Summary: Like Philip, all Christians are called by Jesus to follow him. As we follow him, we spread his kingdom one person at a time through our relationships with other people.
John 1:43-51 “Called”
One of my joys, as a pastor, is the opportunity that I have to listen to the spiritual journeys of many people. It is always amazing to me how God works in our lives. Frequently, we can’t see God’s presence at the time, but when we look back we see God nudging us and guiding us—always closer to him.
What’s your story? How did you get here to Desert Streams? As for me, I’m a product of the system. My parents weren’t very involved in the church when I was growing up, but they dutifully dropped me off at Sunday school. I rose through the grades, gathering a few medals for perfect attendance as I went. I endured confirmation, and once I was confirmed I dropped out of church—for a year. A friend invited me to his church and I became involved in high league activities. I attended a Christian high school not because it was Christian but because it was academically superior to the Minneapolis public schools. Somehow along the way I heard what the Sunday school teachers, pastors, and teachers were saying. God touched my heart, and by my junior year in high school, I knew that I was called to be a pastor.
As I listen to your stories and see God move in your lives I see one constant. God uses relationships to spread his kingdom and to nurture faith. The person is rare who comes in off the streets to a Billy Graham Crusade and gives his life to Jesus, or wanders into a worship service without an invitation and becomes involved in a congregation. Sure, it happens, but usually God uses people like you and me to share our faith a little bit at a time in the relationships that we have.
This is certainly demonstrated in our gospel text today.
PASSING THE WORD
The story opens with Jesus coming up to Philip and saying, “Follow me.” It seems rather abrupt until we read between the lines.
John records that Philip was from Bethsaida, the same hometown as Andrew and Peter. Since Bethsaida wasn’t a booming metropolis with millions of people, we can assume that Philip knew Andrew and Peter. It also doesn’t take to active an imagination to envision Andrew and Peter sharing with Philip what they had seen and heard about Jesus. When Jesus issued the invitation to Philip to follow him, Philip was primed and ready to go.
One of the first things that Philip does is find his friend, Nathanael and tell him that they have found Jesus, the one who was prophesized in the Old Testament. Neither the witness of Andrew and Peter or Philip were forced. They didn’t share because they were told that was what good disciples did. Their witness was an extension of their lives. They were excited at what they had discovered and they couldn’t contain their excitement. Their faith and love overflowed to the people around them—those with whom they had relationships.
A WORD OF AFFIRMATION
Our classic picture of a person coming to faith is a man or a woman realizing that they are sinful and that Jesus died for their sins. They confess their sinfulness and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. This is a limited view of God’s movement in our lives, and it isn’t seen in today’s gospel story.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Confession is important in our lives as Christians, but that isn’t what I, and many others, responded to. When I began to walk in the reality of my baptism at the age of fifteen or sixteen, I had plenty to confess—as long as it didn’t get back to my parents. What I responded to, however, and what motivated me to want to become a disciple of Jesus Christ is my realization of God’s overwhelming and steadfast love. I think many of us are like that. We weren’t deep in the throws of sin when we started to take our faith seriously, but rather the Holy Spirit had gently loved us and nudged us into a life of faith.
Our gospel story affirms this truth. Nathanael was rather skeptical of Philip’s claims to have found the one they had been looking and waiting for. Nathanael sarcastically replies, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” We’re not sure what Nathanael had against Nazareth. It could have been the rivalry that exists between neighboring towns. Whatever it was, Jesus did not take offense. Instead, Jesus pays Nathanael a compliment and calls him a man of integrity.
Certainly, all of us have felt the conviction of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the stab of our conscience when we have lost our way and wandered away from God. However, usually God’s word to us is his word of affirmation that we are people in whom he is well pleased.