Second Sunday after the Epiphany | John 1:43-51 | Jesus calls Philip and Nathaniel
At Christmas, Jesus was received by very few:
Mary and Joseph, shepherds and farm animals.
Plus Simeon and Anna, plus you plus me, and add in the visitors we get every year;
Put all of us together, and you still won’t fill this room.
Jesus really does start small.
Not just in size – all babies do that.
But Jesus starts with a very close, very small circle of friends and family.
Epiphany is different.
When the Magi came to visit, Jesus’ circle grew.
Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar came to town and took seats in the first row.
Only they didn’t sit down.
Instead, they fell face down and worshiped a Toddler.
That day, Jesus’ circle of worshipers grew by three.
And so the world was being epiphanied.
It was being lit up.
Jesus, the Light of the World, shines brighter and brighter,
So that the whole world comes to know Him, receive Him, and call upon Him.
Since Christmas and since that first Epiphany, you’ve called Him a lot of things:
Jesus the Christ,
Wonderful – Counselor,
Prince of Peace.
This morning, two Sundays into a very short Epiphany season,
The list of titles grows.
Jesus of Nazareth,
Son of God,
Son of Man,
King of Israel
Those are all good and all helpful;
And you know so many other titles given to Jesus in Scripture.
They’re titles that tell you who Jesus is by saying what Jesus does.
Redeemer – The One who purchases you with His own blood;
Messiah – The One who delivers you from sin, death, and the devil.
Savior – The One who rescues you.
Lord – The One who is master of your life.
The list goes on and on and on.
But there’s another title hidden in here that you might have missed.
It’s a perfect title for Epiphany because it tells Jesus’ first disciples,
And all of His disciples here,
Who He is and what He is doing.
It doesn’t jump right out at you.
But Nathaniel certainly picked up on it.
He was a bright boy, after all.
He knew the Scriptures and studied them well.
That’s what pious young men would be doing under a fig-tree.
After giving Nathaniel a glimpse of His Divine power
By telling Him exactly where Philip found him,
Jesus tells him that he hasn’t seen anything yet.
If Nathaniel thinks Divine knowledge is impressive, well:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Jesus could have said any number of things to tell Nathaniel who He was.
He could have cited Isaiah or the Psalms, or any of the other prophets.
But He didn’t.
He cited Genesis 28 – a dream given to Jacob.
Maybe that’s what Nathanel was reading under the fig-tree.
Reagardless, he knew the story
If you don’t, here are the key verses:
“And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring.” (Genesis 28:12-13)
Jesus the Rabbi, yes.
Jesus the King of Israel, yes.
Jesus the Son of Man, yes.
And now, this morning, Jesus the ladder.
Add that to your list of titles.
Now what does that have to do with Epiphany?
What does a ladder tell you about who Jesus is and what He has come to do?
In Jacob’s dream, the ladder stands upon the earth, and reaches up to heaven.
By that ladder the angels go to and from,
And from the very top, God himself speaks.
Jesus the ladder.
Lutheran Church of the Ladder.
It doesn’t roll of the tongue, but it is as accurate as any other title.
Jesus connects heaven and earth.
The tower of Babel failed to reach.
Your ladders have failed.
They were not set upon the earth, but sinking sands.
Neither were they solid.
They were constructed on the cheap with poor material:
Your own piety,
Your own good works,
Your own spirituality,
Your own righteousness.
Filthy rags draped over rotten wood.
That ladder will not do:
Not for angels, and not for you.
Jesus the ladder.
He deconstructs your shabby stepping stool and makes something better out of it.
Those filthy rags of yours,
He wears like a wedding garment.
That rotten wood he carries to Golgotha, and dies on it.
Your ladder, your works, your righteousness, have come undone.
For Christ is Risen.
His Body is sturdy and strong;
It bridges heaven and earth, time and eternity,
It connects the Father and His children.
By His Body heaven is opened to you.
He is the ladder on which you will be carried to heaven to await the resurrection.
Jesus as the ladder also means exactly what Philip said:
This is Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote.
All of Scripture, every page, has been written concerning Him.
Even the places you never thought to look:
He who was once hidden in Jacob’s dreams and Israel’s manna,
He is now revealed.
What Jacob dreamed, Nathaniel saw.
What Nathaniel saw, you have received.
And this is how Jesus’ circle grows.
This is how the world gets epiphanied.
Though He has been revealed to the whole world,
Jesus continues to hide Himself.
Not so that He would be lost, but found.
He is hidden, but tells you where to find Him.
In the least, the littlest, the last, and the lost –
In your neighbor, in your children –
In the priesthood of the baptized,
Jesus lives and works,
He serves and is served.
In the waters of Baptism,
Jesus the Savior connects you with His Name and His salvation.
In His Word,
Jesus the Word speaks to you and teaches you,
He Gospels you and enlightens you.
Under the bread and the wine of the Eucharist,
Jesus the Lamb of God feeds you His Body and Blood for the forgiveness of sins.
Concerning this, folks often wonder:
Can anything good come from these things?
From water, from bread, and from wine?
You know the answer.
You’ve been epiphanied.
That’s why you can look at the same things as them, and yet:
You will see greater things than these.