Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 15, 2023
John 1:29-42 Commentary
Our text this week is yet another transition story between John and Jesus. This time, John “pushes his disciples out of the nest” by urging them to follow Jesus, the Lamb of God. We are to understand that John has already baptized Jesus, since he’s seen the sign God told him about: the Holy Spirit descended and remained on Jesus.
It’s easy to miss in the modern English, but that word “remain” is actually used five times in this passage. It describes the relationship within the Trinity, is the method of evangelism Jesus employs, and for those familiar, it will be the way Jesus describes life with him, i.e., discipleship, in John 15. In fact, of the 112 uses of menō in the New Testament, 35% are in the Gospel of John, and another 25% are in John’s other texts. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament equates John’s “abiding” with Paul’s delight for being “in Christ.”
It starts with the Spirit “abiding” on Jesus is discussed in verses 32 and 33. It all begins because God abides with God’s self. I won’t go into the various views on the Spirit’s abiding on the Incarnate second person of the Trinity here, but suffice it to say, there are different ways that the Spirit’s presence with Jesus Christ during his earthly life has come to be understood. For John, it’s the promised sign from God that Jesus is who he has been waiting for—his preparation work is coming to fruition. John trusts the sign so much that he is glad to see some of his disciples approach Jesus with curiosity.
John told his disciples that the Spirit of God was remaining on this man. Then, as they are following Jesus as he walks along, Jesus turns to them and speaks his first words in the gospel of John, “What are you looking for?” They reply, “Teacher, where are you remaining?”
Yes, that’s right, they use the same word that John has used to describe the relationship between the Spirit of God and Jesus. They want to learn from Jesus where he, the Spirit-filled one, is abiding. They want to know where the anointed one is spending his time, who/where he is filling with his presence and purpose. Jesus says, “Come and see.”
This pattern of invitation marks Jesus’s life and ministry as a Rabbi (Teacher), from calling his disciples to the Transfiguration, from working miracles to the night of agonising prayer in the garden, Jesus repeatedly invites his disciples to be near, to stay, to be with him.
In verse 39, we see that the will-be disciples not only went and saw, they themselves remained with Jesus where he was staying. It is a moment that calls to mind one that will come much later, after Jesus has risen, on the road to Emmaus, where he came to be known in the breaking of the bread after hours and hours of talking and remaining with the two travellers…
It isn’t until verse 40 that we find out who one of these two men are: Andrew. Andrew, who used to be a disciple of John, goes to find his brother, Simon Peter (the Peter so many of us relate to with his ups and downs of zeal and failure), and tells him, “We have found the Messiah.” The word “found” is in the Greek perfect tense—connoting that Andrew understands that in Jesus Christ, many of his searches have come to an end. He heard a promise revealed from John, he heard John say that promise was manifested through the Spirit’s abiding. Andrew followed the sign and accepted the invitation from Jesus to experience it for himself. He believes it to be true: this Jesus is anointed with the Spirit of God. And now Andrew knows. Andrew has what the English Puritans referred to as “experimental knowledge” of the presence of God.
And there’s no place he’d rather be. Except he wants others who are seeking to know it too. So he goes to get his brother Peter and invite him to see for himself. The last verse of our lectionary text is Jesus telling Simon Peter who he is, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas.” We’re probably not supposed to read this literally into it, but the symbolism of this name change strikes me. Here we have disciples of John the Baptist becoming disciples of Jesus, and Jesus refers to their actual father being named John when he tells Peter that he will now only be referred to as the “head” (what Cephas means).
And, it seems to me that this isn’t just the final step of transitioning from John the Baptist’s public ministry to Jesus’s public ministry, it is also a story of John’s role as announcer and messenger transitioning to the disciples. Instead of John preparing the way for Jesus, his disciples will take up this mantle; they begin to be the ones who not only follow and look to learn from Jesus the Messiah, they tell other people about him—just as Andrew does here with his brother Simon Peter.
From here, the story will go on to recount how more of the disciples came to “remain” with Jesus. John starts his gospel the way he understands the story: as one of abiding. Even the opening prologue, John describes Jesus as coming to remain with his people here on earth. Or, as Eugene Peterson described it, Jesus “moved into the neighbourhood.”
Jesus’s words in John 15 are still our abiding invitation. Like his first disciples, Jesus invites us to come and see, uniting us with the same Spirit that anointed and remained with him. In John 15, Jesus describes our remaining with him as a matter of the Father’s glory—just as that moment during his baptism was, when the heavens opened. Just as each invitation to witness the works of God in the world is. We disciples have an immense gift in this abiding. May we turn to it, and remain with our Triune God.
What is caught up in John’s repeated title for Jesus, “the Lamb of God?” Exegetes have identified at least four separate identities being alluded to: (1) the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53; (2) the Passover Lamb in Exodus 12; (3) the Lambs of the Daily Offerings in Exodus 29; and (4) the Lamb of the Apocalypse in Revelation. Of course, Jesus the Christ is all of these lambs, and more.
In Streams of Living Water: Essential Practices from the Six Great Traditions of Christian Faith, Richard Foster uses missionary Frank Laubach (1884-1970) as an example of the “Contemplative: Prayer-Filled” life with God. Or, what we might call the “abide” or “remain with” life. Among the prayer-filled ways Laubach explored staying in communion with God throughout the day, was to focus on the person of Christ being present with him, even if unseen. He’d place an empty chair at the table during meal times, he’d read the newspaper out loud and verbalize his prayers. Drawn to the refrain of the hymn, “Moment by Moment,” Laubach reflected,
It is exactly that ‘moment by moment,’ every waking moment, surrender, responsiveness, obedience, sensitiveness, pliability, ‘lost in His Love,’ that I now have the mind-bent to explore with all my might. It means two burning passions: First, to be like Jesus. Second, to respond to God as a violin to the bow of the master. Open your soul and entertain the glory of God and after a while that glory will be reflected in the world about you and in the very clouds above your head.
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