Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sermon -- Festival of St. Bartholomew

JOHN 1:43-51

In the name + of Jesus.

     When the Christian Church celebrates a minor festival, it is our tradition to change the paraments on the altar to reflect it.  Sometimes the paraments are white indicating that the saint we commemorate died a peaceful death.  Today, as you can see, the paraments are red.  This indicates that the saint was martyred for the Christian faith which he preached and confessed. 
     The Festival of St. Bartholomew falls on a Sunday this year, and it is timely for us to celebrate it.  Though Scripture tells us precious little about St. Bartholomew, tradition tells us that he was a missionary to India and Armenia.  Tradition also says that Bartholomew was flayed alive for being a preacher of Jesus Christ.  While that is grotesque, it is no less disturbing to hear about the Christians in Syria and Iraq who are being crucified these days for the Christian faith.  They have had their homes marked by Muslims.  And though it puts them in great danger, these Christians have not denied Christ or pretended to be anything other than Jesus’ disciples.  In his wisdom, the Lord Jesus is allowing these Middle Eastern Christians to glorify him in their death.  We pray that the Lord would sustain these people in their faith so that they would remain faithful even to the point of death—either their own death or watching the death of their family members.  Let your prayers for these people be fervent and frequent.
     But long before Bartholomew honored Jesus by his gory death, Jesus honored him with a high compliment.  Bartholomew is also known to us as Nathanael.  He was somewhat of a skeptic.  He was not willing to buy into any rumor about a Messiah, no matter how much he had been longing for him.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus NazarethNathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”  Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:45-46) 
     As you know, Nathanael did come and see.  Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (John 1:47)  We do not often hear Jesus give such high words of praise to anyone.  So what was it about Nathanael that Jesus commended him for?
     The answer comes from Philip’s invitation to him.  Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus Nazareth(John 1:45)  Nathanael believed Moses and the Prophets.  More than that, Nathanael believed that Moses and the Prophets foretold that a Messiah would come to deliver him from his enemies, specifically, from sin, death, and the devil.  Nathanael had heard the promises read in the synagogue.  He had studied them when he was confirmed as a son of the covenant.  And he continued to long for and pray for the Lord’s Christ to come.  He was a true Israelite. 
     When Nathanael came to Jesus, he was amazed at Jesus’ omniscience.  Jesus assured him, “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.” (John 1:50-51)  In other words, Nathanael would see Jesus as the path to heaven.  It is through Jesus that heaven is opened.  And it is at Jesus’ word that the angels will carry us there.  A true Israelite will see great things.
     Nathanael was praised as a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.  If such words of praise sound wrong to you, it is because you know that all men are liars.  We lie to cover up our sins and hide our shame.  We lie to make ourselves look good before others.  We lie to ourselves, convinced that we are good and that God should be pleased with us.  In all this, we end up calling God a liar.  For, when we insist that we are good, we deny what God has said, “All have sinned.” (Romans 3:23)  This is what the Lord says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)  Even our best motives are tainted, because we think we should be rewarded and praised for what we do and who we are.  We may defy God with self-centered words and actions, but we still expect God to reward us for ice bucket challenges and for being nice to people who like us.  Such things are nice, even helpful, but they do not take away sins.
     The Lord Jesus Christ does not want you to put your trust in self-deception.  He has exposed you for the sinner that you are.  He has done this so that you will no longer buy the lie that you must earn praise from God, or worse, that you have earned it.  All have sinned.  There is no praise in that.  Therefore, you do not have to pretend to be what you are not.  You do not have to hide your guilt or cover your shame.  You come before God boasting of nothing.  Instead, you confess your sin.  You repent of any pride in yourself.  You throw yourself on God’s mercy.
     The Lord Jesus Christ does not fail you or disappoint you.  Jesus rescues you from every false hope.  He does not let your salvation rest on wishful thinking.  And he does pretend that your sins are no big deal.  That is Satan’s line.  They are a big deal.  That is why Jesus suffered for your guilt and died for your sins.  Jesus is the guilt offering which was made for you.  He has paid for all your sins in blood.  Therefore, you are pardoned for every offense.  You are forgiven of all sins.  Jesus has applied his bloody sacrifice to you in your baptism.  There, he has covered your shame with his righteousness.  There, he created in you a clean heart and has breathed in you his Holy Spirit.  That is how you can stand before God as one who is holy and blameless.  Your life is hidden in Christ.  That is what God sees.  Therefore, God is pleased with you.  Therefore, God is pleased with your works—whether you pour ice water over your head to support a cure for Lou Gehrig’s Disease, or you pour over figures for work, or you pour over a novel in bed.  God is pleased with you not by what you do or by what you pretend to be.  God is pleased with you because Jesus makes you a true Israelite.
     As you assess yourself, you might recognize that you do not look a true Israelite.  And that is true.  You don’t look like it—yet.  But the day will come when God will transform your lowly body into the likeness of Jesus’ glorious, risen body.  On that day, at the resurrection, you will actually appear as God has declared to you be.  You will not merely be called a saint, you will look like one.  Heaven will be opened to you.  And the angels who have watched over you throughout your life will also escort you into the very presence of God.  There, all true Israelites will see the glories of heaven and have everlasting, unbroken peace.  A true Israelite will see great things.
     The apostle Nathanael came from the fig tree to see Jesus preach and heal, to suffer and die, to rise from the grave and to ascend to heaven.  Then he went out and proclaimed to many the truth of Jesus Christ.  No longer does man have to lie to himself, to pretend before others, or to try to earn God’s praise.  Jesus Christ has cleansed us from all sin and rescued us from false hope.  Nathanael boldly confessed this truth even when a gruesome and painful death was pronounced against him.  Even then, Jesus did not disown Nathanael.  He was still a true Israelite.  He would see greater things and be given a greater glory.
      A true Israelite will see great things.  It is impossible to know if you will face anything close to what St. Bartholomew endured.  There is no way of knowing if you will ever face persecution as intense as the Christians in Syria and Iraq.  Whether you do or not, you are marked as Jesus' disciple.  You do not have to pretend to be who you are not.  You confess that you are a sinner, but more importantly, you confess that your hope, your peace, your righteousness, and your salvation all come from Jesus and rest in him.  There is no deception in Jesus' promises, and there is no disappointment in clinging to him.  This faith is what makes you a true Israelite, and you will see the greater things of heavenly glory.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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