Today, we ‘honor’ two of the apostles of Jesus Christ. Well, maybe ‘honor’ isn’t quite the right word. You ‘honor’ someone for something ‘honorable’ that they have done, like we ‘honor’ those who have served in the military or we ‘honor’ someone for inventing something or discovering something or doing something that made this world a better place to live.
But it’s hard to think about the apostles of Jesus Christ like that – at least before the day of Pentecost. Jesus doesn’t choose them to be His disciples because they possessed some particular skill or gift that would be beneficial to His ministry.
In fact, if anything, the gospels seem to go out of their way to present the apostles as men who are particularly inept and unqualified for discipleship. These 12 men show a propensity for asking bad questions, saying the wrong things and demonstrating acts of cowardice and even betrayal for financial gain.
If they are due any ‘honor’ at all, it is simply that Jesus Christ called them by the gospel and invited them to be His disciple and follow Him. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide…” (John 15:16)
At His ascension into heaven, (which we will celebrate this Thursday evening at 7:00pm), Jesus will commission these 12 men minus Judas to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” (Mat.28:19-20). That’s quite a burden of responsibility that He places on them. Them who have shown little to no evidence that they are able to do what He is sending them to do.
But it is neither the skill nor the character of these men that Jesus is counting on. He will send the Holy Spirit to them. And on the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit “will guide them into all truth” and send them out to preach and teach and baptize, AND HERE WE ARE TODAY, “members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.” (Eph. 2:19-20).
So, today we honor 2 of the 12 simply for the fact that Jesus choose them and taught them and the Holy Spirit sent them.
I. St. James
Of St. James we know very little. This is NOT the James who was the brother of Jesus who wrote the New Testament book called “James.” That ‘James’ was not actually one of the 12 apostles. Matthew, Mark and Luke each list the names of the 12 apostles in their gospels and there are actually two ‘James’ on the list. One is “James the son of Zebedee and his brother John.” But that James is not the James we honor today.
The other James on the list is, “James the son of Alphaeus.” That’s the James we honor today.
The only other mention of this James in the New Testament comes at the end of Mark’s gospel where Mark tells us that as Jesus is hanging from His cross, “there were also women looking on from a distance, among who were… Mary the mother of James the younger….” Church historians tell us that “James the son of Alphaeus” became known in the church as “James the younger,” just to distinguish him from James, the brother of Jesus.
Mark tells us that his mother “was one of the women who, when Jesus was in Galilee, followed him and ministered to him…” (Mark 15:41). So, we actually know more about what James’ mother did for the church than we know about what James did.
We know a little bit more about Philip. John writes, “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. 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.” (John 1:43-46).
Philip is a Jew who knows his bible and somehow is able to connect Jesus to “him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.” And because there may have be more than one man named ‘Jesus’ around, Philip identifies Him further as the ‘Jesus’ ‘from the village of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ He doesn’t yet know enough about the virgin birth to say as we do, ‘born of the virgin Mary’ and leave Joseph out of it. But he will.
At the feeding of the 5,000, it’s Philip that Jesus turns to with His question, “Where are we to buy bread that these may eat? Philip answered him, ‘Two hundred denari would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” (John 6:5-7). Philip still had a lot to learn about who this Jesus is.
Then later, during Holy Week at Jesus’ last Passover in Jerusalem, John tells us that “among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, ‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. And Jesus answered them, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…” (John 12:20-23)
The last time that this Philip’s name appears in the New Testament is in our gospel reading for this morning that takes place in the Upper Room. As the disciples listen to Jesus, several of them have questions. Peter wants to know why he cannot follow Jesus. He is willing to lay down his life for Him. Jesus answers Peter saying, ‘you can’t and you won’t.’
Thomas wants to know where Jesus is going too. “We don’t know where you are going, how can we know the way.” Jesus replies by pointing to Himself, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
Philip doesn’t understand any of this. But neither does he want Jesus to try to explain it. “Philip said to him, ‘Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.’” Philip isn’t interested in ‘doctrine.’ He wants an ‘experience’, a ‘vision,’ what the theologians call, ‘a theophany’ – a vision of God. That’s what he wants to base his faith upon.
Philip’s desire to skip the catechism and go right to the experience can be traced all the way back to Moses. In the book of Exodus, we read that God called His servant Moses to the top of Mt. Sinai and proceeded to give Moses a whole lot of doctrine.
And after awhile, Moses says, ‘you know Lord, all this doctrine and these 10 Commandments are fine, but here’s what I’d really like to see. “Show me your glory,” and it will be enough for me.
And God replied, ‘you’re asking for the wrong thing Moses.’ “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy. But you cannot see my face for man cannot see me and live.” (Ex.33:19-20)
Philip says, “Lord, show us the Father and it is enough for us.” Jesus’ word is not enough for Philip. He wants more than that. He wants something besides Jesus’ word. He either wants Jesus to take them up to heaven and show them the Father OR bring the Father down from heaven so that they may see Him. In either case, Jesus and His word is not enough for Philip.
This emphasis on ‘personal experience’ over ‘trust in God’s word’ is just as common among us in our own day. A lot of believers are being told that they need to ‘experience God in their life.’ “If you’re not ‘experiencing God in your life’ there’s something wrong with your faith.
Sadly, this ‘experience of God in your life’ doesn’t necessarily have to involve Jesus Christ. In fact, where this ‘experience of God’ is stressed, Jesus may hardly be mentioned.
The danger with Philip’s approach to faith is twofold.
First, it wants to direct our faith ‘INWARD’ rather than ‘OUTWARD.’ We try to find the assurance of God’s love for us and that His promises are for us and for our salvation, not in His Word or Sacraments, which are outside of us – but by looking inward at ourselves – which like the Apostles – is not necessarily honorable. So, basing the confidence of salvation on an ‘inner experience’ is always going to leave us in doubt about our salvation and relationship with God.
Second, letting our experience of God define who God is and what God is like is like letting ‘your experience of marriage’ define what marriage is. Everyone’s ‘experience of marriage’ is different, so who’s to say what marriage is REALLY LIKE or what marriage is REALLY SUPPOSED TO BE?
Which may explain why we’re having so much trouble with the DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE these days. Rather than letting God’s word and doctrine of marriage define our ‘experience of marriage,’ we’re redefining marriage according by our experience.
Jesus’ disappointment with Philip is palpable in His reply. “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?”
Jesus responds to Philip and the apostles by giving them a crash course in the doctrine of the Trinity. “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… Whatever you ask in MY name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”
Philip’s problem stems from a lack of understanding of the Trinity.
The Father is fully God, the Son is fully God and the Holy Spirit is fully God. And there is only one God.
The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father, each person is distinct from the other. And there is only one God.
When the Son of God takes on human flesh and becomes man, this is God dwelling among us.
So when we see the Son we are seeing the likeness of the Father through the Spirit because the One God is three persons in perfect unity.
The writer to the Hebrews answers Philip like this, “now in these last days, the Father has spoken to us by His Son, who is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature.” (Hebrews 1:2-3).
The apostle Paul answers both Moses and Philip based on sound Trinitarian doctrine when he writes to the Corinthians saying “For God, who said, let light shine out of darkness HAS SHOWN IN OUR HEART to give the light of the knowledge of God in THE FACE OF JESUS CHRIST.” (2 Cor. 4:7)
When we see Jesus dying on the cross, we are seeing the will of the Father and of the Holy Spirit being carried out perfectly through the Son, whose will is perfect unity with the Trinity. Or as He puts it, “I and the Father are one.”
We find our assurance of God’s love for us and our salvation and that His promises are meant for us – not by ‘experiencing God in our life,’ but by looking OURWARD to Jesus Christ and Him crucified for our sins and raised for our salvation. We look OUTWARD to our baptism where He has made us His child and OUTWARD to His Word where He declares, ‘I LOVE YOU,’ and OUTWARD to His Supper where He give us His very body and blood.
So, today we honor Philip for asking a really bad question. But who, because of his really bad question, we hear Jesus’ really good answer – that the apostles then go and teach to all nations – even to us here today.