Preaching: John 1:43-51
The preacher knows that a very crucial question to ask when mounting material for the pulpit is, Why this sermon to these people at this time? When claiming the authority of a text, the purpose of the sermon will usually correspond with the intent of the original writer. The purpose should also be affected by the rhythms of the church's seasons. And always, there are the souls for whom the preaching event exists. Sermons are not monologues.
The entire Gospel of John is a witness to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. The intent of the immediate pericope follows a successful trial motif and adds more evidence by describing the confessions of faith of Jesus' first disciples. All lectionary cycles insert a reading from John on the Second Sunday After Epiphany. Its aim is to help the church focus on the meaning of who Jesus is in the world. The intentional purpose for the exigencies of the hearers' journey is determined by exegeting their contextual lives (as well as the biblical text). What in their lives needs explained, proven, or applied? What functional form will best enable them to respond favorably to the biblical affirmations—doctrinal support, evangelistic conviction, inspirational building, or instructional teaching?
In one sense a sermon is a simple sentence in expanded form. This concise expression of what the sermon is about, of course, must coincide with the principal truth of the pericope, which also can be reduced to a single sentence. As a working thesis for John 1:43-51 try: Testimony to Jesus is attested by the quality of his followers' response to him.
A structural outline for developing this general idea is: I. Jesus' followers respond from different places and in different ways to faith in him. II. Jesus' followers respond to a particular call demanding immediate attenton. III. Jesus' followers respond to who he is and not to what he can do for them.
The task is to develop the sub-points in a way to accomplish the purpose of the sermon in a relevant and affective manner. If an anecdote or true story can be supplied to amplify or prove each main point in regard to the hearers, such a pure narration may be all that is needed to fill out the sermon. On the other hand, if the stories cannot carry their own weight, it will be necessary to give both (A) an explanation of the textual material, and (B) a statement of the present human situation. For example, the main point I. "Jesus' followers respond from different places. . .ways. . .," can be developed (A) by recounting Philip's story (vv. 43-46). The Synoptics mention him only in the lists of Apostles. John, however, brings him before us on a number of occasions. At each mention Philip seems in over his head. The preacher will need to track him at 6:7, 12:21f, and 14:8f, where at the feeding of the multitude his contribution is only information on the hopelessness of the situation; and with the Greeks he is nonplus and must consult Andrew to know what to do; and, while in the presence of Jesus he is desiring a theophany. Some of the apostles were undoubtedly persons of great ability. Philip is not one of them. He appears to be a person of limited ability. So, Jesus took the initiative to enlist him, this quite ordinary man. This is the way Jesus is in the world! Nathanael on the other hand was a student of the scriptures and quite candid. But it was Philip's testimony and invitation that brought him to Christ. The main point is further amplied (B) by a life experience that brings the then and now together. Philip, for me, is a man named David Miracle. I was his pastor in a small, rural, church in Kentucky. David was a simple soul, very deeply committed to Jesus Christ and to the church. Let me tell you how he came to follow Jesus. . .(substitute your own "Philip/David" picture.) In a day when the appeals to follow Christ are strewn with high-tech marketing strategies, people need to hear of the kind of Messiah the gospels describe.
The above pattern of textual commentary and modern disposition is to be followed likewise in the other two main points. The particular congregational need or existence to be targeted, of course, will change under each main point.
In the last point consider using the hymn, Spirit of God, Descend Upon My Heart.
The way people respond to Christ attests that he is the Son of God. Five years ago, 21-year-old Sherry was an inmate in the Nebraska Center for Women. In the last session of an In-Prison Seminar, while wiping away a tear she said, "All my life I've been chasing men. Last night I met a man who fulfills all my needs—Jesus Christ." Today, while helping to lead Bible studies in that same prison, she is God's agent saying: "Come and see. See if Jesus is truly the Christ."1
Donald C. Boyd