Bob's Sermon for Sunday, January 28, 2017


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“How well do you suppose the Lord knows you?”


John 1:43-51


     (John 1:43-51 NIV) The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, "Follow me." (44) Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida.

     (45) 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."

     (46) "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked. "Come and see," said Philip.

     (47) When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." (48) "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you." (49) Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."

     (50) Jesus said, "You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that." (51) 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."


     For many weeks, we looked at events which occurred at the end of Jesus’ life. The name Jesus prompts important questions:

·         Who is/was he?

·         What place does he deserve in our lives?

His name is well-known, but ignorance of Jesus’ true identity is widespread.


     Today’s text relates to the start of His ministry. Jesus was born into a Jewish family, who lived in a Jewish nation. In Jesus’ time, his country-people were not happy. Their chief complaint was that the foreign power Rome controlled their country. Outside rule rarely leads to contentment. Unrest and resentment always result when folks thousands of miles away tell us what to do, how to live, and then heavily tax us. If you farm or own a business, how do you feel about folks in Washington, D. C. or Des Moines telling you how to run your operation?


     During periods of discontent, people always look for saviors or key figures to deliver them. Great leaders had guided Israel centuries prior. About 1450 B.C., working through Moses, the Lord gave them superb laws. God helped King David bring glory to Israel about 1000 B.C. 

·         But the people did not put God first.

·         Did not obey God’s laws.

·         Did not treat one another respectfully.

·         Everyone wanted to do as he/she pleased—fun and money won out.


     From the beginning, God warned Israel to put him first.

·         Each one of us knows what a challenge that is.

·         When we don’t honor God, nations fail, families fall apart, individuals come unglued. 

That repeatedly, regrettably happened to Israel. Exceptional preacher-prophets named Elijah, Elisha, and Jeremiah challenged them to follow God. They made half-hearted efforts to change, but never fully repented. Because they snubbed God, they suffered disaster after disaster. You know that dissatisfied people usually long for what they regard as the days of old when things were better. Each generation somehow thinks the good old days outshone the present.


     Many Americans now want to see another “savior”--Lincoln, or Roosevelt, or Reagan. When those men were in the White House, not everyone was satisfied, of course. But somehow most people think that the days long ago excelled the present days.

In Jesus’ day, most Israelites definitely wanted to see better times. They hoped to see a new Elijah or Moses, or maybe even God’s Messiah. Pretenders had deceived many.

To make matters worse, many religious leaders sold out to the Roman government.


     Into that setting, God sent His son Jesus. As you are today, people then were concerned about honesty and truth and who is telling it. How could those people know that Jesus was the real thing? The Lord knows that you want the truth. You want genuineness. The Bible carefully outlines truth about Jesus and John. Chapter one is filled with vital information about him


     The Gospels give facts The Word (God) became flesh and lived among us (John 1:1-14). We are not speaking about some brilliant guy, who attained a superior Christ-spirit. Jesus did not teach mystical, eastern contemplation or advanced yoga. He was born, matured, and lived in a dust type body similar to mine and yours. As yours and mine are, his mind was subject to doubt, fear, lust, and temptation. Jesus overcame, but how did he do it?


    Our text provokes three questions:


               1)      Where had Jesus been—where did he get his unparalleled abilities?   

               2)      What was Nathanael doing under that fig tree that caused Jesus to comment on it?

               3)      How well do you suppose Jesus knows you?


     Jesus so stunned Nathanael with his knowledge of him that Nathanael became a believer. Consider the first question: Where/how did Jesus get his extraordinary knowledge and power? Many draw assumptions from the supposed 18 years of silence.” When Jesus became separated from his parents at age 12 until he began his ministry at age 30, the gospels report no activity. Some folks speculate that Jesus spent time in India, China, Tibet, North America, etc. where he met and studied with other great minds and mystical figures.  


     They conjecture based on non-existent evidence. The Gospels directly report no specific occurrences during that18 years. They do suggest, however, a likely course of events. Where does the evidence lead us? Before Jesus began preaching, he went southeast to an area on the east side of the Jordan River. Jesus’ cousin, John the Baptist, (the immerser) was preaching there and he was baptizing droves of people. 

 Jesus asked John to baptize him; “You should be baptizing me,” John replied.

Jesus insisted: “In this way, we shall do all that God requires;” John agreed.

John attested that after Jesus emerged from the water, it seemed as if heaven opened and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove.


     At that moment a voice from above declared, “This is my own dear Son, with whom I am well pleased.”[1] Next Jesus went into the wilderness to fast forty days and to face the devil’s temptation. Afterward He spent time preaching in Judea (southern Israel) and in Jerusalem. He then returned to northern Israel but did not stay in Nazareth; he moved to Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He healed people of sicknesses and diseases. He gained celebrity status and acquired many disciples.  


     After accomplishing all this, says Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus went back to Nazareth. Note the people’s reaction when he returned: (54) “Coming to his hometown, he began teaching the people in their synagogue, and they were amazed. “Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers?” they asked.” The word translated “Where” is an interrogative adverb that can also be translated, “How” and “why.”[2] 


     It indicates that Jesus’ achievements and smarts baffled the townspeople.

(55) “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary, and aren’t his brothers James, Joseph, Simon and Judas? (56) Aren’t all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all these things?” (57) And they took offense at him.
But Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.’”
[3] The fact that they knew him well increased the mystery of his accomplishments.


     In case Matthew’s account has not convinced you, let’s look at Mark’s Gospel.

Where did Matthew and Mark get their information and why would they differ in some details? Folks who simultaneously witness events often recall different aspects of it. This happens often with Norma and me. It is not that either of us is wrong. People tend to be impressed by various details.


     Matthew was an Apostle and possibly got facts directly from Jesus and his family. Mark was not an Apostle but he spent considerable time with Peter. Peter was likely the major source for facts Mark included in his gospel. It is the same event as you will see but Mark phrases it somewhat differently. Mark includes a significant detail that differs from Matthew’s report.

     See if you can detect it: “Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. (2) When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? (3) “Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?’ And they took offense at him.”[4]


    In Matthew’s description, townspeople refer to Joseph, Jesus’ supposed father as the carpenter. In Mark Jesus is the carpenter. They refer to him as carpenter in the present tense. They do not recall him as the guy who used to help his father or was the carpenter years ago. He is the carpenter, whose mother, brothers and sisters they all know. Greek verbs and participles are very specific about tense.


     Jesus probably trained as an apprentice under Joseph and they worked side by side. Many scholars surmise that Joseph died leaving Mary with a large family. As the eldest son, Jesus likely took responsibility for the family. From the cross, Jesus requested the Apostle John to take responsibility for Mary. 


     These and other details lead me to conclude that Jesus stayed and worked in Nazareth until he left town to have John baptize him. By doing this, Jesus not only acted responsibly, he modelled a quality that few people want to imitate. After the incident in the Temple when Jesus was 12, Luke’s gospel relates: “Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. (52) And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.”[5]


     In urging the Philippians to act humbly, Paul referred to Jesus’ example and model behavior: 

    “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, (6) who,

      being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal

      with God, (7) but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a

      bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. (8) And being found

      in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient

      to the point of death, even the death of the cross.”[6]


     It could not have been easy for the Son of God to obey when his parents and other adults ordered him to do things. He did it, though, to show us how to serve God: He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death.” The world admires and promotes civil disobedience. Very few long-time Christians willingly follow Jesus in obedience. I challenge you to read Romans 12 & 13, Ephesians 4-6, and Colossians 3 & 4 this week and note the obedience they teach...


     We definitely should study and talk more about Christian obedience.


     Mystery 2: What was Nathanael doing under the fig tree? 


     For years I have pondered this and here is how I am presently leaning.  

Do you recall how Nathanael reacted to Philip excitedly telling him about Jesus?

"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." (46) "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Nathanael asked.


      Nathanael was a skeptic, right? "Come and see," said Philip.


     (47) When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false." I think there is irony in Jesus’ statement. The word false indicates deception. 

     (48) "How do you know me?" Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you."

     (49) “Then Nathanael declared, "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel."


     What in the world was Nathanael doing under that fig tree? When you are in a grocery store, do you sometimes sample the grapes? The Law of Moses allowed persons to eat grain or produce while walking through another person’s field, but nothing was to be put in a container or carried away.[7] Fig trees were prized possessions of Israelites, but they were exceptionally labor intensive.


     The prophet Amos worked part-time taking care of sycamore-fig trees.[8] For it to ripen properly, I understand each fig had to be slit with a sharp instrument. That suggests that figs were quite valuable. I theorize that Nathanael was probably eating figs and hid some in his robe thinking that no one saw him. The fact that Jesus related the “ladder into heaven” incident supports my theory.


     “Bob, what does that have to do with anything,” you ask?


     Do you recall who dreamed of the ladder into heaven, on which angels were ascending and descending? Jacob, the “master” of deceit saw that dream.[9]  

This theory is based on the circumstantial evidence as you can see, but I think it is the likeliest explanation for this fig tree incident.


     How well do you suppose Jesus knows you? We can successfully hide things from others. We cannot hide them from God. All of us dirt-ball creatures will be raised on the last day and our secrets revealed.[10]


     Here is what Romans 2: tells us about that day: “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ.”  He knows you as well as he knew “fig filching” Nathanael.


     Are you preparing for your appointment?


[1] See Matthew 3:13-17  TEV

[2] πόθεν  (pronounced pothen)

[3] Ibid, Chapter 13: 54-57

[4] Mark 6:1-3 NIV

[5] Luke 2:51, 52 NIV

[6] Philippians 2:5-8 NKJV

[7] Deuteronomy 23:24, 25

[8] Amos 7:14

[9] See Genesis 28:10-17 for the account of Jacob’s dream and Genesis 27 which 

   describes his deceit.

[10] John 5:24-30


Bob Blair

PO Box176

Cleghorn, IA 51014




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