PHILIP + How would we answer such ‘Greeks’ today?

Two men called Philip; get particular mention in the New Testament.
 
At Acts 6:5, we find 'Philip the Deacon’: one of the seven men appointed to look after practical matters, while the apostles got on with teaching; and preaching the word of God.
 
Later, at Acts 8:26, we find him in a more spiritual situation. On the desert road from Jerusalem to Gaza, he came across a chariot, in which sat a man from Ethiopia, searching for meaning, in the book of Isaiah.
 
Philip helped him to understand what he was reading: to become converted to Christ, to be baptized, and then go back to Ethiopia, a changed man, with a faith to proclaim, and to share.
 
The ministry of ‘Philip the Deacon’ is very interesting; but it is not quite as challenging to us, as that of ‘Philip the Apostle’, whom we now consider.
 
Despite just six, rather brief, Gospel references to him: he is not only interesting, but also an encouraging example of active Christian living.
 
In Chapter One of the Gospel according to John: Christ met Philip at Galilee, and said: ‘Follow me’. Soon afterwards: Philip fetched someone else, so that he, too, could meet Jesus, and hear what he had to say.
 
That ‘someone else’ was Nathaniel: of whom Jesus said: ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit’. This event offers several encouragements to us?
 
Philip’s delight in his own discovery of the Messiah, led him to tell someone else, who was a little sceptical, at first: ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip wasn't easily put off. ‘Come and see’, he said.
 
Philip helped create the conditions in which a good man, a true Israelite, responded to an even higher calling; became a true Christian, and a disciple of the Lord Jesus.
 
Nathaniel is one of those named; who saw, and spoke with, the Resurrected Christ at the lakeside: which proves that the new life of faith; into which he had entered, some three years before; had remained with him. Philip not only had the joy, of helping to create the conditions in which Nathaniel became a Christian: but also, of watching him develop and grow; into deeper and wider vision, faith, purpose and experience.
 
The men who wanted to see Jesus: were unlikely to have come from Greece itself. The Jews used the term 'Greeks' as a synonym for 'Gentiles' or  ‘foreigners' or simply ‘strangers’. Probably; these men were converts from paganism; who reverenced God, but who had not yet fully entered into the faith of the Jewish nation. Many such converts became Christians, and were built into the early Church.
 
Whatever their background: they knew enough about Jesus, to want to take that extra step; meet the man himself, and then listen to what he had to say.
 
Philip appears not to have asked them to explain themselves in any way. Instead, in the company of Andrew, he took them to see Jesus: for only he could make himself truly known to those earnest enquirers.
 
The next thirteen verses of that chapter (John 12: 23-36) are a record of the teaching that, presumably, Jesus gave to those strangers, as well as to the disciples, and to the crowd that had gathered. He spoke about his death, resurrection and glorification; about the life of service which must be entered into by his followers; and the acceptance; by God the Father; of all those who followed the Son, and put their faith in him.
 
Many, in the crowd, were likely to have had a narrow vision of God's love, and the promised Messiah: seeing everything in relation to Israel only.
 
Christ offered them a wider vision; of God's redeeming love for the whole world. He offered them himself, as the True Messiah, the One who would fulfil all divine good purposes.
 
As we know from our reading of the continuing story, many of those who stood and listened, became followers of Jesus. It is probable that those ‘Greeks’ became Christians.  If so, strangers became friends: earnest enquirers, seeking the truth; became possessors of it; and Philip appears to have taken a positive share in that ministry.
 
The last occasion when Philip was taking part in what was going on, and is mentioned by name: does not seem as encouraging as the other occasions, because he appears to have received a mild telling-off from Jesus.
 
Yet even this ‘telling off’; has its own particular encouragement to offer to us.
For about three years, Philip had been a close companion of Jesus. He had listened and learned; as well as watching and copying what the Lord did.
 
On top of that, along with the other apostles, Philip must have received special teaching, about the deep, spiritual truths that are given to those who earnestly seek God.
 
John 14 shows that; after nearly three years of close association with the Lord; and intense spiritual activity: Philip still did not fully understand what Christ’s relationship with his Heavenly Father entailed.
Jesus had just told his disciples that, to know him, was to know the Father also: when Philip said: ‘Lord: show us the Father, and we will be satisfied’.
 
Jesus said: ‘Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip?’
 
Christ’s question demonstrates that his followers can undertake valuable ministries, without fully understanding every aspect of what it is all about.
 
It shows Christ's continuing acceptance of those who fail to fully understand: for he carried on loving, guiding and trusting Philip. It demonstrates that those who are willing to follow Christ, come what may, can continue to grow in love, grace and effective service.
 
Philip was one of those named few, whose faithfulness and effectiveness is built into the story, and the witness, of the very early Church; and who still offer testimony, down through the years.
 
When Jesus said: ‘Follow me’, Philip’s reaction indicates that his new vision, of meaningful faith: brought with it a new and widening understanding, that the things of the Spirit are to be shared.
 
His life showed that the higher a Christian’s faith rises: the greater are the opportunities, for doing good in the Name of the Lord.
 
At John 1: Philip was in a familiar situation. He knew Nathaniel; and had just met Jesus; and could introduce them to each other. Acting alone: he went only as far as was necessary: leaving Jesus to make himself known to Nathaniel.
 
At John 12: Philip was in an unfamiliar situation. Approached by a number of ‘Greeks’, who were strangers, he seems to have felt a wee bit out of his depth; for he went to find Andrew, and, together, they handled the situation.
 
In today’s church: many, perhaps most, Christians; see their faith as a personal thing; and that what they do with it, is up to them.
 
Some do undertake occasional acts of witness and testimony, on a one-to-one basis: perhaps to a friend or neighbour.
 
However, comparatively few Christians act, with other Christians, in any form of witness and testimony; let alone take a share in the wider, corporate outreach of the Church, in general, or that of their local congregation.
 
Today, many Christians behave as though; somehow; they have been ‘put off’ taking part in the Church’s outreach: and justify themselves by saying that they are just ordinary Christians.
 
However: most dictionaries define ‘ordinary’ as: ‘That which is in accord with the established order of things’: and the ‘established order’ of the Christian life, is to be as receptive and responsive to the call of Christ; and as willing, obedient and effective, as those active Christians named in the gospels.
 
Philip was a good, ordinary Christian. He heard the call of Christ: and saw the wider vision of sharing the faith with others.
 
He had the wisdom to understand that he could go only so far: and left it to Jesus, to actually make himself known to Nathaniel.
 
He developed the further wisdom, of knowing that individual Christians are not an end in themselves: but are called to work together in constructive ways, within their congregations, and to reach out beyond them.
 
When the ‘Greeks’ were introduced to him (John 12: 22) Jesus began to speak about vastly important spiritual matters. Almost certainly; they experienced far more than they had even hoped for; to their great advantage and good.
 
Today: ‘Greeks’, who want to see Jesus, are likely to find themselves introduced to the church, and its structures, rather than to the Lord himself.
 
Christ had a group of ‘strangers’ added to the crowd around him.  He did not water down what he had to say, in case they did not fully understand. Instead, he spoke to them all, on vastly important spiritual matters.
 
He expects us to do the same, on his behalf. In those long-ago days: Philip and Andrew could lead earnest enquirers directly, into the presence of Christ, so that the Lord could make himself known to them.
 
Today, as in all the centuries since Christ’s earthly ministries: the Church is the Lord’s appointed, commissioned, but indirect channel of introduction.
 
Philip and Andrew did not have to be as Christ to those strangers: because the Lord was right there.
 
However: since Christ’s ascension: the Church has had to go somewhat beyond what Christians were called to be and to do, at the very beginning.
 
Today: Christians must be as Christ to those who seek him; until, through love, care and attention, the process of introduction begins, and the Lord himself takes over, in direct, spiritual communication. 
 
Today, in this parish, and in this church: how do we set about introducing Christ-seeking ‘Greeks’ or  ‘strangers’, to the Lord Jesus?   Amen.