|Create Date||January 14, 2020|
|Last Updated||January 14, 2020|
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UNDER THE FIG TREE
Redhill. 12 January 2020. Presented by Gordon Green
We are in the Epiphany season – the season of manifestation, which focuses on key events in Jesus' earthly life that manifest (reveal) his identity as the Son of God, our Saviour. Epiphany is a season for seeing more of Christ’s glory by focusing on his life and mission. Today we are going to look at an inspirational but somewhat mysterious story of Nathanael.
Jesus had begun to gather disciples to follow Him. When he picked up Philip his experience with Jesus was so amazing that he had to run and tell his friend Nathanael that the Messiah (the expected king, the anointed one) - who Moses and the prophets had prophesied about - had come. At first Nathanael was sceptical but as they approached Jesus, Jesus said “Here is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” It’s interesting he should describe Nathanael’s character in this way. And why a true son of Israel? These are clues to discover what was going on in this story. 48 Nathanael was shocked and said, “But you’ve never met me—how do you know anything about me?” Jesus answered, “Nathanael, before Philip came to you I saw you sitting under the shade of a fig tree.” The fig tree was a private place where devout Jews would sit and think, pray, read and meditate. It’s a lovely leafy tree which provides shade and also roots you can nestle into - like a first century recliner. It was a picture of peace and harmony with God and people. At that time Israelites were encouraged to meditate outdoors under God’s heaven instead of under a roof – if you could. It’s most likely that Nathanael knew the scriptures well and he was waiting, expecting the Messiah that every prophet pointed to.
It also seems Jesus knew what he was doing under the fig tree. “Before – when you were under the fig tree I saw you.” That is so encouraging. We wish that when we pray or meditate that we could just see Jesus. “I don’t always feel He is here. I wonder if Jesus even hears my prayers.” Jesus says you never saw me but I saw you. But there is more to this story. 49 Nathanael blurted out, “Teacher, you are truly the Son of God and the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered, “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! 51 I prophesy to you eternal truth: From now on you will see an open heaven and gaze upon the Son of Man like a stairway reaching into the sky with the messengers of God climbing up and down upon him!”
What is all this about? When you look at the entire section and listen to Jesus’ words, there are some clues as to what he had been doing under the fig tree and what Jesus was referring to. There is a strong possibility that Nathanael had been meditating on the story about Jacob when he fled from his brother Esau. One night he fell asleep exhausted and had a vivid dream. He saw a ladder. It rested on the earth and its top reached to heaven. At the top was God, and angels ascended and descended on a ladder. He woke up – “The Lord was in this place.” He was in state of shock.
This was not about: if you want to please God, if you want to go to heaven when you die make sure you keep the rules - do this don’t do that - then you will be able to climb up the ladder and get into heaven. If I just pray for 30 minutes a day then I can get on the first rung of the ladder. Then if study my Bible every day then I’ll make it to the second step, then if I go to church every Sunday then I will be on the 3rd rung…. Jacob’s dream was not that!
Jacob names this place Beth-el which meant “The gate of the house of God.” This was a vivid picture of God’s love for us, of God’s desire, His dream. God’s plan is to share His love in a relationship. God infused his dream into Jacob’s dreaming state. In the Garden of Eden there was a perfect relationship with human beings and God. But sin entered the scene. We often say sin is breaking the law. But it is much deeper than that. Sin breaks relationships. Sin is a broken relationship that separated human beings from God (from their side). Sin was the lie that came in and split the relationship. And humans perceived God as remote, angry, hostile, untouchable, unknowable. Mankind was afraid of God.
The dream is about a mended relationship. God desires the union of mankind with himself. The ladder showed a connection and communication between God and mankind. What Jacob saw in this dream became the hope of Israel. But the dream was first of all God’s - that man and God will be brought together and live one in the other. This is God’s passion. It’s the longing of love. The NT language is “in” (John 14:20). You can’t get closer than “in”. It was as if Jacob was saying “God was here to show me what He is like, what his desires are. I saw Gods heart.” This was about union. God’s goal is to bring us into His heart.
Jacob saw a world where there is no separation between God and man. In the dream –the angels were coming and going from the earth to God and from God to earth. This became part of Israel’s hope - that there would be this communication, this mending of brokenness between man and God. We were created for relationship. It is the way we were made - to be in union with God. Being an Israelite, Nathanael surely would have known about Jacob’s dream and because of what Jesus said he may have been meditating on that story. It had come alive to him. Jesus said he was a true Son of Israel. Jacob’s name was changed to Israel. Jacob (before his conversion) was a deceiver, someone you couldn’t trust. Immediately when Jesus saw him he gave him an amazing character reference saying he was an honest man “in whom is no deceit” – just the opposite of Jacob’s character!
His meditation under the fig tree prepared him for this encounter with God who became a man. And he became aware of Gods activity in his life. He felt the pull of God’s love. Jesus was saying “I was there. I saw you. But it wasn’t the time to reveal myself but now it is. We meet again!” Nathanael said “You are the Son of God, King of Israel. You are the Messiah!” In that moment perhaps he didn’t understand everything but he recognised who Jesus was. “You are the one! Everything is falling into place.” But Jesus continued; “Truly, truly, I say to you, you (he’s talking to Nathanael and all the other disciples – and to you and me) will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
“Truly truly”; Only Jesus used this expression. It was strong language and meant “Stop everything to listen because I am speaking an undeniable truth, eternal truth. You shall see heaven opened. You thought it was a closed door. You and everyone else thought that God is far-off, secluded, remote. But heaven will be opened and you will see it.” Heaven is not a place, it’s not “up there somewhere” – it’s right here and now. God is not up there, but right here, and therefore constantly accessible and available. Heaven is life with God. Heaven does not contain God, God contains heaven. So Jesus said “You will see a stairway and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” The stairway is the Son of Man. The ultimate truth has come. “That ladder is me.” Through the life, death, resurrection and ascension He is the way/stairway into God’s heart. He is bringing that stairway into our hearts. Through the Spirit Jesus is teaching and enriching us about God’s desire. Jesus is the ladder firmly in this earth so all of earth through him can go to the Father (2 Pet 3:18).
“Angels” means unique messengers or servants. The word used can mean angels, but can be translated “messenger” and can be applied to humans as well as angels. So either he saw angels as our servants or this could be us. That fits the New Testament scriptures -.we have this freedom, boldness to enter into the immediate presence of the Father, Son and Spirit. Hebrews 10:19 we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus.
There really is a stairway to heaven. And His Name is Jesus. So he didn’t show a stairway, he didn’t give a formula. He is the stairway. He is a 10 mile wide freeway into the heavens. “That freeway into heaven is me.”- I am the way” (John 14:6). We surrender, commit and trust him and we are there. Jesus is the stairway, the dream of the Father become flesh. He gave the dream to Jacob and it was now being fulfilled in this person of Jesus Christ. It’s not about being separated from God and trying to find a way back. In Jesus Christ there is no separation.
So the picture we can get out of all this is that Nathanael had been meditating on that story and it was now coming alive to him. There is no separation. Ephesians says we are in heavenly places now (Ephesians 2:6). You are living in heavenly places with your feet on earth. As you live, in your home, go to work etc at the same moment the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are your life – their life – with and in you. A holy union.
God is calling you into a deep and abiding relationship and communion with Him both now and into the life to come. It is for this that we were created.