Life in this world has been likened to the short time that a person on a journey rests under the shade of a tree. He doesn’t bother with his furnishings or much else for that duration, because he has his heart set on a destination far away.
There is the sad story in 1 Kings 13 of Shemaiah, the man of God, who rested under a tree. He came to a bad end when he gave in to temptation as he rested and broke the command of God. It was not a problem that he rested under a tree, but that he disobeyed God.
An Indian prince is said to have rested under a tree for 49 days while he contemplated the world’s suffering. At the end of that time legend says that Siddhartha Gautama had reached enlightenment and become a Buddha.
A British scientist in 17th century rested under a tree and discovered gravity. Legend says Isaac Newton was sitting under an apple tree when he was hit on the head by a falling piece of fruit that prompted him to suddenly come up with his law of gravity.
Nathanael was sitting under a fig tree when Philip found him and told him, “We have found the very person Moses and the prophets wrote about!” (John 1:45)
In warm weather it was popular to teach a class under a tree so as to sit in the shade. And so it is not a surprise that Nathanael was sitting under a tree. It is a surprise however that Jesus saw him in the spirit and knew which tree. It is also a surprise that Nathanael immediately got up and went with Philip to meet Jesus. Jesus said straight away that Nathanael was “a genuine son of Israel—a man of complete integrity.”
Philip was himself a man of surprise. Only hours earlier Jesus had ‘found Philip and said to him, “Come, follow me.”’ Already Philip had made a disciple for Jesus! Actually, we shouldn’t really say that Philip made a disciple. What Philip did was simply to invite Nathanael to meet Jesus and then Nathanael decided to become a disciple. That’s all any of us have to do.
What I should like to pick out here is the point about being prepared for the call.
Any number of British scientists had rested beneath trees and seen apples fall to the ground before Isaac Newton. Only Isaac Newton was prepared emotionally and intellectually to know the significance of the event. He had prepared with years of study and research, and was fervently seeking to gain greater understanding of God’s creation.
How many thousands of Indians, or millions, had sat under trees before Prince Siddhartha did and not had any revelation? The difference was in the seeking heart and mind that drove Siddhartha in his quest to understand the suffering of the world whatever the answer was.
It would seem that Philip and Nathanael were prepared for the call that Jesus made on their lives and were able to respond at once when the moment arrived.
In your life, have you set up camp under your tree or are you preparing yourself for the call from Jesus to move forward? Are studying and thinking and praying as you sit in the shade, or have you given up the journey?
Philip and Nathanael were prepared to follow Jesus when he called and they became two of the 12 apostles. In the lists of the 12 apostles in the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:14), Nathanael is named Bartholemew.
In the book of Acts we are introduced to another Philip, who is generally know as Philip the Evangelist. Philip the Apostle and the rest of the twelve were finding themselves overwhelmed by their tasks as the church grew. They said, “We apostles should spend our time teaching the word of God, not running a food program.”
They asked the believers to “select seven men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom.” These men, the first deacons, were put in charge of the food program so that the apostles could concentrate on prayer and teaching.
“Everyone liked this idea, and they chose the following: Stephen (a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit), Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas of Antioch (an earlier convert to the Jewish faith). These seven were presented to the apostles, who prayed for them as they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:5–6)
When Saul oversaw the murder of Stephen, the first of these seven men, the believers were scattered. Philip, the second man on the list, went to Samaria and told the people there about the Jewish Messiah.
Philip did not resist, saying he was unqualified as he was only responsible for a food program. As a believer, as a follower of Jesus, Philip was prepared to go anywhere at any time and speak to anyone about Jesus. Just as the first Philip had done with Nathanael, the second Philip went around introducing people to Jesus so that Jesus could make them into disciples.
The impact of this man full of faith and the Holy Spirit was profound. Many evil spirits were cast out, screaming as they left their victims. And many who had been paralysed or lame were healed. The people believed Philip’s message of Good News concerning the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. As a result, many men and women were baptized.
The apostles Peter and John were sent from Jerusalem to Samaria because so many people had become believers. Peter and John laid their hands upon these believers, and they received the Holy Spirit.
At this time of remarkable growth of belief in Jesus among the Samaritan opponents of Judaism, Philip was suddenly called away. Peter and John returned to Jerusalem and left the believers to tend to each other. As for Philip, an angel of the Lord said to him, “Go south down the desert road that runs from Jerusalem to Gaza.”
Just when you would expect him to be really busy and enjoying his success, God sends an angel to give Philip a new task.
Philip was ready when God called, and left straight away. Even as he had been working hard, he had also been preparing himself. He was led away from Samaria and out into the desert, to a place unlikely to have anyone waiting to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.
As he travelled, there came the carriage of a rich and powerful man, the treasurer of Ethiopia. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”
Inside the carriage was a man reading a book, not unlike a man resting in the shade beneath a tree. He was reading the Jewish scriptures from the prophet Isaiah. He was preparing for the arrival of a messenger with the Good News, and Philip was that messenger. The obedient evangelist and deacon was ready to explain to the treasurer that he was reading about the Good News of Jesus Christ.
The treasurer of Ethiopia accepted what Philip told him and was baptised as soon as they came to water, and then Philip left him.
Each time we rest under a tree it is an opportunity to prepare ourselves so we are ready. The world is full of people under trees being made ready for a Philip to come along and tell them that the answer is Jesus.
The world is full of people like Philip who are called to go to the people under the trees of this world and tell them about Jesus.
We are or can be either of these people, but what is important is to be prepared. We are called to remember that when we are under the tree it’s only a time to prepare, not to set up camp. All of us should be serious about praying and reading Scripture so that when we are called, we are ready to move without any delay. Get rid of the things in your life that hold you down and hold you back, they are not important.
Philip went as he was called and was living in Caesarea with his family some years later when Paul stayed at his house. We are not told when God will ask us to move, or where he will send us. We are only told to be ready at all times and in all situations.