15 Pentecost Proper A20
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
Isaiah 55:6-9; John 1:43-51 Sermon
September 21, 2014
Click here for service internet broadcast/podcast.
Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal & With One Voice):
TLH 42 "O Thou Love Unbounded"
TLH 518 "If Thou But Suffer God To Guide Thee"
TLH 447 "Fight The Good Fight"
WOV 721 "Go My Children With My Blessing"
WHO IS SEEKING WHOM?
TEXT: “The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ 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.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.’”
One of the most noted Greek mathematicians was a man by the name of Archimedes, who lived somewhere between 300-200 B. C. Legend has it that a Greek ruler once asked Archimedes to find a way to test whether a crown was made entirely of gold or whether it had some silver mixed in it. One day when Archimedes stepped into his bath, he noticed the water rise when he sat down. All of a sudden, he realized that by comparing weight to volume, you could determine the density of an object. The legend says that Archimedes jumped out of his bath and ran naked through the streets shouting, "Eureka!Eureka!"
This now brings us to our text for today. The Greek word eureka means "I found it!" The same Greek word is used three times at the beginning of today's text. Jesus finds Philip. Philip finds Nathaniel. And Philip says to Nathaniel, "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth." The Greek word is eurisko, the same word from which Archimedes got eureka.
Let's have a look at our Old Testament lesson for today, recorded in Isaiah chapter 55. Looking at verse 6 we read: "Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near." I believe this process can be best understood with this dialogue between Jesus and Philip and Nathanael.
In order to understand the "finding" that occurs in the Bible, let's go back to Archimedes for a moment. How exactly did he "find" the physical principle that comparing weight to volume tells you the density of an object? Presumably he had been thinking about it for some time. But the answer wasn't found while he was sitting in his study poring over his manuscripts. He didn't find it in his laboratory. In fact, it didn't occur to him at all while he was focusing on it.
Rather, the answer came to him when he was about to bathe. Notice the language we use to describe the process: the answer came to him... It is as if Archimedes did not find the answer, the answer found him. The wonder of having something find you is embodied in the Greek word eureka. Eureka carries with it a strong sense of surprise and unexpected discovery which the English word “find” does not. Eureka means being found by the answer more than it really means finding the answer.
When Philip tells Nathanael "We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote," it doesn't just mean that by careful study and research they had finally reached the conclusion that Jesus was the Son of God. It means that Jesus, the Son of God, had first found them. It also means there was a lot of surprise in the discovery, and it was a pleasant surprise too! Jesus was the one for whom they had been looking, but it turned out that they found Jesus only when he unexpectedly found them.
Here is the heart and center of evangelism. Many churches still get it wrong. They think evangelism means going out and proving to others the validity of the Christian faith or the truth of the Bible. And when proving doesn't work, you can resort to emotional appeals or arguing or even threats of punishment. Let's look at these popular methods in a little more detail.
First of all, the idea that you can prove the validity of the Christian faith to others is completely futile. A theology student once asked theologian Paul Tillich whether it was possible to prove Christianity. Tillich's reply was, "To the observer, no; to the participant, yes." Then he went on to explain that Christianity puts forth its own basis for truth. Until you make the leap of faith to enter the arena, there is absolutely nothing logical or reasonable about the Christian belief system, he said. It’s just like the Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 2 verse 14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
What this means for us is that we cannot by our own reason or strength bring ourselves or anyone else to faith in Jesus Christ. All we can do is declare what we ourselves believe, and then rely on the Holy Spirit to see that the faith finds the person. Logical proof is of no avail in evangelism.
Neither is emotional appeal. I have heard preachers play on the emotions of their audiences by telling them how sorry God is that they haven't yet come to him on bended knee. They describe the tears in God's eyes, as he watches lost sinners ignore him. Pretty soon, you start feeling so sorry for God that you want to be saved, just to make God feel better. Emotional appeals like this make God out to be someone who is just sitting around waiting for people to find him.
The Bible declares just the opposite. God is on the move like the diligent shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep and goes off in search of the one that is lost, or like the persistent woman who spends all day searching her house for that one missing coin. The lost sheep wasn't out looking for the shepherd, and the lost coin didn't jump up off the floor and tell the woman, "Here I am!" Feeling sorry for God is hardly the reason why one should desire to become a Christian.
Arguing doesn't work, either. Arguing is what happens when your opponent isn't responding favorably to what you are saying. In fact, it has been said that when your logic is weak, sometimes it helps to raise your voice and sound angry. But anger often gives rise to threats of punishment. When you aren't getting your way, you can shout and threaten and even curse people. It may make you feel better, but it doesn't do the job of evangelism. All it does is demonstrate that you have already failed in what you set out to do.
What I'm saying is that evangelism is a divine activity, what might almost appear to us, according to human logic, as a divine accident. But of course it’s no accident. It happens, or it does not happen, regardless of how much effort we put into it. That doesn't mean we don't tell others about our faith, and our Saviour, and the message of sin and grace. Of course we do, but our language is declarative and not imperative, invitational and not demanding, kind and not repulsive.
It doesn't mean that we don't invite others to attend church functions with us or to come to worship. Of course, we do but we're only doing what Philip himself did when he said to a skeptical Nathanael, "Come and see."
We don't have to be experts with all the answers. We don't have to know every name, date, and place in the Bible. We don't even have to be mature Christians. The theologian D. T. Niles once said that evangelism is nothing more than one beggar telling another beggar where to get something to eat. I think that analogy is really quite appropriate.
Evangelism is a divine activity in which the fact that God has found the world finally dawns on somebody. Evangelism isn't telling people they had better find God, or else. It is bearing witness that God has found people by becoming a fully human man in his Son Jesus Christ.
Evangelism is not pouring answers into people. It is often giving them enough room to ask the right questions. Evangelism is not threatening people that if they continue in their wicked ways they will wind up in hell. It is telling people with quiet assurance that by the grace of God they don't have to continue the way they are.
It doesn’t take much to see that there’s something wrong with this world, something radically wrong. This shows the universal truth that there is sin in this world, and this is sin infects every human being. We can see people becoming slaves to sin, and binding themselves to the world and its ways. Self examination according to God’s law shows each person to be filled with sinful thoughts, words, and deeds. Nobody is perfect, nor will anybody ever be perfect on their own.
But Christ has come into this world to provide the way to heaven. He’s come to give the perfection that God requires. He has come to live and suffer and die as payment for the world’s sins. He has risen from the dead and ascended into heaven so that we have the assurance that through faith in him, we will be in heaven with him one day. Christ came to give us new life right here and now, and give us a living hope for the future.
Why are you and I here today? We are here because someone once said to us what Philip said to Nathaniel, "Come and see." Perhaps when you were only a tiny infant, your parents brought you to the baptismal font and in that way gave positive action to the meaning of the words, "Come and see." Perhaps you became a member of a church because a friend or neighbor invited you to "Come and see." Perhaps you joined a church because you were impressed by the good-heartedness of a friend, and when you asked them where they got the motivation to be the fine person they are, they replied, "Come and see." Perhaps you came to church here today because you were curious about who we are and what we’re about, and someone said, "Come and see." Perhaps you were reading our website, or you saw one of our television broadcasts; and any time we present our congregation to the public, it is always with the invitation, "Come and see."
You and I are here today, not because someone browbeat us into it, not because someone proved to us the validity of the Christian faith, not because someone played on our emotions or made us anticipate feeling guilty if we stayed home. We are here today, because someone once said to us in one form or another, "Come and see. Come and see Jesus Christ, the Son of God, whom we have found, because he first found us." We, like the Apostle Paul did not come with clever words of human wisdom, but just the message of Jesus Christ and him crucified.
And here we see the actions of the Holy Spirit at work. He brought you to faith, not you yourself or anybody else. Through the Word, God the Holy Spirit worked faith in your heart. Whatever else happened, God showed you your sinfulness and your need for a Saviour. And then he showed you your Saviour, and that salvation was yours through nothing more than simple faith.
Three little words: "Come and see." But just look at what they meant in today's text. Look at what they have meant to us who are gathered here today. And look at what they will mean when we say them this week to people we meet whom we have never said them to before. And if you are reading or listening to these words on the internet or on television, then take this invitation seriously. We want you to "Come and see."
May God the Holy Spirit work through our words and actions, and through our entire lives so others will indeed want to “Come and see” this Saviour Jesus Christ we proclaim, and experience this wonderful thing we have called the Christian faith.