IN NOMINE JESU
We are gathered here today to remember someone about whom we know very little: St. Bartholomew. Today we hear of his being called to discipleship, the man who sat under the fig tree when Philip came to him with the good news that the Messiah had come. He said, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (v. 45). Philip came to him bearing not only his own testimony but of two others when he said, "We have found Him...," the testimony of Andrew and Peter. Three new disciples had seen the Lord, and now Philip was bringing Bartholomew, that he would be the fourth.
Before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to understand one key item. The writers of the Synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark, and Luke, all refer to this apostle as Bartholomew, while John calls him Nathanael. Bartholomew is a surname, used to indicate that family to which he belonged. For example, Peter was called Simon Bar-Jonah; that is, Simon, son of John. In this instance, this apostle would be known as Nathanael Bartholomew; that is, Nathanael, son of Talmai. We know so little about this apostle that we are not sure who his father was, let alone how his name was spelled. The Hebrew word bar is roughly equivalent to the Norwegian suffix -son as in Larson, son of Lars, to the German von, exemplified by the great composer Ludwig von Beethoven, or even to the Gaelic O', as in O'Brien, the son of Brien. The apostle's first name, Nathanael, is Hebrew for "gift of God." Among the gifts God gave to this apostle were the gift of faith and the gift of understanding the Scriptures.
Bartholomew heard Philip mention that the Coming One of whom Moses and the Prophets wrote was Jesus of Nazareth. Bartholomew asked a question which, on the surface, would seem rather scathing in nature: "Can anything good come from Nazareth?" (v. 46a). This was not a question asked to insult this little town. Bartholomew knew that the Scriptures clearly state that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem and that there is no passage that indicates that the Messiah would come from Nazareth. Yet Bartholomew was a firm believer, waiting for the coming Messiah. Philip was about to show this soon-to-be apostle the very Messiah for whom he had been waiting.
The Lord recognized Bartholomew as he approached—even before he saw the Lord. Jesus was very complimentary of this man. "Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, 'Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!' (v. 47). Nathanael was dumbfounded, asking Him, "How do You know me?" (v. 48a). The Lord demonstrated His omniscience, His knowing everything, and said to Bartholomew, "Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you" (v. 48b). This is the same God who said when He called the prophet Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jer. 1:5). The responses of the two men were quite different, though. The called prophet said, "Ah, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth" (Jer. 1:6). Bartholomew responded creedally; he made a confession of faith, only through the work of the Holy Spirit. "Nathanael answered Him, 'Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!'" (v. 49). This feast day, the Feast of St. Bartholomew, is not about the man himself but about how the Triune God worked in him, especially as we see the Lord recognizing him and the Holy Spirit moving him to confess that Jesus really is the Christ. Bartholomew heard the word from Philip, already one of the Lord's disciples. The Lord was working through Philip and bringing Bartholomew to the Lord. The Lord works faith in us in a similar fashion. The Lord sent Philip to Bartholomew. The Lord calls men to His flocks. Philip gave Bartholomew the good news, carried with the weight of two other disciples. Pastors give their members the Gospel each time the sermon is preached, acting under orders from the Lord of the Church. Moved by the Holy Spirit, we, like Bartholomew, respond to this Word of God and confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, the King of Israel.
We know precious little about this apostle. John notes that Nathanael was one of those disciples who went fishing following the Lord's resurrection and saw the risen Lord again, this time at the shoreline. It is believed that St. Bartholomew went out and preached in Arabia, Persia, and even India. Tradition holds that he was either flayed or skinned alive before he was either beheaded or crucified. Because of this method of martyrdom, St. Bartholomew is often depicted holding a knife. No date is given for his martyrdom, but it is believed that on this date his bones were moved to another location, similar to the date on which we commemorated St. Peter and St. Paul. We have little information on St. Bartholomew in Scripture, and what is recorded outside Scripture cannot be documented but is considered tradition or legend. But be that as it may, it really is not important that he have lots of data on this apostle. What is important for us is to know and firmly believe in the Lord and what He has done for us.
Bartholomew did not immediately jump for joy when Philip told him that he had seen the long-promised Messiah. When we hear the Gospel, we are not merely skeptical when we hear the Word of the Lord. Instead of joyfully responding to the good news of Jesus' presence in our midst, of heaven being opened to us, we grumble or yawn at the Gospel or we ignore it all together. The responsorial words, "But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us: Thanks be to Thee, O Lord," mean nothing to us. Unlike Bartholomew, who knew the Scriptures and waited for the Messiah, we have shown repeatedly that not only do we not know the Scriptures, we have no desire to do so. We are not thankful for the Word of God. We despise the Sacraments as our Lord has given them to us. We do not like the Gospel. Our sinful nature is forever at odds with the Means of Grace, the means by which the Lord makes Himself known to us. This means that we despise Christ Himself! Christ comes to us on *His* terms, not ours, and this scandalizes us. The Lord sees us in this state of enmity. We are not like the pious Bartholomew. We *are* like the denying Peter and the unbelieving Thomas. We have no place for the Lord in our lives, for we are poor, miserable sinners, spiritually blind, dead, and enemies of God. We do not remember the Lord as He commands; that is, we do not fear, love, and trust in Him above all things. Yet the Lord remembers us. It can be a terrible thing to be remembered by the Lord. Especially when we keep ourselves separated from Him in this life, which will mean eternal separation from Him in the life to come, and that is an eternity in hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. When Judgment Day comes, the King will say to us, "Here is a false Christian, in whom nothing is true. I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!"
Yes, it can be a terrible thing to be remembered by the Lord, but it is also a tremendous blessing to be remembered by Him. Our Lord remembers that we are indeed sinners, sinners who are in need of a Savior. The Lord said when He called Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you..." (Jer. 1:5a). King David writes in the great penitential psalm, "Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me" (Psalm 51:5). It is for this reason, our completely sinful nature, that Christ came into this world, that He appeared to Philip and Bartholomew in the flesh, that He appears to us today in His Word. He came into this world to save us from our sins. Jesus died on the cross for our sins. He won for us forgiveness of all our sins, even before we were born! For Jesus, true Man and true God, knows all things and sees our hearts today and saw our hearts 2000 years ago, paid the price we by our sins have deserved. Saint Paul writes, "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation" (Rom. 5:6-11).
Our Lord has reconciled us to Himself, as Paul also writes, "And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister" (Col. 1:21-23);
and again, "From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:16-21).
The Lord has taken away your sin. You are forgiven. You were given this forgiveness when our dying Lord said from the cross, "It is finished!" What was finished? His work of paying the price for our sins, yours and mine, was finished. He paid for your sins completely, sacrificing Himself, giving His body and shedding His blood for you for the forgiveness of all your sins. What good comes from Nazareth? It is He who came down from heaven and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. The Babe of Bethlehem ascended the cross of Calvary to take away your sins. In our text, Jesus says to Bartholomew, "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" (vv. 50-51). By faith we have seen the greatest things of all. We saw heaven closed, closed to the forsaken Son of Man on Good Friday. We then saw with the women and later Peter and John the empty tomb, where our Lord's body once lay, who overcame death and the grave and by His glorious resurrection opened to us the way of everlasting life.
The Lord promised Bartholomew that he would see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. The Lord promises us that we also see heaven opened as He comes to us in Word and Sacrament. Heaven has been opened to you at the font, the lectern, the pulpit, and the altar. Where heaven has been opened, there the Lord comes to you, baptized in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, having received the body of Christ given and His blood shed for the forgiveness of all your sins, and being forgiven by me, your pastor, in the stead and by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ. You are seeing great things, for the Lord has opened heaven to you this very day, at this very moment, promising you that your sins are forgiven. He promises you that He knew you before you were formed, and He has a name for you: His. Yes, through your Baptism you bear the Name of Jesus Christ, bearing on your brow the seal of Him who died: the sign of the cross, both upon your forehead and upon your heart to mark you as redeemed by Christ the crucified. Listen to these beautiful words once preached by the blessed Reformer, Dr. Martin Luther, in a sermon on this text: When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, governs us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us—but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people. [LW 22:202]
And there you have it. Before your mother opened her womb to give birth to you, the Lord knew you. On that day at the Font, the Mother Church opened her womb and gave you new birth through Holy Baptism, that heaven itself would be opened to you, both now and forevermore. The Lord recognized Bartholomew as one of His apostles, and your heavenly Father recognizes and calls you His child. In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
SOLI DEO GLORIA
Pr. Mark Schlamann Our Savior & Redeemer Lutheran Churches, Pettibone & Woodworth, ND
"When you are baptized, partake of Holy Communion, receive the absolution, or listen to a sermon, heaven is open, and we hear the voice of the Heavenly Father; all these works descend upon us from the open heaven above us. God converses with us, provides for us; and Christ hovers over us--but invisibly. And even though there were clouds above us as impervious as iron or steel, obstructing our view of heaven, this would not matter. Still we hear God speaking to us from heaven; we call and cry to Him, and He answers us. Heaven is open, as St. Stephen saw it open (Acts 7:55); and we hear God when He addresses us in Baptism, in Holy Communion, in confession, and in His Word as it proceeds from the mouth of the men who proclaim His message to the people." --Martin Luther (1/19/1538 [LW 22:202])--
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