Friday, January 13, 2006

Fourth Pass at This Weekend's Bible Lesson: John 1:43-51

Here are a few more insights into the passage for this weekend's worship celebrations, these garnered from the New Interpreters Bible. Since this will be the Gospel lesson not only at our congregation, but at most Christian churches in the world this weekend, I hope that these notes help people prepare for worship.

v. 45: By quoting Philip as identifying Jesus as "Jesus, son of Joseph, of Nazareth," John surfaces the tension in the varied reactions to Jesus. That He was a human being from a particular place was clear. But, as mentioned in earlier notes on this passage, John has already called Jesus "the Word made flesh," that is, God in the flesh. John shows us that one of the reasons that people rejected Jesus was their inability to accept that He was both "true God and true man." (See also John 6:42 and John 7:42.)

v. 46: As we've pointed out before, Philip doesn't argue with Nathanael's skeptical response to P's proclamation of Jesus as the Messiah. He just reiterates Jesus' earlier invitation to him when Jesus said, "Come and see..." (John 1:39).

vv. 47-50: The New Interpreters Bible's (NIB) commentary on the balance of this passage is really interesting!

(1) The conversation between Jesus and Nathanael is the longest one in which Jesus engages in the whole chapter, the NIB notes.

In fact, it's my observation that all through John, Jesus is recorded as having long conversations with skeptics and disbelievers. Think of Nicodemus (chapter 3), the woman at Sychar (chapter 4), Jesus' fellow Jews who repudiate Him (chapter 6), and Thomas. (chapter 20)

Why does Jesus spend so much time with skeptics and enemies? Because every human being is important. Every person is a child of God for whom Jesus came into the world to die and rise. Jesus wants to draw all people to Himself. He wants all to live with God forever.

This says something to we followers of Christ about how much time we spend with believers and non-believers. We Christians spend way too much time in the easy, insulated fellowship of other Christians. Self-righteous and insensitivity grow in such a hothouse atmosphere! Jesus deliberately spent time with people who either didn't believe in God or didn't believe that He was God-in-the-flesh.

Christians need to spend more time "in the world," not to beat people over the head with Christ or the Bible. That isn't what God calls us to do!

But God does call us, like Philip to be with others in order to invite our fellow members of the human family to "come and see" the wonderful Savior Who gives life and eternity to all who follow Him!

(2) I love this insight from NIB:
"Jesus reveals the most about Himself to the one who expressed skepticism and doubt (cf. the Thomas story, 20:24-29)."
A thought that crossed my mind is that in two of Jesus' resurrection appearances recorded by John, Jesus also reveals more to "doubting Thomas" than He does to faithful Mary Magdalene (check out John 20). Mary, on the first Easter, you'll recall, showed up at the tomb to anoint Jesus' body and was horrified to see that His body was no longer in there. When she sees the risen Jesus, her first response is to grab hold of Him. He tells her not to do that, apparently indicating that we cannot capture Jesus for ourselves. Yet later, when He confronts the skeptical Thomas, Jesus invites Thomas to touch His wounds in order to verify that Jesus really is resurrected.

I think it's generally true even today that Jesus will give more evidence of His presence and His power to honest skeptics, those who want to believe but have been unable to do so, than to those who give Him no thought at all. There is no more earnest prayer that we can offer than that of the man in Mark's Gospel who told Jesus with absolute honesty. "I do believe; help my unbelief."

(3) The word Israelite appears in John only in verse 47. NIB says that the reason for its use is "to convey Nathanael's model faithfulness."

The NIB also claims, I think rightly, that Jesus' words to Nathanael are meant to recall Psalm 32:2:
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
(4) NIB's comments on v. 48 sort of "put me in my place." It says that speculation about the significance of the fig tree is "tangential to John's emphasis here." I agree, although I am intrigued by the symbolism in this Gospel so interested in symbolism.

What is important, NIB asserts, is that Jesus has a "supernatural knowledge" of Nathanael: "Nathanael correctly perceives Jesus' knowledge as an act of self-revelation and so comes to faith..."

This absolutely makes sense to me! The woman at the Sychar well told people, "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can He?" (John 4:29)

(5) NIB also points out: Nathanael's response to Jesus is more than witness ("This is..."). It is, rather, a confession ("You are..."). As I thought about this, I realized that the woman at the Sychar well witnessed about Jesus. But Nathanael confessed faith in Jesus.

(6) Jesus' words in v. 50 contain promise, not a rebuking condemnation, NIB points out. (They also make the Thomas connection, John 20:29).

(7) I've always called Jesus' words to Nathanael in v. 50 and those He speaks to Thomas in 20:29, Jesus' Al Jolson Response. Jolson was the song and dance man, first to appear in a talking motion picture, who told audiences, "You ain't seen nothing yet."

In these words to Nathanael, Jesus is telling this man who has just confessed faith in Him that this "is only the beginning point of his faith in Jesus."

How many Christians are stuck at the shallow starting point of faith and not living with Christ as the vital center of their lives each day? I suppose that we're all guilty of that. I know that I am...and probably most of the time.

But Christ wants so much more for us as believers in Him. He wants to have joy even in tough times and the capacity to do wonderful things that flow from a life of love for God and love for neighbor. But we settle for so much less than what Christ wants to give us. Jesus' promise to Nathanael is a promise for all of us. (More on this point in a moment.)

v. 51: (1) The phrase, "Amen, Amen" only appears in John's Gospel. The word Amen means truly. The double Amen appears twenty-five times in John's Gospel, NIB points out. This phrase, NIB says, marks what is said with solemnity and emphasis.

(2) Jesus' use of the second person plural, NIB says, means "that Jesus is speaking to a wider audience than Nathanael--i.e., also to the readers." So, the promise given to Nathanael is a promise for all who, like him, dare to follow Christ!

(3) Finally, NIB asserts that Jesus' words in v. 51 refer not just to Genesis 28:10-17, but also to Daniel 7:13. As Pastor Schein asserted (quoted here), it tells us that the "Son of Man" replaces the ladder. Jesus is the meeting place of earth and heaven, God and humanity, a time-bound world and eternity.

[Here are links to the first three passes at this lesson:


Rob said...

Nice content, you've got a lot of great stuff to say. Now all you need is a few hundred more readers. :)

Mark Daniels said...

Thank you, Rob. At present, the blog is averaging about 230+ hits per day. That's up from about 50+ a year ago. So, I'm gratified. Thanks for stopping by and for your comments!