Bible Reading Matthew 16:13-17, John 20:26b-29
Our readings today describe two of the most well known confessions recorded in the Bible. They are made by Peter and Thomas. The first is
- Matthew 16:13-17 When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” 14 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. (NIV)
- John 20:26b-29 Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” 28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV)
My guess is that if you hadn’t just heard those two readings, if someone walked up to you and said, “Confess!” Your gut reaction would be, “What did I do wrong?” or “What do they think I did wrong?” or Which of the wrong things I did are they asking about? and “How did they know??”
Maybe it is just because I watch too many detective shows. They bring the suspect in -- they make them wait uncomfortably long, then come in and sit across from them -- throw in front of them some gory pictures, talk about some of the evidence that they’ve accumulated (or pretend they’ve accumulated), and start talking about what they think is the suspect’s motive, and when they think the suspect is primed, they finally belt it out “It is obvious to us, we have more than enough evidence. We know you did it! Confess!” And since it is a scripted show, the suspect in exasperation finally blurts out a response. “All right! all right. This is the truth of what happened.” And they confess all the first-hand information they know about situation -- and if they are guilty of the accusation, they confess that too.”
In most circles today, a confession is an admission of something done wrong. Even in religious circles, we confess our sins. But the key descriptive words of a confession is “a truth based on first-hand experience on a given event, experience or topic.” A confession is not necessarily a negative thing. Though generally speaking, we now label the negative admissions as a confession and a positive statement as an affirmation. Nevertheless, while the words are not in these texts, Peter’s “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God”, and Thomas’s “My Lord and my God”, are commonly (traditionally) labeled as confessions -- a statement of truth based on first hand experiences.
Peter’s confession introduces the opportunity for Jesus to tell his disciples what was going to happen to him in Jerusalem (See Matthew 16:21ff). Thomas’ confession demonstrates the victory of belief over doubt, that faith in Jesus brings true life. (See John 20:30-31).
Today’s two confessions are in the context of Jesus’ call to follow him. It often fades into the shadows because they are not the more popular disciples, it is not as dramatic as other confessions, or even among the disciples’ calls, it is not as powerfully transforming as the more influential disciples who left their nets, or tax collecting booth -- who left everything to follow Jesus. Yet here it is, at the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus. Hear the text
- John 1:43-50 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found 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.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” (NIV)
A confession is first-hand
We've all seen the bumper sticker "Let me tell you about my grandchildren." People who are so proud, so excited, they announce it on their car that if you've got the guts to listen, they've got the desire to tell all about them.
We talk, write, even send photos. Despite the digital cameras and social media to communicate it; at some point they realize that no camera can ever capture it, no description can make it come completely alive for another, no analysis can do it justice. We realize that the only way for another to experience what we experience is for them to experience it for themselves. That is why, when all is said and done, when your child or dear friend calls and says 'It's a boy" or “It’s a girl” and they describe weight and height and hair (or lack of it) and send all kinds of great pictures, it doesn't matter. If it is at all possible, you drop everything, and go to see for yourself this new one that has captured their life, and now yours.
Peter had been living with Jesus 24-7 for over two years before his confession. Thomas confessed the overcoming of his doubts when the resurrected Christ appeared and had him touch his hands and side. We don’t know how much Philip had heard or known of Jesus before Jesus found him and said follow. Our text mentions that Andrew and Peter and Philip came from the same town, which may be implying that they knew each other, perhaps they had already had conversations about Jesus, may have even crossed paths with Jesus. It is clear that Jesus had at least heard of Philip (perhaps from Andrew and Peter?) for the text is clear that one day he deliberately decided to go to Galilee with the purpose of finding and recruiting him.
However long or short was Philip’s experience with Jesus, his heart was captured by his life, love, kindness, knowledge, and power. He couldn't contain it; he couldn't explain it. He said, "You've got to see this -- You've got to meet this Person for yourself."
John, who penned the story for us, is encouraging us to experience what he, Philip and Nathaniel experienced. We sang it earlier. “This is MY story, this is MY song, praising my Savior all the day long”. (EMPHASIS ADDED) A confession is first-hand.
Has Christ captured your heart?
Has Christ captured your heart to the point you can't keep quiet about it? Do you feel everyone needs to experience for themselves his powerful love? to know the difference he makes in our life and in our world?"
We need others to know because it is not just “my” experience and “my” relationship that is important. There is a “we” to it as well. Philip tells his brother, “WE’VE found the Messiah written about in the Law and prophets.” That is to say, even though Nathaniel hadn’t yet seen him, Philip has included Nathaniel in the discovery of the one they both had been looking for -- and not only them, all of Israel has been seeking him for generations… The promised Messiah who would restore Israel, forgive sins, and would reign in peace over the world.
This story is calling us to come and see for ourselves -- to find God’s presence among us and in our lives. The original language implies surprise or unexpected discovery. Ever have a young toddler come up to you jumping up and down full of excitement and joy eager to show you – “Look what we found!!”? Because finding the Messiah would be like looking for a needle in a haystack’s worth of needles. We could search all our lives and never find that one needle. We know because they’d been doing it for centuries.
Imagine an assignment in which you are to find a specific big-time manager who has or will arrive at the Mall of America, which has about 40 million annual visitors. You know his title, but he isn’t wearing it on a name tag or uniform, and probably has no uniform. He will blend right in. You don’t know his name, you don’t know what he looks like, you don’t even know when he is going to show up. You only know a few things about his future career -- but even that takes deep study. How absolutely shocked you would be if you ever discovered this person in that packed out mall. Yet you search day after day after day after day.
The manager arrives. And much to your astonishment, he knows exactly who you are, what you look like, what you live like, what you talk like, and when and where you are. And he is standing right in front of you. The manager has found you! And in your amazement, you go tell your friends, family, and loved ones that you found the one you were looking for.
People in every generation and in every culture are look for the presence of God. Many give up, become cynical, don't really expect to find what they are looking for. But the manager has “flown in from another world” and is at the Mall of our crowded life and he finds us. Suddenly, there he is! Right in front of us! Found! But do we even notice or do we look beyond and around him?
Philip, after this shocking personal encounter, runs to Nathaniel: “We found the Messiah that we were looking for.” You see, there is some liberality in our language about how we say who found who. So let's be clear -- God isn’t waiting for us to find him. He comes to us, seeks us out, looks for opportunities to express His love and grace to us and through us. The question is, will we notice?
Philip’s confession mentioned the Nazareth roots in Jesus’ life. Nathanael hadn’t met him first-hand yet. He was skeptical. In what should be a warning to us about the danger of stereotypical, generalized thinking, Nazareth wasn’t considered a place that would produce big achievers much less the Messiah, and Nathaniel says so.
Philip doesn’t debate, doesn’t get defensive, or all judge-y. He simply says, “Come and see for yourself”. Philip knew that all Nathanael would need was his own personal encounter.
They began to move toward Jesus. Jesus sees them coming -- “Here is an honest person.” How do you know? “I saw you under the fig tree” -- (trees were a typical place of meditation and study) Jesus recognized in Nathaniel he was a sincere seeker – [Are you a true seeker?] and if Jesus saw him there, now Nathaniel knew that Jesus knew, not only his practices but his heart. [What does God see in your heart? What descriptive phrase(s) would He use of you?] And now, having himself been found, Nathaniel’s doubt instantly changes to faith and he makes his own confession: Jesus is God’s Son and the King of Israel, and from here on, Jesus would lead him in his ways, his directions, his ethics, his Spirit. [What/Who do you follow?]
And the promise of the following is that we will be led to greater things than we can even imagine because Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth, between divine and human, between temporal and eternal. It is in him that we will see the presence of God, it is he whom we have been seeking as the answer to completing our life. To Nathaniel, that meant leaving behind the contemplation and devotion and study about the Messiah, and beginning to actively follow the Messiah and seeing the miracles, the teaching, and in time, the bridge Jesus made to God because of His work on the cross.
What is our call/confession?
Jesus found Philip and Philip con-fessed. Philip brought Nathaniel to come and see Jesus, and Nathaniel confessed. When Jesus finds and calls to us today and says “Confess!” What truth do we learn from our first-hand experience with him? Or to put it back into the context of the beginning of the sermon. When someone puts us in the interrogation room, walks in and places gory photos of the crucifixion in front us, talks about evidence of our connection with him (hopefully there will be some) and speaks to our motive, and then demands. “What is your connection to him, what part did you have to play in this?” What will we confess?
* Closing Prayer Now Lord as we looked at your Word, continue to pour out your Spirit of grace and love that we will testify to you name. Warm our hearts and focus our thoughts, that we may worship and live with renewed energy. You said through Paul that whoever believes with their heart and confesses with their mouth that Jesus is Lord will be saved. We understand that a confession of your Lordship is not only words, but a recognition there is a new life to live. Empower us to hear you call and respond by doing your will. Amen.
* Closing Music Here I Am, Lord
* Closing Blessing Now as you go, be strengthened, comforted, and inspired to live lives worthy of God, holding his people in our heart because we are being called into his kingdom and glory. Amen.