Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)
In John 1:45, Philip tells Nathaniel, "We have found Him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote: Jesus of Nazareth." For an Israelite at the time, this would've come as quite a surprise. “The Messiah is from where now? Nazareth? Of all places?”
You see, Nazareth wasn't exactly a desirable place to live. It was about as backwater as you could get, hence Nathaniel's snooty response: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" Implied answer: Heck no.
Nathaniel’s perspective was about to change, though:
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!” (John 1:46–49)
It’s hard to say exactly what happened under that fig tree. But we do know that, whatever it was, it was enough to get Nathaniel's attention. At that point, there was no denying it—he had encountered the Messiah and was instantaneously transformed.
Look at what Jesus says next:
“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.” (John 1:50–51)
On the surface, this may seem like a strange thing to say. But it would have made sense to Nathaniel, being a reference to a story with which he, as a Jewish man, would have been familiar.
Genesis 28 recounts this story. One of Israel's patriarchs, Jacob, fled from home to avoid some "family drama" (i.e. his older brother wanted to kill him). Weary as he was from all his running, he found a place to sleep for the night and had a stunning dream of angels ascending and descending upon a ladder that connected heaven and earth. Jacob woke from his dream realizing that even though he was in the middle of nowhere, running away from his problems, the God of heaven was with him: "Surely, the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it" (Gen. 28:16).
By referencing Jacob's dream to Nathaniel, Jesus not only reaffirms that God likes to show up in the most surprising places (like Nazareth), but He also makes a significant claim about Himself, that He is the Ladder that connects heaven and earth. Jesus the Messiah brings the glory of heaven down to earth so that people—even people in the lowliest and most mundane places—may have direct access to God's presence.
So let me ask you something, dear reader: Do you recognize God's presence in the messiness and strangeness of your everyday life? Amidst the limitations and restrictions of a COVID-19 world? When you're inconvenienced and irritated? When you're frustrated and fearful? When present circumstances aren't at all to your liking, are you still able to recognize that He is present to redeem those circumstances for His good purposes?
Psalm 105:4 tells us, "Seek his presence continually." If you are incapable of seeking and recognizing His presence in the daily humdrum routines of life, you will languish spiritually in this season of societal upheaval and homebound days. On the other hand, if you are training your heart to have the pursuit of God’s presence as its singular occupation, you will have eyes to see Jacob’s Ladder at the kitchen sink or on the drive home from the office. Why? Because God still shows up in the Nazareths of this world.