Grace, mercy and peace to you, from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The text for this morning’s sermon is our Gospel reading from John, chapter one, the call of Philip and Nathanael. Please pray with me: “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer” (Psalm 19:14). Amen.
“Come, and see!” A new restaurant opens in town, and the word begins to spread, as satisfied customers go to their neighbors, their coworkers, their friends, and say, “Come, and see.” Businesses says that one of the best forms of advertisement is word of mouth—Customers that have been pleased with goods provided, or services rendered, and have gone on to tell others, “Come, and see.”
The Advent and Christmas seasons have come and gone, and now we are in the middle of something called Epiphany, a season that began with the Magi’s visit to see the young Lord Jesus. As those wise men looked upon the little Savior, they had an “Epiphany” as Jesus was revealed to them and they bowed their knees to worship the King. Throughout the Epiphany season, the Scripture readings are filled with stories of Jesus being revealed to a variety of different people who, like the Magi, have had their own Epiphany—people that were able to see Jesus Christ for all that He is.
In today’s Gospel reading, we hear of the Epiphany of both Philip and Nathanael, and we learn that the number of Jesus’ followers increases from one generation to the next, because of people who continue to say, “Come, and see!” A disciple to whom Jesus has been revealed, finds another person—a neighbor, or a friend, or a family member—and in more or less words, extends that very same invitation: “Come, and see!”
In one form or another, that same announcement is repeated in our text at least three times. Jesus finds Philip and says to him, “Follow me.” Now we don’t know exactly what Jesus and Philip say to one another after that invitation, but something happens to make Philip a satisfied student, a dedicated disciple of Jesus. And in the next sentence, Philip is going out to find his friend Nathanael, and he begins to tell him about his new teacher: We have found him of who Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
I’d like to think that we are all a little bit like Philip. We have become dedicated disciples of Jesus ourselves, in one way or another—some of us had our Epiphany through our Baptism as an infant, and then we continued to follow Jesus as his disciples, going to Sunday School and confirmation, and now as adults in Bible Class, and our daily readings—all the while, sitting at the feet of our Rabi, our teacher, our Savior—Jesus Christ. Others among us heard the Gospel later in life, and had an Epiphany as an adult, as someone cared enough about us, to share the Gospel message of forgiveness of sins in Christ Jesus. Whatever the circumstances of your Epiphany, at some point in your life, Jesus was revealed to you, and you answered his call, the call He extends to Philip in our text: “Follow me.”
But I have a hunch, that we’re probably like Philip in another way. You see, Philip hadn’t been trained in evangelism 101, and in his excitement to tell his friend about his remarkable Rabi, he spills a few details that cause Nathanael to be a bit skeptical. This new teacher, the guy Philip is claiming to be the fulfillment of all the Scriptures—is from Nazareth, and is the son of Joseph the carpenter. It’s like that little whole-in-the-wall restaurant that doesn’t look like much from the outside, but that everyone just raves about—How can that place have the best tamales in town? Nathanael couldn’t imagine Nazareth producing the best of anything. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” is his skeptical reply.
We’ve all been in Philip’s shoes. Maybe there’s a classmate of yours at school that you joke around with, but seems to think that you Christians are just a bunch of kill-joys. Maybe there’s a coworker whose desk is just down the hall from yours and loves coffee as much as you do, but the bumper stickers he has on his car make you wander if he would be so tolerant of your faith. Or maybe there’s a lady down the street, raising her two kids on her own, but the last time you talked to her she made some comment about churches that just wanted her money. Who is the skeptic in your life? Who is it in your life, who like Nathanael, doesn’t think too much about the Jesus he or she has heard about? To whom do you just want to say, “Come, and see.”?
I was given a book a while back with a very interesting title. The book is called Unchristian, and it details the overwhelmingly negative perception that many 18-29-year-old Americans have of Christianity. There’s a chapter where the skeptics of today describe the Christian church as being hypocritical: Vicotria, age 24 says: “Everyone in my church gave me advice about how to raise my son, but a lot of the time they seemed to be reminding me that I have no husband—and besides, most of them were not following their own advice. It made it hard to care what they said. They were not practicing what they preached.” Another chapter reveals the perception that Christians are sheltered. Jonathan, age 22 has this to say: “ Christians enjoy being in their own community. The more they seclude themselves, the less they can function in the real world. So many Christians are caught in the Christian “bubble.” Jeff, age 25 doesn’t soften the blow, as he describes his perception of Christianity: “Christians talk about hating sin and loving sinners, but the way they go about things, they might as well call it what it is. They hate the sin and the sinner.”
Now, on the one hand, it shouldn’t surprise us that America is filled with people who have a negative perception of the church. In most cases, their statements are actually based on a part of the truth. Christians have been guilty of some of the most terrible atrocities that have ever taken place in the world. And in our own lives, it’s true that we struggle to find words in uncomfortable situations, and even put our foot in our mouth from time to time. Maybe we don’t have many friends that aren’t Christian, and do feel a bit sheltered from the ways of the world. But even worse, is the fact that we do struggle to love our neighbors and see the sinner with the compassion of Christ.
But on the other hand, I don’t think there’s anyone here this morning that would deny these accusations, and try to argue that we who make up the Church, have loved perfectly, or have reached out in all situations, or been quick to welcome people of all different backgrounds. In fact, many times, it’s quite the opposite, for the very failures of the Church that produce the pessimistic perception of today’s young adults, are the very failures that we have knelt down and confessed before God our Father.
This book is not important because it calls the church to redefine itself, or to seek for some drastic innovation. This book, and the negative perception and skepticism of Christianity that it reveals, is important, because that skepticism of Christianity leads to skepticism of Christ himself. And so it puts us in the very same position in which we find Philip in our text.
You see, we don’t want these negative perceptions to remain, and to act as a roadblock, preventing our neighbors, our coworkers, our friends, and even some of our very own family members from seeing the truth that we have seen in the person of Jesus Christ. We don’t want skepticism in those around us to lead them to reject, not just the organized church, but Jesus Christ altogether. We, like Philip, want them to experience the peace that only Jesus provides through the forgiveness of sins. But we don’t argue people into an Epiphany in a world full of skepticism, we are left with the same single solution that Philip had: we’re left to say “Come, and see.”
For where words escape us, and persuasive arguments fail to convince—where the very lives that we have lived will only confirm the hypocrisy and judgmental and sheltered nature of those of us who make up the Church—the only hope we have for the Nathanael’s in our own lives, is that they would come, and see, and have Jesus revealed to them for who he is. For it is Jesus alone that will turn skepticism into confidence, will replace doubt with trust, will turn unbelief into faith, and will turn the Nathanael’s in our lives into dedicated disciples of Jesus.
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Having never met him before, Jesus already knows who Nathanael is, and he knows that Nathanael has been honest about his skepticism. But even more, Jesus reveals in an instant that he’s no ordinary teacher, that indeed, something extraordinary has come from Nazareth, and the son of Joseph the carpenter, is also the very Son of God. In amazement, Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Like the introduction to a best-selling novel, or the opening scene in an Oscar-winning film, Jesus doesn’t waste any time in grabbing the attention of his newest disciple, Nathanael. Wait a second, Nathanael must have thought, how could you see me, you weren’t there. Unless…wait…could it be? Yes…it must be. Philip was right, Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” In an instant, Nathanael has his own Epiphany and his skepticism is replaced with a clear confession of faith—for he has now seen Jesus for who He is.
Dear Christian friends, the mission of the church today, the task that God has given to you and me as dedicated disciples of Jesus in the 21st Century is the same task that Jesus gave to Philip and Nathanael and the rest of the 12 disciples—to go to our neighbors, and our coworkers and our friends, and yes, even our skeptical family members, and say, “Come, and see Jesus.” Come, and read the Gospel of John, and see the Jesus revealed. Come, and see the babies being baptized at our church next week, and the Jesus that washes their sins away. Come, and see the self-sacrificial death of a Jesus that gives forgiveness and life and salvation to all mankind. Come, and see, not my own week witness, but come, and see the Savior, Jesus Christ, because He has come for you.
And when Jesus is revealed, the skeptics in our lives will find, that just as Jesus knew that Nathanael had been under the fig tree, He still knows where they have been. He knows of the pain in their life and the guilt that they bear—and He says, you are forgiven. He knows of the father or mother that walked out years ago, and Jesus says through the waters of Baptism: “Here is your heavenly Father, who will never abandon you, but will be with you till the end. He knows of the fear they face in final days of their lives, and he says to them: I am going to prepare a place for you, and there we will dwell together forever. He sees them in their hospital beds, or in their condos or apartments or their three-bedroom-homes and he says to them what he said to Nathanael in our text today: “You will see greater things than these! Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Indeed, Philip and Nathanael would see greater things, as they would see Jesus suffer and die, and then three days later would behold him in the flesh. And so will all the dedicated disciples of Jesus—those who have gone before us, those in our midst and around the world, and those who have yet to have their own Epiphanies. For when Jesus is revealed to our neighbors and coworkers and friends and family, and they know of the forgiveness of sins that Christ won for them on the cross, and the life that he gives in His resurrection, sinners are turned to saints, skepticism is turned to certainty and the Nathanael’s in the world have their own Epiphanies and join us in the flock of faith, becoming dedicated disciples—to whom Jesus makes the very same promise. Come, and you will see greater things! For you too will behold me with your very own eyes.
That’s what Epiphany is all about: Coming to see what Jesus has done for you. In His name, Amen.