The Second Sunday after Epiphany January 15, 2017
Text: John 1:43-51 Revised 3 Year Series–B 17:1988
Theme: When Jesus Calls…(Faith Responds and Follows)
The Germans have a saying that some of my professors used when we started something new. It goes like this: “Aller Anfang ist schwer.” It means, “Every beginning is difficult.” “The first step is the hardest.” I guess it’s true.
When one begins a new direction in life or starts a project that has never been done before, it’s difficult to get going because there is no history or background available to help you through it. But it’s important to begin, and as you go the rest tends to fall into place. It’s only unsuccessful if one doesn’t even attempt to start. As one of my pastor friends in Texas used to say, “You can’t catch a fish if you don’t throw your line into the water.”
Here in this chapter from John’s Gospel is revealed the beginning of a huge undertaking of which, ironically, we are a result. Here is the start of the New Testament Christian Church, a small beginning for the great Church Universal. It began in the verses preceding our text when John the Baptist pointed two of his students, Andrew and John, to Jesus and told them to go after Him. They went and spent a day at the Messiah’s side, learning of Him and God’s gracious, saving deeds for the world. Those two were the first members of the Universal Church in the New Testament.
Towards the end of that day, each of them went to get his brother, Andrew to get Simon, John to get James, and the start of the Church had begun. Was it difficult? It doesn’t seem like it as one brother brought another to hear the words of Christ. From this humble start, hundreds, thousands, millions, yes, billions of people have joined to follow Christ through the years. And you and I through faith have joined in. Was it difficult? Not for Jesus because when our Savior calls, faith responds and follows.
I. Sometimes it responds in very practical ways as God enables His Church to grow. That’s what took place the next day in our text. Jesus returned to Galilee and went to find Philip. He simply said, “Follow me.” In such simple words the Gospel tells the wonderful story of Philip’s joining the Church. There’s no hoopla, no great moment of decision, just a simple following from a simple calling. A difficult beginning? Not for the Lord Jesus at work. In a moment Philip gathered his belongings and went after the Savior.
Someone once said, “A man is not likely to go to heaven who is content to go alone.” There is a good measure of truth in that statement, for if a man is truly a Christian who has come to know and love His Savior from sin, he will want to share that Savior with others. If a man’s religion and Savior aren’t worth sharing, then they are also not worth keeping for himself. But that was not the case when Jesus called and Philip responded in faith.
His next step as a new disciple was inevitable. Like Andrew felt compelled to share his joy of finding the Savior with his brother Peter, like John felt compelled to share his joy with his brother James, so Philip had someone with whom he, too, wanted to share this wonderful experience – his friend Nathaniel. “We have found Him,” Philip cried, “the one about whom Moses and the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth!” Nathaniel retorted. “Can anything good come from there?”
Maybe Nathaniel said that sarcastically since Nazareth was just a tiny town in the backwoods country of Galilee. Or maybe he said that because Nathaniel seems to have been a rather deep theological thinker and realized that the Messiah, the best thing God had to give us, was not to come from Galilee but from Judea. Whichever way Nathaniel meant it, imagine how Philip must have felt when he had such good news to share and the news seemed to be rejected.
Did you ever seek to share Christ with someone you knew only to have that person reject you? How did it feel? I suppose Philip felt a similar way. I imagine him being sick at heart. Here he had such exciting news to tell and he was burning with such enthusiasm, but his friend ridiculed him. Sometimes “Anfang ist schwer,” but it’s not impossible with Christ on your side. How could Philip convince his doubting friend that he had indeed been called to follow the long-promised Savior? The only words that came to Philip’s lips were practical ones: “Just come and see,” he said.
Philip could have argued, trying to prove that he was right. But arguments seldom gain anyone for Christ. So Philip responded in a practical way, “You don’t believe me? Come and see for yourself.”
Ah, here is where you see a Christian in the best light and as a great example when “Anfangs” seem “schwer.” Put it on the person who doubts. Actually, Philip was putting the burden on Jesus because only Jesus can convince anyone of whom He truly is. You know, the sheep don’t find the shepherd; the Shepherd finds the sheep and brings them in. I guess Philip, so recently called, learned that. And so he responded in a very practical way.
So it can be with all disciples. Called to faith not a one of us is called to sit on our faith. We follow; we witness for Christ; we become little missionaries. In fact, like Andrew, John, and Philip, we want to talk about the Savior to our friends. But sometimes it’s difficult. Sometimes friends don’t appreciate or show any interest in their eternal welfare. They might laugh. That hurts because Christ is our joy. They might even say something like, “O good heavens, what’s got into you. Look who’s got religion now! Save it for yourself.” Then what do you say? Well, sometimes faith just responds in very practical ways: “Come and see. If you don’t believe me, come with me to church next Sunday to spend an hour with Jesus. Come with me to Bible class. Come with me to the Scriptures and give it a try for the good of your soul.” Sometimes Philip’s “Come and see” practical approach is best, for it is true that only the Holy Spirit can do the rest. He leads to faith. But there is not a one among us who can’t begin by saying, “Come and see.”
II. But faith always responds in truthfulness.
That simple invitation threw the ball back into Nathanael’s court. Although he had shown a bit of skepticism, nevertheless he went with Philip to see. Credit Nathanael with that much! Or was it the Holy Spirit already at work! Off the two of them went – the one brimming over with enthusiasm, the other a bit skeptical.
As they approached Jesus, Jesus said, “Look, truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit (or treachery).”
The word Jesus used in Greek is highly descriptive. Think of it in terms of a fisherman dangling his bait in the water, pretending to offer something good for the fish when, in fact, his intent is to entice the fish to bite. When the fish takes the bait, he’s had it, all because the fisherman tricked him by putting out something which appeared to be good. That’s the idea behind the word “deceit.”
Transfer that intent to spiritual matters. Jesus said, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is nothing deceitful. No half truths, twisted meanings, or hypocrisy. Absolutely none. How can that be?
Is there ever a human being who never tells a lie, never deceives others, never tricks people for his own gain? Never? Ever? How can that be? Perhaps the better question to ask is how can we be like that, always responding in truthfulness like Nathanael in
whom there was nothing false?
When Jesus described him like that, Nathanael was stunned. “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Now the Savior sees more than just the outside of a person. The Bible says, “He knows what is in a man” (2:25). What was in Nathanael?
Well, start with him under that fig tree. What was he doing there? He wasn’t just lying around lazy, taking a nap. Remember, there’s nothing false in him. So what’s he doing there?
He’s a true Israelite. The Jewish rabbis prescribed that pious and God-fearing Israelites study and make prayers in secluded spots where they could be undisturbed, reminding themselves of God’s goodness. Such divine goodness was portrayed to Old Testament people in the blessings of a land flowing with milk and honey. In such a land, the fig tree became a special symbol.
It became a symbol of the physical prosperity God wanted to give His people. But even more importantly, it was a symbol of spiritual prosperity that would be given through the inner peace that the Christ would bring. So it was that God spoke through the prophet Zechariah saying, “I am going to bring my servant, the Branch…and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree” (3:9f; Mi.4:4).
So it was that Nathanael was sitting there, meditating, running through his mind the gracious promises God gave to the forefathers, like Jacob when he dreamed of the angels going up and down on the ladder to heaven and God at the top. It was Nathanael’s devotion time, prayer time, time with His Lord, time in which the peace of God rested upon him. Do you see now why Jesus called him truly an Israelite in whom there was nothing false? Nathanael’s faith responded in truthfulness. And now that he had met the Savior, who could tell him things he did not yet know, it was like heaven had opened above him and the glories of the Savior shone around him. Nathanael would heed the call and follow.
They say that “Anfangs” are “schwer.” Here is the start of the Universal Church. It’s not hard when the Savior is in charge; it’s not hard when the Savior calls us to follow. God grant that when He calls, we respond in faith like Philip and Nathanael, Andrew, John, Simon Peter and James – sometimes practically, but always in truthfulness. God grant it to us for Jesus’ sake.