Read John 1:43-51
ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“‘But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel after those days,’ says the LORD. ‘I will put my instructions deep within them, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” (Jeremiah 31:33, NLT)
When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.
Part 169: Nathanael. Nathanael is a bit of a mystery. He is only ever mentioned of in the Gospel of John and is found nowhere in Mark, Matthew, or Luke. Yet, Nathanael, in John’s Gospel, is mentioned as one of the earlier of the twelve to be counted among Jesus’ disciples. There is a tradition of thought that may link Nathanael with one the twelve who is mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels but is nowhere to be found in the Gospel of John.
Nathanael is a Hebrew name that means, “God has given.” We are told in the narrative that, following by being called by Jesus, Philip ran to find Nathanael and told him all about the Messiah whom he had met and was not following. We are never told Nathanael’s relationship with Philip, they clearly know each other and are friends.
“Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.” To us this sounds exciting, right? Philip had just come face-to-face with Jesus, so how could he be less than enamored? He had just witnessed the presence of God incarnate and had been called as a disciple by him? How could anyone NOT find this exciting? Well, in truth, those types of questions only come in hindsight. Nathanael was less than impressed, and made that known to Philip,
“Nazareth!” exclaimed Nathanael. “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael’s was not rejoicing at Philip’s news; rather, he was skeptical of Jesus’ being the Messiah. How could the Messiah, the one who is supposedly going to kick the Romans out and reestablish Israel to her rightful place as a sovereign kingdom under God, ever come from a dinky little village such as Nazareth?
That village “boasted” of maybe 150 residents and was a pocket for those who were discontent with the religious establishment in Jerusalem. Besides, according to the Scriptures, the Messiah would come from David’s hometown, Bethlehem. Never, in all of the Torah, the Psalms, the Wisdom texts, or the prophets, is Nazareth even hinted at.
“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.” (John 1:45-46, NLT) Skeptical as he might be, Nathanael takes Philip on his offer to come and meet Jesus. It is then where his eyes and heart are opened to see Jesus as the Messiah. Why? Because Jesus spoke to him in a way that revealed Nathanael’s heart’s desire: to follow God faithfully. When Jesus saw him, he said, “‘Now here is a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.’
“‘How do you know about me?’ Nathanael asked. Jesus replied, ‘I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.’” (John 1:47-48, NLT) There are differing interpretations of what Jesus meant when he said “I could see you under the fig tree”; however, the one thing that is for certain is that Jesus true identity was revealed to Nathanael in that moment. As such he responded, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!” (John 1:49, NLT)
Like Nathanael, we too can be skeptical of the things claimed about Jesus. Were they just first century fairytales? Did Jesus really do the things he was claimed to have done? Does the Christian witness really have any sway in today’s time? What allowed Nathanael to see Jesus as the Messiah, was his deep desire to know God and to know God’s word. Some have even suggested that the reference to the fig tree was an allusion to Nathanael’s deep devotion to the Torah, God’s Law.
Perhaps that is an in for us too. Not the attempting to live up to the letter of the Law, but to begin to discern who God is through a faithful studying of God’s word. It is that word that will, in the end, lead us to the Word mad flesh…to Jesus Christ. If we make that a part of our daily discipline, we will find that indeed we do know the teacher, the Son of God, the King of Israel. Challenge yourself the discipline of studying the Bible.
THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Relationships must be a two-way street. If you put nothing into discovering and relating to others, you will get nothing out of it. The same is true in our relationship with God.
Lord, draw me close to you and teach me who you are so that I may know, follow, and have a relationship with you. Amen.