By Patrick Bowler
Valley Life Church (Lebanon, OR)

Called to Something Great

The call. One can almost hear the hallowed pipes of a vast organ at the mere mention of the phrase. It is what the pastor is most certain of and yet will question time and time again. It is what fuels resolve when ancient footings are tested and yet it is elusive when the man is tested. The Prophet Jeremiah provided great insight into the mysterious nature of the “call” when he said, “There is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (Jer. 20:9).

I was sixteen when the pilot light was lit in my bones. All that was made clear at that time was that God had marked me for service, but the nature of that service remained unclear. All I knew was that God was calling me and I was certain that he was calling me to something great. I am not sure what definition I had in mind in my use of the word “great” and why I automatically applied it to my destiny. Maybe it was my youth—every teenage boy thinks he is God’s gift to, well… everything. Maybe it was the fact that I was a homeschooler. I was at the top of my class and voted “most likely to do something great” by my peers. I don’t know, but I was certain that whatever God was calling me to was going to be great.

The hunt was on. Where was I to “serve?” I peered down many different aisles during my formative years. Maybe I was to be a missionary. Maybe I was supposed to travel abroad. In college, I set my sights on the stage. Maybe I was supposed to be a “Christian” rock star (originally the dream was rap star—but that was before I learned to play an instrument). I mean, that is pretty great… right? I put a band together, wrote some tunes, played some shows and recorded a couple CDs. Maybe I was a worship leader. Maybe I was a youth pastor, a poster child for Rod Stewart’s hit song, “Forever Young.” I tested many different roads, all with the potential of greatness.

Can Anything Great Come Out of a Small Town?

It wasn’t long after I graduated from college that I received an opportunity to move back home to the rural Pacific Northwest. Though the thought of moving home was exciting, the opportunity was not without dilemma; I remember thinking, “Can anything great come out of a small town?” Turns out, I wasn’t the first to ask this question.

Nathanael’s Assumption

In the opening of John’s Gospel we find John the Baptizer being faithful to his job description as the forerunner of the Messiah. Standing with two of his disciples, he pointed to Jesus as He walked by and said, “Behold, the lamb of God” (Jn. 1:36). John’s disciples did the only reasonable thing at that point—they left John to follow Jesus. John’s platform was decreasing and Jesus’ was increasing and John would have it no other way (Jn. 3:30). Jesus said of John that “Among those born of women none is greater than John” (Lk. 7:28).

Jesus began to gather his disciples, starting with the two he had received from John. Word began to spread. Andrew went to get his brother Simon (Peter) and told him, “We have found the Messiah” (Jn. 1:41). Was there any bigger news than that? These young men had grown-up hearing stories of the coming Redeemer of Israel and here He was. The next day the story repeated itself. Philip, after receiving his invitation to follow the Lord, immediately went to find Nathanael. Philip said, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (Jn. 1:45). Again, there was no bigger news, but Nathanael heard something in the announcement that brought him pause. He responded, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (Jn. 1:46; emphasis added). In his mind, the Messiah and Nazareth were about as antithetical as Superman and death. The connection didn’t make any sense to him at all. How could such a hero hail from a place like Nazareth? It was a seemingly inconsequential town. It had a population of no more than two thousand and the people were simple farmers—Nazareth was the quintessential “hick-town.” For Nathanael, the numbers didn’t add up. Philip didn’t debate him but simply said, “Come and see” (Jn. 1:46). What happened next unveiled the absurdity of Nathanael’s assumption.

 “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 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 1:47-51).

Jesus not only affirmed in a moment that the promised Messiah could in fact come from a small town like Nazareth, but he blew the doors off Nathanael’s very understanding of the Messiah. The gap between the small town and the Messiah was greater than Nathanael originally assessed, and yet Jesus bridged the gap.