Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beginnings - John 1:20-51 (Part 3) - The Character of the First Disciples

When the first disciples met Jesus, they found exactly what they were hungering for.  The fact that these men had almost certainly all been disciples of John the Baptist points to their moral desire. Only the most spiritually hungry would be disciples of John. If John’s followers were at all like John, they were people who hungered and thirsted after real righteousness and were sick of the righteousness that was then in vogue. They longed for a relationship with God beyond that of pharisaic superstition and pretention. They had prayed fervently for the reviving of true religion and the coming of the divine Kingdom. They longed for the coming of the Messianic King who would separate the wheat from the chaff and make everything right. These were the sentiments of those who had the honor to be the first disciples of Christ.

Simon, best known of the twelve by the name of Peter is introduced to us here through the prophetic insight of Jesus as the man of rock. When Andrew brought Peter into the presence of his future Lord, Jesus looked at him and said, “you shall be called Cephas” (Greek Petros) which means rock. Jesus discerned in Peter latent capacities of faith and devotion that would become the foundation of ultimate strength and power.

The gospel writer does not tell us much about the character of Philip, but his words and actions suggest that he was an earnest inquirer after truth. He was acquainted with the scriptural truths about the coming Messiah. When we observe how Philip won Nathanael over to the same faith, we recognize his generous and sympathetic spirit. Later he would demonstrate the same spirit when he became the bearer of the request of some devout Greeks who asked permission to see Jesus. 

This passage gives us more detail about Nathanael than the rest of the scriptures combined. We have it on the highest authority that Nathanael was a man of great moral excellence. No sooner had Jesus seen him than He exclaimed, “““Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.””(John 1:47). The words suggest the idea of one whose heart was pure and in whom there was no double-mindedness, impure motive, pride, or unholy passion: a man of gentle, meditative spirit, in whose mind heaven lay reflected like the blue sky in a still lake on a calm summer day. He was a man with strong devotional habits. He had been spending time with God under a fig tree just before he met Jesus. When we look at the deep impression the words of Jesus made on Nathanael, it seems that when Jesus said, “I saw you under the fig tree”, Nathanael understood Jesus to be saying, “I saw into your heart and was with you under that fig tree and I pronounce you a true Israelite”.

Nathanael saw the statement by Jesus as evidence of supernatural knowledge causing him to immediately exclaim, “Teacher, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel” – King of that realm in which you say that I am a citizen. It is interesting that this disciple with such insight into Christ originally was hesitant about receiving Jesus as the Christ. When Philip told him that he had found the Messiah, he had asked incredulously, “Can any good thing come from Nazareth?”  It seems strange to find such prejudice in one so meek and amiable; and yet, on reflection we see that is quite characteristic. Nathanael’s prejudice against Nazareth didn’t come from pride, as was the case of the people of Judea who despised the Galileans, but from humility. He was a Galilean himself, and as much an object of Jewish contempt as any Nazarene. His inward thought was, “Surely the Messiah could never come from among a poor and despised people like us – from Nazareth or any other Galilean town or village!” He timidly allowed his mind to be biased by current opinion. This is a fault common to sincere people who defer too much to human authority. While Nathanael was not without fault, he came to Jesus as one who wanted those faults removed. He came and he saw. This openness to conviction is the mark of moral integrity. The person of integrity does not dogmatize, but investigates. Such was the character of the men who first believed in Jesus.

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