Invitations are important. Anyone who has put on a major function (like a wedding or a big party) knows this to be true. You have to include the correct information (where, when, why, what to wear), and if you want people to attend, you have to invite them out far enough in advance so they can include that in their plans.
In the life of faith, we often discover that the One knocking on the door seeking an invitation in is also the very One doing the inviting. Jesus is inviting us to a new way of life, to a new way of seeing and understanding life. In our Gospel lesson for today, we’re going to look at John’s account of the calling of the disciples. The selection is comprised of two parts. First, John the Baptist, who has just baptized Jesus (as we saw last week), is now pointing to Jesus as the Messiah. And then Jesus issues his invitation to those who would be his followers, “Come and see.” Let’s listen now for God’s word from John 1: 29-42.
Our text begins with John the Baptist making a most interesting statement about Jesus. Pointing at Jesus, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” If you are familiar with the Roman Catholic liturgy, or have sung sacred choral music in the Western tradition, then you’ll be familiar with the words of the Mass from the Agnus Dei:
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
have mercy upon us.
O Lamb of God, that takest away the sins of the world,
grant us thy peace.
The image of the lamb harkens back to the Twelfth Chapter of the Book of Exodus; it’s the story of the Passover. The Hebrew people were enslaved in Egypt, and God was about to perform the final plague that would lead to their release. The angel of death was to go through the land and strike down the firstborn of every living creature. But if the Hebrews sacrificed a lamb and put its blood on their doorposts, the Bible tells us (vs. 13) “The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.” And as the religion of the Hebrews developed as God spoke to them through the Exodus and in the wilderness and into the Promised Land, the sacrifice of a Lamb continued to be important. Exodus 29 specifies that a lamb should be sacrificed morning and evening, and this practice continued as Judaism developed into a temple-based religion. So, for the writer of the Gospel of John, the events in the Book of Exodus serve as the lens through which we interpret the events of the life of Jesus. Jesus is the One who leads us out of slavery to sin and into the promised land of redemption. And it’s not just John; the Apostle Paul picks up on the theme, too. For in 1 Corinthians 5:7, we read, “For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed.”
Now the concept of animal sacrifice is a hard sell for us in the 21st century, since we do not engage in that practice. But the idea behind it runs throughout the Gospel of John and is seen in perhaps the best-known verse of all – John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son…” When we speak of sacrifice, we talk about giving something up. “Oh, that was such a sacrifice,” we say, whenever we have given up money, or time, or anything valuable to us. In the Bible, we meet a God (our heavenly Father) who gives up his own Son, which is a part of himself, for the redemption of the world. God was willing to give up something that was utterly precious in order that we might be saved. So that’s our picture of what redemptive love looks like….love that does not count the cost, but is willing to sacrifice on behalf of the beloved. “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John the Baptist says. He is identifying Jesus for all who will listen. Here is your redemption. Here is the embodiment of God’s love walking in your midst.
Then the scene shifts beginning is verse 35 and we have two disciples of John the Baptist, and upon John’s declaration that Jesus is the Lamb of God, they are inspired to follow Jesus. And John, in a sense, lets them go, which is the right thing to do. You know, there’s a lot of ego in the religion business. (It’s probably true of any business – but I know this one better than most.) And John had developed quite a following. Many were coming to him to receive his baptism of repentance. But now it was time for him to pass the torch. And he did. The One who was coming arrived, so he stepped down. And successful people often won’t do that. I think of some celebrity preachers on TV who held on long past the age when they should’ve retired, but wouldn’t give up the spotlight – and it ended up damaging their ministry. But in the end, John the Baptist knew that his purpose was to attract people not to himself, but to Christ. So, he let his disciples go and follow Jesus – because as he testified, “this is the Son of God.” This Jesus is the Messiah.
When he notices these two men following him, Jesus says to them (in verse 38), “What are you looking for?” It’s a great existential question, because we’re all looking for something.
Concerning this question, commentator William Barclay says, It was very relevant to ask that question in Palestine in the time of Jesus. Were they legalists, looking only for subtle and recondite conversation abut the little details of the Law, like the Scribes and Pharisees? Were they ambitious time-servers look for position and power like the Sadducees? Were they nationalists looking for a political demagogue and a military commander who would smash the occupying power of Rome like the Zealots? Were they humble men of prayer looking for God and for his will, like the Quiet in the Land? Or were they simply puzzled, bewildered sinful men looking for light on the road of life and forgiveness from God?” Who were these two men? What were they looking for?
It’s not a bad question for us to ask of ourselves from time to time. “What am I really looking for? In other words, what is my life really about? What am I trying to get out of life?”
Marjorie Thompson wrote a book, Soul Feast, which is about Christian spirituality. She addresses a variety of topics in the book, and in it she speaks to the spiritual hunger of our age. We are so overwhelmed with information that we find ourselves almost paralyzed. Because of our 24-hour news, we are aware of every tragedy, seconds after it happens. So often it leaves us feeling like the world is forever “going to hell in a handbasket” – and what we crave is peace or security or simplicity. Those are big issues. Maybe for you it’s more personal. You’re looking for a job – so that you can stop just making a living and start making a life. Maybe you’re looking for acceptance – a place where you fit in, a place to call home. Maybe you’re looking for love, because you didn’t find it where you thought you would. Maybe you’re looking for the resolution to a lingering conflict in your life, with family or colleagues or neighbors. When you stop and take that hard look at your life, what do you see? What are you really looking for? That’s what Jesus wants to know.
They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying.” John is writing to a Greek speaking audience, so he often translates the Hebrew words. Rabbi literally means “my great one.” It is a title of respect given by students and seekers to their teacher. They wanted to know where Jesus was staying because they wanted to become a part of his movement, his mission. Many people in the Gospels just have a passing encounter with Jesus. But in order to be a disciple, you have to be willing to become more than a passing acquaintance. You have to be willing to call him “my great one.”
There are many people in the world, and maybe even in the church, who are only passing acquaintances of Jesus. They know his name and something about him. They might even be able to pass a basic Bible quiz. But they haven’t yet taken the leap and become a disciple. It’s much easier to just be an acquaintance. “Oh yeah, that Jesus fellow… I’ve heard about him. Nice guy, that Jesus. Heard he was born in a stable and died on a cross and came back to life again…at least that’s what I’ve heard…. There’s some other stuff in between, but I didn’t stick around for that.”
As nice as acquaintances are, the church is not in the business of making acquaintances; the church is in the business of making disciples. The Great Commission says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Those were the rabbi’s last words to his disciples, to that fledgling church just getting off the ground, recorded at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew. Go and make disciples. Go and find those who want to stay, who aren’t just passing by. Find those who are serious about making this Journey with Jesus.
And to those who are eager to find out where Jesus is staying, his message is simple, “Come and See.” It was a phrase commonly used by rabbis of the day. “Do you want to know the answer to this question? Do you want to know the solution to this problem? Come and see, and we will think about it together.”
The psalmist (34:8) says, “O taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.” At our best, we are in the business of inviting others to walk with us on the way (the path) of Jesus. If what we have as Christians is “the real thing,” then we don’t need to use worldly methods to entice or threaten or frighten people into following Jesus. No, for those of us who look to Jesus and can call him, “My Great One,” all we need to do is say to anyone who will listen, “Come and See.”
 William Barclay, “The Gospel of John, v. 1” from The Daily Study Bible (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), pg. 69-70
 Ibid., pg. 71