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 of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, zin whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “follow me.”
This is how Jesus normally went about calling his disciples during his earthly ministry. With the simple words of follow me. It is what a disciple did. They followed their master, their teacher, their rabbi. Philip drops everything to follow the one whom he has heard John the Baptist call, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” He only finds his friend Nathanael and asks him to come along. “We have found the Messiah!” He says. When Nathanael finds it dubious that the Messiah could come from such a small backwater as Nazareth, Philip only answers, come and see. These are the words, follow me, and come and see, that Jesus himself has uttered to us in baptism when he called us to be his disciples.
It was a great honor to be called to be the disciple of a rabbi. Paul, even later as a Christian could boast about having been the disciple of Gamaliel. He counted it as worth nothing in comparison with the gift of grace and salvation in Christ, but it often meant something yet to those he was trying to reach with the gospel. It would often be that there was something of a waiting list to become a disciple of such a prestigious teacher. Or perhaps we should say a trial period. It was never a matter of mere money and who could afford the lessons. If students were bright enough the Rabbi’s would find a way to take them on. But would be disciples would often hang about a rabbi, try to impress him as opportunity came along. Show up when he was preaching in various synagogues, and ask the right questions, repeat the right buzzwords. Only after the would-be disciple had proved himself would the Rabbi then select him to be his disciple with the words “come follow me.”
With Jesus the matter is quite different. No one needs to prove themselves to him. I often cringe at this way this word discipleship is used today in Christian circles. I tend to blame Bonhoefer’s book, “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoefer did and wrote some great things, but that his most popular work, was not one of them. It was that book that coined the phrase cheap grace. Used in such a way as to imply you are supposed to purchase grace with your life and works, or at least somehow increase the value of grace in your life by such things. Grace cost Christ his life, worth far more than gold or silver, or anything we might offer him in return. We can’t add value to the blood of Christ. So many pastors and others use “discipleship” as a tool to load people up with a burden. Asking baptized Christians if they are being real or true disciples. Offering to train them in Christian discipleship, which is usually a lot about you and very little about Christ. There is and always will be room and need for improvement in our lives, as long as our feet are planted on the green side of the sod. Philip and Nathaneal would learn that. Philip, here he is so confident that he has seen the messiah and encountered the Messiah, and at the end of the story as John tells it Jesus is asking him, “have I been with you so long? And you still don’t know me?” I mean it is crazy isn’t it? It’s almost the complete opposite of everything we would expect.
You know what is crazier? Jesus. Philip may have spent three years with Christ and known less about Christ at the end of his earthly ministry than he thought he knew at the beginning, but Jesus knew this about Philip from the very beginning and still said: “Follow me.” He didn’t care that Philip was a hard headed and confused dolt that was slow on the uptake, he loved Philip and called him to be his disciple any way. He knew what was in Philip’s heart, he knew what Philip’s capabilities and incapabilities were. He knew that Philip would be one of those who would run for the hills when the soldiers came into the Garden of Gethsemane. Just as he knew it about Peter and John, and Nathanael too. He knew they would prove to be faulty disciples. He knew their hearts. He knew they would prove to be unfaithful, but he was more concerned to be faithful to them. If Philip was confused at the end of Christ’s ministry as to who Jesus was, then he would eat those words he spoke to Nathanael. Come and See: and he would see the heavens opened and angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. He would see the bowls of the earth burst with Life as Jesus rolled away the stone to say, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and See. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you See that I have.”
So it is for us as his disciples. We too have our ups and downs on this road of faith, in our journey of discipleship. But it isn’t about us, near as much as it is about Christ. He is faithful even when we are not. And we want to be faithful, right? We strive to be good Christians, but so often we find our spirit willing and our flesh is weak. Perhaps, we thought we were doing real well, and then find we were merely blind to the depth of sin in our lives. Though we were doing the right thing and it all blows up in our face, when we finally realize we have been standing in judgment of others for doing the very things we ourselves were guilty of. Yet we are still his disciples. Jesus knew all this about us when he called us in the waters of baptism with which he makes disciples of all nations. Then it is that we learn what a great honor above all honors it is to be disciples of the Messiah himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. What an honor it is to have Jesus as our rabbi, who even after, especially after we have proven to be such shoddy disciples, looks at us with his faithful eyes and says “take eat, this is my body given for you. Take drink, this cup is the New Testament in my blood given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.