One by one

Good morning, Friends!

Last week I said that we’re going to be spending some time with the gospel of John. We’re going to be following John all the way from now until Easter.

John was the last of the four gospels to be written down. And in some ways, John is the most interesting.

Each of the gospel writers tells the story in their own way. Each of them sees Jesus from a different point of view.

Mark is the urgent gospel – Jesus is always in a hurry. Jesus is always moving on from here to the next place. Mark’s favorite word is immediately.

Matthew is the teaching gospel. Matthew has more of Jesus’ parables than any of the others. Matthew is always making comparisons between the old way and Jesus’ new way. And Matthew is the one who remembered Jesus’ famous words, “As you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it to Me. . .”

According to legend, Luke may have been a physician. Luke is fascinated by Jesus’ ability to heal people. There are a lot of healing stories in Luke. Not just healing of physical illness, but healing of spiritual illness and healing of relationships. Luke is the only gospel where we hear the story of the Good Samaritan. And Luke is especially concerned for the poor.

John is – well, John is different. John’s gospel almost got left out when they were putting the Bible together, because John is so different from the others. John tells stories about Jesus we never hear anyplace else.

John is where they bring Jesus a woman who’s been caught in the very act of committing adultery, and Jesus says, “Whoever among you is without sin, go ahead and throw the first stone,” and they all went home. Jesus looked up and saw they’d all left, and he told the woman, “Go home, and don’t sin any more.”

People who like old-fashioned justice, don’t like John. People who love mercy, love John.

John just has tons of material we don’t find anywhere else. So, we’re going to spend a little time with John this winter and spring.

Today’s reading asks the important question, “How did people recognize Jesus? How did they know Jesus was the one they’d been waiting for? How did Jesus invite people to come follow him?”Basically, today’s reading asks, “How did the ministry of one person, grow into the largest religious group in the world?”

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. John did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

John said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

John answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who ARE you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’”

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me. I am not worthy to untie the straps of his sandals.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’

I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” Jesus replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where Jesus was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! you are the king of Israel!”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

John 1:19-51

The first person to recognize Jesus, was John the Baptist. Like I said last week, in John’s gospel, there are no angels. No shepherds. No wise men from the East.

In John’s gospel, Jesus is the Word, the Light of the world, who’s been around since before all things were made. Jesus is Christ, the Savior, who came to save everyone.

John the Baptist is the first one who really gets it. He was the most famous preacher of his day. People came by the thousands to listen to him. People said John the Baptist was like the prophet Elijah, come back to earth. Some people said that he was the Messiah.

But John said consistently, “It’s NOT me. I’m NOT the one. The one you’re waiting for is already here, standing among you.”

People started looking around, this way and that, looking at the person standing next to them. They were confused!

John said, “The one you’re waiting for is GREATER than me. I’m not worthy to untie his shoes. Compared with him, I’m nothing!”

It takes a great person, to bow out of the spotlight like that. It takes a great person to say, “Don’t look at me – look at Christ!”

John said, “I’ve already seen him. He’s already here! I saw the Holy Spirit come down and rest on him, like a dove. I testify to all of you that he’s the one!”

So, people started coming to see Jesus. They asked if they could spend some time with him. And Jesus said, “Sure. Come on! Let’s walk together a ways.”

Probably the most important thing to take home from today’s message is the power of inviting people. And if you watch Jesus, it’s amazing how he grew his circle of friends, one by one.

The power of one by one. That’s what I want you all to remember. The power of simply talking to people, one by one. Welcoming them. Inviting them.

Jesus talked to huge crowds of people. And they were impressed, but they mostly went home at the end of the day. The new church grew, one by one, as people decided they wanted to be friends with Jesus. That’s how it all happened.

Andrew was one of John the Baptist’s followers. But John pointed to Jesus and said, “He’s the one you should REALLY be listening to.” So Andrew went and hung out with Jesus for a few hours. He came home at the end of the day and told his brother, Simon, all about him. He brought Simon over to meet Jesus the next day.

Jesus took one look at Simon and nicknamed him Peter. Jesus said, “Hey, you’re the rock!” That’s what “Peter” means. I’m not sure why Jesus called him that. At least to start with, Peter wasn’t always a very dependable character. Peter made a lot of big mistakes.

But Peter had a lot of faith. That’s important. He made mistakes, but he always loved Jesus and trusted Jesus.

I wondered this week if Peter was a big, strong guy, sort of like Dwayne “the Rock” Johnson. That would be cool! But I think Jesus was saying that he was going to depend on Peter. He was going to trust Peter. And eventually Peter grew up and became fully trustworthy. It took a long time, but Peter became one of the most important disciples.

Peter didn’t have book learning, but he was great-hearted. He loved Jesus. And he totally trusted Jesus. Peter always made mistakes. But his faith and love always helped Peter to get up again.

Andrew and Peter weren’t the only people who wanted to become friends with Jesus. The next person was Philip, a friend of theirs. Do you see what I’m saying? The power of friendship. The power of growing, one by one. Philip went and told his friend, Nathanael, about Jesus. He told Nathanael, “He’s the one!”

Nathanael wasn’t so easily convinced. He was a skeptic by nature. Nathanael heard the Jesus came from a small, poor town back in the hills – a place called Nazareth. Nathanael said, “Nobody good ever came from that little place!” He wasn’t going to be easily convinced.

Jesus saw Philip and Nathanael walking towards him, and Jesus grinned and called out, “Finally, we’ve got a person from Israel who won’t lie!”

Nathanael was confused. He said, “Have we ever met before? How do you even know me?”

Jesus just smiled and said, “While you were under the fig tree, I knew you.”

A little word of explanation here. I’ve always been puzzled by that remark Jesus made. Then, earlier this year, getting ready for a Bible study, I found out that “under the fig tree” was a Jewish saying. It meant that a person was studying the word of God.

If you were a person who studied and pondered what the Bible meant, if you spent a lot of time with the Bible, other people would say, “Oh, he’s out under the fig tree!” It was a respectful saying – to sit in the shade and spend hours with the Lord’s written word and pray over it, was something people respected and honored.

So, there’s actually a simple explanation for what Jesus said to Nathanael. Jesus meant, “All that time you were studying and praying, I knew you already. We’re already friends. All that time you were searching the Scriptures, you were searching for Me. I’m your friend already!”

That’s why Nathanael was astonished.

Jesus smiled again and said, “You’re going to see a lot greater things than that! You’re going to see dreams come true.” Nathanael was a skeptic, but Jesus told him, “You’re going to see miracles happen. This is just the beginning!”

Over and over, Jesus shared the same message with people. He told them, “This is the good news! God’s kingdom is very near to you. The time you’ve been waiting for, all your life, is right now! It’s time to turn your life around. Turn back, and believe in the good news!”

And over and over again, Jesus invited people to be his friends. One by one. Jesus loved people, one by one.

Some people, Jesus told, “Follow me!” Other people, Jesus told, “Your sins are forgiven!” Some people, Jesus healed, to show them that God is real.

Many times, Jesus sat down with people for a meal, returned thanks, and said, “OK, pass the bread!” And they passed it around, and there was enough for everybody.

And it was different for everyone. Jesus told some people, “Follow me!” and he told other people, “Go home, and tell everybody how much God has done for you.” He told some people to give up their old job, that wasn’t a good way of living. He told other people to take their old job to a deeper level.

Jesus told people, “If you’ve got ears, then listen up! If you’ve got eyes, open them! Don’t look down, look up and see what God is doing. Listen to people who are giving thanks. Pay attention to their testimony! If you’re sinking, reach out a hand. I’ll lift you up again. Come walk with me. Learn from me. Let go of your sin, and let your sin let go of you.”

And you know something? It worked. Jesus’ way of reaching out, worked. One by one, his circle of friends grew. It grew and grew, until he reached out to the whole world.

And we can join that circle of Jesus’ friends ourselves. And we can reach out to whoever’s near to us, and help that circle to grow some more. Because that’s how it works. Reaching out. One by one.

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