John 1:43-51 God is near to those who are pure at heart
The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote —Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”
47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Jesus started his ministry by calling disciples in different cities. One particular disciple whom Jesus was particularly drawn to was Nathanael, a man without deceit. Jesus communed with Him by revealing His identity, a risky move only because Nathanael was pure at heart. Today’s passage shows us that God desires to be near those who are without deceit. A refreshing intimacy, an indescribable joy is reserved for us, if we would purify our hearts today.
And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.”
Jesus began the process of actively calling for disciples to follow Him. Only Jesus reserves the right to say, “Follow me” as He is the Son of God (image of God), the standard of righteousness whom all men are called to emulate. Jesus’ call was not an invitation but a command to follow after His ways and footsteps.
Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?
After Philip responded to Jesus’ call for discipleship, he wasted no time in telling Nathanael about his great discovery of the One of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote. Nathanael responded cautiously: Can any good thing come out of Nazareth? Nathanael was not expressing prejudiced against the city of Nazareth for there were no evidences of Nazareth being regarded unfavorably. Nathanael was probably surprised as he was unaware of any news or prophecies concerning the emergence of a great deliverer from Nazareth.
Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!
Nathanael followed Philip to meet Jesus and upon seeing Nathanael, Jesus commented, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Jesus had earlier taken special notice of Nathanael sitting under the fig tree as was his custom. What attracted Jesus’ attention was Nathanael’s heart of purity. Nathanael at the words of Jesus responded instinctively, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Nathanael through the spirit’s enlightenment recognized Jesus as Son of God, the King of Israel.
You will see greater things than these.
Jesus responded to Nathanael’s enlightened words by recalling the dream that Jacob had while running from his brother Esau: you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. What is the significance of this scene? Genesis 28:12 details the significance of Jacob’s dream as God spoke to him from above the ladder,
He (Jacob) had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” Genesis 28:12-14.
The Lord’s proclamation from above the ladder provided the interpretation of the dream. Essentially, God was pointing to the establishing of God’s kingdom on earth through Jacob’s seed (offspring): in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. As Jacob carried the seed of the promise, Christ is that seed that will establish the promise of Abraham whose offspring is as numerous as stars of the heavens and sands of the seashore. Jesus was in fact calling Nathanael to continue in his belief in Him through which he will experience the establishing of the kingdom and obtain Abraham’s promise.
The command “Follow me” involves shedding off all things that come in the way of the call. It is not possible to follow Christ without shedding off fleshly desires and denying our rights by releasing our most cherished possessions. “Follow me” involves emulating Christ’s lifestyle, reading His word and obeying His instructions daily. Many people tried following Christ but held onto their children, career, and lifestyle while relegating God to a low priority. They supposed by attending church services and by giving their tithes and offering would make them followers of Christ. Discipleship is not about committing to church activities, but a matter of the heart. Jesus taught His disciples, those who responded to His call the requisite to deny himself and his “privileges” in order to follow Him.
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26
Jesus’ teachings on discipleship run counter to the trend of churches that preach blessings as the center of the Christian life. Though such churches had the usual doctrines, but their spirit runs counter to the Spirit of Christ. Those who remain in such churches will soon lose their passion for God’s kingdom’s work and become deceived into treading on the broad road that leads to destruction.
God is near to those who are pure at heart. God takes notice of those who are pure at heart and will show His favor towards them. God becomes intimate and communes with those who are without deceit. To be pure and without deceit translates into:
- being willing to confront one’s weaknesses without camouflaging, and
- to repent from one’s wicked ways to do what is right.
Nathanael caught Jesus’ eye when he sat under the fig tree. Jesus was drawn to the simplicity and purity of Nathanael when He first saw him. Jesus openly commune with him and professed to being Son of God and King of Israel. Something He never did openly so early in His ministry for fear of being persecuted and betrayed. To the Jews, to say you are Son of God was tantamount to blaspheme. And to say you are King of Israel was treason against Rome. Most churchgoers who are not accustomed to hearing God’s voice attributed their impediment to the lack of quality time with God. In fact, the real problem is not about time but the lack of purity of the heart. Their reluctance to confront their sins and to repent repulses God. The psalmist wrote, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” Psalm 66:18. To one who is pure, God speaks His mind unreservedly: His concerns for the nation, His sorrow for the lost, His plans for His kingdom expansion and His glorious plans for the future. A refreshing intimacy, an indescribable joy is reserved for all who would purify their hearts today.
God rewards those who are pure at heart. The world rewards those who are shrewd and savvy. But those who are perceived as just and pure are usually marginalized. Purity is considered a hindrance to progress in the commercial world. Righteousness and honesty are noble virtues but viewed as unrealistic and untenable in the real world. However, Jesus said, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5). And what is gained by unrighteous means will eventually be lost. The psalmist wrote,
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant prosperity. Psalm 37:10-11
By rehashing Jacob’s dream, Jesus was in fact saying that Nathanael would obtain the promise of inheritance as Jacob did if he would continue to walk in faith and purity.
- Are you holding onto God with one hand while holding onto the world with the other? Are you planning your life without consulting God assuming He will bless all your endeavors? True discipleship involves following God wholeheartedly while trusting God to lead. Live one day at a time by reading the Word daily and obeying His instructions. Approach your pastor and enroll yourself in the church’s discipleship program. Hold yourself accountable to a group of mature Christians who will help you grow.
- Are you tempted to take matters into your own hands because of injustice? Do not fall into the devil’s trap by doing evil. In staying pure and blameless, you allow the justice of God to take its course. God will in his time vindicate and reward you for your faith and purity.
Dear Lord, I respond to your call of discipleship. Fill me with your Spirit and cause me to grow in your likeness. Create in me a pure heart so that I may be acceptable to you. Commune with me and share with me your deepest thoughts and passions. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.