Our text begins, “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’” (v. 43). Unfortunately our English does not do justice to the Greek. In our text, Jesus’ imperative to “Follow me” was meant as a kindly expression of continuous course of action, in other words, Jesus’ imperative to Philip was to “Keep following me.” Philip’s immediate response to Jesus’ call was to follow Him. A part of that following Jesus was that Philip went to find Nathanael. Picking up in our text, “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’” (v. 45). Notice how important the word “find” is in this text. Jesus found Philip. This suggests that He went out of His way to look for him and to find him. We might be reminded of the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin, and that Jesus our good shepherd always goes out of His way to find us. This, in turn, serves to remind us that it is God who takes the initiative in finding and calling us. He finds us, calling us through the Gospel even today. We do not find Him, and actually, because of our sinful nature, and contrary to what some people will tell you about those who are “seekers” or who are “seeking for Jesus,” we do not go looking for Him, we do not seek Jesus, we do not chose Him, but it is Jesus who comes looking for us, He finds us, He chooses us, He calls us to follow Him and His call to us is meant as an expression of continuous action as well, that is that we continue to follow Him.
Jesus’ words to Philip are an imperative, not a harsh imperative, but a kind imperative. But Jesus’ words are not just an imperative issued to Philip, they are an imperative issued to us today. Jesus seeks, finds and calls us to faith through the means of His Holy Word as well as through the means of the sacraments, that is Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Through these means, the Word and the Sacraments we are called by Jesus to “follow Him” that is to “keep following Him.” Philip’s going out, then, exemplifies the way we are to keep following Jesus, that is the way we are to go out and find others who do not know Jesus and call them to follow and to keep following Jesus as well.
Philip’s message to Nathanael was a simple message, he says, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Philip’s message is clear. He believes he has found the unmistakable fulfillment of the prophecies of the Christ pictured in the Old Testament in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We know that without Jesus, the Old Testament books, the writings of Moses and the prophets would be nothing, but here Jesus is, the fulfiller of these prophecies. He is the One promised, having come in the flesh.
Nathanael’s response was, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Surely Nathanael knew the prophecies that the Savior would be born in Bethlehem and he probably figured that since Jesus was known as coming from Nazareth, that would leave Him out as being a candidate for Messiahship. Philip’s answer to Nathanael is a true witness, even a true evangelistic example to us today. We know that no one can be argued into religion, let alone faith, and Philip knows it too. So, he makes no attempt to argue him into belief, but simply offers the invitation, again as an imperative, to “Come and see.” What a powerful evangelist Philip is. What a powerful witness he makes with just three little words. Certainly we are aware of the fact that we cannot argue, convince, or talk anyone into believing in Jesus. Most of us probably feel like we are not evangelists and that we cannot share our faith with others. But we can follow Philip’s witnessing technique. We can offer the invitation, by a kind imperative, to “Come and see,” as Philip did. What a powerful evangelist we are and what a powerful witness we make when we simply offer the invitation to come and see Jesus. Come and see Jesus in divine service with us. Come and see Jesus in His Word, the Bible, knowing that the Holy Spirit works through that Word to bring them to faith and trusting that He will do so.
Nathanael takes Philip up on his invitation and comes to meet Jesus. Our text continues, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’” (v. 47). My first question and probably yours is “What is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit?” Nathanael was a part of the remnant of the children of Israel who were not looking for an earthly savior and king, but were looking for a heavenly king. The promise to send a Savior, a Messiah that was given way back in the Garden of Eden, which was reiterated to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so on down through history had by this time come to be just a “promise,” an unfulfilled promise, to a lot of Israelites. For some, like the scribes and Pharisees, the promise had been twisted and made a forgery. It had been made to be a promise for earthly salvation from their oppressors, namely the Romans at this time. There was, however, a remnant that clung to the promises of a spiritual, or heavenly Savior and Messiah and Nathanael was a part of this remnant. This is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.
Our text continues, “48Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ 49Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’” (v. 48-49). Nathanael, whose name means “given by God,” is convinced of Jesus identity simply (I say simply) by Jesus word that He had seen him before he was approached by Philip. This is one of the signs and wonders Jesus used to show that He was the Messiah. Nathanael then makes a confession that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus truly is the Lord Himself. He also confesses that he believes that Jesus is the King of Israel, not as an earthly king, but as a heavenly king, in other words, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.
Jesus response: “50Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man’” (v. 50-51). Nathanael seems easily convinced. Would that all people would be so easily convinced. Jesus here calls Himself the Son of man. In so doing He identifies Himself as one of us, that is He is a true human being. When He came down to earth, He humbled Himself giving up all the glory that was His as true God in heaven, being born of a woman, and became a man so that He could offer Himself as a sacrifice for us on the cross. The picture He paints here might remind us of the angels descending and ascending on the ladder in Jacob’s dream. We remember that Jacob named the place “Bethel,” meaning “the house of the God.” Jesus is God here on earth, therefore wherever Jesus went, there was the house of God.
Our text for this morning is a wonderful reminder of what you have been hearing from me over the past number of years, especially concerning God’s call to faith and our response of faith. Contrary to what some preachers preach suggesting that we need to find God, John tells us that it is God who finds us. It is God who is the prime mover. It is God who initiates. It is God who calls us to life at conception. It is God who calls us to faith through Holy Baptism as well as through His Holy Word. It is God who calls, gathers and enlightens us and the whole Christian Church on earth. It is God who gives faith, forgiveness and life.
It is also God who calls us to our vocations. It is through our vocations that we respond to the faith our Lord has given to us by serving Him through our service to others. In other words, it is through our vocations such as that of mother or father, brother or sister, aunt or uncle, teacher or learner, employer or employee; our vocations such as salesman or engineer, baker or doctor, nurse or lawyer, laborer or plumber, electrician or carpenter, farmer or architect, truck driver or fisherman, beautician or waiter, whatever our vocation, as we are serving others we are serving the Lord. God calls us to be priest in the priesthood of all believers. Remember, the role of the priest is to offer sacrifices. Our pastor does not offer sacrifices. As priest we do offer sacrifices, that is we offer our lives as living sacrifices to the Lord. The way we live our lives shows forth the faith that is in our hearts. As others see our lives as living sacrifices, then we are to be always ready to give an answer for the hope that we have in the Lord. Of course we are ready as the Holy Spirit gets us ready through our regular and diligent use of the means of grace, being in divine service and Bible class as well as reading our Bible on our own and having personal and family devotions. Thus, to follow Phillip’s example in our text, as the Lord has found us and made us His through the waters of Holy Baptism, so we are moved to live lives of faith so that when we are asked concerning our faith our response might well be, “Come and see.” Come and see Jesus in divine service with me. Come and see Jesus in Bible Class with me. Come and see Jesus in His Word with me. It is not we who are giving faith or calling to faith, rather it is God who initiates. It is God who calls and His call is through His Word, either spoken by us, read by our friend or spoken by our pastor in divine service and Bible Class. We are merely the conduit through which God works through His means of grace.
It is God’s will that all people come to faith and are saved. Jesus invites us through His word with the kind imperative to follow Him and to keep on following Him. Through the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we do come to faith and we do follow Him. By the power of the Holy Spirit working through the means of grace we respond to His great love for us by following Philip’s example of inviting others with the imperative to “come and see” our Savior, also in His Word. We do not convince, argue, or talk anyone into faith, but simply invite them to come and see and let the Holy Spirit do the rest. May the Holy Spirit work through your daily devotions, Bible reading, Divine Service, and Bible class attendance to continue to strengthen you in your faith making you always ready to give an answer for the hope that you have in Jesus, and move you to say, to God be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.