I drive about twenty miles from my home to the church, along a road that passes lakes and woods and well-tended farms. The journey all in all is pleasant except for one detail: the road is festooned with billboards. Now, those signs may help some-one’s supply side economics, but they do nothing for the countryside’s aesthetics. As I drive past, I am irritatingly aware of the billboards’ presence, but I couldn’t tell you what any of them say. Except one!
This particular billboard has half a car sticking out from it, giving the impression that someone driving too fast has gone right through the sign. Standing by the car and looking under its hood is a mannequin clad in a mechanic’s white coat. When the breeze blows, the coat comes to life, and seemingly the man does too. I have passed the sign dozens of times. I know it is fake. But every single time I go by, it grabs my attention. On a road over-populated with billboards, most of which are eminently forgettable, it takes something striking and dramatic to get ahead of the pack and grab the most jaded attention.
Before He could effectively call the twelve disciples to Him, Jesus had to find the hot button of their imagination and press it to trigger their interest. This He did over a period of time, through a series of events.
John records in his gospel account how Andrew was first put on inquiry about Jesus. As John the Baptist was busy baptizing converts one day, Jesus walked by and John paused long enough to point to Him and say, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (
When the same thing happened the following day, Andrew and another of John the Baptist’s disciples went after Jesus, spent some time with Him, and came away so impressed that Andrew told his brother Simon, “We have found the Messiah” (
Christ still does the same sort of thing today. A number of years ago, I received a phone call from a young college student asking if I would talk to her, and I quickly agreed.
“Don’t be in such a hurry,” she said. “I was in church last Sunday night and listened to you preach but, frankly, I didn’t believe a word of it.”
“Why, then, would you want to talk to me?”
“Because I think you know God.”
I was getting more intrigued by the minute, so I asked how she came to be in church the previous Sunday evening.
“Some friends and I were out drinking when one of them suggested that we should find a church service to disrupt. Apparently your church is the only one in this area that has a Sunday evening service so we drove up to your place.”
“Oh, you mean there was a group of you in church?”
“No. I was there alone because when we arrived at your front entrance I jumped out of the car and my friends — if you could call them that — slammed the door and drove off, leaving me very drunk and very visible on your doorstep.”
“So what did you do?”
“What could I do? I came inside and listened.”
This young woman came to my study later in the week and every week for the next year before she finally responded to the winsome and authoritative call of Christ to become a disciple. Her story was fascinating. Brought up in a strict Bible-believing home, she rejected “the idea of God” as a little girl, remembering quite distinctly the time when she chose no longer to believe. Settling into her agnosticism, she nevertheless developed a keen social conscience which led her eventually to embrace Marxism. A brilliant student, she studied philosophy and then went on to law school before becoming a public defender with particular responsibilities for young people involved in crime.
Now, of course, she is a disciple of Jesus Christ skillfully disguised as a trial attorney, but first He had to get her attention. And He did it somehow as she sat under the influence of alcohol in a church service where she didn’t believe a word that was being spoken. I still don’t know how He did it and neither does she, but neither of us doubts that He did!
A year elapsed in this young lady’s experience from the time she was first intrigued by Christ until she became His disciple. How long it took Simon to follow a similar path we do not know, but we do know that a process was involved in the call to which he responded. And processes take time.
After the initial meeting with Jesus, Simon returned to his boats and fish. Jesus, who had moved from His hometown of Nazareth to Capernaum, the lakeside city Simon called home, began to preach throughout Galilee. And wherever He went, the crowds followed Him, which must have made the local fishermen less than enthusiastic about the commotion all these people caused.
One day the crowd was so pressing that Jesus asked His acquaintance Simon to lend Him a boat so that He could push out from the shore before the crowd pushed Him into the water. Simon was glad to oblige; and a few minutes later the Master sat safely in the boat and spoke to the people sitting on the shore. To show His appreciation, Jesus said to Simon afterward, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch” (
But Simon declined for what he felt were very good reasons. He had fished all night and caught nothing, then had gone through the painstaking business of cleaning his nets, a chore made even more onerous because they were empty. He was not at all inclined to get those nets messed up again. Besides, if he couldn’t catch fish before the sun was up there was little chance of getting them in the blaze of day. Yet as quickly as Simon voiced his objections, he agreed to Jesus’ request: “But because You say so I will let down the nets” (
Simon said this, not because he recognized that Jesus the carpenter was a better fisherman than he, but because during the time he had been able to observe the Master, he had been increasingly attracted to Him. Attention must always precede attraction.
Malcolm Muggeridge, the British author and critic, was for many years a very brilliant and articulate skeptic. His keen mind and scathing wit made for a formidable combination to debunk the many things that did not meet with his approval. One day on assignment for the British Broadcasting Company, he was sitting in the crypt under the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem waiting for the streams of tourists and pilgrims to pass through so that he could film his commentary. The crypt itself is rather gloomy and unattractive, with many smoky lamps and thread-bare wall hangings. There is even a silver marker which purports to locate the exact place where the infant Jesus was cradled. I can think of no place on earth more ideally suited for a skeptic to have a heyday.
But when a group of pilgrims entered the crypt, Malcolm Muggeridge was strangely moved by what he saw. Some of them fell on their knees in prayer. Others began to sing quietly, while still others appeared to be in a state of ecstasy as they huddled in that unlikely place. The impact on Muggeridge was dramatic and started him on his own spiritual pilgrimage, and eventually to the place of becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ skillfully disguised as an internationally acclaimed author and television commentator.
It is easy to see how Simon became so attracted to Jesus because he could observe Him “up close and personal.” But it takes people like Malcolm Muggeridge to remind us that those who love Him are the ones who can still effectively demonstrate the beauty of His person to a watching world.
The Word of God also displays Christ in all His attention-getting attractiveness. The scholar Erasmus, whom some called “the man who laid the egg that Luther hatched,” was particularly concerned that the common people should have the Bible available to them in their own language. So he set about translating it for them despite considerable opposition from church officials, who were nervous about what ordinary people would do with the Scriptures.
Erasmus, in the preface to his translation, stated his conviction: “These sacred words give you the very image of Christ speaking, healing, dying, rising again and make Him so present, that were He before your eyes you would not more truly see Him.”
Erasmus’ words may contain a touch of hyperbole, but the sentiment is such that all who know the Bible will concur that in the sacred pages a picture of Christ in all His majestic beauty is presented for human wonder and response. Given the opportunity, He will get your attention.
From Everyday Discipleship for Ordinary People by Stuart Briscoe (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1988). (c) 1988 by SP Publications, Inc. Reprinted by permission.