June, 2005: Philip

Continuing our series looking at the Apostles we come to Philip who was one of the earliest called to follow Jesus. John 1 says that Jesus sought Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Philip found Nathanael and reported that Jesus was “the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote.” When Nathanael asked whether anything good could come from Nazareth, Philip replied, “Come and see.”

Philip was from the same town, Bethsaida, as Andrew and Peter. (John 1:43). He was one of the first disciples called. In the Apocryphal “Acts of Philip,” Philip was crucified in Hierapolis.

Except in the lists of the disciples, Philip is not mentioned in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). In John, he appears several times:

  • The report to Nathanael (John 1);

  • Conversing with Jesus in the prelude to the miraculous feeding of five thousand (“[Jesus] said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’”);

  • Bringing Greeks to Andrew, then Andrew and Philip bring them to Jesus (John 12:20-22); and,

  • At the Last Supper and after Jesus’ statement that, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” Philip is the one who says to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and we shall be satisfied.” (To which Jesus replied, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:8)).

There is debate whether the Apostle Philip included in the lists of disciples is the same Philip who is identified as one of the first seven deacons in Acts 6 and who is responsible for explaining the Scriptures to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. On the one hand, there are people for whom the original underlying purpose for creating the deacons excludes such a possibility, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” (Acts 6:2). On the other hand, there are people who note that it was Jesus who asked Philip about providing bread, and it was Philip who was approached for the Gentiles to be introduced to Jesus (and it was the Gentile widows who were being excluded from the provisions).  For our purposes here and without resolving this mystery, I am going to focus on Philip as described in the gospel of John.

First, in conversing with the Nathanael, Philip does not argue about Jesus’ identity. He simply tells him. Then, he invites him, “Come and see.” Philip does not need to win an argument, he only wants to tell about him and to issue an invitation. Christians today need not win arguments about Jesus’ identity, we only need to tell others about Jesus and invite them to “come and see.”

Second, in the conversation before the miraculous feeding reminds us that God values our input and yet wants us to have our eyes open for wonders beyond our imagination. Philip is the great pragmatist. Jesus asks Philip about where to buy bread because they are near Philip’s home town. Philip is actually a good steward here in assessing the human situation. Yet, as John points out, Jesus asked Philip “only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.” Philip’s answer sets the framework for marveling at how God is able to provide, and God’s desire to bless beyond our limited understanding. All is not how we see it and God often blesses us greater than we could have even asked.

Third, when the Greeks come up to Philip because he is familiar to them from his hometown, he takes them to Andrew and, together, they go to Jesus. Philip did not seek them out, they sought Philip because they recognized him from home and identified him with Jesus. If people know us and know we are Christians, they are likely to seek us out to ask us questions about Jesus. Do we try to protect people from Jesus because we are afraid they might be offended?

Finally, Philip is a great example of our human inability to grasp the obvious about Jesus. Philip has walked with Jesus day by day since the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. He has seen miracles. He has witnessed Jesus’ incredible and inexplicable authority. Yet, his question illustrates his inability to comprehend the mystery of the Trinity – “if you, Jesus, are here with us – can you show us the Father?” Jesus’ response is both extremely clear and incomprehensible: “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me. The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.” (John 14:10-11).

 As we consider Philip, we can take encouragement from his simple and profound response to the question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip says to you and to me, “Come and see.”

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