The Extraordinary Goodness of Nazareth: Nathaniel's Journey of Faith

Jan 14, 2024 – 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany | John 1:43-51 ESV

Can Anything Good Come Out of Nazareth?

In this morning's Gospel reading, our attention centers on Nathaniel, a man recognized by Jesus as a person of profound religious and moral integrity (Lindars). Jesus commends him, saying, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false (no deceit or treachery)." 

Nathaniel emerges as a devout Jew, well-versed in Old Testament prophecies, a regular attendee of religious gatherings, and a fervent believer in the imminent arrival of God's promised Messiah. His heart clings to the hope of salvation pledged through the long-awaited Anointed One.

Regrettably, Jesus, hailing from Nazareth, does not align with Nathaniel's expectations of the Messiah. Like many of his contemporaries, Nathaniel envisions a royal and powerful Messiah, born into a prestigious Jerusalem family, capable of liberating Israel from its adversaries. A son of a humble carpenter in Nazareth doesn't fit Nathaniel's criteria.

When Nathaniel's brother, Philip, excitedly discloses that he has found the One foretold by Moses and the prophets, and He is from Nazareth, Nathaniel skeptically questions, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"

Skepticism in the Secular World

This inclination to judge leaders critically persists in our time. Media pundits, social media bloggers, and others incessantly critique political figures like former President Trump and President Biden. Both fall short of expectations, facing scrutiny from diverse perspectives that define the ideal president. Character and intelligence are constantly under examination.

It's intriguing to ponder if even Jesus would meet contemporary criteria for leadership. His lack of political experience, formal education, and absence from traditional power structures might render Him an unconventional choice. In honest reflection, there are moments when we might wish Jesus was more visible in displaying divine power to address worldly issues.

The Holy Scriptures portray Jesus as a Man of suffering and the cross, sacrificing Himself to atone for others' sins. This narrative challenges modern tastes, and discussing Jesus' crucifixion implies acknowledging our responsibility for it—a truth discomforting in our self-affirming culture.

Moreover, Jesus' teachings carry a sharp moral edge, confronting guilt. Many prefer a Messiah who accepts everyone, without challenge. The question persists: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth? Can this Jesus truly be the world's Savior?"

The skepticism of Nathaniel and opposition from secular progressives and atheists aren't new. Nathaniel symbolizes the hesitancy within Jesus' own people to embrace Him.

In the ruins of Septimius Severus' ancient palace, a drawing mocks a Christian named Alexamenos, depicting a figure with a donkey's head nailed to a cross. The inscription reads: "Alexamenos worships (his) god!"

Are these critics correct? Can anything good come from Nazareth? Can a Man born in a stable, raised by a Nazarene carpenter, and dying on a Roman cross be God incarnate, come to save our world?

Jacob's Vision of Angels and the Gateway to Heaven

When Nathaniel, convinced by Jesus' intimate knowledge, confesses Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel, Jesus responds, "I tell you the truth, you shall see Heaven open, and the Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

With these words, Jesus transports us to another time, referring to Jacob's vision recorded by Moses. Jacob journeyed to find a wife and dreamt of a ladder connecting heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending. God reaffirmed His promises to Jacob, ensuring a descendant would bless the whole world.

Upon waking, Jacob recognized the significance and exclaimed, "How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." Using a rock as a pillar, he consecrated the spot, naming it Bethel, meaning "House of God."

Jesus: Our Bridge between Heaven and Earth

The goodness of Nazareth is that, in Jesus, God gives us the Gate of Heaven. Jesus declares, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." Angels ascend and descend on Jesus—the ladder between heaven and earth. He is fully God and fully human, bringing God to us and leading us back to God.

Jesus is the very House of God among us. Paul writes, "In Him [Jesus] the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily." Through Jesus, heaven descends to us. The Man from Nazareth is the bridge, not by our efforts but by Jesus' sacrifice.

Heaven closed to the unholy and guilty, opens through Jesus' blood. His sacrifice cleanses us. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." By His blood, we access God's presence. He humbled Himself, and through Nazareth's Man, we meet God.

Experience the Goodness of Nazareth in the Holy Sacrament

Dear Christians, you ascend and descend on the heavenly ladder. The goodness from Nazareth comes through the preached Word and the Holy Sacrament. In Jesus' body and blood, you touch God, and heaven's blessings descend. Some claim nothing good can come from Nazareth!

To effectively convey Jesus (the goodness of Nazareth) to the world, we can learn from the interaction between Nathaniel and Philip. Instead of engaging in arguments or delivering lengthy lectures to counter Nathaniel's sarcastic remark, Philip simply invited him with the words, "Come and see." 

By bringing Nathaniel to Jesus, it was Jesus Himself who convinced him. Jesus awakened faith in Nathaniel's heart, revealing Himself as his Savior and King.

Invite Skeptics to Witness Jesus: The Extraordinary Goodness of Nazareth

In the presence of our skeptical and mocking surroundings, we have the opportunity to approach these situations differently. We don't need to rely on extensive theological knowledge, exceptional persuasive skills, or eloquence to share the message of Jesus with others. These things alone may not convince them of the goodness found in the Man from Nazareth. Our words may hold little authority in their eyes. 

It is God alone who draws people to His Son. The Holy Spirit is the one who calls, gathers, and enlightens. 

Our role is simply to extend an invitation, saying, "Come and see." We invite them to join us in worship at church, where Jesus has promised to be present through His Word and Sacraments.

From that point onward, Jesus takes over. Through the proclamation of the Gospel, Jesus introduces Himself to them. In the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus incorporates them into His body. He cleanses, heals, and resurrects them from spiritual death to life, just as He has done for us. 

Once they have been properly instructed in this faith, enabling them to receive Him in faith, we bring them to partake in the Holy Supper of the Lord, where He intimately communes with them. When we lead others to these Means of Grace, they will then, like you and me, witness the great, wonderful, and eternal goodness of Nazareth. Amen. 


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