Second Reformed Church

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

"Jesus' Ladder" Sermon: John 1:43-51

“Jesus’ Ladder”

[John 1:43-51]

April 12, 2015 Second Reformed Church

            We return to our look at John’s Gospel this morning.  Let us remember that John begins his Gospel making it perfectly clear that Jesus is the Savior and God Himself – revealed by both God the Father and God the Holy Spirit.  In the first chapter of his Gospel, John explains that the One God of Israel exists in Three Persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  And God Himself, in the Person of the Son, incarnate to be the Savior for all those who would believe by keeping the Law on our behalf and paying the debt for our sins.

            John also explained to his readers that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Testament Sacrificial System.

            After this introduction to Jesus, we saw Jesus call His first disciples:  Andrew and Peter.  Jesus calls His next two disciples in this morning’s text.

            And we see, first, we cannot fully understand the Old Testament without Jesus.

            “The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”

            Jesus went to Galilee and called Philip – commanding him to follow, and he left whatever he was doing and followed Jesus.

            Philip went off and found his friend, Nathanael (who is called Bartholomew in other places), and told him that they had found the Savior – the One Who the whole Old Testament – Moses, the Law and the Prophets spoke about and pointed to – He had come – the Promise had been fulfilled.

            I hope that rings a bell with you – just a few weeks ago we looked at Luke 24, where we are told:  “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27, ESV).

            Everything from Genesis to Malachi points to Jesus and His work of salvation.  So, we cannot fully understand the Old Testament without looking at it through the lens of Jesus and His work.

            Now, we must be careful to avoid two extremes:

            On the one hand, we are not to consider the account of the sin of Adam and Eve and say it has nothing to do with Jesus.  Paul explains in Romans 5 that just as sin came into humanity through one man, Adam, so righteousness came to those who believe through One Man, Jesus Christ.  So, Jesus is called the “Second Adam,” because He lived the perfect life under the Law that Adam failed to live through his sin.  So, Adam plunged humanity into sin and death, and Jesus saves us from sin and death.

            On the other hand, we are not to consider the Old Testament and say it has no meaning on its own.  After Adam and Eve sinned, they sewed clothes out of leaves to cover themselves.  We would be wrong to speculate that there was a certain number of stiches that parallel the number of wounds Jesus received in His flogging – or any other such fanciful idea.  The Old Testament history and writings occurred and are true as we understand them as the type of literature they are.

            So, as we read the Old Testament – like we read any piece of literature – we need to ask ourselves, what type of writing is this? – poetry, history, etc.  How do we read this type of writing?  What did this mean to the people at the time it was written?

            Then, we look at what we are reading again and ask how what the text says points to Jesus or how it can be understood through the work that Jesus did in salvation?

            Philip went to Nathanael and told him that everything that they had learned in the Temple from the Scriptures had been fulfilled in Jesus.  Nathanael’s curiosity was piqued.  At least it was until Philip said that the fulfillment of all of the Old Testament was to be found in “Jesus of Nazareth.”
             We see, second, this morning, that Jesus’ knowledge of Nathanael spurred his faith on.
            “Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’”

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

A twenty-first century person from New Jersey would probably scratch her head at this comment.

That’s why we need to look at history – then we can understand that Galilee was a despised area by the Jews – it was where the red-necks of the day lived – and Nazareth in Galilee was the most backwards place of them all.  The cultured people of the world lived in Judah (which was south of Galilee) and in Jerusalem in Judah.

So, think of a place that you think is completely backwards and uneducated and dangerous – somewhere you would never expect anyone to come from and do anything good, much less great.  That’s what Nathanael heard – “He’s from Nazareth?!  Are you kidding?  How can that be?”

(There is some question as to how much of his response was sarcasm and how much was wonder.  Certainly, it was not what he had expected.)

And Philip said, “Come and see.”

Have you ever had that experience talking with someone about Jesus, and they said, “No, I don’t need to read the Bible – I know all about Jesus.”  Really?  Put aside your preconceptions and see what the Bible really records about Jesus.

So, Nathanael followed Philip back to Jesus, and Jesus said,”Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

What’s He saying?  We don’t usually say things like, “You are a person in whom there is no deceit.”

Jesus was saying that Nathanael is someone who is utterly honest and straight to the point.  He isn’t a liar, and he doesn’t candy-coat what he’s saying.  When Nathanael said something, you knew what he meant and that he meant it and it was true.

As we might expect, Nathanael wanted to know how Jesus knew him.  Notice, Nathanael did not respond by pridefully saying something like, “Well, my reputation precedes me!  Who told You about me?”  No, in all humility, he asked Jesus how He knew about him.

And Jesus told him that He saw him sitting under a fig tree before Nathanael reached him to tell him about Jesus.

We would probably be skeptical if someone came up to us and said they saw us across town while they were miles away.  We would wonder what the con was.  We would wonder if we were being spied on.  But not Nathanael.

When Nathanael heard Jesus say that He saw him sitting under the fig tree before Philip got there, the veil was lifted from Nathanael’s eyes, and he believed – his faith was spurred to belief on fire.

And Nathanael confessed:

“Rabbi!” – teacher of the Word of God.

“You are the Son of God!” – You are God the Savior incarnate in the Person of Jesus to fulfill all the prophecies made about You.

“You are the King of Israel!” – You are the Sovereign Authority over Israel – over Your people – over all that is Yours.

Nathanael burst forth with a confession – a correct confession – of Who Jesus is, because those words of Jesus removed the veil from his eyes and caused him to believe – his faith shot up like a rocket.

We never know what words our God might use to cause someone to come to faith.  Yet, we are to speak, praying that the Holy Spirit would use our words to move the hearts and minds of those who hear us – but we must speak.

Finally, we see this morning that Jesus is the link between God and us.

“Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, “I saw you under the fig tree,” do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘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 says, “Nathanael, Oh, Nathanael – you believed me because I saw you sitting under the fig tree – you haven’t seen anything yet!  You will see much greater things than this!  You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

What’s Jesus talking about?

Again, a first century Israelite would know exactly what Jesus was referring to.

We will remember the twin brothers, Jacob and Esau, and how Jacob and his mother plotted to deceive his father and brother and steal the birthright from Esau – which he did.  But then, being afraid of Esau, once the deception was discovered, Jacob ran away, and we read:

“Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. 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. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.’ Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.’ And he was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven’”(Genesis 28:10-17, ESV).

Jacob – who would later be called Israel – dreamed about a ladder that went from earth to Heaven – to the Kingdom of God – and he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder – and God told him that he was the heir to the promise of the land that God made to Abraham.

Some of us are familiar with the spiritual “Jacob’s Ladder” – which has the chorus, “We are climbing Jacob’s ladder.”  But there’s a problem – it wasn’t Jacob’s ladder, and he didn’t climb it, and neither can we.

Looking at the actual account, we have angels ascending a descending on a ladder between earth and the Kingdom of God.  Why?  Why would angels be going back and forth between the Kingdom of God and earth?

The understanding that we find in the Scripture is that God sends angels to earth to protect the elect, to kill and cause destruction, and to gather the dead.  Here, the image is certainly positive, so we see the angels as a sign and a promise that God will keep His promise to Abraham to grant his descendants the inheritance of the land – and they will be His people.

We see symbolized the travel of the angels from the Kingdom of God to earth and back as they minister among us and do God’s Will.

So what is Jesus saying – if Nathanael and the others would have immediately thought of this historical event about the patriarch, Jacob, God’s Promise, and the ministry of angels, how would they understand Jesus saying:  “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

We have one new piece of information here – instead of a ladder, Jesus says Nathanael will see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  And, again, they would have immediately understood – the Son of Man was a name given to God the Savior – especially in the Old Testament prophetic literature – and we know today, in reading the Gospels, “Son of Man” was Jesus’ favorite title for Himself.  Jesus is the Son of Man – Jesus is God the Savior.  Jesus is the ladder between the Kingdom of God and earth.  Jesus, the Incarnate God the Son, sends the angels and calls them back to do His Will on earth and in Heaven – the Kingdom of God.

And Jesus – Jesus Alone – is the ladder – the link between us and God.  Jesus makes us right with God and brings us into His presence.  The only way we can safely come into the presence of God is through Jesus – the Son of Man – the ladder on Whom the angels ascend and descend.

Remember, we were banished from the safe presence of God when Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, and there was no way for us to reach up to heaven to make ourselves right with God – we could not climb a ladder to Heaven.  We tried to build the Tower of Babel, and that ended in further confusion and separation.

So, we understand that Jacob was not being told he could work his way back to God – he was being shown that there is a way that the angels take, but we cannot.  Not until the Son of Man came and lived and died for us could we be taken up Jesus’ ladder into Paradise.

One more question we should have is when did this happen?  Jesus said that Nathanael would see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man – he would see the way of salvation opened by Jesus – the way back to God in Paradise through Jesus’ work.  When did Nathanael see the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man?

Forty days after the Resurrection, we read:  “So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven’”(Acts 1:6-11, ESV).

Nathanael saw Jesus’ ladder on the day of Ascension, and he – and the entire world – living and dead, will see it again at the end of the age:

As Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne” (Matthew 25:31, ESV).

Nathanael was called to be part of the inner-circle of Jesus’ work, and he needed to understand that everything he knew about God and how to be right with Him is answered in the Son of Man, Jesus, Who came to make all those who would ever believe right with God through His life, dead, and resurrection.

And so he and the first four disciples understood that Jesus Alone is the way to becoming right with God – the Old Testament is about Jesus and the message of the Gospel is about Jesus – the Only Salvation – and that is what we need to know.

Let us go and tell others.

And let us pray:

Almighty God, we thank You for paralleling the dream You gave to Jacob, making it known that the Only Ladder – the Only Link – the Only Way to be right with You and enter into Your Kingdom is through Jesus.  Assure us in these things.  For it is in Jesus’ Name we pray, Amen.

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