“Philip found Nathanael and told him, ‘We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ ‘Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.” —John 1:45-46
These two little verses capture the fascinating scandal of Christian faith. Followers of Jesus believe that God acted decisively to set the world right through a faithful Jewish man living in Roman-occupied Palestine. Not through an army. Not through a president or the Secretary-General of the UN. Not through a caesar. Through one member of an oppressed people on the margins of a great empire.
You can see why people—then and now—find it all a little hard to believe. That being said, for God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, this really wasn’t out of the blue. God had told their ancestors that his rescue plan for humanity would play out through the Jews. God’s prophets had told of an anointed one, a messiah, who would be God’s instrument of rescue.
So when Philip came to believe that Jesus was this promised one, it was an enormous deal. His words to Nathanael point to the immensity of the news he’s sharing. This is not “This dude I talked to today at work seemed pretty cool.” This is “The one we’ve been waiting for our whole lives and didn’t know if we’d live to see, the one our people have been waiting for for hundreds and hundreds of years, that guy, yeah, I just met him. He’s here in town.” This is news like finding out you’re pregnant or a scientist found a perfect cure for cancer or we’re going to be able to solve climate change or the Cubs won the World Series—it’s like all of that news, but for everyone, forever, times infinity. (And that’s not beginning to do it justice.)
And what’s Nathanael’s reaction to this cosmos-changing news? He has trouble getting past the idea that Jesus is from Nazareth. It’s not clear exactly where Nathanael’s skepticism about Nazarene origins comes from, but the fact that Jesus is from there is some sort of barrier that must be overcome in Nathanael’s mind.
And how does Philip respond to this skepticism? It’s so simple and profound. “Come and see.” He doesn’t argue with Nathanael’s skepticism or prejudiced view of Nazareth. He trusts that an encounter with Jesus is all Nathanael will need in order to grasp what Philip has grasped.
It was in this one man that God’s plan for Israel was fulfilled. It was in this one man that the promises spoken to and through the prophets were made manifest. It was in one man that people near and far were invited to see and to know God in a new way. It was in one man that God reached down and made all things new, rescued creation, and reconciled sinners like us.
It’s scandalous. It’s hard to believe. And yet, in this man Jesus we have seen the Father’s love for us. Come and see.