Over the past week, I found myself in a discussion with a few atheists on Twitter. This particular group of atheists not only denies that God exists, they also claim that Jesus is a figment of Christian imagination, a myth. I pointed out to them that a New Testament scholar, Bart D. Ehrman, himself an atheist, has looked at the documentary evidence and told his fellow atheists: “Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.”
But my Twitter correspondents would have none of it. Like the members of the Flat Earth Society, these atheist tweeters would not be confused by the facts.
And there are a lot of verifiable facts about Jesus. In their book, Reinventing Jesus: How Contemporary Skeptics Miss the Real Jesus and Mislead Popular Culture, three New Testament scholars have a helpful chart comparing the documentation we have for the New Testament, containing our most complete and earliest accounts of Jesus, compared to documents recounting other ancient history.
[Click to enlarge.]
I’m not going to give all the details. I’ll just say that the facts speak for themselves. As you can see, we have much more documentation, extending back closer to the days when the events of the New Testament--when Jesus lived, died, and rose--took place than we have of other ancient historical events. The unflinching witness of the early Church for, not just the existence of Jesus, but also of His death, resurrection, and ascension, is more extensive than the evidence routinely cited to document the lives of ancient figures like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar.
But when I pointed all of this out to those atheist tweeters, guess what? Not a single one of them told me that they were convinced. So far as I know, none of them, have come to faith in Jesus Christ. Yet.
And I may never know if they do. Sometimes as Christians, our job isn’t to “make the sale” of discipleship, it’s simply to plant the seed. Other Christians who come into those people’s lives may cultivate and water the seed. Still others may harvest it for God.
With the apostle Paul, we can say: “I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.” (1 Corinthians 3:6) Our job as followers of Jesus is to keep on in the disciplemaking business.
One of the atheists, skeptical of my life history--of being someone who moved from atheism to faith--asked me how I came to believe in Christ. I told him: “I opened to faith when I saw the freedom & love in which Christians I knew lived.”
It was after repeated encounters with real people who authentically sought to live as disciples of Jesus that my iced-over heart, my resistant mind, and, toughest of all, my stubborn will began to be pried open to the grace of God and the new life that only comes to us through Jesus Christ.
It was the lives and witness of the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Columbus, Ohio, whose humble commitment to Christ through the ups and downs of life and their acceptance of me caused me to want to know more about Jesus Christ and, eventually, in their fellowship, to give my life to Him.
This brings us to the central theme from today’s gospel lesson that I want us to focus in on this morning. Take a look at it, please, John 1:29-42.
We’ll start at verses 29-34: “The next day John [the Baptist] saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, “A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.” I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.’ Then John gave this testimony: ‘I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.” I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.’”
Often, people tell me, “I could never share my faith with someone else. I wouldn’t know what to say. I wouldn’t know how to answer people’s objections.”
John the Baptist’s witness for Jesus in these few verses should give us the confidence we need to be witnesses for Jesus ourselves. All John did was talk about the encounter he’d had with Jesus and how he had come to see Jesus as the perfect sacrificial lamb sent by God to erase the power of sin and death over our lives. He affirmed his own personal faith in Jesus Christ. From his own relationship with the God revealed in Jesus, John was able to point others toward Jesus.
Listen: If you have a relationship with Jesus--if you believe in Him, His Holy Spirit will empower you to tell others about what Jesus means to you.
And the deeper you go in that relationship with Jesus--through daily quiet times of prayer, confession, and Bible reading, regular worship, involvement with Bible studies and the mission efforts of the Church, and devotional times with your children--the more you will have to tell about Jesus.
A Christian disciple really can’t tell her or his life story without talking about the impact of Jesus Christ on their life story.
When we know Jesus, we’re able to share Jesus, whether it’s with family members, friends, classmates, or co-workers. And that’s how disciples are made.
This point is driven home in the balance of the gospel lesson. Verse 35: “The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God!’ When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.”
What is it that caused those two disciples of John the Baptist to simply get up and follow Jesus? The same thing that will cause our friends, relatives, and acquaintances to follow Jesus when we point to Him.
John the Baptist had a relationship with those disciples. John had "street cred."
When people know you and trust you, they’ll be interested in your Savior. If people buy into you, they’re more likely to buy into the Lord you follow.
Discipleship is born in relationship, not salesmanship.
Discipleship is born in relationship, not programs.
As someone has said, “Passing our faith onto others is nothing more than one beggar telling another beggar where to find the bread of life, Jesus.” “Look!” John the Baptist said, “there’s the Lamb of God!”
The rest of the lesson goes on in the same vain. Verse 38: “Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, ‘What do you want?’ They said, ‘Rabbi’ (which means ‘Teacher’), ‘where are you staying?’ ‘Come,’ he replied, ‘and you will see.’ So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas’ (which, when translated, is Peter).”
A few months ago, I read about a Lutheran congregation that made a decision: They were no longer going to be a welcoming church. They got rid of their designated greeters and said that everyone was going to be a greeter. (We have greeters at Living Water, but it seems like everyone is a greeter anyway.)
Being a welcoming church, you know, is all about how you welcome people once they enter your building. For we in the church, our buildings, our sanctuaries, our class rooms, our worship services, our learning events, and our fellowship groups all unfold in our comfort zones, here among people we know. They happen on our home court or our home field. That’s nice. But being welcoming isn’t really how you fulfill Jesus’ great commission (Matthew 28:19-20).
In our lesson, Jesus invited the two disciples of John the Baptist to come and see.
Then Andrew invited his brother Simon Peter to check Jesus out.
Jesus didn’t wait to welcome people once they showed up; He invited them to know Him better.
Andrew didn’t hang around Jesus and wait for his brother to show up; Andrew went to his brother, then invited him to know Jesus for himself.
That’s why that Lutheran congregation decided not to be a welcoming church anymore; they decided to be an inviting church. They would grow as disciples themselves and then, instead of waiting for people to show up at their church, they would go out and invite others to know and follow Jesus.
Welcoming churches are passive; inviting churches are active.
Welcoming churches wait for the unchurched to come to them; inviting churches are empowered by the Holy Spirit to carry the good news of new and everlasting life through faith in Jesus into their communities.
Welcoming churches stay in their comfort zones; inviting churches “go in peace [and] share the good news” with the world beyond its doors.
Welcoming churches may reach up and sometimes reach in; inviting churches reach up to God, reach in to fellow disciples for growth and Christian fellowship, and reach out to the world beyond that fellowship so that all the world can know and follow Jesus, trust in Him and have His presence in their lives today, and live with God for eternity.
This past week we visited our son and daughter-in-law in Texas, where our son is a pastor. One day, he and I walked to a local bakery. While we were there, a young couple walked in and my son, temperamentally an introvert, struck up a conversation with them. In no time, he'd learned that they were new to the area and where they lived. A few moments later, the man had his cell phone out and was showing pictures to Philip. In a few brief moments, Phil introduced himself and who he was and where his church was. We checked out and there were friendly goodbyes. As Phil and I walked from the bakery, he said quietly, "And that's what I do."
That's what we're all called to do: To love our neighbor and invite them to come and see our Savior Jesus.
In 2017, as we move to more firmly establish a culture of discipleship at Living Water with our partners in the North American Lutheran Church and Navigators, I pray that we all will make the effort to grow in our relationship with Christ so that we become an inviting church, a fellowship of Christians who move into the world with boldness and humility to invite others to “come and see” the Savior Jesus: the way, and the truth, and the life.
Let’s not be just a welcoming church; let’s be an inviting church!
Let’s ask everyone we know, personally and lovingly, to “come and see” Jesus Christ.
Let’s make disciples! Amen
[Blogger Mark Daniels is pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio. This was the message during worship on January 15, 2017.]