AN ALMOST FORGOTTEN CHURCH WORD
A sermon on John 1:43-51
First Baptist Church of Lynchburg
January 17, 2021
By Paul Dakin
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord our Strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip replied, “Come and see.” (John 1:46)
There’s a story that goes something like this: In a small, rural county seat town, the local Baptist church called a new pastor. The minister was unfamiliar with the area and was still finding his way around town when he needed to buy some stamps and mail some letters. So he went down to the town square and walked around looking for the post office.
At first he did not have any success. But as he walked around, he spied a boy hanging out on the sidewalk near the courthouse. So the pastor walked up to him and said, “Hi Sonny. Can you tell me where the post office is?”
“Sure, mister,” came the reply, “Just walk two blocks that way. Turn left and you’ll see it right there.”
“Thank you so much,” said the pastor. Then after a thoughtful minute, he asked the boy, “Do you go to church anywhere?”
“No sir, I don’t go to church.”
“Well…would you like to go to heaven?”
“If you want to know, I can tell you how to get there….”
“Mister,” the boy replied, “How are you going to tell me how to get to heaven when you don’t even know how to get to the post office?” Hmmmmm…After an awkward silence, the pastor continued on his way to the post office with the boy’s question still ringing in his ears…
Evangelism…it seems to me that “evangelism” is a word that has fallen on hard times in church life over the last few decades. Sometimes it has been replaced with other expressions like “church growth” or “congregational health.” Or sometimes the topic of evangelism has been all but ignored
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altogether. Whatever the reason may be, it is my observation that not many people in church want to
talk about evangelism these days.
I think that is especially true of moderate Baptists, a group of which First Baptist Church is a
part. It’s not that we do not know that evangelism is part of our mission or that we are intentionally
trying to avoid it. Instead, we prefer to show the love of Jesus by emphasizing social justice for those on
the margins of society. It is battling racial inequity whenever and wherever it rears its ugly head. And it is
working with others to make sure that all of God’s children are properly fed…and properly housed…and
properly cared for.
These are great concerns that are surely part of the mission that our Lord gave to his church.
This is not up for debate for those who wish to follow Jesus. This is clear from our Lord’s words in
Matthew 25:40 where he tells us, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine [i.e.
feeding, and clothing and taking care of them], you did for me.” The social implications of the gospel of
Christ are far-reaching and all inclusive. They are not to be ignored by anyone who seriously claims to
And yet, evangelism is also one of the most important ingredients to the success of any church
anywhere. Our Lord was clear about this as well when he told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all
nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching
them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”1 But evangelism is not on many Christians’ radar
these days. Frankly I do not think that the reason why is all that difficult to discern…
Let’s tell the truth: evangelism has gotten a bad rap over the years. And I think that it has to do
with some of the caricatures and the negative connotations that have become associated with the word.
These perceptions have made the whole idea of evangelism distasteful to a lot of Christians…
Perhaps the word “evangelism” conjures up in the mind the stereotype of the flamboyant
evangelist preacher. You know what I’m talking about—a man (usually) dressed in a flashy suit with
poofed-up hair pounding on the pulpit, waving the Bible around, strutting up and down the aisles while
loudly thundering on as he denounces sin and begging and pleading and cajoling everyone to get
saved…Or to some, maybe evangelism carries the image of some self-righteous person trying to cram
their personal beliefs down someone else’s unwilling throat…Or maybe it’s the high-pressure tactics that
some use in presenting the gospel message that turn some people off—tactics which seem to reduce
the message of Jesus into some kind of merchandise, something to be bargained for…Or maybe it’s an
attitude that is unintentionally fostered by the First Amendment to the US Constitution. That’s the one
that guarantees religious liberty in our nation. Perhaps that has given rise to an attitude of “live and let
live”—the concept that all religious viewpoints are equally valid and that we should all just let people
live their lives as they see fit and hope for the best in the end.
1 Matthew 28:19-20, also known as “The Great Commission.”
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There are probably other reasons to explain why evangelism as an emphasis in many churches
has been on the wane. But the word “evangelism” need not be a neglected word. It is an honorable
word. It is a word with a Biblical pedigree…
The word “evangelism” is derived from the New Testament Greek word euaggelizo. The word
means “to bring good news.” And that is what evangelism at its most basic really is. It is simply bringing
the gospel message—the “good news”—to those who do not yet know Jesus as Lord. In the sermon text
today, we have an example of evangelism from early on in Jesus’ ministry. This interaction between the
Apostle Philip and a man named Nathanael can serve as a model for what evangelism should look like—
even for the church some 2000 years later…
Earlier in John 1, we are told of Jesus’ interaction with John the Baptist down by the Jordan
River, where John pointed to Jesus and declared, “Look—there is the Lamb of God that takes away the
sin of the world.” Then we are told that Jesus began to gather his first disciples. He began with Andrew
and Simon Peter, who had heard John’s testimony about Jesus. Then we pick up with today’s text…
Our Lord traveled to the town of Bethsaida and invited Philip to follow him. Then we are told
that Philip found a man named Nathanael and told him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the
law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus, son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
There is a good bit of scholarly debate concerning Nathanael’s initial reply. He said, “Can
anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nazareth was a small out-of-the-way place in the Galilean countryside. It was not near any
major road or trade route. In fact, Nazareth was so obscure and insignificant that the town is not even
mentioned anywhere in the Old Testament. It was hardly a center of learning—religious or otherwise.
Some scholars have suggested that the statement “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” was
perhaps a proverb that was current in 1st Century Galilee—perhaps analogous today to when people
from Virginia poke fun at people from West Virginia. (!) Others have suggested that perhaps Nazareth
had a reputation for loose living and that surely the Savior would not be associated with such a place.
But no one is really sure. All that we know is that Nathanael did not think very much of Nazareth, the
place where Jesus was raised.
I think that Philip’s answer is instructive for us today. Notice how Philip responds. He does not
take up an argument over Nathanael’s objection about how Nazareth might (or might not) be a cultural
backwater or disreputable place. He does not try to prove that Jesus is the Savior through arguments
from the Bible. He does not try to describe Jesus in glowing terms in order to pique his interest further.
No. He just extends to Nathanael a simple three word invitation: “Come and see.”
And so Nathanael follows Philip to meet Jesus. When Jesus sees Nathanael, He describes him as
“truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” What a great compliment that Jesus gives Nathanael!
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This is the only place in the gospels where Jesus says that of anyone. And then after a further exchange
between Nathanael and Jesus, Nathanael confesses that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel…
We do not know much else about Nathanael. His name does not appear in any of the lists of the
apostles in the gospels nor in Acts.2 The only other time we read about Nathanael is in John 21:2. There
he is listed among those who went fishing with Simon Peter and the others after Jesus’ resurrection
appearances. But it seems safe to assume that he became one of the earliest followers of Jesus and
followed him for the rest of his ministry.
But it all began with Philip’s words to Nathanael, “Come and see.” Ultimately that is all we can
do as followers of Jesus—invite those who have yet to meet Jesus to check him out for themselves.
The truth is that no one is ever argued into the kingdom of God. The Christian faith is one that
can stand rigorous intellectual investigation. It has been that way for over 2000 years. And we should do
our best to present the gospel message as a reasonable faith to those who do not know him. But that
alone will not make anyone commit themselves to Jesus. Ultimately all we can do is say, “Come and
Others have tried to scare the hell out of people and scare them into the kingdom. They would
paint an eternity without Jesus to be feared with pictures painted of a fiery hell and eternal damnation
that awaits them right around the corner. Some folks have some apparent success with that method of
evangelism, having people fill out response cards indicating their desire to accept Jesus at the end of the
In the final analysis, though, I have wondered how effective that way is in bringing people to
Jesus. I have heard the stories of those who made a decision at such events, or in light of such
preaching, only too soon to return to their old ways of living. Not much of a changed life that Christ has
promised to those who follow in his way. Again, all we can ultimately do for those who have yet to meet
Jesus is to extend the invitation, “Come and see.”
And that’s the way that the kingdom is built and the church is grown. It is not with fancy church
programs. It is not with flashy worship services with all the latest technologies and hot-off-the-press
music. It is not by using fear to stimulate decisions. No—it is all about relationships with those who do
not know Jesus and inviting them to “Come and see”—to investigate the claims of Christ and see for
themselves. To discover the change that the Holy Spirit can make in the life of the believer. To look into
how a life lived in the light of Christ can make a difference, not only within the individual, but also in the
community that surrounds us.
As the sermon draws to a close, I have a question for those of you who know Jesus: Who among
those in your circle do you need to extend the invitation about Jesus, “Come and see”? Who needs to
2 Matthew 10:2-4, Mark 3:16-19, Luke 6:14-16, and Acts 1:13.
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know about the saving grace and matchless love of God in their lives? Maybe it is time for you to extend
the invitation, “Come and see,” to them.
And if you are hearing or reading this…and you have yet to experience the difference that Jesus
can make in your life, I say to you the same words that Philip told Nathanael, “Come and see.” Examine
the claims of Christ for yourself. See if he is worthy of your love and devotion. Determine whether or not
he is someone to follow and stake your life on. Millions have for generations. Might you also find a
relationship with God through Jesus that will satisfy the deepest longings of your soul? There’s only one
way to find out: Come and see.
To God alone be the glory! Amen.