‘A Genuine Son of Israel’

In the early years of my faith, I approached the Bible as “a great religious book I ought to read” and, in many ways, there is truth in that statement. But with that mindset, it seemed disrespectful, in my mind, to question the meaning of Scripture. I was reading Great Truth, after all, God’s very Word given to us, and so the only proper attitude seemed to be to accept what was said at face value and move on to the next chapter.

Jesus Calls NathanaelFor example, it took me several readings before I finally put it together that Jesus had reserved one of his highest compliments not for Peter, not for James or John, but for Nathanael, a disciple whose name I would previously have had trouble remembering. Even stranger, Jesus pays Nathanael this extravagant compliment in the context of having just had His hometown dissed.

John 1:45-47 (ESV)
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”

This was one of those passages that I had a hard time understanding initially; how is it that Jesus seems to be so pleased with a guy so obviously judgmental of the entire region in which Jesus grew up?

As I grew in my knowledge of and familiarity with Scripture, it began to occur to me that interacting with the sharp sword of God’s Spirit (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 19:15) probably ought to look more like a wrestling match (Genesis 32:22-32) than quiet appreciation of the Mona Lisa as it hangs in the Louvre. With confidence that God wants us to come closer, I felt freed up to try to interact more with what Scripture was saying.

In Ephesians, Paul tells us to put on a whole lot of armor when dealing with the world, the flesh and the devil (Ephesians 6:10-18). In Genesis, God tells us (via Jacob) to meet him down at the Jabbok River, wherein we (again, through Jacob) will get our butts kicked. Armor for the world, yes, but flesh-on-flesh body slams and pile-drivers with the Lord. Again, this notion took some time getting used to.

During most of my early years, I approached life in the exact opposite manner; I had been giving myself over to wrestle with the world (absent any sort of emotional/spiritual protection) and the world in turn had ravaged my heart. The few times I had approached God, however, I had very carefully put on the “armor” of false humility, hidden agendas and hyper-religious language. Getting it backwards like this – guarding myself against being real with God while simultaneously taking on the world in a wrestling match – proved to be the source of many of my most painful and deeply-rooted problems.

"Jacob Wrestling with the Angel" by Eugene Delacroix

“Jacob Wrestling with the Angel” by Eugene Delacroix

Now, all these years later, I finally understand why Jesus held off jumping in the ring with me. He wanted me to be transparent with Him, just like Nathanael; to bring my mess to the Lord “as is,” not as some fake hyper-spiritualized version of myself that He knows to be pretense; Jesus seems to have zero interest in wrestling with a false, self-deceived version of anyone. No, what He wants is to get me – the real me – in a crushing headlock. He was waiting for me to accept his invitation to wrestle with the truths of God’s Word, with the very Source of Truth Himself.

And probably for the first time, my soul felt free.

These days, I can see how (just like Nathanael) I tended to heap scorn on the Lord and approach Him with a jaundiced, skeptical eye. But I am now enabled to go even further than that and see that He already knew I was going to come to Him just like that, and that this flawed-but-authentic heart is the kind he joyfully makes provision for at His table. How like Nathanael to respond to the Good News of the Messiah’s having finally arrived by allowing his tongue to expose his provincialism and geographic snobbery; how like Jesus to call Nathanael anyway, knowing well in advance that this is how he would respond.

One of many¬†words that Christ has reclaimed in my heart is the ability to marvel (Mark 6:6; John 3:7). Along with millions of other believers throughout human history, I have begun to marvel at a Savior who so thoroughly turns the tables on our human expectations by reserving one of His highest compliments for some scrappy-but-honest dude who just insulted His hometown while saving his most scorching diatribes for the phony religiosity of Israel’s so-called “faithful” (Matthew 23:1-36).

I can’t help but be captivated by a God Who defines “integrity” to mean the entirety of the mess that I am today, honest and without deceit, rather than The Man I Wish I Was or The Man I Hope To Be Some Day. Jesus seems to have absolutely no use for those versions of me that are anything less than the real deal; how liberating to finally understand that He has been calling me as I truly am, not as I would like Him to think I can be, maybe, some day.

John 1:47 (NLT)
As they approached, Jesus said, “Now here is a genuine son of Israel – a man of complete integrity.”

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