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Jesus Says, "Follow Me"

On Pentecost island in Vanuatu, there used to be a coming of age ritual similar to bungee jumping. In fact this is where bungee jumping originated. The elders built a tower from bamboo poles; and then using vines, they make ropes which they attach to the ankles of the young participant. The young man then makes a head-first leap from the tower and plunges about forty or fifty feet toward the ground. The vines break the fall at the last second and the young fellow is spared becoming an upside down fence post. Or they don't.
You jump and survive, and you are considered a man.
I am really glad that we don't do anything more daunting than passing a driver's license test..
Other cultures have their own process for life's transitions.

A question I am sometimes asked is, "how did you feel called into ministry?".
At times I have asked myself the same question, and all I can say is it was a building conviction inside which I acted upon and that in spite of my own questions, has been confirmed strongly enough that I continue.
Very few receive a dramatic lightning bolt of certainty, though it does happen.

The gospels tell us of the calling of several of Jesus followers, and for each of them, its a different experience.
I suppose we remember the calling of James and John best. Jesus sees . . .

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ?Follow me.?

                                                                                                                John 1:43

On Pentecost island in Vanuatu, there used to be a coming of age ritual  similar to bungee jumping. In fact this is where bungee jumping originated. The elders built a tower from bamboo poles; and then using vines, they make ropes which they attach to the ankles of the young participant. The young man then makes a head-first leap from the tower and plunges about forty or fifty feet toward the ground. The vines break the fall at the last second and the young fellow is spared becoming an upside down fence post. Or they don't.
You jump and survive, and you are considered a man.
I am really glad that we don't do anything more daunting than passing a driver's license test..
Other cultures have their own process for life's transitions.

A question I am sometimes asked is, "how did you feel called into ministry?".
At times I have asked myself the same question, and all I can say is it was a building conviction inside which I acted upon and that in spite of my own questions, has been confirmed strongly enough that I continue.
Very few receive a dramatic lightning bolt of certainty, though it does happen.

The gospels tell us of the calling of several of Jesus followers, and for each of them, its a different experience.
I suppose we remember the calling of James and John best. Jesus sees them mending nets and says, "come I will make you fishers of men." And they leave the fishing business and follow Jesus.

Philip is from the same town as Andrew and Peter...the town of Bethsaida in the region of Galilee, which is where most of his followers come from. The term Galilee means "region of foreigners" and was populated by gentile pagans as well as pious Jews.
Apparently the town of Bethsaida, which means "home of fish" was as much Greek in culture as Jewish. Jesus came  to people who were used to mixing with gentiles when He began to recruit his first missionaries. If His disciples had all been from Jerusalem, the church may never have grown beyond Jerusalem.

Follow me
Jesus issues an invitation to Philip, who is not offered an idea to ponder, a set of beliefs to examine or an experience to savor. He is offered a person to follow. He say, "follow me".
Jesus dares to identify Himself as the source of God's guidance.

Before baptism and church membership, I offer classes that give an orientation to Christ, to the Presbyterian Church in Canada and to West Shore in particular. As Presbyterians we have our confessional standards. They are helpful documents, but should not be confused with being a follower of Jesus.
The way you know if you are on the right path is to ask, "who am I following?"
If you are following Jesus, you are on the right path.
If you are following your own ideas and inclinations, there is a good chance you are off the path.

It's true that Jesus instructed his followers, and we still have His teachings as well as the rest of the Biblical cannon for a guide book and manual. You cannot follow Jesus and throw away his teachings, or selectively decide which ones you will follow and which ones you will not.

We don't know what Philip saw in Jesus or how he was persuaded. All we know is that he was, in fact he was so persuaded that he went and told his friend Nathaniel that Jesus was the promised One that even Moses wrote about.
This was a very powerful claim, but it was not unique.
There had been other claimants to the mantle of messiah.
At one point Jesus even makes reference to a group who the Romans had put to death.
Interestingly, Nazareth had been a hotbed of messiah pretenders who had led people in insurrection.
The results were catastrophic as the Romans dealt very swiftly with insurrection of any kind.

Knowing Nathaniel's background and Nazareth's reputation as the equivalent of modern day Gaza, a center of rebellion, you understand Nathaniel's response.
You can almost see him clap himself on the head and say, "Oh no! Not another messiah out of Nazareth!"  What is recorded are his words, "Can anything good come from Nazareth?"
He is not calling Nazareth a hick town because it was no more backwoods than Bethsaida. He is saying, "Nazareth is trouble".

So what was it about Jesus that was so convincing for Philip?

When you follow Jesus, life changes
Following Jesus now is as radical now as it was then.
It means having Jesus not just as our good example but as chief and lord of our life.
It's easy to confuse being good with being a follower. Following Jesus doesn't mean being bad, but its more than just trying to be good.
It's easy to confuse being a follower of Jesus with being "churchy".
It's hard to follow Jesus just on your own with no instruction no encouragement and no fellowship. It is possible but we are not designed to live that way.
Confusing those things with being a follower of Jesus is like confusing the box with the corn flakes.

How do you identify Kellogg's Corn Flakes? If I asked you, you would describe the box nine times out of ten because that is our way of knowing what it is.
People identify being a believer with the church they attend.
Its how most of us first experience Him.
But we know the difference between the box and the corn flakes.
And we need to know that the delivery system, the church, is not the content.

And so being a follower of Jesus means taking Jesus at His word and day by day implementing what He shows us.
It is resting in His love and mercy for our identity and not driving ourselves crazy trying to invent it for ourselves.
Knowing that you are his and that you are loved just the way you are is a good way to answer, "who am I?"

Jesus is the real deal

When we begin to impose Jesus' path on our life, our life changes.
The changes are good and were good enough that Philip saw that this was the real deal.
Walk in the footsteps of Jesus and you will see that it's the real deal.

When Jesus meets Nathaniel there is an interesting exchange.
Jesus says, "Ah, a true Israelite without guile." He first acknowledges that Nathaniel is the real deal, before Nathaniel offers him the same respect.
Imagine that!
God recognizes you as the real deal before you do Him the same courtesy.
That sounds backward, doesn't it?
Is it any more backward than the sinless son of God dying in your place to offer you a place in His kingdom?
Now if anything is backward, that is backward and upside down.
In this life there is no free lunch and you attain no great honor without proving yourself and earning it.
That's how life works.
No ticket, no laundry.

God says, "here is the ticket, now go get cleaned up."

Nathaniel's response is true to his character. He says, "how do you know me?"
Jesus says to him, "I saw you under the fig tree."
This sounds plain enough, that Jesus knew and foresaw him before they met.

But the term "under the fig tree" is also very symbolic.
In the prophets, the messianic age will be one where "every man will sit under his own fig tree".
He is perhaps saying, "You ask if there is anything good (a messiah) from Nazareth, but I know that you have a profound sense of what it means to live in God's new kingdom. I have found you Nathaniel, but you have been looking for me, haven't you?"

And that's the way it is. When we meet Jesus we have two powerful realizations:
1. Jesus is someone who really knows us the way we are. And he validates us the way we are.
2. When we meet Jesus we find in Him what we have been looking for all along.

The search ends here for Nathaniel and Philip.
How about you?
What are you looking for?
I will offer you the same words Philip offered to Nathaniel.  
It is all to be found in Jesus. Come and see.
Check it out for yourself.

Preached  January 15, 2006
Dr. Harold McNabb
West Shore Presbyterian Church
Victoria, British Columbia
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