What were you expecting this morning? Some good music perhaps? A service that would encourage or inspire you? What are you expecting this Christmas? Good food, special gifts, time spent with family? Maybe you are hoping for a bit of peace in an otherwise frantic life. What are you expecting to have for Christmas? Think of expectations today as we again look at the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry. The Jews had very high expectations for the Messiah they were waiting for. In this passage, we see that not only does Jesus meet these disciples’ high expectations for the Messiah; he promises to far exceed them. Listen to the word of the Lord in John 1:43-51.
I. First, in verses 43-46, we see how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets.
The first set of expectations is seen in the call to Philip. After Jesus has called Andrew, John and Peter, Jesus calls on Philip him to follow him. We don’t know much about Philip; he is just listed as one of the disciples in the other gospels. John mentions him several times and often in a way that is not very flattering. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, Philip protests that nothing could be done for this huge crowd of hungry people even with lots of money. When the Greeks came to him asking to see Jesus he didn’t know what to do and had to consult with Andrew before the men were brought to Jesus. We get the impression that Philip was a bit ordinary and that in itself is comforting to me. Christ had use for such ordinary followers and still has use for those who are not the brightest or quickest ones in the group as well today.
What is remarkable about Philip is that he does what Andrew did the day before: he finds Nathanael and gives a most remarkable testimony about Jesus: “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.” Philip says that Jesus is the one whom Moses wrote about in the Law. This is the prophet whom we mentioned a couple of weeks ago from Deuteronomy 18. This prophet would be one like Moses who would come and lead God’s people in the future. Philip also says that Jesus is the one about whom the prophets wrote. These are the prophets like Isaiah and the other prophets who prophesied about a coming Messiah who would rescue God’s people from their current problems. Philip is saying that Jesus has fulfilled or met these expectations. Jesus described as “of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” tells Nathanael who the specific person is.
The point that the author John is making once again is that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah who fulfills all the Messianic expectations found in the Old Testament. Nathanael’s response is very interesting: “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael is saying that there is nothing about Nazareth regarding the Messiah in the Old Testament. Philip’s response is beautiful in its simplicity: “Come and see.”
Philip is not the most eloquent or sharpest, but yet God uses him to testify to the Messiah. God enables him to speak powerful words of confession and testimony to Nathanael. And then he simply asks Nathanael to come and see for himself. That is something for us to remember as disciples today when it comes to witnessing to others. Often times we feel we must be able to speak eloquently as we witness. Or we feel that we should be able to powerfully defend what we profess to be true. All that Philip does is simply state who he believes Jesus to be and when pressed to defend himself on that, he simply invites the person to come look for himself. That kind of witnessing is something that everyone can do. We can proclaim that Jesus is Savior, Lord and King. And if anyone questions you or doubts, simply ask them to come and look for themselves.
As Nathanael approaches Jesus, he says: “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” This word “false” is used to translate Jacob’s character in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. Jacob’s God-given name was Israel and so Jesus is saying that Nathanael is the fulfillment of the true Israel, faithful and with no deceit. Here is someone who is a good representation of the true people of Israel. Nathanael’s response is understandably astonishment: “How do you know me?”
Jesus’ response is amazing: “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” The fig tree in that day was a symbol of home and the rabbis taught under fig trees. Its shade was used as a place of prayer, meditation and study. It seems probable then that Nathanael had some outstanding experience of communion with God in the privacy of his own fig tree and that is what Jesus saw. And John makes it very clear that this was before Philip had even gone to Nathanael. Jesus knew where Nathanael was and what he was doing before Philip could have told him. This is clearly a very powerful divine knowledge that Jesus had of Nathanael. Whatever happened specifically, Nathanael recognizes the special ability that Jesus has.
What is most powerful about this, however, is Nathanael’s confession of who Jesus is: “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Nathanael believed that Jesus is not just God-like but the Son of God; He is God! While he could not have yet understood all that Jesus’ Son-ship involved, here was someone who could only be described in terms which indicate the closest possible relationship to God. Nathanael also calls Jesus the “King of Israel,” which is only used three times in the New Testament: here, when Jesus is called the King of Israel when on the cross and at the Triumphal Entry. In the Old Testament, God is the King of his people. In the time between the testaments, the Messiah came to be thought of as being the King.
“One of the inner events of my journey occurred around age 30 when I read C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, a novel composed of letters of advice from Screwtape, a senior demon, to his nephew, Wormwood, whose task is to undermine the spiritual life of a young man. At one point, Screwtape advises Wormwood to make sure that the man, now a young Christian due to their combined bungling, to regard his time as his time. This sentence, at first, made no sense to me. I read it three times. I wondered whether there might not be some typographical error. How else could anybody think of his time except as his own? Then it dawned on me that the possibility existed of my time belonging to a power higher than myself. For a good while, it was a most discomforting notion, and still today I am continuing to learn to submit my time to God’s ownership. It wasn’t until a dozen years later, however, that I actually submitted to being baptized as a Christian.”
Peck got what it means to submit to Jesus as king; we submit all to him, including our time. John’s point here is that Jesus fully meets the expectations of the Messiah and that means we must submit fully to Jesus. But for those who believe, there are things that are far beyond what anyone could have imagined. And that is what we see in the last two verses.
III. An even greater coming fulfillment is reflected in verses 50-
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” Nathanael’s belief in Jesus, even if it is very new and weak, is powerfully rewarded. In essence, Jesus is saying that it is great that Nathanael believes that Jesus fulfills all the expectations of the Messiah, but there is something far more than this that Jesus as Messiah will bring.
Then Jesus reveals the kind of thing that Nathanael will see when He says, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The opening of heaven allows man to look up and see God in heaven. And they will see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. This is best understood as a reference to the story of Jacob when he was about to meet Esau. Jacob had a dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder to heaven. Now, however, the ladder is replaced by the “Son of man.” Did you catch that? Jesus is saying that now he is the link between heaven and earth. Nathanael and the others will see this for themselves! The wide open heaven, and the ascending and descending angels, symbolizes the whole power and love of God, now available for men, in Jesus the Son of man.
What we have here is a preview of the future glory of Jesus after the resurrection and ascension. The suffering, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus will allow people to see God! The Jews had high expectations of a coming Messiah who would come and restore their nation. Jesus says that He will come and save them, but He will also do so much more. Jesus has now come to restore the fellowship that man had originally with God. There will now be complete and full relationship with God through Jesus.
Your own relationship with God may be the best testimony you have that others will see. We have peace with God and that is something that others need in their life. That is the peace on earth that the angels sang of so many years ago. Now there is hope for life now and for eternity with our Creator and Lord because of Jesus.