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01.18.15 What Have we Gotten Ourselves Into John 1:43-51 Sermon Summary

by on January 20, 2015

Some of us are like Nathanael, subject to swings in our faith, a sort of religious manic-depressive. Jesus provides us the hope of a steady faith.

Summary Points

  • How the swings in Nathanael’s faith might have been caused by personality and experience
  • How Jesus’ candid and humorous response to Nathanael gives us hope
  • Meditation as a path to a steady faith grounded on an eternal hope
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

All we know about Nathanael is included in this very short encounter with Jesus. He starts with skepticism, but then makes an over-exuberant confession of faith. If Nathanael is the same person as Bartholomew in the other gospel writers, then we know he is named within the lists of disciples, including those gathered after the resurrection in the upper room of Acts.

If so, how does one go from subjection to great swings in the faith to so steady a faith as to just be mentioned?

I think Nathanael was probably an Introvert. There was more going on under the surface than ever showed. Those around him might have perceived him as generally quiet, but occasionally punctuated by outbursts of opinion.

I think he was also a bit of a romantic. There was in him an undercurrent of hope and a desire for a better world. But he was also probably someone who was disappointed a lot, or perhaps only once but very significantly.

If I am right, if Nathanael was introverted, romantic, and suffering disappointment, this could help explain the wide and sudden swings in his faith. At first he is dismissively skeptical: “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Then, after what everyone recognizes is a rather small realization, he offers an over-the-top expression of faith: “Truly you are the Son of God, the King of Israel!”

I love Jesus’ candor and his sense of humor. First he says, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” And then, “Did you (seriously!) believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree?” But Jesus is also patient with this excited new convert, and it shows in his promise: “You will see greater things than these.”

Jesus alludes to a scene in the life of Jacob from Genesis 28. There Jacob dream of a ladder with angels ascending and descending on it. Upon awakening, Jacob exclaims, “God is here, and I didn’t know it.” Jesus promises Nathanael the same vision.

Jesus seems to be inviting Nathanael to slow down and rest. “Stop looking so hard. Stop hoping so frantically. Just come and see.”

What is the nature of faithful hope? Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, write this: “Hoping is not dreaming. It is not spinning an illusion or fantasy to protect us from our boredom or our pain. It means a confident, alert expectation that God will do what he said he will do. It is imagination put in the harness of faith. It is a willingness to let God do it his way and in his time. It is the opposite of making plans that we demand that God put into effect, telling him both how and when to do it. That is not hoping in God but bullying God.”

What we learn from Nathanael is that Jesus honors our personalities and our experiences. He uses whatever we have to offer, even skepticism or exuberance. And taking whatever we bring, Jesus makes us a promise unlike any other promise. He promises God’s presence. We will see “heaven opened, the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.“ If only we will give him time. If only we come and see.

Jacob was resting when God came to him. So was Samuel. John tells us that Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree. Some rabbinic texts identify this as a symbol of studying Torah. Buddhism gets is start when Siddhartha achieves enlightenment while sitting under the Bodhi tree—a kind of fig tree. Nathanael is offered to us as a model for bringing consistency to our faith through meditation.

Psalm 139 is a form of biblical meditation. For both the extravert (“Where can I go from your Spirit? Even at the farthest shores you are there!”) and the introvert (“It was you who formed my inward parts within my mother’s womb.”) It suggests that when we give God time, when we “come and see,” God’s presence is revealed. Our skepticism is restored to hope—a hope anchored in something real and eternal.

Can anything good come from Nazareth? . . . Come and see.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • In what ways are you like Nathanael? Have you ever been subject to swings in your faith? What are the factors of your own personality or experience that may have contributed to this?
  • How have disappointments in hope impacted your outlook on life and your faith? Where have you placed your hope, even within the church, and been let down? What has resulted from these disappointments?
  • How have you grown more steady in your faith? Do you think study and meditation would help you have a more consistent faith? In what other ways have you “come and seen” the presence of God in your life?
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