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.’ 51 And He said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you shall see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”
Epiphany is about God manifesting Himself in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. It’s about displaying the divinity of Jesus the Christ. Sometimes that divinity is displayed publicly and without much subtly. For example, God the Father tearing open the heavens and saying, “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased” or changing water into wine. This morning’s display of the divinity of Jesus is of the more subtle kind.
Jesus had begun collecting disciples. He had called Peter and Peter’s brother Andrew to begin their work toward the ministry. John the Baptist had previously sent two of his own disciples to follow after Jesus: James and John; the John who penned the Gospel lesson for this morning.
The next day Jesus went into Galilee where He found Philip. “Jesus said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ He did, then 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.’” That was another way of saying, the Christ of God had come.
We know Nathanael by another names as well. His surname is Bartholomew . Bar means “son of.” Nathanael was the son of Tolomeus. Thus Nathanael Bartholomew responded to Philip’s declaration as just about anyone would at the time. He was skeptical. 46 “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” At the time of Jesus, Nazareth was a little town. It consisted of probably around 500 people. It wasn’t near any large city. The idea that the Promised One would hail from such a meaningless town would have been scoffed at, which is what Nathanael did. Philip didn’t argue with Nathanael. He just invited him.”Come and see.”
Jesus found and called Phillip. Phillip found Nathanael and told him the good news. Nathanael probably thought what was there to lose? It was probably a short walk, so he came. 47 “Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’” And there is the subtle manifestation of the deity of Jesus the son of Joseph. Jesus greets Nathanael in such a way that it shows Nathanael that Jesus knows his most deeply held thoughts and concerns. Jesus wanted to give Nathanael a practical demonstration of the truth of Philip’s testimony. In other words, Jesus wanted to demonstrate for Nathanael, His deity.
When Jesus said to the other disciples and loud enough for Nathanael to hear, “‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!’” Jesus was acknowledging that Nathanael was already a true believer in the Promised Messiah. Nathanael was a sinner just like everyone else, bar one – Jesus. But by faith in the promised Messiah, Nathanael lived in the forgiveness of sins. He was a man who held the right beliefs about the coming Messiah. He was a Israelite, not simply by virtue of the right bloodline, but more importantly by virtue of true Christian faith.
Nathanael belonged to the small number of those in Israel that were members of God’s people in truth by spiritual knowledge and faith. As such Nathanael was free from guile and falsehood. Just as there are now two kinds of Christians. All kinds are called Christian and call themselves Christians. They’ve been baptized but we do not all remain in baptism. Many fall away or desert Christ and become false Christians, making true Christians are fewer and far between.
What we have here is a practical manifestation of Jeremiah 17:10 “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, To give to each person according to his ways, According to the results of his deeds.” Jesus knows Nathanael’s deepest thoughts and Nathanael knows it. Jesus knows that Nathanael is waiting and looking for his Savior.
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.’”
It was the custom of the day that faithful Jews take some time each day to go to a place of solitude to pray, mediate on the Word of God, and be with God via His Word. Jesus confirmed for Nathanael what had already been made clear. Jesus saw Nathanael under the tree. Jesus knew what Nathanael was thinking and praying about.
In this short exchange Jesus reveals Himself to Nathanael by showing Nathanael that he has been seen by the Christ. It was an Epiphany for Nathanael. He responded. “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”
Nathanael knows his Old Testament. His response sounds like a summary of Psalm 2:6, “As for Me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill…You are my Son, today I have begotten you.”
John doesn’t tell us what Nathanael was thinking or praying about or doing under the fig tree when Christ saw him. He leaves it a secret between Jesus and Nathanael. It is thought by some that Jesus’s final statement in the exchange gives us a hint.
Jesus said to Nathanael, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Jesus promises Nathanael that he will see Jacob’s ladder, but not as a dream. He will see it in the flesh. There are two times in the Gospels when the heavens open and God speaks from above. That happened at Jesus’s baptism and at the Transfiguration, but Nathanael wasn’t at either one of those events. Jesus is talking about something else.
Like all the other apostles, Nathaniel would see the death, resurrection and ascension of the Son of Man. These were the greater things that Jesus promised Nathanael would see. Nathanael saw the God who descended from heaven, then saw Him ascend having redeemed the sinner from sin, death, and the power of the devil.
Like Jacob the first Israelite who was given the dream of the ladder, Nathanael the Israelite saw heaven and earth joined together by the ladder of Good Friday.
The ladder is Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth—not just for Himself, but for the people of God. The Messiah has came to do what was necessary so sinners would ascend to heaven. The ladder has have one rung to which Jesus hands were nailed.
After His resurrection and the giving of the keys to the kingdom of heaven, and as He was about to ascend into heaven, Jesus sent Nathanael and the rest of the apostles into the world, so they could bring the ladder of the cross to all people. Calling all to repent and trust in Christ Jesus and His Word.
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” showing to Nathanael that Jesus knew him in his deepest parts.
The Lord Jesus manifests Himself to you in the same sort of way. He knows your inner most parts, your thoughts, your sins, you faith and hope and reveals Himself to you. This He does in the Word and Sacrament ministry. The Law cuts us to the deepest marrow of our being. The Gospel comforts us in our despair. He does these things through the preaching office of the church. He also does that for someone else through your mouth when you tell people what Jesus does for sinners and where He can be found doing it. In faithful congregations!
Jesus saw Nathanael inner most thoughts and heard His prayer for help. The same is true of you. 1 Corinthians 13:12; “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully, just as I also have been fully known.”
Psalm 139 leaves sinful man no path for escape. The Lord God knows all about you and me. “Lord, You have searched me and known me. 2 You know ]when I sit down and when I get up; You understand my thought from far away.
3 You scrutinize my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before there is a word on my tongue, Behold, Lord, You know it all.”
Even though He knows it all He still comes to you in the Word and Sacrament ministry, forgiving you all those things that only you and God know about. 1 John 3:1-2 “See how great a love the Father has given us, that we would be called children of God; and in fact we are. For this reason the world does not know us: because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
The heavens have been opened for you. At your Baptism, you were washed with water and the Word. You became members of the kingdom of heaven. You receive absolution for your sins. You come to the communion rail to receive a foretaste of the feast to come.
Here you sing with angels, archangels and all the company of heaven because on Good Friday the Lord Jesus Christ climbed onto the ladder between heaven and earth and died to make you His.
When you were in the womb, before you were born, God saw you and knew you and by His Christ He has made you an Israelite in whom there is no guile. because Christ has forgiven you.
May the Peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.