Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)
In John 1:45, Philip tells Nathaniel, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth.” For an Israelite at the time, this would’ve come as a surprise—”the world’s Messiah is from where now? Nazareth? Of all places?”
You see, Nazareth wasn’t exactly a desirable place to live. It was about as podunk as you could get, hence Nathaniel’s snobbish response: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Implied answer: Heck no.
That was about to change, though:
Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” (John 1:46–49)
We don’t know what happened under the fig tree. But we do know that, whatever it was, it was enough to get Nathaniel’s attention. And at that point, there was no denying it—he had encountered the Messiah and was instantaneously transformed.
Look at what Jesus says next:
“Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:50–51)
On the surface, this may seem like a strange thing to say. But it would have made sense to Nathaniel, being a reference to a story with which he, as a Jewish man, would have been familiar.
Genesis 28 recounts this story. One of Israel’s patriarchs, Jacob, fled from home to avoid some “family drama” (i.e. his older brother wanted to kill him). Weary as he was from all his running, he found a place to sleep for the night and had a powerful dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder that connected heaven and earth. Jacob woke from his dream realizing that even though he was in the middle of nowhere, running away from his problems, the God of heaven was with him: “Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it” (Gen. 28:16).
By referencing Jacob’s dream to Nathaniel, Jesus not only reaffirms that God likes to show up in the most surprising places (like Nazareth), but He also makes a significant claim about Himself—that He is the Ladder that connects heaven and earth. Jesus brings the glory of heaven down to earth so that people—even people in the lowliest places—may have direct access to God’s presence.
As you look toward Sunday, let me ask, Do you recognize God’s presence in the messiness of your life? When you’re inconvenienced, interrupted, and irritated? When you’re frustrated, frantic, and frazzled? When circumstances aren’t at all to your liking, are you still able to see that He might just be at work to redeem those circumstances?
Psalm 105:4 tells us, “Seek [God’s] presence continually.” If seeking and recognizing His presence isn’t the aim of your daily life, you’re less likely to seek and recognize it on Sunday morning, in which case church will be little more than an empty religious exercise. On the other hand, gathered worship can be a powerful experience of God’s transforming love for those who, like Nathaniel, are learning to be attentive to God’s presence each day, even in the most surprising places.
God still shows up in the Nazareths of this world.
Set List for Sunday, August 12, 2018:
Center My Life (A. Ivey, B. Land)
Whole Heart (S. Curran, E. Cash, L. Giglio, B. Younker, M. Malone)
Man Of Sorrows (B. Ligertwood, M. Crocker)
What A Beautiful Name (B. Fielding, B. Ligertwood)
More Like Jesus (B. Ligertwood, S. Ligertwood, K. Stanfill, B. Younker)