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January 14, 2018

Sermon John 1:43-44 . . . “Bible places:  Bethsaida”

“Bible places:  Bethsaida”

John 1:43-44

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

In his book, Evidence that Demands a Verdict, author Josh McDowell writes:  “For eighteen hundred years, infidels have tried to refute and overthrow the Bible, yet it stands today as solid as a rock.  It’s circulation increases, and it is more loved and cherished and read today than ever before.  Infidels, with all their assaults, make about as much impression on this Book as a man with a tack hammer would on the Pyramids of Egypt.  When the French monarch proposed the persecution of the Christians in his dominion, an old statesman and warrior said to him, ‘Sire, the church of God is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.’  So the hammers of infidels have been pecking away at this Book for ages, but the hammers are worn out, and the anvil still endures.  If this Book had not been the Book of God, men would have destroyed it long ago.  Emperors and popes, kings and priests, princes and rulers have tried their hand at it; they die and the Book lives on.”

Just think, for example, of how archaeology proves the Bible is right after all.

Take, for example, the problem of the Hittites.  For years, Bible critics challenged the words of Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, and Judges whenever it happened to mention them.  They said, instead, that they were simply one of the many mythical people groups that the Bible made up.

But in the late 1800s, when archaeologists discovered inscriptions in Egypt, Hamath, and Aleppo, and the Tell el-Amarna tablets, and the Arzawa tablets of Anatolia, they found that Hittites did exist.  The Bible was right after all.

And for years, critics claimed there was no such thing as a Babylonian captivity, doubting the words II Kings chapters 24 and 25.

But when archaeologists discovered the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser, and the limestone relief from Sennacherib’s palace, and the cylinder of Nabonidus, they found that the Bible was right after all.

And for years, critics said there was no such thing as a Pool of Siloam, even though the Bible says there was in John chapter 9.

But in the fall of 2004, when workers were repairing a sewage-pipe break in the old city of Jerusalem, guess what they discovered?  The Pool of Siloam, proving the Bible was right after all.

In his book, I Don’t have Enough Faith to be an Atheist, author Norman Geisler, writes, “No other ancient book is so well authenticated as the New Testament.  The New Testament documents have more manuscripts, earlier manuscripts, and more abundantly supported manuscripts than the best ten pieces of classical literature combined.”  

And in the words of Frederic Kenyon, “The Christian can take the whole Bible in his hand and say without fear or hesitation that he holds in it the true Word of God, handed down without loss from generation to generation throughout the centuries.”

So it was for a town called Bethsaida, nestled along the shore of the Sea of Galilee.  It’s the place where Jesus once walked on water, where He gave sight to a blind man, and where He fed the five thousand.  

For years, critics dismissed it simply as a pious legend, and said that such a place never existed at all.  Till, just this past year, archaeologists discovered the remains of an ancient church, the house of a winemaker, and the house of fisherman, proving the Bible was right after all.

Please turn in your Bible to page 1128, to the words of John chapter 1, our gospel reading for today.  I’ll start where it says, “Jesus calls Philip and Nathanael.”  John chapter 1, verse 43:  “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.’”

These words take us to the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry.  Just as soon as He was baptized, as the Father called out from heaven, and the Spirit descended as a dove, Jesus called His first disciples.  John was the first, then came a man named Andrew, then another named Peter.  As Andrew, his brother, said in verse 41, “We have found the Messiah.”

And the very next day, as it says in verse 43, Jesus went to Galilee.

So what do we know about Galilee?

Today, it’s a quiet, out of the way place known for its farms and fishing villages.  

But at the time of Christ, it was anything but quiet.  It was a hub, a center of agriculture and trade.  The first century historian Josephus said, “Its nature is wonderful as well as its beauty.  It’s soil is so fruitful that the inhabitants plant all sorts of trees there.”  And Jewish tradition said that fruit around the Sea of Galilee ripened as fast as fast as a deer could run.  “One could eat a hundred pieces of it,” they said, “and still wish for more.”

Even more, Galilee wasn’t anything like Jerusalem to the south.  While Jerusalem was ancient and traditional, Galilee was a cultural crossroad of the empire.  It was the home of radically different ideas about religion, architecture, government, philosophy, and morality.  It was a place “good Jews” would never want to go.  It was racially different, geographically different, politically different, economically different, culturally different, linguistically different, and religiously different.

Remember what a man said to Peter on Maundy Thursday night as he warmed himself by the fire?  He said, “Surely you are a Galilean, for your accent gives you away!”  And when Peter preached on Pentecost, in wonder the people said, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?  How is it then that each of us hears them in his own native language?”

Yet it was there that Jesus came.  

And not only did He come to Galilee, He came to Bethsaida, a small, small town on the shore of the Sea of Galilee.

Verse 45:  “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.’”

Back in 1985, John Cougar Mellencamp wrote a song called, “Small Town.”  And in his song, he talked about what it’s like to grow up in a small town.  And he would know.  He was born in Seymour, Indiana. 

And in his song, he said:  “Got nothing against a big town…but my bed is in a small town…and that’s good enough for me.”

Anyone can tell you that small towns are nothing like the big city.  Look up the word, “podunk,” and you’ll see that it means, “a small, unimportant, and isolated town.”  And neither do we, here in small towns, have many modern conveniences like fast food restaurants or shopping malls (which is fine by me!)  

But there are advantages to living in a small town.  Just think—we seldom ever get stuck in traffic (because there isn’t any!), we can take a walk almost anywhere, anytime, and it’s a place where “everybody knows your name.”  

As one author wrote, “There are many advantages to growing up in a small town.  Everyone knows where you live, what you drive, and what you did last night.”  And if I could add, there are some disadvantages too—everyone knows where you live, what you drive, and what you did last night.

But our Savior Jesus didn’t mind one bit.  He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, called His first disciples from Bethsaida, and called Capernaum His hometown—all small towns.

Yet it was to these small, small communities, from town to town and village to village, that He proclaimed the kingdom.

Just because you come from a small town, don’t think God can’t use you.  Amos pruned fig trees, Elisha was a farmer, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all shepherds, and Peter, Andrew, James, and John were fishermen.  God used them.  He can use you too.

As Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and the weak things of the world to shame the strong…so that no one can boast before Him.”

Each year, on the first Saturday in March, riders and their dogs head to Anchorage, Alaska for the Iditarod race.  It’s a thousand mile race, several days long, through deep Alaskan snow, all the way from Anchorage to Nome.  It’s the most famous, and most dangerous, dogsled race of all.

And while it’s a sport and a tourist attraction for so many today, it all started back in 1925 when hundreds of children had been exposed to diphtheria.  And the only serum to combat the disease was in far away Anchorage.  (That is, by the way, how the “Iditarod” got its name.  It means, “far, distant place”).  And the only way to get the serum to Nome was by dogsled.  

So they set up teams of riders, mushers, and their dogs, all along the way.  Before it was over, one hundred and fifty dogs and twenty mushers became part of “The Great Race of Mercy,” carrying three hundred thousand life-saving units of medicine in one hundred and twenty-seven hours—a record that has yet to be broken.

And by their efforts, countless lives were saved.

Today, we too are on a mission of mercy, to seek and to save the lost.  And this mission calls us, whoever we are, wherever we are, and whatever we do, to share the saving name of Jesus.

In the words of a hymn:  “And not alone to nations in faraway retreats, but ev’rywhere I broadcast His love through crowded streets:  the lives that my life touches, however great or small—let them through me see Jesus, who served and saved us all.”


We thank You, Father, for the message of the cross—for those who are perishing, it’s foolishness.  But to us who are being saved, it’s the power of God.  Help us in our time and place, to share the good news and the good name of Jesus.  We pray in His name.  Amen


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