“Show and Tell”
January 20, 2008 - Second Sunday after Epiphany
Joe said, “So I had this one restrung a little looser. It gives me more control.” He held up his racquetball racquet for us to contemplate his new strings. It was a typical after-game conversation at Courtsports, as four or five of us either showed off new, lighter, more powerful concoctions of nylon and graphite, or else wished we had something besides a model from a couple years ago. “Show and tell,” but for big boys.
It’s what we do. Your new car or boat, fishing rod or golf club, deck or swimming pool. The new dress or purse, china or end table, cell phone or video game. We show it to our friends and explain its features. Genuine leather. Built-in GPS system. Light weight, heavy weight, tiny or gargantuan, expensive or dirt cheap. We display our stuff and talk about it. Show and tell. It’s not just for school, it’s for all of life.
Our text today is full of show and tell. In verse 29, John the Baptist points out Jesus to his own disciples. But John doesn’t just show Jesus to his followers, he tells them who He is, in words that are deeply fascinating.
“The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” There’s a whole world of meaning in those words, so much so that Christians for 1,300 years have regularly said in worship that three-fold repetition we said at the beginning of our service this morning, the Agnus Dei, “Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.” In that simple verbal image John connected Jesus with the Passover; he predicted Jesus’ death on the Cross; he stated why Jesus came; and he painted a picture of Jesus’ humble character. All by saying just a few words, telling just a bit of the story.
What John tells in verse 30 is just as deep and rich, but here he had some fun. Literally, John’s words were, “A man who comes after me is in front of me because he was before me.” Uh, say that again? In a glorious little piece of paradox, John manages to uncover a corner of the deep truth that this Man Jesus is eternal. Younger than John, He’s still in front and before him, because Jesus has always been.
After these rich and beautiful theological statements, John moves on to relate a bit of his own experience with Jesus. He identified with the confusion of those who were probably trying to figure out what he just said about after and in front and before. “I myself did not know him…”
When last week we saw Jesus come to John to be baptized, John was not completely clear on who Jesus is. As we read from Matthew 3:14, John knew Jesus was a better man than he was, but that’s about all he knew. John needed to be shown. The sight of that heavenly dove, the Holy Spirit, coming down on Jesus revealed the truth to him, that Jesus was in fact the One, the one who was coming with a better baptism, a baptism with the Holy Spirit.
John also heard that voice from heaven we listened to last week, the one that said about Jesus, “This is my beloved Son…” So here in verse 34, John concludes all his telling with what God Himself showed and told him, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.” The Son of God. John sees, he shows, and then he tells the most fundamental truth about who Jesus is. He is the Son of God.
Showing and telling belong together, especially when the object we are showing to others is a person. You bring a nice-looking woman to work and introduce her to your co-workers. It’s not quite enough to simply say, “I’d like you to meet Elaine.” You need to tell them something. Sure, you’ve shown her to them, introduced her by name, but what you tell them about her is going to determine their response to Elaine. Julie the office manager will ask her about your kids… if you tell them Elaine is your wife. Your single friend George will ask her for a date… if you tell them Elaine is your sister. Jack, the sales manager, will ask her what she thinks of the 2008 prototype… if you tell them Elaine is a customer. You have to show them… they’re not going to know Elaine otherwise, but what happens then depends on what you tell them.
John the Baptist showed Jesus to his disciples and told them about Him. In verse 35, he does it again the very next day. As he sat talking with two of them, Jesus walked by. So he says it again, “Look, the Lamb of God!” This time, they got what John was telling them enough to respond to the Man he had shown them. Verse 37 tells us they left John behind and got up and followed Jesus.
From that moment on, John the Baptist fades out of the picture. We read about him a bit more in Matthew’s Gospel, as we heard in Advent in December, but overall he disappears. It’s not about him. John came to show and to tell about Jesus and then his role was complete. In Leonardo DaVinci’s painting of John, he is depicted curly haired and smiling, with his right hand pointing toward heaven, toward a Cross behind him, toward the place where Jesus is. John’s just a dog, a pointer. Then his Master showed up and pointed his own disciples to Jesus. As important as was their relationship with John—and it was no small thing to follow a rabbi—their relationship with Jesus was the goal. As John says later in chapter 3 when someone worries that all John’s disciples are going over to Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease.” That’s what John was about, not forming his own relationships with folks, but helping them form a relationship with Jesus.
In the next few verses Jesus sees those two who left John following Him, and in verse 38 speaks His first words in the Gospel of John. They might be Jesus’ first words to any of us who want to follow Him. “What do you want?” or better translated, “What do you seek?” “What are you looking for?”
They call Jesus “Rabbi,” which John tells us means “Teacher” and ask Him, “where are you staying?” Literally, “where are you remaining?” That same word is actually used three times in this passage. It’s a huge theme in John. In chapter 15, picturing a vine and its branches, Jesus said to remain in Him and He would remain in us. These two men want to leave John and be with Jesus, to remain with Him.
Now Jesus Himself gets into the show and tell act. Instead of giving them His address in verse 39, Jesus offered a much more open-ended, much more demanding invitation: “Come and see.” Come and see, not just where Jesus was residing for the night, but come and see water change to wine, see a sick boy made well from miles away, see a lame man healed, see five loaves feed five thousand, see Him walk on water, see Him give sight to a blind man, see Him raise the dead! Oh, did they see. They saw and they saw and they saw Jesus Himself risen from the dead, and He showed them the nail prints in His hands and the wound in His side. They saw and they heard. They heard Jesus forgive sins. They heard Him say, “I am the Bread of Life,” heard, “I am the Light of the world,” heard “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” heard “I am the Good Shepherd,” heard just, “I am.” They saw and they heard, and as John writes near the end of his Gospel, they believed. That’s the point of it all. They were shown and told, and they believed, they remained in Jesus.
Jesus’ disciples weren’t just shown and told. From the very beginning, they themselves became showers and tellers. Verse 40 tells us that one of those two who left John was named Andrew. And verse 41 says, “The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah.” The first thing, the absolutely first thing Andrew did was to go out and tell and show Jesus to someone else.
Please see again that Andrew did both. He showed and he told. Andrew is often held up as a shower. He shows up twice more in John’s Gospel. Both times he’s bringing somebody to Jesus. In John 6, it’s the little boy with his lunch that would feed a multitude. In John 12 he’s bringing a group of Greek tourists who would like to see Jesus. Andrew was definitely about the business of showing Jesus to people. Like His Master, he was saying, “Come and see.” But right here we hear him doing the other essential thing. He told Simon Peter who Jesus is. He’s the Messiah, the Christ, the hope of God’s people for centuries. Show and tell. That’s what Andrew did. And it’s what you and I are called to do.
Showing Jesus to people is extremely important. Maybe today more than ever. Two or three generations have grown up on television. Image is everywhere and everything. What people see seems to have more impact than what they hear. Words are cheap and there are way too many for anyone to listen to them all.
So our community needs to see Jesus in us. They need to see us there at Food for Lane County on Tuesday night, feeding folks like Jesus fed them. They need to see us giving blood or volunteering at the hospital, healing people like Jesus healed. They need to see us hanging out with street people and people of other colors, like Jesus hung out with such people. They need to see us care about the poor and the forgotten in our world, like Jesus cared about them. Yes, we are all called to be Johns, to be Andrews, to forget about ourselves and to display Jesus to our families and friends and the world.
Yet Andrew also told Peter about Jesus. We need to tell. Those to whom we show Jesus need to hear what those two disciples quickly learned. He’s not just a good teacher. He’s the Messiah and the Son of God. They need to be told that Jesus is not just one alternative among many spiritual paths, but that He is the only way to God. They need to hear not just that Jesus loves them, but that He has risen from the dead and wants to free them from their sins. It really won’t matter what we show them, if we don’t tell them these things about the Man we follow.
When we lived in Lincoln, Nebraska we had neighbors who had a little girl about Susan’s age. Rachel and Susan got to be good friends and played together a lot. We became friends with Rachel’s parents and exchanged some favors and some conversations, the way that neighbors do.
Then we learned that Rachel was moving. Susan was heartbroken and we were sad to be losing friends we had known a few years. They invited us over to their house for dinner a couple weeks before they were to leave. We enjoyed a meal together and then sat down, as parents do, relieved the girls were playing with each other and not needing our attention. We talked about kindergarten and their new jobs and all that sort of thing. But then Rachel’s parents looked at us and said, “We know it’s kind of late to ask this. We haven’t gone to church, but we really like and respect you, and we’d like to find a church in our new town that has people like you two. Can you tell us where to look?”
Beth and I looked at each other, dumbfounded. I sat there holding my coffee cup feeling very stupid. We apologized that we had never talked to them about this before, never said a word about Jesus, never invited them to worship with us. We helped them identify what to look for in a church, but went home feeling a little empty for the opportunity we had missed.
We had shown Rachel and her parents Jesus by being good friends and neighbors. I like to think we did a pretty good job of showing them, so much so they finally worked up the nerve at the last minute to ask us about it. But what an opportunity we missed by not saying anything to them about Jesus. They might have been our brother and sisters in Christ for a couple years. They might have been growing in faith all that time. Now all we had was a couple weeks to say a few things and then turn them over to somebody else to tell them the whole story. Praise God, they did connect with a church and begin to grow as Christians, but it makes me sad now to think about the time we lost.
Yes, like Andrew we are supposed show Jesus to our friends and family and neighbors. But like Andrew we also need to tell them, tell them the wonderful story of who Jesus is. Every Christian is to be a teller. It doesn’t have to be very many words. It certainly doesn’t need to eloquent. But every follower of Jesus Christ will want to be able to say clearly, and with understanding, who Jesus is and what He did and what that means to you, just as much as every Christian will want to demonstrate the love of Jesus in what you do. Show and tell. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.
You often hear that St. Francis of Assissi said, “Preach the Gospel. When necessary, use words.” It’s not true. First of all, it’s not true that Francis said it. He was too much in tune with Jesus to think that telling people about Him was somehow secondary to acts of love and kindness. Francis preached in words to the birds, for Pete’s sake. Why would he be against preaching in words to people who don’t know Jesus?
That fake Franciscan quote is not true in and of itself. It’s not true because showing and telling must be kept together. It’s both/and. When they fall apart, we’ve missed the boat. If we only tell, it will be hard for people to see Jesus. If we only show love, it will be hard for people to know who Jesus is. Commenting on I Peter, Scott McKnight says, “We have been easily led astray into following socially significant ministries rather than following the path of salvation as the road Christians should travel.” And he also offers this important warning, “The history of the church proves dramatically that when Christians get out of balance here, it is always the message of salvation that gets lost.”
In other words, as the popularity of that pseudo-Francis quote shows, McKnight thinks we’re more likely to give up on the telling than on the showing. Nobody gets upset when we do nice things for others. They do get upset when we say that Jesus is the only way to be saved, or that Jesus is the one true Son of God, or that Jesus died and rose again because they are sinners who need to repent.
Yes, Christians do sometimes get lazy and mean and forget to show Jesus to others through loving and gracious action. But we’re more inclined, especially at this point in history, to become careless and ignorant and forget to tell others about Jesus in thoughtful and inviting words of remarkable truth.
It’s both/and. Show and tell. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. The Messiah and Son of God. Let’s bring people to meet Him and tell them who He is. Like John and Andrew did, let’s give Jesus a proper introduction.
Valley Covenant Church
Copyright © 2008 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj