Malankara World

Sermons Based on the Lectionary of the Syrian Orthodox Church

2nd Sunday After Denho

Sermon / Homily on John 1:43 - 51

'Nathaniel - The Good Guy!'

by Dennis Marquardt

TEXT: John 1:43-51


Nathaniel (also called "Bartholomew" -- means "Son of Tholmai" -- possibly from a group called the "Tholmaens" who gave much attention to the study of ancient Scriptures ... Nathaniel literally means, "Gift of God." He was the one guy in the group that even before becoming a disciple of Jesus was known as a good, moral, honest, and a decent man. He was the good guy in the group, much like the hard working, good moral man of today who genuinely cares about others but has never become a Christian. Such people are often rare since most humans have a sneaky side to them.

ILLUS: The Baltimore Orioles of 1894-96 was the best baseball team up to that time, and also the craftiest. One of their favorite tricks was to plant a few extra balls in strategic spots in the tall outfield grass. Then any balls hit into that area where it looked like the other team might make an extra base were miraculously held to singles, they would simply pick up the planted ball near them and quickly throw it in. They finally got caught during one game when an opposing batter drove a ball to left-center field near one of the hidden balls. The left fielder picked up the hidden ball and threw it in, the center fielder however didn't notice his team mate had done this while he chased the real ball and thus he too threw in a ball. The umpire saw two balls come flying in to second base, called time and awarded the game to the other team, their deceit was exposed. – Source Unknown

Nathaniel would never have played on such a team, he was a paradigm of virtue though he was not yet a follower of Jesus. Nate was an idealist, a man of high moral character and values, but he still needed Christ!

Even the nicest people need the Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus seeks out this good guy, for even the best of humanity is lost without Christ!

PROP. SENT: Nathaniel teaches us that even the finest example of humanity still needs to come to Jesus Christ to find forgiveness of their sins and receive eternal life! All the good deeds in the world cannot save you, only Jesus can do this!


A. Character 1:43-45a

1. Seven of the disciples were fishermen from Galilee. (mentioned in John 21)

a. They probably knew each other prior to becoming Jesus’ followers.
b. Thus they probably already had established friendships with each other!

2. Notice how important it was for each of them to lead their friends to Jesus once they became followers.

a. Andrew brings Peter to Jesus.
b. Philip goes and finds Nathaniel and brings him to Jesus right after he himself became a follower.
c. Philip was concerned over what might happen to their friendship if he followed Jesus but his friend Nathaniel didn't, losing his friend would have been painful to him.

3. Nathaniel was the kind of friend every parent would dream of having for their kids!

a. From Jesus’ own statement about Nathaniel even before he accepted Christ we find a man who is an honest, virtuous, man – notice Jesus’ appraisal of him: John 1:47 "When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, "Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.""
b. He was a positive role model for others his age, a well respected young man!
c. He was a searcher of truth as is evidenced by Philip's statement of Jesus being the fulfillment of the ancient Scriptures, the writings of Moses, something Philip knew that Nathaniel studied a great deal.
d. Nathaniel was a religious man, he was a good man, a man who truly wanted to know God and was anxious for the promised Messiah to come, but Nathaniel was also a lost man without Christ in his life!
e. He was probably an idealist, as is evidenced by his comment on Jesus coming from Nazareth: "Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?" Jn. 1:46
f. In his mind the holy Messiah wouldn't come from some ungodly wicked city like Nazareth, it was his idealism that showed here more than prejudice! The Scriptures had spoken of Bethlehem as the birth place of the Messiah -- not Nazareth, Philip had not mentioned Jesus’ birth at Bethlehem.
g. Nathaniel was a guy you could count on, his word was absolute and he was not swayed by public opinion.

4. Philip had done well to pick such a friend, this might also explain the lack of any negative stories recorded about Nathaniel anywhere in the Bible!

5. Such a friend could only have been a positive influence on Philip's life and the others from Galilee.

6. Though not a believer he knew his Bible very well.

a. He was a ready made Christian except he hadn't gotten saved yet!!!
b. With all this good character he still needed Jesus, and Jesus had his eye on Nate!

B. Care! Jn. 1:45b

1. As mentioned earlier, Philip cared a great deal about their friendship. He did not want to be a follower of Jesus without sharing this with his friend Nathaniel.

a. As soon as Philip found Jesus as Lord his thoughts turned to his friend’s need of Jesus, boy what an example for Christians today!!
b. He immediately set out to find Nathaniel and share the good news with him!

2. Interestingly enough, Philip knows exactly how to reach his friend Nate, he knew he was a student of the Old Testament so he tells him he has found the one that Moses and all the prophets had spoken about.

a. He identifies Jesus the Messiah to Nathaniel as "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."
b. Philip must not have known as much about the Scripture as Nathaniel, if so he would have known this designation for Jesus would arouse some serious questions in Nathaniel's mind; all Philip knew was that his friend needed to know Jesus like he now did!
c. He cared about their friendship and certainly knew that by following Jesus this friendship could be lost if Nathaniel too didn't also know the Lord.
d. Rather than just abandon the friendship he attempted to save it by bringing his buddy to Christ!

3. Have you cared enough about those you call friends to bring them to Jesus?

ILLUS: Like my wife Bevie Jo, when she finds a great bargain she can't wait to call some of her friends to share the good news as well as the savings! We guys do this also with new cars (or sports cars – or in my case, Harley Davidson motorcycles!) or when we bag that deer! It is natural to want to share with friends our good news and good experiences, and so should it be with the best news and experience! – Source Dennis Marquardt


A. Confused! Jn. 1:46

1. Philip's description of Jesus as the Messiah threw a well learned man like Nathaniel for a loop!

a. "Jesus of Nazareth?" – A city known for it vices and mixed races!! Being a man of Scripture he knew the Messiah was to be born of pure Jewish blood and born in Bethlehem and not Nazareth, so Philip’s description didn’t exactly excite him!
b. "Son of Joseph?" – Many rumors had flown around in Jewish circles concerning Joseph and Mary and the birth of Jesus, His mom was pregnant before being married – hardly the expectation for the coming Messiah’s birth!

2. This may well have raised some confusion in Nathaniel's mind, it didn't fit the idealistic thoughts he had about the Messiah's coming or what he thought he understood from Scripture. He must not have known about Jesus' birth in Bethlehem just as the Bible stated it would be and the flight into Egypt and then back to Nazareth where Jesus grew up as a boy.

a. Philip however does not argue with his friend, after all they are friends. Instead he insists that Nathaniel should come with him and see Jesus for himself.
b. Rather than fight with him or start an argument Philip knew the best approach with a friend is to simply invite him to come and see Jesus, Jesus would take care of the questions and doubts!

3. This is still a great approach, too many Christians like to argue and fight with unsaved people, rarely does this approach win the lost – they are won when they witness the presence of Jesus and the see the Holy Spirit at work, God is better at defending Himself than we are at defending Him!

a. Philip's method here is a wonderful example of evangelism, he does not try to answer every possible question, instead he gets his friend to experience Jesus directly!
b. He offers to go with him to see Jesus, he doesn't just send Nathaniel to Jesus, he goes with him, this would help Nathaniel perhaps not feel so uncomfortable, after all a good friend wouldn't take him someplace that was bad!
c. Their existing relationship of trust paved the way!

4. Nathaniel's stumbling over Jesus' boyhood town and earthly family will disappear when he meets Jesus!

ILLUS: Nathaniel's sight was marred by the outward and obvious things ... but all encounters with Jesus will change that: Like a man who was shown a red glass bottle and asked what was inside it. He guessed, "Wine, Brandy, Whiskey?" and was quite surprised when he was told it was milk! What he didn't know was that it was the glass bottle that was red, not the liquid inside. Once poured out he could see clearly it was milk and the bottle red! So many do this with Jesus, they see only Jesus' humanity, his struggle with hunger, being tired, suffering, weeping, and the man from Joseph's home, from Nazareth -- and miss that He was Also God! Only when they see Him "poured out" on Calvary do they also see God's Son and realize on Easter morning that what they had noticed before was only the outside. – Source Unknown

B. Contact! Jn. 1:47-48

1. Even as Nathaniel was approaching Jesus, Jesus states, "Here is a true Israel­ite, in whom there is nothing false!"

a. This is quite a statement coming from God’s son!!
b. This certainly affirms the efforts that Nathaniel had spent a lifetime practicing, being a man of integrity!
c. However, Jesus' statement caught Nathaniel off guard, in his mind came the immediate question: "how does Jesus know what I am like ... how could He possibly make such a statement without ever knowing me?"

2. Indeed, Nathaniel comes right out and asks Jesus, "How do you know me?" 1:48

a. This was after all their first meeting.
b. Philip had only just gotten saved himself, no time to fill Jesus in on Nate.
c. Nathaniel probably had not run around much, how could Jesus possibly know him?

3. Jesus' response must have sent shivers down his spine: "I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you!" 1:48b

a. "Big deal" you say -- yet this flabbergasted Nathaniel! WHY?
b. Because it revealed that Jesus was God! Very pious Jews like Nathaniel practiced a very curious habit; they would pray and study the Scriptures under a fig tree which was the symbol of Israel. Unlike the Pharisees who tried to be seen of men reading and praying they would find secluded places under a fig tree and pray and meditate on God's Word in private ... with no one around or to anyone’s knowledge! No one would have known he was there!
c. Thus it was very clear to Nathaniel what Jesus had just said; only as God could Jesus had seen Nathaniel under that fig tree! Only an Omniscient God could do this or know this, and to have known he was there BEFORE Philip had called him!

C. Confession Jn. 1:49

1. Nathaniel’s response recorded here may also indicate that Jesus shared even more than just having seen him under the tree, it may imply that perhaps Jesus had even shared with Nathaniel some of the things he may have said in his prayers privately under that tree or something along that lines -- this would cer­tainly account for the dramatic reaction by Nathaniel: "Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!"

a. This is certainly a different response than what Philip had told Nathaniel, Philip’s description of Jesus was as the Son of Joseph, Jesus of Nazareth.
b. Jesus revealed enough so that Nathaniel knew without a doubt that Jesus had to have been God and not just a good guesser on the fig tree thing!

2. Nathaniel was face to face with GOD!

a. His whole life he had read and prayed for the coming Messiah.
b. He had lived his good moral life in hopes of pleasing God, now he stood face to face with Him!
c. His only interest now was pleasing Jesus, no amount of accomplishments and accolades from friends was adequate now, only the desire to have Jesus pleased with him!

ILLUS: Like the young man who had studied violin under a world-renowned master. The time came for this young man to have his first performance. After each piece he played the crowds roared with approval, the cheers were loud and long, yet the young man didn't seem to be overly moved by the audiences' great response. Even after the last selection, with shouts from the audience louder than ever he stood there only watching, not overly happy ... he seemed to be staring into the upper balcony. Finally an elderly gentleman in that balcony began to smile and nodding with approval, and immediately the young man on stage relaxed and began beaming with excitement. You see, the man in the balcony was his master teacher, and thus the applause of the audience had meant nothing to him until he first knew that his master had approved, only then could he enjoy the audience’s response. No matter how much people bragged on the goody two shoes life of Nathaniel, he had lived his life only to finally know that the Master approved ... NOW he was face to face with that Master and so he confesses Jesus as Lord! – Source Unknown

3. Nathaniel now joins the ranks of the 12 disciples, he found the one that Moses and the prophets had said would come. He didn’t use his good moral reputation to be a big shot, he only wished to be with Jesus and serve Him.


A. Commission Jn. 1:50

1. Jesus wants Nathaniel to know that this confession of faith was only a beginning.

a. It was the conclusion to all that Nathaniel had hoped for in life, but this wasn't an end of a long search it was the beginning of greater work for Nathaniel, hence: "You shall see greater things than that!"
b. While Nathaniel had been overwhelmed by Jesus' omniscience, much more would be witnessed by Nathaniel as he walked with Jesus in the near future.
c. The evidence of Jesus being the Messiah would only grow, not diminish!

2. These were marching orders for Nathaniel, "There's work to be done son." Revelation is nice, but without resolution it is only information.

a. Finding Jesus isn't the end of our search, it is the beginning of our work.
b. While our future is guaranteed many lost people have none, this means a great commission to win the lost, and Nathaniel took this call seriously!

3. We all have a great commission to fulfill if we are Jesus' disciples, it is NOT a matter of waiting for something to happen, we have a message to tell and a Messiah to bring people to!

ILLUS: Some time ago, psychologist William Moulton Marston asked 3,000 people this question: "What have you to live for?" He was shocked to find out that 94% replied "nothing," they were just "enduring the moment" hoping something will happen, they were all just waiting for something to come along! Too many Christians are like this, they keep waiting for something to happen, at work, at home, even in Church, instead of making things happen! The only thing Jesus asks us to wait for is His coming, and we are to WORK until He comes! – Source Unknown

B. Consummation Jn. 1:51

1. Jesus now adds the same message to the rest of guys, the word "you" in verse 51 is plural, not singular -- meaning this statement is given to Nathaniel and the rest of the disciples gathered with him.

a. The meaning of the metaphor Jesus used here is simple, JESUS is the ladder to heaven, and it is Jesus who makes the way possible.
b. He is promising the disciples that they will all see more and more clearly the reality of Jesus as the only way to heaven, they will witness in Jesus' ministry with them a clear sense of Jesus as the way to God.

2. This will consummate in the final days with their entrance to heaven along with all those who believe on Jesus, again the point here is that there is work to be done in the present!

a. Nathaniel the good guy now becomes Nathaniel the great guy!
b. All his good works were nothing now that he found Jesus, now He could really be "good!"


While Nathaniel was already a good, decent, honest man, he still was lost without Jesus! Once he met Jesus he knew that all his good works were not enough, only the Messiah could save him and others. What do you trust in to get you into heaven? There's only one sure way in ... Jesus!

See Also:

Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for the 2nd Sunday after Denho

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