Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Seeing and Being Seen

The first chapter of John is all about seeing and being seen.

We begin with a God who cannot be seen with the human eye or fully understood with the human brain — no man has ever done it — and a God who has allowed himself to be seen in all his grace, truth and moral glory.

Then John sees Jesus coming toward him. His first spiritual impulse is to ensure others see him too. “Behold,” he cries. “Behold, the Lamb of God.”


Look, perceive, know, apprehend, discern, discover. Understand this one with whom the whole fallen race is invited to engage. But yet he came to his own, and his own did not receive him, this one of whom John says, “For this purpose I came … that he might be revealed.”

And he was revealed. “I have seen and have borne witness,” says John. He saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove.

It wasn’t only to John. The chapter contains the repeated invitation to “Come and see.” And some did see. John’s two disciples who heard him say the word “Behold”, well … they beheld. In fact, Andrew and his unnamed fellow disciple followed Jesus so persistently that he finally turned to ask them, “What are you seeking?” And what could they say? I’m not sure they knew. They only thing they could come up with was to ask him, “Where are you staying?”

“Come and you will see,” he said. And they stayed with him that day.

Later, Philip extends the same invitation to Nathanael: “Come and see.” If you want to know whether any good thing can come out of Nazareth, you had better get up and come take a look. And Nathanael did. And Jesus told Nathanael all the things he would see later on. Greater things; heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.


There is nothing superficial or merely religious about this sort of spiritual illumination. Oh, there are religious things in the chapter. There are religious people, priests and Levites, quizzing John about his authority to baptize. These could hardly have missed the point more completely. There is a religious ritual, I suppose: John came baptizing with water.

But there is nothing merely religious about John’s invitation to “Behold”, or about the vision Philip offers Nathanael. It is not about discovering a new ritual or routine Nathanael must perform in order to please God, or even a new interpretation of what Moses and the prophets had written, things Nathanael already firmly believed. No, this is all personal. It is all relational. When Philip went to find Nathanael, Nathanael had already been seen. “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” When Peter is brought to Jesus, the first thing the Lord does is look at him. He sees Peter. In fact, he sees him more perfectly and more comprehensively than his own parents, and so he renames him on the spot: “ ‘You shall be called Cephas’ (which means Peter).” Even Philip himself was seen. Jesus found him. He was seen before he saw, if you like.

The same invitation is open to each of us today: Come and see. More importantly, come and be seen. Come and be fully known in all our failings, sins and shortcomings, and understood and loved in spite of them. Come and be found. Come and be renamed. Come and see greater things.

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