Nathanael said to him, “Can any good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46 [NASB])
Consider a child who walks to school. The parents of that child tell him which route to take. Most times that route prescribed by the parents is for the safety of the child. The route instructed by the parents tells the child which streets to walk past and which to walk through as they go. Often, the path the parents dictates makes the her walk longer. What causes parents or society to tell a child he can walk down one street but not another? The parents want the child to avoid these streets because she could be unsafe. Consider now, the reasons the parents want their child to bypass certain streets are not because of physical safety, but because of prejudice. Possibly one set of streets has people of another race or religion living or working on it. Why would anyone want to raise prejudiced children? Let’s examine what we learn from Jesus’ discernment of the heart of Nathanael.
In John 1, John testified he was not the Christ. (vs. 20) As He continued to speak to the priests and Levites from Jerusalem, he identified himself as the “voice crying in the wilderness” of which Isaiah prophesied. John believed in the Christ and proclaimed Him. He identified Him as greater than himself, and at Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, he proclaimed Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (vs. 29) John’s heart was true to the Messiah before he met Him.
What makes a person able to believe and testify to Jesus being the Christ, the Messiah? What makes that person unprejudiced against Jesus? What keeps people from believing? John believed without seeing Jesus that the Messiah had arrived. Then when he saw Jesus, he proclaimed this Man is the one of whom he preached. He said, “This is the Son of God.” (vs. 34) Jesus, after His baptism, walked around the Sea of Galilee calling men to follow Him. First, two of John’s disciples followed Him, one of whom was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. Next, Jesus found Philip and told him, “Follow Me.” (vs. 43) Philip found Nathanael and told him he had found the One about whom Moses and the Prophets wrote. He identified this One as Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. (vs. 45)
Nathanael’s reaction is often the reaction of people who express prejudice. In verse forty-six, he said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael had not seen or met Jesus yet and already held Him in contempt because of where His parents raised Him. He did not want to believe a man from Nazareth could be the Messiah and so already had bias against Jesus. Why did Nathanael hold Nazareth in contempt? What was the basis for his prejudice? Is there ever any right reason to be prejudiced?
Nazareth was in the lower region of Galilee on the southwest side of the Sea of Galilee. It was not on a major trade route and had few inhabitants. Bible scholars consider it may have had 500 people living in it during the first century. Nazareth was not a sophisticated or glamourous place. It wasn’t from where the Jews expected the Messiah to come. In answer to the questions posited, Nathanael held Nazareth in contempt because of its size and location. It wasn’t near Jerusalem or in Judah. He based his prejudice on place and what he’d learned from people in his own social sphere. Nathanael did not have a just reason for prejudice against Jesus. He had never met Him. No person can give a good reason for prejudice. God did not make one people with a particular skin color who lived in a preferred place and tell them to rule over the others. He did not make one race, nation, tribe, or tongue and call them very, very good, while all the others He called very good. God created man and woman in His image and declared them very good, then told them to have dominion over the animals and plants, not over other people.
Consider Nathanael’s response to Jesus when he meets Him. When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to meet Him, He said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” (vs 47) Before Nathanael met Jesus, Jesus knew his heart. Jesus showed lack of prejudice against Nathanael and told him the truth of his heart. Nathanael had no deceit, in Greek, dolos. This means Nathanael did not try to trap Jesus or others with his own ideas but sought the truth for himself. He did not stand back and spout contempt but went to meet Jesus for himself. Jesus confronted Nathanael with the truth of his heart, that he wanted to know the truth about Him. He answered Nathanael’s question about how He knew him in verse forty-eight. Jesus said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” He said, “I saw you.” He discerned clearly who Nathanael truly was in his heart and spirit. Nathanael’s response to Jesus’ understanding of himself caused him to proclaim his newly understood certainty of who Jesus is. With the blinds of societal prejudice removed from his mind’s eyes, he declared, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” (vs 49)
What made Nathanael able to trust Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God? Jesus’ revealed truth. What caused him not to view Jesus with prejudice? Jesus’ revealed truth. What keeps people from believing in Jesus? Prejudice, lack of truth. Jesus disclosed the true heart of Nathanael, the heart God created. The heart God created for each person is to love Him above everything else we hold dear and to love other people just as we love ourselves. (Matthew 22:36-40) Nathanael’s society caused him to learn prejudice against other people, particularly the people of Nazareth. Such prejudice is not part of God’s original creation but comes from sin. When Jesus disclosed the truth of Nathanael’s heart as He discerned it, the blinds that shuttered truth and love from his heart, mind, and spirit, fell away. This revelation allowed Nathanael to recognize the truth of Jesus, that He is the Messiah, the Son of God.
Jesus’ gift to Nathanael was sight, truth, and salvation. That’s His gift to every person. Jesus wants each person to receive true sight so he or she can recognize the prejudice-sin-into which Satan tricks them into believing. He wants us to know the truth. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.”
Consider again the parents giving instructions to their child about which way to walk to and from school. Ponder what could happen if a parent allowed a child to walk another way home so she walked through neighborhoods unlike her own and in which her physical safety was not a concern. That child would learn about people different from them socially and culturally. He would recognize the sameness of each person as God created them. That child would learn every person wants to be loved, to have a home, to live with family, and to have food, clothes, and drink. Each person wants to feel safe and truly to be heard and seen. If that child could walk the streets of people from different cultures and histories, she would learn to love more, understand better, see clearly, and care globally about all people, nations, tribes, and tongues. He would learn how to love as God wants him to love, without prejudice. Your child and you could hear and meet a man from Nazareth who came to be the Way and give each person salvation.
What roads do you avoid?
What paths in your heart have you closed?
What are you allowing to keep you from knowing Jesus, the Truth, the Light, and the Way?
Jesus sees and knows each of us before we even meet Him. He is ready to tell us the truth and remake us into His own image through God’s grace-offered salvation.
Will you declare Jesus the Son of God just as Nathanael did?
Will you choose sight and salvation,
or prejudice and perdition?
Lord, You’ve done it again; You’ve shown me truth and I don’t want to face what I am and have done. Yes, Lord, I have been prejudiced against people. I have chosen to side against them rather than stand for them. It’s easier that way. But Lord, now I am in the corner facing my sins regarding this. I recognize I am a sinner and truly sorry for the way I have thought about and interacted with and against people. Lord, You’ve shown me truth and I can hardly bare it. Yet, You tell me You will forgive me this. Lord, I am unworthy of Your forgiveness. I deserve punishment, yet You offer me grace; You offer me salvation from these, my sins. Lord, thank you. Thank you for loving me so much that You kept calling to me and showing me You already provided for the condemnation I deserve. Thank you for forgiving and saving me, Lord. I accept Your gift of salvation, forgiveness, and eternal life with You. I am unworthy, but You are almighty, faithful, and loving. Oh Lord, here’s my life, make it Yours completely. Thank you for giving me sight into the truth of myself and providing the Way. Amen.