“Visions of God” John 1:43-51 + 1 Samuel 3:1-20

– published December 11, 2014, accessed January 16, 2015
January 1, 2015
Reverend Aaron Gordon
does scripture say about receiving a vision from God?” What can we learn from Samuel, and Nathaniel, and their very different experiences of receiving a vision from God?
The first thing that we need to address is what exactly is a vision? I don’t expect one person in our congregation to have a miraculous vision, and for us all to follow it. I suppose that could happen, but rather, I expect that together, we will be able to discern a picture of how Hillcrest should use its’ time, energy, and resources, in ministry activities.
This is a vision in the fullest sense as described in scripture. Our first scripture passage begins like this “The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.” I think it is important to mention that the word of God, is often more accurately understood to be some specific message communicating God’s will. In scripture the word is often coupled by visions or stories.
One good example of this is the beginning of the book of the prophet Micah, which opens with, “The word of the Lord that came to Micah of Moresheth during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah—the vision he saw concerning Samaria and Jerusalem.” Here you can see the close relationships between the word, or message, of God and the vision.
So when I speak of the vision of Hillcrest Church, I am speaking of a vision in this sense. I am thinking of a message from God, a snapshot of how we can join in God’s work among ourselves, our neighborhood, and the world. We are looking for a vision that isn’t a mere dream, but a specific word of direction for us, for the near future.
The account of Samuel can teach us at least two very important things about receiving a vision from God. First, we might have to wait a while. Samuel received his vision from God at a time when there were not many visions.
Right before this passage, we learn that Eli’s sons did not follow the rules of the sacrifices to the Lord out of contempt, and they had romantic relationships with the women who were serving at the door to the tent of meeting. Both of these actions were offensive to God. Eli rebuked them, but did not stop them. I do not know if God withdrew from the Israelites at this time because they were not interested in listening to God, but that is one idea, since we see in other places in scripture that when God’s people want to do their own thing, and not follow God’s lead, God withdraws his presence for a time.
Isaiah chapter 64 is a good example of this. In response to the sin of Israel, the prophet says to God, “you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins.” For a time, God allowed people to do what they wanted, and gave them over to their own whims. This is the thought we read in Isaiah. Perhaps the lack of vision in Samuel’s time was due to the high priests who did not take God’s commands seriously.
I am not saying that God has withdrawn from Hillcrest for a while. I am merely stating that God does things in God’s own timing, and a part of receiving a vision from God may be waiting.
Samuel, unlike the wicked sons of Eli, was obediently serving as an apprentice in the temple according to all that he was told, and read about the priesthood. This is the second thing that Samuel can teach us about receiving a vision from the Lord. Before he received a vision from God, he was faithfully fulfilling the mission that God had handed down to the priesthood.
Much like the boy Samuel, we have a mission statement that has been given to us. Our mission is to become a beacon for Christ that helps people praise the Lord, embrace in fellowship, grow in Jesus, serve with their gifts, and witness everywhere. And I think it lines up very well with the mission that God gave us recorded in Matthew 28 to make disciples and teach people to obey all that Jesus has commanded. So we should continue, as we currently do, to faithfully carry this mission out to the best of our ability.
So from Samuel, the prophet, the famous seer of God, we can learn two things that apply to Hillcrest as we look to God for a vision. First, we must wait for God and second, we should continue faithfully to fulfill our mission as we have received it.
Nathaniel, a disciple of Jesus written about in our second scripture passage this morning can teach us two more lessons as we seek a vision from God. Nathaniel had an even more direct vision than Samuel. He experienced the full word of God. We read in John’s Gospel that the word became flesh in Jesus. So for Nathaniel, he experienced the word of God directly. But Nathaniel would not have gotten the vision, if he was not looking around for God at work with an open mind. This is the first lesson that Nathaniel can teach us about receiving a vision, to look around our community with an open mind.
When Phillip, Nathaniel’s brother is called by Jesus, he runs to get Nathaniel. He says “we found the one that we’ve been reading about in the scriptures, its Jesus from Nazareth!” They were both on the lookout for God’s work in the world. What was Nathaniel’s response to his brother Phillip? Cynicism… “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” But his brother said “come and see.” If Nathaniel had not been open even though he was cynical, he may never have met Jesus.
This lesson can directly apply to us. Last week I mentioned that I was going to put a survey in the bulletin on the 25th. I know you have filled out surveys before. I have some of the questionnaires and results from ministry studies, and table talks that have been taken from Hillcrest in the past. Some of you may remember filling them out. You might be thinking “another survey? Can anything good come from a survey?” Well, wait and see!
It is ok to be cynical about visions and surveys and new ministry campaigns. Especially if you have been disappointed before. This is the honesty of Nathaniel, the one who Jesus says is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit! Jesus appreciates Nathaniel’s honesty. But despite Nathaniel’s cynicism, he was open minded. So that is what I am asking, keep looking with an open mind.
The second thing that we can learn from Nathaniel about receiving a vision from God is that he was growing in his knowledge and relationship with God. From Phillip’s comment that they found the one talked about in the books of Moses and the prophets, we can assume that they were at least familiar with the scriptures. Otherwise, I think Phillip would have had a lot more explaining to do.
One interesting thing that has been proposed by some commentators is that the expression “under the fig tree” used by Jesus to describe what Nathaniel was doing before he came to see Jesus, was an expression at the time for studying the Hebrew Scriptures.2 I am not sure if that was the case or not, but It is safe to say that Nathaniel and Phillip were not ignorant of the scriptures.
As we look around for how we can best be used by used by God, we can continue to increase in our knowledge and relationship with God through prayer, worshipping God, and studying scripture. Coming up in a few weeks we will begin a series of Lenten Wednesday evening services that will provide a great opportunity to continue growing close to Jesus.
Unlike Samuel and Nathaniel when they first received visions from God about what God was doing, we have an advantage. As believers in the Risen Christ, we are actually united to Christ in the Holy Spirit. God promises that “anything asked in my name will be given. (John 14:13)” We are praying for God to guide us however God wants, so I expect that we will receive the answer to our prayers. That is a word of good news that we can take comfort in.
So as we prepare to receive a vision from God about what we should do to join God at work in our community and the world, we can wait patiently, faithfully live out our mission, look around the community with an open mind, and intentionally grow in our relationship with and knowledge of God.
2 Merrill C. Tenney, “John,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: John and Acts, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), 41.