“Come and See” – John 1:43-51

Posted: January 21, 2015 in Book and Article Reviews

In the ancient world, names were extremely important.  A name captured the essence or character of a person or an object.  Jacob was born the younger of two twin boys to Isaac and Rebecca.  Jacob meant “heel-grabber” or “deceiver.”  And, boy, did he live up to his name.

Jacob was a schemer.  His brother, Esau, was first in line to receive the inheritance of their father.  Jacob tricked Esau into trading his birthright for a bowl of soup.  He went even further, pretending to be Esau before their blind father and stole Esau’s blessing.  When Esau found out “he cried out with an exceedingly great and bitter cry, and said to his father, ‘Bless me, even me also, O my father!’  But he said, ‘Your brother came with guile, and he has taken away your blessing.’  Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob?’” (Gen. 27-34-36a).

Jacob was a deceiver, one full of guile.  His life continued to follow this pattern.  He did not learn his lesson, even though he had to flee from his home to escape his brother’s murderous rage at being deceived.

It is on the way to his uncle’s home that Jacob encounters God.  Jacob dreams that a ladder is coming down from heaven and angels are ascending and descending between earth and heaven.  Jacob’s life-trajectory is re-situated, re-oriented, and re-directed.  Jacob calls the place “Bethel,” literally “House of God.”

Bethel, Jacob discovers, is a place where heaven and earth intersect and God intervenes.  Jacob will also have a future divine encounter that will change his name, drastically changing his identity to Israel: One “Who Prevails with God.”  The “deceiver” is transformed to one who is “without deception or guile.”

READ JOHN 1:43-51

Epiphany is the season of the Church year immediately following Christmas.  It begins with the observance of Jesus’ baptism and concludes with Jesus’ transfiguration on the mountaintop with Moses and Elijah.  Like a light bulb coming on in a dark room, a moment of inspiration, an “aha!” moment, we slowly begin to see Jesus fulfilling his mission as the Messiah.

Slowly, ever so slowly, Jesus’ preaching the coming of God’s kingdom takes on form and flesh.  We see the blind given sight, the demon-possessed made whole, the unforgiveable forgiven, the humble exalted and the mighty brought low.  It is surprising, catching us off guard.  Jesus is not what we expect, not the Savior we hope for.

Our story begins with Philip encountering Jesus.  We’re not given much information about the encounter.  We don’t know what Philip saw or heard.  All we know is that this meeting with Jesus has convinced him that Jesus is the Messiah, the anointed One sent to deliver God’s people.  Such Good News is not able to be contained.

Some news is too big to keep to ourselves.  We plaster photos of newborns on Facebook.  We call our relatives and friends when we receive a promotion at work.  We invite our loved ones to attend graduations, weddings, and significant birthdays in our life because these are momentous occasions that NEED to be witnessed.  Philip has stumbled into a moment that is far bigger, far greater than any of these events combined.  Messiah has come.

Philip runs into someone he knows well – Nathanael, sitting under a fig tree.  “Philip 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.’”

Apparently, Philip isn’t in the mood for small talk but dives into the matter at hand: Jesus.  He informs Nathanael that Jesus is the Messiah, the One that the Law and the Prophets point to.  Isn’t that just like any true disciple?  When Jesus calls us to follow him, we immediately begin to tell others what we have found?  Disciples aren’t silent, but proclaim the Good News wherever they might be.  The Blues Brothers said it best: “We’re on a mission from God.”

Nathanael poses a question, a point of doubtful contention.  Nazareth?  Nazareth was an unlikely place for Messiah to reside.  It wasn’t like there hadn’t been other messianic figures that tried to lead Israel out of Roman oppression.  They had, of course, failed.  But, their pedigrees had been impressive.  Their lineage and background demonstrated influence, prestige, and political canny.

Nazareth, on the other hand, was the armpit of Israel.  Literally, NOTHING good ever came from Nazareth.  What good could come from there now!?  Surely Messiah wouldn’t come from such a cesspool-of-a-town.  Nazareth is so unremarkable, so unimportant, so unimpressive!

Isn’t that just like God – to use that which seems small, inadequate, insufficient, insignificant?  Wasn’t Abraham an unlikely candidate for conceiving a great nation – after all, he and his wife couldn’t have children!  Wasn’t Isaac an unlikely candidate to carry on the inheritance – since he was the second son and thus not in line for the inheritance?  Wasn’t Jacob an unlikely candidate for faithful covenant relationship with God when he was nothing but a deceiver seeking after ill-gotten gain?

Yet, God transformed Jacob, giving him a new name: Israel.  No longer the deceiver, but one who perseveres with God.  God throughout the history of God’s people is constantly choosing the most unlikely of places and characters to move forward the story of redemption of all creation.

Someone might say the same kind of thing about our small community of believers in this small Oklahoma town.  What good can come from there?  Is it really possible that God would show up there of all places?  As the saying goes, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  When God shows up, even in the most unexpected of places, it becomes a place of significance, a place a transformation.  Can anything good come from a place like this?  God only knows.

Philip’s response to Nathanael’s hesitant question is simple: “Come and see.”  Again, the disciple calls others to come and meet Jesus, to come to the place of encounter.  “Come and see.”  “Come and see” seems like such a simple phrase.  Even as Jesus invites the disciples to “Come and follow.”  The disciples now extend that same invitation to others: “Come and see.”  They don’t offer a great argument to prove Jesus is who they say he is.  Instead, they invite others to “Come and see.”

Apparently, it works.  Nathanael heads off to go see Jesus.  Even as Nathanael approaches Jesus, he says of Nathanael, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  Nathanael is surprised and asks the logical question: “How do you know me?”  Jesus responds, “I saw you under the fig tree.”

Deciphering the meaning of the fig tree is difficult.  The fig tree might signify that Nathanael was deeply invested in studying the scriptures when Philip found him.  It is possible that Nathanael’s commitment to pursuing wisdom has, in fact, brought him to an encounter with Wisdom-in-the-flesh: Jesus.

The fig tree might recall some of the Old Testament scriptures that indicate that the Messiah would bring Israel back into right relationship with God.  No longer will Israel be like grapes in the wild – inedible and to be tread under foot.  Or, perhaps, the fig tree indicates that Messiah would restore shalom, God’s peace to God’s people – so that “all of them [would sit] under their vines and fig trees” (1 Kgs 4:25, Mic 4:4, Zech. 3:10).

Or, maybe the fig tree indicates that Jesus as Messiah is the “Branch” from Zechariah 3:8, a royal term for kingship.  Those connected to the “Branch” would be found to be the true Israel.  It’s hard to say which John intends to mean, but as John’s Gospel typically does, it’s quite possible that he means all of these things at once.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the scriptures; Jesus will reconcile God’s people back to God; and Jesus is the true king of Israel and the creation at large.

Notice Nathanael’s response: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”  Whereas the Jewish people at Jesus’ trial will cry out: “We have no king but Caesar!” Nathanael proclaims, “You are the King of Israel!”  John’s Gospel gives us a front row seat into what discipleship, true discipleship, being a true Israelite – one in whom there is no deceit – looks like.  A disciple is one that is empowered to proclaim: “Jesus alone is King.”

Of course, just as Caesar, Herod, Pilate, and the powers and principalities (Eph. 6:12) denied Christ is King and sought to assert their own claims as King over all; we are surrounded by nations, leaders, forces, economic markets, military powers, gods of money, power, and sex that also call us to bow the knee to their claims of authority.  They promise peace and security, usually maintained by death or the threat of death, by power and the sword.  Yet, the true disciple is able to say in the face of all of these powers, “Jesus is King.”

Jesus asks Nathanael if he believes because Jesus saw him under the fig tree.  Jesus tells him, “Far greater things will you see.  Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Jacob had seen this very thing at Bethel.  Heaven and earth intersecting.  Now, Jesus has slightly altered the image of the ladder.  The heavens are opened and the angels of God are ascending and descending, not upon the earth, but upon the Son of Man!  In other words, Jesus is the very intersection of heaven and earth meeting, being united in totality.  Nathanael, in meeting Jesus, has seen heaven come down and earth caught up in the very life of God – which was always God’s purpose for the creation!  God dwelling in the creation and the creation dwelling in God – communion!

Yes, it is the season of Epiphany – time for our eyes to be opened, seeking Wisdom, seeking God.  It can be a time where the light comes on in the midst of our darkness and begins to make everything clear – as Light shines brighter and brighter, dispelling our darkness.

Yes, it is Epiphany!  It is a time to take off the blinders, to proclaim Christ is King and that he comes in the most surprising ways – from Nazareth.  Jesus can still be found in those surprising places – small towns, small churches, unlikely people.        Thanks be to God – it’s Epiphany!  The “aha” moment is thrust upon us as we discover the purpose of Jesus’ ministry – bringing all of heaven and all of earth together, uniting both together!  Jesus stands before us, calling, “Come and follow me.”  Then, as his disciples we are sent out to tell others the Good News, “Come and see!”

John’s Gospel ends with the resurrected Jesus standing before his disciples.  He does something odd after he shows himself to them – he breathes on them.  In that moment, Jesus gifts the Spirit of God to his followers.  After all, he tells us that where two or three are gathered in his name, there he is also!  Jesus is still in the business of gathering heaven and earth together.  The Church is a significant place where that work is taking place.

I’m reminded of a story about a small church in a tiny town.  The church was dying.  Many of the members had passed away; there were no young people in the church.  All that was left of the once thriving church was a handful of little, old ladies.  The writing was on the wall.  The church would soon close.

This church and these ladies were very unlikely candidates to turn this church around.  In fact, they had a meeting to talk about the situation.  They finally decided that they would not close the doors yet but would spend the rest of their days serving the community as best as they could until they died and the church with them died also.

The ladies began helping single moms by starting an after-school program.  As the ladies poured themselves into the children and families, they began to see one or two people start attending the church and helping with the ministry.  Lives were being changed.  Jesus was in their midst, working to bring heaven and earth together through these unlikely ladies.

There is no great argument I can offer that definitively proves what I am saying is true.  It may seem unlikely that Jesus could do something great here in Wagoner or in our small church, even as it seemed crazy to Nathanael that the Messiah came from Nazareth of all places.

After all, we don’t have large facilities, we don’t offer tremendous programs and benefits for members, and our pastors are wet behind the ears.  We can quickly name off why it is impossible.  You heard me sing!

But, honestly, those things have never transformed lives.  Meeting Jesus has.  With Philip our church should be able to say, “We have found the Messiah, Jesus, the One whom the Law and the Prophets point to, the One who is restoring the Creation by bringing heaven and earth together.  Come and see that the Lord is good.  Come, be part of the faith community that proclaims Jesus as King!”

I wonder – when was the last time that you said that to someone?  How are you involved in helping that work happen in your local church?  How are you bringing people to encounter Jesus?

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