Under the fig tree

“Before Philip called you, when you were under that fig tree, I saw you.”
(John 1:48)

He can't see his own feet.
Not only are they moving too quickly -- indeed, the Galilean is running faster than he ever has before -- but the dust kicking up from the road is swirling around him in a red cloud.
It's a hot day in Bethsaida, and the man is sweating.
His uncut hair is a tangled mess of black curls atop his head. His modest tunic hangs off a well-tanned shoulder, and he has to slow down at times to make sure the whole thing doesn't fall off as he runs.
But he dares not stop. Slow down? Regrettably, yes. But stop? No. This is far too important a message to deliver.
Up ahead, Nathanael sits beneath a tree. He looks to his left, and sees the man running toward him.
Is that Philip?
It is.
Nathanael would normally smile at his best friend's arrival, but there's something in his eyes, something frantic, that tell Nathanael that something is … no, not wrong. That’s not the right word. By the time Philip makes it to the shade of the fig tree he is terribly out of breath, and his best friend is officially worried.
He spits the words in short gasps.
“He's here,” Philip says, barely managing the words. His right hand is on his own knee, his other gripping Nathanael's wrist, partly for support, but also to make sure he has his friend's attention. He’s bent over, staring down at the red dirt at his feet, squinting as the stinging sweat runs from his brow into his eyes. Some of it drips down and creates minute watery explosions on the ground. Overhead, the sun is bright.
“Who, Philip? Who is here?”
Philip raises his head sideways to look up. He's still bending over, still holding onto Nathanael's wrist, still fighting for air. The two men's eyes meet for this first time this day.
Nathanael can see his friend has been crying, but Philip appears neither hurt nor afraid. “Jesus,” Philip says. “Jesus is here. Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Messiah. I've found Him.
“No, wait.”
Nathanael waits.
“He's found me.”

Imagine what it must have been like.
Philip and Nathanael's people had waited over a thousand years for this moment. Generations had passed from the world, each born with the promise that one day the Messiah would come, each with the hope that it would happen in their lifetimes, each with sorrow and sadness as they left this world judged by God's Old Covenant. All were seeking the one the prophets had promised would come and deliver them.
Today was that day for Philip and Nathanael.
(Take a minute to read John 1:43-50.)
Right there, in verse 43, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who was to take away the sins of this world, the one whom Philip's father, grandfather, great-grandfather and great-great grandfather, going all the way back to the days of Moses, the one whom all of them had been seeking ... right there, in that one verse, the very promise of God walks up to Philip in the middle of the afternoon on a typical day in Galilee and says, quite simply, “Follow me.”
Nathanael thought his friend was crazy. Still, he was open when the call came.
Oh, it wasn’t as if he didn't question it ... he was a lot like us in that respect.
The Son of God? From Nazareth?
“Are you sure? Nazareth? That little hole in the wall?”
But when Philip said, “Come and see,” Nathanael came and saw.
That’s an admirable attitude, one borne out of a hope and expectation of the revelation of Christ. Jews in first-century Palestine were an expectant lot. They were under the yoke of oppression from a foreign empire, a daily reminder that their lives were not as fulfilled as they could be.
Sound familiar?
Our war is against our flesh, our human nature. Our invading empire is the sin raging rampantly within us.
That being the case, does our attitude reflect Phillip’s and Nathanael’s? Are we looking forward to Christ with expectation?
I’m not talking about His coming. I’m talking about every day, every morning when we wake up. Do we wait expectantly for Him and what He will accomplish to His glory through us?
We must be willing to “come and see.”
We cannot expect God to talk to us from across the country. We cannot expect Him to speak to us and reveal to us the purpose for which we have been created and the wonderful things we can accomplish through His power if we are sitting under a fig tree ... or, to modernize the story, if we are sitting on the couch wondering why God doesn't speak to us. We must step out, come and then see.
When Nathanael came to see what all the fuss was about, Jesus spotted him coming from a great distance. Likewise, the Lord knows when we are seeking Him. The Bible says, and I'm paraphrasing again, “draw close to me and I'll draw close to you.”
The amazing thing about this verse is that Jesus knew immediately how He could use Nathanael for the Kingdom of Heaven.
Still, ol' Nathan was confused. He'd probably never seen this man before (and, if he did, he only knew Him as a Jewish carpenter from a nearby town).
But Jesus knew him. “I saw you ... come out from that fig tree,” Jesus was calling.
He's calling us, too.
God desperately wants a more intimate relationship with us ... He longs to speak to us, and when we truly surrender our lives to Him, we'll know His voice.
Here's where it all comes together in this story. Nathanael may not have ever seen Jesus before. But when He heard about Him, he came out from under that fig tree.
The result? When Christ spoke, Nathanael knew because he had heeded the call.
“Rabbi! You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Nathanael said. He only heard but one sentence from the Master, and Nathanael knew.
What was his reward for heeding the call, for knowing the voice of God? It's the same one we can have. You can imagine Christ saying the same words to you as He did to Nathanael that hot day in Bethsaida, the same words he speaks when He answers prayer, when we read His word, when He wraps us up in His loving arms by showering us with blessings. It's all there for us, if we really want it.
And, like He said to Nathanael, we could easily imagine Him saying to us, “You ain't seen nothing yet.”
“You shall see greater things than that; and you will know the truth.”

(copyright 2006, andrew j. beckner. all rights under copyright reserved)


Alice said...

You should write a book, this story brought to life that day, I was moved to tears and an even stronger desire to search out my purpose in this world.

Corie said...

The way you make a story simple enough for anyone to understand, makes me think you would be wounderful at writting, not only adult reading material, but childrens books as well.