Epiphany 2b

Preached: January 18, 2015

Recapture Genuine Joy in Jesus
John 1:43-51

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit draws us to Jesus is John 1.

The next day Jesus decided to head out for Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, where Andrew and Peter were from.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him whom Moses wrote about in the Law and the Prophets also wrote about: Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”

Nathanael said to him, “What good could come from Nazareth?”

“Come and see,” Philip told him.

Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and talked about him, “See, he’s truly an Israelite, in whom there is no deceit.”

Nathanael said to him, “From where do you know me?”

Jesus replied and said to him, “Before Philip called you while you were under the fig true, I saw you.”

Nathanael replied to him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.”

Jesus replied and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, you believe. You will see greater things than these.” And he says 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.” (John 1:43-51)

This is the Word of the Lord

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

How eager the players were as the basketball season began! Those first games brought such excitement and fun. But as the season wore on, the joy diminished. The stress of juggling homework, family, friends, and practice built up. They wondered whether it was worth all the effort, especially when they lost a game. They still played hard and did their best, but the joy wasn’t the same. When the season finally ended, they were ready for a break.

So many things in life lose their luster after the initial excitement. Even our Christian life can feel dull and routine. The text today reminds us of the joy of knowing Jesus, as we see Philip and Nathanael meet him. Philip’s joy can’t keep quiet. He has to go and find Nathanael. And even after Nathanael questions how Philip’s news could be true, Philip’s joy can’t help but invite him, “Come and see” (John 1:46 NIV11). Then when Nathanael meets Jesus, his joy exclaims, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49 NIV11). Let’s recapture this genuine joy in Jesus.

A. Separation?

An old saying says, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” We see that in the basketball illustration earlier. Taking a break from a sport can make us all the more eager for it. Skipping a meal makes us hungrier for the next. Even being away from someone dear to us can help us appreciate how precious and important they are, since when they’re with us we so easily take them for granted.

So is this the solution to recapture genuine joy in Jesus? Do we need to plan times of separations: times when we don’t come to church, or don’t read the Bible, or don’t take Lord’s Supper, or don’t think about our Baptism, or don’t talk to him in prayer? Then would we appreciate him all the more?

There’s a certain appeal in that line of thinking. Experience appears to back it up. Maybe you’ve known someone who had fallen away from church and when they came back they had more joy, zeal, and energy for the Lord’s work than they ever did before. Or maybe you’ve noticed that when you’ve been away from church or the Lord’s Supper awhile, it seems all the more meaningful when you make it back. I’ve noticed in myself that when I’ve neglected daily Bible reading, finally getting back to it has more spark than when I had trailed off. So is separation good? Is that how to recapture genuine joy in Jesus?

Well, so far we’ve been using human analogies and experiences, maybe we should turn to what Jesus says. He says to Philip, “Follow me” (John 1:43 NIV11). He doesn’t say, “Follow me until you need a break.” He doesn’t say, “Follow me, but not too closely.” He says, “Follow me. Follow me from this point onward. Follow me continuously and always. Follow me.” In fact, the most terrifying words of Jesus are the opposite. They are when he says, “Depart from me” (Matthew 7:23; 25:26). Separation is not part of his plan for his people.

How closely does he want us to follow him? In John 15 he says, “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5 NIV84). “Remain in me, and I will remain in you” (John 15:4 NIV84). You know what happens to branches when they’re separated from the vine. Figuring we need a little time-off from Jesus is playing with fire. In fact, God threatens that if people keep neglecting his word, he will take it away. Then what hope is left? Separation is not how to recapture genuine joy in Jesus.

But what about those experiences when after a time of absence from God’s word or sacrament, it seems more meaningful? That joy, dear friends, is due to God’s mercy. Don’t give separation the credit for it. Even though we wandered, the Shepherd found us again, put us on his shoulders, and brought us back. What joy! We see how sinful our negligence had been and what joy that the Lord forgives us once again and even gives us his body and blood to drive out our doubts. Why abuse his grace and tempt his mercy by choosing to have a time of separation from him? If you really want to talk about real world experience, how many have taken time off from God and never come back? Don’t tempt God. Don’t confuse joy in God’s grace welcoming back even a sinner like me with the false human notion that time off or separation from God can make us appreciate him more. That’s not how to find joy.

How do we do it then? How do we recapture genuine joy in Jesus?

B. Contemplation

Let’s go back to John 1. Where did the genuine joy in following Jesus come from? If we look at the verses leading up to the text, the first disciples were drawn to Jesus by the testimony of John the Baptist. He pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV84).

Next consider Nathanael reaction to Jesus’ words: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree” (John 1:48 NIV11). What was Nathanael thinking about under that fig tree? We aren’t told, but whatever it was, the connection Jesus makes, leads him to exclaim with joy, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49 NIV11). So, dear friends, it would be in line with the Scriptures to suppose that Nathanael was contemplating God’s words of promise about the Messiah, the divine King.

Nathanael certainly was well-versed in the Scriptures. That’s why he knew that the Old Testament did not directly name Nazareth in connection with the Messiah, and so he questioned how the fulfillment of God’s good promises could come from Nazareth. He was certainly devoted to God’s Word. Why else would Jesus says about him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit” (John 1:47 NIV11)? Nathanael wholeheartedly filled his mind and soul with God’s truth.

What truths does God’s Word bring us? What could Nathanael have been contemplating and mulling over under the fig tree? How much he needed the Messiah! He could see his sin. God’s word made that clear. He needed the Lamb of God, not just the sacrificial lambs offered day after day. He needed the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Nothing less could remove guilt. Nothing else could bring him close to God. He needed the Messiah, the anointed Savior-King, promised to Adam and Eve, to Noah, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David. And here he was, right in front of his eyes! “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel” (John 1:49 NIV11). What joy!

But there would be even greater joy. Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ’heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man” (John 1:51 NIV11). Nathanael would see the prophecies unfold as Jesus himself bridged the chasm between us and heaven. Our sin barred us from heaven. But Nathanael would witness Jesus taking away all sin by sacrificing himself as the Son of Man in our place on the cross. As the sacrificial Lamb of God, Jesus opened paradise to all who believe. Your sin is pardoned, forgiven because of Jesus. Heaven is your home. Only Jesus brings his people there.

And that’s how we, dear friends, recapture genuine joy in Jesus, isn’t it? You don’t need a fig tree, but like Nathanael contemplate God’s Word. Let God’s Law expose the depth of your sinfulness. So often our joy in Jesus diminishes because we fail to fully see how bad our own sin is. So part of contemplation is looking deep into my own heart, but not with the rose colored glasses of humanity. Look at your heart through the microscope of God’s Commandments. Contemplate how great a sinner you actually are when compared to God’s holiness.

Then what joy to see Jesus! Come and see! Contemplate what he has done for you. Contemplate how he, the Son of God, came down from heaven to raise you from the depths of your sin. Come and see! Contemplate his body that carried every last one of your sins to the cross. Contemplate his blood poured out for you, the blood of the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. Contemplate his forgiveness that reconciles you to God. Come and see! Contemplate your adoption into God’s family. Contemplate your inheritance in Christ. Contemplate how he reigns in your heart through his Word and how you reign with him forever. Come and see, and so recapture genuine joy in Jesus. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313