"Come and See…" and "Follow Me!"
A sermon based on John 1:43-51
Sunday, January 15, 2017 – Pentecost 2B
Let's start with a little game this morning. Let's play "Name that State Nickname." The rules are simple. I call out a state nickname. You call out the state. If you get it right before I say it, give yourself a point. The winner gets… well, nothing.
Are you ready? [Highlight the text in parenthesis to reveal the answers.] Here goes: The Last Frontier. (Alaska) The Buckeye State. (Ohio) The Evergreen State. (Washington) The Empire State. (New York) The Aloha State. (Hawaii) Okay, are you all warmed up? Those were the really easy ones. Now they get a little tougher…
The Gem State. (Idaho) The Old Line State. (Maryland) The Granite State. (New Hampshire) The Old Dominion (Virginia). The Land of Enchantment. (New Mexico) Those were a bit harder, weren't they? Okay, ready for one more easy one… The Show-Me-State (Missouri).
The most widely known legend attributes the phrase to Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the House of Representatives in the late 1890's. And in a speech in Philadelphia, he declared, "I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs," (whatever those are), "and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me." However the slogan originated, it is now used to indicate the stalwart, conservative, non-credulous character of Missourians.
Nathanael might have liked Missouri if he lived in the United States. He, like Thomas, wanted proof before he could believe. And understandably so! He didn't want to be taken in by a fraud! "Show me!" might have been his motto.
Well, thankfully, he had a friend name Philip, who didn't try to argue with him. He just showed him. He invited Nathanael, "Come and see." And Jesus did the rest.
Today, you might feel like you belong in Missouri. Or maybe you have a friend you think might have moved from there. But today, we're invited to "Come and see…" and "Follow Me." …er, well, technically, follow Jesus. Our text is from John 1:43-51…
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
46 "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.
"Come and see," said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
48 "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."
49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
50 Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51 He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
The young man from Seattle couldn't believe his luck! He bet all he owned on this trip up to Alaska. He bought his stake in land, he bought all the gear he'd needed, and he took the steamboat north. And once he got settled and started to work the land, he couldn't believe his luck! Eureka! He had found it! He struck gold! And no matter where he dug, he kept pulling up more and more. He knew he couldn't mine it all alone. So he went home and told his brother to get his help.
"Yeah, sure you did. Sure you found gold," was his brother's reply. But the young man didn't give up, "Come up to Alaska and see for yourself! I'll even pay for the trip." Well, that offer was too good to pass up, so the brother came up to Alaska. He saw the camp. He saw the gold. He believed and so he stayed. And the two brothers mined a fortune of gold!
Something similar happened in our text this morning. But what Philip found was worth far more than gold! "We have found him!" "Eureka!" is literally what he cried in the Greek! "We have found the one Moses wrote about in Genesis 3. We found the one Isaiah described in Isaiah 53!" "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote!"
But Nathanael was skeptical. And perhaps for good reason. When he heard, "Jesus of Nazareth," he may have gone through his memory bank to think of any mention of Nazareth in any of the prophecies. Zion… Jerusalem… Bethlehem… That's where the prophet said the Messiah would be from! So he challenged, Philip: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"
Now you might have expected Philip to argue, to find a proof passage that said the Messiah would work around Galilee. Or to tell Nathanael, that he surely didn't have every passage memorized—there must be one he was missing. But, no. Philip didn't argue. He just told Nathanael to find out for himself. "Come and see," said Philip.
And Nathanael went. But before Nathanael saw Jesus, Jesus saw Nathanael. And in a bit of a pun, when Nathanael was told, "Come and see," Jesus literally cried out, "See!" "A true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
And Nathanael wondered how did Jesus know him? How did he know his character, his sincerity in looking for the Messiah to come, his knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures? How did Jesus know him well enough to give Nathanael such an endorsement?!
Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."
What did that mean? What exactly did Jesus see? Well, I'm not sure. But I think we get a clue by Nathanael's reaction. This one statement was all it took for Nathaniel to be convinced: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
What led him to believe that Jesus wasn't just a good rabbi or even the promised Messiah, but to actually confess that Jesus was the Son of God? Perhaps Nathanael was under the fig tree praying a silent prayer. Perhaps he was even praying about the coming Messiah. And Jesus revealed that he heard those silent prayers. He somehow showed Nathanael that he knew what only the omniscient God could know.
So Nathanael confessed: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." This was the one who would sit on David's throne. This was the one who would fight their enemies and win! Nathanael believed. And he struck it rich in that find—far richer than gaining any amount of gold!
And Jesus promised that Nathanael would see much greater things than that! He would personally witness Jesus walk on water. He would take part in feeding more than 5,000 people with a few fish and a few loaves of bread. He would watch as Jesus healed the crippled. He would see with his own eyes those who were dead brought back to life by the Son of God, the King of Israel.
Now what about you? Are you sometimes skeptical? Do you sometimes have your own doubts? Do you wonder if he really is who he said he is? Do you question if he really is alive? Do you wonder about the inerrancy of the Bible? Or maybe you just doubt that he really cares for you, that he'll really keep his promises as you face the trials, and fears, and pains that this broken world heaps on its residents.
Well, I won't argue with you. I won't try to persuade you. I won't brush off my apologetics textbook and start firing logical arguments your way. No. I'll simply do as Philip did and invite you to come and see.
Come, see Jesus in a Bible Class. Take the Bible Information Class again. Come see him in the pages of your Bible and see how much he cares for you! Come and see his miracles in worship this Epiphany season! See him each day as you meet him in a devotion. And as you do, you will see much greater things than Nathanael saw that day. You'll see the much greater things that Jesus accomplished for you.
You see, the truth is, that you didn't find Jesus. Jesus sought you out. He came looking for you. And he found you, just like he did for Philip. "Finding Philip, [Jesus] said to him, "Follow me." " Jesus has called you to follow him. Not to just to know about him, not just to study, him, but to do what you see him doing. He has called you to learn from him and then do what he says. But… the sad truth is that we don't do what he says. When he asks us to serve him by serving others, we come up with excuses. When he asks us to work for him, well, the couch is just too comfy right now. When he asks us to give to help his Kingdom grow, we have too many bills to pay from buying all the things we couldn't really afford.
Jesus says to each of us, "Follow me." And we, in our sinful nature say, "No thanks. I'd rather not." One man would always joke with his friends and every time they'd say, "I'll see you later," he would reply, "Not if I see you first." Well, that's what we deserve to have Jesus say in all seriousness. He does see us first. He sees our sin. He sees our rebellion. He sees our twisted thoughts and our self-righteous attitudes. He sees our condescension toward others, ignoring our laziness with him. And so we deserve to have him run the other way when he sees us coming. We deserve to be ditched by him for an eternity of hell—forever dodged by God and his love.
That's what we deserve. But ah…. That's not what we get. Because he sought us out. He called us to come and see him. He called us to follow him to the cross. And talk about seeing greater things than Nathanael saw that day! We've seen the fulfillment of how the Son of God, the King of Israel conquered our enemies for us—not Romans, or Muslims, or invading armies, but satan, death, sin, and hell.
"I tell you the truth," Jesus said. That was his way of saying, "Listen up! This is important! Note it and note it well!" "You shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
What in the world was Jesus talking about? Angels going up and down on his back? Well, for Nathanael, a true Israelite who knew his Scriptures well, he would have picked up on the illustration. It goes back to the time Jacob, Isaac's son, Abraham's grandson, was running away from home when his brother Esau was trying to kill him for stealing the inheritance from him. He was scared, and tired, and lonely, and had nothing but a rock for a pillow that first night. And God appeared to him in a dream and showed him a ladder or staircase to heaven as a symbol that there was a way to go be with God.
Of course, you know that way. It's Jesus himself. He said he is Jacob's ladder. He is the stairway to heaven. Or, really, he's more like the escalator because we don't have to do anything. He came down from heaven and the Son of God that Nathanael confessed became the Son of Man that we might go up to heaven. As the Son of Man he lived under the law in our place. As the Son of God he kept it perfectly always following his Father's commands flawlessly. As the Son of Man he took the punishment we deserved and not only died on a cross, but was ditched by the Father when he forsook him for those 3 dark hours of hell. And as the Son of God that death counted to pay for the sins of all mankind as he gave his perfection to each of us.
Jesus wasn't kidding when he said, "You shall see greater things than that." We've seen the salvation that Jesus accomplished for us! And seeing is believing! Now we, like Philip, like Nathanael, cast our doubts aside! And having seen him we follow him! We follow him in his Word where we see him and his will for our lives. We follow him by mimicking him and doing what we we see him do! We follow him when we do what he asks us to.
And what does he ask? That we live for others instead of for ourselves, especially telling them about him. And it's imperative that we do it right away. After all, 2017 might very well be the year that Jesus returns! Don't put it off! But someone might argue, "But I wouldn't know what to say!" Don't worry about what to say. You don't need to convince them. Just invite them. Say, "Come and see. Come and see who Jesus. Come and see at my church. Follow me… to Grace Lutheran. I'm going there this weekend. And I'd love it if you'd come with me." Let's invite them before it's too late. Because, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open!" One day we all will. And then we'll see Jesus face to face. We'll follow him into the paradise he's prepared for each of us. In Jesus' name, dear friends, "Come and see!" and "Follow me!" Amen!