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The Rt. Rev. Robert Johnson The Rt. Rev. Robert Johnson

The Right Rev. Robert Johnson is the retired bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.

Member of:

The Episcopal Church

Representative of:

The Episcopal Church


Profile of a Disciple

John 1:29-41

January 17, 1999

Please join me in some Bible study today. Let's get closer to that Gospel reading for the second Sunday after the Epiphany.

On the surface it seems like a straight-forward story about a couple of days in the life of Jesus and two of his very first disciples.

John the Baptizer announces very specifically who Jesus is: "Here is the Lamb of God! This is the Son of God!" Then John goes further; he even encourages two of his own to leave him and to follow Jesus. And they do just that.

Jesus soon realizes that these two guys are following him. So he turns and asks, "What are you looking for?"

They answer, "Teacher, where are you staying?" Jesus says to them, "Come and see." They would go and spend the rest of the day with Jesus. Very quickly they are convinced that what John said about this man is true. Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God.

Andrew (one of those two disciples of John who went to follow Jesus) then goes first to find his own brother, Simon Peter, and say, "Guess what! "We have found the Messiah" - the object of centuries of watching and waiting.

Now what could be simpler than that story? What is there to study about that? A good first rule to follow when you read the Gospels is this: Remember the Gospels are not primarily intended to be a biography of Christ. They are intended to be an interpretation of Christ.

The Gospels are intended not primarily to give information about Jesus but to convince readers and listeners that Jesus is God's Christ for the world.

This is extremely important. The kind of story we are reading or hearing determines the way we listen and what we expect to get out of it.

The Gospels are essays, not biographies. They are editorials, not news stories. They are letters of recommendation, not diaries. If the Gospels were on television, they would be commercials, not documentaries.

To be as honest with you as I can, literally and factually, today's story from St. John's Gospels is impossible. For one thing, here we see John the Baptizer at the very beginning of Jesus' ministry announcing without reservation that Jesus is God's Son, the Christ, the Messiah. But we know from other New Testament accounts that John was not so certain about Jesus. John had serious doubts about Jesus.

We know also that John, himself, had a band of disciples, and that some of John's disciples and others thought that John himself might be the Messiah.

We know that much later in the relationship between John and Jesus, John sent a messenger to ask Jesus if he were truly the Messiah. Another thing that makes this story difficult to read as a page out of Jesus' diary is that it shows Andrew - in the course of one afternoon - being convinced that Jesus is the Christ, and that afternoon is the very first time that Andrew has talked to Jesus.

That's not literally the way it happened, and we know that. We know from other New Testament evidence that the disciples of Jesus, including Andrew, were extremely slow to discover and to believe that this their teacher really was the Messiah sent from God, the one who in the words of today's prayer from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer was worthy to be "known, worshipped and obeyed to the ends of the earth." Much later than today's story is said to have happened. Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people think that I am?" And the disciples said; "Some think you are John the Baptist come back to life; some say you are Elijah; others say you are one of the prophets." And Jesus then asked, "But who do you say that I am?" And when Peter says, "You are the Christ," his answer is considered at that time to be a great break-through for the disciples' developing faith, the first time they have realized who Jesus really might be.

This suggests that our story today, which has Andrew believing in Christ the very first day, is literally unlikely.

Well so much for that! And so much for St. Johns Gospel! The Bishop of North Carolina says it's full of bologna!

No, no! That is not what I'm saying.

Remember the first rule! The purpose of the Gospels is not to give a day-by-day diary of Jesus. The purpose is to convince people of who Jesus is and to win those people as disciples to invite people to "know, worship and obey" Christ.

The Gospels are difficult only if you listen to them expecting to hear a news story. If you listen to them expecting to hear God, there is no difficulty at all.

OK. With that in mind, what do we then hear in today's story?

We hear St. John's profile of a typical Christian disciple. We hear how a person becomes a disciple. We hear a rather long process condensed into a single day. So if we take that day and stretch it out, what have we got?

We've got a process with four steps in it. The first step is hearing somebody else's word about Jesus. In this case, it was the word of John the Baptist to Andrew. In my own case, it was the word of my parents; and later, that word was reinforced by some Sunday School teachers; and then later by some college professors and practicing Christians in whom I could see the power of Jesus Christ and from whom I could hear the convincing truth, the Gospel.

The second step is personal investigation. The two disciples of John were intrigued by John's testimony about Jesus, but you don't believe something so important just in somebody else's word. Sooner or later, you can check it out for yourself. So the two disciples of John followed Jesus quietly listening for a while, just watching, just listening.

The third step is when we hear Jesus ask, "What are you looking for?" That gets right to the heart of the matter, doesn't it? Not, "who are you?" but "What are you looking for? What do you want out of life? What does your life need, to be fully fulfilled? What are you looking for?"

The answer that John's Disciples gave to Jesus' question is puzzling at first; "Teacher, where are you staying?" That sounds like casual small talk. Like, "Are you staying at the Hilton or the Holiday Inn?" But Jesus accepts their question without challenge and says, "Come and see."

There is no substitute for seeing a person in his own home, in his familiar environment, if you are trying to decide whether to trust him. And that is our basic decision to make about Christ, isn't it. Can we trust him?

And notice the time of day in today's story. It was about four o'clock in the afternoon, the end of the work day, personal time, probably bread and wine time, friendship time, growing closer together time, sharing time.

Then the fourth step is deciding whether or not to be a public disciple or just a private believer, whether or not to tell your friends.

In today's story, Andrew goes to find his brother and tells him, "We have found the Messiah!" The discovery is shared as good news. it is not self-centered, it is Christ-centered. It is a happy announcement.

All Christian evangelism is an announcement of good news. If it is not good news, it is not about Christ. Do you go public with your faith, or do you keep it to yourself?

These are the steps of becoming a Christian disciple. St. John's Gospel packs them all into one day. It doesn't literally happen in one day. It didn't with Andrew or Simon Peter and it probably doesn't with you. But it happens.

It happens in that same process. We hear somebody else's word. We do some investigation of our own. We honestly answer the question. What am I looking for in my life? And then we decide whether to tell someone else or keep quiet.

Each one of us is probably somewhere in that process. We are at one of those steps - or maybe between steps. But we are somewhere in the process with Jesus Christ.

The Word I hear from God today through the Gospel of St. John to me and maybe to you is this: Whatever step we are on, it is probably time to move on toward the next one.

Think about it.


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