Are You A Christian Or A Disciple Of Jesus?

Jesus and His disciples great pic

Words get their meaning primarily by the way they are used. Sometimes the meaning of words change over time, and that is certainly true in the case of the word “Christian.” This word is found only three times in the Bible–Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and in 1 Peter 4:16. What exactly does the word “Christian” mean?

In Studies in Jewish and Christian History, Elias Joseph Bickerman wrote:“Christians are ‘those of Christ’…they belong to Christ, as his possessions, because Christians are ‘slaves of Jesus Christ’ Of course, this is why Jesus Christ is known as our ‘lord,’ literally ‘master’ (as in slave-master). Therefore the words Christianus (Latin) and Christianos (Greek) imply slavery. For this reason, these words were applied to Christians by non-Christians as a derogatory epithet, for the condition of servitude (slavery) was ignominious. However, believers in Christ cherished the epithet because it was a honor to be slaves of Christ, unlike other masters.”

The meaning of the word “Christian” has changed over time. In the 21st century, the word Christian is used of anyone who affiliates with Jesus Christ in any way. It is not uncommon for a person to identify themselves as a Christian even though they do not attend church, read the Bible regularly, pray (except when in trouble), and they do not know what Jesus’ commandments to His disciples were or study the life of Jesus to follow His example, and therefore cannot honestly call themselves “followers” of Jesus. Their faith is merely an intellectual one. Self interest is the guiding principle in their lives, so they can hardly identify themselves as “slaves of Jesus Christ.”

Jesus called men and women to follow Him; to follow Him was to become His disciple. Jesus never referred to His followers and Christians; He referred to them as His disciples. The rabbi/disciple relationship was commonplace in the first century, so when rabbi Jesus called someone to follow Him, they understood that He was calling them to become His disciple. The word disciple means “learner,” and the goal of the disciple is to become like their rabbi.

In order to understand Jesus’ call to discipleship, a definition of what a disciple is can be very helpful. Here is a definition of what the life of a disciple of Jesus looks like, with Scripture references:

A disciple of Jesus follows Jesus[i] in love by keeping His commandments[ii], learning His ways[iii], and by becoming a disciple maker[iv], in order that all may become like Jesus[v]. A disciple’s life is characterized by abiding in Christ through reading, meditating, and obeying God’s word[vi], and a daily conversation with God through prayer[vii]. A disciple of Jesus recognizes their need for inner transformation by the Holy Spirit and the word of God in order to become more like Jesus. A disciple recognizes their need for fellowship with other believers[viii], and regularly attends church[ix] with the attitude of a servant seeking to love others[x] and use their spiritual gifts to meet the spiritual and physical needs of others[xi]. A disciple cheerfully gives financially to the church to support the needs of the ministry. 

[i] Mark 1:17, Mark 6:1, Luke 14:25-33 [ii] John 14:15, 1 John 2:4-5 [iii] Matt. 11:28-30     [iv] Matt. 28:18-20 [v] 1Cor. 11:1 [vi] John 8:31, John 15:7-8 [vii] John 15:7-11 [viii] Acts 20:7 [ix] Heb. 10:25 [x] John 13:34-35, John 13:12-17 [xi] 1 Cor. 13:1-7

Jesus’ strategy for evangelism was never to “get people saved” and then make disciples out of them. He never separated the call to salvation from the call to discipleship. His message was to repent, believe in the gospel, and follow Him as one of His disciples. He told His listeners to count the cost of discipleship; that if any one wished to be His disciple, they would have to “deny themselves, take up your cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:23b-24.

We would do well to use the terminology that Jesus used to describe His followers, and to imitate His method of evangelism. If we did, this may help clear up some of the misconceptions people have of what it means to be a Christian.

 

Why Does The Gospel Need To Be Defined?

St Paul icon

If you were to ask fifty professing Christians to give you a definition of the gospel, you would probably get close to fifty different answers. It’s a term used so often in the church, many people would be embarrassed to admit that they are not quite sure how to define it.

The Apostle Paul gave us a brief definition of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: “Now I make known to you brethren, the gospel which I preached to you…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.” (NASB) In the  mind of many evangelicals, the plan of salvation is the gospel. In other words, the gospel is what you need to believe so that when you die you will go to heaven, and not go to the other place! The plan of salvation is certainly part of the gospel, but there is much more to it than that! Why do we need to revisit and define our understanding of the gospel?

Imagine you are starting a new job; this is your first day. Your employer tells you that you need to come to work at 8am, punch the time clock when you arrive, do what your supervisor tells you to do for eight hours, and then punch out when your finished. If you do that, you will receive a paycheck each week. That’s all you are told. This is the bare minimum information you need to get your paycheck–which you need–each week.

What if instead on your first day your employer told you that at this company makes widgets, and these widgets enable people all around the world to have clean drinking water, and triple their food production. The widgets we make have the potential to end world hunger; and the company is exporting them and a fair and reasonable price! By working at this company, you play a vital role in helping our company end world hunger and save countless lives! What a difference this added information will make in your enthusiasm and sense of purpose on the job! You are now part of something big!

If our understanding of the gospel is limited to what we (and others) need to do to get to heaven, we miss the big picture of God’s plan of redemption for the human race, and our role in it! That is why we need a comprehensive definition of the gospel! Here is a definition of the gospel that the elders of Cypress Church Of Gonzales came up with after many hours of labor. It is certainly not the only correct definition, nor is it perfect. But we feel it gives our congregation a good start in understanding the gospel that Jesus and His Apostles preached!

Definition of the Gospel

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth[i] to be His dwelling place[ii]. He created mankind to be His image bearers[iii] to dwell in, and have dominion over, the good world[iv] that He had created[v]. Through disobedience, the human race fell from their position of unhindered fellowship with God, into a fallen state of spiritual death and separation from God[vi]. In order to restore mankind into a right relationship with Himself God sent His Son to die upon a cross as the perfect sin offering and through His resurrection, to restore mankind into a perfect relationship with Himself[vii], and restore the kingdom of God upon the earth[viii].

Through a series of promises beginning in the book of Genesis[ix], God promised that His Messiah would come through the descendants of one man, Abraham[x], and God chose Abraham’s descendants to be His chosen people out of all the people groups on the face of the earth[xi]. God chose Abraham’s descendants, the nation of Israel, to enter into a covenant with Him, and to reveal Himself to them, dwell among them, and give them His commandments[xii]. Israel was to be a light to the nations[xiii], bringing the knowledge of God to the nations of the world. Israel did not succeed in this mission.

Jesus the Messiah, the promised “seed” of Abraham[xiv], at the proper time[xv], was born of a virgin[xvi], conceived by the Holy Spirit[xvii], lived a sinless life[xviii], and took upon Himself the sentence of death for the sins of the world[xix] by dying upon a cross[xx]. Jesus was buried[xxi], and rose to life on the third day[xxii]. He ascended to the right hand of the Father as both Lord and Christ[xxiii], and poured out His Spirit to dwell in, and upon, all who repent of their sins and follow Him[xxiv]. His resurrection from the dead marked the beginning of the restoration of all things[xxv]; a restoration that will culminate when He returns to establish His kingdom upon earth. At that time He will usher in the New Jerusalem, the new heavens and earth, and the age to come[xxvi].

All who repent of their sins, believe in this gospel[xxvii], and follow Jesus as a disciple, will be forgiven of their sins, receive the gift of eternal life[xxviii], and will be granted entrance into His kingdom[xxix]. They will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit—to dwell in them[xxx]. They become united with Jesus in His death, and united with Him in His resurrection[xxxi].

At the end of this age, all will be resurrected and judged according to their deeds[xxxii]. Those who belong to Christ will be resurrected to eternal life, their bodies raised incorruptible, and the wicked will be raised to condemnation and eternal death[xxxiii]. In the age to come, the eternal state, there will be no more death, disease, or sorrow. All these things will be abolished, and God will dwell with His people fulfilling His original plan for the human race, ruling in the new heavens and earth forever through an obedient and restored humanity[xxxiv].

[i] Gen. 1:1 [ii] Rev. 21:3 [iii] Gen. 1:26 [iv] Gen. 1:31 [v] Gen. 1:26 [vi] Eph. 2:1 [vii]Col.1:13-14, Eph. 2:1-7 [viii] Dan. 7:13-14 [ix] Gen. 3:15, Gen. 12:1-3, [x] Gal. 3:16 [xi] Gen. 12:1-3 xii] Deut. 10:12-15 [xiii] Is. 49:1-7 [xiv] Gal. 3:16 [xv] Gal. 4:4 [xvi] Is. 7:14, Matt. 1:23[xvii] Matt. 1:20 [xviii] 2 Cor. 5:21 [xix] 1 John 2:2 [xx] Gal. 3:13 [xxi] 1 Cor. 15:4[xxii] Ibid., Acts 2:32 [xxiii] Acts 2:32-33, 36 [xxiv] Acts 2:38-39 [xxv] Luke 20:35, Phil. 3:11-12, Col. 1:13-20, 2 Pet. 3:10-13 [xxvi] Rev. ch. 19-22 [xxvii] Mark 1:14-15, 17, [xxviii] Acts 2:38[xxix] Col. 1:13 [xxx] John 14:17, Gal. 2:20, Eze. 36:27 [xxxi] Rom. 6:3-11[xxxii] John 5:25-29, Rev. 2:23 [xxxiii] Matt. 25:46, Rev. 20:11-15 [xxxiv] Rev. ch. 21

 

 

Why Be Holy?

mount-sinai-egypt

The Apostle Peter wrote: “As obedient children, do not be conformed to to the desires of your former ignorance but as the One who called you is holy, you also are to be holy in all your conduct; for it is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’  1 Peter 1:14-15 HCSB

We understand that God wants us to be like Him; He is in the process of re-creating us in His image from within. But it’s easy to get off track in our thinking as to why God wants us to be Holy, set apart, and pure, for Him.

The answer lies at the heart of the Pentateuch. The first five books of Moses tell the story of creation, fall, flood, and the formation of the people of God. God chooses the descendants of Abraham, forms them into a people for Himself, brings them to Mt. Sinai, where He reveals Himself to them, gives them the Torah, and enters into a covenant with them.

At the center, or “summit” of the Torah is Mt. Sinai, and the 16th chapter of the book of Leviticus–which gives the Laws concerning the Day of Atonement. It shows that God’s plan for cleansing His people from the guilt of their sins, is so that God may dwell with His people! With the completion of the sacrificial offerings, and the construction of the Tabernacle, God’s presence, His shekinah glory, comes to dwell in the very heart of the Hebrew camp! You could sum up the entire story of the Bible by saying that it reveals God’s purpose and plan for His creation; the heavens and the earth were created to be a “temple,” a “house,” in which God will dwell with His people!

It’s easy to misunderstand why God wants us to live holy lives. We have a tendency to think that personal holiness is like a scorecard that God will add up at the end of our lives and give us a grade based upon our degree of holiness. But that’s missing the point; the reason God wants us to live holy lives is so that He can dwell with us, and we can dwell with Him! To dwell with Him means that He will reveal Himself to us, and we will dwell in a loving relationship with Him–in this life, and even more so–in the age to come!

Fragrant Prayer

Temple_BurningIncense

“May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the lifting of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Psalm 141:2 

When we begin to cultivate a prayer life, one of our first concerns is how we should pray, and what we should pray for. We want to pray in the right way; we want to pray correctly! And this is very important. The way we learn to pray the “right way” is to use the Bible as our prayer guide. How did Jesus pray? How did He teach us to pray? What examples do we see in scripture to help us to know how to pray? How did Paul the Apostle pray? What do the Psalms teach us about prayer? The Bible should be our guide as to how we should approach God in prayer, what we should pray for,  and the Holy Spirit will also guide us and enable us to pray.  Most important of all, we need to actually spend time praying! Like anything else in life, we learn how to do it by doing it!

But as we grow in the practice of prayer our focus will shift from praying correctly to praying in a way that brings pleasure to God. Prayer becomes a spiritual romance! As we spend time in God’s presence, He will reveal Himself to us, and transform our desires! 

In the Tanakh, (Old Testament) the incense offered in the temple represents the prayers of the saints. The same is true in the book of Revelation (Rev. 5:8). Why incense? Because incense rises and gives pleasure to those who inhale it.

It brings great pleasure to God when we come to Him in prayer! We are a “fragrance of Christ to God” (2 Cor. 2:15). Yet there are things that hinder our prayer lives. The most obvious is sin. If we want to walk with God, we must be in agreement with Him. If we have sin in our lives, we must confess and forsake it. Other distractions include feeling inadequate, unworthy, and wandering thoughts. Let me encourage you to work through these things! The truth is that “…we are a fragrance of Christ to God…” and the Father loves it when we come to Him! He welcomes us into His presence! Persevere, and linger in His presence!

 

Planting A Church

It’s been more time than I realized since I last published a post on miningthesacredpage! The Lord has called my wife Carol and I to start a church in Gonzales CA! We have been having weekly services here for about a year and a half now! For the last three years we have been on an extreme learning curve! I would like to “revive” mining the sacred page with some short teaching blogs. In the meantime, if you would like more information on Cypress Church Gonzales, you can visit our website at: cypresschurchgonzales.org. Our statement of faith and all of our Sunday sermons are available there for you to listen to.

Grace and peace,

Mark Da Vee

Following Jesus

“You enlarge my steps under me, and my feet have not slipped.”

Psalm 18:36

Notice the Psalmist, King David, is talking to the Lord about what God is doing for him; God is “enlarging his steps.” His focus is on what God is doing for him, not on what he is doing for God. So what did David mean by the statement, “enlarge my steps”? It can mean that as he grows spiritually, as he gains experience following the Lord, his steps, his stride, becomes larger. When we start out following Jesus, we take small steps. We start attending church, reading our Bible, praying. As we continue to follow Jesus our faith grows; we take larger and larger steps of faith: we get more and more involved in serving others, in making disciples.

I can remember when I first became a Christian at age 17, I started to carry a little pocket New Testament to school. I could keep it concealed. As my faith grew, so did the size of the Bible I carried around. By my senior year I was carrying a full-sized New American Standard Bible, which I could not conceal–everyone in school knew I carried a Bible around with me! At first, I was afraid of people finding out that I was a Christian; as the Lord made my footsteps firm, my perspective changed, and I was no longer afraid.

This passage conveys the idea of a continual, expanding motion. David, the follower of YHWH (Jesus), is travelling; he is moving, he is following God. Notice that he is above his circumstances; his steps, his path, is “under him.”

“…my feet have not slipped.” David is aware of the possibility of slipping; in fact, I think he is aware of the weakness of his feet (lit. his “ankles”).

This one verse of Scripture really gets to the heart of what is scary about following Jesus: If I give my life to Jesus, where will He lead me?

We have a natural desire to control our lives and our circumstances. We don’t want to give that up. But for the most part, it is a false sense of control. We know deep down inside that we are not fully in control of our lives, and we strive to find some place where we can feel secure, and in control. Jesus tells us the solution which is echoed in the verse above:

“If anyone wishes to come after (follow) Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.” Luke 9:23-24

Jesus confirms for us in this passage that the key to having true spiritual life, is to give control of our lives to Him; to “lose our life” and gain “His life”. If we do that, He will take us on a journey in which He will enlarge our steps, and make our footsteps firm!

The Ledger

General ledger

Have you ever had trouble forgiving someone? I recently walked by a person who I felt had wronged me in the past and even though I thought I had forgiven them, when I saw them my gut reaction was to avoid any contact with them. When I avoided them I realized that I was still harboring resentment towards them in my heart.

It had been years since this person had wronged me, and I had prayed many times desiring to forgive them. The next morning as I was praying over this, I believe the Lord showed me something about forgiveness.

We have a sort of “ledger” in our minds, with entries in it for each person we have ever known. Some entries are good, some are bad. Some entries are put there by direct experience, some from second-hand information. We keep an account of our interactions with every single person. We form opinions and make judgments about each person based upon the sum total of our mind’s ledger entries for them.

One reason gossip and speaking negatively about others is condemned in scripture is because the one who does this is spreading negative entries on people’s ledgers. It is causing people to form negative opinions, regardless of whether the information is true or not.

Why do we do have ledgers? I think it is related to the fact that we are made in the image of God (Gen.1:27). God keeps a perfect ledger on each one of us; He makes judgments about our behavior. We do the same thing. We record, and we judge. Our problem is that we are flawed in our judgment of others. And we have forfeited our right to judge others through our own sin.

Jesus teaches us that we are to forgive others: “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). God is merciful and forgiving, and He seeks the welfare of that those who have sinned against Him. He leads them to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

So what is the solution? How can we truly forgive others? First we must realize our inability to completely forgive on our own. Then we must give over to God complete control of our ledgers through prayer. We are in the process of being renovated, of being restored to the image of God (Col. 3:10). We must let God do the work of changing us from within to become like Jesus who cried from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34). Giving up control of our ledgers to God is not a “one and done”exercise; it’s something that has to be done whenever we see signs of resentment in us. And when we give God control, and He starts to blot out negative entries in our ledgers, we experience a load being lifted from us. Forgiveness brings freedom!

Is there anyone you are avoiding?

 

The Food of Christ

“My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”

John 4:34 

One day when Jesus’ disciples were urging Him to eat something, He responded by telling them about His food. It was a spiritual food, and He was inviting His disciples to partake of it.

The word that stands out to me in Jesus’ statement is, accomplish. Jesus’ food was not just resisting temptation; it was not just doing kind things for others. His food was accomplishing, finishing the work that the Father had given Him to do. And in order to accomplish something, you have to have a goal and a plan.

How can we know what the Father wants us to accomplish? We get a glimpse of how Jesus did it in Mark 1:35-39. He arose early in the morning and went to an isolated place to pray. Peter went looking for Him, and when he found Jesus, he told Peter, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” It appears that Jesus got His direction from the Father during His time of solitary prayer.

We’re designed to accomplish things. Think of the satisfaction you get when you accomplish a difficult task. The longer the task takes, the more difficult it is, the more satisfaction you receive when you accomplish it. Conversely, our lives are miserable when we drift along without any goals or sense of purpose.

Here are five things that can help us to know what the Father wants us to accomplish:

  1. We must be willing to do what He shows us, and be willing to persevere until He shows us. We must also believe that He wants us to know His will. If we are struggling with being willing, He can help us with that. But we must at least desire to desire to do His will.
  2. God’s desire for us is already embedded in us. By that I mean that there are things that we are attracted to; there are spiritual gifts and natural abilities that God has given us that can give us a clue as to what God’s purpose for our lives are. What activities are you drawn to?
  3. There is a preparation period involved. Jesus did not begin His public ministry until He was about 30yrs old. Moses spent years in the wilderness before the Angel of the Lord appeared to him and commissioned him. Joseph spent years in prison before God raised him up and fulfilled the prophetic dream the Lord had given Him. I am not saying that we cannot serve the Lord now, only that it may take some time before we have a clear understanding of what God wants us to accomplish.   
  4. We must daily abide in His word, the Bible. God uses His word to shape us, change us, give us faith, cleanse us, and speak to us. It is impossible to have an active prayer life and close relationship with Jesus apart from reading and meditating upon His word.
  5. You cannot do this alone. No matter where we are spiritually, we need mentoring, and the counsel of others in order to grow spiritually. God has just designed things this way. I am not just talking about attending church either. I am talking about doing ministry together as disciples of Jesus. The Lord’s plan is to build our lives together into a holy temple in the Lord (Eph. 2:19-22).

Once we start to get an understanding of what God wants us to do, then we can begin to set goals and make plans to accomplish that work. We go from wishing and dreaming to doing and accomplishing! We can also begin to streamline our activities by pulling away from things that do not fit into His plan for us.

May the Lord increase our appetite for His food!

Finding the beauty of God in the ugliness of the world

The ugliness of the world–which is its contempt and its adversity–is a profitable sort of bitterness that heals the just. The world’s beauty is its prosperity; and this is a flattering sort of sweetness, but false and seductive…Therefore, in order to escape the ugliness of hell and to acquire the sweetness of heaven, it is necessary to go after the world’s ugliness rather than its beauty.

Bridget of Sweden, Book of Secrets, c. 1305-1373 AD

This quote from the 14th century christian mystic Bridget of Sweden illustrates a truth that seems like a paradox at first glance. When a person seeks all the beauty that this world has to offer–material wealth, fame, power, influence, and pleasure–they find the ugliness of the world. They find the world to be a ruthless, uncaring place, a “dog eat dog” world, as they compete for these things with those who are of like mind. And, worst of all, they are never satisfied when their goals are achieved.

Jesus, on the other hand, calls us to follow Him, and in a sense, to seek out the ugliness in the world. Jesus sought out the lame man at the pool of Bethesda; He encountered the blind men along the road and gave them sight; He noticed the poverty of a widow putting in two small copper coins–all she had to live on–into the treasury of the temple and praised her; He comforted the widow of Nain and gave her son back to her from the dead. Everywhere He went He healed the sick, fed the poor and taught people about the kingdom of God. He sought out the ugliness of the world–those who were sick, in need, and the despairing.  He also said, “If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there my servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.” John 12:26

God loves to help those who cannot pay Him back. Jesus told His disciples,  “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, otherwise they may also invite you in return and that will be your repayment. But…invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, since they do not have the means to repay you…” Luke 14:12-13.

We, the church, are now effectively the mouth, hands, and feet of Jesus in this world. Scripture teaches us that He dwells within us both individually and collectively (Gal. 2:20, 1 Cor. 3:16). When we seek out the ugliness of this world as co-laborers with God, we will see God touch people’s lives. We will see the humility of God in action. We will see the goodness of God, the grace of God, the beauty of God! And when we allow ourselves to be used by God in this way, there is a kind of healing that takes place within us. We experience the joy of being used by God, and the reality of the presence of God.

If all this sounds new to you, and attractive to you, you may ask, “How do I get started?” The very first step is to become a child of God. This is done by confessing to God that we are sinners, asking for His forgiveness, and believing that Jesus Christ died for our sins, in effect taking the punishment for us, and that He rose from the dead on the third day. When we do this by faith, we are welcomed into God’s family, and the Spirit of God indwells us; this is called the “new birth”.

If you are struggling with being willing to be used by God (and there is no one exempt from that struggle), you might begin by developing the habit of getting up a little earlier each day, open your Bible to the Psalms, or one of the Gospels (Mathew, Mark, Luke, or John), and start the day by reading some scripture and having a dialogue with God about what you are reading, and what you may be struggling with. The important thing is to start the dialogue with Him. Don’t worry about what you are supposed to pray, express to God what you want to say to Him.

Another helpful habit is evening prayer. And although I am not a Roman Catholic or a Jesuit, I have found this habit of reflecting on the day extremely helpful in developing a prayer life.

When you lie down to go to sleep tonight, try this little spiritual exercise the Jesuits call the “Examen”. It only takes about 15 minutes. First, review the events of the day and give thanks to God for the things you experienced that were a blessing to you–even the small things. Then recall the times in the day where you felt God was working or making Himself known to you. Next, ask God to show you any missed opportunities to express love to others or when you may have sinned or done things you are now sorry for; ask for His forgiveness. And finally, ask God for the grace you will need for tomorrow.

May God bless you and attract you to follow Jesus and in doing so, find the beauty of God in this world!

“…when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

fig-tree    (Large fig tree)

Jesus said this to Nathanael when He first met him as recorded in the Gospel of John chapter one. There are valuable lessons to be learned from this first encounter between Jesus and Nathanael, but first we have to “take a step back” from the text in order to appreciate what transpired between them.

Think for a moment about Jesus’ mission. He came to His people (John 1:11) who were related to Him by blood (His fellow Jews) and who had entered into the Mosaic covenant with Him as their God, YHWH. He came looking for something. When Jesus went into the temple, He did it purposefully. What was He looking for? We get a hint of what He was looking for from the gospel records as Jesus came in and out of the temple. Mark 11:11 reads:

Jesus entered Jerusalem and came into the temple; and after looking around at everything, He left for Bethany with the twelve, since it was already late. On the next day, when they had left Bethany, He became hungry. Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs. He said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening. (Mark 11:11-14 NASB)

Jesus came looking for fruit, finds none, then the fig tree withers. Some Bible commentators see this account as a symbolic action on the part of Jesus to illustrate to His disciples the upcoming judgment on the nation of Israel (the destruction of the temple in AD. 70), and to teach them about prayer. Israel is repeatedly pictured symbolically in Scripture as a fig tree (see list of references at the end of this post). Old Testament prophets would often do symbolic actions to illustrate God’s warning of future judgments.

While in the temple, Jesus gave the parable of the vineyard grower, who came looking for produce from the vineyard keepers who, in response, rejected the vineyard grower and killed his son. This parable was directed towards the chief priests, scribes, and elders (Mark 12:1-12). Luke records a parable of a fig tree which bore no fruit which illustrates God’s patience, but also a time of reckoning for the tree which produces no fruit (Luke 13:6-9). Jesus taught in the temple that He was looking for fruit.

So what was the fruit Jesus was looking for? I believe it was faith. The Gospels show our Lord looking for faith in His people. He marvelled at the lack of faith among His fellow Jews at times (Mark 6:4-6), and He marvelled at the faith He found in some Gentiles (Matt. 8:10). What does the faith the Lord was looking for then, and is still looking for now, look like? How is it recognizable? I think we find the answer to that question in Nathanael. The kind of fruit, the kind of faith that the Lord was looking for He found in Nathanael.

According to the gospel of John 1:43-51, Jesus called Philip to follow Him. Philip then found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote–Jesus of Nazareth…” Nathanael replied, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip invites Nathanael, “Come and see”. As Jesus sees Nathanael coming towards Him, he remarks, “Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit.” Nathanael tells Jesus, “How do you know me?” Jesus answers, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael then said, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God, You are the King of Israel.” Jesus replies, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree do you believe? You will see greater things than these. Truly, Truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

The first question that comes to my mind is, “Why did Nathanael react the way he did when Jesus told him that he saw him under the fig tree?” Why was he so “blown away” by this statement that he declared Jesus to be the king of Israel and the Son of God? Couldn’t it be very possible and in no way miraculous, that Jesus just happened to see Nathanael under a fig tree and Nathanael not be aware of it? What would be so special about that? The text itself does not tell us the reason for Nathanael’s declaration, but I think we can make some reasonable speculations as to why he reacted this way.

I imagine a scenario that went something like this: Nathanael finds a secluded spot under a fig tree, making sure no one is around to hear what he has on his mind to pray. Then I imagine him crying out to God in a manner similar to the psalmist who openly questions  God as to why it seems like He does not hear their prayers for deliverance? Why do they have to suffer the indignity of being ruled by the Gentiles? The Romans pollute the land and have their fort overlooking the Temple of God to keep a watch over them. Where is the Kingdom of God? Where is the Messiah? I imagine Nathanael questioning God as to whether He even hears him or sees him. A devout Jew who had these thoughts pent-up within Him and who had to “get this off his chest” would more than likely make sure no one was around to hear him pray like this. A scenario like this or similar to this would explain why Jesus telling Nathanael that He saw him under the fig tree had such a profound affect on him, and might prompt him to declare Him to be the Son of God.

Jesus’ description of Nathanael is also very telling. “An Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” The phrase “in whom is no deceit” is the same wording as the last part of Psalm 32:1-2, “How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Jesus seems to be comparing Nathanael to the blessed man of Psalm 32, who has complete integrity and openness in his relationship to God, and who has been forgiven of all his transgressions. The man or woman who was like Nathanael, was the kind of “fruit” that Jesus was looking for when He came to His people. And notice where Jesus found him: under the fig tree–in exactly the place where you would expect to find fruit.

What can we learn from Nathanael’s encounter with Jesus? First of all, Jesus sees us; He knows our present circumstances and how we feel in them. Second, Nathanael prayed, and if the above scenario is correct, he took his concerns to God. Third, God sometimes answers our prayers in very unexpected ways. And fourth, Nathanael had a walk with God. He had integrity with God. He confessed his sins, he walked blamelessly in the law of God by faith. His view of God was that He was big enough to handle what was on his chest; not shaking his fist at God, but crying out in desperation to Him.

Finally, Jesus gives Nathanael direction. He identifies Himself with Jacob’s ladder (Gen. 28:12), in effect telling Nathanael that He is the way to heaven. Some scholars think Nathanael and the apostle Bartholomew (Matt. 10:3) are the same person. Either way, he is a great example for us!

Israel pictured as fig tree: Hosea 9:10,16, Micah 7:12, Jeremiah 8:13