2019-8-25 The Power of Personal Invitation

Cornerstone EPC                                                                              Sunday morning
Franklin, NC 28734                                                                          August 25, 2019

“The Power of Personal Invitation”
John 1:35-51

(An earlier version of this sermon was preached at Cornerstone EPC; Franklin, North Carolina, on Sunday morning, July 24, 2016, plus at least once during my pastorate at Sylvania EPC; Ward, Arkansas [2002-2011])

 

 

How irresistible at times is the invitation, “Come and see.”  Consider your reaction, for example, if a friend asked you to accompany him or her to the Sandi Patty concert at the Smoky Mountain Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night.  That is an invitation worth accepting, to be sure.  Consider also how your off-the-mountain friend may respond to your potential invitation to come for a visit—either to enjoy our climate now or to enjoy fall leaf color later.  Likely he or she will appreciate your invitation very much.  Perhaps a friend invites you to their home, in order that you may view his or her new (or latest) enhancement to home or property—and, as a result, you get to rejoice with your friend over God’s good providence to him.

We too have such an irresistible invitation today in God’s Word.  Let us note it, and then let us note that we can issue it in turn.  Hear now the Word of our Lord.

(HERE READ THE TEXT)

Our text begins with Jesus inviting Andrew and another unnamed disciple of John the Baptist, “Come and see.”  John cried out in their hearing, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”—and they heard and acted in a manner consistent with what they heard.  They left John and followed Jesus.  Jesus asked them, “What are y’all seeking?”[1]  They ask him, “Where are you staying?”  Jesus then invites them, “Come, and you will see.”[2]  There is a double entendre, or double meaning, happening here.  In essence, Jesus invites Andrew and the other disciple not only to come and to see where He stays, but also to come and to see Gospel truth.

The chain of Gospel invitation now extends.  Andrew, after seeing and hearing Jesus, invites Peter, his brother, to come and to see.  He states, “We have found the Messiah.”  Indeed, the hope of God’s covenant people called Andrew to come and to see, and Andrew calls Peter similarly.  Peter comes, and Jesus welcomes him.

The next day Jesus, then bound for Galilee, found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”  Philip follows, and learns, and commit to follow Jesus.  Then Philip finds Nathanael and tells him, “We have found Him of Whom Moses wrote in the Law, and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  At the notion that anything good can come from insignificant Nazareth, Nathanael balks—whereupon Philip issues yet another double entendre, “Come and see.”  Philip invites Nathanael not only to come and to see if something good comes from Nazareth, but also to come and to see Him Who is ultimate good.  Nathanael is persuaded, to say the least, by Jesus’ foreknowledge of him.  He cries out, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus declares that, though Nathanael believe based upon Jesus’ foreknowledge of Him, Nathanael soon will see greater things—even angels ascending and descending upon Him.

Other Scriptural examples of invitation avail.  In Martin Luther’s (1483-1546) favorite Psalm, Psalm 46, we note God’s direct invitation to us, “Come, behold the works of the LORD” (Psalm 46:8).  We also note God’s invitation conveyed through a believer, as the woman at the well told her fellow Samaritan townsfolk: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did” (John 4:29).  In fact, Scripture in toto, while declaring God’s truth to us, also invites commitment to it—and, ultimately, to Him—to our triune God.

We are invited to Jesus and to fellowship with His people.  Many of us have responded positively to Him—expressing our trust in Jesus’ Person and work and crying out to Him for rescue from our sins.  May the rest of us do so soon.  We also are called to invite others to Jesus and to fellowship with His people.  This is obvious from the text, and it is a glorious privilege indeed.

Think for a moment about all the ways that people come to a church for the first time.  You may think of street signage, media advertisement, special program here, and many others.  Overwhelmingly, people come to a church for the first time because someone already here invited them.  Dwell on that: overwhelmingly, people come to a church for the first time because someone already here invited them.  Moreover, the pastor’s personal invitations to the church account for seven percent of the folk who come for the first time.  The invitations from the members and the regular attenders account for the rest—a whopping ninety-three percent.[3]

Yet certain difficulties attend this invitation endeavor.  Let’s look at a few, and let’s look at possible solutions to them.  Here is the first difficulty.  We may say of the Lord, “I don’t know Him very well,” or, “I don’t know Him well enough to tell another about Him.  Our remedy requires us to spend more time learning Him: in Scripture, in prayer, in worship, and in fellowship with other Christians, to name but four.  Focus on these fundamentals, and you will find yourself knowing Jesus better.  After all, He invites you to know Him better through these means.

Here is a second difficulty.  We may say, “I don’t have much sense of His power in my life,” or, “I don’t have much of a story to tell.”  This, if everything else be right in a life, testifies to spiritual dryness despite the right use of God’s means of grace.  Here is the remedy: Ask God to help you recall His work in your life.  Ask Him also to fill you afresh with His powerful Spirit.  These will give you both the matter and the manner for glorious, effective Gospel witness.

Here is a third difficulty, You may feel, and you may say,  “I don’t have gifts of personality and communication.”  Some can talk to a fence post or wall radiator, and then there is everyone else.  It is painful for some to reach out to others, due either to God-given personality make-up or to previous painful experience in interpersonal communication.  If you’re here, then I’m here with you.  Here, for us both, is the remedy.  God ordained your personality make-up and uses your life experiences—be they ever so painful—for His glory and your good.  More than this, God will use this mix to bless others through you.  It well may be that someone who needs Christ will be drawn better through your apparently modest gifts of personality and communication than through another with apparently better skills.  Trust Him with how He’s made us to bear fruit through your life for His glory.

Here is a fourth difficulty.  Perhaps you will say, “No one will listen to me or will follow Him.”  Other corollaries to this theorem are, “They will reject the message and likely me too,” and, ““The ground is so much harder now.”  This is a formidable difficulty, to be sure, but let’s look at some remedies.  Befriend the un-churched and de-churched.  That should not be hard, even here.  Nationally, according to a 2014 Pew Report, 31% of Americans attend church less than once per month—the standard churched/un-churched(de-churched) threshold.  Furthermore, let not your friendship with them be contingent on receiving Christ as Lord.  Enjoy them and bless them as you can.  Know that these are challenging times for Christians, but know also that God yet will call His people to Himself in His Son, but also know that people, even now (and maybe especially now), are dying to know that a living Lord loves them and invites them to Himself.

Here is a fifth difficulty, “I don’t like my church (or some facet of it).”  I have heard, in effect, “Why would I invite anybody here?  I’m ashamed of us.”  Here is the remedy for this difficulty: Examine yourself and us carefully.  If some aspect of our life needs improvement, let’s improve it if we can.  Be aware, though, that God may have us exactly as He would have us, and—I say this ever so gently—be prepared to repent of the dislike you feel and to ask God to remove it.

Here is sixth—and, for today, last—difficulty, “I don’t want our church to grow.”  This, when translated, usually means, “I want things to stay as they are.”  If we say this, then we like what we have, and we aim to keep it.  It is true that most churches needing growth want growth until it occurs.  Then things change, and they don’t like the change.  Here is the remedy: Ask God to help you trust Him for His providential future.  Ask God to help you welcome folks who come.  In fact, let everything we do—whether singing, praying, playing, eating, or anything else we do here at Cornerstone EPC—have an outreach component, and let us see what God will do with it.

Know you are invited—“Come and see”—to Christ and His people, and invite some folks to the same.  Then may they, and we, once again know the power of personal invitation.  AMEN.

[1] The Greek text indicates a plural number.

 

[2] The form of the Greek verb translated y’all will see (indicative mood: a declaration) in the English Standard Version is identical to the form generally translated see ye (imperative mood: a command).  I elect to translate, “Come ye and see ye,” though the ESV, of course, is defensible lexically.

[3] These figures rise from C. Wayne Zunkel, Dare to Grow! Ministry Builders Series (Chicago: David C. Cook, 1993).