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I’ve always been intrigued by the conversation that Jesus had with Nathanael. In just a few minutes Jesus turned a skeptic into an ardent follower. How did He do this? Here are a few thoughts…
He chose words that provoked curiosity and questions (vs 47-48) – Jesus didn’t seem to be big on small talk. He generally cut to the chase pretty quick. We can presume that Jesus knew that Nathanael was not only skeptical but somewhat belligerent towards him. And who could blame him. Nathanael was passionate about what he believed. He had probably experienced a lot of disappointment as other Messiah wannabes came and went. And now, seemingly, the wool had been pulled over the eyes of his friend Philip. Interestingly, Jesus did nothing to try to build a case for Himself. He made no claims on His own behalf. Rather, He made a statement that changed Nathanael’s stream of thinking. He said something about Nathanael instead of something about Himself. And what He said engaged Nathanael and opened up, rather than shutting down, conversation.
When we have gospel conversations with people are they “seasoned with salt”? Do people want to dialogue with us about faith issues because we demonstrate genuine interest in them and what they believe – as opposed to just trying to make a point. We need to work hard at choosing words that provoke curiosity and deeper conversation.
He was a student of people (vs 48-49) – Unbeknownst to Nathanael Jesus had been studying him. There are some interesting verses in the Older Testament, that I suspect both Jesus and Nathanael were familiar with:
“Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite his neighbor to sit under his vine and fig tree, declares the Lord Almighty.” (Zechariah 3:8-10)
Sitting under the fig tree is tied very closely in this passage to a Messianic prophecy (see also Micah 4:4). Jesus had his eye own Nathanael before Nathanael was ever introduced to Jesus. He knew the longings of Nathanael’s heart – his longing for the true Messiah to come and rescue, to come and redeem, to come and restore His people to freedom. Jesus’ simple observation cut straight to the core of Nathanael’s being, pierced his heart, and transformed his life. From this point on he would never be the same again.
If we were to study people closely we would find that everyone has this same longing. An ache in their heart for rescue, redemption, and restoration. Most people medicate this ache in the wrong ways – like taking cold medicine when the problem is a broken bone. Our mission, as bearers of the gospel, is to point people to Jesus as the only true and lasting remedy for the sickness of their soul.
He offered hope (vs 50-51) – In verse 51 Jesus gives a clear allusion to Genesis 28:12 and the story of Jacob’s dream. Again, this is a story Nathanael would know by heart. In the story, God makes this promise to Jacob (aka Israel): “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I have promised.” The promise of this hope to Jacob would not have been missed by Nathanael. As a “true Israelite” and as one who was holding on to this promise from God, Nathanael saw in Jesus the fulfillment of hope.
People need hope! When people have hope it is amazing what can be accomplished. It is when people are hopeless that they live lives of desperation – and the result is often abusive and criminal lifestyles. We are to be hopegivers because we have been given a great and glorious hope in Jesus.
Next Week’s Passage: John 2:1-11