Hearing Is Believing (John 1:19-42a)
Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this second Sunday of Epiphany comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records, “The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as he walked by and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God!’ The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

Twice in two weeks, we get to hear a bit about Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist. He’s a bit of an odd fellow – wearing odd clothing, eating odd (and frankly, unappealing) foods, saying and doing odd things in an odd place. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” he would cry from the waters of the Jordan River and proceed to baptize the penitent and contrite who had just confessed their sins. He would proclaim these things to the humbled and low, but to the religious elites, the Pharisees, Sadducees, those who were content and proud and confident of their standing before God based on their own merits, John proclaimed a message of warning: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance.” This man … is God’s prophet, the first prophet after the four centuries of silence, the last and the greatest of the prophets, whose purpose was to reveal the Messiah to Israel and, subsequently, all the world. So, why then ... does John say, in the text for today, “I myself did not know Him …”?

Twice he says this in our text, presumably in the span of just a few minutes. Our text likely takes place approximately 40 days after John baptized Jesus in the Jordan “in order to fulfill all righteousness.” During the interim time, John has continued the work he was given to do. But now, as he sees Jesus walk past, he declares to two of his disciples who were there with him, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is He of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who ranks before me, because He was before me.’” And he follows by saying, “I myself did not know him, but for this purpose I came baptizing with water, that he might be revealed to Israel.”

John and Jesus were technically cousins, so it wasn’t as if John didn’t know who Jesus was at all. Indeed, John undoubtedly knew there was something special, holy, godly about Jesus … but apparently, he didn’t recognize Jesus for exactly who He is. He bears the following witness, remembering what happened on that fateful day Jesus approached him in the Jordan, “I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.”

John bears witness. He testifies what he has heard and seen. He reveals to those around him what God Himself had revealed to him. He repeats this testimony the following day upon seeing Jesus once again, declaring, “Behold the Lamb of God!” As a result of this testimony, two of his own disciples turn aside and follow the One whom John revealed to them. They stay with Jesus all that day, listening to what He had to say, and one of the disciples goes off to bring his brother, Simon Peter, along for the ride. The rest, as they say, is history, as more and more disciples are brought to Jesus, hearing the testimony of those who have heard what God has to say about this man who is more than Man.

Because that is how God works, isn’t it? “[F]aith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” John, who had known Jesus all his life, who had leapt for joy in his own mother’s womb at the voice of his Savior’s mother, whose entire vocation and life’s work was pointing sinners back to God and revealing the Messiah to Israel … still needed this to be revealed to him. That’s because John, like the rest of us, was a sinner. Sin blinds us to the truth of God, the truth of what He has done and is doing to secure for us the forgiveness of sins. Even John needed to hear the Good News, and once he heard that Word, he believed it, and in believing it, he bore witness about it. As a consequence of his faithful testimony, we see disciples come to Jesus one after another. 

It is worth mentioning, however, that they wouldn’t stay. Even with the revelation of Jesus as the Son of God, the proclamation of Him to be the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, we know that the story continues on, and it’s not an easy one to hear. When He taught a difficult teaching regarding His body and blood and the consumption thereof, many of Jesus’ disciples turned back and no longer followed Him. When He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, He was betrayed by one disciple and abandoned by all the rest. At His crucifixion, only one disciple remained present alongside His mother. Even after hearing the incredible news of Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas’ infamous materialistic response refuses to believe. 

Sinners remain sinners, even after hearing the proclamation of the Good News of Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected. This is why we need to have that Good News revealed to us weekly, even daily. This is why we come to this place, to receive God’s good gifts in His Word and sacraments: to hear His Word of promise and forgiveness. Martin Luther once famously quipped that we need to hear the Gospel every week … because we forget it every week. Simply put, the regular consumption of God’s good and perfect gifts in worship is needed for our spiritual health. We are still sinners, but thankfully, Jesus is the friend of sinners, and what He says to you here in this place, week in and week out, is exactly what you and I need. Hear His voice, follow Him, and reveal what He has given to you to all around you. After all, hearing is believing.

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.