If you were aware of this, we’re still in the place where Jesus was baptized last week (John 1.43-51). It has been a few days. Jesus now decides that it is time to shove off, move on and get on with things. The trek will be towards home in the North. The day before, Jesus had called the first of his followers, Andrew and his brother, Simon (Peter) along with John and his brother James. This morning he goes and calls Phillip, telling him, “Follow me”. Phillip then goes and finds his friend Nathanael and he is invited to come along.
The pericope reminds me of the time that I visited the Church where I was baptized when I was a baby. I wasn’t expecting anyone to know me or anyone to recognize me. I was baptized in the quiet, as my family got ready to leave the area for a new community where my father had found work. The move took me away from family and from my birthplace. When I enquired about the old building with its font, I was told they did not exist anymore. The congregation had been growing you see, so they leveled the first Church (the one where my baptism took place) turned the land into a parking lot and built a second. When that was out grown, they built there new and current building, adding onto the second one immensely. The font? No one was quite sure where it went.
Why do I share this with you? Because it is important to be reminded about the necessity of going to Jesus to get to know him and to be known by him. After all, did he not tell his disciples: “You did not choose me, I chose you and appointed you to go, to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.” We are called to follow. It won’t always be easy. It won’t always be nice. But will we never be overcome. As a disciple, we are much like a backseat driver – we like to think we are in control. We like to believe we know better. But it is about Jesus and he is the one in control. It is not about me. It is about him. We have enrolled in the School of Christ and we are going to be taught what we need to know and witness what is going to be said and done. Then we are going to go and do something about it ourselves. We as disciples, are going to learn and to understand: about God and about Jesus.
And some would not at first call what happened with Nathanael, “miraculous”. Phillip goes to him and interrupts Nathanael’s study of the Law under the shade of a fig tree to tell him about Jesus. “We have found the one that Moses wrote about in the Law, and about the One the prophets wrote about – it is the man, Jesus bar Joseph of Nazareth” (v.45) And Nathanael asks a simple question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Many zealots and rabble-rousers and other such things had come down from the North.
What is different, what is special about this guy over the others? Want to know? Come and see him.
It is a basic principal of Evangelism – you cannot know someone you have never seen. In Nathanael, Jesus recognizes someone who is honest, frank, without lies, who has not prostituted himself to other gods. He is ready to see God fulfill his promises to the nation and to make Israel great again. Jesus heard the cry of this man’s heart. Jesus knew Nathanael but Nathaniel is just meeting Jesus. In this encounter, there is something that we do not expect: Jesus asks Nathanael to deepen and broaden his expectations beyond going back to a glorious past. In fact, Jesus points out to him that he is going to see things that are going to amaze and mystify him even more so.
The place where we will know God best is not at an earthly altar. The way we will get to God is not the ladder at Bethel. These things are now in the person of Jesus. He will see and experience angels ascending and descending from Jesus to God. Jesus is the One he has been looking for. What is necessary is for Nathanael to deepen his faith and his witness so that God can in him and through him, do deeper things. It is a true confession – that Jesus is the Son of God and that he is the King of Israel, but he has Jesus’ agenda misunderstood. Jesus has come to do things that will rescue the world, not to make Israel great again as it was in the days of David and Solomon. Jesus comes that we might know him and see the Father and the kingdom. Lives will be transformed teaching them who God is; through Jesus being the bridge, the way to the Father and will be the just King who brings his righteous rule to the earth.
Do you want to go with him? Do you want to see and to live? Then it is time to learn to trust Jesus and to participate in what he is doing because he is doing as his Father is doing. We can trust Jesus for the things we don’t know, and we need to go and participate in the things we do know and understand, because we are needed to, for the sake of others who are coming into the kingdom.