Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

OUR GOD AND KING” (John 1:48-49)

Looking back on this year…

Looking ahead to the next

By Semi-Retired Pastor Jeremy Stopford

May I have your permission to end the year with a cute story? This was sent to me by one of my relatives. How would she know that I collect, well, “stories”? Perhaps you’ve heard it before:

The Atheist and The Bear

An atheist was taking a walk through the woods. “What majestic trees! What powerful rivers! What beautiful animals”, he said to himself.

As he continued walking alongside the river he heard a rustling in the bushes. Turning to look, he saw a 7 foot Bear charging towards him.

He ran as fast as he could up the path. Looking over his shoulder he saw that the bear was closing in on him. His heart was pumping frantically and he tried to run even faster.

He tripped and fell on the ground. He rolled over to pick himself up but saw the bear raising his paw to take a swipe at him.

At that instant the atheist cried out, “Oh my God!”

Time stopped.

The bear froze.

The forest was silent.

It was then that a bright light shone upon the man and a voice from heaven asked, “You deny my existence for all of these years, teach others I don’t exist and even credit creation to a cosmic accident. Do you expect me to help you out of this predicament? Am I to count you as a believer?”

The atheist looked directly into the light. “It would be hypocritical of me to suddenly ask you to treat me as a Christian now, but perhaps, could you make the BEAR a Christian?”

“Very well”, said the Voice. The light went out, and the sounds of the forest resumed.

And then the bear lowered his paw, bowed his head and spoke: “Lord, bless this food which I am about to receive and for which I am truly thankful, Amen.”

2021. A most interesting year, no? Some of us enjoyed having Covid-19. (And while I’m here, THANK YOU to all of you who prayed for my wife and for me recently! Almost 5 weeks from start to “finish”. My pulmonologist has told me that it will take months, maybe years, for my left lung to heal. Did I mention, thanks for praying!!!)

And here we are nearing the end of the year this week. Have you discovered as we have here in central New York that God is still on the Throne? That He is still building His church? And the gates of hell will not prevail against it? Let me give a SHOUT OUT to the dear folks at Smyrna (NY) Baptist Church. Since our pastor “retired” in July, one of our deacons who happens to be a retired pastor (um…ME!) has had the joy of conducting services on the Sundays we don’t have “supply speakers”. Until…November 21. After I contracted Covid-19 and all the joys that come with it, the people of the church showed their true roots: they took over all the services through the end of the year! And even while I hope to be back in the pulpit this coming Sunday, they want me to “take it easy”. They will do EVERYTHING ELSE but the preaching. Wow! They have discovered: they are the church.

All that to point to our verses (and surrounding verses) for this week from John Chapter 1:

48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?”

Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you,

when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”

49 Nathanael answered and said to Him,

Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

The text is looking at the salvation experience of Nathanael. The tv show “The Chosen” takes a suggested look into the background of the above incident. Like many of us, Nathanael was having a “fig tree” experience. Huh? In “The Chosen”, the film shows Nathanael under a fig tree enjoying what little shade it provided. He was complaining. To God. (NO! You’ve never done that, right?). He was accusing God of abandoning him, of not…SEEING HIM. Of not caring for what he was going through, even though at a young age he had trusted God to be the only Savior. But where was He when he really, REALLY needed Him?

The next scene shows Philip sharing with Nathanael how overjoyed Philip was for finding the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth – to which Nathanael gives the classic line, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”. Philip says what WE should say: “COME AND SEE.” To introduce someone to the Savior necessitates a firm mindset which says, “I must plant the seed of the Word. My job is to invite. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 3:7: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.” The Spirit of God will change the heart – He’s the only One Who can! It is at this point that Nathanael is introduced to the Savior. The Savior responds, “Behold an Israelite indeed in whom is no deceit”. Nathanael asks the Lord Jesus how He knows Nathanael. In The Chosen, the scene becomes even more poignant: Jesus says “I saw you under the fig tree.” Remember? Nathanael was ALONE, no one within miles. Yet in His omnipresence (“all-present”) and His omniscience (“all-knowing”), the Lord Jesus saw Nathanael, heard his words, and, more importantly, heard his heart. Confronted with the eternal nature of the Savior, Nathanael proclaims, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”. A simple “WOW” would be appropriate here!

Let’s make some observations. First, the Savior – along with His Spirit and His Word – likes to work from the head to the heart:

* Jesus is about to “recruit” His first disciples. He had spent the previous night in prayer (Luke 6:12). Do we? Should we? Answer that for yourself!

* Jesus picked only those whose hearts were about to be changed for life – yes, even Judas!

* John introduces us to 2 phrases that are good evangelistic tools:

#1. “COME AND SEE” (verse 39 – Jesus speaking; v. 46 – Philip speaking). The Lord Jesus specializes in words of invitation! Check out Matthew 11:28 and Revelation 22:17!

#2. “FOLLOW ME” (verse 43) – a word of decision.

A word of decision begins with what the listener/seeker KNOWS and then takes him to what he DOESN’T KNOW:

* Jesus is a fulfillment of the Scriptures (1:45)

* Jesus is omniscient and omnipresent (1:48). See also Psalm 139:1-18.

* Jesus is God and King (1:49)

A word of decision continues with a lifetime of decision to daily surrender to the Savior:

* A lifetime commitment (Matt. 4:19,20)

* A change of occupational focus (Matt. 9:9; see also Col. 3:22-23)

* From a temporary to an eternal view (Matt. 10:38-39)

* A renouncing of the world’s priorities! (Luke 9:57-62)

And this is just the foundation! Are you at that foundation? Have you trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as your God and the King of your life?

Secondly, while the Savior is working from the head to the heart, WE are carried along to work from the heart to the life:

* OK! OK! Here’s where “the rubber meets the road”!

* Too many of us STOP here. “I’ve come to the cross. I’m ‘safe for eternity’. That’s all that matters.” LOOK AT THE TEXT!

#1. The Christian life is a RELATIONSHIP not a religion (verse 50)

#2. The Christian life is an EXPERIENCE not a dull life (verse 51; John 10:10)


#1. From the head to the heart: Do you know Jesus as GOD and KING of your life?

#2. From the heart to the life: Is your life a RELATIONSHIP with Christ and an EXPERIENCE with Him on display?

As we close 2021, may each of us take what time we have left in this year to check our hearts like Nathanael did. May we like him exclaim, “JESUS – MY GOD AND MY KING!