7 Surprised People in the Bible, Part 2

God loves to surprise people.  Sometimes surprises are good, sometimes not.  In the case of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant, his surprise wasn’t so hot.  He was a servant with ambition.  He wanted to own a vineyard and have servants, but what he got was a terminal case of leprosy that he passed on to his whole family.  Gehazi learned the hard way that you can’t keep anything from God.  He was surprised, all right, and I imagine his family was, too.

But God has a long history of surprising people.  Take the case of young Samuel, priest in training.  Once, in the middle of the night, the Lord came and surprised him.

And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle.”  (1 Samuel 3:11 | TNIV)

It sounds like everybody in Israel was about to be surprised by something the Lord was about to do, but really it was Samuel who was surprised.  Young Samuel was being raised to be a priest in God’s house by Eli, the high priest.  And God’s message to Samuel was a whopper.  Eli had taken the boy in, blessed his parents, was teaching him to minister in the temple and had helped him to discern and understand the voice of God, yet God’s surprising message was one against the house of Eli.  It was a harsh, hard word that must have been difficult for the young fellow to grasp, let alone accept.  In fact, we read this:

Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision…  (1 Samuel 3:15 | TNIV)

Eli may or may not have been an effective priest, but he certainly did well by Samuel.  As a father, though, he failed miserably.  His two sons, who were also priests, were really scoundrels of the worst sort and apparently Eli did nothing about their sinful behavior.  He urged Samuel to tell him what the Word from God was, and Eli’s reaction was, well, quite surprising considering.  

So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”  (1 Samuel 3:18 | TNIV)

Samuel was surprised.  The people of Israel would be surprised.  Eli’s sons were going to be surprised.  And we’re surprised by Eli’s reaction.  It seems the only person who wasn’t surprised was the hapless Eli, who upon hearing that God was going to essentially wipe out his entire family on account of their sins just shrugged his shoulders and accepted the Word from God without so much as the slightest surprise.

Yes, our God is a God surprises, good surprises and bad ones.  Another person who was really surprised by the Lord was a man by the name of Nathanael.  His response to an incredible surprise is found in the first chapter of John’s Gospel.

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  (John 1:49 | TNIV)

What made Nathanael make such a declaration?  Did God reveal it to him as He did to Peter, years later?  Did he believe it?  Let’s see why Nathanael was so surprised that he leaped to such an incredible conclusion.

Three surprising days: Day 1

The first 18 verses of John 1 constitute what Bible scholars call “The Prologue.”  The actual gospel begins with verse 19:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”  (John 1:19 – 20 | TNIV)

The “John” here is John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus, who had garnered some notoriety because he was baptizing all kinds of people in the Jordan.  The religious leaders wanted to know who this crazy-looking man was.  The baptist assured them that he was not the Messiah, to which they were probably relieved.  But then there was this exchange:

“Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”  “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”  (John 1:25 – 27 | TNIV)

What in the world did John the Baptist mean by that?  This was the first day.

Day 2

On the second day, things get really interesting.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!  This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’  I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”  (John 1:29 – 31 | TNIV)

John the Baptist makes his incredible declaration.  This man, Jesus, was not only the Messiah, but He was also the Savior.  He would prove to be both.  He’s the Savior because He’s the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.  Make note of that.  Jesus Christ came to take away the sin of “the world!”  The Son of God came from God to take away the sin of the world – the SIN, not sins.  Why didn’t He come to take away the SINS of the world?  Surely there are many sins to be taken away!  John the Baptist sees the big picture.  Sure, we all sin and Jesus came to deal with our personal sins, to be sure.  But in the big picture, Jesus came to deal with the SIN of the world.  What is the SIN of the world?  Since the fall of Adam, the great SIN of the world has been the constant rebellion of all people against the will of God. The Lamb of God came into this rebellious world to deal with the rebellion of all creation.  That’s a stunning confession.  That’s a stunning mission!

So, He’s the Great and Mighty Savior of the rebellious world.  With one confession, the sinner’s sins are forever removed from his person, never be brought up again.  But wait!  There’s more!  Jesus is the Messiah.  Jesus is the Savior.  And He is the one who continues to save.  That word “takes” is an all-important word.  It’s written in the present tense, meaning that Jesus is always taking away sins.  He is always taking away your sins!  Even though you’re saved, you continue to sin, therefore you are always in need of forgiveness.  He does that! He’s the perpetual Savior!  Not only that, anybody can come to Him anytime.  

Thousands of years before this, Isaac asked his father a question:

Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?” “Yes, my son?” Abraham replied. “The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”  (Genesis 22:7 | TNIV)

Abraham, in a moment of inspiration gives an answer that I’m sure he had no idea how profound it really was.

Abraham answered, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.”  (Genesis 22:8 | TNIV)

Well, He did provide the Lamb.  It took a long, long time, but when the time was right, Jesus came.   God’s sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the world.  

John then baptized his cousin, and this was the second day.

Day 3

What do you do after you’ve baptized the Messiah and Savior and witness God speaking from Heaven?  I mean, after the events of the second day, John the Baptist had seen it all, heard it all, and done it all!  So, what do you do?  I guess you do what John the Baptist and his friends did: Just hang around and wait to see what happens next. 

The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”  (John 1:35, 36 | TNIV)

The third day begins the rise of Jesus, the Lamb of God, and the fading of John the Baptist into the background.  The Baptist’s work was done.  He was, after all, given one job to do, and he did perfectly: To announce the coming of the Kingdom into our world.  In verse 36, he’s still doing that, but then an odd thing happens next, which was really just a harbinger of what was to come.

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  (John 1:37 | TNIV)

And that’s how it should have been.  The two disciples, Andrew and probably John, turned to follow the Messiah; the Savior.  

Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?” They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”  “Come,” he replied, “and you will see.” So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.  (John 1:38, 39 | TNIV)

At first, Jesus’ question seems a little blunt, but it was an appropriate question.  Just what were these two guys looking for, anyway?  Did they want something for themselves?  Were they looking for some better experience than what they were having with John?  The answer they gave showed that they had some insight into who this Jesus was.  They were looking for Someone, not something.  And Jesus gave the invitation that He gives to this day:  Come. He is still asking people who are interested to, “Come.”  

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed are those who take refuge in him.  (Psalm 34:8 | TBIV)

 The first thing Andrew did was go and find his brother, Peter.

And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

And that’s what happened on the third day.

Day Four

The next day, here’s how it started:

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”  (John 1:43 | TNIV)

What’s interesting about this verse is that Jesus went out and found Philip, Philip wasn’t looking for Jesus.  So far, the other disciples came to Jesus on their own or were introduced to Him by those already following the Lord.  Philip may have been a little shy, and he was kind of a milquetoast-type of person; not real sure about himself or even of the Lord.  Later on, he was more than a little distressed when Jesus had to feed a large crowd.  Jesus asked him what to do about the situation, and the answer Philip gave shows that he was a man in way over head.

Philip answered him, “It would take almost a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!”  (John 6:7 | TNIV)

Yes, Philip was like most of us.  He always seemed to see the half-empty cup.  Later on some Gentiles came looking for Jesus and they came to Philip.  Now, Philip could have easily told them what to do, but instead he did this:

Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.  (John 12:22 | TNIV)

Even after following Jesus for three years, hearing all the teaching and seeing all the miracles, Philip asked Jesus this near the end:

Lord, show us the Father, and it is sufficient for us.  (John 14:8, 9 | TNIV)

He still didn’t get it!  Left up to his own devices, would Philip have ever sought out Jesus on his own?  Not if he was like most of us.  How many of us are shy?  Most of us aren’t a Paul or a Peter or even John.  Most of probably think we have very little to offer Jesus.  Maybe, we are the ones Jesus seeks out the most.  

One thing Philip was, though, was a thoughtful student of the Scriptures.  Jesus called Philip, Philip responded and, shy as he was, went to find Nathanael.  As Godet observed:

One lighted torch serves to light another.

 Studies reveal that no less than 85% of all converts are introduced to Christ by someone they trust, like a friend, family member, or a co-worker.  As impressive as large evangelistic services seem, it’s the spontaneous, one-on-one witnessing that is the most effective form of evangelism.

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “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.”  (John 1:45 | TNIV)

“We have found the one.”  Maybe this was the only time Philip ever got excited about anything, but you can sense the excitement.  But Nathanael wasn’t so excited.  In fact, he’s so skeptical he insults an entire town.

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip.  (John 1:46 | TNIV)

For some reason, Nazareth had a bad reputation, and as far as Nathanael was concerned, whomever it was they found, this Jesus fellow, was from the wrong side of the tracks.  But Philip won’t be discouraged, so he invites Nathanael to, “Come and see.”  Never underestimate the power of an honest invitation.  

One scholar makes note of Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come from there?” to illustrate just how good Jesus really was.  This man’s sarcastic question has a modern parallel question:  Who is Jesus?  The context gives us a powerful answer: 

  • He is the adequate Sacrifice for man’s sin, verse 29;
  • He is the One who baptizes with the Holy Spirit, verse 33;
  • He is the great Teacher of men, verse 38;
  • He is the King – the only One worthy of man’s highest allegiance, verse 49.

That’s the good that came out of Nazareth in the form of Jesus Christ!

Well, Nathanael went and saw and heard Jesus talk as if the Lord knew him his whole life.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”  “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”  (John 1:47, 48 | TNIV)

The kind “knowing” Nathanael asked Jesus about was a deep, intimate knowing; a discerning knowledge of the deepest part of a person’s heart.  Jesus knew this man that well.  No wonder Nathanael was surprised.  Not only that, somehow this Man from Nazareth had seen him sitting under a tree.  The context suggests that he had been reading about Jacob’s experience at Bethel in (Genesis 28:10 – 17).  Unlike Nathanael, Jacob was one who was most definitely filled with guile!  He had been forced to leave home because he had lied to his father and swindled his brother.  And yet, this scoundrel was privileged to have been given an amazing revelation from God. How much more, then, would Nathanael see, a man completely different from Jacob?  

To say Nathanael was surprised by all that Jesus had said would be an understatement, but the cry of his heart reveals what was in it.

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”  (John 1:49 | TNIV)

Then Jesus says something worth looking at quickly – 

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.”  He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”. (John 1:50 – 51 | TNIV)

Nathanael’s faith in Jesus was based on his monumental surprise; that Jesus actually saw him under that fig tree.  And yet, it’s a little more than just that.  Jesus saw the man for what he was.  He had the uncanny ability to discern another’s character.  And according to the Lord, Nathanael would “see” even greater things the longer he followed Him.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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