Yesterday’s message …
- Drew its energy from John’s storytelling skill in turning a random encounter into a theological statement;
- Led to “get to know you” conversations with staff and leaders rather than “can we sign you up for kids’ ministry?”
- Drew a distinction between “John The Baptist” and “John The Author.”
- Built to this bottom line: Jesus looks past the superficial to call out the supernatural.
In the course of relationships – and I mean, personal relationships, romantic, business, even church relationships – a lot of us learn to look past certain things that might bother us for the sake of something better or deeper that makes the relationship worth preserving. It’s the phrase, “Oh I can look past that” that you may have heard come out of your mouth, that you may have heard other folks say in describing their relationship, or, or that someone may have said about YOU that you didn’t really know it. And now you’re kind of anxious, wondering just what there is in you people you love and work with and church with have to look past. You’ve said it, I’ve said it, you’ve decided it without necessarily articulating it.
Lord, have I been on the receiving end of it. I mean, early on, Julie decided she could look past my quirks and idiosyncracies – and lord, do I have them; we’ve compiled a list (hold up Concordance) – because, in her words, I make her laugh every day. Maybe in your marriage, you look past appearance or habit because of wit or insight. Or you look past odd looks because of good money. Some of you have even decided to look past compulsive or destructive behavior on the part of your mate for the sake of your family.
At work, some of you look past a toxic environment because of a healthy paycheck. Others look past a small check because you love where you work and who you work with. Or you look past the traffic here cuz deep down you love Steele Creek, Lake Wylie, or Fort Mill. Some of you look past your favorite singer’s politics because you really like his voice. For some, all this looking past even goes awry because you’ve looked past some serious character defects because she was a real looker or he was such a good catch with such a good lifestyle and what resulted was a marriage you came to regret.
And I know a lot of you in here have stuff on the surface you have a hard time looking past. Maybe about your appearance, your history, your secrets, your reputation. You hope others can look past it; you’re not sure you can. Yeah, you, me, all of us in the deep calculus of our minds, have stuff we look past.
Which brings us to the first episode of Escape From Average and John 1 today. It’s such an intriguing story told with remarkable skill as Jesus begins his public ministry. Since it’s in John ONE, you might think that just before this came John’s version of the Christmas story … nope. John starts in outer space – IN THE BEGINNING WAS THE WORD! – as his agenda is BIGGER from the beginning than a manger, stable, stars, and wise men. Yet we pick up the story a bit later in John 1, at 1:35, where John the Baptist (not John the Author) has said in so many words: I AM ONLY HERE TO GET YOU READY FOR A BIGGER NAME. I MAY EVENTUALLY GOET A DENOMINATION NAMED AFTER ME, BUT HE’S GONNA GET WHOLE RELIGION AFTER HIM.
So look at 1:35-37:
35 The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.
Doh! Bigger name, better benefits, an offer we can’t refuse! If John was like ME, he’d have been like, “you’re leaving MY church for HIS?” But John’s not like me, he’s much better, and he knows what is to happen. And by the way, do you see “saw” there in 1:36? Circle that. It matters.
Then look at 1:38a:
38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
(Circle “saw” again.) What do you want? You’d think an answer: a job, a girl, a winning lottery ticket, a flat screen, but nope. The answer is 1:38b:
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
Where are you staying?… which is their way of saying, WHAT WE WANT IS You. Time with you. And check the answer in 1:39a:
39 “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him.
Come and SEE (ah! Notice that again? A pattern!). Then 1:39b: READ. The went and SAW and spent a day. And next in the last sentence of 1:39(c), this odd observation:
It was about four in the afternoon.
READ. 4 p.m.? Huh? Why tell us that? That’s when Judge Judy comes on TV! Ah, it’s John’s very subtle way of letting us know: these two guys? The ones who left the Baptist denom for the Christian religion? I’M ONE OF THEM. I WAS THERE! SO MUCH SO I KNOW THE PRECISE TIME THIS HAPPENED.
Then in 1:40, there’s another reveal:
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.
Ah, OK, so it’s John and it is Andrew. So look what Andrew does in 1:41-42a:
41 The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). 42 And he brought him to Jesus. READ.
Interesting. That’s Andrew’s pattern – he is always bringing people to Jesus. But the whole story with two Johns and one Andrew builds to this moment where Jesus meets Simon. Before we dig into that moment, a couple of things you need to know about Simon: 1) he’s a fisherman, which means that he is hard working. He is not book smart, but he is rope smart. 2) He is impulsive. A chronic foot-in-mouther. Anyone here know what that’s like? You talk to think and as a result stuff comes out that you have to circle back around and apologize for? That was Simon’s life. 3) And he also could let people down. So in almost every respect, he is kind of unpredictable, inconsistent, erratic. That’s who is on the surface, it’s is REPUTATION, and everyone knows it. I bet that would be a good description of a whole lot of people in here. So what happens?
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter[a]).
Jesus LOOKED (See! There it is AGAIN!) He looked and the whole story hinges on looking and seeing and John piles on these words on top of each other by design. Jesus look at, looks into, looks past, and sees something monument. YOU ARE SIMON. YOU WILL BE CEPHAS (PETER). Ah! You ARE Simon the Erratic, the Flimsy but I’m going to empower you to escape all that average-ness. When I look at you, I look past the surface, I look past the history, I look past what you are now and see instead what’s deep inside you. I see who you will be. You are erratic & not dependable; you will be ROCK, STABILITY, STRENGTH. Nobody sees it but me because I put it there in the first place. Oh, I see all that is going on in this masterful little scene full of wordplay and an unmistakable emphasis on “seen,” with an equally unmistakable climactic moment & it’s all so cool: Jesus looks past the superficial to call out the supernatural. Yes! He sees beneath the surface to release the substance.
In this case, he sees what no one else knows because he is the one who has placed deep within Peter what only he can. Most people saw erratic, flimsy, smelly fisherman, keep your distance on the surface, but Jesus saw the substance underneath and called it out. He called it out because he placed it in. Peter wasn’t naturally strong or resilient; Jesus put it there, supernaturally. And that’s why there’s a St. Peter’s Church or two or a million around. Jesus looks past the superficial to call out the supernatural.
My gosh, how needed is this today. I heard about a Little League coach from recent years who on the first day of practice gathered the team around him and asked, “who dreams of playing in MLB one day?” Not one hand raised. Oh my gosh. Somewhere along the way, someone had robbed those boys of dreams, of ambition, of moxie. They’d been labeled as average, as unathletic, as if significance was something for OTHERS and they were about survival. I’m not interested in that kind of life or leading that kind of church.
I say that because I’m so glad to be part of a community here that doesn’t saddle young people OR OLD with settling for average. I saw it on that day a few months ago when we had Not For Sale. Remember that? Miracle goal of 125K and we received 160K, which we gave all away for human trafficking? Well, that day the most encouraging moment came when a middle school boy, in a moment of great seriousness, walked up and put his gift in the basket. A middle schooler! Not his parents’ money! His! I was like: someone has called the supernatural out of that boy. Jesus & parents. REF
Or I don’t have to look much beyond my own life. I remember being home for Christmas my senior year in college and at a gathering with some guys I had played tennis with in high school. And folks were talking about their plans after graduation. I piped up & said, “I think I’ll probably go to seminary and into ministry.” And this guy looked at me like I had two heads & was growing a third. “Seriously, Talbot? YOU?!” He’d known me before I was a believer, or maybe as a not-very-good believer, but saw the superficial and the history and figured there was no way I could do any of what I was talking about. I oughta invite him here one day! Jesus looks past the superficial to call out the supernatural.
I tell you all this because the gravest danger is that we buy into our own superficiality. That we define ourselves by our own labels: our reputation, our shadows, our secrets, our nicknames, our average-ness. Jesus looks and sees what he has placed in us at the beginning and says, DON’T BUY IT! I have loaded impact deep inside you. The ability to connect with upcoming generations, the opportunity to have meaningful conversations with others in your LifeGroup, the moxie to lead when all along people just thought you were a follower. See, the supernatural he has placed inside you and me is not so we can admire it. It’s so we can export it! That’s what Peter did. Erratic Simon because Steadfast Peter who led and shaped the early church, wrote two letters that were SO TRUE THEY PUT THEM IN THE BIBLE, and when courage was called for asked to be crucified upside down so he wouldn’t dishonor his Savior. He really was the rock from which the early church sprung.
And you, within you, have that same deep seed that is waiting for you to allow Jesus to call it out. To escape from the average of a life where you have few desires but satisfying your own appetites and into the honor of a life that molds the next generation, that makes this place warmly inviting, that knows real impact in life comes when you empty yourself out serving others. It’s why these folks (AV, RITI shower team) know what it’s about. You know how they spent most Friday nights this past winter? Helping our female neighbors who are homeless have a dignified, clean, private place to shower. No glamor in that ministry at all. Not glamor but all glory. On the surface these folks look average, like who you see on the street. Below the superficial, you’d see their substance was supernatural. Jesus looks past the superficial to call out the supernatural.
Really, escaping average has so much to do with escape you and embracing something higher, bigger, better. I don’t know if you knew this or not, but in ancient times when you RE-NAMED someone, it meant you had authority over them. So when Jesus re-names Simon as Peter, it was his way of saying, YOU’RE MINE. SIMONE WAS YOURS. PETER IS MINE. Jesus redeems those he renames. I pray his authority over your life is just that comprehensive, that total, so that even if you don’t need a new name, you still surrender to the totality of his ownership.
Because when he owns you, he calls out that which he has placed inside you. You don’t have natural talent. You have supernatural talent. You don’t conjure up your ability; he calls it out. We on the march this month, looking for erratic people into whom God has place some solid rocks. It starts with you. Jesus looks past the superficial to call out the supernatural.