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"Finding the Messiah Who Finds the Real Us"

Jan.18, 2015 Jn.1:40-51


We long to be known, to be liked, even to be loved and treasured. Such longing drives us to seek contact, even to obsession, and eroding our relationships that ought to be closest.

On Wednesday our daughter Emily posted a blog at TheBetterMom.com titled, "Dear Moms: Look Up from Your iPhones!" By Thursday it had been shared on Facebook over 2000 times, so it must have struck a nerve. In it Emily noted how on a recent trip she was herself "screenless", and she noticed how many people had their heads down, missing eye contact because they were busy looking at their personal device. She saw, in her words: "Mothers, not seeing their children.Husbands, not seeing their wives.Kids, not playing.Adults, not caring.No one actually making eye contact...Conversation, if it happened at all, revolved around whatever had just happened online.I could have wept. Because we're missing it people. This whole, beautiful, ordinary, un-pixelated, unenhanced life."

One reader agreed with how self-focussed social media can be, commenting: "Yes, I have a Facebook page, but I am hardly on it.I do post health related and occasional joke.Maybe I just don't think my life is so interesting that people would want to know what I had for breakfast or how far I just jogged.I find FB to be very narcissistic.I love how you mentioned that if we fall into that trap, we are not opening up ourselves to God."

Narcissistic: that's a good word for it. An online definition of "narcissism" states: "Excessive preoccupation with or admiration of oneself.A personality disorder characterized by self-preoccupation, need for admiration, lack of empathy, and unconscious deficits in self-esteem."

We're in the winter season: the flu and colds are contagious. We're also in the digital season: narcissism is also contagious, amplified when we see everybody else with heads down, checking their "feed", double-checking whether another "friend" has "liked" their latest status update or Instagram selfie. But in this obsession for self-exaltation, we're unwittingly cutting ourselves off from real, genuine, live person-to-person contact. And probably feeding unhealthily overweight egos. Even, in the words of that comment, "not opening ourselves up to God."

In today's reading, a group of nobodies from the outback of Judea bump into a mysterious man who seems to know them inside out - and He didn't even have access to their "about" page! They discover He's not just any man, and He's also not going to leave them where they are. He wants to hook them up with something much bigger even than the internet.


French scientist and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote about an inner "infinite abyss", what's been described as a sort of God-shaped vacuum within each one of us - and our futile efforts to fill that gap with lesser idols. In Pensées he wrote: "What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself."

Jesus knows us - to our core, to that emptiness or void that's hidden deepest inside us, yet longs to be known and significant, warts and all. V48 Nathanael blurts out, "How do You know me?"

Let's back up a bit. Last week we read about how John the Baptist had pointed Jesus out to some of his disciples, insisting he was "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (v29). Andrew and John (the gospel-writer) took the Baptizer's advice and spent a day with Jesus, which convinced them He was who they'd been told. That's where we pick it up with today's reading.

In v41 Andrew finds his brother Simon and tells him they'd found the Messiah. Note v42: "And 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)." Now, isn't that sort of eery? When have you ever been introduced to someone and, before a word is exchanged, they tell you who you are and then label you with a new nickname? What gives them the RIGHT to name YOU? The nerve! And, how could they possibly know enough about you to describe you with a handle if they're just meeting you for the first time?

A few verses later, Jesus heads from Judea back to Galilee and finds Philip, who's also from Andrew & Simon's hometown. Philip persuades his Biblically-informed but skeptical brother Nathanael to come meet Jesus. V47 "When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, 'Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.'" Nathanael's surprised response is in v48: "How do you know me?" How, indeed! Jesus is just meeting him for the first time - how can He already have the scoop on someone He hasn't even met before?

V48B Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." (CUE EERY MUSIC) What? Was Jesus spying on the two brothers, trailing Philip? No.So how did He know (a) Nathanael was under a fig tree, (b) What Nathanael was doing under the fig tree? By the way, we're never really told the answer to (b) - what he was doing - but scholars guess that, since the shade of a fig tree was a popular place to retreat to on a hot day for study and prayer, Nathanael may have been praying, yearning for the Scriptures to be fulfilled and Israel's Deliverer to come. That would help explain Jesus' introductory remark.

Was Jesus making a joke, saying this with a smile at one side of his mouth? "Here is a true Israelite..." Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron, like saying, "Here's a true trickster"? Jacob (later renamed Israel) you may recall had disguised himself in Genesis 27(35) in order to deceive his father Isaac and steal the blessing that should have belonged to his slightly older twin brother Esau. God had to bring crafty Jacob through a maturing process by interaction with his even trickier Uncle Laban in order to teach Jacob to trust God rather than get his own way by deceitful means. So the phrase "true Israelite" is a bit of a contradiction in terms. Had Nathanael been ashamed of his national roots? Was he crying out to God under the fig tree to remove his own tendency to be false to others, take advantage by being smarter and craftier? Was he praying about the national situation in which the Sadducees, the Jewish leaders, arranged a compromise with the unclean Gentile Roman overlords that allowed the Temple to continue to operate? We're not told. But something about Jesus' opening line definitely struck Nathanael...like, "This guy's been reading my mind!"

Even creepier is Jesus' assertion that He saw Nathanael in a particular place (under the fig tree) at a particular moment (when Philip called him) without any natural means of doing so. That's unreal! Humanly impossible! That statement convinces Nathanael this is the supernatural Son of God.

In the next chapter, John the gospel-writer notes Jesus' uncanny ability to see inside people, to "scan their souls" as it were: 2:24f "But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men.He did not need man's testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man." In Matthew 9:4, Jesus knows the thoughts of the teachers of the law who are opposing Him. John 6:64 says Jesus knew from the beginning which disciple would betray Him - yet He still chose Judas.

God knows you inside and out. Psalm 139:1-4 "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me.You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD." The One who created you, knows you through and through.


Jesus knows us; Jesus also TRANSFORMS us, He doesn't leave us stuck in our immaturity or our petty prejudices.

Look again at what Jesus says to Simon, Andrew's older brother. V42 "You are Simon son of John.You will be called Cephas" (i.e.Peter or "rock"). Now, 'Simon'is a perfectly respectable Jewish name, from Simeon, Jacob's second son, meaning "heard" in Hebrew; when Leah gave birth in Genesis 29(33) she said, "Because the Lord HEARD that I am not loved, He gave me this one too."

Still, Simeon was the second born. Jesus sees in Simon foundational material, a primary apostle, like a cornerstone on which He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). Now, Simon Peter was hardly a "rock" before Easter. In fact, he denied the Lord not once, not twice, but three times! And after he boasted that he'd stand by Christ even if all the others deserted Him (Mk 14:29). Oh, and there's another example of Jesus "knowing" people - predicting Peter's denial before a rooster crowed the next morning (Mt 26:34). Even later in his ministry, Peter was guilty of hypocrisy as Paul describes in Galatians 2(11ff): at first at Antioch Peter ate with Gentiles, but when the Judaizers arrived, he started to separate himself from Gentiles, to the point Paul had to confront him about it. A better nickname than "Rock" might have been "Flipper"! Flip-flop...

But the Peter we see at Pentecost and in the early chapters of Acts is a transformed man. He boldly preaches the good news about Jesus' resurrection within months of His crucifixion. He and John won't back down when threatened by the Jewish authorities, insisting in Acts 4:19f, "But Peter and John replied, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard."" Now, that's rock-like faith!

Similarly, we see a transformation in Nathanael. Philip implies that Nathanael is a student of the Hebrew Bible, for Philip tells him in Jn 1:45, "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." But Nathanael's response drips with cynicism and prejudice. "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael's hometown was Cana, just 4 miles from Nazareth. There's often a competitive rivalry between neighbouring towns. So, to make it local - "Brussels? Can anything good come from there?"

In addition, being a good Bible scholar, Nathanael would know (a) that prophecy indicated the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, the city of David; and (b) there were NO references to Nazareth in the prophetic books. Zilch. There may be a touch of regional prejudice here, too: there was a common saying, as Nicodemus was reminded by the Pharisees in John 7:52, "a prophet does NOT come out of Galilee."

But after meeting Jesus and hearing His supernaturally-informed opening statements, Nathanael is transformed. His PREJUDICE turns to PRAISE. He says in v49, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel." He is bowled over that the King of the Universe would choose him, Nathanael, and knows him through and through.

What prejudices are you harbouring that Jesus might like to transform? What identity do you take pride in that could get in the way of loving others? It doesn't have to be Blyth / Brussels, Wingham or Clinton. Andy category we fit can become a stumbling block from recognizing the dignity and worth of the Creator's imprint in another human - black or white, Native American or import; male or female; old or young; Muslim or Christian or that weird off-shoot sect we scratch our heads about; alcoholic, substance abuser, marijuana user, tattoo enthusiast, homosexual or straight or loose-liver - the list goes on... Jesus transforms our heart to see beyond the package to the core of the individual God may be drawing to Himself.


Jesus knows us, transforms us - and Jesus INVITES us into intimate fellowship with the Father. As we read v43, keep in mind that from where John was baptizing to the area of Bethsaida and Capernaum was about 70 miles - on foot. 1:43 "The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee.Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me."" That sounds like very deliberate and intentional pursuit of an individual; Jesus "found" Philip, He went looking for him, and didn't let distance get in the way. Then invited Philip to come with Him, be His follower or apprentice.

When Jesus interacts with Nathanael, He promises His followers will witness things even more amazing that Christ's supernatural knowledge of people on the inside. V51 prefaced with "amen amen", a way of underscoring the importance of what was about to be said: "I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man."

Immediately Nathanael would have recognized the imagery! When Jacob, having stolen Esau's blessing from his father Isaac, was fleeing to Paddan Aram, he stopped for the night out in the open and used a stone for a pillow. The Lord appears to him in a dream and promises unconditional blessing and protection. Genesis 28:12 "He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it." What are the angels going up and down on, representing communication with heaven? "A stairway" - the proverbial "Jacob's Ladder". So, to Nathanael and hearers, Jesus is implying HE is their "stairway to heaven" - HE is Jacob's Ladder! Later in John 14:6 He'll put it another way, "I am the way and the truth and the life.No one comes to the Father except through me." Jesus invites us into intimate fellowship and communication with God Himself, source of blessing and guidance. As John MacArthur puts it, "Jesus was the means of access between God and man."

In closing - what's our application here? First, FOLLOW Jesus. Check out His claims, read the gospels, come face to face with the man the disciples came to know. You may at first have objections like Nathanael; but Philip didn't try to out-debate his scholar friend but simply said, "Come and see." Once you meet the Risen One, objections tend to gradually resolve themselves as you grasp how special and powerful He is.

Second, FIND A FRIEND. Andrew and Philip didn't go knocking door-to-door (not that there's anything wrong with that)...When you get really great news, who do you naturally want to share it with? Your friends and family! Cross those relational bridges - they're the people you've built a level of trust with over time. You don't need a degree in apologetics, or be able to convincingly answer every doubt and objection they might raise. "The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, 'We have found the Messiah'...and he brought him to Jesus." Philip found Nathanael, told him, and when Nathanael expressed a doubt said simply, "Come and see."

Follow; bring a friend; and FIND A FIG TREE. Carve out time from your busy day like Nathanael did; draw apart for TAWG-time, "Time Alone With God". Whatever Nate was doing there - studying, meditating on Scripture, praying - Jesus saw him and heard him. Protect your one-on-one time for spiritual pursuit and hearing God's voice, lest it get drowned out by the noise of the sea of social media, phone calls, emails, commercials - the myriad of ways the Enemy has of interrupting and distracting you from Him who has fashioned you for communion with Himself.

As Emily wrote in her post: "If I have a thousand blog posts or Twitter followers but have not love, I am nothing.If I write encouraging statuses and give to online charities but have not love, I am but a gong or a clanging cymbal." Cultivate your love for God in secret, then share His love with a friend in society. Keep contact with Jesus, the one true "stairway to heaven". Let's pray.