This past week, I spent time reading over the story of Philip and Nathanael in John 1:43-51. This must’ve been a passage I skimmed through in the past, because it really sank in this go around.
For those of you not familiar with this story, let me set the stage. Jesus has begun his ministry by first selecting men to follow him. He comes across Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, asks him to follow him. Andrew proceeds to grab his brother, Simon Peter to follow Jesus as well. Stage is set. Jesus has his first two followers and leaves the next day for Galilee (northern part of the present day nation state of Israel). Along the way, he comes across a man named Philip. That is where our story begins.
We don’t necessarily know, from this specific passage, how Jesus found Philip; but we do know that Jesus “found Philip and told him, ‘Follow Me.'” Can you imagine if you were in Philip’s shoes? It explicitly states in this passage that Philip says “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law: Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” We can imply from this statement, that Philip is someone from a Jewish background that has heard of and has probably read the prophecies foretold about the Messiah in the Jewish Scriptures. So here is Philip. He’s heard about this Messiah for years and now he finally meets this individual. On top of that, Jesus asks him to follow him?!?! To put this in perspective in our modern day society, imagine you come across someone you’ve learned about your entire life. (I understand every analogy/comparison breaks down at some point because Jesus was prophesied about for thousands of years, so bear with me here). If someone like a George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, or Julius Caesar was walking down the street, mummified and all, ran into you and asked you to follow them, how would you respond? I can’t answer for you, but I would be freaked out because they are all dead. But once I got past that, I would be starstruck and begin to ask the question: “Why me? Why is this person asking me to follow them with all of their supposed prestige and status?”
Philip didn’t have time to think about how he was going to respond, but what he did next is significant. He went and told Nathanael, a close friend of his. In Philip’s excitement of being asked to follow Jesus, he couldn’t help but share this with a friend. Even though Nathanael was skeptical because Jesus was from Nazareth, it didn’t stop Philip from sharing who he had just met. Now, put yourself in Nathanael’s shoes. If a friend comes to you out of an excitement and wants you to experience what they have just experienced, you have two options: you can go with them or you can shut them down. What does Nathanael do? He goes despite his skepticism of this Jesus character.
When Jesus sees Nathanael and Philip walking towards him, he turns to the people he is with and speaks highly of Nathanael. When Nathanael overheard Jesus saying this, you can almost predict his response: “How do you know me?” Right?! Nathanael must’ve been thinking: “How does this Jesus character know anything about me? This is the first time we’ve ever met- I’m starting to be confirmed in my skepticism and this dude is just plain WEIRD.” But, calm and collected, Jesus responds by saying: “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Jesus saw Nathanael. Jesus sees me. Jesus sees you.
It is in this instance, that Nathanael believes. Yet, Jesus doesn’t settle for that; he must ask a question in response: “Do you believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this. Truly I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son.” DANG. Talk about checking the condition of you heart and your intentions. WOW. But Jesus wanted to know if Nathanael was really on board. It’s a common denominator throughout Jesus’ ministry: He wants people who are willing to follow him despite circumstances and despite all the miracles they have seen. He doesn’t want to be a celebrity or an icon that people are nominally following. He wanted and wants people that are all in.
So, what can we take away from this passage? First of all, I encourage you to read it! Whether you’re a follower of Jesus or not, God’s word can speak to you in many ways.
- Are we asking our friends to come and see like Philip did? We can’t ask people to come and see something that we’re not passionate about. We can’t ask people to come and see what hasn’t changed our lives. It starts with people that have experienced God’s grace, which is offered to all people, and continues by spending time with Jesus. According to John 15, I have to be connected to the vine. I am a branch and if I’m not connected to the main source of life in the vine, then I will whither and fade. If we are connected to Jesus through a relationship with him, then it should be an overflow of a lifestyle that involves us asking our friends to come and see Jesus. Some people will be skeptical and not want anything to do with him or with genuine Christianity. BUT! Are we willing to take a step of faith and ask our friends regardless of their response? If we care about people then we will care about what’s most important to us as followers of Jesus.
- Wherever you are in life, Jesus sees you. He sees you. He knows what’s going on the depths of your heart. He knows your every thought. Isn’t it easy to picture God, because of our life experiences, as a God that is so distant that he doesn’t care? Absolutely. But, we must remember that he sent his son, Jesus, to be fully God and fully man, so that he could experience this life and empathize with every single person. Jesus cares. He sees what’s going on and his heart breaks when we begin looking for fulfillment outside of the joy that is offered through a life fully devoted to Christ!
- Jesus wants to do incredible things in your life. Let me ask you something. Do you want to live a good, comfortable, safe life OR do you want to live a life where Christ is leading you to great things? Like Nathanael, Jesus wants us to experience the joyful life that is found only in him. He wants to do incredible things in each of our lives, but for each of us, that would require us sacrificing something in our life. I’m not sure what that thing(s) is in your life, but I can guarantee you that Jesus wants us to trust him and his promise that he wants to do incredible things in our lives if we let him.
When Jesus asks you to follow Him, how are you going to respond?