When You're Full of Doubt, This Is What You Need To Know
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of who Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:45-46
In this exchange, Philip is telling Nathanael that they’ve found Jesus, the Saviour, God’s promised deliverer, the one for whom they have waited for years.
Nathanael, though, isn’t buying it. He seems unsure, full of doubts, sceptical, even. He can’t quite trust that Jesus might be who he said he is. After all, can anything good come from Nazareth? Can anything worthwhile come out of that place?
I think we are asking the same question in lots of ways, most often about ourselves.
Can anything good come from my life?
Can anything good come out of my family situation?
Can anything good come from someone with my personality?
Can anything good come from someone who looks like me?
Can anything good come from someone who struggles with the things I do?
Can anything good come from someone who’s failed and made mistakes like I have?
Jesus’ reply to Nathanael is brilliant:
“Now here comes a true son of Israel – an honest man with no hidden motive!” (John 1:47)
In other words, I see you Nathanael, I know exactly what you’re like. I’ve got you all figured out.
Nathanael is shocked. “How do you know me?” he asks. “Nathanael, right before Philip came to you I saw you sitting under the shade of the fig tree,” Jesus replies. (John 1:48)
In bible times, if you told someone you saw them sitting under a fig tree, you’re really saying two things. First, you’re telling them that you know them inside out. It’s another way of saying I’ve known you since the cradle, I know you better than you know yourself. And second, you’re telling them that they’re part of God’s purpose in bringing his kingdom to earth.
When someone sees you and accepts you as you are and believes in you, it’s a powerful thing.
Jesus knows us completely. He sees us like he saw Nathanael. He sees all our misgivings and questions. He understands our faults and failures. He knows the things we’ve never dared to tell anyone. He knows what makes us laugh and what makes us cry.
He sees the ways we’ve been misjudged and misunderstood. He sees the hurts and the scars we carry. He knows our secret dreams and our wildest hopes. He understands what happened in our past and what we long for in the future.
He knows what comes easy to us and what we struggle with. He sees the things we do to serve him that no one else knows about. He knows what we’re afraid of and what brings us joy.
He knows what makes us tick and how we’re are wired. He sees us at the height of our success, when everyone knows our name. He sees us on our most mundane days, when we’re home alone doing laundry.
Jesus isn’t shocked or worried or offended by our doubts. He’s too busy reassuring us that we’re known and loved, too busy calling us into our destiny.
Rowan Williams sums it up beautifully like this: ‘We are seen, known and held, but above all we are welcomed.’ That’s what love looks like, right there.
Meanwhile, back in the story, Jesus isn’t quite finished with Nathanael. When Nathanael realises just how much Jesus knows him, he straight away recognises him as God’s son.
Jesus replies and says this:
“Do you believe simply because I told you I saw you sitting under a fig tree? You will experience even more impressive things than that! I prophesy to you eternal truth: From now on you will see an open heaven and gaze upon the Son of God like a stairway reaching into the sky with the messengers of God climbing up and down upon him!”
It seems like a strange thing to say. But Jesus is referring back to a story in Genesis, where Jacob, one of the great fathers of the faith, has a dream about a ladder that connects heaven and earth, with angels going up and down it. Tom Wright paraphrases it this way: ‘If you follow me, you’ll be watching what it looks like when heaven and earth are open to each other’ (John for Everyone, p. 18).
When we follow Jesus, we are not only seen, but invited into a new way of seeing.
We are invited to glimpse through the holes in the fabric of the universe to the reality that lies beyond. We are invited to see people, places and things in a new way. We’re invited to watch and wait with expectancy, to see how God is at work, to see what happens when the curtain is pulled back and ‘righteousness and peace kiss each other,’ as the Psalmist puts it.
All we have to do is accept the invitation to 'come and see' for ourselves.
How might you take a step towards Jesus today?