Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 26:35 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I don’t think those two disciples knew what they were getting themselves into when they followed Jesus. For that matter, no one knows what they’re getting themselves into when they follow Jesus. Those of us who were baptized as babies certainly didn’t know what we were being gotten into, when we were baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But even those who believe and are baptized as adults don’t really know. They might be able to hear and understand more, but it’s sort of like marriage. As much as you know about marriage; as much as you’ve been told; it is impossible for you to know what you’re getting into when you get married. You have to live into it and make a decision to live it out. That’s what vows, if they’re truly marriage vows and not just wedding vows, mean.
The disciples didn’t know what they were getting themselves into, but they heard John twice: Look! The Lamb of God! Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. This is the end and the conclusion of everything John was sent to do. Soon after this in the Gospel, he says of Jesus, “He must increase; I must decrease.” And then John disappears from the Gospel, and Jesus is the entire point. John even says that his baptism was for this purpose, so that Jesus would be revealed to Israel. There were other people involved, people who came to the river to be baptized by John, confessing their sins, as the other Gospels tell us. But the main purpose of that was so that, eventually, walking through those crowds of confessing sinners would come the pure and spotless Lamb of God to be identified as the one whom God had sent into the world to take away all the world’s sin. God had told him at some time and in some way that the one on whom he saw the Spirit descend and remain, that was the one who would baptize with the Holy Spirit. And John says, I have seen and I bear witness that this one is the Son of God.
So the two disciples stop being John’s disciples, because that would be a dead-end discipleship now that Jesus is here. And they follow Jesus. He turns and says, “What are you seeking?” What are you looking for? What is it that you want? And they say, Rabbi, Teacher, where are You staying? That is a word that is used a lot in the Gospel of John. In these verses it’s used five times, though it’s translated differently, so it’s a little hard to see. But it’s the same word as the word used of the Holy Spirit, that He would remain on Jesus. The disciples say, where are you staying? And that can mean simply, like where are you sleeping. Jesus at various times “remains” in Galilee, or in Capernaum, or in the Samaritan village.
But it also means something more: if Jesus is a teacher, and they are going to be His learners, His disciples, then they need to know where to remain with Jesus. So He says, “Come and see.” Look! John says. Come and see, Philip will say to Nathanael. Come and see, Jesus says. So they do, they see. And then they remain with Him, and He teaches, and then one of them, Andrew, goes and finds his brother and says, “We have found the Messiah.” We heard John speak of Him, and then we listened to Him. He is the one whom God has sent. And Andrew brought Peter to Jesus.
None of them knew what they were getting themselves into, but they now knew the One who had gotten them into it. And they remained with Him all the way, until He was glorified on the cross. They remained with Him in that life-giving death, as He sealed and confirmed everything with His resurrection. They remained with Him whether they understood everything, or whether they were afraid. When they had sinned and needed to be restored. When they failed. When they sinned. They remained with Jesus, because He alone was the one with the words of eternal life. They followed, they saw, they remained, they brought. And Jesus on whom the Spirit descended and remained, gave them the Holy Spirit and sent them to say, Come and see. Remain with Jesus. He alone is life.
What are you seeking? What are you looking for? What is it that you want? Whether you’ve been with Jesus for a long time or a little time, or whether you haven’t remained with Him in His teaching yet, it is always good to take stock, to consider, to be reminded. What is it that you want? And what you want depends on what you think the goal and the conclusion is. Jesus is the goal, because we have been put with Him, clothed with Him, baptized into His body, believed Him. His story is the story into which we have been put. But it’s so easy to lose track of that story, because the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh are constantly trying to tell us different stories. All those stories are stories about what will make you happy, what will fulfill you, what will give you a good life.
So if you were to tell a story about what will make you happy, what the story of your good life would look like, what would that story say? If you were asked by a random person—not by a pastor in a church—what your story of the good life would be, what would you say? What are you looking for? What do you want? And if you told that story, would it have anything to do with Jesus at all? Would the story be the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection? Because that’s the story into which we’re baptized. And if it’s not, then the only thing to do is repent. I’ve been headed toward something other than Jesus. I have not let God’s love have its way with me, so my love for others has failed. I have neglected God’s holy word and my prayers. I have lived as if God did not matter, and as if I mattered most. Because we all have, and we all do.
But this is exactly why we are here, remaining with Jesus. Because He says, Come and see, come and hear, a different story. A true story, that ends in life. To stay in any of those other stories would be like remaining with John when Jesus is here: a dead-end discipleship. We are often tricked into thinking that we can tell ourselves one of those other, common stories, centered in money, or job, or family, or some other shapeless happiness, and talk as if it’s really about Jesus. But if those stories do not end in our resurrection, then they are not true; not true life, not true happiness, not true peace.
You may not have known what you were getting yourself into, but you’ve been gotten into it, baptized into the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. You have the Holy Spirit whom Jesus gives to His disciples. You may not know how the road is going to go, or what’s going to happen, or what you are going to suffer. You may not know what you have gotten yourselves into, but you know the One who has gotten you into it, by His Word and Spirit. And the only thing to do is to remain with Him. The one who keeps My commandments remains in My love, Jesus says. The one who is My disciple remains in My Word. The one who eats My body and drinks My blood remains in Me and I in Him. Like a branch remaining in the Vine, receiving life and fruitfulness from the Vine. Apart from Me you can do nothing.
Being here is a necessary habit, not because the habit saves us, but because here, with His living words and living Body and Blood, is where Jesus has promised to remain. This is where we hear and learn and live from the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, to put to death the false stories of the world. With His Word and Sacraments is where the Lamb of God has promised to be, to keep taking away sin until there is no more sin in the entire creation, no more unbelief, no more lies. And that Jesus is the one who is present to give us every gracious gift, which His Church cannot lack as we wait for the final revealing of Jesus in glory. He will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ—guiltless because you have been joined to the guiltless Lamb of God. And wherever God brings you, to ventures of which you cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrod, through perils unknown, He is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship, the communion, of His Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord (1 Corinthians 1:7-9).
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
–Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/13/23