In Defense of Intinction: A Response to Joe Thorn

Intinction

I highly respect Joe Thorn as a preacher, and his podcast “Doctrine & Devotion” is one of the better Christian podcasts out there despite the some of the less than pointless banter between he and his brother in arms, Jimmy Fowler. However, I’m writing this article because Thorn published an article on the Doctrine & Devotion blog entitled, “Sip It, Don’t Dip It.

In his article, Thorn makes an attempt to dissuade Christians from practicing the Lord’s Supper via intinction.  For those of you who don’t know, intinction is the practice whereby you take the bread, dip it into the wine, and eat it. Apparently, this is an offensive practice within the ranks of the Reformed community, and until I read Thorn’s article and did the research, I didn’t realize that this was such a big deal.

Goals

First of all, I’m not writing this response to say that intinction is the only valid way to partake of the sacrament. That would be just as preposterous as saying that the only valid way to partake of the eucharist is by eating the bread first, and then drinking the wine. I’m simply defending the practice as being equally valid with the other ways in which the body of Christ has been known to partake throughout the ages.

Secondly, I’m going to kindly overlook the irony of a Baptist telling me that I shouldn’t ‘immerse’ the bread into the wine.

What I hope to accomplish is to start a conversation that might allow Joe Thorn and those who agree with him to reconsider their position of intinction as invalid. I could care less whether they personally practice intinction or not, but I feel holding to such a rigid position marginalizes brothers and sisters in Christ who hold to such a practice.

A Review of the Article in Question

Thorn starts out his article by saying that “rightly administering the Lord’s Supper is one of the marks of a true church.” Right out of the gate, Thorn is by implication stating that churches that practice intinction are not true churches because clearly he does not believe that this is a way to “rightly administer” the Supper.

As you continue reading the article you’ll find that Thorn has given us three reasons that he believes we should “sip it, don’t dip it” and I’ll examine all three of these reasons.

  1. The Command to Eat and Drink
    • Thorn brings up an interesting point that there seems to be a separation in distributing and partaking of elements, but we have to ask ourselves if our Lord’s thought process behind this was because He foresaw the alleged evils of intinction down through the annals of time, and He wanted to make sure to prevent such a catastrophe by keeping the elements of the meal separate, or are the authors simply giving unfolding the events as they happened?We have to be careful not to read into the text what is not there, and what Thorn seems to be reading into the Gospel accounts is a command to separate the elements. In his paper on Scripture’s Normativity, Grant Gaines shares with us a couple of thoughts from N.T. Wright concerning the use of Scripture which I find relevant.

      “As N. T. Wright reminds us, the Bible “is not a rule book; it is a narrative.” [1] To attempt merely to gather a collection of all the transcultural principles from Scripture is to “belittle the Bible” because it implies “that God has, after all, given us the wrong sort of book and [that] it is our job to turn it into the right sort of book by engaging in these hermeneutical moves.” [2]

  2. The Significance of the Blood Separated from the Body
    • Notice what Thorn says here:

      “Just as the Paschal lamb was sacrificed, its blood being poured out in death, so Jesus presents the Lord’s Supper as a separation of blood and body. This separation itself signifies death and points explicitly to the death of our Savior.”

      This is going to probably sound more flippant than how I intend for it to be, but if the Lord’s Supper is simply a representation (as most Baptists would assert), then why does it matter? I mean if we’re saying that when Christ said, “This is my body” he actually meant “This is a representation of my body” then why would it bother Thorn for someone to practice intinction?

      If we continue reading this section, we see Thorn again reading something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there. He argues that the Apostle Paul talks about the elements being separate and distinct in 1 Corinthians 10. If that’s the case, then let’s look at it. I’ll even play ball and look at it in the ESV.

      “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.” – 1 Corinthians 10:16-17, ESV

      Paul certainly mentions the elements separately, but is this an explicit command for them to be taken separately? I’m not so sure. I think to say that this is a command for the elements to be taken separately is awfully akin to the Appalachian Pentecostals who believe that Mark 16 is a command to take up serpents and drink poison. I don’t see a command here. I simply see a statement about participating in Christ by partaking of the Supper.

      However, Joe Thorn is adamant that “each taken separately is a “participation” in Christ.” By implication, he seems to be saying that the elements taken separately is not a participation in Christ. So, if it’s not a participation in Christ, then what is it? Well, the Apostle Paul seems to tell us in the 21st verse of the same chapter.

      “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.” – 1 Corinthians 10:21, ESV

      So, if the Paul is addressing intinction here (which he’s not) then that would mean that those who participating such a practice are eating and drinking at the table of Satan. I’m confident that Thorn did not mean to imply such a thing about well-meaning brothers and sisters, but that’s what happens when you read something into the text of Scripture that isn’t there.

  3. The Regulative Principle Cautions Us
    • This third and final reason that Joe Thorn gives us assumes that the Regulative Principle even works to begin with.For those of you who don’t know what The Regulative Principle is, the Westminster Confession of Faith defines it in these terms,

      “But the acceptable way of worshipping the true God is instituted by Himself, and so limited by His own revealed will, that He may not be worshipped according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan, under any visible representation, or any other way not prescribed in the holy Scripture.”

      This means that we are to worship God only in the ways in which He has prescribed and not “according to the imaginations and devices of men, or the suggestions of Satan.” Sounds good, right? The problem is that Jesus Christ Himself did not follow the Regulative principle, as David and Tim Bayly point out here:

      “Scripture tells us that Jesus went to the synagogue in Galilee on the Sabbath as was His habit, and there publicly read the Word of God, explaining Isaiah’s significance to the assembled people. In any Reformed church such action would be viewed as the the height of worship. Yet where in the Old Testament do we find express biblical warrant for synagogue worship? Where is routine public worship outside the realm of temple worship and public feast days positively commanded?”

      Seeing as how Jesus didn’t observe this Puritanical practice, I’m not so sure that it’s useful for us to observe it either. Therefore, it’s not a valid reason to keep the elements separate in the Supper.

Concluding Thoughts on the Article

Joe Thorn concludes the article by trying to say that we are commanded to (in his words to “eat” and then “drink.” I find it humorous how he puts the the word “then” in there. It’s kind of like how one might put “a representation of” in between Jesus’ words, “is” and “my” in His statement, “This is my body.”

The last paragraph concludes with Thorn telling that us that “thought this isn’t a practice over which one should break fellowship with a church, it is a practice that should be evaluated by the word of God and replaced with a separation of the elements.” So, basically he’s saying “don’t divide, just do it this way.” While I agree that it’s not issue to divide over (because my own home church doesn’t even practice intinction), I don’t think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed in such manner as to imply that those who practice intinction are not “rightly administering the supper.”

Why Does it Matter to Me?

If you read Rev. Lane B. Keister’s paper, then you’ll see that intinction was a practice that was probably introduced in the 3rd or 4th Century as a way for those who were physically ill to receive the Lord’s Supper without great danger of spilling the elements.

When I get the opportunity to partake of the Sacrament at a congregation that practices intinction then I am reminded that I am sick and in need of a Savior. I am reminded there is healing for me when I “participate” in Christ because He has said, “This is my body” and “this is my blood.” He is there. He may not be there in the that our Romanist friends say that He is there. I do not believe that the broken bread and the poured out wine is a sacrifice as they do, but I’m driven to believe that Christ is there in a very real sense.

But, when I partake of the Supper at a congregation that doesn’t practice intinction, the Supper is equally valid and equally special for me because I’m reminded just as elements are given to me separately so too was the suffering of our Lord given to Him separately. First, His body was beaten and tortured, then His blood was spilled, and just as the natural eating of bread gives life the body so does the death and resurrection of Christ bring life to the soul.

____________________

  1. N. T. Wright, “How Can the Bible Be Authoritative?,” Vox Evangelica 21 (1991): 10.
  2. Ibid., 13. Elsewhere Wright states that “biblicistic proof-texting” is “inconsistent with the nature of the texts we have.” See N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, Christian Origins and the Question of God vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 140. Wright contrasts the problematic approach of principlizing with what he considers to be a better way forward: “Rather than trying to filter out the actual arguments that Paul is mounting in order to ‘get at’ the doctrines that, it is assumed, he is ‘expounding,’ I have stressed that we must pay attention to those larger arguments and to the great story of God, the world, Israel, and Jesus, giving special attention to the ‘Israel’ dimension, within which the cross means for him what it means for him.” See N. T. Wright, “Reading Paul, Thinking Scripture,” in Scripture’s Doctrine and Theology’s Bible: How the New Testament Shapes Christian Dogmatics, eds. Markus Bockmuehl and Alan J. Torrance (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 70.
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Dressed in His Righteousness Alone: The Sanctification Debate, Round 3

Dressed in His Righteousness Alone

We cannot just speak of the sanctification in the theological realm and ignore the pastoral implications of our conclusions. To do so is to divorce orthodoxy and orthpraxy and dismiss the impact that this teaching has on our people. It’s not just the textbooks that will be impacted when we get this wrong. It’s the covenant child, the clinging doubter, the weary wife, or the aging senior who will bear the true weight if we err.

So if we think pastorally about what’s being said in the New Law/Sola Fide Debate we realize that where this debate leads us is in two distinct directions.

Let’s suppose that a pastor notices that there is a lack of fruit among his parishioners. Worship may be attended, but the worshippers seem disinterested. They may be apathetic to chatechisis or have begrudgingly serve their fellow members. There could be internal strife or division among brothers with no desire to reconcile. And yes, there could be greivous sin; even sin that must be disciplined.

What is a pastor to do?

He could whip them with the Law. He could demand their obedience to God’s righteous standards. He could plead and fight and remind them of their Christian duty. He may stand up every Lord’s Day and preach hellfire and damnation. He could repeat until he’s red faced that “Whoever loves me will obey my commandments” from that sacred platform.

But I’ve been there  I’ve been in that pew and felt the weight of it all. It just made me feel guilty. I didn’t obey because I loved God, I obeyed because I was guilty. I obeyed because, at the end of the day, I wasn’t sure of my salvation.

However, he won’t see true fruit because he’s not working on the root. The root of sanctification is built on the foundation of our Union with Christ. If we want to see fruit of true faith, we must preach the Gospel and pray for the Spirit to work in them.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1

The mistake our New Law brothers are making is they’re making Works the basis of our “final salvation” (again this is a term that has only recently come up). Let’s take Mark Jones’ article where he talks about “ways and means”. Here’s what he says:

“Good works are not, therefore, “merely evidence of sanctity and nothing more.” They are the “way and means” that God has ordained for his children to walk to glory. If we do not walk on this path we will not be saved.”

If it sounds like that famous Norman Shepherd line “brought in by faith, kept in by faithfulness” that’s because it is. If it sounds like we’re repeating the Marrow debate it’s because we are.

Good works are not the means of sanctification, they are the evidence of it. If what Jones is putting forward is the preponderance of what the Reformed Church has held to someone didn’t tell the writers of the Heidelberg Catechism for it says

Q. 60
How are you righteous before God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ. Although my conscience accuses me that I have grievously sinned against all God’s commandments, have never kept any of them,
and am still inclined to all evil, yet God, without any merit of my own, out of mere grace, imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ. He grants these to me as if I had never had nor committed any sin, and as if I myself had accomplished all the obedience which Christ has rendered for me, if only I accept this gift with a believing heart.

Q. 61
Why do you say that you are righteous only by faith?

A. Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, for only the satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God. I can receive this righteousness and make it my own by faith only.

Q. 62
But why can our good works not be our righteousness before God, or at least a part of it?

A. Because the righteousness which can stand before God’s judgment must be absolutely perfect and in complete agreement with the law of God, whereas even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.

Q. 63
But do our good works earn nothing, even though God promises to reward them in this life and the next?

A. This reward is not earned; it is a gift of grace.

But yes, our New Law brothers will try to argue that it is of Grace and Spirit. But this is the third time now and it sounds like they’re trying to make their Nomian doctrine fit a Reformed position.

So what will we tell our people? “Perform good works and live” or “Look to Christ”? Does Christ truly give us His righteousness imputed to us or do we only return to neutral and walk back to Sinai? Is the Law a guide for Christian living or the means by which we obtain or posses our full salvation?

In other words: is it truly “finished”? Can I tell my fellow Christians they are truly “dressed in a His righteousness alone?” Or must they return to the Law to live?

A Mental Buffet // 19 Aug 2017

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul. This week’s mental buffet includes a sermon from Ronnie Martin, and articles from Chad Bird, Thomas R. Schreiner, and Kyle G. Jones

Drawing Near to God’s Kingdom – Ronnie Martin

In this sermon, Pastor Ronnie Martin speaks about what it means to draw near to God’s Kingdom.

“God wants to draw near to people that constantly reject Him.”

 


Grace is Karma’s Worst Nightmare – Chad Bird

“Grace is lacking in taste and propriety. The same loving lips that kiss away the tears of a repentant whore will turn right around and kiss the lips of a humble queen. The same hands that scrub the vomit out off the clothes of a drunk will shake hands with the teetotaler. It’s never learned the difference between a shack and a mansion. Grace doesn’t know why the color of skin makes one sinner more or less in need of forgiveness than any other.”

 

Sermon: A Building from God – Thomas R. Schreiner

“The gift of the Spirit functions as the guarantee, the downpayment, of our future resurrection. So, Paul concludes in verse 5 where he started in verse 1. We know that we will have a resurrection body in the future. We are assured of this because we have the Holy Spirit. No matter how happy your life is now, you still long for something better. We all naturally think how life could be better. There is a longing in us for perfection. There is a sense of incompleteness and an ache in our lives. We are not fully satisfied or fulfilled. We sense that there is more to life. Those desires are not a bad thing. They remind us that we were made for another world. They remind us that this world is not our home. They point us forward to the resurrection.”

 

Go and Be Dead – Kyle G. Jones

“We sinners share a common problem when it comes to Jesus’ parables. We read them with an eye to our own righteousness. That is, we read them with our eyes peeled for what they might tell us to do. We read them with Law tinted lenses.

While it is true that Jesus’ parables contain Law (commands and demands from God), if we’re to understand them rightly our eyes need to hunt tirelessly for where Christ and his Gospel reside within them. Though not always easy, we must avoid the temptation to make the Law our primary prize while reading or listening to Jesus’ parables.”

 

The Proper Distinction Between Law & Gospel by C.F.W. Walther

Law&Gospel

Thesis I.
The doctrinal contents of the entire Holy Scriptures, both of the Old and the New Testament, are made up of two doctrines differing fundamentally from each other, viz., the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis II.
Only he is an orthodox teacher who not only presents all articles of faith in accordance with Scripture, but also rightly distinguishes from each other the Law and the Gospel.

Thesis III.
Rightly distinguishing the Law and the Gospel is the most difficult and the highest art of Christians in general and of theologians in particular. It is taught only by the Holy Spirit in the school of experience.

Thesis IV.
The true knowledge of the distinction between the Law and the Gospel is not only a glorious light, affording the correct understanding of the entire Holy Scriptures, but without this knowledge Scripture is and remains a sealed book.

Thesis V.
The first manner of confounding Law and Gospel is the one most easily recognized — and the grossest. It is adopted, for instance, by Papists, Socinians, and Rationalists, and consists in this, that Christ is represented as a new Moses, or Lawgiver, and the Gospel turned into a doctrine of meritorious works, while at the same time those who teach that the Gospel is the message of the free grace of God in Christ are condemned and anathematized, as is done by the papists.

Thesis VI.
In the second place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is not preached in its full sternness and the Gospel not in its full sweetness, when, on the contrary, Gospel elements are mingled with the Law and Law elements with the Gospel.

Thesis VII.
In the third place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is preached first and then the Law; sanctification first and then justification; faith first and then repentance; good works first and then grace.

Thesis VIII.
In the fourth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Law is preached to those who are already in terror on account of their sins, or the Gospel to those who live securely in their sins.

Thesis IX.
In the fifth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when sinners who have been struck down and terrified by the Law are directed, not to the Word and the Sacraments, but to their own prayers and wrestlings with God in order that they may win their way into a state of grace; in other words, when thy are told to keep on praying and struggling until they feel that God has received them into grace.

Thesis X.
In the sixth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher describes faith in a manner as if the mere inert acceptance of truths, even while a person is living in mortal sins, renders that person righteous in the sight of God and saves him; or as if faith makes a person righteous and saves him for the reason that it produces in him love and reformation of his mode of living.

Thesis XI.
In the seventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when there is a disposition to offer the comfort of the Gospel only to those who have been made contrite by the Law, not from fear of the wrath and punishment of God, but from love of God.

Thesis XII.
In the eighth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher represents contrition alongside of faith as a cause of the forgiveness of sin.

Thesis XIII.
In the ninth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when one makes an appeal to believe in a manner as if a person could make himself believe or at least help towards that end, instead of preaching faith into a person’s heart by laying the Gospel promises before him.

Thesis XIV.
In the tenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when faith is required as a condition of justification and salvation, as if a person were righteous in the sight of God and saved, not only by faith, but also on account of his faith, for the sake of his faith, and in view of his faith.

Thesis XV.
In the eleventh place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the Gospel is turned into a preaching of repentance.

Thesis XVI.
In twelfth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher tries to make people believe that they are truly converted as soon as they have become rid of certain vices and engage in certain works of piety and virtuous practices.

Thesis XVII.
In the thirteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a description is given of faith, both as regards its strength and the consciousness and productiveness of it, that does not fit all believers at all times.

Thesis XVIII.
In the fourteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the universal corruption of mankind is described in such a manner as to create the impression that even true believers are still under the spell of ruling sins and are sinning purposely.

Thesis XIX.
In the fifteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the preacher speaks of certain sins as if there were not of a damnable, but of a venial nature.

Thesis XX.
In the sixteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a person’s salvation is made to depend on his association with the visible orthodox Church and when salvation is denied to every person who errs in any article of faith.

Thesis XXI.
In the seventeenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when men are taught that the Sacraments produce salutary effects ex opere operato, that is, by the mere outward performance of a sacramental act.

Thesis XXII.
In the eighteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when a false distinction is made between a person’s being awakened and his being converted; moreover, when a person’s inability to believe is mistaken for his not being permitted to believe.

Thesis XXIII.
In the nineteenth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when an attempt is made by means of the demands or the threats or the promises of the Law to induce the unregenerate to put away their sins and engage in good works and thus become godly; on the other hand, when an endeavor is made, by means of the commands of the Law rather than by the admonitions of the Gospel, to urge the regenerate to do good.

Thesis XXIV.
In the twentieth place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the unforgiven sin against the Holy Ghost is described in a manner as if it could not be forgiven because of its magnitude.

Thesis XXV.
In the twenty-first place, the Word of God is not rightly divided when the person teaching it does not allow the Gospel to have a general predominance in his teaching.

You may read each of C.F.W. Walther’s lectures on these theses at this link.

A “Yuuuge” Mental Buffet

Mental Buffet

 

I’ve been slacking off on the mental buffets so I decided to make up for it with this one…

 

Is My Repentance Enough? – Chad West

“Every choice I make affects me and those around me. The physical consequences of my actions might well echo down the hall of the rest of my life. Worse, it’s an affront to God. But our imperfect repentance doesn’t keep the gift of God’s love from washing us clean. His forgiveness isn’t based on how perfectly we get the grammar, or how well dressed we are when we present it to our Father. Forgiveness is based on the finished work of Jesus, not how well we repent.
Of course I’m not saying to half-do it. But I don’t think I’m talking to people who want to half-do it. I’m talking to people who are sincerely sorry for their sins—so sorry they can’t imagine their screw-ups can be made right.”

 

Discovering Liturgy – Heidi Johnston

“Not only does this intentional practice train you heart towards thankfulness, it also teaches you to see differently. I am beginning to realise how much discipline it takes to cultivate a moment by moment awareness of God’s presence in all things and I am grateful for the new place good liturgy has come to play in this ongoing battle.”

 

It’s Gospel Law the Way Down – JDK

“You see, the distinction between law and gospel is not related to grammar, semantics, or even theology, but power: the gospel silences the accusation, curse, and demand of the law. Now, this is not, as some will be quick to say, the (impossible) heresy of anti-nomianism, as if we could somehow will away the demand of the law, or simply be freed from it’s accusation. It is, instead, when G-D becomes Father, when Moses and Elijah disappear and only Jesus remains, when this “true saying that is worthy for all people to receive, that Christ Jesus came to save sinners,” is heard, then he/she is one whom the Son has set free, and is free indeed (Jn 8:36).”

 

Keep Christianity Weird – Joshua Kinlaw

“Christianity’s sheer familiarity has desensitized us to its radicalness. Hurtado aims to show how the “odd” became “commonplace,” by surveying the first three centuries of the Jesus movement. In fact the very concept of a book can be traced to early Jesus followers. The “bookishness” of the movement is one of the “distinctives” Hurtado describes, which helped make a ragtag group of Jewish schismatics into a global institution. It also offered a radically new way of thinking about three things: identity, religion, and morality.”

 

Protestant Priestcraft – Douglas Wilson

“But know this—wine for the world is not the same thing as wine for the priest only. Bread for the world is the grace of God that challenges priestcraft everywhere—whether those “priests” are Protestant or Catholic.”

 

Education, Gospel, and Freedom – Rod Rosenbladt

“In this short lecture, Dr. Rosenbladt tackles modern education and how it has transitioned from what educational institutions were originally established to do in early American history to the institutions that they are today, and how that relates to basic Christian doctrine and individual liberty.

This lecture was presented on Monday, October 2015 as the first of Concordia University Irvine’s CUI Bono lecture series for the academic year.”

 

Why do we gather for corporate worship? Five essential reasons – Brian Croft

“When a congregation collectively sits under the preached Word, a level of accountability is established and nourished among the hearers to urge each other to go and apply that sermon. A greater obligation to “do something” with the Word preached and to rely on one another for help and strength to obey it exists in this kind of community life that is not present when we listen in isolation or hop churches depending upon who is preaching that week.”

A Mental Buffett // 28 Apr 2017

 

Mental Buffet

Some reading material for the eager mind and the hungry soul.

 

Pathologically Moral – Ted Peters

“We frequently face moral dilemmas. When neither neutrality nor nonaction is an option, when distinguishing what is purely right from what is purely wrong is impossible, what then? Sin bravely, says Luther. None of us can live the moral life as Pontius Pilate had wanted, namely, with clean hands. But the forgiven sinner loves her neighbor with dirty hands.”

 

His Irresponsible Love – Bryan Lowe

“Regulating the watering hole becomes a compulsion, and a necessary work of the “Church.” Jesus’ love is for all is a confirmed fact, but we must have some standards of decorum and appropriate levels of conduct and respect. “We the keepers-of-the- spigot are called to take some responsibility in this,” we end up saying.”

 

Ten Questions for Pastors and Polemics – Kevin DeYoung

“It may seem like everyone wants you or me to say something. But maybe it’s okay for you and I to admit that sometimes we don’t really have much to say.”

 

Putting Down My Inner Polemicist – Samuel James

“The allure of polemics is the thrill. There’s an actual adrenaline kick when you’re breezily dismantling (at least in your own head) other people’s wrongness. There’s a feeling of control, of power, and, especially if this is a kind of Christianized sort, of doing God’s work. Being given a chance to feel smarter than someone else in the name of Jesus is an offer many of us can’t refuse.”

The Gospel for Cynics, Doubters, and Skeptics

GospelForCynics

The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “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 1:43-51, NRSV

I’m going to have the privilege of teaching over this passage in Bible Study at my church in a couple of weeks and the more I read this passage, the more I can’t help but think about the different personalities that come into play here.

Philip

In the passage, Philip is mentioned first. Jesus said, “Follow me” and that’s exactly what Philip did. Philip followed him without question or hesitation. Now, what does Philip do? He finds Nathanael, and he tells him that they’ve found the Messiah. We’ll touch on Nathanael’s response in a bit, but notice Philip. He seems enthusiastic about telling people about the Messiah. This same enthusiasm is a common personality trait of his. It’s why he’s able to be an effective witness to the Gospel of Christ.

In Acts 8, he witnesses to and baptizes a eunuch and in Acts 21:8 he is given the title of ‘Evangelist.’   I think it’s fair to deduce from what little the New Testament has to say about Philip that he is someone who is optimistic, and he’s someone that we might refer to as a ‘go getter.’

Personally, I can’t relate.

However, pay attention to what Philip says when Nathanael tries to argue with him – “come and see.” I think modern Christendom can learn a thing or two simply pausing and reflecting on this passage. Philip doesn’t try to argue with Nathanael, he just says, “Come and see.” He’s saying, “Alright, find out for yourself.”

You see ads all the time that have money-back guarantees and they say, “If you’re not completely satisfied with the product then send it back and you’ll get your money back.” Now, we know that’s not entirely true. Before you’re able to get your money back, there’s a lot of bureaucratic red tape that you have to go through, but what Philip says to Nathanael is better than a money-back guarantee. He simply says, “Come and see.”

Honestly, I think that’s the most effective way to evangelize. You not see a boost in church attendance by evangelizing like that, but that’s because we’ve defined success by the numbers, but that’s another blog post for another time.

Nathanael

I can relate to Nathanael. Notice his response to Philip – “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Why would Nathanael say this? I would say that Nathanael is being realistic.

As we’ll see later, Nathanael is a student of Old Testament. There’s not anything mentioned about the Messiah coming from Nazareth. Nazareth was also a poor village and possibly known for its moral corruption. Usually poverty and crime go hand in hand so it wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination to think of Nazareth as such a town.

Nathanael is having a hard time conceiving the notion that the Messiah that he believed was going to be coming to bring political revolution to the Jews was going to be coming from a place like Nazareth.

When He sees Jesus, Jesus says, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!” Before Nathanael fully recognizes Jesus for who He is, he’s probably thinking, “Alright, this guys is trying to sell me something so he asks, “Where did you get to know me?”

He wants to be sure that Jesus is really the Chosen One of God, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to be sure. Notice what Jesus says – “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.” This is where we learn about Nathanael being a student of the Scriptures.

Cultural context is important because things in Scripture aren’t always as they appear on the surface. When we read this without cultural we might, “Oh, Jesus had a vision of Nathanael chilling out under a fig tree.” It’s not that simple.

According to the NIV First Century Study Bible, ‘under the fig tree’ was a euphemism for studying the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus pointed out that Nathanael was a ‘true Israelite’ because he had been studying the Scriptures. We see this taken a step farther whenever Jesus mentions that they would see “angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.” There’s only one other place in Scripture where that phrase is used and it’s in Genesis 28:10-15 where Jacob has a vision of a stairway going into Heaven and angels ascending and descending on the stairway.

In Genesis 28, after Jacob has the vision, God reminds him of the promise to bless his seed. Jesus was communicating to Nathanael the promise to bless his Jacob’s seed has been fulfilled in Himself. He is the stairway to Heaven between God and man.

Jesus

Finally, we come to the personality of Jesus. If I were going to fully talk about how Jesus is, it would take too long so I simply want to look at how He is portrayed in this passage.

First, Jesus is humble. Although His humility is not directly alluded to in the passage, I think it’s something that we can still deduce when we consider Jesus coming from a town like Nazareth. I already mentioned that the town itself was probably a ghetto filled with poverty and moral corruption.

It would’ve been enough for Jesus to put on human flesh and live on earth, but it wasn’t enough for Him. He knew the kind of life He was getting into. He chose to be born to Joseph and Mary. He knew they would live in Nazareth – that little podunk village that nothing good can come from. He chose that life. Jesus is of more value and worth than we could ever attribute to Him and yet, He chooses to live among the meek, the lowly, the humble, and the outcast so that those meek, lowly, humble, and outcast could see that He relates to them.

Second, Jesus is understanding. When Nathanael asks Him how He got to know him, Jesus doesn’t have to give Nathanael an answer. Jesus doesn’t him anything, and yet he understands Nathanael’s desire for an explanation.

Jesus seeks us out as we are, not as we’re going to be. He looks into our souls and He sees us – the real us, not the mask we put on for the others, but the real, broken, insecure us that has a an existential crisis at least three times a week at the most inconvenient times.

Jesus understands us, and that is why the writer of Hebrews says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16, NRSV)