Sermon: John 14:8, 9
Pentecost 7 – July 8, 2018 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
It wouldn’t be surprising if everyone of us here at some time had a desire to see God – to actually see God face to face and talk with him. I say it wouldn’t be surprising because we are physical beings and we deal naturally with people and things that are physical and visible. Particularly in our fallen, sinful state it’s not so easy for us to deal with what is unseen, spiritual things like God and heaven. Those unseen things are a matter of faith. Therefore, given the opportunity to see God face to face, we would probably welcome the opportunity.
In the fifth of our series of sermons on the twelve disciples, we find that Philip the disciple was someone who wanted to see God. Not that all the other disciples didn’t desire the same thing, but in this text today it’s Philip who asked Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Like Philip we’re going to find out that God is present with us, present with us in Jesus Christ and in the word and sacraments.
Today we’re going to consider
PHILIP, THE DISCIPLE WHO WANTED TO SEE GOD
Philip is not the best known of the disciples, but we do know some unique things about him. Philip was from the town of Bethsaida where Peter and Andrew had originally come from. They probably grew up together, knew each other, and attended the same synagogue.
Philip is interesting and unique because among all these Jewish disciples he had a Greek name. In the 4th century before Jesus, Alexander the Great brought the Greek culture, art, language, and thought to all the lands he conquered including Palestine, Galilee, and Judea. Many Jewish people also spoke Greek. So Philip had a Greek name. He probably had a Jewish name too. We just don’t know what it might have been.
In the 12th chapter of John’s gospel we’re told about some Greek men who wanted to see Jesus. They didn’t go directly to Jesus, hesitant in part, no doubt, because they were Gentiles. So they made their request through one of the disciples, and not surprisingly, to the one disciple with the Greek name. Philip.
Philip himself didn’t go directly to Jesus with the Greeks’ request. He told Andrew first, and then the two of them went to Jesus. This could indicate a rather cautious and practical nature in Philip, one who calculated and considered things carefully before acting. He seems to be much different than the disciple Peter who often acted before he thought and carefully considered things.
It’s that practical and calculating nature in Philip that has led some to believe that Philip was perhaps the organizer, a kind of administrator
or manager, of Jesus’ and the disciples’ affairs. Remember in addition to Jesus and the twelve disciples, there were the women and wives who traveled with these men as well as other followers and disciples. Meals had to be planned and food purchased. Physical needs had to be taken care of. Jesus didn’t just conveniently wave his hand and miraculously provide food like he did at the feeding of the 5000 and 4000.
And remember it was at the feeding of the 5000 that Jesus specifically asked Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” Judas was the treasurer of the disciples. It could very well be that Philip was a manager of food and physical needs.
More important, Philip had a faithful missionary spirit. He was a true disciple. Not long after Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me,” Philip found soon to be disciple 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.”
But it’s the words of Philip to Jesus in this 14th chapter of John that we want to consider more carefully today. Jesus was with his disciples in the upper room on the night before he died. It was here that they celebrated Passover together. Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper. Jesus also had many comforting words for the disciples in the upper room. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit.” “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
And it was these words of Jesus that triggered Philip’s request that Jesus show them God the Father: “I am the way and 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 do know him and have seen him.”
I can imagine Philip sitting there listening to Jesus’ words and thinking to himself, “I haven’t seen him. I haven’t seen God.” And so he says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Philip’s request was no doubt a desire to see God in the sense of understanding him completely, but Philip also wanted to see God the Father with his own eyes, the very same thing that all of us have desired at some time.
Some commentators have rather severely criticized Philip for being so short sighted and dull, failing to understand who Jesus really was and to grasp the meaning of the words he had just spoken. And Jesus does lightly reprimand Philip. “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 us the Father?’”
But we can’t be too critical of Philip. All of the disciples had difficulty grasping the complete scope of who Jesus was and what he had come to this world to do. And we would have been no different. In our eagerness to see God face to face, we easily could have been Philip that night in the upper room.
But Jesus’ response to Philip is not so much a reprimand as it is loving instruction. Jesus was really saying to Philip, “Philip, don’t you get it? If you have seen me, if you know me, then you have seen God and you know God. I am God. Everything I have spoken is the word of God. Everything that I’ve done is a demonstration of who God is. You see God in me.”
I suspect that Philip’s eyes widened considerably. His heart and mind were suddenly filled with an enlarged understanding of who Jesus really was. Hidden in this man Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, was the almighty God. Philip was looking at him face to face.
Jesus is God who took on a human nature. He did that so he could live a holy life as our human substitute that his holiness could be credited to us and cover us. He became a human being to die on a cross to atone for our sins and the sins of the whole world. Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the proof that he really is the Son of God and our Savior.
But why did God hide himself in Jesus? Why does God not show himself and make himself visible now? We reason and rationalize that if God would just be visible and show himself to everyone, then everyone would have to believe in him. Or if God would just do some miracles before our eyes, it would be so much easier to believe in him, we would be much stronger believers, and so would so many other people.
But that’s our human reason talking. There were many people who witnessed Jesus’ miracles and didn’t believe in him. Faith and trust in God is much more that seeing cold hard facts and reality and believing that they’re true.
God doesn’t just appear to us sinners all of a sudden first of all for a very practical reason. If he suddenly appeared in all his blazing glory he would burn us up. He’s gracious enough not to do that. Furthermore, God doesn’t appear to us because he wants us to trust him. Trust is an act of faith, believing in what is unseen, what we hope for. Jesus once said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed.” We give God no greater glory than when we trust him who is unseen.
When God came to this world in the person of Jesus he hid his glory in the human flesh of Jesus. In one of our Christmas hymns we sing, “And he conceals for sinners sake, the majesty of God.” Or in another Christmas hymn we sing, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity.” Just once on the Mt. of Transfiguration Jesus allowed a part of his glory as God to shine forth for a short time.
God continues to hide himself from us. He doesn’t appear to us face to face. He allows us to hear and see just enough of him so that we know him, are comforted and directed by him, and most important, are forgiven of our sins and saved.
Philip probably thought how God could be hidden in Jesus, this man standing before him. God hidden in a human being? But think of where God hides himself today. We don’t see him, but he’s present with us. He’s present with us in these simple words that tell us Jesus died for us so that we could be forgiven and have eternal life. God hides in the simple water of baptism. We don’t see him. But he is present with the power of his word that says baptism is a washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. God hides in the bread and wine of holy communion. We don’t see Jesus face to face, but he’s present with his body and blood together with simple bread and wine given and shed for the forgiveness of our sins.
For now that’s all we need to see of God. What Jesus has revealed to us, God’s word and his sacraments of baptism and holy communion are just enough, and graciously plentiful, to save us from our sins and to encourage us to live new lives, godly and moral lives that honor God.
That’s why it’s so important that Christians come to worship, to hear the word, and receive the sacraments. That’s where we see God. Not in the television or computer. Not in the ceiling of your bedroom. Not on the golf course. Not at brunch. In the word and sacraments. That’s where we learn of Jesus. If you know Jesus then you know God. If you see Jesus with the eyes of faith then you see God.
Philip saw Jesus literally. More important he saw Jesus by faith. He understood and believed who he was. And because of that he saw God.
Tradition tells us that Philip was stoned to death by enemies of the gospel in Heiriopolis in Phrygia in the central part of present day Turkey. He had led many others to see God too in Jesus Christ. And now he has gone to heaven where Jesus prepared a place for him just as he promised. And Philip has his desire fulfilled in the most literal sense. He has seen and will see forever God the Father face to face. And may God keep us all faithful until we join him around the heavenly throne. Amen.