Come and See, Hear and Believe!

Second Sunday after Epiphany

Rev. Steven D. Spencer – Pastor Messiah Lutheran Church, Salem, Oregon


John 1:43–51

John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told 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." 46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." 48 "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." 50 Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51 He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."


Grace, peace and mercy from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen!


In our text Jesus is off to Galilee to make disciples. The Greek word for “disciple” means learner, one who follows by hearing the voice of his teacher. From disciple we get the word discipline. A disciple is one who follows the discipline or teaching of his teacher.

Jesus found Philip and spoke the Word: “Follow Me.” With that command was given the power for Philip to do so and that very moment he became a disciple. One doesn’t decide to become a disciple. One is found and called to be a disciple. You don’t choose a rabbi, a rabbi chooses you. “Jesus found Philip and said, “Follow me.” Philip didn’t find Jesus. He would have never known where to look. And he certainly wouldn’t have looked for the carpenter’s son from Nazareth. Jesus found Philip. The discipleship is all of Jesus’ doing. He takes the initiative. He seeks the lost like Philip and like you.

“Follow me,” Jesus says. Those are disciple-making words from the mouth of Jesus into the ears of Philip. Jesus’ words are Spirit and truth. They are enlivened and enlivening words that open ears to hear; loosen tongues to sing, raise the dead, and cause feet to follow. “Follow me,” Jesus said to the fishermen on the shores of Galilee. And Peter and Andrew, James and John followed him. “Follow me,” he said to Matthew in his tax collector’s office. And Matthew followed him. “Follow me,” he said to Philip when he found him in Galilee. “Follow me,” He says to you in your Baptism.

But to make such a call to follow is costly. It cost Jesus His life to issue it. To follow Jesus is to lose one’s life in Jesus’ life, to die to one’s self in Jesus’ death. “If any one would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To follow Jesus is to be nailed to the cross with Him, to die in His death, and so to follow Him through death into the resurrection of eternal life. Did Philip fully understand all that? Probably not! He followed anyway. Believing is not understanding, believing is trust. To follow Jesus is to fear love and trust Him above all things. That is to trust Him with all your life and your death.

But let us go back to Philip. What do people do with good news? Quite often they tell other people. Philip found Nathanael and said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” At long last, the awaited Savior had arrived. Philip was so excited that he gets things backward. Philip didn’t find Jesus. Jesus found Philip. But there would be plenty of time to straighten out Philip’s sentences. The important thing is that he told his friend the same day he became a disciple. And what’s more, he did it without any special training, workshops or programs, solely out of the joy of having met Jesus.

That’s what is called “evangelism.” But if you were to ask Philip what he was doing, he would say he was just telling his friend Nathanael the exciting news of having met the Messiah. Philip wasn’t engaged in an activity. He was simply doing what anyone does when something exciting happens. You tell someone else.

There are two words that we ought to eliminate from our vocabulary if for no other reason than they aren’t used in Scripture the way we use them: evangelism and stewardship. We ought to declare a ten-year moratorium in the church on the words “evangelism” and “stewardship.” Don’t use them for a decade. Declare a ban on methods, programs, videos, workshops, three-ring binders dealing with evangelism and stewardship. The more attention you pay to them, and the more you talk about them, the less of either will there be.

The problem is that we are always trying to tame the Lord and his church. We tend to bureaucratize, organize and institutionalize. We try to make the church into a professional institution modeled after the organizational structures of the business world, with trained “professional staff” that are expected to organize and run the show. I cringe every time I see the term “professional church worker.” Professionals do what they do for hire. Amateurs do it out of love.

Outreach, in this institutionalized view of the church, is more like a pyramid scheme where every member is expected to sell the organization to the outsiders. If every member brings in ten more new members, the group grows and profits. One occasionally hears of churches, some Lutheran by name, who put their members on an annual outreach quota like a group of salespeople. I know of districts that have their mission pastors on a base salary plus commission for every new member and for average Sunday attendance. Twenty percent growth projected, twenty percent growth achieved. The Lord must be at work, they say.

A church that has become institutionalized relies on methods, principles and programs. The reality is that they believe the false assumption that the Gospel can’t be trusted to do its work. And that you, the baptized priests of God, are not competent to declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. That is, of course, unless you have some kind of program, script, or plan. This group believes that this is something best left for the so-called “experts” - an evangelism committee, the professional church worker or the clergy.

We overcomplicate things. Jesus finds Philip, and Philip goes off to Bethsaida and finds Nathanael. “We found the one written about in Moses and the prophets. His name is Jesus, Joseph’s kid, comes out of Nazareth.”

Nathanael is a bit skeptical. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael comes from Galilee. This is a local bias. Not like someone from California asking whether anything good can come out of Oregon. More like someone from Aumsville asking if anything good can come out of Salem. Or someone from Sprague High School saying can anything good come out of McNary High School? No bias intended. Nathanael’s question might seem odd but it also makes good sense. According to the chief priests and scribes Bethlehem not Nazareth was to be the birth-place of the Messiah. And if that was His birthplace should it not also be the place of His upbringing?  The point is that Nazareth was not the place from which you would expect the Messiah.

Our Lord hides his glory behind the ordinary and the weak things of this world - a virgin mother, an animal manger, Nazareth, the cross. Power and glory don’t point the way to Jesus. Nor are prosperity and popularity the sure-fire signs of His presence. Not all churches grow on account of the Gospel, either. We might be tempted to compensate for such weakness, to cover the cross, to hold out another Jesus, shaped to the cultural desires of the community. But that would not be the same Jesus. What we have are His spoken and written Word, the water of His Baptism, the humble yet Holy Supper of His body and blood under the bread and wine. And like Nathanael, the world is just as likely to be skeptical. “Can anything good come out of that?”

“Come and see,” says Philip. He doesn’t just give Nathanael information about Jesus. He invites Nathanael to come and see Jesus for himself. Don’t take my word for it. Come and meet Him yourself. Faith isn’t formed under a fig tree, but in a personal encounter with Jesus. Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ, not by persuasive proofs, emotional manipulation, engaging arguments or personal testimonials. When the Samaritan woman by the well returned to her town, she told everyone about Jesus. The townspeople then went out to see Jesus and hear for themselves. Those that believed came back saying, “We no longer believe just because of what you have said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Only Jesus can make disciples. Our task is to tell people who Jesus is and then to invite them to “come and see” for themselves. To bring them into contact with Jesus in action, to lead them to where Jesus is forgiving sins, baptizing, teaching, preaching and feeding His people. We lead others to where we have been led - to the preached and written Word, to the font, to the altar and to the pulpit; to the place where the words of forgiveness spoken in the name of Jesus.

To “come and see” Jesus, as Nathanael discovered, is to be seen by Jesus as we really are. “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit,” as Jesus said to Nathanael. Jesus meets Nathanael’s skepticism with his own view of things. “Look. A straight-up, genuine Israelite who tells it like it is.” There’s no point in hiding anything from Jesus, nor is there any reason. He is here to forgive, not condemn. Nathanael is surprised at Jesus’ familiarity. “How do you know me?” Jesus replies, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Remember that it was Philip who had brought Nathanael to Jesus from Bethsaida. Jesus wasn’t there under the fig tree in Bethsaida when Philip told Nathanael about Jesus. But He didn’t need to be. He’s the Lord. Before Philip had said a word to Nathanael, Jesus had already seen him. Jesus’ having seen him is what brought Philip to Nathanael in the first place. Jesus arranged all the pieces of the puzzle so that Nathanael could be brought to Him through the instrument of Philip.

And so it is with all us. Some of us were brought to Jesus when just a few weeks old in our baptism, just as people brought little children to Jesus to have him bless them during his earthly ministry. To bring little children to Baptism is to bring them to Jesus so that he might bless them. Some of us were brought to Jesus by a friend, a member of our family, a co-worker, perhaps even by a stranger who said to us “come and see.” Someone played Philip to our Nathanael. And we have been Philips for other Nathanaels, although we might not have ever known it.

Hearing Jesus, Nathanael then too believes and confesses. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Those are heavy titles. Not the kinds of titles tossed around casually by a “true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Nathanael was not the type to butter people up with his words. Can anything good come out of Nazareth? You bet it can. The Son of God, the King of Israel.

Jesus says, “You think that’s something? You haven’t seen anything yet!” “Amen, amen I say to all of you, you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” There is always more to Jesus than meets the eye. The eye sees the man from Nazareth, the carpenter’s son. Faith sees and confesses Him to be the Son of God, King of Israel, the Son of Man who opens heaven to us, who bridges heaven and earth, upon whom the angels ascend and descend like the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream. Jesus is the only One who makes peace between God and man, for He alone is the God-man, the eternal Word in human Flesh who made His dwelling among us. He is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world by giving His life in our place. He has conquered death by dying and who lives and reigns to make His victory our victory as a free gift.

We encounter the same Jesus in His Word, His Baptism, His Supper. Greater things than Philip or Nathanael could have imagined that day in Galilee we see and hear each Sunday. Who would have guessed that two thousand years later, men and women would be gathered in places as remote from Galilee as here in Salem to have our sins forgiven in the name of Jesus? To hear His Word? To eat and drink the bread and wine which is his body and blood?

We tell others and invite them to “come and see” what we have seen. “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” We keep on telling and inviting, even when we are met with skepticism or even outright cynicism and rejection. We don’t do this to promote an organization or for the survival of this institution. Nor do we do this because we need people to fill our pews or because our budget needs more contributors.

We tell others for the simple reason that Jesus died for all and therefore all must hear it and be invited to “come and see” for themselves. Like Philip, we do it out of the sheer joy of knowing Christ by faith and having heard His gracious call to follow. We do it because this morning’s Introit is also our own prayer: I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart; I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation.  

For this is His Word to all, and this is His Word to you as well: So come and see, hear and believe, For you are forgiven for all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. For Jesus sake and in Jesus name, Amen!

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Amen.