35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
39 “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.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. 41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 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[g]).
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
The gospel of John opens with a dramatic passage about the divinity, incarnation, and mission of the Word of God. In this confessional statement, the author confirms that the Word is co-eternal with God; he has always been and is not a created being. We learn that all things were created through the Word, and that he is the source of all life. And we learn that the Word became incarnate as a human male to dwell among his creation, that all who believe in his name are born of God and become his children, and that he was rejected by those he came to save, because they did not recognize him for who he was – the Son of God.
In just a few verses, the author paints a dynamic picture of the true nature of God’s promised messiah, who brought the grace of God to humanity in even greater measure than had already been given. But this picture is a far cry from the messianic expectations of Israel. Messiah, which means ‘anointed one’ was expected to be a great political and military leader, like King David. He was expected to overthrow the worldly powers through force, re-establish the kingdom of Israel, and lead as her king. So when the religious leaders of Jesus’ day saw a man like John the Baptist, who lived in the wilderness, wore animal skins for clothing, ate locusts and wild honey, and walked around proclaiming the kingdom of God and baptizing people for repentance, they were naturally curious if he was the sort of charismatic leader that could be the messiah they were looking for.
The introduction clarifies for those wondering that John the Baptist was a witness to the coming messiah, but not Messiah himself. And, when questioned by the priests and Levites, John immediately denied that he was the promised one, telling them that he had been sent to announce one would was greater than he. John knew who he was, and understood the work that he was called by God to do. He wasn’t concerned with his own glory or position, and when he saw Jesus pass by the next day, he immediately directed his own disciples’ attention toward Christ. By doing so, he started a chain reaction that continues even to our present day, where those who meet Jesus immediately go and find others to introduce to him.
II. Found People Find People
As soon as John identified Jesus to his disciples, they left him and began to follow Jesus. And the story tells us that when Christ turned to confront John’s disciples, he issued them an invitation to come and see where he was staying, presumably to learn what he was about. One of those disciples was Andrew, who became one of the twelve, and the first thing he did after meeting Jesus was to go and tell his brother Simon Peter all about him. He identified Jesus as the Messiah and invited his brother come and see for himself.
The very next day this pattern was repeated as Jesus first found Philip and invited him to follow. Then Philip, recognizing Jesus as the promised Messiah, immediately went to Nathanael and invited him to come and see for himself. Through this recurring pattern, we are given a glimpse of what happens when people encounter Jesus. And after more than two thousand years, the pattern hasn’t changed. It looks something like this:
- Someone who has met Jesus tells someone who hasn’t met Jesus all about him, and invites the new person to a place where they can meet him.
- That new person recognizes Jesus for who he is (The Lamb of God).
- They respond to the call of Jesus to follow him.
- They immediately begin telling other people about Jesus, and invite them to meet him.
This is a simple blueprint, but it communicates a profound expectation for all of us who would call ourselves followers of Christ. If we want to be disciples of Jesus, we have to embrace the notion that found people find people.
Let me say that again. Found people find people.
Jesus had a lot to say about finding lost people, who are far away from God. In Luke, chapter 15 he first shared a parable about lost sheep, with which I’m sure you are familiar. In this parable, Jesus told a story of a shepherd who has one hundred sheep, and loses one of them. The shepherd then leaves the ninety-nine to go in search of the one who is lost, and upon finding the lost sheep he gathers together his friends and neighbors to rejoice over this one sheep who was lost, but has now been found.
Next, Jesus told a short parable about a woman with ten coins, who then lost one of them. He described how she went looking all over the house until she found her lost coin, and then called her friends and neighbors over to rejoice over the coin that was found.
Then Jesus told the story of a prodigal son, who took his father’s wealth as an early inheritance, left home, and squandered everything that he had in sinful practices. But when he returned home to beg for forgiveness and a place as a servant in his father’s household, his father ran out to meet him, embraced him, and threw him a party, because the son that he had lost had been found once again.
God is in the business of finding lost people and rejoicing when they are found, by making us part of his family. But while God continually calls to the lost through his prevenient grace and invites them into a relationship with him, the Biblical witness tells us that he still primarily uses his faithful disciples to seek out those who are far from him and make the introductions. We see this over and over in scripture as Jesus sends out the disciples to do wonders in his name, and as the church continues this work after his ascension in the book of Acts and beyond.
But if the Bible makes it so clear how important it is for even one lost person to be found and brought to Christ, and the example of Jesus’ disciples suggests that people who have met Jesus are expected to go out and find other people who don’t yet know him, then why on earth do we find this such a difficult task to do? Why aren’t we continually seeking out other people who don’t know Jesus, telling them about who he is, and then inviting him to a place where they can meet him?
I want to share with you some statistics that were recently compiled and published about “unchurched” people in America.
- According to surveys, “Eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited.” –Dr. Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door
- “A study including more than 15,000 adults revealed that about two-thirds are willing to receive information about a local church from a family member and 56 percent from a friend or neighbor. The message is clear that the unchurched are open to conversations about church.” – Philip Nation, LifeWay Research
- A survey from LifeWay Research “showed that many would respond to an invitation from a friend or acquaintance (41 percent), their children (25 percent) or an adult family member (25 percent).” –Scott McConnell, LifeWay Research
Yet here is a sad truth about the church’s response to such a potential harvest of souls. The same research found:
- 7 out of 10 unchurched people have never been invited to church in their whole lives.
- “Only two percent of church members invite an unchurched person to church. Ninety-eighty percent of church-goers never extend an invitation in a given year.” –Dr Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door
III. Inviting People into the Presence of the Holy
When so little is required of us – to simply share our faith and ask people to come and see for themselves – why do we find it so difficult? Maybe its because we haven’t considered what a the simple gesture of an invitation really accomplishes. Let’s look at that a little more closely. I believe that when we take the time to introduce people to Jesus and invite them to meet him at church, at least four things happen:
- We help to tear down the barrier of fear. Even for those who sense God’s grace already moving in their lives and calling to them, fear can prevent them from seeking Christ. Fear of being an outsider; fear of the strangeness of this place called church; fear that they are guilty of sins too great to forgive; fear that they will be rejected once again; all of these fears and more can prevent someone from meeting Jesus and seeing him for who he truly is. But when we take the time to personally share with people who Jesus is and invite them to meet him in real and tangible ways, we help to dispel those fears and guide them into a saving relationship with Christ.
- We acknowledge their worth us, and more importantly to God. When we have the courage to share our faith in Jesus and what he has done in our lives, we are inviting people into a very personal space. By doing so, we demonstrate that they are valuable to us. When we show people who Jesus really is, and what he came to do for us, we also show them that God loves them and values them, not in spite of who they are or what they have done, but because they are created in God’s own image and precious to him. When we invite people to meet Jesus, we are inviting them to become children of God, like us. What greater value can we bestow on someone, than to call them family.
- We participate actively in God’s kingdom work. When we openly share our faith in Jesus and invite people to meet him, we are sharing in the work of the gospel, just like the Philippian church that we heard about recently. We become active participants in the Great Commission, and we prove that our faith is genuine.
- We allow the Holy Spirit to increase our faith, by seeing him work through everyday experiences. Few things in life can increase our faith more than to see God working through everyday encounters to transform sinful people into fully devoted followers of Jesus. When we actively share the gospel and invite people to meet Jesus, we allow the Spirit to increase our faith as we bear witness to the miracles he works every day in those people’s lives.
Two things are consistently taught in the New Testament: otherness and outreach.
- Otherness. In the kingdom of God, it’s not about me. Everything we say and do should point to the truth of Jesus Christ; who he is, what he has done for us on the cross, and what he is doing in us now by his Spirit.
- Outreach. The primary purpose of the Church is to reach out to those not yet in it. We are to live as sign posts to heaven, living witnesses to the gospel (Luke 19:10; 1 Corinthians 9:22).
But sometimes we lose focus on these things, don’t we? Like the parable of the Sower, sometimes life just starts to choke out the seed that God has planted in our souls, and we stop growing in our faith. We forget the joy we had when we first met Jesus, and so we lose interest in seeing that joy manifest in those around us. Do you remember what it felt like when you first responded to God in faith and accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior? Do you remember the excitement? Did you want to run out and tell the whole world about what God was doing in your life? I believe we can regain that sense of joy an excitement again. When we step out in faith to introduce other people to Jesus and invite them to meet him, we are able to participate again and again in the life-giving mission of God. Do you want to reclaim that with me this morning?
Or maybe you haven’t yet taken that first step of faith. Maybe you are still on your way toward a relationship with God. Maybe you have been hearing Jesus call you by name for years, but have never stepped forward to be found in him. Or maybe you are just hearing him for the first time. If this is you, don’t wait to respond to him. The Bible says that we can become members of God’s family today if we will just confess our sins before God, place our trust in Jesus, believing that he died on a cross for our sins and rose again from the grave, and commit to following him from this day forward. You don’t need any special prayer to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior today. Just talk to him, confess to him, believe in him, and commit to him, and the Bible promises that you will be redeemed.
Friends, when was the last time you shared your faith with someone? Maybe this is scary territory, or maybe you just don’t know what to do and say. There are two practical steps we can all take today to overcome the things that hold us back from introducing people to Jesus.
- Like Paul did in Colossians 4:3, ask God for an open door to share the gospel with people.
- Invite them to church. And if you aren’t sure how to do that, here are a few tips for making an invitation that gets a positive response.
- Make the invitation specific – Don’t just invite guests to come “sometime”; say “join me this Sunday”
- Make the invitation personal – offer to pick them up. If they don’t like that, then offer to meet them at the door, so they don’t have to enter or sit alone.
- Make the invitation generous – offer to take them out or have them over for lunch after the service.
- Make the invitation clear – let them know expectations for dress, music, childcare, etc. so that they will feel prepared for this new step.
- Above all, just ask. What’s the worst that could happen? They might say no.
We have an excellent opportunity coming up for you to try out these tips. In two weeks, on November 2-4 we will be holding our annual revival. These services offer a great opportunity to invite people to try church out. The services will be informal, they will be wonderful times of worship, and anyone who attends will here the gospel preached. What better time to invite someone new to join you here at Union. But you don’t have to wait for a special service to invite someone to join you at church. And you certainly don’t need to wait to begin sharing your faith. I really believe that if we pray the words of Colossians 4:2 and ask God to open up door of opportunity to share the gospel, he will not only provide those opportunities, but he will also give us the words to say.
As you go into this new week and encounter people you know and don’t know at work or school, at the grocery store or a restaurant, I want to encourage you all to consider something. There is a good chance that the people around you at any moment are living apart from a saving relationship with God through Jesus Christ. You were once lost, too, but you have been found and led to Christ. Let’s keep the cycle going. Remember: found people find people.
V. Closing Prayer
Let us pray! Heavenly Father, you have shown us by your word that we are called to become active participants in your kingdom work. Would you help us to reclaim the joy and excitement of that moment when we first became your children, having been found and remade by your grace, through faith in Jesus? Would you open doors for each of us here to share our faith, and would you give us courage to invite others to this place, where they can meet your Son? We thank you for all those faithful disciples who you raised up to find us and introduce us to Jesus, when we were living apart from you. We thank you that you never stop seeking the lost, and that your faithfulness endures forever. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Therefore go, devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. And pray that God will open a door for our message, so that you may proclaim the mystery of Christ. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, making the most of every opportunity. And let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone (Colossians 4:2-6).