If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 35 through 51. John says:
Again the next day, John was standing with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look! The Lamb of God!”
37 The two disciples heard him say this and followed Jesus. 38 When Jesus turned and noticed them following Him, He asked them, “What are you looking for?”
They said to Him, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are You staying?”
39 “Come and you’ll see,” He replied. So they went and saw where He was staying, and they stayed with Him that day. It was about 10 in the morning.
40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard John and followed Him. 41 He first found his own brother Simon and told him, “We have found the Messiah!” (which means “Anointed One”), 42 and he brought Simon to Jesus.
When Jesus saw him, He said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means “Rock”).
43 The next day He decided to leave for Galilee. Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me!”
44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the hometown of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the One Moses wrote about in the Law (and so did the prophets): Jesus the son of Joseph, from Nazareth!”
46 “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked him.
“Come and see,” Philip answered.
47 Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him and said about him, “Here is a true Israelite; no deceit is in him.”
48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you,” Jesus answered.
49 “Rabbi,” Nathanael replied, “You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”
50 Jesus responded to him, “Do you believe only because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.”51 Then He said, “I assure you: You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
This is the word of the Lord.
So, uh, I wanna start off today’s sermon with a really dumb analogy. Back when I lived in Oklahoma, as you might remember, I was working at one point as a tech repair person. I was not particularly good at it, but I could get the job done, and I showed up to all of my shifts. And generally speaking, when you’re capable of getting the job done and you show up to all of your shifts and you pass all of the random-but-not-random drug tests, you get promoted every year or two, or three.
Those promotions rarely mean much and they rarely come with much of a pay raise but they do look good on your resume, at least until other companies catch on, right? And so I was an assistant manager at a tech repair shop in Shawnee, which meant that most of the time when I was on shift at the tech repair shop I was kind of running things.
And every once in a while, I’d be on shift at the store, and one of the customers would do that thing that customers do, where they say, “I would like to speak with your manager.” You know what I’m talking about? Maybe you have been that person. If that’s the case, no offence. That does not mean you’re bad, although you should probably inpsect your food very carefully when you’re eating at a restaurant – that’s my recommendation to you.
But I always enjoyed when people would ask to speak with the manager, because then I got to say, “You are in luck because I am the manager.” And suddenly things would change. A switch would flip. They would start talking to me differently. They realized they weren’t just talking to an underling. I was not a grunt. The way they saw me shifted from “peon” to “equal,” or something like it. They would suddenly see me for who I was, not for who they assumed I was.
That is very much like what happens in the first part of our passage today. Over the course of today’s passage we are going to watch the disciples as the light bulb comes on. We’re going to see a lot of ourselves in the disciples as we look on from the outside as it dawns on them that Jesus is not just some guy from Galilee. He is the long-awaited Messiah.
That is our first point. We see in today’s passage that there comes a point in all of our lives where we see Jesus for who he is.
As we pick up in our passage, the disciples have been gathering in the wilderness to hear John the Baptist preach and teach for who knows how long. That’s important. What’s important to understand about that is that it means that the disciples were not just going about their lives, business as usual. Nothing could be further from the truth. The disciples were “seekers,” you could say. They were looking for something different than the half-truths and outright falsehoods they experienced in their normal everyday discourse. You know what I’m talking about? What I have found is that the average person really does not care what’s true. Right?
Like, let’s level with ourselves. You can find somebody, some website, some alternative news source, some magazine, some Internet pundit – something – who will tell you what you want to hear. Literally. Whatever it is that you want to believe, you can find somebody who will package it for you and sell it to you cheap.
Like, if you love “conspiracy theories,” you can watch Infowars. You can find all sorts of radical conspiracy theorists on the Internet who will package up exciting conspiracy theories and sell them to you cheap, or deliver them to you free ’cause they can profit off the ad revenue.
Or if you really want to believe that there is no God, that all of the religions of the world are just ancient superstitions that we for some reason have yet to let go of, you can find website after website after website, you can find film after film after film, you can find all kinds of books and magazines – everything – that will package that idea and sell it to you cheap.
Or if you want to believe the Bible signs off on whatever your current, obviously sinful habit or lifestyle is, you can find essay after essay, scholarly work after scholarly work, article after article that will confirm that assumption, and sell it to you cheap.
Our world today is very much like the world yesterday. You can find all kinds of voices that will confirm whatever you want to believe. Half-truths and outright falsehoods have always reigned supreme over culture, and so the disciples decided to “Exit, Stage Left,” and try to seek out the truth.
So you should ask yourself: Are you seeking out the truth? Do you actually care? Would you want the truth if you found it? If you found the truth, and it did not benefit you, it did not serve your interests, would you still devote yourself to it? Or would you do what most folks do and stick your fingers in your ears, turn back around, and go back to business as usual, devoting yourself to a half-truth or an outright falsehood because it served your interests better than the truth?
I can’t answer that question for you. Only you can answer that question for you.
But if what you’re seeking is the truth, that I have good news for you. If the truth is what you’re after, regardless of whether it personally benefits you, regardless of whether it lines up with what you’ve already determined you would like to believe, then you’re going to find yourself in a position very similar to the disciples in today’s passage.
What you’re going to find is that the truth that you were seeking out in the wilderness with John the Baptist was seeking you out, too. That’s what the disciples find in our passage today. They were seeking out the truth, and the truth was seeking them./
And so we see three different instances where the disciples encounter Jesus and, by God’s grace, they see him for who he is.
Looking at verse 41, the disciples run and find their siblings, grab them by the collar, and say, “Cancel your plans, we found the Messiah.” “I know you were going to the club tonight. And I assure you that what I just came across is way more interesting.” Skipping down a few verses to verse 45, we see the same thing again. The disciples run to their friends and say, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the law.” “We have found the one the prophets wrote about.”
That’s a serious claim. Right? That sounds kind of crazy, doesn’t it? Imagine that somebody came up to you today and said, “Look, I know it sounds strange, but I met the person that Moses was pointing us towards in Deuteronomy.” “I know it sounds crazy, but I’m getting brunch next week with the guy that Isaiah the Prophet was talking about.” Somebody says something like that to you, normally that means they ought to be institutionalized. Right? And yet that’s very much what we’re doing every time we evangelize./
That’s what we’re doing when we evangelize. We’re seeking people out, grabbing them by the collar – metaphorically, not literally, don’t get a restraining order filed against you – and saying, “Look, I figured out what life is about.” You’re making a very bold claim. There’s really not a low-key version of this. You’re saying, “I know God. I didn’t last week, and I do today, and the reason I know God today in a way I didn’t last week is because I placed my faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of my sins.” That’s a bold claim. There’s really not a casual way to do that.
You’re saying, “God is real, God is actually doing something in the world, God has actually come down from heaven to get us, he has not abandoned us, he’s reached out for us, and I experienced it. And I want you to experience it too.” That’s what you’re doing when you’re evangelizing.
So it’s really not a surprise that people frequently have a difficult time accepting what we’re saying. Right? Like, if you evangelize every single day of your life for 50 years, the number of people you get to watch repent and believe the gospel through your evangelism might be in the double digits. That’s it. That’s the norm. I want to prepare you for that. Don’t get discouraged when your experience doesn’t look like those great, hyperinflated expectations that are set by hokey Christian movies where by the end somehow everybody at the secular college has turned away from their sins and started singing, “Hallelujah!” at a Newsboys concert.
People frequently have a difficult time grappling with the claims that you make in the gospel. And yet, as we see in verse 49, even people with a horrifyingly vast chip on their shoulder are ultimately powerless against the conviction that the Spirit brings over you. Look at verse 49. We see Nathaniel. He’s friends with the rest of the disciples. They come to him, they say, “We have found the Messiah.” And Nathaniel’s like, “Really, well, who?” They say, “It’s Jesus, a guy out of Nazareth.”
And immediately a switch flips, and Nathaniel says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
He’s got an excuse for everything, right? If they had said, “Jesus, a guy from Sephoris” – that’s a nearby prosperous town – Nathaniel probably would have said, “Alright, some rich kid from the city? Probably not the Messiah.”
Nazareth? Too poor. Sephoris? Too rich. Judea? Too liberal. Samaria? Too ethnically-diverse. Jerusalem? Way too conservative. You get the picture?
It’s important to recognize that. That’s very much what we are like as humans. There is something in us that is determined to excuse our way out of believing and obeying the gospel, so we will take any potential escape ladder in an effort to talk ourselves into continuing on in our unbelief. That applies to me, that applies to you, that applies to everybody you know. We are very much like machines rigged for unbelief.
And yet even that can’t stand up against the conviction of the Holy Spirit. And so in verse 49, even Nathaniel, who had a pretty masterful set of excuses, ultimately breaks down and says to Jesus, “You are the son of God.” “You are the king of Israel.”
Because Nathaniel’s unbelief was in nothing in the face of the Holy Spirit’s conviction. That’s true about everybody.You can go out into the world, carrying the truth of the gospel to your friends and your neighbors and your family members with boldness, knowing that even the fiercest enemies of the faith are Nathaniels waiting to happen.
So there comes a point where we see Jesus for who he really is, and when that point comes, our resistance to the gospel, no matter how strong it is, just kind of melts away beneath the weight of the Holy Spirit’s good conviction. That’s good news. God will push past your defenses. That’s very good news.
But the flip side of that is true as well. Because what happens when we start to see Jesus for who he really is is that Jesus starts to show us who we really are.
Jesus shows us who we really are. Looking at verse 42, case-in-point, it says, “When Jesus saw Peter, He said, “You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which means “Rock”).”
That’s a strange thing to say to somebody, no matter who you are, right? This is either the first or second time Jesus meets Peter, and instead of saying, “Hey Peter, how you doing?” He says, “You are Simon, son of John. That’s what your dad named you. I’m gonna name you, too. Can I name you? I’m gonna name you.” He says, “You will be called Cephas.” Cephas means rock. “I’m going to call you ‘rock’.”
That is not a normal conversation, right?
But Jesus is doing something very specific here. He’s not just giving Peter a new name. He’s giving him a new identity.
This is the God who spoke in Genesis chapter one, and the universe started existing instead of not existing. Jesus is the God who speaks the world into existence – literally, speaks things into existence. And now, he’s face to face with Simon, son of John, whom we usually refer to as Peter, and he speaks a new name into existence.
And he says, “I know your dad named you Simon, I’ve got a new name for you. You will be called Cephas.”
But what Jesus does here to Peter isn’t fundamentally unique. There is a reason that in some denominations, when someone converts into the faith, they don’t just induct them into their church community, they give them a new name. And sometimes they’re funny. You’ll meet somebody names “Theophilus Jones.” Or “Athanasius Gupton.” During the Colonial Period, there was a famous Puritan minister who changed his name to “PeaceGod Barebone.” Eventually he became a Calvinist and changed his name to Christ-Died-Only-For-The-Elect Barebone.” And those are funny, but they do communicate something very important.
And that is that when you begin to see Jesus for who he really is, Jesus begins to show you who you really are. He gives you a new identity. So much so that your old name might as well be a dead name. So much so that the old you doesn’t really exist anymore. You are a new person. You are not the old you. You have a new identity. You belong Jesus now.
We see very much the same thing in verses 47 and 48. It says, “Then Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward Him.” This is the same Nathaniel we were talking about earlier. Jesus saw Nathaniel heading in his general direction, and he intercepted him.
And when I say he intercepted him, I mean he intercepted him. He pulled the lever on the train track so the train went a very different direction than it would have gone otherwise.
Our passage says Jesus saw him coming, “And Jesus said, “Here is a true Israelite; There is no deceit in him.” Can you hear the sarcasm in Jesus’s words? “Now that’s a true Israelite, right there! No way that guy’s foolin’ himself!”
Nathaniel’s making his way down the road and Jesus intercepts him, and essentially mocks-him-into-the-Kingdom. He says, “Here is a true Israelite. Everybody, look at this guy. That’s a true Israelite. There is no deceit in him. That guy is definitely not laboring under a bunch of false delusions about himself. Everybody gather round, sit at this guy’s feet. This is somebody to learn from.”
And it’s kind of like Jesus took a Louisville slugger to Nathaniel’s delusions of grandeur. Because Nathaniel just ran into a peasant from Nazareth, a welfare case. Somebody at the bottom of the ladder. A very small fish in an even smaller pond. And the moment Nathaniel lays eyes on him, it clicks. The peasant he was laughing at is the long-promised Messiah. So Nathaniel breaks down, and says, “You are the son of God. You are the king of Israel.”
When Nathaniel woke up that morning, he thought he was one thing. When he went to bed, he knew he was something very different. Nathaniel woke up that morning with a “superiority complex.” He thought that, whatever else was true, he was better than a good deal of the people around him. Then he met the king of Israel. He met the Son of God. He met the long-promised Messiah. And it turned the way he saw himself upside down. Because now Nathaniel isn’t anybody’s “superior.” He’s somebody’s disciple. He’s sitting at the feet of a flat-broke preacher from Galilee’s poorest backwater.
Jesus gave Nathaniel a new identity.
He changes the way Nathaniel answers the question, “Who do you think you are.” That’s another question you should ask yourself this morning. “Who do you think you are?” My guess is that you are somewhere in the neighborhood of Nathaniel. If you’re like me, or Nathaniel, or everybody else who ever lived, there is some identity you’ve claimed for yourself that seems harmless on the outside but is really meant to keep God at arms-length.
Just as a case-in-point: Maybe you think of yourself primarily as a parent. Maybe your kids are grown, they’re reasonably emotionally healthy, they are financially independent, to quote a meme that I saw a while back: You successfully managed to raise kids that somebody else didn’t have to spend years recovering from. You raised a son that some poor girl does not have to spend years recovering from. You raised a daughter at some poor dude doesn’t have to spend years recovering from. And so you find your identity primarily in the fact that you were a good parent.
So when you hear a lot of what I say from the pulpit, maybe you nod along, but inside, you kinda quietly file it under “Things That Don’t Apply To Me.” Right? When I’m talking about the gravity of sin, or when I’m talking about our need for a savior, if you’re really honest with yourself, deep down, you think I’m talking about somebody else.
You think I’m talking about the people you see on the 6:00 o’clock news. Right? You think I’m talking about people who look different than you. Who act different than you. You think I’m talking about people who sin differently than you. Right? Because as far as you’re concerned, you’re one of the Good People. You’re one of the good onesTM.
If you’re totally honest with me, with yourself, with God, you would just come out and say, “God sure is lucky to have me.” And if you really got pressed, or if somebody accused you being just as bad as everybody else, somewhere deep down, your mind would point to your healthy, well-adjusted kids and say, “If I’m so bad, how’d I pull that off?”
That’s just one case-in-point. Your “Nathaniel move” might be something very different. It could be anything. But that just happens to be one that I see a whole lot of.
And so if it were you that was walking down the road and just happened to run into Jesus on that particular day, I wonder what Jesus might have said to you.
To Nathaniel, he said, “Here is a true Israelite. There is no deceit in him.” To you he might have said, “Now here’s the Father of the Year.” “Here’s the mother of the year.” “Our Father in heaven ought to have them over for dinner some night and they can teach him how to parent a little better.” Right?
God the Father – your Father in heaven – God is a perfect Father. Literally. A perfect Father. And yet every single one of his children still rebelled against him so hard that it broke the world.
We rarely think about it that way. But that’s absolutely true. God was the perfect Father, and his children still turned out wayward as all get out. So if you’re one of those people who looks at the behavioral problems that other people’s kids are having and, kinda, turn up your nose at them, the real questions is “Do you think you’re a better parent than God?” Because God was the perfect father, and his children still turned out wayward as all get out.
So Jesus might’ve intercepted you on the road, just like he did Nathaniel, and say, “Our Father in heaven oughtta have them over for dinner some night and they can teach him how to parent better.”
And as he’s talking, your mind will go to all the parents who did exactly what you did.
All the fathers who came home every night from work, got down on the living room floor and played with his kids. All the mothers who followed every step in whatever best-selling parenting book they were given by their mother-in-law at their baby shower. You’ll think of all the parents who did exactly what you did and whose kids are in jail, whose children have never held a marriage together, whose children are four years behind on their taxes, who have kids living on the street who will not come home, whose kids only visit once a year, at the holidays, and who spend the whole time picking at them because they resent them for Nothing In Particular. Your mind goes to all the parents who did exactly what you did and whose kids still hate them.
And suddenly that false identity you’ve built for yourself vanishes. And you realize that you are what Nathaniel is. You’re just somebody doing their best. You are what those other, unsuccessful parents are. You’re just somebody doing your best, even though your best is never quite enough.
But rather than hearing that as bad news to try and block out, you’ll realize that’s the best news you could possibly hear.
Because you’ll realize that it doesn’t matter how Not Enough you are. Because you’re standing in the presence of the Son of God.
You’re standing in the presence of the King of Israel.
And he has given you a new name.
Your name isn’t Not Enough anymore. It isn’t Father of the Year, either. Your new name is “Disciple.” Your new name is “Beloved.” Your new name is “My Child.” Your new name is “Good and Faithful Servant.” Your new name is “Redeemed.”
That’s your new identity. That’s who you are in Christ. That’s what we become when, like Nathaniel, like Peter, like John the Baptist, we let go of all the things we try to use to justify ourselves and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus instead.
We have arrived at what we usually refer to as the “Altar Call” section of our service. In a moment, we’re going to celebrate something called The Lord’s Supper, in which we rejoice in exactly what we’ve been talking about: We have a new identity in Jesus Christ. We were strangers, but now we are God’s friends. We were enemies at the gates, but now we are family members at his table.
But there’s a possibility that that isn’t true about you. I went years sitting in a church pew refusing to throw myself on the mercy of Jesus because the last thing I wanted was to sit at the Lord’s Table, as the Lord’s friend, because communing with God would mean submitting to him.
If that’s you, I get it. I can’t change your mind about that. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. But we would like to invite you to this morning. We would like to invite you to let go of your rebellion, and throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus to be adopted into God’s family. To be seated at God’s table, in God’s kingdom, as God’s friend. So I will be standing awkwardly at the front, waiting for you. I’d love to walk you through the process of giving yourself to the God we’ve been describing this morning.