The Lutheran Hour: January 18, 2015

The Lutheran Hour with Rev.Gregory Seltz
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Sermon Text for January 18, 2015 

"The Antidote" #82-20

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on January 18, 2015
By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(A Faithful and Missional Life?)
Copyright 2015 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: John 1:43-51

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."...... Philip (then) found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.""Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. Philip said, "Come and see. Come and see." 

Christ is risen, He is risen indeed, and as the crucified, resurrected One, He is the antidote for sinful cynicism, the eternal source of hope and joy for all who believe. Amen.

Cynical, skeptical, disbelieving; the English dictionary describes a cynical person as one "who is doubting, even contemptuous, of human nature, or the motives, or goodness, or sincerity of others." It's an attitude that often takes some time to develop, but once it roots itself in the human heart, it can be almost impossible to overcome. It can look at a wonderful gift right in the face and find something wrong with it, something erroneous about it, something flawed or seemingly incorrect, making even the gift of a lifetime merely something new to be passed by, neglected because there can't be anything good there anyway.

There are a lot of people out there who fit this description, don't they? Maybe you're one of them. I know that there have been times when I've felt that way too. I mean, just look at the world in which we live it, right? Very often people say to me, "How can you be hopeful once you see the world as it really is."

This past week I came across some humorous statements that illustrated how a cynic sees things! Ready? If you think nobody cares about you, try missing a couple of payments, you suddenly have all the mail and phone calls you've ever wished for. For every action, there is an equal and opposite criticism coming your way, even from those on your side.

Have you ever felt that way? Cynical attitudes seem to abound today, don't they? Even though we are living in probably the most prosperous time in human history, with gadgets that satisfy our every whim, with technology that controls our living spaces with absolute, personal specificity, with entertainment devices and places that seem so endless, one could describe the modern world as a place where people are literally entertaining themselves to death! Amidst it all, though, people are more cynical than ever. Why?

There are day-to-day reasons that we all feel cynical at times, but there is a bigger issue that undergirds it all. You see, in our quest for total control of our lives, we have neglected God, the One who created and redeemed us. As sinful human beings, we have reduced life merely to what we make of it. For many today, life is about what I decide, what I seek to do, taking whatever I can get as long as I can get it until I can't get it anymore.

Notice a recurring theme through all of that? "I, I, I." Life is what I make it. That's not just a recipe for cynicism, that's a recipe for cynical despair, for eternal separation from God Himself. The cynical view of life today might be an honest look at the recurring failures of sinful humanity from our perspective, but it sinfully misses God's offer of life, how to receive it, how to live it, joyfully, abundantly in His grace and wisdom for eternity.

That's why our text is so important for us today. Jesus Christ is God's antidote for sinful cynicism and despair, because Jesus isn't another human potential teacher, or some progressive politician with new answers to eternal problems, or some ultra-traditionalist who just wishes that we could do things like we've always done them before. He is the One who calls all of us to repentance and faith in Himself; period. There is no ultimate hope, joy, peace, prosperity, or purpose for our lives outside of a faith relationship to the One who came to redeem and to restore the world. 

In our text for today, it's not that a cynic finds Jesus, because cynics will always find a way to dispense with anything good in their lives. No, in this event, Jesus finds a cynic, overcomes his cynicism, and calls him to faith and life in Him alone. 

And that's my prayer for you today, dear friend, that you also would see this Jesus as your antidote to cynicism, despair, and struggle; for this Jesus didn't just want to find Nathanael and gave him abundant life in Him, He wants that for you, for you too!

That's the joy that compelled Philip to say to Nathanael, "We have found Jesus of Nazareth""Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. Philip said, "Come and see." 

Our lesson for today, then, makes a pretty bold claim. If you are feeling cynical today, suffering in a reality induced despair, get to know Jesus as your Savior, for the joy of knowing Jesus, the grace of Christ, that's the only thing that can turn we sinful cynics from cynicism to faith. In fact, that's what the Bible is all about, that's what the life, and death, and resurrection of Jesus is all about; turning sinners into repentant believers, turning cynics into hope-filled followers of Jesus, turning us from eternal death to life in Him alone. 

Nathanael encounters Jesus! We get to encounter Him, too, through the events of this story. Are you ready to encounter Jesus with me through Nathanael's eyes? Let's do it.

First of all, let's start by giving Nathanael some credit! He wasn't a modern cynic. He hadn't closed his eyes to all the things that God had done in history for his life and salvation. In fact, he was still looking for the Messiah. He just couldn't believe that the true Messiah was this Jesus from god-awful Nazareth. Think about it. Nazareth was a town of Galilee and Nathanael himself was a Galilean. Even to him as a Galilean, it was off the beaten path, known for being a place behind the times, lacking in culture. Nothing about it seemed respectable, admirable, honorable. 

Do you know places like that today? Even more importantly, would you trust a leader from a place like that? Well, if you heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, you probably would have said the same thing that Nathanael said, "What good can come from there?" And surely, "The true Messiah will be from someplace other than that!" So, no-guile Nathanael comes to see Jesus, with the cynicism that comes with seeing all the false messiahs come and go. But he comes anyway!

And that's the point. You too, me as well, come with your heart open and honest; even if you're a bit cynical, but come and see this Jesus of the Bible and you will learn the great reversal of this text. The point is not whether something good can come from Nazareth; it's whether God can bring something good to places and people like those of Nazareth and beyond. 

The truth of the matter is this, God does things much differently than any of us can imagine. He didn't just bring something good out of Nazereth, He brought His good things to Nazareth and beyond. And just like cynical Nathanael, He came with an offer of life and salvation in Him alone, for Philip, for Nathanael, and for all who believe in Him. 

For the Bible says that all sinful people, no matter where we're from, we all are at the place of absolute need when it comes to the things of God, and yet Christ comes all the way to those places. He comes to the Nazareth places of life with a heavenly grace and a kingdom of God joy just for you and for me.

The text says, "When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no guile or deceit.""How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." Then Nathanael declared, 

"Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel." Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that." He then added, "Very truly I tell you, you will see 'heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man." 

Like talking to Nathanael; He knows you the same. The text says that Jesus saw Him. That's more than casual knowledge. He, in essence, saw right through him; the sins, the sorrows, the broken hopes, dreams, He saw it all.

The Bible is clear from cover to cover that the all-knowing God sees right through you and me too. He sees right into the you that no one else knows, underneath the facade, deep in your heart. He knows if you are skeptical, if you are cantankerous, if you are scared, hopeful, or hopeless. He knows. 

Thank God His good news of salvation does not depend on your efforts or mine to find Him, to know Him, but on His efforts to find us, to be known by us! 

Like Nathanael, we need to see God's big picture on our life. We need to broaden our horizons beyond what we think we see or what we think we need. 

President John F. Kennedy gave a glimpse of what that might mean for your life when he said, "The problems of this world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities. We need men who can dream of things that never were."

Well, I think Nathanael would say it even more clearly this way; we need to dream of the endless, eternal possibilities of life, when the reality of Jesus as our Savior takes hold of us by faith. 

Jesus sees Nathanael, sees you and me, not just eye to eye, but deep in our hearts and souls. He's telling us I see you as you are. I know that you may have been disappointed in the past. I know that you are seeking for things that matter, but somehow are disappointed, let down, or overwhelmed. Well, the only way those yearnings will be fulfilled is when you realize that all those things are fulfilled in me. "I," Jesus says, "am the Way, the Truth, the Life. I'm here for you right now, put your faith in Me."

If you think about it, you are listening to this program today for a reason. It may be that you just turned in on for the first time. You might have even been looking for something else to fill the time, yet here you are, hearing about God's persevering, gracious love for you; a love that can fill you with joy despite the heartaches of this life, a peace that passes all human understanding. He's come for you right now, in this world, in this encounter with all of the Nathanaels of the world together.

Take Philip's challenge to heart when he proclaims, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, about whom the prophets also wrote-Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. Come and see." Even better; come, see, and believe for yourself.

If you've got a bit of Nathanael in you today, how about you, with me, setting your cynicism aside for the moment just like he did. He said, in essence, "Okay, Jesus, have your say about my life!" Wow. That's the first step in overcoming sinful cynicism. That repentant perspective already realizes how sin has messed up our life, how much we need a Savior. Okay, Jesus, have your say. Actually, Nathanael went further. He said, "Okay, Jesus, have your way with me!"

You see, when Jesus is the center of your life, cynicism has to flee. You can't despair of the future because He holds your future and death couldn't even hold Him. Whatever He promises is true, no matter the circumstances of the moment. When He says that your sins are forgiven, they are. When He tells you to have hope, to be confident in the future, you can. When He says that you will live eternally with Him, you will! 

But, Pastor Seltz, Nathanael had no guile it says. I've got plenty of guile. I can see why Jesus came for him, but for me? If He really, really sees me and knows me, that can't be good for me.

Well, now I'm going to be bold with you and say, "Leave your cynicism, even about yourself, at the empty tomb of His crucified for you grace." In Him all cynicism takes flight, and that especially means for you! Yes, He sees you, He knows you, and in repentant faith in Jesus alone, that's good news. 

There are all kinds of stories like this in the Bible. Do you remember Jesus' encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria recorded in John chapter 4? Maybe she is more like you or like me. She was one who didn't even belong in her own neighborhood, let alone heaven. But Jesus engages her to save her just like He did with Nathanael. Yes, she had blotches on her record. Yes, she couldn't even brag about her hopes and dreams because of her choices or the realities of her life, all those were gone too. 

Maybe that's how you feel because of your choices or your situation. Maybe you are sitting at the well of real hopelessness right now; but this text says, "Jesus comes to that well of brokenness, wherever you are, with His grace!

So, where are you today? Endless joblessness, maybe you've failed at marriage, failed at parenting, or even made a mess out of your single life. Maybe you've run with the wrong crowd and now've been run over by the life you've been living. He sees it, He knows it, and He's here for you right now. Come, see, and believe in Him!

In fact, I think Philip wants you to have a eureka moment right now with God! When he talks about discovering or finding Jesus, the word is "eurisko." 

Sound like any English word you know? Yes, eureka! We found it, that which we were searching for it's here, it's now. Eureka, incredible joy in the fact of finding what we desperately were seeking. 

That's the spirit of this text. Philip isn't playing religious games with Nathanael or with you and me. He is just pointing all realistic cynics to the One who can truly deliver life and salvation beyond your every imagination to every sinful, cynical, overwhelmed by the reality of life, life. Come and see this Man. See this Man who can see you as you are and still give you life and salvation. See this Man who can help you face whatever you're up against and see you through it; not just here and now, but forever. See this Man who can give you a whole new outlook on life, on work, on neighbors, friends, family, even what to do with enemies!

Somebody said it well when they noted that most cynics are simply crushed romantics. Okay, that's probably a fair depiction of sinful people when we realize that our best is never enough. But, I think that cynics are really just people who have forgotten that life is a gift from God, one that He promises, one that He fulfills, one that He guarantees, now and forever. Eureka, we found the gift, we opened the gift by faith, the gift is Jesus as our Savior, our Redeemer.

I know that Christmas is behind us for another year, but the spirit of giving is really just ramping up in the Christian year in the Church. If you think about it, the whole Christmas, Good Friday, Easter message is about God giving a gift to the world. He earned it, He promised it, He paid for it, and He delivered it; manger, cross, resurrection. When life is a gift from Him, everything changes.

Don't you love what Jesus told Nathanael at the end of this encounter? He said, "You think it's a big deal that I see you as you are; wait until you see heaven itself opened for you because of me."

Phillip said, "Come and See." Jesus says, "Leave your cynicism behind and believe! For in Me, through Me, with Me," says Christ, "the gift of heaven itself is offered, lives are restored, souls are redeemed, death is defeated, struggle is overcome, pain is temporary, and life and eternal hope is real.

Let me close by saying this. If it would have been left up to Nathanael, left to his own devices, he probably still would have dismissed Jesus. So, remember that eureka joy that he and Philip did have could even better be applied to Jesus when He finds you, when He saves you, when you trust in Him by faith. He found Philip. Joy! He found Nathanael through Philip. Joy! He's come to find you too! He's here for you too! Can you let Jesus have His say, have His way with you today? He sees you, He knows you, and that's good news because faith in Him is the antidote for sinful cynicism and the key to abundant life for you now and forever. 


LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for January18, 2015

Topic: A Faithful and Missional Life?

ANNOUNCER: Now, Pastor Gregory Seltz responds to questions. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, the Bible encourages us to be careful about the company we keep; for example, in 1 Corinthians 15, St. Paul even quoted an old Greek poet who wrote: "Bad company corrupts good character." Yet, at the same time we're called to seek out those who are living apart from Christ and somehow share the Gospel with them. I'm trying to see how we do both.

SELTZ: Wow, that's a great question. It shows the difficulty and the challenge of the Christian life, that's for sure.

ANNOUNCER: It seems like an almost impossible task. How might the Bible help us understand this?

SELTZ: Well, just look at the passage itself. The point being made is not whether to have non-Christian friends but to make sure that we aren't participating in any sinful activity because of our friendships.

ANNOUNCER: So, the Bible doesn't call us to a total separation from the world.

SELTZ: No way. In fact, we, as Christians, are to engage the world, to get to know and serve our neighbors whether Christian or not. We're to be in the world, not of the world. Think about it, none of us would have been saved if God waited for us to be good enough or religious enough to receive Him.

ANNOUNCER: Point well taken. Would you have any other advice about how to hold these sort of things in tension?

SELTZ: First of all, the most important thing for a Christian is to be connected to Jesus Christ through His gifts of Word and sacrament and to be connected to a body of believers for fellowship, prayer, and encouragement. Even as Christians, you were never meant to be alone.

ANNOUNCER: Because if you were to cut yourself off from God's gifts and from the company of fellow Christians, you're, in fact, cutting yourself off from the very things that God designed to strengthen and sustain your faith.

SELTZ: Exactly. So, if your group of friends is solely non-believers and the activities that you share with them cause you to start missing church or not to read your Bible, that is like deliberately forgetting your first love. That's what Paul is talking about in the passage as well. He points out that he engaged some pretty rowdy people in Ephesus, but he never forgot who he was in Christ.

ANNOUNCER: In fact, he engaged them in order to share the Gospel with them, didn't he?

SELTZ: He did. That's the second point. As we befriend and care about people that God brings into our lives, we need to learn to be ourselves with them. That doesn't always mean we have to be overtly Christian at every moment, but we need to let people see us as we are, believers in Jesus who live a life to honor Him and serve others in His Name.

ANNOUNCER: And it's been said people don't care what you know until they know that you care.

SELTZ: Yeah, I like that, because it summarizes, also, the way that Christ served us and brought us to faith. Remember in Romans 5 where it says, "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." He served, saved, and sought us first. Again, we need to maintain our connection to Him to fellow believers for the sake of our service to those who don't know Jesus as their savior.

ANNOUNCER: How can we make sure to do both?

SELTZ: I'd keep it simple. Make sure that you have a disciplined approach to reading the Bible, going to church; keeping connected to the things that keep you connected to Jesus, and then be open to the poeple that God brings into your life. Be the kind of person that is gracious to all those you meet and be interested in those He brings to you, that should give you plenty of opportunity to keep the tension of building a variety of friendships, without falling into the trap of being friends with those whose life and lifestyle disconnects you from Jesus.

ANNOUNCER: Maybe another way of saying that would be "If you find your friendships are starting to pull you away from the things of God and the people of God, something's out of balance somewhere."

SELTZ: That's a good way to think about a lot of things, our friendships, our work, and even our leisure. 

ANNOUNCER: At the same time the other extreme can be a problem as well.

SELTZ: You mean when all our friends are Christian?

ANNOUNCER: Right. You're totally within that Christian bubble.

SELTZ: That is a life out of balance too because being a Christian means that, yes, you enjoy the fellowship of the found; but with the same openness of Jesus to those who are lost like you were. So to not have that openness to those who don't believe, it dishonors the spirit of those who shared Christ with you, even the spirit of Christ the Savior who came for all. I just think that being more intentional to those God brings into your life, that's one great way of letting Him keep one's openness to new friends and neighbors as well as being connected to Christ and His Church.

ANNOUNCER: And it's a tension, but a joyful tension. Thank you, Pastor Seltz. This has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"The Only Son from Heaven" arr. Henry Gerike. Used by permission.

"Hail to the Lord's Anointed" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

"From God the Father, Virgin-Born" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

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