Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Helping Others to See Jesus

[This was shared during worship with the people and guests of Living Water Lutheran Church in Springboro, Ohio, this past Sunday, January 18.]

John 1:43-51
Let’s say that friends are visiting you at your house.  

You’ve just renovated your living room: new chairs, couch, end tables, lamps, entertainment center, furnishings. Sometime during their visit, your friends are going to ask you about your newly appointed living room. Where did you get the furniture, the paint, the carpeting? Did you have help? If so, who was the contractor? Did you have a decorator? 

And I’m sure that when you're asked these questions, you won’t say, “That’s personal. We don’t talk about our furnishings in public.” 

You’d be happy to answer their questions. When we have good things we want to share, we do it unstintingly.

We’re now in a season of the Church Year called Epiphany. The word epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaino, meaning to show oneself, to appear. The Gospel lessons for the season of Epiphany are ones in which Jesus showed Himself to be God enfleshed, the Savior Who offers freedom from sin and death to all who will repent for sin and entrust their lives to Him alone.

Today, as in Biblical times, the true identity of Jesus can be shown to people sometimes in miraculous signs, sometimes in a lifetime of unquestioned belief, and sometimes in simple moments of quiet clarity when, as one person put it to me years ago, “You know what you know” about Jesus Christ. But however people come to believe in Jesus as their God and Savior, it always involves an epiphany or a series of epiphanies bringing a realization that Jesus is everything for which our restless souls have  longed

Today’s Gospel lesson recounts an epiphany in which Jesus revealed His identity to an honest skeptic named Nathanael. 

And it all happened when a friend of Nathanael’s talked about Jesus as freely and as easily as we might talk to friends about a newly renovated living room. 

You know the story well. But let’s look at it together this morning. Please go to our Gospel lesson, John 1:43-51 (page 740 in the sanctuary Bibles).

A little background: Three days before the incidents recounted in these verses, John the Baptist had told crowds thronging to him to repent for sin because the Messiah was coming. He said that he himself was such an imperfect sinner, he was unworthy to even do the slave’s work of untying the thongs of the Messiah's sandals. 

The next day, John saw Jesus and said, in John 1:29: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” 

The next day, John told two of his own followers, Andrew and John: “Look, the Lamb of God.” Here, John was, in effect, telling his two disciples, “I’m giving you to a new teacher, one infinitely greater than me. I must decrease and He must increase. He’s Savior you and I and all the world have been waiting for! Follow Him!"

We pick up what happens next in today’s lesson. Jesus has gone from the Jordan to His native region of Galilee. Philip is from Bethsaida, a fishing town on the lakeshore there. Jesus goes to Philip and says, “Follow Me.” Philip follows Jesus. 

We know from other places in Scripture that people who were open to Jesus saw that He was different. He taught, the crowds observed, like someone with authority, an underived power exuding from Him, and not like the religious leaders of those times. 

Philip sees Jesus as the fulfillment of the promises of a King who would bring forgiveness and new life to His subjects that God had made through the law and the prophets in the preceding centuries. Philip sees that in Jesus, the lives of those who repent for sin and believe in Jesus as their God and King, are changed forever. 

Look, please, at verse 45. Philip hasn’t been to a Bible study class. He’s received no training as an evangelist. He hasn’t been to seminary. But he can’t contain himself! He clearly didn't see the coming of the Messiah as "a personal thing."  

So, Philip finds his friend, Nathanael and tells him: “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 

Nathanael has an understandable question. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was a pigsty of a village in the Galilean hills, composed of maybe 15 shacks where impoverished people eked out their livelihoods. 

Besides, Nathanael may have known what the law and the prophets had said of the Messiah as well as Philip: He was supposed to come from Bethlehem. Knowing nothing of the place where Jesus was born, Nathanael was skeptical.

We run into skepticism about Jesus all the time, especially in these days when most people know more about the stereotypes of Jesus palmed off by popular culture than they do about Jesus Himself, as seen in the witness of people who walked Judea with Jesus and recorded in the New Testament. 

This uninformed skepticism about Jesus is enough to make Christians want to run and hide when people ask what we believe about Jesus or why we bother with church. 

But Philip doesn’t run away from witnessing. He runs to it. 

He doesn’t become defensive. Neither should we. 

We should learn from Philip's response in verse 46: “Come and see.”

This is a great example for us as Christians who have been commissioned by Jesus Himself to “make disciples.” 

And this is no small matter! As I read the Bible, making disciples is the only job Christ has given to Christians and the Church. 

And the New Testament underscores this command to us repeatedly. 

In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus says: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 

In Mark 16:15-16, Jesus says: “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” 

In Luke 24:46-48, the risen Jesus tells the dumbfounded disciples in Emmaus: “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.” 

In John 20:21-23, Jesus says: “‘...As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’” 

And in Acts 1:8, Jesus says: “ will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” 

Church: Sharing Jesus to make disciples is our only job.

This is a simple task. But often we Christians forget it or complicate it. 

John’s account of Philip’s three-word invitation to Nathanael should tell all who are part of the body of Christ to keep things simple! 

We in the Church are commissioned to simply speak and simply seek to lovingly live out God’s truth about human sin and about the forgiveness and hope offered to every single person on the planet through faith in Jesus Christ. 

Our only task is to let others, see Jesus for themselves so that they too can follow Jesus and have eternal life with God.
We see Philip going about this task in his approach of Nathanael as soon as he came to faith in Jesus. I saw it in an acquaintance of mine named Zack, when he went to his father. 

After Zack's mother died, his dad was inconsolable. Unlike Zack's mom, a faithful believer in Jesus, his dad had always been indifferent to God, almost scornful of the Church. 

Following his mother's death, Zack watched his father go into a tailspin of depression and, worse, self-destructive behavior. The man had no hope and he ricocheted between long periods of sleeping for hours on end and almost frenetic activity, anything to block out his pain and grief and utter hopelessness.

Zack finally approached his father. "Dad," he said, "do you remember how strong and joyful Mom was? It was because of her faith in Jesus, Dad. You need Jesus, too. If you'll trust in Him, you'll know that He's beside you, helping you get through these tough days. You'll also know that one day, not only will you see Jesus, but you'll see Mom again." 

Amazingly, Zack's Dad took his son's message to heart. He came to faith in Christ. 

When I met Zack's father some years later, he was a truly joyful follower of Jesus, deeply involved in his church. This once self-absorbed man spent many hours every week providing help to people without work, food, or shelter. He invited everyone he came to know to check out Jesus for themselves. 

It all happened because his son, like Philip in our Gospel lesson, proactively went to him and said, "Dad, come and see. Come and see Jesus."

Who could you issue the same invitation to this week? When Nathanael took Philip up on his invitation and Jesus told Nathanael things about himself that Jesus could only have known if Jesus were God in the flesh, Nathanael confessed his faith in Jesus: "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 

Philip, the Gospel of John makes clear, was no perfect disciple. But he was what we are called to be: an honest witness for Jesus. He made himself available for Jesus’ great commission and available to his friend who needed the Savior. When he invited Nathanael to “come and see” the Messiah, Nathanael saw the God Who knows all about us and loves us anyway.

May we be more like Philip, so that the people we know will experience epiphanies about the forgiveness, the healing, and the wholeness God gives to all who turn from sin and trust in Christ. May we tell the story of Jesus and let others see Jesus for themselves. Amen

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