Seeing Christ Revealing Himself in Everyday Life

Nathanael’s Saving Encounter with Jesus – John 1.35-51

[35] The next day again John was standing with two of his disciples;
[36] and he looked at Jesus as he walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!”
[37] The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus.
[38] Jesus turned, and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” And they said to him, “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?”
[39] He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying; and they stayed with him that day, for it was about the tenth hour.
[40] One of the two who heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.
[41] He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).
[42] He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter).
[43] The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”
[44] Now Philip was from Beth-sa’ida, the city of Andrew and Peter.
[45] Philip found Nathan’a-el, 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.”
[46] Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
[47] Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
[48] Nathan’a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
[49] Nathan’a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
[50] Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.”
[51] And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”

Collect for Purity

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of Thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love Thee and worthily magnify Thy holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

—————-

It is very interesting to note the warmth with which Jesus speaks of Nathanael. At no time does He speak in this way about anyone except John the Baptizer when John’s disciples came to him from prison. But he had known John a long time, and John was the chosen prophetic messenger chosen by God to make ready for the coming of the Messiah. This is the first time Jesus had met Nathanael. He had not yet been introduced to him or talked with him. Yet, Jesus is so full of appreciation of the good qualities which He perceives in Nathanael that he exclaims to those who are standing about him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

Notice how the Lord Jesus perceived what was good in people. It is profitable for us to note. This illustrates one of the characteristics of His divine nature. He was always detecting areas of goodness in people.

The people of Jericho saw nothing but sin and meanness in Zaccheus. But underneath all the cheating and miserliness, Christ detected at once the sleeping greatness of his manhood. This manhood Jesus related to in Zaccheus.

Other people saw in Mary of Magdala or in the woman at Samaria only sinful, outcast, worthless creatures deserving of nothing but death. But Jesus saw there the golden vein of womanhood that could be dug out and redeemed.

And so you may go through the life of Jesus, and one of the characteristics of the Savior that will comfort you most is that he is always looking for the good. As surely as a magnet detects the steel and draws it toward itself, Christ finds the good in a man or woman, and brings it to the surface.

What a glorious and fruitful thing it would be to always relate to others in this way!

“…speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all men.” Titus 3.2

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4.8

But, contrast Jesus with Nathanael.  Jesus is responding to Nathanael first in terms of what is good about him, but Nathanael is doing the opposite. Recall the story.

When approached by his brother, Philip, who is excited about having found the Messiah, Nathanael rejects Philip and reacts by saying,   “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What a judgmental thing to say!! How utterly dismissive. Nathanael doesn’t show respect for Philip’s new-found faith. What is more, Nathanael doesn’t know Jesus! He immediately lumps Him into a category – worthless – which is Nathanael’s prejudiced summation for everything and everyone connected with Nazareth. Nathanael starts off his relationship with Jesus by connecting with him based on his conviction of Jesus’ worthlessness. So, Nathanael rejects Philip, Jesus, and Nazareth all in one “fell swoop”!!

Nathanael, is a good example of what prevents us from seeing Jesus as He reveals Himself in others and at work in their lives. Nathanael is blind to Jesus. He cannot see Him. All he sees is WORTHLESS NAZARETH….

Depend on it, the opposite spirit, that is forever causing us to seek out the evil spots in our friend or neighbor is born of some similar rotten cancor of sin in our own hearts.

The story is told of boys, between whom there was a feud that they met one day in the street and began to quarrel. One of them became very abusive, and called the other many ugly names. The other listened to him until his patience was exhausted, and then said : “Are you finished?” The first said he had no more to say. The other replied: “All those things you say that I am, you are.” The boy perhaps did not understand the philosophy of his words, but, consciously or unconsciously, he was uncovering a great relational law. No man will use words of hatred and revenge who does not have the rot of hatred, bitterness, festering wounds of the past, or revenge in his own heart. No man’s eye will be alert and suspicious to detect evil in another person and gloat over it in his thoughts about that person, unless there is the kindred spot of evil in his own soul which forms the dark lens through which he looks at the other person. The gossipy and slanderous way in which Nathanael regarded Jesus, which we must remind ourselves he has not even met (!), is, I would assume, not admired by any of us. But, even if Nathanael had met Jesus, I believe we would agree, to relate to him on the basis of his inadequacies and perhaps even his evil qualities, is no better. This slanderous attitude has often been the cause of incredible sorrow, has destroyed many families, and made the innocent and pure to suffer needless wrong.

Our model of how to access others in relationship is Jesus not Nathanael. Jesus, we know from other examples, does not ignore the sin in those to whom He relates. Jesus perceives the evil that is there. Every evil purpose they form in their inmost soul is perceived by Him. Nothing is hid from his sight. But Jesus’ manner reminds us of the scripture that says, “If our heart condemn us, God is greater than our heart.” But, Jesus begins His relationship with them not on the basis of their sinfulness or with how worthless they are, but how valuable they are to Him. He perceives the good and rejoices over it. The beginning place for Jesus, as contrasted with Nathanael (and perhaps you and me on many occasions) is unconditional love and regard for their infinite value in the heart of God. This is, of course, was only the beginning.

LET US “come and see” THE RESULT.

The result is easy to detect in the ministry of Jesus. People’s lives are healed and transformed.  Jesus asks us to realize that the result of His way is, “…the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” (Luke 7.22-23).

Nathanael is the best example of the result. Let’s let the Apostle John tell us of the result in his own words. Listen for the contrast between the relational manner of Nathanael and Jesus and the transformation that results in Jesus’s manner of relating:

[46] Nathan’a-el said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
[47] Jesus saw Nathan’a-el coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”
[48] Nathan’a-el said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
[49] Nathan’a-el answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

What a miracle this is !! Notice several important things that result in the transformation of Nathanael.

First, notice the role of Philip. Philip certainly knew Nathanael. He knew, we would assume, that he was a cynic. When Nathanael rejects Philip and his new-found faith, Philip does not cave in. Rather, he is, apparently, patient and reiterates his desire that Nathanael enter into a relationship with Jesus by inviting him to “come and see.” Are we patiently assertive like Philip in our desire for others to come to know Jesus in spite of their rejection of us and Him?! Are we willing to simply invite, or do we enter into an argument in which we defend Jesus (who does not need our defense)? Philip is not insecure regarding his new-found faith, but patient and hopeful.

Notice, secondly, that it is Philip along with Jesus who plays a REAL role in Nathanael’s salvation. It is rare that a person enters into a saving relationship with the Lord in isolation from the ministry of other disciples. Philip and so also we, are “co-laborers with Christ” in the harvest.

 Notice, third, that Nathanael does, in fact, “come and see.”  The soul of Nathanael desperately yearns for the Lord. Nathanael’s soul was secretly seeking the voice of the Messiah. As St. Augustine said in his,  Confessions:

“Thou movest us to delight in praising Thee; for Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee?”(1.1) As soon as he recognized in Jesus the Messiah, he cried out in glad assurance, as though he had found that which he had long been seeking for his whole life: “Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel!” Only about a dozen words of conversation had passed between Nathanael and Jesus before it is Nathanael’s time to exclaim with glad and heartfelt reverence and excitement, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus invites us to: 

  • “come and see” ourselves and others as infinitely valuable and worth saving as a result of seeing ourselves as loved
  • recognize the truth about how we relate to others according to the “Nathanael syndrome”
  • realize that we are helpless to do otherwise without the grace of the Holy Spirit 
  • ask for His merciful grace to heal our sight and manner of relating 
  • step out beyond the projection of our self-hatred on others and seek and serve Jesus the Christ in them

When you are tempted to say hard things and bitter things about others, or to have your relationship with them governed by the leading edge of resentment or prejudice, remember the story of the boy who replied to the other who condemned him, “All those things you say that I am, you are.”

And let us remember that he who knew what was in man, who knew our humanity better than anybody else in the world, loved and loves us like nobody else in the world, and counted us as valuable enough to give his own life to rescue us from sin and death. Your hope and mine rests on the fact that Jesus Christ, who knows us better than anyone in the world, sees in us that which is worth saving and begins in His relationship with us on that basis. THAT IS THE ESSENCE OF MERCY AND COMPASSION. Let us take him at his word. If we are disheartened and discouraged about our own selves, let us consider and be encouraged by the thought that the Savior knows us better even than we know our-selves, and knows the latent possibilities for good in us which nobody else has ever discerned.

Let us see the “Nathanael syndrome” in ourselves. Let us be done with it, once and for all.

If there are any who have been living “Nathanael” lives and as a result, lacking the clear and joyous consciousness (sight) of the abiding presence of “God with us” in your circumstance and the lives of those you encounter, then come to Jesus today for healing. Draw near to Jesus all you “…who travail and are heavy laden…,” for He eagerly waits to give you rest. Come with the mustard seed of faith. Let us all come and knee humbly and helplessly at His feet and lay hold of them and weep with hope. But, let us come boldly to the throne of grace as He has invites us. Ask to be healed by the nourishment of His body and blood.

Let us truly inhabit the words of the collect for purity and seek to see others and relate to them as does Jesus. He knows the inadequacies and evils that reside in every one of us. To Him, the hearts of every person are open, all of their desires known, and to Him none of their secrets are hid. But, Jesus does not begin with the inadequacies and evils that reside in the heart of a person. Rather, He approaches us through the goodness He beholds deep within and especially the fact that we are created in His image. Jesus is able, according to the prayer, to see His reflection (however fragmented, twisted, stained, and corrupted that image may be in the person’s life). Himself in us He sees and Himself in us He loves for our salvation’s sake.

Let us pray to have our inner sight, so clouded by prejudice and self-hatred as was Nathanael’s, cleansed so we may not only see others as Jesus sees, but relate to others as Jesus relates. Jesus seeks Himself in others and relates to them through His measureless value. Let us pray for the grace to do likewise. Let us pray that we, who have received the divine nature, will yield to its expansion and expression in our lives. Let us go even further and desire that it be Jesus Himself that sees and relates to others through us by grace.

Let us answer the invitation of Jesus to “come and see” by coming to Him in our “Nathanael-ness”. Let us come to Jesus that we may see Jesus “… at all times and in all places…” and especially “..in all persons…”

Fr. Thomas

No Christian reflection is the original work of the author if he or she is completely honest. I therefore, gratefully acknowledge the source of this reflection as being the revival sermon, “Nathanael Under the Fig Tree”, by The Rev’d. Louis Albert Banks, D.D., preached in January, 1895. The text of that great work provided the basic outline for this reflection. I have freely adapted that sermon for the purpose of addressing the audience the Lord has given to me. I pray that you are blessed by it.

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