“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” That’s quite a question for Nathaniel to be asking this morning, isn’t it? If you were from Nazareth, you might hear that as quite an insult. Just imagine someone you just met asking where you were from, and you say you’re from Audubon, Iowa, and they respond by saying “Can anything good come out of Audubon?” You’d probably be pretty offended by that comment, wouldn’t you?
Well, let me ask that question a little bit differently. Can anything good come out of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church? People might not ask you that question directly, but sometimes, when you invite someone to come to church with you, do you ever get the feeling that is what they are thinking? Perhaps we even have people whose names appear on our membership list, but never worship here, who are sitting at home this morning, wondering “can anything good come out of me being at church?’ This morning, through the Gospel reading, we’re going to hear the answer to Nathaniel’s question, and how the answer to that very question affects the way we do evangelism in this place, and how we can respond:
Can anything good come out of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church? Oh yes, there is!
As our reading starts out, it’s pretty early in Jesus’ public ministry. Fresh off his baptism in the Jordan and his temptation in the wilderness, Jesus is now starting to call disciples. In the verses that precede this chapter, Jesus has already called two of John the Baptist’s former disciples to come follow him, and now he is continuing in our reading for today by calling Phillip and Nathaniel. Jesus is on his way to Galilee, and he comes across Phillip. Two of the disciples Jesus has already called to follow him, Andrew and Peter, were from the same city as Phillip, Bethsadia. Jesus simply says to Phillip “follow me”.
Notice this: Phillip wasn’t out looking for Jesus, Jesus found him. It’s the same way that Jesus comes to us. I often hear people who are brought to faith in Christ at a later age sometimes say “I found Jesus!” but this chapter tells us that it’s actually the other way around, that Jesus finds us. So the question is, if we’re not out looking for Jesus, then where are we that He needs to come and find us? Well, think for a minute where we would be without Jesus. We would be lost. Often in the Scriptures, those without faith in Christ are described as “Lost.” Without the forgiveness, life, and salvation that only come through Christ, we would be lost in our sins. We would be eternally separated from God, with the prospect of facing an eternity in hell because of our sinfulness. But Jesus comes into the darkness of sin, and brings the light of His Word to us, he finds us in the darkness of our sins, calling us to follow him and His light, which is His Gospel, the good news that He has suffered and died to take the punishment our sins rightly deserved. That’s what He did for Phillip, and that’s what He does for us yet today. Right now, through the responses we’ve read and sung throughout the liturgy, through the Scripture readings of the day, and now, through the preaching of the Word in this sermon, Jesus is calling you to follow him, listen to what He has to say to you today through His Word. Just as Andrew did, and just as Phillip did, you are here this morning to be in the presence of Christ to listen to your Savior’s call to follow him and listen to him. He has found you and brings His saving Gospel to you today.
So, Phillip is found by Jesus, Jesus calls Phillip to follow him, and what’s the first thing that Phillip does after Jesus issues the call to follow? Does Phillip throw a big party for himself, because he’s finally found the way, truth, and life? Does he keep it to himself? No, the first thing Phillip does once He has been found by Jesus, is he went and found someone he could share his joy with.. In the verses that precede our text, we see this same scenario play out with Andrew. Andrew is found by Jesus, Jesus calls Andrew to follow him, Andrew spends the day listening to Jesus’ word, and then Andrew goes and tells his brother, Peter, about Jesus, and brings Peter to where Jesus is so that he, too, can hear about Jesus. Phillip does the same, he goes and finds Nathaniel, and tells Nathaniel about Jesus. He tells Nathaniel “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law and also whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (v. 45) Unless you are talking to an orthodox Jew, you probably wouldn’t use that line if you were to invite someone to come and see Jesus with you here at church on Sunday. Instead, you would probably use words like: Savior. Light of the World. The Way, the Truth, and the Life. Like Phillip, you will refer to Jesus by name. Whatever words you choose, just like Phillip, you’d want to tell that person who they will see if they come with you, and the wonderful things He has to offer.
At this point of the sermon, I think it’s time I ask you some questions. Do you consider what Jesus has to offer you in this place week after week to be the most important thing in your life? Note I didn’t ask you if it was one of the most important things, but the most important thing? Do you consider forgiveness of your sins and the promise of eternal life in paradise to be the most important thing in your life? Or is it something that you only dust off for an hour a week if you happen to have the time? Your attitude about what Christ is giving in this place will affect the way you do evangelism. If we don’t view what Christ has done for us as the most important thing in our lives, if we don’t follow the first commandment by putting God in front of everything else in our lives, our work, our spouses, our children, our money, our possessions, everything, will we see a need to share that with others? Phillip was so overjoyed that he had found the long promised Savior, that the first thing he did was go and tell someone else about Jesus. Andrew did the same thing. So what’s stopping so many of you from telling others about Jesus?
So Phillip tells Nathaniel that he has met Jesus, the long promised Savior, but did you notice Nathaniel’s response? He asks the question: Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Interesting response, isn’t it? Well, there may have been several reasons for Nathaniel to make that comment. For one, Nazareth is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament, so if Nathaniel was well versed in his Scriptures, he probably knew that there was no specific reference to the Savior being from there. Not only that, Nazareth wasn’t exactly the most glamorous place to be from in those days. Nazareth was pretty insignificant in the grand scheme of things in those days, it didn’t have a lot of political respect or influence. It was kind of out there in the middle of nowhere. It’s a lot like when a famous athlete comes from a small town. Some of you that follow baseball may recognize the name Bob Feller. He was from a farm in little Van Meter, which is about an hour from here. When the Cleveland Indians first brought him up to the major leagues, and people saw this 17 year old kid throwing fastballs close to 100 mph, they wanted to know where this guy came from, and when they were told, a lot of folks wanted to know “Where in the world is Van Meter? What goes on there? What’s so special about that place that a guy this good could come from there?” In a way, Nathaniel is asking the very same question about Nazareth. “The Messiah is supposed to do some pretty unbelievable things. So he must be from a place with some prestigue, not some backwoods town like Nazareth. Nothing good ever comes out of that place!”
As you go about the task of evangelism in your daily lives, you might encounter the same skeptical thoughts. You may have people look to this church, and say, “Can anything good come from Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church?” These modern day Nathaniel’s may have plenty of reasons for saying that. Maybe they have some preconceived notions about church, because they’ve heard some negative things about our church from the people who do belong here. Maybe they’re uncomfortable with “organized religion”. Maybe they were once very active in the life of this church, and something happened years ago to drive them away, so they now look at this place, and say “Can anything good come out of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church?” Some of you sitting in the pews this morning might even be thinking that very thing. So when you tell someone about Jesus and invite them to come to church with you here, you might encounter that initial question “Can anything good come out of Our Saviour’s? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
The good news is the answer to both of these questions is: yes. When Nathaniel responded with his question of doubt, did you notice what Phillip said? He didn’t come up with some 500 page doctoral dissertation on the merits of following Jesus. He didn’t argue with Nathaniel until he was blue in the face, he simply invited Nathaniel to “come and see.” Come and see Jesus for yourself. Come listen to him. Come into His presence. And Nathaniel did exactly that. It’s the same thing with us. When we realize that this hour or so of worship each Sunday isn’t about what we are doing to appease God, but what God is doing for us, that Jesus is coming to be present with us through His Word and His Sacrament to announce to us that our sins are forgiven, and we have the certain promise of eternal life, we, too can respond to these objections by simply saying “come and see.” Come and see Jesus for yourself at Our Saviour’s on Sunday morning. Come and see him through the scripture readings, the hymns, the sermon, and the sacrament. Sit at His feet, and listen to Him, and what He has to say.
So after a pleasant persistence and a clear invitation to come and see, Nathaniel does exactly that, he comes to see Jesus with Phillip. Jesus sees Nathaniel approaching him and says “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” It’s clear Jesus knows something about Nathaniel, that He’s more than just an ordinary guy from an ordinary, insignificant town in Nazareth. Nathaniel asks how Jesus knows this, and Jesus shows Nathaniel a hint of who he is by saying “Before Phillip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” This tidbit of divine knowledge sparks faith in Nathaniel’s heart, allowing Nathaniel, the one time skeptic, to say “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” To which Jesus replies “Becaise I said to you, I saw you nder the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” Jesus is telling Nathaniel that if he thinks that’s something, just keep following Him. Which is what we are doing during this season of Epiphany. We follow Jesus through our readings, and we hear Him reveal to us more about who He is and what He has done for us. We hear about the miracles He performed, the teachings He spoke, those are some of the great things that Nathaniel saw by following Jesus, and they are things we with the eyes of faith also see our Lord do through the Scriptures.
But that’s not all. Jesus also says “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This is a reference to the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. There, Jacob has a dream about a ladder running between heaven and earth, and on this ladder angels were ascending and descending on the earth. When Jacob awoke, he called that place Beth-el, meaning “The House of God.” Or “The Gate of Heaven.” With Jesus, that ladder will only have one rung. That ladder will be the cross. His cross is our Jacob’s ladder. By Jesus’ death on the cross, He bridges that gap between us and God. Christ came down from heaven with one ultimate destination, the cross, where he was to suffer and die to save us. When He is lifted up on that cross, he raises us up out of the muck and mire of our sin and death, and by His resurrection, he guarantees that we too will be lifted up from death and into eternal life in the presence of God in paradise. That cross of Christ is our Jacob’s ladder!
And this church is our Bethel, the House of God where we find Christ, where the cross of Christ is preached, and where through Word and Sacrament, the gates of heaven are opened to us. This is a place where heaven and earth meet, because Christ is present with us when we gather around Word and Sacrament. This morning, through this visit of your Lord and Savior, you are being given a foretaste of the feast to come in heaven.
Christ is indeed in our midst today. He is here to open heaven for you. And it is here, this morning, that our Lord Jesus Christ is calling to you as He did to Phillip and Nathaniel “follow me.” This week, I pray that our Lord will put someone in your life, so that you can be their Phillip, you can be the one to tell them what Christ does for you in this place, and that you can be the person Christ uses to invite others to follow him. And you may have someone ask you: “Can anything good come out of Our Saviour’s?” What will your answer be? Let me give you a bit of a historical perspective. 126 years ago in 1883, Rev. Kristian Anker of Elk Horn Lutheran Church traveled to Audubon to conduct the first Danish Lutheran service in Audubon. Over the next 26 years, the services were sometimes infrequent, the Pastors traveled here from places like Elk Horn, Brayton, Kimballton, and Ebenezer, and the numbers were low. I am sure many looked at that small group, without a church building, and without a resident Pastor, and said “Can anything good come out of Audubon?” Some may have even suggested to those Pastors who traveled here that they were wasting their time. But, something good did come from those visits. 26 years after Pastor Anker’s first visit to Audubon, this congregation was organized, and for 100 years, we have been gathering in the presence of our Lord and Savior. Lord willing, we will continue to do exactly that for the next 100 years. The numbers may not always be what they were 30 or 40 years ago, but the answer to the question will be the same. Can anything good come out of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church? You better believe it, because this is a church where Jesus comes to visit us, and give us the gifts of forgiveness, life, and salvation. It doesn’t get any better than that! Amen.