It’s Friday morning and it is my hope that you are leaning on your unchanging heavenly Father as you continue to adjust to all of the change around you. Let’s worship and be reminded about what we believe with this song:
Prayer: Psalm 27:7-14
Hear, O LORD, when I cry with my voice! Have mercy also upon me, and answer me. When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, LORD, I will seek.” Do not hide Your face from me; do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; do not leave me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation. When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take care of me. Teach me Your way, O LORD, and lead me in a smooth path, because of my enemies. Do not deliver me to the will of my adversaries; for false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out violence. I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD In the land of the living. Wait on the LORD; be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; wait, I say, on the LORD!
John 1:43-51 was relayed to me second-handed by a friend from his pastor about fifteen years ago; that pastor (who would also be my seminary Greek teacher) has impacted me greatly to this day. I’ll never forget how intrigued my roommate was by the lesson from this passage, and even as he fumbled through recollecting the sermon he’d heard, I too began to pick up on the amazing insights that this passage has to offer. So today, I hope you’ll join us, too, in seeing this passage with a joy and amazement at how cool Scripture can be.
In yesterday’s devotional, we saw that Andrew found Simon, and that “found” carried the idea of “accidentally coming upon.” Looking at v. 43, it says that Jesus found Philip; once again, though the call to “follow Me” was intentional, the finding of Philip happened along the way without him being sought. We ought to notice too that Philip found Nathanael in v. 45, and here, too it implies that he wasn’t necessarily seeking him, but came upon him. Do you, like me, find that intriguing at all? Life is full of moments where we “just happen to come upon” other people, opportunities, information, etc. In all of those (humanly speaking) accidents we sometimes find lifetime friends, spouses, careers or changes, and sometimes even those moments where a conversation leads into a newfound faith in Jesus Christ.
Nathanael’s first comment to Philip was, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” You can hear the initial disdain in Nathanael’s words; Nazareth does not have the best of reputations, at least with Nathanael! Certainly, this isn’t lost on us today; it’s the concept of “living on the other side of the tracks” or coming from “that” town…or state, or country. Humans are often quite prone to feeling some sense of superiority, if for no other reason than to cover their own insecurities. There is a touch of pride in this passage, and as we look at a parallel between Nathanael and (doubting)Thomas further on, we will see a similar attitude issue and how Jesus cuts right through it.
Philip’s response to Nathanael’s somewhat haughty reply was “Come and see.” When I hear the exchange of Nathanael and Philip, I’m reminded of Thomas’ doubts about Jesus’ resurrection from John 20:25-27:
The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
There is definitely a comparable nature between Nathanael’s hesitancy to believe that the Christ had arrived and Thomas’ hesitancy to believe that Christ had arisen. The parallel exists not only in the doubt and subsequent response, but also in how Jesus addresses this with both of them. Hone in on that. Jesus did not ask them whether they doubted when He came, but knew what they were thinking and touched upon that very nerve, which caught both of them off guard. Let’s look at those two parallels of Jesus’ insight:
- Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you. John 1:47-48
- Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” John 20:27
One of the great parallels is that Jesus actually doesn’t have to convince either of these men beyond speaking to their hearts; he knew their thoughts. This is why both of them, with no further evidence, give very similar responses:
- Nathanael answered and said to Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:49
- And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” John 20:28
Let’s look at one more parallel, Jesus’ final comments in both of these passages:
- Jesus answered and said to 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, “Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” John 1:50-51
- Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
Jesus’ response to both of them spoke to the shallow cause of their belief; they had to see, they had to verify. This isn’t all bad, because we learn some great lessons about Jesus and about the foundation of belief in these two stories. If you’re a believer, when you meet Jesus someday, you’re going to know very quickly that He knows you like no other, but the awareness of being known to the complete depth that Christ knows you won’t cause fear; it will cause peace.
We know that Thomas doubted that Christ arose and that this thought was what Jesus addressed. What was Nathanael thinking, maybe very likely daydreaming or reading about under the fig tree (where we can suppose Philip found him)? There are some clues in the way that Jesus talks to Nathanael. First, Jesus’ way of addressing Nathanael: “behold, an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Jacob, who would later be called Israel, was good at deception. His name meant “supplanter” and supplant he did as he tricked his brother Esau for his birthright and his father Isaac for the blessing (see Genesis 25, 27). While God had foreordained the outcomes, Jacob’s early days would be characterized more by manipulation than trust in getting ahead. His name would change from Jacob to Israel, meaning “God prevails” in Genesis 32:28 as a life of deceit would dissipate in a wrestling match with the “Man” (perhaps the Angel of the Lord, the preincarnate Christ—see also Daniel 3:25 on this). Jacob would not stop wrestling with Him until He blessed Him, at which He was changed long-term by two major signs: a new name and a limp in his walk.
Nathanael’s response to Jesus’ comment was, “How do you know me?” The “know” here is ginosko; Nathanael is asking Jesus how he knows him in the way that we learn someone relationally, intimately. There are things we can learn about others that we don’t personally know, and there are things about them that only those closest to them would know because of their closeness. Nathanael was floored that Jesus could know what was in his mind, what no one else could have known. It’s hard to say where Jesus was when he refers to seeing Nathanael underneath the fig tree, but the term for saw is the experience of seeing with the eyes. It’s hard to say whether he was in a place that it was humanly possible to be seen or not by Jesus, but perhaps the play on words is this: Philip told Nathanael to come and see Jesus, the Messiah. Before Philip talked to Nathanael, Jesus said he already saw Nathanael. He was coming to see Jesus, but Jesus had already seen him. Isn’t that quite the love of Christ for us right there? Far before we look for Him, He’s looked for us; far before we’ve listened for him, he’s listened for us.
The second reason to Thomas’ thoughts being on Jacob is alluded to by Jesus’ comment: “”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, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’” John 1:50-51
The angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder took place in Genesis 28:12, in Jacob’s dream. God promised Jacob these words in connection with that vision:
And behold, the LORD stood above it and said: “I am the LORD God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and your descendants. Also your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread abroad to the west and the east, to the north and the south; and in you and in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. Genesis 28:13-14
Who is the seed of Jacob that would bless all the families of the earth? The Man standing before Nathanael, having a conversation with him: Jesus Christ. In what way would all the families be blessed? Through the salvation He would provide through His death on the cross. Jesus is The Way, the ladder by which we ourselves can go to heaven and be with God forever. I hope you can join me in praising Jesus like Nathanael today in saying, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
When Fanny Crosby wrote this song shortly after a conversation about how she, a blind woman, would recognize her friends in heaven someday. Because after all, Jesus is the sweetest friend to know. Let’s worship with this familiar song:
May you be aware of His presence today!