Genesis 28:10-17, John 1:43-51
January 23, 2011
When you think of the word “miracle” what do you think about? Do you think about things like “The parting of the Red Sea?” “The raising of Lazarus,” maybe? How about “Turning water into wine?” (That’s a good one, isn’t it?) In other words, when you think of the word Miracle, do you think big? Do you think of someone who’s been cured of cancer? Do you think about lives being saved or someone’s health being miraculously restored?
Do you think about “visions.” Do you think about this image we find in both our scripture lessons – the image of seeing “the heavens being opened, and angels ascending and descending?” It’s amazing how many times that vision is described in the Bible. It’s considered to be one of the greatest of spiritual “visions.” That’s the vision Jacob saw in the desert. That’s the vision Stephen had at the time of his martyrdom. During Jesus’ trial before the High Priest, when he was asked if he was really the Son of God, he said, “Yes. And you will see the heavens opened and the Son of Man seated at God’s right hand.” (That answer didn’t go over very big at the time!) And then here again, we find that same imagery as part of this story in John.
So, when you think of “miracles,” is that kind of “scale” you think about? Do you think of the heavens opened, or of God working “supernaturally” in some big way? Or do you think of what I’m calling today the “little miracles?” And is there really such thing as a “little miracle?” (I think there is!) Because haven’t you all had little things happen in your life that you would consider miraculous? I’ll bet you have!
I think this story from John teaches us a lot about “little miracles.” This is a story from the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry, a time when he’s meeting a number of people who would eventually become his disciples. And as is usually the case with John’s Gospel, the author gives us more of the story – more of the interaction between Jesus and these men. In verse 43, he finds Philip, and gives him “the call” to follow. Philip then goes and finds his friend Nathaniel, and says to him “We have found him of whom Moses in the Torah, and also the prophets, wrote. It is Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”
Ok, so the interaction begins, and Nathaniel immediately “blurts out” this wonderful statement of what we might call “regional prejudice.” He says, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” And don’t you wonder, of all the words that weren’t put in the scriptures, why John decided to include that statement? It certainly adds to the “human factor!” If nothing else, Nathaniel is a real guy, with real feelings, and real prejudice! Who knows why he said this about Nazareth. Maybe there was a football rivalry going on between Nazareth and Bethsaida!!
At any rate, “Phil” and “Nate” go to see Jesus. And Jesus sees them coming and he says, about Nathaniel, “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” In other words, here’s a guy in whom there is no sneakiness or craftiness. Here’s a guy who just “says things, flat out.” And I think it’s more than that. I think there’s also a touch(!) of sarcasm there. I think Jesus is making a statement about the prejudices of all Israelites! “Here’s an Israelite, with no guile – but he’s still an Israelite!” (If he makes statements like that!) Notice that Jesus didn’t just say “Behold, here is a man with no guile!”
So then Nathaniel asks, “How do you know me?” And of course, what’s implied here is, “How do you know what I said?” That’s the big thing here! And Jesus responds, “Before Philip called you, I saw you.” “You were standing under a fig tree.” Now, one could say that wasn’t all that miraculous. Think about it. If Nathaniel didn’t know who Jesus was until Philip told him, couldn’t Jesus have been standing somewhere near by without him knowing it. Maybe he actually did see him! Maybe he was even near by when Philip was talking to him, and he heard this wonderful statement about Nazarenes!
But that doesn’t seem to be the case here, does it? There is a sense of the miraculous going on here – no matter how “little” it might have been. Besides, I don’t think we can make the assumption that people then didn’t know each other! Jesus didn’t just come in on a boat from parts unknown, and nobody had ever laid eyes on him before. People knew one another – even people from different towns. And remember Philip identified Jesus by telling Nathaniel he was the son of Joseph. Is that because Nathaniel would have known who Joseph was? I think that makes sense. (It’s good to think some of these things through, and even to try to picture them. Because it helps us understand more of what’s going on.)
So Jesus tells Nathaniel about seeing him from far away, and the impression we get is that this was some kind of a “supernatural vision.” We might even call this a “little miracle.” It wasn’t something of huge, mystical, “Biblical” proportions. It wasn’t a heavenly vision. Jesus simply says, “I saw you!” But Nathaniel is so impressed he “blurts out” something else! (No guile in him!) He makes this amazing statement about Jesus. He says, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God. You are the King of Israel.” Now remember, one of those things was blasphemous. The other was revolutionary – if not treasonous! Both could have gotten him in big trouble! And all because Jesus told him he had “seen him” under the fig tree.
So then Jesus makes a statement that I think becomes the focus of this passage. He says, “Do you believe just because I said that I saw you under the fig tree?” Do you believe just because of that “little miracle?” “I tell you, you shall see greater things than these!” Then he makes one of those statements which he sets apart with the words “Truly, truly.” In the Greek it’s, “Amen, Amen.” For Jesus, that means he’s about to say something important. “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” There we have the reference to that “big vision!” So Jesus is telling him, “Because you believed through the ‘little miracle,’ you will see the greatest kind of miracle there is!”
I’ve been thinking about this story. And I’ve been wondering about the “little miracles” in our lives. And let me ask you this. Do those “little miracles” help us (or cause us) to get the bigger spiritual picture? Do they give us the ability to see – or the desire to see – the “big miracles?” Do they set our minds on the “greater things” Jesus was talking about? Or do we just let them go by and not think too much about any of that? I think you’ll agree that we don’t want to let that happen.
So I want you to think about those “little miracles” today. How has God touched your life over the years – in the “little” ways? Sometimes the leading of the Holy Spirit has been described being “nudged.” (And I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need to be “nudged” with a sledge hammer!) And I can’t presume to tell you that I know why God does what he does. But I can say that he does seem to work a lot in “small” ways. And I think he wants us to allow those “nudges,” those small things, those “little miracles,” to lead us to see the big picture of his kingdom. That’s what he wants for us! And again, I think you’ll agree with that! But let me tell you that it won’t happen unless we stop and pay attention! And that’s hard to do in our busy life!
Last week, I asked you to consider starting each day by thinking of God and spending time – if just a little bit – in his presence. And this goes right along with that. This is a matter of taking time to think about the God who touches you in those “little” ways, and then thinking more about the bigger picture. This is about letting those “little miracles” help us to see God’s kingdom. Again, I don’t know why, but God rarely breaks into anyone’s life with an actual “spiritual sledge hammer.” Sometimes we wish he would do that! Sometimes we wish he wasn’t so silent. But a lot of the time he is, and we have to look for him! We have to seek after him,” as the psalmist so often said. That’s so important!
I remember a time that happened for me. I was in High School. And in High School, I hung around with a lot of people who took their faith seriously. To this day I’m very grateful for that. I’m grateful for the way they inspired me to live my faith during those potentially “turbulent years” of adolescence. But, I also remember what some other people were telling me at the time. “Enjoy your faith now,” they said, “because when you get to college, you’ll lose it pretty quickly!” “Everybody does!” Well, let me tell you! My faith was important enough for that really to bother me!
Well, I’m glad to tell you, that didn’t happen! My experience was that if a person looks for it, if a person takes the time to make God a priority, if a person chooses to “seek his kingdom,” they will find it. That’s what happened to me! And God does use the “little miracles” to keep pointing us to his kingdom. Those first couple of years of college were full of “little miracles” in my life. And none of them were big enough even to remember what they were. But I can tell you the big picture. And that is that they all pointed me toward, and helped me to continue to see, God’s kingdom! And I believe to this day, that’s what God wants!
I hope you know that can be the same for any of us! If we will take the time, if we will take those experiences, those “little miracles” that happen to us all, and let them point us to and focus on God’s kingdom! That’s what I hope for all of us.
So, it’s not too late to make New Year’s Resolutions. And I ask you, to make one this year, that you will look for the “little miracles.” I ask for you to be “resolved” to be conscious of, and open to God working in your life. Be anxious – be eager – to see his glory. For greater things than these will you see!
Eternal God, you created the heavens and the earth, and yet sometimes we think you are too powerless to touch our lives and work even the smallest miracles. Help us, Lord to see your glory in our lives and in our world. Help us to be watching for your hand in our lives. “Nudge” us by your Spirit, and draw us closer to you. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.