Recently, as I was reading a biography of baseball great Ty Cobb, I noted the struggle of the author to separate fact from fiction when it came to Cobb’s career, life, and legacy. After his retirement from baseball, Cobb himself was aware of how many events from his past had taken on a life of their own, and through embellishment had created a harsher, if not more entertaining and galvanizing, persona. But the issue of legacy isn't confined to athletes and the sports arena. When a president’s time in office begins to draw to a close, we begin to hear discussions concerning the legacy that president will leave behind. No doubt each person who sits in the Oval Office ponders whether they have made a difference. Whether we are star athletes, world leaders, or simply a minister at a local church, we are all confronted with the question, “How will I be remembered?”
As I think about what my legacy might be one day, there are many possibilities. Will I be remembered as a preacher, a teacher, a writer, or a counselor? Sure, I get up there every Sunday and preach what I at least consider a sermon. I write articles for bulletins. I teach Sunday school. I even try to provide counsel that hopefully helps others discern a path that allows them to follow Christ. I wonder, will any of these things be my legacy?
As we have begun to work our way through John’s gospel at our church on Wednesday evenings, I came across an example that I have found quite helpful as I wrestle with how I want to be remembered one day, and the impact I want to make on the lives of those around me. This example comes in the unlikely person of Jesus’ disciple Andrew.
When I say that Andrew is an unlikely person to use as an example, I mean no disrespect. The fact of the matter is, Andrew is only mentioned by name 12 times in the entire New Testament, with four of those times occurring in John. He exists, it would seem, always in the shadow of his more famous brother Simon Peter. In fact, when Andrew is first mentioned he is referred to as Simon Peter’s brother (John 1:40), despite the fact that Simon Peter has yet to be introduced to John’s readers! So how can we learn anything about leaving a legacy from someone whose legacy seems to be centered on who his brother was?
The answer is connected to how we define legacy. The world would have us believe that our legacy has to be about us. However, Andrew, despite the fact that we know little about him, provides a comforting alternative. Each time we meet Andrew in this gospel, he is bringing someone to Jesus. Andrew initially follows John the Baptist, but when John the Baptist identifies Jesus as the Lamb of God, Andrew and a companion leave him to follow the one they believe to be the Messiah. In fact, it is Andrew who brings his soon-to-be-famous brother Simon Peter to Jesus with the words, “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41). Later, he brings the boy with the fives loaves and two fish to Jesus (John 6:8), connecting what appeared to be scant resources with the Messiah who possesses a miraculous ability to provide. Finally, he helps Philip direct some Greeks to Jesus whom they have been seeking (John 12:22).
If Andrew ever preached a sermon, it wasn’t preserved for us in Scripture like Peter’s great sermon on Pentecost. If he wrote any letters to churches he worked with, none became part of the Bible like those of John, James, Peter, and Paul. We know nothing about Andrew as a preacher, teacher, or writer. All we know is that Andrew brought people to Jesus.
It’s possible that in a world where everything seems to be judged quantitatively—how many books have you published, how big is your church, how many followers does your blog have?—that what we really need are people who are willing to invest in bringing others to Jesus. Not by the thousands, or hundreds, or even dozens, but one by one.
I think when Peter preached that sermon on Pentecost, Andrew was smiling. Smiling because he remembered that day when he told his brother, “We have found the Messiah.” Smiling because Christ was being glorified in the preaching of the one he had brought to Jesus. And for someone who was known for bringing people to Jesus; that was enough.
In the words of the old hymn:
If you can’t preach like Peter,
If you can’t pray like Paul,
Just tell the love of Jesus,
And say he died for all.