Here’s the sermon from 14 January 2018.
Come and See, Then Follow Me
Free Community Church
14 January 2018
We are in the season of Epiphany.
- the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).
- a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,[a] you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Right at the start of the story, John says: “Jesus found Philip”.
Philip didn’t find Christ. Christ found Philip. The truth at the heart of the Christian story is not that you and I have found Christ, but Christ has found us.
Christ found us.
The narrative that runs throughout the Bible and throughout history is of a God who constantly seeks us out.
And that’s the case right from the beginning of Scripture. If you remember in Genesis 3, Adam and Eve realised they were naked and were embarrassed, so they hid. And, in verse 8, God is walking in the garden and looking for Adam and Eve and God called out to them, ‘Where are you?’” Right from the beginning of time, God has been seeking us out and finding us.
We didn’t choose God, God chose us! As Paul wrote in Ephesians 1:4: “For God chose us in him before the creation of the world…”
Jesus also said to Nathanael, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you”, which suggests that Jesus knew of Nathanael before this encounter – not in a physical sense of having seen him before – but in a more spiritual sense of having had his hand on Nathanael’s life before that encounter from all eternity. And there is a real sense of peace that we can derive from the knowledge that God has had his or her hand on us even from before we became aware of God.
I don’t know what your faith journey has been like but I can attest that this is true in my life. Christ found me. I was running away from God and hiding, and God reached out to me and found me. “I once was lost but now am found…” so the familiar hymn goes. This realization should humble and astound us, help us realize we are of such immense value to God even now – more than we are often aware of, more than we can even begin to imagine. God found you.
So what happens after we are found? Once Jesus finds Philip, he issues an invitation: “Follow me”. That’s the same invitation Jesus extends to us: Follow me.
But before one can truly follow Jesus, we must first come and see. Miak spoke beautifully about the fruit of the Spirit last Sunday. Before we can follow Jesus and maifest love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control, we must first come and see. Come and see who Jesus is. You can’t just follow blindly. You must first come and see. As Philip told Nathanael, “Come and see for yourself.” I want to spend some time on this word ‘see’ because it appears several times in this short passage. When a word is repeated several times, it must be quite important. Not only is it repeated, what’s more intriuging is that there are different Greek words for the word ‘see’ and we see John deliberately using two different words here. The first ‘see’ was when Philip said to Nathanael, “Come and see!” The Greek word he used had to do with the use of the physical senses.
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
- to see
- to perceive with the eyes
- to perceive by any of the senses
- to perceive, notice, discern, discover
- to see
- i.e. to turn the eyes, the mind, the attention to anything
- to pay attention, observe
iii. to see about something
- i.e. to ascertain what must be done about it
- to inspect, examine
- to look at, behold
But twice the word ‘see’ is used with regard to what Jesus said to Nathanael in this passage: “I saw you under the fig tree…” and “You will see greater things than these.” And for both, a different Greek word for ‘to see’ was used than the one Philip used.
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!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”
You will see greater things than this.
horaó: to see, perceive, attend to
Original Word: ὁράω
Part of Speech: Verb
Phonetic Spelling: (hor-ah’-o)
Short Definition: I see, look upon, experience
Definition: I see, look upon, experience, perceive, discern, beware.
3708 horáō – properly, see, often with metaphorical meaning: “to see with the mind” (i.e. spiritually see), i.e. perceive (with inward spiritual perception).
We all start by seeing with our physical senses. But Jesus shows us we can see more deeply and insightfully, beyond our physical senses. But how can we do so? The process begins when we first realize that Jesus sees us – really sees us. Our hearts, our souls, our motivations, our fears, our struggles. Then he invites us to come and see. He calls us to see him and the world with spiritual insight.
Following Jesus means we strive to see and be seen, to know and be known, and to allow the Holy Spirit to change our perspectives and mindset.
You see, Nathanael starts out with a certain mindset when Philip first approached him. He was quite cynical at first: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” His vision was blurred by his cynicism. Maybe he had been let down too many times. Maybe he had been hurt before. He had many assumptions. “Nothing good can come out of Nazareth.” But Jesus spoke directly to what was most on his heart. Jesus saw him. Jesus immediately got past the cynicism and smoke screen to encounter the core issue for Nathaniel.
Nazareth = Assumptions
Nathanael had some assumptions about Nazareth. Do you often make assumptions? I do. “I’ve seen his type before; he’ll never change.” “She’s always so negative; I know what she will say.” “He won’t understand; he never does.” “It’s always been like that; it will never get any better.” “Nothing good can come of that situation.”
His assumptions blurred his vision. Our assumptions blur our vision.
We make all kinds of assumptions everyday. We assume things about ourselves, other people, and the situations in our lives. We all have our Nazareths. Mostly, our assumptions are about us; our fears, our prejudices, our guilt, our losses, our wounds. We take our past experiences, real or imagined, and project them onto another person or situation. Assumptions keep life shallow and superficial. If we assume, then we do not have to risk a deeper knowing and being known…a deeper seeing and being seen.
The assumptions we make destroy relationships, love, and life. We think we know more than really do. Assumptions act as limitations. They narrow our vision. They close off the possibility of change and growth. Our assumptions deny the possibility of reconciliation, healing, a different way of being, or a new life. Ultimately, they impoverish our faith and proclaim there is no room for God to show up and act.
Are your assumptions blurring your vision?
Assumptions become our hiding places. They are not fruitful. They keep us from engaging life, ourselves, each other, and God at a deeper level.
At the deepest level our Nazareths are about our understanding of God. We just can’t see how anything good can come out of Nazareth. We cannot believe that God could be present, active, and at work, whether it be in another person, a relationship or situation, or our own lives. It’s sometimes easier to assume. For us Nazareth is a blind spot. For God, however, Nazareth is the place of God’s manifestation and self-revelation.
God does not allow God’s self to be limited by our assumptions. For every Nazareth there is an invitation to “come and see.” For every assumption we make there is a deeper truth to be discovered, a new relationship to be experienced, and a new life to be lived. Our Nazareths become the place of God’s epiphany.
Jesus didn’t play games, but penetrated to the yearning that Nathaniel felt most deeply. Jesus gets past our defenses to speak to our longings. Jesus saw into Nathanael’s heart as he approached and recognised him for who he truly was. The fig tree was a place of rest and comfort. The prophets of ancient Israel had used the image of the fig tree to convey a picture of God’s end-time kingdom. Because of this imagery, faithful Israelites would sit under a fig tree as a place of prayer and hope and expectation. Jesus used this literary image to convey his understanding of Nathaniel’s deep identification with Israel and his longing for deliverance. In effect, Jesus was saying to Nathaniel, “I know what’s on your heart. I know you’ve been praying for the messiah. I know you want God’s kingdom to be restored.”
And Nathaniel responded with simple faith and joy. He told Christ, “You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” His quick switch from cynicism to earnestness indicates the depth to which Christ had touched him.
Jesus is saying the same thing to us.
Jesus is basically saying, “Don’t just look at the surface of things and despair. Don’t just look at what’s happening around you and conclude that there is no hope for change, for growth, for improvement. Don’t become cynical and bitter because the outcome you were hoping for didn’t materialize the way you wanted or in the timing you wanted. Look deeper, look beyond…come and see with spiritual eyes.” Jesus was saying to Nathanael as he is saying to each of us, “I see you. I see you for who you truly are. I see your heart. I see your soul. I see your mind, your desires, your intentions, your motivations. I see your love, your struggles, your pain, your sense of loss. More importantly, I see your potential! I see who God has made you to be. I see your life purpose – how you fit in this world and in the grand scheme of God’s plans. Now look at me. See me. See me for who I truly am. I am the Son of God and the Son of Man. Gain deeper insight into who God is by looking at me. See God’s love and shalom in me. See how God’s plans and purposes in and through my life are coming together in a way that far exceeds your expectations or imagination! I am the Messiah..not just for Israel but for the world. And I’m askng you to follow me. Come and see. Then follow me. Then invite others to come and see too.”
Now, this is a real challenge to us as a church. If people do “Come and see”, what will they find? Will people receive a warm welcome here? Will they get a sense of God changing lives? Will they have an experience of worship that gives them access to God? Will they go away with a sense of excitement that something is happening here? Is Jesus at the centre of FCC? If they come and see, will they meet with God?
“Jesus said the kingdom of God isn’t a future event. It’s already in our midst. We’re invited to become part of it at this very moment. The entrance to God’s kingdom isn’t religious rules or doctrines. Our hearts are the door, and we enter and enact God’s kingdom through love and love alone.
As Crossan puts it: “God’s kingdom is here, but only insofar as you accept it, enter it, live it, and thereby establish it.”
Everyone is invited to join — there are no barriers, no borders, no walls — but citizenship comes at a cost. God’s kingdom unavoidably confronts and challenges the many Caesars in our world, along with their supporters and their religious minions.
At times, it feels like Caesar’s kingdom is invincible and will have the final say. That’s not true at all. Good Friday is always followed by Easter morning.
In those moments when we have trouble recognizing God’s kingdom in our world and our lives, Jesus says: Look a little closer, love a little stronger, believe a little deeper. It’s right here.
And you are invited to enter this place of life, love, and healing right now.”
Jesus invites us: Come and see…come and be seen…Look a little closer, love a little stronger, believe a little deeper. It’s right here. Then invite others to come and see too