John 1: 46 And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see.
The first chapter of John relates the story of the disciples’ first meeting with the Messiah. One by one, men from different backgrounds met the man the prophets spoke of so long ago. These rugged fishermen were excited about finding Christ, and they quickly spread the good news among their circle of influence. As Christ met each of them, he requested they follow him.
With high hope and excitement, Phillip rushed to find Nathanial to invite him to meet Yeshua, the man from Nazareth. When the word “Nazareth” fell from Phillips’s lips, Nathaniel’s continence changed. He did not exude the same fervor as Phillip, but responded with great disillusionment and said, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel acted as a judge and pronounced judgment on Nazareth. His statement about Nazareth dripped with animus and disdain for the place where the Messiah came from.
What annoyed Nathaniel about the little town of Nazareth? How could Nathaniel judge the Savior based on the community he came from? Why could Nathaniel not accept the idea of a Savior the prophets spoke about coming from an unpopular place like Nazareth? After all, shouldn’t the Messiah, the Savior of the World, the Son of God, and the Son of Man come from a more renowned place. Despite Nathaniel’s hostility, Phillip persuaded him to come see the Savior for himself.
Why did Nazareth have such a bad reputation? What was the problem with Nazareth? History says it was an obscure, shabby backwater town with poor residents. Its citizenry had a seedy reputation for rudeness. Culturally deficient and opportunistic, the residents of Nazareth did not respect religion and may have had good reasons for their irreligious attitude, but the fact is, Jesus grew up in the town called Nazareth. This town did not stand out as a place that produced great artists, educators, musicians or political elites. With Nazareth’s soiled name frozen in the minds of people who did not live there, the indiscriminate label, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” lived in infamy in Nathaniel mind.
Perhaps Nathaniel struggled with a negative self-image that caused him to belittle anyone who came from a background different than his own. Maybe he thought a person like Jesus should come from a more renowned place like the majestic Jerusalem, instead of a worthless town called Nazareth. Perhaps Nathaniel’s negative thoughts about where Jesus came from stem from the fact that his own hometown of Galilee did not fair any better than Nazareth as far as reputation?
“Can any good thing come out of Nazareth” is not a sincere inquiry by Nathaniel, but is an attempt to define the Messiah based on beliefs about his upbringing. Giving negative words permission to have power over us prevent us from seeing the good. Somewhere along life’s trail we lose confidence and accept the negative words spoken against us. What was in Nathaniel’s psyche to make him respond with the words, “can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”
Having preconceived ideas about people and situations seem like the natural order humanity gravitates toward. In Nathaniel’s case, he had unsavory beliefs about the man from Nazareth before he ever laid eyes on him. If you come from a town, city or state with a seedy reputation, that should not define you. Every person is a unique individual and no one sets out to live up to the bad elements of where they call home.
There was a purpose and destiny for Nathaniel to meet Jesus. However, Nathaniel expected no more than what he heard from others and what he saw with his own eyes about Nazareth. But if he had put aside his dislike for Nazareth and opened his heart, he could have found good where he expected none. Sometimes we allow bad situations to determine if anything good can come out of it. The Messiah’s place of abode disturbed Nathaniel, and I suspect he felt that way about Nazareth because humans have a tendency to project what they dislike about themselves or where they come from onto others just to feel better.
Why should we care about what neighborhood, city, town or hamlet we come from? Being destined for greatness should not be based on birthplaces. If people judge you like judging a book by its cover without ever reading a single page of your life experiences, don’t stop progressing. The beginning of your life may look one way, but the pages of your life tells a story of a journey that can have a positive ending with you as the lead actor.
You are greater than you think! Walking around with a label of being the hometown bad boy stenciled to your consciences is not why you were born. Look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you are greater than your problems. This is true because history has proven repeatedly that many people who come from meager beginnings can influence history and change lives forever. Greatness does not always come from the upper echelons of society but can come from the smallest hamlet. It is the Most High, the Father above that deposits gifts, talents and purpose into our lives so we can run the race of success. Whether artist, musician, scientist, athlete or preacher, always be the best at what you passionately love to do.
Nathaniel’s invite to meet the Messiah was a date with destiny. But Nathaniel did not think he was great. If you don’t run toward destiny as Nathaniel was invited to do, you will sit on the dock of the bay of life and watch dreams pass by without accomplishment. Whether we are boys from the hood or boys that crack our teeth on privilege and class, nobody can determine what type of man we become. So stay and fight through every circumstance, obstacle and hindrance.
In the midst of a thought like, can any good thing come out of Nazareth invading Nathaniel’s psyche, he did not realize he was a d.i.a.m.o.n.d. Nathaniel needed to know that his destiny is a matter of not doubting (diamond). Despite what he thought or believed, the Father had his back as a son. The same is true for anyone like Nathaniel. Don’t allow ideas like can any good thing come out of Nazareth have free reign in your decisions to pursue opportunity. Because Nathaniel thought nothing good could come from Nazareth, he was prepared to miss an encounter of a lifetime with the Savior. We may have had thoughts like Nathaniel about such an encounter with Christ but the Father above has clear thoughts about us and says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know what plans I have in mind for you says Adonai, plans for well-being not for bad things: so that you can have hope and a future” (CJB). Despite what life brings, always expect better and don’t allow mediocrity to engulf your purpose.
What does the words, “can any good thing come out of Nazareth,” reveal about Nathaniel personally? After Nathaniel met the Messiah, He spoke encouraging words Nathaniel may never have heard anyone say to him. He spoke life into Nathaniel’s present and touched his heart like no other could. The Messiah saw Nathaniel alone in deep thought under a fig tree. It was his alone time to ponder and pray. When Jesus commented to Nathaniel about the episode under the fig tree, I’m convinced the Messiah not only saw him physically, but also saw him spiritually and emotionally and why he would say, can any good thing come out of Nazareth. The Messiah perceived Nathaniel’s potential and the tangled thoughts that had him in doubt about his identity as he sat under that fig tree. Jesus’ words lifted his self-image and restored his family heritage. You’re probably saying, what does his family image have to do with Phillip inviting him to meet Yeshua?
Nathaniel was an Israelite descendent of Jacob, who was a known cunning schemer and liar. Sitting under a fig tree with the label of liar tied to his family lineage probably made him fell unworthy. As Nathaniel approached the Messiah to meet him, he looked at Nathaniel and discerned he was not what his family lineage dictated and spoke a life-changing word into his heart. Jesus read the pages of Nathaniel’s life history and his private thoughts under that fig tree. He affirmed Nathaniel as an honest man and a true son of Israel, which changed the way he looked at himself. He no longer had to accept or embrace the label of his descendent Jacob. Jesus said in verse 47, “…Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Wow! What powerful words of affirmation coming from the Messiah. As Nathaniel stood astounded by the Messiah’s insight into his life and family history, he quickly changed his mind and believed in Him as the Son of Yahweh—the King of Israel.
As men, where do we sit? Are we like Nathaniel? Do we sit under a tree in wonder and mediate on who we are like in the family? Perhaps we hang out on street corners or sit on a barstool of life soaked in sorrow. Perhaps we park ourselves on the dock of the bay thinking about whether we’re just like great grandpa who messed up the family name. We might be in a church and unsure of where life is heading and don’t feel much like a son. Sometimes all we need is a father to guide the way by giving his blessing. When people label and define you in ways you don’t recognize, they are trying to have the power to control your destiny. Accepting labels of others based on what they think and then acting them out is not the path for life. As Nathaniel sat under the tree pondering his life, we must realize that God sees more about us than we see about ourselves. We can never allow people to classify us based on our background, family history, mistakes, failures or upbringing. Just like Jesus read Nathaniel’s life afar off under the tree, He can also read our lives and speak a word that will change us forever.
As a son, Nathaniel found out he was a gift of God. That is what his name means. In essence, many men have an idea about what they wish they were, but no focus to reach their objective. Their character and identity comes from how others define them and what they think of themselves. Because of family influences, many sit under a tree trying to figure out how to live their God-intended purpose. Jesus saw Nathaniel as an honest man and a true son of Israel, which brought great relief. The God factor missing in our lives is that we don’t always recognize that we are greater than we think!