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 Mary Magdalene and Onesimus. Today I would like us to look at man, one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles, a man named Philip.
We learn about Philip through the Gospel of John and Philips story began with the scene of John the Baptist along the river Jordan. Philip was drawn to John the Baptist as John preached and baptized. Philip was in the company of other men from Philip’s hometown also drawn to the river Jordan. Specifically, Philip was with two other men, Andrew and Andrew’s brother Peter, both of whom would become Jesus’ Apostles. 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 as fishermen.
Philip, being around John the Baptist, suggests that Philip was someone who was searching for a deeper meaning to his beliefs. Jesus was present at river Jordan at the same time Philip, Andrew, and Peter were present. Jesus had just been baptized by John. Philip must have caught the attention of Jesus because Scripture tells us, “The next day [that is after Jesus’ baptism] Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me’”(John 1:43). Jesus’ call suggests Jesus knew Philip when Jesus same, “Follow me.” Here the Greek to “follow” means “to be in the same way”, “to become the one who is doing the calling.
John does not record for us, Philip’s verbal response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him. Instead, John gave us Philip’s behavioral response to Jesus’ invitation. John wrote, “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” (John 1:44-45).
Philip’s behavioral response gives us a sense that Philip was excited about having been called by Jesus and Philip intended to follow Jesus. Moreover, Philip’s excitement was such that Philip wanted to share the news with someone who must have been close to Philip, namely – Nathanael and for Nathanael to come with Jesus.
Philip’s news to Nathanael was for the people of that time breathtaking. Philip told Nathanael “We” have found the one - the Prophet spoken about by Moses. We must take that in for a moment. For thousands of years, the Hebrew people held fast to the words of Moses and particularly that there would come a man, the prophet, anointed by God as the Messiah to bring about the restoration of Israel. Now, here in this obscure place in the wilderness Philip told Nathanael, we have found the anointed one promised through Moses when Moses shared God’s intention, “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” (Deuteronomy 18:18). Philip wanted to make sure Nathanael, someone important to Philip, was the first to know the news.
If we paused here for a moment, what might we say or conclude about Philip and Philip’s faith walk thus far? The first thing we learn is that Philip had been responsive to the stirring within him to seek the deeper truth of God. Philip wanted to know God and to be right with God. Philip traveled from home to be in the presence of John the Baptizer who called for repentance. Repentance here means to turn from your own ways and instead follow God. What I find remarkable about this part of Philip’s experience is that it is unremarkable. I believe that everyone (Philip, you, and me) have within us a stirring to know the truth of God. The deeply spiritual person, like Philip, wanted to know the truth of God. Even a devote atheist presented with the opportunity to be given the absolute truth about God would jump at that chance to hear the truth, at least out of curiosity. So the opening here about Philip is unremarkable because God calls everyone to come closer to him. God is always stirring us up. What we do with those God inspired stirrings matters and can be quite remarkable. Will we choose to ignore those stirrings and hope they go away, or do we respond in some manner to those God inspired stirrings?
What made Philip’s experience remarkable was that Philip was humble enough and hungry enough to be open to God’s leading. Philip did not ignore the stirrings, instead, Philip wanted to understand the leading of the Spirit and follow the call on his life. We need to do likewise and pursue God with humility and a hunger.
The second thing we can learn about Philip was that Philip wanted to share with those closest to him what God had revealed. When Jesus found Philip and asked Philip to follow him, Philip immediately went and found his friend, Nathanael. Philip must have cared more about Nathanael, also a seeker, coming to know Jesus than Philip cared about what Nathanael might say in response to Philip’s news. Philip’s behavior raises a question for us. Do we care more about a family member or more about a friend coming to follow Jesus or do we care more about avoiding the possibility they reject us for sharing the good news about Jesus? Do we care more about them or the risk of getting our feelings hurt?
I suspect Philip knew Nathanael well and expected Nathanael to be skeptical of Philip’s good news. When Philip told Nathanael about Jesus and that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael replied, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael was showing his prejudice and sharp tongue. However, Philip was undeterred. Philip took no personal sense of rejection from Nathanael’s comment. Instead, Philip responded by simply saying, “Come and see.”
Philip has given us the best response to rejection of the invitation. Calmly and with the peace of Christ, Philip simply said, “Come and see” then decide for yourself. We all can follow Philip’s example - invite people we care about to come and see the Lord. Each of us has a Nathanael in our life, that skeptic. We have someone in mind that does not know the Lord, or we have someone who has not been with him lately. However, are we like Philip who was willing to find that 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 as you think about your own Nathanael.
We see Philip again later in Jesus’ ministry. Jesus and his disciples were in the vicinity of Bethsaida. A great crowd of people had followed Jesus because the crowds saw the miraculous signs Jesus had performed on the sick. In the Gospel of John, we learn, “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 [Jesus] asked this only to test him [Philip], for he [Jesus] already had in mind what he [Jesus] was going to do” (John 6:5-6).
Jesus’ question was a natural to ask of Philip since Philip was from that region. Jesus asked Philip, "Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?" But Philip does not answer the question. Instead, Philip’s response was "A month’s wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite." Philip’s response told us what Philip was thinking, “Why discuss where to buy the bread when we do not have enough money to buy all that would be needed for a crowd of this size?” Jesus understood that the disciples could not buy enough bread. Jesus wanted Philip to consider the task of feeding people could only be done through faithful dependence on God. 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. 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 the nitty gritty details of how we will do things and not depend upon God? 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 loves us. Look today for the opportunities God is giving you to act in faith.
I want to finish up with one last encounter with Philip, again from 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. “Thomas said to him [Jesus], ‘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’” (John 14:5-7).
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.
Philip now entered the scene for his final act: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us’” (John 14:8). These are the last words we have attributed to Philip. “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” In response, Jesus said, somewhat painfully but patiently, "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” (John 14:9-11a).
So what can we learn about Philip through this encounter? Philip had developed some faith that he would be fine if he could see the Father and Philip knew that Jesus could show him the Father. However, Philip still thought Jesus was strictly human, Jesus of Nazareth, Joseph’s son, the Prophet. Philip did not understand, did not comprehend the miracles, the teachings, and the love Jesus had shown as evidence that Jesus was God living among the apostles. Philip, as well as the other apostles, had seen the Father.
We should not be too harsh on Philip lack of understanding for at times we seem to behave in the same manner. At times, we do not see that Christ has shown us who the God is. We need to understand that Jesus is in the Father, the Father is in him. When we believe that, then Jesus says he will be is in us, and we are in him. Through his grace, we then can come into the presence of God the Father. Philip understood that Jesus could show him the Father. Philip just did not 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? When we do, we come to realize how awesome and wonderful God is and therefore, we should want to follow Jesus in that we become like Him.
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. Though Philip did not fully understand Jesus, Philip knew that all things were possible through Jesus. 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.