember the most. Where were you when you first heard the news about September 11, 2001? Where were you when you heard about the moon landing or that President Kennedy was shot? We don’t have to consciously try to remember these things. Often, they just stick.
There is an interesting story embedded within our text for this morning. We have been talking the last few weeks about Jesus’ baptism, and today’s text is the closest thing we find to John’s account of that event. Notice, there is actually no mention of Jesus being baptized in this text, but when we piece together our other gospels, it seems as if that is what is going on here. John sees Jesus, and in a moment of epiphany, John declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God who has come to take away the sins of the world. John sees the spirit descend on Jesus.
The next day, John is spending time with two of his disciples, because he too had followers, when Jesus once again approaches. And once again John declares that Jesus is the Lamb of God. This time, however, it seems that he is saying it for the good of the two disciples who are with him. And what do those disciples do? They follow Jesus.
We’ve probably all been in similar situations before. We finally get the chance to speak to someone we respect and look up to, and you just say something silly. That’s kind of what happens with John’s disciples. John just told them that Jesus was the Lamb of God, and they follow him. Jesus then asks them what I believe was probably a philosophical/theological question. He asks, “What are you looking for?”
A deep question indeed! What are any of us looking for? Inner peace? Holiness? Happiness? The Lamb of God asks them a question, and they respond by…not answering his question. Instead, they respond to his question with a question of their own. “Where are you staying?”
But here is the really interesting thing. Jesus doesn’t laugh off these men and their bumbling questions. He responds by saying, “Come and see.”
Throughout the gospels we find Jesus dining with people across the socioeconomic spectrum, entering their homes, breaking bread together. And what is the first thing Jesus does when these bumbling men come to him and answer his question with an unrelated question? He invites them to come spend some time with him in his apartment or hotel room.
Now notice what we find in the second part of verse 39, immediately after Jesus invites the disciples of John to join him at his home: “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon.”
That information isn’t that helpful, and it seems out of place. Why did the author of this gospel feel that it was important to include the time when this happened? Does it even matter?
The gospel of John is believed to have been written by John the disciple of Jesus, the brother of James. Remember, Peter, James, and John had a little sail boat. Well in John’s gospel, John hesitates to refer to himself by name. You know, it’s awkward to refer to yourself in the third person. Instead, he chooses to often refer to himself with the humble title, “The Disciple Jesus loved.”
Later we are told that one of the disciples of John the Baptist who left to follow Jesus that day was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. The second disciple is never named, and many scholars believe that John is writing about his own experience of being called by Jesus.
So why does it matter that this event took place at 4:00 in the afternoon? It doesn’t. What matters is that John was able to recall what time this took place. This event was so important, so life-altering, that John could remember exactly where and when it took place.
Like 8:16 pm, on Saturday, January 16, 2010.
If you take a closer look at this text you will notice that in the last five verses or so, in the section involving the calling of the disciples, three different times we are given a word and then offered the translation for that word: Rabbi, Messiah, and Cephas. These are either Hebrew or Aramaic words, Aramaic being a local dialect of Hebrew, like Yiddish or Plattdeutsch. This is the language Jesus and his disciples and most 1st-century Jews would have spoken in daily conversation. But the New Testament was written in the more formal Greek. So after offering the Hebrew/Aramaic word, John translates the actual word that would have been spoken into the Greek language. Rabbi, which means teacher. Messiah, which means Christ, or anointed one. Cephas, which in Greek is Petros, the Greek word for rock.
Just an aside, you may remember the early Christian Rock group known as Petra. I don’t know if they intentionally used the word Petra because they were playing Rock music, or if it was a reference to Jesus as the rock. Either way, Petra is the feminine form of the word, and the group was made up of all men. I’m just saying, this is why we study Greek, people.
It isn’t uncommon to have a non-Greek word included in the New Testament, only to be translated by the writer. But this is unique in that this happens three times in five verses. You get the sense again that this is an eye-witness account of something big. This is John being called by Jesus, and he is recalling the exact words spoken and the exact time…or as exact of a time as is possible in a world before we had watches and cell phones.
This is 8:16 on a Saturday. This is the day, time, and place where everything changed.
So what does this mean for us living in the 21st century? The first thing that I want to do as we move into the practical aspect of this teaching is to squash a common misunderstanding. There are religious traditions that claim that a person must have an “8:16 on a Saturday” moment when they decided to “follow Jesus,” or “give their life to Christ,” or “pray the sinner’s prayer” in order to go to heaven. Indeed, there are biblical examples of this happening. Paul was blinded by the light, and he was converted. 3,000 people witnessed the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost and they converted. John and Andrew were invited to stay with Jesus, and they became his followers at 4:00 in the afternoon. But nowhere in the Bible does it say that everyone will have that kind of experience.
I do not think that it is necessary to have a conversion experience like Paul, John, Andrew, or the 3,000 at Pentecost. Many people who grew up in the church have been gradually drawn more and more to this one we call Jesus. I don’t think it matters how you become a follower of Jesus. I believe it matters that you become a follower of Jesus.
So maybe not every Christian has an 8:16 on a Saturday moment in their walk with Christ. Maybe not everyone can trace their life back to a time when something major changed. But my hope is that I can help others have their 8:16 moment.
I’ve shared some of my frustrations that come from my experiences with other Christians before. I’ve shared the hurt that I felt when another church left religious tracks on the front and side door of our church, asking if we know how to get to heaven. More recently, we had visitors from another church show up on our front porch who tried to evangelize me, never asking if I had a church home or was a follower of Jesus. I appreciate the effort of people to evangelize, but sometimes I find it outright insulting the way some people do it. And just this week a friend who is going through a divorce shared online about his struggles with the church as he goes through this difficult time. He said things like he feels “unwanted, like a 2nd class citizen… all you want to do is pretend I don’t exist.”
Unfortunately, these kinds of experiences are far too common, and I’m sure you can come up with more examples as well.
I want to offer 8:16 moments to these people, to people who have been made to feel like 2nd-class citizens, to people who have felt unwanted. How can we provide opportunities for people to see Jesus anew? How can we help direct people to those times when something happens that changes their lives forever?
I was reminded this week of a story that author and former professor Tony Campolo tells. Once, when Campolo was traveling to Hawaii for a seminar, he found himself wide awake at 3:00 am. So he decided to go out on the street to see if he could find a decent place to grab a bite to eat. All that was open at that time of night was a greasy-spoon, all-night diner. Tony settled in and ordered a donut and a cup of black coffee.
At about 3:30, a group of women, prostitutes, came in, fresh off a night of work. Tony overheard one of the loud women proclaim, “Tomorrow will be my 39th birthday,” to which another replied, “So what, you expect us to throw you a party or something?”
The first woman said, “No, don’t be so mean. I was just saying. I’ve never had a birthday party before and I don’t expect one now.”
After the women left, Tony approached the owner of the diner and asked if those women come in every night. The owner assured Tony that they did, and Tony asked if the owner would mind if he threw a birthday party for the woman.
“Sure,” said the owner. “Her name is Agnes.”
Tony returned the next night with streamers, balloons, and a birthday cake that read, “Happy birthday, Agnes!” Evidently, the word had gotten out, and the diner was packed with prostitutes who were there for Agnes’s surprise birthday party. At 3:30 am, Agnes walked through the door, and everyone yelled, “Happy birthday,” and began to sing Happy Birthday to Agnes as the cake, ablaze with 39 candles, was set before this woman.
She just lost it, weeping uncontrollably.
The owner of the diner said, “Hey, Agnes. Hurry it up already. I want some cake!”
Agnes replied, “If it is alright with you, can I just keep the cake for a little while?”
Everyone agreed that would be okay, and Agnes stood up, cake in hand, and walked out the door without saying a word.
Not knowing what else to do, Tony said, “Maybe we should pray for Agnes.” And he did.
When he finished the prayer, the diner owner said, “Hey, you never told me you were a preacher. Just what kind of church do you belong to, anyway?”
Tony replied, “The kind of church that throws surprise birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning.”
That’s an epiphany. That’s an event that changes the way you see the world, that changes the way that you see God. It’s 8:16 on a Saturday; it’s 4:00 in the afternoon. It’s 3:30 in the morning. And your life will never be the same.