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John 1:43-51, NIV
43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses and the prophets wrote about--Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph." 46"Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.
47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." 48"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
50Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." 51He then added, "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."
November 13, 2010Jesus decided to leave the barren landscape of John the Baptist, and head north to the fishing towns and grassy hillsides around the Galilean Sea. First stop was the hometown of Andrew and Peter. Can we assume these two brothers were traveling with Jesus? Maybe they had recommended Philip?The impression we get is that both Philip and Nathanael were very devout in their religious faith. Jesus "found" Philip, said, "Follow me!" and Philip immediately went to get his good friend with whom he could share his good news.
Nathanael was not at all impressed by Jesus' credentials. Nothing good had ever come out of Nazareth! But to satisfy Philip, Nathanael went to check it out. In contrast, Jesus was very impressed by Nathanael; said he was a truly genuine man of God. He was for real and there was nothing false about him! Wow!
Jesus' words caught Nathanael by surprise. And he instantaneously changed his mind about this man from Nazareth. I presume Nathanael's fig tree experience held meaningful significance for him which he thought no one else knew about or fully understood. But Jesus did know, did appreciate and did understand.
In turn Nathanael called him Rabbi, Son of God, King of Israel. Nothing good suddenly became the greatest compliments he could find the words to expres More journal entries
April 3, 1982
I wonder if Andrew would have followed Jesus without Peter? Or if Philip would have gone with Jesus if Andrew and Peter were not there also? Would Nathanael have believed if Jesus had not displayed superhuman knowledge and understanding?
I think Andrew would have. He had been a disciple of John the Baptist without his brother. Andrew was out searching for God. Peter, Philip and Nathanael were either found directly by Jesus or brought to him by a friend or relative. That's three distinct possibilities for becoming a disciple: We initiate and volunteer; God simply finds us; our friends bring us along.
Three of them had their eyes opened when they witnessed something extra special about Jesus. Belief came through experiencing Jesus.
Could Jesus have turned anyone into a disciple, or was Jesus selecting carefully? Andrew was not alone when he followed Jesus. 2x2 is evident here and in most references to the disciples. We follow 2x2. We minister 2x2. We are all imperfect human vessels, yet God welcomes us and loves us into usefulness.
April 5, 1982Nathanael complained, "Jesus, your credentials don't sound that good--Joseph and Nazareth--come on!" Facts are facts - credible and verifiable.
Philip referred to the words of Moses and the Prophets. And John the Baptist had called him the Son of God. But these beliefs required faith.
What specifically was Andrew thinking of that Moses said concerning the Messiah? Is it fair to read Jesus back into the Prophets? Matthew's Gospel does a lot of that even when the quotes don't seem relevant. How could anybody believe those efforts to prove the authenticity of Jesus, unless God directed their thoughts? It takes faith to believe in Jesus. God's existence can not be proved. His presence is verified in the spirit of a person, confirmed in nature and the life around us. It reminds me of the words of E. Stanley Jones--the Way is written into our genes, and only by living according to his Way do we function properly.
Nathanael, are you going to believe your friends? Andrew and Peter, and then Philip responded easily, spontaneously, and without questions or skepticism. But you are different.
How unique we all are! And how rich and beautiful the differences are. Like the concert I heard last evening. Amazing how all the inconsonant notes, when given order and arrangement, made delightful, exciting music. Some pieces were very beautiful and harmonious. Others had no clear melody, and must have sounded terrible when the practice sessions began, probably lotsof thoughts like "This can't be right. No composer would write this stuff and call it music!"
Poetry doesn't have to rhyme, musical notes don't have to blend perfectly. People don't have to believe and act the same. But when we center on God and focus on his leading, the concert will be great.
April 6, 1982Nathanael's first reaction was disbelief. Many people are like that. Prejudiced and negative about Nazareth. His mind was set and closed on the subject. Nothing good can happen in Nazareth. But Philip persisted. Come and see. You don't believe me, come and see for yourself.
Although doubting, Nathanael acquiesced to the request of his friend. There are times it takes a friend to get us to move in the right direction. His doubt didn't prevent him for checking things out. "Philip, my friend, there's nothing good in Nazareth. You deceive yourself. But just to make you happy or just to make you stop bugging me, I'll come with you."
I could take lessons from Philip on how to invite my friends to church: This is what I have found and experienced. No, I'm not convinced and have my doubts. Come with me and see for yourself.
Philip didn't argue a case for Nazareth! He didn't argue anything. He wasn't defensive. No need to defend the truth of any of the things he said. Just come so you can make up your own mind.
November 8, 2001Nazareth. Why would the Messiah come from such a place? Philip didn't know. Probably the question had never occurred to him, but it mattered to Nathanael. Come and see. What more could Philip say?
Jesus watched as Nathanael drew near. Nathanael was coming as judge. He was going to determine if this was the Messiah, using his own standards of righteousness. Jesus caught him off guard by speaking as he approached. The true Israelite (The way an Israelite should be, or a true Christian who lives like Christ would have them live). And with no guile, nothing false. No deceit. What he says, he is!
Nathanael asked this stranger, Jesus, "How do you know me." The description must have been accurate, the way Nathanael saw himself. Jesus responded, "I saw you before Philip approached you. You were under the fig tree." That's all it took to convince Nathanael, who proclaimed Jesus to be the Son of God and King of Israel! The loftiest of titles. No moving up the ladder gradually for Nathanael. He goes right to the top. Son of God, King of Israel.
Nathanael does not proceed cautiously. He throws himself into the game 100%. So it's not hard to believe that in v51 he would see the heavens open with angels moving up and down ministering to Jesus. He could probably see it all already.
Compare Nathanael to the Pharisees whom Jesus would met later and could not convince no matter what he did. The miracles didn't win them over, his intellect didn't sway them. What makes the difference? Why are some skeptics? While people like Nathanael are won over so quickly? I think Nicodemus envied Nathanael's ability to believe.
Nathanael was skeptical before he met Jesus, but that all vanished suddenly as soon as Jesus spoke to him. We have the Bible through which Jesus can speak to us every day. Be like Nathaniel, not like the Pharisees. Andrew was convinced because John the Baptist told him who Jesus was. Peter was taken over by the new name. Philip just responded to "Follow me." Nathanael was persuaded by the all-seeing and God-like eyes of Jesus.
April 7, 1982
Nathanael was a very good man. No deceit, no dishonesty, no hypocrisy. What he exhibited in public was true in private. He didn't pretend to be more righteous than he was. He was for real. His outer man and his inner man were not divided nor struggling with each other. He was a man at peace with himself. No secrets, no skeletons in his closet. He was probably very young and devout.
Sometimes such men and women start to crumble around middle age, which is very sad. Goodness is not rewarded in our society. What is the value of being good? Some who don't sow their wild oats in adolescence, try to catch up in mid-life. I've had some thoughts like that myself. There's something about getting older makes us realize how short life is and that we only live once.
And I think we get confused about what it means to live. What we thought would be so exciting and make us feel youthful again, in time turns out to be disappointing and empty, sometimes even destructive. Nathaniel, I hope, found life with Jesus so fulfilling that he didn't need to look elsewhere.
April 9, 1982
Was Nathanael too easily convinced after he met Jesus? Did he over-react? He called Jesus three things--Rabbi, Son of God, and King of Israel--in the order they were important to him.
Rabbi is a respected title for someone who teaches religious thought and practice. Saving the best for last, he put Son of God next, and then King of Israel. Nathanael wanted the reign of God on earth now and that was his highest priority. The Son of God concept which John the Baptist promoted would require a lot more thought; too lofty a concept to get a handle on at the moment.
Jesus was going to show Nathanael many mighty works, but his desire for an earthly king would be disappointed. The other possibility, "You are the Son of God", would continue to develop and grow, even after Jesus' death.
The words of Jesus, "Follow me" are not addressed to Nathanael in this text. Nathanael was Philip's idea just as Peter was Andrew's idea. Jesus called Peter to discipleship; did he also call Nathanael? If he did become one of the Twelve, I think he was the one known as Bartholomew.
April 12, 1982
You will see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man (Jesus' title for himself). Those words must have brought to mind Jacob's ladder at Bethel. A true Israelite would have known about the first Israelite, Abraham's grandson whom God renamed Israel. Before he was Israel, he was Jacob and he had a dream one troubling night and saw angels and God spoke to him. "You will become a great nation . . . . I will be with you . . . . I will never leave you. . . ." (Genesis 28)
Jesus told Nathanael and the others that they would see Heaven open--could there be a more magnificent, blessed sight anywhere? A display of angels--Was this the reward for discipleship? Was Jesus talking about a mystical revelation, or an actual physical experience? Something that would happen during their lifetime or when they died?
No one asked him to be more explicit. Their amazement must have dumbfounded them, even Peter was silenced. It seemed they could simply accept what Jesus said and store it in their minds for future use. Maybe they pondered his words like his mother Mary--she didn't understand either.
The Gospel writers wrote what they saw and were told about. The apostle Paul was first to attempt to explain the faith, to try to get people to understand Jesus so they would believe.
Jesus' approach: 1) believe, 2)follow me, and that will lead to 3) understanding--your eyes will be opened at some future point.
November 14, 2010What about all those angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man? Jesus never clarified what he meant. In his day everyone might have understood the imagery. But 2000 years later it leaves us wondering and speculating.
But this we do know, Jesus bridged the gulf between heaven and earth, between God and his creation. He came to lead us all home to our Heavenly Father. Maybe the angels did not represent a ladder or a bridge, but a stairway. Possibly a vision forcing his disciple to lift their eyes toward heaven for hope and guidance.
Perhaps it wasn't for our benefit at all, but solely for Jesus, with angels coming and going to sustain him as needed. God had not abandoned his dearly beloved Son but stayed in touch. What better way to describe their arrangement than with angels ascending and descending.
November 10, 2001
Nathanael summarized it all. He was the first person in John's Gospel to link the two images: Son of God, with King of Israel. In the Old Testament when Samuel was the leader of Israel, he expressed the thought that God wanted to be Israel's king. Both Moses and Elijah believed in theocracy, the rule of God. Nathanael was on target. He wanted to live in a land where justice, righteousness and peace reigned supreme.
Jesus taught many lessons on the kingdom of heaven and trained his disciples to pray, "Our Father . . . thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven." But when Jesus died, not one nation on earth resembled anything near what God's reign would look like.
St Paul wrote that believers should obey governing authorities, and that slaves should obey their masters. Yet in the early church the disciples turned apostles declared their first allegiance was to God before obeying civil officials.
The reign of God on earth as Nathanael envisioned it, never materialized. When the Son of God died on a Roman cross, hopes for the King of Israel died with him.
But in the Christian tradition, there was a resurrection. Jesus arose from the grave and with him a new title, King of Kings. Like Yogi Berra said, "It ain't over till it's over!" Till we see heaven open . . . . God is not done yet.
November 15, 2010In my thoughts it's a small leap from King of Kings to Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus." Can you hear it too? "King of kings! and Lord of lords! And He shall reign forever and ever, King of kings! and Lord of lords! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!"
Nathanael started us down (up) the track and here's where we end up!