What caused Nathanael to ask that question in the first place? There is really a small chain of events. We are told in our first verses, “The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ Philip found Nathanael 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.” In this first chapter of John’s Gospel, we see John the Baptist trumpeting loudly an Epiphany fitting message of “Look there is the Lamb of God.” He tells his disciples several times, this is the one I told you about. And so we start to see those disciples following Jesus to find out more. We hear about Andrew, Peter, and most likely John in the verses before this. And now Jesus goes and finds Philip before heading north to Galilee. Philip is convinced that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah, the one promised in the Law and the Prophets, the Old Testament. He runs to tell Nathanael the news and he is met with that question. “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?"
What’s Nathanael’s problem here? We sometimes rush to the point that Nazareth was a pretty unimportant place in the backwaters of Galilee. But I don’t think that is all that is going on here. What do we hear about Philip, and Andrew, and Peter? They are all from Bethsaida, a simple fishing village up in Galilee. It wouldn’t make a ton of sense that all that is in Nathanael’s mind is “Oh Nazareth is the sticks.” It would be like someone from Cottage Grove acting like there is nothing good from Hastings. Is it possible someone would say that? Sure. But wouldn’t it make more sense that Nathanael is not just picking on Nazareth? Instead he is meaning something very good with his question? Philip just said to him, we found the Messiah, Jesus from Nazareth. What would a true Israelite, one who knew his Old Testament say? Can the good one come from Nazareth? He is supposed to be born in Bethlehem Ephrathah. Can that which is really good be found there in Nazareth?
Isn’t that the question that people are asking, aloud and mentally about this place and others like it? Can that which is the highest good really come from there? There is a lot of doubt that real good can be found in the church. One of the members of our church posted a video on her Facebook page that is a dramatic telling of how Jesus is greater than religion and how the church seems to teach a different message than Christ taught. It’s an interesting video, because it very subtly sets up a new standard of what makes someone a Christian. But that is someone who is a Christian asking if there is anything good here. What about those who aren’t? What about those who are unaware of the real message we teach? Are they convinced that nothing good can come from this? And if they are, what are we doing to answer it?
How are we showing them that there is something good to find here? Do we act like we are convinced there is? Are we willing to give Philip’s answer to those people who ask us? Come and see what good is here. Or are we afraid? Afraid that if they come, they won’t really be convinced there is much good or impressiveness here. Are we embarrassed, that if we ask them to come they won’t find some of Scripture’s teachings to be good on their first taste? Are we afraid they will come and see people who aren’t any better than they are, people who still struggle with sin like they do? Or is the problem that we have convinced ourselves there is good here, but we are putting forward the wrong “good” thing? We love to point out some of the things that we do as a church to others, as if that was really the good that comes from our congregation. Is the good that we offer something that could easily be found elsewhere? Do you and I act like there is something good to be found here? How do you talk about coming here? Something that you know you should do once in a while or something that you know will reveal to you the highest good? Do you prepare to taste and see that the Lord is good, or do you come because you have done so every week for a long time? Are we acting and living like we have an answer to this question, “Can anything good come from there?”
Jesus had the answer to Nathanael’s question. Nathanael didn’t even ask it but Jesus answered it. “When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘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 revealed to him what good thing he had found. As Jesus in a simple way showed Nathanael his omniscience, that he knew all things, Jesus revealed to him who he had found. Not just a good teacher from Nazareth. Not just a charismatic leader to follow. But just how good it was that he was there. He revealed to Nathanael that he was the Son of the living God. He was the long promised good and gracious Savior. He was the King of Israel. And he would show Nathanael just how good he really was.
How do we reveal how great of a good can be found here? I can’t say to someone who walks in, here is a true Cottage Grovian, in whom there is nothing false. I saw you at Cub before so and so invited you here. But see what does happen here. We like Philip tell everyone, including ourselves, we have found the one written about in the Old Testament and witnessed to in the New. We have found the one who is the Son of God and King of Israel. That is what is good to find here. We get to reveal the Christ. We get to say to the hurting and the lonely, here is the good you seek. Not people who are caring and supportive, even if they are. Not a pastor who is willing to counsel you, even though I willingly try to help. Here is the good. The one promised is revealed here. The one God who can heal your hurt. The one King who reigns over sin and death for you. The one who showed up to walk in Galilee and then to Jerusalem to Calvary. Here is the good you seek. God eternal in human flesh. Set to keep the law for you. Set to die for you. Here he is. Come and find this good, here as his Word is proclaimed. As we sing his word back to him in our hymns.
And as good as this is, Jesus says you will see greater things. Jesus says, if you are amazed at how good I am that I came and was revealed, watch this. Watch as I take simple water and by my powerful word wash this child’s sins away and make him my own. Watch as I take bread and wine, and miraculously by my powerful promise give you my very body and blood for the forgiveness of every last one of your sins. Watch, as I strengthen you as you return here over and over again to hear of my great love for you, a sinner whom I have called my own. Watch as I help you and care for you in a variety of ways. Watch as I place my cross upon you to keep you trusting in my power and my work.
This is the good that is being sought. This is the good that we enjoy here. This is the good that more need to hear and to see. You do not need to be a fearful Philip or a master of misdirection. If we tell someone come and see, they will come to hear the greatest good that is found in the gracious God. If we tell someone come and see, we are not basing our confidence on any of the things that we do or who we are. All such works and efforts should be serving our desire to share the greatest good. We can pursue excellence in our ministry, but we pursue it knowing that we do so to see and to share the one who is truly good. Answer the question, “Can anything good be found here?” with a resounding yes! Here is found my Savior Jesus in Word and Sacrament. Here is found the answer to our problem of sin and the fears of our lives and others. Here is found the greatest good, the Son of God, the King of Israel. Amen.