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Show Don’t Tell

Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. John 1:45-46

This passage first became meaningful to me around my junior year of college, yet I still have not become like Philip. Unlike Philip, (but very much like Peter’s impulse to chop off an ear), I would have immediately launched into “Let me tell you what good!” I would have wanted to convince Nathanael right then and there of all that I had discovered Jesus to be. But, like Mary in contrast to Martha, Philip chose what was better and determined to take Nathanael to see Jesus rather than just remain there in debate or discussion about Him.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false.” “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that.” He then added, “I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1:47-50

Philip didn’t get angry about Nathanael’s cynicism or lack of belief. Philip didn’t take it upon himself to address these issues with him or correct them for him. I can only guess, but perhaps Philip really understood deeply that faith is a heart issue, not simply an intellectual one, and that there is only One who is capable of changing hearts and developing faith.

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:2-3

I grow weary and lose heart because my eyes are not fixed on Jesus but on my own sin, on the sin and unbelief of others and all the opposition to a Christian faith that is about the person and work of Jesus and not about the person and work of the Christian. My eyes are on the storm, not on the One who sleeps peacefully in the midst of it.

Philip was right. The author and perfecter of Nathanael’s faith was Who he needed to encounter, not Philip. As a “true Israelite”, Nathanael must have understood the reference to Jacob’s dream in which the Lord of the ladder was clearly Him, the One who reconciled God and man, heaven and earth. Nathanael’s lack of belief wasn’t corrected through a beating, a lecture or a better marketing job. The offspring of the woman, the prophet, priest and king, the Son of God to whom all previous sons of God had pointed, was standing before Him, knowing Him and cherishing Him.

Any beginner’s writing course in high school, if not junior high and elementary school, will emphasize the importance of a good story showing the readers what the writer wants them to picture, not just telling them. We’ve all read poorly written adolescent fiction that comes right out and tells the reader what to feel rather than evoking those emotions through rich character development and vivid scene depiction. “Show don’t tell” allows the readers to discover themes and meanings themselves and therefore own them more deeply. It is the very same reason Socrates was such a masterful teacher, asking questions of his students rather than just downloading information and dumping it on them. Philip didn’t fall into the trap of simply telling Nathanael what to think about Jesus. He showed him Jesus.

Mostly, what I am seeing, is that I need to see Jesus. I need to “come and see”, and not be content to sit with my own thoughts and internal discussions and information. As Paul Miller referenced in A Praying Life, my doctrine of Sonship is no replacement for genuine intimacy with the Son. It doesn’t occur to me, or worse I am afraid, to take others to see Jesus when I am not going to Him myself. It is His kindness that leads me to repentance, His gentleness that redirects my pre-occupation with self, His joy that gives me strength and His peace, even in the face of things that terrify me, that gives me confidence. If my response to others is ever going to be anything like Philip’s, it will be because I deeply believe that I need to come and see.

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2:23-25

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