WORD OF GOD SPEAK — TWO MORE WHO HEARD
A man with a worried look on his face ran into a drugstore and asked the pharmacist if he knew a way to stop the hiccups. Without any warning the pharmacist slapped him in the face. Amazed and angry, the young man demanded that the pharmacist explain his unusual behavior. Well, the pharmacist said, you don’t have the hiccups now do you? No, answered the young man, but my wife out in the car still does. You’ve heard it said that seeing is believing. And that’s true. But what is also true, as this poor young man experienced, and as we’ll learn shortly from our passage today, not seeing is also believing.
Today’s passage begins in John 1:41-51 [NIV]. But before we go there, I wanted to introduce the passage with some original artwork by Daniel Vicecoff. Daniel is Kim Wilkin’s son. He’s a member of Pastor Nathan’s youth group. I noticed on his blog that he has some series drawing skills. And was hoping he could illustrate how the word of God was speaking to him. Not through words. But through pictures. So here’s what he came up with. I think it’s pretty awesome. It’s called “Come With Me.” I can’t wait till the end to commend Daniel so we’re gonna do it right now. I’ll say we commend you and you all reply way to go. Daniel, for dedicating your considerable drawing skills to Jesus and for letting the word of God speak through it, we commend you. Way to go!!!
Praise God. John 1:41 says, “41The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). 42And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).”
“43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, ‘Follow me.’ 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip found Nathaniel and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘46Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathaniel asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip. 47When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said of him, ‘Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.’ ‘48How do you know me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, ‘I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.’ 49Then Nathaniel declared, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.’ 50Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’ 51He then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”
These verses in John we just read turn the spotlight to two more who heard and followed Jesus. Their names? Philip and Nathaniel. It’s interesting. Philip plays a prominent role among the disciples only in the Gospel of John. Not so much in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. But in John, Philip is everywhere. Here in chapter 1 introducing Nathaniel to Jesus. Again in chapter 6 verses 5-7 at the feeding of the 5,000. Again in chapter 12 verses 21 and 22 introducing a bunch of foreign Gentiles to Jesus. Again in chapter 14 verses 8-10 where he not Peter actually voices what all the disciples were probably thinking when he asked: Lord, will you show us the Father?
But in this passage, his role is to bring Nathaniel to Jesus with just some simple words “Come and see” which suggests to us point number one: seeing is believing. Come and see by the way is not just a great answer to hostile questions back in the day, it’s also a great answer today too! Who are those Adventists? What are they all about? Why worship on Saturday? Come and see. Maybe that’s why it’s a theme in the Gospel of John. Nicodemus in chapter 3, the Samaritan woman in chapter 4, the blind man in chapter 9, and Thomas in chapter 20 all must come and see Jesus in order to believe and follow Jesus. Which is ironic and would have been especially startling to any 1 st century reader when they came to the end of the book and ran across the words in John 20:29 because the curve ball is the ultimate blessing is reserved not just for those who come and see but also for those who do not, have not, or cannot see. Remember what Jesus told Thomas? “29Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”
So point number one is seeing is believing [v.46]. But point number two, just as true in the Christian world, is not seeing is believing. Why? Because the same blessing available for those they brought to Jesus then is available for those we bring with us to Jesus today! Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed! Ruth Sacket was one of those folks. She passed away last week and after church and lunch today at 2:00pm, we’re going to have a memorial service for her here in the sanctuary. She and I showed up here in Toledo First about the same time. She was the first person who transferred her membership here after I arrived. She lived ? years! But in none of those ? years did she personally see Jesus. That we know of right? But blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed Jesus said. Why? Because not seeing is believing! The same blessing available to Nathaniel was available to Ruth.
Carl Jung, the great psychiatrist, once reflected that we are all familiar with the words of Jesus, ‘Whatever you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me.” Then Jung asks a probing question: ‘What if you discovered that the least of the brethren of Jesus, the one who needs your love the most, the one you can help the most by loving, the one to whom your love will be most meaningful—what if you discovered that this least of the brethren of Jesus...is you?’
I think Philip had already made that leap. And because he had, he was busy bringing others closer to Jesus so they might make that leap too. But when we do, we have to be prepared for all sorts of reactions. What does Nathaniel say in response to Philip’s request to come and see Jesus? Verse 46 says, “‘46Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’
Although Nathaniel is a straight shooter and honest guy, in verse 47 Jesus calls him “a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false”, you would never have known that based on his reaction to Philip’s request because it was laced with skepticism and sarcasm. Nathaniel treats Philip’s invitation with contempt. Probably for good reason. In his mind anyway.
There were three types of settlements in Galilee. Obviously Gentile cities like Sepphoris, Jotapata, and Tiberias—none of which Jesus is said to have visited. Then there were the Jewish towns that were fairly observant of Jewish laws and customs. And then there were the Jewish towns that were not so observant of their Jewishness. According to John 1:44, Philip like Andrew and Peter was from the town of Bethsaida on the eastern side of the Jordan River. Which is weird because Mark 1:21 says that Peter’s house was actually in Capernaum. But Nathaniel, according to John 21:2, was from the town of Cana in Galilee. Though it’s exact location is uncertain, Cana and Nazareth were probably twin cities 3-8 miles away from each other. So it is reasonable to suppose from Nathaniel’s comment about Cana that Cana was one of the observant orthodox towns and Nazareth the one not so much.
But that’s okay because, point number three, Jesus listens to your heart not hearsay. In fact, this is one characteristics of Jesus that is repeatedly highlighted in the Gospel of John. That Jesus has full knowledge of what is really going on in side other people. Hints of this point can be found in verse 42 when he nicknamed the volatile Simon as Cephas which when translated is Peter. Second and third hints of this can be found in verse 47 where Jesus reveals His intimate knowledge of Nathaniel the true Israelite in whom nothing false is found. Aren’t you glad Jesus listens to your heart and not hearsay? Don’t you wish everyone did?
There’s a great scene in the movie Rudy where this undersized football player is trying to make the football team at Notre Dame. He’s trying really hard and nothing seems to be working out his way. So he asks a friendly priest why this is happening and the priest’s response is a classic. “Son, in 35 years of religious study, I have only come up with two hard incontrovertible facts: there is a God, and I'm not Him.” When I meet people, especially wounded people, that used to go to church, and they’ve shared their unsugarcoated story, sometimes I feel the same way. So here’s what I tell them, “I don’t know why these things happened to you. On behalf of the Adventist church, I’m sorry they did. But aren’t you glad Jesus isn’t like that? Isn’t He still worthy of our praise?” Aren’t you glad Jesus listens to our heart and not hearsay?
There is a God. And we’re not Him. But that doesn’t mean we can’t choose to look at others the way God looks at them. Right? So the question is: how does God look at them? Answer: As His kids. Bought with a price. As His children. Adopted into the family of God. As His masterpieces. In the process of being refined and formed and sincerely shaped into the Master’s image.
Ephesians 2:10-13 [NIV] says it this way. “ 10For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called "uncircumcised" by those who call themselves "the circumcision" (that done in the body by the hands of men)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.”
We cannot control people’s sincere but sarcastic responses. To us or to God. But we can influence them by how we respond to them. Which will bring them nearer to the blood of Jesus. Proof of this can be found in what happened next. Verses 47-48 say, “ 47When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." I love that statement from Jesus because it undermines the false notion that sincere responses to Jesus, however vulgar to us, are not vulgar to Him. Good news! You can be sarcastic and sincere. So cheer up all you imperfect people out there. God’s not through with you yet! And won’t be until that day He literally returns. In the meantime, be honest about that! Be yourself with yourself and with Jesus. Because He already knows you better than you know yourself. Jesus can handle it.
48"How do you know me?" Nathaniel asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." 49Then Nathaniel declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
Till the day he died, John the Baptist was trying to figure that out. Nathaniel, in a heartbeat, responding to He who listened first to his, immediately jumped to the correct conclusion and announced You are the Son of God and King of Israel. And in reply, Jesus shared in closing some of the most curious words ever recorded in Scripture in verses 50-51. “50Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.’”
Whoa! Greater than doves falling from heaven? Greater things than voices from heaven booming their approval? Can you imagine?! Then He added, ‘51I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’”
And while these words sound odd to us, they probably didn’t back then. Because a true Israelite would have immediately thought of the first Israelite when Jesus described to him an open heaven with angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Genesis 28:10-12 [NIV] says, “ 10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway [or ladder] resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
Not only that, but the route from Bethany beyond Jordan to Cana would take the traveler past Jabbok, Mahanaim, and Bethel. The last of which is very place Jacob experienced the heavenly dreams and mystic visions of a heavenly ladder.
So what’s the point? The point is, number 4 I believe, they would’ve realized that Jesus was saying true Israelites today still “see” His glory like Jacob and follow Jesus by faith. Which would’ve sounded surprising coming from a Jew. Even an unorthodox Jew from Nazareth. But that’s what He meant. And Jesus wanted them and us to know that. So much so that He repeated Himself twice in two verses.
Look at this. This is cool. Greek finally comes in handy. In verse 50, the singular form of you is used. Jesus is saying, “You Nathaniel, believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You Nathaniel shall see greater things than that.” But then in verse 51, still talking to Nathaniel, John switches in the Greek and uses the plural form of you. Because he wanted the reader to know that Jesus meant that all of us who watch the Lamb with our own eyes or through the eyes of faith will see the same glories!
So forgive me, but I think the song is wrong. We don’t have to climb Jacob’s ladder. Because the God at the top of it has already come down! To die on the cross. To show those of us who have not seen what Nathaniel instantly recognized. That there is an identical blessing for each of us when we sincerely respond to Jesus. And know Him. Whether we’re ? Or ninety ?
We can all stop climbing, pretending, doubting, wondering. We can know that we are His and He is ours. We are His masterpieces not because He’s through with us, but because He’s at work in us. And because He is, we can joyfully anticipate the great things He has yet to do. I don’t know what they’re going to be, but I can’t wait to find out! What about you? Seeing is believing. Not seeing is believing. Jesus listens to our heart never hearsay. And true Israelites know Jesus. What did you hear me say? If you could please stand, share your first name into the microphone, we’ll type your take homes onto the screen. I’ll say, we commend you. And you’ll say, way to go!