The Remains of These Days
The Remains of the Day is a 1989 novel made into a movie. It's of the road not traveled genre. What remains for an English butler after a career of service during which he passed up his one chance at true love? "Days' and "remains" are two concepts of this text. Scripture doesn't often delineate days, yet the Holy Spirit does here. "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him," and, "The next day John was there again with two of his disciples." Remain is another concept. God tells John he is to look for the man on whom the Spirit comes down on and remains. John saw the Spirit come down as a dove and remain on Jesus. The disciples ask Jesus, "Where are you staying?" And then we're told, "They went and saw where He was staying and spent that day with Him." All of these are translating the same Greek word. Of the 120 times this word is used in the NT John uses it 55 times. What remains for us after we've spent these 2 days with Jesus?
First what remains is that the debate about the purpose of John's Baptism is settled. Now we see it is not a question of did John's Baptism forgive sins and give the Holy Spirit or was it only for Old Testament believers or New Testament Jews? The first question is answered by Jesus' later words about John's Baptism. He said it rebirths someone so it had to forgive sins and give the Holy Spirit. The second question is answered by the fact that those baptized by John's Baptism were baptized with Christ's Baptism by Paul.
But all of this doesn't explain why God gave John a baptism to administer. John does; he says, 'The reason I came baptizing with water was that He might be revealed to Israel." John came baptizing with water so that the Christ could be revealed. But it was a two step process. First by means of Baptism the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus to John and then John was able to make Him known to others with words.
What remains at the end of day one is that it took a miracle to make Jesus known to John. Likewise, with Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, God sent an angel to tell them who Jesus was. With the wise men, God sent a star. With John, God sent him baptizing with water so he could see the Holy Spirit given to Jesus in a visible way. And do you think it's by powers of your intellect or reason or piety you know the Christ? You think it's anything short of a miracle that enables you to know who Jesus is?
In The Remains of the Day the main character ruminates on what might have been. I suggest you do the same. Not everyone is led to see that Jesus is the Christ. Plenty look at Him and saw nothing but another baby, another toddler, another Carpenter's son. But a privileged few look and see more. Are you one of them?
But there's more. This text settles the debate about how evangelism is done. It's true; Jesus is made known to John by means of God doing something way out of the ordinary, but John in turn verbally makes Him known to others. And when it didn't take the first day, John merely repeated himself. The first day John was standing there and said to his disciples, "Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" Nothing happened. No mad dash to follow Jesus; no follow up question as to what John's shocking words might mean. Nothing. So "the next day when John was there again with two of His disciples he saw Jesus passing by, and said, "Look the Lamb of God!"
No appealing to felt needs. No agonizing how best to do it. Just, "There's the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." Granted these were followers of John. These were steeped in the Old Testament faith, but check the Book of Acts for how Peter and Paul approach Gentiles not steeped in the faith. It's with statements of who Jesus is and what He does.
This text shows that the faith is passed down by John telling his disciples and then one of them telling someone else. There's no selling of Jesus; there's no arguing; there's no debating; there's no persuading. There's simply the statement, "We have found the Christ!" Whatever you friend, loved one, coworker, or enemy is looking for you can tell them you've found it in Christ. Have they been looking for love in all the wrong places? Here is love incarnate. Have they been looking for peace in a bottle of booze or pills? Here is the peace of God that passes all human understanding. Have they been looking for health? Here is abundant life.
But at the end of the day, we're afraid to say such bold things. People will misunderstand. People will think in terms of health and wealth religion. But there's a built in antidote in the theology of the cross. Andrew tells his brother "We have found the Christ!" And then brings him to a carpenter's son staying in the wilderness. Likewise, we bring people to a Dead Man hanging on a cross and say, "There is your Lord and God; your answer, help, and hope." We say, "We've found the Christ," and point people to ordinary looking Water, plain sounding Words, and Bread and Wine on an altar. That's what we believe isn't it? Our Messiah comes to us, saves us, forgives us, helps us in the Waters of Baptism, in the Words of Absolution, and in Bread which is His Body and Wine which is Blood.
Finally, what remains at the end of these days is a clear picture of what it means to say Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the anointed One of God. He's not a personal trainer; He's not a genii who can be used when you want to and put away when you don't; He's not a supernatural Dr. Oz, Dr. Phil or Oprah who can give you keys to ordering your health, family, or self. He's what most of the world, most of the people you know, when they find out will say, "O is that all?"
He's the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Note it's not plural "sins" but singular "sin." All that is wrong, all that is fallen, all that is evil, wicked, disgusting, and vile, all that is opposed to God's holiness is summed up in the word "sin." All that you can't stand about others, all that you deplore in yourself, all that makes you hopeless, helpless, and cheerless is in that word "sin."
The word "takes" is present tense and it can be understood as "takes away" in your place as your substitute or "carries off" in the sense of remove from you. In any case, it's not just about you but the world. Any wickedness you can think of, any sin you know of, any foul, smelly, shameful deed done by you or anyone you know, was on Jesus the Lamb. As the Passover Lamb was killed so it's blood could be used for shelter, so Jesus shed His blood to give shelter to a world of sinners. As the one Day of Atonement goat carried the sin of Israel away from the community into the desert, so the Lamb of God carried the sin of the world away from the world. As the other Day of Atonement goat was killed so its blood could cover the sins of Israel, so the Lamb of God was killed so His blood could cover a world's sin.
But at the end of this day if that's all you know, you're still going to hell. You will answer for every single sin you know you committed and even those you don't remember If you only know Jesus as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, you don't know enough. The question is do you know Him as the Lamb that takes away your sins? Judaism, Mormonism, and Islam all know Him the first way but not the second. It takes a miracle in fact to know Him in the second way, and Jesus is the One to work it for you.
The Man Jesus, born of the Virgin Mary, is none other than the Son of God from eternity. As a perfect Man He had a right to God's Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as a pristine, pure, holy dove could and would land on Him. The Dove of the Holy Spirit couldn't and wouldn't land on us dead, decaying sinners. So Jesus, as a Man, receives the Holy Spirit for us, and John doesn't say "He will baptize with the Holy Spirit," but "He baptizes (present tense) with the Holy Spirit." That's the ministry of Jesus, the Son of God, the Christ: to pour out, to apply the Holy Spirit to dead, decaying sinners like us.
At the end of the day, no one comes to the Faith or remains in the Faith without the Holy Spirit. Apart from the Holy Spirit, believing is a choice, a decision, and no miracle; apart from the Holy Spirit, believing is being persuaded by arguments and no miracle. Apart from the Holy Spirit then, faith in Jesus is no more certain or permanent than any other decision I've ever made, choice I've chosen, or argument that has persuaded me. And let me tell you, I've made some pretty stupid decisions, some pretty lame choices, and have been persuaded by some very weak arguments.
Holy Spirit wrought faith is a miracle. It looks at a Carpenter from Nazareth and says, "There's the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world." It looks at a Man in the Jordan and says "This is the Son of God." Holy Spirit wrought faith looks at the Dead Jesus and says, "My Light and Life." Holy Spirit wrought faith looks at the Waters, Words, and Bread and Wine given by Jesus and says they save eternally; they forgive actually, and they are really His Body and Body.
As our appointed readings sometimes do, this reading ends before it's really over. It ends before Andrew can lead His brother to Jesus, and we see Jesus the Christ in action. He looks at Peter, "Simon Son of John" by birth and sees Peter which means "rock." As the remains of a day float through your head and you think about all that could've been, might've been, should've been, let this thought remain: What counts is not what you see or don't see but what Jesus sees. What counts is what Jesus says not what you say or anyone else says. What Jesus sees and says about you remains true all your days till your last day. You'll find these in what He shows to you in Baptism; what He says to you in Absolution; and what He gives to you in Communion. All that remains is for you to say amen. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Second Sunday after Epiphany (20110116); John 1: 29-42