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Worship Theme: The Savior calls us to believe and follow.
Sermon Theme: When Jesus Steps In . . . he gives real life and inspires real living
Doesn’t it feel weird when you have to call a help desk, and the only way to solve your computer issue is to let the tech person remotely access your computer? There you sit, watching that person move your mouse, blinking with the blur of clicks. I’m glad for the help, but it still feels like they’re invading private space. Of course, with the advent of Zoom meetings, there are dozens of others who now know what my home office and basement rec room look like. I’m not worried about that, but I’m sure there are plenty who feel uncomfortable that strangers are stepping into their privacy. Add to that this Internet age of identity theft, and the whole business of privacy seems to be disappearing like a breath of air on a sub-freezing morning.
So, it’s hard to imagine a scenario with a pleasant invasion of privacy. Yet, in a way that’s what happened in the today’s Gospel account from John chapter one, an incident that occurred shortly after the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He had called four people to be his followers, Andrew and his brother, Peter, John and his brother, James. Jesus then intended to head north to Galilee where he would set up his headquarters for proclaiming, “I’m here to save you!” Before he started out, he called two more to follow him, and we see what happens, “When Jesus Steps In …”
He gives us real life
Have you ever wondered, “Is my faith good enough? Am I really a believer in the true God?” I wouldn’t be surprised if that was what Philip was thinking. We don’t know a lot about him. We do know he was from a hick village on the northwestern shore of the Sea of Galilee. So, we can only guess what kind of a life Philip had. Perhaps he was an unschooled fisherman like Peter and Andrew and like most fishermen back then, living hand to mouth.
But all of that changed. The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” Note that Jesus took the initiative. He found Philip and stepped into his life. Good thing because Philip is like me and like you, born with a powerful evil force inside which is not only separate from God’s love but pulling like mighty oxen in the opposite direction, a force that drumbeats with the arrogant assumption that any connection with God has to start with our taking the first step, that we can connect ourselves to God if we want, that if we want to find God, we have to do the searching, and we’ll be rewarded for our efforts. But just the opposite is true. A guy who really knew the Bible well said it well: I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel (Luther – Explanation of the 3rd Article of the Apostles’ Creed). Jesus found Philip and stepped in.
Then it happened again. Philip told his friend, Nathanael, “You gotta check out this Jesus. He’s the Messiah, the one Moses and the prophets wrote about.” When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus knew where Nathanael had been, what he had been doing, what he had been thinking. He knew Nathanael’s surprise at Philip’s announcement of meeting the Messiah. He knew Nathanael’s doubts when Nazareth was mentioned.
This isn’t the only account in the Bible where the Lord looked into a sinner’s heart. Not long after this a woman at a well in Samaria was shocked when Jesus looked into her heart. She told her friends, “Here’s a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:33). Remember the story of the paralyzed man lowered through the roof of a home where Jesus was preaching? Jesus looked into his heart, too, and recognized that he needed forgiveness more than healing. He gave the man both.
What do we learn from these accounts of Philip, Nathanael, the Samaritan woman, the paralyzed man? We learn that Jesus knows what’s in our hearts. He can spy out every nook and cranny of the inner safety deposit box of our mind. He can invade our privacy. I don’t know about you, but that makes me nervous because that means his eye is on my doubts, envy, fears, greed, hatred, jealousy, lust, and worry. The psalmist exclaimed, “You searched me, LORD, and you know me … you perceive my thoughts from afar … Before a word is on my tongue you … know it completely” (Psalm 139:1-4). The writer to the Hebrews wrote, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Hebrews 4:13). Jesus knows all our dark secrets, the ones that make us guilty before God.
So why would he want to enter our hearts? Why would he want to step into barnyard waste like that? There’s only one answer, because he loves us. He knows there is only one way for us to have life with God, and that’s when he steps in, washes away our sin-stains with his blood, and paints his perfect life over ours. And he did it!
He found Philip and said, “It doesn’t matter if you are from backwoods, backwater Bethsaida where life is poor and miserable and mostly full of smelly fish, smellier fishermen, low rent, and low-lifes. I want you to have life, real life with God.” Then Jesus identified Nathanael as truly an Israelite, not one who bragged about blood-ties but one who believed in God’s promises to send a substitute who would shed his blood for sinners. No wonder Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Who wouldn’t rejoice when God himself says, “I’m stepping into your life to give you real life. You are my child. You are in the sphere of my love no matter where you go. In fact, Nathanael, you are going to see greater things than the miracle of me seeing you under the fig tree … Very truly I tell you, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus’ promise came true. Throughout his ministry the disciples were given clear proof that all creation, even the angels, answer to his beck and call. With every eye-popping miracle, with every morsel of his life-giving message they caught a glimpse of heaven opened. Best of all, right before their eyes stood the link between heaven and earth, the mediator, the go-between, the God-man, Jesus Christ.
“Is my faith good enough? Am I really a believer in the true God?” Put your fears to rest. Jesus assures us, “You are connected to God. You are going to see heaven’s doors opened and a big welcome sign with your own name on it. You are going to live with God!” When the devil accuses us of being unforgivable, when someone pokes fun at our trust in Jesus, when the sinful force we are born with causes us to doubt, we look to Jesus. The apostle John wrote, “Whenever our hearts condemn us, [remember] God is greater than our hearts” (1 John 3:20). When Jesus steps in, he gives us real life. That means that no matter what goes on or goes wrong in your life, including a pandemic and social unrest and political messes, you are connected to God and will be forever.
He inspires real living
Do you have damage to undo in a relationship with a family member? Have you taken worship for granted? Have you squandered dollars and robbed God? Do you have a friend or family member who doesn’t know if he or she is close to God?
As soon as the Lord Jesus entered Philip’s life, something happened inside of Philip’s heart. He just had to tell others. He had to share what he knew. 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.” It didn’t end there. This became a pattern for Philip. Though undoubtedly an Israelite, he had a Greek name. Perhaps that is why some Greeks at the Passover three years later sought him out. Jesus had just completed a most trying day, Tuesday of Holy Week, just three days before he died, having been badgered by every major faction of opponents. Exhausted and with the sun beginning to set, he planned to head down the temple mount through the streets of Jerusalem, out the city gates, and across the stream to an olive grove for prayer time. But before he left the temple complex some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival … came to Philip … with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus” (John 12:21). What did Philip do? The same as he had done for Nathanael. He and Andrew brought the request to the Lord. That’s real living.
This isn’t the only account in the Bible where the Lord stepped into someone’s life, gave that person real life, and inspired real living. The Samaritan woman didn’t just tell her friends and fellow villagers, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:33). She added, “He’s the Messiah not just for Israelites but even for us Samaritans!” How about the demon-possessed man from Gadara? His life had been a living hell. But Jesus stepped into his life, gave him real life with God, and the man went away and began to tell throughout the territory how much Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:20). How about the vertically-challenged tax collector, Zacchaeus? Jesus stepped into his life, gave him real life, and Zacchaeus immediately gave evidence of the change inside with a commitment to undo the damage he had caused by his greed and fraud.
Do you have damage to undo in a relationship with a family member? Think of how Jesus stepped into your life to give you real life with God, and you’ll be looking to undo the damage. That’s real living. Have you taken worship for granted? Think of how Jesus stepped into your life to give you real life with God, and let your praises ring regularly! That’s real living. Have you squandered dollars and robbed God? Think of how Jesus stepped into your life to give you real life with God, and your heart and wallet will open up. That’s real living. Do you have a friend or family member who doesn’t know if he or she is close to God? Think of how Jesus stepped into your life to give you real life with God, and you’ll be using the same invitation Philip did, “Come and see.” That’s real living.
Nearly twenty years ago, in the aftermath of 9-11, our government-initiated plans to ferret out bad guys, and that meant keeping closer tabs on citizens. Some have complained, “The government is invading my privacy!” Others say, “I’ve got nothing to hide. Go ahead!” You can debate all day if you think it’s a good idea or bad idea for the government to step into your life. But there is an invasion that I’m delighted about. The Lord Jesus has stepped into my life and yours. Praise God! Amen.
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