Central Presbyterian Church

Massillon, Ohio

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John 1:35-46  Psalm 66:1-5

     This morning, we bring our attention to the first chapter of John’s Gospel.  The Gospel according to John opens with that well-known prologue in which Jesus is identified as the very word of God made flesh; the true light of the world which shines in the darkness.  John puts it this way:  “And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” John then proceeds to interweave the story of John the Baptist into the prologue, making it clear by John’s own admission that he himself was not the light, but the one sent to bear witness to the light.  That brings us to this morning’s passage – about halfway through the first chapter – wherein Jesus begins calling the first of those who would become his inner-circle of disciples.  Let’s pick up the action there.

          (Read John 1:35-46)

      On these Sundays between Christmas and Lent, in accordance with the liturgical tradition of the church, we observe what we call the “Season of Epiphany.”  Epiphany is a churchy word which basically means something revealed or disclosed.  The late Peter Gomes, who was a professor at Harvard Divinity School, called Epiphany “that season in which God comes into the world in immodest fashion, and invites us to share our humanity with his divinity, inviting us to see and experience him.”  We could also call Epiphany a season of God’s initiative, when, in answer to the questions who is God? And what does God want with us? We are invited to “come and see.

 This morning’s lesson opens with John the Baptist hanging out with two of his disciples.  One of them is a fellow named Andrew.  John himself encourages them to follow Jesus by simply saying: “Look, here is the Lamb of God!”  Those words were compelling enough that the two men leave John, who they had probably been with for quite some time, and straightaway follow Jesus.

     When Jesus realizes that Andrew and the other disciple of the Baptist were hot on His heels, He turns to them and asks a question which today might be translated:  “What do you want?”  It’s interesting how they respond.  We might expect them to say things like “Rabbi, we’ve heard from John that you are the one we’ve been waiting for,” or “We’re curious about your mission,” or “What does it take to become your disciples.”  They ask instead:  “where are you staying?”  It is a question of practicality.  Is this guy for real?  Is he legitimate?  Is there somewhere he hangs his hat at night?  Jesus’ answer seems as practical as their question:  “Come and see,” or perhaps in today’s vernacular: “Come check it out!”  While Jesus does indeed take them to some physical place where he is staying – his mother’s house, the house of friends, a rented room at a local inn,we simply don’t know – Jesus is inviting them to a place beyond a physical location.  He’s inviting them to experience who He is

      After remaining with Jesus for the rest of that day, Andrew is so impressed that he finds his brother Simon and announces that he has found the Messiah.  He brings Peter around to Jesus, who sees something in this rough-cut fisherman which prompts him to declare:  “’You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas’ (which is translated Peter, Petros, Rock)” I’ll bet Simon,the tough guy he was, loves it when Jesus says, “From now on, I’m gonna call you “Rock.” 

      The very next day, Jesus goes to the region of Galilee, presumably with Andrew, Simon Peter, and an unnamed disciple.  There they find a certain Philip who happens to be from the same hometown as Andrew and Peter.  Jesus invites him to come along with them as well.  Like Andrew, Philip can’t keep Jesus to himself, so he finds a certain Nathanael and tells him that they hadfound the One of whom Moses and the prophets had written.  But Nathanael is something of a hard sell.  He’s skeptical, hearing that Jesus is from Nazareth of all places; that one horse town from which nobody important had ever come.  So he asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Interesting that Philip extends the same words of invitation to Nate that Jesus had extended toAndrew and the other disciple of John the Baptist:  “Come and See.”  Come check it out!

      This is where we end this morning’s passage.  And this is where we begin going deep into those words “come and see.”  Both Jesus and Philip in saying “come and see” are effectively saying the same thing:  “Don’t take my word for it.  Accept the invitation, and see for yourself.”  The implication is this: I cannot give you my belief, but I can encourage you to inspect, explore, and experience for yourself.  I would suggest that in the three simple words “come and see” lies the formula, the recipe, the Biblical model and example of what we broadly call “evangelism.”

      I have a confession to make this morning.  I don’t like the word evangelism as much as I used toIn terms of raw definition, evangelism means the act of spreading the gospel. I’m down with that all the way, because I am convinced that the good news of Christianity is well worth spreading.But in these days, evangelism, or at least its derivation evangelical, implies a political movement rather than a spiritual one.  Christian Evangelicals, in fact, have become one of the largest and most influential voting blocks in our elections.  Moreover, evangelism suggests exclusivity.  Evangelism for many, and for many well-meaning, is the process of turning outsiders into insiders.  If one wants to be “saved,” he or she must accept the Christian gospel as delivered by the evangelical.  If one does not accept the Christian gospel as delivered by the evangelical, he or she iscondemned.   Evangelism as it is currently understood in our church and culture seems less an invitation, and more a threat.  That’s a far cry from Jesus’ and Philips “come and see,” which says“I am not imposing my truth on you.  I am inviting you to come and check it out for yourself.  This, I believe, is evangelism in its purest and most compelling form.

      Think what would have happened if the shepherds had not gone to see for themselves what was happening in Bethlehem, and instead depended only on the testimony of others? What if the magi, the wise men, had remained content in their research, staying in their libraries and labs,rather than accepting the invitation of a star in the east to go and see for themselves?  What if the fishermen had remained with their boats and their nets rather than accepting the invitation of Jesus and His followers to see for themselves?  Epiphany reminds us that that in Jesus, God seeksnot only shepherds, wise men, and fisher folk, but the likes of us as well.  It is God who takes the initiative sending forth the invitation to come and see.” 

      Notice that in the gospel text, the invitations of Jesus and Philip to “come and see” have no preconditions attached.  The invitation doesn’t read, “Come follow me once you have sufficient understanding, once you have settled all the great questions, once you can prove that you are worthy enough or good enough, or once you have achieved a state of spiritual perfection or discernment.”  The invitation didn’t propose any moral hoops to be leapt through, or hold out merit badges to be won for Jesus.  No.  Jesus invites, and we “come and see,” not because we must, but because we may.

      At the beginning of His ministry among us, Jesus does not condemn, or command, or cajole, or guilt us into coming.  He invites us to join Him in the fullness of all that God has in store for those who love God.  Many of us are familiar with that famous Victorian painting of Jesus standing at a door with the text:  “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.”  Most people associate this paintingwith a passage from Revelation 3:20, and assume that Jesus is asking to be let in, inviting Himself into our homes and hearts.  That’s a neat notion.  But I wonder if it may be the other way around. Might Jesus be knocking at the door in order to invite us to come outside and join Him, encouraging us to come out to go with Him where He is to be found?  Upon knocking at the door, and our opening with the question “where are you staying?” I think Jesus continues to respond:  “Come check it out.”  Epiphany is God’s initiative.  The invitation and the opportunity are ours to accept. Do we doubt?  Are we skeptical?  Do we distrust?  Jesus simply says, “Come and see.

Central Presbyterian Church

47 Second Street NE
Massillon, Ohio 44646

Telephone: 330-832-7455
Fax: 330-832-7102