A Real Israelite – Sermon – Rev. Alex Moir – 11 July 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by.  The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out.” 

— John 1:4-5

Prayer

We gather together today, gracious Father, in celebration of the light that has guided our steps.  Accept our praise this day … and continue to shine into areas of our lives that so need the illumination that Your Son can bring.  In His precious name we pray … amen.

Song

Today's Message: A Real Israelite

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Scripture Reading: John 1:43-51

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

44 Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.  45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?”  Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

50 Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”  51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

As we begin our second installment in this message series on “The Real Thing” it seems to me that there are several reasons for us to be interested in this passage from the gospel of John.  First, we read that Jesus has decided to “leave for Galilee” (v. 43), which literally means “circle of Gentiles” or “district of foreigners.”  That Jesus chooses this area for His first “mission trip” is encouraging to us, since many of us may feel or have felt like outsiders to the faith.  It may also be helpful for us as a church as we plan our own mission, reminding us of the many who do not know our Lord.  Secondly, we see in this same verse that He issues an invitation to a man named Philip “to follow” … which is a call not just to embrace a cause but to attach oneself to a person, Jesus Himself.  All of us have discovered a wonderful truth, that a project is infinitely more satisfying when we have respect and love for the leader.  Finally, Philip issues his own invitation to his friend Nathanael.  Though he, Nathanael, makes it into the group of Jesus’ disciples he is never quite part of what we might call the inner core … but he is valued by Jesus, nonetheless.  Our Lord had that unique ability to make everyone He met feel special.  If we read later in the New Testament, we find Paul’s welcome teaching about spiritual gifts, by which the church operates as the body of Christ.  It is clear that some gifts are more prominent than others … but the church cannot hope to function properly without the application of all of them. 

As we continue with our story, we focus on the words of Philip;

“We have found the one …” (v. 45). 

Once again, if we examine the grammar of this passage, it unlocks clues for us, not only to help us understand the meaning but to apply new truth in our lives.  The verb for “found”, used here is in the perfect tense which means “action completed.”  John could have used the simple past but prefers the perfect, no doubt to suggest to us the importance of this discovery.  Philip claims they have found the one about whom the Old Testament was written.  The apostle Paul describes Jesus even more directly:

“He is the image of the invisible God,
the firstborn over all creation.
For by him all things were created;
things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible,
whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities;
all things were created by him and for him.
He is before all things,
and in him all things hold together.”

— Colossians 1:15-17

The perfect tense of the verb used by the writer of this gospel, coupled with the words of Paul, suggest to us that when it comes to seeking the secret of life, we need look no further than Jesus.

It is obvious as we look at the next verse that Nathanael is taken aback by Philip’s words.  Maybe Philip makes a mistake by mentioning Jesus’ hometown … some might wonder if the creator God made a mistake by giving the Messiah an earthly life, since people often think in terms of the “other worldly” when they ponder anything to do with God.  When Nathanael responds; “Nazareth!  Can anything good come from there?” (v. 46a) we are reminded of the rivalry that can sometimes arise between small towns … or the narrowness that we sometimes display to someone hailing from a place other than ours!  Philip does not launch into a defense of Jesus … perhaps because he doesn’t know that much about Him either!  His response to his friend is very interesting … a very simple “Come and see,” (v. 46b) which is not a bad model for us in our role of being emissaries for our Master.  This more indirect approach to evangelism may have been in the prophet Daniel’s mind, when he was asked to change his diet after having been transported to Babylon to join the royal court.  His simple response, “Put us to the test …” (Daniel 1:12), points us to the truth that a healthy faith is an applied faith and must make our lives better in the best possible sense.

At this point Jesus enters the scene, with an astounding statement:

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him;
“Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.”

— verse 47

Of course, Philip’s friend is amazed … “How do you know me?” he asks.  It’s been a question which has been asked through the ages … maybe even by you!  Part of the premise of our important work as a gathered group of believers (also known as the church) is based on the confidence that the Father and His Son Jesus know us … and that this knowledge has thrilling implications for our lives.  It stands to reason that if we are known in such a way that it would be wise to bring such knowledge into our daily lives.  As we discussed during last week’s message, this is the first step of conversion … bringing the Father and the Son into our lives through the Spirit.  As Paul said,

“The life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God.”

— Galatians 2:20

However, the really interesting part of the passage is when Jesus calls Nathanael “a true Israelite.”  In last week’s message we explored the meaning of the word “aleithos” or “true”, which can also mean “genuine” or “constant” … but what does it mean in the life of this somewhat obscure biblical character?  We get a little hint when Jesus describes him as someone “in whom there is nothing false” (I prefer the King James Version translation here … “in whom there is no guile.”)  We all know people like this … and, if we’re wise, they occupy a very special role in our lives!  We get another idea of Nathanael’s uniqueness when Jesus tells him He saw him “under the fig tree” which may be a “code phrase” for someone who is listening to a teacher or, in a peculiarly Hebrew sense, studying the Torah or scriptures.  We forget that in ancient times (and even in our Baptist history) physical study spaces or classrooms were not readily available … that sometimes you’d find people studying or gathered for worship under the shade of a tree!  Perhaps this “guile-less” Hebrew was a keen student of the word … someone that Jesus would have found quite valuable in His ministry.

So, what does this have to do with you and me?  In his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul suggests that the term “Israelite” may not refer solely to people who lived in Jesus’ day or before:

“In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children,
but it is the children of the promise who are regarded
as Abraham’s offspring.” 

— Romans 9:8

Perhaps when Jesus is referring to “a true Israelite” He is reflecting His understanding of the term which goes back to the time when Yahweh God called Abraham (see Genesis 12) to be the father of a new nation.  This group of people was called to be different than the countries around them.  Their primary role was not to develop a standing army and become powerful in the usual sense of the word … this new people would be a nation of priests, to bring Yahweh’s good news of His love and care for the world.  While the centre of most cities in the world would be sites of recreation (Rome’s Colosseum), the practice of government (the Acropolis in Athens) or power (various palaces), the central structure in Jerusalem would be the Temple, indicating the pivotal place of worship in the life of the Hebrew community.  With the arrival of Jesus on the scene, citizenship in the true “Hebrew Nation” would be extended to include everyone who called upon the name of Jesus as the orienting component of their lives.  In essence “true” status in the nation of priests is available to all of us.

Our text concludes with Nathanael’s identification of Jesus as “the Son of God … the King of Israel” (v. 49).  He is amazed at Jesus’ omniscience or all knowing.  But there is a greater “truth” that Jesus wants to leave with him and us …

“You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree.
You shall see greater things than that.”
He then added, “I tell you the truth,
you shall see heaven open,
and the angels of God ascending and descending
on the Son of Man.”

— versus 50-51

And this may be the “greater thing” that we shall see as well … the creator of the universe, stooping low (“descending”) at the “Christ event”, bringing salvation and new life to “the least of these” (i.e. us).  It’s no surprise then to remember the words of the hymn writer … “O, what a wonder that Jesus loves me!”

Prayer

We take great comfort this day, gracious Father, in Philip’s words “we have found.”  His testimony is consistent with what we have experienced … that in Jesus’ friendship and example “we have found” purpose for our own lives and peace for the journey.  In all of this we realize that we have much to learn.  We humbly pray that You will continue to guide us into an even better union with our Lord and Yourself.

We read this story and note the humble beginnings of Jesus’ ministry.  The men He recruited were not powerful or influential … and so it often is with the ministry of our church today.  Our Lord was able to see the potential in both Philip and Nathanael.  Forgive us for sometimes making quick assessments about those You have brought into our fellowship.  May we truly see others with the eyes of Your Son …

As we are told by our Master that Your ministry involves “ascending and descending” continue to look down upon us and find us, even when we feel so lost.  We pray particularly this morning, gracious Father for those who have been brought low by health issues or bereavement or the economy.  We pray in the name of the One who spent so much of his ministry assuring us of Your Fatherly care, … amen.

Song

Benediction

“You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  … You are the light of the world … (In) the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven.” 

— Matthew 5:13, 14