You Will See Greater Things
The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and 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." And 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 is no deceit!" Nathanael said to Him, "How do You know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you." Nathanael answered and said to Him, "Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" Jesus answered and said to 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, "Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man."
What is the greatest thing you have ever seen? Is it a physical wonder such as the Grand Canyon or Niagara Falls? Perhaps it is made-made, such as the Panama Canal or the Egyptian Pyramids? When you have seen Jesus, you have seen greatness beyond measure. In addition to this, you have a promise of even greater things to come.
This weekend we have many things happening. There are the baptisms of Mackenzie and David. This weekend in Rally Day when we shift our Sunday School classes to their new grades. Today we are also installing two new teachers and recognizing the faculty of our school as a new year begins. On top of all of that August 24 is the date when we celebrate the life and faith of St. Bartholomew. Today we are going to come to Jesus through His ministry to this man. Saints are important. From the Bible we know that all believers in Christ are saints. The word "saint" means "holy one." Holiness comes from the forgiveness of sins. But it is true that some believers leave a special legacy that should be noted. Saints are not our prayer partners, but they are our examples. They give us a pattern to follow as they followed Jesus.
Bartholomew is the same as Nathanael. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke he is called Bartholomew (which is what we would call a "last name").1 In John he is called Nathanael. His conversion, along with that of Philip, leaves us with some important lessons.
I. The Calling of Philip (John 1.43-46)
In these verses I want to begin by pointing out that Jesus "found Philip," and He said to him, "follow Me." This is one of the heartbeats of the Christian faith. Most rabbis in Jesus’ day waited for disciples to come to them. They "applied" so to speak to become students or disciples. Jesus, instead, goes out and directly seeks certain men to be His disciples. In the same way it is important to see that the God of the Bible is one who goes out and seeks. The Christian religion is not one that teaches we must find our own way to God. Rather God, out of His great love, comes to us. Philip then goes out to find Nathanael, and so the heartbeat of the Christian faith rolls on.
Philip tells Nathanael that we have found the One that Moses and the prophets had promised. He doesn’t understand everything about God and salvation, but what he does believe he shares with Nathanael. All of us have someone or several people in our lives to thank because they have been a Philip to us. They told us what they believed, and God used them to bring us to faith in Jesus. My parents were the most important "Philips" to me. But there were others. I’d like to tell you about one this morning. His name was Mr. Morris. He was my Junior High Sunday School teacher. Mr. Morris was a big man, a farmer with the strongest hands I’d ever seen. He told us a lot of stories about World War II that I loved to hear. But most importantly he told us about Jesus. Mr. Morris gave up his time with his adult friends to be with us. Sometimes he probably wanted to wrap those big hands around our rowdy necks, but through it all God used him to strengthen my faith. We can all give thanks for the people who have been like a Philip to us. One of the best ways is to continue to be a Philip yourself—telling others what God has taught you about Jesus.
Now you noticed that Nathanael wasn’t too excited about Jesus. We shouldn’t be surprised. The Bible tells us that the "mind of the flesh is hostile to God."2 Most people don’t jump on board with Jesus immediately. But Philip does the right things. First, he simply tells Nathanael what he has come to believe. Second, for the remaining questions that Nathanael has, Philip says "come and see." When I meet someone who is struggling in their faith or lack of faith, I have really one word of advice—continue looking to God’s word for answers and for help. The Bible tells us that "faith comes by hearing."3 I mentioned that we are going to be installing new teachers in our Christian school in this service. You can say a lot of things about a Lutheran school. It may have high standards and lots of love. But the most important thing about a Lutheran school is that it is a "come and see Jesus" kind of place. Jesus is the center of everything. When all is said and done, the best thing we can do in this life is bring people to Jesus.
II. Nathanael Meets Jesus (47-48)
As Nathanael is approaching, Jesus says about him "an Israelite in whom there is no deceit." What is the significance of this? It was customary for faithful Jews to dedicate time each day for prayer and meditation. Most likely Nathanael was resting under the fig tree and praying. Like most people in that day he was probably had many psalms and portions of the Bible memorized. As he recited those passages in his prayers so he thought about his relationship with God. Perhaps he was thinking about salvation and the Messiah. At any rate Nathanael was doing one thing of great importance in his prayers- he was honestly repenting and coming clean before God. He may have been meditating on Psalm 32.2 which says, "Blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, in whose spirit there is no deceit." As he approached Jesus, he was surprised that Jesus could read his heart. Jesus didn’t just know his name—Jesus knew him—He knew his heart and faith. This, along with all the other things he had begun to see in Jesus, turned his heart in faith.
Now I want to pause here and say something very important. This is the heavy hand of the law here… God will do nothing with you if you remain dishonest with Him. The Bible says, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart, these O God, You will not despise."4 The first part of faith is that true and honest repentance that Jesus saw in Nathanael. We cannot hide things from God, and also expect to see His work of grace in our life.
III. Nathanel Responds and Jesus Responds
Nathanael responds with a great confession of faith, "You are the Son of God, the King of Israel." These titles are loaded with messianic tone. Nathanael saw who Jesus really was—the one that all the Hebrew Scriptures from Moses to the Prophets said was coming to bring salvation to Israel and to the world.
Jesus then gives Nathanael and us and even greater promise. "Greater things that this you will see… 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 me ask you something here. I’m not going to ask you to raise your hand or saying thing out loud. I just want you to think about this in your heart. Do you recognize a certain Bible story in what Jesus just said? Something heaven opened and angels ascending and descending? If not, I’d like to give you a personal invitation to adult Bible study. There’s nothing wrong when we are somewhat ignorant of the Scriptures. Nobody is born knowing these things. But it is a tragedy when we allow ourselves to remain ignorant. On the other hand it is truly amazing when you can see how all these things fit together. Jesus wants us to be familiar with God’s word, and we will be blessed to have that knowledge. Jesus is referring to the story of Jacob. Jacob went to sleep. He used a rock for his pillow. That night he had a dream of a ladder that reached up to heaven. Angels were ascending and descending on the ladder. Jesus is confirming Nathanael’s confession. He (Jesus) is the fulfillment of all the promises of salvation that God said would come through Israel. Jacob got his name from his father. But God called him "Israel." Through him the nation of Israel was formed from his twelve sons—the twelve tribes of Israel. Jesus truly is the Messiah, the One God promised to send to be the final sacrifice for sins and for the salvation of the whole world. Jesus is the one who opens heaven for us!
Shortly before His death on the cross, Jesus was reviewing all these things with His disciples. They had difficulty understanding what it all meant. No doubt the faith they had was being tested. Sometimes they wavered a little. Philip pops up again in John 14 with a very profound question. He said to Jesus, "just show us the Father." I think Philip was a very ordinary guy. His name literally means, "one who loves horses." A modern day Philip might be a guy who loves GM trucks (or Ford or Dodge…). The point is Philip asks the questions that we all ask. "Just show us the Father…" Just give us some kind of spectacular vision that will make everything clear. Jesus responded to Philip. "The one who has seen Me has seen the Father."5
What is the greatest thing you have ever seen? Nothing will be greater than the person of Jesus, God’s Son and the King of Israel. He is your salvation and mine. It is a privilege for us to see Him in the word, and it is a blessing to believe in Him. No one who does will ever be disappointed. "You will see greater things than these." Amen.
(1) Bartholomew is always coupled with Philip - Matthew 3.10, Mark 3.18, Luke 6.14. Here in John they are obviously coupled together. Bartholomew is also mentioned right after Thomas in Acts 1.13. In John 21.2 Nathanael is mentioned after Thomas. The name "Bartholomew" means "son of Talmai." Talmai was the King of Geshur. One of his daughters became a wife to David (1 Chr 3.2). (2) Romans 8.7 (3) Romans 10.17 (4) Psalm 51.17 (5) John 14.8-9
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost, St. Bartholomew
August 24, 2003
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2003
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