Seventh Sunday after Trinity July 26, 1998
358, 323, 423, 50
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man. So far the Holy Word.
In the Name of Christ, Who bids us take up our crosses and follow Him, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Some things you simply have to see with your own eyes to believe. In the early hours of July 20, 1969, a human being did something no human being had ever done before—Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Many of us wouldn’t have believed it could ever happen if we hadn’t been watching the live coverage on our televisions at home. As it was, there were still some people who didn’t believe it; for a long time there were those who thought that the moon walk was an elaborate hoax, staged on a sound set somewhere here on earth! I guess some people can’t be satisfied unless they actually witness an event in person.
Seeing is believing. We human beings tend to be rather skeptical about things we can’t see with our own eyes. In many areas this can be a healthy attitude to have—it keeps us from being taken in by outrageous advertising claims, for instance. Unfortunately, this skepticism and doubt often extends to things religious, as well. Doubts about God, and about His will for our lives, are not healthy. They are very unhealthy, and they can interfere with our discipleship. Thankfully, our Savior knows our doubts, and He doesn’t call us to be disciples without also giving us convincing evidence that what He says is true. Even better than videotape, that evidence is seen in His Word, and in how the Lord is working in our own lives! Have you had troubling doubts lately? Are you maybe a little hesitant about giving your life over completely to serving Christ? Then follow the advice Philip gave Nathanael in our text for today. Our theme is—
I think it’s safe to say that all of you in church this morning consider yourselves disciples of Jesus. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. But there are things that get in the way of discipleship, and you should be aware of them. One of these things is lack of vision—or what you could call “spiritual shortsightedness.” It’s an unhealthy skepticism about God, and what God can do for you, that keeps you from realizing the full benefits of your faith. In our text, a young man named Nathanael exhibits a bad case of spiritual shortsightedness.
As our text opens, Jesus has just called Philip to be his fourth disciple. Philip, overjoyed at having found the Savior, does the most natural thing there is—he immediately goes to find somebody he can share this Good News with. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. “We have found the Messiah!” he said, “The promised Savior is right here in this town!” But Nathanael was skeptical. He had doubts. Nazareth was in Galilee, a land whose people were despised by the Jews. Also, Nathanael knew of no prophesy that said the Messiah would come from Nazareth. So Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?
Sometimes we are shortsighted, too, when it comes to matters of faith. Sure, we confess Jesus with our lips. But do we really trust Him in our day-to-day lives? When it comes to the crunch, when a problem comes up and we need help NOW, do we come to Jesus first? Do we always place our needs before Him in prayer, and trust in Him to help us sort out our problems? I’m afraid that sometimes we don’t even give a thought to Jesus—to our Almighty Savior, who is able to solve our worst problem without moving His little finger!
Do we doubt who Jesus is? Do we doubt His power to help and save? Nathanael did. The answer Philip gave to Nathanael’s shortsighted doubts was the very best answer possible: COME AND SEE! Notice he didn’t try to reason with him. He didn’t try to explain, and answer Nathanael’s doubts logically point by point. Philip simply says, “Come and see!” Philip knew that once his friend met Jesus, all doubts would disappear. He knew that all he had to do was get Nathanael to come to Jesus, and Nathanael too would become His disciple. And it worked!
You know, you and Philip have something in common. Just like Philip, Jesus has told you to “go and make disciples.” Well, what’s the best way to do that? What’s the surest method to reach your shortsighted friends and relatives, and call them to discipleship? Don’t try logical argument. Don’t depend on human reason to convince them that Jesus is their Savior. Just say, “Come and see!” Bring your friends to Jesus. Bring them along with you to Sunday School, to information class; include them in your family devotions if they happen to be visiting in your home. Especially, bring them here to God’s house, where the Bible is read, and where Christ crucified is clearly presented, every Sunday, as the only way of salvation. Don’t depend on your own power; just say, “Come and see,” and let the mighty power of the Holy Spirit take over.
Will it work? It sure worked on Nathanael. Jesus saw him coming a mile away. In fact, the Lord knew all about him before he even opened his mouth! Our text says, Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Jesus knew very well the guile, the deceit and hypocrisy of Jews like the scribes and Pharisees. But as Paul said, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel.”—Rom 9:6. The real Israelites—the true people of God—were those few Jews who were waiting in faith and hope for the Messiah to arrive. Nathanael was one of those true Israelites, and Jesus recognized it immediately. But on his part, Nathanael was still skeptical. Jesus was a perfect stranger, someone he’d never met before, and here was Jesus talking to him as if He knew all about him! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me?
Perhaps you’ve read the Sherlock Holmes stories, by Arthur Conan Doyle. It seems like magic the way Holmes can take one look at a perfect stranger and tell him his background, his occupation, and even what he had for breakfast that morning. But later the detective always explains how his conclusions are the result not of magic, but of pure deductive reasoning. Jesus saw Nathanael coming and was able to tell him all about himself. It wasn’t magic—but neither was it deduction. Nathanael was soon to realize that Jesus had powers beyond those of any detective! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel.
A big part of your call as a disciple is realizing that your Lord already knows everything about you. Just like with Nathaniel, Jesus sees you coming. What the Psalmist confessed is true about every one of us: “O Lord, You have searched me known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”—Ps 139:1-4. This is your call to discipleship: come and see Jesus, the One who knows you even better than you know yourself! Your thoughts, your words and your actions—everything about you is open to Him. Think of what a comfort that is! There is no doubt, no sorrow or pain in your life that your loving Lord Jesus doesn’t know about. You can be sure that He’s well aware them all, and that He knows the best way to overcome your doubts, alleviate your sorrow and soothe your pain.
Jesus demonstrated His power to Nathanael by simply telling him where he’d been a few minutes earlier, sitting under a fig tree on the other side of town. My Christian friends: hasn’t He done the same thing for you? Hasn’t He demonstrated His power in your life, over and over again, by giving you just what you need at just the right time? The hymn writer put it well: “Chief of sinners though I be, Christ is All in all to me; All my wants to Him are known, All my sorrows are His own, Safe with Him from earthly strife, He sustains the hidden life.” Yes,, Jesus sees us coming. And when we view the evidence from our own hidden lives, we can’t help but confess with Nathanael, “Lord, thou art the Son of God!”
Obviously, Nathanael was impressed with what Jesus told him about himself. Impressed enough to recognize Jesus as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. But Jesus had news for Nathanael—he hadn’t seen anything yet. As Jesus’ own disciple, Nathanael would get to see a vision of heaven itself! Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
Jesus used a little miracle to convince Nathanael who He was, but He had a much bigger miracle in store. Ever since Adam and Eve’s first fall into sin, heaven had been shut tight to sinful mankind. Sin stood as an impassable barrier between God and man. All through the Old Testament, believers looked forward in faith to the far-off day when the promised Messiah would arrive. They yearned to see the One who would break down that barrier and open wide the doors of heaven once again.
Jacob was one of those Old Testament believers. You might recall how, as a young man, all alone and fleeing for his life from his brother Esau, the Lord gave him a vision. “And behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”—Gen 28:12. Jacob’s ladder was a vision of how the coming Savior would one day bridge the gap between sinful man and almighty God. Now, Jesus said, that promise was about to come true. Jesus Himself would be the One to break through the barrier of sin once and for all. Heaven would be opened, and He Himself would be the “ladder” by which all sinners can reach it. And—just think! Nathanael would see this with his own eyes! He would learn firsthand the truth of Jesus’ words, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
Philip told Nathanael to “Come and see.” He did. And did he get an eyeful! As Jesus’ disciple, he saw the way to heaven opened. And you know what? That same gift is given to us, as well. Jesus grants us heavenly vision!
We look around us in our daily lives, and we see the same old routine: the same pressures, the same troubles, the same financial woes and worldly frustrations. But when we take the time to look up from these petty details—when we come to Jesus—He opens up a whole new world for us! The Bible says, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all.”—I Tim 2:5-6. That’s not a fairy tale; that’s a historical fact. Jesus’ death on the cross has released us from the heavy, hopeless burden of our sins. The blood He shed on our behalf has become a fountain within us, springing up unto eternal life. His resurrection from the dead is our guarantee that no charges will be brought against us at the throne of God on Judgment Day, and that we will live forever with Him in heaven!
Now, those things are true—about me, and about every one of you here today who trust in Jesus as your Savior from sin. We ARE going to win out in the end! Christ HAS done everything necessary to deliver us to heaven, and for His sake that’s where we’re going! Keep that vision of an opened heaven before your eyes. I guarantee it will help you put your worldly problems in a better perspective! If you find those doubts and worries troubling you, well, you know where to come. Come to Jesus. In His Word, in your family devotions, in your personal Bible reading, and especially here in God’s house. It’s the call that went out to Nathanael, and it’s a call that still goes out to you and me, lo these many years later. It’s the call to discipleship: “COME AND SEE!” AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.