Last week, our Bible reading was about Jesus coming to John the Baptizer to be baptized. This was the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. After his baptism, Jesus went into the wilderness where he fasted, prayed, and was tempted by the devil. Now today’s verses from the Holy Scripture are from the Gospel of Saint John. They speak about what it was like when John and his disciples met up with Jesus along the road.
John was with his followers when he saw Jesus come toward him. John said “Look! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! He is the one I told you about!” At least a couple of John’s followers were curious about the man called Jesus. We are told that the next day Jesus again walked past John. THIS TIME two of John’s followers, Andrew, and someone else, followed Jesus. When Andrew met Jesus, he was so convinced Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, that he found his brother Simon and said, “We have found the Messiah!”
The next day, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He saw Philip and asked him to follow him. Now so far Andrew, Simon, and Philip were eager to follow Jesus. But when Philip asked his friend Nathanael to follow Jesus, Nathanael said, “Did you say Jesus was from Nazareth? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip responded with three little words – “Come and See!”
Three men, Andrew, Simon, and Philip all immediately accepted Jesus’ invitation to follow him. But the fourth one, Nathanael, was skeptical at first. He probably thought the Messiah would come from the Holy City of Jerusalem – certainly not Nazareth – a tiny town of maybe 150 people! Nathanael was more than a little surprised that the Messiah would come from a little town.
This was not the first time God surprised people. Because we are human and God is God, He like to surprise all of us. Who would have thought that God would come to us in the flesh, be born as a baby in Bethlehem, and grow up to be a man? God surprised the world at the time, just as He often surprises us. We cannot know the mind of God.
How many times during your life were you surprised? Some of the surprises we experienced were sad or disappointing at the time. Maybe in high school you had your heart set on asking or being asked to a dance by that very special person. It didn’t happen. Or, you were expecting a big promotion or a raise at work for being such a good worker. But it didn’t happen. Or, may a spouse or a good friend had all those treatments for a terrible disease, and they still didn’t survive. In many different ways we have been saddened or surprised at what happened to us. Yet our God never left us, even in our greatest time of despair.
Thanks to God, our lives have also been filled with good surprises. There have been so many blessings in our lives that we didn’t ask for or deserve. The greatest blessing is that at some point in our lives, there was someone like Saint Philip who invited us to “Come and See” Jesus. When we were baptized, God’s Holy Spirit came to us. That Spirit sustains us even as we go through the challenges of aging and declining health.
In Raleigh, NC, there is a beautiful Lutheran Church called Saint Philip Lutheran. In it, three little words from Philip, the disciple of Jesus, are carved into the pulpit. Those are the words “Come and See.” God’s word, whether preached in a congregation or shared by a family member or someone else, remind us God is always inviting us to come to Him.
Nathaniel, Philip, Andrew, Peter, and the rest of Jesus’ disciples had the privilege of knowing Jesus and seeing him face to face. They all suffered much during the years they followed Jesus. Because of their faith and their witness to others, God called many others into his family. Today, you and I are part of one enormous family. It is the family of God. It is made up of people who are not perfect and need to regularly confess our sin. We are also part of a family who has been surprised by God’s grace and mercy. We know that God is always ready and willing to forgive us.
Jesus came to show us God’s love for the world. He suffered and died for our sin. He rose from the grave and lives eternally. He has promised us that because He lives, we also shall live. Thank you, God for giving your life for us. Thank you, Lord, for helping us through the struggles and disappointments of this life. As we live out our days in the sure confidence that you will one day surprise us by bringing us into eternity, help us to each reflect your light. Amen.
(written by The Rev. John Weinbach in 2015 and retold at Saint Michael Lutheran Church on January 17, 2021.)