The challenge of meeting Christ
Expectations were running high in Israel, for the appointed times had almost run out. The sixty and nine 'heptads' unto Messiah the Prince (Dan. 9.25) were almost at an end, and "all men were in expectation" of the Coming Prince. How would He come? From where would He come? How would they know He had come?
These were points of endless debate in the homes and councils of Israel (See John 7.40‑42 and 52). Of course He would come in all his might and majesty, spreading confusion and dismay in the ranks of Rome, throwing proud defiance to its Imperial Majesty! He would be victorious along with them, for does it not stand written in the prophecy "And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High". (Dan.7.27). Were not they the people of the saints of the Most High? To whom if not to them, could that signal honour be given? So absolutely sure was this expectation that its certainty permeated every discussion, as salt did their bread.
What then must have been the consternation in the mind of one pious Israelite when his very own brother ‑ his own mother's kindred son ‑ came to him exultingly, and most persuasively said "We have found him of whom Moses in the Law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth ..." (John 1. 4‑5).
Can we wonder at the humorously doubtful nature of the rejoinder? Nazareth ‑ a mere village place, far out of the beaten track; a mere cipher in the history of Israel! "Jesus of Nazareth! Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?" Unabashed at his brother's seeming levity, Philip quietly said "Come and see". Suiting the action to the word Philip quietly led his brother along, but not before Nathaniel had stepped aside beneath the shelter of a near-by tree to enquire in prayer. Fortified with inner resources, Nathaniel went along to see for himself this cause of his brother's newly found enthusiasm.
Forestalling all introductory greetings Jesus said, even while Nathaniel still approached, "Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!" An Israelite, true to the name, neither caught nor catching other men with guile! What a commendation for a careful man! "How do you know me" asked Nathaniel, surprised. "When you were under the fig tree, I saw you" was the ready reply. That was enough. Here he was face to face with One who could read the motives of the heart through an external action.
Unknown to himself those searching eyes had seen him sheltering in his quiet retreat, and understood why he had gone to one side. Willing to be convinced, yet not ready to be duped and led astray, this true son of Israel undoubtedly had lifted up his heart to heaven for guidance and safe keeping at this moment of crisis. If, as Philip said, the Christ had truly come, even though unostentatiously, he wanted with all his heart to welcome him. Yet, if his brother had been deceived, he wished to escape the entangling net himself and break the deception that held his brother.
The deeply moving forces inside him welled up, and found expression in the words "Rabbi, you are the Son of God. you are the King of Israel!" These words have the ring of the thinker and the man of strong-convictions! They show the cast and mould of his piety. "King of Israel", yes! that was an easily reached conviction, but "Son of God"! That is something more. Yet that conclusion lay latent in the Messiahship, as Jesus later found to his cost. (John 10.31‑36).
"He that seeks finds." Nathaniel was a seeker, and he found one to delight him. "We have found him!" We too in our throbbing day "have found him" thank God! Of course, God has found us too (John 6. 65) but that is not the whole story of the "finding". It is the one who has been drawing us on who has led us to his Son, for "no man can come to me, except the Father which sent me draw him". (John 6. 44).
In our case too there must be a sincere, pious, hungry desire, seeking something for our soul's deepest welfare before we find Jesus of Nazareth. What do we find in him, as day by day we tread the narrow way?
Perhaps it is true to say that what I want him to be to me will depend mainly on what I want to be to him. Am I satisfied to know him as my distant friend or my occasional Friend, to whom I turn my heart just once in a while - just now and then. Or ‑ do I want him for my near, my most intimate and desirable Friend, to whom I turn myself many, many times a day, from whom I can scarcely bear to be parted even by the urgent task of the daily round.. There is this tie that binds, and if it is one of true affinity, then as the magnet draws the steel so shall He and I be closely drawn together.
''We have found him of whom . . . .