Scripture: John 1:29-42
On my computer the documents folder more or less contains the entirety of my life’s work. Every sermon I have ever preached, every youth group lesson I have ever created, and every bible study I have ever led, is on there. Thirteen and a half years of ministry is in that documents folder. All told there are 2,723 files and it all equals 943 MB of data, which is just shy of 1 GB. There are a lot of words and hours upon hours of work put into that data. What is amazing is all of that is just a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of information that we are exposed to daily. Researchers at the University of California-San Diego have estimated that we are exposed to 34 GB of data a day just from media sources. Through various outlets such as mobile phones, the Internet, electronic mail, television, radio, newspapers, and books people receive about 105,000 words every day. This is the equivalent of two full novels worth of words a day. Once visual elements such as pictures, video, or video games are added in the total estimate reaches the volume of 34 gigabytes of information per day on average. Another group of researchers had similar findings, but summarized it this way: We receive 174 newspapers worth of information a day. On our average day of 2017, we will be bombarded by five times the information than we received daily just twenty five years ago. It is no wonder that so many people feel that they are saturated with information overload. This information overload is compounded by the fact that we are getting this information with an unprecedented amount of choice. We essentially can choose what information sources to pay attention to, we can get news from sources that line up with viewpoints we agree with. This creates echo chambers full of confirmation bias, that makes messages and information that falls outside of personally curated information bubble hard to find a receptive ear. As disciples of Jesus Christ, this creates a unique problem for us. We believe we have a story to tell to the nations, we believe that we have a message of truth and grace, we believe that we have the good news that each and every person needs to hear. How do we share that good news when there is so much information white noise? When people are already overloaded with information what is the most effective way that we can share a message that some people may not even want to hear?
It is probably fair to say the first century did not have the same, massive amount of information that we have to process daily. However, that did not make necessarily mean that the good news was easier to share. There may have been less competing messages, but reception was still an issue. After all, about Jesus John 1:11 states, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” In this morning’s scripture we have two small vignettes from the very beginnings of Jesus’ public ministry. Both John the Baptist and Jesus himself give us direction on how we can share the good news. Fortunately for us, what worked in the first century to share our savior with others still works today.
Last week we read the scripture from Matthew about Jesus being baptized. Jesus’ baptism is recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. It is interesting that the event itself is not in the gospel of John, but instead we have the testimony of John the Baptist. The other three gospels present the baptism of Jesus from the impartial third person viewpoint, but here we get John’s firsthand account of the event. We get John’s testimony. If we look back at this morning’s scripture the reason why John is sharing this testimony is because upon seeing Jesus he declared, “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” His testimony about the Holy Spirit descending upon Jesus when he was baptized, is John’s proof that Jesus is in fact the messiah. This is why in verse 34, John declares, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
“I have seen and I can testify” is the first way that we can break through the information noise, and share the good news of the gospel. Decades of marketing research confirms this. The best kind of advertising that a product can possibly hope for is word of mouth, where people tell other people about their positive experience of a product. Marketing research has found that 92% of people will trust recommendations from a friend, and word of mouth influences up to 50% of all purchasing decisions. I am not saying we should be marketing the good news or selling Jesus, but what this shows is the power of testimony. It is so powerful and we tend to forget this. One of the biggest objections that is given for why people feel they cannot share the good news with others, is they do not feel qualified to do so. For some reason to tell others about the love of Jesus we feel that we have to have fully detailed systematic theology with a Trinitarian hermeneutic that takes into to full account the eschatological ramifications of ecclesiology. Yes, it is OK if you have no idea what the sentence just meant, because none of that is necessary to tell another person that Jesus loves them. The most effective way to tell others about the love of Jesus is to tell them how you have experienced that love. Like John we should be able to say “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s chosen one.”
Sometimes though we find this hard. Have you ever heard someone with an amazing testimony? They can share how God miraculously took away their drug addition, delivered them from an abusive situation, or saved their life in the most incredible of ways. It is possible to feel that our own testimony, our own experience with God does not have enough “wow factor”. After all giving your life to Jesus at church camp or being raised in a church full of loving people does not have the same pop as becoming drug free. We do not need a lifetime movie worthy story, because any story where God is made known in the midst of life is an amazing story. If you consider yourself a Christian then you have stories of how when life felt like a raging storm, then Christ was the solid rock on which you stood. You have stories of when you tired, weary, and could not go on, you learned the true meaning behind “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. We have stories of when we have felt and known a blessed assurance that we are forgiven, we are redeemed, and we are truly loved by our Creator. Brothers and sisters in Christ, those stories will preach. They do not have to be fancy, they just need to be authentic and true. As John the Baptist shows us in this scripture, sharing our own experience with Jesus is the best way to share the good news.
The second example of how to share the good news in this morning’s scripture comes from Jesus. After John makes his proclamation about Jesus, two of John’s followers see Jesus they follow him out of curiosity. Jesus turns to them, and in their conversation Jesus says “come and you will see.” They spend the day with him, and these two people become part of Jesus twelve disciples. The scripture does not share with us what happened during that day they spent with Jesus, but whatever happened it made believers out of them. It all started though with the invitation to “come and see.” Jesus did not just tell them the good news, he showed it to them.
Now we have to acknowledge up front that it is easier for Jesus to show someone the good news, after all he is the Good News! However, I think we can still learn from this example. It is one thing to tell people about our faith. It is quite another one to show them. We all know the common platitude, actions speak louder than words. This has always been true, but perhaps it is truer today. As already stated we are exposed to thousands of words a day. Much of the sea of information we are drowning in is text, so action not more words is what is needed to break through and impact someone with the good news. For far too long, Christianity in America has had the opposite problem. We do not invite people to come and see, because we have had nothing to show them. Brennan Manning got to the heart of this when he said, “The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” Church cannot just be a building you spend an hour in once a week. When we gather to worship on Sunday morning we are the church. When we go to work on Monday morning or watch the basketball game on Thursday night, we are still the church. Church needs to be the people of God doing the work of God for the glory of God.
There is another quote that I think catches what it means to share the good news with a come and see approach. This quote is often falsely attributed to John Wesley. He did not say it, and the original speaker is unknown, but this quote has undeniably deep Methodist roots. It goes like this: “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn.” Can you honestly say that you are enthusiastic about the fact that God so loved the world that he sent his son.” If you are not then why not? The love of God is something is worth getting fired up about. It is something that is worth being passionate about. We should live out that passion in a way that our actions show that divine love. We should be joining at work with God in the world to reflect God’s love like a fire. When we do that enthusiastically, when we put others first, when we love the least of these, when we serve instead seek to be served, then we catch on fire. In a world of darkness we become beacons reflecting the light of the world. We put our faith into action, and once we do that then we can confidently tell people “come and you will see.”
We live in an information age, and information is shared at a staggering rate. On the social media network twitter one of the ways this is done is through retweeting. If someone makes a post that you want to share with others, then all you have to do is hit the retweet button and it shows up for all of your friends to see as well. In 2016 the most retweeted tweet was from Harry Stiles, formally of the boy band One Direction. It said, “I don’t know about you but I’m feeling 22.” That was retweeted over 700,000 times. If that message is worth sharing across the world, then surely the message that God loves you and forgives you is worth sharing. May you not be afraid to share the good news with others. May you share what you have seen and experienced about the loving mercy and forgiving grace of God. May you put your faith into action, so that others may come and see. Through your words and your actions may you be able to break through the noise of the information age. May your word and actions be like tweets and retweets that proclaim, “Look the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” May you spread the good news.