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Night Vision

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 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 1.35-51.

I find it quite astonishing how sometimes the Spirit will throw things together (Greek: paraballō!) so that we are suddenly able to grasp some truth that has remained hidden from us before. This has happened for me just now – during last 24 hours – and I’d like to share the experience in this post.

First, yesterday morning, I just ‘came across’ a few lines in a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning that so captivated me that I decided to commit them to memory. They are from ‘Aurora Leigh’ and they are these:

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
but only he who sees, takes off his shoes …

Second, early yesterday evening, there ‘happened to be’ a natural history feature on the BBC One Show where the nocturnal activities of stag beetles were being monitored using an infra red camera that made the invisible visible.

Third, last night, I ‘chanced upon’ a podcast of a short homily by the Franciscan priest Richard Rohr in which he made this startling comment: ‘Spiritual seeing is always a participation in the eyes of God.‘ In other words, we only see truly – see things as they really are – when we see through God’s eyes and not our own.

Then, fourthly, I read this passage from John this morning and found certain words leaping out at me. Here it is again with those words bolded:

The next day John again was standing with two of his disciples, and as he watched Jesus walk by, he exclaimed, “Look, here is the Lamb of God!” The two disciples heard him say this, and they followed Jesus. When Jesus turned and saw them following, he said to them, “What are you looking for?” They said to him, “Rabbi” (which translated means Teacher), “where are you staying?” He said to them, “Come and see.” They came and saw where he was staying, and they remained with him that day. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon. One of the two who heard John speak and followed him was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first found his brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which is translated Anointed). He brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). 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.”

What a lot of looking and seeing is going on in this passage – by John, by the disciples and by Jesus himself.

Jesus always sees with the eyes of God and it is with those eyes that he ‘sees’ Andrew and another disciple (John) begin to follow him. That is what makes him turn to see with his physical eyes what he has already seen with the eyes of God. But seeing them with his human eyes, he then sees into their hearts with the eyes of God and observes the spiritual search that is going on there. That is why he asks them what they are looking for – what they are trying to see but are unable to see. They don’t know how to answer his question, so they say the first thing that pops into their heads: ‘Where are you staying?’ And, at that, Jesus appears to answer their question, but in reality says something far more profound. ‘Come and see,’ he says. But it is not ‘come and see where I am staying;’ it is ‘come and really see.’ ‘Come and see with my eyes. Come and see the world and everything in it in a completely different way. Come and see the hidden reality. Come and see with the eyes of God.’

All true seeing takes place as a result of coming to Jesus. All true seeing is through his eyes, and his eyes only – the eyes of God.

On a superficial level, Andrew and John came and saw where Jesus was staying; but immediately, in starting to follow Jesus, they began to see so much more. Andrew tells his brother: ‘We have found the Messiah.’ What insight! In coming to Jesus, Andrew had begun to see with the eyes of God.

It is a similar story with Nathanael. Jesus sees him on two levels – with the eyes of man and with the eyes of God – and then Nathanael, in coming to Jesus and beginning to follow him, begins to see with the eyes of God too. ‘You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ he exclaims. Again, what insight!

And, at that, Jesus promises Nathanael something wonderful – something that I believe he promises to you and me too … That we will see greater things than these. That we will see heaven opened.

jacobsladderWhat does Jesus mean by that? Well, the story to which he refers is that of Jacob in Genesis 28. Jacob is on the run from his brother Esau whom he has cheated out of their father’s blessing. Stranded in the middle of nowhere one night, he decides to sleep rough. But he dreams and sees a ladder set up between heaven and earth with angels ascending and descending. And at the top of the ladder is the Lord, who speaks to Jacob and blesses him and promises always to be with him. When he wakes, Jacob looks at the unremarkable barren bit of land on which he has slept and at the stone that he has used as a pillow and he says: ‘Surely the Lord is in this place and I didn’t know it’ (v 16).

Suddenly Jacob is aware, with Elizabeth Barrett Browning, that earth is crammed with heaven and every common bush is afire with God. Suddenly Jacob, like the naturalist on the One Show, has (literally) got night vision and things that were invisible are visible. Suddenly Jacob is seeing with the eyes of God.

‘And so will you,’ says Jesus to Nathanael. ‘And so will you,’ he says to me. ‘It is simply a matter of coming to me, following me, and being prepared to look out at the world and everything in it through my eyes. Then, it will be for you as for the man who once said. “I was blind, but now I see” (John 9.25). You too will really see. You will have night vision.’

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3 comments on “Night Vision

  1. Jenny Medley says:

    Hi NeilI’m sat at my computer, writing my next sermon on John 1 43-51 and up pops your blog. I’m so excited because I’ve more or less said the same as you whoopee!! If you don’t mind I might pinch your Elizabeth Barrett Browning quote, but I assure you I haven’t copied your sermon, I have already got most of it downlove Jenny

    Date: Thu, 12 Sep 2013 09:44:13 +0000
    To: jenny_medley@hotmail.com

    Like

  2. Neil says:

    I’ll look forward to hearing the sermon.

    Like

  3. gracekkiarie says:

    Reblogged this on By Grace and commented:
    Night vision, that we might see. All in this simple act of obedience and coming to Jesus, that the scales from our eyes might fall of and we then can truly see!

    Like

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