This month is a particularly happy one for St Andrew’s Street Baptist Church. On 3rd September, we welcomed Reverend Tim Clarke-Wood as the new Associate Minister. For Tim and his family, it’s a time of great change: farewell, peaceful Croyde; hello, bustling Cambridge! I have no doubt that it will be a time of adventure for the family and a time of adventure for us, as his new church family.
For this month’s Messenger article, I’d like to explore the idea of ‘arriving’, from a Biblical perspective. I thought I’d look specifically at the beginning of John’s Gospel. In chapter 1 and verses 45 to 51, Nathanael makes a short journey and arrives at the feet of Jesus Christ. The arrival is delightful:
45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”(ESV)
When Nathanael ‘arrives at Jesus’, he is, in fact, arriving at a number of new and significant experiences which will change his life forever…
Arriving at a new teaching
At the time when Jesus was physically among us, the teaching style of His fellow rabbis was noteworthy. Stylistically, they often taught by posing questions and making suggestions as to the meaning of Scriptures. Jesus approached things very differently: He spoke ‘as one with authority’, not as someone who was unsure of the validity of his teaching. Indeed, in verse 51, Christ places the words, “Truly, truly” at the beginning of the sentence – He is reassuring His listeners that every word is utterly dependable. This Godly confidence would have starkly contrasted with the unsure teaching Nathanael usually received.
Arriving at a new identity
Based on a simple reading of John’s words, it would seem that Nathanael was not particularly enamored of Nazareth: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” is quite a damning question. It’s clear that Nathanael didn’t feel an affinity, a closeness with the village of Nazareth. It’s possible to say with some certainty that he didn’t identify with Nazareth. But, within a few short years, Nathanael – and all of Christ’s followers – would come to be know as Nazarenes (Acts 24:5)! When we arrive at Christ, we find a new, true identity for ourselves – sometimes, one we would not have expected.
Arriving at a new village
Nathanael lived in Bethsaida. The name of the village means ‘House of Fishing’. Jesus relocated His disciples to Capernaum, meaning: ‘The Village of Comfort’. Delightful! Nathanael and his fellows might well have expected peace, quiet, mildness, cosiness as they moved to the Village of Comfort to be with their Master. However, as is demonstrated throughout the Gospels, Christ revolutionizes the places He arrives at. We can read in Mark 2:1-12 how one house in Capernaum that hosted Jesus swiftly had it’s roof removed to accommodate a miraculous healing. Today we must learn, as Nathanael did, that places change and gain a new dynamic when we arrive at them with Christ.
Arriving at the gate of heaven itself
The encounter concludes with a promise. New teaching, new identity, new home… all would be ultimately meaningless to Nathanael, if Jesus were nothing more than a charismatic teacher or a clairvoyant who looks under fig trees. Jesus reassured him that this is not the case. When Nathanael arrives at Jesus, he arrives at the gate of heaven itself. In verse 51, the Lord makes reference to Genesis 28 and Jacob’s famous vision of angels ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. Jacob comments (vs. 17), “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”
I praise the Lord that we, too, can arrive at Jesus and that He has given us a chance to point other people in His direction.