Scripture: John 1:29-42
John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, once famously said the world is my parish. He went on to prove exactly what he meant by this. In his day, the Anglican churches were empty far too often, so Wesley took the message to where the people were. Following the lead of his friend George Whitfield, Wesley would go into the fields or stand in front of the entrance of mines and preach there. This was effective in Wesley’s day for several reasons. The culture of 18th century England was Christian, but this was also the beginning of industrialization. Labor laws were over a century away from protecting workers. The miners and field workers were working twelve plus hour days, six days a week. If they had a day off it was Sunday, and they understandably slept through church services. By and large Wesley was not converting new believers, what he was doing was reviving a faith that had almost burned out.
The context of 18th century England was the right context for preaching on the streets to be effective. I do have to wonder if our modern context, if it is still effective. From what I have observed it is not, but I have to wonder if the problem today with street preaching is not the method but the message being preached. I attend Gen Con in Indianapolis every year, and while I did not happen to see him last year there has been a street preacher there trying to talk to the mases of crowds that pass him on the sidewalk. He has a portable microphone and speaker so he is heard above of the traffic and noise. While I have no doubt about the convictions and sincerity of this young man, the message he is preaching is not great. His message is based on telling the people how wrong they are, how evil their actions are, and how they need to turn or burn. The reality is in a post-Christian, American context telling people why they are wrong and why you are right is not an effective way to change hearts and save souls. This is why every year at Gen Con this man is almost entirely ignored.
The street preaching method of spreading the gospel uses a “go and tell” approach. In the 1700s, when the culture just needed to be reminded of the God they already knew, this was an effective approach that lit off a revival in England and then spread to America. Go and tell worked in the 18th century, but I do not think it works in the 21st. I also do not think it worked in the 1st century. This morning’s scripture comes from the first few days after Jesus was baptized. He was just getting started in his ministry. At that point going and telling people about the Messiah was not going to work, just like it does not work today. As we see in this morning’s scripture the approach that did work, was “come and see.” Perhaps in our modern times that is also the best approach to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.
This morning’s scripture contains two small stories. Each one gives us a glimpse of those early days of Jesus’ ministry, and each story shares with us how we can share the good news. In the first story John the Baptist testifies about Jesus. This scripture is an interesting one, because the gospel of John does not actually contain anything about the events of Jesus’ baptism. Instead what we get is the event recounted from the perspective of John the Baptist. John knew that the whole purpose of his ministry was to prepare the way for the one who would take away the sins of the world, and at the baptism of Jesus it was confirmed to him Jesus is the One. In this morning’s scripture he shares his testimony. He shares his own experience with Jesus, where he saw the Spirit come down, where he heard God the Father declare “this is my son, with whom I am well pleased.” Based off of his experience, John knew that Jesus was the messiah which is why he could confidently say, “I have seen and I testify.”
“I have seen and I can testify” is the first way that we can share the good news of the gospel. Decades of marketing research confirms this. The best kind of advertising that a product can possibly hope for is word of mouth, where people tell other people about their positive experience of a product. In our social media age this is called going viral. Marketing research has found that 92% of people will trust recommendations from a friend, and word of mouth influences up to 50% of all purchasing decisions. Despite the billions of dollars spent on slick advertising campaigns, the single best way to promote something is by one person telling another. This shows the power of testimony. Being able to say “I have seen and I testify” is so powerful.
One of the biggest objections that is given for why people feel they cannot share the good news with others, is they do not feel qualified to do so. For some reason to tell others about the love of Jesus we feel that we have to have a fully detailed systematic theology with a Trinitarian hermeneutic that takes into to full account the eschatological ramifications of ecclesiology. Yes, it is OK if you have no idea what I just said. Because even if you did understand it, and even if you could articulate your viewpoint on the eschatological ramifications of ecclesiology, it is not going to convince a single person about the love of God. We got this wrong idea that the best way to convince someone to our point of view is to prove we are right by pointing out they are wrong. I think the number of people who have been argued to salvation is zero.
I get the temptation to want to change someone’s mind by proving we are right. We like to be right, and we imagine that we can “win a soul” through showing how right we are. However, in a largely lost and unbelieving world going and telling people why they have it wrong is not going to work. Instead, we have to be able to testify to what we have seen and experienced. All of us who know Jesus, should have a story to tell. We should be able to tell of how God protected us, how Jesus healed broken hearts and shattered souls, or how the holy spirit empowered us in the most miraculous ways. We should be able to speak about the all surrounding, all consuming, never ending love of God and how experiencing that love has changed our lives for the better. We should be able to testify to the blessed assurance we have that even if we are great sinners, Jesus is a greater savior- and best of all God is still with us! In order to share the good news of Jesus Christ, we do not need to have all the answers, nor do we need to be a world class debater The most effective way to tell others about the love of Jesus is to tell them how you have experienced that love. Like John we should be able to say “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s chosen one.”
The second story we get in this morning’s scripture is Jesus first encounter with the people who would become some of his first disciples. The scripture tells us that these two were already people who were following John and they had heard John’s testimony of who Jesus truly is. The scripture tells us that it was Andrew and unnamed disciple that tradition identifies as John himself. They spot Jesus and out of curiosity begin following him. Jesus calls them out on this by asking what they are doing, and they very awkwardly answer with “where are you staying?”
That was not what they truly wanted to know. That is what they asked but they truly wanted to know is “who are you?” “Is it true? Are you the Messiah?” Jesus answered their questions, both the one they asked, and their unasked ones with one of the best and perhaps most Jesus like answers ever, “Come and you will see.” They spend the day with him, and these two people become part of Jesus twelve disciples. The scripture does not share with us what happened during that day they spent with Jesus, but whatever happened it made believers out of them. It all started though with the invitation to “come and see.” Jesus did not just tell them the good news, he showed it to them.
Now we have to acknowledge up front that it is easier for Jesus to show someone the good news, after all he is the Good News! However, I think we can still learn from this example. It is one thing to tell people about our faith. It is quite another one to show them. We all know the common platitude, actions speak louder than words. This has always been true, but perhaps it is truer today. If we want to share Jesus with an unbelieving world, then going and telling them why they are wrong in their beliefs is not going to work. We are going to need to go to where they are with open hands and extend the invitation to “come and see.”
If we are going to invite people to come and see then we need to make sure we have something to show them. There are two primary ways that we can do this. The first way is we live differently. Catholic author Brennan Manning got to the heart of this when he said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” As Christians we should live as “little Christs”. The way that we live our lives, the way that we talk, the way that we treat others, and the way that we conduct ourselves (even when no one else is looking) should reflect Jesus. In this morning’s scripture Jesus did not tell Andrew and John he was the messiah he showed them through his actions. In the same way our desire to follow God should be seen in our lifestyles. We should not just tell people we are forgiven, loved, and new creations in Christ. Through our commitment to personal holiness, we should be able to clearly show them that through Christ we have been made new.
The second primary way that we can make sure we have something to show, is that we can be the church. The church is the body of Christ, and we do our part when we are the hands of Jesus that reach out and the feet of Jesus that goes to. The experience of knowing Jesus Christ should be such a life changing experience for us that we want to share that love with others, we want to transform the world into a place that is more reflective of that love. That should be our primary motivation for what we do as a church, it should be our primary motivation for being the church. So you see, church cannot just be a building you spend an hour in once a week. When we gather to worship on Sunday morning we are the church. When we go to work on Monday morning or watch the basketball game on Thursday night, we are still the church. Church needs to be the people of God doing the work of God for the glory of God. Through our collective commitment to social holiness, we should be able to clearly show that the love of God has changed us so that we can change the world.
If you consider yourself a disciple of Jesus, then you have a holy responsibility to share the good news of Jesus with us. I know it is easy to put a fish on the back of our car or passively share a social media post and consider that good enough, but unless we know for a fact those simple actions are making new disciples then it’s not really good enough. The world needs a savoir, so may we be willing to testify to how we have experienced the Lord. People need Jesus, so may we be able to say “come and see”. May we let the world know, that our lives have been changed by the Lord of love. May we pass it on. May we make Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior go viral once again.