Sermon - 1/14/18
2018.01.19 14:22:50

EPIPHANY 2/B (2018): 1 Sam. 3:1-20; 1 Cor. 6:12-20; Jn. 1:43-51  


See,    Philip said [to Nathaniel], “If you come, you will see” (vv. 46b). 


After Nathaniel was called into discipleship of Jesus and sometime afterward he had occasion to inquire of his Rabbi, “From where do you know me?” (Jn. 1:48).  His question was not, “How do you know me?” as often wrongly translated.  It was a “where”, not a “how”, question, “From where do you know me?” 


Nathaniel’s question was not an idle “have we met before?”; instead he posed of his new Rabbi a profound Christological inquiry into whose school he had recently been received.  


Remember Nathaniel’s concern to Philip about Jesus being Messiah; he asked a “where” question, “From Nazareth! Can anything good be from there?” (v. 46a).  Today Nathaniel has moved on from the issue of Messiah’s hometown to a far deeper concern, the true origin and identity of this Messiah from Nazareth.


Tradition has it that Nathaniel was a scribe, a Scripture scholar. Philip sought Nathaniel out and announced that he and others had located the long prophesied Messiah.  Bethlehem is associated with Messiah, but Nazareth is not even mentioned in the OT or in the Jewish Talmud commentaries. 


When Nathaniel rhetorically asked, “From Nazareth! Can anything good be from there?” he was not casting an aspersion about Jesus’ hometown.  Instead he was merely cataloguing the “where” he expected Scripture should provide. 


Jesus had called Peter, Andrew, John, and Philip into his Torah schoolroom to make them purveyors of a new revelation of God’s word being fulfilled in his person. These Apostles were now “fisher of men” beginning in Bethsaida of Galilee (meaning “the house of fishing”).  Philip in seeking out Nathaniel responded to the Torah scholar’s “where” question about Nazareth, inviting, “If you come, you will see” (46b).  


Nathaniel indeed did “come” enrolling into Jesus’ Torah school. And at this point in the account there is a full stop that separates Nathaniel’s call through Philip from his confession of Jesus’ identity, “You are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel!” John the evangelist has telescoped Nathaniel’s call and his confession, but it is only after Nathaniel is a disciple that he asks of Jesus his second “where” question, “From where do you know me?”  


Nathaniel has “come” and he has “seen”. He was matriculating in Jesus’ apostolic school and advancing in his life’s study of Torah.  Nathaniel, the disciple approached his Rabbi, and Jesus takes occasion to accord Nathaniel special recognition, “Behold, here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (v. 47b). 


Whether Nathaniel heard this praise from his Teacher is not important since it was not to what Nathaniel was responding; rather he was approaching his Rabbi to ask his on-going Christological “where” question, seeking information beyond the precincts of Bethlehem or Nazareth. Nathaniel wanted to know Jesus’ true origin and scriptural identity. 


Nathaniel wanted to know more of Jesus; he desired an explicative of JB’s hearsay anointing pointing to Jesus as “the Lamb of God” (v. 29).  Jesus responded to Nathaniel by revealing something of his omniscience, a fact known only to Nathaniel, his pre-call study under a fig tree.  At this, Nathaniel confessed, “You are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel! (that is to say, God)”. 


For the disciples, Jesus’ Torah school was in full session. OT Israel had been the bearer of God’s light in the world.  In the days of the Judges, when Eli was high priest at Shiloh, he had the responsibility of maintaining the Tabernacle’s eternal light before the place of God’s presence. 


Eli had been faithfulness before God so that the prophetic word was rare in Israel. Emblematic of this circumstance was that Eli was all but blind so that his duties in the Tabernacle required the assistance of young Samuel that the light would continue-on at this place on earth.


God called Samuel into his prophetic office for the sake of his word in Israel. Eli had not been a faithful hearer of God’s word, nevertheless he was able to instruct young Samuel in the proper response of a hearer of God, “Speak YHWH because your servant is listening” (1 Sam. 3:9b).


At Jesus’ Baptism heaven was “torn open”, the HS descending and remaining with him. In today’s Gospel Jesus called his apostolic band; at his word they “came”, “listened” and so they “saw” anew.  On the testimony of JB, Andrew and John inquired of Jesus where he was remaining, that is, the place where this Teacher mightier than the Baptist would expound Scripture in its true significance.  Jesus said, “Come and you will see” (Jn. 1:39), the same invitation employed by Philip to catch Nathaniel seeking God’s word.  


Jesus is the message and content of all Scripture, the One worthy to open Scripture’s seals (Rev. 5:9), and so the substance of his church’s proclamation in the world. The church invites, “come and you will see”, provides her sightedness in his word and our proper response to its content and Truth, “Speak Lord because your servant is listening.”


Nathaniel’s listening response by new sight was expressed by his confession of Jesus’ true origin and identity, which is of God and who is God incarnate. Nathaniel’s sighted confession gave proof to Jesus’ prior praise in the presence of others, “Behold, here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”


At Jesus’ response to, “From where do you know me?” of a sudden Scripture was torn opened to the scribe, advancing from truth to truth.  By Nathaniel’s confession that Jesus is “Son of God” and “King of [new] Israel” there is no deceit for it is the confession of the pure bride even as JB’s witness to “the Lamb of God” also bespoke new Israel’s confession.  It is these truths and their meaning at the cross and resurrection to which we invite those with questions to “Come and you will see”.


Was there a particular Scripture by which Nathaniel discerned the true origin and identity of his new Rabbi? Daniel prophesied, “[A]nd behold, with the clouds of heaven [a theophany of God] one like a Son of Man was coming.  He came to the Ancient of Days, and was brought before him.  To him was given dominion, honor, and a kingdom.  All peoples, nations, and languages will worship him.  His dominion is an eternal dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will not be destroyed” (Dan. 7:13, 14).   


Jesus would affirm Nathaniel’s epiphany that he would see “greater things” in the hearing of his word, “Amen, amen, I say to all of you [here Jesus is speaking to you and I], you will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man” (v. 51), which is to say, attending the enthroned Son of Man with the Ancient of Days. 


This was the scriptural revelation by which Nathaniel and we see the man Jesus, whose origin is from God, and is God, returned to the place of the Father in eternity, the Ancient of Days.


Daniel’s prophecy contained the entire sweep of God’s work in Jesus, from Nativity, Ascension, Session with the Father, Reigning in the church age, and his Second Coming. At this realization Nathaniel gushes, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the king of Israel (which is the title of God!)”. 


Still veiled from Nathaniel, yet to be revealed in the Resurrection, is the “where” place of Jesus’ dominion in the Father’s glory. The church’s epiphany by the HS at Pentecost is that Jesus, Son of Man, Son of God, and King of new Israel meets the Ancient of Days in clouds of heaven where he was lifted on the cross, the wounds of which is the “where” place of his church’s dwelling. 


From this place of presence in the light of Jesus crucified for men judgment occurs. Jesus, Son of Man crucified for sin, is the Truth of heaven and the vision that his disciples are given to see in listening to his word, so that we proclaim without equivocation or deceit this Jesus for all who will accept his invitation.  Amen.





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