John 1:45-51, emphasis added.
Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses and 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!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (ESV)
(We’re going to come back to that.)
One of my favorite topics to discuss is the ethics of photojournalism. It’s full of controversy and ripe for debate. It can be approached from many different angles, and often equally valid lines of reasoning will lead to completely different conclusions, all of them supported.
Sometimes within that topic, the issue of war photography arises (specifically, how much of it the public should be exposed to). Obviously, it is a necessary responsibility of journalists to capture even graphic events for the sake of documenting history, but often it’s treated as a necessary evil. As my teacher last semester asked, “Is there anything beautiful about that?” Many people would automatically shake their heads: Of course not. Yes, we need it, but it isn’t beautiful.
I question that verdict. In scenes of battle, I see courageous public servants defending truth and justice at personal cost. I see individuals risking comfort and safety to serve and protect. In images of riots and rebellions, I see all of creation crying out for redemption, longing for the day when He makes all things new. If others can catch a glimpse of that, they, too, will be stirred to defend truth, seek justice, and cry out to their Savior. Those are beautiful responses.
I think about things like that a lot because I believe that through the lens of eternity, one can see beauty beyond what meets the eye. I don’t know whether I’d go so far as to make the sweeping statement that “everything is beautiful,” because things like oppression and injustice are not beautiful at all. They’re the epitome of brokenness.
But I do believe that broken pieces are one of God’s favorite mediums of artistry. Just as heartbreaking images can have a beautiful result in the souls of viewers, heartbreaking circumstances can have unnaturally glorious endings when examined with eyes for the unseen.
This brings us back to Nazareth.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
Clearly, Nathanael was alluding to something when he mentioned Nazareth. The city had a reputation. And it doesn’t sound like it was a good one.
Don’t we all have our Nazareth? Heaven knows I do. It’s that broken season, broken relationship, broken set of circumstances. Something that didn’t bear fruit and perhaps left you with a heap of regrets. Maybe you were manipulated, deceived, or stolen from. Whatever it is, you’d rather forget about it. Likely, you wish it had never happened.
“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”
I love Philip’s reply. “Come and see.” (Not “Of course, idiot. It’s God.” Not judgmental of Nathanael’s skepticism. Simply … come and see.)
And immediately, Nathanael comes face-to-face with Jesus, who already knows him. Nathanael’s immediate belief is so profound that the LORD assures him that he will see heaven opened.
Remember those war photos I mentioned earlier? In order to see the concepts of truth, justice, and redemption, you have to look past a lot. Ever browsed pictures from the Civil War? They’re full of remnants of slaughter, rotting deadness, amputations, disgusting living conditions, and soldiers too young for the battlefield. It’s a veritable Nazareth of bloody warfare. Many must have asked “Can anything good come out of this war?” But a century and a half later, we know what the pictures represent. We know what it was all for. We see something that a contemporary viewer couldn’t have. In essence, we see something unseen.
Likewise, if we are willing to look past the brokenness, fruitlessness, regret, disappointment, and sorrow of our Nazareths to look on the face of our Savior, if we will patiently “come and see,” He will give us a lens for the eternal. A lens to see unseen things. Eyes to see the unlikely, awe-inspiring beauty that He draws from ruins. “Seeing” doesn’t just happen. It’s something He enables us to do. God opens our eyes to perceive His artistry as He restores, redeems, and re-purposes the broken fragments. He doesn’t piece them back together exactly as they were. But we will see Heaven opened as we never could have before.
Through the glorious lens of eternity, His work is beautiful.
If only we will come and see.