Sunday, August 31, 2014

Jesus is indeed the Savior of the World (John 4:39-42)

“Many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”” (John 4:39–42, ESV, Caps added to pronouns referring to Christ)

The Samaritans in the town believed that the Christ was there with them because of the words of the woman who encountered Him at the well. Those words, “He told me all that I ever did” connected with their hearts and they were moved to go meet Him for themselves. When meeting Him they invited Him to stay with them, and John records for us that He indeed did stay for two more days. In the process of His staying, John went on to record that many more believed for themselves because of what He said to them.

As I thought about this transfer of belief from second hand by the word of the woman to first hand through hearing from Christ Himself, I thought of an evangelism method taught to our church’s youth a number of years ago. It was about bringing together three stories—my story, His story and your story. As I understand this concept has been popularized in books and numerous church outreach programs. It has also been used to encourage believers to connect deeper with our Lord as we open ourselves to His work in our lives such that we seek to align ourselves fully with His will. In our passage of Scripture for today the woman connected with Jesus as Jesus connected with her. He knew the secrets of her life and through that He gained access to her heart which led to her recognizing who He is. And as she left Him to return to town, it was not the wondrous things about who He is which she spoke of, but the fact that He knew all about her. Jesus had made a connection with the woman, and the woman used that connection to open others up to Him such that they would then go and find out for themselves. There is a “T” word which Christians have been encouraged to prepare for times like this—times when we seek to let people know the impact that having a relationship with the Living God has had on us so that we might encourage them to open themselves up to Him as well. That word is “testimony.”

Out passage says that the people believed because of the woman’s testimony. And through her testimony we read that there became many others who believed directly from Him as well. They no longer trusted in her connection because they had come to have their own personal connection with Jesus Christ. They knew for themselves, as our passage records, that He indeed is the Savior of the world. The One who knew the woman’s heart and the hearts of all men (John 2:24-25) had captured theirs as He spent time with them.

Coming to know that there is a God who knew everything about me and that He loved me and was intimately interested in me made all of the difference in my own coming to Jesus for salvation. As I heard the words of Psalm 139 I knew that I wanted to have a relationship with this God of whom the pastor spoke on that day. I know I’ve cited this psalm numerous times in my blogs, but it is only a miniscule fraction of the times that I personally have returned to it in times when maybe I’ve felt alone or uncertain about things that were happening. Knowing that my God knows me and that He is faithful to complete the work which He started in me makes all of the difference in bearing when things seem unbearable. I know it is lengthy, but I’ve included a significant portion of the psalm here because of how appropriate it is when considering our God who knows us so well.

“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. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall 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 inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them. How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with You.” (Psalm 139:1–18, ESV, Caps added to pronouns referring to God)

When we look to those who don’t know Him, we can do so knowing that He indeed does know them. And as we struggle ourselves, we can be reminded that He continues to watch out for, care for, and guide our steps being fully sovereign (in control) of all of the events in our lives. As we speak with others about Him, we also have the testimony of how He has touched us in ways that no one but the One sent by God can. Praying for His Spirit to move in their hearts, we can invite them to join their story with His just as we have seen Him do with us.

Becoming a Christian is not joining a religious movement, though we quickly learn that being knit together with other believers is an important part of God’s plan. No, it is entering into a relationship with the Living God who calls sinners to repentance and forgives all of their sins. He breaks down the walls so that we might enter His presence, know His love, and inherit a great hope that will never perish.

Jesus Christ is indeed the Savior of the world!!!

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Focused on the Fruit (John 4:31-38)

“Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”” (John 4:31–38, ESV)

The scene now switches back to Jesus with His disciples as we remember that they had left to go get Him some food. Having come back with it they urged Jesus (who they called “Rabbi” which was a title the Jews would use in honoring a teacher or religious master) to eat. His disciples had come back to serve Him, But threw them for a loop, telling them that He had eaten some other food. Looking to each other they questioned if someone else had brought Him food in their absence, as if they had gone on a wasted mission.

Again we find that Jesus was speaking about something else. He again used a normal human process to speak about a greater spiritual one. While His disciples were focused on food which the body digests for strength and endurance, Jesus was focused on feeding on the work He had been given. As I thought about the picture I thought about the many times in my life when I got so focused on a task that I forgot to eat. I don’t know about you, but this has happened more than once. And I’m sorry in some ways to say that there have also been many times when I let food get in the way of other things which maybe should have received immediate attention. I guess both sides of this point to our tendency to give our energy to those things which capture our hearts and minds. In those times when I did not eat it was not to say that food was not important to me, but at the time there was something more important or more pressing that grabbed ahold of my focus and secured my full attention. Jesus told His disciples that He had such a focus, and then He proceeded to drive His illustration home.

In their agrarian society there were set times when the harvest of the various crops would occur. In the book of Ruth time was marked for her by Ruth gleaning in the fields through the wheat and the barley harvests (Ruth 2:23). The barley harvest would usually begin in April and the wheat harvest would typically extend into the middle of June. This period of about seven weeks typically marked the weeks between the Passover and the Feast of Weeks (or Pentecost). Looking at Jesus’ comment to His disciples about the harvest being four months away, He was probably speaking to them in December or January. This was after the seed was planted and during the period of waiting in anticipation of being able to harvest the fruits of their labor. (There are many Bible study helps that can provide more information on the harvests and even their association with various Jewish observances.)

Here Jesus uses the link of harvesting their regularly anticipated crops and their dependence on those crops for their physical need for food with every individual’s spiritual need for salvation and the opportunity to bring them to a point of understanding where they believe for themselves. In our last look at this account we read that the people of the town, at the word of the Samaritan woman, had left to go see for themselves this man who claimed to be the Christ. And I imagine here that Jesus was speaking to His disciples about this greater harvest—the harvest of lives for the kingdom of God, when the people of the town had begun to arrive. Looking at the people coming He told His disciples to look for themselves and see the harvest which was there before them. This harvest was being laid in their laps, without having done any effort. They did not have to do anything to bring it to pass. Jesus had spoken to the woman, and the woman spoke to the people, and here they had the privilege of being there as these individuals are harvested and lives are eternally reaped.

Jesus saw the parallel, and He used it to teach His disciples. Whether they were the ones who planted the seed or the ones who gathered the benefit, they had the opportunity to share together in the joy of lives coming to know about salvation in the Christ who had come. They could all share in their belief with great joy. Credit was not the issue. There was no room for pride over what role one person or another played. What they had in common was the shared joy of being a part of the greater work of God as people came to meet and believe in Jesus Christ. Sure Scripture speaks about eternal rewards for this service, but Jesus told them that the present joy of knowing that people were responding is worthy of great rejoicing in the present.

There is always some groundwork laid in a person coming to Christ for salvation, and the people who have a hand in it may not (in this life) ever know the role they played. Recognizing this, Jesus told His disciples that they were being sent to benefit from the work of others as they participated in reaping the great fruit of hearts ripened for salvation. Quoting a familiar saying, He told them that as they engage in the end process through reaping that they had joined hand in hand with those laborers who had gone before, whether that be the prophets, parents, religious leaders, strangers and, of course, the very Spirit of God working in their hearts. Jesus does not specify the other laborers who had joined in this, but what He does focus on is their privilege of being a part of the chain built one link upon another.

As we look at this specific setting, those who were approaching were most directly linked by the woman who was herself personally prepared by Christ. Right there before their very eyes were people coming to them, and as we will go on to read many of them were mature grains ready for the harvest.

In Luke 10 Jesus sent out seventy-two of His disciples to go out in twos ahead of Him into the towns. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go your way; behold, I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves.” (Luke 10:2–3, ESV) Jesus then went on to tell them to stay in those places where they are taken in and fed and to move on from those who reject them. Their instructions in each town were in those places they are received to heal the sick with the power given to them by God and to proclaim, “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” He finished His words to them with, “The one who hears you hears me, and the one who rejects you rejects me, and the one who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16, ESV) This was just a taste of what was later to happen after Jesus returned to the Father and the Spirit is sent at Pentecost to indwell and empower all believers as ambassadors for the King of kings and Lord of lords.

Looking to ourselves, as we go throughout our days we have little to no idea at times what kind of groundwork may have already been laid in the lives of people we encounter. And we might not have any idea of what role we might even have in this chain leading to a new person coming to receive eternal life. We may be just one more laborer who points the way or we might be one who God uses to actually pick the fruit. In either case, it is an awesome privilege to be a part of God’s work of salvation.

The apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–20, ESV)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Overflowing (John 4:27-30)

“Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that He was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to Him.” (John 4:27–30, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns referring to Christ)

The conversation with the Samaritan woman began with the disciples leaving before her arrival, and it ends with their return. In the time between Jesus used asking the woman for a drink of water to lead her to the point that she was being confronted with the need to decide if she truly believed Jesus to be the Christ who was to give her living water.  We already looked at the divisions between the Jews and the Samaritans and the woman’s amazement that Jesus as a Jew would speak to her, a Samaritan. Jesus made it clear that a time was coming when these distinctions would disappear as people came to worship the Messiah (the Christ) who came to seek and to save the lost from the Jews, the Samaritans, and the whole world.

The fact that Jesus was speaking with a Samaritan did not miss the notice of His disciples either. While our passage records that they did not voice their questions to Jesus, it does record that they had the questions among themselves. As they arrived the woman left and went away into the town. But she did not return home quietly. Going back to the town she must have been overwhelmed and overflowing with excitement as she had even left her water jar behind. Arriving in town, she quickly told the people to come out and see this person who told her all of the secrets of her life. She had met a man who knew things no one could possibly know, and He claimed to be the Christ. As she proclaimed what He had done, she raised the question to them, “Can this be the Christ?” Her words must have been pretty persuasive because the passage goes on to say that the people went out to meet Him for themselves.

Here we have this woman, known to the people of the town to have a lot of blemishes, who came to them speaking of her incredible encounter with this person who might be the Christ. The same thing can be said of all of us who have trusted Christ for our salvation. He did not speak to her because she had everything neatly sewn together and lived a perfectly model life without any blemished. He spoke to a woman who had secrets which she probably would rather that others did not know. He does the same thing for us. Not one of us is perfect. We have all sinned, and have done so in many ways. Even if we didn’t recognize the things we had done as sin, every one of us has failed in things according to our own internal sense of right and wrong (Hmmm. Wonder where that came from?), known as our conscience. We have all done things which have even fallen short of what society’s standard for absolute right might be. In very simple terms there is not one of us who has been able to perfectly direct our lives and control every one of our steps. Every one of us was in need of an encounter with the Christ—the perfect Son of God who took upon Himself the sins of the world so that we might be fully forgiven and forever clothed in His righteousness. It all began with hearing the truth, believing Him to be the Christ, and entrusting ourselves to Him.

As we go out into our daily lives and contacts we encounter numerous people who also are engaged in their own various activities. Many of them may be performing the mundane, while others may be in the midst of something very significant and life changing. What could possibly have in common is that they might also be ready for an encounter with the truth of Christ and being asked the question, “Can this really be Him?” If they are ready to say, “Yes,” think of the joy of walking them through the process of coming to know Him personally. I can’t imagine the woman staying back as the people of the town went out to meet Him. I imagine her leading the crowd and pointing the way with excitement.

“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18–21, ESV) (Caps added to pronouns referring to God and Christ)

Monday, August 25, 2014

More than a Prophet—“I who speak to you am He” (John 4:25-26)

“The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”” (John 4:25–26, ESV, Caps added to pronouns referring to Christ)

All of the words written in Scripture pointing to the coming of the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, and the Savior of man from his sins speak of Jesus. All that Jesus Himself had said, and all that John the Baptist had pointed to in the coming of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world point to Jesus being the Christ. Jesus was more than a teacher. He was more than the carpenter’s son. He is the very Son of God born as a man who came into the world to seek and to save the lost. The woman at the well had heard of the coming Messiah who she knew as Christ. She knew that He would come with knowledge and that He would be able to set all things straight. She had that understanding and I imagine to some degree that assurance.

When Jesus had shared with her that the hour was coming when they would no longer need to gather to worship there in the temple of Samaria or even the temple of Jerusalem the woman had no disagreement, but rather responded that the Christ would tell them what they are to do. To her Jesus was still the prophet from God and nothing more. But the next words of Jesus would radically change the course of the conversation. Jesus responded to her that He was the Christ. The woman said that she knew the Messiah, known as the Christ, was coming, and Jesus responded to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

Wow!!! The conversation was no longer an encounter with a man of God, but it had become an interaction with the very Son of God. At this point the woman was forced to make a decision. Was she going to continue as she was in her understanding of Him just being a good man who knew things from God, or was she going to respond in worship and bow to the sent One of God?

Of course, we will continue on in our reading to see what she did next. But for today, let’s consider ourselves and those we interact with. Let’s consider the things that we might have thought about Jesus before we placed our trust in Him for salvation, and how learning about Him changed us forever. Let’s consider those we know who have shared with you their understanding of Him that does not match up with Scripture. There are so many that acknowledge that He really did live, but that He was much less than we (or the Scriptures) say He is. There are many who throw Him into the good teacher, good religious leader pool with others, and claim that it doesn’t matter which one you listen to as they all were trying to do good. Jesus did not leave us that option. He, Himself, stated that He was the Messiah. He is One with the Father. He is….

The woman had to consider the claim He had just made to her, and she had to decide whether to believe it or not. She knew the prophets spoke of the coming Messiah. She knew that He knew things of her that no man could possibly know. She knew truth and she knew to some degree the miraculous. They had been laid before her, and she had to respond to it. We who have placed our trust in Jesus for our salvation and eternal life had to at some point make that decision. Everyone who has yet to trust Him for salvation will have to make that decision. And the Scriptures tell us that even those who choose not to believe Him will one day bow before Him for who He is, but at that time it will be too late because they will bow in judgment before the True and Just God.

Facing the facts is something we have to do every day in our lives. We make decisions on what we are going to do and how we are going to act based upon different presenting facts and circumstances. Choosing whether to get up on time and arrive at work when we are supposed to has its benefits and its consequences. Choosing whether to eat healthy or get an appropriate amount of sleep has its benefits and its consequences. Choosing whether to obey the laws and walk according to the statutes before us has its benefits and its consequences. And as we walk as those who are saved in Christ (looking to Him daily in worship and obedience) has its benefits and even its consequences—consequences that affect us here and even in eternity. While our salvation maybe secure, the Scriptures do say that the things we do here in the body will be evaluated for reward in eternity.

And for those who we encounter who have not placed their trust in Christ, we have the opportunity to tell them that the Christ has come and that He has come for them. We can challenge them with the truths of God’s Word, and we can invite them to respond to His love. The incredible thing about all of this is that salvation is a work of God in people as His Spirit opens eyes, softens hearts, and gives clarity in understanding. Our task is to be prayerfully willing and make the most of the opportunities. We often have no idea why we have these seemingly coincidental encounters. Looking back in the verses leading up to this we know that Jesus was compelled to take the route He took, and the verses which followed show us how He used them. At this point it is up to the woman to respond.

“Then he (the Philippian jailer) brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.” (Acts 16:30–34, ESV) 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Worship from the Heart (John 4:20-24)

“Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”” (John 4:20–24, ESV)

At this point I don’t know if the woman was raising objections and questioning this man that she recognized as being from God, or whether she was sincerely impressed and was questioning the way that her people had gone about worshiping God. After all, she acknowledged Jesus as a prophet of God, and He was a Jew who was there with her and proving Himself to be very authoritative. Her next words were to question Him on the distinctions between where the Samaritans chose to worship as opposed to the Jews. The Jews chose to worship and build their temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans chose Mt. Gerizim for their temple. Reading between the lines, we might go on to think she might have been asking. “Who’s right?”

Rather than giving her a “yes” or “no” type of answer Jesus went on to dig deeper. He told her that a time was coming when neither of these places would be where God the Father is worshipped. There was quickly coming a time when even the temple in Jerusalem was going to be destroyed. But long before the temple was destroyed in 70 A.D. we read the events when Jesus gave up His life on the cross, “And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit. And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!”” (Matthew 27:50–54, ESV)

Among all that happened in those moments the curtain which had separated the Most Holy Place was torn from top to bottom. It was as if by the very hand of God the curtain had been removed. With Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension the purpose for which He was sent was finished. Man could now through Him receive forgiveness of sins (past, present, and future all at one time and for all time) and be given eternal life. When Jesus gave up His life the perfect sacrifice was completed and there was no longer any need for any lesser sacrifice. The Great High Priest had made Himself personally available to all who would call on His name. So, the questions the woman had about where the proper place to worship might be really weren’t important in light of this eternal perspective.

Beyond this Jesus went on to tell her that she and her people had been missing many of the key pieces of information concerning the coming Messiah. Since they only accepted the books of Moses as authoritative they missed a lot of what God had declared through the prophets and others. As such when they worshiped they might have done so intently, but only with partial knowledge. The Jews, however, were the people with whom God had made a special covenant and to whom He repeatedly revealed Himself and spoke through many various people. This gave them the greater advantage in knowing God and worshiping Him in truth. God’s promise was that through the seed of Abraham He would send a Messiah, and as such it was through the Jews that the Savior of the world would come. And the Jews were told all of this. Jesus went on to tell the woman that a time was soon coming when all true worshipers (Jews or Samaritans or any others) would worship not only based upon the truths which they had been given but also in spirit. The time was coming when all true worshipers of the Father would worship Him through the Son as a response from their heart.

Up until the time that Christ came man had no real picture of God that they could worship. Up until His coming what they knew of God is what He revealed of Himself to be true. With the coming of Christ, God was given a face through the physical life (incarnation) of the Son. With the coming of Christ man was given the ability to see God in Him. Here are just a few of the verses which Jesus spoke concerning our ability to see God in Christ. “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” (John 1:18, ESV) … “not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:46, ESV) … “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9, ESV)

Jesus told the woman that there was coming a time very soon when those who really worship God will do so inwardly in such a way that it also impacts their outward actions. The apostle Paul wrote of our spiritual response to what Christ had done for us in Romans 12:1-2: “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your [reasonable] spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2, ESV) These divisions between Jews and Samaritans would melt away as those who worship the Father come together as one in Christ.

Even us today, while we do not have the physical presence of Christ or photos on our walls or even videos of Him performing miracles to stream on the internet, we do have His life recorded for us in the gospels. We have many of His words written for our benefit, and we have the record of those who lived with Him who shared about what followed. We have the record of Scripture to give us the truth, and we have been given the Spirit of God to work even in our own hearts to make these truths alive and powerful.

Because God sent His Son we not only have been given the greatest gift of forgiveness of sins and eternal life, but we have been given a living picture of our God to encourage us as we grow in His image. I love the words of Mary Magdalene when she saw the resurrected Christ, “I have seen the Lord!”

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Jesus Christ Knows the Secrets of Our Hearts (John 4:16-19)

“Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” (John 4:16–19, ESV)

The woman at the well asked Jesus for some of that special water so that she might not have to do these trips to the well again. Rather, than clarifying her misunderstanding, Jesus dug a little deeper into the hidden well that is her heart. As we have already read and restated, Jesus knew the hearts of men, and He clearly knew this woman had some deeper issues that went well beyond her physical thirst. She needed to know without a doubt that God knew all about her, loved her, and had sent His Son to care about her whole life in drawing her to salvation and worship.

His response to her request for living water was to ask her to go get her husband. At first impulse, we might think that He thought it proper not to speak with a married woman alone, but we quickly see that Jesus knew something much deeper about this woman. He not only knew that she currently had no husband as she responded to Him, but He knew that she had had five husbands and that she was living with one currently who was not her husband. We read this knowing that Jesus had just entered this region and had sat down at the well to rest when this woman approached. I’m sure she had no sign hanging around her neck declaring the hidden things of her life, but Jesus knew what no stranger could possibly know. The woman’s response was to declare that she believed Him to be a prophet—one sent of God and given special knowledge.

I can’t pretend to fully comprehend Jesus as being fully God and fully man. I don’t clearly know how His knowledge of things as God worked together as He came to be born as fully man. What I do know from Scripture is that Jesus was both—fully God and fully man. And as the God-man Jesus knew more about this woman than she knew herself. It was this discovery that I was created by a God who knew me intimately, who knew the words on my tongue before they were ever formed, and scrutinizes my path even knowing when I rise up and when I sit down that God used to draw me to Him and to accept the gift of salvation in His Son. It was hearing a message on Psalm 139 and learning about God who knew me this way that sparked my heart to respond by wanting to get to know Him better. If God cared this much about me, then I knew that I could trust Him with the deepest things of my heart. And so I asked for the salvation which He so freely gave through His Son.

For this woman, Jesus demonstrating His knowledge of these secrets convinced her that He was definitely one who spoke from God. But even in this we don’t see that she saw Him yet as the Messiah. But He at least had, in her eyes, the credibility to speak to the issues of her heart, and now she was ready to trust Him with even more of her questions.

Coming to Christ, for many people, is not a quick introduction and an immediate response. Rather it is more commonly a series of pieces coming together over time and possibly through a variety of individuals with some intervening circumstances. There is no one way that people come to have their eyes opened. Jesus didn’t get straight to the point with her likely because He knew she had to other issues to get to first. But He also did not abandon the conversation because of her lack of understanding. He found the balance with this woman, and perfectly guided her to a place of belief. As stated earlier, we don’t know that she believed on Him as the Son, but she definitely believed He was sent by God and was willing to listen to what He had to say.

As we speak with others about God we can be encouraged in knowing that the same Spirit Who is one with God and is God that was with the Son of God is indwelling us as believers in Christ. It is the Spirit who opens eyes and even makes the Word alive. In this we can boldly engage, ask questions, and even challenge others to consider matching the truths of their lives with the truths of Christ and bring their own needs to Him. As they see how God knows their hearts and cares for and meets their needs, they also can come to know their greatest need which is salvation in Christ.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Speaking Boldly at the Well (John 4:13-15)

“Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”” (John 4:13–15, ESV)

Jacob’s well had been there for centuries, and it’s location remains unquestionably known today. While its depth today pales in comparison to its historic depth (likely due to debris and people tossing things into it) and it appears dry, Jacob’s well had provided a constant source of water from which people came to draw generation after generation. No one knows when it was really dug, but the historical record has consistently pointed to this well as being attributed to Jacob, being dug in the land given to Joseph and not far from where Joseph’s bones were eventually buried. This well has had buildings erected over it to mark its special significance and then had them torn down again by conquerors to squelch its significance. This was not just any old well that Jesus was sitting at when He chose to speak to this woman about giving her living water. For those who had come year after year this well had already proven itself to survive their own lives and the lives of those who had come before them. But even for as long as this well had endured, its relief was only temporary to those who drew from it.

It was at this well that Jesus continued to speak to the Samaritan woman. He told her that she could continue to draw from this well as did Jacob for himself and his livestock, but in doing that she would never find true and lasting satisfaction from her thirst. As Jesus spoke the woman remained focused on her physical thirst, but Jesus knew her true need and her real thirst that ran much deeper and was in need of a more perfect solution. The solution He was offering to her was one that would satisfy her soul for all of eternity.

Speaking to Israel, the prophet Isaiah wrote, “if you pour yourself out for the hungry and satisfy the desire of the afflicted, then shall your light rise in the darkness and your gloom be as the noonday. And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire in scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:10–11, ESV) The prophet Jeremiah wrote about a coming time when God would restore Israel. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: “Once more they shall use these words in the land of Judah and in its cities, when I restore their fortunes: “ ‘The Lord bless you, O habitation of righteousness, O holy hill!’ And Judah and all its cities shall dwell there together, and the farmers and those who wander with their flocks. For I will satisfy the weary soul, and every languishing soul I will replenish.”” (Jeremiah 31:23–25, ESV) And going back to Isaiah we read of that day when the remnant of Israel recognizes Jesus as Lord, “You will say in that day: “I will give thanks to you, O Lord, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, that you might comfort me. “Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the Lord God is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. “Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.” (Isaiah 12:1–5, ESV)

Comparing the wells to which people regularly went for their daily water, the Old Testament is rich with pictures of God providing a well of life that leads to great rejoicing. And as we look to the end of Scripture we read in Revelation 21:6, “And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.” (Revelation 21:6, ESV)

Jesus went on to tell this woman that He was prepared to offer to her the “water of life” and that He was willing to do this without charge—as a free gift. But as we can see from her response she still was focused on her pressing physical need and not the deeper one of her soul. There remained with her a large disconnect, one which Jesus would dig deeper as we continue to read the verses which follow. But for today, let’s consider just how much we ourselves might live momentarily in the thirst of our desires. And as we do this even consider how much more those we are around and who don’t know Him really are living with thirsts that they have no idea how to satisfy. For them their life is a continual pursuit of seeking ways to satisfy those unmet desires, and for many it includes chasing from one disappointment to another. But for those who have been given eternal life through salvation in Jesus Christ, even us, we can sometimes see something looming over us or enticing us apart from what we know to be true. This is the power of temptation. It is when we are tempted by anything to look at the size of our situation and not the size and faithfulness of our God. Sometimes we might even have to endure some things for extremely long periods of time without a clear resolution or tangible relief, but this is never to be confused with God turning His back on us. He has promised that He will never do so, but that He would continue the work that He began in us and that in Him we would be continually refreshed.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, NASB95) After my favorite verses Proverbs 3:5-6, we go on to read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” … “It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:5-6, 8, NASB95)

Even as we speak to those who do not know the refreshment that we receive from God, we can speak to them even in the midst of our own trials of the hope that we have found. We can share of the relief that God has shown us in times past and encourage them with the hope that compels us in continual daily trust as we look forward to full and eternal satisfaction. Jesus is showing us in these verses how He takes the daily issues of people and turns them toward their looking to and having answered their greater need which is eternal life and a relationship with the living God.

Prior to his concluding remarks to the church in Ephesus and after speaking about the daily spiritual battles in which we engage, the apostle Paul asked his readers to pray. This prayer was not one that he might be steered clear of the battles, but that he might be bold to make the most of the opportunities presented. We read, “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.” (Ephesians 6:18–20, NASB95)

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Satisfying A Deeper Thirst (John 4:7-12)

“A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” (For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”” (John 4:7–12, ESV, caps added to references of God)

“Are you greater than our father Jacob?” Jesus told Nicodemus that he had to be born again, and Nicodemus’ mind immediately raced to the human understanding of birth as something that happened when a person leaves his mother’s womb and enters into the world. Here Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well that if she really knew who it was that asked her for a drink that she would ask Him for living water instead. Both of these opening comments from Jesus to individuals were intended to get them to stop and ask more questions—to dig deeper in their confusion in order to seek a point of clarity and understanding.

Jesus waited at the well to rest while His disciples had gone into the city to buy some food. It was while He was there that this woman approached Jacob’s well to draw water as she likely had done day after day for years. As she arrived Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” The request itself was a bit abnormal with a man asking an unknown woman for a drink, but it was even more so because the woman recognized Jesus to be a Jew. As our text says the Jews had no dealings, or nothing to do with, the Samaritans. This was not because they were not Jewish in their understanding or their following after God, but because they were not pure bred true Jews who followed all of their ways. Scholars say that they even had their own place of worship, even rejecting much of the Jewish writings except for the Pentateuch (first five books of Moses) which they regarded as authoritative. As such divisions ran deep.

The woman saw that Jesus was a Jew, and she was caught off guard that He would ask her for a drink. Knowing their general disdain for one another, the woman asked Him why He would ask her, a woman of Samaria, for a drink. This was the perfect opportunity for Jesus to turn the conversation in the direction He had intended (possibly even as reason for the God-man being led by the Spirit to go by that route). Jesus did not draw the distinctions that His fellow-Jews drew. We are reminded of this even when we look at the beginning of Acts 1:8 where Jesus told His disciples when the Spirit comes that they would be His witnesses in Jerusalem (worship center for the Jews) and Judea (home for the Jews), but also in Samaria (the home of people who believe similarly but with whom there was great distaste), and then to the entire world (the home of the Gentiles). Jesus modeled this as He moved through His life and ministry.

Jesus, having told her that if she really knew who He was that she would ask of Him instead, sparked her curiosity. How could it be that she as a human who was so dependent upon water, who had to go repeatedly to the well of Jacob who she saw even as the father of her faith to gather that drink, and who knew the toil that was involved in the process of finding this liquid which daily kept them alive be given any water that would eliminate this toil. Was this man someone special? Was He saying that He was greater than Jacob who had dug the well which had served them for hundreds of years? He doesn’t even have anything to draw water with, and to top it off, He had just asked me to give Him a drink. How could He possibly offer to me a drink that would satisfy moment after moment and day after day? Even Jacob had to drink from his own well in order not to thirst. What was it about this man that He could speak of offering this living water? Imagine the confusion. Imagine the questions. Imagine this woman standing there before the Messiah and not knowing who He was and what He was offering. Yet Jesus remained at the well for this moment in order to have this discussion.

Not going any further today in our consideration of the passage, I’m pausing to think about all of the people I might know who know something about God and who see things of this world and try to explain the things of God in terms of what they know. As we move through our days, ourselves, we each most likely have times where we encounter someone who is buried under some burden, who has struggles which cannot be answered in terms of man alone apart from God, and who maybe can be stimulated to consider things of God as we take these normal daily things and frame them in eternity. Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about being born again and then differentiating between his first birth and the spiritual birth that Nicodemus needed to know. He told Him that He must be born again so that He might not perish as is the course of the human body, and then He told him how. Jesus spoke to this woman in the context of her regular thirst, and then He used this to bridge into a conversation about another kind of water that would give life and satisfy the soul.

Jesus knew these encounters were not accidents, and He boldly opened the doors of eternity for these two individuals. Yet, we also know that there were many that He refrained from speaking with or demonstrating miraculous signs before. As the God-man, filled with the Spirit, Jesus was sensitive to the situations and the people around Him. As we finished up chapter two of John we read that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man. We do not have specific knowledge of each individual we encounter, but we do have the Spirit who works in and through us to make the most of each opportunity with which we are presented. We do not have the ability to make people believe, but we do have the privilege of walking through the doors before us and trusting God to work as He does best.

When I was in college and involved with Campus Crusade I learned, “Success in witnessing is simply taking the initiative to share Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit and leaving the results to God.” For more on this see:

Remember Jesus words to Nicodemus: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, ESV, caps added to references of God)

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Change of Plans and Time of Rest (John 4:1-6)

“Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.” (John 4:1–6, ESV)

I’ve delayed writing for a few days for a variety of reasons. One of them was trying to decide just how much of this next individual encounter which Jesus had with the Samaritan woman to cover in one day. While thinking I’ve read and reread the details. As I’ve done this I was impressed with the sensitivity of Jesus and how He was able to use that which people knew to point them to that which they did not know, prompting them to respond with questions. These opened doors of curiosity led to some incredible discussions and, as in the case with this woman and with Nicodemus, results that went far beyond their encounter.

In the last part of chapter three we read about a concern among John the Baptist’s disciples because of the number of people that were being baptized by Jesus and following after Him. John had no problem with what was happening. In fact, he knew that this had to happen. It was God’s plan coming to fulfillment. This was a plan for which John was birthed and chosen to have a role in But John knew it was never about him. It was about the Christ who would come after him. Now that Jesus had come it was right for people to follow Him, and as John continued with his purpose he continued to proclaim repentance in the face of the coming Messiah and baptism as its evidence.

John’s disciples were not the only ones who noticed the number of people who had been coming to these men for baptism. The Pharisees had taken notice also, and they had already tried asserting themselves as a threat. Today’s passage tells us that in the face of Jesus’ disciples baptizing more people even than John in His name, Jesus left Judea and departed again for His home region. From the way this passage is worded it seems that Jesus’ reason for leaving was likely not so much to lessen the attention from the Pharisees (though it likely did so), but primarily to remove the comparison between the numbers coming to John and those coming to Himself. Jesus never told John that his job was done. He never told him to sit back and take it easy. He knew that John was called for this purpose, and it seems that He left the region so that John might be fully effective for the purpose for which he was called.

As I thought about this I was impressed with the sensitivity of Jesus. He knew that the disciples should not be competitive over things like this, but He also recognized that they were. Rather than chastising them for their comparisons, He left to go to another region (Galilee) where the message could be multiplied. In the process of traveling back to Galilee Jesus could have taken several routes. The Jews and the Samaritans did not get along. They did not associate with the Samaritans, and they saw them as an unclean group of people. They weren’t pure Jews. The Samaritans were the results of intermarriage which polluted that which was to be kept distinct, and the Jews looked down their noses at them. So, for Jews to travel they generally would have taken one of the longer routes which did not take them through the heart of Samaria. But Jesus, not having this bias, had to go this way. We do not know the reason, whether it was a spiritual compulsion or a practical one, but Scripture tells us that this was the route He had to take.

In the process of His traveling with His disciples they grew tired and hungry, so they stopped in Sychar which our passage tells us was near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph and where Jacob’s well was located. This was a historically significant place to the Jews, but it also was in Samaria, and the Jews had grown to steer clear of it. Our passage for today concludes by telling us that it was by this well that Jesus sat down to rest.

I chose to stop here as well in looking at our passage. In doing this I sat back to think about the many times in my life when things happened and I had to change a course that I thought had been established. The past few years have been filled with a number of these course changes, ones that I still don’t grasp the particular reason for them happening. Some of them have been very difficult to deal with, like one we’ve encountered in the past two weeks. We thought we knew where we were going and that God had prepared for us a productive place of ministry with a wonderful group of believers. But it did not work out as we had anticipated or hoped, and now we are looking to Him again for the course that He would have us follow. We do this knowing that He also will continue to strengthen us for the trials along the way. As with John’s disciples I am still struggling with some of the things surrounding the disappointment, but like John I know that God has a plan and that He will bring it to pass. In this I continue to know that God is good and that He will direct my steps. In this I must choose to take my thoughts captive and turn them back under all of the truths of God that I know to be so incredibly true. This is much more than a factual exercise. It is laying before Him my hopes and my plans knowing that He understands my hurts and He has much better plans. I am reminded that times like this require me choose to turn my heart and mind to God Who loves me and Who gave His Son so that I might have a relationship with Him.

There are times when we all need to stop and rest, and in the resting to find refreshment and even refocusing. Jesus, full of the Spirit, was led to do what He had to do, and in this He shows me both His willingness even as the Son of God to submit His will to the will of the Father. Jesus evidenced patience as He took time to rest, and in resting be in the right place at the right time for what God had planned. Had Jesus pushed on or chosen a more politically correct route the verses that follow would never have happened. So, as I sit here resting and contemplating what steps to take next, I am reminded that God has not finished with me yet just as He was not finished with John. In this I can trust Him and be encouraged to anticipate the adventures that He has ahead.

Are there any struggles in your life resulting from things not going as you anticipated? Have your plans been changed because of circumstances seemingly out of your control? What do you do next?

It is here that my favorite two verses serve to direct me again. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5–6, ESV) While I know that there will likely be countless times ahead when I have to trust when I don't understand, maybe even this week, I also know that God is faithful.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Distinctly Different With Full Authority (John 3:31-36)

“He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:31–36, ESV)

John (the Baptist) had just said, “Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” (verses 29c-30) Here he goes on to enumerate several reasons for this to be true. The first reason is that he states is that He who came from above is truly above everyone else. A distinction is drawn between men, whose origins are of the earth and the Son of God who had no origin, but rather who is without beginning or end. Yes, He was born of a virgin at a specific date in time, and He did go to the cross at another point in time to be raised from the dead and then in time ascend to the right hand of the Father. These dates are marks of Him becoming fully human, and in no way frame the incomprehensibleness of Him also being fully God, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6–11, ESV) But of man we read in Genesis 2:7, “then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (ESV)

Man speaks of what he knows, but Jesus speaks with the fullness of God. As we read here, He speaks of things which He has seen and heard—things which man does not know except that God reveals it to him. What He spoke of was fully accurate and in complete agreement with the Father. Just a few chapters later Jesus said “not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” (John 6:46, ESV) Then in chapter eight He said, “I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.”” (John 8:38, ESV) Jesus was and is the only One qualified to speak with the authority of the Father, and He spoke in full agreement from firsthand experience.

The harsh reality is that just as man had rejected God who they did not see, many continued and to reject Christ who they did see. Even today man continues to reject Him despite the record and proofs.  Philip asked Jesus to show him the Father. In response Jesus said, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.” (John 14:9–11, ESV)

John was there when the Spirit came upon Jesus at the beginning of His ministry, and John observed the Spirit working mightily. He knew that Jesus had had an unlimited oneness with the Spirit and was fully empowered to accomplish the miraculous works which testified to Him being from the Father. Luke wrote several times in chapter four of how Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit and even impelled by the Spirit. Paul wrote of the difference between those working in the power of their own flesh as opposed to Christ in whom the fullness of deity dwelt in His bodily form. “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily….” (Colossians 2:8–9, ESV) As our verses for today read, Jesus was also able to give to others the power of the Holy Spirit. Even now, we as believers are given the Holy Spirit at the time of our salvation To His disciples Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (John 14:26, ESV) After Jesus’ resurrection Peter spoke to the masses, and after His sharing with them they asked what they must do to be saved. Peter responded, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (Acts 2:38–39, ESV)

John spoke of the great love of the Father for the Son and how the Father had given everything to Him. This included the power to forgive sins and grant eternal life. Our passage concludes with John’s confidence that the reason for which Christ was sent would be completely fulfilled because Jesus had the power of being God to accomplish it. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” (John 3:36, ESV) There is no way around the fact that salvation is found in Jesus Christ and Him alone. There is no other way to God but through the forgiveness granted in His Son. For those who refuse in this life the full wrath of God is theirs for eternity. It will never go away. But for those who believe in Jesus Christ they are forever saved. When Peter and John were brought before the Jewish leaders, Peter boldly proclaimed to them, “let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:10–12, ESV)

In this John the Baptist was confident, and because of that he found great joy in stepping aside as Jesus became more and more the focus of attention. Each of us, as well are given the great privilege of pointing people to Christ. In this we can trust the Spirit of God to open eyes and ears that men might be saved from the wrath that is theirs and gifted with the forgiveness of God which results in eternal life.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Service is Not About Us—It’s About Him (John 3:22-30)

“After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison). Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.”” (John 3:22–30, ESV)

After baptizing Jesus, John continued to baptize people with water pointing them to the Christ. Here we read of Jesus coming into the same region baptizing people with the Spirit and water as they came to believe. Seeing this John’s disciples got into a discussion with a Jew over baptism and purification. But as they talked the focus seemed to shift toward a concern among John’s disciples that Jesus was in competition with them, and that John was losing followers as people seemed to be flocking Jesus.

John responded to his disciples by telling them that what they have is a gift—a privilege. They were granted by God to be witnesses to the coming of the Christ. John reminded them of his testimony that he was not the Christ, but rather the one sent before the Christ to proclaim Him. As such his call all along was to stand aside for the One he was speaking about. When Jesus, the Christ, arrived on the scene John knew that he was intended to become less and less the focus, as eyes were turned to the One who was truly sent to be that focus.

John explained this to his disciples by speaking about himself as the friend of the bridegroom privileged to know the joy of the bridegroom arriving to make Himself known to his bride. John knew he had truly been blessed to God to stand in this very special place.

God coming for His bride was not a foreign thought to the Jews. Isaiah 62 speaks of the coming time when Jerusalem would shine like the glowing bride prepared for her groom. In verse 5 we read, “For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” (ESV) And as we progress through the writing of the rest of the Bible we find this understanding repeated. In Ephesians 5:25-27 we read, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (ESV) Then at the end of the last book of the Bible, the conclusion of the Revelation of God, we read, “Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;” (Revelation 19:6–7, ESV)

It was the intended plan of God that the bride would be drawn to the groom, and John knew that it was intended all along that Christ would become prominent as he, himself, faded into the background. John’s joy was complete. His purpose for being sent was fulfilled, and as we read earlier in this passage John was shortly to be removed (arrested and eventually beheaded) from his ministry of proclaiming the coming of the Lamb.

As believers in Christ we are a part of His church—His bride, and we have been given the great privilege and responsibility of proclaiming that Christ has come and one day will come again. This is true regardless of how others might respond. Even as I write this blog there are those in our world who are being put to death because they have taken on the name of Christ as His followers. This kind of persecution of the followers because of the hatred for the one they follow is not new, and we have every reason to believe that it will intensify rather than go away. It is for this reason, like John, that we are to keep our eyes on Christ and look forward to that time when He returns for His church and eventually presented to Him as the fullness of the bride at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb. The apostle Paul lived with this tension between remaining to engage in productive ministry and leaving to be present with the Lord. He reminds us of our great hope.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.” (2 Corinthians 5:1–9, ESV)

John came to fulfill what God had called him to do, and in that he knew the joy of pleasing God. This guided his ministry. It also guided the ministry of Paul, and we ourselves are called to make it our aim to please God as well. Because of His love for us and the salvation given to us in His Son we respond by making it our aim to please Him. This is done when we walk by faith in obedient service to Him, trusting Him that no matter how people respond to us that it is really about Him.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Unbelief Condemns—Jesus Saves (John 3:16-21)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:16–21, ESV)

Nicodemus came to Jesus in the night to learn more about Him. His introductory comment was that he knew Jesus must be from God in order for Him to have been doing the things He had been doing. What Nicodemus did not expect, I’m sure, was to hear what Jesus had to say to him in response. Jesus told him that he had to be born again of the Spirit. He told Nicodemus that the Son of Man came down from heaven and was going to return, and that anyone who believed in Him would receive eternal life. Next we read probably the one of the most well-known verses in the Bible in John 3:16 as Jesus tells Nicodemus that this One sent by God was also His Son. The Son of Man and the Son of God are One and the same, who was sent to give eternal life to all who believe in Him.

Because God loves man He sent His Son to pay the penalty for man’s sin and to give to him eternal life. This life is not given based upon any works that man may or may not do, but by believing in the Son sent by the Father. The Son was not being sent to condemn but to save. Jesus went on to say that man condemns himself by how he lives. The judgment is already settled. Man has chosen darkness over the light of God sent into the world, and because of his love of darkness and his refusal to accept the Son he is judged and condemned. Jesus went on to explain what marks those who love darkness as those who do evil things. Basking in his own works and desires he stays away from the light so that he and his deeds are not exposed.

But there are those who know the truth, who believe, and live according to the light given them. These are the ones whose works are openly exposed in the light and who give glory to God. The Jews tended to point to their works to declare their righteousness. Jesus was coming to say that righteous people live in accordance with who they are because of God’s work in them. Jesus told Nicodemus that the ones who are saved are the ones who believe and as a result evidence their changed life by how they live.

In this whole discourse with Nicodemus, unless I missed it somewhere, Jesus does not directly tell Nicodemus that He is that One sent by God. But the implications are very strong, and I can’t imagine Nicodemus leaving without clearly knowing that Jesus was speaking of Himself as more than a teacher sent by God. This is the end of the conversation, and we really don’t know from this how Nicodemus responded. We don’t know from this whether he believed and was saved, or whether he walked away as one of those who heard what Jesus had to say but did not understand and believe.

But this is not the end of the story concerning Nicodemus. In John chapter 7 there is a record of the chief priests and Pharisees trying to have Jesus brought in on charges. They were upset when the officers did not bring Him, asking if they had also been deceived by His words. They were certain in their minds that Jesus was guilty of heresy and that He needed to be brought to account for it. In this context we read, “Nicodemus, who had gone to him before, and who was one of them, said to them, “Does our law judge a man without first giving him a hearing and learning what he does?”” (John 7:50–51, ESV) Nicodemus stood up for Jesus, challenging the way they were going about things without hearing from Him themselves or learning more about what He does. In response to this we read in the next verse that they snapped back at Nicodemus challenging him if he had become one of Jesus' followers. Yet, still we don’t know if he believed or he was positively influenced, but at least he stood in Jesus’ defense at risk of his own position.

We read of Nicodemus one more time in the Bible. This time it is in John chapter 19 immediately after Jesus’ crucifixion. Joseph of Arimathea, who we read is one of Jesus disciples, but a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, came to Pilate and asked him permission to take Jesus’ body away. Pilate granted him permission, and he took the body. Taking it up in verse 39 we continue to read, “Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” (John 19:39–42, ESV)

We know Joseph is a secret believer who came forward to bury Jesus’ body. With him is Nicodemus, who brought the mixture of myrrh and aloes that were used to prepare the body for burial. These were not cheap things, and he brought a large amount. Together these two men took it upon themselves to bury our Lord. My extremely strong suspicion based upon these last two mentions of Nicodemus is that he himself did believe and was saved. While he may also have been a secret believer, like Joseph of Arimathea, it appears that his works evidenced someone who was changed by the Light.

“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NASB95)

Between the various translations of the Bible there has been a great deal of discussion about how to declare that Jesus is the only Son of God. He is not a big brother, showing the way. He is fully God, One in the Trinity with the Father and the Spirit, eternal in the heavens without beginning or end. He is the Creator and Sustainer of all that came into being and all that is. Going back to the Greek text it clearly declares that He is the only one. He is singularly the Son of God. He is the One sent by God to save man of His sins. Because of God’s great love He sent His Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish because of his sins, but would be given eternal life. This is the greatest truth of Scripture for man.

Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and rose again on the third day just as the Scriptures declared. And because He lives we shall live also—if we believe.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Standing When You Don’t Understand (James 1:2-4)

“Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2–4, ESV)

Yesterday was a very difficult day. Have you ever had one of them? What a silly question! We all have difficult days when things don’t go as we expected, and we all respond to them a bit differently. Some of us may not miss a step most of the time, and move right on being fully assured of God’s hand on you and His direction of your life regardless of our expectations of outcomes. Having this kind of assurance has everything to do with our confidence in God and His proven character. It has to do with our having grown in faith as we have seen Him faithful. James wrote that we are to count (or actively take captive the thought and purposely attribute) it all joy when we encounter various trials… (James 1:2). It is not a matter of ‘if’ we encounter trials or ‘if’ maybe some trial may come here and there in the midst of our bed of roses. But it is actively considering it joy, meaning that we make a purposeful choice to think in a way contrary to our natural or flesh response, when problems come.

In Philippians 4:8-9 we read, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” (ESV) Here we find some insight into actively looking for the things of joy in trials. It is the process of getting our perspective right, which is a God-centered one. In 1 Corinthians 15:58 we read in response to our being given victory over sin and granted new life in our resurrected Lord, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” (ESV) Ultimately the only real way to find peace and joy in trials is to rest in our hope in our God who does not go on vacation, take a break, or turn His attention from us. He fully encloses us, and He will bring to pass those things which He started in us and which He fully intends. Luck and chance are not in His vocabulary—whether good or bad as we might term them.

When we are young in the faith we might be more easily shaken, but as we grow in knowing God and His faithfulness through trials we are strengthened such that we can trust Him through more. But as we also know, sometimes these later trials are even more intense than some of the earlier ones as we encounter some of the more difficult situations of life. In them we are also encouraged by knowing that having gone through the trials of earlier days that He has prepared for these trials of later days with all of them pointing to our maturity in Christ. 1 Corinthians 10:13 reminds us that in all of these trials which we all encounter, that it is not the size of the trial that matters but the unending and unlimited faithfulness of our God who makes us to come to the other side victoriously.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian. We all need these reminders, and sometimes we need to remind ourselves over and over and over again when the situation seems really intense. God is faithful. He will not leave me or forsake me. He will limit the trial to that which He also gives me the ability to endure.

Today I am taking a break from looking at the gospel of John because yesterday for me and my family we began a new season of trial in which I (personally) am struggling greatly. It is so easy sometimes to want to give up, but it is so critical that we don’t. In these times it is even more critical that we remember and turn to our God who does not give up on us and who gives us a hope such that we can indeed be steadfast and immovable. It is also during these times that we can find biblical encouragement in those around us who point us to the truths of our God which we know but maybe emotionally are struggling to focus on.

Today I went to lunch with Robin (my wife, best friend, and spiritual partner), and she shared some verses and thoughts which God had impressed upon her this morning. As I was listening I was thinking that she really should be writing my post for today, and maybe she will. If she does, I will gladly post what she writes as well. But one of the verses she reminded me of spoke to my need to guard my emotions. She spoke about 1 Peter 5:8 which reads, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (ESV) This verse speaks to our need to guard our emotions, being careful about the things that we allow ourselves to think about, because we truly do have an enemy who is an extreme opportunist. Satan or the devil would love nothing more than to sideline us in our walk with God, to shake our confidence in Him, and to make us useless for service. He knows he cannot have a forever victory in this, but he sure makes every effort to affect our positive benefit and joy in the here and now. If he can thwart God’s purpose in our lives, then he will make every effort to do so.

As I listened to her I thought of another passage in the Bible which spoke to the same issue and which had an extremely negative outcome. Adam and Eve first had two sons that we read of. One of them was Cain and the other Abel. In the beginning of Genesis chapter 4 we read that these two brothers brought offerings to God. Cain simply gave, but Abel gave of the first portion—the very best. The Bible told us that God had regard for Abel’s offering, but He had no regard for that of Cain. At this Cain became upset and downcast. The ESV translation puts it, “but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:5). We continue to read that God spoke to Cain and asked him why he was so angry and his face downfallen? Not waiting for an answer, as God already knew what was going on, God said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 4:7, ESV)

Sin and the devil—both are destructive in our lives. One comes from within us and the other works it’s hardest to influence us, but each push us to take our eyes off of God leading to calamity of one form or another. For Cain we know that the destructive outcome went far beyond him going out into the field and killing his own brother. Wallowing in self-pity and reacting in any way apart from looking at God has negative outcomes. Most of the time for most of us we quickly are reminded to turn our eyes back to God or are restrained in some way by His Spirit speaking to our hearts. For this we can be extremely thankful that our God is faithful no matter how dark things might seem. He is the light to our paths and the direction setter of our feet. He is the restorer of our hope knowing that our hope lies in the unshakable work of His Son on the cross and that our future is unchangeably settled in eternity.

So, as I respond to a difficult situation I am reminded by the word of God stored in my heart, the Spirit of God present in me, the faithfulness of God shown to me, and the people of God surrounding me that He is faithful. To every hard situation of life there is always the powerful response “BUT GOD!”