Second Sunday after the Epiphany (B)
January 15, 2012
Text: John 1:43-51
The Lord calls you. Come and see. Come and see Him where He is, and where He promises to be, for you. For it is only in this way, seeing Jesus where He has promised to be for you, that you become a disciple of Jesus Christ. And it is only in this way that others will become disciples of Jesus Christ. Philip has it right in our text this morning as he tells Nathanael about Jesus. He does not argue the merits of Nazareth with Nathanael. He does not seek to convert Nathanael with cleverly concocted arguments. And note this very carefully, he does not ask Nathanael what it will take to get him to believe in Jesus. He does not ask about Nathanael’s felt needs or capitulate to Nathanael’s preconceived notions about who Jesus should be or what He should do. He simply issues an invitation: “Come and see” (John 1:46; ESV). “Come, Nathanael, and have a personal encounter with Jesus Christ. For it is only in that way, Nathanael, that you will be convinced, as I am, that this Jesus ‘is he of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote’ (v. 45), the Messiah, the Savior of Israel and the world.” Come and see. Unbeknownst to Nathanael, and probably even to Philip, the invitation is really a call from Jesus Christ Himself through the mouth of one who already believes in Him.
And that’s Jesus’ evangelism program. Those who believe in Jesus Christ are to confess His Name and His Gospel to others with whom they come into contact, those whom God has placed into their lives, and in this way, through their mouths, Jesus calls others to believe in Him. The message is simple: Jesus is your Savior. Come. You’ll see. Come where? Where Jesus has promised to be, of course. And where is that? You Lutherans know the answer. In His Word! In His Sacraments! In other words, in His Church! Nathanael, I have good news for you. God loves you. He sent His Son to die for your sins, to save you from sin, death, and hell. Come and see. I’d like to invite you to church with me on Sunday. That’s evangelism, beloved. It’s really that simple. The opportunities are there if you look for them. You simply confess Jesus to those in your life. Invite them to church. Invite them to come and see. The worst that can happen is they say, “No thanks!” And there’s really no pressure on you. You aren’t responsible for the results of the evangelism. The Holy Spirit is. You leave that up to Him. Just confess Christ and issue the invitation: Come and see!
“But Pastor, it has to be more complicated than that.” No, it’s really not. Think about how you came to faith. If you came to faith as a baby, it is because your parents brought you here to come and see. They brought you to where Jesus is. They brought you to Baptism, to hear the Word, to participate in the liturgy, to Sunday School and then Catechism class, and eventually, to the Lord’s Supper. You parents, this is why it is so very important, absolutely vital, that you have your children in church every Sunday, from their infancy, and that you teach them how to pay attention and how to participate. And for the rest of you, this is why it is so important, absolutely vital, that you put up with a little extra noise from the young ones now and then.
If you came to faith later, as an older child, a teenager, or as an adult, it is because someone else who already believed in Jesus brought you to see Him. Perhaps they brought you to see Jesus by bringing His Word to you in their own confession of Christ. But it is also likely that eventually, they brought you to church where you could see Jesus in action for yourself, forgiving your sins, bringing you to new life, right where He promises to be, in His Word and Sacraments. The fact is, you’re here in church now. And for whatever reason you might think you came, the reality is that you are here because even if no human acquaintance brought you here, the Holy Spirit did. He is doing His work on you here where Jesus promises to be with His Spirit and all of His gifts, in Word and Sacrament, reconciling you to the Father. That is what you’ll see when you come. Jesus forgiving your sins, enlivening you, imparting His Spirit to you, reconciling you with the Father. It is a personal encounter with God in the flesh.
That is the kind of encounter Nathanael has in the Gospel lesson. As Nathanael is coming to see, walking toward Jesus, Jesus declares, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (v. 47). Behold, an Israelite who knows the Scriptures and expects a Messiah who will save him. But this Israelite doesn’t want to be fooled. He’s come to see for himself. I’ll show him, says Jesus. “How do you know me?” asks Nathanael. “Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you’” (v. 48). Now, pause just a minute to ponder the profundity of this statement. Jesus was not with Philip when Philip told Nathanael to come and see. There is no physical way Jesus could have seen Nathanel under the fig tree. And Philip did not have time or opportunity to tell Jesus beforehand where he had found Nathanael. Nor could Jesus, if He were just a man, have known that Philip went to call Nathanael. But Jesus is not just a man. He is a man who is also God. And as God, Jesus is the one who called Nathanel while he was sitting under the fig tree. He called Nathanael through the mouth of His servant Philip. Before Philip even arrived on the scene, Jesus, because He is God, saw Nathanael, and knew Nathanael. And this personal encounter with God in the flesh leads Nathanael to confess, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel” (v. 49). The miracle leads to the confession. It is an epiphany, a revelation of who Jesus is. Only God knows all things. Jesus knows all things. Therefore Jesus is God in the flesh, come to save His people.
That Jesus is God and that Jesus knows all things is a great comfort to you, beloved. Jesus knows you. He knows your sins. He knows all the dark little secrets of your heart. And yet here He is, right where He’s promised to be, for you, to forgive those sins, to absolve you of those dark little secrets. He loves you in spite of them, for He has died for them, died for your forgiveness. So also, Jesus knows all the havoc that sin has wrought in your life. He knows your every pain and sorrow. And because He is God, and because He loves you, He not only knows the medicine that you need for that sin and pain and sorrow, He can and will give it you. He can and will heal you. He can and will save you. He knows you, dear brothers and sisters. He loves you. Just and He knew Nathanael, and in His love, called Nathanael to faith through the mouth of Philip while Nathanael was sitting under the fig tree, so Jesus knows and loves you and calls you to faith, to an encounter and a relationship with Him, wherever you are.
And here we learn something particularly pertinent to our society as next Sunday we mark the 39th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade and the tragedy of legalized abortion. Our Lord knows us and loves us even when we are in the womb, even from conception as He lovingly knits us together, forming our tiny inward parts. Listen to King David’s description of this in Psalm 139: “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them” (vv. 13-16). How beautifully King David here confesses God’s loving creation of each one of us, His intimate knowledge of us from the moment of conception until the moment of death, even into eternity, and His tender involvement and providence for every one of our days, written, every one of them, in His book before any of them came to be. In this way God knows and loves every unborn child. He knows and loves every human being with a terminal illness. He knows and loves every person at every age, in every stage of life. The Lord and Giver of life knows and loves you.
And so He gives you the same promise He gave to Nathanael. You will see greater things than the miracle that Jesus is all knowing and all seeing, present everywhere. “[Y]ou will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51). You will see Jacob’s ladder (cf. Gen. 28:10-22). You see it now. For you have come to see Jesus, and that is exactly who you do see here in His Church, in His Word and in His sacraments, for your salvation. Jesus is the Ladder. By His cross, He bridges heaven and earth. His angels descend to serve you, His blood-bought people. They ascend again on the Ladder that is the Crucified to bring your prayers and petitions before the Father, and on that day when you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, they take you up that Ladder into heaven to be with God. Now you see Jesus, not with your physical eyes, but with the eyes of faith. Then you will see Him face to face. And Jesus has promised that because He is risen, He will raise you from the dead, so that the physical eyes that cannot now behold Him, will see Him on that Day in the splendor of His glory. What a marvelous truth the Lord has revealed to you here today. You came. You saw. By God’s grace, you believed. Now go and invite others to come and see. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.