Grace For The Journey
When I was a small boy growing up on our family farm in Northwest Missouri there was a dog that ran around our neighborhood whose name was Shadow. The reason the dog was called Shadow was because, remarkably, it was aware of its own shadow. Anytime it caught sight of its shadow, it would jump at it, or swat it, or try to catch or escape it. It was one of the funniest sights I recall from my early childhood.
The Christian can say that God is like a shadow on a bright summer day.
He is right there with us.
He’s even there when
We are not aware of it.
And He remains with us
No matter where we go.
God is always there.
In John 1:43-51, God reveals Himself to Nathanael as Nathaniel encounters Christ. It is a remarkable moment that teaches us much about the presence of God.
We read about what happens beginning in verses 43-44, “The following day Jesus wanted to go to Galilee, and He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow Me.’ Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.” Don’t miss the important point makes in verse 43. Jesus “found Philip.” Right off the bat we notice that it is Jesus who does the finding. The text does not say, “Philip found Jesus,” but “He found Philip.” From the vantage point of the Christian, it would seem that it is we who find the Lord, but it is actually He who finds us!
As John will record Jesus’ words later in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him…” It is a remarkable thing, the fact that we come to Christ only to discover that He has first come to us.
It’s like the words from the old hymn:
I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew
He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me.
It was not I that found, O Savior true;
No, I was found of Thee.
So after Jesus found Philip, Philip goes and finds Nathanael:
Verse 45 says, “Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found Him of whom Moses in the law, and also the prophets, wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’”
You sense something of Philip’s excitement here as he exclaims to Nathanael: “We have found Him! We have found the promised Messiah!” Faithful Jews like Philip were expecting the Messiah. They were familiar with the Old Testament teachings about a promised, coming Savior.
Then Philip tells Nathanael who this Messiah is. He says, “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” What is Nathanael’s response? Verse 46 tells us, “And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth’?” You can tell from the way that reads that Nathanael is not impressed! He’s like, “Nazareth?! That’s a backward place, isn’t it?! Not even mentioned in the Old Testament. Only like 2,000 people. What good can come of that place?!”
Philip’s reply is really is instructive. How does Philip answer Nathanael’s scornful, skeptical question? Does he argue with Nathanael? Verse 46 says, “… Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’ Sometimes the best answer to a questioning skeptic is simply, “Come and discover for yourself.” We are not always going to have all the answers when we invite someone to faith in Christ. Many unbelievers, however, are open to exploring Christianity when invited to worship or Bible studies by sincere Christians.
By the way, Nathanael did respond positively to Philip’s invitation. He went with Philip. Don’t miss that. Now what happens when Nathanael sees Jesus? More to the point, what happens when Jesus sees Nathanael coming to Him?
Verse 47 tells us, “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him, and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!’”
The word “deceit” means “no hypocrisy or no deviousness.” It doesn’t mean that Nathanael is sinless. That’s not it at all. A modern-day paraphrase would be something like, “Here’s an Israelite in whom is no phoniness, a real straight-shooter, a tell-it-like-it-is type of person!”
In any case, Nathanael is struck by the fact that Jesus knows him. Note what he says in verse 48, “’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.’” That is just amazing, isn’t it?! Jesus says, “Nathanael, I saw you long before Philip went looking for you. You were standing there under the fig tree.” Jesus could see as no other human eye could see.
How does Nathanael respond now? Verse 49 says, “Nathanael answered and said to Him, ‘Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ In other words, “Okay! I believe!” Then Jesus replies in verse 50, “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.’” It’s almost like a gentle rebuke, isn’t it? “Nathanael, you believe because I told you I saw you before Philip went to get you. Tell you what, Nathanael: if you follow Me, you’re going to see a lot more than that!” This is sort of like, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”
Then Jesus “tips His hand” a bit in the last verse. He gives an idea of at least one sense in which He means that there are “greater things” on the horizon. Verse 51 says, “And He said to him, ‘Verily, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’” It’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? The context is Genesis 28. That is the passage where we read about Jacob’s being in the wilderness and falling asleep one evening. He had a dream, a vision, of a staircase, or ladder. It reached from earth up into heaven – and angels of God were going up the ladder and coming down the ladder. It’s was a powerful image of the very presence of God!
And in the dream Jacob hears God say to him: “I am the Lord, and I am going to bless you with land and descendants as numerous as the dust particles of the earth! I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” Jacob wakes up excitedly and says, “Surely the Lord is in their place, and I did not know it!” And he adds, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).
The writer goes on to say that Jacob named the place “Bethel,” which means “house of God.” So Jesus alludes to this story in Genesis 28 when He says to Nathanael, in essence, “You haven’t seen anything yet! Like Jacob was blown away, you will be blown away.”
The God who sees Nathanael under the fig tree is the God who sees you right now exactly where you are. He knows you. Remember Nathanael’s question to Jesus? He’s astonished and he asks Jesus in verse 48, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered, “Well, I saw you.”
To the Lord,
To see is to know.
Our Lord Jesus sees us
And so He knows us.
He knows all about us. He knows us inside and out. We may rightly say that Jesus knows at least three things about us . . .
- He Knows Who We Are.
Remember that Jesus is the incarnation of the eternal Son of God. John reminds us of this truth in the opening of his Gospel, where he refers to Jesus as “the Word.” John writes in verse1-3 of Chapter 1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him…”
The eternal Son of God is the One through whom all creation comes into existence. He knows who we are because of who He is: He is God, creator God, who has all power and all knowledge.
- He Knows Where We Are.
Jesus not only knew who Nathanael was, but where Nathanael was. Jesus declared, “I saw you,” specifically, “under the fig tree.” Our Lord Jesus sees us right now sitting or standing as we read this post. Right now at this very moment! He always knows not just who we are, but where we are.
The Psalmist was overwhelmed by this truth as he pondered the impossibility of fleeing from God’s presence in Psalm139:1-4: “O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.”
He knows who we are and where we are. Therefore:
- He Knows How We Are.
That is, He knows how we’re doing. It’s one thing to marvel at God’s omniscience, His all-knowing ways through Christ. But it’s another thing to think about God’s care for us.
But before we consider God’s care for us, consider again God’s absolute and utter omniscience – that God knows absolutely everything.
- He knows every single fact of knowledge: every math equation perfectly.
- He knows the number of stars in the sky, the number of rocks on the ground.
- He knows the problems inherent in man-made structures, and the problem in your automobile that no one can locate.
- He knows exactly how many particles of dust are floating around you at this moment.
- He knows the precise number of documents on your computer. And exactly how many words there are in each document.
- He knows how many keys you pressed when you typed each document.
- He knows how many texts you send.
- He knows how many times your heart beats in a given day. How many times you breathed-in and exhaled in the last hour.
But most importantly . . .
He knows your concerns and cares.
- He knows what worries you.
- He knows your greatest fears.
So, it’s not just that He knows who you are and where you are, He knows how you are – how you’re doing, how you’re feeling, how you’re hurting.
And because He is God, our Lord Jesus knows just what to do if we take our cares and our concerns to Him. Remember Peter’s encouragement in 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast your cares upon Him because He cares for you.”
Jesus says in Matthew11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” You may be worried about some particular challenge or burden. It’s weighing on you. You’re reading this post hoping to be encouraged. Well, be encouraged! Our Lord sees you. He knows you.
Remember His character: He is always good and always does the right thing. So, if you’re worried about that loved one, that job, that financial situation, that health scare, or anything else – hear God’s promise in Philippians 4:6-7, Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
He Sees Us.
But the flip side is also possible.
Here’s the other side of the coin:
We May See Him . . . We Can Know God’s Personally Through Christ.
That is, we may know Him. We may know Him in a very personal way. This is why God came to us in Christ. He came that we may have a personal relationship with Him.
This vision of Jacob’s ladder to which Jesus alludes is significant. Jacob falls asleep and has this vision that there is a ladder between heaven and earth. There is a realm above in which God resides. It is a place of utter perfection and utter holiness. Then there is this realm down here, this earthly realm, this world of sorrow and sin.
Jacob has this fantastic vision, or dream, where there is a “punching through” the realms. A ladder appears. It is as if God punches a hole in the sky and His presence is made known. Angels are ascending and descending between the two realms. Remember Jacob’s words? He had said in Genesis 28:17, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”
And what has God done in Christ? God has come down and enfleshed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ so that you and I can know Him personally. God has punched a hole through the sky and entered into our world. He has come to us as the gate of heaven. Jesus says later in John 10:9, “I am the gate. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved,” and later in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come unto the Father except by Me.” In John 1:51 Jesus declares, “Verily I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” Jesus is the way and stairway to heaven.
You can know God personally through Christ. You must come to Him, believe in Him, believe He lived a perfect life for you and earned your righteousness by fulfilling all the laws you have broken. You must also believe that He died a perfect death of substitution, taking the penalty of your sin upon Himself, dying for you, and then rising from the dead for you. Believe Him, turn to Him, and be saved from your sin. You can know God personally through Christ.
And if you know God personally through Christ, remember this – always remember . . .
We May See Him . . . We Can Know God’s Presence through Christ.
This fact, to me, is one of the greatest and most glorious truths of the Christian experience! The presence of God!!
Back in Genesis 28 Jacob had described that place in the wilderness as “Bethel,” which means, “House of God.” But now, God has come to us in the person of Jesus Christ, the Gate, the Stairway, the Door, the Way. Jesus is now the place where people meet God, know God, and discover the presence of God. Surely God is in this place, this person, Jesus Christ.
That’s why to the Christian, buildings or the geography of so-called “holy sites” is really not that big a deal. To be with Christ is to be with God. Jesus is the new holy place. He is the new “Bethel,” house of God, the place where God is present.
This week, remember that God has punched a hole through the skies and placed Himself there in the ladder of Jesus Christ. You can know God personally through Christ and you can experience the joy and wonder of His presence by basking in the presence of Jesus.
Take time each day to get away quietly and open your Bible and listen to God as you read. He is with you as you read! And bow your head frequently through the day and say, “God, thank you for being right here with me, as close as a shadow on a bright sunny day, never leaving me, never forsaking me, but being with me always.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”