Eye-Witness

Gospel: John 1. 35-43

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!” When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?” “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Suggestions for hymns and songs

The Light of the World (Stuart Townend)

O for a closer walk with God

King of kings Majesty

My Jesus, my Saviour

Come let us sing of a wonderful love

O for a thousand tongues to sing

Amazing Grace

Lord I lift your name on high

Tell out my soul

Lord for the years

May the mind of Christ my Saviour

O breath of life

Children’s activity:

Collect a few dancers together from brownies, cubs, or youth club. A competent dancer can take the lead verses of The Light of the World on Stuart Townend’s CD The Best of Stuart Townend)and work into them a jig with arm movement to represent the colourful words, and the chorus is a copycat, ‘follow my leader’ style dance in a circle. This can be performed during the service.

Children’s story: from Assembly books by R.H. Lloyd.

Spreading The Word

A new abbot was appointed to a monastery and immediately set about tightening up on the discipline. He noticed that some monks had become a little lazy and were not taking their turn to preach at the Sunday service. A new rota was drawn up and every monk noticed their name on the list.

Brother John, whose main duties in the monastery were in the kitchen cleaning up and preparing meals, was filled with horror when he saw his name against one of the Sundays. He went at once to the abbot to explain that there had been a error and that he had been excused preaching by the previous abbot mainly because he was no good at it. The abbot said there was no error and all monks would take their turn.

“If I excuse you Brother John” he said “others will want to be excused as well, and I cannot have that!”

Time passed and the dreaded Sunday arrived .All the other monks were cringing at the thought of Brother John preaching and they couldn’t take their eyes off him during the service. Eventually the moment arrived and Brother John took the lonely walk between the pews and up to the pulpit. When he turned to speak he saw a sea of upturned faces and he became weak in the knees. It seemed an age until he found the courage to speak.

In a voice he didn’t recognise as his own he asked—“Do you know what I am going to say?”

“No.” came the reply from the congregation of monks.

“Neither do I croaked Brother John.” He then rushed out of the chapel to another room.

He was swiftly followed by the abbot who declared” That was just not good enough, Brother John, you will have to try again next week.”

After what seemed a very long week Sunday arrived and Brother John again found himself nervously climbing the steps to the pulpit. He looked down at his brother monks, some seemed to have twinkles in their eyes. Taking a very deep breath and licking his very dry lips he asked the same question as last week.” Do you know what I am going to say?”

“Yes.” They all said.

“Well then,” said Brother John, “there is no need for me to tell you.”

Again he rushed out of the chapel quickly followed by the abbot who was furious.

“ Brother John,” said the abbot, “ this is simply not acceptable, I will not tolerate such behaviour. Next week you will preach again and I will not give up until your sermon is acceptable.”

On the third Sunday the monks could hardly hide their smiles as Brother John made his long walk to the pulpit. He was feeling very low after a worrying week. Again he looked down on the same sea of faces and experienced that same blankness that comes when words fail you. The only thing he could think of was the same question he had asked the previous weeks. So he asked it.

“Do you know what I am going to say?” he managed to whisper. With smiles on their faces half the monks said “No!” and the other half said “Yes!”

“Well then,” said Brother John brightening up for the first time in weeks.

“Those who know tell those who don’t know!” He then walked out of the chapel with a little more confidence it seemed.

Ten minutes passed before the abbot appeared. Much to Brother John’s surprise the abbot smiled and put his arm around his shoulder and said” What a wonderful message! That was the best sermon I have heard in years.

Activity for smaller children: A game of Chinese whispers

Or have a book made up A4 paper folded, in which they can draw a ‘picture storybook’ showing everyone the kind of things they have done that week. Make sure these are shown to the congregation at the end of the service. These are their own eye-witness accounts, which can then be verified by their parents.

Address 1

There are many people in our world today, who sceptical about any form of certainty and are very suspicious of information passed down throughout history.

They would rightly argue that history is open to

  • interpretation

  • prejudice

  • personal opinion.

BUT when the same people read first hand eye witness accounts of an event they are more likely to take notice and be enthralled and accept the words of one who was there at the time as the truth.

As a former teacher I taught history as one of my main subjects and I loved it when the opportunity arose to read from a book called They saw it happen’ for in this book were accounts of events like the Great Fire of London, descriptions of the execution of kings, queens and martyrs and so on all told by either diarists or people who were there on the spot watching it all take place.

St Luke, (doctor and companion of St Paul), at the beginning of his gospel tells us this :-

Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eye witnesses and servants of the word.

He goes on to say,

Therefore since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good for me to write an orderly account, (Dear Theophilus) so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.

So Luke was a researcher of facts, gleaned from the eye witnesses he met up with, people who knew of events in the life of Jesus first hand.

Luke also wrote the book of Acts which was the sequel to his gospel story, and because his writing of Acts stop abruptly with Paul in prison awaiting trial, it’s thought likely that Luke wrote Acts during this time, leading up to Paul’s trial before Caesar.

Also there is no mention in his, or any of the writings of the apostles of the actual fall of Jerusalem, only prophecies by Jesus about it, so for this reason, academics date his writing within the years 62-3 AD that is within THIRTY YEARS of the ministry and death of Jesus.

German scholarship of the nineteenth and early twentieth century argued for the NT having been written a couple of hundred years after the events recorded, which led to many people distrusting the content of the NT but there are many early fragments of the New Testament, and also NT quotes in the letters of the early fathers.

Epistle of St Clement:AD 95 cited verses from the Gospels, Acts, Romans,

1 Corinthians, Ephesians, Titus, Hebrews and 1 Peter.

Letters of Ignatius dated: AD 115 written to several churches in Asia Minor cite verses from Matthew, John,, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians , Phillipians, 1 and 2 Tim, and Titus.

…Indicating the entire New Testament was written within the first century AD.

Luke and the other gospel writers recorded events which had taken place with scrupulous accuracy. Their intention was the same; that future generations could read about Jesus confidently in their own day and age.

  • Around 24,000 manuscript copies of portions of the NT still in existence.

  • There are more than 5,300 known Greek manuscripts of the New Testament.

  • Add 10,000 Latin manuscripts and 9,300 early portions of the NT, and we have

NO OTHER DOCUMENT FROM ANTIQUITY APPROACHES THIS!

These are facts which I gleaned from a book called ‘Why Trust the Bible?’ by Amy Orr Ewing.

Amy is an academic who challenges ordinary people head on with the seriousness of her pursuit of truth.

One student at a university told her he believed that the Bible was a load of rubbish, because Science had proved there was no God. He asked her why she believed and she replied,

!Christianity is intellectually robust and opens itself to our scrutiny, and it’s existentially satisfying.! They went on to discuss what she meant by this, and after hearing what she had to say about the compelling evidence for the historicity of Jesus, he said, “I’ve been to church almost every day of my life. Why has no-one told me any of this before?”

Why am I saying all of this? You may ask so what? But it’s exciting. If most of these writings were written within thirty or forty or fifty years of Jesus death, what can we who are older remember from a similar period of time?

· THIRTY years ago, if you were alive then, John Lennon was murdered on the 8th December 1980, Mark Chapman, autograph, Dakota apartments

· FORTY YEARS, you’ll remember the group he had been part of, The Beatles, who were one of the most popular and influential musical groups in history and were disbanded in 1970. They ceased touring in 1966, their manager, Brian Epstein, died in 1967, resulting in the Beatles being personally involved in financial and legal conflicts.

· All four band members had begun working on solo projects by 1970 as the appeal of working together as a group began to wane.

· Ultimately, animosity made it impossible for the group to continue working together and Paul McCartney made the break-up public knowledge as part of the press release for his first solo album,

· FIFTY YEARS ago, I was only 10 years old when they became famous, but I remember buying their records, I remember seeing them play on television at concerts to hordes of hysterical fans, when you couldn’t hear what they were singing for the screaming that went on.

· Two of the Beatles are still alive today, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.

· The other Beatle, George Harrison died in 2001 of cancer.

Not only that there are others who will verify what I’m saying, because many of us here were alive then.

Not only do we have these accounts I have here a copy of one of John Lennon’s songs in its formation, in his own hand. If I sang Yesterday you would sing . . . (give congregation an opportunity to respond in song!)

I even have a photo of him with his oldest son!

I would like to know if those of you who weren’t alive then, believe these facts?

That information and memories may vary slightly but the fact remains that this group did exist, and disbanded FORTY years ago. Here we have not just one person’s recollections, it’s compelling history, because of these converging lines of evidence.

So too with the New Testament.

Address 2

TODAY THE SPOTLIGHT IS ON ST JOHN THE APOSTLE, APOSTLE AND EYE-WITNESS.

The apostle JOHN after whom this church was named, was not just a researcher like Luke, he was a key witness. He was the only one of the disciples who lived to an old age, and ended his life on the island of Patmos.

He didn’t need to repeat what was being said already by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. When the writings of all the apostles and eye witnesses were being sent around the churches, and copied and translated into all different languages, he was still preaching orally.

He more than any could have said, ‘This did not happen’ or This is untrue’. But he did not.

He fully accepted them and bore witness to their truthfulness!

. . . but these gospels were lacking an account of the deeds done by Christ at the beginning of his ministry. John’s writings were different because he took it upon himself to write of intimate conversations…and also the intense controversies between Jesus and the Jewish leaders. John writes with great detail and detailed knowledge of the area of Palestine and Jerusalem. He writes reflecting on all that he believed Jesus to be, having heard his teaching intimately, for he was the disciple closest to Jesus. He filled in the gaps left by the other writers.

Now say Paul McCartney lived to the grand old age of 100, and he was the only Beatle left alive; would his recollections of conversations and conflicts not hold MORE authority over research or hearsay?

When John writes movingly of the crucifixion of Jesus, he says

…one of the soldiers pierced Jesus side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. The man who saw it has given testimony, and his testimony is true. He knows that he tells the truth, and he testifies so that you also may believe.

Similar things are said at the beginning of 1 John the letter we have just heard.

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.

Paul was the PIONEER of Christ,

Peter the SHEPHERD of Christ;

John was the WITNESS of Christ, who was able to say, I saw these things and I know they are true.

So John as he writes his gospel testifying to being there ‘on the spot’ where it all happened is inviting the reader to

COME AND BELIEVE the truth.

At the beginning of the gospel he tells of Andrew shouting out to his brother Simon, (later to be named Peter), ‘ We’ve found the Messiah,

COME AND SEE. And he brought him to Jesus and to belief!’

In 1 John, John (or his scribe) also invites us to

COME CLEAN AND GET REAL

Confessing all the wrong we have done and to stop walking in the darkness of sin anymore. He tells us, to walk in the light…of goodness, truth mercy and love; washed in the only thing powerful enough to cleanse us entirely i.e. the Blood of Jesus. He goes on to say that if we say we have no sin, then we are deceiving ourselves and there is no truth in us. . . and that if we claim to believe, yet we continue to walk in darkness (i.e such things as hatred, jealousy, unbelief, criticism, arguments, and any other form of evil) we’ll lose our way in the darkness.

COME AND SHARE IN THE FELLOWSHIP AND FRIENDSHIP of believing.

To walk in the light though is to be in fellowship with God and one another.

In this letter he also invites us to COME AND SHARE IN HIS JOY.

Some manuscripts have the word your in place of our in verse 4. . .so that verse reads, We write this to make YOUR joy complete. So whether that verse is our or your, one thing is sure that believing in Jesus brings that deep down joy that never ceases to come bubbling up in the face of any circumstance we might face.

Walking in the light also means that Christ will be our guide and light up our way, so that our journey is unique and must be fully focussed on Jesus, not a copy of someone else’s faith.

YOU COME FOLLOW

Listen to these words from today’s gospel:-

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them. (This was the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is going to betray you?") When Peter saw him, he asked, "Lord, what about him?"

Jesus answered, "If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?

You must follow me."

Never mind the belief, the task, the honour or position given to someone else to God. Our task is to follow Jesus, and make our own decision to do so. No-one else can do it for us.

And we must serve him in whatever way he has allotted to us, with whichever gifts he has bestowed upon us, unique to each one of us. And we must encourage one another in those gifts.

May I end with a prayer for those of you who came here today perhaps after a long absence or perhaps for the first time ever, who would like to Come and believe, and receive and be filled with joy. All you have to do is echo this prayer in the silence of your hearts…

Lord Jesus Christ,

I’m so sorry for the things I have done wrong in my life.

I ask your forgiveness, wash me clean with your precious blood.

Thank you for dying on the cross for me to set me free from my sins.

Please come into my life and fill me with your Holy Spirit and be with me forever.

Thank you Lord Jesus

Amen

Prayers to follow