An Epiphany Lesson in Mission Work
“Behold the Lamb of God!…We have found the Messias!…”
— John 1:35-51
The holy season of Epiphany, in which we Christians celebrate the manifestation or appearing of the Lord Jesus as the Savior of all mankind, is a specially-appropriate time to consider, to study, and to embark upon mission work for His cause. Tying Christian mission work to the Epiphany of our Lord is quite natural actually when we, with John’s disciples, “behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29), when we see Him already as a young child manifesting Himself to the Wise Men from the East, to Gentiles who were “aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12); when we see Him appearing to men at His Baptism, manifested as the Vicarious Redeemer of sinful men, true God as well as true man; when we observe His recruitment of twelve chosen disciples whom He would later send forth “into all the world” to witness in His Name; and when we hear Jesus say to Peter after that miraculous draft of fishes: “Fear not! From henceforth thou shalt catch men!” (Luke 5:10b). —These and many other incidents in the early public ministry of our Savior point out the need for Christian mission work, the need for those who already know their Savior to share their knowledge with those who have never heard of Him, that He may be made “manifest” to “all people;” for “God will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth” (I Timothy 2:4).
To many, however, the term “mission work” conjures up visions of strange far away places, of pagan tribes of uncivilized people, of having to learn and speak foreign languages, and of the need to be a good talker, debater, and preacher. To their way of thinking, those who don’t have the gifts for these kinds of activities aren’t really “qualified” to be missionaries and can participate in mission work only through their offerings and “moral support.” —But nothing could be further from the truth! Every Christian is (or certainly ought to be) a missionary for his Savior. For, in the true sense of the term, a “missionary” is simply one who is “sent out” to do a job, in this case, to get the word out about Jesus, the Savior. That’s our job as individual Christians, as His true disciples, to whom He says: “Go YE into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature!” “Go YE… and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them… [and] teaching them!”
If we shrink from that task; if we don’t think we’re qualified; if we hesitate making the necessary commitment; or if we’re among those who are content to let others take the risks as well as the heat, oh, then we should learn an Epiphany lesson in mission work from the narrative in the first chapter of John’s Gospel. For we see in the recruitment of Jesus’ own disciples a kind of microcosm or reduced-scale model of how we Christians are to recruit prospects for His Kingdom of Grace here in this world. The lesson teaches us two basic principles about mission work: First, that we bring others to Jesus by our testimony of Him; but secondly, that Jesus makes them His disciples through His Word.
My dear fellow missionaries, our testimony doesn’t have to be extensive in order to be effective. A few well-chosen words will do nicely if they come from the heart! Our testimony doesn’t have to be “flowery” to be attractive —sometimes the simpler the better! BUT our testimony DOES have to meet one criterion or standard: It has to be the TRUTH, grounded in God’s own precious Word. Otherwise we lead others astray, away from Jesus to some other savior!!
Let’s look briefly at the examples in our title-text, John 1:35ff. First, there’s John the Baptist, the gifted preacher who came “in the spirit and power of Elias” (Luke 1:17) as the Lord’s hand-picked messenger to prepare the way before God’s Messiah (Malachi 3:1). Yet, his longer, more extensive sermons were no more effective than his simple statement to the two disciples standing with him, watching Jesus “as He walked:” “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). Those five words spelled out the boiled-down truth that Jesus was to be the all-atoning Sacrifice for the sins of the world, the Substitute for sinners, whose holy precious blood would appease God’s just wrath and purchase our redemption! Five little words of Gospel truth pointed to the Savior! —And their effect?? We read: “And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus” (v. 37). Their curiosity was piqued by these good tidings of great joy; and, like the shepherds of Bethlehem, they went to “see this thing which [had] come to pass” (Luke 2:15) led by the invitation of the simplest Gospel brought to them by the Christmas angel!
Take the second example in our title-text, namely, that of Andrew of Bethsaida in Galilee. He was one of those two disciples of John who had then “followed Jesus” and had spent the day with Him, learning firsthand who He was and why He had come into this world of sin. “He first findeth his own brother Simon, and saith unto him, ‘We have found the Messias,’ which is, being interpreted, the Christ” (v. 41). John’s simple testimony had pointed Andrew to Jesus. And what he learned at the feet of Jesus had so filled him with joy and hope and zeal, that he couldn’t keep it for himself!! — just the way we as Christians should feel about having Jesus as our Savior, bubbling over with excitement, and itching to tell someone else about Him, so that another poor sinner can share our joy!!
Andrew didn’t go on a door-to-door canvass of the neighborhood, doing mission work on a grand and organized scale; but he merely sought out “his own brother Simon,” someone who hadn’t yet heard this great news; and again, in five simple words testified of this new-found knowledge of His Savior, saying: “We have found the Messias!” —“AND he brought him to Jesus” (v. 42). He went one step further: He not only taught him; he brought him! —something that you and I are quite capable of doing with our mission targets: BRING them to Jesus! Bring them to hear the Word of God, “which is able to save [their] souls!” (James 1:21b; cf. Romans 10:17).
And the third example we find in Philip, also of Bethsaida in Galilee. Jesus had found him; and, not content to keep Jesus for himself alone, “Philip findeth Nathanael and saith unto him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write: Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!’” (v. 45). And, when Nathanael at first took the whole thing rather lightly and even joked about how surprising it was that anything good could come out of that town (v. 46a), was Philip “turned off” and discouraged? Did he give up on Nathanael as a “lost cause” and write him off as a “typical worldly blasphemer”?? No indeed! Instead, he challenged Nathanael to “come and see” (v. 46b). He invited him to see for himself the evidence that this Jesus was truly the promised Messiah prophesied by Moses and the prophets —even if His home town was Nazareth. —You and I can do the same, can’t we?? We can invite our skeptical friends and neighbors to “come and see” what the Scriptures, “Moses and the prophets,” have to say! We can bring them to Jesus! We can bring them to hear His Word proclaimed and taught by His ambassador from the pulpits of our congregations, so that they too can see “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ!” (II Corinthians 4:6).
Given what we know, given what we have seen, given the truth we hear each and every Sunday preached and taught in its purity (as no where else to the best of our knowledge), given our advantages as Scripturally informed Christians, CAN we, DARE we just keep all that for ourselves?? CAN we, DARE we just keep quiet about it and not share it with dying souls starving for the knowledge of salvation?? —Do you, dear reader, have a friend or a relative who doesn’t know the true way to heaven?? TELL him! Better yet, BRING him! There are probably plenty of empty seats in your church where he can sit at the feet of Jesus and hear His precious Word! Don’t just give him the address of your church; give him a ride! Challenge him: “Come and see! Come and hear! Come and learn!” —These are short, small, and simple words of which we all are quite capable! We bring ourselves, don’t we? Why not bring him too? —Don’t be put off by some “cute” little comment designed to discourage your effort! CHALLENGE him: “‘Come and see’ what great things God hath done for ME!” That’s mission work! That’s Christian testimony! That’s confessing Christ before men! And that’s the least you and I can do, for whom our Savior did everything to effect our reconciliation with God!
But now, and fortunately for our own peace of mind, our title-text shows us that we don’t have to be concerned or worried about the results of our mission work. The fact is that WE don’t convert anybody! WE don’t convince anybody! WE can’t create faith in the heart of anybody! All we can do is TELL people, BRING people, and CHALLENGE people to “come and see.” Our testimony — in word and also in deed as we “let [our] light shine before men” (Matthew 5:16) — is our mission tool, testimony of the truth of God’s own Word to His glory!
But it’s JESUS who makes people His disciples, who works in them by His Holy Spirit through the Gospel “both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). That’s God’s work, not ours! We see it plainly in John’s narrative. When Andrew and his fellow disciple followed Jesus home and stayed with Him the whole day to learn at the feet of this heaven-sent “Rabbi,” it was JESUS who brought them to the knowledge of the truth (I Timothy 2:4), whose Word did not return unto Him void (Isaiah 55:11).
And when Andrew brought his brother Simon to Jesus, it was the LORD JESUS who saw through Simon, referred to his father Jona (whom Jesus had never met), and changed his surname to “Cephas” or Peter because of the “stone”-solid faith He would create in his heart (v. 42). It was Peter’s contact with JESUS, not with Andrew, that made him the Savior’s disciple!
And, in the case of Nathanael, it was not Philip’s challenge, “Come and see,” that convinced him. It was JESUS HIMSELF who demonstrated His omniscience concerning Nathanael’s earlier whereabouts “under the fig tree” (v. 48) that persuaded him! It was that miracle of the LORD JESUS that completely drove out Nathanael’s skepticism and caused him to confess: “Rabbi, Thou art the Son of God; Thou art the King of Israel!” (v. 49). — And it was JESUS who informed Nathanael about the “greater things than these” which he would witness as the Savior’s apostle, including His glory as the Mediator between God and men, typified by Jacob’s ladder in the Old Testament! “And He saith unto him, ‘Verily, verily I say unto you, hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (v. 51).
John the Baptist pointed two disciples to Jesus with only five words. — Andrew pointed his brother Simon to Jesus with only five words, AND “he brought him to Jesus.” — Philip was able to say a little more in his testimony to Nathanael, and he challenged him to “come and see.”
That’s mission work, brethren! That’s mission work that you and I can do equally as well by the grace and with the help of God! It’s our job! It’s our mission not-at-all-impossible! What’s more, it’s our great privilege as Christians to share with others what others once shared with us. Indeed, our hearts should be so overflowing with gratitude for our salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), for the truth that made us free (John 8:32), for the purity of the Word by which we are kept through faith unto the Day of Jesus Christ (I Peter 1:5), that we should shout out with the apostles: “We cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard!” (Acts 4:20).
But then, dear reader, don’t forget also to put your actions where your mouth is, and your efforts where your heart is, letting the Lord Jesus, your blessed Savior, grant the increase according to His promise! The fruit of your labors is not up to you, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning his own ministrations: “I have planted, Apollos [my co-worker] watered, but GOD gave the increase.” (I Corinthians 3:6). Nevertheless, as to your efforts and your motives as laborers in the vineyard of the Savior, challenge yourself according to the Epiphany lesson on mission work you learned from this precious passage of God’s Word, and ask your heart
“Can I, whose soul is lighted with wisdom from on high,
can I to men benighted the Lamp of Life deny??
To spread the news of Jesus, that joyful task I’ll claim,
til every friend and neighbor has learned his Savior’s Name!
(TLH 495, 3 adapted)
“He paid for my transgressions and took away my guilt;
the fact of God’s forgiveness, on that my hope is built!
But others haven’t heard it, the news that joys my heart.
To share with them this Gospel: It’s time to do my part!”
— D. T. M.