As we continue our bible study in Luke’s gospel, this morning we walk through Luke 17:7-31.
This is the sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany. The sermon text is: John 1:43-51. The sermon theme is: What Good Can Come From Nazareth?
What Good Can Come From Nazareth?
We all make recommendations. When we find a good restaurant; when we watch a good movie; when we find a good mechanic, one of the first things we do is tell those close to us about it. We say, “You should try this restaurant. You should try this new beer I found. You should try it.” Making recommendations is a natural action to take. For if we have enjoyed a good restaurant or movie, we want those close to us to enjoy the same. And if this is true when it comes to the simple, less-important parts of our life, then how much more true is it to the more important parts of our life. If it is natural to speak to our friends and family about food, then it is even more natural to speak to them about our faith. And that’s exactly what we see happening in these words here in John’s gospel this morning: “44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote — Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”” (John 1:44–45 NIV)
In the words before this Philip had met Jesus. He had found the Messiah, the Christ, the savior of the world. Or to be more accurate, Jesus had found him. Not surprisingly, he was glad and happy. And so he went to Nathanael, letting him know that he had found the Christ. Now, for just a moment, put yourself in their shoes. If someone came to you and told you that the person the world had been waiting to be born was found, what would your reaction be? With that in mind, let’s hear Nathanael’s reaction: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.” (John 1:46 NIV)
We might have expected Nathanael to rejoice and receive this news from Philip with thanksgiving. But he doesn’t. Instead he objects. He says, “what good can come from Nazareth?” Here in these words we learn a powerful lesson. Jesus is our greatest joy. He is our Savior from sin. It is joy at that fact and thankfulness to him that moves and drives us to share our faith in him with others. But as you know so very well, it’s not always that easy. For there are many people who have many objections to Jesus. Nathanael here is offended at Jesus’ background. Jesus came from a bad neighborhood. How could the sinless Savior come from such a wretched place as that? And people today still have those same sorts of objections, don’t they? They object to the frailty of the baby Jesus in the manger. They object to the pain and punishment of Jesus’ crucifixion. They object that Jesus is so bold and blunt as to say, “You all need what I have—all of you. And if you don’t have it, you will die and then go to hell.”
People have one objection after another to throw against us when we share our faith in Jesus. But look at Philip and learn from him. What is it that he says to Nathanael in response to his objection? He says: ““Come and see,”” (John 1:46 NIV) He boldly and clearly invites Nathanael to see Jesus. But he doesn’t force or coerce him. Philip’s simple invitation is important because it’s what we so often forget. For we are sinners who are tempted so often to sin, aren’t we? And in our lives we see such opposite temptations, don’t we? First, we can face the temptation to not invite people to church. Here the first thing Philip did was to seek out Nathanael and invite him to hear Jesus. But how often do we do the opposite? We do not hesitate to recommend a movie or a restaurant to those close to us. And we will even go with our friends and family members to that movie or restaurant. But when it comes to inviting those close to us to church to worship Jesus and to learn about him in bible study, we don’t extend that invitation.
Second, we face the opposite temptation too. God’s word clearly tells us that the Holy Spirit is the one who creates faith inside a person’s heart. It is not our work to beat people over the head with Jesus. It is not our job to force or arm-twist that person into heaven. And yet that is our temptation, isn’t it? And so we try to argue people into heaven or trick them to come. We try to make them into Christians. But that’s not our work. That’s Jesus’ work. It’s his job to create faith in that person’s heart. Our role is simply to invite that person to hear about Jesus. And if we are able, our role is to explain who this Jesus is.
What good can come from Nazareth? That was the question and objection that Nathanael said. And with such short and simple words, Philip says, “Come and see.” But what is it exactly that he was inviting Nathanael to see? “46 “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”” (John 1:46–49 NIV)
Philip was inviting Nathanael to see the sinless Son of God. Jesus gave Nathanael a small insight into Jesus’ omniscience. And Nathanael confesses to Jesus in words of worship that he is the Son of God and the King of Israel. Nathanael was so quick to worship Jesus because he saw in this man, Jesus, something he needed. He needed a Savior from sin. And we too need the same, don’t we? We need a sinless Son of God. And in Christ that is what we have. We need someone to not be embarrassed of our Father in Heaven and ashamed of us. And in Jesus that is what we find. He loved his Father so much and cared for us so much that he took on our flesh and blood and became a human being. And as a human being he could be tempted in every way but never sin. We needed a sinless Son of God to do the work of conversion that we cannot do. We cannot take this trust and faith in Jesus and put into people’s hearts. But Jesus can. And that’s what he does.
And so when Nathanael says, “what good can come from Nazareth,” Philip replies, “Come and see. Come and see the Sinless Son Of God.” But there’s another answer to that question: “50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”” (John 1:50–51 NIV)
Jesus isn’t just the sinless Son of God. He is also the ladder to heaven. In these words Jesus takes us back into the Old Testament. There was a time when a man named Jacob was on the run. He was running away from his brother, Esau who wanted to kill him. And he was all alone. But on one night heaven opened up. And he saw angels coming down from heaven on a ladder and going up to heaven on a ladder. There, in that night, he saw the bridge, the link between earth and heaven. Here in these words that Jesus is speaking to Nathanael, Jesus is saying, “I am the ladder. I am the link between this world and heaven.”
And this too is an amazing, comforting promise. For the older we get the more we hate. We hate this sinful world and how it can concoct and create one evil after another. And we even learn to hate ourselves too. For there is this sinful part of us that just will not die. It thinks and dreams up evil thought and actions against God’s word and his will. And that other person inside of us, born of water and word in baptism yearns to be taken away from this world and brought into heaven. If only there were a ladder stretching from this sinful earth to the sinless heaven. There is. Jesus is that ladder and link to heaven. Since Jesus has lived for you; since he has died for you; since he has given you faith in him, he will do even more. When the time it just right he will take you to be with him. Either one by one as you die, or all together on Judgement Day, he will take us all to be with him.
And so, when people say those blunt words to us, “what good? What good can come from your church and your faith,” then, just as Nathanael did, respond with that simple invitation, “Come and see.” Come and see the sinless Son of God. Come and see the ladder to eternal life. Amen.