For kids, it often seems like teachers and parents have eyes in the back of their heads, because they always seem to know what kids are doing. There’s no way to escape.
There’s a book and movie that touches on this topic. In the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, Frodo Baggins tries to take the ring of power to Mordor, but is constantly in fear of the all-seeing eye. The eye is always looking for him and finds him whenever he puts the ring on. There’s also the movie called the “Truman Show” that came out many years ago. It’s about a man who lives under the watchful eyes of a television producer and can never escape the cameras planted throughout his world. He’s always being watched.
We as people seem to have a fascination, maybe a fear even, of the all-seeing eye; the idea that someone is always watching over us.
I imagine that Samuel, the future prophet, must have felt this way in the Old Testament reading for today (1 Samuel 3:1-20). Samuel was ministering to the Lord in the Temple, under the stewardship of the priest Eli. While there, Samuel kept hearing someone call him. He thought that it was Eli, so he’d run to Eli, but Eli would say, “I didn’t call you.” Finally, both Eli and Samuel realize that the Lord is calling Samuel; the Lord had been watching and calling Samuel as he slept.
Likewise, in the Gospel reading (John 1:43-51), Nathanael was quite amazed because Jesus told him that he had seen him under the fig tree, before Philip called him. Nathanael realized there was one person who knew what he was up to and who was watching him; it was the Lord.
And the Psalm today (Psalm 139) also speaks of the all-seeing eye of the Lord:
“O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold O Lord, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:1-4).
So, the Lord sees all and knows all, and there is no escape from His view. The Psalmist also says that there is nowhere we can go where the Lord will not see us; if we go to heaven, He is there, if we go to the grave, He is there, if we go to the deep sea, He is there. The Lord is everywhere, ever-seeing.
It reminds me again of little kids who try to cover their faces to hide. They think that because they can’t see you, that you can’t see them, and therefore they are hidden from your view. Likewise, we may think that we can hide from our Heavenly Father; but, He sees us, He knows what we’re up to, He is always watching.
And on one level this is a little frightening and causes us some sense of discomfort. For we cannot get away with anything; the Lord always sees. Eli’s sons in the Old Testament thought that they could abuse their positions as priests and get away with taking the people’s sacrifices. The Bible says that “the sons of Eli were worthless men. They did not know the Lord” (1 Samuel 2:12). They did not know the Lord, but the Lord knew them. They were like children hiding their faces, but the Lord still saw them, and the Lord gave them what their sins deserved.
And so the Lord knows what no one else knows about it: He knows our innermost thoughts, desires, longings, and our secret and hidden sins. The Lord is always knowing, always seeing, always there.
This causes us to crumble as sinners before His holy gaze, or at least it ought to. We know what sins we’ve hidden and what thoughts we’ve kept to ourselves; and, we know that the Lord knows these things too. Sometimes we may wonder if the Lord will ever forgive us or who will save us from this body of death (cf. Romans 7:24).
But notice something in the Psalm (Psalm 139). The Psalmist recognizes that He can not escape the Lord. But, although this realization convicts us of our sins, it is also a great comfort that our Heavenly Father is always with us. For, the Psalmist also says:
“Even there your hand will lead me, and your right hand will hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night, even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. For you formed my inmost being. You knit me together in my mother’s womb” (Psalm 139:10-13).
The Lord who knit us together cannot be overcome by darkness or night; He sees all and makes all as light. And the Father has sent His Son into the world who is “life, and … the light of men … who shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). So even in death and the grave – even in the darkness of Sheol – the Lord is with His people, because He will raise His people up to be with Him through Christ, who is the true light and life.
And when Nathanael in the Gospel reading declares to Jesus, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!,” Jesus says to him: “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these… Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”
Jesus’ statement about the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man is a reference back to another event in the Old Testament, and another man who could not escape from the all-seeing Lord God. When Jacob (Isaac’s son) left Beersheba to go to Haran to find a wife from among his mother’s family, Jacob stopped on the way to sleep during the night (cf. Genesis 28).
And while he was sleeping, Jacob had a dream. In his dream, he saw “… a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angles of God ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac…” The Lord also says, “Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go…” (Genesis 28:1ff).
This ladder that Jacob dreams of connects earth and heaven. The Lord is at the top, Jacob is at the bottom, and the angels of God ascend and descend on it. Likewise, Jesus tells Nathanael that he will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man. Jesus is the ladder that Jacob saw. Jesus is the one who connects man and God, earth and heaven. Jesus is Jacob’s ladder that he dreamt of, the fulfillment of God’s promises of salvation.
So, it is God Himself who reconciles heaven and earth. And, really: what is heaven? what is earth? The Bible speaks of God being in heaven; we tend to think of heaven as being somewhere up in the skies – in the heavens – but perhaps a more precise and proper definition of heaven is that it is where God dwells. And earth, then, is where man dwells. Earth is the realm of man, while heaven is the realm of God.
But it hasn’t always been this way. There hasn’t always been this separation. In the beginning, the Lord God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. “He who is” God (i.e. Yahweh) lived with His people. So, we think back to the definition of heaven and earth and we realize that in the beginning things were different than they are now. God and man lived together; heaven and earth were one and the same, in a sense, because God dwelt directly with His creatures.
But, then Adam and Eve brought sin and death into the world. And so the holy Lord God could no longer dwell in the midst of an unholy, sinful world, and heaven and earth became estranged. God dwelt in a perfect, holy, sanctified heaven, while man dwelt in an imperfect, fallen, sinful earth. The two were separated, as earth has fallen from its formerly perfect state and is in a qualitative sense, then, lower than heaven.
But, as Jacob saw in his dream, God promised to reconcile the two. He promised to connect earth and heaven, so that He could again dwell directly with His people. God showed Jacob a ladder that would connect heaven and earth and that His angels would ascend and descend upon. But, this ladder isn’t for us to climb, it is for God Himself to use to connect heaven and earth. God descended to us. He came in the flesh.
Like many things in the Old Testament, this ladder only makes sense in the light of Christ. And so we see in Jesus’ statement to Nathanael that Jesus himself is this ladder. He is the one “whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote” (John 1:45). As the Son of God he is the one who connects heaven and earth through his death on the cross. Jesus up on that ladder of the cross reconciled earth and heaven, man with God. And even in his own person, Jesus unites humanity and deity, so that in his death and resurrection he brings us back to God.
We have this reconciliation here in the Church; we have heaven and earth re-united. The Lord God dwells with us through Word and Sacrament, His means by which He lives with us and graces us. The Lord is here, because He has promised to be here with us as we celebrate the first-fruits of the full and complete re-unification that is coming with Christ’s return.
In the Old Testament, the Lord was with His people in the Temple. Now He is with us through Christ in the Church. In the Old Testament, the Temple was in Jerusalem in one specific spot on earth; now in the New, the Temple is in the New Jerusalem – the Church – that is spread throughout the entire earth, because the Holy Spirit dwells in you as Christ’s people. Heaven has opened and the angels of God are ascending and descending upon the Son of Man – Jesus Christ. He is with you, dwelling with you, here and now.
And so the Church is where heaven and earth meet and where God dwells in the midst of His people, through Word and Sacrament. God breaks into our world and blesses us through these means of His grace. The Church and its worship is a forerunner of what is to come, for when Christ returns to restore all things, God will dwell in the midst of His people directly, no longer mediated through the means of grace, but directly, immediately, face to face.
This is God’s promise, that He has united heaven and earth through Christ here and now in the Church militant and in the day to come in the restored new heavens and new earth. The Church militant still lives now in the midst of a fallen world. It is battling against sin, temptation, and false beliefs. But, one day this battle will be over, for the Church will inherit God’s perfect, restored creation and live in perfect communion with the Lord and each other, with no sin, decay, death, or evil to get in the way. And so when Christ returns, God will again dwell directly with His people and shine His light directly upon you.
(Image: Nathaniel Under the Fig Tree, By James Tissot – Online Collection of Brooklyn Museum; Photo: Brooklyn Museum, 2008, 00.159.59_PS2.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=10195839