Sunday, January 18, 2009

Come and See

Second Sunday after the Epiphany
The Confession of Peter
January 18, 2009
John 1:43-51

Everything goes back to the First Commandment. When God says you shall have no other gods He means exactly that. It’s easy for us to say and believe we believe in God and therefore do not have other gods. But the fact is, we do have other gods. We do put other things before God. We don’t mean to. We don’t like to. It doesn’t seem that we do.

But we do.

When God says, “You shall have no other gods,” what does He mean? He means that anything that comes between Him and you is your god. He means that whatever you place before Him is you not believing in Him as your true Lord and Savior.

Am I saying that you’re not Christians, after all? That you don’t really believe in God? Yes, I am saying that. And yet, you do believe in God, don’t you. You who are Baptized and believe in Jesus as your Lord and Savior are Christians. So how can these two opposite things both be true? They are both true because in your heart you have other gods before the one true God and at the same time by God’s grace you believe with all your heart in the one true God.

If this doesn’t make sense, then you’re right where you need to be. It doesn’t make sense. The Bible makes no attempt to make sense out of it, and neither should we. Belief in God is not understanding that God exists and is the true God. Believing in God is trusting in Him above all things. And we don’t do that, do we? And yet, by God’s grace, we do.

If you wonder why Nathanael thought it was so amazing that Jesus knew him because He saw him under the fig tree, then you’re in the right position to be in. If you can’t figure out why Jesus said that this was so spectacular, then you’re right where you need to be. On the other hand, if you’re insistent on figuring this stuff out then that is your god. Yours is not the true God.

It’s fashionable among Christians to know God is real in your life because you feel it. It’s common in Christianity to go to great lengths to provide evidence for the truth of the Bible and the truth of Christ’s resurrection and so forth. There are strands in Christianity that state categorically that if things aren’t going well for you it’s because you don’t have enough faith. It’s sensible that if we clearly present the Gospel to others that they will “get it” and convert.

But these things become our gods. God gave us feelings, but we can’t rely on them. It’s valuable to build a case with the evidence for the truth of the Bible and the existence of God, but that’s not going to save anyone. If we think things should always go well for us, what need is there for faith? We are to share the Gospel with others, but should we expect that they will be converted? If they are not, do we despair of ourselves or of the Gospel?

Where is God in all these things? He’s not there. You can look for Him, but you won’t find Him. That’s why He’s given us the First Commandment. Because we are constantly having other gods. We don’t think we are. We may not mean to. But we are. We search for Him in all these other ways thinking that we’re finding God because it seems that it’s right in our hearts or we feel His power in our lives or we see the evidence of a person’s conversion because things are going so well for them now. These things are persuasive but have nothing to do with God. They have everything to do with us.

That’s what Nathanael wanted, wasn’t it? How can anything good come out of Nazareth? Certainly you can offer me something better than that. Surely this guy can’t be the real deal, I don’t feel anything special when you tell me about Him.

What should Philip do, then? Try to persuade him? Show him the evidence? Chide him for not having enough faith? We see a lot of that kind of stuff in the Church, don’t we? Maybe we do it ourselves, perhaps without even realizing it. We wonder why some don’t believe when we lay it all out for them. We’re amazed that people keep having the same problems in their lives even though they appear to be strong Christians. Perhaps your fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have left you feeling less sure of your faith in times where you need to be encouraged and strengthened.

Maybe Philip took the lazy way out. Let’s see, do I really want to take the time to explain things to this guy? I’ll just tell him to come see for himself. Actually, what Philip did was get out of the way. He let Jesus do the work. Far from taking the lazy way, Philip did exactly what Nathanael needed him to do: give him Jesus. Nathanael didn’t need Philip and all his evidence and persuasion and strong-arm tactics. He needed the Gospel. That’s it. The Gospel.

You shall have no other gods means exactly that. And when people need the Gospel, they need exactly that. They don’t need all kinds of other stuff that is only going to move them to place their trust in other things. They need the Gospel, which will instill in them faith, trust in the one true God. Because when you give them Jesus you give them everything they need.

And that’s why you have preaching. Not an extended Bible Study. Not a persuasive speech. Not a step-by-step of how to be a better Christian or parent or employee. Preaching. The Gospel. That’s what you need. It’s what Nathanael needed. It’s what Philip had received from Jesus and was now giving to Nathanael. Christ crucified is the Gospel. It has been preached for two thousand years. It will continue to be preached. Those who don’t want to hear it will content themselves with other gods. The one true God will keep giving you His Son, Christ and Him crucified. Come and see. Your Savior hung on the cross for all the world to see what good has come out of Nazareth. Only the salvation of the world.

Come and see, your Savior once again delivering Himself to you, this time not on a cross, but in bread and wine. You will find Him here. At His altar. Not in your heart, where your feelings reside and are ever so slippery. Here. At His altar. In bread and wine, delivered into your mouth so that you may not feel God’s presence but be forgiven of your sins. So that you may be strengthened in the faith He has given you in the Gospel. So that you may know that you don’t have to keep searching for evidence, or that your life is going pretty well, or whatever it is you seek from God. Come and see Him where He’s at and in the way He comes to you. His body hanging on the cross was tangible. His blood that was shed flowed freely. That very body and blood are given to you today in the Supper He has prepared for you.

Come and see. Don’t take the easy way out and seek comfort and strength in other gods through your feelings or evidence. Come and see the one who washes away your sins in the water of your Baptism. You will indeed feel very loved by your Lord at times. You will undoubtedly rejoice in how well things are going for you at times. You will certainly be strengthened by knowing that the evidence for Christ being true God is ample and overwhelming. But don’t seek these things for assurance. Know simply that you are Baptized. Know that your Lord has made you His own in your Baptism.

The whole episode of Jesus and Nathanael is odd, isn’t it? Nathanael scoffs at Philip’s invitation. And yet, Jesus appears to praise Nathanael as one who it without guile. Maybe a better way of saying it is that Jesus was commending Nathanael for being a straight shooter, he told it like it is. He wasn’t convinced. But that made no difference to Jesus. He doesn’t care which gods you place before Him, they’re all the same to Him. All He cares about is giving you what you need. And that’s Himself. It’s the Gospel. He never came to lay things out so that you could perfectly sort them out and understand them. He came simply to give you Himself. Come and see, just as Nathanael did. With Jesus you begin to see how foolish you were in all the different gods you sought after. You begin to see how grateful you are in how generous the true God is in inviting you to come and see Him in His Son. Amen.


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