When we encourage, it is taught that we are literally putting courage into someone. In scripture, the Encourager is someone who comes alongside of another and gives them comfort as well as strength. Encouragement itself nurtures patience and kindness as in as in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 –Love is patient and kind;love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Encouragement is like water to our thirsty spirits as we walk in the journey of faith. We need the companionship of one another; to be lifted up by kind words, a listening heart and the gifts of time, patience and most especially gospel love. When we are compassionate during difficult times with one another it builds “muscles of courage” in one another that will strengthen the bonds of love. What are the muscles of courage? They are acts of bravery.
The Biblical definition of courage is defined as being motivated by the heart to do something brave. The Biblical definition of Encouragement is the act of giving hope. An Encourager, then is one that motivates others to have hope so that they are motivated from their hearts to be brave.
Got Questions.com describes that without encouragement, hardship becomes meaningless, and our will to go on wanes. The prophet Elijah struggled with discouragement (1 Kings 19:3-10), and so do we. It is important to remember that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against . . . the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). This truth makes encouragement all the more important. It is not just that we face the world’s displeasure; we are caught in the crosshairs of a spiritual battle. When we are encouraged in Christ, we have strength to put on our spiritual armor and remain steadfast (see Ephesians 6:10-18).
Even in places where Christians do not experience overt persecution or hatred, we all know that life can be difficult. Discouragement is not an uncommon human experience. At times, recognizing that there is meaning in the seemingly inconsequential things we do seems next to impossible. We may want to give up. Yet He who calls us is faithful, and He gives us the power to be faithful, too (1 Corinthians 1:9).
Christian Quotes on Encouragement
“So never lose an opportunity of urging a practical beginning, however small, for it is wonderful how often in such matters the mustard-seed germinates and roots itself.” —Florence Nightingale
“Discernment is God’s call to intercession, never to faultfinding.”–Corrie Ten Bloom
“I would go to the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”–Charles Spurgeon
“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.” —Helen Keller
“Believers, look up. Take courage. The angels are nearer than you think.” Billy Graham
“Honest and courageous people have very little to say about either their courage or their honesty.” Hosea Ballou
“There was a castle called Doubting Castle, the owner whereof was Giant Despair.” John Bunyan
“The principal act of courage is to endure and withstand dangers doggedly rather than to attack them.” Thomas Aquinas
“Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” —C.S. Lewis
“Courage is not the lack of fear but the ability to face it”Lt. John T. Putnam Jr.
The Meaning and Nature of Courage
COURAGE AND FEARLESSNESS
The Original Roget’s Thesaurus of English Words and Phrases lists boldness and fearlessness as synonyms of courage, but courage often exists in spite of the presence of fear.109In fact, it is probably true that courage is doing what one is afraid to do. Indeed, courage is the capacity to resist fear, to master it, not its absence. Thus, courage is that quality of the heartor mind that gives one the ability to encounter danger and difficulty with firmness and resolve in spite of the presence of fear. “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.”110
The apostle Paul was not one who courted danger nor did he presume upon the Lord. As one who tenaciously pursued the will of God, Paul was always willing to move forward into danger if he was convinced it was God’s will or that it was right even though his heart might have been gripped with fear.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2 When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come with superior eloquence or wisdom as I proclaimed the testimony of God. 2 For I decided to be concerned about nothing among you except Jesus Christ, as one who had been crucified. 3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. (emphasis mine)
2 Corinthians 7:5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within. (emphasis mine)
Martin Luther possessed this important quality in unusual measure. It has been asserted that he was perhaps as fearless a man as ever lived. When he set out on his momentous journey to Worms, he said, “you can expect from me everything except fear or recantation. I shall not flee, much less recant.” His friends, warning him of the grave dangers he faced, sought to dissuade him. But Luther would not be dissuaded. “Not go to Worms!” he said. “I shall go to Worms though there were as many devils as tiles on the roofs.”
… But not all men are courageous by nature as Luther was, and that fact is both explicit and implicit in Scripture. The highest degree of courage is seen in the person who is most fearful but refuses to capitulate to it. However fearful they might have been, God’s leaders in succeeding generations have been commanded to be of good courage. Had they been without fear, the command would have been pointless…”111
COURAGE AND MATURITY
As we saw with Joseph of Arimathea, courage is very much a part of spiritual growth and maturity because it is so vital to other qualities of Christ-like character. Speaking of the Lord Jesus, John wrote, “He had loved his own who were in the world, and now he loved them to the very end” (John. 13:1). But without the courage to face the horrors of the cross, He could not have loved them, and us, to the end or to the uttermost, the cross.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues but the form of every virtue at the testing point, which means at the point of highest reality.”112 Without courage, men and women will fail to be loving, to sacrifice, to count the cost, to tackle the challenges or take on the responsibilities that God calls them to.
Undoubtedly, one cause of remaining immature and one of the shortest routes to ineffectiveness is to run scared, to be overly cautious, to play it close to the vest. Unless, through the courage of faith, we are willing to saddle up, we will simply remain in the corral and miss the growth experiences and fruitfulness of the open range.
How much better to take on a few ornery bears and lions, like David did. They ready us for giants like Goliath. How much more thrilling to step out into the Red Sea like Moses and watch God part the waters.… How much more interesting to set sail for Jerusalem, like Paul, “not knowing what will happen to me there,” than to spend one’s days in monotonous Miletus, listening for footsteps and watching dull sunsets. Guard your heart from over protection.
Happily, not all have opted for safety. Some have overcome, regardless of the risks. Some have merged into greatness despite adversity. They refuse to listen to their fears…113
Frankly, courage is learning to tell our fears where to get off, not just so we can be brave but so we can courageously face the hurdles and continue on in the race God has laid out before us. Otherwise, there will be little or no progress in growth and little or no fruitfulness here in time and for eternity.
The Means and Source of Courage or Encouragement
Naturally, the question arises, where do the courageous get their courage? Or how do we develop the quality of courage in ourselves and in others? How can we learn to tell our fears to get lost? Some men might naturally be more courageous than others, as might have been the case with Martin Luther. But even with Luther, his courage was primarily a product of his biblical convictions and undauntable faith.
Needing courage or to be encouraged is one of the common experiences we all face as finite human beings, and we should never think it odd if we reach a place where we need to be encouraged. Such is clearly evident from Scripture itself where we often find the people of God in circumstances where they needed to be encouraged. Thus, Paul wrote:
2 Corinthians 7:5-7 For even when we came into Macedonia, our body had no rest at all, but we were troubled in every way—struggles from the outside, fears from within. 7:6 But God, who encourages the downhearted, encouraged us by the arrival of Titus. 7:7 We were encouraged not only by his arrival, but also by the encouragement you gave him, as he reported to us your longing, your mourning, your deep concern for me, so that I rejoiced more than ever.
Facing a variety of troubles from within and without and experiencing fear and disappointment is a part of life though we do need to find courage to go forward. Thus, both finding courage to go forward when fearful, when life seems impossible and the road impassable, and giving encouragement to the discouraged or fearful is an important focus in Scripture. Courage comes from being encouraged. So what does the word encourage mean?
To encourage means give support in order “to inspire with hope, courage, or confidence.” In just the New Testament alone, the terms “encourage” or “encouragement” are found 23 times in the NET Bible and 21 times in the NASB, and “be courageous” or “be strong and courageous” and “take courage” are found numerous times in the whole of Scripture (cf. Deut. 31:6, 7, 23; Josh. 1:6-9, 18; 10:35; Mark 6:50; John 16:33; Acts 23:1).
So, how may we define encouragement biblically speaking? In the light of the whole of Scripture, we might define encouragement as follows:
Encouragement is finding (or helping others to find) the courage, by God’s grace and strength, to run the race He has laid out before us no matter how difficult or painful the course.
Everyone can become discouraged over conditions or lack courage to take on a responsibility or face a daunting task or a trial. Fortunately, we have a loving Lord who, having given His all for us, is committed to our need which includes our encouragement. Thankfully, He has numerous ways or tools He uses to encourage His people. Thus, what are some of the ways God gives courage or encouragement?
THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF SCRIPTURE AND THE PROMISES OF GOD
Of all the sources of encouragement, the Scripture is one of our greatest—if not the greatest source of encouragement. God’s holy Word with its many principles and promises is our most important and fundamental source of encouragement because it is God’s special and authoritative revelation to us of both Himself and His plan of salvation in Christ.
Let us remember that all of the principles and promises of the Bible are based on the character and being of God’s person and His historical acts in salvation just as He has promised. For instance, the book of Deuteronomy contains Moses’ instruction given during the final months of his life. The setting for this is significant. The new generation was encamped in the plains of Moab prior to their entrance into the Promised Land. They were facing fortified cities and warring people, some of whom were giants. As they entered this new land there would also be many temptations and a whole new way of life. And all of this was to take place under the leadership of Joshua who at that time was unproved, at least as Moses replacement. Further, this new generation had not personally experienced the deliverance out of Egypt or at the Red Sea or the giving of the Law at Sinai. Thus, if they were to have the courage needed to face the difficulties before them, they needed to be reminded of God’s person and his historical acts of deliverance. So Moses wrote these words in Deuteronomy 6.
“When your son asks you in time to come, saying, ‘What do the testimonies and the statutes and the judgments mean which the LORD our God commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt; and the LORD brought us from Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 ‘Moreover, the LORD showed great and distressing signs and wonders before our eyes against Egypt, Pharaoh and all his household; 23 and He brought us out from there in order to bring us in, to give us the land which He had sworn to our fathers.’ (emphasis mine) (Deuteronomy 6:20-23)
Another illustration is Solomon’s prayer of dedication when the temple was completed. There, remembering God’s historical acts of faithfulness, he wrote regarding the nation of Israel:
53 “For Thou has separated them from all the peoples of the earth as Your inheritance, as You spoke through Moses Your servant, when You brought our fathers forth from Egypt, O Lord God.” 54 And it came about that when Solomon had finished praying this entire prayer and supplication to the Lord, he arose from before the altar of the Lord, from kneeling on his knees with his hands spread toward heaven. 55 And he stood and blessed all the assembly of Israel with a loud voice, saying, 56 “Blessed be the Lord, who has given rest to His people Israel, according to all that He promised; not one word has failed of all His good promise, which He promised through Moses His servant.
Thus, it is this God-breathed, inerrant, and infallible revelation of God in Scripture that provides us with the greatest means of courage.
For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.
In this verse, the apostle stated a vital truth concerning the purpose and ministry of the Scripture. The Scripture is designed to encourage us so that we might have hope. “Encouragement” is the Greek paraklesis, which has a rather broad field of use. Depending on the context, it may mean “exhortation, encouragement, appeal, request, comfort.” Paraklesis and its verb form parakaleo may have a prospective appeal in the sense of an exhortation or appeal for “obedience” or some form of positive “response” (Rom. 12:1,
8). But it also had a retrospective appeal in the sense of “comfort, encourage” in the face of burdens, afflictions, etc. (Acts 20:2; 1 Cor. 14:3; 2 Cor. 7:4). As God’s people we need both, but the focus in Romans 15:4 with the word “hope” is that of encouragement or gaining the courage to move forward in the will of God.
As Romans 15:4 teaches us, our ability to find encouragement from Scripture comes through its instruction. It is the Scripture as God’s special, inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word that informs us about the nature and being of our God. Here we learn about His person,114His plan of salvation and sanctification (past, present, and future), His purposes in both time and eternity, the principles by which God and His plan operate, and His many promises of salvation, love, grace, mercy, and sovereign care. Included in this revelation is the promise of His impartial discipline and judgment against sin and His rewards for faithfulness. A good illustration of God’s promises based on the character of God is Deuteronomy 31:7-8, but perhaps the classic passage is Joshua 1:6-9
6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall give this people possession of the land which I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 “Only be strong and very courageous; be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. 8 “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. 9 “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
In Joshua 1:1-5, Joshua is commissioned by the LORD Himself to become the leader of Israel after the death of Moses. To say the least, this was a daunting task because the nation of Israel had been an extremely difficult people to lead, a fact all too well known by Joshua who had been Moses’ military general in the field. Now God was calling Joshua to be the new leader of this very nation.
From the repetition of the words “be strong and courageous” or “be very courageous” and the exhortation against trembling and becoming dismayed, it seems obvious the LORD knew that Joshua, as brave and as faithful as he had been, would still face hesitation and fear in stepping into the shoes of Moses to lead this rebellious nation into the land, a land of giants and fortified cities.
Thus, the Lord carefully sought to encourage Joshua. But it is significant that Joshua’s encouragement to his commission proceeds out of God’s personal communication, i.e., His revelation to Joshua. In fact, verses 1-18 are all related to this revelation from God. First, God speaks and commissions Joshua (1:1-5) and then calls him to be strong and courageous in light of God’s promises (1:6-9).
Second, in view of this word from God, Joshua speaks to the people and gives them instructions for preparing to cross the Jordan in three days (1:10-15). This is followed by the response of the people to these instructions which, of course, had its source in the Word of God (1:16-18). Thus, God’s revelation, which is equivalent to our possession of the Bible today, became the source of courage for both Joshua and the people.
Joshua 1:1-9 can be divided into a four-fold source of encouragement for Joshua. In this we learn of four fundamental principles that are vital to courage and encouragement:
(1) Strength and courage come through recognizing and relating to God’s pleasure, His will or having a sense of God’s calling and destiny (1:1-2).
With the words “the Lord spoke to Joshua” in verse one we see the principle of revelation from God—biblical insight. It is this that forms the foundation for courage and conviction for faith and action. Our need is to pray and seek God’s will and wisdom from His Word because the foundation for courage is knowing the Word which enlightens us to His will. In addition it is also helpful to recognize our gifts, abilities, and training because this is an important part of preparation, ability, and the necessary confidence to do His pleasure or will. Again, the process is significant here: in verse 1 God speaks—we have revelation from God to Joshua. Then, based on this revelation, Joshua speaks to the people (vs.10). Thus, the courage that is called for here for both Joshua and the people is in part the direct result of the Word and knowing God’s will (see Eph. 5:9-10).
“Joshua” means “the Lord (Yahweh) is salvation.” Joshua’s very name was designed to remind him and Israel that the battle is the Lord’s. Courage comes from knowing this and resting in the Lord as the source of our deliverance and ability for ministry and life.
The next thing we read about Joshua is that he was “Moses’ servant.” Being the servant of Moses illustrates the principle of Luke 16:10-12 and its impact on the development of character and the courage to accept the will and call of God. Though Luke 16:10-12 deals with material blessings, the principle is applicable in other areas of responsibility in life.
Luke 16:10 “The one who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much; and the one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much. 11 If then you haven’t been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will entrust you with the true riches? 12 And if you haven’t been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you your own?
The principle of these verses certainly has an application on the development of courage. Courage for service in the larger and more difficult areas of responsibility start with faithfulness in the smaller and less difficult areas. Everyone needs to find a place to serve and grow because normally that becomes the training ground for greater responsibilities and other areas of ministry God may be calling us to.
“Moses my servant is dead” (vs. 2). This fact reminds us that no one is indispensable and leadership changes. If we aren’t training others, we leave gaping holes. We need to be trained ourselves and involved in the process of training others. Effective training is another source of courage because it gives people the confidence to take on responsibility or accept a difficult task.
The command to “arise” emphasizes the need for decisiveness and action. Courage manifests itself in decisiveness and action as root to fruit. Israel was then in the desert and God doesn’t want us in the desert, the place of fear, cowardice, and defeat. The background for this is Numbers 13-14.
(2) Strength and courage come through resting in God’s promises (1:2b-6).
To grasp Joshua’s need for courage and to appreciate God’s promises here, we must first take a look at some of the obstacles to God’s commission to Joshua:
The first obstacle is seen the command to “cross this Jordan.”
The Jordan river represents a huge obstacle and an impediment to growth, ministry, and progress. There is good reason to believe that the Jordan was swollen out of its banks at this time of the year (cf. Jos. 3:15; 4:18). Further, to cross the Jordan meant to enter into a hostile land, a land full of enemies some of whom were giants and many of whom lived in strongly fortified cities. This was no simple challenge. Remember, the previous generation failed at Kadesh Barnea because they lacked courage to face these very giants.
A second obstacle is seen in the statement, “you and all this people.”
This was no small group and the very numbers made this a colossal task. Furthermore, Joshua had the responsibility of leading a people who were noted for being stiff-necked and who threw stones at their leaders. But more importantly, the word “all” reminds us that it is God’s purpose for all His people to move into His will, i.e., to mature and become strong, and to live productively in the will of God.
Nevertheless, regardless of the obstacles, God’s will had been clearly made known to Joshua and he needed to act on this fact.
Now, a brief look at the promises:
There are several promises in verses 2-3, 5, 6, 9, but because of space, we will focus on only two: “To the land which I am giving to them, to the sons of Israel (vs.2),” and “Every place on which the sole of your foot treads, I have given to them, just as I spoke to Moses (vs. 3).” They were going into the Promised Land, to the land God Himself had personally promised to the patriarchs—to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God, who is immutable, cannot go back on His promises. In fact, God had for some time been preparing the inhabitants for defeat (cf. 2:9f). The land had been theirs for forty years and they had failed to enter in because of unbelief and a lack of courage.
The principle is that God’s Word is filled with hundreds of promises. While many of these are not directly given to the church today, they do illustrate principles that are often applicable to us. In addition, every principle of Scripture ultimately becomes a promise since God’s veracity stands behind the principle. Our need is to know the promises and principles and act on them by faith. These are given to carry us through the Jordan rivers of life—not necessarily remove them. They are not given so we can avoid or go around, but so we can cross them through the enablement God gives us.
But how do we claim and act on these many promises? How do we make these promises a part of our thinking processes?
(3) Strength and courage come through daily renewal in God’s principles (1:7-8).
Successful ministry is always related to successful Bible study. The Word is intrinsically powerful and able to produce godly change in believers’ lives as it motivates, encourages,gives hope and direction, and exposes us to both our needs and God’s will and provision. The Word has been given to us to establish a communicative relationship with God. It is a means of fellowship with Him.
But this takes time, quality time and diligence. Note the emphasis on this in these verses. “To do according to all the Law…; do not turn from it…” (vs. 7), and “but you shall meditate on it day and night…” (vs. 8). In keeping with the mentality of our age, the average person today wants a quick fix, an immediate solution or three easy steps. Bible study may involve reading something like the Daily Bread (a helpful and commendable pattern), but this alone is not enough. We also need ‘meat and potatoes’ Bible study. If our Bible study consists of short devotionals we can’t develop a deep understanding of Scripture or a strong biblical faith with life-changing results. Relationship with God, knowing Him, as with any relationship, takes time. It is this deeper relationship and knowledge that provides us with deep biblical convictions and the capacity to have the kind of courage that results in life-changing results and faithfulness in ministry and in life.
(4) Strength and courage come through reckoning on God’s person and presence (1:9).
Last, but certainly not least is the promise of the ever-watchful and protective presence of God. This verse focused Joshua on two great principles of God’s Word. First, in the words, “Have not I commanded you,” the focus is on the source of these commands and promises—God’s Person.
Who had commanded Joshua? It was no less than Yahweh, the eternal, independent, and sovereign God of the universe who is the God of revelation and redemption, the One who revealed Himself and called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldeans, who gave him the Abrahamic Covenant, and who later delivered this nation, Abraham’s descendents, from the destroying angel in Egypt and rolled back the Red Sea. Similarly, in the New Testament, our call to courage and the basis of our encouragement is the accomplished victory of Christ who now sits at God’s right hand as the victorious Savior.
Ephesians 1:17-23 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you spiritual wisdom and revelation in your growing knowledge of him, 1:18 —since the eyes of your heart have been enlightened—so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 1:19 and what is the incomparable greatness of his power toward us who believe, as displayed in the exercise of his immense strength. 1:20 This power he exercised in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms 1:21 far above every rule and authority and power and dominion and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 1:22 And God put all things under Christ’s feet and he gave him to the church as head over all things. 1:23 Now the church is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
The second focus of verse 9, seen in the promise, “for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go,” points us to God’s Presence. For those who know God and are related to Him by faith in the Savior, there is no situation, no problem or enemy that they can or will ever face alone. The Lord is always there as the believer’s constant support and supply. Thus, to his readers who were facing difficult trials and persecution, the author of Hebrews quoted the Old Testament and wrote, “for he has said, ‘I will never leave you and I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, and I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?’” (Heb. 13:5b-6).
If we are concerned about the ministries God has called us to or about the Jordans He has called us to cross, we can be absolutely sure that God is infinitely more concerned for our needs than we are. “Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). “And God will exalt you in due time, if you humble yourselves under his mighty hand, by casting all your cares on him because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6-7).
So, what’s our need? Our need is simply to walk in the light of His person and presence and to count on His sovereign support, guidance, supply, and care through keeping our focus on Him (Heb. 12:1-2).
J. Hampton Keathley III, Th.M. was a 1966 graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and a former pastor of 28 years. In August of 2001 he was diagnosed with lung cancer and on August 29th, 2002 he went home to be with the Lord. Hampton wrote many articles for the Biblical Studies
‘We need to remember that all those who wrote the New Testament or provided the material for it were trained by Jesus.’ In his book After Heaven, Robert Wuthnow says the watchword of Americans today is spiritual. People say, ‘I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious. I am searching for spiritual reality, but I don’t expect to find it in religious institutions or sets of dogmas.’ What Wuthnow articulates so well here is Americans’ combined rejection of the idea that secular science and reason alone can give us meaning in life or a life worth living’ that their real interest is in the supernatural and in the eternal. They don’t want to go back to the perceived creativity-stifling, smug moralism of ‘traditional religion,’ so they say, ‘Ah, the new spirituality, not the old traditional religion.’
In John 1:35-51, we see the account of how Jesus Christ met his first disciples. We see something offered to us that is neither the new spirituality nor the old traditional religion. It’s not a vague or general sense of spiritual well-being or a new set of rules. It’s an encounter with a living Person.
I have chosen this biblical passage because there are patterns here. If you want to find this spiritual reality through Jesus—this man who bridges the gap between spirituality and religion, and who offers us something different from either the new spirituality or the old traditional religion—then you need to see what the key is. The key is this repeated phrase: ‘Come and see.’ What does that mean? Let’s look at it together.
‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Think: Examine the Evidence’
The first time ‘Come and see’ happens, the disciples are kind of nervous. They were just told Jesus is this incredible person, so they follow. He says, ‘What do you want?’ What they want is to know if what they have heard is really true.
Jesus doesn’t demand belief at the moment. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, let me tell you who I am and how I demand obedience.’ He says, ‘Come and get to know me. Come and see how I live. Come and see how I speak. Come and see what I do.’ The second time we see ‘Come and see’ in the Gospel passage is when Philip says to his friend, Nathanael, ‘I found the Messiah.’
Nathanael responds with a valid question. Everybody at that time knew the Messiah would come out of Bethlehem, out of the line of David. So Nathanael looks at Philip and says, ‘He is from Galilee. He is from Nazareth. How could he be the Messiah?’ Philip’s answer is to say, ‘Let’s go find out. Come and see.’
The question we ask today is: ‘How could there be a loving and merciful God when the world is the way it is with all the injustice?’ This is another valid question, so let’s see how Jesus would answer it.
He doesn’t define the ‘new spirituality’ by saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what you believe. Figure out what works for you.’ Although that would be convenient—no critical thinking, no assessment—instead he says, ‘Come and think.’ He does not say to you what traditional religion has often said: ‘Don’t question. Just believe what we’re telling you because we’ve told you.’ No, Jesus says, ‘Come and think.’ How different this is from either the neo-spirituality or old religion.
Although the Gospel writer was addressing people who lived two thousand years ago, those people were in the same boat as we are today. How can they go and look at Jesus? How can they listen to him? How can they look at the evidence of what he said and how he lived? Here is the answer: ‘The next day John [the Baptist] was there.’ When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, ‘Look”’
There are two important points here. All through the first chapter of John, we’re told that John the Baptist saw and said. The Greek word used here means essentially, ‘I was actually there. I really saw this, and now my testimony is admissible evidence in court.’ John the Baptist is not talking about an inward experience. He’s not talking about an impression. John is saying, ‘I’m seeing this.’
As we read this passage, we see it has the marks of an eyewitness account. It says they saw where he was staying and they spent the day with him until the tenth hour, which is 4:00 pm.
In Reynolds Price’s introduction to his book Three Gospels, he makes the interesting point that in the ancient world, fictional narratives such as epics, legends, and myths never used details.
You don’t see, ‘Oedipus went to see the Oracle at Delphi, and she came out around 4:00.’ Our Gospel passage, however, states, ‘The next day,’ not ‘Once upon a time.’ Price says that when you see such detail, it means that the author is signaling the reader that this is a legal testimony, not an urban legend. This is John’s way of saying, ‘This is an eyewitness account. I’m showing you exactly what he said and did. If you read my account, you will be able to come and see and examine the evidence the way we did.’
How can you come and see? Read the account of the Gospels. Then you will have to decide whether you believe these were deliberate, intricate lies by people who died for those lies, or that a human being was the Creator God who came to earth to save us. But there is nothing in the middle that is warranted.
The only way you know you’ve come and seen is if you have a position that, frankly, is extremely hard. It’s very hard to believe that a human being would be God, and it’s very hard to believe that this incredible movement and these incredible people, who died for this, consciously and deliberately told us lies about it. You have to decide which one is easier for you to believe, but don’t you dare stand in the middle. If you have, it means you haven’t come and seen.
‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Follow: Change Your Life’
The word come means that I move from where I am to here. I make a change. The reason Jesus says ‘Come’ is because he wants them to follow. He doesn’t just want them to believe.
The text gets that across in a couple of ways, but here is the best one. In John 1:29, the Baptist says to his disciples, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ It’s not until verse 35 that they actually follow. This is a way for us to see the difference. When John the Baptist told his disciples ‘This is the Messiah,’ surely they believed, but they weren’t ‘followers’ until they actually began to follow Jesus.
That’s the difference between being just a person who ascribes to beliefs, who says, ‘Oh, I like Jesus. I believe in Jesus. I’m trying to follow Jesus,’ and knowing Jesus personally and becoming a follower, a disciple. Now how does that happen in your life? In verse 51, Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth.’ What the Gospel writer tells us he really says is, ‘Amen, amen.’ The word amen is an Aramaic word that means, ‘This is true.’ Every commentator and historian, anybody who knows ancient cultures, knows this is a unique usage of it. As one commentator puts it, ‘Jesus Christ’s use of amen to introduce his own words is without analogy in all of Judaism and among any other New Testament writers.’ Amen was only used to affirm and approve and accredit the words of another.’
For example, when someone was preaching in the synagogue, the elders would stand up. When they were all done, they would say, ‘Amen.’ Why? That was their way of saying, ‘We’ve checked out what this person says with our understanding of the Scripture, and it’s true.’ Maybe all the people would say, ‘Amen.’
Of course, Jesus Christ made it even harder for us because he affirms the Bible. It’s not that just his words printed in red in your Bible are the ones we have to obey. Jesus himself says, ‘The Scriptures shall not be broken. Not a jot or a tittle will pass away until all is fulfilled.’ We need to remember that all those who wrote the New Testament or provided the material for it were trained by Jesus. If you want to come and see and believe—that is, investigate the evidence—all you have to do is believe that the Bible is reliable reporting. But if you want to be a disciple and if you want to know Jesus personally, you have to be willing to listen to what the Word of God says, whether you like it or not.
Personal following without an infallible Bible is impossible. If you read the words of Jesus and say ‘That’s great’ about some things and ‘I can’t believe that; that’s primitive’ about others, what kind of Jesus do you have at the end of your reading? You have a Jesus of your own heart’s making. You think you’re following Jesus, but you’re following your own heart under the guise of following Jesus.
Unless Jesus compels you to say, ‘I’m going to do this. I’m going to listen to this. I’m going to wrestle with this. I’m going to submit to this even where I hate it’, if you don’t have that, then you don’t have a personal Jesus.
‘Come and See’ Means ‘Process This with Friends’
What’s really interesting about this encounter in the Gospel account is that John the Baptist leads Andrew and the other person, whoever it is, to Jesus. Andrew leads his brother Peter to Jesus. Philip leads Nathanael to Jesus. When Philip says, ‘Come and see,’ what he means is, ‘Let’s go together. Let’s figure this out.’ This is a very important point. While there are exceptions, the general rule is that the way to find Jesus is almost always through someone you know. In this case, it was a friend who had already found Jesus.
Christianity is not a philosophy through some great teacher by which you can save yourself. No, Christianity is an encounter with a Person, and we see in the Bible that people find Jesus through their friends. After being introduced to Jesus, then we need friends who are a couple of steps ahead of us spiritually to help us in our walk.
There are some of you who have already experienced the blessing of having found Jesus through friends. Some of you have a lot to offer, but you’re not finding anybody for Jesus. If you want to know how you can finally be effective and really be helpful to people, then look at the Gospel text. There are three things we see here.
1. First, patience.
John the Baptist says repeatedly, ‘Look, the Lamb of God.’ Finally, they follow Jesus. You have to be patient. Who knows how many times you have to say ‘Look’ before they follow.
2. Second, courage.
Philip says, ‘We found the Messiah, and here he is.’ Nathanael asks him a tough question that he has no idea how to answer. Isn’t this the reason why we’re all such chickens? Aren’t we afraid of being asked a question we don’t know the answer to? But the way to get good at answering those questions is practice by floundering and blowing it for years. Unless you’re willing, unless you have the courage to do that, you’re never going to be effective.
3. Third, confident humility.
What does Philip do when he gets the total stump question of ‘Isn’t the Messiah supposed to be from Bethlehem?’ He says, ‘I don’t know. Let’s talk about it. Let’s study. Let’s go talk to him. Let’s go look.’ There is a humility here because he takes Nathanael seriously enough to say, ‘We do need to think about this, and I don’t know the answer.’ But he also has the confidence to say, ‘If you come, you will see.’
‘Come and See’ Means ‘Come and Wonder’
When Nathanael meets Jesus, Jesus says, ‘You believe because.’ You will see greater things than you can imagine. ‘Come and see’ means come and wonder. I am calling you into an adventure so wonderful that it is beyond your imagination.’ How does he do this?
First of all, he calls us to the wondrous adventure of personal transformation. I’ll put it to you this way. Do you remember ever meeting somebody you suddenly realized really understood you? It could have been a counselor, a new friend, or an older, wiser person. It could have been somebody you were falling in love with. Why was it so heady and addicting? I’ll tell you why. To begin with, you’re excited about the possibility of finally being able to figure yourself out.
We’re all riddles to ourselves. ‘Why do I do what I do? Why do I feel what I feel?’ You’re also excited that this wise person, this person you love and respect, thinks about you, considers you significant enough to think of you, to ponder you, to consider you. The two together, the prospect of new information and that incredible affirmation, just blow you through the roof. But even this kind of revelation and fulfillment has its boundaries—ultimately, you always find there is a limit to how much that person really knows you and loves you.
When Nathanael walks up to Jesus, he is blown away by something no rabbi ever has done or ever will do. Jesus says to him, ‘Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile’ (KJV). What Jesus is talking about is his character. He uses a word that means unpretentious and transparent. Nathanael looks at him and says, ‘You nailed me. Yeah, I am that kind of person. I’m plain spoken. I’m kind of blunt. How do you know me?’ Then Jesus says, ‘Know you? I saw you under the fig tree.’ Nathanael’s eyes get as big as saucers. He says, ‘How could you’? How could any’? You are the Messiah!’
What does that mean? I don’t know. We don’t know. That’s one of the marks of an eyewitness account. But I’ll tell you, it was something so private, so significant, so absolutely impossible that any human being could know that Nathanael is astounded. ‘This is not just somebody who knows me somewhat; he knows me completely.’
That’s not the only reason he is blown away. Jesus Christ is not just saying, ‘I know you.’ He is praising him, even though Nathanael doesn’t know him. Isn’t that astounding? Jesus Christ knows you to the bottom and praises you to the skies. There has never been a Counselor like this. There has never been a friend like this. There has never been a lover like this. This is the Wonderful Counselor. This is the friend you’ve always been looking for. When God comes and calls you in love, by his call he makes you what he calls you.
First, Jesus says, ‘Nathanael, I will give you greater things than that. You have no idea what you’re going to become, transformed by my love.’ Second, Jesus talks about an upward journey, an outward journey. He says, ‘Verily, verily I say to you, you will see heaven open and the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ What he is saying here is astounding.
In the Old Testament story of Jacob, Jacob was running through the desert, fleeing for his life, despairing that he had lost God, that he had lost everything. Going to sleep for the night, he dreams of a ladder on which angels were ascending and descending.
Jesus Christ says to Nathanael, ‘Let me tell you something beyond your imagination. I am the gate of heaven Jacob saw. That was not just a dream; that was a promise. I am the way through that wall into that cosmic reality that is behind this world.’ What does it mean? It means that story is about him. It means all the stories in the Old Testament are about him.
When John the Baptist says, ‘Look, the Lamb of God,’ what is he saying? He is referring to that night long ago in Egypt when the angel of death passed over those who had blood on their doorframes. For those who didn’t have the blood of the lamb on their doors, the firstborn of that house died. John the Baptist says, ‘Jesus is that slain Lamb. That story was about him, about his life, about his death.’
But it goes beyond that. When Jesus Christ says, ‘I am the door and the gateway into the cosmic reality behind everything,’ he is not just saying, ‘All the biblical stories are about me.’ He is saying, ‘All the stories are about me.’ Jesus says, ‘My story is the story to which all the other stories are pointing. Therefore, the stories are true. You can know me, and this same cosmic power from that cosmic, glorious center will come into your life. You will be in the story. Evil spells will be broken. I am the reality to which all the legends point.’
‘Come and see’ means you can get in. ‘Come and see’ means I can’t even begin to describe what is going to happen in your life if you come and follow him.
You say, ‘Okay, I have to change my life, right? Obey the Bible, right?’ You’re excited. You’re ready. ‘I have to tell my friends about Jesus. I have to study the Bible.’
No. The key to getting in is not to do anything. Jesus does not say, ‘I’m at the top of the ladder.’ He doesn’t say, ‘Angels are ascending and descending to the Son of Man.’ He doesn’t say, ‘If you try really hard, you can ascend.’ No, you can’t. Psalm 24 says, ‘Who shall ascend into the presence of God? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.’
How are we ever going to get up there? Jesus says, ‘I am the ladder. I came down to bring you to God. I lived the life you should have lived, died the death you should have died. Trust in me. If you do, you get in.’
Come and see. Think. Come and see. Follow. Come and see with friends. ‘Come and see’ means be amazed at his grace. He can’t wait to show you what he is going to do for you. Come and see.
Source: Modern Reformation Magazine; Who Is Jesus? VOL 24; ISSUE 6, 10/31/2015