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Private Confession: By Appointment

The Real Jesus

January 16, 2021 Pastor: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Verse: John 1:47–1:51

Christ Lutheran Church
Cleveland, Ohio
January 17, 2020
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras

Epiphany 2
The Real Jesus

Jesus saw Nathanael coming (mid) toward him and said of him, "Behold! A true Israelite who speaks no deceit." Nathanael said to him, "How do you know me?" Jesus answered and said to him, "Before Philip called you I saw you under the fig tree." Nathanael answered back, "Rabbi! You are the Son of God. You are the king of Israel."

Then Jesus replied and said to him, "Because I said to you, 'I saw you under the fig tree' you believe. You will see greater things than these." And he said to him, "Amen, Amen I say to you/p, you will see heaven open with your own eyes and the angels of God rising up and falling down before the Son of Man." (John 1:47-51)

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One of the cancers that the church has suffered through the ages is the heresy known as Docetism. It came into vogue in the late 200’s and was quickly condemned by the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

The term Docetism comes from the Greek word which means: an illusion. Something only seeming to be so. When applied to our Lord there was a sect of Christians that believed that Jesus did not REALLY come in the flesh because, they decided, that would be beneath the dignity of God. And so Jesus, they say, only SEEMED to be a man.

But this will never do! The church teaches that in order to redeem humanity from sin our Lord had to be BOTH True God and True Man. As Man he was able to assume our place in judgment and suffer our sentence. As God the payment made by this One Man Christ Jesus was sufficient to expunge humanity’s atrocities which are more numerous than the sands of the sea, and the stars of the sky.

Yes the One Mediator between God and man was able to do that because he is true God and true Man. Please note that we say “is” true God and true Man. That is because our Lord did not cease being divine when he was born into our world, nor did he cease to be human when he ascended into heaven so that we can rightly say, “Man with God is on the throne.” (TLH #218)

But there is a problem!

Docetism is not dead.

Today people think that Jesus is nothing more than a 5 letter word, and not just unbelievers! Ever since the dawn of Protestantism some 500 years ago men have been taught to worship an idea. A notion. An historical character. Or one who only exists in an unspecified spiritual form. And it is this imaginary Jesus who has deceived modern clerics into thinking that “virtual church” on the internet is just as good as the factual assembly of the baptized where flesh and blood people gather to enter into Holy Communion with the Flesh and Blood of Jesus.

But that is not what today’s gospel teaches us!

Everything we hear of in today’s readings teaches us that our Lord is as truly Man as he is God, and that if you want to know him, and come to him like Nathanael did, you must do so through the means he instituted.

We find this to be the case with Samuel in today’s Old Testament lesson. Samuel was a miracle child. His mother Hannah made a vow that if God would let her conceive that she would give the child over to the Lord’s service: And she did!

And it is for this reason that we find Samuel liturgizing the LORD as a little child before he even knew how to tie his shoes. Like Nathanael he was studying the Scriptures under Eli the priest; and already at this young age was learning about the sacrifices that cleansed men of their sins.

He was no average student! We find in 1 Samuel 3:1 that he slept in the temple, in front of the Ark of the Covenant, which pointed straight to Christ.

And it was in that temple, from inside of the Ark, that Samuel heard the Lord’s call. A call that at first confused him, but with Eli’s guidance came to understand. So that by the third time he heard the Lord calling him he responded with these reverent words: Speak Lord, for thy servant heareth!

We find the same with Nathanael in today’s gospel. He was sitting under the fig which is code for faithful Israel. The people to whom the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Holy Trinity, revealed himself to the world.

All of which was promised, and recorded in the Old Testament Scriptures! And these are the very thing that Nathanael was studying under the Fig Tree.

Likely his question: Can anything good come from Nazareth resulted from his Biblical knowledge. The Savior, he knew, would come from Bethlehem not Nazareth. But even this was divinely planned, because our God delights in keeping us on our toes.

He delights when we study; when we devote our vast mental capabilities to exploring and scrutinizing his Word, his Promises and his Worship.

What Philip found, and Nathanael came to see for himself was the Word of Old Testament promises Made Flesh and dwelling among them! And when you have seen that, you have seen it all!

But then what are these greater things that this little school of 4 disciples would see? One must interpret these verses carefully if he is to know what the Lord means. Jesus says –

"Amen, Amen I say to you, you will see heaven open with your own eyes and the angels of God rising up and falling down before the Son of Man."

What does this mean?

When our Lord was born into the world, and moreover when he was nailed to the glorious cross, a door was opened in heaven and is still open today!

Please note those words: the glorious cross because St. John consistently calls the Lord’s crucifixion his glorification! For, you see, the cross is not “the emblem of suffering and shame” as the old hymn goes; but of victory over sin, death and the Ancient Serpent whose poison still deceives the intellects, affections and deeds of men.

Yes, if you want to see glorious things that will transform you from glory unto glory; if you want to see heavens angels rejoicing with great joy; then keep your eye on the: one of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote, now in flesh appearing.

Keep your eyes on the glorified Body of Christ.

Stephan, the church’s first martyr received such vision, as he was about to enter into genuine Holy Communion with Jesus. John and his persecuted church on the Isle of Patmos also received such a vision as they celebrated the Blessed Sacrament in captivity. And we are no different!

In today’s epistle St. Paul teaches the same thing. His subject matter the ruination of our bodies and souls should we engage in sexual immorality! But he also takes this opportunity to teach us that: our bodies are temples, dwelling places of God’s Spirit; that the body is meant for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. That we were bought with a price – the sufferings and death of our Lord; that in Holy Communion we are made one with God; and that we should therefore glorify God with our bodies.

We are doing that now. Today by faith and through external means Christ established, we see what Nathanael saw. The angels of God falling down in worship before their Lord, and rising up to serve him; and in this Eucharist we join them as well.

And what we now experience in muted glory, we will later see face to face as we join Samuel, Andrew, Peter, Philip and Nathanael and all the redeemed in glorious Communion with Christ our God. Amen.