6-Week Series: Against All Odds


Summary: Nathanael, who is also known as Bartholomew, is confronted by a Saviour who seems to know so much – yet Nathanael is still allowed to be a disciple. We can also be disciples, despite the fact that we are known so well by Jesus.


John 1:43-51

“Nathanael – great things are found in the strangest places”

Great things can often be found in the strangest places.

Maybe you have heard of the Dead Sea Scrolls. They are a large collection of manuscripts … many of them being copies of Old Testament books … which date back to the first century. Before that time the earliest Old Testament manuscripts could only be dated back to the 10th century. In Biblical scholarship terms it was a hugely significant find.

Where were they found? Well, in the mid 1930’s a shepherd boy was looking for lost sheep in a valley near the Dead Sea. The valley wall had many caves and the boy was throwing rocks into the caves to scare out any hiding sheep. When he threw a stone into a certain cave he heard a pot smash. On investigation he found hundreds of sealed pots with manuscripts well preserved inside. They became known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

It was a great thing that came from a strange place.

Sometimes people think about Jesus in the same way. That included some who ended up becoming Jesus’ disciples.

Reading John 1:43-51

Great things come from the strangest places.

Nathanael can’t believe what Philip is saying.

Here comes Philip with the best news he has ever carried, We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.

Nathanael’s response has never been forgotten. Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?

Why is Nathanael so sceptical? It’s because Nazareth was not considered a very significant place.

The town is situated inside a bowl on top of the Nazareth ridge north of the Jezreel valley. Nazareth was a relatively isolated village in the time of Jesus with a population less than two hundred. Even with such a small numbers Nazareth was overpopulated. There was a scarcity of natural resources such as water and fertile soil and it was a place of relative poverty. In such a situation, there tended to be a fair amount of sickness and disease.

That is a physical description. Spiritually it was insignificant as well.

Nazareth is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament.

There is no prophecy linking the Messiah with Galilee, much less with Nazareth.

It was not known for great minds or great abilities.

Nothing special was ever expected to come from Nazareth … certainty not the Messiah.

So when Nathanael gets up to follow Philip he goes to the meeting without expecting anything too special from this so called “Messiah”. You can imagine Nathanael’s surprise when he rocks up to see Jesus and Jesus immediately says:-

Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.

I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.

How in the world does this man know me?

Let’s read another passage from the Scriptures.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,

even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.

Psalm 139:7-10

How does this man know me? Because He is God. And He can see into our hearts.

Now I don’t know about you, but the fact that Jesus can see into my heart is a little bit concerning. Because I know what goes on in this heart.

Expand … to talk about your own struggles.

Jesus sees all that and so much more.

He notices the smallest details of our lives.

But watch how Jesus uses that information.

When Nathanael walked up to Jesus, Jesus could have said, “I know you. You are the person who though nothing good can come out of Nazareth! Well I’m sorry to burst your prejudice bubble but here I am … God in the flesh. Don’t you feel a bit silly?”

Jesus could have said that. But he didn’t. Instead Jesus focuses on something completely different. You see, at the time, Jesus wasn’t the only one who was a great person coming out of a strange place. At the time many people in Israel did not understand what real faith was. Everyone was claiming to have a religion ... but it was a religion in name only.

• They offered sacrifices of repentance; but were not willing to change their lives.

• They came to the temple to worship; but it was a hollow ritual.

• In public they were holy; in private they were ungodly.

• Circumcision meant they looked like Israelites; but their hearts were far from God.

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