Sermon for Epiphany 2
January 14, 2018
Our King and His Kingdom
How do you know that there is a god? How do you know that there is some supreme being that created all things and controls or guides all things and that sustains all things? How is it that you know that there is something or someone greater than yourself that is interested in your past, present, and future?
In part, you know this through natural revelation. You look around at the world and you realize that it is just too beautiful, too complex, too marvelous to have been just an accident, a one in a gazillionth chance that came to be all by itself out of nothing. It is all that much more remarkable as science has made possible the viewing and the analyzing of such things as atoms and DNA where we can see that we are all so similar yet so distinct; made up of all the same things yet with a pattern that makes every species and even every individual within a species unique. There must be some creator, someone or something that has designed and built all that we see and experience.
But there is also that intangible thing deep down inside that tells each one of us that there is a god. That indescribable notion that has us seek security from something outside ourselves, whether it be money, talent, relationships, mysticism, or religion. There is something that we fear and try to placate by avoidance or appeasement. There is something that we love and endeavor to please and adore. There is something that we trust will provide for our protection against the things seen and unseen that would harm us and to give us security in the things that we need and desire, those things that exist for our good.
These incline us to the idea of a god. They convince us that there is a god whether we call this being by that name or not. But how is that you know God? How is it that you have come to know the God who has created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them? How is that you can say that you personally know the One that has created and sustains all things? It is because He has revealed Himself to you. He has revealed Himself to you just as He has revealed Himself to all mankind; through the testimony of the prophets and apostles and most specifically in the testimony, the teaching and miracles, the life and death and resurrection of His Son.
It is through His interaction in time with His creation that God has always revealed Himself to man. There is general knowledge of God in creation and in conscience that tells us there is a god, but to know God as He wishes to be known, depends on what He has spoken to His prophets and through His prophets such as Samuel. This is how Philip and Nathaniel, Andrew and Peter all knew of God. They knew of Samuel and all the other prophets. They knew to be looking for Messiah because it had been told to them through generations by multitudes of prophets. They were to be looking for the Lord’s Christ, the King that would establish a kingdom that would have no end.
God’s most complete revelation to them and to us is in His Son through whom He has revealed His love and His care for His creation and has visibly established that kingdom which has no end. These disciples whom Jesus calls to follow Him were looking for a King. They understood God’s revelation that when Messiah did come, He would free the people from every reign that was not divine. He would throw off of the oppression of every other ruler and establish His own reign. They knew that the time was right. All things seemed to indicate it. John was in the wilderness announcing the arrival of this kingdom. The tension was high throughout the land.
But when Philip announces to Nathaniel that this King has been found, Philip doubts that it could be so. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he says. There is no prophecy that speaks of Nazareth. Nobody expects that the King, long foretold, would come from that village. Much less than that, Nathaniel sees no good thing coming from Nazareth. God would not send the King from there nor would He provide any good thing from that town. Not just insignificant, but incapable of producing good in Nathaniel’s mind. But when Nathaniel meets Jesus and His doubt is confronted by Jesus, he admits that Nazareth not only produces good things, it has produced the one good thing that is needed by all mankind: “The Son of God. The King of Israel.”
In that moment, Nathaniel is converted. His mind is changed. His old way of thinking is undone. As Jesus speaks, Nathaniel is brought to faith and the kingdom of the King of Israel is expanded. None of those disciples quite understands how Jesus will rule. There lies ahead many surprises greater than realizing Nazareth has a place in history as the hometown of Israel’s King. They would hear many wonderful things spoken by Jesus. They would see many miracles greater than knowing what was said in private or seeing things beyond the eye’s line of sight. But they would constantly be confounded by their own thinking of “how can this be?” The kingdom of this king would extend by word of mouth and His reign would be over the hearts of His people through faith that God does remarkable things in very unremarkable, even unwanted ways.
We still hear Nathaniel’s objection to Philip’s declaration among us today: “How can there be a God that is good when there is so much evil in the world?” “How can you believe in a God that would send His Son into the world so that He could die?” “Can faith really be created in a child that cannot reason or understand?” “It doesn’t make any sense that the body and blood of the Lord, who has ascended on high, is present now with bread and wine upon this altar.” “How can you say that the forgiveness spoken by you is God’s forgiveness?” All doubts and objections just like Nathaniel’s. And they are overcome today just as they were then; through an invitation to come and see and by a word gently spoken from the God who chooses to reveal Himself to men.
Nathaniel acknowledged and declared Jesus to be the King of Israel. He was right and Jesus had come to establish His kingdom. He was doing it at that moment as God was revealed to man and faith was created in the heart of the hearer. Nathaniel was included in the kingdom of Jesus as Jesus spoke to him gentle words that caused repentance from his wrong-headed way of thinking and an embrace of a godly way of thinking. The reign of the King was extended peacefully to Nathaniel through words that rouse faith and reveal the way into the heavenly realm by God’s grace.
It is how this kingdom has expanded and spread throughout the ages since. It wasn’t through conquest and subjugation but through evangelism and the sharing of Good News that God’s reign is present now in a King that has come from Nazareth. It is how the kingdom has spread to include you as God has revealed Himself to you in the person of Jesus as you have seen with the eyes of faith and heard with ears that believe that Jesus is truly God’s Son, human and divine, that He has done much more than to show you the way to heaven but has become that way and calls you to follow Him.
As He came to Nathaniel from Nazareth, He comes to you in the Christmas carol of child that declares the King has come. He comes and reveals Himself to you by words of a neighbor or coworker that has little standing in the community. He comes in proclamation from the mouths of sinners that stand in the train of these first disciples that reveal the truth of what was foretold and now has come to pass. He comes to you and includes you in His kingdom as your forgiveness is handed over in Word and Sacrament.
His kingdom and His reign are not remarkable to look at for they are as unassuming as Nazareth, but the results of being included in that kingdom of grace are unbelievably remarkable. As remarkable as seeing the heavens opened and the angels ascending and descending upon the Son of Man as they do God’s bidding. As remarkable as realizing that sin is conquered, the devil overthrown, and death undone. This kingdom is remarkable because it offers what no other kingdom can offer, your God and His purpose for you fully revealed – the God who loves you even as He loves His Son that your inclusion in the kingdom of grace would be extended into His eternal kingdom of glory.
In the name of the Son of God, the King of Israel, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.