Monday, February 2, 2015

Just Jesus?

43The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48Nathanael asked him, “Where did you come to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
In the beginning of his ministry, Jesus gathers up some people to accompany him. He finds Philip in Galilee and invites him along. Philip then goes off and finds Nathanael and tells him that he found the Messiah. But Nathanael is skeptical. He doesn’t even pretend to believe Philip. No way the messiah would come from a Podunk town like Nazareth. Nathanael asks:
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Philip’s reaction isn’t to debate him on the merits of Nazareth. He doesn’t launch into some scriptural explanation or prove something by quoting the words of the prophets. Philip knows that the only way to understand Jesus is to experience Jesus first hand.

So Philip takes Nathanael to Jesus. Remember, Jesus does not yet have a bunch of devoted disciples. He’s not yet a superstar preacher and healer. He’s just Jesus—a guy from Nazareth—out finding disciples.

Reading this, I wonder why did people follow him? Why did those first disciples drop everything and go? Was there something so magnetic about his presence that they felt like they just wanted to be near him? Did the Holy Spirit stage an intervention and suddenly Philip and Nathanael knew they had to go? Or was it was predestination and they had no choice?

However it happens, we see that something powerful and unexplainable takes place in the presence of Jesus. To encounter Jesus is to experience something new. For the disciples, this happened literally. They could see him, hear him and even touch him. The reality and the power of Jesus was right there in front of them. They could see it and believe it.

When Jesus calls Philip he uses just two words: Follow me.

Jesus doesn’t say who he is or what he’s doing. He doesn’t promise Philip victory or heaven or prosperity. He just says, follow me.

Jesus knew that there were some things that he just couldn’t explain to people so he didn’t even try (well, not very often). He knew that people were skeptical and stubborn and sure of themselves. He knew they could never understand the whole death and resurrection thing until they experienced it through him.

The disciples are like teenagers who are convinced that they understand everything, the kind of teenagers who know exactly what will happen and are sure their parents are just clueless.

“My friends love me more than you!” My (then) middle school daughter protested though tears. 

“Let’s talk in ten years and see who is still in your life,” I replied with an ill-timed laugh before walking away. Not my best parenting moment. But,  I knew better than she did how her life would unfold.  

“I’ll never deny you!” the disciple Peter protests later in the story as Jesus is about to be arrested and killed.

“Yes, you will, “ Jesus sighs matter-of-factly knowing he’s right and there’s no sense in arguing. Peter had to live through the experience in order to believe it.

One of the most frustrating, annoying and difficult things is watching people you love make mistakes—and not being able to stop them. We see the warning signs of a bad relationship, poor financial choices and we know the consequences of risky behavior, usually because we have made those mistakes! 

But often we have to let others live through their own experiences to learn from them.  They have to see it to believe it. 

This is why the work of the church is so important. It allows people to experience Jesus in the world. We can experience Jesus in the laying on of hands for healing or in the water of baptism or in the feeding of the hungry. 

Philip seemed to know that asking someone to believe in Jesus without experiencing Jesus is pointless. So he invited Nathanael to experience Jesus on his own. 

We can offer this invitation as well. And because he is faithful, Jesus shows up. We can experience Jesus in the hospital room, at the homeless shelter and even at the worship service. We can experience Jesus most anywhere.  

Many years ago, a gray-bearded man in dirty clothes offered the blessing for the meal we had taken to the shelter. He held his hat in his hands and thanked God for getting them all through the day. Today wasn't a good day for most of them, he said, they were at a homeless shelter, after all. But he held out hope that tomorrow would not just be a new day, but a better day. God would see to it. 

Jesus showed up in that man's prayer and invited me to participate in his thanksgiving and hope. That man's experience of faith made it's way into my heart and changed something in me.

Jesus finds Philip and says, Follow me. Philip finds Nathanael and says, Come and see. 

Experiencing Christ shows us that he's more than just Jesus. He's more than a guy from no-good Nazareth. He's our hope in the world. 

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