Have you ever had one of those situations where you discover something about a friend that just makes you stand back and go 'wow, I never would have guessed that, you could do that and I never knew?'
One of my best friends back in Wagga was a bloke called Darryl – great guy: he was in the youth group when I was in high school and when I came back from Uni five years later he was still there at church – he was one of the few who survived and held onto his faith. We started to hang out quite a bit. And Darryl was one of the quiet ones; you really had to draw him out. And I remember going to his car in the car park before church one day and Metallica was blasting out high volume and I was 'wow, I never knew you were a metal head' I'd been into Christian thrash metal, so respect… I remember going to his house and he's got a pool table, we play a game – and Darryl's brilliant; turns out he played snooker competitively at very high level, he can do all the trick shots, he's a genius – who knew?… and so it goes on – he was a national champion at bowls too (when he was a boy against men), could have gone to the Commonwealth Games… who knew? I'd known Darryl for years, but I never really knew him at all until we hung out, and even now I'm sure there are depths to Darryl that I never saw.
And the point is that sometimes the things we think we know about someone are totally wrong, or just inadequate. Sometimes we need to really pay attention to get to know someone. In fact, people are complex, don't we always need to pay attention to get to know someone? People are like ice bergs – so much goes on under the surface. Aren't there always greater depths and deeper truths that we can only discover by walking closely together?
And if that's the case with people, then it shouldn't surprise us that it's also the case with God – should it? And if Jesus is God become man, then we should expect that it's going to take hard work from us to see past our preconceived ideas to really get Jesus. And this is true even if we've known Jesus, what we already know in part can stop us from seeing more fully.
So in the next few weeks, we're taking time to pay attention to Jesus as we meet him in John's gospel, as he meets people and reveals himself to them. And we'll see that and he's both known and unknown, he's direct and enigmatic, he's the one they've been waiting for, but he's not who they were expecting.Might there be some surprises for us here too?
Today Jesus meets Nathaniel and has a very strange conversation… and we're reminded again that we really need to pay attention if we're going to get Jesus.
We think we know, but Jesus knows
"The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael 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." "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked."
Do you see what's happening here? Nathaniel thinks he's the expert, he was willing to listen to Philip right up until he heard the word Nazareth, but if Jesus is from Nazareth then he already knows all he needs to know about Jesus – he's from Nazareth, end of!
Do you do that? Why am I asking? You do that, I do that. We can't be open to everything, we set up our mental grids and we read everything through them – we don't have to carefully investigate every alien abduction story, we know they're all false – we have to rule some possibilities out to stay sane in this world.
But Jesus is going to push at our mental grids, Jesus is someone we're never going to be able to put in a comfortable pre-fab box and say 'gotcha – you're one of those…' because he's not, he's not like anyone else, not like anyone we've known, or anyone we'll meet. If we're going to get Jesus we need to leave our prejudices and biases and preconceived ideas behind, or we'll misunderstand him completely.
Come back to the text, end of vs 46:
"Come and see," said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you." 49 Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."
How do you know me? How? Meeting Jesus Nathaniel discovers that it's not like he thought at all, not only was he wrong about knowing Jesus, but Jesus somehow knows him! He was totally biased against Jesus, but Jesus wins him over within two sentences.
And I'm not sure what convinced him about Jesus from this, it's an odd conversation. But it's clear that Jesus has totally unmasked Nathaniel, he sees right through him. Before he's even arrived Jesus knew exactly what to say to push Nathaniel's buttons and Nathaniel's blown away. Suddenly he's ready to put Jesus in a new box – he's the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Israel.
Nathaniel had thought he knew Jesus – he's one of those no good useless Nazareth types. But two sentences from Jesus and he knows better – he's not no good, he's the Messiah; He's right of course, but he hasn't plumbed the depths yet.
See it turns out that Nathaniel had an awful lot to learn about Jesus, but in fact Jesus knows Nathaniel through and through. Jesus saw Nathaniel long before Nathaniel ever thought about him, and Jesus knew him, really got him, knew his private moments, knew what made him tick.
Jesus is like my mother – probably like yours too. I remember as a teenager meeting a girl at a camp and falling in love and furtively writing letters to each other (I know, sounds like ancient history doesn't it, it wasn't that long ago! But that's what you did in the 90's there was no chat, no face time, no email, no internet actually, no mobile phones …) anyway I thought I was keeping things on the quiet, then one day mum just lets it slip that she sees exactly what's going on. I thought as a teenager I was fooling mum, but she knew me, she saw straight through me. Jesus sees through us even more so because he knows us.
Nathaniel needed to swallow his pride and admit he was wrong and put his trust in Jesus, and he did so impressively quickly. Do you need to do the same?
More than that, Nathaniel needed to let go of what he thought he knew to get anywhere with God. Perhaps I need to do that too, perhaps you need to do that? Do you need to put aside your prejudice, or even your religious education and just stop and listen to Jesus – really listen to him?
We'll see this more clearly in point two, so let's get there now:
We see greatness, but Jesus is greater still
Have a look at verse 48 again:
"How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you." Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You shall see greater things than that." He 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."
Don't you think it's significant that Jesus knew so much about this man he'd never met?
When we stop to notice the details we see that there is whole 'nother level to this conversation, and then another level again … John starts this section with 'the next day', same with the section before it, and the one before that, taking us back to John the Baptist coming to testify in verse 19.
In fact the first 18 verses of John set the widest possible context for Jesus – he's not just a provincial carpenter, a teacher and a miracle worker, not even just a King or the long awaited saviour; he's nothing less than the eternal God come to earth to reveal the very depths of God's character in all his glorious grace and truth. From vs 19 to 43 we see John and his disciples testifying to Jesus' as the one sent by God to take away the sin of the whole world. And we see the Jewish authorities demanding answers. These two strands will be woven together throughout John's gospel – the leaders can't fit Jesus into their religion; but there is abundant evidence that Jesus is God come to bring us back to God. John sums it up in verse 11 and 12 'He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him, but to those who did receive him he gave the right to become children of God'.
In the light of these themes we can see something else going on in this conversation. Jesus calls Nathaniel a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false. Jesus is doing something clever with Genesis 32 – the passage where Jacob meets God and wrestles with him all night (familiar if you were at the church weekend away) and God changes his name from Jacob – which means 'deceiver' or 'grasper' – to Israel which means 'he wrestles with God'. Jesus meets Nathaniel and calls him 'a true Israelite' and so he says that within Israel there is true Israel – free from deceit – and there is old Jacob – still deceiving, still busy scheming and grasping.
So there will be those who are true Israelites who look and see, and accept Jesus; and there will be others who are deceivers and self-deceived and they won't see at all, and they'll reject Jesus.
This chapter puts before us many witnesses who testify to Jesus' identity. John the Baptist testifies that Jesus is the one he was sent to prepare for – the great one who is greater than John by far, who comes after him, but was before him, who is the Lamb of God and takes away the sin of the world, who has the Spirit of God resting on him. And we have Andrew who accepts Jesus invitation to come and see and then goes to find his brother Simon to say 'we have found the Messiah'. In our section Philip goes to find Nathaniel to say 'we have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote'. Nathaniel himself testifies when he meets Jesus, saying 'Rabbi, you are the son of God, you are the King of Israel'.
They declare great things about Jesus, and there's an amazing range of OT images and expectations concentrated in these verses. Yet for all that, they still fall short of all that Jesus is– he is nothing less that God on earth in the form of a man.
That's what verse 51 is about. Jesus takes Nathaniel to another Jacob passage in the OT – Gen 28, when Jacob met God the first time. Then Jacob had a vision of heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on a ladder which meets the Lord.
Do you see Jesus staking the claim – before he's done anything – that He is the meeting point between heaven and earth: 'you will see much greater things, you will see heaven open and the angels of heaven ascending and descending – where? – on the Son of man, on me, Jesus. Nathaniel you're a true Jacob, a true Israelite, and you will see in reality what Jacob only saw in a vision, because I am the ladder that Jacob saw, and I am going to open the way for all men on earth to come to the father in heaven.
Do you see how crazy this is? How staggeringly outrageous Jesus claim is? They're seeing Old Testament scriptures fulfilled all over the place – Jesus is acknowledged as the coming Messiah, the son of God, the one Moses spoke about, the one spoken of in the Law, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And even then Jesus says you haven't seen anything yet! You see greatness, but I'm much more than you think. Whatever you think, your categories are still too small. Jesus isn't just fulfilling this bit of the Old Testament over here or that bit over there, he is the whole point of the whole book, it's all about him, he's God here to open heaven and sort everything out.
And I wonder if you and I can be guilty of seeing things only at the level of John and Andrew and Nathaniel – Jesus is great, he's the saviour and the King; but we have yet to truly recognise him in all his glory and goodness and power and majesty. So we put him on a pedestal, but not right up as high as he is, we trust him to save us, but we don't submit to him as our very God, as the very Lord who demands every bit of you, and every bit of me. Jesus is not just a more impressive Superhero, he's so much more than that: he is the reason for existence itself. Jesus claims you absolutely, you're his.
We've got to come and see, so come and see
As we run to the finish line I want you to notice one more key thing in this passage. In verse 46 as Nathaniel is spouting nonsense about Nazareth Philip says these beautiful words: 'come and see', 'come and see'.
What was it that undid Nathaniel's objections? What was it that turned Philip and Andrew into believers? 'Come and see'. To meet Jesus is to stand in the presence of greatness, to discover someone unlike anyone else, ever. He's perfect, but not proud, kind, but no pushover, wise and shrewd and gracious and loving and powerful; and beyond description - at every point he is beyond our comprehension. And the better we know him, the more wonderful he is.
So 'Come and see'. John wrote this gospel so that we could meet Jesus and see for ourselves. Jesus is right here, in this wonderful book we can meet him for ourselves. So don't stand far off and miss what he offers. And don't charge in demanding answers, demanding Jesus conforms to your expectations. Don't stop at the obvious truths, but keep pushing on to know him better and better, dig deep to draw out the depths of who he is and what he's done for you.
My prayer is that over the next few weeks we would all come and see, that we would see the great depths of riches of glory in the man who was God himself, God the one and only, full of grace and truth. God, come to earth so that we could see and know the one who made us.