Sermon / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Season of Epiphany / Sunday January 14th 2018 - / John 1:43:51 / "From Under the Fig Tree to Under The Outstretched Arms of Christ Jesus."
Mount Olive Lutheran Church / Pr. Ted A. Giese / Sunday January 14th 2018: Season of Epiphany / John 1:43-51 "From Under the Fig Tree to Under The Outstretched Arms of Christ Jesus."
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. 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.” 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 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.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 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.” And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in Your sight O Lord. Amen.
Grace peace and mercy to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Good Christian Friends. Do you remember a time when you were doing something simple, maybe even mundane, when news came to you unexpectedly, news of some great change, some momentous event? Often these days it’s not because of something positive more often it’s because of something tragic. I remember I was packing up my apartment in Halifax Nova Scotia in the wee hours of the morning and for company I had the TV set on when news broke in that Diana, Princess of Wales, had died in a fatal car accident in Paris whilst being pursued by paparazzi. I didn’t expect that – it was big news at the time. Another time in 2001 I was preparing to go to work eating some breakfast, I think maybe some peanut butter toast, and I had the TV set on in the background when news broke in that the first tower of the World Trade Center in New York City was hit by an airplane. By the time I’d arrived at work at the Grocery Store the second tower was hit. Some of you will remember the news breaking that the American President J.F.K had been assassinated in 1963 or a more positive example perhaps you'll remember the day that WWII ended on 8 May 1945. Whatever the breaking news was from Space Shuttle explosions to sudden and unexpected wildfires spreading through La Ronge or Fort McMurray it likely came to you as you were just going about your day.
The examples I just gave are all about being surprised about something that was unexpected – In today’s Gospel reading we have Philip coming to Nathanael saying, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” In today’s Gospel reading we have someone who is surprised about something that was long expected, not unexpected. Philip was talking about the promised Christ, the Messiah King come to save the Israelites. Nathanael may as well have been doing the dishes or getting ready to go to work; he might as well have been eating breakfast or gardening. The news came to Nathanael as he was simply sitting under a fig tree minding his own business. What follows in the Gospel text is St. John’s description of Nathanael’s first meeting with Jesus. You see Nathanael heard the Word spoken to him by Philip who had been called by Jesus to follow Him and Nathanael believed what Philip had said to him and had gone to see Jesus for himself. Nathanael didn’t remain sitting under the fig tree, no at the Word of God spoken by Philip he got up and went to Jesus.
As Nathanael was finally coming toward Jesus, Jesus said to the approaching Nathanael, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” [Some translations say, “In whom there is no guile,” it means the same thing; it means that Nathanael was an honest man]. Hearing this Nathanael said to Jesus, “How do you know me?” and Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 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.” And [Jesus] said to [Nathanael], “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Nathanael’s answer indicates that he perceived that something otherworldly something beyond the ordinary had happened in that first meeting with Jesus. Throughout the history of the church it has been believed and taught and confessed that this was evidence of Jesus’ omniscience, His ability to see and know all things, that Jesus both knew the true nature of Nathanael’s heart without meeting him in person face to face as it were, and that Jesus saw Nathanael remotely without having looked upon him with his own eyes. That Jesus knew that Philip would find Nathanael sitting under the fig tree before Philip arrived to tell Nathanael the good news. For some people the fact that Jesus can see a person even while they are alone, even while they are in some sort of mundane moment, not just in church but at any moment can cause great fear, they don’t want Jesus to see them when they are sinning, in their worst moments, when they are unkind or perhaps when they are being less honest that Nathanael; for others the fact that Jesus can see a person even while they are alone, even while they are in some sort of mundane moment, when they are sad or lonely, when they are suffering in a hospital bed or are feeling especially lost, it is a great comfort. A comfort because then they need not feel so sad, they are truly not as alone as they might feel, they have Jesus with them even when they experience suffering, this for them is truly good news.
And so it is with you. If Christ Jesus is with you even in the moments when you are sinning and breaking God’s Holy Law, which Jesus is, if He sees you in those moments, which He does, then there is no use in trying to hide those moments from Him, no use in pretending that He can’t see you or that He somehow doesn’t know about your sin, He does. So you may as well fess up and confess your sin and receive the forgiveness that is granted to the repentant heart. There is no hiding from Jesus. Jesus sees you in your condition whatever it might be and more than that He is there with you to bring His peace, His forgiveness, His comfort.
Of course in the context of this account of Nathanael and Jesus from John’s Gospel there is more to it than Jesus knowing Nathanael before meeting him in person. When Jesus says, “You will see greater things than these. … Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” Jesus is making a Biblical allusion back to an event from the history of the Children of Israel, to a time before Israel was called Israel, to a time when Israel was called Jacob, to a time when Jacob for fear of his brother Esau, in the Book of Genesis, was running away from his brother. Because Jacob had in a kind of underhanded and sneaky way tricked his brother and their father Isaac into giving the promised birthright to Jacob, the birthright and promise that belonged first to Esau the first born twin.
As Jacob ran away to his uncle’s family he stopped in the night and bedded down to sleep, and in the night a miraculous thing happened. As Jacob lay there with a stone for a pillow, “he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
When Jesus said to Nathanael, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” His words had a twofold meaning for Nathanael. First that Nathanael would see a sight like the one Jacob, who would later be named Israel by God, had seen, a sight greater than that, greater than all the great things of the Old Testament. That along the way there would be greater things than Jesus knowing details about a man before He’d met him in person face to face. Nathanael and the other disciples would see Jesus turn water into wine, heal the sick, raise the dead; Nathanael would see the resurrected Jesus after Jesus was betrayed, crucified and dead, and he would not only see Jesus he would sit and eat with the risen Lord Jesus. Nathanael would, by coming and seeing this Jesus, eventually see Jesus ascend into heaven like it says in the Book of Acts when it says that Nathanael and the remaining faithful disciples, “as they were looking on, [saw Jesus] lifted up, and [as they watched] a cloud took Him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as [the risen Lord Jesus] went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw Him go into heaven.” The Heavens open, angels ascending and descending, Jesus ascending to His Father’s Right Hand. The words of Christ Jesus to Nathanael fulfilled, “you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
The second thing that Jesus alluded to and promised with His words to Nathanael in today’s Gospel reading is wrapped up on the words spoken by the Lord to Jacob in the Book of Genesis, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” As though Jesus said to dear honest Nathanael ‘follow Me and I will not leave you until everything is accomplished and when everything is accomplished again I will be with you always,’ just as Jesus finally promises Nathanael and the remaining faithful disciples in the Gospel of Matthew when He says to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Many of you will have been raised up as Christians from a young age and you may not remember a time when you didn’t know Jesus, but this is not so for all of you. For some of you there was a day when you were minding your own business, sitting under the proverbial “fig tree” when someone came to you with the good news of Jesus. If it wasn’t you and your family has long been Christian through the centuries there was at some point a moment when some man, some woman, some child was minding their own business likely doing something mundane like washing the family clothes, plowing the field, turning the lathe or fishing, sweeping the floor or maybe even sitting under a tree when someone came to them with the Word of God on their lips to say, “come and see!” “Come and hear about Jesus,” when someone came not with a word of tragedy but with Words of Joy and Excitement, words that changed the course of their life and in effect changed the course of your life. For those of you who didn’t come from a Christian family the fact that you have heard God’s Word and listened, the fact that the Holy Spirit in that Word of God has entered in and implanted faith in your heart may in fact now not simply change your life but may indeed impact generations and generations to come.
In this way we have this in common with Nathanael, or somewhere back in our family tree you have a relative who has this in common with Nathanael. Because it isn’t the case that Jesus knew Nathanael only, that Jesus only knew the heart of Nathanael, the details of Nathanael’s life. No Jesus knows your heart to. He knows everything about you, He knows everything about the hearts of all those Christians who have come before you, all those Christians that will come after you, and not just the Christians but all people in all times in all places. He knows about your heartbreaking sin, your pain, your sorrow, your joy and your love. He comes to you with His Holy Word and in it He delivers the forgiveness which He won for you at the cross.
You see when Nathanael asks, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” knowing the end of the story from the beginning you or anyone could likewise ask, “Can anything good come out of a dead man hanging on a cross?” In Nathanael’s day no one expected good to come out of Nazareth, it wasn't one of those places that was steeped in ancient prophecy, likewise no one expected good to come out a Roman cross. The Roman cross was a sign of oppression. Yet surprisingly the answer is yes, something very good, exceedingly good comes out of the cross providing that on that cross the dead man hanging there is the Son of Man, that it is Jesus the Messiah King, the Christ who came to save a world undone by sin and evil. That man on that cross makes all the difference in the world.
From that place of death, from the cross of Good Friday which St. Peter calls a tree, comes Life and Light. Of that cross the disciple Peter says, “[Jesus] Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By [Jesus’] wounds you have been healed.” Yes from that place, from that tragedy comes the best news of all. The greatest thing ever to happen: God, the Son of God, the Son of Man willing and able to die in our place, to take our place, to defeat sin, to turn death for the Christian into life. The fruit of that tree, the fruits of the cross are sweeter than any fig, and where one fig tree can only feed so many the tree of the cross feeds a multitude of the faithful through time and space, in the end it is a better fruit than any fruit from any other tree. When you sit under that tree you see Christ Jesus spread out over you shielding you from eternal death. The angels of the Lord ascend and descend on Him and minister to you in His name. From that place Jesus gives you what you need most, Him. His fruit in Holy Communion: His sweet forgiveness that washes away the ash of sin from your mouth and makes you whole.
This Jesus that Nathanael met that day is the Jesus who calls you to Himself, who will be with you as you wander through this life, who will bring you home unto Himself in the end.
Do you know someone who is sitting under the fig tree somewhere, someone who needs to here the call of Christ Jesus? Who needs to hear the invitation, “Come and see.” Amen.
Let us pray:
Lord have mercy on us, Christ have mercy on us, Lord have mercy on us, “take our minds and think through them, take our lips and speak through them, take our hearts and set them on fire; for the sake of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Amen.
 Genesis 28:12–15
 Acts 1:9–11
 Matthew 28:18–20
 1 Peter 2:24