Thursday, October 13, 2011

Come, Follow Me

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 Nathaniel and said to him,”We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” (John 1:44-45).

This passage was always difficult for me to understand because of the phrase, “…whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote.” For John to say that Moses and the prophets wrote about Jesus indicates that the Jewish rabbis had a developed and systematic theology regarding “The One” -- the Messiah. We are all familiar with the messianic prophecies (see bottom). We read them every Christmas season. The thing that has always perplexed me about the messianic prophecies, however, was how they came to be messianic. Today, Christians and Jews argue about which passages in the Old Testament are messianic, and what sort of Messiah the Old Testament faithful were looking for. It is one thing for Christians to point to passages in the Old Testament which seemed to fall in line with the life of Jesus, so that we could make him into the Jewish Messiah. This is what the Pharisees, Sadducees, and teachers of the law accused the early Christians of doing. While it has been nearly impossible for me to find any record of what Old Testament rabbis from the time of the prophets taught about Messiah, the paragraph below is a brief outline of what Jews today teach about the Messiah. The modern Jewish view of Messiah falls much more in line with that of the Pharisees:

“The mashiach will be a great political leader descended from King David (Jeremiah 23:5). The mashiach is often referred to as "mashiach ben David" (mashiach, son of David). He will be well-versed in Jewish law, and observant of its commandments (Isaiah 11:2-5). He will be a charismatic leader, inspiring others to follow his example. He will be a great military leader, who will win battles for Israel. He will be a great judge, who makes righteous decisions (Jeremiah 33:15). But above all, he will be a human being, not a god, demi-god or other supernatural being. It has been said that in every generation, a person is born with the potential to be the mashiach. If the time is right for the messianic age within that person's lifetime, then that person will be the mashiach. But if that person dies before he completes the mission of the mashiach, then that person is not the mashiach (Judaism 101).”

As we continue in our study of the Gospel of John, we will learn more about the character of the Messiah as presented by Scripture. Jesus will explain, as he does in this passage to the Pharisees, that their preconceived, worldly ideas of what the Messiah would be are incorrect: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life... do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?" (John 5:39-40, 45-47).

These first disciples, faithful Jews and followers of John the Baptist, recognize Jesus as the one who was to come. In order for them to recognize Jesus, the followers of John the Baptist had to be looking for something specific -- someone specific -- based on an earlier interpretation of Scripture. What things were the faithful rabbis teaching their students to be on the lookout for?

Luke 4:16-21: In this passage, Jesus reads the scroll of the prophet Isaiah (Isa. 61:1-2). The passage Jesus reads has traditionally been recognized by Jews and Christians to be messianic and talks about the Messiah ("The Servant" in Isaiah) being, "anointed...to proclaim good news to the poor." Following the reading of the scroll of Isaiah, Jesus gives a wonderfully brief sermon saying, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing." Jesus is telling those to whom he is speaking in the synagogue that, not only is he The Servant/The Messiah of whom Isaiah wrote, but he is also assuming the title of Anointed One. The phrase "Anointed One" is also used to refer to God. Isaiah also writes that God (Yahweh) himself will come, mighty to save Israel (7:10-14; 24:21-23; 25; 35). So, in a concise way, Jesus is telling everyone who he is -- Immanuel, God with us.

Deuteronomy 18: 15-18: Israel would have succession of prophets who resembled Moses, in that, they transmitted God's messages to the people of Israel. Moses does, however, have a special relationship with God, one that no other prophet enjoyed (Deut. 34:10). He is telling Israel about The Servant, whom Isaiah will later describe. Moses knew the Lord, "face-to-face". As John has told us in the beginning of chapter 1, Jesus, the Word, was with God in the beginning. The Apostles cite this passage from Deuteronomy and apply it to Jesus (Acts. 3:22-23; 7:37), showing us that it was considered messianic in Jesus time.

“In his writings Moses transmitted the promises to the patriarchs; he gave Israel the law, which with all its symbols and types point so directly to Christ; and in passages like Deuteronomy 18:15-18 renewed the divine promise concerning the great mediator prophet to come. The entire history of Israel contained in the Pentateuch is senseless and purposeless without the Messiah, so that all that Moses wrote in the law actually refers to Christ. The Prophets were the expounders of the law whose special duty was not only to drive home the requirements and the threats of the law in the hearts of the people but also to hold out to them the glorious and comforting hope of the deliverer to come, of whom they at times spoke directly as in Isaiah 53. The Baptist continued this work in the most effective way, and we here have men trained in the Baptist’s school who naturally reveal their training. Philip spoke truly when he said that the picture of the Messiah was found in Moses and in the prophets. It has always been there, though, the nation of the Jews eventually refuse to "find” and to see it, and modernism denies that Moses "wrote" his five books and treats the Prophets and the writings with the same destructive criticism,” (Lenski, 163-164).

Prophecies of the Messiah filled in Jesus Christ - Is there some comprehensive list of Messianic Prophecies from the rabbis of Old Testament times? The following list was taken from the back of a King James Bible. Along with the prophecies, their fulfillments were also listed. For the sake of brevity, I have included only the prophecy. It is obvious that modern Jews do not recognize these prophecies as referring to the Messiah; in a few instances where they do recognize these passages as messianic, we are told either that the passages are being misinterpreted, or Jesus did not fulfill them:

  • Seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15).
  • Seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:3).
  • Seed of Isaac (Genesis 17:19).
  • Seed of Jacob (Numbers 24:17).
  • From the tribe of Judah (Genesis 49:10).
  • Heir to the throne of David (Isaiah 9:7).
  • Born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2).
  • Time for his birth (Daniel 9:25).
  • To be born of a virgin (Isaiah 7:14).
  • Slaughter of the innocents (Jeremiah 31:15).
  • Flight to Egypt (Hosea 11:1).
  • Preceded by a forerunner (Malachi 3:1).
  • Declared the son of God (Psalm 2:7).
  • Galilean ministry (Isaiah 9:1).
  • A prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).
  • To heal the brokenhearted (Isaiah 61:1).
  • Rejected by his own people, the Jews (Isaiah 53:3).
  • Priest after order of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4).
  • Triumphal entry (Zechariah 9:9).
  • Betrayed by a friend (Psalm 41:9).
  • Sold for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12).
  • Accused by false witnesses (Psalm 35:11).
  • Silent to accusations (Isaiah 53:7).
  • Spat upon and smitten (Isaiah 50:6).
  • Hated without reason (Psalm 35:19).
  • Vicarious sacrifice (Isaiah 53:5).
  • Crucified with malefactors (Isaiah 53:12).
  • Pierced through hands and feet (Zechariah 12:10).
  • Scorned and mocked (Psalm 22:7).
  • Given vinegar and gall (Psalm 69:21).
  • Prayer for his enemies (Psalm 109:4).
  • Soldiers gamble for his coat (Psalm 22:17).
  • No broken bones (Psalm 34:20).
  • His side pierced (Zechariah 12:10).
  • Buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9).
  • To be resurrected (Psalm 16:10; 49:15).
  • His ascension to God's right hand (Psalm 68:18).

Nathaniel said to him, "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Philip said to him, "Come and see," (John 1:46).

It sure sounds like Nathaniel doesn't have much regard for the town of Nazareth. I would be willing to bet that Nathaniel is a little pessimistic as well. It seems to me as though he saying, "Surely, if you have found the Messiah, for whom we have all been waiting for thousands of years, he wouldn't come from a crap hole like Nazareth." I mean, how bad was Nazareth? It must have been like the Gary, Indiana, of Judea.

Philip, however, is undeterred. His reply was a simple and direct, "Come and see." This was the best answer that Philip could have given Nathaniel. No amount of explaining was going to convey to Nathaniel what Jesus was like. Nathaniel already had preconceived notions of what sort of things came from a place like Nazareth. He had to bring him to Jesus so that he could see for himself that he was the long expected Messiah, in the same way Philip had seen. I imagine Nathaniel, getting up from his resting place under the tree with a grumpy sigh, grudgingly following Philip to meet this person from this place for which he harbors such disdain. But Philip has learned, as Nathaniel will learn, that this is the best way to get to know Jesus -- to come to him. We are coming to him now by studying his word; we do it on Sunday mornings, when we approach the altar and partake of the Lord's Supper.

What also is illustrated for us in this scene played out between Nathaniel and Philip is a picture of our own personal evangelistic work. "Come and see" is an invitation. And, while Philip is the one speaking to Nathaniel, the invitation is given from Jesus himself. Jesus uses us, as he used Philip in this case, to call others to him. How can we begin to get excited about calling others to Jesus, if we don't have a good idea who he is? Philip started to get to know Jesus, and became excited about what he had found. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we too will be excited and invigorated by what we discover as we get to know Jesus through his word. As this happens more and more, we need to tell the Nathaniel's in our lives, persistently, "Come and see!" God's Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.