Thursday, May 21 2020 by Matt Horan
Click here to read today’s passage: John 1:35-37
I really think that preachers read this passage differently than anyone else. It’s moment in which two people hear John’s testimony about Jesus, and they go and follow him. Becoming a follower of Jesus is pretty much universally considered a good move whenever it happens in the Bible, and the author intends as much here.
Yet I think preachers see something else. I don’t think the author is speaking to preachers, at least not intentionally or directly, but a question comes flying off the page and hits me right in the face.
First, let’s define a couple terms.
Rabbi: a teacher
Disciple: a student
Apostle: an emissary, ambassador, or messenger
So Jesus was a rabbi or teacher, as was John the Baptist. Jesus had many disciples, and from those he chose twelve to be his messengers, those who would someday connect with others and speak on his behalf. Apostles are disciples, but not all disciples are apostles. Hopefully that is helpful for clarity.
In this brief instance, John the Baptist is standing with two of his disciples when he notices Jesus, whom he has already baptized and heard the voice of God tell everyone around who he was. The teacher/student relationship was not one that was entered into lightly, especially when imparting subject matter that is so sacred. Yet when John points out Jesus, his students leave him, and become students of a new teacher.
I wanted to see the tearful goodbye. I wanted the students to ask John the Baptist if he minds if they go and follow Jesus. I wanted them to have a moment to thank him for his time and effort and teaching. In fact, in the interest of full disclosure, I would have preferred that it not even occur to them to leave, and that it be John the Baptist who ordered them to go, but there’s none of that. He points out Jesus, and they walk off and follow him.
Who knows? Maybe there was a tearful goodbye that just went unrecorded. In any case, that question still comes flying off the page every time I read this: Matt, what if what’s best for someone isn’t you?
I have experienced it. At Killearn United Methodist I had kids who loved my predecessor leave my youth group and go to another. A First UMC Carrollton I followed a beloved long-time youth director, and kids left then too. When it was my turn to preach at Hyde Park when I was the associate, and people found out that Jim Harnish was out that Sunday, attendance took a noticeable dive. At Seminole Heights there was a really cool, trendy church down the street, and young adults often told me they were torn because they liked me and felt that the United Methodist Church was a better theological fit for them, but there were so many people their age at the other church that they felt like they fit in better there. At Heritage you may be aware of a certain energetic, engaging preacher on our staff who does a pretty amazing job every week in our Ignite service. Many folks find him to be a better fit for them stylistically, theologically, or for just general coolness reasons, so every time we trade places and I get up to preach people leave to go hear him in the sanctuary.
In all of these moments, God brings John the Baptist to mind. He was willing to point out the ministry of another, and cared more about his students getting what they needed than anything else. In fact, we hear his heart with crystal clarity when he says in John 3:30:
“He must increase, but I must decrease.”
That question that flies off the page is an important one to answer. What if what’s best for someone isn’t me?
I must want nothing but closeness between God and God’s people. Sometimes, the next stage may require expertise or gifts or insights that I don’t have. In those instances, will I have the faith and courage to send them on without me, to entrust the next leg of their journey to another pastor, teacher, or guide? Am I willing to decrease, so He can increase?
Willing or not, there is no other way. It is the increase of Jesus that is this world’s greatest hope.
Learning with you,
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