John 1:43–51 | Clues, Clues

Enriching Tradition | Epiphany: Jesus, Man of Mystery  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  47:28
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Come and see the clues of Christ and discover there’s no one else more worth following than Him

As I was studying for today's message it hit me that Jesus really liked to drop hints and clues as to who He was but He rarely just came right out and made clear statements about His identity or His plan. Especially early on in His ministry, Jesus played His cards quite close to His vest. Unless you were really interested and willing to do some investigating yourself, Jesus would remain nothing more than an mysterious Rabbi. A true man of mystery.
And this fact that Jesus and the Bible can sometimes come across as quite cryptic can become a source of extreme frurstation at times for us in our faith.
Quick show of hands, who’s ever been frustrated as they’ve read their Bible or confused by God before! Come on, put you hands up. Who’s ever found believing in God difficult? Keep your hands up. Who’s ever wondered why God sometimes seems so absent from our lives?
Look around people, you’re not alone in being frustrated in faith!
While I do believe that God has made the main things of salvation plain enough so even a child can get it. Right we’re saved by child like faith not by having more degrees than Fahrenheit when it comes to theology. God has made it simple enough that even a child can do it! But that doesn’t mean everything about faith and understanding the Bible is always simple and clear!
Even the Apostle Peter, as in 1 of Jesus’ original 12 disciples says as much! in 2 Peter 3:16, he says, some of the things Paul writes in his letters or think of Romans or Galatians, some of the things he writes are hard to understand!
If you’ve found some things hard to understand in the faith, you’re in good company!
I’m pretty sure all of us have wondered at times why God is so mysterious and secretive sometimes. Right haven’t you ever wondered why Jesus just doesn’t write the truth in the sky in such a way that it would make the truth undeniable? Haven’t you ever wondered why God seems to cloak His identity and operate with so much mystery at times? Have you ever wondered why God doesn’t just write the truth in the sky in some miraculous way? That thought has definitely crossed my mind!
And I think the reason He doesn’t take the direct approach is 2 fold. For one, and from a pragmatic standpoint, it simply just wouldn’t work.
I mean it’s not like God hasn’t ever done miracles on the earth. He’s done a lot of them. From the plagues in Egypt to the parting of the red sea. He’s healed people on countless occasions and even raised the dead. I mean Jesus resurrection is a prime example, but remember what the religious leaders did with that direct and miraculous act from God. They immediately tried to cover it up! You see there are always multiple explanations for everything. You can explain or explain away whatever you want! The human heart is wicked and Satan exists to clouds the eyes of mankind, so even when God acts directly we’re pretty good and explaining those things away or missing them entirely!
So miraculous revelation wouldn’t be enough, but more than that, faith and love require a degree of hiddenness and mystery for them to be authentic.
For love to be authentic love, it can’t be forced or coerced. For faith and love to be genuine and authentic, there has to be some level of choice, and so there has to be some mystery, some level of hiddenness surrounding the person and work of God. Why, well because God desires faith; He wants love from responsible people, not forced behavior from robots. And so God obvious enough so that those who want to see Him can, but He’s also hidden enough so that those who don’t want to see Him can avoid Him altogether. ( Boyd, Gregory A., and Edward K. Boyd. 2008. Letters from a Skeptic: A Son Wrestles with His Father’s Questions about Christianity. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook. Correspondence 18. see link attached)
All this to say, some times discovering the things of God takes some investigation. Sometimes God speaks cloaked in clues that require us to do some digging.
And when God came in the flesh, as Jesus Christ, He did this a lot. In fact this is exactly what He’s up to in our text this morning.
Lets check it out together and see if we can piece together the clues Jesus gives us in John 1 about the Son of Man.
Turn or swipe with me and read it with me.
John 1:43–51 (NIV)
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45 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.”
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
48 “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.”
50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
The first thing I want to point out to you from this text comes from v. 43, Jesus is looking for followers.
He wasn’t, as we said last week just a good teacher that we can take what we like from and toss what we don’t. No, if He was God in the flesh, then we have only 2 options to follow everything He says or nothing. Jesus is looking for all of us or none of us! He’s looking for those who will sell all they have, who will sell out so to speak, who will forsake all else to follow Him where He goes and do what He says! Jesus isn’t look for fans, he’s looking for sold out followers.
The 1st disciples show us what this looks like.
And in our text this morning we’re introduced to 2 of these followers. Philip and Nathaniel.
Jesus sets out looking for followers and he comes across Phillip and Nathaniel who were quite receptive to Christ’s call! And I want you to see what made them receptive.
When we meet Philip and Nathaniel we find that they lived with an expectation to see God’s promises come true! They believed there was a God and that He made promises which they were looking for to come true in their life. The believed God was active on the earth and as such were looking for His activity.
vv. 45 tell us as much.
Philip says, “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.”
We’ve found what God promised! We’ve been looking for God and his activity and we’ve found it!
Now, listen Church, as I’ve already said, I understand that God’s action upon this earth are rarely objectively obvious. Honestly, sometimes it feels as if God is completely absent from this world! Again, God is secretive and mysterious enough for people to avoid Him if they so choose, but He’s never altogether absent!
For one He’s told us the heavens declare His works! His finger prints are all over creation! And more than that, He has and continues to interact with those who are willing and searching! He’s promised so many good things! That He will never leave us nor forsake us! He’s promised that for those who ask, seek and knock, that the door will be opened, He will be found by those who seek!
You see, God will not force himself upon you or anyone else. So He’s hidden enough so as not to force anyone to believe, but He’s also promised to be knowable for those who seek His face!
Philip and Nathaniel were receptive to Jesus’ call to follow because they were seeking. They were seeking to see the fulfillment of God’s promises?
Are you! Are you seeking God?
If you are, Philip and Nathaniel show us who can expect to be found by the King! It’s those who seek God will all their hearts!
Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV)
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Psalm 145:18 (NIV)
18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.
But it’s not always that straightforward. Nathaniel shows us that even if we have the heart of a seeker, faith may not always come to us easily.
Look at his first thought when Philip tells him, we’ve found the one worth following! We’ve found the promised King! Jesus of Nazareth!
v. 46
Nathaniel balks. Nazareth! Can anything good come from Nazareth.
And before we criticize Nathaniel too harshly, it’s actually an educated reaction. No where in the Bible does God say anything about Nazareth. Jerusalem, yes. Bethlehem and Judea, yes, but Nazareth is never mentioned. So Nathaniel’s protest here is not an ignorant one, but an informed one! And because of his knowledge of God’s word, He never expects for God to work outside of his preconceived notions.
Which is instructive for us as we look further into what it means to follow Jesus! Each and everyone of us has baggage. Some of it is educated and informed by study. Some of it comes from wounds we’ve received, misinformation we’ve read or been told and stuff we’ve learned from the school of life.
I had a professor in college that used to say Atheists aren’t born. His point was that they are made through their experiences. As we seek to follow Jesus or hear His call upon our lives to do so, you should not be surprised to find hurts and hangups along your journey that make faith difficult at times. And we all must be careful not to let our educated ideas or wounds from the past put God in a box that He does not put Himself in!
Nathaniel, here, has a hang up and Philip being a shrewd man doesn’t engage the objection but rather simply invites Nathaniel to come and see for himself.
Which also is just so awesome.
Church if you can argue someone into Jesus, someone else can argue them out of Jesus! Faith is reasonable and there is plenty of evidence to believe in Christ, but the goal isn’t to build a sound argument, the goal is to know Jesus in a relationship! Which Philip shows us is the best defense we have for faith. Come and see Jesus for yourself, he says! You meet Him yourself. Because once you do, you’re gonna understand. You’re gonna wanna follow Him! Just come and see Him for yourself!
And you might be thinking well isn’t that nice for Philip and Nathaniel! They actually could physically go and see Him!
Friend, I hear you, I’ve thought similar things. But Jesus told us it’s better for Him to go and send the Spirit. And send His Spirit He did. Inside every Christian lives the real Spirit of Jesus! This means, while we can’t invite people to come and see Jesus in the same way Philip and Nathaniel did, we can nevertheless invite people to see Jesus in us and in our group!
Come and see my Church family! Come and see! Listen I’m not perfect but if you’ve seen anything praise worthy or good in me, you’ve seen a little bit of Jesus! He lives in me and the good that comes out of me, that’s Him!
This is both helpful and challenging. It’s helpful in that the Church is the tangible presence of God on the earth. Right, that we are the physical hands and feet of Jesus in our world. We are the way people experience God which is helpful. We can make God real to people, but that’s also a challenge isn’t it? How well are we displaying who Jesus is as individuals and as a family of God? It won’t be perfect, but hopefully as we invite people to come and see, what they see is more and more of Jesus.
And so Nathaniel, he’s got some hang ups but rather than let what he thought he knew or what he had heard get the best of him, he determines to go investigate this Jesus for himself! Which again, in our world of information, it’s very easy to read headlines and social media and form quick opinions especially about Christians, the Church and Jesus Christ, but don’t just take someone else’s word for it. You go and see for yourself!
Nathaniel goes and Jesus shows us what we can expect to find if we will come and see too.
If you go in search of Jesus, He will find you. He will find you and meet you where you are and give you enough to inspire faith in Him.
Look at the text. vv. 47-51. Nathaniel goes in search of Jesus and he finds that Jesus already knows him. Jesus has seen him before Nathaniel even know what to look for.
Jesus sees Nathaniel and makes a statement about the mans character. Here, he says, is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit and then Jesus goes on to tell Nathaniel that not only does he have super natural knowledge of Him and insight into his character, but that Nathaniel will see angels ascending and descending upon Him as the Son of man.
And this is where we need to some some investigating. Jesus is being cryptic here and dropping clues that you’ll only understand if you come and see with me.
Right we as the reader are left wondering, what’s happening here that makes Nathaniel switch so quickly from being skeptical to going all in on Jesus? What’s going on here?
Well for starters Jesus is using an old story familiar to Nathaniel and most Jews to drop some clues as to who He is.
Jesus’ reference to Nathaniel’s character, of him being a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit coupled with the rather cryptic words about angels ascending and descending upon the son of man point us back to Genesis 28 where we meet a man named Jacob who has a dream from God.
If you were to go read the story of Jacob in Genesis you would discover quickly that he was a shady character, a trickster and a man of deceit. He tricks his brother out of his birth right and tricks his father into giving him the blessing meant for that same brother, Esau. Deception marks Jacob every where he goes, yet God chooses to use Jacob anyway.
And when we get to Genesis 28, while Jacob is on his way to find a wife, he stops for the night to sleep and God comes to him in a dream. Jacob sees a ladder connecting heaven and earth with God standing at the top sending angels up and down upon that ladder. And then Jacob hears God reaffirm a promise that God had made to Jacob’s Grandpa Abraham and Jacob’s Father Isaac. God promises to make Jacob into a great nation of people and God promises to bless the whole world through Jacob’s descendants. God reaffirms the Abrahamic Covenant to Jacob.
Now we need to understand 2 things to really get what’s happening in this dream. The first thing is this, up to this point Jacob has heard stories of God and His promise to his grandpa and father. But God has never spoken to Jacob Himself. This is the first record we have of God actually showing up to Jacob and reaffirming the promise or the covenant He made with Abraham!
Until Genesis 28, there is no record that Jacob has ever heard or experienced God in a direct way like his grandpa or father had.
That’s significant. The other thing that is significant from this story is what Jacob does and says after this encounter. Upon waking up from his dream he says, surely God was here and I didn’t even notice. Then he sets up and altar calling the place Bethel which means house of God or gateway to heaven and Jacob makes a vow. He says if God protects him and goes with him then from now on, the Lord will be His God (Gen. 28:16-22)
This leaves the reader to conclude that up to this point apparently Jacob hadn’t settled the matter in his mind as to who his god was. And honestly this lines up with his actions prior to this. Jacob was a conniving shyster of a man. Time and time again he seems more quick to lie and cheat in order to get ahead rather than trust God and live with honesty and integrity.
And so I think if we piece the clues together God is doing 2 things in this dream. He’s reminding Jacob that while sometimes God’s actions may be invisible and mysterious or not easily seen, that He is indeed active in our world. The image of the ladder connecting heaven with God at the top sending angels up and down is an indication of God’s on going activity in our world and God’s affirmation of the covenant promise to Abraham and now to Jacob is a reminder that God sees Jacob and has not forgotten him!
And now in John’s gospel we see Jesus drawing upon this story with Nathaniel which although cryptic, is actually packed with meaning if you know the backstory. Essentially, Jesus is telling Nathaniel that He is the ladder upon whom Nathaniel will see the angels of god ascending and descending. The meaning is clear. Jesus is saying He is the new and better Bethel, the house of god or the gateway to heaven. Jesus is God’s direct activity upon the world and Nathaniel can expect to see great revelation and work in and through the person of Jesus Christ!
Which is an astonishing statement, but before Jesus drops this theological clue, Nathaniel is already all in on Jesus.
Why, because Jesus proves to Nathaniel that He is a personal God who takes personal interest in each and everyone of His people.
Before Jesus drops some loaded theology upon Nathaniel He first creates a desire in Nathaniel to be known personally in relationship!
Right, Nathaniel is surprised by Jesus’ statement about his character. As far as Nathaniel is concerned he’s never met Jesus and Jesus can’t possible know anything about him, but Jesus does know Nathaniel and what he knows is so personal that Nathaniel’s immediate reaction is to call Him the Son of God!
Jesus tells Nathaniel that before Philip called him, Jesus saw him under the fig tree!
And the TV show the Chosen does some really cool stuff with this encounter. This is not in scripture but the director of the Chosen, takes some creative licence and in that show they give us a picture of Nathaniel under a fig tree after his life has completely fallen apart where he is searching the scriptures and crying out to God about his lot in life and complaining about God’s seeming silence and absence in his life. While under that tree, he hears nothing.. .only silence, but then He meets Jesus and Jesus says to him, before Philip called you, I saw you… I saw you under that fig tree, crying out to me! I saw you!
And here’s why I think what the Chosen did is very plausible to me. Just like Jacob felt lost and alone, having to rely on deception to get ahead in life and wondered if the God of his Father and Grandpa saw him or was active in his life, Nathaniel has a similar moment and now rather then send a dream like God did for Jacob, God sends his son to Nathaniel to remind Nathaniel that He is seen by His maker and His maker is still very much active in our world.
The only thing that could explain the sudden jump from skepticism to faith in Nathaniel is for a very personal encounter to take place. Which is what I think happens.
As Nathaniel decides to come and see and investigate Jesus personally, Jesus reveals himself to Nathaniel in a very personal way and proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is so worth following!
And Church, if you would come and see this Jesus He would do the same for you! (Title Slide)
I want to close by sharing a story that is very personal to me. I have a Nathaniel moment once in my life. I’ve only ever had one that is as close to what Nathaniel experienced but it has forever marked me as a follower of Christ and I can’t not but follow Him now.
It’s why I am a pastor and why I will always be a pastor until the Lord calls me home.
It was the summer of my Junior Year. I was on a mission trip with our youth group to the Application mountains.
The week prior I was given the opportunity to preach my very first sermon ever and I was quite stressed out about it. I’ll never forget this. It was a Friday night and I was at home studying and working on writing a sermon. And I was fuming mad. My twin brother was out with all our friends having a good time and I was stuck at home with my nose in bible commentaries. I was feeling quite depressed about it. I was stressed about writing a sermon in general and the pressure of that and then I was mad because my brother was out having fun and I wasn’t.
So I was giving God the business. Lord I said, is this going to be my life. Am I just going to be studying all the time while everyone else is out having fun! I was having a real pity party for myself. And I never told a soul about how I felt. Never told anyone but God. And He was silent about the whole thing.
Fast forward 2 weeks. I preached. It went fine. I think I used an illustration about God as a gps in life or something like that. It went fine but I was still mad about missing out with my friends.
Then I go on a mission trip and There’s a gentleman who was set to speak to our youth group one night. Before he got up to speak he said I just want to say before I start that I think the Holy Spirit wants to share something with a few of you here. A couple of you are considering a call into ministry and the Holy Spirit wants you to know that you’re hearing that call correctly. You should follow it.
He then went on to preach, about what, I have no idea because I couldn’t stop thinking about what he said at the beginning. I was one of those kids wrestling with a call into ministry.
So I found him after he got done talking and I told him, “so what you said about a call into ministry, I think that was for me.”
And this is what he said next. He said “Levi it was for you.”
Now, I had never met this guy before. This was the first time we had ever talked and I didn’t tell him my name, but he called me Levi.
He said “it was for you Levi” and then listen to what he said next to me. “The message was for you Levi and heres what the Lord wants you to know, there will be times in your life where you’re writing sermons and working on things for him while you’re friends are off having fun and that’s going to really bother you, but God wants you to know that He sees you and that He understands but He always wants you to remember that you’re doing the right thing serving Him and that there will be time for all that other stuff later!”
And by this time I’m tearing up and also paying insanely close attention. This man has just told me things that I only ever shared with God in my heart and mind!
He then went on to speak a few things over me as to what my ministry would look like and where I should spend my time focusing to stay close to God and strong in His Spirit.
And that one small conversation has forever sealed in my mind the reality of God and His call upon my life. I could never quite ministry even if I wanted to because I know without a shadow of a doubt in my mind that God has me where He wants me.
I’ve had other times of sensing God’s presence but never has anything marked me quite like this. I’m not saying everyone is going to have an experience like mine or like Nathaniel’s, I don’t tell you this so that you will put God in a box and limit what He can do, but I do think we all should expect to encounter Christ in our lives! I tell you this to tell you to go and see for yourself who Jesus is and to create an expectation in your hearts to hear from Him personally!
Come and See Him Church! Come and see the clues of Christ and if you would Jesus will find you and show you that there’s no one else worth following more than Him!
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