Come and See Evangelism
Did you know that Ben Franklin had an evangelism program? During the Revolutionary War a chaplain complained that his services were not well attended. Franklin told the chaplain to arrange for the soldiers' weekly rum ration to be distributed from the chapel at the end of the service. The chaplain followed the suggestion and packed the place. If our goal at Trinity is to fill the pews, then we should try the Franklin Evangelism Program. But if our goal is to gather the Lord's sheep, we should use the Lord's evangelism program.
The Lord's program is called Come and See Evangelism. That's what is going in our text. Jesus finds Philip and Philip finds his friend Nathanael and says, "Come and see." In the verses right before our text, the same program is used. Jesus finds Andrew and Andrew finds his brother Peter and asks him to come and see the Christ.
But there is a problem with the Come and See Evangelism Program. It's a basic, fundamental, insurmountable one. There's just not much to come and see here at Trinity, is there? You know what attracts people as well as I do. If we had big miracles going on here, people being healed of their diseases, demons being cast out, people babbling in strange tongues, now that would be something worth seeing, wouldn't it? If the power of God, if the Spirit of God, were just more visible here, it would be easy to say to people, "Come and see." All the time people are asking others to "Come and see" this movie, this music group, this sight. When they're is something to see, it's easy to ask others to come and see.
But what do we have to ask people to come and see here? If only we had marriage building, child rearing, or stock investing classes, retirement seminars, or how to deal with this or that addiction, then we would have something worth seeing! Or if we had impressive technology like the congregation selecting the hymns by computer, laser light shows, and Dolby sound, such things would make it easy to ask people to come and see.
However, we have none of these things, do we? In fact, what we have here is things that are downright embarrassing in this religiously powerful, technically sophisticated age in which we live. We don't have a Theology of Glory that parades God's majesty and might before people. We have a Theology of the Cross; we preach Christ and Him Crucified, as often as we celebrate the Holy Communion, according to St. Paul, we proclaim the Lord's death. Folks, what people are eager to come and see is not a God who dies pitifully and weakly on a cross, but a God who is mighty and big and powerful. Not a God who reigns from a cross but a God who comes down off that cross in a mighty victory apparent to all! That's what people want to come and see!
People want impressive technology in our day, not simple Biblical theology. They flock to the latest gizmos and gadgets by which man does things while smiling at the simple way God works through Water, Words, Bread and Wine. Come and see my super computer is an acceptable thing to say. But asking people to come and see the almighty God working in the ordinary things of Water, Words, Bread and Wine, is just plain embarrassing. There is just nothing to see there.
Do you think there was much to see when Jesus walked the earth? Philip asks Nathanael to come and see Jesus, son of Joseph. How much more ordinary can you get? Philip didn't ask him to come and see Jesus, Son of God, or Jesus the miraculous Son of Mary. Philip asks Nathanael to come and see the painfully ordinary Jesus, Son of Joseph. Actually, it was worse than that. Jesus was not just ordinary, He was below average. He came from the looked down on city of Nazareth. Nobody expected any good to come out of Nazareth. Somebody worth coming and seeing would be from Jerusalem or at least Judea.
To identify someone from lowly Nazareth, son of a local carpenter as the One Moses wrote about in the Law and the One the prophets also wrote about, as Philip did, is just plain incredible. To call a rabbi the Son of God and the king of Israel as Nathanael did is astounding. Jesus didn't look powerful, incredible, or astounding. He looked ordinary. Isaiah says that there was no form or beauty about Him to make anyone desire Him.
God in flesh and blood is no more attractive, no more worth seeing than God in Water, Words, Bread or Wine. The first disciples of Christ were faced with the same dilemma we are. The Jesus they had to invite people to come and see was no more inviting, no more compelling, no more powerful, no more sophisticated than the Jesus who comes among us in Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and Holy Communion. Whether God wraps Himself in flesh and blood, in bread and wine, or water and words, He can easily be despised as ordinary, nothing worthy of coming and seeing.
The temptation we face is to dress up the ordinary Jesus. Make Jesus into what the world wants Him to be. Glorious, powerful, granting health and wealth and the best technology to His followers. We can despise the God who comes weakly to us in Water, Words, Bread and Wine in favor of a God who comes powerfully in our feelings and emotions. We can turn away from a God who brings forgiveness of sins, deliverance from death and devil, and eternal salvation in favor of God who brings good feelings about self, a successful marriage, or a prosperous life. This is exactly what the devil would have us do. The devil, even when Jesus walked the earth, led people to demand Jesus prove Himself with tangible signs and miracles. But Jesus wouldn't do it then and He won't do it now.
Friends, we are to ask people to come and see the same ordinary Jesus that the first disciples did. But this ordinary Jesus is the One who really cares for and knows the people we are asking. Did you notice in the text how Jesus goes and finds Philip? Philip wasn't left to find His way to Jesus. No, Jesus goes out and gets His sheep. And when Nathanael is found by Philip did you notice how intimately Jesus knew Nathanael? "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." The fig tree was a symbol of home and prosperity. Frequently they were planted in the courtyard of the home and used as a place of prayer and private devotion. Jesus is telling Nathanael that before Philip even got to his house, while Nathanael was in his private devotions he was seen by Him.
In this age of impersonal computers, of personless communication, of companies knowing all about you but not knowing you at all, the fact that Jesus knows His sheep is something worth seeing. The God we are inviting people to come and see is not far away from here, but in our flesh and blood, in Water that we can touch, in words that we can hear, in bread and wine that we can eat and drink.
Furthermore, this One, says Scripture, knows the end from the beginning. Modern life is incredibly complicated. People get themselves in jams or find themselves caught up in things without ever knowing how it got to this point. We have a God who knows the intimate details of the lives of people. We have a God to whom these things are not a jumbled mess. We have a God who knows how to bring His sheep out of the most complicated, confusing situations. Such a God is precisely the God people at the beginning of the 21st century need to come and see.
Of course, the messes, the problems, the entanglements people find themselves in always releates to sin. Many people today recognize that their own sins are to blame. So many think they can only come and see God once they have their problems straightened out or at least they are on the way to working them out. But we have a God who invites sinners, real sinners to come and see Him. He invites Nathanael who isn't at all clear whom Jesus is. He invites to come and see Him the Pharisee Nicodemus, the women at the well who was living with a man, the tax collectors, prostitutes, and many others cast out by the church leaders of that day.
We can invite people to come and see the Jesus whom heaven stands open for. We can invite people to the Jesus for whom heaven is open and the angels of God ascend and descend. That means where Jesus is - in Baptism, in Absolution, in Communion - there you will find heaven wide open and the ministry of angels even for sinners! People need to know there is such a place on earth today. Don't you see? It's the same today as it was in Jesus' day. Heaven is shut to sinners. Only if you have enough love, faith, or works going on can you be sure of going to heaven. Heaven is only open to those who are clean enough, religious enough, or sure enough. People don't know of a place on earth where heaven is wide open to sinners. They don't know of a place where sins are freely and constantly carried away from sinners. They don't know of a place that invites sinners with heavy burdens.
But friend, before you even begin to think about inviting someone to come and see such a Jesus who forgives sinners freely and sends His holy angels to minister to them, make sure you come and see Him first. Did you notice that? No one points people to Jesus without first being pointed. Jesus either finds them or someone points them to Jesus. That's what I'm trying to do today. I want you to clearly see for yourself the Jesus we invite others to come and see.
He is NOT a Jesus who needs bodies to fill His pews. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find a hint, a suggestion of this fear that haunts the church today: if we do not get more members we will die. The church die? Get real. The church is the Bride of Christ, she is as deathless as the Groom. We invite others to come and see Jesus not for the church's sake, not for Jesus' sake but for their sake. Jesus, the Groom, preserves and protects His Bride through all the changes and problems of life. A Jesus who does this is worth coming and seeing. A Jesus who frets and wrings His hand over the growth of His Church surely would not be worth going and seeing.
The Jesus I want you to be sure and see is not a needy God, but a God for the needy. He promises to not only meet our needs but to exceed them. Don't miss this in the text. He tells Nathanael that not only has He seen the Son of God and the King of Israel but He will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Tell me; where does Nathanael see this? Look throughout the Gospel of John, and all the others for that matter, and you will not find any such incident recorded. Did Jesus fail to keep His promise? Of course not. The promise is that having come and seen Jesus Nathanael is going to be shown more than he could ever imagine. Evidently he was.
Hasn't that happened to us? Jesus brings us to come and see Him as the Son of God, the Savior of the world, our Savior. But then He does the incredible thing of bringing us to the point where we can see Him in Baptism, Absolution, and Communion. And He brings us to the point of seeing that it is no more difficult for Him to lead us to invite others to come and see our God in Water, Words, Bread and Wine then it was for Him to lead Philip to invite Nathanael to see God in Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Epiphany II (1-16-00) John 1: 43-51