At the beginning of the story of Jesus he is calling disciples, young men who would go on to follow him for the next few years as apprentices and learners. One of them was named Philip. According to the Gospel of John, as Jesus is leaving Galilee he asks Philip to follow him. They must’ve had an unrecorded previous encounter, because Philip goes and tells his friend Nathanael “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!”
Nathanael’s response is the same response that you or I would have if someone came up to us claiming to have been sent by God… it is one of skepticism: “Nazareth? Can anything good come from there?”
I think what I love most about this short passage in the Bible is Philip’s response to Nathanael’s skepticism. He doesn’t argue with Philip. He doesn’t pull out a bullet point list of why he believes that there is something special about the man from Nazareth. He makes no attempt to convince Nathanael of what he doesn’t believe, aside from one simple invitation…
“Come and see,” Philip said.
This one line contains the entire apologetic of the Christian faith. I’m sure it could be said that very few people in the history of Christianity have been won over to Christ by argument or debate. Very few have been convinced through logic of the opposite of what they had already chosen to believe. But many in my experience have been won over through an invitation to ‘come and see,’ an encounter with a simple story: a story of a man sent by God who died on a cross and came back from the dead. It is in that simple presentation that millions are won over, because there is power in the story, and when men and women allow themselves to come face to face with Jesus in the Gospels, they cannot help but walk away changed.
The end of this story is equally astounding. Jesus sees into Nathanael’s heart. “Here is a true Israelite in whom there is nothing false.” Nathanael is bewildered “how do you know me?”
“I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Jesus says. Nathanael’s reply “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!”
This verse has always confused me. What was so magical about seeing someone sitting under a tree that would incite such a response? One view from scholars on this verse is that the fig tree was where Nathanael would go to be alone and pray … he was a Jew, and thus many of his prayers would be that the Chosen One discussed in the Jewish Scriptures would be revealed. It was a place where he was completely alone with God.
But here was something beautifully mysterious and bewildering… the man from Nazareth knew about his secret prayers. Who was this man, that could hear his inmost thoughts, desires, and aspirations? Who was this man who could see immediately into the deepest places of his heart and diagnose its true condition? Who was this man who, according to William Barclay, “could translate the inarticulate sighs of his soul”?
That is what a person finds in an encounter with Christ … a man and a God who knows you completely, even the thoughts and the attitudes which you have never spoken to anyone, who not only sees you, but sees into you, whose glory is incomprehensible, whose grace is arresting, and whose gaze is penetrating.
Come and see…