Yesterday’s message …
- Varied considerably from the written sermon (that’s the advantage or daily practice … I was able to excise that which wasn’t making sense);
- Celebrated John’s pile on of descriptive words about Jesus. AGAIN.
- Concluded with an anecdote from our son’s rehearsal dinner;
- Led to this bottom line full of symmetry: Jesus reveals what’s good about you so you will declare what’s great about him.
We are interested in what’s INSIDE stuff, aren’t we? When you’re little, it’s this mad dash to see what, exactly, IS the prize at the bottom of the Cap’n Crunch cereal (AV). You can’t wait to see if it is as good as they promised OR as good as the Crunchberries you had to eat to get there. You get a little older and it’s to see what’s inside th jelly donut (AV) and if you’re like me, you’re praying the red stuff is strawberry and not cherry.
But then you move away from food products and the views from the inside and of the inside can be so interesting. Like you know what this is? AV Guitar. Or this? AV fire hydrant. This? AV pool table. This? AV human eye. That’s enough to make you thank God for science right there, isn’t it, as that microscopic look at the eye is almost identical to a telescopic look at space. Yeah, there’s an outer and there’s an inner, there’s an appearance and there’s an authentic, and sometimes we just want to open up the hood and see what makes things tick.
And what makes people tick. Now: I know a handful of people want to peer deep into the soul of another to find out what makes them tick. Probably more just want to know what someone else is thinking, especially if you’re single and looking. Probably more of us are kinda fearful of others looking too deeply inside us, we secretly hope that we’ll be judged on appearances because WE FEEL like those appearances cover up a whole lot of mediocrity. Like the farmer in Georgia who received a visit one time from a rep from the GA Labor Department to ensure fair wages in the rural areas. “Please give me a list of your employees and how much you pay them.” “All right. I have a hired man. Pay him $600 a week, plus room and board. I also have a cook. She gets $500 a week, plus room and board.” “Anybody else?” asks the Labor Dept guy. “Yeah,” the farmer said, “This guy’s not too bright. Works about 18 hours a day. I pay him $10 a wek and give him some chewing tobacco.” Now the agent’s interested: “Aha! I want to talk to that man!”
“Speakin,” said the farmer.
Yep, most of us look inside and we hope there is no great reveal of what’s there to the larger world because it strikes us as so very average. Self-aware or not. We’re a mixed bag, most of us, and pretty convinced that underneath it all at the end of the day the verdict would be: average.
Which is a lot like what I assume Nathanael would have had every reason to feel. There’s a fact about Nate that we’re going to get to later that is kind of mind boggling but in the meantime, here is the particular situation in John 1. These are the heady days of Jesus’ earliest ministry & I don’t know if it was like the NFL Combine or a Job Fair where Jesus is scoping out the best talent. But I do know that he is very deliberately assembling his entourage. If you were with us last week, we saw in this same chapter how Jesus saw in Peter more than Peter ever saw in himself; he looked past the superficial to call out the supernatural. We pick it up at 1:43 and Jesus continues to help a collection of guys escape their average:
43 The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”
So: Jesus calls Philip. Philip bids average goodbye and follows. Then look at 1:44-45 where Philip – because, get this, FOUND PEOPLE FIND PEOPLE – goes to get Nathanael:
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.”
Great description there. “We’ve found the one we’ve been waiting for; better yet, we’ve found the one we truly need. It’s all been summed up in this one guy!” Then Nate says it all in 1:46a:
46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.
Oh, Lord. Nazareth was an unimpressive place. In our day, our region, we might ask Can anything good come from Lilburn? From Cheraw? From Burgaw? You name the place where no one wants to move TO, where everyone would rather be FROM, and that’s the kind of place towards which Nate has his bigotry. I read that and realize in my lips it would be Could a good preacher ever come from THAT SCHOOL? Would you ever have a thriving church in THAT DENOMINATION? Could revival every come from TRADITIONAL worship, much less BLENDED? Just the elitism and condescension dripping of my lips. The spirit of Nathanael is all around, and it is so very average.
Philip’s answer is chilling in its simplicity: COME AND SEE (1:46b). Your prejudice is getting ready to take a long walk off a short pier, so come and see for yourself. Well Nate DOES come to see but Jesus seems him first; look at 1:47:
7 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
Isn’t that contrast stunning? Nate has just been a Class A Jerk and what does Jesus see him in? No deceit. No guile. Honor. He sees what’s good deep inside this man. Beneath the veneer of snobbery and elitism is the real Nathanael and that’s who I see. As if to prove his point, look at 1:48:
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.”
So, there is some kind of X Ray vision going on; Jesus’ way of letting Nathanael know that HE (Jesus) is not average. And all that leads to 1:49, this epic escalation of adjectives about Jesus:
49 Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”
Whew! Pile up and pile on! Rabbi, Son of God, KING! That awareness and that declaration mean everything to John the author! It’s why he includes the story! Jesus’s summary in 1:50-51 is icing on the top of a very rich cake:
0 Jesus said, “You believe[a] because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” 51 He then added, “Very truly I tell you,[b] you[c] will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’[d] the Son of Man.”
But it’s the back in forth that gets me. HEY NO DECEIT GUY WHO I SAW UNDER THE FIG TREE! Oh, it’s you! Teacher, Savior, King! That’s what escaping average is all about. Jesus revealing who you are so you understand who he is. That’s why he has brought you to this place. Today. Not by accident. By design. Here it is: Jesus reveals what’s good about you so you will declare what’s great about him. 100%!! He peers under the hood, he sifts through the Capn Crunch, and he sees what others don’t and what you haven’t, and then he unveils it as good. So you will then be able to declare with your words, with your actions, on your ServeTeam at at your home, “Ah, he is Savior, Rescuer, King.”
It’s a bit like that preacher in London who after a long nighttime service back “in the day” boarded a bus to get home. And the London driver gave him too much change. So after counting it out, doing the math, followed by a searching & fearless moral inventory, the preacher, on his way off the bus, returns the excess. “You gave me too much change,” he said. “I know I did,” said the driver. “I was in your meeting tonight and just wanted to see if you were as good as your word. Turns out you are.”
Or the sculptor who crafted this marvelous and marvelously impressive lion. “How did you do that?” asked a disbelieving fan. “Easy,” said the artist. “I just carved away anything that didn’t look like a lion.” So he did. Jesus reveals what’s good about you so you will declare what’s great about him.
Or even that time, maybe 10 years ago, when I really couldn’t see myself preaching at a church after I was 55. Guess I was in a slump? So there was this guy who trains people in public speaking – you know, like corporate execs – and I was like, “maybe that’s what I can do when I’m ancient and decrepit and 55!” And this guy very nicely said, “You? You’re a preacher. It’s who you are.” Guess what? That kind of confidence, that kind of instrument God used to see things in me I didn’t see in myself, just opened up a whole new era of improvement for me. Why? REFRAIN
Because listen to this: you have good in you. In spite of your failures and regardless of your flaws, it is resting in there. It needs to be identified and then unleashed, and that’s the best thing a church can be doing. Ever. And along the way, the residual bigotry you have, what we have? The way you’re tempted to dismiss people because of where they’re from or how they talk or where they (didn’t) go to school? Uh, no. See, Jesus finds your dignity so you will lose your bigotry. They happen at the same time. He finds your inner dignity and you’ll no longer need to make yourself feel better by belittling someone else. That’s so average and when he points out the good he put in there, he’s making you escape it.
So: where is the good in you? Where is it that you are way above average? Do you have that ability to love? Don’t take it for granted. Can you make people laugh? Are you able to inspire. Take a look at this photo (Vann, Wade Presley). It’s the day after a kindergartner’s FIRST DAY EVER IN CHURCH and in his journal he draws a picture from the day before of himself with his K Zone small group leader. IOW, his new hero. A high school boy. Guess what? That young man has something GOOD in him that allows him to tell a kindergarten boy what’s GREAT about Jesus. Whew. That’s our whole church in a nutshell. You can join that young man in shaping the generations coming behind you. Jesus reveals what is good about you so you will declare what is great about him.
Or are you even one of those people who is able to do a routine task without direction or recognition? Now THAT’S a skill! That’s even like Nathanael, who, despite this epic story, never gets his name on any of the subsequent list of the disciples. The cool guys. The A team. Guess he’s satisfied as an also ran. A good man.
And what is the story about him that you have to tell, either in the parking lot of church, at the night spot at South End, the ballpark at Steele Creek, or the KZone floor? Is it how without Jesus you’d be dead? You’d be jailed? Or … get this … is it a no drama story? Is it like the young woman with whom I was speaking during pre-marital counseling (her fiancé was there) and she kept talking about the level of respect she had for her mom and dad and her desire to live a Christ centered life like they did. Whoa. No crisis, no addiction, no imprisonment, no jail time, just the CRISIS PREVENTING GRACE OF JESUS working in her life all along. That may be your story, too. Tell it. Tell it often and well. REFRAIN
So our son Riley got married in 2016. Therefore, WE hosted the rehearsal dinner. I had sat through a few of these, especially the newfangled ones with lengthy toasting of bride and groom. But this involved our son Riley so I was paying closer attention. And it was going along well, some laughs, some poems, a nice word from Riley’s sister (no public speaker, she) when one of Riley’s friends got up and said simply, “He’s a good man. I’ve been around him a lot, and all I can say is he is a good man.” And I lost it. LOST. IT. You’ve heard of an “ugly cry”? Well this was a HIDEOUS cry! Becaues what more could a dad want to be said about his son? Nothing. And where is that same kid this summer? Prague, Czech Republic, where the only religion of note is atheism and he is representing Campus Crusade for Christ. What was put in him by grace and now pouring forth from him with gusto. Jesus reveals what is good about you so you will declare what is great about him. And let that be you.