Epiphany 2 – January 15, 2012
You Ain't Seen Nothin' Yet
There is much to learn about Jesus from the calling of Nathanael.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Nathanael starts his interaction with Jesus with a mild insult. Really. I mean. Phillip, you're telling me that the Messiah is from that back-water town? They're a suburb of nowhere.
But Phillip tells Nathanael to come and see, and for some reason, he does. Skeptical, probably frumping along to humor his friend. Nathanael was expecting another crackpot, some false Messiah like so many that had come before.
“Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Well, the answer to that, theologically, is “no.” Nothing good can come from Nazareth, or from Jerusalem, or Rome. Nothing good can come from New York, or Chicago, or Green Bay, or Racine. Nothing good can come from anywhere, especially from anyone in this sinful, broken, messed up world.
And that means nothing good can come from you or me, either. Out of the heart come our evil thoughts. From our unclean lips come unclean words. And our blood-stained hands can do only the filthy works of sin. We are corrupt through and through. Can anything good come from me? No. For I am just as much a part of this sinful world as the next guy. And so are you.
Can anything good come from Nazareth? No. But Jesus is not from Nazareth.
When Jesus sees Nathanael he rattles his cage of pre-conceived notions. He shows a little of that divine knowledge that only he could have. He saw Nathanael under the fig tree, before Phillip called him. And he returns Nathanael's insult with a compliment, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is no deceit!”
What does Jesus mean? That Nathanael is without sin? Surely not. For if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Perhaps Jesus is here commending Nathanael for having enough honesty to call a sin a sin where he sees it. For having the guts to ask what good can come from Nazareth, and having the humility to know that the sins of his own past make him no better.
Jesus knows our past, too. He calls us before we know who he is. He saves us before we know we need saving. He knew you before you were born, after all. Yes, he knows your deep, dark secrets. No sin or shame can escape him. But he puts all that away. He chooses to deal with your sins by taking the condemnation you deserve. Jesus knows you better than you even know yourself. He knows who you really are – who he has made you to be in your baptism. He knows the plans he has for you, the place he's preparing for you.
Back to the story. This little bit of a show of omniscience by Jesus leads Nathanael to confess a great truth. To recognize the folly of his insult. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
Ah, yes, true. We can confess the same with Nathanael. We know who Jesus is. We know, not on our own, but because he tells us and shows us. We know from his word, that he is true God and true man. That he is without sin, yet takes on our sin. That he is our great prophet, our high priest, and our true king. Nathanael would come to learn in more and better and deeper ways just who this Jesus was and what he came to do. Nathanael would come to see even greater things than a prophet from Nazareth.
“You think it's a big deal that I saw you under the fig tree, Nathanael? Well you aint seen nothin' yet!”
And he would. And we do. For Nathanael and for us, the minor miracle was Jesus seeing him under the fig tree. The greater miracle is us seeing Jesus on the tree of the cross.
The cross is that touchstone between heaven and earth. Jesus hangs there, right in the middle, the God-Man, between God and Man. He suffers and dies there to bridge the chasm of sin. To bring God to man and man to God. In Jesus heaven itself is open to us.
Jesus is Jacob's ladder – the stairway to heaven. Only through him does God come to be with us, to cleanse us and call us. Only in him do we have access to the Father and to eternal life.
Only at the tree of the cross can Nathanael and Phillip and all the other apostles and disciples find the true Son of God and King of Israel. Only in his cross can we see Jesus for who he is. He didn't come to do parlor tricks. He didn't come to wow us with miraculous fireworks. He came to die. To conquer death. And to speak good news to us, his people.
And like Nathanael and Phillip, he calls us to follow. To have no deceit about our sins, but to bring them to the tree of the cross. To hear and see him, Jesus, for all that he is and does. And to trust and believe and live in him, forever.
And with Jesus, we can still say, “You aint seen nothin' yet.” Yes, once again, we will see heaven opened, when he comes again in glory. Yet again will Jesus descend, now in glory. That day, that great Epiphany is coming soon. May he keep us faithful, so that at the last we too can stand and confess him, Jesus, the Son of God, and the King of Israel, our savior. In his holy name, Amen.