Greater Things


A sermon preached January 14, 2018 at New Creation Church, Hagerstown, MD

I. A Passage of Great Reversal & Irony

As we continue to move from the manger of Jesus to the ministry of Jesus, we pass through Jesus’ calling of his disciples, particularly today Phillip and Nathanael. As we do, what we find is a passage of reversals and ironies. So, for instance, Philip says “we have found him of whom Moses wrote…” True enough, but what Philip seems to be forgetting is that just a verse earlier, Jesus personally sought him out and called him to follow him. And Nathanael meets Jesus with incredible prejudice with his now famous line, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” But by the end of the encounter, he’s ready to hail Jesus as Son of God and King! One of the great lessons that we learn from this passage is that no disciple ever “finds” Jesus, but is rather “found” by him. Amen? We should remember, John is writing about the Word [who] became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14) “to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Later in the John’s Gospel, Jesus will remind his disciples that “you did not choose me, but I chose you” (John 15:16). In the calling of the disciples in John 1, the Holy Spirit powerfully reminds us that Jesus is always the seeker and we are the sought after. He draws us into all that he is, not the other way around. That is the journey, that is what is unfolded to – more and more – every disciple. So with our time today, I want to focus in on what Philip, Nathanael, and their calling teach us about discipleship with Jesus.

II. Phillip (“horse lover” – vs. 43-46)

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.

A. We meet Phillip at three other places in the NT: at the feeding of the five thousand, when a request to see Jesus is brought to him by some Greeks, and in the Upper Room at the Last Supper (he asks Jesus to “show them the Father.”)

B. Jesus words to Phillip “follow me” show the authority of Jesus.

They have the sense of “get in line behind me” – think of a school teacher calling children into a single file line. Again, it emphasizes that Jesus is the one sovereignly doing the calling. He didn’t invite Phillip to make a decision about him, he called and Phillip followed.

C. Phillip’s discipleship journey teaches us that, typically, we come to Jesus on the arms of someone else, and in the fellowship of others.

Why is this so important? Its important because we need to be surrounded by folks who can help us to follow Jesus – hopefully some of whom are a little further down the road than we are. This is why our small groups are so important. You can come to Sunday morning without truly engaging with what happens (though I hope that’s never the case). In small groups, we’re forced to engage and wrestle with Jesus, with the Faith, just as Nathanael was by Phillip’s invitation. I want to encourage you to take every advantage to do so in your discipleship, too.

III. Nathanael (“God has given”) (vs. 47-50)

45 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.”

A. Nathanael comes to Jesus as an honest man with prejudice, but Phillip invites him to “come and see.”

J.C. Ryle writes, “Wiser counsel than this it would be impossible to conceive! If Philip had reproved Nathanael’s unbelief, he might have driven him back for many a day, and given offence. If he had reasoned with him, he might have failed to convince him, or might have confirmed him in his doubts. But by inviting him to prove the matter for himself, he showed his entire confidence in the truth of his own assertion, and his willingness to have it tested and proved. And the result shows the wisdom of Philip’s words. Nathanael owed his early acquaintance with Christ to that frank invitation, “Come and see.”

To be an effective evangelist, we do not have to have confidence in our ability to answer every objection, but we do have to have confidence in Jesus himself. In our invitation to others to discipleship, we would do well to follow Phillip’s example, inviting others to come and wrestle together with Jesus himself rather than just giving a pat answer or turning them away.

B. What is the point of Jesus comment about the fig tree? It is that Jesus knows him before he knows Jesus.

Truth is, we do not know what Nathanael was doing under the fig tree. Rabbis would say that when one studied the Law one was “sitting under the fig tree.” Fig trees were often used outside of (one room) homes as a place of refuge, meditation, and prayer. The point is, Jesus saw into Nathanael’s heart, his desires, in a way no one else could. This turns him from a doubter into a worshipper and a disciple. It’s a valuable lesson – Jesus did not know us from afar but drew us to himself with an intimate knowledge of all that we are. He can do the same for others. Indeed, we should pray for him to do the same for others.

IV. Greater Things (v. 51)

51 And 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.”

A. Why does Jesus say, “Truly, Truly”?

Because it is not you who will pronounce judgement on Jesus, but he on you. His use of “amen, amen” is without parallel in the Judaism of the day or the New Testament. We cannot pick and choose what we will receive from Jesus. To do so would be fail to recognize who he is. Nathanael began to see, even at that early hour, exactly who Jesus is.

B. Here, in verse 51, “you” switches from singular to plural – signifying that all his disciples will see this.

Now, a lot is going on here. Jesus is hearkening back to a story in the Torah about Jacob. In Genesis 28, Jacob had a dream about a ladder. The Lord stood above the ladder and angels were ascending and descending on that ladder. When Jacob awoke, he realized he had been with God and marked the spot as Bethel – the “House of God.” Why does Jesus do this? To emphasize to these fledging disciples that they will witness the fulfillment of everything they hoped for and longed for in the Scriptures. They will see, in him, the Lord not at the top of the ladder, but with them. They will see his death, his resurrection, his ascension, and they are graciously invited in to walk with him and believe upon him.

Jesus himself is the Gospel – Jesus himself and all of his works are the “greater things” that Nathanael is invited into. Everyone one of us as his disciples is invited into the same thing – the great adventure of knowing Christ more and more, day by day

I’m reminded here of Paul’s words to the Ephesians in Ephesians 3:17-19. He writes, “[I pray] that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

When invites us to know the breadth, the length, the height, and depth of the love of Christ, I think the clear implication is that they are, in fact, without measure. Great things, indeed.

I end with Matthew Smith’s hymn Thy Love To Me, based on a text by Mary C. Bishop Gates

Thy love to me, O Christ, Thy love to me
Not mine to Thee, I plead, not mine to Thee
This is my comfort strong, this is my only song,
Thy love to me, Thy love to me

Let me more clearly trace Thy love to me
See in the Father’s face His love to Thee
Know as He loves the Son, so dost Thou love Thine own
Help me to see Thy love to me

Thy record I believe, Thy word to me
Thy love I now receive, full, changeless, free
Love from the sinless Son, love to the sinful one
Thy love to me, Thy love to me

Immortal love of Thine, Thy sacrifice
Infinite need of mine only supplies
Streams of divinest power flow to me hour by hour
Help me to see Thy love to me

Immortal love of Thine, Thy sacrifice
Infinite need of mine only supplies
Streams of divinest power flow to me hour by hour
Help me to see Thy love to me
Help me to see Thy love to me

Thy love to me, O Christ, Thy love to me
Not mine to Thee, I plead, not mine to The

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ is the light of the world: Grant that your people, illumined by your Word and Sacraments, may shine with the radiance of Christ’s glory, that he may be known, worshiped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever. Amen

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