It was a beautiful spring day when the carriage brought home Lord Lipton and his pregnant wife along with Clarissa and Miss Wood back to Orient House in Yorkshire. Not to far away from them, waving them farewell from the road, passed the carriage of Sir Martin and Lord Lipton’s mother who were bound for his own estate and the promise of a comfortable retirement. Lady Martin promised that she would be around before too long to help take care of the pregnant Lady Lipton, who was lovingly carried into the house by her husband and moved into their shared room where she hoped to convalesce for the duration of her pregnancy.
Within a few days it was time for the family to make their way to church and they managed to fill the carriage and head off to listen to Mr. Riley give his prepared sermon message. The rector, who appeared at church with his own recent wife, spoke something to the effect of the following:
“Our text today is John 1:43-51, which reads as follows: “The day following Jesus would go forth into Galilee, and findeth Philip, and saith unto him, Follow me. Now Philip was of Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip findeth Nathanael, and saith unto him, We have found him, of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets, did write, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph. And Nathanael said unto him, Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth? Philip saith unto him, Come and see. Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile! Nathanael saith unto him, Whence knowest thou me? Jesus answered and said unto him, Before that Philip called thee, when thou wast under the fig tree, I saw thee. Nathanael answered and saith unto him, Rabbi, thou art the Son of God; thou art the King of Israel. Jesus answered and said unto him, Because I said unto thee, I saw thee under the fig tree, believest thou? thou shalt see greater things than these. And he saith unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
How important is it that Nathanael, that faithful disciple of Our Lord Jesus Christ was considered to be an Israelite without guile? As it happens, what this disciple was seeing was the opening of heaven and the communication and transportation of angels and God Himself between heaven and earth.
This was by no means the first time in the Bible where this image is seen. In fact, the imagery discussed here comes directly from the experience of Jacob when he was fleeing from the wrath of his older brother, whom he had cheated out of his inheritance. Let us turn to Genesis 28:10-22, where we see the analogous scene where Jacob himself sees and reflects about the relationship between heaven and earth and discerns God’s presence being where he went to bed: “And Jacob went out from Beer-sheba, and went toward Haran. And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it. And, behold, the Lord stood above it, and said, I am the Lord God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed; and thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of. And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not. And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. And Jacob rose up early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put for his pillows, and set it up for a pillar, and poured oil upon the top of it. And he called the name of that place Beth-el: but the name of that city was called Luz at the first. And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Lord be my God: and this stone, which I have set for a pillar, shall be God’s house: and of all that thou shalt give me I will surely give the tenth unto thee.”
It should be noted that Jacob, the ur-Israelite, who was later named Israel after persevering in wrestling all night before meeting his brother, was an Israelite with a great deal of guile. He had cheated his brother out of his birthright and his blessing, and yet he was blessed by God with an understanding of the means by which there is transportation between heaven and earth and communication about what goes on here.
We live in a world where guile is often seen as necessary to deal with the corruption and wickedness of those around us, but at the same time living with too much guile makes us the sort of people who bring harm to other people through our deception. We are told to be as a wise as serpents and as harmless as doves, and it can be very difficult for us to deal with how to be both at the same time. I urge you all to reflect on this in the coming days and weeks and years ahead.”
The audience left feeling a bit thoughtful and Lord Lipton pleasantly introduced himself to Mrs. Riley, wondering how it was that the two of them married. Mr. Riley promised to tell the story at some point as he responded in kind and received the same answer. The two parties then left hoping to spend more time together when it was convenient, and Lord Lipton invited the Rileys to a dinner whenever they wished to have it within the next week, and with that there was a pleasant farewell as the Liptons and their party returned home.