Revelation:an eye opener, a surprise.
In this season of Epiphany when we celebrate again revelations of Christ’s glory, we might expect to experience some eye openers, some surprises which will be new revelations to us today. So as we follow Nathaneal’s story let’s be aware that there may be revelations for us. Maybe not the revelations given to Nathaneal. God may have something else up his sleeve for each of us.
In this encounter between Jesus and Nathaniel Jesus slowly and gently feels his way towards revealing his identity to Nathaneal and others who are listening. The extent to which Jesus can reveal himself is dependent upon how far Nathaneal will be able or willing to travel with him in their dialogue.
The story starts before Nathaneal is aware that Jesus has got his eye on him and that’s a good starting point for all of us. We are known before we know. Jesus sees Nathaneal sitting under a fig tree which reminds him of the words of Micah concerning the days of God’s Messiah: “they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.” Jesus doesn’t miss an opportunity to invite someone into dialogue with him. As Nathaneal approaches Jesus greets him: “here’s a true Israelite in whom there is no deceit”.
Nathaneal, as we would be, is intrigued by this man who appears to know him before they’ve met. He asks Jesus how he knows him. The answer Jesus gives:
“I saw you under the fig tree” is again an invitation to a deeper encounter. Will Nathaniel pick up the image which Jesus has so clearly seen of an Israelite, sitting under a fig tree in the Messianic age? And if he does pick up that image what will he do with it.
Nathaniel is quick on the uptake. He does indeed recognise the image and sees the message Jesus is revealing to him. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, the King of Israel” So far so good. Nathaneal has travelled with Jesus to this point. Would we have got this far on our own? Without Nathaneal’s knowledge of Hebrew scripture there is a giant leap from being seen under a fig tree to proclaiming someone to be Son of God and King of Israel. But Nathaneal has made that leap.
Now Jesus tries a little more. “You will see greater things than these …. You will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man”. To a Jew steeped in the scriptures of his faith there would be no mistaking this picture.
Jacob had a dream in which he saw a ladder reaching up to heaven from earth “and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it”. In the dream God came to Jacob and gave him his great promises of land and blessings. So awed was he by this dream that Jacob called the place Beth-el, or house of God, the gate of heaven.
Now we have Jesus describing angels of God ascending and descending upon him. We don’t know what Nathaneal makes of this revelation but we could think of some possibilities.
Jesus is making a link between himself and Jacob whose name became Israel. Is Jesus’s name to be the new Israel?
The angels in Jacob’s dream were circling between heaven and earth via one place which Jacob called Beth-el, the House of God. This is the gateway of heaven which Jacob marks by a stone pillar.
Is Jesus claiming that now the House of God, the gateway of heaven is to be found in a living being, not a man-made monument or building?
To the Jews of Nathaneal’s time this would have been unthinkable. Their temple, the House of God, was in Jerusalem and they had their various shrines including Beth-el. To suggest these could be replaced, by a person, would seem outrageous.
To the Jewish followers of Jesus who first heard or read these words of John they would carry new significance and promise. The temple in Jerusalem is destroyed and anyway by now they are excluded from the Jewish community – where is God to be found?
Here Jesus is giving his answer. God is found in him. He himself is the gateway to heaven and it is in relationship with him that we find God, not in buildings.
There may be other revelations for us in this Gospel reading:
· It may be that God is inviting us to take time to explore our thoughts and ideas with him (no matter how odd they seem) to see where they lead us, to see what God is trying to tell us.
· Perhaps God’s inviting us to become more familiar with the scriptures we call the Old Testament so that we can come to a deeper and richer understanding of the Gospels and of Jesus himself.
· It’s possible God is inviting us to enter into a closer personal relationship with Him beyond the walls of a church.
But it’s not for me, or anyone else, to tell you what you should be hearing.
There could be as many personal revelations this morning as there are people here and each one will be right because God sees us all as individuals and speaks to us accordingly.
God invites us to engage with him in dialogue and exploration. It’s up to us how far we go with him.
The insight that has been given to me is this.
Once something has been revealed to us it cannot be unrevealed.
Revelation is exciting but also challenging because once God has shown us a new reality, a new truth, we cannot continue to live comfortably in the old.
And if we go forward to live in that new reality we, too, will be changed. We will be brought closer to God through the gate of heaven which is Jesus Christ, our Lord.