John 1:43-51 “You Will See Greater Things”
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father, to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
Why are you a Christian? Was it the promise of getting rich? Because if it was, I hate to break the news to you, but God never promises wealth. Was it the hope of popularity? Again. Not sure how else to say this except to be blunt: God promises that people are going to hate you for being his follower. Maybe it was because you thought that you would have lots of power and influence as a Christian. If that’s your plan, then you’ve got things completely backwards. No! These aren’t the reasons we’re believers. Those things are far too small. Far to insignificant. We follow Jesus because he has revealed his power to us. And he has called us. Just like Nathanael from our sermon text, or like Samuel from our Old testament lesson: “The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” (1 Samuel 3:10a) Or like he called the Thessalonian Christians. Through the Word, the Holy Spirit worked faith in our hearts. He called us to follow him. And he has shown us his incredible truth. The fact that God knew you is amazing. That he chose you. That despite our failures and sins, God wanted you to be his own child. All of this is incredible; but, just wait: you will see greater things!
You know, I’ve never really thought about it before, but we are a lot like Nathanael. Here he is, just some guy going through life. And suddenly Jesus shows up and changes everything. Philip came up to him and was really determined that Nathanael had to hear about Jesus. And I mean, like seriously determined “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:45) Now Nathanael and Philip go way back; they are even from the same town. But this just sounds too good to be true. I mean, it’s not every day that someone says that the promised Messiah has been found. Philip is probably just exaggerating, right? After all, he says that this guy is from Nazareth. I love how Nathanael reacts when he finds out that Jesus is from Nazareth. It’s almost like telling someone from Wisconsin that you found some really good cheese from California. Or like talking to a Packer’s fan about that team from Minnesota. Now I did quite a bit of research to see if there was a reason that Nathanael feels this way towards Nazareth but couldn’t find anything concrete. It just seems that small little insignificant Nazareth wasn’t exactly the place that anyone would expect anyone important to come from. It’s kind of like my little town of Theresa, WI. Tiny place where nothing changes. Who would expect the Messiah to come from Nazareth? Besides, everyone who reads the Scriptures knows that he will come from Bethlehem. Nathanael just doesn’t know about Jesus’ background yet. But he goes along anyways to check out this Jesus of Nazareth. And when he meets him the first thing that Jesus says is, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47)
Nathanael is surprised that Jesus says this. How could Jesus know anything about him? So Jesus tells him, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” (John 1:48) Not all that surprising. So Jesus saw him under the fig tree. But it means something to Nathanael. He is amazed: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!” (John 1:49) What a change! Just a few minutes earlier and he couldn’t believe Jesus came out of Nazareth, and now he’s certain that Jesus is the Son of God! What changed? He saw something amazing. God worked faith in his heart. But wait! There’s more: “Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.’” (John 1:50) Now most of us probably don’t remember our Nathanael moment: that time when God first worked faith in our hearts. That first time that we knew and believed that Jesus is our Savior. For most of us, our Nathanael moment happened at our baptisms. For some of us, it was when we were old enough to remember. Whenever that Nathanael moment happened it was profound. The Holy Spirit worked faith in your heart and you knew exactly who Jesus is: “you are the Son of God; you are the king of everything!”
And Nathanael did see greater things. He saw Jesus turn water into wine. He heard Jesus as he taught with incredible power and truth. He saw him heal people that no one else could do anything for. He witnessed things that only God can do. Along with the other disciples he served alongside Jesus and was constantly amazed at his master. So why did he run away when Jesus was arrested? Where was he when Jesus was on trial? Where was he when Jesus died, or when his Lord was buried? I’m not saying that Nathanael stopped believing. He was distracted. Distracted by fear and worry. Sound familiar? How often do you find yourself in those kinds of Nathanael moments. Times when you get distracted. When bad news from the doctor makes you forget to turn and trust in the great physician. When worry over finances causes your mind to swirl in confusion instead of listening to the one who provides everything. When earthly fears cause us to panic instead of trusting the one who calms storms. How many of those Nathanael moments have you had this past week? We don’t stop believing in Jesus, but we turn away from the comfort he provides. We forget that Jesus has promised that we will see “greater things”.
“But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14) Just like Nathanael we have been called by Jesus. And just like Nathanael we are saved through “the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” As we look at our lives, we can’t help but be amazed at the wonderful things God has done for us. We thank God for how he works in our families, how he has blessed us in our work. We have been blessed beyond measure with all the things we need in this life. But do you want to see greater things? Do you want to see true power, true might, true love? Look at the cross and see the Son of God as he destroyed the power of the death and defeated our sins. He shows us that we are free. Now Jesus was talking about Nathanael, but because of his saving work on the cross the same thing can be said about us: “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (John 1:47) That is the greatest thing. That’s how God sees us. Not as fallen sinners, but perfect. Perfect by his power and by his mercy. We aren’t Christians because we thought that we would get rich or become popular or gain power. We follow Jesus because he saw us and called us. Faith shows us his great works and reveals to us what our future is. And it is far greater than anything this world has to offer. The wonders of heaven. Peace and joy with our God for eternity.
God has shown us all of these great things. And that’s what moves us to follow him. Just like young Samuel who heard God calling him. Faith moves us to focus on our God: “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3:10) As Christians, may that be our constant response. When problems surround us, when hardships pile on top of us, when persecution threatens to overwhelm us, let us go back to God’s Word and listen to what he has to tell us. “Speak, for your servant is listening!” Remember who your God is. Remember all that he has accomplished for you and that he will continue to watch over you and strengthen you by his Word. “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17) Even when the doctors say the words we don’t want to hear, even when the bills pile up and we don’t have any idea how to pay them, even when it seems like the world is out to get us, remember the one who called you. The same God who called Nathanael when he was still sitting under the fig tree. Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51) Through faith you have and will see even greater things! Amen.
May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it. Amen.