43The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.” 44Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 45Philip 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.” 46″Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” 48″How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” 50Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” 51He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
We are again confronted with this man, this Jesus, who simply says, “Follow me.” He doesn’t say where he is going, or what he will be doing, or why he is going there (yet), or how he will get there. In fact, most of it he keeps a mystery. He said later, “You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come” (7:34). Yet Philip not only follows Jesus, but he goes and grabs up one of his buddies who happens to be enjoying an afternoon siesta under a fig tree saying, “We have found (discovered, eureka-ed!) the Messiah, the One Moses wrote about in the Law, the One the Prophets spoke of. Andrew had said to Simon, “We have found (discovered, eureka-ed!) the Messiah!” I sometimes wish evangelism were so easy! Then again, perhaps we try to make it far more difficult than it has to be. Perhaps it is as simple as saying, “Guess who I have discovered?”
Whatever else may be learned here, one thing I do know is this: Philip does not go to Nathanael unarmed. He went steeped in Scripture: Law and Prophets were on his mind and he knew who he was looking for because he knew who was written of (Philip recognized Jesus because he recognized Scripture). When he met the one who conformed to Scripture he knew he was on to Someone. Here’s another key point. People often say things like, “I can’t witness because I don’t know enough.” I say that is, well, junk. The only way, theologically speaking, to get to know Jesus is by spending considerable time in His Word. Philip made these deductions based on his reading of the Old Testament. How much more then should we be able to make the same deductions after reading the New Testament? Our problem is that too much fluff is spewed out of pulpits in the Church today. There is simply not enough (any?) thorough, biblical, theological exposition of Scripture taking place in American church pulpits. Is it because preachers cannot do so or will not do so? I suspect it is probably both. After all, we’d rather have a crowd listen to fluff than no one listen to Scripture. Right? Our problem is that we figure we can avoid testimony for Christ by avoiding the Scripture; so it collects dust on a shelf. But in truth, Scripture will not be avoided and if the church, the people who are the Body of Christ, does not return to Scripture I fear the church will be lost or destroyed. I hope it is not too late.
Nathanael is no dummy though: “I’ve heard about those ruffians from Nazareth. Brutes they are. Can anything good come out of there I wonder?” And all Philip says is the same thing John the baptizer said, “Come and behold!” So Nathanael goes and a dialogue takes place between Jesus and Nathanael after which Nathanael proclaims, “You are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!” All of this because Jesus knew where Nathanael took a nap each day! But then, who’s to say that Philip, steeped in Scripture as he was, did not take time to open Scripture to Nathanael on their way to follow Jesus? Nathanael makes a profound confession of Jesus to go along with John’s “Behold the Lamb of God, Andrew’s, “We have found the Messiah,” and Philip’s, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law…” Now we also have, “You are the Son of God; the King of Israel!” These four appellations paint for us a comprehensive picture of this person who keeps on saying, “Follow Me.” When Jesus finally speaks he refers to himself as “Son of Man.” Yet another dimension of Jesus’ person; and all terms that are rich with Biblical imagery and meaning. I dare say that if one is not sufficiently immersed and submerged in the Scripture of the Old Testament these titles, names, and identifying markers might lose a bit of their meaning; most of it.
Again I think you have to know your Old Testament to make sense of Jesus’ words about angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In short, they will not ascend and descend on a ladder or stairway as they did in Genesis 28, where we read of Jacob’s dream, but on Jesus. In other words, Jesus would be the bridge, or stairway, or ladder that bridges the gap between here and there. Or, better, Jesus himself is the Way between here and there. Jesus has replaced the ladder; Jesus is the ladder. There is no other way for angels, or men. Jesus has replaced the ladder. Jesus describes this, seeing angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man, as one of the ‘greater things’ that Nathanael will see. This is a bold statement; a radical pronouncement. This is simply off the hook. All of this, keep in mind, after Jesus said, “Follow me.” Who could resist? Who would be foolish enough?
Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Wayspeaks near the end about ‘other ways’ of following in this world or ‘other ways’ of achieving something in this world; other ways of achieving the goal or prize–ways out of sync with the Jesus Way. He speaks of the way of Herod, and Josephus and Caiaphas, men who embodied ways that would not cause a person or an angel to ascend to heaven. They were, by the world’s standards, massive success stories. By Jesus’ standards they were complete failures who led people exactly nowhere and Peterson assures us that we are fools if we do not dismiss these ways, these alternatives, as paths to hell. Peterson writes, “What stands out as we consider all these dismissed options is that following Jesus is a unique way of life. It is like nothing else. There is nothing and no one comparable. Follow Jesus gets us little or nothing of what we commonly think we need or want or hope for. Following Jesus accomplishes nothing on the world’s agenda. Following Jesus takes us right out of this world’s assumptions and goals to a place where a lever can be inserted that turns the world upside down and inside out. Following Jesus has everything to do with this world, but almost nothing in common with this world” (E Peterson, The Jesus Way, 270). This is what we are getting into when we follow Jesus. We will see great things, no doubt. But we must also be quite prepared to leave this world behind. No wonder one of the first teachings of Jesus in this book is a story about leaving this place and going to that place—and, better, the Only Way to do it: Through Himself.
So, who can resist? Who would be foolish enough?