Order of Service
CMP 295 I serve a risen Saviour (verse 1)
Call to worship
Hymn CH4 334 On Jordan’s Bank the Baptist’s cry (verses 1&5)
Exodus 12: 5-13
John 1: 19-34
Hymn CH466 Before the throne of God above (verses 1&3)
Sermon First things first (scroll down for sermon text)
Hymn I watch the sunrise (2 verses)
CMP 295 I serve a risen Saviour (verses 2&3)
Last week we heard the passage that tells about the twelve year old boy Jesus. He is in dialogue with His teachers, in the temple. And then, Jesus’s parents appear, distressed and also relieved, as they had been looking for Jesus for three days. And this is what happens,
And he said to them, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?”
As parents, Mary and Joseph are naturally concerned about Jesus’s wellbeing. But Jesus Himself points to a different kind of wellbeing, that comes from a different kind of relationship: the relationship between Him and His Heavenly Father.
Jesus is learning and discovering who He is and that is a process that doesn’t happen without tension. The fact that He went with Mary and Joseph back home, to Nazareth, obediently, while being aware who His true Father was, gives that sense of tension that Jesus must have felt.
It is not so much that Jesus’s first priority is to be in His Father’s house as the building. What He means is that He first and above all stands in relationship with His heavenly Father. That relationship, that is what is given first priority by Jesus.
John the Baptist and Jesus.
Their mothers are cousins. The two boys come from very different backgrounds. Joseph is a carpenter and Jesus would, as eldest son, have had to play His part and would have been given responsibilities.
John’s father is a priest. His name is Zechariah and therefore John should actually be called Zechariah too. But the old Zechariah, whose wife had passed the time that she could have children, had been visited by a messenger from God. And this messenger gave him this message: ‘Your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John.’
Zechariah was given both a promise and an instruction, from above: the promise that to him and Elizabeth, his wife, a son would be born. And with this promise, the instruction came, to call him John. And to this promise and instruction these words were added,
And you will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great before the Lord. And he must not drink wine or strong drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb.And he will turn many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God, and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, to make ready for the Lord a people prepared. (Luke 1:14-17)
In our New Testament passage, we find the grown up John, in dialogue with the authorities of Jerusalem.
The official representative in the world, appointed by God, versus the official representatives of the Jewish religious authorities.
What this tells us is that John is known for what he says and does in the spirit of Elijah and, that he’s being watched by the officials in Jerusalem.
And now John is asked by this delegation from Jerusalem: ‘Who are you?’
He could of course say, I am John, the son of Zechariah and Elizabeth. However, given his birth story, that answer would not say who he really is. It wouldn’t clarify what he says and does. It had been foretold to Zechariah that John would be great before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah. Yet, it is emphasized that he’s neither Elijah nor the Prophet, nor Christ. ‘So, who are you? We need you to legitimize yourself, for Jerusalem wants an answer to that question’.
Well, there are questions in life that don’t have a straightforward answer. What John the Baptist says and does as a grown man, is shaped by his call from God; by the purpose God had for him even before he was born. And that purpose cannot be grasped by human intelligence; by human logic. It can only be grasped in the light of John’s birth story, as it was created from above.
The prophecy by the angel Gabriel, to his father Zechariah was proof that a completely new beginning; a new page in Israel’s history; in its salvation story with God, had begun, in Jesus.
John the Baptist is like a converging fire glass. He says in his way what the prophets had said before him. Like them, he doesn’t yet name Jesus Christ. The prophet Malachi says:
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple" (Malachi 3:1)
John points to the same Lord, when he says,
“I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie. (John 1:26)
All this happens in Bethany, across the Jordan. The same place where under leadership of Joshua, Israel crossed the Jordan to enter the promised land. The same place where later Jesus will raise Lazarus from the dead. At that place Jesus appears the next day. Seeing Him, John says:
“Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)
That takes us to the offerings that the Old Testament tells us about.
When we talk about offerings it’s usually the offering during our church service that we have in mind. The word offering isn’t associated with the slaughtering of an animal for offering. Not in Western thinking.
John, however, being a descendant from the tribe of Levi, John’s mind is so familiar with the lamb that is slaughtered. He’s grown up with what it says in Leviticus,
“If he brings a lamb as his offering for a sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish and lay his hand on the head of the sin offering and kill it for a sin offering in the place where they kill the burnt offering. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out all the rest of its blood at the base of the altar. And all its fat he shall remove as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of peace offerings, and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on top of the Lord's food offerings. And the priest shall make atonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven." (Leviticus 4:32-35)
And there is the Passover lamb as we find it in our Old Testament reading of today.
While they came from different family backgrounds, John and Jesus shared their deep knowledge of these passages.
And it would have become clearer and clearer to Jesus, that He was the lamb to be offered for the sins of the world.
A child asks her mother: ‘Why do we close our eyes and fold our hands when we pray?' The mother’s answer is: 'then you can think of Jesus on the cross and not be distracted.'
There is so much to see, so much to know. And so much can be seen and known so quickly. Social media has made possible what once was impossible. And it’s good that through technology we can see each other, now we cannot meet physically; that education can to a certain extent be continued, under these circumstances.
Yet, the same time, what we can see and are able to do through that same social media…can drown out what we need to hear first.
Did you not know that I have to be in my Father’s House?
The first words that the child Jesus spoke in the temple, with which He puzzled His parents Mary and Joseph, the words that He spoke and meant,
Do you not know that He comes first?
Do we let Him come first? Do we know that hearing His word brings about a different kind of wellbeing, in the midst of the storms in our lives?
A wellbeing that is called peace?
Paul points to the prophet Isaiah when he says,
Isaiah says: ‘Lord who has believed what he has heard from us?’ So faith comes from hearing, and hearing though the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)
First things first.