Scripture: John 1:43-51
For as long as there has been commercialism and advertising the holy grail of marketing has been word of mouth. The best way to sell a product is to get people to talk about it. In the digital age this has become both easier and harder. On the one hand it is easier because it is so much easier to connect with customers than ever before. Even fairly small brands and companies have professional social media manages or community managers whose job it is to interact with potential customers on the internet directly. However, it is harder because we are bombarded by more information now than at any point of the human experience, and we have all developed great filters at weeding out the stuff that does not appeal to us or seems like blatant marketing. In order to generate word of mouth in the digital age, there are a few strategies that companies have turned to. The first is to get people to advertise for you. Netflix has been one of the best at this. For instance, they purposely premiered their original show “How to make a murderer” in December of 2015 right before a lot of people would have time have to binge watch it. Many of the people who did this then posted about the show on social media. In the same way, even if you do not have Netflix there is a decent chance you have heard of Stranger Things at this point. Creating content that inspires people to make social media posts about it, has worked really well for Netflix in just three years between 2014 and 2017 they saw their number of subscribers nearly double. Another strategy is to make your brand something that people want to follow on social media. Wendy’s is a shining example of this. The Wendy’s social media manager is a mastermind at throwing shade on their competition. In one exchange that gained 15 seconds of internet fame, The Wendy’s twitter account posted a typical advertising post showing a picture of their 4 for $4 meal. In response Burger King posted a picture of their food with the caption 5 for $5 because five is better than four. When a twitter user then asked for Wendy’s response the Wendy’s twitter account simply replied “edible food.” There are countless marketing strategies but they all have the same goal which is to convince us that we want their product in their life. Most marketing strategies tend to do this by creating brand awareness and they seek to make their product something we will share with others.
One of the phrases that I understand the necessity for but really do not like is “church marketing.” I get it and it is a necessity to create presence and awareness, but it is problematic as well because marketing implies that we are selling something and that is not true. The goal of marketing is to get money. It is to convince people they want something, make that want seem like a need, and then get them to buy the product. That is not what we are about, or at least it absolutely should not be. We are not selling anything, we should be giving the gospel away. We should not be manipulating people to close a deal, but we should be inviting people into a loving community bound by grace. We should not be trying to manufacture a need, because everyone already desperately needs Jesus. Despite those differences there are some similarities between traditional marketing and sharing the gospel. Namely, word of mouth is the most effective way to succeed. The only way the gospel spreads is if we are willing to say “come and see.”
The word we use to describe for sharing our faith is evangelism, and this morning’s scripture contains what might be the first example of that in the Christian faith. This morning’s scripture takes place fairly early on in the ministry of Jesus. He is just getting started, and according to the gospel of John, Jesus has not gone public yet. He had yet to do any major miracles or do anything to start garnering a crowd. Yet, in the interactions Jesus was having, he was making quite the impression. We do not know Philip’s backstory. Given that Bethsaida was a small town, he probably knew Andrew and Peter. Some scholars think the original Greek even implies that it was Andrew or Peter who brought Jesus to find Philip. It feels like we only get a part of the story in this scripture. We are not getting the blow by blow account, but rather the little news ticker summary. Something must of occurred that made Philip a believer, there was a reason why he said yes when Jesus said “follow me”, and there was a reason why he then sought out Nathaniel to tell his friend that they had found the Messiah!
Now Nathaniel is a disciple that I think many of us can relate to. If at least not personally, then we all know a person like Nathaniel. He is a skeptic. His very first instinct upon hearing about Jesus is to sarcastically ask how anything possibly good could from Nazareth. I like to imagine that Nathaniel was just getting warmed up. The scripture does not record it, but I imagine that Nathaniel was getting ready to tell his “you might be from Nazareth if.. .” joke when Philip does not back down. I love the way that Philip responds to Nathaniel’s skepticism. He invites. Philip does not argue with Nathaniel, he does not belittle him for being so close minded, and he does not give up on him. He simply says “come and see.”
I think it is for easy for us to undervalue the word of mouth buzz that Jesus was generating. Philip said he was the messiah from one meeting with Jesus Philip believed that he was the one that Moses wrote about, that the prophets promised. Philip believed that Jesus was the fulfillment of proclamations that were over a millennium old. It is no wonder that Nathaniel was skeptical, that was quite the claim. However, Philip believed this with such conviction and assurance that he could say “come and see” knowing that Jesus would not disappoint. That is exactly what happened! Jesus did not disappoint. Again, it feels like we only get the briefest summary. There has to be more to the interaction between Jesus and Nathaniel. It ends though with Nathaniel declaring that Jesus is the messiah and becoming his disciple.
From this point in the gospels, the reach, influence, and touched lives of Jesus spreads. He does it all without social media accounts, an advertising budget, or a marketing team. In the gospels, people were attracted to Jesus by word of mouth. They came to Jesus because someone else invited them and said “come and see.” The early church grew by the exact same model of “come and see. As churches we are not into marketing, we are into inviting. We are about telling people to come and see. As David Crowder sings, we are inviting people to come and see Jesus. “He is the One who has saved us. He is the one who embraced us. He is the one who has come and is coming again. He is the remedy.” Yes, Jesus is truly the cure for what ails us.
When we think of it in those terms, it becomes bewildering why everyone is not a believer in Christ. Jesus is the cure for what ails us. All people at some point experience feelings of insecurity, feeling unlovable, and of wanting to know are we worth anything. Jesus assures that we are so valuable and so loved, that we, you and me are worth dying for. With maybe the exception of the most evil people who have ever lived, we all struggle with our own darkness, we run from the guilt of knowing we have done wrong, and we regret the times we have hurt others. Jesus forgives us, reconciles us, and lets us know that our ledger is clean, our sins have been erased. At some point in life we all face loss, loneliness, and uncertainty. Yet Jesus promises, that I will be with you always. For Nathaniel, Jesus did not disappoint, and today Jesus still does not disappoint. For every person who is hurt, broken, and lost Jesus does not disappoint. For every person who simply is, Jesus is exactly what is needed. Jesus is the cure for what ails us all.
Moreover Jesus is free. This is why marketing does not quite work in the church, our greatest “product” if you can call it that is the good news of Jesus Christ and we literally giving it away. Salvation and the forgiveness of sins is a free gift given to all. There is nothing we can do to earn it, and there is nothing so wrong that it will ever be rescinded. The price has already been paid, the gift has already been given. Given all of this, it raises the question why are there still people who do not know Jesus as their Lord and savior?
Now Jesus himself addressed this. He said the gate is narrow, and he pointed out there will always be those opposed to him and his followers. However, I do think it is far too easy for us to say that those who do not yet know Jesus are just “those people” and wash our hands of them. To follow Jesus we are to make disciples of the nations and care for the least of these, so he did not really give us that option. Nathaniel came to be a disciple all because Philip said, “come and see.” This morning’s scripture really challenges us with the question, “Are we telling other people to come and see?”
“Come and see” is the word of mouth that has caused the church to grow and the gospel of Jesus to change lives from the very beginning. It can not be over stated, this is still the most effective way to spread the gospel. Of course, in Jesus day it was very easy to say come and see and then show them Jesus in the flesh. Today when we say “come and see” what should we be showing people? We should be showing them that Jesus is the cure, and the way we do that is that we live like people who have been cured. If you consider yourself a Christian then you have encountered the risen Christ, and you have experienced Jesus as the cure for what ails you. All disciples of Jesus Christ should have a story of how our Lord and Savior has been a cure for the great sorrows, pains, and heartaches of life. We should have a story of when we were low Jesus lifted us up, when we were lost he found us, when we were tortured by guild he absolved us, or how when we were in despair he brought us great hope. For four years I have stood up here and told you parts of my story, and there is no need to repeat it all today. However, if that is a story you want to hear, then I would love to sit down and share it with you someday. In the same way, I am very interested in hearing each and every one of your stories of how Jesus has changed you. However, we are not the ones who need to hear each other’s story. It is the people that are not inside these walls that need to hear our stories, because they too need a savior, they too need a cure for what ails them, and our lives should be a testimony that say “come and see what the Lord has done for me.”
Having our hearts transformed by Jesus is not a onetime thing. As the old hymn says, “morning by morning new mercies I see.” Part of discipleship and faithful Christian living is learning just how sick we truly are and just the depth to which Jesus is the remedy. This means that when we say “come and see” not only do we have a story about how Jesus has changed us, but our lives are living testimonies. People should be able to literally see us as changed people, who are living differently because of the grace of Jesus Christ. Which is the final question this scripture asks us. Nathaniel declared Jesus the messiah, and it changed his life. This scripture convicts us to answer the question “How has following Jesus changed your life?”
May you be able to find the answer to that question. If you struggle to find that answer, then I urge to come to Jesus because he is the cure for that which truly ails you. He is the remedy that your heart and soul long for, and when you accept him as Lord and Savior I promise it will change everything. If you do find the answer to how Jesus has changed your life, and how Jesus has been the cure in your life, then may you be willing to say “come and see.” May you share your story and in doing so share your savior, the Son of God, with others. Because in the end it is only through that kind of word of mouth evangelism that minds, hearts, and souls are going to be transformed for the kingdom of God.