“Cake” by Robert-Jan van der Vorm 2014 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
John 1.35-51 (NIV)
The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”
When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”
They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”
“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”
So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be calledCephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).
The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “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.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”
I have been watching “The Great British Baking Show” and its spinoff, “The Big Family Cooking Showdown.” In each of these shows, one contestant, or family, is voted out by the judges, until they are down to the last, and supposedly best amateur baker, or cooking family. There is a lot I like about these shows – the contestants are some of the kindest people who have ever wound up on TV … I think I am learning about baking and cooking as I watch the shows.
I have been wondering, though, if I am inflicting some sort of strange pain on myself when I watch these shows.
They bake and cook all these delicious looking things, but I don’t get to see if they are any good for myself. I have to trust the judges when they say this cake, that looks amazing on TV, is actually pretty bad in real life ( it’s texture is awful … the flavors are off). I have to trust them when they say it is not as good as it looks. I also can’t verify it when they say those lamb chops are the best thing they have ever eaten (the texture … the spices … are just right).
It looks good on the TV … the judges say it is good or bad, but I can’t say for sure.
I have to trust those judges … It’s not like I can taste and see for myself …
When in my life will I ever have the opportunity to taste any of that stuff … I just have to taken the judges’ word for it.
That’s something that strikes me about today’s reading from John … it doesn’t make claims that someone couldn’t check out for themselves. The whole point seems to be that John wants us to check Jesus out for ourselves. Sure, John want’s to be a reliable witness, but he also wants us to see for ourselves. There are all these claims about Jesus – Jesus is the Lamb of God (1.36), Rabbi or Teacher (1.38), Messiah or Christ (1.41), the one Moses wrote about in the Law … the one the prophets wrote about … Jesus of Nazareth … the son of Joseph (1.44), the Son of God … the King of Israel (1.49), and finally, even, Jesus identifies himself … the Son of Man (1.50-51). There are all these claims about Jesus, and there are also all of these invitations for people to come and see.
“Come,” Jesus replied, “and you will see” (1.39).
“Come and see,” said Philip (1.46).
These verses aren’t arguments or lectures … just claims about who Jesus is and invitations for people to come see for themselves.
There is something special … there is something life changing and world shaping … happening in Jesus … come and see … walk with Jesus and see for yourself.
These people wind up being captivated by Jesus and amazed by Jesus.
Nathaniel is by far my favorite in this passage. He starts out as kind of a punk – Really Philip? This guy is from Nazareth? Could anything good come from those backwards hicks out there?
Philip didn’t argue with Nathaniel. He didn’t give Nathaniel a lecture to stop being so judgmental and mean because good things really can come out of Nazareth.
Philip responded with another invitation – “Come and see.”
To his credit, Nathaniel, went with Philip. And all it takes for Nathaniel, is Jesus saying he saw Nathaniel sitting under a fig tree before Philip invited him to come with him. That’s it. Pretty soon, even skeptical Nathaniel, is making his own claims about Jesus – “Rabbi … Teacher, you are the son of God … you are the King of Israel” (1.49).
Come and see!
Come and see for yourself. Don’t just take the judges’ word for it. John the Baptist, those disciples of his, Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip, Nathaniel – they take steps to see for themselves … they respond to invitations … they offer invitations …
Jesus’ response to Nathaniel is so great. “You believe because I told you I saw you under that fig tree? You will see even greater things than that … very truly, I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus is making a big claim here … actually, Jesus is making a bigger claim about his identity than anyone else in this passage and still, it is an invitation. Nathaniel is invited to stick with Jesus and see God bridging the gap between heaven and earth in Jesus, himself.
Jesus is drawing on a couple of Bible stories a guy like Nathaniel would have been familiar with. Long ago, and way back in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, there was a guy named Jacob. Jacob was a trickster … and a schemer. When his dad, Isaac, was on his deathbed, he tricked his dad, and stole his brother, Esau’s, blessing – what kind of jerk steals a blessing? Esau was so mad he made plans to kill Jacob. Jacob ran away to hide at his uncle’s house. Genesis 28:12 tells us that as Jacob was on his way to his uncle’s, he stopped for the night. Jacob laid down, put a rock under his head, and fell asleep. Jacob had a dream, “… he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord …”
When Jacob woke up, he took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it, so confident God was there with him, he called the place Bethel, or “God’s house” (Gen. 28.10-22). Jacob experienced God’s presence that night. Jesus seems to be borrowing from Jacob’s vision when he talks about Nathaniel seeing “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” Jesus seems to be claiming that he is the ladder, the connector between heaven and earth.
“Son of Man” is important too.
In the Old Testament book of Daniel, after we hear about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery furnace, and after we hear about Daniel getting thrown into the Lion’s den, we are told that Daniel had some intense visions. In chapter 7, Daniel tells us about one of these visions,
“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed” (Daniel 7.13-14).
Jesus is taking these two powerful images from scripture, “angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man,” applying them to himself to make a claim about who he is.
NT Wright, a really helpful Bible teacher writes about this passage, “[This] seems to be a tight-packed and evocative way of saying: ‘Don’t think that all you will see is one or two remarkable acts of insight, such as you witnessed when I showed you I knew about you before you even appeared. What you’ll see from now on is the reality toward’s which Jacob’s ladder, and even the Temple itself, was pointing like a signpost. If you follow me, you’ll be watching what it looks like when heaven and earth are open to each other …” (NT Wright, “John For Everyone” pp. 18-19).
Jesus is claiming he reveals, expresses, and mediates God’s presence.
These are big claims.
These are some of the big claims of the gospel – if we want to know what God is like, look at Jesus … if we want to know what life looks like in God’s presence, look at what is happening around Jesus … if we want to know where to find God, look at Jesus.
In this passage, we see claims about who Jesus is – Lamb of God, Teacher, Messiah, the one Moses wrote about in the Law … the one the prophets wrote about, Son of God … King of Israel, Son of Man. Jesus embodies God’s presence and expresses God’s will. We see claims about what it means to be one of Jesus’ disciples … it means to respond to that invitation, that call to follow Jesus … to “Come and see” for ourselves.
The invitation Jesus gave to John’s disciples … that invitation Philip gave to Nathaniel, “Come and see” … that is the invitation the gospel extends to us … “Come and see Jesus for yourself.”