I watch and read a lot of nerdy, fact-related things like documentaries, podcasts, blog-posts and YouTube videos that talk about how the world works and all the cool scientific stuff that explains things to me. I love knowing how stuff works, where it came from, and all that.
Something I watched this week was posted by a teacher who makes videos explaining how all kinds of things work – like “How to become pope”, “Is pluto a planet?”, “How does the European union work?”, etc. He just reached a million subscribers and did a post where people wrote in questions. One person asked “What’s the biggest change of opinion you’ve had?”
I appreciated his answer a lot. He said the trick to keeping an open mind is to…
“…keep your identity separate from your opinions. They are objects in a box you carry with you and should be easily replaceable if it turns out they are no good. If you think that the opinions in the box are who you are then you will cling to them despite any evidence to the contrary. The bottom line is: ‘If you want to always be right, you need to always be prepared to change your mind.’” (CGP Grey)
I really like how he said that, and I hope it’s something I live by. He was saying it from the viewpoint of a non-religious teacher, but I agree with him wholeheartedly. People need to keep an open mind and be willing to change their minds when faced with new evidence.
Some Christians freak out about that because they bury their heads in the sand and ignore what others think because they don’t want to “lose their faith”. They worry that there is some scientist out there that can outsmart them and prove to them once and for all that Christianity is false – which is something they can’t live with – so they just close their minds to the world around them. I don’t see that kind of “blind faith” as strength, but as weakness.
I heard Eric Metaxas say this week that “Faith isn’t a leap in the dark – it’s leap into the light.” Some of the smartest people in the world – throughout history and living today – are Bible believing, Jesus loving Christians. Christianity isn’t a faith for people who only take blind leaps of faith, but is a faith built on facts. Yes, at some point there is a need for a “leap of faith”, but that’s the case with every other part of life as well. At some point in every discipline a “leap of faith” is required.
Even the most perfectly, pure scientist can only create theories based on the observation of evidence. But those theories will only go so far. A true scientist never really “draws conclusions”, but instead says “that’s what the evidence strongly suggests.” When enough evidence stacks up and enough scientists agree, it can become a “scientific law”, but even they are tested and left open to new evidence.
Just consider how our understanding of the universe has changed over the years.
For a long time it was scientific law that the universe revolved around the earth. Then Copernicus changed all that.
For a long time people thought that the continents were stuck in place and didn’t move. Then along came a German Geophysicist named Alfred Wegener who formed the Continental Drift Theory and figured out plate tectonics.
Seek and You will Find God
God wants people to be diligent in their pursuit of Him. It is a good and noble thing to want to know how this world works, and how to live wisely. In the book of proverbs Wisdom is personified as a being someone who needs to be diligently looked for, and wisdom says to all who pursue her,
“I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me.” (Prov 8:17).
Jesus promises in Matthew 7,
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7–8)
In Genesis 1:28 God tells our first parents to,
“…be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
If we are going to “have dominion” and “subdue” the earth, we must study it, explain it, get to know it, understand it, research each part of it. Scientific study of this world, and the universe beyond, when it is tempered by humility before God, is a good and Godly thing! Jesus loves people who want to know more about the world he created!
I think, if Philip lived today, he maght have been a scientist. He seemed love observable evidence and was always open to new data. He was a kindred spirit to Andrew, who we talked about last week, but based on the few verses that talk about him, there was a difference. Andrew asked questions and was a practical problem solver, one who gathered information and then acted on it. Philip seems to be more in his head. He seems to be more about the gathering and pursuit of knowledge than the application of it.
Let’s take a look at some of the verses about him and see what the Bible says:
Philip is a Greek name, and we know from the story last week from John 12 that when the group of Greeks came to see Jesus they went to talk to Philip first. He is from Bethsaida of Galilee which was the small fishing village where Andrew and Peter also lived.
John 1:43 gives us a look at Jesus calling of Philip to be an Apostle, and it tells us a lot about him.
“The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” (John 1:43-44)
First, and most importantly, you will notice that Jesus comes to Philip. It says that “He found Philip” which in the Greek is written as though this wasn’t an accident. Jesus didn’t come across Philip, like He did Matthew in the tax collectors booth. No, it seems that He went to find Philip.
Many Kinds of Calls
I find that very interesting and want to take a minute to point out that there are many ways that people meet Jesus. If you recall the parables in Matthew 13 you remember that for some, the Kingdom of Heaven is found almost by accident — like a treasure hidden in a field which a man found, sells all he has, and then goes and buys it. For others, they search and search all over the place trying to find God, like the merchant seeking fine pearls, and when they find that one pearl of great value they do everything to get it. For others, they are like a fish caught in a net – they don’t choose to be saved, they don’t really know what happened, but all of a sudden, they’re standing before the fisherman and they are saved.
We read in Luke 15 that for some, meeting Jesus is like the story of the lost sheep, or the lost coin, or the prodigal son where God pursues, and tracks, and waits, all through the person’s dangerous, rebellious life, keeping the door to repentance open until they are finally found and turn to him.
There is no one way to come to Jesus, or to faith. Each person’s story is going to be special and have a unique twist. But they all start the same way – God turns on the light. God is always the first one to act. He is the one who opens the heart to the message of salvation.
Philip’s story was that Jesus sought him out. There is no dialogue, Jesus simply says “Follow me” and Philip goes with him. How I wish there was some more words in this verse! It’s certain that Philip already knew about Jesus and his miracles. Before Peter, Andrew, James and John went with Jesus full time, they had met him and had gone back to work fishing, so we can maybe assume that this is after that – which means that Philip may have already been gathering information about Jesus before he was called. He’s already “asking” and “seeking”.
Philip Makes the Case
Whatever the case is, we know that he knew a lot about him based on what he says when he goes to talk to Nathanael. Keep reading in verse 45 of John 1, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’”
Here’s where we start to understand how Philip’s mind works. Do you see the very specific language that Philip uses here? I think this is how Philip was built (and we’ll see more of this in a bit) to talk and process things.
“We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.”
This is probably a summary of the conversation that Philip and Nathanael had, but you can see that Philip is building a case here. He starts with the historical, theological, biblical evidence. He builds the case just like Jesus did while he walked with the two unnamed disciples on the way to Emmaus. It says there in Luke 24:27,
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.”
He built the case, and that’s what I think Philip was doing.
Then he moves into more details about geography and biography. “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph”. This is his name, this is where he is from, this is his family name. Overkill on the details so that Nathanael can get the whole picture – and then some.
And when Nathanael doubts, or scoffs, Philip uses the trump card of all good researchers – “come and see.” I’ve given you all the evidence, but if you really don’t believe me, come and see. Philip uses historical, theological, biblical, geographical, biographical and experiential evidence to get Nathanael to believe in Jesus. He covers all the bases in the presentation of his research.
Jesus Expands Philip’s Mind
“Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, ‘Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?’ He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.’” John 6:1-14)
We know what happens next. Practical Andrew brings a kid’s lunch and Jesus feeds more than 5000 people with it. But here we get to see a bit more of how Philip’s mind works, and how Jesus works with him.
Philip was from Bethsaida, which is exactly where they were standing when this happened. So he does the calculations. He took the local price of bread, the minimum amount a person could eat, what the cheapest and most filling food would be, did the calculations, looked at Jesus and said – “the problem isn’t where we’re going to buy the bread, it’s how! We don’t have the money for it. There’s no point of sending anyone to the store if we can’t afford it.”. Philip gave Jesus the “right answer”. Jesus wasn’t looking for the “right answer”.
The question that Jesus asks Philip is meant to test his faith. Jesus didn’t want Philip to miss what he was about to do, and he wanted his mind fully alert. It wasn’t a question meant to frustrate or embarrass Philip. He was asking him, “Do you know who I am yet?”, “Do you know that I can work beyond human limitations yet?” “Are you leaving room in your calculations for me to do something special, or are you still restricting your belief in what I can do to your own limited resources and understanding?”
Philip needed to expand his mind from the realm of human reality into the realm of the reality where God resides. God doesn’t go beyond logic – He just thinks bigger than us. And Jesus was about to give him evidence that would expand his mind. Jesus didn’t just say “believe that I can do it” and then not do anything – He backed it up with observable, experiential, evidence – something that Philip could process.
I go back to what I said before – God loves it when we ask and seek – when we leave our minds open to more data so we can take our own opinions out of the box and put His knowledge into it. He’s willing to give answers and show the way. Jesus loves when we come to Him as the Way and the Truth – because He will show us the Truth, which is always far beyond what our limited minds had previously imagined.
Philip Asks for Too Much
Let’s turn to one last story where we see Philip’s desire for evidence go a little too far, where Jesus is unwilling to prove himself in that moment.
Open up to John 14:1. This scene takes places at the Last Supper. Jesus has already been laying down some heavy duty stuff. He’s washed the disciples feet, tells his disciples that he is leaving and that they need to love each other as much as He has loved them, and has also discussed his betrayals – by Judas and by Peter. The disciples probably look pretty down after all of this – like all the air has left the room.
So Jesus says at the beginning of John 14,
“‘Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.’ Thomas said to him, ‘Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.’” (John 14:1-7, ESV)
Notice how this language is not as much about observable evidence any more. Jesus is preparing them for at time that would come that very night, and then beyond his ascension, when He wouldn’t be visibly around. This is the language of faith.
“Believe in God; believe also in me.”
“If it were not so, would I have told you…?”
Thomas asks for clarification on where Jesus is going and Jesus responds not with evidence, or locations, or a map, or a plan – but with the language of faith. He reveals who He is – “I am the way, and the truth and the life.” The answer to the quest for practical evidence is met with the language of identity and relationship.
Jesus says, “Friends, I’m the Way – the path that you need to walk as you take your journey in this world. I’m the Truth – all of the evidence and facts and intellectual needs that you so deeply desire to have fulfilled will be fulfilled in me. I’ve given you enough evidence to trust me – will you? I am the Life – the deepest longing of your heart is found in me. Every other pursuit is futile if it doesn’t start with me. The beginning of life, and wisdom, and everything else is the fear of the Lord and a relationship with me.”
Philip hears this, and has known Jesus for a long time. He’s seen a lot of things, witnessed tonnes of miracles, teachings, and should have everything he needs – but his mind was wired for evidence. Jesus had just said, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” The heart of every human being is built with a deep desire to find and know God – to see Him face to face. Those words, “seen him”, are what Philip lives for. He wants to see, experience, know for certain, have irrefutable evidence. So he says,
“Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” (John 14:8)
Philip wants to see God with his eyes. He wants the big reveal, the full explanation. As Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy says, He wants “The answer to the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything!” He wants the one, final, big proof. He wants Jesus to blow up the room with the awesome presence of God. Show me!
Three Ways to Ask to See God
In scripture there seem to be three ways that people ask to see God. One is the way that Satan did when Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness – to tempt God. “God, if you’re real, do something spectacular. Go outside your plan and do something for me and because I told you to. God, I won’t believe you unless you impress me. Make these stones into bread. Throw yourself off the highest peak of the highest building and float down. Do something spectacular” That’s a demonic way to ask and see God. To tempt Him to show off, to break his own character, to go outside his plan to amaze and entertain you. Don’t tempt God.
The second way is the way the Pharisees did in Matthew 16. Let me read that: “And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven. He answered them, ‘When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of Jonah.’ So he left them and departed.” (Matthew 16:1-4, ESV)
Their hearts were hard. Jesus had already shown them miracle after miracle, but there was no sign in the world that would change their hearts. Jesus said he would give them “the sign of Jonah” – to go into the belly for 3 days and come back out, pointing to his crucifixion and then resurrection after three days in the tomb. That should have been enough to change anyone’s hearts! But there was nothing Jesus could do to change their minds or hearts.
Just like the guy I quoted at the beginning said, their opinions were their identity. They were not open to new data – no matter how overwhelming – because their minds were closed and their hearts were hard. They would lose too much if they changed their opinions, so they kept them. Jesus could have done anything, and they would explain it away.
The third way is to ask the way Philip asked. His heart was soft. He had faith in Jesus and had followed Him for a long time. We know that he had already amassed a lot of evidence because of the way he had talked to Nathanael, and because he had seen so many miracles like the feeding of the 5000. Nathanael wasn’t testing God, and his heart was soft. He really desired to know Jesus better and to see the God who he loved and worshipped.
But Jesus’ answer still wasn’t quite yes… at that moment… it was a little different.
Big, Unanswered Questions
There are some big questions in our life that God isn’t going to answer. Everyone struggles with this in their life – we all want to know more. Some people struggle more than others, but I believe we all have a desire to know the secret thoughts of God. Big concepts like the divinity and humanity of Jesus, how the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be One God in Three persons, How the world came to be, Why God created us in the first place – are questions He isn’t going to clear up. We desperately want him to, but He won’t.
Or more personally we ask “Why did that terrible thing happen to me or the person I love?” “Why did you choose me to be this way?” “Why am I going through this right now?”. We may never receive an answer to that. Does that mean it’s not ok to ask? No, I believe God wants us to “ask” and “seek”!
But there is a point at which He won’t give us an answer. Instead he will say to us just what Jesus said to Philip. Look at verse 9.
“Jesus said to him, ‘Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever 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? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.’”
In a voice that I read as more sorrowful than sharp, He tells Philip He’s not going to give him the answer to the question of life, the universe and everything. But – He says to Philip, in love – look at the evidence of all that you already know, all that I’ve already shown you.
He starts with relational evidence, “Have I been with you so long and you still do not know me Philip?” C’mon Philip! You’ve seen me, you’ve watched what I’ve done, you’ve lived with me, asked me questions, seen so much – what do you think, Philip?
He then reminds Philip to stop discounting the evidence that is right before him. A good scientist, and a good detective, goes where the evidence takes him.” Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” Just because you don’t understand it, doesn’t mean it’s not true, Philip.
He then turns to trust. Do you trust me Philip? Have I ever broken your trust?
“Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me.”
He will not show His full glory, but will continuously press into Philip – Do you believe me? Will you trust me? I am God.
He then goes back to what Philip is most comfortable with – what he has heard with his ears and seen with his eyes.
“…or else believe on account of the works themselves.”
Think back Philip. You’ve already seen me as God. Stop fighting the evidence. Stop fighting with your preconceived notions. Remember the lesson of feeding 5000 – stop getting hung up on the math and open your mind to what is standing in front of you. You have been given everything you need to believe.
I believe God gives us the same answer when we ask him those big question too:
“God, Why did this happen? Why won’t you reveal everything about yourself? Why don’t you just write on the sky? Why not give us the answers to these great mysteries?”
I believe he says, “You know my word, you have felt my Spirit inside of you, you have watched my people, you have lived in my world, you’ve seen my creation, you’ve experienced my miracles, you’ve known the cleansing of your souls, you’ve heard the teachings, you’ve read the prophecies, your heart testifies that there are things you cannot explain and that you are trying to explain away – but it won’t let you. Do you believe? Will you believe? Will you allow this mystery to remain? Have I shown you I love you? Will you trust me?”
Moving Forward in Faith
Philip did trust Jesus and lived the rest of his life as a faithful apostle. Tradition tells us that he ministered in Phrygia around the Black Sea setting up and taking care of churches. He died in the town of Hierapolis (in modern day Turkey) and was buried back in his home town of Bethsaida.
Hopefully we’ve already come up with a lot of things to take home with us, but let me draw out a few more quick applications for us before we close.
First, remember that it was Jesus who found Philip. I told you that everyone has a different journey, but each one begins with God turning on the light. We need to remember that the first step of evangelism is prayer. It is God who changes hearts and opens minds to His Gospel.
There are not many people, and especially not in our post-modern context, that will be “argued” into the kingdom of God or convinced into salvation. There is a place for apologetics and the study of defending the faith through logic and reason, but it is more to strengthen a person’s faith than it is to create it in someone else. If a hard is heart, it’s going to stay that way no matter what evidence is brought to them. If a person loves their sin, they are going to give any excuse they can to keep sinning. Evangelism is first done through love and invitation… the evidence and big, deep talk comes second.
Second, Jesus isn’t afraid of skeptics and the need for evidence, so neither should we be. There are good answers out there to some big questions you might be asking and I encourage you to seek those answers where they may be found. Keep asking, keep seeking, keep knocking – Jesus loves it when we do that and if we are honest in our pursuit of truth, we will always, always end up at Jesus.
Third, everyone is going to struggle with doubt, but some will continue to do it for their whole lives. I’m one of them. It takes a lot of evidence, reading, talking, meditating, and mulling for me to come to a firm decision on something. There is a big difference between doubt and unbelief.
Doubt is only sin when we are not honest in our pursuit of an answer. If it drives us into a deeper faith, then that is good. But we are wrong when we use our doubt as an excuse to sin. As long as we are still open to God’s guidance, wisdom, knowledge, etc. then our mind is still open to God.
There are some questions that God isn’t going to answer, as I just said, but that doesn’t mean we don’t stop asking, seeking and knocking on His heavenly door. The more we do, the more we will learn about God, the more we will trust and love God, and the more we will have confidence in our faith.