43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
So, we are currently taking these first five Sundays of 2021 to talk about and remind ourselves of our distinctives as a church. Our distinctives are the characteristics of our church that make us, us. They are beliefs, practices, and structures that perhaps define us to an extent. But, more than that, our distinctives remind us that God has called us together uniquely for unique work here in our city. And, I would say the same thing is true of you and your family. God has uniquely gifted and resourced you so that you can do the unique work that he has called you to. And, that’s not separate from the church. So often we can take a very organizational view when it comes to the church, yet, in reality, the church is simply the body of Christ doing the unique work that God has called and equipped it to.
This was true of the very first group of Christ followers, the men and women that we know as the disciples. And, you might say, wait a minute, women? And, yes, there were many women who were disciples of Jesus that we see in the pages of the gospels. There were other men outside of the twelve disciples who were followers of Jesus. The twelve were clearly a special group, though. They are directly invited into a relationship by Christ. They are being specifically trained by Jesus. And, the work that they were being specifically trained for was the work of Apostleship. That word, apostle, comes from the Greek “apostlos” which literally means messenger or envoy. Jesus was training these men to be the ones who would initiate a gospel explosion, who would be charged with taking the good news of Jesus to the ends of the earth and to train more followers of him.
Today, we see the calling of Phillip and Nathaniel, who is also sometimes called Bartholomew, in John 1. And, we get many of these accounts throughout the gospels of Jesus specifically inviting men into the discipleship relationship. And, there are a number of directions that you could take this text. You have to make note of the critical role that Phillip play in bringing Nathaniel to Christ. I think we too, in a literal and metaphorical way, have been called to take people by the hand and lead them to Christ…to tell people “come and see.” But, at the end of the day, the real question is, what do you believe? Belief is central to faith. You don’t have faith in things that you don’t ultimately believe to be true. This was true for Phillip. He tells Nathaniel, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” This is the foundational belief for him. This is the Messiah. This is the one whom the prophets wrote about. Come and see because this is incredible news.
Nathaniel is skeptical, but upon even the slightest supernatural experience, Jesus telling him he saw him under a fig tree, Nathaniel is convinced and confesses ““Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” So, two principles to guide our thinking today. The first we’ve already mentioned.
- What we believe about Jesus is central to Christian faith.
The first six letters of the word Christian spell what? Christ. This is a faith system that is predicated on and built around what we believe about Jesus. Now, note, it is not first about what we believe to be true about God the Father. This is because we believe, in large part, the same things that Jews believe about God the Father. And, some people would even claim that the God of other religions is that same God the Father. But, Christianity is built on the claims made by Jesus Christ and his followers, namely what Nathaniel says, that he is the Son of God.
- We profess what we believe to be true.
If you really believe something to be true, and especially if you believe something to have eternal significance, then you profess it. Here we see Phillip not only professing it, but trying to convince others to profess it. You see Nathaniel do the same; once he believes it he professes it.
So, here’s the thing, what we believe about Christ as a church is paramount. There is nothing more important. If we get off track in our faith, it will more than likely begin with some kind of incorrect thinking about Christ. And, yet, sadly, I find that it is often the last thing people want to know when you start talking about belief. Yeah yeah, the Jesus stuff, but what do you believe about marriage. Or what do you believe about gender issues or issues of sexuality. What do you believe about war and violence? What do you believe about the Bible? What do you believe about America? Where do you stand politically? And on and on. And, I’m not saying that those are inconsequential or unimportant questions, but, here’s what we may miss. What we believe about Jesus forms the foundation on which what we believe about everything is built. So, what we believe about marriage is not built on what we believe about our culture or what we believe about people or what we believe about love. It is built on what we believe about Christ. If you want to understand what we believe, you have to begin with Jesus. And, the language we use to describe this is that the gospel of Jesus is the center of our faith. Or put more simply, we seek in our theology and practice to be a “gospel-centered church.”
So, in light of all of that, what do we believe to be the “good news” about Jesus? What is this gospel. Dane Ortlund says: the gospel is the startling news that what God demands from us, he provides for us. How? In his own Son. The gospel is the message that Jesus Christ delights to switch places with guilty rebels. The one person who walked this earth who deserved heaven endured the wrath of hell so that those who deserve the wrath of hell can have heaven.
So, this basic yet extraordinary good news should color everything for us, and if we are not careful we can be led to believe that there is other news that is better or more important. So, who Jesus is, what he has done and what that means for humanity and the cosmos is the center of everything we believe. Everything else orients around that. Or we sometimes use the analogy of a pair of glasses. It is the lens through which we see things. And, the goal is that this would be true in the whole of your life. That the gospel would shape your decision making. That it would shape your parenting. That it would shape your spending. That it would shape your earthly ambitions. And, again, we have to be on guard because there are countless false-gospels that are competing to be the center of your life.
That’s nothing new by the way. The exact same thing was true for the early church. And, so, one way that they combated false gospels or heretical teaching was by developing faith statements that could be memorized and recited. These came to be known as creeds. Now, we talk about what is known as The Apostles Creed a lot. And these are all Biblical truths. The Apostles creed was used as a baptismal statement early on. It would be the profession that followers of Jesus would confess upon their baptism. The apostles creed uses “I” language. But, there is another classical creed that is very similar known as the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was developed in response to what is known as the Arian controversy where a Christian minister named, Arias, began teaching that Jesus was subordinate to the Father. That Jesus was not God in the way God the Father is God, and Jesus was a created being like us. Whereas orthodox Trinitarian Christianity says, no, Jesus is God and he is eternal just like the Father is eternal. So, you might think that this is high-minded, high-level thinking only for theology nerds, but notice that the core problem here is that the truth about who Jesus is was being altered. And, we cannot take that more seriously or be more watchful for it. Because the same thing is happening today and often in much more veiled ways.
So, here is the Nicene Creed.
We believe in one God,
the Father, the Almighty,
maker of heaven and earth,
of all that is, seen and unseen.
We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ,
the only Son of God,
eternally begotten of the Father,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father.
Through him all things were made.
For us and for our salvation
he came down from heaven:
by the power of the Holy Spirit
he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate;
he suffered death and was buried.
On the third day he rose again
in accordance with the Scriptures;
he ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead,
and his kingdom will have no end.
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life,
who proceeds from the Father and the Son.
With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.
He has spoken through the Prophets.
We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins.
We look for the resurrection of the dead,
and the life of the world to come. Amen.
So, why do we read this. Well, this along with the Apostles Creed, this is our basic faith statement as a church. It is what we look to as the most elemental confession of what the gospel is. Notice Jesus is both physically and metaphorically the center of the creed. And, as we said the other night at our Book Club, what we do will ultimately shape what we know. So, reading the Scriptures and reciting the Creed are activities that form and shape us. When we spend time dwelling on these truths we are far better equipped to deal with the myriad of false gospels that the world throws at us. Jesus is the center of everything. May our lives and our church find Him at the core. May be look to him for our purpose, our identity, our values, our understanding of success and flourishing.