Can Anything Good Come out of Nazareth (John 1)
- Order of Service: Prayer & Preaching
- Hymns: LSB #398, (248), 537, 397
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)
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” These are the first recorded words of the Apostle named Nathanael. No one of any importance had ever come out of Nazareth. It was a suburb of Sepporis. And that wasn't all that spectacular. Nathanael and Philip were citizens of Bethsaida. A port city on the Sea of Galilee. An exporter of fish among other things. Nazareth was nothing in comparison. But the ultimate good came out of it.
Philip had found the Messiah. The One promised in the Law and the Prophets. He was absolutely sure of it. And all it took was a simple, “Follow Me.” Just like Peter, Andrew, James and John. Jesus spoke with authority. Not with a supposed and imposed authority based on an office. He spoke with an authority all His own. An authority that made them believe because the Holy Spirit came through His spoken Word. Just as it does when we read the printed Word on the pages of our Bibles. Philip had heard God's Word. Philip knew the Scriptures. He knew that God had promised a Prophet like Moses would come. This promised Prophet would be the One who would bring God's Word back to Israel.
A Word that would be absent for a while. A time very similar to Samuel's time. “The word of the LORD was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision.” “Samuel did not know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” We heard Samuel's call to be the LORD's prophet, but he was not the anticipated Prophet. His lifetime would be another where they “waited patiently for the LORD; He inclined to me and heard my cry.” God's promised Prophet hadn't arrived yet, but God was still listening to His people's prayers. They took comfort from the question, “Where shall I go from Your Spirit?” The answer is simple, “Nowhere.” You cannot go anywhere where the Holy Spirit is not present. But the Word may not be heard by the people. Like all the generations before him, Philip was another who was waiting for God's Word to be fulfilled. He was living in another time when “the Word of the LORD was rare.” “'Behold, the days are coming,' says the Lord GOD, 'when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of the hearing the words of the LORD.'” A time like Samuel's had come again. God's Word had been ignored for over four centuries. It was bantered about and almost worshipped, but most did not listen.
But when Jesus said, “Follow Me,” Philip obeyed. When he saw the promised Prophet standing before him, he had to tell his friend Nathanael. Nathanael doubted when he heard Philip's words. In his mind, there are strict requirements for the Prophet: He must be born in Bethlehem. He must be a descendant of David. He will speak God's Word purely.
How could a man from Nazareth fit these criteria? After all, families were well-established and deeply rooted in the same area. Very rarely did a person move away from the town of their birth. Usually only for educational purposes. In fact, this was the case for most every generation before the Baby Boomers. Then, the spreading out of the family, across the country and around the world, became more prevalent. No longer do multiple generations of families live in close proximity to each other. You can live in Minnesota and have parents in South Dakota and cousins in Iowa. Children can live in Texas and Florida. Families are no longer bonded to a single place by necessity.
This Jesus was from Nazareth, not Bethlehem. But that does not rule out His being born in Bethlehem. After all, there was Caesar's census about thirty years prior. Everyone had to return to the town of their ancestors for registration. And it took years to assemble everyone and count them by hand. Many children were probably born outside their family's permanent residence. Living in Nazareth now didn't necessarily disqualify Jesus as the Messiah.
Philip simply responds to Nathanael's objections, “Come and see.” Invoking the same authoritative Word that Jesus spoke. This Word that gives faith through its simple proclamation. As we confess with the Third Article of the Creed, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” This Word, this Gospel, generates faith. It causes us to believe that Jesus is the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.”
So Nathanael follows his friend. “Let's check this Jesus guy out.” But as he gets into Jesus' line of sight, Jesus calls out, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Why does Jesus praise Nathanael? Because he listened to the Word. The Word through which Philip invited him to faith. Nathanael wasn't sinless. There is only one sinless. Jesus of Nazareth. But Jesus uses this moment to show those around Him how important it was not to follow every little rumor. You must investigate the source. Nathanael had done that. At least in his own mind. He had gone through the Scriptures he had heard, read, and marked in his mind as he inwardly digested it. He was a student of God's Word. He was prepared for what would happen next.
What would happen next? Nathanael epitomizes it in his confession of Jesus, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” This two-part acknowledgment of Jesus' true identity shows Nathanael's newly-realized faith. Nathanael had all the pieces to the Scripture puzzle, but he didn't know how to put them all together. Now, he had met the one Piece that caused everything else to fit together properly. Nathanael came with Philip and saw Jesus. The Holy Spirit worked faith in him. And he praised Jesus for this realization.
Jesus is the Son of God. Epiphany is a season that focuses on this statement. The miracles and revelations we hear through the Gospel readings are to bring everyone—including you and me—to the same point where Natahanael was in the very beginning of His ministry. Most of the Apostles didn't truly understand this until after Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus is the King of Israel. Being the Son of God, Jesus was automatically the King of Israel. But, according to the flesh, He descended from King David. The one kingly line that Matthew would focus on in the genealogy at the beginning of his Gospel. Although there had been a famine of God's Word for centuries, God now sent His Word into the flesh. All the promises from the Old Testament that the Jews were waiting to be fulfilled were now fulfilled. The King of Israel who would sit on the throne forever was now here.
But Jesus says there's even greater news: “You will see Heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Not only is Jesus the Son of God. Not only is He the King of Israel. He will show His disciples greater things than they could imagine.
Jesus refers back to Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel. When Jacob was running away from his brother's wrath, he had a dream. A staircase stood on the earth and went all the way into Heaven. God stood at the top of the ladder. Angels went up and down the ladder, going about the ministerial tasks God sent them on. God was showing Jacob that, even in this scary time in his life, God was providing everything necessary for him. Even though Jacob couldn't see it, God was taking care of everything for him. His descendants would be like the dust of the earth. He was going to have a family. He was in a very similar situation to his grandfather Abraham. Very little hope for a future away from the family he knew. But God promised him a very certain future. Jesus offered the same promise to Nathanael and Philip and all who follow Him. You have a very certain hope because you are in Him. “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” These things are difficult to understand. Even when things aren't going well for us, God is still working it for our good. We must agree with David, “Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.” So it is with Nathanael's original question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Absoutely. Jesus came out of Nazareth. The Savior of the world. The ultimate Good. Salvation came down and His glory fills your soul. Amen.