Jesus Descending to Know us
By Paul TInker
I speak to you in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – Amen
John’s Gospel has often been compared to a pool in which a child could wade safely and an elephant could swim.
It is both simple and profound.
It is for the beginner in the faith - and for the mature Christian.
It begins in an incredible way – to set the stage for what John will reveal / or some might say… prove…
In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He was in the beginning with God.
All things came to be through him,
and without him nothing came to be.
What came to be through him was life,
and this life was the light of the human race
The opening God inspired words of John’s gospel are beautifully crafted
and could be like an opening statement
to declare what the rest case will be a witness for
The whole of the Gospel narrative contains a series of “signs”
— the gospel’s word for the wondrous deeds of Jesus.
continuing on the legal case metaphor – the structure of John’s Gospel can be consider in only four groups
- The Prologue or Opening statement – chapter 1 until verse 18
- The Book of Signs from verse 19 till the end of chapter 12
- The Book of Glory – chapters l3 to 20 – telling of the greatest of all signs, the story of Jesus’ passion, the story of the cross – the seemingly ‘climax of the case’
- And the Epilogue – from chapter 21- till the end - or as some might call it the “closing argument” – the beautiful surprise twist bringing the case to a triumphal victory
- The Resurrection Appearances in Galilee
John wrote an account that is set to win over – to prove - that Jesus of Nazareth, was the Christ, the Lord, the Son of God
For the child in the wading pool and deep enough for the giants of God’s creation
Our Gospel passage for today, is extremely brief, only 5 verses – but it is but one small proof in the mounting case for Christ
It tells the account of one person that was miraculously transformed in a moment… and even promised much greater
Two thousand years ago, Jesus (having used Satan to sharpen his vision) left the desert of temptation and strode purposefully to… “Nowhere.”
At least that is what the religious and political leaders thought of Galilee.
He also determinedly marched out from the desert seeking…
“Nobodies.” At least that is what the religious and political leaders thought about fishermen and the other ordinary men that Jesus selected.
We have in our passage of today the introduction to one of the lesser known disciples - Nathanael (or known in the other gospels as Bartholomew)
It is right before what is commonly known as Jesus’ first miracle – turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana
However this miraculous “public” sign
Is not His first miracle - it is the calling of the disciples that we have His first miracles,
The ability to transform lives so dramatically that they would leave everything is surely a miracle
It is given to us on a day in which we commemorate Michael and all the angels
Why today, do we have in Nathanael’s call to discipleship as part of the commemoration of all the angels?
Well the key to that is in the last part, where Jesus declares
“Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Jesus tells Nathanael … and all those present… and us today that He will be the purpose of the angels of God
And He does it making clear reference the story known as ‘Jacob’s ladder’ which was our first reading from Genesis 28
“And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.”
In Jacob’s dream… we have God message… God’s word spoken by His messengers – Angels - descending to us
Jacob is given an incredible promise
Through Jacob, Abraham’s covenant will be fulfilled
“your descendants shall be as plentiful as the dust of the earth, and through them you shall spread out east and west, north and south. In you and your descendants all the nations of the earth shall find blessing”
A blessing for all the nations of the world
This is truly an incredible promise and yet it doesn’t end there
The angels carry an even more compelling message
“Know that I am with you; I will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you”
In the Old Testament and in the gospel we have God with a message for us
Then … as now
God through his holy angels has a vitally important word
And it is a message of ‘assured Hope’
That is of course - “the miracle” – the Gospel
The miracle simply stated in the most quoted scriptural text – John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
But for Nathaniel it started with a much smaller personal miracle
“When Jesus saw Nathaniel coming toward him, he said of him,
“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”
How did Jesus know that? That Nathaniel was truly authentic and not a phony out to deceive the world?
Notice the question that Nathaniel asked him,
“Where did you get to know me?”
Nathanael doesn’t deny how Jesus has characterized him
He is struck by the claim and asks –how Jesus knew
Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
That’s it! Nathanael is sold, Jesus must have superhuman knowledge and its effect on Nathanael is immediate and
Nathaniel replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
John in his account of the life of Jesus has entered another piece of evidence in the case for Christ; ‘superhuman knowledge’ in which an otherwise skeptical person, who had just told Philip - “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”
Has been so transformed to declare that Jesus is the ‘Son of God’
Followers of Christ often believe that about Christ:
That Christ knows everything about our lives.
We Christians don’t understand what it means that God knows the numbers of the hairs of our head and other trivial details of our lives from years ago…
but we sense that God is all knowing of our personal lives.
We sense that God “knew us even before we were born, when we were growing secretly and silently in our mother’s womb,” to use the words of the Psalmist.
For me, I always imagined that under the fig tree Nathaniel was praying to God
And his prayer was a deeply personal prayer,
I believe that he was truly open to God
And it is that in which Jesus spoke to when he said
“Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”
Jesus got to know Nathaniel while he was under the fig tree.
A Fig tree has symbolic overtones, missed to the modern reader
The posture recalls the image of the ideal Israelite in utopia, sitting studying the Law or in prayer
The fig was considered the sweetest fruit of the desert people.
To eat of the fig tree was a blessing;
To have your fig trees knocked down was a curse.
It meant that the sweetest things in your life would be taken away from you.
To say, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” was equivalent to saying; “Nathanael, I knew you before you were cynical. I knew you when your heart could still be melted, when your faith was still hungry.”
That’s the Nathanael that Jesus saw
That is the miracle that transformed Nathanael’s heart
That is the miracle that transforms all our hearts to this very day
As our Genesis passage reveal the most comforting of all promises to Jacob
“Know that I am with you”
For Nathanael knows that God is with him
He wants to hold on to the Son of God, to become His follower, a disciple of the one that is with him in his most intimate moments
It is the same for Jacob,
And it is the same for us now
– The miracle
o both small and personal… to nobodies in nowhere
o and universal for all
God is with us
God in Jesus, himself, has now become the bridge between heaven and earth, between divine and human, temporal and eternal.
The place to meet God is not the ladder of Jacob's dream at Bethel… but Jesus
May we all be blessed with moments of our own fig trees
Where we can safely wade into shallow waters and also be filled to our deepest needs for God – knowing that – God is with us