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.

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