“Come and See the Savior”

(John 1:43-51 – Epiphany 2 – January 14, 2018)

John 1:43-51 – The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.”  Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.”  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”  Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”  Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  And He said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Dear fellow disciples who have been gathered together in faith by our Lord Jesus:

Occasionally I get junk mail saying something like, “Congratulations!  Your name has been selected for the final round of our grand prize drawing,” or, “You’ve been chosen as the winner of one of the following prizes!”  Usually, the advertiser wants you to join the club to make sure of your winnings.  What a feeling it is to be handpicked for something great!  But as we know, often such great promises turn out to be a bunch of hype, advertising gimmicks that leave us disappointed.  Junk mail that makes great claims usually finds its way into the round file.

But what a feeling it is to be handpicked for something great when the promise is real, and it comes from one who really cares for you.  In our text, Jesus is calling disciples to great things, to come follow Him.  We too are invited to “Come and See the Savior”: 1) He is the one who invites us, 2) He is the one who knows our hearts, and 3) He is the one who opens heaven to us.

1) He is the one who invites us

When the Lord of the Church invites people to come and follow Him, it is a very personal invitation.  At the beginning of our text, Jesus finds Philip and says, “Follow Me.”  Jesus found the man.  Philip had not been looking for Jesus.  That is true for you and me as well.  We did not find our Savior.  He found us personally, when we were not even looking for Him.

Jesus comes to us where we are, and by His grace and mercy He handpicks us.  Not one of us deserved to have the Lord come to us and say: “Follow Me.”  Instead, He finds us as the sinners we are – living in our own self-centered world; serving the false gods we have made out of money, fame, and pleasure; unforgiving of others, and slandering those who get in our way; feeling self-pity when we do not get what we want.  The Lord of the Church finds us just as we are by nature – unspiritually minded in our daily busyness, lost in our way.

But Jesus comes to seek and to save the lost.  He finds us where we are and looks on us, not with hate or bad intent, but with pure love and compassion for us sinners.  He says: “Leave behind your false gods, your life of self-serving sin, and ‘Follow Me’; I am your Savior.”

Philip is one of the first whom Jesus found and called to be His disciple.  Before our text, Jesus had found other disciples.  He had gone where John the Baptist was teaching his disciples.  When John saw Jesus coming, he exclaimed: “Behold!  The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”  When John’s disciples heard this, two of them followed Jesus.  They asked where He was staying, and He invited them personally: “Come and see” (John 1:29, 39).  From that time on they went with the Lord, to learn more of His salvation, to learn what it meant that He was the Lamb of God who takes away their sins on the cross and gives them eternal life.

One of those disciples of John the Baptist was Andrew.  His response to meeting his Savior was immediately to go and find his brother, Simon Peter.  Andrew had then shared the good news with Peter: “We have found the Messiah” (John 1:41).  And when Peter came to see Jesus, he too became a disciple.

So in our text, when Jesus finds Philip and says, “Follow Me,” Philip joins a growing group of Jesus’ disciples.  He knew Jesus’ invitation was not just a bunch of hype, another gimmick to leave him disappointed and empty-hearted.  The Holy Spirit convinced Philip from Scripture that Jesus was the Savior.  That is why Philip, in turn, goes and tells his friend Nathanael: “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”  And through Philip’s witness, another disciple was brought to Jesus.

Do we see what is happening?  Jesus gathers His disciples with a personal invitation.  In the case of some, He walked up to them and said: “Follow Me.”  But often, He sends His invitation through those He has already gathered to Himself – through John the Baptist preaching to multitudes; or Andrew sharing the Good News with his brother; or Philip leading his friend to Jesus.  But it is always Jesus who finds the person.  It is His own Word of invitation they hear.  As Scripture is shared, the Holy Spirit draws them to trust Jesus as the Savior sent by God.

Isn’t this our role, too, as those Jesus has called to be His disciples – to turn around and share the Good News of our Savior with others?  It is Jesus’ own invitation we share.  This makes a difference in how we see our witness, because we know the power and effectiveness of the invitation is from Jesus Himself.  We were brought to faith by His Gospel; others will be too.

Now, people will respond to Jesus’ invitation in different ways.  When Philip identified the Savior as “Jesus of Nazareth,” Nathanael’s reaction was one of suspicion, like the way we look at junk mail at first: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Nathanael believed the Scriptures.  He was awaiting the fulfillment of God’s promise about the Savior.  He just was not expecting Him to come from such a backwards, out-of-the-way place.  Wouldn’t it make more sense for the Messiah to come from a place like Jerusalem, the royal city?

When we share God’s Word, people may react different ways at first: “Aren’t we advanced enough today to get past those backwards, outdated teachings of the Bible?  You still believe in such a Savior?  You trust in a man who said 2000 years ago that He would die so you could live with Him?  Don’t we have more impressive leaders than Jesus?  Don’t we have more up-to-date ideas?”  For many people, the Gospel is just another article of junk to throw in the round file.

As a new disciple of Jesus, Philip was not yet trained in witnessing.  He was not an experienced missionary.  Nonetheless, he gives us a good example.  He does not stand there trying to argue Nathanael into believing.  He simply points to Scripture and Jesus as the Savior, and he says to his friend: “Come and see…  I want you to hear Him speak to you in person.”

Despite our inexperience and people’s possible reactions, we are not ashamed of the Gospel.  It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  It is Jesus’ own Word of invitation.  We can share it with that friend, family member, or acquaintance.  We can say: “Come and see.”

2) He is the one who knows our hearts

When Nathanael was introduced to Jesus he was not disappointed.  This was not just another junk mail offer, another hoax to leave him empty hearted.  He was surprised by the first words he heard from Jesus: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!”  Nathanael asked: “How do You know me?”  Jesus answered: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Here we learn with Nathanael that Jesus is the one who knows our hearts.

We do not know what Nathanael had been doing under the fig tree.  Maybe he had been resting in the shade, meditating on God’s Word and praying; and Jesus had been listening.  Before Nathanael even met the Savior, Jesus already knew him, right to his heart.  There, He saw true faith.  Nathanael was not just a physical descendant of Israel, he was not just an outward member of the church.  He was not like many who make a false show of holiness, but whose hearts are far from God.  Here was a true Israelite, a true believer.  Jesus is not saying that Nathanael had a heart free of sin; no one does.  But He could see in Nathanael one who confessed his sin and sincerely looked to the Messiah God had promised to come and save him.

It is an awesome thing to stand in the presence of the almighty, all-knowing Son of God.  Nathanael knew this Jesus of Nazareth was no ordinary man.  Jesus’ Spirit-filled words hit home, not just in his intellect but in his heart.  Nathanael declared: “Rabbi, You are the Son of God!  You are the King of Israel!”

Would it surprise us if Jesus appeared here in church before our eyes, even as we meditate on His Word and pray to Him?  Whether or not we see Him, He is here in the midst of us, as He promised (Matthew 18:20).  He can see into our hearts.  Maybe this thought causes anxiety.  We realize He has seen our hearts, not only when we have prayed with sincerity, in high spiritual moments. He has also seen us in moments of insincerity and sin.  He has seen us with divided hearts, trying to serve both God and the things of the world.  He has seen us compromise our faith at times, ashamed to stand up for His truth when we wanted to fit in with other people.

We could not claim for ourselves that there is no deceit in us.  As we stand in the presence of Jesus, we know we cannot make our own hearts pure.  Like Nathanael, we confess that we need this Savior, the Son of God Himself, to cleanse our hearts and make us pure before God.

3) He is the one who opens heaven to us

As Nathanael learned that day, Jesus is the one cleanses us and makes us right with God.  He is the one who opens heaven to us.  Jesus told Nathanael: “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe?  You will see greater things than these.”  And He added: “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jesus’ words bring to mind Jacob’s encounter with the Lord in Genesis 28:10-22.  Jacob was fleeing from his brother Esau, whom he had deceived.  During his flight to safety, God gave him a vision.  Jacob saw a ladder from heaven to earth, with angels ascending and descending.  The Lord stood above it reassuring him that, despite his sin, He was still faithful, loving and protecting him.  God promised Jacob that through his offspring all nations would be blessed.

In a much greater way, Jesus has bridged the gap between heaven and earth, between a holy God and us sinners.  He has descended from heaven to bring us God’s promised blessings.  Truly heaven was open over Jesus.  It showed at His Baptism, and again at His transfiguration, as the Father spoke from heaven: “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17; 17:5).  All the angels obey Jesus, ready to serve Him.  When Jesus was arrested before His crucifixion, He told His disciples: “Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53)

Yet this Son of God, this King of angels, put aside the use of His almighty power, to fulfill God’s promises for our salvation.  As the Son of Man, He died on the cross and shed His innocent blood.  Thus He paid in full for our sins, to save us from eternal punishment and death.  His blood sprinkles our hearts and cleanses us of all sin.  As we are joined to Jesus by Baptism and faith, God looks on us and says: “Behold, these are My true children, in whom is no deceit.”

Come and see the Savior who has opened heaven to us!  He has reconciled us to God.  He has given us eternal life!  Now, it is not frightening to stand in the presence of our almighty, all knowing Lord – any more than it was for those first disciples who walked with Him day by day.  It is for our comfort that He knows us so closely, that He is here with all His strength to help us.  Jesus opens heaven over us today, as He speaks to us in His Word.  He opens heaven over us today, as He invites us to speak with Him in heartfelt prayer.

Dear fellow disciples, what a feeling it is to be handpicked for great things!  Our Savior has personally called us to Himself, He knows us as His very own, and He has opened heaven to us!  Let us share His Good News of salvation, like Philip did for Nathanael, like someone did for us.  Let us say, “Come and see,” and let the Savior’s own invitation bring them into His loving care!  Amen.