O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Based on John 1:43-51
Preached on January 14, 2018
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Fellow baptized saints, “Follow me.” That’s today’s word from Jesus for you, in your hearing, and in your Baptism. Those are the words that make you His disciple. Follow me. And discipleship is what Jesus is going to open up for us today. We’re in the first chapter of John – and here Jesus calls His first disciples.
There are four things we learn from this text – when it comes to discipleship. And they are:
1. Jesus seeks and finds the disciple, the disciple does not seek and find Jesus.
2. Disciples make disciples.
3. The disciple of Jesus is known by Jesus before he knows Jesus.
4. The disciple of Jesus is given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God.
Hide and seek. That game is no fun with Jesus. Because our first point is that Jesus is always “it.” He is the One who seeks and finds the disciple; the disciple does not seek and find Jesus. It may seem that way to the disciple. One may think that they decided to follow Jesus, that they chose Jesus, that they made a decision or choice to be a disciple of Jesus. It may feel that way to you, but that’s not the way it was. Jesus is “it.” And the text says, “He found Philip.” Gotcha. And it’s cute too. Philip would later say to his brother, “We have found the Messiah,” but in reality the Messiah found him. Philip wasn’t looking for a Christ or a Lord when Jesus sought and found Philip. But Jesus was looking for Philip. Jesus picked all sorts of people to be His disciples – quite a mixed bag – fishermen, tax agents, terrorists. Philip was merely a Greek from Bethsaida. Simon the Zealot was most likely a revolutionary. And Matthew was a tax man for the Roman government. You can imagine the conversations those two must have had. (pause) The important thing to remember is that Jesus chose them. He reminded them of this, so that they didn’t start to think that they were running the show, “You did not choose me, but I chose you,” He said.
Jesus found Philip. He was looking for him. This is not some random occurrence. “Hey, you, over there. What’s your name?” No. Jesus knows the one for whom He is looking. And when He finds Philip, He says the disciple making words to Him. “Follow me.” A disciple is a follower, one who follows a teacher. Jesus’ words are not ordinary words, but divine, creative, powerful words that do what they say. “Follow me” are not marching orders but a creative divine mandate, like “Let there be light” or “Be fruitful and multiply.” The Word does what it says. “Follow me,” the Word says. And the Word heard is lively and active. Philip follows.
Our problem is that the old Adam likes to take credit for things. Instead of singing, “I have been given to follow Jesus,” the old Adam sings, “I have decided to follow Jesus” which turns praise into bragging, and puts faith’s cart in front of the divine horse. There is no hearing or following unless Jesus first speaks. There is no disciple unless the disciple making words are first heard. There is no faith without the Word preached and heard, no forgiveness without the Word, no holiness, no discipleship, apart from the discipling Word of Jesus. “Follow me.”
I’m talking about you – aren’t I? You didn’t seek and find Jesus. He sought and found you. He knew you, before you knew Him. And He found you. Some of you, He found in your infancy, where the words “follow me” were poured on you in your baptism. Others He found later in life, but He found you nonetheless - when you were least looking for Him. But it’s Jesus who does the finding, and thanks be to God that He came to seek and find the lost, or we would be lost forever! That’s how our text starts - Jesus decided to go to Galilee. Jesus found Philip. Jesus said to him, “Follow me.” Jesus is doing the action here, not the disciple. Jesus initiates, the disciple follows. Philip followed.
Number Two. The disciple seeks out disciples. Philip finds his brother Nathaniel. God always works through means, whether to supply our daily bread or to bring salvation to a person. He makes disciples through disciples. He said to His disciples, “Make disciples of all nations.” He told them how to do it too: Baptizing in the Name - and teaching everything He taught them. And He promised them the most important thing - that He would be with them always – acting there in the water and the Word in this disciple making endeavor of His - even until the end of the age.
This is the proper work and business of the Church: To make disciples. To seek the unbaptized and bring them to Baptism. To seek the untaught and teach them everything that Jesus has taught us. Jesus promises to be in the middle of all of it. Working – Acting. There are really only two works of the church: to worship and to make worshipers. To worship is to receive the gifts of Christ for one’s faith, life, and salvation. In worship we receive all the Jesus died to win for us and the world by the hearing of His Word and the eating and drinking of the Sacrament of His Body and Blood. But the work of the church, which God is doing, doesn’t stop there. The church gathered worships. The church scattered makes disciples. Christ doesn’t keep His church huddled up into a locked, gated community but He scatters His church with His blessing to be a blessing in the world. Out there. Next to the neighbor, the friend, the classmate, the coworker, the brother.
Philip found his brother Nathaniel and told him about Jesus. And he got the sort of response you get. Skepticism. “Come on - can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was a no-name town that didn’t even exist in the OT. How could the messiah spoken of by Moses and the prophets come from a place like Nazareth? But here’s the important part for us: Notice that Philip doesn’t argue with his brother. It doesn’t matter what the specific skepticism is about. He just says, “Come and see.” Now if you want an evangelism strategy? There it is. Come and see.
You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to do any convincing. You don’t have to prove anything to anyone. Just come and see. Invite people to come and see Jesus in His Word and Sacrament. That’s how you bring someone to Jesus today. You bring them to His Church, His body. Come and see.
Whenever we think about evangelism – we always overdo it. It is so silly, because our fear blinds us from the most obvious truth shared by every other person we know. We are starving for something real – something meaningful. I absolutely promise you that people’s desperate need for true hope is far greater than your fear to tell them about Christ. That’s the power in these words. Come and see. Meaning can be simple. In Christ, it is very simple. Yet very full. He invites them. He calls them. And beloved, He uses your mouth.
When I became your pastor, I made you a promise – and I made God a promise – that I would diligently strive to hold out Christ’s life-changing, life-giving Word. You do your best, at simply inviting people to come and see the One who gives true meaning and true hope to you in your life – and I will do my best to faithfully preach and teach His holy Word. And then we’ll all ask God to forgive us – and we’ll try again. For these words of Jesus – Come and see – Follow me – as simple as they are – are dripping with true meaning that everyone you know desperately needs.
In fact, the kids are going to show us. Kids – stand up – you are going to show the adults how simple it is to invite someone to church – But first – a few questions – do you know a lot of heavenly things? Shake your head. Nope. Don’t need to know much. Are you powerful and influential so that lots of people listen to you? Nope. Shake your head. Don’t need to be impressive. How then do you do it? Kids, I want you to turn to someone near you – and say “Come and see”. Good. Walk over to someone you recognize in another pew. Try it with them. “Come and see.” It’s kinda nice isn’t it – being invited? It’s true – every survey has always shown that most people – if they were invited – would try going to church. Come and see. Thanks kids you can sit down.
So now they are coming. Right. Jesus sees Nathaniel coming to Him and has a little tongue in cheek fun with Him. “Hey, would you look at that! An Israelite in whom there is no deceit. An honest Israelite!” (I imagine a big grin on Jesus’ face.)
“How do you know me,” Nathaniel asks. “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.” Two things here. Don’t assume that Jesus hasn’t shown up until you did. That’s a big relief and should take a burden off your shoulders. Before Philip even found Nathaniel, Jesus had already found Him. He always comes first. Before we can decide for Jesus, He must decide for us. Before we can choose, we must be chosen by Him. Little Samuel in the temple was called by God to be a prophet before Samuel even knew the Lord. Jesus knew Nathaniel before Nathaniel knew Jesus. And He knew you too. From before the foundation of the world, He knew you and you were known in Him. You see, no matter what we do in the direction of God, God is always there ahead of us. Before you pray, God is there creating faith, because there is no prayer apart from faith. Before you knew Jesus, He knew you, as He knew Nathaniel, in all his skeptical snarkiness.
And the other - Nathaniel suddenly knows. “Rabbi, you’re the Son of God! You’re the King of Israel!” Nathaniel was praying - under that fig tree. In that day, people often sought quiet under the cover of a tree – and would cover themselves further with their prayer shawl in order to pray. Nathaniel was praying. And who was Nathaniel praying to? “You’re the Son of God! You’re the King of Israel!” Did you really hear my prayer Jesus? Were you really listening to me as I kneeled beneath the tree? You saw me?
Jesus’ response is epic. “Nathaniel, my friend. If you think that’s impressive, you ain’t seen nothing yet. You will see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus was referring to the vision of Jacob in the OT. If Nathaniel was impressed at being known before he had known Jesus, then this was just the tip of the iceberg, a little glimpse of the glory that was coming. You want to see what else God knows? He’s going to be showing you for an eternity. But how be with start with the basics Nathaniel? Follow me.
As a disciple of Jesus, you are privileged to know the very mysteries of the kingdom. You know the King. You have been given to live under Him in His kingdom. You have received His Baptism, His Body and Blood, His forgiveness, life, and salvation. You have been given to confess with Nathaniel that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. You too will see heaven opened and the angels ascend and descend on Christ when He appears in glory to raise you from the dead and give you the life that is yours in Him.
To be a disciple is to hear Jesus say to you, “Follow me.” It is Baptism’s daily dying and rising. Dying to your old self, to Adam, to Sin, to Death. And rising each day to live in the Son, knowing that before you found Christ, He had found you. Before you knew Christ, He had known you. Before you chose to follow Him, He had chosen you to share His words, “Follow me.” In the Name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr