John 1:43-51, Sermon Thoughts

[January 25, 2014] So, most of chapter 1 of the Gospel according to John has Jesus calling a handful of disciples, the first from John the Baptist, others on their own. This takes place after John the Baptist speaks of the Holy Spirit marking Jesus out and John testifying that “this one” is the (Passover?) Lamb of God. With those first disciples, we are invited to come to Jesus and abide with him. What’s in it, if and when we do? Most readers are undoubtedly already disciples; they are invited to explore what they have gotten into, what it all means.

In the course of the gospel the disciples abide “with” Jesus and in the course of their abiding, they see a lot of things—things manifesting and revealing Jesus to them. As we read the gospel, we too are invited to abide with Jesus as he appears to us in the text, and in abiding with him we will see things.

There is a lot of seeing going on in chapter 1, disciples seeing Jesus and Jesus seeing them. In the center Jesus names Simon “Stone.” Simon, who has a pivotal role at the end of the gospel as well, is the representative disciple. This new name might have a reference to being a building block (as in Matthew 16:18), but later we will see it connected to the stone on which Jacob laid his head (Genesis 28:10-22), the stone on which visions came to his mind: he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder or staircase. When Jacob had this vision he was promised two things: the presence of God with him and the gift of the Land. (The guile of Jacob—which Jesus says Nathanael is lacking—can be seen demonstrated at the end of the passage, Genesis 28:20-22.)

The disciples abiding with Jesus and Jesus abiding with them hints at this presence promised to Jacob, and Jesus’ gift of himself, which he will reveal in the gospel-story-to-come, is the Promised Land. Jesus tells the disciples, who surely represent us, that they shall see the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. In the disciples Jacob and the stone coalesce; we are both the visionary and the stone on which the vision of Jesus is seen (we are thus Bethel).

We are also the ones upon whom the vision is fulfilled. Jesus is Bethel, the House of God, where the angels of God are ascending and descending; he is the conduit of heaven and earth, the place (or the means) where (or by which) heaven has intercourse with earth. By the end of the gospel the disciples receive the Holy Spirit, and with (or as) the in-spiration of the Holy Spirit Jesus too abides in them. The resurrection changes “with” to “in.” As Jesus is Bethel, with him abiding in us we too become Bethel, and the angels of God ascend and descend upon him in us (actually, upon the Lady Spirit now in us).

Thus the beginning of the Gospel according to John offers us high expectations as we discover Jesus in its pages. It is an invitation to discipleship (to abide with Jesus) and a diagram showing the would-be-disciple—and the already-become-disciple—what to expect.

For those who are observing the structure of the Gospel according to John, this passage takes place within the seventh “ring,” the outer ring that corresponds to the seventh day of creation, the Sabbath. This is hinted at by the allusions to abiding (which means to remain) but also to the resting of Jacob’s head upon the stone upon which he saw his vision. The Father’s satisfaction rests on Jesus, the Promised Land, of whom in the other gospels the voice from heaven said, “In him/you I have found my delight.” The passage concerning Nathanael also corresponds to the story of doubting Thomas on the other end of the gospel with its emphasis on seeing and the promise to the believer that they shall see “greater things than these”: “blessed” are you.

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