Phil Cox

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You are the Son of God

18th January 2007

Last week, we looked at John's account of the calling of Andrew and Simon (John 1:35-42). The story finishes with these words:

John 1:41-42
The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, "We have found the Messiah" (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said, "You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas" (which, when translated, is Peter).

When Simon met Jesus, Jesus told him who he was - "You are Simon" - and who he would become - "You will be called Rocky" (Rocky would be the best translation of "Cephas" into English; "Peter" is just a transliteration of the Greek "Petros").

We all know that Simon Peter was a flawed human being (just like us). Jesus could have said all kinds of negative things about him. But instead, Jesus chose to talk about what he would become. He chose to find something to celebrate about Simon Peter, not criticise him.

God loves to affirm us, not to constantly complain about us. We need Him to give us correction sometimes but He delights to give us encouragement. When you read scripture, do you hear His Holy word telling you about His love, His acceptance of you as you are, and His plan for your life, just like Simon heard it that day long ago? Or have you mis-learnt the gospel so badly that you just hear the stuff about how sinful and weak you are?

And I wish we Christians would take Jesus as our role model a bit more. We're so often ready to tell others about their faults. But we should (usually) prefer - like Jesus - to find something about them to rejoice over. For example, you can look at the biggest "failure" (in your eyes) in your church - and see that one day he will stand perfect and Christ-like in heaven:

1 John 3:2
Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him...


The story of the calling of Philip and Nathaniel follows on from this, and it's very similar:

John 1:43-46
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.

Just as Andrew's first response to his encounter with Jesus was to follow Him, and the second was to tell Simon, so Philip's first response was also to follow Jesus, and his second was to tell Nathanael. If there are people that you love (as Andrew loved his brother and Philip loved his friend) the best thing you can do for them is to tell them about Jesus the Messiah and bring them to Him.

But when Nathanael first heard the Good News, he was sceptical, just like so many since. When we first hear about Jesus, we can easily find a reason to be sceptical. There have been plenty of false messiahs - and they're still around today. Why should we accept that Jesus is different?

For you, a reason not to believe in Him might be something about religious hypocrites (there were plenty of these about in Jesus's day as well). Or it might be the old nonsense about "all wars are started by religious people", which is quite false - Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Mao, to name just four, were atheists! Or it might just be that the idea of a genuine, lasting, personal relationship with God is just too good to be true. Or it might be that the secular propaganda machine has had such an effect on you that you'd find it really uncool to get religion.

For Nathanael, it was the fact that Nazareth wasn't mentioned in any of the prophecies about the Messiah - or in the Old Testament at all. Which just goes to show how easy it is to let a little misunderstanding blind us to the wonderful truth of Jesus Christ.

But Philip offered Nathanael (and us) some great advice - "Come and see". And Nathanael agrees.

John 1:47-51
When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false."
"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 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."

Just like Jesus's conversation with Simon, Jesus firstly tells Nathanael who he is, then He tells him what he's going to experience.

Again, we know that we're all sinners. So there must have been plenty of negative things Jesus could have said to Nathanael. But He calls him "a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false". Jesus actually wants to encourage us - to celebrate who we are! He sees for the good in us! And - yes - there is good in every one of us*. Jesus believes in us! Just as He believed in Nathanael. And we should allow Him to encourage us. And we should look for the good in each other.

One great thing about Nathanael was that he recognised Jesus as the Son of God. Another was that, being a man in whom "there is nothing false", he spoke his mind and acknowledged the King!

Nathaniel wasn't perfect. But he wasn't totally disgusting and hopeless, either. Just like you and me. We can choose whether to look at the good or bad - in ourselves and in others. One way leads to life. The other leads to depression, loneliness, hopelessness and sin.

If we're discouraged enough, we can't hear the second part, where Jesus tells us what we're going to do, and what we're going to experience. We end up with "I'll never be any good". Which denies the power of God to transform lives - including our own. And it cuts us off from so much blessing and happiness and fulfilment.

Are you going to look for the good - to be encouraged and to be an encourager? Or are you going to dwell on the bad - to be discouraged and be a criticiser?

You choose.


* - The Bible teaches what is sometimes called the doctrine of "universal depravity". This says that everything about us is polluted by sin. And it's true. But we're not so polluted that Jesus couldn't find something to celebrate in Nathanael - or in you. It would be a distortion of this doctrine to think that we are 100% pollution. We're universally depraved, not in the sense that we're totally polluted, but in the sense that every part of us is polluted to some extent. We shouldn't think of ourselves as better than we are, but we shouldn't think of ourselves as worse than we are, either. Specifically, it's damaging to us (and to others) if we really believe that humans aren't worth having, and arn't worth celebrating. That was definitely not Jesus's view - as we see from this passage.