Come and See

Sermon 1731 John 1.43-51 February 7, 2021

“I can’t believe more people don’t know about Confessional Lutherans,” one of our newer members recently told me.

It is a mystery. I scratch my head about that one a lot.

How do you win people over?

Tell them

Come and See

1. Personal testimony gets you to the next minute.

2. Expert biblical testimony gets you to the next objection.

3. Jesus wins hearts over.

“The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found (43-44a)…’”

Something happened to Philip, but I want to talk about that later. Let’s just say Philip was converted. He was convinced that Jesus was the Savior. His faith moves him to share the news.

Come and See. Personal testimony gets you to the next minute.

They tell us personal testimony is all important. Word of mouth, the gal from the telephone commercials confides to us, “It’s what they did before advertising.” Well, it was advertising. It still is advertising. Yelp and many other websites with user generated reviews depend on it. Personal testimony was the main driver behind the formation of brands. In the latter half of the 1800s America was changing. You didn’t have to get your oatmeal in bulk from the general store. You could have prepackaged oatmeal, as well as prepackaged and canned everything else. But how did you know it was any good? You could look the general store clerk in the eye when he was digging into the barrel to give you your measure. There was immediate feedback and trust. But you couldn’t go to faraway Chicago to complain about buggy oatmeal! Voila! The Quaker Oats man on the carton. You saw him and you saw a friend you could trust. Word of mouth. Personal testimony ever since 1877.

When it comes to spreading the Gospel, personal testimony is important. John mentions it, in passing. There is a connection between Philip and Peter and Andrew. They all grew up in the small fishing town of Bethsaida. There must also be some connection between Philip and Nathanael, who hails from Cana in Galilee. Elsewhere in the Gospels he is called Bartholomew. They both had come to be baptized by John. They both were present when Jesus was baptized. Andrew and John had gone to tell people close to them about Jesus—their brothers, Peter and James. Nathanael must be close to Philip. He is important to him. But that’s about as far as I can go.

And that’s about as far as it will go. Personal testimony gets you to the next minute. People are willing to give you a minute to hear the pitch. It gets your foot in the door.

So if we are looking around at those we could reach with the message of Jesus, don’t go planning a trip to North Korea where you intend to distribute smuggled Bibles. Going down to the Strip on Super Bowl Sunday and bending the ears of the crowds may not be the most productive. Go to people we know, people who trust us. It will get your foot in the door.

“You know what you call a Lutheran who is eager to share their faith?”

“An adult convert!”

Come and See. Expert biblical testimony gets you to the next objection.

Philip’s makes his initial pitch to his buddy. “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked (44b-46a).”

I remember all the evangelism training I received. Looking back, it was almost like Harry Potter’s days at Hogwarts. There were all these Bible passages you memorized and a presentation you had down cold. Answers to objections. Check. What to do if this or that happened? Check. And then rehearsing and rehearsing and rehearsing. I was single. I had all the time in the world.

Philip brings some heavy biblical testimony to the table. Moses and the Prophets. The Old Testament. The Hebrew Bible. There’s no greater authority in the life of a Jew than that, especially in the days of Jesus. You could say Philip made one little slip. He said Jesus was from Nazareth. But that was true. That’s where Jesus came from. My seminary diploma says I come from La Crescent, Minnesota. I know that because, besides my name, those are the only two other words that aren’t in Latin on it. Yet I was born in Caledonia, Minnesota. We can’t fault Philip on that.

But Philip is still striking out. Nathanael huffs and puffs. Nazareth? Nowheresville! Nothing but thieves and ne’er-do-wells! You know towns where they always brag everyone is above average? Well, Nazareth was just the opposite.

The human nature is impervious to the Word of God. “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 (1 Corinthians 2.14).” It is easier to try to grow radishes on your sidewalk than to get the Word of God to soak into an unbeliever’s heart. No, it’s not impossible, not with God. With God all things are possible. The Holy Spirit has touched people through the witness of the Bible that Christians have brought to them. I think of a different Philip, Philip the evangelist, who showed the Ethiopian that Isaiah was talking about the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus. But that’s a lot of memory work and rehearsing on our part. And when you put all that time in on something, you expect it to work.

That’s the problem. We view the Bible exactly as Harry Potter viewed the books of magic at Hogwarts. It must work. I said the right things. We are putting all the emphasis on us. We learned. We trained. We said. One of the other things I was taught was try not to get a salesman as your evangelist. Their natural inclination is to be pushing to make a sale, get a conversion. It will all be about them. Don’t disqualify them out of hand, but be sure in your training you drill it into them. Don’t rely on yourself! Now, I don’t want to say it was inconsistency in my instruction, but certainly it was inconsistency in my learning. I, like so many Christians, thought it is about us. We rely on ourselves. How in the world does anybody become a believer?

Come and See. Jesus wins hearts over.

Let’s go back to the beginning of this text before I go any further. Why did Philip believe? “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me (43).’”

Jesus won Philip over. Keep that in mind. Let’s see what won Nathanael over.

“‘Come and see,’ said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ Then Nathanael declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’ Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’ He then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man (46b-51).’”

Come and see. Philip brings Nathanael to Jesus. It doesn’t take long. Jesus gives Nathanael a glimpse of his heavenly power—his omniscience, “I saw you under the fig tree.” Jesus promises Nathanael a way to heaven. He makes reference to Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven. Jesus is that ladder. He is the way and the truth and the life. Because of Jesus, not only will believers ascend to heaven, but in this life, God will send his guardian angels to keep and protect his believers in all their ways. Nathanael’s new faith in Jesus will be strengthened throughout the next three and a half years.

But I can’t bring someone to Jesus, we object. Jesus has left. Jesus has ascended. He is seated at the right hand of God the Father. I can’t take anyone to see Jesus.

Don’t make Jesus a little less than God right when we should be playing up his power. Jesus is not gone. He is very much with us. It isn’t a physical presence perceptible to the human eye, like he was when he walked on earth. But he is still with us in a special way. He promised he would be. “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them (Matthew 18.20).” Jesus is present in a special way through his Word in the worship service of the church.

Did you ever notice those little comments in the bulletin? “Our Lord speaks to us.” “Our Lord sends us into the world.” And our response to our Lord’s presence in worship? “We prepare to worship our Lord.” We respond to our Lord.” It is not rocket science. It cannot be simpler. Jesus is here when we gather around his Word in worship. This is where we invite people to come and see Jesus. That’s what Paul says when he instructs the Corinthians on their worship. In their worship, an unbeliever who enters and sees what is going on, “will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, ‘God is really among you (1 Corinthians 14.25).’” Jesus is here. Come and see. Jesus wins hearts over.

My buddy has a church in Wisconsin with a big, Lutheran elementary school. The late Billy Graham’s grandson was enrolled in the school, so he was also in Catechism class and was confirmed. Billy Graham attended the confirmation service. Afterwards he remarked, “The WELS is a sleeping lion. You have the best doctrine, but no one has ever heard of you.” It wasn’t the stadium. It wasn’t the music. It wasn’t the fame of the speakers. It was the teaching as Christ was speaking to the body of Christ and the body of Christ was responding to Christ’s words.

Come and see. When I was doing my vicarship, my student preaching, my supervising pastor told me about the most successful evangelism campaign he had ever lived through. “Preach ‘em, Reach ‘em, Teach ‘em.” The whole point was to get people into church. Invite your friends who do not know Jesus, invite them to church. Let them see Jesus at work among his people. Let them hear the words of Jesus. They are not going to get that by inviting them to play on the church softball team or getting them to go along with us when we watch UNLV play football badly.

I know this is jumping the gun a bit, but this is the text before us today. As with all good things, it just doesn’t happen. You plan for it. We let it stew a while. Then you carry out a well thought through plan. When this health stuff is all over—and it will be over—ask someone to come to church with you. Invite them to come and see Jesus in our worship. And for those of you watching this service online, God bless you. I know you want to do more, but you are looking out for people the way you have to by going to a virtual church service. When this is all over, come back with a vengeance to the worship service and encourage us by your presence. Let us know that there are more who believe in Jesus than the four dozen or so that gather every Sunday. Put up a show of strength so the invited guests can see the people of God fully at work. And bring people along with you so they can see the Holy Spirit flexing his muscles through the Gospel in Word and Sacrament.

Then it will not be you relying on your connections. Then it will not be me scratching my head to come up with surefire answers. We won’t be relying on ourselves at all. We will be counting on Jesus to do it all. And he will. He will do the work only he can do, winning hearts over.

Come and See

1. Personal testimony gets you to the next minute.

2. Expert biblical testimony gets you to the next objection.

3. Jesus wins hearts over.

It would seem like a lot of money to spend on building a church if we didn’t want people in this church on a Sunday morning. It would seem like a lot of my time spent during the week if we didn’t want people to hear Jesus’ words explained and applied to our lives through the sermon. It would seem like an absurdity to belong to a church without the desire to be guided and inspired. It would seem unchristian to not want to share Jesus with others.

Wake up the lion. Let the world hear its roar. Become like an adult convert and talk Jesus up. Stop scratching our heads over why there are so many empty seats. Issue the invitation. Come and see. We will see greater things than these.

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