Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael | Week 4

It’s so good for us to be together, to worship God, Amen, and to look at God’s word and learn from it together. I’m really excited about the journey we’re on in the Ministry of Jesus. And what we’re doing is we’re slowly going through all the gospel stories, and we’ll read a short part of it and dive deep into it. This may take us two to three years to go through the gospel stories of Jesus, and I’m excited to do it. My name is Joe Stearns. I’m one of the ministers, one of the elders on staff here, and I want to welcome you if you are visiting. We are so glad to have you with us. Now, Mike already mentioned the discovery class, but this is a resource for you. If you’re visiting with us, if you’d like to 15 minutes after this Church service is over in this wing, we’re going to have a discussion on these two things, the journey of faith, your journey of faith. We have a Bible lesson, and we hope it’ll help you with that. And then if you want to get more connected with the Broward Church or even look into how to become a member of the Church, we talk about those things also in the class, so I hope you’ll take advantage of that.


So let me share with you about today’s message. The first thing we’re going to do is we’re going to read our Bible text for today. And today we’re going to do something a little bit unique. Since we’re only in the third or fourth lesson of this two or three year journey, I wanted to take some time to give us Bible context on the story of Jesus by talking about the world of Jesus that he lived in, what the physical world was like. And so we’re going to be talking about things like the geography of the area, the climate of the area, the ethnic cultures and subcultures, politics in that area, oppression, military oppression in that area. We’re just going to touch on those things just to get a feel for the Bible story of Jesus. We hope to take you from a place where you can’t really relate to what it’s like to be in the world of Jesus, to where you can more easily put yourself into the story and identify with what’s going on. And then the second half of the message today, we’re going to look more closely and do a deep dive into a short story of Jesus, Philip and Nathaniel.


Before we get into the message, I just want to let you know I’m going through something personally. And so if you say a quick, silent prayer for me, I’d appreciate it. But last night at 11:00, my father, who was also named Joe Stearns, passed away. He passed away of COVID related pneumonia, among other things that he had going on. He was 83 years old, so I think he’d be proud of me to preach anyway. Just saying. Let’s get into the scriptures. Let me put on my reading classes because I ain’t that young either. 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 Nathaniel 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? Nathaniel asked. Come and see, said Philip. When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said to him, Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. How do you know me? Nathaniel asked. Jesus answered, I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.


Then Nathaniel 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. Then he added, Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven open and the Angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man. So that’s our reading for today. And we’re going to circle back to it, but we’re going to talk about the physical world of Jesus and the twelve Apostles, because this is the first big, significant physical move that we’ve had in this series that we’ve started. We have Jesus deciding to leave where he is, which is at the Jordan River in an area called Perea at the Dead Sea. And he’s going to travel up to Galilee. So we’re going to show that same map that Tony has used the last couple of times. And it’ll get a sense of what’s going on here. Jesus is down here at the Dead Sea, and he’s going to travel up the Jordan River Valley to the Sea of Galilee to Bethsaida. Shane did that. Pretty cool, huh?


So here’s what I’d like to do. I would like to start talking about this world that they lived in. And the first thing I’d like to let you know is that Israel is remarkably similar to Palm Beach, Broward and Dade County. Although this is not perfectly to scale, it’s close to scale. If you were to go from Jupiter to Florida City, it’s 122 miles. If you were going to go from Dan at the north end of Israel to Beersheba at the Southern end of Israel, it’s 157 miles. Israel is about 20% bigger than Dade, Broward and Palm Beach County. So that kind of gives you a sense of how much land Jesus was covering as he traveled to different places in Israel. When he makes this journey, let’s see. Oh, that’s too soon. When he makes this journey from the Dead Sea up to the Sea of Galilee, he’s walking 80 miles. Now, we believe Jesus walked everywhere, because the only time we have a record of him riding a donkey. What did he do? He borrowed it. And so we believe that Jesus and all his disciples, they weren’t riding horses or camels or donkeys.


They were on foot the whole time. Now I do want to Zoom out and talk about the land of Israel as a whole. Now, this is the Mediterranean Sea, and over here is Israel. Israel is a small country on the Eastern edge of the Mediterranean Sea. And what you see here is this is Europe. Here’s the Boot of Italy. Here’s Greece, modern day Turkey. Israel’s right here to the east of that is all of Asia, and to the south of the continent of Egypt. I just wanted to point out some meditations that I’ve had on this fact. God decided to put the Messiah at the intersection of the three major continents of the world in the ancient days. So if you were in Europe and you wanted to travel to Africa, you had to go through Israel. If you were in Africa and you wanted to go to Asia, you had to pass through Israel. I think God was planning this all the way back to the days of Abraham when he called Abraham from Er and took him on a journey of about 5-600 miles to move him to the crossroads to right in the middle of the world.


And a meditation I’ve had on this is this makes Jesus not European, it makes him not Asian, and it makes him not African. So that no one geographical area except the Middle East can claim Jesus as their own. And I think it more easily opens the door for all of us to claim Jesus, for him to be all men’s Messiah, all men’s savior. That’s what we have going on here. And I also think you know how God is. He’s always accomplishing a lot of things all at the same time. This makes it so much easier for the gospel of Jesus Christ to spread to Europe, to spread to Asia, to spread to Africa, because it started right in the middle of it all, and that’s God working in time. So this is the map we’ve been looking at. I want to talk some about politics and about culture. So the north here, this map here is represented again in this map to the right, but it’s done with political subareas. So in the north, you have Galilee. Galilee was Jewish. In the middle, you have Samaria. Samaria was not Jewish. We’ll come back to that.


And in the south, you have Judea. That was Jewish. Parea was Jewish. The Decapolis sometimes was Jewish, sometimes it was not Jewish. But in the days of Jesus, it was not Jewish. And the Decapolis was unique because it opened itself up to the people in that region to Greek and Greco-roman, Greek and Roman culture. They were Hellenists. So a lot of these cities had, like the Roman baths. They would have arenas for sports and those kinds of things. And the Jews, basically in the days of Jesus, decided, we don’t live in the Decapolis, we don’t want to be there. That’s not our land. Although there were some Jews who lived in this area, they were Hellenists. They’d given into Greek Greco-roman culture. The Samaritans, regretfully, is our best Bible example of sinful racism. Because what you have here is you have a people group that is Jewish blood and Gentile blood mixed, and even their religion, they claim to worship the same God as the Jews, but they did it at a different temple and in a slightly different way. So the Jews, rather than being kind to these people, completely, utterly rejected them, despised them and looked down on them.


And so, for example, as Jesus makes this journey from the Dead Sea up to Galilee, he’s probably going to take the path that all the Jews took all the time. And that is they would not walk through Samaria. They would walk around it because they didn’t want to go through it. And so they would go down to the Jordan River Valley to go north and south along here, the flat Jordan River Valley and go around Samaria. So all of this land is Israel, but it’s controlled by the Romans. And the Romans were oppressive, but they were extra oppressive with the Jews because the Jews were very rebellious. The Jews really hated being ruled by the Romans. Now, here’s the thing that I want to show you about Galilee. When Peter, who’s from Galilee, when Jesus is crucified and Peter goes into a courtyard, it says this, after a little while, those standing there in the courtyard went up to Peter and said, surely you’re one of them. Your accent gives you away. And so what we see is this part of Galilee in the north is more rural than Judea in the south. So the Judeans in the south, more educated, more sophisticated, more urban.


This was kind of like the heart and soul of the Jewish nation. And this is where the Jewish temple was in Jerusalem. So Galilee, it’s kind of flipped. Like in the United States, you have like in the North East, you have the New Yorkers, you have Boston, and you have those accents.


A lot of people Southerners don’t get too offended here.


A lot of people in the Northeast or in the North Midwest would consider people from the south a little bit more backward, a little bit more uneducated, a little slower, hopefully not until I know this is working you up. I see. In Israel, north and south was flipped. The New Yorkers were down here.


The Rednecks were up here.


And I’m sort of not kidding. That really was how it was. So when you went around Samaria, you were going into a very genuinely Jewish area. As a matter of fact, there was a concentration of Pharisee schools in the Capernaum Curraise and Bethsaida area, but people in the south still felt that way about you. You’re kind of like the farmer from the sticks. Glad to have you here. That was kind of the attitude of the area. So I’m going to take this map and we’re going to move to an illustration of topography, which is Hills and valleys that’s oriented like this. And so what you’re going to be looking at is kind of taking this and if you’re up on a satellite or a jet airplane or whatever, you’re looking down on Israel from the southwest, looking northeast. And here’s the topography of Israel. So here you have the Mediterranean Sea shore of Israel, modern Tel Aviv. Ancient Caesarea drop us down here, modern day city of Haifa. Here’s Mount Carmel, where Elijah called down fire from heaven 700 years before. This area right here, which is today, is called the Gaza Strip, especially the Southern part.


This is the Gaza Strip. It’s flat, but it’s sloping. It’s sloping up to a mountain range. You can see this mountain range goes all the way up the spine, the middle of Israel. It’s not as high as the Rocky Mountains. It’s not even quite as high as the Appalachians. The highest mountain is up in Galilee at 4000ft. You can always find Jerusalem on a map because if you go to the top of the north side of the Dead Sea, make a left turn and go west 20 miles, you’re in Jerusalem. So Jerusalem is right here. Jerusalem is at 2500ft above sea level. Now, a remarkable thing about this topography is the Sea of Galilee down to the Dead Sea is the lowest place on Earth, I mean, except for ocean bottoms, but it’s the lowest place on Earth where people can live. Excuse me. So it’s almost like God took his finger, gouged it into the Sea of Galilee and dragged a ditch down to the Dead Sea. Because the Sea of Galilee is 765ft below sea level all the way down to the lowest place in the entire globe, the Dead Sea, which is over 1,100ft below sea level.


The only reason the ocean doesn’t fill this up is because this mountain range blocks the ocean from coming in there. So when Jesus or anybody was going to leave Jerusalem and go up to Galilee, return home like after the Passover or the day of Pentecost. As they travel, you could probably get on a skateboard and start riding down here and never have to push off cause you’re going 20 miles down to Jericho from 2500ft above sea level to 1100ft below sea level, which means that walk of the story of the Good Samaritan, the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, is a very steep and difficult climb. This is the world that Jesus lived in. A lot of walking, they were probably in great shape. This is just the world they lived in. And if you can handle a little more bible trivia, I want to talk about weather. So how much does the climate change in Dade, Broward and Palm Beach?


But you didn’t know this.


It rains more in Dave County than it does in Broward, but the difference is not significant. In Dade County, Broward County, Palm Beach County, vegetation, the amount of rainfall is all pretty much the same feel. In the same amount of area in Israel it is not that way at all. It’s very dramatically different. So here’s the Dead Sea, Here’s Jerusalem. You’ll notice from the colors that every two or 3 miles, the amount of rainfall to the east drops dramatically, so that this area right here in the dark color here is very dry, bone dry desert. And yet if you go out of Jerusalem to the west and particularly to the northwest, it gets a lot more green dramatically and quickly, so that if you’re up in Galilee, it’s great farm country. And right here, this area right here is called the Jezreel Valley, also the Jezra Plain and the Jezra Plain and the Gaza Strip flat area. Those are the breadbaskets of the nation of Israel. That’s where all the food is grown. So that’ll give you a sense of the land there. Now here’s a photograph of the Kidron Valley. Now, the Kidron Valley is the Valley between the Mount of Olives where Jesus watched Jerusalem, and Mount Zion, where the Temple of Jerusalem rested.


It’s a narrow kind of deep Valley, and you can see it’s not lush green like Florida, but it has a lot of green in it, and that’s right in Jerusalem. Now, the next Photo I’m going to show you is 20 miles east, and you can see it’s bone dry, bone dry. And probably when Jesus was driven by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tested by Satan, which Tony covered this month, it was probably like this. All Jesus had to do was make a right turn in Jerusalem and go five or 10 miles, and he’s in dreadfully, stark desert. This mountain, by the way, 20 miles from Jerusalem, is at the settlement of Kumran. This is the mountain where they found the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1947 and 1948. And all the little black marks you see on the mountain are cave openings. And that’s the nature of this area. That’s why when David was fleeing from King Saul for your Bible scholars out there 1000 years before this, this is where this is the area probably what we know because they name En-Gedi, which is further south, but they could hide from King Saul, and a lot of like, revolutionaries or rebels would go into this wilderness to hide.


This is also the area, obviously, where that group called the Essenes, which we don’t have time to talk about today, but the writers of the Dead Sea Scrolls went to get away from civilization to this area right here. So I hope that that’s helpful. So now let’s kind of go back to where we were starting and begin to get into the text of what we were talking about.


We’re going to go up to the north and the south of the sea of Galilee. Now, this is divided culturally and ethnically. Also, if you’re on this side, the west side of the sea of Galilee. This is a Jewish area, and it’s rich in Jewish history, and it’s rich in Jewish Pharisee schools. Like, there’s really a strong headquarters of Pharisees. At least I heard one commentator talk at length about that. The east side of the sea of Galilee was no man’s land for a Jew. There was even a commentator, a Jewish commentator in what they call the Talmud who said that people at Galilee should not even think of or speak of the east side of the sea of Galilee. In other words, the Jewish people over here were like, we’re not going there. We’re not thinking about that place. That’s not our world. We have nothing to do with it. And so what’s really interesting is this is a small area. The sea of Galilee is only 8 miles wide at the widest and twelve to 13 miles from the top to the bottom. So when Jesus left Capernaum and he went over to this side to heal the demoniac, it was surreal for the disciples for several reasons, not just the demoniac and how creepy that was.


But they were going into an area that they felt religiously they could go, but they shouldn’t go. They should not be there. It wasn’t straight up forbidden, but it was beginning to mix with the Gentiles, and they weren’t comfortable with that. Now, this area right here, Bethsaida to Chorazin and Capernaum, this is where, as Tony mentioned last week, at least seven of the Apostles of Jesus came from, perhaps all twelve of them. This was their hometown. As a matter of fact, there’s scriptures that indicate that Simon Peter was from Bethsaida and scriptures that indicate that Simon Peter was from Capernaum. That’s not a contradiction. This whole area is less than 5 miles from each town to the other. Probably they had their families scattered around this area. It was all one big fishing village area. Now, listen to this scripture in light of the geography you just learned. Woe to you Chorazin and woe to you Bethsaida. For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and Ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you.


And you Capernaum, will you be lifted to the heavens? No. You will go down to Hades. Listen to this, Woe to you Palm Beach. Woe to you Broward County and you Dade County. Do you think you’re getting out of this? Do you see what I’m saying? Like, now that you know, this was these guys hometown, hometown. Jesus healed a blind man in Bethsaida. Do you think the disciples knew him? They probably grew up with that blind man in Bethsaida in their midst. So I’m hoping that this is not just academic, but that will help us pull us into what we’re reading as we walk through the story of Jesus. Here’s a couple more things I want to show you. They dug up a boat in the sand at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee from the first century. This is called the Galilee boat. As you can see from the photos, especially the one on the right with people standing, you get a sense of how big the boat is. You could fit about, let’s say, twelve Apostles and a Messiah in that boat. And it wouldn’t be too much and it wouldn’t be too little.


It would be just ride for twelve men and a Christ.


Now this next thing I’m going to show you, and then we’re going to really jump in and dive deep into the text. The next thing I’m going to show you I have to apologize for. This is a home video. So in 2008, I took a 40 second home video of the Sea of Galilee. My daughter and I went to Israel in 2008 as tourists. I’m on a boat.


I did an awful job. There’s going to be Zoom in and Zoom out that might make you feel unsettled.


I’m sorry about that. The whole point of this is I want you to know what it looks like and feels like to be on the Sea of Galilee like Jesus was time and again with his disciples. I’m going to do running commentary. This is looking south. So as we turn and look to the east, you’re going to be looking straight you’re going to be looking straight at right there, that’s where he healed the demoniac. Now that’s called the Golan Heights today. And you’ll notice that it’s not flat with beaches. There are Hills- here’s the tourists sorry about this.


Say Hi to the tourists. All right. Now, this is the city of Tiberius, which is 2000 years old, but it’s still a modern city. If you look to the right, we’ll be looking north. And this is the area of Capernaum right there. That’s the feel. Okay. I hope you get a feel for and capture what it’s like to be on the Sea of Galilee. When you’re there, you’re never so far out that you can’t see land. You can see the land all around you. But it is, sure enough, a big Lake. So I hope these things have been helpful. I already commented on the politics of that area. So let us get into the scriptures now. So it’s halftime.


I don’t know if we need to stand and stretch. No, don’t do that.


So that’s kind of I hope that was helpful. Physical, political, cultural overview of the area. I was preparing this, and I’m like, this is so nerdy.


Like should I really?


Thank you, Tony. All right, so we’re going to spend just the next 15, maybe 20 minutes or so to finish up diving deep in a short story that has two really powerful messages that I can see in it. Philip found Nathaniel 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 excuse me, can anything good come from there? Nathaniel asked. Come and see, said Philip. Let’s talk about Nathaniel for a minute. Who is Nathaniel? Is he Bartholomew? Now, I know some of you are like, what? Where did that come from? But it’s actually, for example, the Catholic church’s position is Nathaniel was Bartholomew. And there’s actually a pretty reasonable argument, but it’s not an open and shut case. It’s not a fact. But there’s a pretty persuasive argument that I don’t have time to get into that Bartholomew and Nathaniel may have been the same person, and therefore Nathaniel was one of the twelve Apostles. The theory I lean towards, not that I’m some big scholar, but I really think Nathaniel was not one of the twelve and that he was just a faithful follower of Jesus, but not with the twelve.


One fact that a lot of people don’t know about the followers of Jesus, is Jesus had a lot more than twelve followers. Out of his large group of followers, he picked twelve guys to be extra close to him because the other people weren’t going away either. And so we even have an account of Mary Magdalene and a lot of the women that travel with the guys in a large band. There’s even a passage that says that some of the women helped support the Ministry of Jesus out of their own means. So there were times when, because of the boat, that Jesus could be alone with the twelve and have his other followers be away so we could concentrate on teaching the twelve. But as soon as he got back on land, he was back at it with a full group of disciples, maybe hundreds and hundreds following them all during his earthly Ministry. And so I think Nathaniel is a nod to those other followers. He didn’t get picked as a big leader, but he’s still a very faithful follower. Nathaniel was from Cana. We’ll come back to that and only in the Book of John at the beginning, at the end of the Book of John, as Nathaniel mentioned.


And I’m going to read the scripture right now at the end of Jesus’ministry, after Jesus had been raised from the dead. Here’s where we see Nathaniel again. After this, Jesus himself revealed himself again to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberius. That’s another name for the Sea of Galilee. He revealed himself in this way. Simon Peter, thomas called the twin Nathaniel from Cana. This is the only place where we know he’s from Cana of Galilee, Zebedee’s sons, that would be James and John, and two of his other disciples were together. So I just think a remarkable thing about Nathaniel was whether he was picked as a leader or not, he was faithful at the beginning and he was faithful at the end of Jesus Ministry. Now, I promise this is the last map. I want to show you something. Here’s, Cana. Here’s Nazareth. Here’s Nazareth. So the guy from Cana said, can anything good come from Nazareth? Well, these guys are neighbors. This is less than 10 miles. Maybe there was regional rivalry. Picture. Florida State, the University of Florida.


Is that unfair?


Okay, so, look, I just want to touch on this. Why did he say nothing good could come from Nazareth? One idea is that the Old Testament taught that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, not born in Nazareth. Now, unknown to a lot of people in Jesus’day, Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but he was raised in Nazareth. And so obviously Nathaniel, just meeting Jesus, may not have heard about that. That’s one possibility. It could be that what Nathaniel is saying is, could the Messiah be from Nazareth? But we’re not sure if that’s what he meant. Could it mean, like I just said, that there was a local rivalry or was there a bad reputation about Nazareth that we simply don’t know, that’s been lost to history. But maybe back in the day, in the first century, there was something bad that happened or something bad that the people in Nazareth did. And I read some commentators who speculated about different events in that area that could have been the guilty culprit event. Now, I want to add this. It could be also that God decided in this humility to have his son be born in a town of no account, just a regular town without any kind of special reputation.


By the way, I do think it’s really interesting that Jesus Ministry was on the lowest place on Earth. And I speculate that’s a nod of God to the humble circumstances that he wanted to exercise his power in Jesus rising up and saving the world. Now, there’s a conclusion of this and you may not like it. We don’t know why he said that, we just don’t know. We don’t know why I said that and I’m not saying that necessarily to be humorous and I’m not saying that to be irritating or frustrating. This is an important point with the story of Nathaniel and we’re going to come back to it again. Let’s read on. Philip found Nathaniel and told him, we have found the one the Messiah wrote about in the law and about whom the prophets wrote. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Joseph. Nazareth? Can anything good come from there? Nathaniel said. Nathaniel asked. Come and see, said Philip. This phrase, I’m not trying to be melodramatic. This phrase changed my life. I grew up going to Church off and on my family were not regular Church attenders, but we did go off and on sporadically.


And I knew growing up that if you were a follower of Jesus, you were supposed to share your faith. That just came with the deal. Like, if you want to be a true follower, you’re evangelistic. And I was baptized when I was twelve years old. I don’t look back on that baptism at twelve as my true baptism. I think my true baptism was when I was 18 years old, because my life changed when I was 18. But when I was twelve, I was baptized and I joined a middle school Ministry and I attended Church and we learned from the Bible. And some of my friends actually tried to share their faith. I felt utterly frustrated about sharing my faith. I’m 7th grade, 8th grade, 9th grade kid. I don’t know what to do. What am I supposed to do at the grocery store, open my Bible in the cashier line and start reading the Sermon on the Mount? Like, where do I start? Do I open the Bible with my friends all the time? It seemed to me that the efforts that I could think of would backfire, would be socially awkward, would be ineffective.


I didn’t want to find myself pushing the message of the gospel onto people. And then when I was 18, when I got baptized for real, it was into a campus Ministry where they taught come and see. And here’s what they told me. They said, just like Andrew did with Simon Peter, just like Philip did with Nathaniel. You can start sharing your faith by saying, come and see. And Tony talked about this last week. This is how the Church grows from day one with Jesus into the 21st century. If you want to know where to start in sharing your faith, say this. Come and see. And here’s what I mean. You can invite people to the Sunday Church. Please come and see our Church. If they want to stay home and watch the livestream, you can help that place. They come and see the live stream. If you’re part of a small group, you can invite people to come to your small group for a Bible discussion or even a social activity. And if you do want to study the Bible with people, you don’t have to push it on them. You can say, Are you willing to come with me and open up the Bible and look at it and take a look at it?


And so I want to encourage you to do this, to come and see. Because the question is, are you active in sharing your faith? Are you at this time active in sharing your faith? And without going into details, I do want to say this. I think the pandemic can slow us down, but it does not need to stop us. It does not need to stop us. We may have to adjust our methods, but we can still share our faith and spread the gospel. I hope this isn’t too intense to say, but when my dad died last night, there’s a scripture that came to mind, and it sounds harsh, but I hope you’ll take this in context. In Luke Nine, verse 60, Jesus said, Let the dead bury their own dead. But you go and proclaim. Hang on. You go and proclaim the Kingdom. Now I mourn my father’s loss. I’m the executor of his will. I’m going to be traveling up to South Carolina to take care of concerns. I don’t think Jesus is meant to be irresponsible or to be unloving to your family, but I do think the urgency that Jesus places on us sharing our faith is of the highest priority.


Do you see that? How could he say that to somebody? To let the dead bury their own dead? It was so that we could proclaim the Kingdom of God. I hope from this text we can be more motivated. Let’s read on. When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching, he said to him, Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit. How do you know me? Nathaniel asked. Jesus answered, I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you. Then Nathaniel declared, Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel. What’s happening here? What’s happening here is Jesus is miraculously making a private, intimate connection with Nathaniel that will utterly change Nathaniel’s life. Now, I believe that as Christians, we don’t have the full power that Jesus had. Can we know the secrets of the people around us? Not necessarily. But I do think we can begin to put people on a journey of having a private, intimate relationship with God the Father and Jesus the Son that Jesus was able to accomplish in one meeting. What happened under the fig tree? Something was important. I don’t think that what happened was, hey, man, I saw you sitting under a tree.


Oh, that’s cool. Not even remotely. Something was going on with Nathaniel personally that was very important. Here’s some ideas. Maybe he was grieving. Maybe he was thinking about important issues in his life. Maybe he was asking God for guidance on something. Maybe he was depressed. Maybe he was going through a crisis in his life. Maybe he was worried about his country under the oppressive rule of the Romans. Maybe he was worried about how he was making money or are not making money. The bottom line is, when Jesus said, I saw you, it’s not about the fig tree, is it? He’s saying, I saw you. I saw what you were going through. And it impresses Nathaniel so deeply that he believes he’s seen a miracle. Because what’s his response? His response is not even logical. Unless it was a miracle. He said, you are the King of Israel. You are the Son of God. Now what was really happening there? We don’t know. Let’s read on. 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.


Now, for those of you Bible scholars, what’s he telling Nathaniel the story of? Jacob’s Ladder. So we’re actually going to it’s just one slide here. We’re going to read the story of Jacob’s ladder that Jesus is referring to. Jacob, who lived 2000 years earlier, left Beersheba and set out for Heron. When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which 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. Why did Jesus tell him the story of Jacob’s ladder? Can you guess where I’m heading on this? Was it that he was saying, like, Jacob had a special moment with God, Nathaniel, you’re having a special moment with the Son of God? Was he saying, Nathaniel, this is giving you a future hope of eternal life that I am, that Jesus is the actual ladder. He’s the ladder up to heaven that Angels come up and down on? Or could he simply be saying, you ain’t seen nothing yet?


He’s like, you think that was awesome, telling you what you were doing under the fig tree. You follow me, you’re going to see things like you’ve never seen before. I’m going to start you on an adventure like you can’t even believe. The significance of Jacob’s Ladder we don’t know. Now, here’s what I get out of this. Jesus wants to make an intimate, personal connection with us. That’s private, that’s secret. He wants to know you better than anyone else knows you. This summer, I will have been married to Pam 40 years now. I hope it’s not boastful to say this, but I’m proud of my marriage. I believe God, with his principles and with the help of the Church, has blessed us with a good marriage. I know what Pam’s thinking most of the time. I don’t know what Pam’s thinking all of the time. I don’t know what it’s like to feel her pain. I don’t know what it’s like to feel her joy. I share it with her as best I can. I love Pam probably more than anyone else on the face of the Earth. And she loves me more than anyone else.


At least what I’m seeing. Jesus loves me better. Jesus loves her better than any human could love her. Jesus knows her mind better. He knows her heart better. He knows what she’s feeling better. You and I can have that with Jesus Christ. That’s the story of Nathaniel. We don’t know what’s going on with Nathaniel. We don’t know his personal problems. We don’t know all he’s been through. But you can tell, like electricity, jesus connected with Nathaniel. He’s like, I see you. I know you. And I want to show you things like you’ve never seen before. Listen to these scriptures about how God knows us and when you pray and when you pray, do not keep on babbling like the pagans that they think they’ll be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. For your father knows what you need before you ask him. Does God know what you’re going to pray? Well, then why pray? Because God loves the experience. He’s like, I know what you’re going to say. Let’s do it anyway, because that’s how he feels about you. It says in Matthew Ten, Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered, so don’t be afraid. You’re worth more than many sparrows.


And I want to share something with you. I hope this blows your mind a tiny bit. Let me read you this scripture because I think God is making it a two way street. Do you know the mind of God? Listen to this. The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, but considers them foolishness and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. This is the Holy Spirit. The person with the Holy Spirit makes judgments about all things. But such a person is not subject to merely human judgments. For who is known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him. But we have the mind of Christ. Am I saying we know everything that God thinks? Of course not. But what I am saying is that I believe God put the Holy Spirit inside us so that we could begin on the journey of knowing how God feels. Knowing how God thinks, knowing God’s priorities, knowing what God cares about. Because God not only wants an intimate personal relationship where he knows us, but he wants to build that bridge where we can have an intimate personal relationship with him.


So as we close out, I want to just share a couple more slides. Are you experiencing intimacy with God? Are you experiencing what Jesus was offering to Nathaniel? And if you’re not experiencing the intimacy with God that you want to have, whose fault is it? Is it yours or is it God’s? And so I want to bring this to you as a challenge. You can have intimacy with God. Listen to this last scripture, whoever has ears, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden Manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name on it, with a new name on it written, known only to the one who receives it. This is not a revelation too, this is a promise that when the judgment day comes and you’re saved, God’s going to figuratively or literally, we don’t know. Revelation is symbolic. But he’s going to have a connection with you that no one else can even relate to. It’s going to be your personal, specifically special connection. God’s going to rename every one of us just like he renamed Simon to Peter.


And so as we put what we learned here to practice, I want to close with a challenge. A life application challenge as we close. It’s a two part challenge. Number one, do your part to bring intimacy to your relationship with God. That’s the challenge I have this week. I want to encourage you this week to seek greater intimacy with God and just a few bullet points on that. I believe that’s often shown in how you pray, how you read the scriptures, your spirit of obedience and participating in the work of Christ are four of many ways where you can get a greater intimacy, a greater connection with God. And I want to encourage you to not just check off these things, but to do your life with Jesus. To do your life with his father with passion and with vulnerability. And the second part of the challenge is do your part to bring intimacy with God to others. Let’s practice, come and see. As we go to the Lord’s supper today, I want you to remember Jesus’s objective on dying on the cross. It says in Hebrews twelve for the joy set before him, he endured the what joy?


The joy of you and me and him being a close, deep, intimate relationship. Let’s pray to Him. Holy father, your love is so overwhelming that I know a lot of us can’t even open up our heart fully to it. Forgive us for that, father. And help us to be that vulnerable and that open Lord. To want to feel the great love that you have and to draw into the intimate relationship that you actually sacrifice on the cross for us to achieve. Help us to have that kind of heart and mind before you. We pray in your son’s name, amen.