Grace For The Journey
Yesterday we looked at the sinful woman who found herself weeping at the feet of Jesus. Today we are in John chapter 1, verses 43 through 51.
Favorite teachings or doctrines about God are kind of like favorite songs to me, or a favorite food or favorite movie – it is hard to narrow them down to just one. If you ask which teaching about God is my favorite, it just sort of depends on what is going on in my life. Sometimes it is God’s providence, or His power, or other times, it’s God’s providing salvation for us in Christ, or something else.
Today’s passage reminds me about
The joy and wonder of God’s presence.
The Christian can say, “God is with me always.” There never really is a time when we are alone. Some of our Lord’s final words to His disciples include the phrase, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). The writer of Hebrews reminds us that God will never leave us, nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
The Christian can say that God is always near. He is as present to us as a shadow on a bright summer day. You cannot escape His presence. He is always there. Even if you are not aware of His presence He is there.
In this passage, we see that truth as God reveals Himself through Christ to Nathanael. I want to talk mostly about this encounter of Nathanael’s with Jesus. Though Philip is mentioned first. We will go through these verses and dig a little deeper – and then after we have gone through them together I want to leave you with some encouragement about the God who sees us.
Verses 43 and 44 state, “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.”
The more immediate context here concerns our Lord’s calling the first disciples. He says to John and Andrew, “Follow Me,” and they do. They ask, “Where are You staying?” And Jesus says, “Come and see.” Then Andrews goes and finds his brother Peter and says, “Hey! We have found the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ.” And Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus. That is pretty cool, isn’t it? Family bringing family to Jesus.
Then we read that on the following day – verse 43 – Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” I like the way this reads. Jesus found Phillip – not Phillip found Jesus. We never really find the Lord so much as we discover we have been found by the Lord.
Jesus will say later in chapter 6 and verse 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.
This truth is put in a wonderful old hymn text by my favorite writer Anonymous:
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.
He found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” 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. We have found Him, Nathanael! We have found the promised Messiah! Of course, this means that 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 it is. He says, “Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael’s response is in the latter part of verse 46, “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 is a backward place, isn’t it?! Not even mentioned in the Old Testament. Only like 2,000 people. What good can come
I love Philip’s reply. It is really very instructive. How does Philip answer Nathanael’s scornful, skeptical question? Does he argue with Nathanael? His response is found at the end of verse 46, “And Nathanael said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.’”
Sometimes the best answer to a questioning skeptic is simply, “Come and see.” We are not always going to have all the answers when we invite someone to faith in Christ. It is important to remember the statistic, “More than 80% of the unchurched said they would come to church if someone sincerely invited them.” By the way, Nathanael did respond positively to Philip’s invitation. He went with Philip. Do not 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 in whom is no guile!’” One of those Old English words means “no hypocrisy or no deviousness.” It does not mean that Nathanael is sinless. That is not it at all. I think probably the best translation is something like, “Here’s an Israelite in whom is no phoniness, a real straight-shooter, a tell-it-like-it-is type of person.”
Nathanael is struck by the fact that Jesus knows him. Verse 48 says, “Nathanael said to Him, ‘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 fantastic, isn’t it?! Jesus says, “Nathanael, I saw you long before Philip went looking for you. You were standing there under the fig tree.” Verse 49 states, “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 is 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, you follow Me and you are going to see a lot more than that!” That is exciting!
And then Jesus sort of “tips His hand” 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 declares, “And He said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, hereafter you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.’”
That is an interesting statement, isn’t it? The context is Genesis 28. It is where we read about Jacob’s being in the wilderness and he went to sleep one evening, using a stone for a pillow. He goes to sleep and he has this dream, this vision, of a staircase, a ladder, or like an escalator from earth reaching into heaven – and angels of God going up the ladder and coming down the ladder. It is 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 and he says, “Surely the Lord is in their place, and I did not know it!” And he adds in verse 17, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven!” The writer goes on to say that Jacob named the place “Bethel,” which means “house of God.”
More about that specific text in a moment. Right now, let me share with you some encouragement.
Two main truths here that rise from this passage of Scripture. Be encouraged. Remember this about our Lord Jesus . . .
1) He Sees Us.
The God who sees Nathanael under the fig tree is the God who sees you right now sitting where you are. He knows you. Remember Nathanael’s question to Jesus? He is astonished and he asks Jesus in verse 48, “How do You know me?” Jesus says, “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, referring to Jesus as “the Word.” John writes in the opening verses 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 He is God, creator God, who has all power and all knowledge. He sees us – He knows who we are. He also . . .
Knows Where We Are.
Jesus not only knew who Nathanael was, but where Nathanael was. He said, “I saw you,” specifically, “under the fig tree.” Our Lord Jesus sees us right where we are, right now. He sees us. He always knows not just who we are, but where we are.
The Psalmist was overwhelmed by this truth in Psalm 139, when he declares, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? 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, where we are, and therefore . . .
He Knows How We Are.
That is, He knows how we are doing. It is one thing to marvel at God’s omniscience, His all-knowing ways through Christ. But it is another thing to think about God’s care for us. I am blown away by the fact that our Lord knows everything, all the intricate details of every single thing in the universe. How amazing it that?!
Jesus knows everything. Marvel at that truth for a moment. He knows everything . . . He knows every single fact of knowledge:
- Every math equation perfectly;
- The number of stars in the sky;
- The problem in your automobile that no one can locate;
- How many particles of dust are floating around in your room.
He knows all about you.
- He knows your favorite coffee house.
- He knows your favorite beverage.
- He knows how you like your favorite beverage.
- He knows how many of your favorite beverage you had this morning.
- He knows the exact number of bugs you accidentally swallow in a lifetime.
- He knows the precise number of all the documents on your computer.
- He knows 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.
- He knows your concerns and cares.
- He knows what worries you.
- He knows your greatest fears.
It is 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, and 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 (1 Peter 5:7). Jesus says in Matthew 11:28, “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
Some of you may be worried about some particular challenge or burden. It is weighing on you. You are reading this blog this morning hoping to be encouraged. Be encouraged! Our Lord sees you. He knows you. Remember His character: He is always good and always does the right thing. If you are worried about that loved one, that job, that financial situation, or that health scare, hear God’s Word 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. The other side of the coin is . . .
2) We May See Him.
We may know Him. We may know Him personally.
You Can Know God Personally through Christ
This is why God came to us in Christ. He came that we may have a personal relationship with Him, may know Him personally.
The vision of Jacob’s to which Jesus alludes, is so significant. Jacob falls asleep and has this vision that there is a ladder between heaven and earth. There is this realm, you know, in which God resides. It is a place of utter perfection and utter holiness. Then there is this realm here, this earthly realm, this world of sorrow and sin. Jacob has this fantastic vision, this dream, where there is a sort of punching through the realms, this ladder that appears, God punches a hole in the sky and God’s presence is made known. Angels are ascending and descending. Jacob is just taken by it all and says, (Genesis 28:17).
God has come and in the person of Jesus Christ so that you 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 this same Gospel 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.”
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, and dying a perfect death of substitution, taking the penalty of your sin upon Himself, dying for you, 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 . . .
You 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, and the way. Jesus is now the place where people meet God and know God and discover the presence of God.
That is 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 holy place, the house of God. Jesus is the new house of God, the place where God is present.
Does it thrill you to know that you can know God’s presence through Christ? Do you experience regularly, daily, the delight of the presence of God through Christ? I mean, God is here, but that does not mean you actually experience the joy and wonder of His presence.
Remember that Nathanael was not moved by the presence of the Lord until he was aware of the presence of the Lord.
A. W. Tozier, writing on the presence of God, says, “The presence and the manifestation of the presence are not the same. There can be the one without the other. God is here when we are wholly unaware of it. He is manifest only when and as we are aware of His presence. On our part there must be surrender to the Spirit of God, for His work is to show us the Father and the Son. If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.”
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 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.”