The following sermon was preached by Dr Wilhelm Torgerson in the seminary’s Martin Luther Chapel for the divine service on the Commemoration of St. Andrew the First-Called. The text is St. John 1:35-42.
(Just a few remarks at the outset: St. Andrew is considered to have done mission work in south Russia, where the Christians consider him their patron saint; and he finished his work and life on the Peloponnesos peninsula in Greece. His head, and the X-shaped cross on which he was crucified, are revered in the cathedral in the city of Patras.)
But let’s consider today’s Gospel lesson as our text.
I’ll begin with the question: “When did you come to faith?”
Perhaps you have been asked just that: When were you converted? When did you accept Jesus? When did you make a decision to accept him as your Saviour?
There are certain Christian groups where it is of some importance to be able to give a precise answer to that question, to describe your conversion experience, even in some detail, pointing out the calendar day when that all happened.
On the Day of the Commemoration of St. Andrew the First-Called, if we listen to the story of our text in a somewhat superficial manner, we might suppose that we were just told such a conversion story; about how Andrew the Fisherman and his companion came to faith in Christ.
But listening more closely, our wish to find out about just how Andrew came to faith is not fulfilled. St. John the Evangelist deliberately does not talk about what happened in the heart, soul and spirit of Andrew that day. In fact, looking at the details of the event we learn that Andrew didn’t come to faith that day, rather the faith came to him.
And this not only applies to Andrew back then, it applies to us today. We did not come to, decide on, choose the faith; it was the other way around: the faith came to us. And the way that happened is still the same today as in Palestine back then. How does it happen?
Let’s look at the threefold truth: Faith comes to us
- through the word of messengers
- through being connected with Christ
- through him who knows us before we knew ourselves.
Alone and by himself Andrew would surely not have gotten the idea to believe in Jesus. After all, Christ didn’t run around with a halo so that everyone could have immediately recognized that Jesus is something special, indeed, that he might be
the Saviour of the world, the Lamb of God that bears the sin of the whole world. Nothing in Jesus’ appearance pointed to the fact that he was sent by God, that he was God-become-flesh.
It was only the message proclaimed by John the Baptizer which opened Andrew’s eyes for the fact that it is necessary to stick with this Jesus, to get to know him more closely, and to follow him. And it’s not different with us. When our hymnal invites and enjoins us to commemorate the holy apostles on certain dates, like on this day, then we are reminded that we have access to and connection with Christ through the apostolic proclamation and witness. Christ did not write a single word of the New Testament with his own hand. He reaches out to us solely through the word of his messengers; that’s the way he comes to us. And this word of his messengers is as powerful as if Christ himself were standing in this pulpit today. His word, proclaimed by messengers in his name and by his authority, leads people to saving faith.
And normally we did not come to faith because we sat in a quiet corner of the house and read the word of the apostles in the Bible. Rather there were people in our lives who brought this apostolic message to us, people, who like John the Baptizer, pointed us to Christ and often enough brought us to him. I’m thinking in particular of pious parents and God-parents who taught us how important it is for us to be in fellowship with Jesus. Perhaps there were faithful grandparents, even a pastor, who brought Jesus into our life.
What St. John the Evangelist describes in our text certainly applies to us: the faith came into our lives through the word of messengers, people that Christ used in his service to call into the fellowship of his holy Church.
Faith comes to us through the word of messengers, true enough. But a statement like that, taken by itself, can be completely misunderstood, as if believing is merely a matter of understanding. Someone tells me something; I understand what he is saying, I assent to what I heard, I express my agreement. Accordingly faith is considered an intellectual process by which I decide to connect with Jesus.
John the Evangelist tells us a different story.
Jesus’ cousin, the Baptizer John, had sent Andrew and the other disciple to see what Jesus is up to. Jesus notices them and asks them what they’re looking for. And their answer is rather significant: “Rabbi, where are you staying?”
Did you notice? No request for clarification. No “who are you really?”, no “what’s your mission?”, and no “what do we have to do to join up with you?” These two men do not enter into a discussion with him about the meaning of life; they do not debate future plans; they just want to be with him, be where Jesus is. And Jesus
invites them to do just that: “Come and you will see!” And the two disciples don’t have to be asked twice. “So they came and saw where he was staying, and they stayed with him that day” (v. 39).
I have no idea what happened later that day, how long these two men stayed with him, how much they talked with Jesus or about what. St. John doesn’t say a word about it. Just that were at his home, in his presence, that they had fellowship with him, most likely fellowship with Jesus at his table; nothing more. And that’s enough.
So much so that afterward Andrew joyfully tells his brother Peter: “We have found the Messiah!” (v. 41)
So how does the Christian faith come to man? Yes, certainly as we heard, through the word spoken by messengers. “So faith comes from hearing” we read in Romans 10 —by the way, Luther translates that sentence: faith comes from preaching, from proclamation; and that is, of course, exactly what Paul meant. But faith also comes from being where Jesus is, where you are in his presence, where he bestows all those spiritual benefits that he so richly dispenses, not only in proclamation of the word, but also in the sacraments. The connection given there is more than any of our brain cells can fathom.
Do you realize now how important Gottesdienst is, being at worship, at church when and where Christ is present to shower on you all the benefits that can change your life and lead it to fulfillment? Again, do we always realize that? Being at the church’s worship service is not some onerous and irksome duty—I have to do something, get up early, be on my way. Rather in church you’re at the receiving end of God’s greatest gifts, where He in a very concrete and real way bestows on you all his love through the means of grace.
I realize, of course, sometimes the sermon is too long, seeks our full concentration, or is preached in a style that shoots right over our heads. It can either be too
demanding intellectually—or be so flat and shallow, that staying at home would seem to have given more food for thought. But then there also is the table to which Christ invites us. And all you do is follow that invitation: “Come and see!”
That is the way faith is nourished, given spiritual food for growth. Just being where Jesus is, where he dispenses that miraculous food, his body and blood. You can come and see! Not many words are necessary, merely “take eat, this is…”, and receiving and accepting. Faith comes to us because Christ comes to us, in what his messengers say and in what he has his ministers dispense.
And thirdly: our text from St. John’s Gospel leads us to a deep insight. Twice our text speaks of Jesus “seeing” us. In v. 38 he sees Andrew, and in v. 42 he looks at Peter. The text is not talking about the fact that Jesus has 20/20 vision to take in the scenery or to look at the people around him. When Christ Jesus looks at us, it goes much deeper, for he looks at us as someone who knew us before we knew ourselves.
Andrew doesn’t even have the opportunity to introduce his brother Simon Peter to the Lord. Jesus looks at him—and knows him, knows his name, what kind of person he is, what to make of him. And makes him new, showing that by giving him a new name and taking him into his service.
Again, not we come to faith, as St. John makes abundantly clear with this story.
Long before we had the idea to say yes to Christ Jesus, long before then he saw us
and chose us. St. Paul says: “God chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world” (Eph 1:4).
So indeed our faith in Christ is not based on our decision and free will; it is the gift bestowed on us by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. Father Luther taught us: “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe” (Small Catechism III). It is Christ’s will that we believe. He saw us, he called us by name in holy baptism, he called us to faith.
And having been called—like St. Andrew and the many others then and now—we join the fellowship of those who went before, who are now with us on the way of discipleship, and with those who will come after us, ever listening to his call and invitation, always receiving the means by which Christ keeps in the one true faith to everlasting life. Amen.
Now may our Lord Jesus Christ, the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see, to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.