March 2, 2009

Ordinary Joes, Part 6 - Nathanael, the Disciple with Two Names

OK, so really all of us have two names (at least). Mine is Kurt Strassner. Our elders are Keith Gorby and Charles Tassell. Two names … just like Nathanael. The only difference is that, sometimes, Nathanael went by last name – Bartholomew (or, son of Tholomew). You’ve probably known someone like this somewhere along the way. Maybe a guy on the high school football team that everyone just called ‘Jackson’. Or my dad’s boss. I never knew, I think, until I was almost grown, that His first name was ‘Al’ and not ‘Ragland.’ Get the idea? Well, that was Bartholomew, or Nathanael, depending on how well you knew him, I suppose.

So how well do we know Nathanael? Not all that well, actually. He is named four times (as Bartholomew) by Matthew, Mark, and Luke … but none of them tells us any more than that he was one of the twelve original disciples of Jesus. Only John puts us on a first name basis with Mr. Bartholomew … and that only briefly, in John 1.45-51.

In those few verses we learn that Nathanael was somewhat of a cynical man. His friend Philip runs up to him with excitement, hoping against hope that he has actually stumbled across the long-awaited Messiah – Jesus of Nazareth. Nathanael’s response is now famous: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Sounds a bit prejudiced, huh? ‘Nazareth? That backwater? Where the people love to mix two parts Bible with three parts paganism? Come on, Philip. Nothing good could come from that cesspool!’

Well, maybe it was a cesspool. But you don’t get the impression that Nathanael felt compassion on the sinners who lived there. And you don’t get the impression that He believed very deeply (as of yet) in the power of God to change them or do anything good in Nazareth. ‘That neighborhood?’ he would have said if he had lived in modern Cincinnati. ‘Can anything good come from there? In fact, if we start getting members from that ‘hood, it will probably be more of a drain on the church than a blessing. Good grief, not _______ of all places.’

Good old bigoted Nathanael. At least He was honest! I think that’s what Jesus might mean when He greets Nathanael with the words: “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit.” Some people take these words as a compliment … that Jesus knew some things about Nathanael’s character to which we are not privy. That’s possible. But given what we are told about Nathanael, I am not so sure. I think it is possible that Jesus was saying something like this to Nathanael: ‘Behold, a Jewish boy who’s not afraid to admit that he looks down on sinners.’ I think Jesus words could be the equivalent of you or I saying to a fellow church-member, with tongue in cheek (and with his best interest in mind!): ‘Behold, a Baptist who’s not afraid to admit he thinks he’s better than his neighbors!’

Now if that is what Jesus meant, we can see why Nathanael’s attitude changed so quickly. He had been humbled and humbled quickly. And don’t we all need to be humbled? Are there any Nazareth’s in your life … whether the Nazareth is a location, a race, a class, or an individual? If so, there is hope for you. Jesus burst Nathanael’s elitist bubble. And you might pray He bursts yours … and makes you like Nathanael who, after the close of the New Testament, had such a changed view of the ‘filthy pagans’ that, tradition says, he went as far as Persia, India, and Armenia preaching to them … and was tied in a sack and thrown to his death in the sea … for Jesus’ sake.*  Don’t you want to love the nations and the neighborhoods like that? Then find your own personal Nazareth … and go make sure that something good comes from it!

*See MacArthur's Twelve Ordinary Men, 147.

1 comment:

Jenny said...

Kurt, it was so great to meet you and Tobey! I do stop by this blog fairly often and will be sure to say hello from now on, since you know I am not a crazy stalker person. Have a blessed day!