Faith and Doubt

Christians & Depression III: Jesus Knows How You Feel

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Sermon Audio:

Sermon Text:

We’ve been talking for the past few weeks about Mental Illness and Depression, something that is all too common in our community. We’ve talked about what Depression is, what causes it, and a bit of what it’s like to live with it. Last week we talked about the stigma of depression and how hard it is to be honest with people – even in the church – about what you are going through.

But if there’s one thing I want to make clear today it’s that Jesus knows what you are going through. A couple weeks ago I said that it’s possible that Jesus Himself faced true depression and I want to take a little time today to explain how important that truth is.

In Hebrews 4:14-16 we read this:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Many people who are going through a time of suffering and pain have a hard time praying. They feel like their prayers bounce off the ceiling, that there’s no way that God can understand what they are going through, and if He does, that He doesn’t care. Those are natural feelings that the Bible spends a lot of time arguing against.

The argument in this passage is that when we are in a “time of need”, what we really need is to “receive mercy and find grace to help”. No one would argue that. When we go through hard times, that’s what we want – mercy, grace and help. But where are we encouraged to turn to? “The throne of grace.” What is that? God’s throne. Before that throne stands a High Priest, a mediator, a go-between, between us broken, human sinners and the Perfectly Holy Creator of the Universe.

This is a big deal. We can’t come to God on our own because our sin prevents us. If we saw God, we’d die. We need someone who can talk to God, and who God will listen to. Who is that? Jesus. Jesus lived a perfect life, never sinned, and therefore can stand in the presence of God. And so He has promised to be our mediator, our facilitator, between us and God.

But there’s still a problem. How can Jesus know what we’re going through? He’s Jesus, after all! He’s God’s Son, a perfect person from two thousand years ago. How can He relate to what we’re going through? It was the same with the Old Testament priests. They lived a totally different life than the average person, so how could they pray for anyone? They don’t know what we’re going through!

Scripture says, “…we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” The teaching here is that Jesus actually knows exactly what we’re going through, has faced that same problem, that same temptation, that same situation, and yet navigated it perfectly. He literally knows how we feel, what thoughts are racing through our heads, and what it’s like to live surrounded by sin while living in this failing, human flesh. He gets it. He knows what it’s like to face what we are facing.

Jesus Tempted

And to illustrate that today, I would like you to turn with me to Luke 4:1-13.

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, “To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve.’”

And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” And Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’” And when the devil had ended every temptation, he departed from him until an opportune time.”

H.A.L.T.

Before we get into taking this passage apart, I want to talk briefly about the nature of temptation.

If you’ve ever worked with addictions then you’ve probably heard of the acronym H.A.L.T., standing for Hungry, Angry, Lonely & Tired, and is a tool meant to help people recognize when they are at their most vulnerable so they won’t relapse. The Christmas Season is a major problem time for a lot of people with addictions, and is similarly a peak-time for spiritual troubles and temptations.

The first letter stands for Hungry. If you’re pinching pennies but are used to spending, or trying to stop the habits of sugar or alcohol by dieting, then you are going to feel hungry. It’s not just food though. It’s about something within you being drawn towards something. You have a craving, a hunger.

The next letter stands for Angry. If you’ve had some bad experiences over the holidays, or you’re back at work and people around you are grumpy, or you’ve been putting things off and need to catch up and it’s not going well, then you could be feeling angry. When we get angry we are more likely to go to our vices to gain control.

The L stands for Lonely. Maybe you had some wonderful times with your family over the holidays but now they’re gone and you feel lonely. Feeling alone can drive us to do foolish, dangerous things just to distract us from our loneliness.

The next letter stands for Tired. The dark and cold, the freezing rain, shoveling, and all Christmas shopping, planning and preparation, the long hours of partying, and then having to get back to work, can leave a person pretty tired.

And that’s just post-holiday stuff. Many of us have other stresses and issues in our lives that have been going on for a longer time and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of relief in sight. Plus some have pre-existing mental and physical conditions that leave you open to feeling miserable even on good days. There are lots of times that we feel extra hungry, angry, lonely and tired.

When those triggers occur, and it all starts to pile on, we tend to be much more open to falling for temptation. These times are when Satan really likes to turn up the heat. It is during Jesus’ weakest time, during His 40 day fast in the desert, that Satan piled on the temptations (Matthew 4:1-11). 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Do lions take on the biggest and strongest prey? No. They pick off the weak ones because they are easier. As Jesus said to His friends, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Mark 14:38)

Desire

Turn there with me to James 1:14-15 and let’s talk a little about what temptation is and how it leads to sin. It says this: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

Breaking this down simply, we read three important things. First, temptation has to do with “enticement” and “desire”. I enjoy fishing and it is absolutely true that you cannot catch all fish with the same bait. Some like worms, some like spoons and spinners, others want it to float at the top of the water or sink to the bottom. You change the bait depending on the fish you want to catch.

Similarly, though temptation is universal (1 Cor 10:13) different people have different desires. Not everyone is tempted towards the same things. When stress or fear or longing or hunger or anger or loneliness – or whatever trigger – comes, we all turn to different things for comfort. Christians are taught to turn to Jesus, and most believers do, but we also often find ourselves turning to other things as well – either instead of or along with, Jesus.

Some turn to material things, using shopping as their comforter, while others turn to alcohol or drugs, coffee, food or sugar. Some turn to wrath, yelling and controlling behaviour as they shout out their injustices and try to take control from God, while others push people away, putting on the headphones, wallowing in their mood, growing more fearful or bitter. Some turn to books, movies or video games, distracting themselves with entertainment, while others turn to pornography and sex for instant distraction and gratification. Some turn to gossip and slander, knocking others down so they can feel better, while others prefer lying about their emotions by pushing the bad feelings down and pretending everything is ok.

We all have these desires within us, and these desires make up our temptations. They are, in a very real sense, our ‘functional saviours’ that replace Jesus as our “go to” for protection, comfort, help, and hope. They don’t work, and often make things worse, but we still go to them.

So that’s the first part, “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire”. Here’s the thing: These desires aren’t always sinful. Technically, deep down, those desires are universal and given by God to be best fulfilled in Jesus. We don’t want alcohol, food, bitterness, video games or porn –we want to feel safer, happier, comforted, but those sins are a quick fix.

Which brings us to the second part. Next it says, “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…”. Having desires isn’t sin. Sin is part of a process. When the desire stops being for the good God has for us and moves to formulating the plan of how to get what God wants us to have without Him, we sin. When plan to and then turn to someone or something other than God – where it is a fantasy in our heads or a chemical in our veins – we are sinning and causing ourselves spiritual damage.

Here’s how it works: Something happens and we are hit with the desire for love, comfort, protection, safety, fulfilment – and then God offers us Himself as the answer. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) And we say “No, that takes too long, that’s not how we want to do it, you’re not doing it my way.” And we turn away from Him and come up with a plan for how to get our desire fulfilled without Him. That is sin.

And as it says at the end of the verse, “…and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” When we turn away from the Author of Life and try to find what we want outside of Him and His plan, we are walking the path of death, which is why we feel worse after we have done it. Sure, sinning works for a moment, but when our head clears, and we can hear our God-given conscience again, we feel guilt, shame, fear, dread…. which awakens a desire for peace, comfort, safety, which leads to a new temptation – a new opportunity to turn back to God, or try again with our sin. And the cycle continues.

Jesus Tempted

With that all in mind, let’s turn back to our passage in Luke about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness and take it apart a bit so we can see how He really does know what it’s like to walk in our shoes – so to speak.

Sent By His Father

The first thing I want to notice is that Jesus was sent into a time of suffering and temptation by God the Father. If we back up the timeline a bit to what was happening just before the temptation in the wilderness we find ourselves at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River. It says in Luke 3:21-22:

“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”

Fast forward to Luke 4:1-2 and we read:

“And Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry.”

After the wonderful, peaceful, riverside moment where the whole Trinity is present, full of loving, affirming words – Jesus was sent into one of the most difficult times of His life. The same story in Mark 1:12 says, “The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.” It’s the same word as when Jesus “drove out” the merchants in the temple (Mt 21:12), or when Jesus was forcibly driven out of his home town so they could throw Him off a cliff (Lk 4:29). This was God’s idea, and there was no choice in the matter. WHAM! Sudden suffering.

People with depression know this feeling, as do many of us who have been through difficult times. It comes out of nowhere, unprompted, and unasked for. One day you’re having a good day by the river, and the next you are starving alone in a wilderness, surrounded by darkness, dread, the snarling of wild animals (1:13), and non-stop evil voices. Jesus knows how that feels.

Jesus Was Weak

Next I want you to notice that Jesus was weak. He was in the desert wilderness alone for over a month. He ate nothing and was hungry. He had no special clothing to protect him on cold nights, and nothing to sleep on. The ground was hard, rocky and hilly, the sand blowing in his eyes. Hungry, lonely, tired… for sure. And not for one night, not for a week, but for over a month. And not just natural problems to battle, but also spiritual ones. The word “tempted” indicates that the temptation from Satan was continual, unceasing, night and day. The three temptations were just a final culmination, the last stabs, of Jesus’ terrible time.

Jesus knows what it is like to be weak.

The Attacks

Let’s turn our attention to the attacks. First, we see Satan attack Jesus’ identity and mission. The words of His Father, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”, may have seemed pretty far away after a few weeks in that demonic wilderness.

And so Satan attacks Jesus’ identity – who Jesus is. “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” (Lk 4:3). Jesus, you are crazy to think you are the Son of God. You’re just a man. You’re not who you say you are. You’re not even who you think you are. You’re a fraud, a fake, a fool. Do something to prove to who you really are. Prove it. Do something to remind you of the good old days when you had everything. Do something so you can feel good, feel important, feel better, feel powerful…

Then the devil used his hunger against Him. God had sent Him there on a mission to combat Satan and Jesus would need all of His spiritual strength. One way humans concentrate on spiritual things is by fasting – removing the distraction of worldly things so we can concentrate on spiritual things. This is what Jesus was doing. Satan knows this and wants it to stop. He says: “Don’t you want something to eat? The road is long and hard and you are hungry. There’s no law against bread. Just this once, just for now, no one will see. Tell your spirit to be quiet and give in to your body’s cravings. It’ll help you. I promise. Since your body wants it, you have a craving, a desire, why not? It’s just a bit of bread. You have the ability to do it, you’re alone, I won’t tell anyone. Actually it’s really Your Father’s fault for putting you in this situation. You deserve bread. You wouldn’t be hungry if it wasn’t for Him and this messed up world. Use your power for yourself. Be selfish.”

Jesus knows what it is like to have your body work against you, to be hungry, to hear a thousand excuses as to why you should tell God to get lost and just give in to the thing that you know will fill the void for a moment.

Attacked His Mission

Next Satan attacks Jesus’ because He’s tired. He attacks His mission.:

“And the devil took him up and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time, and said to him, ‘To you I will give all this authority and their glory, for it has been delivered to me, and I give it to whom I will. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’” Aren’t you tired of this fight? Don’t you wish there was an easier way? Don’t you wish you could just give up? God’s way is too hard, it doesn’t make sense, it is just plain cruel. I’m giving you the easy way, the right way. Why suffer needlessly? I can give you what you want. You don’t have to do all the hard work, Jesus. You don’t have to spend years being attacked, misunderstood, mistreated, and suffering. You don’t have to wander lonely places, gather slow-witted followers just to have them turn on you and leave you to be arrested, falsely accused, and then murdered in the most brutal way humans have ever come up with. Why go through all that? I’ll give you the easy way out. I’ll give you everything you want, all the whole world, for free… just bend your knee a little. Just say that I win and I’ll make you a king under my command. Give up. Say it’s too much. Tell God His way is unfair, too hard, and bow to me.”

Jesus knows what it’s like to just want to quit, to be so exhausted you just want to take the easy way out. He knows what it’s like to wonder about the plan of God and to look at a hard life of discipline, and to have Satan offer an easier alternative.

Attacked His Theology

Next Satan attacks Jesus relationship with God. Verse 9:

“And he took him to Jerusalem and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you, to guard you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”

Satan can quote scripture better than anyone, and knows how to twist it. He can misinterpret God’s Word, spin it to his own ends, and seek to convince people that God has said something He has not and permits something he has forbidden. He is a liar, the father of lies, and lies are his native language (Jn 8:44). This is why we need to work so hard to interpret it correctly, because when we are weak, Satan will throw all kinds of half-truths, mixed up verses, and out of context scripture, to help convince us to do his will instead of God’s. He’ll even use well-meaning, but biblically illiterate Christians, to give you good-sounding advice.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be surrounded by liars who can quote religious language and Bible verses, but who are only trying to lead you away from God.

Attacked His Trust in God

Along with this came the temptation to stop trusting God. He says: “How can you trust a God who would put you through this, Jesus? Maybe He’s left you? Maybe you’re on your own. Look around. You are alone. And look at those people down there. Here you are, the Creator of the Universe, the Son of God, and they don’t even know who you are, and you know it’s only going to get worse. They don’t love you – and I don’t think God loves you either. How could He? He sent you to this miserable wilderness alone, with no food, no water, no help, no clothes, no nothing – so that you could take me on! No warning, no help, no nothing. That’s unfair.

I know how hard this is for you. I know how badly you want to quit, even now, and you haven’t even hardly gotten started yet! I’ve got years to hurt you, your family, your friends, your followers, and then I get to turn the whole world against you. I have years left to make your life hell.

It’s not my fault though. I’m just doing my job. It was God who put you here in your weakest state, and then invited me to come and attack you non-stop. He delivered you into my hands! What kind of Father does that? He doesn’t love you.

You know what you should do? You should do something to force Him to prove that He cares. You should do something drastic and dramatic that makes everyone take notice. You should make God prove He loves you, force Him to do something. Make Him fulfill His promises to you. You should try to kill yourself. You should jump off this building and make God catch you. Then everyone will know how much pain you are in. Then, if God really wants to save you, He’ll be forced to intervene or let you die and bring you to heaven – either way you win.”

Jesus knows what it’s like to think like this – and so do many people who go through depression. I’ve been down this road and thought these same things. It’s exhausting.

Conclusion

As much as it pains me to do it, we need to leave it there for this week. Next week I want to look at how Jesus dealt with these temptations, and how He faced the symptoms of depression.

But for this week, I want you to know one thing: Jesus knows how you feel and what it’s like to go through what you are going through. I may not know exactly what you are facing, but Jesus knows every detail, and has been there. He’s lost friends, been betrayed, been hurt, angry, broken, and in physical pain. He’s lived without money or a home, been attacked by enemies, prevented from sleep, and attacked by demonic forces.

My hope for you today is that knowing this will spur you to have new and deeper conversations with Jesus in prayer, knowing He can sympathize with you – that He loves you and has experienced your pain, and is experiencing it even now. He is not a far away God, but one who knows your very heart, and has been touched by it.

Pray to Him as a friend, as a brother, as a kindred spirit, a fellow sufferer, who offers you real help and real hope, because He’s been where you are, has achieved victory over it, and offers to teach you how.

Jesus Loves Scientists – The Apostle Philip

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Illustration of the Ptolemaic worldview by Bartolomeu Velho in 1568

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:

Brief Intro

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.

We’ve already been in this section a few times over the past weeks since it contains the calling of Peter and Andrew, but as we keep reading we see the call of Philip and Nathanael as well.

“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

Many 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.

He says,

“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.

Some Applications

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.