Sermon: Seeing Beyond Bethlehem: Through the Eyes Of Disciples
Scripture: John 1:29-42
Date: January 21, 2018
The Jewish Faith has always been a very visual kind of faith. What I mean by that, is that the Hebrew Scriptures are short on explanations and big on stories. The intent is for the reader to be able to visualize all that’s happening. It begins with the story of creation. Now the writer of the creation story could have tried to explain the how and why of creation, but it would have lost some of its awesomeness and power. So instead the writer paints us a picture of the events of creation and allows us to draw our own conclusions. And there are so many other visual images that emerge as we read the history of the Hebrew people. Noah loading the animals on the Ark. Abraham lifting the knife to sacrifice Isaac his son and then at the last moment spotting the ram in the thicket that God had sent to the sacrifice instead. Moses holding out his staff and the sea parting. Daniel in the fiery furnace and in the den with the lions. The writers don’t want us to just know about God, they want us to “see” God through His actions and the actions of people of faith. And the same can be said about the Gospels, as they tell us about Jesus. We learn about Jesus through a series of word pictures. Really only John takes a lot of time to reflect on what it all means. But the others, beginning with the story of Jesus’ birth, tell the story in large part by painting word pictures and images. Their vivid descriptions help us not just read about Jesus but to see him through the events of his life. And so, through their telling, we “see” angels and shepherds. And Mary and Joseph making their way to Bethlehem. The baby in the manger. The writers don’t take much time to explain all of this to us. They leave us like Mary, to ponder these things in our hearts.And there are other images, aren’t there? And so we have pictures in our minds of Jesus calming the storm on the sea. Jesus drawing the children to him. Jesus walking on water. Jesus standing beaten and bloody before Pilate. Jesus on the Cross. The empty tomb. No great theological explanations are offered for any of these. The writer draws us the picture and leaves us to our own understanding. And of course the Bible concludes with the book of Revelation which is almost all imagery and generations have written volume after volume to try and explain them. And Jesus himself was a great word artist. He taught through stories and His parables paint for us vivid pictures of lost sons coming home, and helpless figures lying beaten beside the road. And Shepherds and sheep. He tells the stories, paints the pictures, and leaves us to draw our own conclusions. Even when the disciples ask him what the parables mean, he is reluctant to explain them. And so when John the Baptist from prison sends a few of his followers to Jesus to ask if He really is the Messiah or should they “look” for another, Jesus doesn’t answer in words, He says, “look around and see what’s happening”. So listen to what John says in this first chapter.
The next day John was back at his post with two disciples, who were watching. He looked up, saw Jesus walking nearby and said, “Here He is, God’s Passover lamb.” The two disciples heard him and went after Jesus. Jesus looked over His shoulder and said to them, “What are you after?” They said, “Rabbi (which means ‘teacher’) where are you staying?” He replied “Come and see for yourself” You see, it should not come as a big surprise that Jesus’ call to discipleship did not include an explanation of what was going to happen to the disciples or what they should expect.
He called them to “come”, but more than that he called them to “come and see.” His call was depicted in nets suddenly full of fish and fields ripe with the harvest. Because Jesus knew that they would not come based on words alone. John the Baptist had offered words. By all accounts a great preacher. The teachers in the Synagogue had offered words.
The prophets had offered words. But if they were going to follow, they would have to “see”. “Come and see” is the call to Discipleship that emerges from the manger of Bethlehem for those who can see beyond. If you want to know what is going to happen beyond Bethlehem you must “come and see.” Bethlehem was the preview of what was going to come. Jesus makes it clear that Disciples are ones who “come and see” God. They don’t just hear about God in the synagogue school, but they “see” Him through fishing nets that are suddenly full, and storms that are calmed, and people that are healed, and souls that are redeemed saved and changed. And once they “saw”, they gave up their old lives to follow Him.The scriptures talk a lot about the inability to “see”. And blindness often carries with it a double meaning. It is not only a physical state, but also a spiritual state. That was certainly true of the blind man who came to Jesus for healing and wholeness. “I don’t know how He did it, but see for yourself once I was blind but now I can see” Before Paul could “see” Jesus, the scales had to fall from his eyes. John Newton says that because of God’s amazing grace “I once was blind, but now I see.” And Jesus says “if you see me, you see the Father” Come and see calls us to a life of Discipleship and service. But the problem is that most of us just catch glimpses of Jesus. One writer says:
The problem is, Jesus is notoriously difficult to see. Not because He is like a busy executive who does not have time for us, but because we are hindered in our vision . We look for Him in the wrong places and in the wrong ways. We look for Him through our own presumptions that blind us.
Leonard Sweet says: The point is this: Disciples are those who want to stay with Jesus, wherever that stay may be and wherever it may take them. . . when Jesus calls us to “come and see” this is what he’s talking about. Come and see what abundant life is all about. Come and see what a life of meaning and purpose and God service looks like.
If you’re looking for a life of abundance and meaning and purpose, You won’t find it in that which you will “see” in the faces of this world. For that kind of life, Jesus invites you to “come and see” what a life of faith looks like. But for that to happen Disciples have to see beyond Bethlehem.
But there’s more. Those two disciples who received Jesus’ invitation to come and see, went and saw and they were changed forever. And then Jesus invitation to them became their invitation to others. Look what John goes on to say (and this is my paraphrase):
Andrew (who was Simon Peter’s brother) was one of the two who heard John’s witness and followed Jesus. The first thing that Andrew did (after “seeing” Jesus) was to run and find his brother, Simon (later Peter) and tell him, “we have found the Messiah, the Lord” (“Come and see”) “And (Andrew) led (Simon) to Jesus.
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When He got there, He saw Philip and said, “Come and see. Come follow me.” But before Philip followed, he went and found his friend Nathanael and invited him to “come and see the One that Moses wrote of in the law, the One spoke of by the prophets. And you’ll never guess who it is. It’s Jesus.
Joseph and Mary’s Son, from Nazareth.” Nathanael said, “From Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding. Hard to believe anything good could come from there.” And Philip said: “Just come and see.”
You know I think that above the doors of every church and on the sign board out front, should be the invitation “Come and see”.That is what our invitation should be, “Come and see”. Because that is ultimately why people come to the church. We come to see God. It is the invitation to come and see beyond Bethlehem to Jesus who grows to be our Lord and Savior.
A preacher tells about a woman in his church who is able to see beyond Bethlehem when he writes:
She works three nights a week at our church’s center for the homeless. Three nights a week! No one in the congregation is so thoroughly involved in this demanding ministry.
Most of us think that she does it because she is such an exemplary Christian. She really knows Jesus and she knows how to serve Jesus. And that’s true. But when I commented to her about her great commitment to the work, saying to her that her commitment was a sign of her great faith, she replied, “Great faith? I don’t think so. I don’t really have that much faith. That’s the point of why I am here. I need all the help I can get seeing Jesus, understanding Him, being with Him. So I have to keep very close, and keep close very often, to those whom Jesus keeps close to. That’s why I’m here. (I see Jesus in the homeless people we serve.). If I didn’t have this place to see Jesus, I reckon I’d never be near Him.
When Disciples are able to see beyond Bethlehem, then the invitation to Come and see becomes the ultimate challenge for the church. Because when people come through our doors, they come wanting And needing to see Jesus in us. When they look upon our witness in this world, they should see Jesus. Our vision statement for the church is Jesus Christ in every life. But before that can happen, every life who comes needs to be able to see Jesus in our life. Come and see is not just the invitation that we offer at Christmas, but beyond Bethlehem it becomes our witness. If we want people to come and see Jesus, then we must be where He is, and we must do what He does. He can’t just be a baby in a manger. To see beyond Bethlehem for most means seeing Jesus in us.
Joanna Adams is a Presbyterian minister in Atlanta who runs a homeless shelter through one of the downtown churches. And one day she was the guest on a talk radio program and described the ministry that they were involved in. “We take in homeless people; we provide lodging and food.”
But the host of the show was suspicious. “What has this to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ?” he asked.
“Well” she said, “we try to show the compassion of Christ (through what we do)”
“You didn’t hear my question”, he said, “What has this to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
“Well, we try to take care of not only their physical needs, but also their spiritual needs – we try to show them compassion. We are concerned for them as human beings.”
But the host persisted, “You’re not listening to my question . I want to know where is Jesus Christ in all that?”
Joanna thought for a minute and then she said, “You just have to be there to know what I’m talking about. You would just have to see it for yourself.”
Come and see. We can not witness to the love and compassion and saving grace of Jesus unless we can invite people to come and see it in us. Come and see is a challenge to us as individuals and a church to be about the work of inviting persons to come here and see Jesus. Disciples enable all persons to see beyond Bethlehem. Our words mean nothing if people can’t see Jesus in us.
Years ago, it was common that when a pulpit was constructed and placed in one of the great cathedrals of Europe it would have a little engraved plate that would be placed so that when the preacher stood to deliver the message he could read it. No one could see it but him. And engraved on the plate were the words from John’s Gospel: We would see Jesus. It was placed there to remind the preacher that He was there so that the people who came and heard would be able to see Jesus in Him. One preacher by the name of Thomas Long tells about touring Scotland and going to one of the Cathedrals. He said he was the only one there, and so he climbed up the stairs to the pulpit and he looked for the plaque. And sure enough, he saw it. But when he looked closely at it he discovered that instead of the words from John, it said, “Remember Edna Bailey.” Long was shocked and confused so he began to ask people in the vicinity of the church if they knew who Edna Bailey was, and he discovered that she had been a member of the church who had devoted her life to serving others. She had lived her life as an invitation to “Come and See.” And he writes:
“At first I was disappointed . I wanted to see, “Sir, we would see Jesus” written on the plaque. But then it dawned on me that maybe God was teaching me a truth: the only way to see Jesus is to remember Edna Bailey (and others like her) and to get involved with the people of God in doing the work of God in the world.”
“Come and see” must be our invitation to a seeking world. Come here and see Jesus. And then look at the rest of the story. Because the glorious news is that God rewards a faithful witness with blessings beyond our sight and imaginings. John finishes the story with these words:
When Jesus saw him coming he said, “There’s a real Israelite, not a false bone in his body.” Nathanael said, “Where did you get that idea? You don’t know me.”
Jesus answered, “One day, long before Philip called you here, I saw you under the fig tree.” Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi! You are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”
Jesus said, “You’ve become a believer simply because I say I saw you one day sitting under the fig tree? You haven’t seen anything yet! Before this is over (for those who are able to see beyond Bethlehem) you’re going to see heaven open and God’s angels descending to the Son of Man and ascending again.”
“Come and see” You haven’t seen anything yet! For those of us who just catch glimpses of God in this life, what a glorious promise that is. We can only begin to imagine what it will be like to truly “Come and see” Jesus in all his glory and splendor. Imagine a world that is at peace. The nations shall not learn war anymore. Come and see! Imagine a life where our sorrows are lifted and our tears are wiped clean. He will wipe every tear away. Come and see! Imagine a Savior who will lift from us the burdens of this life. My yoke is easy and my burden light. Come and see! Imagine our sinful lives wiped clean . Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Come and see! Because the truth is we haven’t seen anything yet!
Bart Millard has written these words in a song entitled I Can Only Imagine.
I can only imagine what it will be like When I walk by your side I can only imagine What my eyes will see
When your face is before me
I can only imagine.
Surrounded by your glory, what will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine when that day comes
And I find myself standing in the Son
I can only imagine
Have you come this morning seeking new meaning for your life. Something to hold on to. Answers in the swirl of questions. It is Jesus that you seek. Come now and see for yourself. Come and see beyond Bethlehem.