I was talking with a friend a few months ago about an interesting job opening in a company that she really wanted to work for, and I said, ‘Why don’t you apply for it?” She said, “Because I’m not sure I am qualified for the job.” And so she didn’t apply. She knew we live in a qualification-conscious society.
In the business world bosses are looking for qualified candidates with the right credentials in education, background, and skill set. In the athletic world, coaches look for the most qualified, proven players in order to put together a winning team. This is true even in the world of the church. My home church just put together a search team to find our next pastor. They have a list of qualifications as they search for that individual.
All this emphasis on qualifications sometimes can leave people feeling less than adequate and not so good about themselves or their place in the whole scheme of things. Maybe even feel a little stuck and useless.
Scripture has an encouraging lesson for us today as we observe Jesus in the beginning stages of His mission. He is recruiting disciples to join Him in His mission. In our story today, we find Jesus choosing two men to be His disciples. His choices – Philip and Nathanael – are surprising because as we closely examine them, we find they lacked the qualifications one would think were necessary to be on the Savior’s salvation team.
Look at the first character, Philip. As we do some research on him, we don’t find much. Not to be confused with deacon Philip in the book of Acts; Matthew, Mark, and Luke just use his name in the listing of the twelve disciples. He doesn’t stand out; he’s not a rising star. He seems to be a quiet, in-the-background, ordinary, unimpressive sort.
John’s Gospel is where we find some information about Philip. He was from Bethsaida, in Galilee, which means he probably was already friends with Peter, Andrew, and Nathanael. He could’ve been a fisherman, which doesn’t exactly qualify him to reach people for Christ.
We know he was religious, because he was seeking God. He was Jewish even though his name was Greek meaning “lover of horses.” We know he knew his Old Testament Scriptures as we see him telling Nathanael about his discovery of the Messiah who would come and save the world. I found Him! he says.
After this calling in John chapter 1, we don’t hear a lot about Philip. What we do hear about him is not all that impressive. He always seems to be in over his head. For instance, in John chapter 6 – the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand – Jesus asks Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” John, in an editorial comment, said, “Jesus said this to test Philip.” He already knew what Philip was going to do; Jesus was testing his faith.
Since Philip had watched Jesus turn ordinary water into gallons of wine and heal all kinds of people, one would think Philip have said, We can feed them, but instead Philip responds, “Impossible! I’ve done the mental calculations. It would take six months wages to feed them. We can’t feed these people.” Then Andrew steps up with a little boy who had five loaves and two fishes for Jesus to use. He blesses the food and five thousand people are fed. It seems to be a lack of faith in Jesus and His ability to do the supernatural that is at work in Philip. He’s not really all that promising, wouldn’t you agree?
In John 12, some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus came to Philip, perhaps because his name was Greek. He thought to himself, I suppose, These people are non-Jews. We’ve never handled a situation like this. What should I do? I don’t want Jesus to be mad. It would set a bad precedent if I brought them. So instead of introducing them to Jesus as they had asked, he had Andrew handle it. Again, it appears that Philip was feeling over his head, indecisive, and afraid.
In John 14, the disciples are in the Upper Room on the night before Jesus went to the cross to pay for our sins. They are afraid, but Jesus tells them not to be troubled. A place has prepared for them in His Father’s house. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. Then He says, “If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”
Philip, of all things, says, “Show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.” He seems to be looking for some heavenly vision of sorts even after all the signs Jesus had given them along the way.
Jesus responded, “Philip, all this time, and you still don’t know me? He who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father?’ Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” Philip seems to be a little slow on the draw in this episode. He didn’t catch on as to who Jesus really is, and Jesus sounds a little disappointed in his response. You almost wince as you read it. That’s Philip!
So what did Jesus see in him? True, he knew some Scripture. True, he was a seeker of God and the Messiah. True, he didn’t keep Jesus to himself, but took the news to his friend. True, he was persistent. When Nathanael questioned him, Philip was wise enough not to argue but simply said, “Come and see for yourself.” But with all we know about him now, we have to wonder what Jesus saw in this ordinary, unimpressive person.
Jesus knew unqualified people can be changed and transformed into great people of God. After three years in a learning relationship with Jesus, getting to know Him and learning what it means to be a member of the kingdom of God, Philip could impact the world positively for the kingdom. This is what Jesus believed – God has the ability to take raw, unpromising, unqualified material and transform it into people He can use in great ways.
Such is the case with Philip! According to Christian tradition, after the resurrection and Pentecost, Philip went on to have a huge impact for Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God in Asia. He died as a martyr for the cause of the gospel.
I find Philip’s story with Jesus rather encouraging, don’t you? His story is a testimony of how Jesus can use the most unlikely, unqualified candidates to impact the world. This is an encouragement to someone like me, because I’m just an ordinary person. I’m not a superstar. I’m a sinner with a history that I’m not particularly proud of. I don’t have all the answers. At times I exhibit small faith; sometimes I’m confused and overwhelmed by situations feeling less than qualified, in way over my head.
Yet, according to Philip’s story, Jesus believes in me. He has a plan for me. He sees the possibilities. He wants me to follow Him and to serve Him in His important rescue enterprise to bring others to Him. He calls me – unqualified as I am – and says, I want you. This is good news for when I’m discouraged with my flaws and shortcomings like Philip’s. I am considered a valuable and promising player on His team. He has plans for me, and He doesn’t give up on me.
A second character in today’s story is Nathanael, also known as Bartholomew in the other Gospels. We find him to be a bit of a skeptic, perhaps even having the sin of prejudice. Listen to his response to Philip’s announcement. Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That little po dunk town, that bunch of losers? Scripture says nothing of Nazareth and the Messiah to come. And Joseph, the carpenter’s, son? Come on! That’s ridiculous!
One has to give Nathanael credit, though. He did come with his friend Philip to see this Jesus for himself. And see him, he did! Jesus wowed him with His omniscient knowledge of him!
We learned, by the way, that Nathanael was a student of Scripture as well. Jesus had seen him reading under the fig tree. How do we know that? That phrase, “I saw you under the fig tree,” was an image of people who pray and meditate on God’s Word in those days. We even know the story he was reading, according to Jesus. He was reading about Jacob fleeing from his brother, Esau – deceitful Jacob. Jesus says to Nathanael, You are without deceit, just the opposite of Jacob. A good character.
Nathanael responded, “Wow! How did you know that? You are the Son of God, the King of Israel.” In other words, you are the Messiah, the one we’ve been waiting for!
Jesus smiled and chuckled and said, You’re impressed by that? Come on! Come with me and you will see greater things. I have plans for you. To both men Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say, you will see the heavens open and the angels descending and ascending upon the Son of man.” Another image from Jacob’s story.
According to Genesis 28, Jacob fell asleep one night and had a vision of the heavens opening. Angels were descending and ascending upon a ladder, a connection between earth and heaven. He received a promise that God had great plans to use him.
Now with Jesus’ image, instead of angels using a ladder, Jesus is telling Nathanael, I am the ladder. “You will see angels descending and ascending upon the Son of Man.” This was Jesus’ favorite way of referring to Himself. I am the connection to God. Heaven and earth will intersect in me, and you see all kinds of things that will amaze you.
Did Jesus keep His word? You bet He did! Nathanael would see Jesus perform amazing signs. Ultimately, Jesus’ promise was referring to the cross where He would die to pay for the sins of you and me to save us. This is where heaven and earth intersected – at the cross. Jesus continually talked of this as His hour of being glorified as He sacrificed Himself for human sin.
Nathanael saw the resurrected Jesus in the Upper Room and on the Sea of Tiberius in John 21. He also saw Jesus glorified and exalted by God as He ascended in authority over the whole world. He saw all that Jesus promised.
But what did Jesus see in Nathanael? He was a skeptic. His intellect could not believe the news Philip had shared. He seemed to have a built-in prejudice. That’s not a healthy thing for a team, yet Jesus seemed to believe He could make a difference in the world by bringing the gospel to others. Jesus knew what He could make of him.
As we look at the list of the Twelve whom Jesus called into ministry, one has to conclude He started His ministry with some very unpromising, raw material. Someone once wrote, “Philip looks before he leaps; Peter leaps before he looks.” Had you and I been members of the search committee inquiring into the qualifications of those who were to become the disciples of Jesus, we would’ve rejected all of them! Yet Jesus chose them. He taught them, trained them, and did great things through all but one of them.
At Pentecost, when they were filled with the fire of His Holy Spirit, these unqualified Twelve were empowered to turn the world upside down for Jesus Christ. Jesus continued His work on them through the Spirit. They still had flaws, shortcomings, sin, and lots of room for growth, but nevertheless these unqualified Twelve began a movement that changed the history of the world.
Therein lies our hope and our encouragement. The risen Christ is still issuing His call today to follow Him. I can still make something out of ordinary, flawed, unqualified people. Just as He took the same negative, skeptical spirit of Nathanael and the slow, unimpressive, small faith of Philip and changed them, He can make changes in you and me. He can make us great people for His cause through the working of the same Holy Spirit who is available to us. He will work in us, shape us, mold us, and conform us into the image of Christ so we will make a difference – unqualified as we may feel.
As we consider this truth from Scripture, a story comes to mind about a young man named Cody. Far from God, he had a messed-up home life. His mom and dad divorced and left him to basically raise himself.
Cody was invited to our youth worship by a friend who wanted him to meet Jesus. He reluctantly went and heard the gospel. Eventually Cody asked Jesus into his life, and he set out to follow Jesus and serve Him.
We watched him grow in his faith. As a senior in high school, he decided to set up a Bible study at their high school in early morning, and he built the attendance to forty young people. Lives were being changed. What qualified this young man? Not really anything, but Jesus used him. Now he is off to college doing the same sort of thing – impacting many for the cause of Christ.
Jesus works like that all the time! He always has because He is amazing! He’s gracious!
Maybe you today feel like no one believes in you. And you don’t blame them because you maybe haven’t proven yourself. But know this: Jesus believes in you. He has plans to do great things in your life, for you, and through you. He is ready, willing, and able. We know this from Scripture.
Where does one start? First, if you have not followed Him before, ask Jesus now to come into your life. Leave behind the old, and trust Him who gave His life for you to rescue you. Ask Him to forgive you and use you to His glory. He will!
The next step is to make a commitment to be His disciple. Go beyond simply being a believer to being a disciple. Live with Him, get to know Him as you read those Gospels. He wants to impact your life as you study, reflect, and apply what He says about living life under His guidance. There so much to take in from Him on living an eternal new kind of life with Him. Be a student, an apprentice of Jesus.
As you yield yourself, surrendering to His leadership, He will make you according to the pattern He has in mind. It will be good, for your own good, and for His glory. As you make yourself available for His service, ask for opportunities to serve Him, and point others to Him, He will give you that, and you will find yourself making a significant, positive impact for God in the lives of those around you.
My dear friends, in this world of qualifications, may this story encourage you. Jesus has great plans for your life. He laid his life down to make you His own. Trust Him. Believe He can use even you. Follow Him. Live with Him, and you will see and experience greater things than you ever imagined. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer