Rev’d Jonathan Gale
“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: 51)
Now that’s a very graphic image – the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. What could it mean? Well, Jesus’ words to Nathaniel have an echo in the Old Testament.
In Genesis 28 we read that Jacob came to Bethel, found a stone for a pillow and went to sleep. And here’s verse 12: 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
When Jacob had his dream at Bethel the very next verse says 13 There above it stood the Lord, and he said: “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying.
In Hebrew the word, ‘angel’, simply means a messenger. Messengers are about communication so the image is a strong one depicting God’s intent to communicate with humankind.
A stairway gives access to something higher and when that higher thing is God himself, and coming to and fro are God’s messengers, we can be assured that this is all about God intentionally reaching out to humankind with his word.
And that word, contains a promise. In the case of Jacob it is I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. In the case of Nathaniel the promise is held in the words ascending and descending upon the Son of Man. In other words, Jesus, the Word made flesh (as John tells us), is the focus of God’s promises.
God, in Jesus, has descended the ladder. He is within reach.
The thing both these messages have is hope. Jacob is fleeing for his life from his brother Esau and God gives him hope. Nathaniel (as we shall see) has grown cynical and Jesus gives him hope. He’s throwing out a big hint that that hope lies in Him, i.e. in Jesus.
Sometimes it’s easy to lose hope. I have to admit that these last holidays I looked in vain on Facebook for messages of enthusiasm about Jesus as the message of Christmas, and I have many Christian Facebook friends from all over the world. But when it came to New Year, Christians were whooping it up with the best of them, excited about a new year.
Now there’s nothing wrong with getting excited about a new year, but looking at the communications around both these events together, I thought, Where is mention of Jesus? Where is the excitement about God’s Son who:
- holds everything together by his word,
- who loves us so profoundly that he died on the cross to take away our sins,
- who rose from the dead conquering sin and death,
- who has promised to return, vindicate God’s people
- and set all things to right – for us.
Where is the rejoicing over Jesus? Where is the consciousness of Jesus? Has he just slipped out of mind?
I got a bit down about it.
One of my friends posted something about Jesus. He said, “You may think you can live without Christ but you cannot afford to die without him.”
A cycling friend of his from long ago responded, “Why?”
My friend said, “Because he died on a cross that we might spend eternity with him, not apart from him.”
Whereupon his Mate said, “No thanks.”
Isn’t that great! An honest and polite conversation. No insults. Just real talk.
I thought, That was great! Good on you, Brett. We may be poles apart on some issues but you have Jesus on your mind – and in your mouth. That cheered me up!
What I had forgotten is that hope is always there. In our Old Testament reading today we find ourselves in terrible times. The High Priests sons are corrupt. The ‘me too’ campaign would have applied to them, believe you me! Corruption and little, if any, communication with God. In verse 1 we read,
The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.
And yet just 2 verses later we read
3the lamp of God had not yet gone out, (A sign of hope!)
It was a dark time in Israelite history but God’s presence was flickering away in the background and if we were to read on we’d see how God raised up Samuel as a great prophet with huge influence over the people of the nation.
In the Gospel Nathaniel begins somewhat cynically with, ‘Can anything good come out of Nazareth?’ but ends with, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’
Jesus pointed to himself as the promise of hope in Israel and Nathaniel’s eyes open and he exclaims, Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!
While the world about us appears to be growing less interested in God with each passing day, the lamp of God has not yet gone out. The presence of God is flickering away in the background.
In our reading from Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth today he says to them, 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple* of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?
Our hope is in the presence of God by his Holy Spirit within each one of us who call ourselves Christian. As in the day when the little boy Samuel was living in the temple let us listen for the still small voice of God calling us, for God is a communicator if God is anything. As Eli, the old high Priest says to him, if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
And let me tell you what the effect of our listening will be. With Nathaniel (someone of whom Jesus said ‘Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!’) – with this same Nathaniel our eyes will be opened to the wonder and love that are in Jesus, and we too will say Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!
God has not gone quiet on us. Let’s not go quiet on him.
Jesus, the hope of Israel, is as near today as he has ever been.
Let us take the time to listen, and with Samuel, say “Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.”
God bless you all