Like any other minister, I have read time and again John’s account of the calling of the first two disciples (Simon Peter is named as one; the other is anonymous and may well have been the ‘Beloved Disciple).
He said to them ‘What are you looking for?’ They said to him ‘Rabbi… where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and see’. They came and saw … and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon (John 1.38,39).
Some have suggested that this account is at odds with the account we find in the other three Gospels (see Mark 1.14, 15 and //s), but it is far more likely that Peter and Andrew together with James and John would only have been willing to follow Jesus so immediately as the Synoptics suggest because they had already met Jesus before., but only recently did it come to life for me in a new way.
All that was familiar. But I confess that I had never given much attention to the detail of the timing of the encounter with Jesus: “It was about four o’clock in the afternoon” [literally: “It was about the tenth hour”]. Strangely, it was Pope Francis in his document on the missionary calling of the church, The Joy of the Gospel [paragraph 13] who gave a new perspective on this almost throw-away detail:
The joy of evangelizing always arises from grateful remembrance: it is a grace which we constantly need to implore. The apostles never forgot the moment when Jesus touched their hearts: ‘It was about four o’clock in the afternoon’ (John 1.39).
That’s a fascinating thought. Pope Francis suggests that thinking back to our initial encounter with Jesus can be a spur to our sharing the Good News of Jesus with others.
As a ‘child of the manse’ (what Americans call a ‘PK’ – a pastor’s kid) there never was a time when I did not love Jesus. From my earliest days I was taken to church – first to Ashurst Drive Baptist Church, Ilford; then at the age of four we moved to Cambridge and I was taken to Zion Baptist Church, Cambridge; and when my father became a tutor at Spurgeon’s College, I along with my siblings began to attend South Norwood Baptist Church (‘Holmesdale’) in South London. I remember next to nothing about Ashurst Drive (apart from the occasion when I tried to set fire to the manse); at Zion I remember causing mayhem by removing the ‘pew cards’; while at Holmesdale I remember being expelled from Sunday School for talking in a prayer (my memory is that my friend was the guilty person, but I got the blame). Throughout these years I was hearing stories about Jesus – indeed, at Holmesdale, we even had to sit an annual Scripture exam. But hearing about Jesus is not the same as encountering Jesus.
So when was my ‘four o’clock’ moment? Unfortunately I cannot date the occasion. I do remember, however, that it was a winter’s Sunday evening when I was eight years old. As a college tutor my father did not have a church of his own; instead every Sunday he was engaged in itinerant ministry. On this occasion my father was preaching at Erith Baptist Church in South London, and I went with him to the evening service. I vividly remember the sermon: my father was preaching on the opening word of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Luke’s Gospel: “Father” (Luke 11.2). He explained how unlike the later more liturgical form of address in Matthew’s Gospel (‘Our Father in heaven’), Jesus almost certainly taught his disciples to address God using the intimate family word ‘abba’, ‘Father, dear Father’. As the sermon developed I became aware that I too needed to personalise that prayer – and for that to happen then I needed to enter into a true relationship with God as my Father. On my return home I told my parents that I wanted to commit my life to Jesus: I remember kneeling down in our front living room and on the basis of the words of the Risen Christ in Revelation 3.20 asking Jesus to come into my life as my Lord and Saviour. It wasn’t a dramatic Damascus Road conversion. How could it be? For I had been brought up in a Christian home and had no reason not to love Jesus. But nonetheless this was my ‘four o’clock’ moment; this was the moment when I consciously became a disciple of Jesus.
Of course I was but a child. Of course, I still had much to learn. Two or three years later I went for a number of nights with my father to Billy Graham’s Greater London Crusade held in the Harringay arena in March 1954. Along with Billy Graham there was George Beverley Shea, often described as ‘the first international singing star of the Gospel world. Listening to him on one of those evenings I turned and said to my father: “Why does Bev Shea want ‘cheese’ rather than ‘silver or gold’ – Shea’s accent was such that his long-drawn out ‘Jesus’ sounded to me like cheese!
Some years later, on Sunday morning 17th November 1957, then aged thirteen, I sealed my commitment to Jesus in the waters of baptism – that was another four o’clock moment. Some more years down the track, on Saturday evening 10th October 1970, I experienced another four o’clock moment as I was ordained to the Christian ministry. As I look back, I see that in God’s providence each of these special moments has been a spur to sharing the Good News. What I wonder has been your ‘four o’clock’ moment?
What a moving account of your 4 o’clock moments; I don’t think I can be nearly as specific, though my moments of “knowing” tend to have followed closely on the heels of times of doubt, with the sudden strong sense that God has indeed brought me safe thus far, and his grace will indeed lead me on. I think my brother in law who is dying in a Southport hospital, may have had such a moment recently. He seems to have become far more peaceful after an agitated start to the week, although he did even then nod when I reminded him that nothing could separate him from the love of God. His last words to me yesterday were that he was “looking forward to being reconstituted”- which I took to mean that he felt sure of the life to come (he was every bit a scientist- a Chemistry lecturer – hence the choice of language!) He has latterly been smiling and enjoying some prosecco and I hope he may be able to hold onto this peaceful state of spirit while he waits!
PS I was also taken to Harringay to hear Billy Graham!