Searching and Finding

Searching and Finding   19 Jan 2020            St M-M Madingley

Isaiah 49:1-7                                1 Cor. 1:1-9                      John 1:29-42

Last week we reflected on the fact that the baptism of Jesus is one of the few events which is reported in all four gospels, but the accounts differ according to the truth which the writer is trying to define. This week we have John’s account, narrated by John the Baptist who tells everyone who is prepared to listen what he witnessed at Jesus’ baptism.

Immediately John the gospel writer plunges us into a series of claims about Jesus which are made much earlier than in the other gospels and NT writings. For John is not aiming to write a straight-forward historical account of the life of Jesus. This gospel was written much later than the others, and is clearly the product of a mind which had spent many years reflecting on the significance and deeper meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

If you were to spend time considering the passage we heard today, you would recognize some peculiarities within it. There is a fore-shortening of the time taken over each event, as John hurries from one to another, saying breathlessly as he recounts the rapid sequence of events, “The next day —.”

And there is also a certain condensing of the time taken for the development of ideas about Jesus’ identity, as John recounts followers of Jesus acclaiming him with titles which don’t appear until much later in the Synoptics’ narratives, when the disciples had spent much more time with Jesus and had the opportunity to think things through in a comparatively leisurely fashion. In fact, the title which John the Baptist uses, “The Lamb of God” is found more in Paul’s epistles  than the gospels. It is easy to forget that many of Paul’s epistles were written before at least 3 of the Gospels. So John is writing to people who were familiar with not only the Synoptic Gospels, but also the thinking and writing of Paul.  He doesn’t need to explain, or take the time to reveal the slow development of thought which led to the recognition of the full significance of Jesus and the titles which were consequently accorded to him. 

First we hear John the Baptist proclaiming, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” This was not a title which had been used before, although there were long-standing associations with the spiritual significance of lambs which would have been more familiar.

Lambs did have deep significance for the Jews, since at almost the inception of the nation they were told by God to slaughter lambs and touch their blood to the lintels and doorposts of their houses. This occurred as the Exodus was about to begin, and as a result, they were protected when the angel of death passed over the land of Egypt in the 10th and final plague, before the Israelites finally escaped. From that day to this, the Passover is celebrated as a sign of God’s intervention and continuing protection of their nation. But of course, these lambs which are slaughtered as an integral part of the festival are ordinaryanimals. 

Perhaps closer to the meaning behind the title are the words from Isaiah, which are familiar as part of the readings we hear in Advent, referring to the prophecy about the Suffering Servant  which is eventually seen as being fulfilled by Jesus. Isaiah says, “He was oppressed and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” 

There is also a possible reference to the time when Abraham was brought to the brink of offering his own son Isaac to God as a sacrificial victim. Isaac says to his father, ‘ “The fire and wood are here, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt-offering, my son.” ‘ And all those years later,  God has indeed provided the lamb, in the shape of his own son.    

In this gospel, the death of Jesus takes place at the same time as the slaughtering of the lambs for the Passover feast, and John picks up on one of the regulations regarding these lambs, and their connection to Jesus, as he records that the soldiers did not need to break his legs late in the afternoon, because he was already dead, and it was the rule that the Passover lambs should not have suffered any similar damage.

Yet Jesus is more than a sacrificial offering to God; this sacrifice does more than any animal can. As John says, and as we recognize in the wording later in this service, this Lamb of God, takes away the sin of the world. 

So the Christian community from earliest times adopted this symbol of Jesus as the Lamb of God. Little more than 20 years after Jesus’ death, Paul suggests that his readers are already familiar with this symbol as he states in the First Epistle to the Corinthians: “Christ our passover has been sacrificed for us,” [1 Cor. 5:7] words which are now an integral part of our service.

In addition to this image of Jesus, John the Baptist finishes his account of Jesus’ baptism by saying, “And I have seen and borne witness that this is the Son of God.” This presumably springs from his hearing the Father’s words to Jesus as he came out of the waters of baptism, but the statement is made much earlier in this gospel than in the other three.  

In the same vein, in the verses which follow the segment we read this morning, the new disciples make enormous claims for Jesus which only occur much later in the Synoptic gospels, Andrew calling him the Messiah, and Nathanael stating that he is the Son of God, the King of Israel.  But as he comes to the end of only the first  inspiring chapter of his gospel, John tells us that we have seen nothing yet, as he reports Jesus as saying, “Truly, I say to you, you will see the heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Clearly, at this point John is saying to us, “Right. Now read on —- .”  

Throughout this section of the first chapter, one verb has been repeated, that is, “He saw,” or, “He looked.”  It happens 8 times in 13 verses, including Jesus’ invitation to his potential disciples, when they ask where he is staying, to, “Come and see.” It was the 10th hour of the day, or 4pm so for them it was getting towards the end of the day; John is suggesting that their journey is over. They have found what they were looking for.

Clearly with those final words of the chapter, John is extending the invitation to us. “Read on; come and see for yourselves.” Whenever Jesus spoke or acted, it evoked strong reactions, either rejection, or acceptance. The Lamb of God does not conquer by force, or bribe people with promises of the benefits of belief, or even overwhelm them with the strength of his arguments. He asks simply, “What are you looking for?” –  and waits for the answer. That eternal work of God, creating, revealing and inviting continues to this day. He asks us to join the search for what we really long for, and then to accept the invitation when we have found our heart’s desire.