Archive for August 25th, 2014

Clearly Christ


Last year a woman did a botched ‘restoration’ of a beloved painting in an Italian church.  The painting depicts the moment when Pontius Pilate presents the tortured Christ to the crowds and says, Behold the Man!  (John 19:5)  or in Latin:  Ecce Homo.  The Italian press said it should now be called, Ecce mono, Behold the monkey! The elderly woman who did this, had the permission of the parish priest and she said she had the best of intentions.

Many people redo the image of Christ to burnish His meaning for us, but it becomes a botched job and yes, done with the best of intentions. As C. S. Lewis wrote:  “There have been too many historical Jesuses – a liberal Jesus, a pneumatic Jesus, a Barthian Jesus, a Marxist Jesus. They are the cheap crop of each publisher’s list, like the new Napoleons and new Queen Victorias. It is not to such phantoms that I look for my faith and my salvation.” Then we think we have trained Jesus to do our bidding for what we think are the solutions to our problems, but a solution is not the same as salvation.  We end up with a distorted version of the Lord, as distorted as the erstwhile restoration above and we can only say, Ecce Mono. The Apostles, including Bartholomew, presented Jesus Christ as He presented Himself, not fuzzy as in the botched job above, but clearly, thorns and all, and His grace, mercy and peace for all botched restorers: Behold your God!

 Read a similar article on the theme of refashioning  Christ into our own image:  Your Own Personal Jesus by Chad Bird

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Please note that Bartholomew was also known as Nathanael.

St. John 1:43-51 English Standard Version (ESV)

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

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.”


The lesson occurs after Jesus’ Baptism.  Two days before today’s lesson, John the Baptist preaches his testimony, Behold!  the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  John gives his testimony to the Lord’s Baptism and the Holy Spirit descending as a dove upon the Lord.  Then John preaches the same sermon to his two disciples, Andrew and Peter.   Today’s lesson picks up the “next day” after John’s testimony and Jesus calls Philip and Bartholomew, or as Bartholomew was also called, Nathaniel.  This is just the beginning of John’s Gospel, and except for the Baptism of Our Lord, nothing much as happened:  no signs or great deeds, Jesus has not yet preached nor taught but He does call by His Word.  The Word made flesh makes Bartholomew, Philip, Peter and Andrew His disciples to follow Him, as much as the Word made the heavens and the earth:   the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

 Who did Philip find?   Notice what Philip and Bartholomew did not not say : 

  • They did not find a great preacher…Jesus had not even preached yet in John chapter 1, but the Father testified at His Son’s Baptism, This is my beloved Son, Listen to Him.  John preached Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Where the Word is preached in purity of doctrine, the Holy Spirit gives testimony as He did when He descended at Jesus’ Baptism.  But Philip and Bartholomew did not find a great preacher, yet, but the Word made flesh.
  • They did not find the founder of a great new religion. As Bonhoeffer said, Jesus did not come to found a new religion but to give life…eternal life to all those who believe. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.  John 10: 10.  The Holy Spirit through the preaching was breathing new life into men and women.
  • They did not find a congregation with a great choir, a great youth ministry, or any great program but they found the beginning of the Church in with and under Jesus Christ with the great promises of God fulfilled in Christ for us all. 
  • They certainly did not find themselves!  That was a quest not so long ago, I just want to find myself.  Once that is said, it is clear the person is lost and on our own, we are.  As it turned out,  Jesus found Barholomew. Later on Jesus is very clear, You did not choose Me but I chose you that you should go out and bear much fruit.(John 15: 16).  He chose so not to lose His own, so that His own would hold in true faith, as did the Canaanite woman, and the Samaritan woman, and the woman who was a sinner.  Those women are all picture of the Church, tending towards idolatry and immorality and transformed by Christ’s Word, His call.  The evangelist John presents the way people deepen their faith and it begins here in today’s Gospel

The apostle Bartholomew exclaimed after Jesus found him, called him and especially said I saw you under the fig tree with great enthusiasm, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”   This sounds really good, the good confession.  It is but it is not complete.  Bartholomew went from Rabbi to Son of God, and the first two  phrases magnifies the last phrase:  Bartholomew’s final confession is that Jesus is the King of Israel.  He is, but not in a political sense.  In John 6, when Jesus feeds the 5,000, the evangelist John alone tells us another reason the Lord went off to pray by Himself:  the crowds were trying to make Him king. The Lord would have none of that.  There is a Biblical doctrine that there are 2 Kingdoms of God’s right and left hand.  Left hand are the kingdoms, nations of this world by which the Lord rules temporally and the Kingdom of His right hand, the reign of God in Jesus Christ coming spiritually  in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel.  When men confuse those two hands into one hand, tyranny is the result.   See ISIS, for then a political kingdom can do anything in the Name of God with seeming impunity. The Lord will have none of that yet He will bring tyrants down from their thrones in this world with the sword, if needs be.  And at great cost. See Hitler who proclaimed the 1,000 year kingdom.  The titulus, the plaque that Pilate put on the cross in 3 languages read, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.   When the Lord, after being beaten is brought before Pilate and John alone tells us more of the conversation they had and it centers on Jesus  being King.  Jesus does not deny that He is King but the scope of His kingdom is a temporal one:  “My kingdom is not of this world.” This is the proof text showing the falsehood of the doctrine of the 1,000 year reign of Christ on earth.  Jesus says to Bartholomew, You will see greater  things, the angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.  When Jacob had his dream of a ladder to heaven, and just as Jesus said, Jacob saw the angels ascending and descending on it and the Lord stood above it and with Jacob, the Lord coming down the patriarch Jacob.  Jacob exclaims:

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

 Awesome means full of awe.  Bartholomew would see something greater, the house of God , the gate of heaven, Jesus Himself in His crucifixion and resurrection.  “The Kingdom of heaven is open to all believers” (Te Deum Laudamus).   As Jesus said in John 10, I am the gate of sheep, the door. He is the key to the Father’s heart.  “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”  Golgotha was an awesome place and where the Lord’s crucifixion and resurrection is preached for us tired sinners, as Jacob did a lot of running, we see the Lord in His Word, the house of  God and the gate of heaven.  The vain idols of this world are seen for what they are:  despotic, deathly and done for, desperately lashing out.  This is why those who try to put God out of the public square can not tolerate those who do not go along, who are freed in Jesus Christ. Political tyrants can not tolerate the true King over men’s souls and bodies.

I was the pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Norfolk.  Behind their Altar, there are the 12 Plaques of the Apostles.  Each of the Apostles have something that signifies the apostle.  11 or the 12 Apostles, according to the Bible or reliable tradition, were martyred, and their symbol is tool used for their execution.  Bartholomew, tradition says, evangelized Armenia and was flayed to death. His symbol is a knife…and a Bible.  One day a woman in the congregation came to me and said, I don’t like those plaques, they are so gruesome.  Yes, they are…and I could never imagine that someone was flayed alive.  We know it now as we see Christians being tortured and killed in the Middle East.  Why?  They carried the Bible, the Word of God, as the Word made flesh, carried them day by day with His Word of reconciliation and peace into the world, a dark world, a world as dark as it has ever been in these days. Not only to those oppressed by sin, death and the devil, but the oppressor as well.  In various and many ways God spoke to His people of old by the prophets but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son.  In a short while, we will hear a profession of faith into the Evangelical Lutheran Church, and receive a new member.  The questions here are the similar as in confirmation.  When I was confirmed in the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, I don’t remember two of them, such as, “ Do you intend to live according to the Word of God, and in faith, word, and deed to remain true to God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, even to death?”  This is a timely addition in this world, in which the persecution of Christians is on the rise.  Will I face death and before that socially being mocked?  There is only one answer:  “I do, by the grace of God.”

 Note that in John chapter 1 the Word of Christ is brought by word of mouth from person to person.  Just think, that until Christianity was made the legal religion of the Roman Empire in 312, for over two centuries this is the way the saving faith was spread, not by the temporal sword, but by the Word alone, Jesus Christ. the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,  Under at times severe persecution and social ostracizing, it spread, and the Word of the Lord grew exponentially.  People came to faith. I think this is the model for us as well.

Bartholomew and the Apostle’s preaching was as sharp as the knives that were wielded legally to kill them.  Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  AS the Apostle Paul wrote, we carry this treasure in in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

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