Pastor’s Sermon

2 EPIPHANY—1.19.20—JOHN 1:29-42

When was the last time you had an “Aha!” moment? A revelation? An epiphany? I don’t know what you might call it, but we’ve all had a before-and-after moment when a sudden insight, a moment of truth, changed our life.

Simon Lovell was one man who had his life changed in such an Aha! moment. Simon was a con man. His most successful con was to convince some innocent person that he had a get-rich-quick scheme that couldn’t fail. Once his victim handed over a large wad of cash, Simon would disappear with it, never to be seen again.

One night in 1988, Simon Lovell tried this con on a new victim. Everything went smoothly until it was time for Simon to leave with the man’s money. The man must have realized that he had been conned, because he suddenly started crying. And Simon said that for the first time in his life as a con man, he felt sorry for someone. He recalls that moment as an “absolute epiphany.” For some reason he suddenly felt what it was to walk in the shoes of one of his victims. He handed back the cash to the man who was the target of his aborted scam, and he walked away. That was the last con he ever tried.

Simon Lovell did one thing more. He took all the tricks and deceptions he had learned in his years as a con man and created an entertaining sleight-of-hand show. He made a living teaching audiences to pay close attention and to not let themselves be deceived. He took what he had learned in his former life and used it to help people rather than harming them

Pastor Kyle Idleman wrote a book, AHA—The God Moment That Changes Everything, where he talks about how God creates life-changing moments in people’s lives. He says that there are three stages to the AHA moment. Those stages correspond to the letters A, H, and A.

The first stage in the AHA moment is the Awakening. It’s the “light bulb moment”—when we suddenly realize some new truth from God.

The second stage in the AHA moment is the Honesty stage. This is when we are honest with ourselves about the problem in our life that God is trying to address. We take responsibility for our part in the problem.

The third stage of the AHA moment, according to Pastor Idleman, is the Action stage. We decide to take action on this new truth. We experience new life when we awaken to the truth God is trying to show us, we are honest about the need to change our life to reflect God’s truth, and we take action to fully live out that truth.

That’s an excellent breakdown of an “Aha!” moment, isn’t it? I think we can all relate to those three stages. And I think that’s what John the Baptist was experiencing in this passage today.

In Matthew 3, we read the first encounter between John and Jesus when they both started their public ministries. John announced Jesus as one who would baptize people with the Holy Spirit and with fire. John was one of those fire and brimstone preachers who put the fear of God into people’s hearts. John was a little rough around the edges, but his message was honest and direct. Repent or be doomed!

But then notice . . . John’s preaching does a 180 degree turn. Our Bible passage for today begins with these words, “The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”

John has been preaching fire and brimstone, but suddenly here, when he sees Jesus, he becomes a preacher of grace—God’s loving-kindness toward humanity. John the Baptist’s focus has been on the avenging Messiah who would send the non-repentant to fire and torment, but now his focus is on the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. These are two very different images of God!

Pastor Steve Thomason points out that John the Baptist spoke the Aramaic language. And in Aramaic, the word for lamb is the same word for servant.  So, when John the Baptist announces, “Look, the Lamb of God,” he could also be saying, “Look, the Servant of God.”

He is the one who came to do the Father’s will. And God’s will is not to destroy us in our sin, but to take it away by covering us with His own blood.

The lamb was completely innocent. Its physical perfection made it extremely valuable as an object of trade. And it had no choice, no way to escape being used as a sacrifice. Jesus was also completely innocent. He lived in complete devotion and submission to the will of God. His spiritual perfection made him an extremely valuable object of trade. Trade his sinless, perfect character for our sinful, rebellious character. But here’s the difference: Jesus had a choice. He could have escaped his fate at any time. He chose to be our sacrifice. John looked at Jesus and he saw God’s sacrificial, unconditional, never-ending love for us. 

In March 2011, an earthquake in Fukushima, Japan, shut down critical processes at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, causing a nuclear meltdown and the release of radioactive materials into the environment. Hundreds of workers were called to clean up the site after the meltdown. Day after day, they were exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in the course of their work.

Yasuteru Yamada, a 72-year-old engineer, hated the thought of all the young men who would be sickened and killed by the radiation. So he organized a volunteer force of hundreds of elderly Japanese engineers to take over the worst part of the clean-up project.

These elderly workers knew that this work would poison them. If it did not kill them in the short term, then they would face an increased risk of cancer in the long run. Yet they still stepped up and volunteered for the work. They wanted to save the younger men from suffering and death, so they willingly volunteered to take their place. I wonder how many of us would make that kind of sacrifice?

In his Aha! moment, John saw just how far sin has taken us from the presence of God. In his Aha! moment, John saw how far God would go to bring us back.

And finally, in his Aha! moment, John knew he had to share the message of Jesus, no matter what it cost him. In verse 34 of this passage, John says, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” Remember, you have not had a true “Aha!” moment unless you put the truth into action. John saw the truth, and he lived the rest of his short life to testify to the Good News of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, God’s Chosen One.

John saw that Jesus was willing to pay any price to save us from death. So John was willing to pay any price to point others to Jesus. What did it cost him? In verses 37 and 38, we see that two of John’s disciples heard his testimony and left John to immediately begin following Jesus. So a little loss of influence, of ego maybe? That’s nothing.

Not too long afterwards, John was thrown into prison for confronting Herod Antipas about his sin of stealing his brother’s wife. And not too long after John’s imprisonment, Herod had him beheaded. Just like his Savior, he paid the ultimate price for following God’s will.    

“You’re only reading this if I died.” That’s how Karen Watson began her letter which she set aside for her family when she answered God’s call to share the message of Jesus in Iraq. Karen became a Christian at age 29. As she grew in her faith, she felt the call to go to Iraq and serve as a relief worker with her church’s Mission Board. In Iraq, Karen and her fellow aid workers built schools and worked on a water purification project. She led a literacy project for widows, teaching them to read and write and gain job skills to support themselves. And when the opportunity arose, she shared her faith in Jesus with those she helped.

On March 15, 2004, Karen and her fellow relief workers were killed by gunmen in the city of Mosul, Iraq. Karen had sold her home and all she owned before she left for Iraq. The only things she left behind on this earth were one duffel bag of everyday items, and a letter for her family. One quote from the letter is really powerful. Karen Watson, facing a dangerous and uncertain mission in Iraq, wrote these memorable words, “I was not called to a place; I was called to Him . . . To obey was my objective, to suffer was expected, His glory my reward.”

THAT is Jesus’ mission in a nutshell. It became John’s mission too. Now, what about us? You and me. Once our sin separated us entirely from God. Jesus took away our sins and restored us to God and eternal life. What are we going to do about it? Go on with our everyday lives? Sit in a pew every week and call that good enough? Or are we going to take action? Are we going to make our objective complete obedience to God’s will? There is a world outside these walls that is separated from God and dying in its sins, and we can point them to the source of life. Will we take action? We were not called to a place; we were called to Him….To obey is our objective, to suffer is expected, His glory our reward.”  AMEN.