I have some excellent news to announce. A great start to the New Year and a huge opportunity for us locally. A little bit of background first: There’s a lot of change in the Church of England at the moment. Over the past few decades some churches have grown but many have shrunk. The big change is that rather than continue this situation, the church has decided to reallocate some of its money to support places which are growing so that they can support places which have growth potential.
After a very full bidding process, I’m delighted to announce that our Deanery of about 30 local parishes has received a grant of three hundred thousand pounds to support mission in this area. Over the next four years it gives us the chance to employ new people who will help us all make a difference for the Kingdom of God locally. It’s not about getting an extra vicar to shore things up or a bolt-on ministry that will stop when that person goes. It’s about equipping the whole people of God to serve his purpose here. So each of us can share the good news effectively by word and deed.
Of course, this comes with real responsibilities and we’ve got to be really careful and accountable in using this money to the best long term effect. But it’s a great vote of confidence in our churches and our area, and a massive opportunity. Such good news, I just had to share it.
When was the last time you had something you just had to share? Good news that you couldn’t keep in? Our reading from John 1:29-42 is all about the Good News of Jesus that just can’t be kept in. Do turn with me to page 88 in the pew Bibles so you’ve got it to hand.
‘Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’ cries out John the Baptist. He just can’t hold it in. John has been preparing for Jesus all his life. His whole ministry has been about getting people ready for Christ. And now he’s here! With joy and a sense of completion he points to Jesus.
What John the Baptist says about Jesus matters. John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, people inspired by God who waited for the Messiah. We know from Acts Chapter 19 that even a long time after his death there were still people following John the Baptist’s teaching. Those disciples needed to be told that Jesus was the Saviour that the Baptist had looked for. So in John’s gospel, which of course is written by a completely different John, the story of Jesus goes straight from the words we hear at Christmas, to the testimony of John the Baptist.
And it’s full of good news which makes sense for us today. In verse 29: ‘Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world’. Now, would people in the time of Jesus have been wandering around thinking: ‘what on earth are we going to do about the problem of sin? How will God forgive us?’ They did after all have an entire temple system to bring forgiveness. There was the regular sacrifice of lambs and other animals to cleanse the worshippers from their sins.
But people with spiritual insight might have realised that system didn’t go far enough. An annual sacrifice for sin is fine, but you’ve got to come back next year – and what about the things you do wrong in the meantime? What about all the people who aren’t Jewish? And what about the bits in the Old Testament where God says that the blood of bulls and goats doesn’t really take away sin?
Anyone ever had Japanese knotweed in their garden? If you’ve got the dreaded knotweed you can cut it down, you can burn it, you can pour weedkiller onto it. That will knock it back. And if you keep on doing so you can kind of keep it under control, at least stop it spreading. But unless you take out the roots or the bits coming in under the fence from the next door, you won’t get rid of it. Let up a moment and it will return
The Old Testament sacrificial system is like that. It addresses the symptoms, gives a symbol of forgiveness but doesn’t fundamentally deal with the root cause. It limits sin, but isn’t radical enough.
Jesus the Lamb of God is different. He is THE Lamb of God – in other words he died for sin once. His sacrifice need never be repeated, he is the only one who really counts. He takes away the sins of the world – in other words he died for all – anyone of whatever race who comes to have faith in Jesus is forgiven.
For us today that is great news. There’s a certainty and a peace about what Jesus has done. A freedom. Christians can be sure we are forgiven. There is an ongoing battle against sin, but we fight it not as a desperate rearguard action, nor a frantic game of Whack-a-mole, but as an offensive action knowing that the main battle has already been won.
And it has been won by God himself. In verse 30 John speaks: ‘This is he of whom I said: ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ In that society, the more senior person had more status. Although Jesus was born six months after John, he was the senior, because before that he was the Word of God, who was with God in the beginning. As John says in verse 34: ‘This is the Son of God’.
The implications of this are huge. God himself came to us! When we look at Jesus we look at God himself! God lived as one of us in the world that we know. God suffered and died and rose again for us. But John is making the point that Jesus is greater than any human teacher. He is far above any prophet. It’s not just that his words carry a greater authority – they carry a different kind of authority – the unmediated words of God himself. Anyone looking for the source of truth, anyone seeking reliable religious authority can find it in Christ.
And it gets better. Each one of us can know him as a living reality in our lives. In verse 33: ‘He is the one who baptises with the Holy Spirit.’ What do you think of when you think of baptism? A little splosh of a water on a baby’s forehead? Put that image to one side. Baptism comes from a word that means drench. Immerse. Soak. John’s not talking about a little dab with the Holy Spirit, he’s talking about being filled.
We don’t really know what experience the average Old Testament believer had of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was given to particular individuals for a special task from time to time, but as Joel tells us the Spirit wasn’t poured out on all believers until Pentecost. So what was it like for them? Perhaps we may remember our own lives before we became aware of God’s Holy Spirit?
A sense that God was at arm’s length? That he loves us like a Father, but perhaps in a distant sort of way? Prayer that is dutiful, peaceful, heartfelt but not intimate? Religious literature which is rather legalistic compared to the creativity and compassion the Spirit of Jesus brings? Life lived in a way that with hindsight seems monochrome now the spirit has brought colour? Evergreen winter trees rather than spring-time’s new growth?
When we ask to be filled with God’s Spirit, and ask each day, God gives what he has promised. There is an amazing power and intimacy in God’s Spirit, available to us all so let us keep on asking.
One thing the Spirit will do is help us share our faith. In verse 37 the two disciples probably don’t understand much of what John has said, but they go and follow Jesus anyway. ‘What are you looking for?’ he asks, and the reply where are you staying is much more than a request to stop by for a cuppa! Being a disciples involved much more than turning up for the odd lecture – you stayed with your teacher. You ate and drank and walked about with him, living like he did. You slept by his feet, not wanting to miss out on any pearl of wisdom.
And the transforming effect of knowing Jesus is so great that Andrew immediately invites his brother Simon to come and see Jesus, who gives him a new identity.
I just want to finish by thinking about that invitation. There’s not much to it. Just ‘we have found the Messiah’, come and see.
One of the most important ways that we can help other people come to Jesus is by a simple invitation: Come and see. I’m going to the Carol Service, would you like to come too? We’ve got a pancake party in the church, why don’t you bring the kids? We have this interesting discussion in the pub – I think you might like it.
Yes, there are those who nag and put people off. Occasionally you do meet people who are more like recruiting sergeants for an institution or those who tot up scalps. And none of us want to be like that. But I suspect most of us are the other way: we could do with a bit of encouragement and help to invite others to things which will help them meet Jesus.
So I’m going to ask for some feedback. What would help you invite others: to church; or Alpha; or a social where they can just meet Christians being more or less normal?
What would help? More special events like an evangelistic service or a men’s group? Flyers so you’ve got something physical to put in their hands? Some training in how to invite people, building your own confidence?
Or are there things we could do to build confidence in what we’re inviting people to? When I first arrived in my last post, church members would say ‘We won’t be here next Sunday, we’ve got guests coming.’ After a few years, people began to say something different: ‘meet Philip and Sue, they’re friends of ours who are staying for the weekend’. That told me the church was moving in the right direction when people felt able to invite their friends.
Let me know afterwards/Anyone got any thoughts now?
We have amazing good news in Jesus. It’s something we will want to share. What can help us grow in confidence pointing others to Christ?