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John 1:43-51

 

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." (ESV)

 

Heaven Opened

Thursday of Pentecost 25

14 November 2013

God has condescended to become Man, without giving up His full divinity. He is and remains fully human; man born of the Virgin Mary. He is and remains fully divine; God eternally begotten of His Father. The highest height has come down to the lowest status. This adoption of our human nature and the humiliation entailed in it, according to human reason is both impossible and unthinkable. That the Christ should be both God of God, seated at the right hand of the Father, and Man of Mary, seated in the presence of sinners and persecutors is a clash of the worlds, like the immovable object met by the unstoppable force. Unfathomable! How do we take this and fit it into our limited and perverted minds?

 

We humans take divinity and humanity and place them in a zero-sum matrix, in which by being human, divinity is diminished and by being fully divine, humanity is undone. But what makes us think that God is limited by our false either-or conceptions. Our heavenly Father is hardly constrained by our shockingly limited preconceptions about what is possible or impossible. The God whom we tell what He can do could hardly be God. The incarnation of the Son of God of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit is one of those things that no one could have conceived in His own mind. Isaiah summarizes this human incapacity and ever-expanding shock at the divine self-revelation. "No one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him" (Is 64:4).

 

We have also attempted to pack God off into His own sphere, shoving Him into heaven; the realm of saints and angels. We would like to lock Him away in a realm disconnected from our actual situation; way out there in heaven, à la Zwingli. By limiting God to His own place far from us we are protecting ourselves from the dangerous things that God will do if He actually comes among us. We are limiting Him to the crack in the rock and we are placing our hands over our own eyes to keep us from seeing Him in the gloriously humble incarnation of His Son. In our cowardly reversal of His gracious self-disclosure to Moses on Sinai we desire to keep Him hidden from our view (Ex 33:18-23). He is not stuck in heaven but the angels must descend and ascend so that they might see Him in both His natures, as the human and divine Person.

 

Our own unfaith is threatened by God's condescension in Christ. For the God who is nearby refuses to be packed off to unseen realms. It is one thing to ignore children and entirely another to ignore your own child. The Child born of Mary is not a generic child, but is the divine and human Person who confronts our sin, calls us to repentance, and redeems us by His own bloody sacrifice. He is God's own child, as we have become through Him (1Jn 3:1-2). He comes by cracking heaven open, breaking down the barriers we have erected between Himself and us. He won't allow us to exile Him to heaven. What a blessed sight is given us that we shall see heaven opened and the angels ascending and descending to look upon what has been granted to us. The divine fullness is ours unless in unfaith we close our eyes to it and demand that God retreat into heaven. No, God is with us and acts for those who wait for Him. He does not wait for our invitation for it will never come. He acts for us. Heaven is opened.

 

Martin Luther

 

"'And Jesus 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."' (Jn 1:51). What is this ascent and descent? I reply that it is this very mystery that in one and the same Person there is true GOD and man. Accordingly the unity of the Person fulfills this mystery. And we, who believe, fulfill the Word of Christ: 'You will see...the angels...ascending and descending' (Jn 1:51). For we believe in the one Lord, His only-begotten Son, born of the Virgin Mary, true God and man. This mystery is so great, so grand, so inexpressible, that the angels themselves cannot marvel at it enough, much less comprehend it. But, as is stated in 1Pt 1:12, these are 'things into which angels long to look.' For angels cannot rejoice and marvel enough at that inexpressible union and unity of the most diverse natures which they do not reach either by ascending or by descending. If they lift up their eyes, they see the incomprehensible majesty of God above them. If they look down, they see God and the Divine Majesty subjected to demons and to every creature.

 

"These are marvelous things: to see a man and the lowliest creature humbled below all, to see the same creature sitting at the right hand of the Father and raised above all the angels, and to see Him in the bosom of the Father and soon subjected to the devil, as is stated in Ps 8:5: 'You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings.' Likewise in Eph 4:9: 'He had also descended into the lower parts of the earth.' This is a wonderful ascent and descent of the angels, to see the highest and the lowest completely united in one and the same Person, the highest God lying in the manger. Therefore the angels adore Him there, rejoice, and sing: 'Glory to God in the highest' (Lk 2:14). On the other hand, when they consider the lowliness of the human nature, they descend and sing: 'And on earth peace.'

 

"When we see the same thing in the life to come, we, too, shall feel and speak far differently from the way we feel and speak now. For now these are things such as the angels do not comprehend. Nor can they be satisfied. Indeed, they always desire to look into this inexpressible goodness, wisdom, kindness, and mercy poured out upon us when that Person, who is the highest and is terrible in His majesty above all creatures, becomes the lowest and most despised. We shall see this wondrous spectacle in that life, and it will be the constant joy of the blessed, just as it is the one desire and joy of the angels to see the Lord of all, who is the same as nothing, that is, the lowest."
 
Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 28.12-14  
 
Prayer

O eternal, merciful God, You have spoken through Your own dear Son, saying that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few and that we should ask You, the Lord of the harvest, to send laborers into Your harvest. Here now our prayer on behalf of all pastors whom You have ordained to be your ministers in the church. Strengthen them mightily to take up the Word of truth and faithfully to administer Your holy sacraments. Make their labors fruitful and, when the day of their labor has ended, grant them to come with rejoicing before Your presence to receive with all the saints eternal salvation. Amen.

 

For radio ministry, that the Lord's Word would be preached to those who walk in darkness and in the shadow of death and that the light would dawn upon them

 

For firefighters and other first responders, that the holy angels would watch over them

 

For the upcoming mission summit in San Antonio, Texas, that the mission of God would be extolled among God's people
Art: Eyck, Jan van  The Adoration of the Lamb (1425-1429) 

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