Video of the Divine Service is here. The sermon begins around the 23:40 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
“Come and see.” That’s it. Philip finds Nathanael and tells him that they had found the one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, and His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth. Nathanael is skeptical, but Philip doesn’t argue. He doesn’t try to prove anything to Nathanael. He doesn’t defend Jesus. He simply says, Come and see. This cycle repeats itself more than once in this first chapter of John: Jesus speaks and people follow; then those people bring others to Jesus, and Jesus calls them to follow. First John’s two disciples, as John points to Jesus and says, “See! Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”; then Simon, then Philip, now Nathanael.
But what do any of them really know about Jesus? Basically the three things that Philip says to Nathanael: His name is Jesus; He’s the son of Joseph; He’s from Nazareth. And Nathanael asks the logical question, the honest question, of one who knows the Law and the Prophets: “Is it possible for a certain good thing to be from Nazareth?” (John 1:46). There is no messianic prophecy connected to Nazareth. Can it really be that the One about whom Moses and the Prophets testify is the same as this Jesus of Nazareth? All Philip can say to Nathanael is, “Come and see.” See for yourself, Nathanael. And so he does. Nathanael follows Philip to Jesus, who says to the other disciples about Nathanael: “See, truly, an Israelite in whom is no deceit” (1:47). How do you know me? Nathanael asks. All Jesus says is, “I saw you under the fig tree, before Philip called you” (John 1:48). Jesus is telling Nathanael that his mouth has been cleansed of deceit and his sins have been forgiven. He has been given a share in the eternal gladness and joy of God’s true Israel (1 Kings 4:25).
And that’s all it takes. Nathanael hears this scriptural and divine word of Jesus, and that word creates faith. The Word that says, “Follow Me.” The Word that says, “Come, and you will see.” The Word that says, “I saw you under the fig tree.” This Word makes the followers it seeks; it makes new eyes that can see what sin-dimmed eyes cannot see; it makes faith that trusts Jesus as the God who knows all things about us, and the one who cleanses us from sin and deceit. And what follows that faith-creating Word? Confession. Just as we continue to confess our God after hearing His Word, so Nathanael confesses His God: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49). Even so, Nathanael doesn’t really know any more about Jesus than He did before. But the Jesus he sees saw and knew him. What does it mean for Nathanael to confess that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel? The confession is only the beginning.
There is more for Nathanael. The Word that creates faith is only the beginning: “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? You will see greater things than these. Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see heaven having been opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (John 1:50-51). Jesus points Nathanael and us to the fact that Jacob’s vision of God in the heavens has now appeared in flesh on earth. What would Nathanael see if he came along with Philip? He wouldn’t just see Jesus as a man; he would see Jesus, the one who has descended from heaven.
We’re only getting started. Further up and further in. More Epiphany; more light. But this Light shines brightest at the point when it seems to be extinguished: the Man who knows everything about Nathanael is going to be lifted up; planted firmly in the earth on a cross and rising to heaven. When the Greeks came to Philip to see Jesus, Jesus said that they would see Him lifted up on the cross and drawing all people to Himself. Heaven has been opened; God has become man; and now God and man are no longer separated as far as the heavens are from the earth. Jesus, the Son of Man, is the one mediator between God and man, the only one who reveals the Father to us and the only way by which we can come to the Father. The heaven has been opened. God has come to you; He comes to you here in 2021, and you will see greater things than you saw in 2020, though not according to your or my standards of greatness.
What will we see? The Word of forgiveness is the same, the gifts of mercy are the same, but there is always more. Jesus is not done with you. Come and see. Come and see, you who know only a little about the Nazarene. Come and see, you who know much. There is always more. Do you know and believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Good; come and see what that means. Do you know and believe that Christ is your Savior? Good; come and see what your Savior will do for you. Whether you have known Him for one year or fifty years, you can never exhaust what Christ would show you. You can never go too deep into the depths of God’s Word! You can never know and hear and see and receive too much! Your trust in Jesus can never be too strong.
Our temptation is always to think that we have seen what there is to see, known what there is to know, understood what there is to understand. We all believe in Jesus, right? We all know Him as our Savior, don’t we? We’re good to go, coasting into heaven. What more do we need? But the Jesus who makes us into His followers with a single word tells His Church how lifelong—that is, real—disciples are made: by being baptized into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and by being taught to observe all that He has commanded. “And see, I am with you all the days until the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). He is always with all the baptized as they are taught all His words. As good as the book by C.S. Lewis is, there really is no such thing as “mere” Christianity. Do not be infected by the “mere Jesus syndrome.” No, it is not good enough that “at least we believe in Jesus”—as if everyone believes in the same Jesus; as if we can decide to stop there; as if we had had enough of Him and His gifts; as if we could choose how far we will go with the one we call Lord. Jesus is always bringing us closer in to Himself, closer to His Father; more grace, more forgiveness, more knowledge, more truth, firmer hope, greater joy.
There is always more; we can never get to the bottom of His inexhaustible Word. If Luther said that he had enough in the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer to study his whole life, then how much more the whole Scriptures? Do we find them hard to understand? It is probably not because we have spent too much time with them! Do we think we will understand them better if we stop reading them altogether? It is not the fault of the Catechism or the Scriptures that we find the study of them boring or irrelevant. It is because we have made ourselves and our lives irrelevant to them. We are bored with the Scriptures because our faith is lacking. Like Nathanael, who thought he knew what the Messiah was supposed to be and where He would be from, we think we have Jesus figured out and filed away in the correct spot. We know that Jesus belongs in church on Sunday morning, so we don’t have to bother with Him any other time. If that’s the case, eventually we will not bother with Jesus even on Sunday. Because if Jesus is irrelevant Monday through Saturday, then He will soon be irrelevant on Sunday as well.
But we want to justify ourselves, so we start to minimize and quantify: is having faith of some kind in Jesus enough? Is going to church every Sunday, or every other Sunday, or twice a year, enough? Is going to church, but not to Bible class, enough? Is going to church and Bible class but not studying the Scriptures or praying at home enough? Is receiving the Sacrament every Sunday, or twice a month, or twice a year, enough? The appropriate question is, enough for what? Enough so you and I can feel good about calling ourselves Christians? Enough for what? So we can say that we are members of a church? Enough for what? So we can get stamped our golden ticket to heaven?
Sinners invert everything: instead of everything in our lives being aimed at going deeper and further in to the Faith once delivered to the saints, we try to fit the Faith into everything else. It becomes one more item on a list. I promise you: there will never be enough room, never enough time, never enough space in your busy life to fit the “everything” Christ wants to give you. We cannot have it both ways; we cannot serve two masters. Either Jesus will be central and the light in which everything else is seen, or we in our darkness will be central. Either you will come and see, or you will not.
After Andrew finds Simon and Philip finds Nathanael, and they bring them to Jesus, none of them stop at that point. Because the gift of faith is only the beginning. Baptism is only the beginning. There is always more. After you have told your unbelieving friends to come and see Jesus, of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, there is more. And after they have heard and the Spirit has granted them faith in the forgiving word of Christ, there is more. And after you have been a Christian and followed Jesus, even your whole life, there is still more. And all of it is good, because it is Jesus’ good life.
So come and see. Come and see what it means that Jesus is your Savior in the year of our Lord, 2021. Of course there are obstacles. Of course there will be difficulties. When has that ever not been the case? Come and see Jesus open the Scriptures to you, both in the company of other Christians (as we are able!) and by yourself. Come and see that Jesus is faithful no matter what your life is like. Here in this place, with the Word and with the Communion, there is more than enough for many lifetimes; this is the reality, which casts its new, Epiphany light over everything else. “Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after a lie! You have multiplied, O LORD my God, your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us; none can compare with you! I will proclaim and tell of them, yet they are more than can be told” (Psalm 40:4-5). There is always more! Come and see.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Philippians 4:7, ESV).
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 1/15/21