Sermon: “Follow Me”
LSB Series B
Second Sunday after the Epiphany; January 17, 2021
Gospel Reading: John 1:43-51
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Jesus’ command sounds so simple as he continues to call His twelve disciples. Yet, we know that it is not.
In our text for today, Nathanael gives us every impression he has his doubts about following this Jesus.
Why follow this guy from Nazareth? “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael wants to know.
Pastor Lucas used to give me grief with this same line, though he would make one minor change: “Can anything good come out of Michigan?” Perhaps we could nearly all agree if we said, “Can anything good come out of Wisconsin?” But I digress.
Nathanael had in his mind that the Messiah shouldn’t come from a backwater town like Nazareth. As one church father put it: “Jesus’ mode of living was ordinary, and His garments not better than those of the many. He fared like all others, and was present at the feasts of wicked men and publicans, that he might draw them to Him” (Chrysostom).
Needless to say, Jesus did not meet Nathanael’s expectations as one he would like to follow. Especially when he considered the thought of following someone from ‘that’ place. Nazareth...pathetic.
What about us? Experience would tell us that following is not an easy thing to do. Not when we like to be in the lead. Not when we like to call the shots.
I am reminded of one of my favorite prayers in the front of the hymnal. It goes like this: “Lord God, You have called Your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
Though Nathanael did not know where Jesus was expecting him to follow, he quickly learned that the One who was calling him was no loser from some backwater town. He learned, and even confessed, that Jesus is the Son of God, the King of Israel. This One before Him was the promised Messiah who had been foretold of for centuries.
From that point on, Nathanael would follow Jesus as one of His disciples, but it was by no means an easy journey. And though we are not one of His twelve apostles, our following of Jesus is certainly no easy trek either.
Take our Epistle Reading as an example. It tells us to “flee sexual immorality.” Flee, as in run in the opposite direction. Yet, how many of us have all too often run toward it? From sexual promiscuity to the immodest apparel we choose to wear or let our kids wear, to sexual relations outside of wedlock to clicks on the internet pornography sites? God’s Word says: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your body.”
Yet far too often we don’t glorify God with our bodies. Far too often we think we know better than God and determine that we can do whatever we want. We think we are in the lead and God is meant to follow us. It’s our body after all.
That’s the abortion argument that is constantly being argued over as well as we mark Life Sunday today. Those who favor the pro-choice argument do so on the basis that a woman has the right to do what she wants with her own body. But what about the life of a child? Does that child not have a living, breathing body? Does that child not have a right to live? Those who are pro-life would argue that from the point of conception on, that child has a right to live. Yet, over sixty million babies have been killed in America alone since the Roe v. Wade decision took place in 1973. Lord, have mercy.
Mercy is exactly what we need as we seek to follow Christ in a world that so easily fails to call sin a sin…in a world that glorifies ungodly sexual practices and the murder of innocent children. How do we navigate this challenging terrain? How do we keep following Jesus? It would seem to be virtually impossible.
Like trying to become a Navy SEAL. Only 6% of those that apply to become a SEAL actually meet the requirements. Of those 6%, only one in four actually become a Navy SEAL.
Now that may sound tough. But following Jesus is actually harder than that. Following Jesus is downright impossible. Whether it is the issue of sexual immorality, life issues, or otherwise, when it comes to following Jesus, we fail…miserably.
You see, all of us have been conceived and born into sin. It is called original sin, and it has been passed down ever since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden through countless generations to our parents, and then to us. We have all missed the mark. In no way can we follow Jesus.
Yet Jesus knows all this. He searches us and knows us. He knows when we sit down or rise up. He knew Nathanael was under that fig tree before they even met. He knows every one of our thoughts. He knows just how sinfully depraved we are in thought, word, and deed. He knows everything about us.
So, in His omniscient, all knowing, wisdom, our God did something about it. He saw the deceit and defilement of our hearts and knew that with sin saturating us, there was no way we could follow Him…not when His demand was perfection.
So God so loved the world that He sent His Son. Conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, He was crucified, died, and was buried, and the third day He rose.
Jesus came. Though he had done no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth (Isaiah 53:9b), He came and laid down His life as the perfect sacrifice that had been demanded of us. As the book of Hebrews states it, Jesus was the once for all sacrifice through which we have all be sanctified. We have been made holy in the shed precious blood of Jesus.
For all the times you have failed to follow Him. For all the times you arrogantly thought like Nathanael that God should only function on your terms. For all the times you thought you were the leader and Jesus should be doing the following. For all the times you have fallen into sin in any way, Jesus came to do the will of His Father, to follow in perfect obedience in order to save you.
The result of such a perfect sacrifice is that heaven is now opened for you. Just like Jesus told Nathanael. Listen again: [Jesus said]: “You will see greater things than these. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Yes, now you have access to God the Father because of Jesus. It is like Paul said to the Romans in chapter five: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1-2).
We might question how this is all possible. Well, it is only by the grace of God. And that grace was poured out for you here at the font, where water is not just plain water. Where you were named and claimed as Christ’s own. Where you were made a follower of Jesus.
You see, it is not in your power that you follow Jesus. It is rather as Paul said in the Epistle: “You are not your own. You were bought with a price.” That price was the life of Jesus. And with His life joined to yours, you do follow Him.
We don’t know what the future holds as we follow Jesus. If we have learned anything from this last year’s past pandemic and political atmosphere is that we are in for quite a trek ahead of us.
Will the pandemic ever end? What will happen to religious liberty? What will happen to free speech? What will happen to the freedoms we have held dear for so long? I ask these questions because they have come up in many-a-conversation.
No matter what happens, Jesus command remains the same: Follow Me. But not in your own strength and stamina. You don’t have what it takes. Nor do I. Jesus does. He has already journeyed through hell and back, and He did it all for you.
And here at His altar He gives you everything you need so that you may keep following Him. He gives you Himself. His body. His blood. Given and shed for you…so that with His life joined to yours, you may keep following Him…
Follow Him, for He is the ‘Way’, the Truth, and the Life. Follow Him through ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown…not knowing where we go through this world, but trusting that His pierced hand is leading us and His love is holding us all the way to the cross and the empty tomb of the resurrection of the dead and life everlasting. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.