Cornerstone EPC Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734 July 24, 2016
“The Power of Personal Invitation”
Text: John 1:35-51
Think this morning of your favorite book. Or, if you prefer, think of a favorite episode from one of your favorite television shows. Now think how much you enjoy these books and episodes. Doubtless you could read or view, again and again, to your delight and—perhaps—to your profit.
I hope you feel the same way about today’s sermon. In various forms and presentations, the essential material here presents itself before us for the third time in my ministry here—and at least the sixth time in my increasingly many years as a pastor. I continue to need to hear this, though, and maybe you will profit as well.
How irresistible at times is the invitation, “Come and see.” Let us consider a few examples of near-irresistible invitations. Consider, for instance, that an entertainer will appear at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts. Someone will say to another some variation of, “Come and see,” and another will respond and be glad to go to the show.
Or consider that I, like many of you, do not wish to be off the mountain at any time during the summer (due to the near-insufferable heat waiting at the mountain’s base)—or, for that matter, in October, lest we miss any of our usually spectacular leaf display. We, in a moment of wondrous magnanimity, invite friends from off the mountain to come visit us—and, in so doing, to get blessed relief from the heat or to see our leaf display. Those invited folks, if they know our land and if they can get away from where they are, often find themselves overjoyed either to be enjoying our relative summer mildness or to be viewing the spectacular beauty that God affords us here in October.
Or consider that a friend may suggest to you, “Come and see our new porch swing,” or, “Come and see our long-range mountain view from the rear deck,” or, “Come see the nursery we have prepared for our new baby.” We go to see someone’s new enhancement to their home or property, and often we are glad we did. The thing is beautiful, and we often rejoice in their happiness and in God’s goodness to us all.
We have before us in the Scriptures such an irresistible invitation. Let us note it, and then let us note that we can issue it in turn. Hear now the Word of the Lord read in this place.
(HERE READ THE TEXT)
The words “Come and see” occur twice explicitly in our text—once in the first paragraph and once in the second. In the first paragraph (John 1:35-42), Jesus invites Andrew and an unnamed disciple to note where He is staying, saying, “Come and see.” These two came to Jesus after John the Baptist declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (John 1:35). After Andrew and the other man follow Jesus, they wonder where Jesus is staying, and He invites them, “Come and see.” When Jesus utters these words, there well may a double meaning in view here; these double meanings occur frequently in John’s Gospel. Not only shall Andrew and the unnamed disciple come and see where Jesus stays, but they also shall come and see Gospel truth. To sum, then, Jesus invites these two men to Himself, and they respond favorably.
Andrew in turn invites his brother Simon in a sense to come and see, saying, “We have found the Messiah.” This is quite a claim from Andrew, and Peter comes in response. Jesus welcomes him, saying that though he is Simon, son of John, he shall be called Cephas. Cephas, in the late Hebrew dialect known as Aramaic, is equivalent to Peter in Greek; both mean rock. We know much from other Scripture passages about Peter. He becomes one of an innermost circle of disciples and at times appears to be their spokesman—and, in Peter’s evident foibles, we see much of our own as well.
The second explicit occurrence of “Come and see” occurs when Philip invites Nathanael to meet Jesus. Philip has heard Jesus’ call to discipleship, “Follow Me,” and he in turn invites Nathanael. He tells Nathanael that he has found Him to Whom the Law and Prophets testify—Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael questions this closely, asking, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Once again, we have a double meaning before us. It is as if the Spirit through Philip is inviting Nathanael not only to come and see if something good comes from Nazareth, but to come and see Him Who is ultimate good. Nathanael is persuaded by Jesus’ foreknowledge of him, and Jesus assures him that he will see much more.
To these examples of “Come and see” we can add other Scriptural examples. The Sons of Korah extend the Holy Spirit’s invitation to come and see occurs in Martin Luther’s favorite psalm, Psalm 46. These inspired penmen write, “Come, behold the works of the LORD, the desolations He hath wrought” (Psalm 46:8). Hence, we see God in some degree through His works. We hear another invitation to come and see on the lips of a Samaritan woman, a notoriously sinful woman, who—after meeting Jesus—invited her fellow townspeople, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29). They came, and many of them believed, not just because of the woman’s testimony, but also because of Jesus’ testimony concerning Himself. It is amazing at times what happens when the Lord invites folks.
Two facts rise with crystal clarity from the text. First, we are invited to Jesus and to fellowship with His people. Many of us in this place have responded positively to Him. I pray the rest of us will do so soon—even this hour. Second, we are called to invite others to Jesus and to fellowship with His people. This is obvious from the text, yet certain difficulties attend this action, and the rest of our extended application today looks at common difficulties in this enterprise and their remedies. Give ear and take heart, for there is more good news to come.
First, some of us may be forced to admit, “I don’t know Jesus very well.” We will have trouble inviting folks to Jesus if we do not know Him well. This usually reflects a lack of participation in fundamental activities for the Christian, such as Bible intake, prayer, private and public worship, and fellowship with other Christians. God makes Himself known to us more fully as we participate in these means. Hence, a good remedy for perceived lack of knowledge of Jesus is focus on the aforementioned fundamentals. Jesus ever invites you to know Him better, O believer, and these means will help.
Second, some of us may lament, “I don’t have much sense of His power in my life.” We may say, similarly, “I don’t have much of a story to tell.” This condition occurs at times despite a right use of the means of grace, and spiritual dryness often is at its root. Here is a twofold remedy for this. Ask God to help you recall His work in your life. If you are having trouble recalling, then let me know and perhaps I can suggest some areas for reflection. The Psalmist calls us to remember the works God has done (Psalm 105:5); let us recall His works in general and his works to us-ward (to use an old word) in particular. Also, ask God to fill you afresh with the powerful Holy Spirit. He will again fill and empower your life, and as He does this you will have a story to tell and a power in which to tell it.
Third, some of us may think, “I don’t have gifts of personality and communication.” I know a couple, of which the wife says of her husband, “He can talk to a post.” Granted, he does have considerable heart for people and skill with them. Others similarly gifted are credited with the ability to talk to a wall radiator in the room. These are folks uncommonly gifted in interpersonal relations and communication. Then there is the rest of us.
It is painful for some to reach out to others, either due to innate personality make-up or to previous painful interpersonal experience. Here is the remedy, couched this time in the language of encouragement. God ordained your personality make-up and uses your life experiences—be they ever so painful—for His glory and your good. God will use this mix to bless others through you. Consider this: God has ordained that He will use your personality and experience, though you think yourself deficient in interpersonal gifts, to reach others for Himself—and consider that the folks you reach may not be reached by folk with better apparent gifts. Do not despair if you are introverted, reserved, or (or, alas, and) deeply hurt. God will use your apparent weakness and will exude His great power through it (see 2 Corinthians 12:9).
Fourth, some of us may expect, “No one will listen to me or will follow Him.” Under this thought are a couple of others, such as, “They will reject the message and likely me too,” and, “The ground is so much harder now.” No one likes rejection, to be sure, and sharing Christ with a view to favorable response may be more likely in our challenging time than formerly. Yet there are remedies for this in God’s good providence; let’s consider a few.
Befriend the un-churched and de-churched—and, moreover, let not your friendship with them be contingent on receiving Christ as Lord. Some people have no Christian people in their lives, and your life will be a blessing to them even apart from what they will or will not do regarding Jesus Christ. Your life may be the very means of opening their lives to the inestimable presence of Jesus within them. Also know this: Though these are challenging times for Christians, yet God will call a people to Himself in His Son—and this He will accomplish despite the apparent challenges to it. People, even now (and maybe especially now), are dying to know that a living Lord loves them and invites them to Himself. Befriend those who yet stand outside the camp, and in time they well may long to be inside where you are.
Fifth, though some Christian somewhere may recoil from this admission, he or she is forced to admit, “I don’t like my church (or some facet of it).” In my own now increasingly-long ministry, I have heard, near verbatim, “Why would I invite anybody here? I’m ashamed of us.” If this be your difficulty, here is the remedy: Examine yourself and us carefully. If some aspect of our life needs improvement, let’s improve it if we can. Yet be aware that God may have us exactly as He would have us, and, in view of this, I urge you—ever so gently—to be prepared to repent of the dislike you feel and to ask God to remove it. I believe He will honor such a request, and you and others around you will enjoy His blessing in consequence.
Sixth, in the same vein but not so strident, is this difficulty: “I don’t want our church to grow.” This difficulty, when translated, means “I want things to stay as they are.” It is a common truism in American Christian life that most churches needing growth want growth until it occurs. Then things change, and they don’t like the change. We need a remedy, and, happily, one avails. Ask God to help you trust Him for His providential future. Recall God’s precious promise to us through Jeremiah, “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11). This is true for Christians both individually and in the aggregate. Also, ask God to make you able and willing to welcome folks who come. Doubtless we can in Christ be a blessing to them, and perhaps He in His goodness will make them a blessing to us. In view of this, let us let everything we do here have some outreach component, for we can trust the result of new folks joining us here to His infinitely wise superintendency.
These difficulties do not exhaust the list, but they suffice to show that no matter the difficulties incumbent on reaching out to folks with the life-giving message of Jesus Christ, He can handle them. Know then this day that you are invited—“Come and see”—to Christ and to His people, and may we—in His power, by His grace, and for His glory—invite some folks to the same. Amen.
 I have preached various forms of this sermon, under various titles, since at latest September 25, 2005. Thrice I preached this text at Sylvania Presbyterian Church [EPC], northern Lonoke County, Arkansas, and now I preach it for a third time at Cornerstone EPC.