The Robin Chapel – 19 January 2014, 4pm
Epiphany 3: Is 49:1-67; John 1:29-42
‘Come and See; Go and Tell.’
[This is a short message delivered at the Robin Chapel in Edinburgh on Sunday 19 January 2014.]
In one of my more profane moments while reflecting for this message today I thought of the season of Epiphany as a kind of theological and spiritual ‘dance of the seven veils’ – or however many weeks Epiphany lasts for. Each week more of Jesus is revealed to us as we cover many of the themes and titles that explain who he is. And of course, his enfleshment, or incarnation as we call it, is a significant part of that, but before our imagination runs away with us, it is not the rest of his body that is being revealed in Epiphany, but his identity. So what can we learn of Jesus from the two passages read to us from Isaiah and John?
The beginning of Isaiah 49 is one of four so-called ‘Servant Songs’ of Isaiah – prophetic poetry composed to unpack the nature and mission of the ‘Servant of the Lord,’ including the fact that this Servant will be full of the Spirit of wisdom and will not only restore the relationship between Israel and God, but will also be a light to the nations. Traditionally within Christian interpretation, while the Servant picture initially has a corporate identity, the whole people of God, the focus narrows until it is seen in an individual – Jesus. He is the Servant of the Lord par excellence. While Isaiah had no thought in his mind about Jesus, when early Christians, and Jewish Christians in particular, read his songs of the Servant they thought of Jesus. So, in Epiphany, Isaiah removes one of the veils that prevents our understanding and we see Jesus as one who came to serve the mission of God in the world, a mission that is worldwide, for Jew and Gentile alike.
The stories of the baptism of Jesus in the Gospel of John, and his encounters with various people afterwards help us unpack some of what it means for Jesus to be the Servant of the Lord and what it means for us to follow in that servanthood. He is the one who, when baptized by John in the Jordan, is anointed by the Spirit for his ministry and will confer the Spirit on others. He is the one who, when effectively he was asked, ‘What are you about, Jesus,’ he said, ‘Come and see,’ so that those who were intrigued by him and by what John said about him, were not given a short course on right beliefs and religious practices, but they were apprenticed into the Kingdom of God way of living.
One of these new apprentices, Andrew, our own Patron saint, went off immediately and told his brother Simon Peter, ‘We have found the Messiah,’ which was a truly extraordinary thing for him to say after such a short encounter. It was Andrew who brought Peter to Jesus, that he too might be received into an apprenticeship.
There is much more to the Servanthood of Jesus that this, but it certainly includes this idea of making apprentices for the life of the Kingdom of God. As we follow in the life of the Master Carpenter, so we need to be people who will provoke the question, ‘You Jesus people, what are you really about?’ And in answer to that question, rather than point them to the Creeds, we can say, ‘Come and see.’ We, like Jesus before us, are to be about making apprentices for the Kingdom. And when those who come have encountered the life of Jesus through us, like Andrew, they are to go and tell, that others from across the globe may be apprenticed into that life as well.
Come and see; go and tell – two very different yet complementary aspects of the life of Jesus that are to be mirrored in us. They reflect a part of his mission for God that, given the passing of the generations, have also fallen to us that we too might become Servants of the Lord.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,