As we have discussed during the last couple of weeks, I want us to explore the lives of some New Testament people and to see their lives through their encounters with Christ. We spoke about Anna, the prophetess and Mary, mother of Jesus. Today I would like us to look at man, one of the Twelve, who was called Philip.
We first become acquainted with Philip through the ministry of John the Baptist. Philip was in the area where John was preaching and baptizing and he in the company of other men from his town. We are told that Andrew and his brother Peter present and that the three of them, Philip, Andrew, and Peter were from the same town of Bethsaida (Bet’ – say – da). The name of the town meant “house of fishing” which seems appropriate for the disciples and their profession. Also by way of background, we need to know that Philip’s name is of Greek origin. The Greeks, under Alexander, had conquered and ruled the territory of Palestine spreading Greek culture and language. His name in Greek meant “fond of horses.”
As we said, Philip was at the area of John the Baptist. This suggests to us that Philip was someone who was searching for a deeper meaning to his beliefs. He was there to hear John preach and, although we do not know for certain, he might have been baptized by John. Jesus was present at that same time and had just been baptized by John. Philip must have caught the attention of Jesus because Scripture tells us in John 1:43:
The next day [that is after his baptism] Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Here the Greek to “follow” means to be in the same way with, that is, to accompany, specifically as a disciple. The term here is not limited to physically following someone on a journey. It is call to follow me and become like me. We see here that Jesus sought Philip. Their meeting does not seem to be by chance nor does it sound like their first encounter. Jesus is leaving the area but first wanted to find Philip.
What was Philip’s response to Jesus’ invitation? Let’s look at John 1:44 and 45:
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “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.”
Although Philip’s immediate verbal response to Jesus was not recorded, we do get a sense that he was excited about having been asked and intended to follow him. Moreover, his excitement is such that he wanted to share his news with someone who must have been close to him – Nathanael. Philip, who Jesus found, now finds Nathanael. He tells him about Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. This tells us that Philip had enough conversation with or about Jesus to know of where he came from and of his assumed heritage. However, more importantly Philip told Nathanael that “we” have found the one – implying that Philip and others (perhaps Andrew) were of the same mindset about Jesus spiritual identity. He believed Jesus to be the Prophet spoken about by Moses. We heard the description from our Old Testament reading today in Deuteronomy 18:18:
18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers; I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him.
Philip perceived Jesus to be a great Prophet. One who would be powerful in word and deed. He would be one who would lead the Jews back to the relationship they once had with God and with the Promised Land.
So what can we learn about and from Philip in his initial encounter with Jesus? The first thing we learn is that Philip was responsive to the stirring within him to seek the deeper truth of God. He wanted to know God and to be right with God. He was in the presence of the Baptizer who called for repentance. He was open to the leading of God and his need to seek his righteousness. We need to remember that everyday God is calling us to come closer to him. He wants us to give up struggling with our natural will and to come to him. We can learn from Philip by being open to the leading of the Spirit and follow the call on our lives. The second thing we can learn about Philip is that he wanted to share what God had revealed to him. When Jesus found him and asked him to follow him, Philip immediately went and found his friend. He must have cared more about his friend coming to know Jesus than he cared about what his friend might have said in response to his invitation. Philip had decided to follow Jesus but thought it sweeter to have someone he cared for come with him. This raises the question to us. Do we care more about having someone come with us as we follow Jesus than we do that they might reject our invitation? Are we as excited as Philip, and willing to go and find our friend? Philip probably had an idea how his friend would react. When Philip told Nathanael about Jesus and where he is from, Nathanael replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael was showing his prejudice and sharp tongue. However, Philip was undeterred. He took no personal sense of rejection from Nathanael’s comment. He responded simply by saying, “Come and see.” Philip has given us the best response to rejection of the invitation. Calmly and with the peace of Christ, he simply said, “Come and see” then you decide for yourself. We all can follow the Philip’s example - invite people we care about to come and see the Lord. Each of us has a Nathanael in our life. We have someone in mind that does not know the Lord or we have someone who has not been with him lately. However, are each of us a Philip and willing to find your friend and say I want you to come with me to be with the Lord – won’t you just come and see? I leave you to ponder that question.
We see Philip again later in Jesus’ ministry. They are in the vicinity of Bethsaida. A great crowd of people had followed Jesus because they saw the miraculous signs he had performed on the sick. Jesus went up onto the mountainside and sat down with his disciples. We pick up the story in John 6:5-6:
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming toward him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.
Jesus’ question is natural to ask of Philip since he was from that region. He asked, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" Philip does not answer the question, at least not the one asked by Jesus. Phillip’s response is "A month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite." This does not answer the question where are we going to buy food. Philip’s response told us what he was thinking, “Why discuss where to buy the bread when we do not have enough money to buy all that would be need for a crowd of this size?” Jesus understood that they could not buy enough bread. He only wanted to know from Philip of the possible source of bread the crowd. Philip’s response is completely and clearly human. We do not want to act unless we understand the whole picture. We want to know that all the resources are accounted for and that we cannot fail. Once we know all the facts, then we might be willing to proceed with acting. Jesus was asking Philip for a demonstration of faith through dependence on God. Jesus knew that God had always provided sufficiently for his people. Scripture tells us that Jesus was testing Philip. He wanted Philip to be part of the miracle that Jesus would perform in which he did by feeding 5000. In the process, Jesus was also teaching Philip to expand his minded and come to understand that Jesus was far greater than any prophet spoken about in the Old Testament. Moses was able to feed the Israelites in the wilderness to the grace of God heaven. Jesus had performed miracles for many and now intended to show that there was no limit to the power available to Christ. Philip’s response suggests that he had not yet grasped who was in his presence.
We can learn from Philip that God will place opportunities before us to expand our understanding of his love for us and his capacity to provide for us. Do we, like Philip, miss these opportunities because we are too interested in knowing God's entire plan before we move forward? Are we willing to step out in faith and do as he asks us? When faced with daunting challenges as Philip was in feeding the 5000, are we willing to step out in faith and simply find a source of bread without fully understanding how that source will be sufficient? Faith requires that we proceed one step at a time without knowing with certainty how the journey will be completed but only knowing that the one who guides us love us. Look today for the opportunities God is giving you to act in faith.
We meet Philip again in John 12:20 -- 21:
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. "Sir," they said, "we would like to see Jesus."
At this time, Jesus was preaching to crowd and a group of Greeks approached. Here, in this context, most likely the term “Greeks” means they were Gentiles attracted to Judaism, to its high moral standards. They would not likely however have been true converts to Judaism itself. This Scripture reveals to us some important truths about Philip. The first truth is that Philip must have been identifiable as a follower of Christ. The Greeks knew enough to ask Philip for the opportunity to speak to Jesus. Do others see us that way? Do others see in us the presence of Christ? Do they see us as identifiable as Christians?
Let me illustrate this point with an example through my own life. In my day job, I am a senior government manager responsible for security at a number of nuclear facilities throughout the country. One day a contractor mail handler asked my secretary if he could speak with me. She ushered the man into my office. He was somewhat nervous given the difference in our positions but he pulled out a small pamphlet with a question on it. The question was "Do you know if you're going to heaven?" He asked me if I knew if I was going to heaven. We had a good conversation and I told him that I believe I would go to heaven. However, this experience told me two things. The first was this man was not sure that I was identifiable as a Christian. Why else would he have asked me that question about going to heaven? The second thing it told me was that he was more concerned that I would go to heaven then he was about my reaction to his question. At that moment, he was acting like Philip and I was his Nathanael. That experience caused me to look differently at how my conduct and demeanor would demonstrate to others that I was identifiable with Christ. I needed to reflect that Christian is not a Secret Service job. How about you? Are you identifiable to those around you as a Christian? Do they recognize you as someone that might introduce them to Christ? It has been asked before but if Christianity became a crime; would there be enough evidence available to convict you? It certainly was true of Philip because he was identifiable as a follower of Christ.
The second thing this short encounter with the Greeks revealed to us about Philip was that he was not only identifiable as a follower of Christ but also that he was accessible. We would do well to understand that our ability to witness to others is related to how accessible we are to them. Philip, as we recall who may have been of Greek origin, may have been seen as more approachable and accessible to the Greeks seeking Jesus. We can then learn from Philip that we need to be accessible to others. Are we accessible to others or do we only associate with other Christians? Are we not accessible to others who may be seeking Christ? We therefore should look for opportunities to be with others who we share interests with, be accessible to them, so that they too may come to us, identify us as followers of Christ, and ask how we too can see Jesus.
We encounter Philip again later in the Gospel of John. Jesus told his disciples that he would soon be leaving them and going to a place where they could not follow him. We pick up the story at John 14:5 -- 7:
Thomas said to him, "Lord, we don't know where you are going, so how can we know the way?" Jesus answered him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you know him and have seen him."
This is a very important passage. Jesus is using the very powerful "I am" statement. He said, "I am the way". Following in his way does not just mean physically but it means following what I have revealed to you. It means you need to desire the things Jesus’ desires, live and love as he lived and loved. This is the direction Jesus is calling us to follow and that in doing so we will come into the presence of the eternal loving God. He is telling us that no one comes to the Father except through me. This is hard for many to accept because there is no room for negotiating. Jesus is accessible to all but all are accessible to God only through Jesus. Being good, doing good, or being the child of Christian parents or being from any other religion simply will not suffice. All of these approaches to God no matter how noble necessarily deny Christ. Jesus made it clear, you cannot get to the Father through such ways. This is the good news of Jesus that salvation is accessible to all but at the same time is reserved exclusively for those who call upon his name and live according to his will.
Philip now enters the scene for his final act:
Phillips said, "Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us."
Here Philip does not seem to understand what Jesus has revealed to him. He does not seem to appreciate that he has seen through the life Christ the living God. Jesus responds but not in anger or resentment. He says somewhat painfully:
"Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say ‘show me the Father?’ Don't you believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
So what can we learn about Philip through this encounter? Philip wanted to see the Father and he knew that Jesus could show him. However, Philip still thought Jesus was strictly human, Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph son. He did not understand, he did not comprehend the miracles and the love Jesus had shown as evidence of God living among. However, we should not be too harsh on Philip for at times we seem to behave in the same manner. At times, we do not see that Christ has shown us who the Father is. We need to understand that Jesus is in the Father, the Father is in him. When we believe that, then Jesus is in us, and we are in him. Through his grace, we then can come into the presence of God the Father. And in that love relationship we come to love one another. The love we have for the Father is shared with those around us, united by Christ upon the cross. Philip understood that Jesus could show him the Father. He did not however understand that Jesus had already done so. Do we understand that? Do we see in Christ his revelation of the nature and the character of God? How awesome and wonderful he is.
Today we have seen Christ through the eyes of one of his disciples, Philip. We have seen Philip is a man seeking Christ, a man willing to share the good news of his discovery with those that he loved. We came to see Philip also has a man who was growing in his faith and learning to rely upon the grace of God. As he matured, he became identifiable with Christ, accessible and approachable to others who are seeking Jesus. Though he did not fully understand Jesus, he knew that all things were possible through him. How are we exhibiting the attitude of Philip? Are we willing to seek Christ, share him with others, grow in our faith, be identifiable as a follower of Christ accessible and approachable to others who are seeking him, and do we fully understand that all things are possible through him? May God grant us the humility, the wisdom, the courage, and the grace to be a maturing disciple willing to invite others to come and see. Amen.