“God With Us/Us With God”
John 1:50, “Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these.”
This morning, it would be impossible to say that we have seen all that we need to see. One of the surest ways for a man to fail to grow to his full potential is to think that he has “already arrived” in what he needs. The faithful disciple of the Lamb remains a student all his life. Once we think we have things figured out, we quickly find ourselves in the clutches of the devil’s devices, falling prey to his havoc. Unfortunately, the things that need to be seen and learned are pursued the least today. While various forms of entertainment and other vain jangling of the world attracts masses through its siren call, the bedrock institutions of God’s word and church are scoffed, dismissed, or ignored. While the Lord has blessed me to see great and mighty things thus far in my journey, I remain a student in the Master’s school, and my prayer for my future is that my mindset would not move from this position.
In this lesson, we read an interesting “back and forth” between a man by the name of Nathanael and Jesus. Nathanael has been gathered by Philip, and though probably with some doubts about this man Jesus that everyone is talking about (Verse 46), Nathanael goes to see Him. Upon arrival, Christ pays Nathanael a great compliment. He equates Nathanael’s life with that of moral uprightness and great honesty (Verse 47). Stunned by such an opening, Nathanael queries how Jesus could know him. After all, they have never met: or so he thinks. Christ then declares a knowledge of Nathanael’s private life by referencing an event under a fig tree. Now, I can tidily answer for the curious reader what exactly happened under the fig tree in the reference that Christ makes. It only takes three words. I don’t know. Though I have heard many theories about what this event was (some wilder than others), the main point is not what happened in this circumstance. The main point is that it was a situation that only Nathanael knew about, and the fact that Jesus tells him He is also aware and was there too was enough evidence to convince this doubtful – though upright – Jew that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah (Verse 49).
Our study verse is the tail end of this conversation between the two men, and Christ compares what Nathanael had just experienced to what he would later experience. In simple comparative language, Christ says that if Nathanael thought that Christ’s knowledge of the fig tree incident was great, just wait. It will get greater in the future. The distinction that Christ is making about Nathanael’s past experience and future expectation should give us some insight into our lives and what we hope for the future. Let us contrast the past fig tree experience with the future expectation of Nathanael’s life.
Nathanael learned something in this passage that Jacob learned in Genesis 28. The Lord is with us, even if we are not aware of it. His eye watches over us, and we are never outside of His faithful and loving gaze. The indication from the fig tree experience is that no one else save Nathanael was there, and he would have been positive that no one else knew what happened there – whatever it was. The fact that Christ knows it teaches Nathanael that this man is with him, even if his mind and spirit are not. In simple terms, God is with us, even if we are not with Him. We could say that being everywhere present and no where absent, God is always with everybody, but in the case of His children, He is with them specially. No matter the waywardness of the steps or how disobedient the behavior, His love for His own never wavers. He will never look at or say to one of His own, “I’m through with you. I’ve just had it up to here!” We should be supremely thankful that His love is perfect and unwavering to continue His faithful and loving care for us, even in the midst of our weakness and shortcomings.
The great thing to Nathanael was that His Lord and His God (now looking at him in fleshly form), was there all the time and saw everything. This should be a sobering thought to us. Years ago, I remember a sermon I heard preached when I was a young teenager. The minister said, “How would your life be if every step you took your father was attached to one hip and your mother to the other?” Plain and simple, my life would not have had some of the twists and turns that it took. Why? Mom and Dad’s presence would have kept me from some of the decisions that I made. How much more sobering should it be to us that our heavenly Father’s hand is upon us, and our Elder Brother’s hand is also upon us? Though sobering, how comforting should it be as well! Whatever the situation, He is there. No matter the problem, He is there. We many times focus on the greatness of the promise that He will never forsake us, but He will never leave us either. Though we may have to leave loved ones even though having not forsaken them (I am currently at this moment removed from my wife and children), God not only does not forsake us but never leaves us with His presence either.
What was going to be greater in the future? Christ plainly told Nathanael that he would see and experience greater things that what he had to this point. The difference was that though God was and still is with this man, this man would be with his Lord in body and spirit. By coming to where Christ was and then following after Him, he was able to witness and observe things that he knew at that moment were God’s presence with him. He had to be told after the fact of God being with him under the fig tree. He was going to see and know in the moment that God was with him in the future because he was with God. Nathanael observed many great things. In the next chapter a great miracle occurs of water being turned to wine. Christ would continue to bless and heal. Nathanael watched as Christ cleansed lepers, opened the eyes of the blind, and raised the dead. Equally great, Nathanael sat at the feet of the greatest minister to ever walk the earth and hear gracious discourses from the Master Teacher. On top of that, Nathanael witnessed and felt the hands of Christ upon his feet as his Lord knelt before him to wash those feet. Nathanael – like the rest – had ample evidence of the reality of who Christ was.
The reason Nathanael saw and experienced all these things was because he first of all heeded Philip’s invitation to “come and see” this great man. Secondly, he faithfully continued following Him after this initial meeting. Had Nathanael not gone with the invitation or not steadfastly followed Christ, God would have still been with him yes, but he would not have been with God. He would not have observed the wind and waves die immediately from three simple words, “Peace, be still.” He would not have been a distributor of a multitude of food that came from 5 simple loaves and 2 small fishes. He would not have had his own basket of fragments of mementos to recall to mind this great sight. So it is with us today friends.
Dear child of God, the Lord is always with you. Never let the devil convince you to heed his doubtful songs that God has forgotten you or does not care for you anymore. He is always there, and He always sees. (Hebrews 4:12-13) Your most private moments have not gone outside of his understanding. He was there too. He is in your head and heart and fully aware of all that goes on in both. Sometimes we can look back and come to realize, “Yes, He was there. Like Jacob, I didn’t know it. But without Him there then, I wouldn’t be here now.” I am living proof of this truth. Looking back on the folly of my youth, my life’s continuance is nothing short of a miracle. He was with me when I was the polar opposite of being with Him. However, I can also personally attest to the beauty and comparative greatness of being with Him.
Some might say, “But Nathanael was with Him in flesh on earth. I can’t do that!” Though we are not able to be with Christ physically like the 1st century apostles were, we have ample opportunity to be with Him nonetheless. Christ commends His sheep in Matthew 25 for doing many wonderful things to Him. When the confused sheep ask how that possible, Christ simply and plainly declares that doing it to one of the least of His is the equivalent of doing it to Him. Christ told His disciples on the night of that last Passover and first communion that He would eat and drink with them again in the kingdom of God. Though His flesh and blood is not on the earth, we should view every opportunity at communion as a time to put our feet under His table while His Spirit comes down to partake of the rich fellowship with us. By being with His people, helping one another, and faithfully presenting ourselves at His house, we are with the Lord.
Think of the great sights that can be seen when we faithfully follow the invitation to “come and see” and then faithfully follow after the life of a disciple. I have witnessed things in God’s house and with God’s children that are indescribable. Sometimes the Spirit can be so thick and powerful that heaven itself seems to be on earth. Sometimes the times of fellowship with God’s people in His house and in His service exceeds and overwhelms any experience I have ever had with natural blood. I can truly say as some of my forebears have said, “I’m closer with the people of God and His faithful than I am with my own blood kin.” While I love them yes, I have not seen the great sights that I have seen with the disciples of the Lamb. Like Nathanael, I can say that I have seen a small amount of food feed a great number, and I have been blessed as a minister to be a distributor on such an occasion. I have witnessed the storms and cares of life seem to disappear with His simple command and presence to still the house. I have witnessed great miracles of physical healing, but even moreseo, I have witnessed the great miracle that occurs when a broken spirit and burdened heart is bound up and cheered.
My life would be radically different were it not for the Lord’s word, His church, and the fellowship of His people. I have seen great sights. Yes, I can recall great things when He was with me, but the greatest events in my life came when I was with Him. Though the world continues to darken and crumble, being with Him should never be unfashionable for the Christian soldier. The cause is worth pursuing. The name is worth holding. The sights are breathtaking friends. May our steps, our hearts, our minds, and all that we are be found with Him. We are already in Him, and He is already with us. May we go to be with Him and dwell where He dwells. As Philip said, “Come and see.” (John 1:46) As the Samaritan woman said, “Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?” (John 4:49) As Abraham’s servant said, “I being in the way, the Lord led me to the house of my master’s brethren.” (Genesis 24:27b) I want to see him, and I want him to tell me all things. To do that, I need to be in the right way to faithfully go and steadfastly hold on to the house of my Master’s brethren.