Read John 1:35-46, Isaiah 49:1-7 here.
Watch the worship service here:
A very old adage says that seeing is believing. We know from Hebrews 11:1 that faith is being sure of what we hope for and what we do NOT see (NIRV), but when someone tells us something, our inclination is to want to see for ourselves.
Just this past week, in our women’s Bible study, we started a new study of the ten commandments titled “Love Carved in Stone.” We learned that the word “commandment” does not appear in the original Hebrew text. Instead the Bible simply calls them the ten words of God. This Bible study is written by a Presbyterian pastor who, like all Presbyterian pastors, was required to learn how to read and understand Hebrew. And this study has been edited and reviewed, and even went through a focus group that gave feedback. So I should have no reason to doubt that the word in Hebrew that’s translated as “commandment” is actually the word “word,” but I still had to see for myself. I had to see that Hebrew word in the Hebrew text for myself. That Bible study was an invitation to come and see, and by looking it up for myself, that’s exactly what I did.
“Come and see” is the invitation we hear from Jesus in our gospel reading for this morning from the book of John. Just three simple words, but in them there is a wealth of possibility. They are the theme of John’s gospel, who tells us at the end of his book that these stories are written so that we might see and believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing we can have life in his name (John 20:31).
This story is the continuation of the story of Jesus’ baptism that we read last week. John the Baptist was calling people to a baptism of repentance, and using the water of the Jordan River to administer a mikvah, a ritual cleansing, and Jesus came to be baptized. When Jesus came out of the water, the skies opened and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove, and a loud voice like thunder said, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” God had told John the Baptist that when he saw this happen he would know that this was the Chosen One of God (John 1:34).
The next day John the Baptist and two of his disciples saw Jesus walk by, and John said, “Look! Here is God’s Passover lamb.” So John’s two disciples start following Jesus. Jesus looked over his shoulder and saw them following him. And Jesus, being the perfect example of hospitality and customer service, asks them, “How can I help you?” Except that he didn’t. He said something much more pointed. “What do you want?” What he literally says there is, “What are you seeking?”
It’s an important question because what we see has a lot to do with what we are seeking, and we measure our success based on what we’re after. Take, for example, the game Monopoly. What’s the goal of Monopoly? To acquire property, make money and bankrupt the other players. Did you know that the creator, Elizabeth Magie, originally designed the game back in 1903 to show how monopolies were harmful?
Today there are a plethora of different versions, including one called Bibleopoly. As you might expect, in this version the properties are places in the Bible, but the biggest difference with this version is that the goal is to help each other build a church. Instead of being rewarded for bringing your opponents closer to bankruptcy, you are rewarded for being generous and helpful. I used to have this game and I remember that it was hard to get the hang of working together instead of competing against each other, partly because I’d played the original version so much, but also because in our consumerist world we are encouraged to be competitive and to accumulate wealth, and it’s hard to change our thinking.
Jesus asks, “What are you seeking?” The disciples don’t really answer Jesus’ question here, but I imagine it wasn’t all that easy to answer. Deep questions aren’t easy to answer, and so I invite you to spend some time with this question yourself. Write it down and take it with you to ponder with God. What are you seeking? How might Jesus be calling us to come and see life differently?
The disciple’s answer Jesus’ question with a question of their own. Where are you staying? We could say that these disciples are being rude and inviting themselves over, but really what they’re saying is, “We want to spend some time with you and hear what you have to say.” And so Jesus invites them to do just that. “Come and see.”
This is Jesus’ invitation to us, as well. Come and see. Whatever Jesus is calling you to, you won’t know, you won’t see, until you take the next step and give it a try. Every time we make the choice to go, to trust, to follow, to serve, to help, we say yes to Jesus’ invitation to come and see. May we have the courage to see.
My new favorite disciple is Philip because he’s the other one who says “Come and see” in our story. He goes and finds Nathaniel and tells him, “We have found the one who Moses and the prophets wrote about, Jesus of Nazareth!” (John 1:45) Nathaniel says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel was from a neighboring town, so this might have been like one of us saying, “Can anything good come out of Nickerson?” Or a K-State fan saying, “Can anything good come out of KU?” (Or vice versa.) Rather than argue with Nathaniel, Philip simply says, “Come and see.”
I remember a time when I went to see. I may have told you before about my experience at a Billy Graham crusade. I went in 2003 when we still lived in California because I wanted to see for myself what all the hype was about. If someone had asked me that day, “What are you seeking?” I would have said that I wanted to see a great preacher and an impressive presentation. What I saw was a man who needed help to get to the podium, and who sat on a stool because he couldn’t stand long enough to preach. He spoke well, of course, but there was nothing flashy or dramatic about his preaching. At the end, he invited us all to come and see, to come and give our hearts to Jesus and see what difference this would make in our lives. I don’t remember Graham’s exact words, but it was a simple invitation, an altar call. And I thought to myself, “That’ll never work.” But then people started pouring out of the stands and down onto the field.
Did I mention that we were at a huge stadium? Tens of thousands of people were there. More than half of them went down to the field. Many were weeping, and I found that I too had tears in my eyes. I stood there in awe, wondering what just happened. We were there with our pastor, and I asked him that very question. What are we seeing? And he said, “The Holy Spirit is working.” I’m so glad that he helped me to see that. We need people in our lives that help us like that, because
We help each other see Jesus.
This is the other question I invite you to ponder prayerfully this week: How can we help people to come and see? It’s another question that’s not so easy to answer. Jesus isn’t here on earth anymore in the same way he was in the gospel stories. After he died on the cross and was resurrected, he ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father, as we profess in our Apostle’s Creed. In the song that the choir sang for us this morning, we heard the words, “He’s coming back again.” For Jesus to come back, he has to have left, right?
One time when I was giving a children’s sermon, I asked the kids, “Where does Jesus live?” Without even a moment’s hesitation, one of the children said, “In our hearts.” She was beautifully correct! That’s exactly what Jesus said in John 14:
“Those who love me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and my Father and I will come to them and live with them.” (John 14:23)
Jesus had said that in response to Judas who asked, “Why are you revealing yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus does reveal himself to the world . . . through us. In our reading from Isaiah 49 we see the very same idea:
“You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will display my splendor.” (Isaiah 49:3)
The Holy Spirit lives in us. The light of Christ shines through us. We are a reflection of God.
Now here’s a hard truth. We don’t have to say, “Come and see,” for people to be looking to see Jesus in us. When someone knows we go to church or that we call ourselves Christian they are watching how we live and respond. And we all have our moments when we are shining beautiful light being gracious and kind and generous and wise. But we also have our moments when our light isn’t so beautiful because we’re grumpy, selfish, prejudiced, or whatever else comes out in our bad moments. We don’t want to say, “Come and see Jesus,” in those moments, but we don’t stop wearing that Christian label, even if we want to.
So what do we do about that? Two things.
One is to daily be spending time with God asking for help with this, confessing those times when we know we’ve fallen short and receiving forgiveness, thanking God for this grace, and trusting that the more we seek to do our best, the more we have to trust God for the rest, like Isaiah says in verse 4:
“But my work seems so useless! I have spent my strength for nothing and to no purpose. Yet I leave it all in the Lord’s hand; I will trust God for my reward.”
Come and see how daily spending time alone with God makes a difference in how we reflect God’s light in our lives.
Number two is to spend time with people so we can help each other see.
We’re working on making small groups more a part of our lives here at United so that we’ll have more opportunities to help each other see, and I encourage you to plan now to be a part of a small group and to invite people to join you.
- When we pray together, we help each other see.
- When we read the Bible together, we help each other see.
Even now, you can come on Tuesday mornings and pray with our prayer group. And on Sunday mornings at 9:45 to be a part of our Sunday school group. But it’s not just those kinds of things. Do invite people to come and see what’s happening here at church, but also invite them to hang out with you in other ways, at your house, at the coffee shop, at a local event, or wherever you’re going. Whatever we do, we can invite someone to do it with us, and we’ll both grow in our understanding of Jesus and of each other, and in the process we help each other see.
Two questions to ponder:
What are you seeking? And How can we help people see Jesus?
I pray that God will bless us as we ponder those questions so that we all see the life that comes from believing, growing and going with Jesus.
 Eugenia Anne Gamble, Love Carved in Stone: A Fresh Look at the Ten Commandments
 Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
 Gary Burge, NIV Application Commentary: John (Zondervan), pg. 77.
 Travis Ryan, “We Believe” https://collaborateworship.com/we-believe/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Believe_(Newsboys_song)