Sunday, January 15, 2012


Second Sunday after the Epiphany
January 15, 2012
 What do you do when you have been given a gift even when you don’t know it? This has happened. Jesus paid for the sins of the world. God has granted salvation to everyone.

Nathanael was given a gift. It was before he had done anything. In fact his reaction was not one that prompted any sort of reward. That’s why he wasn’t given a reward. He wasn’t given what was due him. He was given a gift. That’s what God does. He gives gifts. He doesn’t reward. He doesn’t act in justice. He doesn’t act fairly. What He does is give.

Actually, He does act in justice. His justice is meted out on His Son. That’s the gift. It’s a gift to you and me and to everyone.

There’s a word Jesus uses when He speaks to Nathanael: before. Before Philip called you I saw you. Before you knew Me I knew you. Before you saw Me I saw you. Jesus knows things about us we don’t. Jesus sees things in our lives we’re not aware of. Before Nathanael confessed faith in Jesus Jesus brought Him to faith. Before Philip told Nathanael about Jesus Jesus called Philip.

Before we are able to do anything for God God does something for us. Before we are even aware of God giving us a gift He gives it to us. We are unaware of our need for this gift, we are unaware we are given it. Before we are able to acknowledge it God already has great plans for us. Nathanael was in the process of writing Jesus off and Jesus went right on ahead with His gift He was giving to him. “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” These were Jesus’ words to him before Nathanael had done anything worthy of such a designation. It was plain to see that Nathanael deserved no such accolade. But Jesus isn’t in the business of giving accolades. He isn’t in the business of giving people what they deserve, either.

He’s in the business of giving gifts. A gift is something given. It’s something you receive regardless of whether you deserve it. A gift is something that is yours even before you know it’s yours. Jesus was giving Nathanael a gift. He was declaring Nathanael to be who he was in Jesus, the man standing before him. Jesus alone is the one who is the true Israelite, the one alone in whom there is no deceit. But in Christ, this is who we are as well. Nathanael was declared so by Christ Himself, before Nathanael did anything. Before Nathanael could prove anything or tell Jesus how much he believed in Him or loved Him, Jesus had already granted him faith. He had already given him the gift.

Jesus uses this word ‘before’ purposefully. Did Philip do something? You bet. Did Nathanael? Definitely. And that’s all well and good. We shouldn’t deny or downplay it. We don’t need to go down the road of, Now it’s not important here that Philip and Nathanael did something, we need to focus on what Jesus did. On the opposite end of the scale, we shouldn’t play the card of, Now Philip and Nathanael did absolutely nothing here, only Jesus did. These kinds of statements make us look foolish. Not only that, they go against the very words of the Bible.

Philip did something, he told Nathanael about Jesus. That’s a good thing! Nathanael did something, he confessed Jesus as his Lord and Savior. That’s a good thing! It’s not that they didn’t do something. It’s that there’s something that came before. That’s the thing we so often forget. The fact that they did something is because there was something that happened before they did the things they did. There was no evangelism work on the part of Philip to do without what Jesus had done. Jesus called Philip. There was no confession of faith on the part of Nathanael without what Jesus had done. Jesus declared him to be righteous.

Does it matter that you do not deserve anything good from God? Does it actually make a difference for you that anything you have received from God is the result of what He has done for you rather than what you have done for Him? Yes, it matters. It means everything that this is the way it is.

What this means for you first of all is that it is the way it is. To believe any differently is to be under the illusion that you do not at your core need God. To think that there is something within you that moves God to love you is to place yourself outside of the certainty of His grace and eternal salvation. To say that you are disposed to God is to fool yourself that you have any better view of God than Nathanael had. He wrote Jesus off and that’s exactly what you do in your heart.

To come to terms with this is necessary. It’s what repentance is made of. You stand before God broken, unworthy of anything good. You could fool yourself that you have a lot of good things in this life. You can convince yourself that you’re not that bad of a person, that God will love you because He wouldn’t reject someone who’s pretty good and does a lot of good things. You could reason that God has created you, that He is the Father of us all and He would not condemn you because He would not condemn His own. But this would lead you into the place where Nathanael was, outside of the grace of God because he removed himself from the grace of God. Left to himself Nathanael had a god that was exactly what Nathanael thought of Jesus: what good can come out of Nazareth? How can a God who comes as a man, and from a small town like Nazareth, be of any use to me? When you look to yourself that’s what you have—yourself. It’s only in Christ that you have the true God and full salvation.

Repentance is necessary. Nathanael’s response to Jesus’ gift, to His grace, was one of repentance. He saw that he had rejected God and the way God had come to him. He now realized that Jesus had come to him before he could do anything for Jesus. In the same way, Philip had realized that his life was not about himself but about the one who had called him. That’s why Philip was now pointing others to Jesus. Nathanael was now looking to the one who had likewise called him and had given him faith; faith to believe that He was his Lord and Savior. He now realized that everything he had done was nothing he was doing for God but simply response to what God had already done for him. Everything God had done for him was before anything and everything he had done or attempted to do for God.

That’s what it all means for you, but it’s not all that it means. It also means that it frees you up. It removes any burden of relying on yourself. It makes it possible for you to live in such a way where you don’t have the yoke of God’s commandments weighing on your shoulders; God’s watchful eye of your every move. It frees you up to simply be who you are. You are the same as Philip and Nathanael. You point others to Christ. You look to Him as your Lord and Savior.

Christ gives you a gift. Before you ever have a chance to do anything for him He frees up your time, your abilities, and your money. He frees you in your interactions with others. Basically, everything you do and who you are. You are free. Before you have an opportunity to try to do something for God and dig yourself deeper into your hole of sin and guilt you are already made free. The good that has come out of Nazareth is the one who sees you for who you are. You probably don’t like hearing that you have nothing of worthiness to offer to God or to do for Him. But it’s because of that that Jesus came from that backwater town of Nazareth to ascend the hill of Calvary and pay for every sin you have committed. Every attempt you have made to do something for God, it has all been redeemed. You are freed up. You can walk with a new step because your Lord has given you a new lease on life.

You have been given a gift. Maybe you didn’t really know that this is the way it is. Maybe you weren’t sure of the significance of it. Maybe you still wonder if it’s that big of a deal. It was for Nathanael and it is for you. How is it similar for you today that it was for Nathanael back then? What good can come from a small piece of bread and a sip of wine? I’ll just take the lead of Philip and say to you, “Come and see.” Here at this altar you will be in the presence of the Lord who has already seen you before you even knew He was around.

Was Jesus just another man from a small town in Galilee? Was there anything good that could come from there? We know the answer, the Bible tells us who He is. Yes, He was just another man, born just as you and I have been. But He was also the only one who is good, the only one in whom there was no deceit, the only one who could do what He did. He came from Nazareth in order to go to Calvary. You are far removed from that time and place. You haven’t been invited by Philip to come and see Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come only in that way. He comes here for you today, to you today. Is that bread and wine on this altar just any ordinary bread and wine? Yes, actually it is. What good can come from it though, is made known to you by Jesus’ own words about that bread and wine. It is His body and blood, that’s what He says. That’s what He gives to you.

Because of that you confess Him as your Lord and Savior as Nathanael did. Because of that you make Him known to others as Philip did and as Nathanael came to do. You don’t need to wake up each morning determining how it is you are going to get it together and make something of yourself for God. Simply rest in His grace He has already given you. Before you even awake, He holds you in His eternal care. Before you have a chance to falter and sin once again in your daily walk with Christ, you carry the knowledge that you are Baptized; a child of the Kingdom; a son or daughter of the Most High. He is your Lord and Savior because of what happened before you confessed Him as such: He came to you. He brought you a gift. He saved you.

Do you believe because of this? Yes, you do. And you will see greater things than these. You will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the very Son of Man. Can you hardly wait?


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