SCRIPTURE: JOHN 1:35-49
This momentous event about the disciples first important meeting with Jesus, the teacher, began a journey that would turn the lives of 12 men upside down. Today, the lives of men are still changing generations later because of Jesus. One by one and for the first time, these men from different backgrounds and walks of life met the man Jesus just as the prophets spoke of in time past.
These fishermen, excited about finding the Messiah, quickly spread the good news among their circle of influence and one another. The early disciples encounter with Jesus could be heralded as an adventure similar to the times of the California gold rush. As Jesus met each of them, he requested they follow him. What a privilege it is for the Lord to invite us to follow him. Today, He stands and knocks at the door of men’s hearts who search for purpose and politely invites them to follow him without pressure or coercing.
With heightened expectation and excitement, Phillip rushed with urgency to find Nathaniel to extend an invitation for him to meet Jesus the messiah, the man from Nazareth. When the word “Nazareth” fell from Phillip’s lips, Nathaniel’s continence quickly changed. He did not exude the same fervor as Phillip, but responded with great disillusionment and said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth.” Nathaniel question implied whether anything useful, profitable, benevolent, or worthwhile could happen to him or others simply by a happenstance meeting with a man from Nazareth. Taken aback by Nathaniel’s critical comment, Phillip probably did not understand his apprehension about his blessed encounter with Jesus.
What annoyed Nathaniel’s inner thoughts about the little town of Nazareth? How could an invitation to meet Jesus turn into a disappointing experience? What did Nathaniel know or learn concerning the Nazareth community that altered his opinion of Jesus? When everybody else’s apparent meeting with Jesus provoked a life-changing exuberance, Nathaniel’s reflecting sparked negative words towards Jesus. He could not accept the idea that the man the prophets spoke of could come from an unpopular place as Nazareth. After all, shouldn’t the Messiah, the savior of the world, the Son of God, and the Son of Man come from a more renowned place of importance than an unpopular place like Nazareth? So with his mind made up, Nathaniel sized up Jesus, belittled his importance, devalued his worth and determined his future by questioning the validity of meeting Jesus. His preconceived ideas, about which side of society’s tracks Jesus matriculated, changed his perspective on the experience he’d have with Jesus. However, Phillip persuaded Nathaniel to come see for himself despite his hostile feelings.
The question I suspect, on the minds of some, might be what’s up with Nazareth? It was an obscure unimportant town with poor people. Its citizenry had a seedy reputation for rudeness. Culturally deficient and opportunist people, the residents of Nazareth did not respect religion and yet Jesus grew up there, which some might consider a shabby backwater town. Nazareth did not stand out as an important town that produced great artists, educators, musicians, or have political influence. Perhaps criminals, poverty, rudeness, and a lack of religious respect garnered Nazareth the reputation of being akin to a nasty flee-bag hotel. With Nazareth’s soiled reputation frozen inthe minds of many people who did not live there, the indiscriminate label, “can any good thing come out of Nazareth,” lived on.
Those thoughts lived on in Nathaniel’s mind and perhaps beneath his attitude of indictment against Jesus lived a hidden, negative, internal message that he himself struggled with a self-perception of being a no good thing. Did Nathaniel speak negatively to hide his low self-esteem and negative inner feelings? Did Nathaniel project his comment toward Jesus because he thought the person who might change his life should come from a more respectable place like Jerusalem, instead of a worthless town called Nazareth? Could what he heard or saw in Nazareth with his own eyes be the motivating reasons for Nathaniel’s negative statements? Maybe Nathaniel thought that way because the town of Galilee, in which he grew up, didn’t fair any better than Nazareth.
“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” is not a question of sincere inquiry by Nathaniel, but are defining words based on what he believed about Jesus’ town and upbringing. As a man, how do you see yourself or how do you measure up people of least importance who could be a blessing to you.
Here lies the problem with broken men who feel like a no good thing. We let negative words have power over our lives. Somewhere along life’s trail we did not hold onto our confidence and accepted the negative words someone said about us. We have let words of rejection like “can any good thing come out of Nazareth” define and confine us. By now, I guess you get the point. It doesn’t feel good when we’re defined by our surroundings the way Nathaniel defined Jesus. If we come from the inner city or the urban areas of disrepute, we have the power to reject people’s preconceived ideas and negative opinions about what we are and where we live.
People prejudge others before they get to know who they are. In Nathaniel’s case, he had an opinion about the man from Nazareth before he met him. Our hometown’s reputation may precede us, but our hometown’s rap sheet shouldn’t be what we strive to perpetuate. We are men with a purpose and a destiny to fulfill and there’s no time to let opinion mongers bog us down. The time has come for us to go forward despite what we think about our small humble beginnings. Nathaniel perhaps expected no more than he heard or observed with his own eyes in Nazareth, but if he had put aside his dislike for Nazareth, and opened his heart, he could have found good where he expected none.
Why should we care about what neighborhood, city, town, or hamlet we come from? Our destiny for greatness still awaits us and nobody can hinder it but us. If people judge our lives, like judging a book by its cover, without reading a single page of our experiences, we can’t stop progressing. Your upbringing may not be a rosy picture and the town you grew up in may have a bad reputation, but you are different. You’re not your hometown bad boy. Look at yourself in the mirror and realize you’re greater than your circumstances. Greatness doesn’t necessarily come from the upper echelons of society or Main Street or with those born with silver spoons in their mouths. God makes great men of purpose from the mean streets. He deposits gifts and purposes within us and expects us to run the race of success in life with the talents He gave us to bring wealth to our lives and to the kingdom of God for his glory. Whether artist, musician, scientist, preacher, athlete, always be the best at what you passionately love to do.
If we don’t run toward our destiny, we will sit on the dock of the bay of our lives and watch our dreams, hopes, aspirations, talents and hopes pass us by without action. Immobilized and stuck in the twilight zone of being a no good thing will keep us from reaching the seasons of our greatest victories in life. Whether we are boys from the hood or boys that cracked our teeth on privilege and class, nobody can determine the man we can become if we stay and fight through every obstacle thrown at us. Yes, even power, wealth, and privilege can put expectations on us that lock us into a certain mold.
First, realize that you are diamond in the rough that will raise and shine. Second, despite what others think you are, believe that you are blessed and favored of God, Third, don’t allow what people say about you to torment or annoy you. Forth, remember what God said about you in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.” King James says, “an expected end.” Despite what has taken place in our lives, we should expect more from life and not allow mediocrity and low expectations to engulf us.
Now that we have focused on Nathaniel’s public and private thoughts about Jesus, let’s turn our attention to what those words might reveal about him personally. After Nathaniel finally met the Messiah, Jesus spoke words Nathaniel probably never heard anyone say to him as a man. Unlike Nathaniel, whose words about Jesus weren’t admirable, Jesus did not reciprocate in the same fashion. Jesus spoke life into Nathaniel’s situation and touched his heart like no other could. While sitting under a fig tree alone, biblically signifying, seclusion, a time of prayer, contemplation and meditation, Jesus saw Nathaniel engaged in some deep thought or concern long before Phillip found him. When Jesus told Nathaniel about the episode under the tree, I’m persuaded that Jesus not only saw him physically but also saw him spiritually. He perceived Nathaniel’s potential and the tangled thoughts that had him contemplating and reasoning about his identity as he sat under that tree. Jesus words lifted his self-perception to another level and restored his family heritage and self-image. You’re probably saying, how is this the case? As an Israelite, Nathaniel was a descendent of Jacob who was a cunning schemer and a liar. Sitting under a fig tree with the label of liar tied to his family lineage probably made him feel unworthy. As Nathaniel and Phillip approached Jesus to meet him, Jesus looked at Nathaniel and discerned that he was not what his family lineage dictated and spoke a life changing word into his heart. Jesus read the pages of Nathaniel’s life history and private thoughts under that tree, and affirmed his character as an honest man and a true son of Israel. He did not have to embrace the label of his descendent Jacob. As Nathaniel stood astounded by Jesus’ insight into his life and family history, he quickly changed his mind and believed in him as the Son of God—the King of Israel. The Lord knows us when we don’t know ourselves.
To all men, where are we sitting? Are we like Nathaniel sitting under a tree wondering, meditating or praying about who we are? Perhaps we’re hanging out on a street corner or sitting on a barstool drowning in sorrow. Perhaps we’re sitting on the dock of the bay thinking about whether we’re just like great grandpa who messed up the family name. You might be in a church wondering where your life is heading and don’t feel like a son, but you desperately want a father’s blessing in your life. Maybe people have labeled you with every other name under the sun except an honest man and son based on your hometown reputation or family line. Maybe we swallowed the labels of others and acted out what they said would happen to us, but the time has come for us to leap into our spiritual inheritance as restored sons of God. Filling manhood’s call may be tough when we haven’t had fatherly wisdom pronounced on our lives. But now the time has come for whole men to step in as fathers or brothers and speak wisdom into the lives of fatherless boys. If we forget about the past under the tree of yesterday’s events and be persistent in reaching for our destiny, nothing can stop us from arriving at God’s appointed destination. We are not bastard sons, if we have spiritual fathers in our lives that care about us. Never let people categorize you based on background, family history, mistakes, failures, or upbringing. Just like Jesus read Nathaniel’s life afar off, so can Jesus read us and speak a word that will change our lives forever.
As a son, Nathaniel finally found out that he was a gift of God. That is what his name means. In essence, many men have an idea about what they wish they were, but no focus to reach their destination. Their reputation and identity come from definitions of what others say about them and what they think of themselves because of family influences that keep men sitting under a tree trying to figure out how to live their intended purpose in life. But in reality, our character is who we are. Jesus saw that Nathaniel was an honest man, and a true son, which relieved him of his sordid family reputation.
Therefore, who we are and what we dream of becoming as men often clashes because of a bad family rap. And only the Master teacher Jesus can see our destiny and the confusion labels have on us and bring balance to our incongruent lives. If the hometown reputation didn’t affect Jesus’ mission, our mission in life should not be any different, if we let the Holy Spirit speak into our family ties. If Nathaniel can change his views on Jesus’ worth, there’s no doubt we men from the hood of all parts of society, can change too, from racists, to the rich and famous, as well as the poor. We are our fathers’ sons, but now we are more as valued sons of God who no longer sit under a tree trying to decide which label of the family line will determine the road we take. Don’t let the family line decide God’s destiny for your life, but derail the unsavory past with an encounter with the Master.
Copyright © 2005 Frank Chase Jr. All Rights Reserved
Frank is the author of
False Roads To Manhood, What Women Need To Know; What Men Need To Understand