Sermon: John 1:43-49
Pentecost 8 – July 15, 2018 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel
If God looked into your heart would he be able to say, “Here is a true Christian, in whom there is nothing false.” In other words if God looked into your heart would he see genuine faith in Jesus Christ, a real desire to learn more about him, and to live a more repentant, godly life? Would he see an undivided heart, a heart that is not distracted by sins or by people and concerns that become more important than your faith in Jesus Christ.
There may in fact be someone, a number of people, here in whose heart there is nothing false, someone whose faith in Jesus Christ is not divided or distracted by sins and personal concerns and desires. But my guess is that most of us would have to be honest and say that if God looked into our hearts he would see sins and desires and distractions that would not qualify us for such a blessed distinction from God, “a true Christian, in whom there is nothing false.”
There are few in the Bible who ever received such high praise. One was the disciple Nathanael, the sixth disciple in our sermon series. We want to consider what this distinction really meant about Nathanael, and could it ever be said of us that we are Christians in whom there’s nothing false. Today we look at
NATHANAEL, A VERY REAL DISCIPLE, A DISCIPLE IN WHOM THERE WAS NOTHING FALSE
It was early in Jesus’ ministry. Andrew and John were already disciples of Jesus. They had been disciples of John the Baptist, but now John directed them to follow Jesus. Soon Peter, Andrew’s brother, became a disciple. And not long after Peter became a disciple, Jesus called Philip to be a disciple.
We’re told in this text from John’s gospel that Philip, a true missionary, found his friend Nathanael sitting under a fig tree 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.” We might expect that this exemplary man named Nathanael, this true Israelite in whom there was nothing false, would eagerly respond with belief that Jesus was the Messiah and anticipation to meet him as soon as possible.
But we hear something very different from Nathanael. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nazareth was a little, unimpressive town located in Galilee, not on any major roads. People from Jerusalem and Judea didn’t have a very favorable impression of Galilee to begin with. They considered Galilee’s population a little “back
woodsy,” not very well educated. This would not be a place from which the Messiah or a king of Israel would come.
Nathanael was not exactly in a position to be looking down the nose at someone from Nazareth or Galilee. He himself was from Cana, an even smaller and less significant town in Galilee, located about ten miles north of Nazareth. He grew up there in the family of Tolmai. So he was also referred to as the son of Tolmai, or in Aramaic, Bar-Tolmai. That’s why in the other gospels he’s referred to as Bar-Tolmai or Bartholomew.
Nathanael Bartholomew had a more legitimate reason for questioning whether this Jesus of Nazareth could be the Messiah than just the insignificance of his town of origin. To Nathanael’s credit he was a good student of the scriptures. The fact that Philip went first of all to Nathanael to tell him about Jesus and made reference to Moses and the Prophets makes Nathanael’s familiarity with scripture very clear. Therefore Nathanael would have known that the Messiah was to be someone descended from King David. It would seem then that he would have to come from Jerusalem or Judea. It’s also likely that Nathanael knew of Micah’s prophecy that said this great Messiah-King would come from the little town of Bethlehem. Nothing was said about Nazareth up in the Galilean woods.
Philip told doubting Nathanael, “Come and see.” “Come and see for yourself that this Jesus is the Messiah.” And so he did. And as he was approaching Jesus, Jesus said of Nathanael, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”
First of all, what did Jesus mean by referring to Nathanael as a true Israelite. It’s interesting that Jesus used the term Israelite. That was a term that wasn’t used too often anymore. Actually the nation of Israel, that great nation of King David and King Solomon, had ceased to exist about 750 years earlier. The Assyrians had conquered the northern part of Israel. The Babylonians conquered the southern part. All that really remained of Israel was the little province of Judea, a remnant of Judah, one of the original tribes of Israel.
Only the most patriotic of Jews would still talk about Israel and Israelites. But Jesus referred to Nathanael as an Israelite for a much greater reason than patriotism. A real Israelite was someone who really understood and believed why God established the nation of Israel in the first place. A real Israelite was someone who understood the meaning of God’s promises to Abraham 2000 years earlier. “I will make you into a great nation. I will make your descendants as numerous as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
A true Israelite was someone who endured in the faith that God would send a Messiah, a Savior, who would redeem his people, buy them back and set them free from their enemies and from sin. A true Israelite was someone who continued to trust God for his mercy and salvation for his people even though the physical nation of Israel no longer existed. A true Israelite was someone who had the same faith as Abraham. That’s why the Apostle Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “Not all who are descended form Israel are Israel. . . . In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.”
Nathanael was a true Israelite because he believed in the promise of the Messiah and Savior, the One promised to Abraham, the blessing to all the people of the earth.
That’s why you and I can claim to be Israelites too. You and I can claim citizenship in spiritual Israel too. We are not physical descendants of Abraham, but we have the faith of Abraham. We know and believe in the One who was promised to Abraham. We know and believe in Jesus Christ, the One Moses and the Prophets wrote about. He is a blessing to us, to all. He is the Savior who atoned for our sin and the sin of the world. By faith in Jesus Christ we are true Israelites along with Nathanael.
But Jesus not only called Nathanael a true Israelite. He called him a true Israelite in whom there was nothing false. Jesus could look into the heart of Nathanael. There he saw a man who had real faith. Jesus could see that Nathanael’s faith was the most important thing to him. There was no hypocrisy in him. There were no idols in his heart. There were no items or possessions, people or desires, that were more important to him than God and his word. He had undivided loyalty for the Lord God Almighty of Israel.
When Nathanael heard Jesus describe him in this very blessed and personal way he asked, “How do you know me?” In other words, “How could you make such an assessment of me when you don’t even know me?”
Jesus answered Nathanael, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus, the omniscient Son of God, before he even saw or met Nathanael, knew that he was sitting under that fig tree, probably studying or meditating on the scriptures. Jesus saw his heart. He saw his faith. He saw his faithfulness and genuineness.
Nathanael immediately grasped the significance of Jesus’ knowing him before he met him. He said to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” The Son of God and King of Israel who grew up in Nazareth we might add.
Could God look into our hearts and declare us to be Christians in whom there is nothing false? I won’t be the first one in line to say he could declare that about me. You can examine your own hearts.
But I will say this: People who say they’re Christians but don’t worship God are not Christians in whom there is nothing false. People who say they’re Christians but don’t teach their children to worship are not Christians in whom there is nothing false. People who say they’re Christians and yet persistently break God’s commandments with little or no repentance are not Christians in whom there is nothing false. People who say they’re Christians but do nothing to change sinful behavior are not Christians in whom there is nothing false. People who say they’re Christians but have so many pursuits in their life that are more important than Jesus are not Christians in whom there is nothing false. People who say they’re Christians but are not too concerned whether more people hear the gospel and become Christians are not Christians in whom there is nothing false.
You get the point. Being a real Christian like Nathanael is far more than just believing in God and being a church member. Being a real Christian means having faith in Jesus. It means having a changed heart, a repentant heart, that fears, loves, and trusts in God above all things and makes that fear, love, and trust evident in thoughts, words, and actions.
So how do we become Christians who not only have faith in Jesus our Savior but also are Christians who are growing and becoming Christians in whom there is nothing false, Christians whose hearts are less and less divided and distracted?
Only Jesus’ love, mercy, and forgiveness can teach and train us to be Christian in whom there is nothing false, Christians whose hearts are not divided and distracted. Jesus died on a cross to save you and me from our sins. It’s that love and mercy and forgiveness of Jesus that will teach us to love God, to love one another, and to have an undivided heart. May Jesus teach each one of us to be that kind of a Christian, a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.
Nathanael remained faithful and true. We know little of him after Pentecost. Tradition says he perhaps preached the gospel in India and that he died for his faith. But wherever he preached and however he died we know that he was a real disciple, a true Israelite, in whom there was nothing false. Amen.