By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
July 18, 2021
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Mark 6:30–34 (ESV)
30 The apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them. 34 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.
Mark 6:53–56 (ESV)
53 When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. 54 And when they got out of the boat, the people immediately recognized him 55 and ran about the whole region and began to bring the sick people on their beds to wherever they heard he was. 56 And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.
How has your week been? How many items did you have in your schedule? Did you get them all completed or are you thinking right of what you need to do as soon as the meeting for worship is over? We live in a culture that almost takes pride in being busy. If someone does not have to look at their calendar when you ask to meet with them, we almost feel as if they are lazy. And we almost feel embarrassed if we do not have at least one event conflicting with potential meetings. The conversation around juggling schedules is replacing idle chit chat about the weather, mainly because having an opinion about the weather would require us to slow down to notice if there are clouds or not.
We are a busy culture. When I was in Ukraine, I was constantly annoyed that people did not show up to meetings on time. I was annoyed that the trains were not where they said they would be when they said they would be there. I was annoyed that people did not have a sense of urgency. And I get back home and begin work in a corporate world, and my supervisors are telling me that I do not have enough sense of urgency. I have been told that I am too laid back and need care more. I have always found this to be surprising, and to be honest I would venture to say that those supervisors did not know me nor how I work.
In today’s passage, we see Jesus and the disciples in a bit of a different way. Usually, the gospel accounts have Jesus doing the ministry and the disciples just following him around. But today, is a bit different. Jesus is the one sitting around and the disciples are the ones that are on the move. Jesus sent the disciples out. He sent them to the surrounding villages around his hometown to minister. He told them to go. He advised them to put on their durable shoes and to grab a walking stick and nothing else. Do not pack a bag, do not run to the bank to get some cash from the ATM, he did not even want them to pack a lunch. Just go. And he gave them the authority over unclean spirit, he gave them the power and authority to do pretty much everything they had watch him do.
Jesus sends them out, but what does he do in the meantime? He morns his cousin’s death. Jesus sends out the twelve, giving them authority over unclean spirits, and they went out and proclaimed that people should repent. They cast out demons and anointed many who were sick with oil and brought about healing. And while they do that, we got that weird interlude in Mark’s gospel where we discuss the growing fame of Jesus’ name and Herod’s guilty conscience. Jesus sent out his disciples to give himself space.
We do not see this interlude as Jesus’s grief. Even though I spoke about the passage last week I did not present it in this manner, but if we consider the scene. The twelve are out wandering in the villages, expanding the ministry of Christ. And Jesus is alone, and maybe he joined with John’s disciples as they carried his body to the tomb.
Today, the disciples are making their way back to where Jesus was. They are sharing various stories and are filled infectious excitement. Do we sense the excitement? I want us to remember the Monday after the Chiefs won the super bowl. How many of us remember the score at the beginning of the 3rd quarter? How many of us remember as the opposing team posed for a picture after scoring a touchdown assured that they were going to win? How many of us remember the remarkable comeback? The conversations the Monday after were filled with commentary, smart phones were replaying highlights, and pretty much everyone was talking about the game. I remember that day, I remember how the supervisors at the store expected little to get accomplished that day, and their expectations were not far from correct.
That was just a football game. What the disciples experienced was far beyond even being present at the live event. They had watch people around them being released from spiritual bondage. They were seeing illnesses that crippled the afflicted leaving the body and lives being restored. We have trouble remembering how to tell the punchline of a joke at times, imagine trying to explain atrophied muscles becoming firm and toned.
They did not want to stop talking. They were excited to tell their stories and to hear the stories that the other groups had to share. Each group most likely brought people along with them to tell stories as well. We are not told this explicitly but if the story is too good to be true but it really is true, you would want to bring a witness or two to corroborate what you had to say. People are coming and going. Stories are shared, laughs are heard. There is so much traffic in and out that the disciples and Jesus could not even take a break, even to eat.
Have you had a day like that? I worked in retail for the past eleven years. I understand this kind of busy. There are days where the stores that I have worked at buy food for their employees for one reason, the stores are so busy that if they did not have food readily available their employees would not take the time to eat. It is not that they wanted them to work that hard there was just too much to do. When a store is preparing for inventory, the day when every item in the store is counted, employees are not thinking about food, they want to make sure their area is ready to go. When the Black Friday event begins and customers are herding into the aisles a retail working is not thinking about when their lunch break will come, because they are too busy helping their customers find the hot deal on an instapot. We have days like this. I am sure that during tax season accountants have their schedule booked so tightly they are lucky to have time to eat a granola bar within the course of their workday, and I know that during harvest farmers wives often must remind their husbands that sleep is necessary.
The camp of the disciples was busy. The excitement was at monumental levels. And I can just imagine that Jesus was probably having a great time watching and listening. But he also knew that the human body cannot endure that kind of stress for long.
Adrenaline is an amazing biochemical produced within our bodies. It can enable our bodies to perform in nearly superhuman ways, but it comes with side effects. The presence of this hormone causes the muscles in the body to become stimulated. The heart beats faster, our legs might begin to twitch, our senses become more alert. This happens because we are on edge, ready to respond quickly in instance of danger. The body then begins to produce more glucose so that the muscles can have the energy to continue to function at this heightened state. Our bodies are using more glucose so if we do not eat eventually our bodies will become hypoglycemic. To combat this the liver kicks into action converting the fats in our body into usable energy. This sounds great, but what happens if we are not actually using the energy?
Adrenaline is produced during high stress. This can be positive or negative stress. If positive we are usually working hard or exercising. The negative stress is the problem. Doctors will tell us to do things to relieve stress in our lives because its hard on our heart, or maybe because we are borderline diabetic. The reason they say this is because when we are stressed mentally our bodies still respond in the same way as if a dog were chasing us, but our muscles are not using energy so the adrenaline is pumping our body full of extra sugars with nowhere to go. Eventually when that is not used, the glucose is converted back into fat which usually is stored in places like the liver, or around the heart. Negative stress, the stress from work, and misplace anxiety contribute to our nation’s obesity problem. It is not only the amount of sugar we consume. It is the stress with no healthy outlet.
I am not saying that Jesus knew the potential health risk of unchecked stress, but he could have he is God. What I am saying is Jesus understood that once the body runs on adrenaline for a while a crash is imminent. While we are in the zone, we do not know how close we are to that crash. In our mind we have never been better. Our mind is clicking, our actions are honed with precision, but with each beat of the heart we are closer to that crash. That moment when we have no more to give, and our bodies fail us. If we are an athlete the crash might be an injury something like a pulled muscle, or a twisted ankle. For me, I will be writing away thinking everything is flowing perfectly and suddenly, my brain seems to stop. I cannot type, I cannot even think. It is as if the transmission of my brain popped out of gear and the clutch is out of sync and I cannot get things reengaged no matter how hard I try.
Jesus sees this in the eyes of his disciples, and he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” Rest. Stop. Take a break. Go on vacation. Retreat.
Just when things were beginning to click, Jesus looks at them and says, “let’s take a break.” Imagine the shock of this. It would be like the coach of the football team calling a time out right when the momentum of the game was beginning to go their way. “Come away by yourselves,” Jesus says and he wants to show them and let them experience the holy rhythm that He lives.
I speak of this holy rhythm often. Enough that if you do not have it memorized after attending our meeting for a couple of months you have probably not been listening. Jesus’s holy rhythm is worship, prayer, and service. He made it his custom to worship. He withdrew to isolated places to pray, and the ministered to the need within the community. This rhythm is important for many reasons that stretch beyond the spiritual life. You can even apply this at work. Worship is celebration or remembering accomplishments. Prayer is taking a step back to examine what we are doing and looking at things from a different perspective. And service is reengaging a project. It is a holy and healthy rhythm to incorporate into your life.
But often we forget to “come away.” That coming away is in the center of the rhythm. It is in the center for a reason because it is the pivot of the cycle. If we put all our attention into service or ministry. If all our energy is on the work we need to accomplish, we might get a great deal done, but are we improving? In a football game, it is important for the offense to be on the field as long as possible. When your team’s offense is on the field that means you have control of the game. The defense is extremely important but if the defense is on the field too much you have lost control. Your defense must be strong, for the simple fact that it keeps your offense on the field.
If all we do is work, or ministry. If we are on the go all the time. It is like the defense is on the field all the time. When the defense is on the field mistakes are made and the other team gains the upper hand. When all we are focused on is the task right in front of us at any one moment, we are not able to see what is coming. When a department manager in a store is too busy stocking the shelves and not investigating the inventory levels eventually, they will sell out of items at the worst possible time. Ministry or work is immediate it right in front of us. We must do it now, those that live only in that place are highly stress. They might feel like they are keeping up, but eventually they will start to fall behind, because they have not had the time to anticipate what is coming up. If a factory pushes too hard to fulfill the orders and they do not come away to do routine maintenance, the machinery will break down causing greater harm. If a truck driver keeps driving and does not stop to rest an accident will eventually happen. We need to rest. We need to slow things down so we can regain control and perspective.
Jesus taught us that the sabbath was made for man not man for the sabbath. God gave us the sabbath not because he required that day for us to worship him, but we need that day. We need a day to stop what we are doing so that we can reengage life with renewed energy. And sabbath is not just worship on a Sunday morning. Sabbath is an intentional and disciplined. It is routine maintenance of our physical and spiritual life. It is there to remind us of what is most important, and why we do what we do.
After the disciples joined Jesus in this sabbath retreat, we see Jesus coming ashore, he sees a great crowd, and he has compassion on them. He has compassion because they were like sheep without a shepherd. I want us to focus on this as we enter our time of Holy Expectancy. A sheep without a shepherd is chaos, fear, despair. Sheep without a shepherd are wondering around without direction. They are eating the grass, following only their mouth and their stomach, until they are lost and vulnerable to attack. A sheep without a shepherd is the state of mind we find ourselves in when we live our busy lives without time to come away and rest. One thing after another, the next task, the next project, the next, the next. Wondering eating one blade of grass after another until we are lost and vulnerable. Yes, we might be working on good things, things that have great importance, even righteous importance but what is the cost? Come away, take a break, go on vacation, get some rest. Develop a holy rhythm in life, because the things that you are doing have great importance, and the offense needs to be on the field.
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Mark 1:21–28 (NRSV)
The Man with an Unclean Spirit
21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. 22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. 23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, 24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.” 25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. 27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.” 28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.
There are several things in life that I cannot explain. For the most part it does not bother me one bit, but then there are times when I feel like I should be able to explain something yet I cannot. Those are the times that I have trouble with. I would love to be able to clearly explain heredity and genetics since I spent so much time studying this in school, yet unfortunately I cannot even remember the terms. Of course since most of you probably do not care to talk DNA I am probably safe in my igrorance. But then there are things like this passage that we read which I cannot fully explain, and frankly it scares me a bit. It scares me because there is something just under the surface that I know is happening both in this scripture and all around me, but I do not necissarly have the vocabulary to explain it. Scares might not be the proper term, because I do know if I am truly scared, but I am uncomfortable and nervous.
There is a reason I remain guarded because there are several different theories around this passage and other like it that cover a broad range, I cannot fully support any of these theories fully because each do not fully explain what is happening, while others from a theological standpoint contradict everything I hold to be important. So I am left in this akward state, of not wanting to diminish what is happening while not wanting to perpetuate heresy.
When it comes to the spiritual realm I hope each of us are just a bit uncomfortable, because it is a realm of the unseen. Do not get me wrong I belive that there is a spiritual realm, I believe there are benevolent and malicious spirits at work around us. I believe this not only because scripture tells us that they are present, but also because things happen around us that cannot be fully explained. As I first read this passage though I am struck by continuing evidence of a continuing battle that has raged since the heavens and the earth were created. A battle that is both seen and unseen that is fought in physical and spiritual ways, and that throughout the centuries has never let up. There is evidence of this continued battle in the various understandings and explainations that various doctrinal traditons and interpreteatons have given us about ancient observations of demon possession, some of the cases can be clearly explained as mental illness yet others passages do not lend themselves to this. I hear the stories that our missionaries tell of the spiritual wars that they have fought with Christ and they amaze and unnerve me, so just when I think I begin to have an understanding everything twists again and I am left wondering what is really going on yet again.
I admit this failing because I want us all to be honest with ourselves. Things happen and we cannot explain it. We can simply say that it is spiritual and leave it at that or we can look deeper. There is a risk in either approach, because one thought process can give more power to spiritual forces than scripture allows while the other approach leave can cause us to question the authority of scripture and leave holes in our faith. There are forces of good and evil in our world. There is a spiritual battle that is being waged, and yes we are caught in the middle. But as I wrestle with this scripture I do not want us to look at it from a different perspective than we are used to looking at it from. Not to detract from the power of Jesus and the first miracuouls feat that Mark records in his Gospel, but I want us to look at this through a different set of eyes.
To begin I want us to admit that there is evil in this world. It is not hard to see. We can watch on the news, read in the papers and on the internet story after story about revolting and inhumane activities that occur within our nation and around the world. We can turn back the pages of history and see ghastly deed that have been performed for various reason which can nauseate us and cause even the strongest among us to weep. I could say the word ISIS, Nazi, or slavery and each of would be able to say yes there is evil there. But then there are other terms that we use where the line between good and evil is blurred words like drones, Wall Street, waterboarding, Israel, Palistine, or genetic modification and we may begin to argue because some see these as evil while others may see them as justified. The blur occurs when we as humans define and redefine what evil is, what right and wrong are, and what actions are culturally acceptable. Do you sense the danger in that statement?
There is evil in this world that much we can all agree on. It does not matter what faith or lack thereof we have, every human being on the planet knows that there is evil. But where that evil rears its head can often be surprising.
I have read this passage countless times as I have walked along the pathways of faith, yet each time I have seemed to overlook something. Something that is so simple yet causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand on end. It is easy visualize in our mind’s eyes Jesus preforming a maricle. We are drawn to it and begin to imagine the convulsing man from which an unclean spirit emerges. But how often do we actually consider and contemplate where this man actually is? He is in the synagogue. The place of worship. He is participating and involved in the very same activities that we ourselves engage on a regular basis. The church as we know it emerges out of the synagogue.
Jesus goes into the synagogue in Capernaum, and begins to teach and among those in the crowd is this man. But before we discuss the man it is important to expand on the scene. There are similarities and differences in the first century synagogue to our contemporary expressions of worship. They did offer prayers, they did sing hymns, and read scriptures which occurs throughout the world in houses of worship, but the difference is in the interpretation. In the first century the approach to the sermon or the teaching portion of worship was different. That is alluded to in this passage of scripture. Mark records that, “They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Jesus began to teach and it astounded them, because he taught with authority, and not as the scribes. This is profound because in the first century there was a deep focus on orthodoxy. One did not speak during the teaching portion of worship without having been trained in the oral traditions of the faith. Those that spoke, spoke giving reference to the rabbi from which they learned. It was unusual for someone to speak without making some reference. Jesus spoke without referencing the teacher that trained him. He spoke as his own authority, He moved away from the oral traditions they were used to and began speaking an interpretation of his own.
Now I say that this is a difference between the first century synagogue and the church, but in actuality is not all that different. Our pastors today do not merely reiterate the sermons presented by others most write their own, but often they are filled with theological teaching they have learned from others. This in and of itself is not wrong. Each of us do this, we learn one way and when we are asked to teach we teach out of what we have taught. But what happens if someone challenges our understanding, what happens when we hear a different perspective. There are only two choices really, we are either open to the teaching or we reject it. There is a growing number of people that accept the teaching of an end time rapture where those in Christ will be gathered in the air removed from this world just prior to the last days. Many of us accept that teaching, we believe that that is exactly what the scripture teaches, and when we hear something contrary to that teaching we can become defensive. But that was not the teaching a century ago, in fact that teaching was not mainstream until after World War II. Why is it that so many of us belive that teaching as the true interpretation, because it is what we have been taught. That interpretation was not widely accepted until after the nation of Israel was reestablished, and along with that interpretation is cultural baggage from the Cold War. We as Americans were taught that Russia was the one that was going to lead the war against Israel and therefore that interpretation of scripture was correct because Russia was allied against us and Israel. We have been taught that. That of course is only one example of the teachings we have been taught. The teachings that often times are challenge as cultures shift and emerging generations begin to focus on different aspects of faith.
What is our reaction to the teachings that differ from what we have always been taught? Ultimately each of us are like those first century worshipers in the synagogue of Capernaum, we are astonished. And sometimes we are defensive. Sometimes we may even cry out a challenge. At times we may even demand for the removal of a minister or teacher because they are not holding true to the traditions. We may even consider someone to be evil because of a difference of interpretation.
Jesus was teaching in the synagogue, He was teaching with authority unlike that of the scribes, and someone cries out from the congregation, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us?” I stop there because I want us to be very aware that that very same spiritual battle that possessed this man still rages to this very day. What we have known can be challenged and often we can cry out like this man, “Have you come to destroy us?” I stop there because we as humans define for ourselves what is good and evil, we justify in our own minds what is right and wrong. We base our understanding on many factors but sometimes we can be led astray. “Have you come to destroy us?”
We see this man as being a man possessed with an evil spirit, someone who was indwelled by a demon and far from God, but again he was at the synagogue. We know nothing about his past or his future but we do know that he had great concerns. Was Jesus there to destroy everything that he and others had worked so hard to create? Was Jesus there to change the direction that this faith community was going? Was he and those like him going to lose their influence if the community saw Jesus’ authority as being greater than theirs? Do you see why this passage makes me uncomfortable? Do you see why I admit to being just a bit scared while I read it? I am unnerved because I have cried out at others very similar things. I myself could be this man. I could be the man Jesus is telling to shut up! And I do not want to be that man. I do not want to be a man that is so influence by evil that I cannot accept the authority of Jesus. I do not want to be the man that is afraid that if I were to listen to Jesus that everything I thought was important would be destroyed.
This is the very place that many of us are at today. There is a raging war all around and within us. And we are afraid that everything we have struggled to keep alive is about to be destroyed. Jesus said to that man, “Be silent…” Be silent. Yes I know he commanded the unclean spirit to come out of the man as well. But first He said be silent. There is something important there. Something that we used to know but have forgotten. Be silent, be still, close your mouth and let Jesus speak. Admit that maybe just maybe we have been influenced and led astray by various things and maybe we might have focused on the wrong things. Maybe in our struggle to keep things going we have forgotten what is really important. Maybe we are that man. A man or woman sitting in a church listening yet being led by something else, something unclean, perhaps something evil. What is evil? What is sin? These questions have been asked before, we might say that it is a transgression of the law, but I think it is more than that, I think sin is anything that detracts and distracts our attention from God and the people that God loves so much that He gave his very life to redeem. Evil is when we consciously decide to live a life of sin. We cry out with this man, “Jesus, Have you come to destroy us?” The answer is absolutely yes! Yes he has come to destroy anything and everything that hinders reconciliation. Yes He wishes to destroy this illusion of self-justification of evil that keeps us from loving him and or neighbors. Yes he wants to destroy you and me, so that He can then redeem and restore each of us to being who we deep down know we are. He wants us to be individuals and a community that is defined as loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit, and living the love of Christ with others. And that all begins with us being still and letting His authority direct our paths.
John 1:43–51 (NRSV)
Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” 49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
One of the most quoted statement in our contemporary culture is that people love Jesus but hate the church. There is something powerful in that statement that should make each of immediately stop whatever we are doing at that moment, turning our attention to the one making the statement, and engage that individual in conversation. I say this not because we need to proceed to argue with them and attempt to convert their souls with our craft use of the most advanced apologetic techniques, but because that person is saying something very profound about the life of the church. “I love Jesus but Hate the Church.” For probably most of us this statement causes us to cringe, like we had just licked a 9 volt battery on a dare. Our first reaction is to prove them wrong to lash out, but what they are actually pleading for is not an opportunity to engage in debate but to be listened too.
That statement speaks volumes about the church engages our culture. Somehow and somewhere along the course of this individual’s life the witness of the church has separated from the testimony of Christ. Somewhere along the line the gospel of Christ was separated from the assembly of believers. That is a damning statement, one that is painful to even contemplate let alone speak among one such gathering, but a statement that must be considered. How can someone say that they love Jesus yet hate those people that follow the Him?
This is the reality of the situation that the house of Israel was facing during the revelation of Jesus during the first century. Of course they did not know the reality of Christ at that point but they were very familiar with the concept of a people set apart for the glory of the one true God. That is the very reason that John was out in the wilderness baptizing the people of Israel and encouraging them to repent for the kingdom of God is drawing near. That is the reason that it was proper for Jesus to be baptized in the waters of the Jordan to reveal the opening of the floodgates of heaven to a new and more intimate relationship with God. One that was not devoted to the shadows of the temple but the very passion and blood of humanity.
Jesus rose from the waters and the Spirit of God spoke as the water drops fell from the locks of Jesus’ hair, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” God made flesh, the divine living among the created, and the holy living with the depraved. John the Baptizer looked out as Jesus walked by, and spoke to those around him, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” Imagine for a moment that scene, the confused looks of the followers and disciples of John as their teacher the one that was calling them to turn around and live for God in a different and more real way stood in awe of this retreating man. As Jesus walked away these men watched this bold preacher dramatically turn into a meek and submissive servant, gladly submitting to this man. The confusion, and the utter awe of the situation. A couple drop what they have and they follow this man. Among them was a man with the name Philip. If you were to look at the history and origin of this name you would find that it is not a name originating from Semitic roots but is a name of Greek origin meaning lover of horses. The meaning does not really give any real enlightenment but the origin loudly proclaims where the faith of the parent is rooted. Though Philip was Jewish his parents gave him a Greek name. That very fact gives us a vast understanding at the state of first century Israel. They were occupied they were blended and influenced by outside cultures. John the Baptist cries out in the wilderness because the faithful of Israel were not completely separated and devoted only to God but were as much a part of the world as we are to ours. There were people walking in the dust of the Holy land saying similar things as many are saying today. We love the idea of God, but we hate the Temple. John himself by baptizing in the Jordan was saying that there was a separation, or a disunity between the actions of the nation and the reality of their spiritual existence. They needed to repent to turn back to God.
Philip is there near the banks of the Jordan listening to John, yet feeling like an outsider do the heritage given to him by his parents. He did not run after this man whom John said was the lamb of God, he held himself back possibly feeling removed and excluded from the hope of Israel. He waited while the others Andrew and Peter, followed but the very next day Jesus found Philip and said to him, “Follow Me.” A Greek Jew was nearly as bad a straight up uncircumcised Gentile in the eyes of the zealots. He would have been rejected by the majority of rabbis simply because his parents were not devout enough, his heritage may have even been questioned yet Jesus come to him, looks him in the eye, and offers him the greatest opportunity every human truly want the opportunity to know and be known.
This man could have lived his entire life rejected, constantly having his faith questioned by the very people that should have been encouraging him, finding acceptance only from a crazy preacher out in the wilderness, and then the teacher he respected looks to another in holy reverence and that man comes to Philip accepting him and giving him a chance to be involved in something more. Philip immediately understands that everything has changed. Something different has emerged, he begins to see that the kingdom has opened up and become available to all people. So he runs to speak to his friend, telling him we have found the one spoken of by Moses and the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph of Nazareth.
Again it is important to note that Nazareth was not a significant location. It was not a major metropolis, it was not on any major trade route, but it had a reputation. It was most likely a city of labor a city that cut and mined limestone rocks, and like most blue collar cities it probably had a hardened reputation. If we were to compare it to a city today it might resemble the economically challenged areas of Detroit, once having a thriving economy while the stone was being gathered for the great building projects of Herod but now that the construction had fallen off is now just a hardened and impoverished. People that once focused their attention on their careers now unemployed and angry. Nathanial says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” because this area was filled with rouge rebels and bandits looking for a fight that could line their pockets with ill received gains.
Nathanael curious at what could have gotten his friend so excited decides to respond to Philip’s invitation to come and see. As he approaches Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” This greeting has always been odd to me, especially when one considers the fact that he was close enough friend to Philip, the Greek Jew, for him to be the first person Philip wanted to find after his encounter with Jesus. True Israelite is not exactly the term that one would say to someone who hung out with an impure outsider. But that was the greeting, “here is a true Israelite.”
This got me thinking, why would Jesus single out Nathanael as a true Israelite? What about him was different from the others Jesus had asked to follow Him at this point? Was he more devout or more righteous? Again we must consider the company that he kept. I keep bringing up the Greek influence of Philip’s name because of the way that the Jewish people treated the people of Samaria the half breeds the ones that did not keep pure lines within the tribe. How could someone be called a true Israelite when they keep the company of on similar to this?
Who is Israel? This goes back to the very beginning of the tribes when Jacob received a new name, Israel, from God. He gained this name because he spent an entire night wrestling with the Angel of the Lord. He would not give up until this Angel, of whom most would say was a manifestation of Jesus prior to his birth, blessed him. So Jacob received the name one who wrestles with God. Nathanael was a true Israelite, or one that is of the follows the line of God wrestlers. He did not simply sit back idle but he wrestled with God. Nathanael was not simply content or fatalistic but he actively pursued an understanding or relationship with God. This greeting alludes to the possibility that Nathanael was not afraid to question the status quo and would struggle to make sense of the emerging culture around him and where God was in it. He struggled, he pursued, and he sought the relationship even if the religious norm around him seemed to go a different way.
Nathanael then ask Jesus, “Where did you get to know me?” This is just as odd of a response to an odd greeting. But fitting if we look at the greeting from the perspective I just mentioned. If Nathanael was the wrestler as I described then to be considered a true Israelite in that case Nathanael could have taken the greeting very negatively. Which is the response he gave. Basically he is telling Jesus who are you to judge? Yet Jesus answers that he saw him under the fig tree. There is a traditional saying that rabbis would go into the shade of a fig tree to do their studying. Making this place under the fig tree a very intimate place for one to wrestle with the things of God. So it is clear that though Nathanael may not be one of the religious elite of Israel he was actively pursuing the relational aspects of God, and Jesus met him there in the shade and knew what was being said. Chances are very high that for Nathanial to respond by saying, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” whatever was being wrestled with under that tree was revealed in some manner, and that probably had something to do with his friend Philip.
So back to the all too common statement of, “I love Jesus but Hate the Church.” A statement that is so easily thrown around in our culture today. We have a parallel at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus at that moment was unknown but obviously there was something about him that attracted these men’s attention so early. Something simple yet very profound. Each one was drawn into discipleship through a very simple conversation, come and see or follow me. They were moved by an invitation to a conversation, and invitation to know and be known, and invitation to wrestle with God and be accepted even if the challenge goes against the perceived cultural norm. John the crazy preacher testified about Him, and sent his followers to Jesus. Andrew on of John’s disciples followed Jesus and brought his brother to also see him. Jesus went out to find Philip the Greek Jew and gave him the opportunity enter into a relationship which quite possibly was often neglected do to his heritage, and then Philip brings in Nathanael the one that wrestles. None of these first disciples would have been people the contemporary culture of the day would have considered worthy of the attention of a Rabbi, yet Jesus invited them to come and see, to follow, and to wrestle. Jesus accepted them where they were and he lifted them up to see and experience greater things.
Jesus is still calling and inviting people to come and see, to follow, and to wrestle. This is where the statement “I love Jesus but hate the church” comes from. People are still interested and intrigued by Jesus, but the church has not always been accepting of those that are invited. We have separated Christ from the gospel to such a degree that people no longer see Christ in the Church. You cringe and rightfully so because that is something to cringe about, something to wrestle with and challenge to take on. Each of us who take on the name of Christ are involved in that challenge. They love Jesus, they love the acceptance and the grace of Jesus but they hate us. That is profound. Why? We can puff ourselves up and say that it is because we are righteous and people do not want to be righteous, but why then are there charitable and humanitarian organizations that do the work that Christ calls us to do that have nothing to do with Christ? We can say that it is because they reject God, but that then leads us to ask what God or image of God are they rejecting? They are rejecting our image of God, the image of a judgmental and wrathful God, the God that demands the blood of all that reject him. But that is not the image of God that is revealed through Jesus, the image of God that would lay down His life for the ones that were his enemies.
Philip was most likely rejected by the religious elite, Nathanael was most likely put off by the religious elite, Peter and Andrew were seen as simple uneducated men not worth the time of the religious elite, yet each was actively pursued and asked by God himself to follow him. Each of these men walked along side of Jesus and saw Jesus open the gate of heaven in ways that were never before imagined. As we enter into this time of open worship consider the statement often repeated “I love Jesus but hate the church.” Consider if we as follower of Jesus are adequately reflecting the image of God within us as revealed by Jesus. Are we accepting of the rejected and encouraging to the discouraged, are we inviting those around us to come and see and to walk with us as we follow Christ? Or are we just possibly participating in something totally different and quite possibly devoid of Christ? Jesus taught and showed us a rhythm of live that revolved around worship, prayer, and service. He is calling each of us into that life as well, a life of loving God, embracing the Holy Spirit and living the love of Christ with others. To be people devoted to that lifestyle it requires us to entrust every aspect of our life into his hands, it requires us to cling to him and wrestle even when we do not understand what he is doing. It requires us to embrace the unlikely and to encourage them to walk beside us as they respond to their personal invitation from Christ to come and see.