Nathanael ( John 1:43-51 ) was a man with a true heart.
Although he was one of the twelve original apostles, Nathanael doesn’t get a lot of air time in the gospels. Compared to Peter, James and John, he barely gets mentioned. Yet Jesus gave him one of the highest of compliments when he called him a man of complete integrity.
He wasn’t a big name. To use a hockey analogy, although he made the team he wasn’t a top six forward. He was what hockey fans call a character player, and Coach Jesus strongly affirmed his value.
What was it about Nathanael that so impressed Jesus?
I believe it was his humility and his honesty. Here was an honest skeptic who allowed himself to be persuaded and became an honest believer. He was no polite religious hypocrite. He wore his convictions on his sleeve. When his friend Philip told him about Jesus, Nathanael had some doubts as to whether a rabbi from Nazareth could be the Messiah, and he made no attempt to be polite and hide his doubts – but at the same time he was humble enough to accept Philip’s invitation to come and see. And when he met Jesus, it only took one brief conversation to totally undo Nathanael’s defenses and bring him to his knees. When he found a leader with integrity, a true shepherd who could read his character and speak truth to his heart, his response was immediate and genuine.
Nathanael didn’t come to Jesus with great expectations. He didn’t come looking for Jesus to do anything for him. He simply came with an inquiring heart, looking for reality. Although his expectations weren’t high, Jesus promised this humble, honest man that he would see great things. He would see the door to heaven opened and the way to heaven revealed.
Lots of people had encounters with Jesus during his time on earth, but only a few of them were changed in a lasting way by those encounters. Nathanael was one of those who was changed forever. After that initial conversation with Jesus, Nathanael’s name isn’t mentioned again until the very last chapter of the Gospel of John – the one where the risen Jesus has breakfast on the beach with his disciples, and commissions Peter to feed his sheep. Nothing is said about what happened to Nathanael between those two events. But this much we know – he stood the test, he stayed on the team, and he got to be part of the victory celebration.
Much of the church in North America today seems to be easily impressed with what impresses the world around us. Maybe we think this is the price of relevance, but if so, we’re dead wrong. If we are going to bear lasting fruit we need to cultivate the kind of attitude that we see in Nathanael – a man of integrity, a man with a true heart, a man who was not impressed with himself but instead was impressed with Jesus.