Text: John 1:43-51 Theme: When Nathanael comes to see Jesus he finds that Jesus sees him, notices him, and knows him; in turn Jesus opens heaven for Nathanael to see.
Nathanael was a typical Israelite: from the Galilee district, west of the Sea of Galilee. From John 21 we know his home town was Cana, in pleasant, fertile, hill country. Cana lay about ten miles north of the town of Nazareth. It was in Cana that Jesus would turn water into wine at a wedding.
Nathanael was spiritually alert. He had faithfully studied the Old Testament scriptures. He was familiar with the writings of Moses and the prophets about a Messiah to come.
Nathanael was also good friends with Philip, another God-fearing man. Philip hailed from Bethsaida, the same home town as the fishermen, Peter and Andrew. In fact, Philip, Peter + Andrew all traveled to the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist.
When Philip returned and found him, Nathanael must have been very curious. What was John like? What did Philip hear from this rough hewn prophet?
But it turns out the big news wasn’t about John at all. It was about someone else. Philip claims: We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote- Jesus of Nazareth. This is major news!
What is Nathanael’s reaction to this surprising claim? He is dubious. He is skeptical. He knows Nazareth; it’s a little backwater place. \His first reaction: Nazareth. Can anything good come from there?
Talk about a dash of cold water on his friend’s excitement about finding the Messiah! You can imagine Philip might be put off by Nathanael’s skepticism. But he’s unfazed. Notice: he didn’t try to argue with Nathanael. He simply said: Come and see.
Philip invited Nathanael to come and see Jesus. In composing their accounts the gospel writers invite readers to come and see Jesus. Still today, the role of every preacher is to help people to come and see Jesus. The heart of witnessing is simply encouraging friends + neighbors to come and see Jesus.
You know, historically Reformed churches have been very strong on doctrine. The Reformation centered on restoring the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace thru faith. The Heidelberg Catechism is a winsome summary of doctrine- the great Christian truths. But it’s one thing to know a doctrine; it’s another thing to know a person. It’s one thing to come and study catechism; it’s another thing to come and see Jesus. It’s one thing to hold a biblical world view; it’s another thing to hold a Savior’s hand. For believers and skeptics alike, what we first need is to come and see Jesus.
Come and see. Despite his skepticism, Nathanael goes along with Philip. Now verse 47: When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching he said of him: Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.
Nathanael is taken aback. He asks Jesus: How do you know me? Jesus replies: I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Instantly Nathanael’s skepticism evaporates. On the spot he makes a profession of faith: Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.
What cut through his skepticism? What persuaded Nathanael that Jesus was the Messiah? Notice: it wasn’t that Jesus performed a miracle. It wasn’t that he healed Nathanael. It wasn’t that Jesus taught something profound. It was that Jesus saw Nathanael.
I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Catch the twist? Nathanael came to see Jesus. But it turns out Jesus has already seen him.
Now notice: Jesus didn’t just see Nathanael as another face in the crowd- to be ignored. Jesus noticed Nathanael. He took note of him under the fig tree. Nathanael was on his radar.
In Jesus we find a God who sees us and notices us. Being noticed is a big deal. It makes me think of an eye-catching TV commercial from a few years back.
It starts with a high school football game where a runner tries to hurdle a tackler. The tackler hits his legs and sends him flying through the air, but he lands on his feet. And he keeps running!! It’s amazing! In the background you can hear a fan say: Hello!
This play is caught on a cell phone camera. Immediately it is sent to family and friends. When they see it, they are amazed: hello! Suddenly this high school kid is being noticed. The commercial ends with the kid heading home after another game. Up comes a big-time college coach who says: hello. It’s cool for that kid to be noticed.
None of us wants to go through life unnoticed: looked past, ignored, deemed unimportant. If you really like a guy in your class, you hope he will notice you. If you are trying out for a football team, you hope the coach will notice your abilities. If you’re applying for a job at a hospital, you hope the HR person will notice your resume. And usually the more important the person, the harder it is to be noticed by them. After all, important people are busy. They have lots of people clamoring for their attention.
Perhaps some of you watched Downton Abbey, the British series on Masterpiece Theater. It’s about an aristocratic family in a huge mansion, complete with a large staff of servants. Servants wait on this family hand + foot, but they must never draw attention to themselves. Servants must notice what their lords and ladies need. But the great lords and ladies are never expected to notice them.
Imagine then, how impressed Nathanael must have been! He comes to see a great rabbi. And he finds this teacher has already seen him. More: Jesus noticed him.
It is estimated that the world population now exceeds seven billion people. The population of the United States is now over 330 million people. The Nashville metro area has grown to nearly two million people. It would be easy to feel insignificant, just a face in the crowd. But we have a God who sees you and me, who notices you and me.
Think about that a moment. Maybe you are a teenager doing the high school thing. Maybe you are middle-ager, busy with work and family. Maybe you are retired, being a golden-ager. No matter who you are: Jesus notices you.
He notices if you are happy or sad. He notices if you are at content or uptight. He notices if you are tired or restless. Jesus notices you. You are on his radar. You matter.
And what a difference that makes when we come to him in prayer! We don’t have to explain everything. He already knows; he’s already noticed what we need.
Something more: Jesus doesn’t just notice Nathanael and where he is sitting. He knew his heart: here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false. Nathanael discovers that Jesus sees him and notices him and knows him through & through.
Here we get a glimpse of the sovereignty of God. As David writes in Psalm 139: You have searched me, Lord; and you know me. You know when I sit down and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. That’s why his encounter with Jesus was a game changer for Nathanael.
In turn we get a glimpse Jesus’ teaching in John 10: I am the good shepherd. Jesus is the shepherd who knows his sheep and calls his own sheep by name. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows all about us and cares for us. One of the great challenges of our generation is sharing the gospel with Muslims. Let’s be honest: rampant sexual immorality in so-called Christian nations is a turn-off. Military invasions into their holy land has been a turn-off. Muslims have their guard up.
But if Muslims would only come and see Jesus! Muslims often see Allah as far removed and remote and stern. If they could only see that God sees them + notices them + knows them + cares for them. If people would only come + see Jesus, it might cut thru their skepticism, like Nathanael.
One more key point from our text: Jesus sees Nathanael. But seeing goes both ways. Jesus also wants us to see; he wants us to see him. And in seeing Jesus we see God.
Jesus says: You shall see greater things than that. I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.
Here Jesus harks back to Genesis 28 and Jacob’s dream of a stairway reaching to heaven. That stairway was a connection between heaven and earth; between God and Jacob. Now Jesus claims to be the fulfillment of that ladder. Jesus claims to be the stairway to heaven: who reveals all the glories of God’s grace. Do you want to know what God is really like? Then come and see Jesus.
A closing word of application: unlike Nathanael, we can’t come and see Jesus in the flesh. But, by God’s Word and God’s Spirit, you and I can still come and encounter Jesus.
So friends: come. Come and see Jesus: by studying the gospel accounts about him. Come and see Jesus: by faithfully gathering for worship and hearing preaching about him. Come see Jesus: by being active in the church- which is the body of Christ in the world. Come and see Jesus: by serving the least and lowest person and thus serving Him.
Philip said: Come and see Jesus. It was the best invitation Nathanael ever received. When you come to Jesus, you’ll find the same. Will you come?