An Invitation to Come and See
The community of followers of Jesus grew as people who encountered him invited their family and friends to “come and see” him. We as a church and as individuals have been touched and changed by Jesus and have much good news to share with those around us. Let us open ourselves to be willing to invite others to “come and see”.
“Come and see”. These are words that we say when we’ve discovered something special that we want to share with others.
When you see a rare bird like an eagle, you tell everybody that you pass on the trail where it is so they can see it as well.
Have you ever said to a friend “Listen to this song—the lyrics and the harmonies are amazing!”
Or maybe you saw a movie that was so powerful that you want to tell everyone you know to watch it.
Or after you come back from a trip from a place with incredible scenery and you can’t wait to take your family back there to show it to them.
Or maybe you love the food at a restaurant and you invite some friends to join you next time so they can enjoy it as well.
We humans are wired with the desire to share the good things we have experienced with others. We love to say “come and see”, “check it out”, “I’ll take you there.”
This is exactly what’s taking place in the scripture story that we just heard.
The first person to get the ball rolling is John the Baptist. He’s standing with two of his disciples, probably people who he himself baptized in the Jordan river.
John sees Jesus walk by, the one that he said he was preparing the way for, right? And John gets all excited, and says to his two friends “Look, there’s the Lamb of God!”, which is one of those terms used to describe Jesus’ identity as God.
So these two guys started following Jesus. And they hung out with Jesus that day. One of them was Andrew, and he went and found his brother Simon Peter, and he invited him to come and see Jesus.
Then the next day while Jesus was walking along, he came across this guy named Philip, and invited Philip to follow him. Then Philip went and found his friend Nathanael and told him about Jesus.
At first, Nathanael wasn’t very impressed. He scoffs, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” There’s always a skeptic in the crowd, right? I’ll come back to his attitude in a minute, but Nathanael grudgingly went along with Philip to see Jesus.
So what we see here is this chain reaction of people—Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael—all following Jesus because someone invited them to “come and see”. To meet him for themselves in order to see if he’s a rabbi worth following and devoting their life to.
These people who did the inviting were newbies—they had just started following Jesus themselves, but they tasted enough to know that Jesus was the real deal. And they wanted people they knew to get to know Jesus as well.
Someone has said, “Sharing faith is like one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. We are all beggars, hungry for meaning and purpose in life, hungry for community, hungry for the bread of life that can truly satisfy us.
Now sometimes there are people, like Nathanael, who are skeptical or cynical, especially when it comes to matters of religion and faith. In our society right now, there are a whole lot of Nathanaels running around, wondering,
Can anything good come out of Christianity? All I see are a bunch of hypocrites, people who say one thing but do another, people who say they follow Jesus but live nothing like him.
People who say they seek the truth but get caught up in lies and conspiracy theories. People who preach tolerance and forgiveness but who are quick to write people off and cancel them.
Jesus is still there for them, no matter what they think. And we see that in the way that he treats Nathanael. I would guess that Jesus picked up the vibe that Nathanael wasn’t too impressed with him or too thrilled or to be around him at first.
But instead of writing Nathanael off as a heathen or lost cause, Jesus pointed out something good in him. He said, “Now here’s an Israelite who doesn’t have an ounce of deceit in him!”. Wow. If I’m Nathanael, I’m like busted.
And also confused. “How do you know me?”, he asks Jesus. And Jesus says, I saw you under a fig tree.” And that there convinced Nathanael that there was something special about Jesus, that he knew things about him that an ordinary person would not know.
Let’s look at that fig tree reference for a minute. In the Believer’s Church Bible commentary on the book of John, author Willard Swartley puts it in a helpful context.
Swartley talks about the significance of Jesus spotting Nathanael under a fig tree:
The fig tree image in Judaism connotes shalom, meditating on and keeping the law, eschewing evil and doing good. Hence Jesus seeing Nathanael under the fig tree connotes quality of religious character, exemplary of a true Israelite, one who seeks to see God and do God’s will. (p. 81)
So Nathanael was a fine upstanding member of the Jewish synagogue, who practiced what he believed. But until now, he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to encounter the Messiah, the Savior that the Old Testament predicted would come.
And at first, he wasn’t convinced that Jesus fit the bill. But Jesus met Nathanael. where he was at on his spiritual journey, showed him grace, praised him for the faith that he had and the life that he lived,
And that made a believer out of Nathanael, and he joined Jesus in the journey of being his disciple.
And as Nathanael reached a new level of understanding and commitment, Jesus revealed more about his identity to him. “You will see greater things than these. ….truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (Vs. 51)
In some ways, I can relate to Nathanael and this whole “come and see” story.
When I was a freshman at UCLA, I came in with a pretty decent faith foundation that I got from growing up in the Catholic Church.
Like Nathanael, I had reached a certain level of faith that I felt comfortable with, and also like him, I was skeptical and maybe even cynical about certain things I had heard and seen among the Christians that people referred to as “Jesus freaks” on campus.
This was an era of street corner Christianity, where people would be standing on a corner with a big Bible, preaching hellfire and brimstone in order to scare people into getting saved.
This was the era where people started wearing their faith literally on their sleeve, wearing shirts with different slogans, or displaying their faith outwardly by putting little fish or bumper stickers on their cars.
I remember one popular bumper sticker that said “In case of rapture, this car will become driverless”. Well, thanks for the warning, but it didn’t make me feel very safe if I was driving in the lane next to you!
I wasn’t a big fan of the kind of Christianity that I saw on display during that era.
And so I was hesitant about getting involved in any Christian clubs on campus, and was content to just go to Catholic mass at a nearby church on those Sunday mornings when I would wake up in time to go.
Now there was a group of Christians who met in a room on our dorm floor for Bible study and prayer once a week. I found out later that they were connected with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on campus.
The leader of the Bible study was a guy named Russ Egland. Russ was a decent guy, a bit of a nerd, but he was humble and soft-spoken, not the in-your-face kind of person like some Christians I had met.
Now I hung out on the floor with a group of guys who liked to play cards and just chill out in the floor lobby. And once a week at the same time, Russ would come into the lobby and gently say,
“Hey guys, we’re going to have a Bible study in my room in about half an hour, and you guys are welcome to join us. Come and check it out if you’d like.”
And we were like, “OK Russ, thanks for the invite. We’ll think about it.”
Russ was like Jesus and Andrew who invited Peter and Philip who invited Nathanael, who said, “come and see”. He simply gave us an invitation, without trying to manipulate us or coerce us in any way.
He didn’t judge us or make us feel guilty if we didn’t go, he just said, “OK, that’s fine. Maybe another time. I’ll see you around.”
And we did see him around. He didn’t separate himself into his own little bubble of super spiritual Christians, though that group was an important community of faith to him.
He shared meals with us in the cafeteria, sometimes hung out with us on the floor, and talked to us when we were standing beside him at the sink in the communal bathroom on our floor.
Finally, after turning down about six invitations from Russ, I decided that I would give in and go to one of his Bible studies. It was a little uncomfortable at first, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, and I kind of liked the people there.
So I went again. And again. And again. And before I knew it, I was a regular. I looked forward to going every week, because I was really enjoying learning about the Bible and what it meant to be a follower of Jesus.
I also became more comfortable with praying out loud in a group, which is something I didn’t grow up doing.
And then I got involved with the worship services in our dorm and the activities of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship on our campus. In the end, it changed my life and shaped the direction of not only my faith but also my career.
I don’t think I would be standing here today if Russ hadn’t invited me to “come and see” his Bible study. He had found meaning, joy and community in his life through it, and wanted to share it with others. So he reached out to those around him.
One things I’ve picked up in the short time I’ve been here at Daniels Run Peace Church is that people find a lot of meaning, joy and community here This is a special, diverse group of people seeking to follow more closely in the footsteps of Jesus.
This is a life-giving place, both to the people who worship here, as well as to the community surrounding us.
If we believe that this church is a good place to worship, grow in faith, and find community and support, then hopefully we will feel comfortable inviting people we know to “come and see” and check us out.
I know that during this pandemic when we can’t all be together in person, it’s a challenging time to think about inviting people to join us. But maybe it’s less scary for some people to join us via Zoom than in person?
And I know that the idea of inviting people to church can raise the heart rate and blood pressure. But there are opportunities that present themselves naturally to just say to someone, ‘hey, why don’t come worship with us this Sunday, there will be some great food at our meal after the service”.
Or opportunities like “we have this fall festival that’s really fun, and your kids would love it”. Or maybe just telling someone to check out our website to find out more about us.
You don’t have to have all the answers or be a super Christian” to invite people to a worship service or a church event. All you have to do is extend an invitation to “come and see”.
Sometimes the opportunity to invite someone is created when people are curious about the things that we do as a church .
Or maybe that opportunity happens because someone notices something about how you live your, how you treat other people with love and grace, or how you care for God’s creation.
And they wonder, what motivates you to live that way? Why do you care so much about other people on God’s good earth? How can you still have hope in this crazy world that we live in?
Really, our life is our best testimony and witness to others. People see how God and this community has changed our life and they’re curious to know more about it.
1 Peter 3:15 says, Always be ready to answer everyone who asks you to explain about the hope you have, 16 but answer in a gentle way and with respect.
Like John and Andrew and Peter and Philip and Nathanael, let’s open ourselves up to be “come and see” kind of people, willing to share what we’ve found with those around us. AMEN.