THEIR EYES WERE OPENED: THE GATHERING OF DISCIPLES
A Sermon by Pastor Chico Martin
January 15, 2017
Lections Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40; 1 Corinthians 1:1-9; John 1:29-42
We want to be with Jesus. Our hearts long to be in the presence of God, and our longing is no stranger to creation.
The Baptist, in today’s Gospel reading from John, identifies Jesus as the Messiah; that is, the Baptist recognizes the Anointed One, not from previous encounters, but from prophesy. This doesn’t mean John hasn’t played, as a child, with Jesus; we gather from Mary’s visit to Elizabeth he has. Rather, the Baptist is acknowledging the sacred role of Scripture and its treasury of Wisdom. All of Israel longed for the Messiah, but who he was and when he would appear was shrouded in the mystery of divine promise. On the banks of the Jordon, at his appearance, the Baptist points to Jesus as he is first revealed: in Scripture. Only then does the Holy Spirit descend from the heavens and alight on the shoulder of Jesus, identifying him as “God with us,” so we can come to know God through experience. The expectations of the Divine promise to Israel is fulfilled and the mystery of God’s Chosen One revealed. We are brought “with the whole of creation” to the glory of God, “hidden through past ages and made known in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Still, experience has limits. As Tim Hughes sings in this morning praise song, “I’ll never know how much it cost/to see my sin upon that cross.” The cost of what God does for us is why we worship and bow down to him; the cost of what God does for us makes him “all together worthy, all together lovely, altogether wonderful” to us. The greatness of our Lord is the greatness of his love and mercy.
As we noted last week, the sacrifice this Jesus will make for us is already beyond doubt. Peter says, the Father and the Son chose the Son’s mission of redemption “before the creation of the world” (1 Peter 1:20). Isaiah had spoken of one who “was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgment, he was taken away, yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished” (Isa 53:7-8). This is the passage of Scripture, as Luke recounts, the eunuch would ask Philip to explain, and hearing about Jesus, be baptized (Acts 8:32-39). The eunuch represents one surprise of the mystery revealed; as his conversion makes clear, Jesus sacrifices himself for the sins of the world, not just for Israel. As we hear in our reading from Isaiah,” I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
John’s Gospel omits the Temptation of Jesus and turns immediately from the baptism of Jesus to the beginning of his public ministry. The next day two of the Baptist’s followers leave with Jesus; one, Andrew, then recruits his brother, Simon Peter. And the following day Philip finds Nathanael. All five disciples, for one remains unnamed, acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah, and the first two explicitly identify Jesus with the Lamb of God.
As we see, our proclamation this Sunday turns out to be about the gathering of disciples; why, we might ask, did Jesus choose those he did? In a way that we can only understand by looking back and fitting together pieces of the past, the disciples that stayed with Jesus demonstrated the diversity of gifts necessary to assure the mission’s success. Remember, two or at most three years later, only a handful, of the many followers Jesus had gathered, remained faithful. What might have motivated these?
We surmise: they followed Jesus because “their eyes were opened.” They recognized the truth in him, and they wanted to be close to him, though not everyone could call him the Messiah; some said he was, a prophet, maybe Elijah, or Moses. Regardless, all the disciples shared a “popular” knowledge of Scripture, and their knowledge brought Wisdom, for they learned to love that which is most worthy of love. Their hearts cried to be close to Jesus, to follow him and to share in the glory he brought to the promises of old. To Nathaniel he said, “Very truly I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus promised Nathaniel visions “greater than Jacob’s” (Gen 28:12). The disciples wanted to be taught the ways of devotion and holiness. They wanted to walk and talk with Jesus.
The Kingdom Jesus the Messiah inaugurated has a present reality and a future reality, and these one day will converge. This “already and not-yet” reality shapes the back and forth of Christian growth and the context for our relationship with God. John Bell’s song, “The Summons,” puts the question of relationship on a personal level: “Will you come and follow me, if I but call your name? /Will you leave yourself behind…? /Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?”
Jesus speaks to us today much as he spoke to his first disciples. “What do you want,” he asks, and we are called upon to give an answer. Do we stay with him? “Come,” he says, “and you will see.” Our conviction decides the matter. We want to see with our own eyes that which we have heard. “It is the cry of our heart to follow” and be close to the person who loves beyond measure. We want to be like him.
Let us pray for the wisdom to continue to respond to God’s call.
And all the people said, Amen