Red Letter Year: 9/30

John 1.43-51

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Philip was from Bethsaida, Andrew and Peter’s hometown.

45 Philip went to look for Nathanael and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about! His name is Jesus, the son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

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

“Come and see for yourself,” Philip replied.

47 As they approached, Jesus said, Look, here is a genuine son of Israel — a man of complete integrity.”

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

Jesus replied, I could see you under the fig tree before Philip found you.”

49 Then Nathanael exclaimed, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God—the King of Israel!”

50 Jesus asked him, “Do you believe this just because I told you I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than this.” 51 Then he said, “I tell you the truth, you will all see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Comments

There is a lot of seeing in this passage. I underlined all the verbs relating to seeing to draw your attention to them (I could say “look at them” but that seems a bit cheesy). The point is quite direct and simple. Even here in John, the loftiest of the Gospels, the one making the clearest claim that Jesus is God, this is not a matter of making statements unsupported by evidence, of only waxing eloquent where words have no meaning, no tether to reality. This first chapter of John can sound so self-referential, as if groundless claims are being made and faith is regarded as mental assent to some fanciful tale. I made the point last week that John does not understand faith this way, instead faith is trust expressed in action.

The focus on seeing adds an important layer to this understanding, because faith is not self-referential. As a virtue, faith exists between the vices of skepticism and gullibility. A person who will never believe anything, even when confronted with evidence suffers from a lack of faith. A person who believes for the sake of belief, who refuses to engage in critical thinking and subject the content of faith to serious inquiry suffers from over-faith and is likely to fall prey to charlatans and hucksters peddling cheap religious trinkets.

This is not at all what John is about. This is the same guy who says in 1 John 1.1: “We proclaim to you the one who existed from the beginning, whom we have heard and seen. We saw him with our own eyes and touched him with our own hands. He is the Word of life.” What is true of John must also be true of us. John is not saying, ‘hey, trust me, I saw him, I touched him.’ No. He is saying, “Come and see for yourself.” Check this dude out. He might heal you. He might say something that applies so specifically to you it’s like he’s reading your mind. He might transform your life so much that you wind up inspired and following him and then saying to everyone else you meet, “Come see for yourself.” 

This should be our mantra. This should be our own evangelistic invitation ever. I know this guy. Come see for yourself. Don’t let the pretty prose and philosophical echoes fool you. Despite John’s eagle status, his Gospel is as grounded in real world experience and full on humanity as anything we have read all year. If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Red Letter Year: 9/27

John 1.29-42

photo-529 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 He is the one I was talking about when I said, ‘A man is coming after me who is far greater than I am, for he existed long before me.’ 31 I did not recognize him as the Messiah, but I have been baptizing with water so that he might be revealed to Israel.”

32 Then John testified, “I saw the Holy Spirit descending like a dove from heaven and resting upon him. 33 I didn’t know he was the one, but when God sent me to baptize with water, he told me, ‘The one on whom you see the Spirit descend and rest is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I saw this happen to Jesus, so I testify that he is the Chosen One of God.”

35 The following day John was again standing with two of his disciples. 36 As Jesus walked by, John looked at him and declared, “Look! There is the Lamb of God!” 37 When John’s two disciples heard this, they followed Jesus.

38 Jesus looked around and saw them following. “What do you want?” he asked them.

They replied, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

39 “Come and see,” he said. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when they went with him to the place where he was staying, and they remained with him the rest of the day.

40 Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of these men who heard what John said and then followed Jesus. 41 Andrew went to find his brother, Simon, and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (which means “Christ”).

42 Then Andrew brought Simon to meet Jesus. Looking intently at Simon, Jesus said, “Your name is Simon, son of John — but you will be called Cephas” (which means “Peter”).

Comments

We might be tempted to read this as a quick shift of gears from the Prologue, the high, cosmic pronouncement giving way to the more earthy accounts, but we should resist that temptation and read today’s passage in continuity with what we have read for the past two days. The temptation comes from our experiences with Mark, Matthew, and Luke, but John the Evangelist presents John the Baptist to us in a very different way than the other three Gospels. Instead of describing the action of Jesus’ baptism, the Evangelist gives us all this information in the form of a testimony from the Baptist. We should read this together with the opening pronouncement of John’s Gospel because the Baptist’s declaration comes in that same mode. It carries the same cosmic weight as the prologue.

The Evangelist does this to put the humanity of Jesus on the same footing as the divinity of Jesus. Note the use of the present tense in v. 29 – Jesus is not the Lamb who will take away the sin of the world some time in the future. He is already taking away the sin of the world by virtue of his Incarnation. God has taken on flesh, has brought human life into the divine life. The Baptist declares both the humanity of Jesus and his divinity (v. 30: “he existed long before me”). Jesus is not just the Lamb of God, he is the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.

This indicates that God’s plan for taking away the sin of the world was Jesus from the very beginning – from even before the Fall. The dispensationalist notion that God went through several trial redemption plans before settling on one that worked is proven false on these grounds – the plan was Jesus all along. This also confirms the move John made in yesterday’s reading in separating between Law on one side and grace and truth on the other side. Jesus was the plan long before the Law existed. Jesus didn’t take the place of the Law because the Law never displaced Jesus to begin with. Ordering our lives around the Law denies both the divinity of Jesus and his resurrection. This was the Ebionite heresy John was responding to and is disturbingly similar to the Calvinist preoccupation with law that persists in our own day. Jesus’ invitation is for us to come and see him – note the singularity and totality of these commands. Where do we come? To Jesus alone. What do we come to see? Jesus alone. Twice the Baptist tells us to “Look!” – to set aside all distractions (especially religious and religious-rule-based distractions) and focus on Jesus. I hope this is something we can do.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale HousePublishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.