mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior,
Jesus Christ. Amen
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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of
Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46)
You can almost see the sneer. You can almost hear the
snort. You can almost feel the condescension—the skepticism—in his voice, even
though we’re nearly 2,000 years removed from the event. Nathanael is
approached by Philip with amazing and wonderful news: The Savior, the Messiah
promised by God’s word and God’s prophets, has come to the people Israel at last!
But Nathanael’s reaction to the Gospel isn’t much
different from most of modern humanity’s reaction, is it? Pretty much a: “Yeah,
right…whatever,” sort of response. In Nathanael’s case, he throws in a
little bit of ethnic and geographic prejudice toward Nazareth, just for good
Nathanael’s skepticism doesn’t dampen Philip’s enthusiasm,
though. Philip doesn’t slink away, discouraged. He doesn’t stomp off, angry
at the rejection. He doesn’t adopt the “Well, if you won’t listen to me
telling you the Gospel, to hell with you, then,” sort of attitude that too
many self-styled Christians have toward those who don’t eagerly and immediately
Instead, Philip calmly and pleasantly makes a simple
suggestion to his friend: “Come and see.” No pressure; no
chastisement; no guilt. Just: “Come and see.”
You see, Philip had been reached by the words of
Christ, and he trusted those words, and he trusted that Christ’s words would
have a similar effect on Nathanael, which of course, they did—and dramatically,
as we have already heard in our Gospel lesson.
Some of you may already be asking yourself the
question, “If this is the Feast of St. Bartholomew, why does this fellow
Nathanael have such a prominent place in the reading? Where’s Bartholomew?”
Well, in all honesty, I actually did a double-take the first time I pulled up
the lessons for today, too.
It took a brief moment for my aging and ever-slowing
mind to connect the dots and realize, “Oh, yeah… that’s the same guy.”
It’s one of those many places where Scripture throws us a little bit of a
change-up on names. It’s sort of like the issue with Peter, Simon, and Cephas
all being the same fellow, or where the Lord changes Jacob’s name to Israel, and so on.
In this case, it seems that “Bartholomew” was most
likely a formal or derivative form of the man’s family name—possibly like
calling someone today “Smithey” or “Jonesy.”
On the other hand, unlike the other three Gospel
writers—Mark, Luke, and Matthew—St. John was a fellow fisherman on the Sea of Galilee, and may have been quite familiar with Nathanael. He alone among the evangelists
calls St. Bartholomew by his given name.
Yet the important thing about Nathanael or Bartholomew
in our text today is not what we call him, but the fact that Jesus
called him, using Philip as His instrument to convey the Gospel. The events
that we read about here come as part of the early but continuing process of
Jesus beginning to gather those who were to become His followers. These
disciples, who eventually would be sent forth to communicate that same Gospel
to those they would encounter in their lives.
At the beginning of this series of events, the
testimony given about Jesus as the Lamb of God by John the Baptist had
convinced two men who were his own disciples at the time, John and Andrew, to
follow Christ. Andrew had, in turn, brought Simon to Jesus, where the latter
was told that his new name would be Peter, or Cephas—the Rock. Jesus had then
called Philip with the simple but powerful words, “Follow me.”
No doubt Philip had learned, previously or during the
course of this same day that he was called by the Lord, a great deal about who
Jesus was, and about His teachings on the kingdom of God. Philip is so moved
and excited by this Gospel message that he then seeks out Nathanael to share
this news. Here, in contrast to Nathanael’s subsequent initial reaction, we
can almost see and hear and feel the glee and joy of Philip as he tells his
friend, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets
The promises and the hope of centuries—not just the
hope of Israel, but the hope of all the offspring of Adam and Eve—was coming to
its full culmination and fruition, in this Jesus who had grown up in tiny,
backwater Nazareth. Salvation from the venom of sin and the sting of death was
being given to mankind by its ever-loving, ever-faithful Creator. Nathanael’s
response to the news might as well have been a bored yawn.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” For that matter, can anything good come out of Austin? Out of this congregation? Out of you? Or have you reached that point of
cynicism and boredom where your Christian faith, your trust and hope in the
Gospel message of the salvation that has been prepared for you in Jesus, just
isn’t all that exciting anymore?
Do you come here on Sunday morning out of habit,
rather than motivation? Out of guilt, rather than joy? Do you shower, and
dress, and endure the car ride because you’re pushed to be here by
others in your family?
Or are you drawn here—pulled here—because you
recognize your sinfulness and your weakness? Do you really understand your
desperate need for forgiveness, and come here, seeking the distribution of that
forgiveness in Word and Sacrament?
This early part of this Gospel lesson, where Philip’s
enthusiasm is met with Nathanael’s scoffing, is a small microcosm of what is
happening throughout the course of Jesus’ ministry: Jews and others who paid
attention to the Scriptures, who searched them to understand God’s purposes and
received His message with open hearts, accepted Jesus as the Messiah. Others,
who either ignored the Scriptures or saw them as merely an historical account
of the people of Israel, or a prescription for morality, or a model for the
governance of society, didn’t receive that offered grace in faith.
So it remains today. God’s Word continues to reach
many people, and to be rejected by many others. Even within many religious
circles, the Bible has been reduced to merely a collection of myths and
embellished historical events, or a handbook for trying to determine “what
would Jesus do,” or a manual on how America should behave in order to please
But God didn’t leave Nathanael wallowing in his
skepticism, or else we wouldn’t be observing the Feast of St. Bartholomew
today. Nathanael had a friend in Philip, a good friend who had faith in Jesus.
And Philip had a calm confidence about his faith; confidence that allowed him
to simply offer Nathanael the opportunity to “Come and see.”
It’s a classic example of “relationship evangelism,” which—if you think about
it—is the only sort of evangelism there really is.
After all, it’s difficult for anyone to start any
relationship—let alone the sort of “personal relationship with Jesus Christ”
that we know is essential to saving faith—unless there’s been some sort of
introduction. How much better when that introduction has been made, and that
relationship has been established through the work and the words of someone who
already knows Jesus!
In Philip’s interaction with Nathanael, we begin to
see how evangelism works best: It’s a personal thing. Whether one-on-one or
on a large scale, it’s about establishing, developing, and then using
relationships, in order to share the Good News about Jesus with family,
friends, acquaintances, and colleagues. If Nathanael hadn’t known and trusted
Philip to some extent, do you think he would have been inclined to follow
Philip to Jesus, to “come and see”? Who do you know that
needs to come here, to this place, to see and hear and touch and taste that the
Lord is good? Do they trust you enough to come? Do you trust the Lord enough
All Philip did was to speak quiet, calm, patient
words, giving his clear testimony about Christ. It wasn’t some personal
“experience” story about how he once was a sinner but now had come to Jesus.
Rather, Jesus had come to Philip, and now Philip gave witness to the fact that
Jesus was the Messiah, the promised Savior. This confidence—and the gentle,
unthreatening way Philip presented the Gospel to him—convinced Nathanael to set
aside his skepticism for a while, and to at least see what this Jesus was all
Jesus saw Nathanael coming, and of course Jesus knew
everything about him. He knew that Nathanael had been skeptical when Philip
first spoke to him, and that he had made no attempt to hide it. In all
honesty, but perhaps with a tone of good-natured teasing, Jesus declares, “Behold,
an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” For his part,
Nathanael is a bit standoffish, maybe even still quite a bit cynical. “How
do you know me?” he asks.
It was then that the words of Jesus, the Word of the
Living God, had their effect on Nathanael. In demonstrating His power and His
omniscience by telling Nathanael, “Before Philip called you, when you
were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus convinced Nathanael that He
was indeed the one about whom Moses and all the prophets wrote. He was the
Messiah, the Son of God, the King of Israel. That is Nathanael’s great
In the speaking and the hearing of the Word of God, a
skeptic became a disciple. A fisherman became an apostle. A sinner became a
Nothing good can come out of Nazareth, out of Austin, or out of any us—at least, not on account of any goodness in those places or in
the people themselves. But great good, great wonders, and the miracles
of forgiveness, salvation, and life eternal do flow from God, from His Church
that He uses to convey His Gospel, and from the faith He has bestowed on sinful
and often skeptical people like you and me.
Today we commemorate Nathanael—St. Bartholomew—in the
certain understanding that he, too, carried no inherent goodness within
himself. Yet we celebrate the gifts God gave him, that he—like Philip before
him—then conveyed a clear and uncompromising testimony that Jesus of Nazareth
was the promised and prophesied Christ, the Son of God.
May our confession of Jesus as Messiah and Lord, like
St. Bartholomew’s, remain faithful unto death, and may all our doubts and
questions always be fully answered in the trustworthy Word of God. God grant
it for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
Now may the peace of God, which surpasses all human
understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.