Part 9. True Israelite
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. 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.”
Many pastors often replied with, “Don’t worry about those parts, just believe,” when Christians asked questions about parts of the Bible that they did not understand. This approach led many to abandon their faith life due to the Bible’s many challenging passages. In response to this serious issue within Korean churches, Pastor Ki-Dong Kim made a significant contribution. He never resorted to the attitude of “just believe” when faced with difficult passages. Instead, he took the time to explain and clarify them so that people could truly understand and ultimately acknowledge, “Oh, the Bible is true!” Consequently, there are not many of us who compel others to have faith in what they do not understand.
When someone explains something to us, we can accept it when we are convinced. If we cannot understand what they are saying, we will just think, “Huh, what they’re saying sounds strange? It doesn’t make sense…” In fact, there are many people who interpret the Bible in a peculiar manner using what they call spiritual interpretations, and the most notable of these groups is Shincheonji. They use a word-picking method to study the single words found in the Old Testament of the Bible, asserting that each word has a specific meaning. They continue to study the Bible in this way. This approach lacks universality because it is simply the result of their closed-door research. This practice has been ongoing for a long time, and their followers have added various claims on top of their teachings. After assigning meanings to certain words, they interpret the Bible according to that, especially the book of Revelation, which offers ample material for their interpretations. Their interpretations ultimately lead to Man-Hee Lee, who is the leader of Shincheonji. There are also those who derive the concept of Mother God from the Bible and claim themselves to be Christ or to be God. While this may seem absurd to many, those who have already undergone all the previous groundwork are left with no choice but to accept these ideas. So even if they feel, ‘I am trapped in the Shincheonji,’ it is already too late to get out. When they find out about that fact, it will not be a significant issue. Their method of interpreting the Bible is interpreting parables, which becomes deeply ingrained in their perspective, and they have become convinced of their interpretation of the Bible. As a result, even if they leave Shincheonji, they cannot change their perspective on reading the Bible.
Furthermore, they lied a lot to others, and Shincheonji indoctrinated their members that “it’s okay to lie for the truth, so don’t tell your parents about what you are doing.” When the members ask, “Then, what should I explain to my parents?” Then, they would answer, “Oh, just say you found a job somewhere, and that’s it.” Members were then instructed to sever all ties with their friends, break up with their significant other, and even run away from home. Their objective is for members to become completely isolated from society, leaving them with no one to rely on. They already treated their parents and significant others harshly, devoid of a sincere faith life, and resorted to excessive dishonestly, leading to a situation where no one believes them and stands by them. Trapped in this scenario, they cannot leave Shinchoenji because their life has crumbled. Consequently, they returned to attending Shincheionji.
This is brainwashing themselves in order to survive. Even if they think this may be wrong, they would not come to that conclusion. Why? If that happens, they will become Satan. So, they continue to brainwash them into thinking, ‘The other party did something wrong,’ and then collect a bunch of supporting arguments and materials to comfort themselves because only by doing so can they live in peace. If someone finds that his actions are identical to those of Korah, who opposed Moses in the past, how can he live? This kind of anxiety and pain will torture them to the point of not being able to live, and they may suffer from mental illness like Schizophrenia.
Imagine if your relationship with God was cut off now. No matter how fervently you strive to believe in God, you will find yourself unable to do so. What kind of fear and anxiety is this? I have personally had a glimpse of this feeling before, and I believe it might have been God’s way of making me understand. I only got a small taste of it, but the fear was utterly intense. If I had continued down that path, I genuinely believe I might not have been able to endure without committing suicide.
Just like this, if one’s faith is built on the wrong foundation, one may eventually face disconnection from God. The fear of this is profound. Therefore, we must have a clear understanding of what Jesus did in the past and the words recorded in the Bible by God and build our faith on this foundation. Building our faith on the words written in the Bible is a very important aspect.
Here, a man named Nathanael caught the attention of Jesus. Most people were pursuing miraculous things. When they heard that Jesus was healing the sick and casting out demons, they flocked to Him, seeking nothing but miraculous signs. On the other hand, Nathanael was a critical thinker by modern standards. Some people consider that critical thinking conflicts with our faith. However, in reality, it is impossible to make judgments without using critical thinking because everyone uses critical thinking to assess things. Having this kind of thinking means that a person has a standard for their life. Based on their standards of critical thinking, a person can be classified as theocentric or anthropocentric. To speak accurately, there is no one who has no critical thinking, to be exact.
When using critical thinking to make judgments, what should we do about it? We should avoid blindly following the crowd and not allow ourselves to dazzle solely by miraculous things. Instead, we should have a clear understanding of what we are seeking now. We are not pursuing novelty for its own sake. We are awaiting the One whom Moses and other prophets wrote about, the One foretold by the Law and the prophets. It is very clear. It is clear what we are looking for. The standard is the words recorded by the Law and the prophets. At least the criteria most people (especially those who love the Bible) are aware of have already been presented in the Bible. In those times, people were waiting for Jesus, and it was evident that the person claiming to be Jesus should come from Bethlehem. His birthplace should be Bethlehem, and His origins should come from Jerusalem, as all these are written in the Bible. However, Jesus was a Nazarene, so Nathanael thought that there was no need to check or be enticed by miraculous phenomena. Some people may say, “Why not go and see for yourself?” This, however, is a misguided approach.
Some disrupters are spreading unverified false information, asserting that the church’s pastor is suspected of corruption. Unfortunately, there are church members who opt to listen with the intent of personally confirming these allegations. This person has already been corrupted. Is it necessary to examine such claims? If you have the idea of “wanting to check it” in your heart, you have already made a choice. However, Nathanael used critical thinking to make a different judgment. What was the standard for his judgment? Some people consider such discernment as undesirable, so they choose to believe unconditionally, which is blind obedience. When they say, “Oh, since the pastor said so, I’ll just believe it!” I think those who lead their faith lives with this mindset are susceptible to temptation. They think, “Well, since the pastor said it, I believed it 100%!” But I do not adopt that approach. I do not choose to believe unconditionally; instead, I consistently compare matters with the Bible. This comparison is not made to disbelieve but rather based on the premise of love and trust in Semuon. Because he is a human being, he may make a mistake. Like this, I often use critical thinking to consider issues, with the Bible as the standard, not theology or doctrine.
By referencing the Bible, Nathanael discovered that the Messiah should be born in Bethlehem as predicted by the Law and the prophets, and he did not blindly follow Jesus as others did. This led Jesus to recognize his faithfulness early on. While many people around followed Jesus and were flattered in front of Jesus, Jesus was not preoccupied with them. However, even if Nathanael did not follow Jesus, his attitude of seeking God’s words wholeheartedly attracted Jesus.
Like this, the Lord continues to discover individuals like Nathanael one by one, which is truly comforting for us. As long as we faithfully carry out God’s work, no matter where we may be, God will find us. “Now I am working in this obscure corner where no one sees me. Although I know God and God knows me, people don’t recognize me. Do I have to work quietly like this and eventually fade away into obscurity?” It is possible that we might indeed fade away silently, but let us not forget that God has been watching over us all the time. David was just a boy who herded sheep in the mountains, yet God found him and made him king of Israel out of numerous generals. This is the nature of our God, and how peaceful is it? So, there is no need for us to complain or feel anxious because God knows everything.
Since Nathanael had clear standards, he attracted Jesus’ attention. Similarly, today, we also need to have clear standards. We are not people who blindly follow miraculous occurrences in this world.
Think about how many miraculous phenomena there are in this world! Last time, I mentioned the statue of Mary shedding the red water. In India, there is a statue of an elephant that drinks milk; as soon as milk is offered, it vanishes, seemingly swallowed by the elephant. Although I have not personally verified it, this was reported on TV, and many people believe it deeply.
Also, some shamans can sometimes accurately predict about people’s secrets. While there are charlatans among them, some shamans really do have great accuracy in their predictions. They can even dance on sharp blades without bleeding or getting hurt, which is incredibly miraculous. But does that mean we should all believe in shamans? Additionally, some shamans can walk barefoot on burning coals without any harm, but this is merely a skill performed by those who are possessed by demons. These are astonishing and captivating, leading people to become followers of such practices.
Honestly, are these the only miraculous things in the world? Certainly not! There are many incredible things in the world that we take for granted and do not find miraculous. However, with careful consideration, we can find many wonders around us. The existence of humans is a miracle in itself. Additionally, the presence of stones, the sky, trees, and other things is also incredible. Don’t you find it astonishing? I certainly do.
Consider our teeth; they are remarkably sharp yet coexist harmoniously with the soft tongues in our mouths. When we speak, they constantly collide with each other. In ordinary circumstances, our tongues would be damaged or bleeding. If you keep rubbing an object with your hand for a long time, your hand will definitely be bleeding in less than two hours. If you keep rubbing your hand on concrete for two hours, what will it look like? However, our tongues and teeth are constantly colliding and rubbing against each other, but they remain in good condition. God’s creation is truly amazing! When we have mouth ulcers, it is so uncomfortable and painful. Also, when we wear new shoes, we often get blisters on our heels, making walking painful. Logically, the shoes should be soft, but after only an hour of rubbing against the skin on our feet, the heels are already blistered. Don’t you find this miraculous?
Furthermore, our hearts keep beating. Even the longest-lasting battery in the world will eventually wear out. However, even when we are sleeping, our hearts continue to beat, which is astonishing, isn’t it? If we had to rely on our own effort to maintain our heartbeat, we would either never be able to sleep or have to take turns sleeping. Fortunately, we do not need to do that at all, which is amazing, isn’t it?
Consider this: if we discover star-shaped rocks now, it would be very surprising to us. But, if all the rocks were naturally star-shaped since we were born, it would be taken for granted. However, think about it: when water falls from the sky and encounters cold air, it condenses into snowflakes. What shape do snowflakes take? It is hexagonal. Look at those snowflakes; how beautiful they are! If there were not some guiding force carefully designing them, how could they form such perfect hexagonal shapes? After all, without precise measurements using a protractor, hexagons cannot exist. But how did it become hexagonal in such a short time from the air to the ground? It is truly amazing!
If we should believe in miraculous things, then we must believe in even snowflakes. Human beings themselves are already miracles. They can not only think but also create and love. Shouldn’t everyone believe in themselves? Therefore, we should not easily choose to believe in something just because it appears miraculous. In the future, more miraculous phenomena will appear in the world, but we should not follow them. Our lives, in their very essence, are already miracles, not natural at all.
We believe in the One who came according to the words recorded in the Bible. Therefore, Jesus called Nathanael a true Israelite. The people of Berea were similar to Nathanael. When they heard Paul’s preaching, they did not feel particularly amazed; instead, they found it quite unusual. They considered Paul’s message unheard of and, therefore, very strange. They had believed that the Messiah would certainly retake Jerusalem and repel the Roman army, so it was nonsense to them that the Messiah was crucified and resurrected. Although they felt very strange, they decided to open the Bible and verify whether Paul’s teachings were in line with the Scriptures. After carefully studying the Old Testament, they found that what Paul said was indeed correct. They had never thought about it before, but after hearing Paul’s words, they found that what he said fully complied with the Scriptures. Consequently, they confessed, “Jesus is the Messiah whom Moses wrote about in the Law and whom the prophets predicted. He is the Son of God!” This led them to have faith and receive the Holy Spirit. Because they had such faith, the Holy Spirit personally testified to them, making them truly belong to Jesus. In short, our faith must never surpass the words recorded in the Bible; we should not go beyond the written words in the Bible.
Those whom God uses and those who are merely saved are distinct. Anyone can be saved by relying on God’s grace, but when it comes to those whom God uses, He adopts a very cautious attitude and does not use someone recklessly just by grace. From a broader perspective, all of this is still by His grace. Even if we have only five loaves and two fish left, He will still use it. From this standpoint, this is also by grace. But if a person does not even have five loaves and two fish, God will not use them. Everything is done by grace, yet when God selects workers, He considers the person’s overall quality. Salvation, on the other hand, is accessible to anyone willing to accept it. But when selecting workers, a comprehensive judgment is made based on the person’s character, abilities, and effort, and then suitable candidates are chosen.
What kind of individuals does God use? Even individuals suffering from mental illness can receive salvation. Not only can demons be cast out of them, but their illnesses can also be healed. Nevertheless, God may not use them because of their extremely fragile character and lack of the will to persist in something until the end. From a certain perspective, they are mentally disabled or weak. This does not mean that they are not good, but they are very weak, so it is difficult for them to undertake God’s work. In the Bible, there was a mentally ill person who had been possessed by a demon for a long time, but Jesus healed him. Immediately, he expressed a desire to follow Jesus and become His disciples. But Jesus instructed him, “Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.” What kind of individuals become disciples of Jesus? They are like Nathanael, who had waited for the Messiah according to what Moses wrote in the Law and what the prophets had foretold because they were looking for meaning.
Hence, Philip said to Nathanael, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote.” And when Peter encountered Jesus, he confessed, “You are the One!” All of Jesus’ disciples shared this profound faith, and not one of them decided to follow Jesus solely based on physical healings or miraculous occurrences.
What about today? We were not awaiting the Messiah because we are Gentiles. Then, what were we seeking? We were those who were searching for the meaning of life. It is close to those who were awaiting the Messiah. Among Christians today, there are not many who were compelled to believe in Jesus due to healing life-threatening diseases. Rather, many people had been wandering, pondering the purpose of life. “Why am I alive? How should I live?” Those who had time to think about their life and believe in Jesus are more likely to be called by the Lord because they are different from those who were swept away.
We are people who follow the words of the Bible, not people who follow miraculous things. In the future, there may be people around us who blindly follow the crowd, enticed by the miraculous phenomena. We must quickly remind them because once they are attracted to these things, it is difficult to change. So let us quickly give them a vaccination to prevent it before they go astray. Then, let us pray to have faith with critical thinking based on the words recorded in the Bible.
Heavenly Father, please help us not to follow those miraculous things, but let us all become people who set a standard with the words, promises, and commandments of Jesus Christ. In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
Lunch prayer meeting, Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on June 19, 2019
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team