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On Christmas, God came down from heaven and became man. Which doesn’t mean that He stopped being God. If there’s one thing that God CANNOT DO it’s to stop being God. There is no such thing as ‘retirement’ for God. He always was, is, and always will be God, ruling the universe down to the tiniest detail with His almighty power.
But on Christmas, God became man. “The Word became flesh.” And for 30 years, for all appearances, God was just like us, soiling his diapers, eating, drinking, playing with other children, going to school, learning a trade, going to work, and sometimes just hanging out with the guys.
And no one ever suspected that Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph, was also the Son of God. No one would have ever thought to say what we just said about Him – He is “the only begotten Son of God, begotten by his Father before all worlds, God of God, light of light, true God of true God…” and so forth. He was just Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.
For 30 years, God’s divine nature was hidden under the cover of His human nature. But when He turns 30, things begin to change. What had been carefully hidden for 30 years now begins to be revealed.
At His baptism in the Jordan River, the sky is torn open and the Holy Spirit hovers over Him and the Father announces for all to hear, “You are my Son. With you I am well-pleased.” All your eyes can see is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. But by faith we believe that also Son of God – fully human, man through and through. But also the Son of God – fully divine, God through and through.
Here is the foundation of the Christian faith and of our salvation. It is not enough to say that you believe in God. That does not make you a Christian. Lot’s of religions that use the same Holy Scriptures as we do, say that they believe in God – Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, even Muslims to a certain extent. But none will say that JESUS IS GOD.
Only Christianity says that the man Jesus of Nazareth is both God and Man. His humanity taking nothing away from His divinity. He is fully God. His divinity taking nothing away from His humanity. He is fully Man. Two natures in one person. Not like two pieces of wood nailed together, one has no real influence over the other, but both natures communicating with each other in a perfect communion of God and Man in one person – and never to be separated again.
Here is the great stumbling block that causes many to stumble and fall. Here is the line that separates believer from unbeliever, saved from unsaved. It is easy to say, “I believe in God,” and many say it. But it’s hard to say, “I believe that Jesus of Nazareth IS the one true GOD in whom I believe.”
A. Matter of Logic and Reason
For some, it’s a matter of logic and reason. How can it be that the God who fills the universe is confined in a human body? How can it be that the God who created everything and sustains the whole creation from second to second, becomes a creature who must Himself be sustained with food that others provide for Him? How can the infinite be capable of the finite?
So Jesus cannot be God. He can only be a man. A GOOD man. A good example for us to imitate. And if we behave like Jesus, then God will be pleased with us too. Good luck with that. And what will you do when you ‘fall short?’
B. Matter of Expectations
For some, it’s a matter of expectations. We expect God to be ALMIGHTY. But Jesus is weak and powerless – just look at how He cannot defend Himself against the government and His own church, if He was really God He would not hang there by those nails, He would come down from the cross. We don’t expect God to die.
So, Jesus cannot be God. Not true God. He is not at all what we expect true God to be like.
C. Matter of Fear
For some, it’s a matter of fear. If Jesus is true God, then He really should be my LORD and I should trust Him and follow Him and obey Him. But this is the one thing that I am not willing to do.
So, Jesus cannot be God, because then I would have to quit worshipping all those other lords and other gods that I worship and submit to Him and His LORDSHIP over my life. And that I am not willing to do.
Even the devil knows that this is the crux of the matter. Immediately after His Baptism, Jesus goes into the wilderness to meet the devil who repeats his deadly mantra, “If you are the Son of God…”
The apostle John concludes his gospel saying that the whole point of everything that he has written is that “you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30).
F. Christmas and Epiphany
The goal of the season of Christmas is to show us that God became man, real man, fully human. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.
The goal of the season of Epiphany is to show us that this man, Jesus of Nazareth, is truly God. That’s why the season is structured the way that it is. It opens with Jesus’ Baptism and the voice of the Father declaring “This is my Son…” And it closes with His Transfiguration where the voice of the Father is once again heard to proclaim, “This is my Son…”
In our gospel this morning, Jesus found Philip. John tells us that Philip is from the village of Bethsaida, which literally means “house of fishermen.” It’s also where John and Andrew and Peter are from whom Jesus has also just recruited.
Jesus said to Philip, “Follow me.” And in his excitement, Philip found his friend Nathanael and said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Which sounds like a lot to conclude from, “Follow me.”
Certainly Philip did not yet understand what this call of Jesus asks of a person. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) Or as Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it, “When Jesus Christ calls a man saying, ‘come follow me,’ He calls him to come forth and die.”
One lesson that Philip would have a hard time learning as he follows Jesus of Nazareth is that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” (Col. 2:9)
As late as Maundy Thursday, after Jesus had washed the disciple’s feet in the Upper Room, Philip said to Jesus, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” He still was not convinced that Jesus is God.
There is a certain disappointment in Jesus’ voice as He replies. “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?” (John 14:8-10).
If Philip is the impulsive type who dives right in without asking any questions, his friend Nathanael is clearly the skeptical type who wants to test the water before making the jump. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Nathanael has searched the Scriptures. He knows his bible. It’s not that he has anything against Nazareth or people who come from there, but as far as he can tell, he can’t recall one passage in the Bible that says anything about the Messiah coming from Nazareth. And he’s right.
The prophet Micah identifies Bethlehem as the birthplace of the Christ. But Nazareth is never mentioned.
“Philip said to him, ‘come and see.’”
That’s “evangelism.” It doesn’t take big programs or lots of special training. It’s not nearly as hard or as threatening as we sometimes make it out to be. We don’t need to be able to answer every question or counter every objection. Just extend the invitation to “come and see.”
Nathanael is not from Bethsaida. John tells us that Nathanael lives in the village of Cana, which is just under 6 miles away.
“Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
That sounds like a compliment, and it is. ‘Deceit’ is nothing to be proud of. In the Old Testament, the master of ‘deceit’ is Jacob. Jacob ‘deceives’ his brother Esau out of his inheritance. And then Jacob deceives his father Isaac of his blessing. Later on, God gives Jacob a new name – just like He gave you a new name in your baptism. Jacob is given the name – Israel. And the descendants of Israel are Israelites.
Nathanael is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. What strikes Nathanael is that Jesus seems to know a lot about him for having never met him before.
“Nathanael said to Jesus, ‘How do you know me?’ And Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
Nathanael wonders, “who is this who knows me and claims to have seen me when there was no one present?”
This sounds strikingly similar to the call of Jeremiah. “Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jer.1:5).
J. Psalm 139
Nathanael’s amazement sounds like the Psalmists amazement in our Gradual for this morning:
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.
K. Nathanael’s Confession
“Nathanael answered Him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel.”
L. Jesus’ Response
Even Jesus seems pleasantly surprised by Nathaniel’s confession. “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree do you believe? You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Jesus said, “I saw you…” And Nathanael’s eyes were opened and he confessed Jesus to be the Son of God. And to this sight, Jesus adds even more sight. “You will see greater things than these.” Heaven open and Jesus of Nazareth descending with the holy angels and His divinity in full view. And every eye will see it.
There is always more to Jesus than meets the eye. The eye sees Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph the carpenter. Faith sees and confesses the same Jesus to be the Son of God, who opens heaven to sinners by His cross. He alone can make peace between God and man and He alone can reconcile God and man because he alone is the God / Man.
The eye sees bread and wine. Faith sees and confesses the body and the blood of Jesus Christ – true man and true God, His humanity and divinity together in perfect communion and you, as you ‘take and eat,’ and ‘take and drink,’ taken into this perfect communion with Him.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Absolutely!