The Second Sunday after Epiphany


8:00 A.M. Divine Service:  Part 1

8:00 A.M. Divine Service:  Part 2

8:00 A.M. Divine Service:  Part 3

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Printed Sermon

Sermon Title:   Who Is This New King? (John 1:43-51)

The Epiphany season is all about, as the word epiphany literally means, a revealing, or a making known, of something not apparent or known before.  Of course, the heart of what the Christian Church refers to as Epiphany is the revealing to the world of the true identity and character of Jesus of Nazareth.  In essence, such an epiphany is the very mission of the Church; making disciples of Jesus Christ. Making Jesus’ real identity known to people is necessary if anyone who hears us will be saved or if we are going to witness any true, dedicated, followers of Jesus come forth.

In our text from John’s Gospel this morning, we hear the Israelite Nathanael confess of Jesus, “You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”  This is quite astonishing.  Nathanael had had quite an epiphany! For you see, this was the first time up to this point in John’s Gospel that Jesus had been identified in these terms to His face. 

Of course, John, the Gospel writer, in his opening words had spoken of The Word, of Whom he writes was with God in the beginning, was the One through Whom God created and gave life to all things, and, in fact, “…was God.”  John states quite clearly also that all who believe in this One, Who is the Word, have actually been born of God and have become God’s children.  John then astoundingly states that this One Who is the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, leading us to see that this Word is Jesus. 

Then John the apostle relates how a cousin of Jesus, John the Baptizer, actually became the first proclaimer of Jesus to the world.  The Baptizer, this wild-eyed and eccentrically dressed preacher, calls Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and further reports that he had personally witnessed the Holy Spirit Himself come down upon Jesus after He was baptized by him in the Jordan.  The Baptizer then proclaims to all who would hear him that Jesus is the One he had come to prepare people to receive and that Jesus was the One who would actually baptize them with the Holy Spirit, indicating Jesus’ divine origin and nature.  The Baptizer even went so far as to testify that Jesus is the Son of God (1:34).   

However, it is Nathanael, who confesses directly to Jesus, face to face, his true identity as both the Son of God and the King of Israel.  Such an epiphany is, first of all, astounding from a human perspective.  After all, how could he, a run of the mill Jew, know and believe this about Jesus?  Jesus was not going around publicly touting His true identity.  Secondly, such news was of the nature to turn the world upside down!  God had come down among His people to rule them!

The mystery of how Nathanael knew and believed the true identity of Jesus is explained by John.  He records that Nathanael was, by Jesus' own evaluation, a man of religious and moral integrity (Lindars).   Jesus said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false (no deceit or treachery)."  This basically means that Nathaniel was a man of true faith in God’s Word already. He was a church-goer.  He knew the prophesies of the Old Testament.  He was one of those in Israel who was sincerely looking for God's Messiah to come.  He had hope in the salvation God promised in His Anointed One. 

However, as we see from the text, I’m afraid, the man from Nazareth, Jesus, did not fit Nathanael’s profile of what the Messiah should be.  Like many of his contemporaries, since the Messiah was to be the King and Shepherd of Israel, Nathaniel just assumed he would be of royal blood, born of a prestigious family of Jerusalem… someone of political power and means to rescue Israel from her enemies.  A son of some poor carpenter from a little hamlet like Nazareth just did not fit the bill. 

It's no wonder then that, when Philip told him that he had found the One Moses and the prophets wrote about and that He was from Nazareth, the son of Joseph, Nathaniel said tongue-in-cheek: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" In other words, “Such a place is not the home of the Messiah/King. In fact, the prophets say he will be from Bethlehem, the ancestral home of King David.”

All this tells us that Nathanael was no novice in the Holy Scriptures.  He wasn’t just some simple, uneducated, or unlearnt Jew.  He had been instructed in the Law; that is, the Books of Moses, as well as all the books written by God’s prophets.  After all, he knew right away what Philip meant when he had said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote….”  Nathanael knew Philip was identifying Jesus as the Messiah.

But just seeing Jesus for himself was not enough to convince Nathanael of that.  Hundreds of people had seen Jesus with their eyes throughout his 30 plus years on earth and few of them were confessing Him to be God and the Messiah. Something else brought Nathanael to a firm conviction that Jesus was God and His Messiah/King. 

Jesus Himself provides us the key to where Nathanael’s conviction of faith comes from.  When Philip brought Nathanael to Jesus, Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” To this Nathanael amazingly replied, “You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!” 

Now, our English translation puts an exclamation mark at the end of each of these confessional statements regarding Jesus.  I believe such editorial additions are entirely legitimate and faithfully capture what would have been the tone of Nathanael’s response. These were truly responses of surprised, excited, faith.  Yes, something good had come out of Nazareth:  The Son of God in human flesh!  God had come to reign in our world!

Jesus then expresses some astonishment of His own!  He replied to Nathanael, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.” 

The people of the Jews were always looking for some flashy, miraculous, signs from God to prove His Word, His sincerity, or even His presence.  In fact, later in His ministry Jesus would take them to task for this, scolding them for not simply believing and taking His Words of promise as true without seeing some physical or empirical evidence that what God said was true (John 4:48). True faith, however, as the holy writer to the Hebrews states, “…is the assurance of things hope for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Jesus is acknowledging that Nathanael had true faith that Jesus was in fact the Son of God and the King of Israel.

Surprisingly, what gave Nathanael that conviction was this simple word of Jesus, “Before Philip called you, I saw you under the fig tree.”  In other words, Philip’s calling of his friend to come and see Jesus really had nothing to do with Nathanael’s conviction of who Jesus was but, rather, it was the words of Jesus, “I saw you under the fig tree.” 

How in the world is this statement of Jesus a great revelation or even a cause of faith?  First of all, they are because Jesus’ words are powerful.  They are the words of God.  And just as God brought forth all of creation simply by His words “Let there be!” so here simply with the words “I saw you under the fig tree,” Jesus created saving faith in Nathanael that He was His Messiah.

Secondly, consider this.  These words were more than Jesus saying He had some kind of clairvoyance or divine vision.  Being under one’s fig tree was often used among God’s people in reference to someone enjoying the blessings of God.  It just so happens also that “under the fig tree” was part and parcel of the expressed imagery of the reign of the Messiah given by the prophets Zechariah and Micah.  In Zechariah 3:9 and10 we read:  “…I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.” 

Being a true student of the Scriptures, Nathanael just could not escape the correlation and direct reference Jesus used.  Jesus had already said of Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.”  Deceit is the same word translated as iniquity. Of course, Nathanael was of no deceit, or iniquity, as the prophecy stated, that is what the true Messiah had come to remove from him.  Under Jesus’ reign, his sins were forgiven.  He was sitting under the fig tree enjoying the fruits and blessings of the Messiah’s reign!  The reign of his King had already come to him in the flesh of Jesus.

But, wonderfully, that was not all.  Jesus wanted to assure Nathanael, “You will see greater things than these.  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 took Nathanael and takes us back to another time and place as recorded for us in the writings of Moses.  Specifically, He hearkens us back to the patriarch Jacob when he had set out on a journey from the land of Canaan to go back to the ancestral home of his Grandfather Abraham, the land of the Chaldeans. 

Along the way Jacob was blessed to see a wonderful vision.  When the sun had set one evening, he decided to set up camp at a certain place.  He laid down there to sleep.  Suddenly he had a dream of a ladder set on earth with its top reaching to heaven.  The angels of God were ascending and descending upon it.  Then above it the LORD Himself stood and said, "I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac." 

Jacob's reaction to all this was to say, "How awesome is this place!  This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven" (Gen. 28:17).   He took the rock he had used as a pillow and set it up as a pillar and consecrated it to mark it as a holy spot for future generations.  He named the place Bethel, "House of God." 

The good that has come out of Nazareth is that in the person of Jesus Bethel has come to us.  Jesus is the very Gate of Heaven.  Jesus has said to His disciples:  "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes unto the Father except through me" (John 14:6).  The angels ascend and descend on Jesus because Jesus is the very ladder between heaven and earth.  He is both flesh of our flesh and, yet, of the same divine essence of God the Father.  In Jesus God comes down to us bringing His salvation and through Jesus we are led back to God to forever live with Him.  Jesus is the quintessential portkey! This wonderful news is worth a whole page of exclamation points !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jesus opened heaven to you and me by His own sacrificial blood.  Heaven, God's holy dwelling, is closed to all who are unholy, impure, tainted with guilt. But the Man from Galilee broke down the dividing wall between God and man with His own blood.  In true love He sacrificed Himself under the wrath of God to pay for our sins.  By His blood we have been given access to God's Holy place.  In the flesh of the Man from Nazareth, we are blessed to meet God!

You dear Christians, are blessed to ascend and descend on that ladder to heaven frequently.  The Good from Nazareth comes to you in the preached and proclaimed word of the Holy Gospel. And even in a more tangible way, the Good of Nazareth comes to you in the Holy Sacrament as Jesus gives you to eat and to drink of His body and His blood for the forgiveness of your sins.  In His body and blood you are enabled to touch and feel God.  Here the porthole to Heaven is opened and heaven's blessings descend to you. 

Among those blessings is Jesus’ reign among us even now.  In this day of such political turmoil; the rise and fall of our leaders, their incompetence… pettiness…frequent push for personal gain and power… and often lack of concern for us, the citizens, we can take comfort in the fact that, thanks be to God, Jesus, the Son of God, is our true King.  He does care for us and rule for our sake.  So much so that He gave up His life for us to redeem us from this world of turmoil and sin.  He always rules in such a way as to work out the best results for us.  He will one day victoriously stand upon this earth having disarmed all our enemies and lead us to His eternal kingdom where true and eternal justice and peace reign.

What a joy, then, is ours, dear fellow Philips; that is, fellow followers of Jesus.  We are blessed to introduce people in our world to Jesus, the One in whom heaven and earth meet… the One in whom God comes to us and we are brought to live with God.  When you invite someone to church, you are not just inviting them to social group of people.  Here the Words of Jesus are being proclaimed and the Holy Sacrament of the LORD God is being given to bring the saving presence of the Son of God and King of Israel into the mouths, hearts and lives of God’s holy people.   

God alone draws all men to His Son. The Holy Spirit calls, gathers, and enlightens.  We simply invite people to Come and seeAnd then we bring them to where Jesus has promised to be, in His Word and Sacraments, Jesus will then do the rest.  In the Gospel proclaimed here, Jesus will introduce Himself to them.  In the waters of Holy Baptism, Jesus will bring them into Himself.  He will cleanse them, heal them, and raise them from spiritual death to life, just as He has done for us.  And when they have been rightly instructed in this faith to the extent that they receive Him in faith, we bring them to the Holy Supper of the Lord where He will commune with them.  By these Means of Grace, they will then, like you and me, enjoy the great epiphany.  They will see and confess that Jesus is the Son of God and the King of Israel!  Amen.

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