Summary: We are Philip; timid and unwilling to share the good news. But the Holy Spirit empowers us as the "alter Christus"
John 14.8-17, Pentecost Sunday
I really empathise with Philip. “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied!” he says, and haven’t we all said that? How much we wish to see the Father; all in good time of course! It reminded me of a story where a bishop was preaching and asked the congregation “Who is looking forward to seeing Jesus?” and all the hands went up. He then asked: “And who would like to meet Him tomorrow?” and all the hands remained firmly down. We have this ambiguity about it don’t we? Yes, of course we all want to meet Jesus, just as we all want to meet the God the Father, but not yet. We share the cry with many saints and believers down the centuries; from St Augustine of Hippo’s cry: “Lord, give me chastity, but not yet!” to the modern belief that we can have it all. Yes, of course we want to meet God the father and God the Son, but maybe not yet; at least not in person. There’s too much of this life on earth to enjoy just yet. But It’s just human nature to require proof. Even Philip, THE FOURTH APOSTLE TO BE CHOSEN by Jesus, and the one who followed Him without question when Jesus says to him in the town of Bethsaida, “Follow me, “ because he saw in Jesus the one whom Moses wrote about in the OT law. Philip’s enthusiasm was evident in his immediate introduction of Nathaniel to Jesus, and Philip is a good example of one of those who enthusiastically received Jesus when most of his own did not receive him. And although there are indications of Philip being a bit timid or even lacking faith, he immediately witnessed to Jesus in promptly telling Nathaniel. It is this theme of witness that runs throughout John’s gospel, and which we celebrate today on Pentecost Sunday. We see John the Baptist witnessing to Jesus, Andrew to his brother Peter, the Samaritan witness to Jesus, the Holy Spirit’s witness to Jesus (15), and of course, the apostolic witness.
And the content of that witness becomes evident as Philip witnessed not just to an amazing man, but to Jesus who was written about in the Law of Moses. Philip believed that scripture was being fulfilled in Jesus, and John really got that, and wants to establish it throughout his Gospel.
”So then we also see Philip as the one who doubted the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, saying it would be unaffordable. And here we see him as being so like us; we think of so many reasons why we can’t do something, doubting that God is in there, going ahead of us. That feeding was the ultimate evangelical opportunity; Jesus was to perform a great miracle, and then the peoples scales dropped from their eyes and they saw Jesus for who he is. We’re told in John 6 that they said: “This is indeed the prophet who came into the world,” and were going to take him by force to make him King, but Jesus withdrew from them. Of course, they didn’t understand that their notion of king, as an earthly ruler , was very different from the one that Jesus had been ordained to be. Jesus was to be a heavenly king, and sit on the right hand of God after rising from the dead, ascending on high, which we celebrated last week on Ascension Day.
In fact, I celebrated it in a very special way, as Jo and I went to All Souls in Langham place London, to celebrate 150 years of there being continuous Reader ministry in the Church of England. A very good celebration of lay ministry it was too, with the Archbishop of York presiding, and the sermon preached by the Bishop of Sodor and man, who is also the chair of the readers council. And his sermon marrys very well with the theme this week; that we must be bold in preaching the gospel, and use all the opportunities we have to do so; that doesn’t just apply to Ordained ministers and Readers; it also applies to all who confess Christ as Lord.
So back to the disciples for a moment: we also see Phillip asking questions of Jesus that started with Peter asking: “Where are you going, Lord? , and Jesus replying: “Where I am going, you cannot come.” And then Thomas’s question: “How can we know the way?” to which Jesus replies: “I am the way, the truth and the life, and no one comes to the father, except through me. If you know me, you know my Father also. So to Philip and his remark to Jesus, perhaps based on what he had seen at the feeding of the five thousand, and subsequent conversion of many to belief that he was sent by God. So Philip says to Jesus: “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” Perhaps in the belief such a meeting would engender similar faith in the disciples, who still didn’t understand the true nature of Jesus’ mission. But Jesus sounds profoundly sad when he replies to Philip: “Have I been with you all this time, and you still don’t know me, Philip?” After all, Jesus had just said that to come to the Father, one must go through Him. They had seen him in action, and heard his teaching, but still they had not realised that in seeing Jesus they were also seeing the Father; the mystery of the Trinity. The answer of course , was that the disciples had still not had their eyes opened spiritually to understand these things. And actually, I think that’s a relief, because I often feel that we don’t fully understand either; it’s one of the mysteries of faith, that God the Father is also God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And it falls to the Holy Spirit to fully open our understanding. In opening up the depth of Jesus’ teaching like this, John opens up a deep theological question; the unity of the Trinity; God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Jesus says in verse 10: Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me?” This really challenging for Phillip: Jesus has already told Thomas, and we are presuming that all the disciples, including Phillip were present for this teaching, that “If you know me, you know my Father also.” And Jesus’ devastating reply to Philip is: Don’t you believe me? You must believe me! For these aren’t my words, but the Father’s. And if you don’t believe me, then look at my works that I have already done.” You can imagine Phillip shrinking back in embarrassment at this telling off to beat all telling offs.