Strategic Subtleties

It amazes me how much God puts His imprint on the world. In recent history we have seen a steady rise of the belief in multiverse theory or alternate realities. As Christians this is something we have always affirmed, but in many ways we have chosen to remain blind to these realities.


For instance, this week I read a story about Scottish missionary couple who were trying to reach a cannibal tribe with the Gospel. One night there tent was surrounded and the cannibal warriors were about to kill them. Crying they fell to their knees and began to plead to God. Suddenly all the warriors ran away frantically. They could not figure out what happened. About a year later the chief of the cannibal tribe came to faith in Christ. They were talking with him about the experience, and asked why they ran away. He actually got upset and said you had a massive force ready to attack us. The couple was puzzled and asked for more detail. The chief said there was close to 200 massive men in bright clothes who gave a battle cry.


This is a true story friends. There is only explanation for this, God heard their prayers and sent a massive amount of angels to frighten off the cannibal warriors. Our text today is going to remind of this truth today. There are spiritual realities that we can forget, therefore, we need to remain open to these realities. God sows strategic subtle seeds of spiritual realities that come to fruition in Jesus Christ.


1. Sowing Strategic Subtle Spiritual Realities—John 1.43-49.

Much like last week we continue to see Jesus call people to Himself in ways uniquely tailored for them. One of those is a man named Philip. Not much is known about Philip, although the Gospel of John has the most on him. One of the pictures we see painted throughout the Gospel is many times Philip has a hard time understanding deep things. So, isn’t it kind of Jesus to seek out Philip—READ John 1.43. And what was Philip’s immediate response?—READ John 1.44-45. Despite the lack of depth Philip might have had he was a faithful earnest witness. It would seem Philip knew the desires of his friend Nathanael, because he specifically says, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth.” This is our first strategic subtlety. Jesus knew Philip would go and tell this specific guy this specific phrase to spark his interest.


Unlike Philip it seems his friend Nathanael was a deep thinker. We quickly see Nathanael questioning the claims of his friend Philip—READ John 1.46. People like Philip should give us hope in these types of evangelistic encounters. Philip did not try to persuade Nathanael, but chose to defer to someone greater than Himself, namely, Jesus Christ. Philip simply says, “Come and see.” Isn’t that encouraging? Philip knew his limitations and did not feel the need to prove his message to friend, but simply encouraged him to come and meet Jesus.


While some have made the argument that Nathanael thought Nazareth was a pretty terrible city, it seem more likely his reservations have more to do with his knowledge of the OT. There is no mention of the Messiah coming from Nazareth. We can see why this was subtle seed sown by Philip to draw Nathanael in. How does Jesus address Nathanael?—READ John 1.47. Jesus did two key things here: first, he did not address his concern, and second, immediately made an assessment of Nathanael. Jesus went straight after the heart. His assessment of Nathanael was that he was a straight forward kind of guy. Clearly Nathanael thought this assessment was fair because he responds with, “how do you know me so well?” (John 1.48a) But Jesus doesn’t stop there. No, Jesus knew Nathanael was intrigued, so he took it a step further—READ John 1.48b-49.


What is Nathanael’s response to all of this? He now calls Jesus the “Son of God.” Why such a change of heart? It clearly has something to do with what took place under this fig tree. There are many scholars with many theories with what happened here. But I think Nathanael must have had a recent significant spiritual experience take place under this fig tree. It would seem it was a private conversation Nathanael was having with God. So, for Nathanael if Jesus knew about this conversation than there is only one explanation in his mind—JESUS IS GOD! Think about this for a moment, there was no big brother, no drones, no satellites, no hacked cell phones or laptops, the only explanation for this miraculous encounter is Jesus is omnipresent and omniscient—Jesus is everywhere and knows everything.


This is one of many subtle strategic conversations Jesus will have through the Gospel of John. I pray all of us will be challenged by Jesus’ ability to subtly lead a conversation down the route he wants it to go. It takes wisdom and skill to learn how to do this. One of the skills we need to learn is what Philip and Jesus knew, which was knowing Nathanael well enough to give the parts or aspects of the Gospel that he needed to hear and not what they just wanted to tell him. If we want to see more of the people we care about treasure Jesus then we need to hone the art of listening. Also, like Philip we need to be self-aware enough to know our limitations. We will not have the ability to know what Jesus knows, but we can ask Jesus for the right words because He knows these people better than we do. He knows the conversations they are having under their fig trees. We can give a timely word when we are listening to Christ through His Holy Spirit. We can tell them what they need to hear when we are more attuned to spiritual realities.  


2. Spiritual Realities Coming To Fruition—John 1.50-51.

Even after Nathanael confesses Jesus as “the Son of God” and “the King of Israel,” Jesus does not stop there—READ John 1.50-51. Jesus mentions some things here that help us understand other subtle ways Jesus was leading the conversation earlier.


The language of “angels ascending and descending” is supposed to remind Jesus’ audience of the heavenly scene in Genesis 28. This chapter in Genesis tells us a story about Jacob. This is our first subtle hint from Jesus. Remember back in John 1.47 and he told Nathanael he was “an whom there is no deceit.” Nathanael’s descendent Jacob was the polar opposite. He was extremely deceitful—no one could get a straight answer from Jacob. He was always trying to trick people to get his way. His name, Jacob, literally means cheater. In Genesis 28 he had just stolen his brothers inheritance, and was on the run because his brother wanted to kill him. Needless to say Jacob is pretty stressed out. He is so stressed and tired that he falls asleep on a rock. That night he had a dream of a ladder, and angels were ascending and descending up and down the ladder. Jacob wakes up and names the place where he fell asleep “Bethel,” which means “the house of God.” Not to long after this God renames Jacob, Israel.


So when we take the words, “Israelite,” “deceit,” “ascending,” and “descending” they all point us back to this heavenly, spiritual encounter Jacob had. Nathanael is having a similar encounter to his ancestor. The final phrase that should stand out to us is “Son of Man,” which was taken from the book of Daniel. Many angels appear throughout the book to help Daniel in the midst of his stress and anxieties. The “Son of Man” reference is from a vision Daniel had about the beginning of the end of all things. When we put all this together we see Jesus meeting someone probably having a crisis of faith under a fig tree, reminds him of these OT stories, encourages him that God is dwelling among you (John 1.14) and His coming is the beginning of the end.


All of these subtle words are strategically placed by Jesus in His conversation with Nathanael in order to show him who He really is. When we get to verse 51 Jesus shifts the “you” from a singular tense to a plural tense. What Jesus is revealing to Nathanael in John 1.51 is meant for all of us. Jesus is not just attempting to awaken Nathanael to these spiritual heavenly realities, but He wants that for all us.


This is something that many modern western Christians fear. We fear seeing the world through spiritual lenses. Sadly we want to rationalize, reason, and scientifically explain everything that happens. But the truth is there are realities we do not see. It is many times in deep, dark, stressful, anxious times that we are most sensitive to the spiritual world around us. I pray we all will not grow accustomed to tuning out the Holy Spirit and the spiritual realities He is revealing to us. I pray we will have receptive hearts to the voice of Christ like Philip and Nathanael.


The only way I know we can help cultivate this in our lives is we need to reject the shallow thinking our culture is pushing right now. Dear friends there is show much shallow, distracting, meaningless stuff that shows up on facebook, instagram, and twitter. Don’t get me wrong there are people who us it to drive people deeper, but that is not the vast majority that takes place on these media outlets. Friends many of us will need to learn or relearn how to listen well. Take notes during our sermons, review those notes later in the week. Really learn to use your free time wrestling with those 4 questions we use in our Refuge Communities. Read books that will have language and terms you don’t understand. Push yourself. Stretch yourself. Flee youthful passions, quarreling about meaningless things, and learn to cultivate a heart sensitive toward the Spirit of Christ.