The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 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.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 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.” 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.”” (John 1:43–51, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
“I doubt it!” Bobby wasn’t convinced. He heard the story but just couldn’t fit the account into his way of thinking. “No, Bobby it’s really true. I saw it yesterday. She’s back in town and asking for you!”
“I doubt it.” Bob replied, even though he’d been waiting to hear just that for a very long time. “It just isn’t possible. She’s not due back for a month yet. And Besides, why would she ask for me?”
“Well, maybe she changed her mind?” answered his friend. “Women always say that they’re allowed, you know.”
It was all that Bob could do to suppress the hope that was trying to surface. “She’s not going to change her mind! She already told me ‘No.’ and anyway, I’ve already taken the ring back.” It wasn’t exactly the truth; he only quit carrying the ring in his pocket. It had found a new place among the clutter on his dresser. “She knows where I am. If she wants me she can find me.”
“I’m telling you, she wants to talk to you.”
“I doubt it!”
We all have doubts. Not only the kind of doubts Bob has either. We have doubt about our families, weather we are doing our best with our kids. We have doubts about our work, will our job be there tomorrow? We even have doubts about ourselves. “Can I really handle all this pressure?” It’s perfectly natural and human to have doubts.
There is one place though we often don’t admit to having doubts. For some reason when it comes to our faith, we think that we shouldn’t have any doubts at all, when it comes to the things of God. That can be a real problem for us when we think that way, because the truth of the matter is this: everyone in this room has had doubts about their faith. And we are not alone. Our parents had doubts, those German Lutherans who huddled together on the banks of the Mississippi River and founded the churches that became he Missouri Synod had doubts. Martin Luther himself, had doubts about his faith too. You see the people of God have never been with out their doubts, even Jesus disciples. And just look at Nathaniel Jesus would-be-disciple. He has doubts. Philip tells him about Jesus and he says, “I doubt it.” When we have doubt, especially about our faith, we stand in good company.
So what are some of the things that you have doubts about? In regard to your faith? Sometimes doubt comes up in our lives, not because we don’t believe what the bible says, but because people all around tell us we should have doubts. We are educated people. Education is a great thing. It’s a wonderful gift that God has given us. You may even feel that a good education is essential for the world today. A good education can teach us to think logically about things, and even to be a little bit skeptical. It’s good to question the status quo and established norms. It’s one way in which we grow.
Sometimes our education can be the reason for doubt. Miracles, we are told, don’t really happen. Everything has a natural and logical explanation. Educated people believe in the scientific method. Did Jesus really feed five thousand people by a miracle? Did he really multiply five loaves and two fish to a meal for multitude? Isn’t it more logical to think, and believe that his charisma moved the people into sharing the food that they had all already brought? It’s a more logical solution to the miracle problem, after all. Well, the bible says it quite simply. They had five loaves and two fish, and Jesus fed them all with what he had. The bible doesn’t call upon us to believe only the most logical solution, but only to believe what it says. We just don’t see miracles like that around here, and science can’t explain it. So, sometimes, in spite of what we believe, we have our doubts about miracles.
And science has an impact on other teachings of the bible, too. You see, according to most people today, educated people don’t believe in creation, either. They say that the facts point to evolution instead. There’s a prof. at Texas Tech who won’t write recommendations for medical school for students who believe in creation. His criterion for a recommendation letter is simple. Get at least one a in you major class, get to know him, and don’t believe in creation. If you reject evolution you are unfit to practice medicine and you are sure to make ‘bad clinical decisions.’ Pressure like that can make us all wonder what’s going on. It can cause us to doubt the simple Word of God that says He created the world in six days. And even though creation is very well supported by science we still have our doubts.
We have other doubts about God, too. Does he really care about me? If he does why does he allow such bad things to happen to me? Why are there things in my life that hurt so much? Did God really do all those things written in his word? Did Jesus Christ really die on the cross, and did he really do it for me? These and many other questions have crossed all our minds, but we have difficulty admitting our doubts about God. We think that it will show that we have a weak faith. Instead we take Jesus own words to heart. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” Mark 10:15 Doesn’t that say that we must be like children, totally believing and without any doubt? Well again, the truth is that we doubt, it can’t be denied or avoided. You have doubt. I have doubt. The only way to deal with it is to go to Jesus and see what he says about it.
Well, first we need to see that Jesus accepts doubt. Look again at our text for today. Here we see that Jesus finds Philip and says to him, “follow me!” Philip reacts to the call of Jesus and runs of to recruit Nathaniel. Nathaniel isn’t so quick to act and believe though.
Philip says, “Nathaniel, we’ve found the Christ, the Messiah!”
“I doubt it.”
From what we know about Nathaniel, he was probably an educated man. He knew about the promises of the Messiah. Jesus saw him “under the fig tree.” In those days “under the fig tree” meant that you were studying God’s word. The teachers of the day said that every man should “study the law under their own vine and fig tree.” So there Nathaniel was reading the bible and Philip comes and says he found the Christ. Nathaniel probably knew what he was talking about. “Can anything good come from Afton?” It was like that any way. He knew the prophecy; they didn’t say anything about Nazareth. It was a question of doubt from an educated man.
And there we are. We too are educated people, sitting under our own fig tree. We know the stories of the bible, the wonderful things God did for his people. We know about the destruction of the evil of the world with the flood. … the way God lead his people out of slavery in Egypt and saved them at the Red Sea. We know about how Jesus healed sick people everywhere he went, and how he tenderly cared for children. We are educated people. But when our lives get difficult and sticky, and God doesn’t act as we expect… we begin to doubt. When the evil of the world seems to triumph time and time again, it seems as if the God we’ve read about isn’t acting as a good God should act. And so we once again have doubts.
But Jesus didn’t scold Nathaniel for his doubts. The conversation didn’t begin like this: “Well, doubter, if you had more faith you’d not have trouble with that doubt.” Jesus didn’t accuse Nathaniel of depending too much on reason. Instead Jesus surprises us all. Nathaniel is given a complement. “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” (Guile is deceit or lying) Nathaniel didn’t keep his doubts hidden, when he had a problem with what was told to him he said, “I doubt it!” It was healthy skepticism. Nathaniel knew what he was looking for, the true Messiah, no imitation would do. He wanted to be sure that what he was hearing was right before he was going to believe. There are times when doubt has a way of bringing out the truth. “Is it really true?” doubt asks. Jesus sees the usefulness of Nathaniel’s question and his doubt. He knew it was a part of Nathaniel’s growing faith.
Nathaniel didn’t have to remain in his doubt. His question would really be answered. Jesus offered him proof. He took Nathaniel’s doubt and turned it around for his benefit (and he often does the same with you and me!) Notice what Jesus doesn’t say to Nathaniel. It’s not “Look deep into your heart, that’s where you’ll find the truth about me.” He told him that he had miraculously seen him sitting under the fig tree (probably reading about the Messiah!) The proof of our faith doesn’t come from deep in our hearts. It doesn’t come from our feelings. Our feelings and thoughts are often wrong, and very misleading. The proof of the things of God come from outside of us. We find it in His Word. We find it in this room whenever we gather to hear his words of forgiveness for us. We see it, and touch it, and taste it in the very body and blood of Jesus, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.
Nathaniel was impressed that Jesus could see him under the fig tree, even though Jesus wasn’t there. But Jesus says there’s more to be seen, proof of a different kind. “There’s more here than you think.” He says to Nathaniel. “You believe that I am the Messiah, but do you really know what that means? You will see heaven opened!” Nathaniel’s educated ideas about the Messiah were going to be put to the test. “Heaven is going to be opened. Sinners are going to have a right relationship with God once again. Are you ready to see that kind of proof Nathaniel?” I’m sure it’s not the last time Nathaniel had doubts as he walked, and talked with Jesus.
Do we believe in Jesus because he offers us proof? No. Rather we believe in Jesus because of his great love for us. That’s the real proof of who his is. We see his love in the joy of the Christmas child, warm and protected in Mary’s arms. We see his love as he walks dusty roads and calls doubting disciples. We see his love as he tenderly takes helpless people by the hand and heals them. We see his love as he hangs on the cross, bloody and bruised, suffering and dying. If there is doubt about his love for you, just look there, because he died in your place. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. John 15:13 Jesus Christ laid down his life for you. No matter how much doubt you have in your life, no matter how much sin plagues you, no matter what you’ve done in the past, none of it matters to Jesus. His love for you is so great that he chose to die for you. And even more than that, he rose again to life, and he promises that you too will conquer death.
Doubt isn’t something that you’ll ever be able to totally get rid of. But just like you go to the people who love you when you need help, remember how much Jesus loves you, and go to him when you have doubts.
We don’t trust him for answers because he answers all our questions or even because he helps sort out of faith question in our mind. Sometimes we never get some questions answered. We trust him because of what he has done for us. We trust him because he loves us so much that he died for us and rose again. That is love that banishes all doubt. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.