Young John of Bethsaida was already awake when he noticed his brother get up from the straw bed they had slept on. The two brothers and their partners had taken a break from their fishing business and had come to Bethany in Judea. News of the fiery preaching of John the Baptizer had reached them in Galilee, and they had come to the Jordan River to hear him.
John watched his brother, James, pull on his cloak and quietly step past the others sleeping in the large room of the inn. As he stepped out of the door, the younger brother jumped to his feet, grabbed his cloak, and hurried after his older sibling. Exiting the lodge, John spotted James talking with Andrew of Bethsaida, one of the partners in their fishing business. Approaching the two, John saw his brother turn and walk toward the home of the inn keeper.
“Good morning, little brother!” Andrew said teasingly when he saw John.
“Aw, come on, Andrew,” John returned with an annoyed whine. “Do you have to keep callin’ me that? You’re a little brother, so you know how it feels.”
“Okay, John,” Andrew smiled when he saw his jab had hit the mark again. “I’m sorry, but you’re always so serious. I’m just trying to loosen you up.”
“Well, it’s not funny.” Turning to look after his retreating brother, John asked, “Where’s James going?”
“Since he’s carrying the money bag for us, it’s up to him to make sure we keep our spots in the inn tonight. Come on; I got a coin from him. Let’s go get some breakfast.”
A few minutes later the two were walking toward the river eating warm barley bread.
“I’m surprised your brother’s still sleeping,” John said, glancing back at their inn in the distance.
“I’m not,” Andrew answered. “After you went to bed, some Galileans joined us, and Simon was up late talking to them.”
“What was so interesting?”
“It seems some Zealots killed a couple of Romans in Jerusalem yesterday, and the procurator is crucifying innocent citizens till someone turns in the killers.”
“So now the people hate the Zealots as much as they hate the Romans,” John said his thoughts out loud.
“Almost,” Andrew agreed. “Killing the occasional Roman doesn’t help anything and makes life worse for everyone.”
“You must not need as much sleep as your brother.”
“I got to bed before he did,” Andrew answered. “Shortly after the conversation began with the Galileans, Philip showed up and started asking all of his obnoxious questions, and I left and went to bed.”
“Philip?” John asked. “Do you mean that strange guy that followed us down here from Bethsaida?”
“Yes,” Andrew answered. “You know, I try to be nice to him, but he drives me crazy. He’s got no sense of what’s acceptable behavior. He pushes himself into conversations, and he won’t stop asking questions.”
“Hey, look! There’s the Baptizer!”
“Speaking of asking questions,” Andrew said as he spotted the prophet, “here’s our chance to talk to him.”
The Baptizer was looking away, but when he heard the two men approach, he turned and beckoned urgently for them to join him. When they did, he put a strong hand on a shoulder of each and turned them to face a man who was passing them.
“You see Him?” the prophet asked with passion. “DO YOU SEE HIM?”
Both men nodded vigorously.
“THAT is the Lamb of God!” As he said these words, the Baptizer shoved the two Galileans forward. “He’s the One I’ve been telling you about!”
Without hesitation the two friends quickly hurried after the retreating figure. The crunch of their sandals on the gravelly road alerted Him to their presence. Stopping suddenly, He turned to face them. The man was holding up the front of his tunic, which contained a large pile of ripe dates.
The first thing both friends noticed were His eyes. Andrew thought they were like the Baptizer’s because they seemed to look right into your soul. John saw something else. I’ve never seen anyone smile with their eyes before, he said to himself.
“What do you want?”
The two Galileans just looked at each other. Finally Andrew said, “Teacher, umm…where are you staying?”
The eyes still smiled at them, but this time the mouth did too. “Come and see.”
They followed the Teacher up the road until He turned left onto an old goat trail. This led to a rocky outcropping with a ledge. A trickle from the top of the rocks fed a small, clear pool nearby. The Teacher sat down on a bed of dry grass and invited John and Andrew to use some of the grass to make seats for themselves. “I am Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth.”
“Oh, we’re from Galilee too,” John blurted out, “uh…but not Nazareth.”
“I am Andrew, son of John, and this is my friend and fishing partner, John, son of Zebedee. We are from Bethsaida, near Capernaum.”
As the introductions were being made, Jesus poured out the large pile of dates onto a flat rock between the three of them.
“You sure gathered a lot,” John observed. “You must have been hungry.”
“I was expecting guests,” the Teacher replied with a smile. “Help yourselves.”
Jesus began speaking to them like they were old friends. As he listened, John thought that there were some similarities between the Teacher and the Baptizer. They both talked about repentance and the Kingdom of God, but when Jesus taught, He used lots of stories…and John loved it. The Teacher talked about good trees bearing good fruit as He popped a date into His mouth. What He said made John consider the ‘fruit’ that was coming from his life. Jesus told stories about sheep and goats, about catching fish, about salt, about farming, about hidden treasures, and about merchants. He told one story about a broken pot that brought tears to the young fisherman’s eyes. Jesus never seemed to run out of stories with lessons.
John and Andrew ate dates and listened in amazement for most of the day. When Andrew suddenly realized that the afternoon was mostly gone, he jumped up and exclaimed, “I’m sorry, Teacher! I’m so sorry, but I must go find my brother, Simon! He has to meet you! Please, don’t go anywhere until I get back!” Then he ran off like a lion was after him.
Jesus turned and look at John. “And what about you?” He asked.
“Me?” John returned as he reached for another fat date. “I’m just fine.”
“Don’t you have a brother?” Jesus prompted.
“Oh…OH! Uh…yes! Yes, I do! I guess I should go get him too.”
“Yes, you should,” the Teacher returned. “I’ll be here when you get back.”
When Andrew returned, Jesus stood to greet him and the large, powerful-looking fisherman following him. Jesus noticed a look of skepticism in the newcomer’s eyes.
“Teacher, this is my…” Andrew began, but before he could finish, Jesus stepped past him to greet the older brother.
“You are Simon, son of John,” Jesus said with a smile. The way He said it made Simon feel special.
“Yes,” the big fisherman returned with a smile. “Yes, I am.”
“From now on,” Jesus returned, looking into the man’s eyes, “you will be called ‘Rock.’
“Rock?” Simon chuckled with a hint of pride. “You want to call me Rock? Why? Because I’m strong, dependable, and solid?”
“No,” Jesus returned, “but because one day you will be.”
After John returned with his brother James, the four Galilean fishermen spent the rest of the day and most of the evening totally enraptured by the Teacher.
The next morning, the four men were at Jesus’ camp early but were surprised when the Teacher announced that He would be leaving to go back to Nazareth. “I want each of you to go with me,” He said to them.
“We are ready, Teacher,” Rock announced. “We are carrying all our things. We can leave now if you like.”
“Not just yet,” Jesus said as he stood to leave. “I have to find someone first.”
The Teacher led them to the road and back to Bethany. When he entered the market area, he spotted a man purchasing some bread. “There he is!” Jesus said excitedly, and called to him, “PHILLIP!
“Phillip?” the four fishermen behind him gasped in shock.
“Yes?” Phillip answered.
Jesus put a friendly hand on his shoulder and said, “Phillip, my friend, I am Jesus, the son of Joseph, from Nazareth, and I want you to follow Me.”
“Me? Follow you?” Suddenly recognition struck him. “Say, wait a minute! I know who you are! I was there the other day when the Baptizer pointed you out and said you were that special Lamb Guy from God!”
Just then, Phillip looked past Jesus and saw the two pairs of brothers. “Well, hey there, fellas! I’ve been lookin’ all over for you guys. Are you followin’ the Lamb Guy too?”
The answer he got were groans and sad nods.
“This is going to be great!” Phillip exclaimed as he started to join them, but then he stopped himself. “Wait! I wanna follow you, Teacher. I really, really do, but I know this guy that’s down here from Cana, and he’s anxious to find the Coming One the Baptizer’s been preachin’ about. But he doesn’t know You’re Him, if you know what I mean.”
“Go get him,” Jesus said with a smile. “We’ll wait.”
Nathaniel, son of Talmai, or Bartholomew, as he would later be called, was a serious minded Galilean. He had heard the reports about the new prophet in Judea who was baptizing by the Jordan River. Nathaniel had traveled from the mountainous region in the north to hear the Baptizer for himself because he wanted to draw his own conclusions. Like everyone else, Nathaniel had hoped that he would be the Messiah they had all longed for, but John had made it very clear that he was not. The words from the Baptizer that did excite the son of Talmai was that the Coming One was on His way. If the Messiah is on His way, Nathaniel said to himself, then I’m staying right here till He comes.
Nathaniel liked his privacy. His straight forward opinions and the blunt expression of his views had rubbed more than a few people the wrong way. He couldn’t help himself. He said what he thought, and that was all there was to it. When it came to Nathaniel of Cana, you either liked him or you didn’t. For this reason more than any other, the son of Talmai chose to stay just outside of town rather than at one of the crowded inns in Bethany. He had camped beside a creek flowing into the Jordan. Near this quiet spot was a big fig tree with arching limbs that reached to the ground. It was covered with large green leaves and an abundance of ripe figs. Nathaniel was sitting under the fig tree now as much to find a quiet place to pray and think as to eat breakfast. Thoughts of the coming Messiah filled his mind as he sat there. He wondered what kind of man He would be and what great works the King of Israel would do.
Just then he heard his name called. He recognized the voice; it was Philip. Nathaniel wasn’t ready to deal with Philip and his incessant questions right now, so he remained silent, hidden by the thick covering of fig leaves as Philip hurried past. But Philip kept calling. Nathaniel was both surprised and annoyed at the fellow’s persistence. Just then he heard his friend cry out, “We’ve found the Coming One!”
Without hesitation, the son of Talmai burst from under the leaves and chased down the herald. “Philip!” Nathaniel called as he caught up to his friend. “What did you say?”
“We’ve found Him! We’ve found Him!”
“Who?” Nathaniel questioned firmly, needing more information.
“The One Moses wrote about in the Law!” he answered excitedly. “The One the prophets wrote about! The One the Baptizer said was coming!”
“Who is He?” an irritated Nathaniel shot back.
“Why, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph!”
“Nazareth?” Nathaniel questioned in disbelief. “Are you serious? Nazareth?”
Philip gave a large smile and nodded.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel asked again.
With his same annoying smile, Philip simply said, “Come and see.”
When Jesus saw Nathaniel approaching with Philip, He turned to the others and said, “Do you see that fellow right there? You will find no deceit in his heart. You may not like what he says, but he always tells you the truth.”
“How do you know me?” Nathaniel asked suspiciously.
“Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”
On hearing this, Nathaniel’s jaw dropped open involuntarily, and for the first time in his life, he struggled for words. “Teacher, You…You are the Son of God! You are…the King of Israel!”
Jesus smiled at Nathaniel’s blunt confession and answered, “Do you believe because I said I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these. You will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on…the Son of Man.”
As they walked along the road north following Jesus, Philip leaned close to Nathaniel and said, “I don’t understand. When Jesus was talking about the heavens being opened and we would see angels going up and down on something, I thought He was going to say a stairway…like in Jacob’s dream. But instead He said the angels would be going up and down on the Son of Man. Who’s the Son of Man?”
“He is!” Nathaniel answered confidently.
“I don’t get it!” Philip shot back. “What’s He talking about?”
“He’s saying, Philip, that He is going to show us the stairway that leads to Heaven…and it’s Him!”
By Alan W. Harris
(Inspired by John 1: 35-51)