The following sermon was preached by Dr Thomas Winger in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service in commemoration of St Andrew, 30 November 2015. The text is John 1:35-42.
Two nameless disciples stand talking with their teacher John, the Baptiser. At this point in the story, only two names matter: John the forerunner, and now Jesus, the One to Come. And here He comes again. John breaks away from his conversation with these two disciples to point out the One he was probably already telling them about. For there walking towards them was the One who’d revealed Himself to John just yesterday. And John declares, “There He is, the Lamb of God!” (1:36). That’s all it takes. The Word has its effect. The two disciples hear and believe. They follow after Jesus. They want nothing more than to know where He’s going and to be with Him. He invites them to walk with Him, to come and stay with Him. From then on it’s His words that have their way with these disciples. They hear Him and believe. And now they’re no longer nameless. “One of the two who heard John and followed Him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother” (1:40). With faith in Christ comes a Christian name. And then that faith compels him to tell his brother that their long-felt hopes had finally been fulfilled. “We have found the Messiah!”, he proclaims. And so from the first Christian comes the first preaching. And his brother hears and believes. Simon, too, is brought to Jesus. It’s not his choice or his movement, but the Word has its way with him. And as if to mark the change it has made, Jesus gives him a new name: “You shall be called Cephas (which means Peter [Rock])” (1:42). First Christian, first preacher, first new lives.
We hear nothing more about Andrew, for John’s Gospel is concerned first and foremost with Jesus. Jesus calls more disciples to Himself. Andrew for a time fades from view. Perhaps he returned to his old life, though not as his old self. When he reappears in Matthew’s Gospel (4:18-20) he’s called to be a fisher of men, a preacher of the Gospel. Though faith wasn’t incompatible with his old vocation, this new call certainly is. And so he abandons everything, even his own father, and together with his brother Peter he embarks on the new life to which Christ has called him: apostleship. From now on this is all that matters. Each time he appears in the story, he’s a preacher. He’s one of the twelve. He’s sent forth to proclaim the kingdom. He brings the Greeks seeking Jesus to meet their Lord (John 12). This is what preachers do, and if it were all we knew of Andrew, it would be more than enough reason to remember him in this divine service.
Oddly enough, it’s the non-biblical side of his story that’s most well-known. Who doesn’t know that a cross turned 45 degrees into the shape of an X (or perhaps the Greek letter chi) is a St Andrew’s cross? It’s the national symbol of Scotland, for whom Andrew is patron, and represents their land in the combined crosses of Britain’s Union Flag. This past autumn, unbeknownst to most of you, it’s been plastered across the faces of the so-called Tartan Army, the legions of fans following Scotland’s recent mediocre performances in the Rugby World Cup and their sad failure to qualify for next summer’s European soccer championship. Even in defeat, they stand proud under this sign. Yet for Andrew himself, this cross was no source of pride or banner of glory. Like his brother Peter, who asked to be crucified upside down lest he be thought to imitate Christ too closely, Andrew suffered a sort of anti-crucifixion. Legend tells that in AD 60 he was laid on that famous X-shaped cross, and that he was tied to it, not nailed, to prolong his agony. His tormentors’ ploy backfired, though, as from the cross with the strength of the Spirit he continuously proclaimed Christ. And many were converted by his testimony. He remained the preacher to the bitter end.
Andrew’s death for me pictures the complicated nature of the Christian’s relationship with Christ. We are like Him and yet unlike Him. We’re called to suffer with Him, and yet our suffering can never duplicate or replace His. Our suffering is deep, painful, and prolonged, yet never as deep as the suffering Christ bore for the sake of the whole world. We cannot escape the cross because we’ve been baptised into it; yet Christ suffered it for us so that we might be released from it and rise from its death. We mustn’t choose our own suffering; it will come to us as God wills. But we can choose to receive it in Christ or apart from Him, in faith that He will see us through it, or in an unbelief that claims I don’t really deserve it. So the cross itself is both bad news and very good news at the same time. It crucifies our self-centredness, pride, comfort, and worldliness; and it unites us with the One who sacrificed Himself for us, who humbled Himself for us, and who will lead us through resurrection into a glorious life beyond all suffering.
And this thought brings us back to Andrew’s very first words: “Rabbi, where are You staying?” (1:38). He asks where Jesus is dwelling, with the intention of giving up all things to be with Him. He follows Jesus to His home, and like Mary he sits at Jesus’ feet to hear His Word and simply be in His presence. Nothing else matters. Andrew can ultimately face his cross because he has from the very start achieved the most important thing: to be with His Lord. The Gospel writer chooses to use that most precious verb μένω, so warmly translated in our old Bibles as “abide” or “dwell”. “They came and saw where [Jesus] dwelt, and abode with Him that day” (Jn 1:39 KJV). Forty times John uses this verb, more than any other NT writer by far. That’s what it’s all about: coming to dwell with Jesus, and Andrew leads us there. You see, it wasn’t in his own crucifixion that Andrew was joined most closely with Jesus, but in that first meeting when He was joined to Jesus by His Word. And that joining continued throughout their lives as He kept listening to Jesus, and came ultimately to be among the first who would receive His Body and Blood with their mouths. So we, too, are little Andrews today. We’re brought to Jesus by His Word, and we’re joined with Him by His Supper. We have found the Messiah. This is where He dwells. Come and abide with Him. Amen