"Come And See"

January 1, 2006
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
John 1:43-51

Come And See

1. In today's passage of scripture, it is written that Philip first came across* Jesus. No, [wait,] to put it more accurately, Jesus came up* to Philip. Then he said to him, "Follow me." The text says that Philip was of the same town as Andrew and Peter who were already both disciples. Through these connections Philip may have already heard of Jesus. But then, Philip hears Jesus' own words of invitation here and begins to follow him with his own feet. So, he becomes convinced [Jesus] indeed is the messiah.

2. Philip was filled with joy that he had met* the messiah and so he couldn't wait to tell someone else. He told Nathaniel when he met him, "We have met the one about whom Moses has written in the law and about whom the prophets have also written. He is from Nazareth, he is Jesus the son of Joseph." All excited, Philip tells him that this one called Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the messiah to whom the Old Testament points.

3. Even though he is filled with joy and speaks totally excitedly, the other guy is not necessarily going to share in his feelings. Nathaniel's reaction to Philip's statement is cold. Nathaniel answers, "Will anything good come from Nazareth?" Of course, as a person living in the traditions of Israel he too had definitely been living waiting steadfastly in hope for the messiah. But, being from Nazareth had become a stumbling block because it was no more than a small town in Galilee that had no important position of any kind in Israel's history and traditions. The messiah could never come from a place like that! Nathaniel wouldn't believe that the messiah was native to Nazareth.

4. After that Philip said, "Come and see." Philip was sensible about it. He didn't waste time explaining about Jesus of Nazareth. He refused to make the truth clear by debating. Philip met [Jesus]. Therefore, what Nathaniel needs is not explanation, but encounter*. Were he just to debate about Jesus of Nazareth, no meeting would ever come out of it even after having debated it for a hundred years. What does he [really] need [to do]? "Come and see." The important thing [for him to do] was to step out on his own feet and go, and then to "see" for himself.

5. The same thing could be said about us here [right now]. "Going" is action. We need to take action. We all moved our feet to church. That's an action. So now also, "seeing" is experience. After the action there is the experience. We're not assembling together just to always "study" and "debate" about Christ. We're meeting to worship. We are going to Christ, we are praising, we are praying -- we are actually putting ourselves into the experience of going up to Christ personally. [We] have an encounter right there, indeed. [We] have an encounter with the Lord. That's how the world of faith is.

6. Nathaniel accepted Philip's recommendation. Even though he had some doubts, he went to meet Jesus anyway. On the other hand, what did Jesus do when he went out to meet Nathaniel the way he was? When Jesus met Nathaniel who came up to him with his skeptical glances and who came up to him with an attitude that was filled with the disdain to say, "Will anything good come from Nazareth?," [Jesus] said this about him. "Look. [Nathaniel is a true Israelite. There is no deceit in him," (verse forty-seven).

7. Surprised, Nathaniel asked, "How do you know me?" Whereupon the Lord replied, "Before you were being spoken to by Philip, I had seen you when you were under the fig tree." When Nathaniel had heard this statement, -- perhaps he laid himself prostrate before Jesus -- he said, "Rabbi, you are the son of God. You are the king of Israel." A huge transformation had taken place within him. The statement from Jesus had gripped him. In this manner then, he had come to encounter Jesus. What in the world did he hear in Jesus' words, and what kind of meeting did he experience?

8. "Look. [Nathaniel is a true Israelite." Immediately after we hear that statement, Nathaniel replies, "How do you know me?" From this conversation, we see that to a certain extent Nathaniel had been living proud and self-conscious of his being a true Israelite and his being of the true people of God. Most likely, he had been dealing with the law since a toddler, had been nurtured in the traditions of Israel, and had been living with a high regard for those traditions. Therefore, he showed opposition to the statements in which he heard of "a messiah who had come from Nazareth" which had absolutely no ties to those traditions.

9. But, it was also clear to Nathaniel that Jesus was not speaking about external matters, of merely whether or not his words had been accurately observant of the law. The things Jesus said went beyond that. The Lord said, "There is no deceit in him." The statement, "he has no deceit," is not a light one by any means. Having deceit or not having deceit has to do with deep internal matters. Any number of people can behave on a superficial level seemingly like "a true Israelite." Therefore, by including even the things that pertain to the heart, and to state that "This man is a true Israelite. He is of the people of God," or even to be spoken to in such a manner is not a small matter for a Jew on any account. Jesus' statement was truly an outright claim that "I really do know everything that is in this man's heart. I really do know the true way this man is."

10. In reply to that statement, Nathaniel asked, "How do you know me?" His answer was, "Before you were being spoken to by Philip, I had seen you when you were under the fig tree."

11. To begin with, he came here [to this point] because he was told by Philip, "Come and see." Therefore, he did go to Jesus in order to "see" for real. But, what he had found out then was that before he himself saw [anything of Jesus], no -- wait, more than that, before he even gave any thought to trying to see, Jesus was "seeing" and had his eyes on him.

12. Jesus said, "I had seen you when you were under the fig tree." We're not sure what being "under a fig tree" might stand for. But, it must have been a special time of some kind for Nathaniel. It was a special time of some kind, such that he was startled after [Jesus] stated as fact, "You were under a fig tree, were you?" Some say underneath fig trees was also a place of prayer. He may have been in prayer. He may have been praying laden with matters he couldn't share with anyone, things he couldn't tell to anybody. Whatever the case may be, only the real Nathaniel himself knew. That much we'd expect. But, there was Someone affixing his eyes on this same Nathaniel. That [Someone] knew him.

13. This was his encounter with the Christ. That's how it was when he met with Jesus. It's a meeting with the One who has known us before we knew [him]. That still happens to us, even now in church.

To See Greater Things

14. Then, the Lord went on to say some more. "Because I said that I saw you under the fig tree, you believe? You will come to see greater things," (verse fifty). What did [he] mean by these greater things!? The Lord described the great things as follows. "I am clearly telling you. You [all] will see the heavens open, the angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man," (verse fifty-one).

15. Please observe here that he doesn't say "You [singular] will see," but that he said, "You [plural] will see." It doesn't seem that just Nathaniel was to have a mystical experience individually. All the disciples would see it. No, if we go further on this, even the readers of the gospel are included in this "you." In other words, when we read on through this gospel, we too will also come to see "The angels of God ascending and descending upon the son of man (namely, Jesus Christ)." What in the world is this supposed to mean!?

16. In order to understand this statement from Jesus, I would like for us to take a look at the Old Testament story that is believed to be the background to it. It is the episode of Jacob, an ancestor in Israel, which is written in Genesis chapter twenty-eight and beginning in verse ten.

17. Jesus said about Nathaniel that "This man is a true Israelite. He is of the people of God," but the man Jacob an ancestor of Israel was truly filled with deceit. The stories are written in the text before it that he tricked Esau his brother, he tricked his elderly father, and he stole [both] the blessing which the eldest son [should] receive and the rights of the eldest son. Before too long as the elder brother found out that he had been deceived, he became enraged, and he came to the point of thinking about killing Jacob. Nothing has changed way back then or even now. Ugly family quarrels there will be. When Jacob felt his life at risk, he obtained his mother's help and fled to Haran, his mother's hometown. What is written here in this text is the events that occur along the way.

18. The sun soon fell and the area around him was wrapped in darkness. He lied down upon the ground all alone and he took a stone and used it for a pillow. He was miserable. He was truly miserable. After cheating for the birthright of the eldest son, he says what did [I] get [myself] into? What remained in his hands was only the results of [his] sin. He lied down in the darkness consumed with regret for the past and worries over the future. But, he "sees" a dream there. "A staircase, where the top reaches to heaven, stretches to the earth, and what's more, the messengers of God are going up and down on it," (verse twelve). Then, he hears the voice of God. "Look. I am with you," (verse fifteen). Jacob wakes up from his sleep and cries out, "Even though the Lord is truly in this place, I didn't know it."

19. Reaping the consequences of his sin, he was in misery and isolation. But, he saw a staircase from heaven stretching right down to the bottom of his despair. It wasn't a staircase stretching to heaven. It was a staircase stretching from heaven to earth. That angels were going up and down upon it meant that God was working even right there for him. It said he did not abandon him. Then, God said to Jacob, "Look. I am with you."

20. The background to Jesus' statement has this story to it. To sum it up by putting it another way, the Lord said, "You also will soon see the events of which the scriptures speak." And what happened? Certainly, Nathaniel, the disciples and we who are reading this do make it to "greater things." It's true. We will soon make it to the cross. We will see it. When we look up, there is the Christ shedding his blood as an atonement for our sins. Because of Christ's cross, the sin that separates God and human is taken away. Heaven is opened, a staircase from heaven to earth is stretched. You might say that Christ became the stairway with his body that stretches from heaven. While before the Christ, a person hears God say to him or her, "Look. I am with you." That, indeed, is "the greater things" spoken of by Jesus.

21. Please try to put yourself in Nathaniel 'splace. He may have certainly thus far lived feeling like "I am a true Israelite." But, when it was said by Jesus "There is no deceit in him," he couldn't help but ask himself, "Am I really like that?" Then his following Jesus and his walking with him must have been a walk in which he truly did ask himself that question all the time. Then, when Jesus was arrested, he couldn't keep from fully denying the Lord's words. -- Because Nathaniel also abandoned Jesus and fled away. But, the same [Nathaniel certainly did see something greater. Nathaniel also saw the staircase that stretched from heaven to even Jacob who was full of deceit. Therefore, he could continue being a disciple. It was the same way for the rest of the disciples as well.

22. Earlier I stated that an encounter with Christ is an encounter with the One who has had his eyes on us, who knows even the very inner depths of our hearts, before we knew [him]. But, if that was all there was to it, we might say that was very frightening because while before his gaze [our] superficial patches will hold no water. But, an encounter with Christ is not just that alone but comes with something greater than that. Anyone lead by the words "come and see" and seeks for Christ will meet the Christ who was crucified for us. There he or she will find out that heaven is opened and God is with him or her.

*Translator's Notes: Whether I translated it as "come across," "come up," "meet," "meeting," or "encounter" it is all the same Japanese root verb or noun, 出会う / 出会い deau / deai.