Sunday, we will speak this prayer: “Almighty God, you gave your one and only Son to be the light of the world. Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and sacraments, may shine with the radiance of God’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and believed to the ends of the earth.” There is the heart of the Epiphany message! The humble baby of Christmas’ manger is the glory of God’s grace shining for the whole world to see. Epiphany holds before us the gospel’s grand march in its breathtaking worldwide scope.
But often, in our little corners of the kingdom, that march seems anything but grand. We can begin to disparage the opportunities God gives us to participate in the gospel’s grand march because they seldom come wrapped with great fanfare or cheering crowds. We can begin to despise the day of small things (Zechariah 4:10), thereby missing the great things God is, in reality, accomplishing!
Sunday’s gospel (John 1:43-51) is part of a larger complex of pericopes that teach us not to despise the day of small things! As you look at all three Epiphany 2 gospels (year A is John 1:29-41; year C is John 2:1-11), you notice how John connects them with four chronological references (Jn 1:29, 35, 43; 2:1).
And what is fascinating to note is that, at least outwardly, none of these days has the outward earthshaking significance of the day of Pentecost. Each, in its own way, is a day of small things!
On the first day John marks for us, John the Baptizer speaks the words that are at the heart of every sermon we preach: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29). Yet, as far as we know, no one turns to follow Jesus after that testimony. It seems to be a day of sowing, not harvesting. A day of small things.
On the second day John marks for us, John the Baptizer again points to Jesus, and this time, two of his disciples get the point and follow Jesus. Before that day ends, at least one of them, Andrew, finds one more, his brother, Simon. But, if you are counting numbers, it seems to be another day of small things.
On the third day John marks for us (Sunday’s gospel), Jesus begins a journey that yields another follower, Philip, who, in turn, finds one more (Nathanael) meditating under his fig tree. Again, by outward standards, another day of small things.
And on the final day in John’s series, we find Jesus with his small group gathered for what will be, unbeknownst to them, his first miracle! Yet, even that continues the progression of small things. The miracle takes place at a non-descript wedding in a small Galilean town as wine is provided quite quietly for what would have otherwise been an embarrassed bride and groom. The servants know what happened. So does Mary. And that first handful of disciples learns more fully to put their trust in Jesus. But did most gathered there even know what had happened? By worldly standards, it was another day of small things.
And yet, with this unusual day by day reporting, John shows us Jesus fulfilling precisely the purpose of his gospel: those involved in these days of small things were learning to believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and by believing they possessed life in his name. So advances the gospel, in what are often quiet ways that cause little stir in the world!
You see, in his prologue, John has already tipped us off to the reality that the world in general – and even his own people, the Jews – refused to know him or receive him. Might it be worth noting that in John’s gospel, when crowds gather, it is almost always (at least by the gathering’s end) in opposition to Jesus? John has shown us that in concrete reality already in chapter 1 when envoys from the leaders of the people quarrel and find fault with the ministry of the forerunner.
But John in his prologue has also tipped us off to the reality that all who by the Spirit’s power receive him, are born again as God’s children! In multiple places in his gospel John goes out of his way to show that happening in days of small things. It is John who turns the camera to a midnight discussion with Nicodemus (John 3) when no one else was looking. It is John who takes us to Sychar to witness an exclusive – and completely unexpected – conversation between Jesus and a woman (John 4). It is John who, amid scoffing rejection by the Jewish leaders, zeroes us in on Jesus winning the man born blind (John 9) to see his Savior in the fullest sense.
So, could it be that John is getting ready for just such days, when, with his unusual “day by day progression” in chapters 1 and 2, he shows us four days of small things that yield hearts that confess Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God?
Don’t despise such days of small things!
Then…or now. It was a day of small things when God taught you to know his glory in Jesus! As a mere man with a few drops of water put God’s name on you and marked you as his own, probably no one else other than close family flashed any cameras. But God’s kingdom was advancing on that day of small things in ways that, for you, have eternal significance!
Such are often the days of small things in our ministry. Yes, God may allow our ministry to see some days that may resemble Pentecost more than these four days encompassed by John’s chronological markers. Yes, at times he astounds us in our Corinth that he does have “many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Those days are also God’s gifts, given where he pleases!
But rather than sitting around waiting for (or worse, demanding) those grander days, are we not wise to watch for the gospel’s advance on days of small things? The march of the gospel to the “ends of the earth” often takes its next step as God provides an interaction with a single lost soul. We may even judge that interaction as “unsuccessful” (like that first day noted by John!). It may be the “next day,” perhaps in a way hidden from us, that adds yet another soul who knows, worships, and believes in the glory of the Son of God.
All around the world, many such days of small things, are accomplishing things more wonderful than we will know until heaven! Thank God for such days of small things!