The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. 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.”
“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
“Come and see,” said Philip.
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.
Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”
Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
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.” (New International Version)
I am a follower of Jesus. I have been for decades. I found, and continue to find, in Jesus Christ a compelling person full of grace, truth, and love.
But my early life was not characterized with knowing Christ. I certainly learned about Jesus, that this ancient guy lived an altruistic life, got tortured and killed on a cross, and that Christians believe in his resurrection from death. However, back then it was more like some strange history lesson. That information made no difference to me.
That is, until I heard a voice – not an audible one that others could hear. Yet, it was just a real as any daily conversation with another person. I heard the call of Jesus. The Ancient of Days showed up. I know with every epistemic fiber in my being that it wasn’t an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato. I am sure beyond sure that there was more of an empty grave than gravy about my experience of the risen Christ.
I experienced the call of Jesus to “follow me.” And that is really, at its simplest, the call which continually goes out to all humanity. It is a gracious and merciful call. It isn’t a summons to experience a cataclysmic event of total belief in one fell swoop. Rather, it’s a call to belief that is much more an unfolding awareness of the deep spirituality and connection with the divine within.
Important to that faith process is another call to “come and see.” Whereas there are some Christian traditions which focus solely on a singular one-time experience of saving faith in Christ, the Gospel of John displays a drama of faith with multiple layers which people move through.
There is no egalitarian zap in which God grants total and immediate understanding. Instead, faith is an ever-increasing process. It is appropriate and biblical to say that our salvation has happened, is happening, and will happen. We follow, we come and see, and we keep following, keep coming, keep seeing more and more.
Like a muscle, our faith grows, develops, stretches, and strengthens over time. To use another metaphor, we ascend a stairway to heaven, one step at a time, day after day, following Jesus.
Methinks this is likely part of what Jesus was getting at with Nathaniel in today’s Gospel lesson. Nathaniel would have quickly picked up on the reference Jesus was making, way back to the first book of Genesis. The Jewish patriarch, Jacob, had an experience of seeing the angels of God on some celestial stairway, ascending and descending. It was an encounter of God’s presence with Jacob, assuring him of divine intervention into the muck of humanity. (Genesis 28:10-17)
Jesus connected that ancient portrait to himself so that Nathaniel would understand, would believe, that God has again broken into this world with a special divine presence. To look at Jesus and follow him, is to see and follow God.
Christ Jesus is the ultimate example and embodiment of God with us. Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus presents himself as:
- Living water – connecting to Jacob’s well (John 4:5-14)
- The Temple of God – the place where the Lord dwells in all divine fullness (John 2:18-22)
- Bread from heaven – linking the giving of manna to the Israelites in the desert (Exodus 16:4-7; John 6:1-59)
- The good shepherd – fulfilling divine Old Testament imperatives of caring for people (Ezekiel 34:11-16; John 10:1-30)
In all these ways, and more, Jesus intentionally connects himself as fulfilling God’s ancient promises to people.
In whichever way we need to hear the call to follow, Jesus accommodates to us. For some, Christ comes knocking on the front door. For others, he enters the side door, or slips into the backdoor of our lives.
And, if we will come and see, Jesus will also accommodate us by being the authority over us, the teacher to us, or the friend beside us. The Lord Jesus shall shepherd us and woo us to the flock for guidance and protection.
However, Jesus comes to you, it most likely will be in ways we aren’t expecting. Surely, nothing good can come from Nazareth! Yet, it did. Can anything good come from Calcutta, India, or Juarez, Mexico, or Hoboken, New Jersey, or Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or even from a small rural area that doesn’t show up on a map? Yes, it can. Because with Jesus, God has entered this world, and, as it turns out, the Lord’s presence is everywhere.
Follow me. Come and see. Two of the simplest exhortations ever uttered. Yet, two of the most gracious phrases ever said, with profound implications for us beyond what we can fathom or imagine.
Guide us waking O Lord, and guard us sleeping; that awake we may watch with Christ and asleep we may rest in peace. May the shape of each day be formed by the pedantic following of my Lord; and may I come and see the wonders you have done, are doing, and will do. Almighty and merciful God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – bless us and keep us. Amen.