Rev. Jeff Chapman ~ February 12, 2012 ~ Faith Presbyterian Church
The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me.’
44Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.’
46Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’
47When Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him, he said of him, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’
48Nathanael asked him, ‘Where did you come to know me?’
Jesus answered, ‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.’
49Nathanael replied, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’
50Jesus answered, ‘Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.’ 51And he said to him, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’ (John 1:43-51, NRSV)
If you were here last week you remember that we read a story about a man named Andrew who, after meeting Jesus and realizing that Jesus was the one he had been searching for, went immediately urge his brother, Simon, to come and see for himself. Andrew meets Jesus and the first thing he wants to do is share Jesus.
In our passage today we see the same thing happening all over again. This time a man named Philip meets Jesus and discovers, just like Andrew before him, that Jesus is the one he has been searching for, the one Moses and the prophets wrote about, the one
who has finally come to set all things right again. Then what’s the first thing Philip does after meeting Jesus? He runs out to find his friend Nathanael to come and see for himself.
What is that makes people who meet Jesus want to immediately share Jesus?
Well, let me ask you this. When you discover a great treasure in life, what is your tendency? Is your first instinct to hoard that treasure, or is your first instinct to share it?
Recently a friend of mine told me about this ridiculously unbelievable deal that some company was offering. I got excited when he told me because it almost seemed too good to be true. He also told me, however, that I might not want to tell too many other people about it because if too many people took advantage of this great deal the
company might start losing money and then the deal might go away.
Sometimes we don’t want to share treasure with others for one simple reason: scarcity. I fear that if I tell too many people about what I’ve discovered then there won’t be enough for me. If I tell everybody where the gold mine is, it won’t be long before the gold is all gone.
This leads me to why people who discover the treasure that is to be found in Jesus Christ are so willing to share that treasure with others. For with Christ, there is no scarcity. With Christ, there is only abundance. With Christ, there is enough good news for everybody, enough good news for the whole world. The salvation Jesus came to bring isn’t just for the select few, it’s for all who would come in faith. In Christ, hope and life and peace are rivers flowing from heaven which never run dry.
In fact, if a person claims to have met Christ, but then has no desire within himself or herself to share Christ with others, I think it would be right to ask whether that person has, in fact, met Christ in the first place. For again, when you truly come to meet Christ, you will soon find within yourself a desire to do what you can to help others meet Christ. As Jesus once said to his followers, “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden….Let your light shine before all people.”
Well, it did not take long for Philip to become this sort of light. He had been waiting for the Messiah. When he discovers he has come in Jesus, he can’t hide his light. Immediately, he thinks of his friend Nathanael who has also been waiting for the Messiah. At once he runs to tell him, “We’ve found him! The one the prophets told us would come has finally come. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one fromNazareth!”
And Nathanael says, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding me. The Messiah has come out of Nazareth? That’s a good one, Phillip. Always pulling my leg, buddy. You know as well as I do, nothing good comes out ofNazareth.”
Clearly, Nazareth was no vacation destination in those days. Truth is, Nazareth was such an obscure and out-of-the-way place that it wasn’t even referred to asa village or town. This was Nowheresville. You’d be lucky to even find it on a map. And so as far as Nathanael was concerned, when the Messiah did come he was certainly not going
to come as the son of a day laborer from the boonies.
You understand, don’t you, that Nathanael’s reaction to Philip’s news is not all that unusual. In fact, if you do what Philip did, if you go around telling people you know that Jesus of Nazareth is the one who has come to set everything right in life, that he is Lord and Savior, if you do that many people, even your good friends, may not believe you. They won’t have the same objection Nathanael had. In fact, Nazareth may sound pretty exotic to them. There’s a good chance, nonetheless, that they will have a few objections of their own.
Let me ask you. When you share your faith in Christ with others and invite them to come and see for themselves, what sorts of objections do you hear in response? What sorts of objections did you initially have when somebody first invited you to explore the Christian faith?
Here’s a few I’ve heard along the way.
I’m not going to believe in somebody I can’t see for myself. Sorry, I don’t have time for
You know, I appreciate your concern but I just don’t need Jesus. Really, my life is just fine the way it is.
Who do you think you are suggesting that Jesus is the One? I believe there are many paths to God and I’m happy with the one I’m on, thank you.
If Jesus really is who you say he is, then explain to me why the world is still in such a mess? Why is my life in such a mess? What sort of God allows evil and suffering to continue to take place?
Why would I want to know Jesus when so many of his followers seem like such hypocrites?
Honestly, I’d love to know Jesus but I’m afraid that after the way I’ve lived my life, I’m not sure Jesus wants to know me.
What do we do when we try to point others to Christ and they respond with objections, or doubts, or even hostility? Well, what did Philip do? Philip, actually, is quite wise. For example, notice that he doesn’t argue with Nathanael. Because arguing never
works. I’d be surprised, in fact, if in the history of the church a single person was ever argued into the Christian faith. You just can’t drag people to Jesus, no matter how good your intentions might be.
I think Philip knows this. He might even agree with Nathanael’s point. Nazareth
does seem like a strange hometown for the Messiah. Maybe Philip doesn’t argue because he doesn’t have an argument. Have you ever felt like that? People give their objections to the Christian faith and they turn out to be really strong objections. And you’re not sure what to say. In fact, you wrestle with the very same doubts
yourself. Anybody here ever had that experience?
Philip wisely does not argue with his friend. All he does is invite. “Just come and see,”
he says. “Will you at least come and see for yourself?”
It’s just a gentle and gracious invitation. And I have a hunch that if Nathanael had said
no at that point, that he’d rather not waste his time, that Philip would not have pressed the issue. But give Nathanael some credit. He’s got his doubts, and yet he still goes to
see for himself. And that tells us something very important about doubt. You see, doubt is not necessarily a barrier to faith. That’s because faith, by definition, is not the absence of doubt. Faith, rather, is going forward in the presence of doubt, in spite of doubt. Faith is not being able to prove that the footbridge will hold your weight but taking a step out on the bridge anyway.
So, you see, it’s not doubt that keeps people from faith. What keeps people from faith is an insistent refusal to even come and see. And Nathanael, though full of doubt, is at least willing to come and see.
As he does, as Nathanael comes near, Jesus sees him and says loudly to those standing nearby, “Look! Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” In other words, “Look! Here is a man full of integrity and character. There’s not a false bone in his
body.” Once again, just like last week with Peter, Jesus meets a person and looks past what everybody else sees on the outside and into the heart. This is one of the reasons, by the way, why some people don’t want to come to meet Jesus. Some of us don’t want anybody looking that deeply inside.
Even Nathanael is taken aback. “Where’d you get that idea?” he says. “You don’t even know me.”
Jesus answers, “Yes I do. One day, long before Philip called you, I saw you sitting under the fig tree.”
And Nathanael immediately says, “Oh, you saw me under the fig tree? Well, in that case I don’t care where you’re from. You could be from the moon as far as I’m concerned. You really are the Son of God! You truly are the King of Israel! Who else but the Messiah could have seen me under the fig tree?”
What? What in the world is going on here? Is Nathanael serious? Is this sarcasm? I mean, even I can walk by and see somebody sitting under a fig tree and remember his face for a few days. But that doesn’t make me the Savior of the world. Does it? What’s going on here?
Biblical scholars teach us that it was customary in that time, especially on hot days, for a person to go and sit down in the shade of a fig tree when they wanted to spend some personal in prayer and meditation. Therefore, while it’s a bit speculative, it’s
not hard to imagine that Nathanael had recently spent some time praying under anearby fig tree. Perhaps he even went off alone to a private place where nobody else could see him. Perhaps he even spent time under that tree praying for the day when the Messiah would finally come. Perhaps he had some spiritual encounter that day under the fig tree, an encounter about which he had not yet told anybody else.
Again, it’s all speculation. And yet it seems safe to say that something happened under that fig tree that day to Nathanael that nobody else could have possibly known about. Which explains why Nathanael is astonished when this stranger Jesus says to him, essentially, “Nathanael, I know about what happened to you under the fig tree the other day.”
I think this is likely explanation for what’s going on here for this reason: this is typically what happens when people come to meet Jesus. When you meet Jesus it doesn’t take long to realize that Jesus knows things about you that nobody else knows. In fact, he knows everything about you. He knows where you’ve been. He knows what you’ve done. He sees into the depths of your heart. He knows things about you that you don’t even know. He can articulate things about you that you could never begin to put into words.
Doesn’t it make you wonder what Jesus sees in you when you come into his presence? He knows what brings you joy. He knows all about your dreams, about your secret longings. He knows the things that make you afraid, the fears which keep you up at
night. He sees the wounds within that the rest of us cannot see.
When this happens to Nathanael, when he realizes that Jesus already knows him, he finds himself overcome. All at once his doubts fade away. All at once Nazareth
has nothing to do with anything any more. And though he certainly could not have explained what it all meant, all at once Nathanael becomes convinced that the man standing before him truly is the Son of God, the King of Israel.
In his book, Faith and Doubt, writer John Ortberg tells the story of Mortimer Alder, one of the greatest philosophers of the twentieth century.
Ortberg writes, For many decades Alder was convinced by philosophical arguments – for instance, the argument from design – that there must be a God. He believed such arguments show that there must be a powerful, intelligent, personal force behind
creation. But he did not worship this being, for he believed that these philosophical arguments could not show that such a being was good and was interested in him. He believed in a god as he believed in the ozone layer.
Then one day as an old man he lay sick in a hospital bed. A friend came to pray for him, and while his friend was praying, Mortimer Alder found tears streaming down his
face and found himself praying. He knew only one prayer – the Lord’s Prayer. He
found himself praying it day after day – and believing.
Amazing things happen when people whose hearts are open humbly come into the presence of Christ. All the objections and doubts may still remain. And yet, something so mysterious and supernatural, yet undeniable happens in the encounter that even though the doubts and objections can’t be rationally explained away, it no longer seems to matter. When you have a true experience of the presence of Christ in your life, the reality of the experience overwhelms everything else. All of a sudden it
doesn’t matter that Jesus is from Nazareth. He sees into my heart. He knows my longing and my pain. He shows me what I couldn’t see before. He seems as real as anything I’ve ever experienced. Before you know it, faith comes flooding in where once only doubt was present.
Here’s why. When we go seeking after Christ, when we are willing to follow the invitation to come and see, we quickly find that Christ has already been seeking after us. We find Christ because – listen to me – Christ wants to be found by us.
When my two oldest children were little, one of our favorite games to play was hide and seek. At the time we lived in a three story house with lots of great places to hide. That meant that when you were playing with a two-year-old and a four-year-old, it was pretty easy to stay hidden. In fact, I consistently creamed both of them at hide and seek. I’d make them count to 100 and go hide in places I knew they would never find me.
My favorite spot was in the attic. I’d use a secret ladder to climb up in the attic and then pull the trap door shut behind me. Never once did they find me there. They’d search for hours and not even come close. Even with a stepstool, they couldn’t reach the cord to pull down the ladder. It was pitiful.
Another trick I had was I would sneak into our coat closetwhich locked from the inside. They’d come and try to open the door to see if I was in there. They’d knock and knock, “Daddy, are you in there.” But they weren’t getting that door open. I had the key in pocket. So they’d go off and scour the rest of the house in vain while I’d make myself comfortable in the closet reading the sports page and munching on potato chips.
I don’t want to brag, but for like four years running I was the undisputed hide and seek champion of our family. Come to think of it, I was undefeated. I’d hide, and they’d seek. And that’s how the game always ended.
Is that really how it went? Of course not. When you’re a dad playing hide and seek with your kids, what’s the best part of the game? The best part is being found. Your kids squeal and laugh and jump all over you. It’s like they just found a pot gold!
So when I’d hide, I’d go behind the curtains but make sure the tips of my shoes were plainly sticking out at the bottom. I did hide in our coat closet quite often, but I never locked the door. And if Isabel and Noel didn’t find me in a few minutes, I couldn’t take it. So I’d start to whistle and make funny bird noises to lead them to where I was. And they’d find me and they would think that they’d won. But you know what? I was always the one most glad to be found.
Now, I don’t know exactly why it is that God makes us seek after him. That’s a question for another day, perhaps. What I do know is that when we do seek after God, when we truly seek after God, we find God. And when we point others to God and they go truly seeking after God, they find God as well. For God wants to be found.
If he wanted to, God could hide from us forever, literally. If God does not want to be
found, God will not be found. The good news is that our God – and this may be the most amazing thing I could ever tell you from this pulpit – our God, for some reason, does not want to be apart from us. That means that if we go seeking after God, even if we go seeking with all sorts of doubts in mind, if we truly go seeking God it will not be long before we find, to our amazement, that God has already been seeking after us. In Jesus Christ, God has come a long, long way, by way of Nazareth, seeking after us because he wants to be found.
God wanted Nathanael to find him. That’s why when Nathanael went to go and see
Jesus, he found God. “Rabbi,” he declares, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” And though the text doesn’t tell us this, I think Jesus just laughed when he heard this. “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree?” Jesus said. “Just you wait, Nathanael. You haven’t seen anything yet.”
The Next Step -A resource for Life Groups and/or personal application
~ Read John 1:43-51.
What do you like about this story?
~ When Nathanael comes to meet Jesus he is full of doubt. All of a sudden, however, he’s calling Jesus the Son of God. How do you explain this transformation?
~ Was there ever a time in life when you had such a real experience with the presence of Christ that it overwhelmed whatever doubts you had been, to that point, holding on to?
~ Do you find yourself wanting, like Philip, to share Jesus with others? Why or why not?
~ When you have shared the Christian faith with others you know, what sorts of objections have you heard them give you?
~ Jude 22 says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.” Why should we?
~ In Romans 10:14-15, Paul is writing about people who do not yet know Christ. He writes, “How can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’” What do these verses mean to you personally?
~ At one point Nathanael calls Jesus “king.” How has Jesus been a king in your life?
Further Scripture Readings or the Week:
Monday: Acts 8:26-40 – Philip at it again
Tuesday Matthew 5:13-16 – Light of the world
Wednesday: Luke 8:1-15 – Fertile soil
Thursday: Genesis 28:10-22 – Jacob’s ladder
Friday: Romans 10:1-21 – Sharing Christ
Saturday : In preparation for worship on Sunday, read and reflect on John 2:1-11.
What if Philip had told Nathanael, “We’ve found the Messiah. He’s just got in from Jerusalem.
He’s the son of the high priest and a very impressive man.” With that sort of description, perhaps
Nathanael would have been a bit more persuaded.
Jude 22 says, “Be merciful to those who doubt.”
John 2:25, where we are reminded that Jesus always knows what is in the heart
of a man or woman.
Among others, William Barclay, The Daily
Bible Study Series: The Gospel of John, Volume 1, (Philadelphia:
Westminster, 1955), p. 77.
Another great example of this is in the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan
woman at the well in John 4:1-26. In the
end she runs and tells people, “He told me everything I ever did!” (4:39)
Ortberg, Faith & Doubt, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,
2008), p. 74.