A sermon by Dr Ruben Richards
Delivered 18 October 2020, Olifants River Valley (Citrusdal-Clanwilliam) Western Cape
ONE WORD TELLS A STORY
John Chapter 1 vv.43-50.
Nazareth. What good can come from there!
Dr Ruben Richards (PhD, University of Cape Town) Harvester Reformational Church, Olifants River Valley, Citrusdal-Clanwilliam, Western Cape
Sunday, 18 October 2020 at 10h00 and 18h00.
EXEGETICAL SUMMARY OF SERMON
- The text
- When good news is no news
- Profile of Nazareth
- Take home lesson from the story
CONTEXTUAL SUMMARY Socialised into the negative
- Paul and Galatians use one-word
- Nazareth. Socio-political profile
- Virgin birth
- Cause of genocide
- Wise men (Magi) commit treason Resettling in Nazareth
- Come and See
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
- Nathanael encounters the messiah
- The shift
- The catch – the challenge
Annexure 1 – Scriptural context – Gospel of John Chapter 1 (NIV translation.
NOTE TO THE READER
Dear Reader of this sermon.
First of all, thank you for your interest in reading this sermon manuscript. I hope this manuscript does justice to the live delivery of the message. For ease of reference I have amended (and consequently extended) this version of the manuscript by adding END notes and maps for more detailed references for further study. I have also added some personal information (see below Annexure 2 – CV and Profile – Ruben Richards).
I hope you find this sermon useful.
God bless you.
It is my honour to greet you all in the name of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ of Nazareth. Thank you to Pastor Jan for the kind invitation to share this worship service with you. My prayer is that God may open our hearts and minds to receive a message from God’s holy word this morning.
I was born, raised and educated on the Cape Flats of the Western Cape, with a few years of postgraduate study in the USA, Switzerland and Germany. I was raised to speak and think in English although my parents spoke mostly Afrikaans to each other. My English language preference is strange given that the first language for the majority of people classified Coloured in Afrikaans. These days, living and working in the farmlands of the Olifants River Valley (Citrusdal- Clanwilliam), I am learning to engage in the dominant language here, namely Afrikaans.
The title of my sermon today is “One word tells a story”. Sometimes, you only have to say one word and that singular word which is equivalent to a 100-Gigabyte or a Terrabyte of information. That one word can miraculously tell you everything you need to know about a place or a person’s entire history and identity. For example, the word “Coloured”. Or the word, “Citrusdal”. “Wuppertal”. “Piketberg”. Or the word that is on our lips these days, especially us in the farming community – the word “Senekal”.
Importance of John’s gospel
My sermon today is taken from the New Testament, the Gospel of John. For some this gospel is important because a favourite old school chorus/song comes from this gospel. I am tempted to sing it to you but then I am going to reveal my bad voice and my age. (John 13:34) – A new commandment I give unto you that you love one another. Ek gee julle ‘n nuwe gebod: julle moet mekaar lief hê.
No doubt, for others the gospel of John is important because of the nature of the first miracle of Jesus as recorded in John chapter 2. Jesus and his mother are attending a wedding feast at Cana of Galilee, where the party runs out of wine. As a result of the prompting of his mother, Jesus turns the water into wine – and not just one bottle but 866 bottles of wine (using the 750ml standard wine bottle of today – about a total of 650 litres of water into wine – 6 stone jars each holding about 115 liters (30 gallons)–John 2 verse 6ff).
For now, the only tongue-in-cheek point I want to make is this: When you go to a wedding feast you must take with you someone like Jesus and especially someone like his mother – she knows what a party needs … met Eish ja.
Focus and setting of my sermon today – Bethsaida
For my sermon today I want to focus on the first chapter of the Gospel of John and I want to specifically zoom into the end of that chapter – verses 43 to 50 – which describe the calling of the
The context and setting of our story are a fishing village along the shores of the Sea of Galilee – a village called Bethsaida in the northern part of Israel or Palestine. To give us orientation I thought I would share a slide with you to show you the map of Palestine in the time of Jesus [Show slide].
The key verse for my sermon will be verse 46: Let me read it to you: It says in the NIV translation:
Nazareth: What good can come from there.
Let me summarise the story.
fourth disciple by the name of Nathanael.
The story goes as follows: John chapter 1 and vv.35 to 42, tells us that Jesus had just recruited three disciples, Andrew, Peter and Phillip – all three of them residents of Bethsaida. Phillip is so excited about being appointed as a disciple, that runs home to tell his friend, Nathanael. He tells his friend that he had just met the messiah – the one which Moses and the Prophets wrote about (v.45). That messiah, says Philip, comes from Nazareth (just down the road)–he is the son of Joseph the carpenter – just in case you don’t know who I am talking about, Nathanael.
When good news is no news
I am sure you have experienced what I am about to describe to you. You receive fantastic and good news and you can’t wait to share it with friends and family. You rush home and you tell them your good news and their response is sometimes one word or sound: UUMM.. Ja. Ne. Phew. Nice. And if you have real friends then they use two words in their response to you. Is it? Nogal ne. Often the response of your friends is negative. And you are left with the feeling of: Why did I even bother to tell them.
Philip must have felt the same. Finally, the fulfillment of a prophecy in my life time – a prophecy of more than 1000 years ago is fulfilled in my lifetime – a prophecy recorded by the highest authority on scripture namely Moses and the prophets. The messiah is here and he has recruited me to be part of his team. Can you believe it. In fact, can you believe it that he comes from the next town – so close – Nazareth. Wow, what a thrill to be part of making history with a person from Nazareth.
And Nathanael says: Nazareth … What good can come from there (v.46). Profile of Nazareth
Now Nazareth was about 50 kilometers from Bethsaida (Citrusdal-Clanwillaim distance). And Nathanael’s response is: Nazareth!. Are you telling me this messiah comes from down the road – the next town? Then Nathanael gives the knockout punch – What good can come from there!! Nazareth.
Now, brothers and sisters, where does Nathanael’s prejudice, skepticism and negative energy come from? What did Nazareth do to Nathanael. Why does he have such a negative view of Nazareth? What was going on there that Nathanael did not like – that did not impress him. What is the history of that town and its people that causes Nathanael to have such a low view of that place? The story does not tell us why. We need to conjecture.
Take home lesson from the story
May I propose that one of the take home lessons for my sermon today is not Nathaniel’s response but Philips response to the negative feedback. Philip is facing a skeptical and negative friend, Nathaniel. Phillip does not argue with his friend, Nathaniel. He does not swear or curse or insult his friend. His simply says to Nathaniel: Come and See (v.47). In other words, he is saying: Come and see for yourself if I am lying or making up stories. Come and see (an invitation to experience something first hand) that this is in fact the messiah.
We know how the story ends: Nathaniel comes and sees and is overwhelmed by Jesus and says to Jesus (v.49): Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel. In others words, I’m going to follow you. Phillip was right. This is the person that Moses and the prophets spoke about.
Socialized into the negative
Allow me to contextualize the story even further. You see, we are socialized – we are raised up – educated and sometimes indoctrinated to believe things about people and places. We tend to nurture negative stereotypes of people and places, often reducing them to a one-word description. So, when someone says that specific word like – Nazareth – … just one word … we are able to tell a whole story … often, a negative story. In fact, Nathaniel is more explicit and honest and says
what we think but dare not say: Can anything good come from Nazareth. Nathaniel was not a politically correct person.
Strange how we remember the negative stories – the bad – the ugly stories about people. South Africa is a good example of the one-word story: Whites. Coloureds. Indians. Africans. Khoisan.
Paul and Galatians use one-word
The Apostle Paul in the book of Galatians summarizes what it means to be a Christian using the one-word technique. He plays with the one-word approach to explain what it means to be a follower of Jesus of Nazareth.
He says in Galatians 3 v 23 in Christ Jesus there is neither Male nor Female. Neither Jew nor Greek. Neither Slave or Free; For we are One is Christ Jesus, says the Apostle Paul. You see the dichotomies which Paul contrasts says that in Christ there is no gender prejudice (male or female); there is not cultural prejudice (Jews or Greeks); there no economic hierarchy (no slave no free). In Christ we are one; we are all equal in Christ.
But, Nathaniel did not read the book of Galatians. So we are still stuck with a negative and skeptical Nathaniel. Like Nathaniel, we don’t always first remember the positive.
Nazareth. Socio-political profile
CAUSE OF GENOCIDE
What makes the story all the more dramatic is that Nathaniel lived on Bethsaida barely 50 km kilometres from the hometown of Jesus – the next town Nazareth. Let’s look at our map again. Nathaniel, I am guessing, could have known the gossip of the town. I am almost sure that
everybody in the surrounding villages would have known that a woman by the name of Mary, whose boyfriend / later husband was Joseph the carpenter had a baby called Jesus. In fact, Jesus was the scandalous baby because Mary conceived Jesus out of wedlock. So that’s the negative narrative / story that everybody would have known. A virgin birth? Unbelievable!
In fact, more seriously, everybody would have known that this baby called Jesus, made history as he was the cause of the genocide of the first born of Jews at the hands of Herod at time that Jesus was born. You will remember the birth story of Jesus – The Christmas story as told in the gospel of Matthew chapter 2. In short, news had reached King Herod via the Wise Men (Magi) who were following the stars and they ended up in Jerusalem. They were looking for the “new king” – a “new liberator”.
Can you imagine going to President Ramaphosa or President Trump of the USA and saying to him: I have come in search of the new President – I have come to worship that new President – King of The Jews.
Matthew Chapter 2
V.1 After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem V.2 2 and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the
Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”
After all, Herod was the colonial King of the Jews.
WISE MEN (MAGI) COMMIT TREASON
The stars were their GPS (their guiding system – the coordinates guiding the Wise Men). But unfortunately, they were about 9 kilometres off the destination target/route. We know that the baby was born in Bethlehem, nine kilometres south of Jerusalem – under the nose of Herod.
We read in Matthews gospel that Herod tried to recruit the Wise men (Magi) as spies to confirm
4 that such a baby “king” was born (Matt 2 v7). Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
When the wise men did not return, Herod become so paranoid that he ordered the killing of all male babies under two years old hoping to kill off Jesus (Matt 2 v 16). When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
Joseph and Mary were warned by an angel and then fled to Egypt where they lived in exile with their baby Jesus, until the genocide was over and returned to Palestine after Herod died. We read
all this in the Gospel of Mathew chapter 2.
RESETTLING IN NAZARETH
COME AND SEE
In fact, when Mary and Joseph returned, they settled (not in Bethlehem) but in Nazareth, and this is where Jesus grows up as a child, in Nazareth.
I can hear Phillip saying to Nathaniel: I’m talking about a guy from Nazareth … you must have heard of him. The prophets wrote about him. Moses wrote about him. King Herod wanted to kill him. And he survived the genocide by being in exile in Egypt.
Phillip must have felt so deflated by his friend. Nevertheless, he held his composure and simply said: You know what Nathaniel, I’m not going to argue with you. Just COME AND SEE for yourself. And then you can decide if I am crazy or real; if I am telling the truth or a lie. Come and See.
CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
Nathaniel encounters the Messiah
Surprisingly, the story ends on a very good note. The negative Nathaniel is given a positive appraisal by Jesus. We read this in Verse 47 – When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said of him;
“Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit / a person of integrity / an honest person.”7
Just imagine – you had doubts about this messiah and said negative things about his town. And then the first thing the messiah says to you is something positive about you. Of course, that is a topic for another sermon.
The catch – the challenge
So, Phillip the disciple tells Nathaniel his friend: It is that Jesus of Nazareth who is the messiah… the son of Joseph the carpenter … the one who caused the genocide perpetrated by King Herod. That’s the Jesus.
No wonder Nathaniel said: What good can come from Nazareth.
The point of emphasis for this sermon is that Nathaniel experienced a shift – he went from a skeptic to a believer. From a negative person to a positive person because he was invited to experience the messiah, first hand.
And that is my sermon. Come and see for yourself that Jesus of Nazareth is the messiah.
But there is a challenge – a sting in the tail for Believers. Jesus is no longer physically here on earth. In fact, Jesus says that those of us who believe in him will be his representatives on earth. So, when people meet us, they are meeting the next best thing to meeting Jesus in person. My question is: Are we worthy representatives of Jesus of Nazareth. If we say to people, Come and See, what is it that they will experience from us. Will they conclude that indeed Jesus is the messiah, the son of God, just like Nathaniel did? Will our lives and testimony cause unbelievers and skeptics
to make a shift, like Nathaniel made the shift?
I pray God’s blessing on us all, as we together strive to be worthy representatives of the messiah Jesus, the one Moses and the Prophets wrote about – the son of Joseph – the one from Nazareth.
Annexure 2 – Maps of Palestine
Annexure 3 – CV and Profile of Dr Ruben Richards
Profile – RUBEN R. RICHARDS (PhD, University of Cape Town) Nation Builder, Peace Negotiator and Author
Cape Town-born Ruben Richards is a multi-skilled South African deeply involved in nation building and reconciliation.
Ruben’s work life started as a worker in a clothing factory; then as a fitter and turner
artisan followed by academic studies. Ruben is an ordained Christian clergyperson
and served congregations in Soweto and Cape Town and holds a doctorate in Old
Testament. Ruben’s professional career spans many disciplines including
engineering, academia and civil society. Professionally, Ruben has served, among
others, as the Executive Secretary of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation
Commission (Human Rights Committee), Deputy-Director-General of the Scorpions
(an investigative unit in the National Prosecuting Authority), and is founder of the
Ruben Richards Foundation, a South African non-profit organisation dedicated to
facilitating healing in traumatised communities. In 2015 the Foundation received the
prestigious National Reconciliation Award conferred by the Institute for Justice and
Reconciliation. The award was for the Foundations work in healing, restoration and confronting those things which exclude marginalised people from main stream society.
Ruben has consulted to various African countries on matters relative to transitional justice with particular reference to the setting up of a Truth Commission. These assignments have included being appointed by the Tunisia Truth Commission as an international observer of the first public hearings of that country and technical advisor to the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission of Zimbabwe. Ruben has also delivered a keynote addresses in Kigali, Rwanda on lessons learned from Truth Commissions and also to the Law Society of Swaziland University on fighting corruption based on lessons from South Africa’s Scorpions.
Ruben has facilitated intimate sessions with senior and executive staff within the justice sector in African countries.
Ruben holds degrees from Switzerland, USA and South Africa and is a published author. His most recent publication Bastaards or Humans (Volume 1 & 2) [ www.bastaardsorhumans.co.za ] has been endorsed by the Western Cape Education Department as an alternative history of South Africa to be integrated into the history curriculum of high school learners.
Ruben resides in Cape Town, married for 35 years and has two adult children (Mpilo 29 yrs and Nomsa 24 yrs).
Born: 28 June 1960, Cape Town
Current residence: Twee Riviere Farm, Clanwilliam, Cape Town
Current activity: Citrus farming; consulting to the UNDP on Transitional Justice; facilitating the work of the
Ruben Richards Foundation
International: Lived and studied in Germany, Switzerland, USA, South Africa.
Qualifications: Ph.D. (1995)-University of Cape Town; M.Th. (1999)-Michigan, USA; B.D. (2001)-Zurich,
Switzerland; B.Soc.Sc. (1998)-University of Cape Town; NTC5 (1983) [Mechanical Engineering]-Athlone
Technical College, Cape Town).
Academic assignments: Adjunct Professor, Security Studies (Wits P&DM); Visiting Professor, Texas Christian
University; Visiting Professor, Albion College, Michigan-USA.
Citrus farmer (Current)
CEO – Globe Engineering (largest Marine and Heavy Engineering company in Southern Africa)
CEO- Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry
Deputy Director-General, National Prosecuting Authority (Scorpions Investigating Unit)
Executive Secretary- Truth Commission of South Africa
Visiting Professor – (P&DM School of Governance) Wits University
Negotiated the largest donation of citrus fruit (i.e. 7 million oranges-Project Orange) for the poor and vulnerable. This is the largest such donation in the history of the citrus industry, locally and internationally. www.rrf.org.za/projectorange.
Author: The recent two-volume history of South Africa has been accepted as an alternative history to be integrated into the high school curriculum of the Western Cape.
Creator of a unique and world first; A 3-day Global Leadership Program based on Indigenous Khoisan wisdom, and taught on Robben Island. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vack4EMkIqg&t=20s
Recipient of the National Reconciliation Award, Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (2015)
Peace negotiator between rival gangs on Cape Flats resulting in longest cease fire in history of gang violence
in South Africa. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-africa-20608890
Books by Ruben
A sermon by Dr Ruben Richards
Delivered 18 October 2020, Olifants River Valley (Citrusdal-Clanwilliam) Western Cape
BULLETS or BALLOTS:
The ultimate solution to crime and unemployment in South Africa (Mutloatsi Heritage Arts Trust, Johannesburg, 2010). ISBN 9-780986983320 www.rubenrichards.co.za
2 BILLION STRONG:
A regenerative solution to building sustainable African cities.
Editors: Gita Govan, Ruben Richards, Alistair Rendall (Reygan Publishers, Cape Town, 2012). http://2billion-strong.com
GANGSTERISM and ECONOMIC RECONCILIATION:
A case study in peace building through industrial consciousness.
READING THE BIBLE IN CONTEXT:
Reconstructing South Africa.
Edited by Louise Kretzschmar and Ruben Richards
(Baptist Convention of South Africa, Johannesburg, 1996). ISBN 0-620-20735-3
BASTAARDS or HUMANS (Vol.1):
The unspoken heritage of coloured people [Origins, Identity, Culture and Challenges] (Indaba Publishing, California, USA, 2017). ISBN 9-781947599017
BASTAARDS or HUMANS (Vol.2):
500 years of intimacy between South Africa and Europe
(Indaba Publishing, California, USA, 2018). ISBN 9-781947599086
Contact: Cell: +27 82 498 0608; email:email@example.com fax: +27 86 684 684 7
(IFN Media, November 2015) ISBN 9-780620689052 www.rrf.org.za
1 Interestingly this miracle is not mentioned in the other gospels. John Chapter 2 – Wedding feast at Cana
v5. His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”
washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons.
7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.”
They did so, into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”
and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned
2 Could possibly be the fifth disciple, if we take into consideration that two of John the Baptist disciples broke away to follow Jesus – Andrew and one other (possibly the one writing the narrative – John).
“[Anna] began giving thanks to God and speaking about the child to all who were waiting for Jerusalem’s deliverance.” (Luke 2:36-38; Ex. 13:12).
MESSIANIC EXPECTATION IN ROMAN DOMINATED PALESTINE
Centuries of colonial domination
Let’s pause for a moment. Why was this news wonderful and exciting and indeed revolutionary? Who and what was this messiah that Moses wrote about in the law over a thousand years earlier? Why would Phillip describe Jesus as the long-awaited messiah?
Well, for centuries, the Jews had been subjected to the colonial rule of foreigners such as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks and now, at the time of Jesus, it was the Romans who ruled Palestine. And life was tough under the Roman (Italian) colonial government which was led by King Herod.
3 Messianic Expectations: When Jesus was dedicated in the temple in Jerusalem as a baby, there was an 84-year old prophetess by the name of Anna, who prophesied that this baby, Jesus, is the messiah – the one everybody was waiting for who would liberate Jerusalem.
Messianic expectations were extremely high among the first century Jews as they were suffering under the yoke of Roman colonial oppression. The Romans raised taxes, appointed the high priest and later erected statues of the Roman emperor in the temple itself – the ultimate sacrilege.
Roman rule at the time of Jesus
Let me remind you that Roman colonial rule was tough if not abominable. When the Romans occupied Palestine/Israel in 63 B.C.E. life for the Jews became increasingly difficult for three major reasons: taxes, Roman control over the High Priest and the general treatment of Jews by the Romans. Remember, it was the Romans who later fed the Christians the lions as a sport.
Taxes: No one likes being taxed, but under Roman rule, taxation became an even heavier burden. Roman governors were responsible for collecting tax revenue in Israel, but they corrupt and greedy. They over taxed the people and took the surplus for themselves. Now you can imagine what people thought of Jesus who appointed a tax collector as one of his disciples. A very problematic appointment, on the face of it.
Sacrilege/idolatry: Then one of the Roman Emperors (i.e. Caligula who came to power and in the year 39 C.E. ) declared himself a god and ordered that statues in his image be placed in every house of worship within his realm–including the Temple.
The Jews were waiting for liberator to free them from this kind of colonial rule and abomination. They were waiting for a messiah. We notice this even at the dedication of Jesus. When Mary brought her firstborn son (Jesus) to Jerusalem in order to present him to God as the Mosaic Law required, the prophetess Anna “began giving thanks to God and speaking about the child to all who were waiting for Jerusalem’s deliverance.” (Luke 2:36-38; Ex. 13:12).
4 Matt 2 v 7: Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the
A Prophet Without Honour
Religious interference: Another upsetting aspect of the Roman occupation was the way it
affected the High Priest, who served in the Temple. Under Roman rule the Romans decided who would be the high priests. In other words, the state/government appointed the high priest/pastor.
And so, finally, the messiah was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth – just 50 kilometers from Nathanael’s home.
star had appeared.
child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”
He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the
16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.
“Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph,Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.
6 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples.
Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed.
4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 7 Word Study – Deceit
He was amazed at their lack of faith.
Strong’s Concordance https://biblehub.com/greek/1388.htm
dolos: a bait, fig. craft, deceit
Original Word: δόλος, ου, ὁ
Part of Speech: Noun, Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (dol’-os)
Definition: a bait, craft, deceit
Usage: deceit, guile, treachery.
1388 dólos – properly, bait; (figuratively) deceit (trickery) using bait to alure (“hook”) people, especially those already festering in excessive, emotional pain (brought on by themselves).
1388 /dólos (“deceit motivated by guile“) uses decoys to snare (deceive) people which implies treachery to exploit the naive (undiscerning) – baiting them through (with) their own greed.
[1388 (dólos) is the root of: 1386 (dólios), 1387 (dolióō) and 1389 (dolóō).]
John 1:47 N-NMS
GRK: ἐν ᾧ δόλος οὐκ ἔστιν
NAS: there is no deceit!
KJV: is no guile!
INT: in whom deceit not is