The First Sunday After Epiphany January 9, 2005

INI

Simple Christianity

John 1:43-51

Scripture Readings

Isaiah 61:1-16
1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Hymns

130, 409, 770 [TLH alt. 496], 422(1-2,4)

The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and 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.” And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” 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.” Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

In Christ Jesus, our Savior, whom we follow and to whom we seek to lead others—dear fellow-redeemed:

There is much in this life that is complicated: organizing and balancing daily schedules within an over-busy family, trying to sort out who did what and said what and thought what, and unraveling a variety of problems in search of a solution.

There is also much in this life that is simple: watching snowflakes drop toward the ground, sitting warmly by a fire enjoying a good book or family-time while the wind howls outside, or watching a young child toddle into walking followed by running.

Some of life’s complexity is only made complicated by the people involved. The human tendency to complicate things affects religion too. It is easy for sinners to make faith and worship into a complex system of rituals and tradition. Even though the Old Testament religious laws were rather complicated, the message was simple: All of the festivals and laws pointed to Christ. When a church or religion gets caught up in ritual and externals, the same cannot be said. Then there is no longer a simple message and the focus on Christ is lost.

Over the years and still today, complex forms of penance and ways of earning God’s favor have been created. If you do this, then you must do this and this and this and that will make the sin go away…unless in the meantime you have done this then you need to go back and do that and hope that in the process you don’t do something else wrong…until finally the whole thing becomes one big complicated unscriptural mess of what you will do and any concept of grace and forgiveness through Christ is gone.

On the other hand, the truth of the Gospel is really very simple. This is not to say that the truth of God’s Word doesn’t have great depth, and meaning, and importance. God’s Word is so simple that a young child can understand and believe it. At the same time God’s Word is so deep that a life-time theologian will only scratch the surface of what God there.

This morning we consider: SIMPLE CHRISTIANITY and find the simplicity in two imperatives from the text I. Follow Me II. Come and See.

I.

On the day He called Philip and Nathanael, Jesus was on His way to Galilee. When He came to Philip, Jesus said: “Follow Me.[v.43] Before Jesus ever gave that powerful invitation to Philip, He first found Philip. Philip did not go out finding Jesus. Philip was not seeking his Savior. His Savior found him.

There are other examples throughout Jesus’ ministry in which He was the seeking Savior. Jesus sought out Zacchaeus. You will remember that Zacchaeus was the short man who wanted to see Jesus. Because Zacchaeus was short he could not see over the crowd, so he climbed a tree so that he could look out and see the Savior. To Zacchaeus’ surprise Jesus stopped at the bottom of the tree and said, “Zacchaeus…come down for today I must stay at your house(Luke 19:5). At the end of the day, Jesus reaffirmed to Zacchaeus that “The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.(Luke 19:10).

Once Jesus has sought and found the sinner to whom He is going to minister, He then calls out: “Follow Me.” The “following” to which Jesus called Philip was not just a geographical “follow Me where I go.” Rather it was Follow ME—conform your life to the truth that I teach, follow My Word, and trust Me.

To follow someone we must trust him. It is important to know the person you are following and to trust that person lest he lead you into danger or harm. Jesus warned against the Scribes and Pharisees who led the people into danger. Jesus told the people, “Let them alone, they are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind both will fall into the ditch(Matthew 15:14).

It is possible for someone to create a sense of trust and gain followers even if he intends to harm them. This is not the case with Jesus. When Jesus calls out, “Follow Me” it is to follow Him while trusting that He will lead aright, that He will lead to salvation, and that His words are true. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me and I give them eternal life and they shall never perish neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand…(John 10:27-28).

The Word of our Savior calls out. That Word is what moves hearts to want to follow Him. That Word is what leads each of us to believe that Jesus is leading us aright.

We put our trust in God’s “Simple salvation”—the forgiveness of sins which Jesus freely gives. The forgiveness was costly. It cost Jesus His blood and His death on the cross, and when He died it was He for us. “He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement for our peace was upon Him and by His stripes we are healed(Isaiah 53:5). It’s just that simple. Or put another way by Paul, “God made Him (Christ) who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him(2 Corinthians 5:21). Salvation is as simple as a snowfall covering the dirty snow of spring. In the springtime things can begin to look pretty mucky and dirty, but receive a fresh snow fall and suddenly, everything is white again. This is how simple our salvation is. Because of our sin we are the dirty brown muck. Christ’s righteousness covers us with a blanket of snow. We go back to our sins and make it messy again with our sinfulness; but again, the white blanket of Christ’s righteousness covers the sin and makes us clean. Salvation is simply by the grace of God. Jesus died to give us life.

Part of following Jesus and putting our trust in His salvation also involves self-denial. Jesus says in Luke, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple(Luke 14:26). Does not God command us to love and honor our parents? Yes He does, but our love for Him will be so much greater that when it is compared to our love for fellow human beings the love for our fellowmen will look like hate because our love for Jesus is so much greater. If we love someone more than Christ we are not following Him.

Jesus says in Matthew, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me(Matthew 16:24). Denying ourselves is perhaps the hardest part of following Christ. We have a sinful flesh that wants to do its own thing. We have desires that are very world-centered. Jesus says if you are going to follow Me, deny yourselves those things and follow My truth.

Part of self-denial is that we deny ourselves the desire to complicate things. We have God’s simple salvation that comes to us without any merit on our part. This is so simple that our human nature can’t stand it! Our nature wants to be involved in salvation and if it tries to become involved it complicates everything by adding human ideas of what’s going to get us to heaven. Human nature tries to understand the things of God logically when they far exceed human logic or understanding. Self-denial is setting that aside and saying: “God’s Word is true. God’s Word is simple. God has said it, therefore it is true. Therefore, I believe it.”

Self-denial involves having God as our master and leader—not ourselves, not the world, not money, not the possessions of this world—nothing but Christ. When we have Jesus as our Master and our Savior we have eternal life. Paul writes again in Romans, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…for the Scripture says, ‘whoever believes on him will not be put to shame(Romans 10:10,11).

When we hear Christ’s call and put our trust in Him, practice self-denial, and follow Him then His promises give us confidence. Jesus says, “If anyone serves Me, let him follow me, and where I am there My servant will be also(John 12:26).

The call of our Savior to follow Him is beautifully simple. Any difficulty is because of our flesh and the struggle that we have with it.

II.

After Jesus found Philip and called him, Philip found Nathanael and said, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law, and also the Prophets wrote” and that person is “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.[v.45] Nathanael was very skeptical. Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?[v.46]

Nazareth was not a prominent town. It is not mentioned once in the Old Testament. It was not in an area that was well respected in the region of Galilee. Joseph was perceived to be Jesus’ father. He was just a carpenter, a common laborer. Nathanael doubted that Jesus, a son of a carpenter from Nazareth, could be the Messiah.

The question of whether or not Jesus had the “credentials” to be the Messiah was at the heart of a debate that continued in Jesus’ ministry long after Nathanael’s question. We hear later in John, “Therefore many from the crowd, when they heard this saying, said, ‘Truly this is the Prophet.’ Others said, ‘This is the Christ.’ But some said, ‘Will the Christ come out of Galilee? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ comes from the seed of David and from the town of Bethlehem, where David was?’ So there was a division among the people because of Him(John 7:40-43).

Nathanael’s skepticism and confusion was because He didn’t know the full truth. Jesus was originally from Bethlehem and not really Nazareth. Nor was Joseph Jesus’ father. However, when Nathanael proved to be skeptical, Philip didn’t try to convince him using an extended logical argument. Philip simply said: “Come and see.

We hear the results of Philip’s invitation to Nathanael: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’ 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.’ Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’[vv.47-51]

Nathanael was convinced as soon as Jesus was able to tell him things about himself and where he had been even without ever having met him. Jesus told Nathanael that he had not seen anything yet. He would see so much more and things so much greater! Nathanael would be a witness to Jesus’ ministry and see all the miracles of Jesus. He would hear Jesus’ preaching. As he grew in faith he would see even more because he would grow in understanding concerning Jesus’ person and work.

While talking with Nathanael, Jesus alluded to Jacob’s dream during his first night on the run from Esau. As Jacob slept with a stone for his pillow, he dreamt of a stairway reaching from earth to heaven. Angels were going up and down on the stairs. God Himself spoke to Jacob from heaven, reassuring Jacob that the promise was still his and he would return safely home.

Jesus was the promised Messiah. He was the fulfillment of the prophesy which God repeated to Jacob in his dream. Jesus would bring peace between God and sinners and open heaven to them. Nathanael would be a witness of this in Jesus’ ministry.

The words, “Come and see,” are also important for us. We have a tendency to want to prove our faith to others. If we get into a debate with other people and they question what we believe, we try to reason with them and logically defeat their arguments. This is not the way to win hearts for Christ. Rather, invite and encourage to come and see.

The Gospel invitation is so much simpler. We do not have lay out a logical argument. Simply proclaim the salvation which Jesus won. Invite fellow sinners to come and see what God has done for you. Then the Word of God will take over and, we pray, work faith in their hearts.

Recall the Old Testament man, Naaman, who had leprosy and came to the prophet, Elisha, asking for healing. The prophet never came out to see Naaman. He just sent word through a servant that Naaman should wash in the Jordan River seven times. That was far too simple for Naaman’s liking—far beneath his dignity. Naaman didn’t want to do it. However, Naaman’s servants pleaded with him to just give it a try. They told him, “If the prophet had commanded something complicated, you would have done it in a heartbeat; but he has given you something so simple, something so ‘not-dependant-upon-you.’ Just go! Wash in the Jordan and be healed! Go and see!” (cf: 2 Kings 5:1ff).

The same truth applies to us as it did to Naaman. God’s Word is here. “Come!” (and as the psalmist says) “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who trust in Him!(Psalm 34:8) There are earthly foods that people never enjoy because they never try them. There are many sinners who out-of-hand disregard Jesus and say, “No! Religion’s not for me. I don’t want anything to do with it.” The invitation cries out, “Come and see!” Just taste the Gospel and see.

God wants us to invite others to come and taste and see the salvation which Jesus brings. God wants us also to come, taste, and see. “…desire the pure milk of the Word, that [we] may grow thereby if indeed [we] have tasted that the Lord is gracious(1 Peter 2:2-3).

Come and see and believe. See what God has done. See what He promises, and know that He will fulfill all that He has promised.

Our faith is really rather simple: Follow Me and Come and See. Amen.

—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt


Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.