This post by christinecoltman was originally published at GRACE PLACE
It’s a privilege to speak here tonight. Thank you to everyone who has put in hard work to set up the building and the Zoom. It’s so encouraging to see so many women who are up for it, who want to get to know Jesus more and are serious about their faith. It reminds me I’m not the only one!
Sometimes we can become isolated in our faith. Charles Spurgeon, the Victorian preacher, used the idea of a coal in the fire. As Christians we can be like coals, glowing and on fire for Jesus and spurring each other on. But when we are plucked from that warmth, we cool and cease to be light in the world.
These evenings are always, for me, a chance to get back in the fire with the other coals and they always spur me on, to get back into God’s Word, face the honest truth about my Spiritual walk and cry out to God in prayer.
So my prayer for you is that, similarly, this evening you can come closer, encourage each other and get in the fire of God’s Holy Spirit, ready to burn bright for him out there in the dark world.
We’re starting a new series of Bible studies today in the book of John. This is John’s account of the things that took place when Jesus walked on the earth 2000 years ago.
We are going to focus on the I Am statements – teaching where Jesus declares to his disciples and the whole world who he is. Jesus in his own words. And we’re going to get to know Jesus through these amazing statements of truth. Through the year, we will touch on some of the miracles as well, as the miracles Jesus does are also signposts to who he is – yet often those miracles are set right next to Jesus explaining who he is – telling us that the miracle is a demonstration of a particular thing that is so special about him.
Today: John 1.
The opening of John is incredibly famous and usually read at Christmas. “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…” Surprisingly, John doesn’t open his Gospel by saying the name of Jesus. Instead he begins with a really long introduction about “the Word” and “true Light” which leads up to and culminates eventually in the verse 17 with “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”
It felt to me, as I prepared this passage, that John is almost writing his Gospel for the sceptical people, the cynical ones, who need extra proof. He starts with something we can all agree on – “In the beginning, there was something…” and goes on to demonstrate how that something came to live among us and that something was actually JESUS.
In the prologue, if you studied it with your study buddy, you’ll have explored some of the fantastic truths about who Jesus is: the Word, God, the Maker, Light, Life, able to make us children of God, glorious, full of grace and truth. He is God the one and only. He makes God known.
And John goes on to write from verse 19, about how John the Baptist saw Jesus walking past and shouted out “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
Whether you have a Jewish background or not – those are awesome claims to make about someone. Even if the bit about being “Lamb of God” and the “Passover” and so on, even if that goes over your head, “who takes away the sin of the world” is a phenomenal thing to say about someone.
And John is going to go on, throughout his Gospel, to give evidence to support that claim. To tell us about the signs and teachings and events that prove that Jesus is this Lamb of God, the Maker, the Light, the Word. Everything is written (John 20:31) “…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
This is great. But. The sceptic in me, the cynic, doesn’t want to believe based on what someone else says. Is John trustworthy? Is he telling the truth? Like Thomas, who wouldn’t believe Jesus was alive again unless he stuck his hand in the wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion, I want to find out from the horse’s mouth.
And that’s why John’s Gospel is so great for the curious, the questioning and the doubting – because John presents the first-hand facts and allows us to investigate for ourselves: WHO IS THIS JESUS? Is he really all the things John claims that he is, in the first chapter?
Let’s hear Jesus speak for himself.
So this whole series is going to be Jesus in his own words. An invitation to BEHOLD, to look at Jesus and find that he is exactly who he says he is. And after 35 verses of preamble, of build-up, of glorious description of the Word made Flesh, introducing eye-witnesses who relate that Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world… Finally we come to Jesus’ first words in the Gospel. Now at last we can hear Jesus’ words to us, revealing who he is.
- READ THE PASSAGE. John 1:35-51
BREAKOUT 1. Look at the words Jesus actually says. The words of Christ in red.
Quick reaction – Are these overwhelming or underwhelming to you?
In this passage, Jesus meets 5 people in four separate encounters, which are really two pairs:
- Andrew and John
- … and then Andrew brings Peter along
- then Philip
- … who in turn brings Nathanael along.
- Andrew and John
Persons 1+2 = Andrew and John. vv 35-49
Look at what Jesus says. It’s quite something, isn’t it? Overwhelming? Underwhelming?
Andrew and John were following John the Baptist, hanging on his every word, desperate to be right with God, and John the Baptist points out to them this man, walking past: BEHOLD the Lamb of God.
Worth noting that this is the second day in a row John has said this. in verse 29, the day before this, John saw Jesus walking by and shouted out, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”
The next day, he again points him out: “Look the Lamb of God!” And these two happened to be standing there, and heard him, and took the hint and they went to find out.
Jesus turns round to them and says, “What do you want?” or in the ESV and the Greek, What are you seeking?
This is such an invitation. After all we have heard so far about Jesus, the Word who was with God in the beginning, without whom nothing has been made that has been made… The one full of grace and truth… He asks them what they want. What are you seeking for?
John the Writer has not set up this encounter as a throwaway thing – he has been leading up to it for 37 verses. He is at pains to introduce us to Jesus. The fact is, that Jesus’ first words to those who would follow him are:
What do you want?
Come and See.
As we read on, we will realise this is not a one-off invitation specific to Andrew and John. This is an invitation for all time to all people.
What do you want; what are you looking for?
Come and see.
And Jesus makes that invitation in the supreme confidence that, whatever it is, they will find it. Jesus asks us, also – What are you seeking? And he makes the invitation to us to Come and See, because he knows that he is it. In fact, John was originally writing in Ancient Greek and in his original language, this invitation is in the future tense: come and you will see.
- Looking for clarity in life? You will see, I am the light of the world…
- Looking for safety? You will see, I am the good Shepherd…
- Looking for belonging? You will see, I am the true vine and you are the branches…
- Weary and looking for strength to go on? You will see, I am the bread of life…
- Looking for hope? You will see, I am the resurrection and the life…
- Looking for direction and moral wisdom? You will see, I am the way, the truth and the life…
- Looking for someone who can keep promises made centuries ago? You will see, I am he…
I could go on… but those are some of the passages the other ladies are going to speak about as we go through the year.
He invites us to Come and See. Look at it for yourself. That’s a bold thing to say – and supremely confident. Because Jesus knows that, if they come, they will see. They will not be disappointed. They will not be let down.
If you are feeling disillusioned, dispirited, tired, weary, confused… disappointed, even… in your faith, listen to Jesus’s invitation and take him up on his offer. He isn’t going to judge. He is giving an invitation. A chance to bring your questions and your scepticism and see if Jesus really is as good as he says he is.
***SPOILER ALERT** HE IS
I mean, admittedly, in the context of the passage, the “come and see” is pretty banal.
Andrew and John, with Jesus who is God made flesh standing there; Jesus asks them “What are you seeking?” and all they can say is… “Can we see your Air BnB?”
I’m being flippant.
What they really ask is – can we come and abide with you? Where can we go to be with you, Jesus? What sort of life are we signing up for if we go with you?
And Jesus gives an invitation that he gives to us all. Come. And. See.
Andrew was one of those two men who took Jesus up on that offer. He stayed with Jesus from late afternoon onwards, and then he went off to find his brother.
“He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means Christ).” (verse 41)
Andrew is so convinced by what he has seen and heard while he was hanging out with Jesus, that he goes straight to his brother and says, “We have found the Messiah”. Which means Christ. Which means, the long promised King that God chose.
What a declaration!
Work backwards with me. Jesus said: “What are you seeking” and then after that, Andrew said, “We have found the Messiah.”
So what was Andrew seeking?
This is the first time that title is used in John’s Gospel. It’s a special moment.
— BUT! It’s yet another person’s opinion of who Jesus is, and not actually who Jesus himself said he was!! We want to find Jesus’ own words
So what happens next.
verse 42. “Andrew brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John. You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter)”
Jesus looks at Peter, and he knew. This is terrifying. I don’t want to butt into the I am the Light of the World talk later in the year, but when the sun is streaming through the windows into my kitchen, you can see every mark on the work surfaces, every fingerprint on the taps, all the dust in the air and the spiderwebs hanging off the ceiling. Jesus looked at Peter and he shined the light on him and he saw him… and he said…
You’re so impulsive you can’t shut up? You’re a terrible friend who will deny me three times? You’re going to die because you follow me?
NO, he says “You shall be called Cephas” (which means Peter). Which means “Rock”.
Jesus looks at him and he identifies him as the man he will make him into. As David Turner points out, “Jesus has authority to identify us, to remake us.”
Now this could be terrifying. Imagine that. Meeting someone with the right to identify me, to remake me.
But Jesus is the one full of grace and truth, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world…. all the things we have been told about Jesus are true…
Because look! Behold! Here’s some proof, from what Jesus says. Here is not condemnation for being an idiot, or a rubbish friend, etc (which Peter totally is) Instead Jesus directly addresses him as “Rock” . Not because he is, but because this is who Jesus will re-make him as. He sees the end from the beginning and has the power to make it come to pass.
Just like his confident “Come and you will see”, Jesus also confidently says, “You will be Peter”, knowing that it will be so, because he has the power to make Peter into the man he has called him to be.
Carson comments: “The focus is much less on what this name change means for Peter, than on the Jesus who knows people thoroughly (cf. vv43-51), and not only ‘sees into’ them (cf. vv47-48) but so calls them that he makes them what he calls them to be.”
Jesus’ words reveal that he has authority to identify us, to remake us… But remember who Jesus is – he is the one who is full of grace and truth. So yes, he knows our deepest thoughts, fears, achievements, and worries. But he is full of grace, gentle, forgiving, kind and, ultimately, good. So if anyone is going to identify and remake me – I think I would want Jesus to do that.
BREAKOUT 2. What is it about Jesus that reassures you that you are in safe hands? If you’re not sure where to start, look back through John 1 for some of the special names given to Jesus: the Word of God, the Light that gives Life, the Lamb of God, full of grace and truth… and so on.
Jesus with Philip… Jesus with Nathanael
Look at John 1:43-51
Verse 43. Jesus meets Philip. This verse is really exciting. Throughout John 1, John the author has been giving lots of eye-witness reports about Jesus. One of the things he focusses on is the time – on the next day, on the next day, on the next day… It gives some idea of the pace in which the following around Jesus grew.
There was a lot of curiosity about Jesus. It started with some of John’s followers (Andrew and presumably John himself) and then Peter was brought to Jesus by his brother.
On the next day, something a little different happens: Jesus set out to go to Galilee and found Philip. Philip wasn’t even looking for Jesus but he heard the Lord’s direct call.
We don’t hear much more about what Philip did about that call – but in the next verse we hear that he has found someone else and is encouraging him, Nathanael, to come and see Jesus.
Whatever Philip heard and saw when he met Jesus, it convinced him that Jesus was the one “Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote”. Philip, like Andrew and John before him, was clearly looking for the one Moses and the prophets wrote about. He must have been studying his Old Testament and looking out for the rescuer God was going to send, the one who completes and fulfils the Law. What an amazing thing, that God opened his eyes and revealed that Jesus is that One, very impressive Person.
Philip continues – “We have found the one…Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph.”
It’s interesting that he introduces Jesus by Jesus’ human credentials: Where he’s from, who his father is. And that’s not very impressive.
This whole episode takes place where John is baptising people, in Bethany just next to the Jordan river in the south of the country. It’s very interesting that we’re told that Philip, Andrew and Peter were all from the town of Bethsaida (v44), and Jesus is setting out for Galilee.
You’re probably nodding wisely because you’ve heard of all these places lots of times. Let’s look at a map.
Bethany is in the south of the country; Galilee is the region in the North. Google maps says it will take me 26 hours to walk from Bethany to Nazareth; 29 hours to walk from Bethany to Bethsaida. So it’s a few day’s journey from the place where John is baptising back home. Nazareth and Bethsaida, however, where Jesus and Andrew, Peter and Philip are from, are only about 30 miles away.
Imagine Philip’s surprise and joy to find that this person who is the one the whole Old Testament points to, is actually a (relatively) local boy! He’s from Nazareth, in Galilee, near us!
It would be like travelling to London on foot to hear an amazing speaker, and meeting them walking back along the M4 and finding out that they’re from Gloucester!
Nathanael, however, thinks this is just too unlikely.
Gloucester? Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?
Nathanael is a skeptic and a scholar. It seems like he and Philip have been studying Moses and the Prophets, looking for the signs of the one God promised… and in the Old Testament, there is no prophecy about
Philip is not dismayed by Nathanael’s cynical response. Instead he just invites him – Come and See for yourself.
Jesus’ invitation becomes Philip’s invitation.
So often we wonder how we could persuade someone about something – how can I persuade you that the John Lewis chairs are better that the IKEA ones? I could show you the catalogue and the technical speculations, I could show you all the 5 star reviews, but the simplest thing to do is to invite you to Come and See. Come and sit on them. Come and make up your own mind.
Philip is so confident that Nathanael will be blown away by Jesus that he just invites him to come and see.
— I feel I have got sidetracked here. We’re supposed to be looking at the words of Christ. So. Here we go. verse 47. Jesus says “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
Just like before, with Peter, Jesus looked at him and saw straight through to who he truly was.
How do you know me, Nathanael replies.
Jesus wasn’t making a lucky guess. He was right – this man really is an Israelite with no trickery (There’s a little joke in here – Israel is the name given to Jacob, in the old testament. Jacob was a very tricksy and untruthful man, but after he wrestled with the Lord, physically, and was severely injured by the Lord, at the end God changed his name from “trickster” to “he wrestles with God”. So when Jesus says this to Nathanael, he’s making a little joke: “Here’s someone who wrestles with the truth about God and isn’t at all false, like Jacob was.”)
And we see that here – Nathanael wrestles with the truth about God. He didn’t instantly accept that Jesus was God’s long-promised king when Philip told him about it; he disagreed that such a person could come from Nazareth where the hillbillies live. And he even questioned Jesus’ assessment of him – “Yeah you say I really am an Israelite, but how do you know that?”
— I love this because this is the kind of reaction I have to what Jesus says in the Bible. “You say that, well prove it.” And I have so many questions and uncertainties about my faith. And I wonder – will God reject me if I don’t just blindly agree with it all?
Not at all. The invitation is to Come and See. Come and Find out.
And in fact, even though we might think Nathanael is being rude to question Jesus, the Lord has the grace and kindness to answer Nathanael.
We find that all the way through the Gospel, Jesus consistently makes the time to talk to skeptics and doubters, to discuss their fears and concerns, to reassure and console, to give them firm proof which annihilate their doubts.
Remember Martha, who couldn’t believe that Jesus could do anything to help her dead brother and ended up having a full-on theological debate with Jesus – then Jesus went on to prove it by raising Lazarus from the dead?
And Doubting Thomas who wouldn’t believe Jesus had come back to life unless he put his finger in the wounds from Jesus’ crucifixion? And then Jesus invited him to poke him and see it really was him who had died and is alive again?
— ALL of John’s Gospel is written so that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing we may have life in his name (John 20:31). And John is out there to tell us to come and see, come and see the proof – whether you are an atheist, a very religious person, grieving, celebrating, friendless, victim of others’ poor choices, if you are hungry, or in the dark about life. Jesus says Come and See. Come and put it to the test. Because Jesus knows he absolutely is the real thing and he does not disappoint. Bring your questions; bring your doubts. Jesus is ready to answer them.
Let’s see how Jesus answers Nathanael’s challenge; How do you know me?
verse 48: “I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.’
This doesn’t sound impressive or convincing. Because on my first reading I thought, “Surely Jesus isn’t just saying he has really good eyesight?”
Jesus must be implying something more, because Nathanael’s response is “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel!”
And I don’t think anyone has gone to Specsavers and come out saying that.
The commentator Kruse points out that “Jewish scholars sat under Fig Trees to study the Law.” Israel is a hot country and, at that time, mostly agricultural. There is very little in the way of formal education – no College or Open University course to take up. Nathanael is doing what young men would do to study the scriptures. Jesus says, “I saw you studying God’s Word.” Jesus sees Nathanael and he knows Nathanael.
This now starts to make a bit more sense. And it clearly meant something to Nathanael. Much like with Peter, Jesus looks at Nathanael studying the Scriptures and sees right to his heart – truly a son of Israel. Not like Jacob the trickster at all. He sees the person he is going to make Nathanael into – pure and holy. And he calls him by this name.
Carson points out: “John’s chief point here is Jesus’ supernatural knowledge… not Nathanael’s activity.” So, although the Fig Tree thing may seem a bit obscure to us, it clearly makes complete sense to Nathanael and the penny drops: Jesus understands him far more deeply that he even understands himself. He goes from doubtful and skeptical to “Rabbi you are the son of God.”
BREAKOUT 3: What convinces you that Jesus is someone worth listening to?
OK and now we reach the climax of these 5 encounters. Jesus speaks for more than one sentence!!
Jesus said, ‘You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig-tree. You will see greater things than that.’ 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.’
Three amazing truths in this utterance.
- YOU WILL SEE…
- VERY TRULY I TELL YOU…
- the thing about heaven open and angels
- YOU WILL SEE
Jesus points out to Nathanael that he is believing on the basis of the thing about the Fig Tree. But then he invites him to stick with it, follow along with Jesus and makes the promise that HE WILL SEE better things, even more astonishing things… Once again, that amazing confidence Jesus has. That if we look closely at Jesus and stick close to him, he will deliver on everything he says he will do and everything he says that he is.
If you hadn’t noticed it by now, this promise of “you will see” is something I really want you to take away from this evening. When you doubt, when it just doesn’t compute, Look Again At Jesus, objectively and without prejudice, and you will see…
If you grew up with the King James version of the Bible, this is Verily Verily I say Unto Thee… In John’s Gospel, Jesus says this 25 times to “emphasise [the] trustworthiness and importance” of what he is about to say. It means, Pay attention. This is Truth you can’t ignore. And here is the first thing he really wants us to listen to.
- HEAVEN OPENED AND THE ANGELS GOING UP AND DOWN ON THE SON OF MAN.
Basically, Jesus is saying, “I am the Son of Man.” He is saying, I am the one who is going to bring heaven and earth together when I die on the cross and rise again to new life.
— How did I get there?
Firstly, a very cool thing. In verse 50 he is speaking directly to Nathanael. “You will see greater things.” But now in verse 51, he opens up the promise to everyone: “you plural will see heaven opened…”
Seeing heaven opened is a poetic phrase for having a vision from God, having your eyes opened to unseen and divine things.
And what divine amazing thing does Jesus promise we will see…
“heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
This is a reference back to the story of Jacob once again. In a dream, Jacob saw angels going up and down on him by a ladder. When he woke up, he realized that this was the place where heaven and earth met, he was filled with the knowledge of God’s plans for him and for his children and his children’s children and that he would become the Father of an entire nation — Israel.
Now, Jacob’s ladder is a fantastic picture. But Jesus doesn’t even mention the ladder. He says instead that we will see the angels going up and down on the Son of Man. And that’s the focus. Not on Jacob, but himself. He, Jesus is the new Jacob, and we will see him as the person and place where God is revealed, the beginning of a whole nation – the Church. As Kruse says, “The greater things people were to see, then, would be the revelation of God in the life, ministry, death, resurrection and exaltation of Jesus.”
Jesus promises that WE will see that HE IS the person that reveals God and is the first of a whole new nation, because of his death and resurrection.
And Jesus describes himself as the Son of Man.
= This is the real highlight of the whole passage. Here is Jesus in his own words.
I feel I have let you down this evening. I have not done what I set out to do, but instead done exactly what John the Writer does – given you a load of other people’s impressions of Jesus before actually showing you Jesus himself, in his own words. It’s a lot of build up, but it’s worth getting to. Jesus has been described as the Word, the Messiah, the son of God, Rabbi, the one Moses wrote about… but Jesus says of himself… I am the Son of Man.
Carson comments that Jesus used the title because it was not as loaded with political messianic baggage. “In the New Testament the title refers only to Jesus, and occurs almost always on his lips. In other words, he himself shapes its content… In the Fourth Gospel, the expression occurs 13 times and is most commonly associated with the themes of crucifixion and revelation, but also with eschatological authority.”
Jesus says “Son of Man” because it refers back to a passage in the Old Testament, Daniel 7 (verse 13), where Daniel had a vision of the end of the world and saw someone like a son of man, full of power and authority, being worshipped by everyone and having a kingdom that lasts forever. In that situation it means, someone like a human.
Jesus takes that phrase “someone like a human” and applies it to himself. Then he keeps on and on expanding on it. In the other three accounts of Jesus life, in Matthew Mark and Luke, ONLY Jesus uses this phrase and he uses it ONLY to describe himself, his power, what he has the right to do, what his death and resurrection mean. And in John’s Gospel we find the same thing. Son of Man is the way Jesus most often identifies himself.
The invitation was to “Come and See”… “Very truly I tell you, YOU WILL SEE… the Son of Man.” So what are we supposed to SEE about Jesus from his choice of phrase?
Other people call him rabbi, master, Lamb of God, even Son of God… But he introduces himself as “Son of Man”.
He is telling us that he is like a human. He is in appearance, human. And we know he was born of Mary. He has a strong link with us humans. He has come to experience with us, to suffer with us, to be the first human-esque creature to truly conquer death and sin.
He is telling us that he has authority to judge – he brings light which shines in the darkness. He sets the boundaries for what’s good and bad. He has the ultimate power at the end of time to judge each soul.
Here he also shows us that the Son of Man is the new Jacob. The new father of the new nation, the Church. The one on whom WE WILL SEE the angels going up and down. If we come and see, WE WILL SEE the place where God reveals himself and comes down among humans – and that is in Jesus.
Behold the Lamb of God – Behold the Son of Man.
This evening we’ve heard from Jesus in his own words. He meets 5 people and gets called all kind of impressive titles. But when we take up Jesus’ offer to Come and See, we will see amazing and more amazing things: that he really knows us, he knows what’s inside of us and what we will become, under his care. Jesus has authority to identify us, to remake us, as he did with Peter and Nathanael. Jesus is exactly who he says he is – the Son of Man.
If you need proof? Keep reading in John’s Gospel. The next thing he does in the next chapter is turn water into wine. A miracle which is a signpost to who he is.
After that he flexes his authority by chucking the salesmen out of the Temple.
And so on.
And so on.
Come and YOU WILL SEE
VERY TRULY I TELL YOU
I AM THE SON OF MAN