Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Second Sunday After the Epiphany - Sunday, January 17, 2021

Text: John 1:43-51

Watch Service Video

It was two weeks ago already that our family was having a game night at home. My wife’s phone rang first, and so we took a break from our game for a bit. Not long after that, my phone rang, too. It was a number I didn’t recognize, but I picked up anyway. “Hello, is this Eric Schroeder?” “Yes, it is…” “This is President Gurgel from Martin Luther College; I’m calling to let you know that in a meeting of the governing board this evening, the Holy Spirit has called you to be professor of theology and history at Martin Luther College.” And we talked for a few more minutes, but honestly, it’s hard to give full attention after hearing that opening statement. And now, as I continue to deliberate between a call here and a call there, life feels different than before. And it should feel different, because life changes when you’re called by God. You should know that, too!

I hope that as we consider these words of St. John’s gospel account that tell us about Jesus calling some of his first disciples, each of you comes away with a new sense of appreciation for the way Jesus has called you. It’s a big deal every time. Even though the timing, and the method, and the scope of our calls are different from theirs, we’ll highlight some similarities and by God’s grace, well go out ready to serve the one who has called us.

As for God’s Word here, it takes place not long after Jesus’ baptism, which kicked off his earthly ministry. Almost immediately, Jesus starts preaching, but he also starts recruiting ministry partners. And it isn’t said here in John chapter 1, but it’s worth saying anyway: Jesus doesn’t need anyone’s help. The whole point of Epiphany is revealing Jesus as the Lord, the Son of God, and the Savior of the world. That’s who he is, and again, he doesn’t need anyone’s help. God doesn’t need any of us…but the beautiful thing is that he wants us to be a part of his plan. Keep that in mind as we read about the first interaction here.

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “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.” 46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.

Now, it might seem like Philip is a natural. We don’t know anything about his background other than his hometown, but if Jesus is looking for people who are going to go around and tell people about him, it sure looks like Philip has what it takes, right? Upon receiving his calling, the first thing we hear of Philip doing is going and finding Nathanael and telling him that this Jesus from Nazareth is the One we’ve all been waiting for. Every disciple of Jesus, then and now, has the task of seeking out more disciples. In other words, every one of us has been called to follow Jesus and join him in his ministry to reach souls with the good news of forgiveness and salvation.

But did you notice that Philip twisted one detail ever so slightly? Maybe it seems like splitting hairs to be too critical of someone who had just met Jesus, but it can end up making a big difference. What did Philip tell Nathanael? “We have found the one Moses wrote about…” But that wasn’t really how it happened, was it? No, the opening verse told us that it was the other way around: Jesus found Philip, and said to him, “Follow me.” 

And so it is with each of us. You and I didn’t find Jesus; he found us. Isn’t that one of the beautiful applications of infant baptism—that none of us who were brought to the baptismal font as babies can take credit for our call to discipleship? Those of us who grew up in Christian homes and were taught the truths of God’s Word in some form of Christian education can’t say that it was always our idea to spend more time with Jesus and get to know him better. No, maybe there were lots of days when we didn’t want to go to church or school or Sunday School, but Jesus found us anyway and he drew us closer to himself. Even those of you who met Jesus later in life can’t take any credit for his gracious call. Maybe you were more like Nathanael, at least a little skeptical at first, until Jesus broke through your stubbornness and extended his gracious call, along with the faith that receives him.

God didn’t need Philip; he didn’t need Nathanael—and he certainly doesn’t need us. But he searched us out, and he found us, and he called us to be his through Word and Sacrament. And now, even though we’re guaranteed to make plenty of mistakes along the way, we have the blessed opportunity to partner with our Savior in reaching souls; like Philip, we get to say, “Come and see Jesus,” to the people in our lives. Let’s read on.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

What is the proof that Jesus is worth following? Isn’t that really what Nathanael was asking? First, he doubts Jesus because of where he was raised. If we put the best construction on Nathanael’s immediate reaction, maybe it’s because he knows the Scriptures well. He knows that the Messiah is supposed to be from the line of David, a powerful prophet like Moses, who would reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom forever in a new Jerusalem. And at this time, Jesus hadn’t done anything close to that. In fact, he hadn’t even performed a single miraculous sign yet. So much was left to fulfill.

Perhaps that’s the reason why Jesus deals so patiently with Nathanael and even calls him a true Israelite. But here’s another takeaway that we can apply to our own lives of discipleship. Jesus knew us before we knew him, and Jesus knows us better than we know him, and Jesus gives us what we need to know him better. Here Jesus assures Nathanael that even though they hadn’t met in person, Jesus had been watching him and waiting for him. And Jesus made a promise that Nathanael would see some pretty awesome things if he stuck around for a while and followed Jesus.

And of course, Jesus disciples would see in person what we will hear about for the next several weeks in our gospel readings for the rest of the season of Epiphany—Jesus revealing himself time and time again as the Son of God who has come to save us. Sometimes it would be through his works; other times through his words. But always it is Jesus showing us how he was fulfilling his call to come into our broken world not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for sinners.

How does it make you feel to be reminded that Jesus has been watching you? I don’t know if that thought initially brings any of us comfort. He has seen, and he knows the kind of people we are, the kind of decisions we’ve made (and our selfish reasons for making them), all the ways we have wasted time instead of seeking him out and then seeking people to share him with. In other words, we’ve been so wrapped up in our own lives that we have put our call from Jesus on the back burner. Or maybe we’ve had the thought that we’ll get around to it, just not right now. First, we need to get our lives in order first, and take care of our families or our work lives or our schooling and activities, and then we’ll find time to serve Jesus.

But here’s the truth we all need to hear: Jesus knows everything about you, and he loves you anyway. He loved you enough to take your place under God’s law and fulfill it all for you. He loved you enough to face the guilt, and shame, and suffering and death that you earned for yourself. He loved you enough to hang on a cross and lie in a grave for you. And now that he is risen and ascended, he loved you enough to send his Spirit to call you to faith through Word and Sacrament… and he still loves you enough to keep calling you to follow him every single day in whatever situation he has placed you.

Philip and Nathanael were called to be disciples. So are you (a disciple is just another way of saying “follower” or “student,” and we always are learning from Jesus as we follow him). Later on, they would take on the calling of apostles. That won’t be all of us, if any at all. For now, you are a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a neighbor or friend, maybe a student or a teacher, an employer or an employee, a coworker, perhaps a husband or a wife, a father or mother. All of those callings have something in common—they are relationship words, implying a connection with someone else. Of course, every relationship comes with its own requirements and challenges, but when you’re a disciple of Jesus, each of them comes with a blessed opportunity to follow Jesus and serve him as you serve the people around you. Most often it will be the daily, regular things that we often don’t see as significant. But every day we wake up is a call to discipleship exactly where we are.

May Jesus’ gracious call to us ever move us to respond with a heart so grateful that we are always on the lookout for the next chance to follow Jesus in reaching and serving the people in our lives. AMEN.