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John 1:43-51 For people who feel invisible.

John 1:43-51

It is very difficult to be unseen, invisible

I remember on one occasion when we were having a meal. There was Alison, myself and the three boys. Maybe others. We were having an intense conversation. John, our son who was probably about 5 at the time, had clearly been trying to say something, but nobody was paying him any attention. He was invisible to us. So he stood up on his chair and he shouted out, ‘Listen to me!’

Perhaps we feel invisible at work. I've just started work in a large organisation and at times it seems that I am invisible. That everybody is getting on with their life, their interests, their systems and I don't exist, I don't really matter. 

And as a new person in a new place – perhaps we’ve moved to a new village or town or country, or begun college – maybe at first people notice us, but later it can feel that nobody notices us. We begin to feel that we do not matter.

And as we grow older, or suffer sickness – maybe we are stuck in home, or even experience bereavement – it is quite possible to find that we have become invisible. It is as if we do not exist, we do not matter and that nobody will miss us. 

And it is also very difficult to be misunderstood.

I don’t mean linguistically misunderstood: that happened to me on too many occasions when I was trying to speak Russian:
I remember trying to tell a visitor to our church in Moscow that the electricity was not working in our building. I told her that the electric trains were not working in our building.
On another occasion, I asked our premisses manager to hang a chain across our gate. The word for chain is quite similar to another word, so I asked him to hang some little chickens across our gate.

But I am talking about deeper misunderstandings: when the other person just does not understand us, indeed misrepresents us, uses us or abuses us, or even accuses us of a crime.

The Post Office sub post masters and post mistresses were completely misunderstood. When the money apparently went missing, nobody listened to them. I heard one commentator last week speaking of a dystopian vision of a world where computers made an error; computers identify us as making the error; computers assess the evidence and in this world of AI, computers judge us and sentence us.
It is only now, as their story is told, that people are beginning to understand them.

The story we read today is the story of a man, Nathaniel, who chose to come and find out more about Jesus, and who discovered that with Jesus he was not invisible and he was truly understood.

Philip has met Jesus and become his follower. He goes to Nathaniel and tells him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” (John 1:45)

Nathaniel is cynical: ‘Can anything good come out of Hunstanton – sorry, I misread that - Nazareth?’

But Philip invites Nathaniel, ‘Come and see’.

And Nathaniel discovers:

1.      That Jesus has seen him.

‘I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you’. I saw you. I noticed you. You matter to me.


2.      Jesus knows him.

Jesus says of Nathaniel, ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit’.

That might seem rather vague to us, but it is rich in meaning.

In the beginning of the Old Testament there is a man called Jacob. He has a twin brother Esau who is older than him by a few minutes. Jacob steals the blessing that belonged to Esau by deceiving their old blind father into thinking that he is Esau. And the name Jacob is very close in Hebrew for the name deceiver.
Esau is not very happy. He is so not very happy that he wants to kill Jacob, and Jacob legs it. And while he is away, Jacob – the deceiver – is deceived, and then he meets God. And God wrestles with him. And Jacob, although he is defeated, refuses to let God get away from him until God blesses him. And God does bless him, and gives him a new name. Not Jacob, deceiver, but Israel, ‘the one who wrestled with God’.

 So now, Jesus looks at Nathaniel and says: Here there really is an Israelite – one who wrestles with God – and there is no Jacob, no deceiver, no deception about him. He may be cynical. He may be blunt. But he is authentic, transparent through and through.

Now that gets to Nathaniel. And he realises that this Jesus is someone who truly understands him.

Well, when you or I choose to listen to our Philip, and when we come to find out more about this Palestinian peasant who lived 2000 years ago, who Christians claim was crucified and risen, and that he was, and is, the Son of God, we can get far more than we bargained for.

As you come to meet him, you will meet one who has


1.      Noticed you: He has seen you.

There is something interesting happening in these verses

Jesus found Philip before Philip claims to have found him.
Verse 43: The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, ‘Follow me’. .. Philip found Nathaniel and said to him, ‘We have found him about whom Moses spoke’.

True. Yes. But Jesus first found Philip.

And Nathaniel is invited to come and see if Jesus is the promised Messiah. But when he gets to Jesus, he discovers that Jesus has already seen him.  

If you are beginning to seek God, know that God has already sought you. If you are beginning to look for God, know that God has already seen you.

You are not invisible to him. He has seen you.


2.      You will meet one who really sees you. He understands you.

You may have seen Avatar.
In the film Jake is moonlighting in the body of a Navi, an alien people, and he falls in love with one of the Navi, Neytiri.
Neytiri has only known Jake in his Navi body. But the real Jake has a human body. And at the end, as Jake is dying, Neytiri comes to find him and sees him in his human body for the first time. But she looks into his eyes and she says, ‘I see you’.
I really see you. I see beyond the body – and I see into your soul.

Well the Lord Jesus looks deep into us – into our soul – and he says, ‘I see you’
I understand you more than you understand yourself. I understand where you came from, what you have been through, where you are going, what and who you can become. I understand your sin and failure and fear and inadequacies. I know them – you can’t hide them from me – but I still love you.
I understand your uniqueness. I know in this universe, maybe multiverse, with billions and billions of souls, I know what your unique gifting and role is. I know you.

In the Bible names are very important. They sum up a person. And God will give us a new name, that corresponds to our true identity, when we are with God.
So Jacob – deceiver – becomes Israel – one who wrestles with God.

Metropolitan Anthony Bloom (in his book, School for Prayer) writes,
‘We also have another name, which we do not know. You remember the passage in the book of the Revelation which says that in the Kingdom each will receive a white stone with a name written on it, a name which is known only to God and to him who receives it. This is no nickname, no family name, no Christian name. It is a name, a word, that is exactly identical with us, which coincides with us, which is us. We may almost say it is a word which God pronounced when he willed us into existence and which is us, as we are it. This name defines our absolute and unrepeatable uniqueness as far as God is concerned. No one can know the name, as no one can, in the last analysis, know anyone as God knows him; and yet it is out of this name that everything else comes that can be known about us.”


3.      We meet someone who can offer us a future

Jesus says to Nathaniel, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”  And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” (John 1:50-51)

He is saying to Nathaniel and he says to us:. I can offer you something more, more than can begin to imagine here and now.

There are echoes here of the Jacob story. Because when Jacob ran away to escape Esau, he comes to a place where he falls asleep. He has a dream, a vision. And in his dream he sees a ladder and angels ascending and descending from heaven to earth and earth to heaven.

Jacob thought it was the place that was significant.
But Jesus is telling Nathaniel that it is not the place that is significant, but a person who is significant – himself.

And if you choose to follow Jesus then we will be with the one who is the door between heaven and earth.

There will be times when we are given glimpses of heaven: moments in prayer or worship or when God simply touches you – when we see heaven opened.

And there will be times when we see heaven working on earth:

Nathaniel saw ‘greater things’ than this: he saw water turned into wine, he saw the healing of someone who had been paralysed for 38 years, a boys picnic lunch turned into a meal for 5000, a blind man healed, a dead man brought back from the dead. And he saw Jesus crucified and he saw the risen Jesus.
Nathaniel saw Jesus giving life, eternal life to people who were spiritually dead – people who will physically die but who now will never really die.

And Jesus offers us a future – whoever we are, however young or old we are. He offers us a future even if we are invisible here and now. 

None of us know how long the future will be that we have on this earth – but even if our time here is short, we have a future there: with him, with the one who is the door between heaven and earth, the one who sees us, who knows us, and who gives us a name.


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