Do Firearms Belong In Churches?

Several high-profile church-massacres in recent years beg the question; “How should we protect our churches and their members?” While we expect that our homes and our churches will be “safe-spaces“, home-invasions occur every day, and church shootings are occurring all too frequently. The church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Fall drove this point home to me. The only thing that ended that carnage was a few well-placed shots made by a “good-guy-with-a-gun“. Are there really any “safe-spaces” left?

Any time there is a massacre in a place where we should be able to assume is a “safe-space“, there are always questions about what went wrong and how best to prevent similar incidents in the future. One thing we know for certain, is that bad-guys always select “soft-targets“, because the last thing the bad-guy wants is to become the victim of his own chicanery. “Soft-targets” are “easy-targets“, regardless of where and what they are, and a “No guns allowed” sign is like a “Welcome Mat” . One of the questions is “How “hard” is “hard-enough”?”

You can’t get into the capital building without passing a controlled entrance, metal detectors & capital police. How far would you get walking into any other government building, court house, major bank, sports or entertainment venue, media headquarters, or airport with a weapon? Disney, the “happiest place on earth“, uses metal detectors and has armed-security. If these places have been made into “hard-targets“, are they more “important” than the other places we go? Are they more “important” than our churches? Money is transported in armored trucks protected by armed-guards. Is money more “important” than human life?

The White House is protected with multiple-layers of security, controlled by the Secret Service – armed to the teeth. Our politicians are surrounded by an armed-web of security. Are they more “important” than the rest of us? What about our entertainers? The Oscars was crawling with armed-security, some of it visible, some of it hidden. Are the “stars” more “important” than us and our families? They would have us believe so…

While this is about churches, not schools, the recent wave of mass-murders in schools has many people asking how we can protect our children from harm. Some would-be killers have been intercepted by armed-security, limiting the impact of their intentions. Armed-security works. It is of course, an extremely sad commentary on our society that we would need to harden the schools populated with our children. But at some point, we will almost assuredly ask the question we’ve asked about these other facilities. It’s not why would we do it, but why did we wait so long?

Let’s end the gun control debate & just protect our children & schools like we do elected government officials.

As we have seen recently, not even restaurants are safe. There was a shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and a bombing at a restaurant in Canada. Can’t we at least eat in peace and safety? Apparently not. No place is immune…

NOTE: This is NOT about “gun-control” or “reasonable gun-laws“, because we already have way too many laws on the books and more won’t change a thing. Criminals don’t obey the law, or they wouldn’t be criminals, so more laws are worthless except to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some dear friends of mine belong to a church which has armed-security every time the doors are open. They have also restricted access to the main-entrance only, particularly during services. They live in a state where it is way too easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I well know from living there for several years. Yes, the threats are real. Does that mean that they don’t trust God to protect them? No, but they aren’t stupid either, and God sometimes uses “means” for self-protection.

There are two polar-opposite “camps” when it comes to “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions. On one side are those who have no qualms about “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions, including having armed-guards. Some even post signs indicating that there is armed-security on the premises. On the other side are those who believe that they are “honoring God” by refusing to protect themselves, thus “proving” that they are more “spiritual” than those who arm and protect themselves. My question for the latter group is “Are you courting martyrdom?” Do they even lock their doors? We can stick our heads in the sand, or we can acknowledge that churches require security from criminal assault just like every other organization.

When King David retrieved the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been stored after the Philistines returned it, it was escorted by thirty-thousand armed men – an army. (2 Samuel 6)

Even while Jesus was preparing to be arrested, He started preparing His disciples for their expanded-role in spreading the Gospel. While the Parable of the Good Samaritan was indeed a parable, it represented a real-life problem in that part of the world. There WERE thieves and robbers, and they would prey on anyone they could, particularly if they were defenseless. There was safety in numbers while they were all together, but that wouldn’t always be the case. They needed to be prepared.

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

Some commentators interpret “It is enough.” as “Enough of this nonsense“, as if Jesus didn’t REALLY just say “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”, but in this context, that interpretation is playing-off of their own cultural-hangups, not the clear-meaning and spirit of the text. Neither Jesus, nor the rest of the Bible, ever denies a person the right to lawful self-defense, and Jesus never told His disciples to leave their weapons at home. Evidently Peter wasn’t the only one “packing-heat”.

Maybe you are questioning the wisdom of having weapons in God’s house, but we haven’t always been this hesitant to protect what really matters – God’s house. The Gospels include many references to “temple guards” and “officers of the Chief Priest“.

When Jesus was buried, the Jewish religious leaders were afraid that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He was alive, so after getting Pilate’s approval, they set a guard over His tomb. (Matthew 27:62-66)

After Jesus rose from the tomb, the Jewish religious leaders paid-off the guards to lie about the resurrection. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Captains of the Temple” is mention during Jesus’ arrest. (Luke 22:52)

Officers sent to arrest Jesus failed in their mission. (John 7:32, 44-46)

Part of the mob that arrested Jesus included “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” (John 18:3)

In the 1st Century, Herod’s Temple was incredibly-ornate, not to mention, fabulously-wealthy. All of the articles used in worship were solid-gold, and there were hundreds of them. All temple-taxes and donations were in cash and there were no banks to deposit that money in, so it had to be kept in the temple-treasury. Thus, 24/7/365 armed-security was an absolute-necessity. The temple guards also kept order in the Temple and enforced the segregation-regulations.

Segregation-regulations“? Yes, there were three “courts” in the Temple. Only Jewish men were allowed in the inner-court, closest to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The second-court, or the “court of the women” was for Jewish women. The outer-court was known as the “court of the Gentiles“, so someone had to make sure that nobody went where they didn’t “belong“. The Jewish leaders weren’t beyond requiring a “robe-check” to make sure Gentiles didn’t get where they didn’t belong.

Do you remember where the first mention of an armed-guard is in the Bible? Would you believe Genesis 3:24, in the Garden of Eden? After God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He placed an angel with a flaming-sword at the entrance to the Garden. Because God met Adam and Eve in the Garden, it could rightfully be considered “God’s house“.

Yea, but… but they didn’t have firearms back then… No, they had swords, spears and bows – weapons. Firearms are simply updated-weapons. Weapons technology has come a long way in the past two-thousand years.

The Vatican, which is entirely-within the city of Rome, has its own security-force, and the Pope has his own personal body-guards, the Swiss Guards. The Pope is the most powerful religious-leader in the world, and his beliefs and opinions aren’t always popular.

“After-action-review” or “Arm-chair-analysis”…

I don’t usually like to do “after-action-reviews” or “arm-chair-analysis” on recent events, but there are way too many obvious lessons to be learned from them. Let’s look at what we know about these recent shootings, notice what went wrong, and what could have been done better. Note: I don’t have any “insideinformation“, so everything I know is based on whatever information is publicly-available.

Louie’s Lakeside Restaurant – Oklahoma City

While this shooting was stopped fairly-promptly by two men with their own guns, they had to retrieve their guns from the trunks of their cars first. Neither one had a Concealed Carry Permit, and the Governor of Oklahoma had just vetoed a “Constitutional-Carry” Bill which had been passed by the State Legislature. The Governor had gone against the will of the people as expressed by the Legislature. Had their guns been immediately-available, the outcome might have been even better.

The shooter had exhibited bizarre-behavior and had come to the attention of the FBI, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a Licensed Security Guard with the right to carry a weapon. Why?

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – Parkland, Florida

A security-analysis of MSD High School had been done by a retired Secret Service agent two months prior to the event, but it was ignored, swept under the rug. The School Board had Grant Money available for school-security-upgrades, but hadn’t used that money for what it was intended for. Authorities at all levels, including the FBI, had ignored all the warning-signs that the shooter was a serious-threat… because he was a “minority“.

The Sheriff’s Deputy who was the School Resource Officer cowered outside while the carnage went on, as did three other Deputies. What happened to “Protect and Serve“?

First Baptist Church – Sutherland Springs, Texas

I spent many years in that part of the country, and in rural-areas, a gun-rack and hunting-rifle is pretty much “standard-equipment” in most pickup-trucks, and yet, regardless of how many hunting-rifles were in vehicles in the church parking-lot, they were worthless, because the shooter was BETWEEN those gun-owners and their guns. Those guns might as well have been at home in a gun-safe.

The shooter should have been ineligible to buy and own weapons due to his violent-past, but because he was in the Air Force when they happened, and the Air Force had neglected to enter his data into the FBI database, he never got “flagged“.

It took someone OUTSIDE the church, with immediate-access to a weapon and the skill to use it, to finally end that carnage. Texas has some of the most liberal handgun-carry laws in the nation, and yet nobody was armed. Why?

Your church – my church

Is YOUR church in a “safe-area“? Mine would seem to be, but the County Sheriff, who knows the “lay-of-the-land” far-better than I do, put out a video recently encouraging County residents to do whatever is necessary to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves. What does he know? Maybe there is only a “veneer” of safety…

The leadership of each church must analyze the level of risk, and decide how much risk is “acceptable”. As “under-shepherds” commissioned by our Lord, with the responsibility to care for the “flock”, not only spiritually, but physically while they are “on-campus”, they must decide wisely. Can they really AFFORD to not provide “sheep-dogs” (armed-security) to protect the “flock”?

Some of you may recoil in horror at the thought of even owning a gun, let alone carrying it to and in church, but there is nothing “unchristian” about protecting yourself and those you love from harm and violence. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome here.

Steve

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Have We “Institutionalized” Grief?

Let’s face it, nobody is comfortable with grief, either their own, or anybody else’s. Grief makes us uncomfortable. Grief is “strange“, and because no two people’s grief-journey is the same, we don’t know how to deal with it. As I have read other articles about grief, and through my own experiences, I have come to the unmistakable-conclusion that we may have “institutionalized” grief by trying to “compartmentalize” and suppress it. Our society would say;

Grieve in private, but act like you are “normal” otherwise.

What is grief?
Grief is an “intense emotional suffering caused by loss, misfortune, injury or evil of any kind“. WOW! That brush is pretty broad, but for those who have suffered from these kinds of experiences, it should come as no surprise that grief comes calling too. Grief is a journey, not a destination…

Grief has many causes…
Grief is the result of some kind of death. Death is the unwanted guest in human life. We do not want it; we often fear it; we cannot command it; and we hate our helplessness. As hard as we try to stave it off, it relentlessly comes into our lives and the lives of those we love. The experience is universal; nobody is immune; death is no respecter of persons, young or old, rich or poor; all will experience death, because death came as a result of the Fall.

While we commonly think of grief as being related to the death of a loved-one, and that kind of grief reaches the deepest into our soul and psyche, death isn’t the only cause of grief. Grief may be caused by any “death-like” experience, such as the deterioration of a relationship or loss of a job. Grief may be caused by anything that turns our world upside-down, anything that seriously upsets the “status-quo“. Grief-causes may “stack-up“, further turning our world upside-down, and compounding our grief.

Trauma, in all its forms, causes grief, because whether it is the loss of innocence for a sexual-abuse survivor, or the loss of bodily-function in someone who has survived a serious accident, injury or disease, something HAS been lost. The “normal” has been replaced by something that is NOT normal. Whatever has been lost will cause grief for that loss.

We often seem to want people who have suffered terrible things to just “get over it”. They cannot. Evil has real impact and does real damage. (Diane Langberg PhD)

Imagine being forced out of your home, losing your job, losing your spouse, getting four death-threats AND losing your family, all within the space of about three months. That was what I experienced in 1997. Everything that could go wrong – did, in spades. Any one of those events would have been bad-enough by itself, but each “shoefall” compounded the situation. To add insult to injury, my wife had died by her own hand – suicide, and her family had the audacity to blame me for her death. Is it any wonder that, when I walked into that first divorce-support-group meeting, I was bonkers-crazy? I wouldn’t have blamed them for telling me to hit the door and never come back, but they didn’t. They loved me through my craziness, for six long months.

All of the faces of grief are part of one over-arching task: learning to let go, learning to live without what once was, learning to wear something that feels like it does not fit. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

“Bereavement-leave”
I lost both my grandfather and my father-in-law in 1984. As with most major-corporations, the one I worked for had a policy of granting employees “bereavement-leave“, or “paid-time-off“, and the length of this time-off depended on how “close” the family-member was and where lived and were being buried. Both were out-of-state, one in Illinois and one in Oklahoma, so I was allowed to take five days off – with pay. Had they been local, ie, in state, I would have only received three days paid-leave.

What if I had been responsible for their funeral-arrangements? Any additional time-off I needed would have to come from my vacation-time. Each time, when I got back to work, I had to pick-up where I left-off, as if nothing had happened, but it wasn’t a “nothing” that had happened. I had lost my grandfather and my wife had lost her father. Those weren’t “nothing” events. They were real losses. What if my wife had really needed me more than for just a few days? BTW, she was thirty-four-weeks-pregnant with our third child. Is three or five days off really “enough“?

The Israelites mourned Moses’s death for thirty-days (Deuteronomy 34:8). “Great-leaders” are often “laid-in-state” for several days after they pass. Is anyone less “worthy” to be “laid-in-state“, and yet, only the “powerful” and “well-connected” are given this honor…

“Celebration of Life” events…
What better way to shew grief out of our lives than to celebrate the dead-person’s life? It no longer is important that they are no longer with us (DEAD) as long as we still have good memories of them. They might as well have moved away and left no forwarding-address…

Funerals and memorial services still honor our memories of the deceased, but they also remind us that we have lost someone we were close to and held dear. We mourn their loss at a funeral. We try to forget the loss at a “celebration of life” event. Yes, there is a difference…

One of the reasons we so often criticize another’s grieving process or rush them along in their grief is because we have not yet really accepted the reality, the finality, the crushing nature of trauma, endings or death ourselves. (Diane Langberg PhD)

Life Must Go On…Grief does too…
Bills still have to be paid, groceries bought, food put on the table, and the family tended-to…

Grief goes on too…

Jobs still have to be done…

Grief goes on too…

Life goes on…

And so does grief…

Grief waits for no-one…

Grief shows up unbidden at random and inopportune moments…

Shortly after I lost Connie, as I was going into a support-group meeting, someone asked me how I was doing. I told them; “Doing okay. I’m tough. I’m resilient.” Who did I think I was kidding? I was a basket-case, but I didn’t want to admit it.

The darkest place in the grieving process is somewhere along the way as the shock wears off and denial can no longer numb, a sense of hopelessness and despair can settle in. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

How long does grief last?
Grief has no “time-line“…

Grief has no “expiration-date“…

The faces of grief do not occur in a linear fashion. Everyone’s grief experience is unique. No two people go through the grieving process in the same way or on the same timetable. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

We just passed Mother’s Day, my second without my mom, and as I walked into church, a close friend said “Happy Mother’s Day“, and how much I still miss mom hit me like a freight-train. I was probably too numb from just losing her last year to notice it, but not this time. I had lost my very best friend. Mom’s are special, and mine was the best of the best.

Its reappearances many years later may be “triggered” by similar-events…

I lost a “brother” to suicide last October, and his funeral was the day before the twentieth “anniversary” of my wife’s death, to suicide. That was a tough funeral, and a tough weekend.

Suicide isn’t a “normal” death, so it carries with it a LOT of extra “baggage“, and greatly-complicates the grieving-process…

Final thoughts…
Don’t be afraid of your grief – it is a normal part of the healing-process.

Grief is not your enemy. Death is…

Don’t say “I’m okay” even when you’re not.

It’s okay to say “I’m not in a good space right now“, when that is truly how you are feeling.

Don’t “compartmentalize” your grief, thinking it will go-away on its own. It won’t.

Don’t suppress your grief – it will come back to bite you when you least expect it. I know. I did…

Allow yourself to feel sad when you are sad.

I am sad right now, and that’s okay…

You will grieve deepest those you loved most deeply.

Romans 8:28 – What It DOESN’T Say

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

Romans 8:28 may be the most popular verse for Christians to quote when “everything that could go wrong – does“, but it may be little help to someone who is going through some kind of struggle. Rather than helping, it may be like “pouring salt on the wound“, because while what it says is true, what it DOESN’T say is equally-true. SO – what DOESN’T it say?

We are “planners“, and so is God, except that God’s plans always trump our plans, whether we like it or not. When I planned my month-long trip last year, I calculated the mileage of each leg of the trip to within less than five miles. That gave me a good idea of when I would need to refuel my truck and how long the drive would be, except that I couldn’t control the weather. A tropical storm “happened” to park itself off the Gulf coast, so I drove through torrential rain for much of the second leg of the trip. That increased my drive-time and reduced the fuel-economy of my truck, so I had to refuel sooner than expected. Did it REALLY matter? No, except that as I refueling my truck, I was able to talk with an Alabama State Trooper who gave me exact directions to my motel and told me what kinds of restaurants were in that town. No, there wasn’t a Chick-Fil-A. Shucks! God knew what I would need, so He “arranged” that meeting, “courtesy” of the weather. The Trooper pulled into that fuel island less than thirty-seconds after I did. How’s that for coordination? Things don’t always turn out that neat-and-tidy.

The first thing we need to notice is that God is the “active-agent” – “God causes…“. God didn’t consult us when He laid out the plans for our lives, because, according to the Psalmist (Psalm 139:13-16), God’s plans were made before we were even born. I would have had some serious qualms about God’s plans for my life, but He didn’t ask me first. Does He take our “preferences” into account when He makes our plans? Maybe, maybe not…

The next word that hits us between the eyes is “all“. We might be okay with “some“, but we have serious reservations about “all” – ALL! Sure, some things are “okay‘, but some of them really stink, such as an unexpected-death or unwanted-divorce. I have experienced both, and then some…

How about “good“? Romans 8:28 doesn’t even give us the right to define “good“. God wasn’t, and still isn’t hiring consultants to help Him define “good“. Defining “good” is His sole prerogative. His definition of “good” is final. Yes, even death and divorce. Because God sees, knows and ordains the outcomes, sometimes the “good” is the GOOD of someone else whose life we will be able to impact, even though OUR perceived outcome was less than “good“. I have experienced an extended-period of intense-struggle during which I was given the opportunity to do a lot of “good” for another person. While I struggled, I was able to help another person through their struggles. That must have been part of the plan…

Also conspicuously-missing is any form of “time-line“, so we don’t even get to pick WHEN the “good” will happen. It may happen in this life, but there are no guarantees, written, expressed or implied. God is, once-again, the sole-arbiter of that “time-line“. It has taken over twenty years of “train-wrecks” to get me to where I am now. Twenty years, and some of the messes are still not “cleaned-up“. Some of them may not be “cleaned-up” in this lifetime. Twenty-plus years of debris…

“to those who love God”: How well do we show our love for God? If you are anything like me, my love for God waxes and wanes. We are called to humbly trust God, as we progress towards loving Him with all of our being. Only Jesus accomplished that daunting-task perfectly.

to those who are called according to His purpose.“: Also conspicuously-missing is any say on our part in defining God’s purposes. As mentioned previously, God laid out the plans for our lives long before we were even a gleam in our parent’s eyes. God’s purposes are eternal.

Final thoughts…
Romans 8:28 is NOT a “feel-good-pill“, and it may be “cold-comfort” to someone who has or is going through some kind of traumatic-event.

Romans 8:28 doesn’t say that “God is going to make it all better“, because in many cases He doesn’t.

Seeing the “good” may have to wait for Heaven.

Don’t throw Romans 8:28 out there when it may cause more harm than good. It is far-better to simply love the person during and through their hard-times.

If you preach it to yourself, as I have many times, keep in mind that it doesn’t always explain the unexplainable. I still have many unanswered “Why?” questions, and you may too.

God ordained the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, the most evil, vile act in human history, for OUR good“, that we may be saved.

God is at work accomplishing His plans and His purposes, and He may use us to accomplish His desired-ends, but He doesn’t have to ask our permission first.

Sola Deo Gloria!

It Is Not Good For The Man To Be Alone…

I listened recently to a TEDx talk by a well-known neuro-scientist about why loneliness is dangerous. He spent about twenty minutes talking, showing pictures, charts, graphs and scans of people’s brains, and even though he approached it from a different framework – evolution, he could have summed up his whole talk with the words God spoke thousands of years ago, “It is not good for the man to be alone“.

God has created us for community because God IS a community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He began revealing His community in the opening verses of Genesis 1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), to:

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2b), to:

The God said, “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness. Let THEM have dominion… (Genesis 1:26)

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created THEM. (Genesis 1:27)

We see community throughout God’s entire work of creation, and we see that God created mankind to BE a community.

When God, in Genesis 2, fills us in on some of the details of His creative-work, He reveals the basis of this human-community. After God created Adam, God was Adam’s only companion in the world, and for those who believe that “God is all we need“, it was God who revealed what was unfinished in His design for humanity, not Adam. Adam had God’s undivided-attention, so other than for Jesus Christ, no other human-being has had a closer-connection to God, but at this point, God revealed Adam’s “need“; “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

This wasn’t Adam’s idea: It was God’s declaration.

Even though Adam hadn’t realized it yet, God had created a “wife-shaped-hole” in his heart that only a wife, a spouse, could fill. God’s solution; “I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

When we think of “helper suitable“, we need to understand that God said He was going to make a MATE, for Adam, not just a “helper“, as we think of a “helper“. While we may be tempted to think that Adam only needed Eve for reproduction, God created Eve for far more than just reproduction. That was certainly part of the equation, but Eve was to be Adam’s companion, his “co-regent“, his “other-half“, as they carried out the mission that God had given them. Together, they would be greater than “the sum of their parts“.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman (Ishah),
Because she was taken out of Man (Ish).”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)

After Adam picked his jaw up off of the ground when God presented the woman to him, notice what he said:
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman (Ishah),
Because she was taken out of Man (Ish).”

WOW!!! I AM NOW COMPLETE!!!

I found an interesting article about how “Ish” and “Ishah” complete humanity;

Ish & Ishah – Together Fully Human
(Adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ishah), Because she was taken out of Man (ish).” For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishah); and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)

The creation story has many profound things to say about God’s intention for our lives. We can be enriched just by looking closely at the Hebrew words that are used to describe the first human Adam, and then the creation of man and woman.

It may surprise English readers that the word adam is a neutral term meaning “human,” not specifically a man. In the original Hebrew text, all references to Adam are neutral until God takes a rib and some of Adam’s flesh and makes a woman – ishah, in Hebrew. Only at that point is Adam called ish, a man. The Hebrew word ishah hints at her origins from within the ish, something that we can mimic in English, with the words “man” and “woman.” But interestingly, Adam is never called an ish until the ishah has been separated from him. It is as if the text is implying that male and female cannot define themselves fully as human without the other.

We may not realize that this logic is part of the next verse that says that for this reason, when a man and woman marry, they become “one.” They are returning to God’s first design before the ish and ishah were separated. The complementarity between man and woman is inherent in the way they were taken apart from each other, as the first ishah provides what the ish lacks. In God’s design, it is the the two together who ultimately reflect the image of God.
by Lois Tverberg PhD.

Now, for a little test:

If you actually look at what is between your legs, would it truly make sense if there was no complementary gender? Of course not, because, if you are a man, basic-function would only require an outlet to urinate through. The same holds true for women. There used to be a man in the UK who was born without any visible genitals – visibly “genderless“, even though he was genetically-male. He had everything necessary for basic-functions even though he had no obvious genitals. We all have “excess-equipment” if there was no complementary-gender, and some of those parts can be real trouble-makers.

What about that “hole” in our hearts, because, after all, this is really about relationships?
Have you ever heard a spouse call their spouse their “other-half“, or maybe, their “better-half“? That is no misnomer, because, as we see from Scripture, we are not “complete” without our spouse, our mate.

Is it any wonder that widows and widowers are very lonely without their “other-half“? The longer they were together, the more the survivor will feel their loneliness. An irreplaceable-part of them died when their beloved passed away, just as Connie took a part of me when she pulled the trigger. We are missing something – our “other-half“.

Is it any wonder that many widows and widowers try to “replace” their missing lover? Of course not, because an imperfect-match may be better than no match at all. Yes, I tried too, but those were poor matches from the get-go. None of them even came close…

What about singles? I’m glad you asked, because God grand design for humanity doesn’t exclude them, just because they don’t have a spouse (mate) – yet. What about those seemingly “happy-singles“? Are they REALLYhappy” being single? Maybe not as much as they like to let-on…

I know a single lady, who is in her early 50’s, who has been single for most of her adult life, after being briefly-married. Is she really “happy“? She may appear to be “happy“, but those of us who really know her know that she really is miserable. She is constantly looking for someone to “go somewhere with her“, and even when she barely had two nickels to rub together, she HAD to renew her Disney annual-pass, because that, along with several other things, is her “escape” from life as a lonely-single. She doesn’t want a room-mate and she doesn’t want a husband, but she is desperate for intimate-connection, which all the entertainment in the world will never provide. I’m sure her story is repeated countless times by those who are desperate for the kind of intimate-connection we were created for, but won’t find anywhere else than as God intended, as couples.

I know another lady who says she LOVES being single, except when she doesn’t – when she craves male companionship. She isn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary for marriage, and she can’t have it both ways. Yes, marriage takes work, because two people are trying to live together amicably even when they try each other’s patience. Marriage also takes a full-time commitment, and can’t be “on-again, off-again“, at least not Biblically.

What about that “gift-of-singleness“, as some hyper-spiritual people like to call it? Notice that most of the people who talk about the “gift of singleness” are married. How ironic! They like to parade Jesus and Paul around as examples of men who had the “gift-of-singleness“, as if they are to be our examples, our consolation, when we are lonely.

Again, take a close look at their lives:

Jesus hadn’t much more than freshened-up after He tangled with Satan in the wilderness when He started calling disciples, men, who, from a human-relationship-aspect, were to be His buddies and traveling-companions. Jesus had a special-affinity for John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). Paul likewise, nearly-always had one or more traveling-companions. Paul called Luke the “beloved physician“.

Jesus, when asked about marriage and divorce, reiterated both the importance and permanence of marriage:
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)

Marriage is intended to be for keeps – “til death do us part“, and anything else violates God’s intended design. Divorce is an anomaly, NOT part of God’s original-intention for marriage.

Are there any REALcontented-singles“? Yes, and no, depending on how they define being “contented“. I’ll dare say, that if there are REALcontented-singles“, they are “married” to their work. Oh, but what about the Apostle Paul? Wasn’t he “contented“?, Yes, and he was clearly “married” to his work, the job of being an Apostle and a tentmaker.

Paul wrote during the first-century when it was commonly-assumed that Christ’s return was imminent, within their lifetime, so there could be nothing more important than spreading the Gospel. Thus, believers shouldn’t “waste” their time with marriage if it would take away from their ability to spread the Gospel.

8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)

“Better to marry than to burn with passion”? As if sex is the only reason for marriage…

Sex IS important in marriage, but it is NOT all-important. God created us as sexual-beings, and marriage is the only legitimate-outlet for our sexual needs and desires, but marriage is more than sex. Marriage is meant to fill that void, that hole in our hearts which only an intimate-partner can fill. Marriage makes us complete, and in sex, we truly become “one-flesh“, as those parts which are “different” about us are intimately-united. Sex isn’t just a utilitarian good; it’s a gift to be enjoyed by a married couple that images nothing less than the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22–33).

There STILL is nothing more important than spreading the Gospel, yet in God’s grand plan, being married is one of the primary qualification for church officers, Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

Do you ever wonder why officers in the church are supposed to be married? Marriage, from Genesis to Revelation, is the very picture of God and His people, of Christ and His church. Revelation closes with the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We will live in community in Heaven.

Christian marriage is a picture of Heaven!

What about people who are same-sex-attracted (SSA)? They seem to be looking for the same kind of intimate-connection, just in a different way. I know a SSA man who calls his partner his “husband“. He travels a lot, but when he gets back home, he wants to go home to a loving-welcome. Many SSA female couples use similar language. ‘Nuf-said.

Are there “advantages” to being single? Yes, but “sleeping-single-in-a-double-bed” isn’t one of them. Neither is “eating alone at a table-for-two“. Neither is coming home to a quiet-house. Neither is sitting-alone in church. Do you get the point?

Maybe God knew what He was talking about when He said “It is not good for the man to be alone“…

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

On Death-Row

I am a prisoner on death-row, convicted, not by some criminal court, but by the court of my own memories and the memories of the people I have wronged. While the bars that restrain me aren’t physical, they are far stronger than any physical bars will ever be, because no matter where I go, they are still there, invisible to you, but very real to me. There is no escaping this prison.

As surely as the triple-murderer will never breathe the fresh-air of freedom, some of our past actions have lasting-consequences. My dad had several diseases when he died, but the only one that wasn’t curable was syphilis. Had it been caught and treated at an early stage, it would have been treatable, but by the time it was discovered, it was long-past being effectively-treatable. His past actions were part of his ultimate-demise.

While I don’t have an incurable-disease, some of my past actions DO have enduring-consequences. Yes, I know that, in Christ, my past is forgiven, but God doesn’t always release us from the temporal-consequences of our past. That I wasn’t as good a husband and father to my first wife and children had consequences then, and it has ongoing-consequences now. I became a suicide-survivor and widower in 1997, and my own children also disowned me in 1997. I lost my whole family in one fell-swoop.

That STILL hasn’t been resolved. My two younger daughters blocked me on Facebook immediately after I messaged one of them to notify them that their grandmother had just died. No response, just BLOCKED.

Recently I discovered that I now have six grandkids, by looking through my oldest daughter’s pictures on Facebook (the only one who hasn’t blocked me – yet). When I mentioned this to my brother Steve, he told me that I shouldn’t be doing this to myself. Am I supposed to forget my own flesh and blood?

I wish that I could say that everything has been peachy since then, but it hasn’t been. I still don’t have this “marriage” thing figured out, that is, how to make it last, because I have been married three times since then, resulting in two divorces and one permanent-separation. Permanent-separation? Yes, my wife moved-out of my house over five years ago and moved-in with another man forty-one days after we got married, and she is living as if she is married to him, not to me. While she is living in adultery, my consequence is that I CAN’T “move-on“, because I am legally-bound to her “til death or divorce do us part“. Oh, I forgot that the “or divorce” wasn’t part of our marriage-vows, so that means “til death do us part“. Do you get the picture?

Numerous people, including my counselor at the VA, have told me that I just need to “move on“. Try telling that to a death-row inmate…

Maybe you are thinking to yourself that I am being a bit over-the-top dramatic, but you haven’t walked a mile, or two or five, in my moccasins. Every time I start to experience a sense of “normalcy“, the defecation-hits-the-rotating-blades (SHTF) – again.

Christians are fond of quoting Romans 8:28 to each other during times of trial and distress. I’ve done it to myself quite a few times, but is it REALLY the right thing to say in the moment?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This is wonderful theology for the long-haul, but poor comfort in the short-run. This verse has a decidedly futuristic-vision, a vision of glory in eternity that will make all of our earthly-troubles pale into insignificance, but it doesn’t deny that we still struggle.

Please, please, please, before you quote this verse to someone who is going through rough times, enter into their grief and pain for a while, be their comforter when they need one, and avoid pouring more gasoline on their fire, because, in the wrong context, Romans 8:28 can feel like a cruel, sadistic joke to someone who is going through hard times.

We are NOT promised that, in this life, we will ever breathe the sweet air of freedom. Many of us will die “on death-row“, never having experienced relationships restored, never having experienced a “good” marriage, never having experienced what most people consider “normal“.

If things are going fairly-well in your life, give thanks to God, and while you are thanking God that you have a good situation, pray for those of us who are still living “on death-row“. If you meet one of us, please be gentle with us. We need care, concern and understanding, rather than a theology-lecture.

In John 11, Jesus didn’t give Mary a theology-lecture. He entered into her pain, John 11:35. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is loaded with meaning. Even though Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He took time – first – to enter into their grief.

Blessings
Steve

Ministry in Samaria

We are picking up where we left off last week, and to recap that study, Jesus, in traveling from Judea to Galilee, went the western-route through Samaria. He and His disciple had come into Sychar, where they stopped for a bite to eat and to rest awhile. It was there, at Jacob’s well, that He encountered a woman coming out to get some water. She had been married several times and was living with a man she wasn’t married to. She had met her long-awaited Messiah.

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”

28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast. (John 4:27-45)
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Last time, we saw Jesus and His conversation with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. As their conversation was just about to wrap up, His disciples who had gone into town to buy food came upon the pair; this is what followed…

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”

Upon their return, the disciples were a bit shocked to see Jesus speaking with this woman for the reasons recounted last time, but they did not insert themselves into the situation. It seems unlikely that they would question Jesus’ morality, but by now, they would certainly should have noticed that He didn’t observe all of the usual customs of the day; they waited for her to leave. The disciples’ attitude reflects both the Jew’s contempt for the Samaritans and the male chauvinism that regarded giving instruction to a woman as a waste of time.

28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” 30 They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.

She left her water jugs behind and rushed into town to tell the people to come and see this man who has told her everything about her life. These townsfolk would most likely be aware that there was much to tell, and her testimony has power in their eyes. Her conclusion that He was a prophet she freely gave, but notice that His statement that He is the Christ she is cautious about; “Could this be the Christ?” The people came to find out.

Why did she leave her waterpot behind? Had she forgotten why she went to the well? What if her message was more important than the water she went to get?

I can imagine her going into town and excitedly telling everyone who would listen about her encounter with Jesus, and even though He claimed to be the Messiah, she still wasn’t quite sure. She probably didn’t expect the Christ to show-up in her town, but He did. She, like many others, was expecting the Messiah to come as the ultimate “conquering-king” who would reunite all of Israel, but He was revealing a very different kind of kingdom, a spiritual kingdom. He was “Christus-Victor“, but in a dramatically-different kind of way.

She was also shocked that Jesus knew and revealed the intimate-secrets of her life. I doubt that we would be very comfortable either if Christ showed us our sin during a face-to-face encounter, and our reaction would probably be similar to Peter’s; “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8), but until we truly-understand the depths of our sin, we will never understand our desperate need for a Savior.

Based on her testimony, many people dropped what they were doing and headed out to meet Jesus. Would we?

31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples were saying to one another, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?” 

His disciples had brought food from town and wanted Jesus to eat something, but Jesus told them that He has food they know nothing about. As always seems to be the case, they take Him literally, wondering if somebody else has given Him food; maybe that woman?

34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest. 36 Already he who reaps is receiving wages and is gathering fruit for life eternal; so that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.”

Jesus explains His meaning: His food (nourishment) is to do His Father’s work. Jesus put kingdom-work ahead of physical-sustenance. When it came to the kingdom of God, Jesus had tunnel-vision. He knew His mission, and as we saw last week, nothing was going to get in His way. Then He proceeds to change the subject to the harvest of souls. His main device in explaining this to them is to point out that it isn’t always the same person who sows the seed and also reaps the harvest. In their case, they have gone into town to buy the food that someone else planted, worked and harvested. They did no work, they just paid for it; someone else did the actual work. The harvest of souls is near; Jesus wants His disciples to see that the time has come to reap this harvest. Of course all of this sowing and reaping is analogous to the Gospel; First the Word of God will be planted in the people, in fact it has already been done; the people expect the Messiah to appear. It is for Jesus and especially for His disciples to bring in the harvest of those who will believe that they might turn to God and receive eternal life.

Jesus took that opportunity to give His disciples more instruction in kingdom-work. Certainly Jesus wanted His disciples to understand that they were to bring in the harvest of the crop that was ready for harvest, and to plant the seed for the harvest that would follow later: Maybe we can learn from this.

They would become “sowers” and “reapers“. Some would do more “sowing“, and some would do more “reaping“, but both are equally-important. Thus it is with all kingdom-work. We may see some of the fruits of our labors, but not always, and another laborer may get to enjoy the fruits of our labors. We have entered into the labors which Jesus and His disciples began two-thousand years ago, and even though they aren’t here to see it, the disciples would be blown-away by how fruitful their ministry was. Those labors had, and continue to have eternal-significance.

39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of His word; 42 and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Because of the woman’s testimony about Jesus, many of the townsfolk believed in Him. As a result they asked Him to stay in with them. so He did so for two days. During this time, even more believed because of His teachings. Now, not only did they believe because of the woman’s testimony, they also had the opportunity to see and hear Jesus for themselves: The harvest in that small town had been reaped. The people there understood that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world.

As mind-blowing as her testimony was, those who saw and heard Jesus for themselves became even more convinced that Jesus was the Christ, the Savior of the world.

Isn’t it interesting that when we share our testimony about Jesus, some people respond right away in faith while others resist and refuse to accept it? Could it be that those who respond easily have had the seed of faith planted by someone else, maybe years before? Could it be that those who refuse our plea may respond easily to someone else weeks or years later?

Had Jesus been a typical Jewish Rabbi, He wouldn’t have gone through Samaria, let alone spend a couple of days there, but Jesus was anything BUT typical. I can imagine that His disciples got a bit antsy when He stayed because they would have been eager to get back into “Jewish” territory. Rubbing shoulders with Samaritans wasn’t comfortable, let alone eating and staying with them, but there may be a lesson for us also.

Jesus’ ministry, both in Samaria, and later in several Gentile regions (Mark 5:1-20, 6:24-37), was the embodiment of the Great Commission (Acts 1:8). He didn’t command His disciples to go anywhere He hadn’t already gone first. Why did it take persecution in Jerusalem for the Apostles to start ministering beyond their “home-turf” (Acts 8–12)?

43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee. 44 For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country. 45 So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.

Even though Jesus and His disciples were “delayed” in getting to Galilee, His stay in Samaria was just another part of His kingdom-ministry. Jesus hadn’t been well-received in Jerusalem, and as a “local-boy“, He wasn’t well-received in Judea either, but that wasn’t the case in Galilee. Many of the Galileans had gone to Jerusalem for Passover and had heard His teaching and seen His miracles, so their hearts were already prepared to hear and receive His message when He got to Galilee. We need to note also that Galileans weren’t well thought-of by Judeans either, particularly by the religious-elite.

Is there any group of people you would be uncomfortable associating with? We are “Samaritans” to the vast-majority of the church because we live a lifestyle that they refuse to understand, and can’t fathom trying, so they don’t have a clue how to ministry to us in our environment. That is why I, as a fellow “Samaritan“, am ministering to you.

In Christ,
Steve

 

 

A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah

Most Jews detoured around Samaria when traveling from Judea to Galilee by crossing the Jordan River twice, but Jesus took the western route through Samaria. The Samaritans were much more lax about their ritual-purification so the Jews considered them “unclean“. The Samaritans had also intermarried more with the heathens around them during their captivities, so many Jews also considered them “half-breeds“. This is NOT to say that the Jews were really any more “racially-pure” than the Samaritans, because they weren’t. Even Jesus had four Gentile women in His ancestry, Tamar, Rahab Ruth and Bathsheba. To make matters worse, there was a running-dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans about where to worship God, Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim. All of this gave rise to the “bad-blood” between them. That was why most Jews refused to go through Samaria for any reason. That background brings us to today’s passage.

4 Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?”. (John 4:1-27
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Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went away again into Galilee.

Jesus’ authority had already been question in Jerusalem several times during Passover, and since the Pharisees had confronted John the Baptist about his baptisms, they may have confronted Jesus also, so, maybe to escape all the controversy in Judea, He decided to go to Galilee where He could minister more freely.

The first four verses of this passage set the background for the story; John the Baptist has been arrested (3:24; Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14; Luke 3:20). Opposition was brewing among the Pharisees in Jerusalem because Jesus’ reputation was growing and He was gaining followers and Jesus decided that this was the time to move back to Galilee. It seems that the arrest of John had the affect of freeing Jesus from John’s ministry; John was decreasing, Jesus was increasing. Jesus takes the mountain road that goes through Samaria that He would later send His disciples on (Acts 1:8). When Jesus arrives in Samaria our story begins.

4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

The children of Israel had occupied this part of Palestine before their departure into Egypt, and everywhere they went, they dug new wells. This was semi-arid, mountainous terrain far from any natural sources of water, so Jacob had dug a well close to what became Sychar. We see Jesus’ true-humanity on display, because after traveling in that rough countryside, He was tired and thirsty. It was 30 miles from Jerusalem to Sychar as the crow flies, but much farther on foot. It was also about noon when they arrived at Sychar. The plot of ground referred to here is referred to in Gen. 48:22 and is roughly a half mile from Jacob’s well (see also Josh. 24:32). Jacob’s well was certainly a well-known location, famous for the spring of bubbling water that it created access to. Jesus arrived there that day at about noon, tired and thirsty.

7 There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Why did she come to the well at noon, rather than in the cool of the day? There is no definitive-answer given, but it could have been to avoid the not-so-nice looks and comments because, even in that society, she was a social-outcast. Did other Samaritans cross the street to avoid her? How many children tagged-along with her? How many different daddies did they have?

Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) How did she know that Jesus was a Jew? Did His accent or mode of dress give Him away? Was it that He was a stranger, so He had to be a Jew? John doesn’t give us any clues, so to speculate is futile.

Approaching a woman at the well He asked for a drink, and the woman’s response is interesting in that she seems to have assumed a quizzical tone; you are a Jew and yet you ask me for a drink? Jews did not associate with Samaritans; in fact the Jewish teaching of the time said that associating with Samaritans would cause a Jew to be defiled. If that were not enough, Jewish men did not speak to women in public; not even their own wives and here is Jesus boldly walking up to a Samaritan woman and asking for water.

10 Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” 11 She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”

As was His custom, Jesus went directly to the lesson He was going to teach, ignoring the customs and traditions of men. The ‘gift of God’ and His identity are the real topics they would discuss: Jesus could provide ‘living water’ and if she understood this she would be asking Him for a drink. Taking Him literally, she notes that Jesus has no means by which to draw water and asks him if He is greater than Jacob whose water isn’t so effective.

Yes, Jesus WAS greater than Jacob, WAY greater!

Of course when Jesus mentions water that would quench a thirst for a lifetime, the woman is interested so that she wouldn’t have to draw water anymore which was very hard work. Notice that in v. 14 Jesus refers to a “spring of water welling up” which is a direct reference to the reputation of Jacob’s well. The water that Jesus was talking about here is a metaphor for eternal life that was the ultimate gift of God; accomplished by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Himself.

15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.”Living-water” was the water which was deep underground, flowing, and the purest, however, Jesus’ usage of “living-water” referred to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was offering eternal-life in the the kingdom of God, but she thought He was offering her an unending source of physical-water from deep underground, such as she would get if Jesus somehow installed indoor-plumbing…

16 He said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”

In verses 16-19, an interesting thing happens: In response to Jesus directive to go and get her husband, the woman tells a falsehood with a half-truth. Jesus knows the whole story, to her amazement and this insight on His part is the probable reason for why she is drawing water at high noon instead of in the cool of the morning with all of the other women. Apparently shocked, she perceives that Jesus is a prophet.

She had had five husbands, but we are not told whether they had died or whether they had divorced her. If she had been widowed each time, she was totally-free to remarry each time, but divorce was a different story in that culture. That she had been married five times is almost a side-issue compared to the fact that she was living with a man she wasn’t married to, because according to Old Testament Law, both of them could and should be stoned. Yes, adultery was a capitol-offense. Before we are too hard on her, a single woman had no means of support, and that was even worse if she still had kids at home. Women were wives and mothers – period. There were no “working-women“, and if her kids couldn’t support her, she and her family went hungry. Like it or not, a woman’s only “assets” were her usefulness to her husband. That was why the custom of kinsman-redeemer came into being, which is one of the core-themes in the book of Ruth.

Simply-put, the kinsman-redeemer custom required that if a woman’s husband died before leaving her an heir to support her, his brother or another close-relative was required to marry her and give her a son. Their first-born became the heir of the deceased-husband’s estate, and if the husband didn’t already have an heir, of his estate also. None of this assumed that the kinsman-redeemer was single, because plural-marriage wasn’t forbidden in the Old Testament. Refusal was seriously frowned-on and brought public-disdain. While this custom doesn’t resonate with us today, it does emphasize the importance God places on family and caring for those who cannot care for themselves.

A few more pieces of background information:
1) The firstborn son received a double-portion of his father’s inheritance so he could support his parents when they became unable to support themselves.

2) Daughters didn’t receive an inheritance because they were expected to marry and their husband would support them. They also married young, usually between 12 and 14.

3) Jesus was Mary’s firstborn son but he assigned her care to John, one of His disciples, rather than to one of His brothers.

19 The woman said to Him, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Notice how quickly she changed the subject and goes on to religious matters…after all Jesus must be a prophet. This goes back to one of the age-old disputes between the Jews and the Samaritans. During the time of the divided-kingdom, the Samaritans were not able to go to Jerusalem to worship, so they established their own worship-center. They still weren’t welcome in Jerusalem.

21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” Jesus pointed her to the fact that worship isn’t about a “location“, as significant as that location might be. He tells her that God isn’t really interested in where a person worships; God cares HOW a person worships. In God’s sight, what is important is that a person worships in ‘spirit and in truth’: The time has come for this epochal change. From the coming of Christ forward the old regulations and traditions are set aside and replaced with reality.

Worship is about God, plain and simple, and we don’t need “special-place” to worship God. God is not restricted to a specific-place, and He is just a delighted in the praises and worship of our small family of believers here as He is from those gathered in the grandest cathedral. He has also promised to be in our midst.

She says that when the Messiah comes he will tell us all about this (not you, a mere prophet). Jesus’ reply reveals to her who He really is, for He is the Messiah. (v. 26)

26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” This is the only time Jesus claimed the Messianic-title before His trial leading up to His crucifixion. The Samaritan woman, whose name is known only to God, met her long-awaited Messiah.

Isn’t it interesting how much like this woman we are!

27 At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why do You speak with her?” For a man to talk to a woman he wasn’t related to was a huge cultural “NO-NO“, and that Jesus was talking to a Samaritan woman was an even-bigger shock, yet Jesus came to Earth for a purpose and He wasn’t going to let cultural-convention get in His way.

Even today, we are constrained by cultural-norms in our social interactions with one another, but they were even stricter then because women were not only second-class-citizens, they were the property of their husband. A man didn’t even speak to his own wife in public, let alone a woman he didn’t even know, but that didn’t stop Jesus from having a conversation with this unnamed woman.

Next time, we will pick up from here with Ministry in Samaria…

Blessings!
Steve

Happy New Year!!!

Yeah, I know, I am fifty-four days late, but better late than never. HAH! Just kidding… Actually, I am NOT kidding. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! This is a new year. This is the first day of the rest of my life!

Last year was a disaster just about from start to finish, but that disaster didn’t magically resolve-itself January 1st. Lest you have forgotten, I lost my mom to cancer April 4th, and a friend to suicide October 12th. His funeral was October 21st, the day before the 20th “anniversary” of Connie’s death by suicide, October 22, 1997. We had a memorial service January 13th for a friend who had been a part of Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship, and who passed away between Christmas and New Years. That means that 2017 really wasn’t “over” until after January 13th, or was it?

My Brother is STILL in Shand’s Hospital, after having been either in a hospital or a rehab-center for over five months. He has been an inmate in three different hospitals and four different rehab-centers. Yes, you read that right. He hasn’t been HOME in over FIVE MONTHS, and no, he hasn’t been “deployed” somewhere. SO, I have moved MY New Year’s celebration up to February 23rd, my birthday. No, I don’t want my birthday made into a Federal holiday. I’m not THAT important.

As I sat by the pool at Cypress Cove chatting with friends, walking by the lake, or soaking up some sun in the pool, wearing nothing but a grin, a hat and some sunscreen, I thought; “What a great way to start this new year.” I am hoping to get a lot more of that “sunshine-therapy” this year. It is good for both body AND soul.

While you may be thinking that I have lost my mind, I am hoping and praying this new year, beginning today, will truly be a new and better year than last year was.

Life is NOT always a “bed-of-roses” because rose-bushes are guarded by thorns, so to get to the beauty, you have to go through the pain. Reinhold Niebuhr captured these thoughts very elegantly in the “Serenity Prayer“.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

Blessings!
Steve

John the Baptist Exalts Christ

Passover in Jerusalem had been a hectic time for Jesus and His disciples, so they left Jerusalem after Passover and went back out into the countryside. The crowds had been a constant reminder of how many people needed Jesus and His attention. He may not even have gotten a “night-off”, as Nicodemus, and who knows how many others came to see Him at night. I doubt, however, that Jesus really got a break, because people always managed to find Him. John the Baptist and his disciples were also in the area, preaching and baptizing. John affirms his role in preparing the way for the Lord while exalting Christ.

22 After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized— 24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison.

25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. 26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” 27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.

31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:22-36)

Jesus took some time with His disciples to train them for their part in His ministry. Even though Jesus took the lead, He probably allowed His disciples to do the actual baptisms, because as we see in John 4:1-2, (Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were.), even though baptisms were attributed to Jesus, He wasn’t actually performing them. I suspect that Jesus did the preaching and His disciples did the baptizing.

24 for John had not yet been thrown into prison. John is giving us a time-line reference.

25 Therefore there arose a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification. We shouldn’t be surprised about a discussion regarding Jewish purification-customs coming up because many Jews were meticulous about their purification-rituals. What might have been practical in an urban-setting wasn’t always practical in the wilderness. Jesus also got into many disputes with the Pharisees about ritual-purification, because as we have seen in the past, if God hadn’t given enough purification-rules to suit the Pharisees, they made up more of their own. Jesus wasn’t meticulous about ritual-purification and I doubt that John and his disciples were either.

What is interesting is that somehow this debate prompted John the Baptist’s disciples to complain that the ministry of Jesus and His disciples was receiving acclaim: all were “going to Him” (v. 26). These disciples of John evidently saw Jesus and His followers as rivals and were disturbed by their success.

26 And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified, behold, He is baptizing and all are coming to Him.” Were John’s disciples jealous of Jesus, and did they expect John to be jealous of Him too? That certainly appears to be the case, but as John’s answer reveals, he was not only NOT jealous of Jesus, he was elated.

27 John answered and said, “A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven. 28 You yourselves are my witnesses that I said, ‘I am not the Christ,’ but, ‘I have been sent ahead of Him.’ 29 He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. So this joy of mine has been made full. 30 He must increase, but I must decrease.”

John knew the source of his authority to minister, but he also understood the limits of his ministry. As if to pop his disciples “bubble“, he reiterated that he was NOT the Christ, merely a forerunner. Then he compares Jesus to the bridegroom who alone gets the bride.

I have been “best-man” twice for a close friend of mine, when he married Patricia, and when he married Phyllis, and he was my “best-man’ when I married Sandy D. As “best-man“, we were there for reach other and to support each other.

This marriage-metaphor is used throughout Scripture for “God and His people” or “Christ and His church“, God or Christ being the “bridegroom” and God’s people or the church being the “bride“. John was a friend of Jesus, the bridegroom, and he was elated at the upcoming “marriage“, that is, that many people were coming to Christ. John also knew that his tenure would be short, and even though he had been a “starter” for a while, he was already being relegated to the status of “bench-warmer“. John was, at-most, Jesus’ “best-man“. John knew his place in God’s kingdom, and we should too.

30 “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

As we will see, the reason for Jesus’ increase was not merely because He held a higher office than John. It is not that John the Baptist and Jesus were both merely men holding offices or roles that differed in rank, although Jesus’ office as Messiah was indeed greater than John’s role as the Messiah’s forerunner. Instead, Jesus had to increase in the eyes of others because He is God incarnate.

Even though John the Baptist was the last of the Old Testament prophets, and his coming had been anticipated for hundreds of years, as we see from the passage, he didn’t have a big-head. In fact, he could have written “Humility 101“. He knew that, in the grand scheme of things, compared to Jesus, he was a “nobody“.

That lesson has been lost on many of today’s high-powered teachers and preachers. It seems that they have even taken “Self-Promotion 101” in seminary. As I peruse the Twitter-verse, I can easily trace the journeys of several of the big-name teachers and preachers by their announcements about where they are going to be teaching or preaching next. Some of them are racking-up more frequent-flier miles than many businessmen. Maybe it is just my perception, but who are they promoting, themselves, or Jesus?

Jesus, on the other hand, didn’t have an agent or promoter, didn’t advertise, had no advance-team, and He rarely planned His next move in advance. As He moved about the countryside, He responded to ministry-opportunities as they appeared. Sometimes He moved in response to the actions of others.

My calling is to be a servant-leader, and I am elated when someone comes to know our Lord or to know Him better. It wasn’t about John, as this Bible study isn’t about me. Jesus Christ was his primary-focus as He is mine also.

31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32 What He has seen and heard, of that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. 33 He who has received His testimony has set his seal to this, that God is true. 34 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God; for He gives the Spirit without measure. 35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John the Baptist and Jesus were not merely two God-empowered human-messengers, there was a fundamental-difference between them. While they WERE both human, Jesus was the Messiah, Emmanuel, God with us, so His origin was from Heaven.

John then goes on to speak about the sources of their respective messages. While John’s message was from above, as was his commission, he only had limited knowledge. Jesus, who originated in heaven, spoke with divine-authority. Jesus was fully-empowered by the Holy Spirit, so His message was much broader and more expansive than John’s.

Consider verse 31, which contrasts the one who is “of the earth” with the One “who comes from Heaven“. Here, being “of the earth” refers to those who have a strictly earthly origin, those who are only human and do not come from the presence of God Himself. It is not inherently bad or wrong to be simply human; indeed, it is a great privilege to be made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27). Nevertheless, human beings are limited creatures. They are finite in their understanding. Despite having been called to be a prophet by the Lord, John the Baptist was limited in what he knew and could proclaim. This was true of all of the prophets.

The same doesn’t apply to Jesus, the One “who comes from above“. While He was fully-human, with all of humanity’s non-sinful limitations, as God incarnate, He also possesses a divine nature. His origin is heavenly; that is, He comes from the presence of God. That which He reveals is not merely a testimony that He received from God, and then passes on to others; rather, the things of which Jesus speaks are things He has heard and seen as the second person of the Godhead (v. 32). As the second person of the Godhead, He possesses the Spirit without measure (v. 34). All other prophets has a gifting of the Spirit in a limited way; none of them possessed the fullness of the Spirit. However, Jesus is all that the Holy Spirit is in His deity and nothing is hidden from Him, according to His divine nature. The other prophets of God were not told everything, only what they needed to know. Sometimes they had to work to figure certain things out, and even then they didn’t know everything (1 Peter 1:10-11).

We see another interesting statement: “for He gives the Spirit without measure.” I believe that this statement was looking forward to the time when God would pour His Holy Spirit out on all believers, not just an “anointed-few“. Jesus was, at that time, the only person fully-empowered by the Holy Spirit, but that was going to change, and soon.

35 The Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand. This statement points forward to the day when Jesus will be enthroned as “King of kings and Lord of lords”, but He must go to the cross first. While, in a sense, Jesus, in His deity, was God and Lord over all, it would not be fully-realized until after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension back into heaven.

This statement also points forward to when Jesus would give the Great Commission: 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)Go” isn’t merely a suggestion, it is a command, and the authority we go in comes from Christ. As we go, we are to make disciples, and our message is to be the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

John then reiterates this Gospel-message: 36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” The Gospel is incomplete without both the Good-News; “He who believes in the Son has eternal life;“, AND the Bad-News; “but he who does not believe the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” Without understanding the bad-news, we don’t know that we need the Good-News. We can’t add-to or subtract-from that Gospel-message, even though many Christians like to add to it. Salvation is by grace through faith, NOT grace through faith-plus, the “plus” usually being “works“. Jesus and John didn’t tolerate legalism then, and we shouldn’t tolerate it now.

Do YOU believe in Jesus?

In Christ,
Steve

You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the ruling council came to Jesus in the night with a question, and although he never actually got around to asking it, Jesus gave him considerably more of an answer than Nicodemus had bargained for. In fact, Jesus in His answer gave what many commentators believe is an example of His early preaching; a wide ranging explanation of how a person can be saved through the New Covenant He would make with Man. He will speak of many things in this conversation, and by the time it concludes He will have set out God’s plan for Mankind

Not all Pharisees rejected Jesus, as we see in this week’s passage. Nicodemus was a Jewish religious-leader who didn’t quite know what to make of Jesus, so he came to Him to have a wee chat. He was not just any “rank-and-file” Pharisee, rather he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the most-powerful religious-body of the day. He recognized that God was with Jesus because of the signs and miracles which He had performed. While other religious leaders were demanding more signs, Nicodemus wanted to know more about Jesus, the Man behind the signs.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

16 “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. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:1-21)

Why did Nicodemus come to Jesus at night? Was he afraid of being discovered and losing-face with his fellow religious-leaders? Did he come to Jesus at night because Jesus was too busy during the day? Was he walking in spiritual-darkness, as symbolized by his night-visit to Jesus, hoping to get some spiritual-illumination? Was Nicodemus trying to flatter Jesus with his opening-statement? We may never know, but Jesus changed the subject immediately.

Nicodemus opens the conversation with a statement; saying that “we” know that Jesus is from God for His miracles have confirmed the fact. The use of “we” is interesting, for it implies that as of this early date many, if not all, of the Pharisees had come to the realization that Jesus was the real deal, or, did Nicodemus have a mouse in his pocket?. In His reply, Jesus goes ahead to answer the question Nicodemus is working up to when He tells him that he must be born again.

Nicodemus didn’t understand that Jesus wasn’t there just to teach and perform miracles, even though He did both. He was there to seek and save the lost, people who were spiritually-dead even though they were “religious“, like Nicodemus. Apart from Christ, we aren’t just “spiritually-sick“, we are stone-cold dead. Jesus also knew that His ultimate mission was to die on the cross and rise again on the third day. That salvation was what Jesus called being “born-again“. Nicodemus may have been looking for the kind of Messiah who would establish an earthly-kingdom, and not understanding that His kingdom was NOT of this world. Jesus quickly popped that bubble by saying “unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

4 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?”

Nicodemus, as most people would do, took Jesus’ statement literally; it seems at first to be ridiculous, because he KNEW that a person couldn’t re-enter his mother’s womb and be physically re-born. Even though he was highly-educated in the Old Testament, and a teacher, he didn’t understand that the whole Old Testament pointed forward to Christ. All the rituals, all the sacrifices, while they had meaning, couldn’t cleanse a person from, let alone atone for their sin. Animal-sacrifices covered-over sin, but they didn’t atone for it. To atone for sin required a more-perfect sacrifice, a human-sacrifice, the spotless Lamb of God. Only a human-sacrifice could atone for human’s sin.

Jesus, on the other hand is speaking of an entirely different kind of life, a life that is entirely apart from this physical realm. This birth is of “water and the Spirit” rather than from flesh and blood. Keep in mind that from the OT Jewish point of view, a person is born into God’s Kingdom (earthly Israel) through physical birth. This is a shadow of things to come, for what will become reality through Christ is “rebirth” into the Kingdom of Heaven. This will be accomplished through water at baptism and the Spirit through the Gospel message ( cf. 1 Cor. 4:15 and 1 Peter 1:23 ). This kingdom is not a small and weak little nation that is living under foreign occupation, but a majestic and ultimately powerful kingdom headed by God Himself that will cover the entire globe forever. When we are born physically, we are born spiritually-dead, still-born, and this “rebirth” is not merely “resuscitation“, as Lazarus was not merely “resuscitated” in John 11, but totally-resurrected. God doesn’t do “spiritual-CPR“, as if we are in “spiritual-cardiac-arrest“, He makes us spiritually-alive. Spiritually, without Christ, we are “dead-men-walking“, spiritual “Zombies“.

5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Verse 8 illustrates Jesus’ remark in verse 6: When something is born of flesh, you know where it came from, but something born of the Spirit is like something borne by the wind, you don’t know where it came from or where it is going, because our physical senses can’t quite perceive these things. Someone or something born of the Spirit can only be perceived by someone else who is born of the Spirit.

This answer reflects and emphasizes the fact that salvation, seeing the kingdom of God, is completely and solely the work of God. As we can’t be “reborn” physically, we also can’t become “born-again” by our own efforts. Nicodemus was a “good” man, a law-abiding Pharisee, but his own “goodness” could never gain him entrance into God’s kingdom. Only God, through Jesus Christ, was able to do that miraculous work.

9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.

Poor Nicodemus is having trouble following this, and so would we in his place… and so does anyone who is not “of the Spirit” today. Jesus’ main point here is that He has been teaching the people about earthly things, and they haven’t believed… even though He has been telling them about things that He has witnessed. Thus, He has been giving testimony. In the same way, nobody can testify about heaven unless he has been there; Jesus has come from Heaven and is giving testimony of what He has seen, heard and knows for a fact. It’s as though Jesus was telling Nicodemus: “Come on buddy, you’re a teacher of Israel, you’re supposed to understand this stuff. If you didn’t know about it before, you’re supposed to be educated enough to recognize reliable testimony and believe it: stay with me here!”

Jesus, and His mission, were badly-misunderstood by even the most highly-educated Jews, because they disregarded the “suffering-servant” prophesies in favor of the “victorious-Lord” prophesies, not realizing that the “victorious-Lord” prophesies were for the far-distant future. They imagined the Messiah coming on a mighty-steed, leading a conquering-army, rather than on a lowly donkey.

Jesus then turns Nicodemus’ attention to an event during the Jews wilderness-wanderings. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;

The Bronze Serpent

4 Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. 5 The people spoke against God and Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.”

6 The Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. 7 So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, because we have spoken against the Lord and you; intercede with the Lord, that He may remove the serpents from us.” And Moses interceded for the people. 8 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.” 9 And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (Numbers 21:4-9)

Jesus continues to attempt to communicate with Nicodemus by using an illustration from Israel’s past that he would be familiar with. The Jews had grumbled against God – again, so God sent judgment in the form of poisonous-snakes. Once they repented, God ordered Moses to make a bronze-likeness of the snake and raise it up for all to see. When the serpent was lifted up before them and they gazed upon it in faith, they would live. If not… they would die. In the same way, Jesus will be lifted up before the people (on the cross). Jesus said that this event was a foreshadowing of His crucifixion. Those who look to Him in faith will live.

What symbol do medical-people use today? The Caduceus, which features two entwined snakes around a pole, topped with wings, has been adopted by many in the medical community. Do they see themselves as “saviors“?

This brings us to the best-known and most-loved verse in the Bible, John 3:16. “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.” If we have any doubt about how much God loves mankind and His creation, this should put any of those doubts to rest. We know, from reading “the rest of the story“, that God will, in due-time, renew and restore ALL of His creation, including us.

17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” (John 3:17-21)

Verses 16-18 are probably the most familiar part of this text of all to Christians; it is the very heart of the Gospel setting out just exactly the whole core of Christian Theology. God has sent His Son into the world to save Mankind from the consequences of rebellion against God. Those who believe Him will have eternal life; those who refuse will perish because they have already condemned themselves by their refusal. God loves all Mankind and genuinely wants them to be saved, but He allows them to exercise their free will on the matter: How will you decide?

John 3:16 also rules-out any form of “Universalism”, as is commonly-expressed in our society. “Good” people don’t automatically go to Heaven, nor do they become “angels”. If they weren’t trusting in Christ-alone for their salvation, Hell just claimed another victim, judged by their own unbelief.

The final verses of this passage use the illustration of “light”. Jesus is the light, the truth that shines in a dark world. The world has done evil, it has rejected the light; it has rejected the truth. Yet, if we do what is good, if we believe the One who was sent by God as the light of the world, we will move into the light and our testimony will light the darkness and the world will see that we are doing God’s work. Again, this is a thumbnail of the Gospel message at work in our lives. In the remainder of this chapter, John has set forth the testimony of John the Baptist about Jesus. It is interesting to note that John (the author) has put these passages together in this way. First, you have the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus sets out the whole Gospel plan to a Pharisee, who presumably will report on it, and second, you have the Baptist’s testimony that Jesus is the Christ and about the Gospel as a third party validation. Jesus’ teaching, followed by a third party validation: John is pulling out all of the persuasive stops in this section!

Jesus came to save, not judge, but as we see here, those who fail to believe in Jesus have been judged already because they have rejected their only hope of salvation. I am sure that we all know people who range from simple-unbelief to outright-antagonism towards the Gospel. I have known people who are Pagans, Atheists, and even Luciferians, and the only way I could show the Gospel to them is by living it and loving them. The are proud of their ungodly-ways. Any attempts to evangelize them would be rebuffed, but they don’t reject love. We live in the light because Jesus has set us free from the darkness of our sin. They live in the darkness, hoping that God, if there is a God, isn’t watching their evil-deeds.

In Christ,

Steve