“Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and our Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this second Sunday after the Epiphany comes from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the first chapter of the Gospel according to Saint John. Dear friends in Christ, Philip’s very first act as a Christian was to tell someone else about Jesus. He didn’t even give Jesus an answer, but as soon as our Lord said the words, “Follow me,” Philip turned tail and ran to his friend Nathanael. He couldn’t contain his joy; he had to tell someone about Jesus. This took priority over everything else- Nathanael had to know before he did anything else. See how much joy the call to faith brought into Philip’s life! See how much he cared for Nathanael that he would waste no time in bringing that joy to him! This joy, this desire to bring others to Jesus, is unfortunately often missing in modern Christians. Sure, we can speak about Jesus with confidence here within these four walls, but out in this world, politics, sports, and even gossip flow more freely. In place of Philip’s boldness, we have meekness; in place of his confession, we say little at all. We are worried about what others will think, we don’t want to risk our reputation or a friendship over something as divisive as religion. Our world tells us to be quiet about our faith, and we are often all too happy to oblige.
But not Philip. Even though he probably knows the response, he boldly confesses Jesus to Nathanael. Though he has only been a follower of Jesus for mere minutes, he declares to his friend, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip confesses that Jesus is the One proclaimed in the Scriptures, the Messiah promised to God’s beloved people. But Nathanael is skeptical; he takes offense at Jesus’ origins. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael has found it hard to believe the claims of Jesus. He takes offense at this carpenter from Nazareth- how can He be God’s promised Messiah? The Savior of God’s people surely wouldn’t come from a no-name town in Galilee. Nathanael’s skepticism was met not with an argument, but with words of invitation: “Come and see.” Philip doesn’t think that his words can convince his friend; instead, Nathanael needs to see Jesus for himself. The Church does the same. We can argue with non-believers all we want to, but ultimately Christians simply invite the world to come and see Jesus. This is much simpler than trying to argue someone into the faith, but do we even do this? When was the last time that you invited someone to ‘come and see’ Jesus? And I’m not even talking only about your non-Christian neighbor or co-worker; when was the last time you invited one of our inactive members to ‘come and see’ Jesus?
This is by no means easy- both the world and even Christians have plenty of excuses for not coming and seeing Jesus. Nathanael asked, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” The world is like Nathanael, it has little use for Jesus. Sure, He was a pretty good guy, had some nice things to say, but the Messiah? I don’t need salvation from anything, and even if I did, would I believe that some desert rabbi was my savior? They take offense at the stable, at the cross; they take offense at Bethlehem and Nazareth. They understand the language of power and wealth, and this carpenter’s son seems to have neither. They take offense at the implication that they need salvation; they don’t think that sin is that big of a deal, and therefore they don’t really need forgiveness. But what offends them the most is the declaration that Jesus is the only way, the only solution to sin and death. The world refuses to come and see Jesus because they cannot imagine that He has anything to give them, at least not anything they can’t get somewhere else.
For Christians, many other things take priority over Christ: work, school, sports, and recreation. If there is time left after everything else, then maybe we can squeeze in our Lord, but we’ll see. Jesus has to fit into my schedule, not the other way around. The busyness of our lives in this world can crowd out Christ until we have no room left for Him. We can also fall into the trap of the world, deceived into thinking either that we don’t have a sin problem, or that it isn’t such a big deal. If you truly know and feel your sin, you will run to Jesus for forgiveness every week. But if you don’t have sin, or if you don’t think sin is a problem, then you don’t need Jesus, certainly not on a regular basis. Finally, the same apathy that keeps us from calling on others to come and see can keep us from coming and seeing for ourselves. And that is exactly where Satan wants us. Either he wants to keep us away from Jesus, or if he can’t do that, he wants us to keep Jesus locked up inside us where He belongs, not out in the world where He might actually create faith.
The Church combats Satan by continuing to call on all people, the stubborn world and its own members, to come and see Jesus. Today the invitation of Philip sounds forth from a pulpit in Iowa: “Come and see Jesus!” Come and see the One whom doubting Nathanael saw, the One who knew him intimately: “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to Him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’” Come and see the One who knows you inside and out, each and every one of you. He knows your joys and your struggles, He knows your failures and your excuses. In fact, He came because He knew that you were sinful. He came to conquer sin, He came to destroy death. That is who Philip invited Nathanael to come and see; that is who I call on you to come and see today.
Nathanael didn’t need much convincing to turn from skepticism to a bold confession: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus tells him to calm down a bit: “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” For Nathanael, the wonders were just beginning. Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Come and see Jesus, for He joins earth to heaven! He is the link between God and man, because He is true God and He is also true man. You can only come and see a God who has taken flesh. He has come to bring God and man together once again, the way it was intended from the beginning. The great divide between us and our Creator is bridged by Jesus’ shed blood; when He was exalted on the cross, heaven and earth were reconciled. Sin has been abolished by His sacrifice in your place; death has been destroyed by His resurrection. As we heard last week, heaven is opened never to be closed again. Through His sacrifice on Good Friday, Christ opens heaven to us, He provides access to the Father’s presence forever. He is the connection to heaven; where Jesus is, there heaven is brought close to this earth, people are reconciled with their God, sin is forgiven and death is destroyed.
Heaven touched this earth when water touched your head; in Baptism, Jesus opens heaven to a sinful human by joining them with Himself. Heaven also touches this earth when the Word of God is read and proclaimed in this place. Jesus promises to be present in His Word, and wherever Jesus is present, there heaven comes down to earth. Heaven comes near to this earth, it touches your lips in the Lord’s Supper. The Word who became flesh gives His flesh and blood to you to eat and to drink. When you come to this altar, you are participating in heaven itself, the foretaste of the feast to come. In the gifts of Christ, you see Him with the eyes of faith, for in those gifts He is just as truly present as He was two thousand years ago when He spoke to Philip and Nathanael.
So come to this place and see heaven touch this earth, come and see Jesus as He comes to you in the Divine Service! Heaven and earth are joined together through the blood of His cross, and Jesus extends that union, that reconciliation to you each and every time you gather to worship here. In this place, an ordinary building in an ordinary town, heaven touches earth, the gifts of forgiveness, life, and immortality are given. “What good can come out of Kiron or Deloit?” Salvation itself, the gift of eternal life, the promise that you will live, even though you die. All that heaven offers is given to you on Sunday mornings here in this place, a place made holy by the gifts of Christ. Here you truly see “the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Where Jesus is, earth and heaven are connected again, and He is present here to give you all that He won through the cross and empty tomb.
We are here to come and see Jesus because we need Him, we need His forgiveness for when we fail to confess Him before the world, we need His forgiveness for when we have failed to come and see Him revealed in His gifts. We are here because with the eyes of faith we see Jesus as the link between earth and heaven, the One who reconciled us with our God, so that we wouldn’t die eternally. “Truly, truly I say to you, you will see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Philip and Nathanael both saw Jesus and confessed Him, declaring to the world that this Jesus was the promised Messiah, the One who had come to defeat both sin and death. We follow their pattern, going forth into our lives in this world with the same bold confession that in Christ, heaven and earth are reconciled, that on Sunday mornings, heaven touches this earth for the salvation of all. Come and see! Come and see the Jesus who died for you, who rose for you, who forgives your sins and gives you everlasting life. Today you come and see with the eyes of faith; in the new heavens and the new earth, you will see your Savior face to face for eternity. Come and see! In the Name of the one who connects earth to heaven through His shed blood, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.