The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
Come and See and Bring Others!
St. Bartholomew (Tenth Sunday after Trinity), 24 August 2014
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
The late president of the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, Dr. A. L. Barry, often encouraged us in this way: “Get the message straight, Missouri. Get the message out, Missouri.” If we zealously protected the purity of Biblical Truth, but never told anyone the good news about Jesus, what good would that be? If we spent all our time witnessing, but had false doctrine or the truth mixed with some error, what good would that be? We must have both pure doctrine and proclamation together.
Today is the Tenth Sunday after Trinity. In Luke 19, Jesus cleansed the temple. Today is also St. Bartholomew’s heavenly birthday, the day he was martyred for Christ. Texts like the appointed Gospel for St. Bartholomew are an encouragement for us to “Get the message straight, Missouri. Get the message out, Missouri.” Come and see and bring others!
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, "Follow me." Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
Jesus gives Philip an imperative: Follow Me. It is a direct command. Even so, direct commands may be resisted. Philip followed. God commands us to follow Him. He doesn’t simply say, “Come if you want.” And that’s good for us to remember.
Philip is from the same town as the brothers Andrew and Peter. We’ve heard of them before—the fishermen—Jesus first two disciples.
Verbs are important in the Biblical text. Jesus found Philip. Not the other way around. Scripture depicts human beings as sinful from birth, sinful in thought, word, and deed, sinful enemies of God, running away from Him. Scripture describes the Lord as a good shepherd leaving the 99 and looking for the one lost sheep. The Lord does the seeking Himself. And sometimes, He delegates that holy task to His Christians.
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."
Jesus found Philip. Philip found Nathaniel. The kingdom of heaven expands. Philip can say "We have found Him,” meaning the Messiah or Christ, because Christ found him first—and others. Did you notice the plural Philip used? “We have found Him…” Philip is no longer alone. Already, here in the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John, the Lord is gathering to Himself a people. John the Baptizer has recognized Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. Jesus has called Andrew, Peter, and Philip. Nathaniel is about to meet Jesus.
"We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." That’s what Philip told Nathaniel. Moses prophesied about a great prophet to come. The Old Testament prophets foretold a priest, a king, a divine suffering servant. Here He is, Nathaniel.
At first glance, it appears odd to have a text about Nathaniel on a day commemorating St. Bartholomew as an apostle of our Lord. In fact, Nathaniel and Bartholomew are the same person—different names. Nathaniel is likely his given name. Bartholomew—a family name. “Bar” in Aramaic means “son of.” So, Bartholomew would mean “son of Talmai” or “Tolmai.” He could be called Nathaniel, son of Talmai. Nathaniel Bartholomew. In the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, the names of Bartholomew and Philip are paired on the lists of the 12 disciples. In our text today, Nathaniel appears as a friend of Philip, so there appears to be an easy match.
Other information in the Scriptures about Nathaniel Bartholomew is scant. He is mentioned occasionally, often as just part of the twelve. The historian Eusebius reports that he preached in India, bringing along with him a copy of Matthew’s gospel account in Hebrew. Other traditions suggest that he also worked in Armenia. It is thought, (since Holy Scripture is silent on the matter,) that he suffered martyrdom in Albanopolis on the Caspian Sea in A.D. 68 at the hands of King Astyages, with death coming after being flayed alive and beheaded.
That faithful witness to the end amazes us, especially in light of his words in John 1: Nathanael said to [Philip], "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" We are reminded that God calls His children into His service in spite of their weaknesses, not because of their strengths. Lutherans remember saints to the remember the saint, but to remember the Lord who made them holy because of His death, resurrection, and delivered forgiveness of all sins.
"Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see."
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, "Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!"
This doesn’t mean that Nathaniel is in some way better than us or the other disciples—it simply means that he put his cards on the table—he doubted that anything or anyone good could come out of Nazareth, and he didn’t hide his feelings.
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."
1 Kings 4:25 suggest that the greatest peace and prosperity of Israel was under David and Solomon, when “Judah and Israel live in safety, from Dan even to Beersheba, every man under his vine and under his fig tree…” Sitting under the fig tree, especially in the parched areas of Palestine was considered a prime place to meditate upon and study the Word of God. Get the message straight and keep it straight! The prophet Micah says (4:4) that “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.” This is what life will be like at the coming of the Messiah! And look, he is here! "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
Nathanael answered him, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!" 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." 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."
Nathaniel Bartholomew is the fourth to be called here at the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. He is amazed that Jesus saw him before Philip called him. Not only will Nathaniel see the fulfillment of Jacob’s vision of angels, commonly called Jacob’s Ladder, but even greater things—water turned into wine in Chapter 2, healings, walking on water, miraculous feedings, and above all, Jesus’ own resurrection from the dead!
Get the message out, Missouri. Pondering the Divine Word underneath the fig tree reminds us of the importance of daily, personal Bible Study, studying the Word with other Christians in an organized setting, and remaining steadfast in its truth. The Word, by the work of the Holy Spirit, bears fruit in us. That fruit cannot remain contained! It wants to grow, go forth, and to tell others.
That is what the Lord brought about in Philip. A new believer, he couldn’t contain the good news about Jesus that he had been give. Jesus came to him and he saw in Jesus true God, true man, the promised Messiah. And then Philip ran to tell someone else. When Nathaniel doubted, he said, come and see. Philip came, saw, and brought another. Later, we see Nathaniel and the rest of the 12 doing the same thing. They brought others!
It may have been many years ago, but at one time, you did not know the Lord purely, according to His Holy Word. Someone brought you. Perhaps your parents or grandparents brought you to Holy Baptism. Sunday School. Confirmation Class. Many, many Sundays at the Divine Service. Every one of us was brought. All of us, pastor and people, are given to bring others.
The Lord has gathered you to Himself around Word and Sacrament. You came, you saw. Now, bring others. There is nothing in the whole world like a personal invitation to church. Christian ministries can have all the stadium events they want. People can go door-to-door until they are blue in the face. We could send out advertisements until the congregation is broke. But nothing, absolutely nothing can do what a simple personal invitation can!
The people in your life already know you. They work with you, live near you, study with you. You’ve been at each other’s homes for meals. You’ve been there for their special times in life and they’ve been there for you. Perhaps you’ve never spoken to them about spiritual things. You might not know what their religious background is. Don’t be afraid to ask!
It is said that it is impolite to speak about politics or religion. That is tragic. If by politics you mean looking out for the common good and caring for your fellow man here in time, why wouldn’t we want to discuss that? And if we feel pressured to keep silent about the most important message in all of eternity—the good news of the complete forgiveness of sins in Jesus alone—then that is even more sad. Are we really that afraid? Is it rude to speak about politics when abuse and poverty are allowed to go on? Would we rather be polite and not speak about Jesus’ forgiveness, while so many are going straight to hell? Just as God didn’t say, “Come if you want,” He also didn’t say, “Tell other people about me when and if you feel like it.”
This text was chosen for St. Bartholomew’s day, I think, because it shows Nathaniel Bartholomew as his worst—not his best. We are not to ask, “What are we to make of St. Bartholomew?” Instead, we see here and in the rest of the New Testament what the Lord made of him—and what Our Lord makes of us. We are at the same time sinful and justified because of Jesus, the Christ, the promised Messiah, He who is the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world, He that says to you, “Follow me.”
“Get the message straight, Missouri. Get the message out, Missouri.” It is good advice, faithful advice, Biblical advice. You have been reconciled to God. Share that reconciliation with others. There are a majority of people in this world, in this community that need what Jesus offers, what we have and often take for granted. You have been freed from sin’s bondage. Go forth with the keys to unlock the shackles of your neighbor, your family, your coworkers, and classmates.
Come and see, often—weekly, the Gifts the Lord has for you. Come and see, and bring others, so that they may have the freedom and forgiveness that we enjoy. Come and see and bring others. Amen.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Help is acknowledged from the Rev. William Otte’s study in CPR.