I know I know…you’re probably humming the song…but this isn’t about that! Today’s reflection comes from John 1, and while I preached through the Gospel of John last year; I did not cover this very interesting text sandwiched between the witness of John the Baptist and the Wedding at Cana. Here is the text:
John 1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.
45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”
46 “Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.
47 As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
48 “How do you know about me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus replied, “I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”
49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I had seen you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God going up and down on the Son of Man, the one who is the stairway between heaven and earth.”
My initial thoughts here centered on how a story starts as a “poking-fun-at-rival-towns” in the area and then ends with the heavens open and this Jesus being the stairway to heaven! WHAT JUST HAPPENED? Well, I think it is Jesus just being Jesus…
You have to love the faith of Philip in the story…after Jesus’ invite to be a disciple, Philip is trusting and acting in faith. But then there is the more skeptical Nathanael, and hew really makes the story interesting. I mean, we have read the introduction to John in which Jesus is introduced as the very WORD of God, the LIGHT of the world, and that Jesus has come to create a new people who will be given the power, through the Holy Spirit, to live the abundant life of God. Apparently Nathanael doesn’t read…just kidding…but he is caught up in where this guy is from…Nazareth.
You see, important people are supposed to come from important places. Leaders come from Jerusalem, not Nazareth. Linebackers are developed at Penn State, not Rutgers (yikes). And good quarterbacks play at big high schools, not the little ones. Politicians need to be from metropolitan centers, not podunk rusty has-been towns. The promised one coming from Nazareth…that is surprising. But Philip just invites…Come and see…
So Nathanael does go and see this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus. Jesus immediately offers some encouraging words to Nathanael. In contrast to Nathanael’s response about Jesus, Jesus calls Nathanael a man of integrity and a genuine son of Israel. I laughed at Nathanael’s response…how do you know about me? (I was thinking of him smirking and saying, “Yep…you got that right buddy! But prove it!”)
Then this Nazareth born man that probably wasn’t that awesome Jesus tells Nathanael that he saw him…not from a distance, not just now, but under a tree…not just any tree but the fig tree. Jesus claims that before Philip found Nathanael, he knew where Nathanael was…under the fig tree. While Nathanael’s presence under a tree probably meant that he was learning from a rabbi or other teacher, the fact that Jesus has supernatural knowledge takes center stage in the story. In fact, this revelation leads to Nathanael’s proclamation, “You are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”
Yet Jesus is somewhat stunned at the proclamation given that he really didn’t do all that much. What comes next is of utmost importance because Jesus recaptures the image of Jacob’s ladder and places himself as the mediator between heaven and earth. Therefore, we can assert that just as Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel, became a symbol of the special relationship the people of Israel would enjoy as God’s chosen people; now Jesus is a new Jacob, establishing a new people who will share access to God through Jesus.
I must admit that as I read this, I wonder what all my eyes will behold because of Jesus. When he tells Nathanael that he hadn’t seen anything yet…I can only imagine Jesus needs to say that to me as well. I sometimes get stuck in the smaller revelations of God that I forget the larger picture…renewing all things, true relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Sure, Jesus saw me first…before I was found and brought to him. But he wants me to see so much more…and Jesus wants you to see so much more. Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus in glory!
Jesus is portrayed in the Bible as our older brother…that is the one who goes before us to show us the way home to the Father. Whenever we are described in the Bible as “children” we are the children of God and never the children of Jesus. Those of us who are not Jewish, and are in fact Gentiles, are described as adopted children, or chosen children, of God.
Listen to the words of Romans 8:
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
Again, hear the words of 1 Corinthians 15 which show the relationship between the work of Jesus the Son and the ultimate victory of God the Father:
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. 23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For “God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.
I think the Bible displays Jesus as a peer, one of us…even being from God and being a part of God…but God is so high and holy and other that it is difficult to view God as the one who has chosen to be among us. Interestingly enough, whether it is God or Jesus who is among us, both have consequences. When God is among us, the holy one in our midst, then sin must be dealt with and we must be worthy to receive such a presence. When Jesus walked among us, we have a decision to make in regard to his presence—namely, is he the one sent form God like he claimed to be?
To be in God’s family is to make God your Father and to make Jesus your elder brother who shows you an example by which to live and die. To live the life of Jesus is to live in the family of God, to be connected to the church, and to participate in the divine mission empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus is portrayed as Lord and Messiah, the Christ, and the one who ultimately brings the world back to God…but it is the Father who stands alone, the one Jesus serves, and in the end it is God the Father who fulfills promises and brings the family home.
After about a week of dreary days and rain, we received about an inch of snow. My kids went out to play in it before school started that morning, and I sat, sipping coffee, with the blinds open to the back yard—enjoying the scene. There is something about the covering of snow that is just beautiful. I’m not saying that it can’t be chaotic, cancel school, and make life a mess. I remember our 30 inch storm last year. But, in my mind and heart, a fresh snowfall is a renewing sight, especially after rain and cloud cover. Snow lightens up the winter, it cleanses the ground because it looks clean and new.
A contrast is made in the Bible between light and dark. Whether it is the creator God at the very beginning separating light from darkness and calling the light “good,” or John’s depiction of Jesus as the light of the world that darkness cannot overcome. There are also images of washing that talk about someone being made clean and pure, the Bible will refer to that as being made “white as snow.” You see, sin makes things darker and God makes things lighter. It was God that hung the sun in the sky and it is God who controls the “gates” of heaven where the rain, snow, and other weather pours forth in the Old Testament. Since we just focused on the Christmas story, think about the image of a star that shines forth in the darkness in which Wise Men can follow from afar and gather around Jesus. This contrast permeates the biblical text.
Another way this appears is in passages like Ephesians 3 in which Paul says that his task in ministry is to bring to “light” the mystery of God that has been hidden. We also see this in the Gospel of John when Nicodemus comes to visit Jesus at night, or in the darkness. John uses this image to both tell us what time of day he came, but also to indicate the relationship he has with Jesus…Nicodemus is in the dark and he needs to be “enlightened” with the truth of God’s work through Jesus.
Ultimately we come to this; in the Bible, heaven is a place of perpetual light and at the center of this image is the very presence of God, and earth threatens to spiral into a dark and chaotic place and is an image of humanity’s choice to live in their own ways and fulfill their own wills. The narrative unfolds, and we who are enlightened by the Gospel know that God is in the process of setting up outposts of heaven on earth, dispelling darkness and chaos, and being a place of light. As imperfect as these outposts are, they are mostly referred to today as churches. Churches are these spaces in which the darkness of sin can be redeemed and dispelled, its power defeated, and light can reign bringing the presence of God to us. Remember, darkness has no fellowship with light…when we bring our sin into the light then God forgives us and the sin has no power over us (1 John 1).
So what is the point of this rambling? Sometimes I need the snow in the middle of winter to clean up the ugliness of a barren and stripped natural world, I need to be reminded of my God’s beauty and know that even in the darkest days something wonderful can happen that changes my whole outlook. That is the same reason I need the church, because I need to be in contact with the heavenly world that breaks the ugliness of a barren and stripped spiritual world. I need to be reminded of God’s presence and know that even in the midst of sin, something wonderful can happen that changes humanity’s outlook. God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.