Philip is not a major player among the disciples of Jesus. He raises his hand a few times, makes a couple of statements, asks a question or two. It is then, and only then, that we take notice of him, when we see his name in print. But at other times he just doesn’t come to mind. We certainly don’t think of him as a top-tier disciple of Jesus, do we?
He wasn’t a starter on the A-team, not like James and John or Simon Peter. He wasn’t invited to be in on the Transfiguration, and when Jesus went to the garden to pray the night before he yielded his life on a cross, Philip wasn’t asked to join him. Why not? He could have slept through the whole thing just as easily as those who did accompany Jesus.
If you were asked to name the disciples of Jesus, you might be hardpressed to remember Philip.
But one thing Philip did. He bought wholeheartedly into Jesus and his mission. He believed in the Nazarene carpenter and gave himself wholly and completely to Christ. In the first chapter of John’s gospel, immediately after Jesus calls on him to be his disciple, Philip introduces his rather cynical friend Nathanael to Jesus, and Nathanael becomes a disciple too.
And there was the time the men from Greece came to see Jesus. They approached Philip to see if he could arrange an introduction. Andrew, Simon’s brother, has a reputation for introducing people to Jesus, but he really doesn’t have anything over Philip in that department. Yet, Philip is not that familiar to us when it comes to having been a follower of Jesus.
But give Philip his due. He gave himself, and his life, to the Nazarene.
Yet, even good folk like Philip finally lose their patience. He, along with all the others, has watched as Jesus made water into wine, healed the sick and crippled, cleansed the lepers, and brought the dead back to life. Surely these wonderful miracles were signs of even greater things to come. And just as the disciples are prepared to put this traveling show into high gear, to reveal to the people what they’re really capable of doing, Jesus tells them he is about to leave them.
You are not surprised, are you, that this leaves his disciples confused and sad? “Where are you going?” they want to know. “Can we go with you?” they ask. “Will we ever be together again?” they inquire. “What’s going on?”
Jesus patiently, but indirectly – did you notice? – answers each of their probing questions. It is a tactic he has used before on a number of occasions.
Earlier, when representatives of the religious establishment had tried to pin him down and discover the source of his obvious power, Jesus used symbols to describe himself. “I am,” he said repeatedly, which, of course is the name God gave for himself when God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. “I am… I am the bread of life, I am the true vine, I am the door, I am the Good Shepherd, I am the water of life. I am.”
Now, he’s talking about leaving them and going to prepare them a place, that where he was going they would be also. In that place are many rooms – mansions, the King James Version says, mansions! – and he would come again and take them there himself. Let me ask you… Do you think that answers all their questions?
Of course not. You can almost hear the disciples thinking, “That just doesn’t make sense. And it doesn’t square with our wishes and dreams and hopes. We’re ready for the kingdom to come, and how can that happen if you’re not with us?” It wasn’t enough for them, you see, what Jesus has said to them. It’s all just a bunch of promises. And they don’t want promises, they want proof.
Finally, resolved to the fact that they cannot change his mind or get a straight answer out of him, Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
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“Give us a face, Lord, a face we can see and touch. If you’re not going to be with us (and it certainly looks like you’ve made your mind up about that), then leave us something we can see to count on. Don’t give us promises. We don’t want promises. We want empirical evidence, something we can reach out and touch with our very own hands, something we can see, something right before our very eyes.”
Philip was the Thomas Jefferson of the group. Jefferson received a traditional Christian funeral, but while he was alive he struggled with traditional Christian belief. In fact, Jefferson once went into his presidential office and took a razor to his Bible. He surgically removed from the gospels those passages, like the miracles stories, that he found implausible. Made his Bible look like Swiss cheese.
All I can tell you is that if I had tried that when I was a boy, my mama and daddy would have taken a switch to me. We lived in a household where you didn’t even place anything on top of the Bible; it was considered that sacred. Cut it up with a razor?! My goodness gracious, no.
But Thomas Jefferson did. He was also quite well known for his lack of belief in the Holy Trinity. “Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them,” he once said, “and no man ever had a distinct idea of the trinity.”1
“Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…” I doubt he ever cut up his Torah, but that’s Philip. He is a man of faith, to be sure, but he is also a man of reason. “Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them…” And both Thomas Jefferson and Philip, the disciple of Jesus, were reasonable men.
“Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
“Enough with the analogies already. No more double talk or calling yourself such odd names as ‘I Am’. Quit beating around the bush, whether it’s burning or not. We’re ready to get to the real action. We don’t want promises of rooms in heaven somewhere. Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”
The natives are getting restless, aren’t they? Is there talk in the ranks about how they’re getting tired of all the pussyfooting around? Does Jesus have the beginnings of a revolt on his hands?
It is indeed possible, I would think, that Jesus’ disciples are getting a bit antsy. Jesus keeps talking about leaving them, and they can’t imagine what things will be like in his absence. Who would take over the work? Who would be their leader? They don’t have enough confidence in one another to get the job done, so Jesus’ pronouncements about leaving – his promises – are starting to result in paranoia.
They certainly can’t accept Simon Peter as their CEO. Why, Simon could stand perfectly still and everyone around him would still be nervous. You just never know when he’s going to go off half-cocked. He’s got his own notions of how things ought to be, and because of it, he and Jesus have already clashed a number of times. He does carry a pretty big sword, but he doesn’t dare flash it around in front of Jesus.
To think that James or John might fill in the gap is ludicrous. Of all the disciples, they’re the ones who have been given a nickname by Jesus, and it’s a perfect fit. You remember what Jesus calls them, don’t you? Boanerges. Boanerges. Why, it’s perfect, describes them to a T. You do know what Boanerges means, don’t you? Well, just in case, we’ll remind you. It means “Sons of Thunder.”
Remember when the Samaritan village rejected them, wouldn’t give them hospitality? James and John, the brothers Zebedee, wanted Jesus to call down fire from heaven to consume and destroy the entire village. Boanerges is perfect. Leave the ministry in the hands of these young hotheads? Don’t think so.
But maybe, if Jesus will draw for them a clear picture of God, introduce them to the heavenly Father in a way that’s never been done before, so they would be able clearly and finally to envision what he has called them to do… then they could learn to cope in his absence.
So what does he do? He gives them another promise. “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Comforter/Helper/Advocate to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth… You know him because he abides in you, and he will be among you.”
And that is why you and I are here today, dressed in our wild colors of orange and yellow and red. Because Jesus delivers on his promises. We’re symbolizing the coming of the Holy Spirit, the one who visited the followers of Jesus on that day called Pentecost, when the mighty wind swooped down where they were waiting together, where their tongues were set on fire.
“Show you the Father?” Jesus says. “I’ll do one better than that. I’ll send you the Spirit, and when the Spirit comes you will be able to do even greater things than I have done. And if you ask for anything in my name, I will see that it happens for you” (see vv. 12-14).
Jesus actually makes it sound like it will be to their advantage that he is gone, and that he will send the Spirit in his place. And maybe it was. You see, Jesus knows something they don’t know. He knows that God cannot be seen or explained. God can only be experienced.
According to Luke, this is how it happened. They were all gathered together in one place. Suddenly, from heaven, Luke says (I wonder if that’s not just his way of saying he had no idea where it came from but as far as he was concerned it had to be a God thing), there came a sound like a mighty wind (see Acts 2:1f.).
Have you ever been in a tornado? I’ve been close to one, just a block or so away, and that is as close as I ever want to be. And I can tell you it is a terrifying experience. The sky turns yellow and it sounds like a freight train is coming at you from the sky. I don’t know if the sky turned yellow at Pentecost – Luke doesn’t mention it – but there was a sound in the room like the rush of a violent wind.
Then came the tongues of fire resting on each of them. Though they were of different nationalities, they were able to speak and understand one another in all their various native languages. They were from all points of the globe, each with his own language, but there wasn’t a dropped sentence in the whole place.
Have you ever wondered what they talked about? I doubt they discussed the weather… or NASCAR. Not even golf. Though we are not told specifically what they talked about with each other, you don’t really have to guess. They talked about God. And they remembered Jesus’ promises.
Philip was there. Even though he is not mentioned specifically – once again Simon Peter draws the top card – Philip had to be there. So… any more questions, Philip? Do you still want to see the Father, Philip? Is this good enough for you, Philip?
It certainly ought to be good enough for you and me. You see, we’ve been shown the Father. “Whoever has seen me,” Jesus said to Philip, “has seen the Father.” And the Son. And the Holy Ghost.
The promise has been fulfilled. And that should be enough for all of us. Don’t you think?
Father, you have revealed yourself in your Son Jesus. May our experience of you be far more to us than the need to see you. On this day of Pentecost, may the wind and fire be found in us as we claim your promises… through Christ our Lord, Amen.
1Jon Meacham, American Gospel (New York: Random House, 2006), p. 4.
Copyright 2007, Randy L. Hyde. Used by permission.