One At A Time
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 1:43 “The next day He purposed to go forth into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.’ 46 And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ 48 Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ 49 Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.’ 50 Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” (NASB)
This morning is the Second Sunday in Epiphany and as stated last Sunday, Epiphany is all about Jesus revealing Himself as the Son of God in flesh, the Savior of the world, Jew and Gentile alike.
Here is the thing about Jesus and His Epiphany. While the Son of God came into the world to be the Savior of the world from sin, death, and the power of the devil, Christ reveals Himself, that is He creates faith in Him, one person at a time and though the mouth of another person. That’s how salvation works. It works the same way Baptism does. A person if baptized, forgiven, and made a Christian one person at a time.
Thus the assigned Gospel reading this morning. The story of Philip, Nathanael, and Jesus. The interaction between Jesus and Nathanael certainly convinced Nathanael that Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph was in fact the Son of God, the promised Messiah.
It was early in Jesus’ public ministry when He began calling His disciples to study and service. We know from the other Gospel’s that after Jesus’s baptism, He began to teach and perform miracles. We also know based on the other Gospels that before they left their full time jobs to be disciples, some of them took an interest in what Jesus was teaching and doing.
In John chapter one John the Baptist directed his disciples to follow Jesus. Andrew, Peter’s brother was one of those men. Andrew went and found his brother Peter and said “We have found the Messiah and . . . brought him to Jesus.” This was Peter’s introduction to Jesus. Later Jesus would call out to Peter and Andrew and say, Matthew 4:19 “‘Come, follow me and I will send you out to fish for people.’ 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.”
This morning’s lesson picks up right after the official introduction of Jesus to Peter. The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He leaves the area around the river Jordan where John the Baptist was baptizing and goes to Galilee.
That in itself is one of the marks of Jesus’s earthly ministry. He doesn’t go to Judea and to Jerusalem. He doesn’t go to the seat of religious and political influence and power, the movers and shakers of the day. He goes to “fly over” territory. He goes to ordinary and lowly people in a backwards district.
Once in Galilee, Jesus finds Philip and simply says “Follow me.” Philip does. The exchange indicates that Philip had prior knowledge of Jesus, perhaps even contact with Him. There is nothing in the text that indicates this is the very first time they met. It says “He found Philip,” as if he was looking for him.
The exchange also shows that when Jesus calls, the call carries with it such power and authority that the desired result follows. When Jesus said, “Follow Me” the man to whom He was speaking did. That puts me in mind of what Jesus told His disciples in John 15:16. “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain….”
None of the men to whom Jesus called into the ministry rejected the call. All of the disciples heard the Word of God and the Word and the Holy Spirit accomplished the purpose the for which the Word was sent. It was the willing volunteers that couldn’t close the deal. Volunteers like the scribe and another man in Matthew chapter eight, but who end up returning home. Then there’s the rich young ruler in Mark chapter ten. He went away said. They wanted to volunteer until they found out what that meant. Then not so much.
But when Jesus called those He chose they left their nets and everything else and followed Him. You see, the Word of God and the Gospel produces more than just a vague, general, and generic faith in the idea of God. That’s what most people have. That is not a saving faith.
The call of the Gospel, the call of Christ Jesus is much more than that. The call of the Gospel and of Jesus means that the one being called and chosen is to be where Jesus is, to hear Him in the speaking in His Word, and to believe His doctrine. That’s what happened when Philip answered the Christ’s call. He follows Jesus and does the same thing that Andrew did the day before. He goes and tells someone about it.
Philip finds a friend, another man of faith. A man who trusted the promise of the Lord God to send the Messiah. “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 knew what Philip was telling him. Philip was telling him that Peter, Andrew, and he had “found” the Messiah prophesied in the Old Testament. Unlike Peter, Andrew, and Philip, Nathanael hadn’t followed or heard the news of the Rabbi from Nazareth. The others had likely seen and heard Jesus. But Nathanael’s response was probably the normal response in those opening days of Jesus’s earthly ministry He was skeptical to say the least. “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Even in a small rural district like Galilee, it would seem there were internal rivalries. It appears from Nathanael’s response that the people of Bethsaida looked down on the people from Nazareth.
But unlike an awful lot of Christians today, Philip doesn’t let one negative comment deter him. “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’” Philip is already convinced Jesus is the Messiah, but Nathanael is unimpressed. Maybe Nathanael knew the prophecies of the Bible. As far as he knew the Messiah was supposed to be from Bethlehem, not Nazareth. Nathanael might have thought that Jesus city of origin disqualified Him as the Messiah?
Philip doesn’t get caught up in a debate over Nazareth’s status. He doesn’t start arguing with about the things he has seen and heard. He doesn’t worry about whether the relationship between the two will be spoiled. He just invites Nathanael to come and check Jesus out for himself.
Whether you realize it or not, I hope you do, that is you do when you invite people to the church here or to any congregation that is faithful to the Word and Sacrament ministry. Jesus is here in His Word. When you invite a person to such a congregation you’re inviting to listen to and “check out” Jesus.
That’s how it ought to be among us. The focus is not on our congregation or the people, as fine a folk as you all are. There are a lot of congregations that have much more going on and a lot more programs to sell than we do.
What we do have that many, many congregations don’t have, is the pure Word of God, Christ Himself where He has promised to be and how He has promised to be, doing what He came to do– calling sinners to Himself and forgiving them and you all your sins. All this Jesus is doing here in this tiny little church that doesn’t seem like much.
Never be ashamed or embarrassed about bringing people to where Jesus is, no matter how lowly that place may seem. After all He was born in tiny Bethlehem, raised in a dirty town called Nazareth, conducted His ministry in backwards places like Galilee. Imagine if we had Lutherans, real Lutherans who told their family, friends, and acquaintances, “We have found the Savior of the world–your Savior too, Jesus. He is at our church in His Word and Sacraments.”
If they ask you. “Do you have a big new building, a lot of programs, a big stage, rockin music, and a fitness center? Then reply, “No. But if you want a fitness center, well then go to a health club. If you want rockin music, feel free to go to a rock concert. We have something those places don’t have. We have God’s grace, forgiveness for your sins, God’s Word, Jesus Christ, as He has promised to be. Come and see for yourself.”
Philip was just being pleasantly persistent. He was undeterred by Nathanael’s sarcasm. Philip invited and Nathanael accepted the challenge and when 47 “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’ 48 Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ 49 Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.’”
“Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” That is how Jesus greets Nathanael and it is high praise. The statement tells us something about Nathanael. He is a man who knows he is a sinner. He is honest about who and what he is and he knows he needs the Savior. He does lie to or about himself. That’s what the statement denotes. The statement also tells Nathanael that Jesus knows something about him. It tells him that Jesus knew what he, Nathanael was thinking about before he was interrupted by Philip.
“‘How do You know me?’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’” The Gospel of John doesn’t tell us what was said or what was being studied by Nathanael under that fig tree. The Gospel leaves it a secret between Jesus and Nathanael.
Maybe Nathanael was sure that no one saw him sitting under this fig tree. Maybe Nathanael was praying while he was under the tree, praying about something very private– something that God would only know. Either way, Nathanael knew right away that the only one who “saw” him under that fig tree and knew what he was thinking, was GOD. Psalm 44:21 says, “God knows the secrets of the heart.”
Jesus’s greeting and response convinced Nathanael that “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” was the all knowing and present Son of God. It was a private matter, between Nathanael and God and Jesus keeps it that way.
In the exchange between Jesus and Nathanael, Jesus reveals to Nathanael that He Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph, is the promised Messiah who has come into the world to take away Nathanael’s sin and to usher in the kingdom of God. That is how He revealed Himself to Nathanael. A direct “revelation” that Jesus knew him in his deepest parts.
One at time. That is how Jesus reveals Himself. That is how He issues the call. He does that through the preaching office of the church. He also does that through your mouth when you tell people what Jesus does for sinners and where He can be found doing it. In faithful congregations.
He comes to you in the Word and Sacrament ministry, forgiving you all those things that only you and God know about. That is what He continues to do. In your confession of sin, you think of those private and secret sins, which are only known by you and your Savior. And even though He knows your deepest and darkest secrets, He forgives you. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
You confess and He forgives you through the mouth of a Pastor. You come to the Lord’s Supper and He gives Himself to you for the remission of sins. In so doing, you have become the Israelite in whom there is not guile, because Christ has forgiven you.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.