A First Century Lesson for a Twenty-First Century Church; John 1:43-51

A sermon delivered by Patrick H. Wrisley on 1/17/2021.

            A first century lesson for a twenty-first century Church.  Will we take heed and listen to it? It’s not a difficult lesson to learn and it’s a lesson we desperately need to learn since the Church is facing a time of unprecedented uncertainty. 

            Speaking with another local pastor recently, he asked me, “Patrick, do you think they’re ever going to come back?”  I pressed him a bit to better understand what he was asking. He went on to tell me that he fears his people have become too comfortable waking up in their jammies and flipping on the TV and will never come back to the worshipping community once the pandemic is over.  I smiled at him and said, “You know, I’m hopeful. The pushback I’m receiving for having to suspend in-person worship again because the rolling two week average for positivity rates in Broward County is over 10% tells me people are missing and longing for community!” I reminded him that unprecedented times calls for unprecedented measures and that for safety’s sake, this is but a momentary separation and is all temporary. I learned long ago that a Church is not a building but a living, breathing, Holy Spirit-driven group of people taking what they gather from community and spreading it in the world.

            Even so, my friend’s question points us to the lesson we can learn from the first century Church in these unprecedented times and it’s a lesson straight from our Story in John’s Gospel today.  Turn to John 1 and we will pick up with verse 43.

            Thus far in John’s Story, John has described how the Divine Logos was born into our world via Jesus. We are then introduced to a passionate preacher named John the Baptist who points people to the Lamb of God, who is Jesus.  A few disciples listen to John and follow Jesus and one of them, Andrew, goes home to his brother, Simon, and simply says, “You won’t believe who I met!”  Simon goes to find out for himself and gets a new name: Rocky[1]. The very next day, we come to our morning’s text. Listen for the Word of the Lord!

John 1:43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”[2]

            Church, are you hearing this first-century lesson we are to be learning in the twenty-first century church? Here in the first chapter of John’s Story we get glimpses of the Church’s birth and growth. It’s John’s version of the Church’s creation Story. The Church’s creation did not begin with mass crusades preceded by fancy marketing campaigns and gimmicks. There were no special tricks or techniques for learning how to successfully plant a church in 90 days; no, we learn today the Church began, like the universe began, with the speaking of the Word, the Logos at creation.  “Let there be light! and there was Light.”  And John reminds us that the Word that spoke Creation into the form of the man Jesus. And from the speaking about the Word, the Church began to take form itself. First, one brother speaks words to his own brother about Jesus and then that brother explores those words on his own. The first lesson we get is that in the first-century Church, the Living Word of Jesus was spoken about in the home among people who were related to one another.

            What is the second lesson we hear? We learn that when Philip hears the Story and is introduced to the Word he goes and finds a friend of his and shares what he has discovered for himself. Again, Philip simply tells his bookish friend, Nathaniel, that the one Nathaniel is looking for in all his books is nearby. Philip doesn’t delve into providing proofs or theological abstracts to his friend, Nathaniel. No, he simply models what Jesus said first to Andrew, “Come and see.”

            Come and see.  Now that’s about as a heavy-handed form of evangelism as I’ve ever heard of in my life!

            Come and see.

            Philip didn’t tell Nathaniel, “If you don’t repent, you’re going to hell!”  He didn’t say, “If you don’t believe just like me, you’ve missed the boat!”  He didn’t say, “If you don’t come, you’re a loser and are hopeless.” No, he simply related what he has experienced and invites someone he knows, i.e. Nathaniel, and meets him where he is (in the books) and simply says, “Come and see.” 

            It’s funny to note that when Nathaniel hears Philip the first words out of his mouth were a skosh cynical.  “Can anything good out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel mutters. Nathaniel was from Cana and Nazareth was a seen as a backwater dot on the map a mere four miles away to the west.  Nothing good comes from there! The Messiah doesn’t come from a place that would be the equivalent of Clewiston, Florida!

            Philip simply replies, “Come and see.”

            Beloved, we may be physically distanced from each other during our time of worship but we are hearing the Word where you we eat, sleep and live – at home! This is where the Church began centuries ago! It began in the family rooms of homes when people spoke the Word – think, Stories – to those they already had a relationship with! Andrew didn’t force his brother to believe, he simply shared what he experienced and let Peter decide what to do with it.

            Spouses with pre-Christian partners, don’t try to convert him or her; just authentically be like Jesus yourself.  Parents with children, don’t beat your kids over the head about the faith, simply read them the biblical stories, remember the true meaning of the holidays, and tell them about Jesus. Say your prayers at mealtimes and bedtimes. All these simple acts are creating and building the Church!

            Philip meets Nathaniel where Nathaniel is most comfortable and at home and for Nathaniel it was knowing the sacred books of Jewish scripture. All Philip did was tease Nathaniel with, “I’ve met the one you are reading about in those Books of Moses…Come and see.”  Friends, Philip didn’t force Nathaniel to conform to his understanding of who Jesus was; on the contrary, Philip met his cynical friend at the point of his cynicism and invites Nathaniel to discover his own response to the meeting of Jesus.

            The first chapter of John’s Gospel outlines the lesson of the birth of the early church. As scholar Dale Bruner notes, “The Church’s birth begins with a preacher’s honest enthusiasm (John the Baptist), it continues with family sharing (Andrew to Peter), and it comes full-term in a friendly, enthusiastic conversation.”[3] 

            This my friends is the first-century lesson to the twenty-first century church. The Church of Jesus Christ grows when its members are stuck in their pandemic homes with family and are ensconced safely with their pandemic buddies trying to create a new normal for life. Are the words about Jesus and your spiritual walk winsome and inviting so those pandemic buddies can see beyond the chaos of this present moment to see the new life you are experiencing right now? Are we trying to convince those we know they must believe MY Story or are we inviting them to come along with us and discover their own?

            You, beloved, are the seeds for the growth of the Church. The question as to whether or not people will come back to the churches when this pandemic is over will be determined whether you and I are sharing those seeds with people we know and rub shoulders with every single day. If the churches across this country remain empty, then we have to wonder if it’s because you and I are really not that excited about our new life in Jesus after all. Do you want the Church to grow? Do you want others to experience the new life in Christ as you have? Then simply repeat these three words to people you know already: Come and see.

            Amen.

© 2021 Patrick H. Wrisley, Pastor, First Presbyterian Church, 401 SE 15th Avenue, Fort Lauderdale, FL. 33301.  Sermon manuscripts are available for the edification of members and friends of First Presbyterian Church, Fort Lauderdale, Florida and may not be altered, re-purposed, published or preached without permission. All rights reserved.


[1] Frederick Dale Bruner, The Gospel of John. A Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans’s Publishing Company, 2012), 116.

[2] New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[3] Bruner, 109.

About patrick h wrisley

A Mainline Presbyterian Orthodox Evangelical Socially Minded Prophetic Mystic Preacher sharing the Winsome Story of Christ as I try to muddle through as a husband, father, friend, head of staff, colleague, and disciple.
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