January 14, 2018 – The Second Sunday after Epiphany
Come and See
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Our text is from the Gospel reading. Nathanael said to Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Here ends our text.
Things were not good. Things were not good for the patriarch Jacob, mostly because he was not good. He was a deceiver. His name, Jacob, even means, “he deceives.” Jacob had deceived his own brother, Esau. First he deceived him out of his birthright by coercion for a bowl of bean stew. And then Jacob had deceived his father Isaac by out and out lying to steal his brother’s blessing. Jacob was not good. Of course Jacob’s deceit made Esau very angry. Esau was bitter and vowed that when his father died, he would kill his brother Jacob. So Jacob had to flee the country from Esau. Esau wasn’t good either. God’s people were not good.
But despite Jacob’s deceit, God was still good to Jacob. God called Jacob. When Jacob was on his way out of the country, he stopped to rest. With a stone under his head for a pillow he went to sleep for the night. And he dreamed an amazing dream. He dreamed of a great ladder, a steep stairway, which reached from earth all the way to heaven. The angels of God were ascending and descending on this great stairway. The LORD God stood at the top of the stairway and called Jacob. He called Jacob by the Gospel, by his Gospel promises. God promised Jacob the same three things which he’d promised his father Isaac and his father Abraham. God promised Jacob that he’d have many offspring, that his offspring would inherit the land he was sleeping on, and that through his offspring all families of the earth would be blessed. When Jacob awoke he said to himself, “Surely the LORD is in this place. How awesome is this place! This place is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.” Later, God even changed Jacob’s name. He got rid of that name which means “he deceives.” God blessed him and named him Israel. Yes, God was good to Jacob.
Some 2000 years later though, things again were not good. Things were not good because God’s people were not good. God had kept his promises. He’d made Jacob’s offspring numerous. He’d given these offspring the land. But the Israelites had sinned. Their own false prophets had deceived by God’s name and led them astray. They worshipped other gods, and so they lost control of the land. The Romans now ruled them. Things were not good.
But despite their sin, God was still good to the Israelites. God called one of Jacob’s offspring. Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” God called another Israelite. Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth.” Now of course Philip hadn’t found Jesus, but it was really Jesus who first found and called Philip. He called Philip through his Word, “Follow me.” But Philip felt that he had found Jesus because he saw how Jesus was the one whom Moses wrote about in Genesis. Jesus was the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through whom all families of the earth would be blessed. Yes, God was still good to the Israelites.
But this Israelite, Nathanael, was a little skeptical. He knew two things. First he too knew what Moses and the prophets wrote. None of them had ever mentioned the Messiah coming out of Nazareth in Galilee. He was to come from Bethlehem in Judea. And second, Nathanael knew all about Nazareth. He was from Cana, a sister city a few miles from Nazareth. The folks of Nazareth had a reputation. When Jesus preached in their synagogue and rebuked their unbelief, they took offense. They were a proud people. They even sought to throw Jesus, their own hometown boy, off a cliff. The people of Nazareth were not good. And so Nathanael chided Philip, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Now Philip could have tried to defend Jesus. “See, he was really born in Bethlehem and just grew up in Nazareth.” Philip could have made excuses for the people of Nazareth. “They’re really not so bad.” But Philip doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael. He’s not going to win an argument with a skeptic. Instead, Philip just says, “Come and see.” And then he brought Nathanael to Jesus. He brought him to God who alone is good.
When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Imagine that. An Israelite, an offspring of the deceiver Jacob in whom there’s no deceit. Could this be possible or was Jesus just being sarcastic? But Nathanael, although he may have been a skeptic, was a true Israelite because he was a believer. He was certainly skeptical of men, but he wasn’t skeptical of God. Nathanael believed God’s promises and waited for the one through whom all families of the earth would be blessed. He wasn’t like his father Jacob who deceived to get his father’s blessing. He was without deceit and waited patiently for his heavenly Father’s blessing of his Son, Jesus Christ.
Nathanael said to Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” As true God, Jesus was all-seeing and all-knowing. He foresaw how he’d call Nathanel before it even happened. Nathanael recognizes this divine omniscience and says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael believes that Jesus is the offspring through whom all families of the earth will be blessed. Jesus answers Nathanael, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”
In just a few days, Nathanael would see a great demonstration of Jesus’ power in his own home town. Jesus would turn water into wine at the wedding in Cana. But Nathanel would see greater things than just miracles. Jesus said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus went back to that vision of Jacob which Moses wrote about. Do you remember that ladder, that stairway, which reached from heaven to earth with the angels ascending and descending? Jesus was saying, ‘That stairway to heaven is me. I am the one who connects earth to heaven. I am the one who provides access for you earthly beings to my heavenly Father. I open heaven for you.’ Yes, God was still good to his people.
It’s 2000 years since then, and things again are not good. Things are not good because God’s people are not good. God has kept his promises. He’s made his church numerous. He’s given us this great land to live in. But we’ve sinned. False prophets have deceived by God’s name and led us astray. We’ve worshipped other gods of wealth and money. We haven’t turned to God for his blessings, but like Jacob we’ve deceived and lied and stolen to try to bring blessings on ourselves. And now things are out of control. We’re ruled by mortgages and credit debt and layoffs and crumbling markets. People are angry and bitter. Things are not good.
But despite our sin, God is still good to us. God saw you long before you were sitting in this pew. He saw you and made plans for you before the foundation of the world. He called you. He called you by his Word. He called you with his Gospel promises. He’s promised you the land of eternal life. He’s promised to bless you. You are one of the families of the earth who are blessed through Jacob’s offspring, Jesus Christ. God called you at your baptism. He took your deceit away and put his name on you. God blessed you and named you Christian. He made you a believer in him and his promises. Yes, God is still good to us.
But among us live skeptics. They’re not so skeptical of God but of men. And they have good reason to be because men are not good. They’re full of deceit. We invite them to church, but they ask, “Can anything good come out of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod? Can anything good come out of Darmstadt?” We as Lutherans have a reputation. People say, “Yeah, I know those folks. They’re set in their ways. They’re proud. They take offense. They’re bitter. They’re hypocrites.” Now we can try to make excuses and say, “Well, we’re really not so bad. Why not give us a chance?” But we’re never going to win an argument with a person’s who’s skeptical about people because, frankly, we’re not good. But like Philip we can simply say, “Come and See.” Not come and see the people or the pastor or our nice facility, but come and see the one whom Moses and the prophets wrote about. Come and see the one who is good and without deceit. Come and see the one who does great things for us. We bring them to Jesus.
For Jesus is the stairway to heaven. Like the ladder that gets you from the ground to your roof, like the escalator that gets you from the parking garage to the mall, Jesus is the stairway that gets us from earth to heaven. He’s the means to our Father in heaven. By his suffering and death and resurrection, Jesus opens heaven for us. So when we invite people to this place, when we say, “Come and see,” we invite them to God’s house where our Lord is present. Jesus is in this place to call us through his Word and put his name on us in baptism. He’s in this place in his Supper to forgive our sins. People may come in as skeptics, but when they leave they must confess with Jacob, “Surely the LORD is in this place. How awesome is this place! This place is none other than the house of God and the gate of heaven.” Why? Because Jesus is present, our stairway to heaven. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.