Who Are The Religious “Elite”?

If you thought that the religious “elite“, which Jesus denounced in Matthew 23, the “scribes, Pharisees and teachers of the Law“, had gone extinct, you would be sadly-mistaken. As there were in the time of Christ, there are people who consider themselves the religious “elite“. They don’t call themselves by those titles anymore, but make no mistake about it, the religious “elite” is alive and well. They have just “re-branded” themselves. Rather than “scribe“, they are “DOCTOR“. Rather than “Pharisee“, they are “President” or “Dean“. Rather than “teachers of the Law“, they are “Professor” or “Fellow“.

Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, 2 saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; 3 therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. 4 They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger. 5 But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. 6 They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, 7 and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. 8 But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 10 Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. 11 But the greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. (Matthew 23:1-12)

From Jesus’ description of them, it is easy to imagine them as a bunch of Bantie Roosters strutting around with their noses in the air. Oh, but that couldn’t be describing any of the religious “elite” today, could it? Yes, and they are easy to find, particularly on Twitter. If a person knows where to look on Twitter, they can compile a list of the religious “who’s-who“, the “elite“, in just a few minutes.

That list will include who is racking-up more frequent-flier miles than an international business-mogul, who has just published their latest book and how many books they have written, who is appearing at what conferences, oh, and who just got their latest honorary doctorate degree. Their face will be plastered prominently on Twitter, as if we need reminding of who they are and what they look like, AND, they will always have DR. in front of their name, along with whatever titles they have accumulated. They tend to run in “packs” wherever they go, patting each other on the back and reminding everyone how “important” they are. If you REALLY want to be impressed, look for them in their pictures in their academic gowns. WOW!!! Color me impressed – NOT!

One such popular preacher, teacher and writer has almost a million “followers” on Twitter, many of whom hang on his every word. Unfortunately, not all of his “theology” is biblical or reliable. May the buyer-beware, because he has plastered a religious-veneer on some very man-centered “theology“. If this particular “theology” is SO “biblical“, as he claims, why haven’t more theologians, teachers and writers picked it up? I have Googled it before, and all links lead right back to him, because nobody else will touch it with a ten-foot pole. Maybe it isn’t so “biblical” after all.

It is easy to become “addicted” to the popularity, adoration and adulation, but Scripture would caution them to take themselves off of their pedestals, lest God do it for them, and they lose more than just their “good-name“.

Are they REALLY the religious “elite“, or are they really “legends in their own minds“? Sadly, we have also seen way too many of them fall, and fall HARD, and the higher their pedestal, the farther they fell. Whether it was gross sexual-misconduct or a DWI, they AND their pedestal came crashing to the ground. BUT, if they keep their noses clean, they may even get a “chair” named after them at some religious institution.

Note: I am NOT commenting on anything to do with the Roman Catholic Church. They are their own thing, with their own problems, beginning with their man-made religion.

If I was the only person who has noticed this, I might be dismissed as some “kook“, but I’m not. A friend, who is an Elder in the church I attended in Lake City, commented on this on Twitter quite recently. He gets around quite a bit too. There really are, within Evangelical Christianity, a LOT of “personality-cults” which have grown around some of the more visible religious “elite“.

I just have one question: Who are they pointing people to, themselves or Jesus Christ?

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Ruth – From Macro to Micro

There are books in the Bible which are quite easy to pass-over or ignore, and Ruth is one of them. It is quite possible for a person to read the book of Ruth and think that it is little more than a cute romance-story, but they wouldn’t even have scratched the surface of its significance. They might even wonder why God bothered including Ruth in Scripture, but they would be missing those beautiful, juicy, tender, “Filet Mignon” gems hiding beneath the surface. So, with that in mind, I want to look at where the book of Ruth fits into the over-arching-narrative of the Bible, and then zoom-in on what we can learn from it.

The Bible…
The Bible is one grand story from beginning to end, which can be broken-up into three “acts“, encompassing many sub-stories. The story of the Bible is of God’s relationship with mankind, and how, after that relationship is broken, God set about to restore that relationship, and make it personal. The Bible both begins and ends in God’s Garden. When one fails to place the Bible events within the context of the Scripture’s meta-narrative, they will miss nuances that they should not miss, and will fail to appreciate the unity of scriptural teaching.

Act I…
Act I begins with creation, creation of the cosmos, creation of the plants and animals, and creation of mankind, Adam and Eve. Before the Fall, God and man had perfect fellowship, a perfect relationship, as God intended. Genesis 1 & 2 recount those events. Beginning in Genesis 3, we see the Fall, and how it destroyed that perfect relationship between God and mankind. After creating the cosmos by the Word of His power, God knelt in the dust of the ground to make His final and ultimate-creation – mankind (Genesis 2:7), and gave both mankind and animals all of the fruits and plants for food, with one exception; 16 The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; 17 but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.”(Genesis 2:16-17)

The penalty for disobedience was death. Period! When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden-fruit, God could have rightly struck them dead on the spot, but He didn’t. He set the stage for Act II in Genesis 3:15:
“And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall crush your the head,
And you shall bruise him on the heel.”

God could have abandoned or “rebooted” His human-project, but He didn’t. He set-about to redeem mankind which opens in Genesis 4.

Act II…
Act II tells the story from the promise of a Redeemer to its ultimate-fulfillment by Jesus Christ, on the Cross. While our English Bibles divide the Old Testament and the New Testament between Malachi and Matthew, the Gospels are really part of the Old Testament, because the “old-order” isn’t fulfilled and done-away-with until the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. If you recall, when Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the Temple between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies was torn in two, thus removing the veil that had always separated God and His people. Christ, on the Cross, inaugurated the “new-order

Ruth is part of Act II, and tells part of the story about how God used ordinary people to help fulfill the promise the Genesis 3:15, the coming of the Redeemer. Ruth looks forward to an ultimate-fulfillment, to come later, which the entire Old Testament, from Genesis 3:15 to the Cross, was pointing to.

Act III…
Act III tells the story of how God again used ordinary people in bringing into reality the ultimate-restoration of His relationship with His chosen people from mankind. Act III is about fulfilling God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12:3, that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed”. Act III closes in the closing chapters of Revelation with God’s people being restored to perfect fellowship with God in His Garden, just as the story began in Genesis 1 & 2. The overarching-story has come full-circle.

Focusing in on Ruth…
From our long-lens view of the Bible, we will now start focusing-in on some of the important, but often-overlooked details in Ruth. We will start with the setting:

Setting…
Every human story has to have a setting, a discrete time and place. There are times when, as much as might like to be in more than one place at the same moment, it is physically and humanly impossible. God isn’t limited by time and place, because He is infinite. Man is finite.

TIme…
Ruth 1 begins by giving us a snapshot of its timeline:
Now it came about in the days when the judges governed (Ruth 1:1a)

When did the judges govern? The period of the judges was from just after the death of Joshua until the coming of Samuel. The judges ruled Israel for about 350 years, from about 1400 BC until 1050 BC. Thus, the children of Israel had mostly conquered the Promised Land, and were starting to settle-in. That time can be summed-up with; “In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

Can we get closer than that, and where might we find that information? How about Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus Christ, in Matthew 1? Low and behold, we find another data-point in Matthew 1:5a: Salmon begat Boaz by Rahab;”

Who was Rahab? Rahab is introduced to us in Joshua 2:1-21. She was the innkeeper/prostitute who sheltered the spies in Jericho, and helped them escape safely. She asked for, a received a promise that she and her family would be spared when the Israelites conquered Jericho. That promise was fulfilled in Joshua 6:17-25. So what became of her after that? She disappeared off of the Old Testament “radar“, so we wouldn’t know “the rest of the story” without Matthew 1:5. She settled-down with Salmon, and they had Boaz. This helps us bracket our timeline even more precisely.

We will take a closer-look at Boaz’s genealogy when we look at “types” a bit later.

How old was Boaz when he met Ruth? We aren’t told, so we can’t be sure, but I think it is safe to say that an old, gray-headed man wouldn’t get too excited about marrying a twenty-something woman, but maybe a forty-something man might. This brackets our timeline to closer to the beginning of the period of the judges, within a few years of the Israelites’ conquest of the Promised Land.

Place…
Ruth begins and ends in Bethlehem. The scene immediately transitions into Moab: And a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the land of Moab with his wife and his two sons. 2 The name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife, Naomi; and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah. Now they entered the land of Moab and remained there.(Ruth 1:1c, 2)

Why the change in scenery? there was a famine in the land.(Ruth 1:1b) Why the famine? In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

As they frequently did in the wilderness, the Israelites again forgot which God they were supposed to serve, and as a result, God sent a famine to punish and remind them.

The journey back to Bethlehem takes place in Ruth 1:6-22. Bethlehem is the setting for the rest of this story.

Time-stamps…
An important time-stamp for this story is in Ruth 1:22b; And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest. Why is this particular time-stamp important? Barley has the shortest growing-season of the cereal grains, so it is the first to be harvested. It would give Ruth the opportunity to work for their sustenance, and there would be plenty of time to store away grains for winter.

Our next time-stamp comes in Ruth 3:2; 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. Naomi has hatched a plan for Ruth to propose to Boaz that he become their kinsman-redeemer, and it doesn’t take long before that opportunity arises. How long have they been in Bethlehem? For the duration of the barley harvest, a few days to a couple of weeks. BTW, who is orchestrating these events? There are no “coincidences” in the Bible. I have known of other very-short courtships, but this one just about takes the cake.

Naomi and Ruth were redeemed, and Ruth was married before they had even been in Bethlehem a month. WOW!!!

I used to have a brother-in-law who remarried shortly after he lost his first wife, but he and his second wife had known each other since they were kids…literally.

Now that we know where it took place, and approximately when it took place, who are our main characters?

Characters…
Since Naomi’s husband and sons both appear and disappear within the first five verses of Ruth, while they helped set the stage, they aren’t integral to the continuation of story.

Naomi…
Naomi and her family were “Ephrathites of Bethlehem in Judah” (Ruth 1:2). When the Israelites settled the Promised Land, each Tribe got its allotted area, which was further broken-down by clans and families. Thus, the Ephrathites settled the area around Bethlehem. We find an interesting prophesy concerning the coming Redeemer in Micah 5:2;

But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah,
Too little to be among the clans of Judah,
From you One will go forth for Me to be ruler in Israel.
His goings forth are from long ago,
From the days of eternity.”

Maybe Ephrathah wasn’t so “insignificant” after all.

Ruth…
Ruth was a Moabite, so who were the Moabites?

The Moabites were descended from Lot, Abraham’s nephew, by one of his daughters (Genesis 19:33-37). It was an incestuous relationship, because his daughters feared that Lot’s family-line would die-out, since Lot had no sons and there were no available husbands for them in a cave in the wilderness.

The relationship between the Moabites and the Israelites waxed and waned, but it was at least “cordial” during the time of Naomi and Ruth.

Cultural note…
While we recoil in disgust at the mention of incest, there was no cultural-taboo against it during the days of the Patriarchs. God didn’t regulate the “degree-of-separation” for intra-family marriages until He gave the Law at Mt. Sinai. Sarah was Abraham’s half-sister. Abraham sent his servant back to “his brother’s family” to take a wife for Isaac, so Isaac and Rebekah were cousins. Likewise, Isaac sent Jacob back to “family” to find a wife, so Jacob, Rachael and Leah were cousins. Intra-family-marriage, incest, was a very common and accepted practice.

Think about it a moment; How did the earth get populated originally, since mankind began with one couple, Adam and Eve? How did the earth get repopulated after the Flood, since that re-population depended on three related couples? The purpose of this exercise is to help us wrap our heads around the cultures at the times when the Old Testament was recorded. We can’t judge what happened three-thousand years ago by our cultural-norms today.

Boaz…
Our last significant character is Boaz. Who was he?

Now Naomi had a kinsman of her husband, a man of great wealth, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. (Ruth 2:1)

Boaz was related to Elimelech, perhaps a cousin. Boaz was also well-known, well-respected and well-connected in the area, as we will see later when he goes to bat for Naomi and Ruth. He was one of the community’s “movers and shakers”.

As we have seen from Matthew 1:5, Boaz’s father was Salmon and his mother was Rahab. We will delve deeper into his family-history in the next section; Types.

Types…
God used “types” in the Old Testament to point forward to a greater fulfillment which was to come. For instance; God chose the children of Israel to be His special people, and yet, not all of the physical descendents of Israel were or will be saved. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ time claimed Abraham as their “father“, but rejected Jesus, who was the promised-one who was to come to bless all the nations of the earth. The New Testament equates all believers with “spiritual Israel“, “Abraham’s spiritual seed“. All of “spiritual Israel” will be saved, but not all of physical Israel will be saved.

Ruth…
Ruth, in embracing Naomi’s God as her God (Ruth 1:16-17), became a “type” of all Gentiles who would come to God by faith. Yes, Ruth is, if you will, our “spiritual-mother“. She was also an industrious, hard-working woman who had no problem taking the initiative.

Boaz…
We see Boaz, in redeeming Naomi and Ruth, as the penultimate “type” of the Redeemer who was to come, Jesus Christ. All who come to faith in God through Jesus Christ become part of God’s redeemed family.

Slaves are still bought and sold in parts of the world today. What if a man went to a slave-market and found a young boy or girl who was being sold into slavery, but rather than buying them to be his slave, he bought (redeemed) them to be part of his family? Rather than taking that child home to be a slave, he took that child home, gave them a bath, dressed them in nice, clean clothes, and at dinner time, showed them their place at the family table, where there was plenty of food to eat, and then at bed time, showed them to their bedroom, where they have their own clean bed to sleep in? That child even bears the family-name, since they are a real part of the family.

That is a picture of our redemption and adoption into God’s family, which Jesus procured on the cross on our behalf.

Before we come to faith in God through Jesus Christ, we are slaves to sin and Satan, but when we come by faith to God, Jesus Christ, through His shed-blood and finished-work on the Cross, redeems us, not to be slaves any longer, but to be sons and daughters of God. By redeeming Naomi and Ruth, Boaz made them part of his family. They weren’t poor widows any more. They had a place at Boaz’s table, and Ruth also had a place in his bedroom.

Boaz wasn’t the first kinsman-redeemer in the Old Testament, but he was the first to “get it right“. The kinsman-redeemer custom was well-established long before God enshrined it in His law (Deuteronomy 25:5-10). The importance of having a male heir in that society can not be overstated. When God didn’t keep His promise of an heir for Abraham soon enough, he tried to short-circuit the process by having Ishmael by Hagar (Genesis 16:3-16). As we saw earlier, Lot’s daughters had children by Lot through incest (Genesis 19:33-37). One of those sons became the father of the Moabites.

One thing we need to note from Deuteronomy 25:5-6:
5 “When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. 6 It shall be that the firstborn whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, so that his name will not be blotted out from Israel.”

Do you see something missing? There is no “marital-status” stipulation for the kinsman-redeemer, so it didn’t matter whether the kinsman-redeemer was single or already-married, or whether he already had an heir or not. Polygamy was not forbidden by God, so it was fairly-common during that time. Contrary to popular-opinion, God never outlawed polygamy in the Bible, with one exception, Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13), who are only permitted one wife. Polygamy was still practiced in Israel during the time of Christ.

Redemption often meant more that just caring for the widow, particularly if land was involved. By the time of Ruth, the Israelites had settled most of the Promised Land, and each tribe clan and family got their allotted parcel of land. Thus, when Boaz redeemed Naomi and Ruth, he also redeemed their land, land he would farm to bring them income. Otherwise, that land would lay fallow. It would also pass on to Naomi/Ruth’s son(s). That land could not be sold outside of their family and tribe.

This didn’t matter to Boaz, but it sure mattered to the other potential kinsman-redeemer;
4 Now Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there, and behold, the close relative of whom Boaz spoke was passing by, so he said, “Turn aside, friend, sit down here.” And he turned aside and sat down. 2 He took ten men of the elders of the city and said, “Sit down here.” So they sat down. 3 Then he said to the closest relative, “Naomi, who has come back from the land of Moab, has to sell the piece of land which belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 So I thought to inform you, saying, ‘Buy it before those who are sitting here, and before the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me that I may know; for there is no one but you to redeem it, and I am after you.’” And he said, “I will redeem it.” 5 Then Boaz said, “On the day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you must also acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the widow of the deceased, in order to raise up the name of the deceased on his inheritance.” 6 The closest relative said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself; you may have my right of redemption, for I cannot redeem it.”(Ruth 4:1-6)

Notice that he was all-ears when it came to buying the land, but he got cold-feet when Boaz mentioned him having to marry Ruth. Some commentators have speculated that the reason he got cold-feet was that Ruth was a Moabite, but that doesn’t square with what he said; “I cannot redeem it for myself, because I would jeopardize my own inheritance.” It is far more likely that he didn’t have his own heir yet, so Ruth’s son would become his heir also, and he didn’t want that to happen. Again, that didn’t matter to Boaz, even though we aren’t told anything about his prior status.

I am an only-child, and I only have one son, JD, so unless JD has a son, my family-lineage ends with him. Even though my daughters have sons, they carry their father’s family-name, not mine. It wouldn’t be a “tragedy” if JD doesn’t have a son in my 21st century culture, because nothing is riding on it, but it would have been in that culture. Newlywed men were even exempt from military service for the first year of their marriage, so he could hopefully produce an heir. (Deuteronomy 24:5)

While we are still on the topic of kinsman-redeemers, we need to look at one more historical-footnote from Boaz’s genealogy; “Judah begot Perez and Zerah by Tamar” (Matthew 1:3a)

Judah was the patriarch from whose line Boaz, David, and ultimately, Jesus Christ would come, but who was Tamar? Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. Yes, you read that right. Here is the “condensedversion” of that story, which you can find in Genesis 38.

Judah married and had three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah.

Judah married-off Er to Tamar, but Er was a scumbag so God killed him.

Next in line was Onan, but when Onan had sex with Tamar, “he had the fun but didn’t finish the job“, so God killed him too. Kinsman-redeemer failure!!!

Shelah was still a kid, so Judah sent her back home to wait until Shelah was grown, but Hell was going to freeze-over before Judah gave Shelah to Tamar.

Seeing that Shelah was grown, but Judah hadn’t given him to her, she tricked Judah into having sex with her, and became pregnant with twins, Perez and Zerah.

There was a penalty for refusing to perform the duty of a kinsman-redeemer. For Onan, it was death, and later in the Law, it was public-shaming. Boaz, ever the gentleman, didn’t shame the other kinsman-redeemer, we simply will never know who he was, because the writer of Ruth omitted that detail. Boaz happily married Ruth, they had a son, Obed, and the rest is history.

Other customs…
There is another custom we see in Ruth that we need to be aware of. There was no welfare, public assistance, or other social-safety-net for widows like Naomi and Ruth. Most women only had one skill-set – being a wife and mother, and had no “marketable” skills otherwise, so if they weren’t able to remarry, all they had left was their body – prostitution, but God hadn’t forgotten about them, and He didn’t want His people to forget them either.

God had commanded the children of Israel to care for the poor, the stranger and the alien by giving them the opportunity to glean in their fields. They had been commanded to not harvest the corners of their fields, nor were they allowed to go back and get anything they missed, but they were to leave it untouched so that those less-fortunate than them could have a place to get food. (Leviticus 19:9-10, 23:22, and Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

19 “When you reap your harvest in your field and have forgotten a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. 20 When you beat your olive tree, you shall not go over the boughs again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow.

21 “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not go over it again; it shall be for the alien, for the orphan, and for the widow. 22 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:19-22)

Another interesting command goes along with this one: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

Not only were they to provide for the needs of those who were poor and needy, they were also to make sure that the alien and orphan got the justice they deserved. They weren’t to be treated as “second-class citizens” in the courts of law. Did you notice the reason why God gave these commands?

Imagine the reaction of farmers today if they were told they couldn’t harvest all of their grain and produce, but that is exactly what God’s Law required. What was not harvested was to be available for those who had no other means of sustenance. It wasn’t “welfare“, because they had to work for it, by harvesting it themselves. That was known as “gleaning“, and we see it taking place in Ruth 2, when Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s fields. Even though it was her legal-right, she still asked permission first.

Something else we shouldn’t ignore: 17 “You shall not pervert the justice due an alien or an orphan, nor take a widow’s garment in pledge. 18 But you shall remember that you were a slave in Egypt, and that the Lord your God redeemed you from there; therefore I am commanding you to do this thing. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)

While the justice system today seems to be tilted in favor of the rich and well-connected, God didn’t allow that kind of favoritism with His people. That was why, when Boaz took Naomi and Ruth’s case to “court“, they got a fair hearing (Ruth 4:1-10). Ruth 4 also ends with a blessing on Ruth and Boaz’s union (Ruth 4:11-12).

Speaking of that blessing; Did you notice that curious reference to “the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah“? Knowing the back-story of Judah and Tamar, would WE ever admit that there had been that kind of chicanery in our ancestry? Probably not, but Perez WAS an important ancestor, not only to the family of Boaz, but as an ancestor of King David, and to his greater-son, Jesus Christ.

Maybe we shouldn’t have expected any better behavior from Judah, since in Genesis 37:12-36, Judah conspired with the rest of his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. If Judah had ever had any moral-compass, it was long-gone by the time Genesis 38 opens. He didn’t even pretend to “keep it in the family” when he got married, as did his father, Jacob, rather he married a Canaanite woman in Genesis 38:2. Ah, but he certainly came by some of his chicanery honestly, because Jacob was a shyster from the get-go. That apple certainly didn’t fall far from the family-tree, but we also need to remember that “bad company corrupts good morals“, even if his morals weren’t very good to begin with.

Another sharp-eyed writer brought something else to my attention recently, and it relates to Ruth’s “proposal” to Boaz. That, in and of itself, was highly-irregular, but beyond that, there was something else that I had missed from Ruth 3:1-5:

Then Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, shall I not seek security for you, that it may be well with you? 2 Now is not Boaz our kinsman, with whose maids you were? Behold, he winnows barley at the threshing floor tonight. 3 Wash yourself therefore, and anoint yourself and put on your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 It shall be when he lies down, that you shall notice the place where he lies, and you shall go and uncover his feet and lie down; then he will tell you what you shall do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you say I will do.”

What I missed, is that “best” is always noted as an added-in word in all of the most accurate translations, including the NASB and NKJV. What if Ruth had been working naked, as was common in the day, because the work was hard, hot, dirty and sweaty, and clothing was hard to come-by and expensive? What if Naomi was telling Ruth that, unlike her work-days, when Boaz saw her working like a servant (naked), she needed to dress herself up so that she looked more like a wife, rather than like a servant? It would not have been improper for Ruth to have been working naked, because it is quite likely that Boaz’s workers, including his servant-girls, were also working naked.

That still hadn’t changed in Jesus’ time, because, when He spoke of the Great Tribulation, the fall of Jerusalem, in Matthew 24, He said “Let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.” (Matthew 24:18) That the farm-worker would be working naked was simply assumed. It was also common for fishermen to work naked for that same reason, to not ruin their clothes. Remember Peter in John 21:7?

We, in our 21st century Western culture, can’t relate to only having one or two garments because clothes are so cheap and plentiful. Even though I prefer to be au naturel, I do have to get dressed to do some things and go some places. I have enough T-shirts to be able to wear a different one every day for a month and still not run out of clean T-shirts, but there are still parts of the world where people barely have one set of clothes, let alone a closet-full of clothes. My father ministered in parts of Eastern Europe that were that poor. Clothes were only washed when it was warm enough for everyone to take them off. Then, just about the whole village went naked, and nobody thought a thing about it.

FInal thoughts…
God had announced His plan of redemption back in Genesis 3:15, and He WAS going to accomplish it. Along the way, God used many seriously-flawed people to accomplish His purposes. Hebrews 11 recounts many “heroes of the faith“, and included in those heroes are people like Rahab, Samson and David, all people that nobody would regard as “saints“, and yet they are held up to us as faithful men and women whom God used. Many were “ordinary” people who were given extraordinary missions to fulfill.

Boaz didn’t have to turn-in his “man-card” in because of what he did. If anything, he showed us what a REAL man looks like. He begins as Ruth’s PROTECTOR, becomes her’s and Naomi’s PROVIDER, pleads their case in court as their DEFENDER, and willingly takes Ruth to be his wife as her LOVER. Come to think of it, isn’t that what Jesus has done, and is doing for us? Their similarities aren’t coincidental. Boaz, as Naomi and Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer, was a type of Christ, and foreshadowed that ultimate kinsman-redeemer to come, Jesus Christ, our great kinsman-redeemer.

That, at the end of the day, is the story of Ruth. Three “ordinary” people whom God used to fulfill His promise of the coming Redeemer. May He use us as He used them.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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!

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

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

Cleaning House

Passover, the scene of our next event in the life of Christ, was one of the most important festivals on the Jew’s religious calendar. It commemorated when the Jews were released from their bondage in Egypt, and is also known as the “Feast of unleavened-bread“. So, we are going to take another side-trip into the Old Testament to look at this historical-event and why the Jews continued to celebrate it. It is also worth noting that Jesus was three years from the cross at this point in time.

The Last Plague

11 Now the Lord said to Moses, “One more plague I will bring on Pharaoh and on Egypt; after that he will let you go from here. When he lets you go, he will surely drive you out from here completely. 2 Speak now in the hearing of the people that each man ask from his neighbor and each woman from her neighbor for articles of silver and articles of gold.” 3 The Lord gave the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians. Furthermore, the man Moses himself was greatly esteemed in the land of Egypt, both in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants and in the sight of the people.

4 Moses said, “Thus says the Lord, ‘About midnight I am going out into the midst of Egypt, 5 and all the firstborn in the land of Egypt shall die, from the firstborn of the Pharaoh who sits on his throne, even to the firstborn of the slave girl who is behind the millstones; all the firstborn of the cattle as well. 6 Moreover, there shall be a great cry in all the land of Egypt, such as there has not been before and such as shall never be again. 7 But against any of the sons of Israel a dog will not even bark, whether against man or beast, that you may understand how the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.’ 8 All these your servants will come down to me and bow themselves before me, saying, ‘Go out, you and all the people who follow you,’ and after that I will go out.” And he went out from Pharaoh in hot anger.

9 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh will not listen to you, so that My wonders will be multiplied in the land of Egypt.” 10 Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh; yet the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he did not let the sons of Israel go out of his land.

The Passover Lamb

12 Now the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be the beginning of months for you; it is to be the first month of the year to you. 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying, ‘On the tenth of this month they are each one to take a lamb for themselves, according to their fathers’ households, a lamb for each household. 4 Now if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his neighbor nearest to his house are to take one according to the number of persons in them; according to what each man should eat, you are to divide the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be an unblemished male a year old; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of the same month, then the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel is to kill it at twilight. 7 Moreover, they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that same night, roasted with fire, and they shall eat it with unleavened bread and bitter herbs. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled at all with water, but rather roasted with fire, both its head and its legs along with its entrails. 10 And you shall not leave any of it over until morning, but whatever is left of it until morning, you shall burn with fire. 11 Now you shall eat it in this manner: with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it in haste—it is the Lord’s Passover. 12 For I will go through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am the Lord. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

Feast of Unleavened Bread

14 ‘Now this day will be a memorial to you, and you shall celebrate it as a feast to the Lord; throughout your generations you are to celebrate it as a permanent ordinance. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 You shall also observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt; therefore you shall observe this day throughout your generations as a permanent ordinance. 18 In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread, until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 Seven days there shall be no leaven found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. 20 You shall not eat anything leavened; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread.’”

21 Then Moses called for all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and take for yourselves lambs according to your families, and slay the Passover lamb. 22 You shall take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood which is in the basin, and apply some of the blood that is in the basin to the lintel and the two doorposts; and none of you shall go outside the door of his house until morning.

A Memorial of Redemption

23 For the Lord will pass through to smite the Egyptians; and when He sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the Lord will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to come in to your houses to smite you. 24 And you shall observe this event as an ordinance for you and your children forever. 25 When you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What does this rite mean to you?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is a Passover sacrifice to the Lord who passed over the houses of the sons of Israel in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but spared our homes.’” And the people bowed low and worshiped.

28 Then the sons of Israel went and did so; just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.

29 Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. 30 Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead. 31 Then he called for Moses and Aaron at night and said, “Rise up, get out from among my people, both you and the sons of Israel; and go, worship the Lord, as you have said. 32 Take both your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and go, and bless me also.”

Exodus of Israel

33 The Egyptians urged the people, to send them out of the land in haste, for they said, “We will all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, with their kneading bowls bound up in the clothes on their shoulders.

35 Now the sons of Israel had done according to the word of Moses, for they had requested from the Egyptians articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; 36 and the Lord had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.

37 Now the sons of Israel journeyed from Ramses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, aside from children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, along with flocks and herds, a very large number of livestock. 39 They baked the dough which they had brought out of Egypt into cakes of unleavened bread. For it had not become leavened, since they were driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.

40 Now the time that the sons of Israel lived in Egypt was four hundred and thirty years. 41 And at the end of four hundred and thirty years, to the very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.

Ordinance of the Passover

42 It is a night to be observed for the Lord for having brought them out from the land of Egypt; this night is for the Lord, to be observed by all the sons of Israel throughout their generations.

43 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: no foreigner is to eat of it; 44 but every man’s slave purchased with money, after you have circumcised him, then he may eat of it. 45 A sojourner or a hired servant shall not eat of it. 46 It is to be eaten in a single house; you are not to bring forth any of the flesh outside of the house, nor are you to break any bone of it. 47 All the congregation of Israel are to celebrate this. 48 But if a stranger sojourns with you, and celebrates the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near to celebrate it; and he shall be like a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat of it. 49 The same law shall apply to the native as to the stranger who sojourns among you.”

50 Then all the sons of Israel did so; they did just as the Lord had commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that same day the Lord brought the sons of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.

Consecration of the Firstborn

13 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Sanctify to Me every firstborn, the first offspring of every womb among the sons of Israel, both of man and beast; it belongs to Me.”

3 Moses said to the people, “Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the Lord brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten. 4 On this day in the month of Abib, you are about to go forth. 5 It shall be when the Lord brings you to the land of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Hivite and the Jebusite, which He swore to your fathers to give you, a land flowing with milk and honey, that you shall observe this rite in this month. 6 For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the Lord. 7 Unleavened bread shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven be seen among you in all your borders. 8 You shall tell your son on that day, saying, ‘It is because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the Lord may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the Lord brought you out of Egypt. 10 Therefore, you shall keep this ordinance at its appointed time from year to year. (Exodus 11-13:10)

After 430 years in captivity, God sent Moses back to Egypt to lead His people out and towards the Promised Land. God had already terrorized the Egyptians with nine plagues, which had decimated the landscape and sickened both man and beast, when we come to this tenth and final plague, the Destroyer, or Angel of Death. No firstborn would be spared, from the family of Pharaoh to the lowliest servant, the firstborn of both man and beast would be killed. Even hard-hearted Pharaoh would be forced to succumb to God’s demands to let His people go.

However, before the children of Israel left Egypt, God ordered them to plunder the Egyptians and enabled them to do just that. They made an incredible haul of silver, gold and precious stone, much of which would be used later to build and adorn the Tabernacle.

God was going to spare the Israelites, but only if they did exactly what He told them to do. They were also to commemorate their deliverance from Egypt ever year perpetually, which brings us to the opening of our next scene.

Jesus Cleanses the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:13-25)

Temple background:

Solomon’s temple had been destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC, and it had only been rebuilt after the Jews were allowed to go back to their homeland. Even though the new temple didn’t have the grandeur of Solomon’s original temple, it was consecrated in 516 BC.

Herod the Great, ever one to enhance his image and legacy, decided that Jerusalem needed a larger and grander temple, so he commissioned the building of a new temple on the site of the old temple. Even though the core of the temple was completed fairly quickly, the temple was being expanded almost constantly. This temple was still not finished when Jesus walked into it as our scene opens.

Temple layout:

The heart or core of the temple was the Holy Place and Most Holy Place, which were surrounded by the central courtyard where the Altar of burnt offerings was. Only Jewish men were allowed in this central courtyard. Adjacent to the central courtyard was the Women’s courtyard, which was open to all Jewish men and women. Surrounding the entire temple was a Courtyard of the Gentiles, which during that time, had become very much a flea-market. This is where Jesus encountered the sellers and money-changers.

Festival Background:

Roman currency was not acceptable for money offerings in the temple, so it had to be exchanged for a more-acceptable currency, the Jewish shekel. Animal-sacrifices could also be a problem for people journeying into Jerusalem, so it as common for them to buy animals locally. The problem wasn’t with this commerce, but with where it was being carried-out, on the temple-premises. During these special feasts and high-holy-days, it wasn’t unusual for there to be upwards of a half-million pilgrims in town. The noise was probably deafening and the smell was even worse, not that the temple smelled like a bed of roses any time. It didn’t make for a worshipful-environment.

Our scene

Jesus, like most other able-bodied Jews, made that annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, and He didn’t like what He found there. The religious leaders, who should have kept commerce out of the Temple, hadn’t, and judging by their reaction to Jesus’ actions, may have even been getting kickbacks from the commerce. At minimum, they challenged His authority to throw the business people out of the Temple.

Since people would have traveled to Jerusalem from all over the Roman Empire, they would not have been able to bring animals for sacrifices with them and still be able to meet the ceremonial requirements for perfection. Having a marketplace right within the Temple (Court of the Gentiles) would have been quite convenient. At the same time, it would have been quite convenient for the priests who received a percentage from the sales. In addition, Temple taxes were required to be paid by the Jews in the coin of Tyre. Money changers were on hand to exchange other coins for the ones required for Temple taxes, sometimes at high fees: Clearly, Passover was a time for commerce in the middle of the National House of Worship.

Jesus was filled with righteous indignation and drove the traders out, overturning their tables and ordering all of the goods to be removed. Note that He did not harm the animals or confiscate the money; He was not doing this to cause harm, but rather to stop the desecration of the Temple. His whip was made of rope, not leather. It would have gotten a man’s attention, but it would not have caused anyone serious harm. The issue that Jesus reacted to here was not that running a market and engaging in commerce was a bad or sinful thing in and of itself, but that the Temple was not the place for such things. Remember, the Temple in Jerusalem during the Old Covenant was the dwelling place of God (in the Holy of Holies). The dwelling place of God, the place of His worship, was not to be taken callously and turned into a marketplace for personal enrichment; it was reserved for reverence.

Jesus was concerned with the purity and holiness of the Temple, His Father’s House, because worship was being disrupted by commerce. The quote referenced in verse 17, “Zeal for Your house will consume me”. is from Psalm 69:9. The Psalmist was consumed with love for God’s house, and so is Jesus. Jesus’ zeal for God’s house as a house of prayer has interesting possibilities for us to consider. First, He certainly had a zeal for the Temple as a place of prayer, but a careful look at the Gospels will reveal that He is never portrayed as praying there. He is mentioned to be praying in the desert, mountains and Sea, but not particularly at the Temple. Of course, creative students will recall that the Temple in the OT is symbolic of a NT reality as mentioned several times in Hebrews. In the NT, many will say that the Temple represents the church, not a building, but the Body of Christ wherein He dwells through the Holy Spirit. It may be said that this approach is a bit of a stretch to apply to this passage, but it is interesting to ponder. What is clear however, is that His consummation took place at the time of His crucifixion, which was done for the forgiveness of sins that His people could be redeemed… and so that all peoples could be redeemed into the Body of Christ.

Naturally the Jewish leaders wanted a “sign“, something to “prove” that He had the authority to do what He had just done, as if they hadn’t already heard about all the miracle Jesus had already done. Jesus didn’t perform miracles “on-demand“, and they weren’t getting one from Him now. Jesus gave them a “sign“, but it wasn’t what they were expecting. Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” They were incredulous, because the only “temple” they could think of was the physical temple they were standing in, and it had been under construction for forty-six years. Jesus was already prophesying about His crucifixion and resurrection, something His disciples would only comprehend after-the-fact.

23 Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in His name, observing His signs which He was doing. 24 But Jesus, on His part, was not entrusting Himself to them, for He knew all men, 25 and because He did not need anyone to testify concerning man, for He Himself knew what was in man.

Something to note in this final section is that many people believed in Jesus, but only because of the miracles He was doing. This is not unlike people following Jesus after one of His miraculous mass-feedings. Did they want the true Messiah, or did they want Him for what He could do for them?

Not much has changed. While the “health, wealth and prosperity” preachers gather huge followings, many churches where the Gospel is faithfully-proclaimed struggle to keep their doors open. Our Lord’s call to “Take up our cross daily and follow Him” is no more popular now than it was when He issued it. Denying ourselves for the sake of the Gospel has never been easy because it goes against the grain of our self-centeredness. That begs the question: “Do we want our reward now, or later?” As hard as it is sometimes, I’ll take my reward later.

In Christ,

Steve

Calling Disciples

John now turns his attention to Jesus, specifically the beginning of His earthly ministry. Jesus starts by calling disciples, men who will learn from Him and accompany Him in His ministry. His first followers began as followers of John the Baptist. None of them had angelic messages or voices from on high; they simply reacted to the person of Jesus Christ. Why is that noteworthy? Because that is exactly how you and I are “called”. I’ve never met a person who claimed that they was a follower of Christ because they had experienced a personal audience with an angel, prophet or indeed God Himself. They simply reacted to who Jesus is.

35 Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, 36 and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” 37 The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. 38 And Jesus turned and saw them following, and said to them, “What do you seek?” They said to Him, “Rabbi (which translated means Teacher), where are You staying?” 39 He said to them, “Come, and you will see.” So they came and saw where He was staying; and they stayed with Him that day, for it was about the tenth hour. 40 One of the two who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. 41 He found first his own brother Simon and said to him, “We have found the Messiah” (which translated means Christ). 42 He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon the son of John; you shall be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). (John 1:35-42)

As a preacher and prophet, John the Baptist had attracted a group of loyal-followers, disciples. John knew that he was only the “forerunner“, the “herald” for the coming Messiah, so far from being “possessive” of them, he pointed them to Jesus. “Behold the Lamb of God!” Two of John’s disciples took the hint that they should follow Jesus instead of John. One of them was Andrew, and some Bible scholars have speculated that the other one was John, the son of Zebedee and brother of James, particularly since John never mentions himself by name in his Gospel.

John’s story of the calling of disciples begins in verses 35-42; taking it as a whole, we see two main components, the first being John’s testimony that Jesus was the “Lamb of God.” This is the confession that marks the difference between a world that is lost and a follower of Christ. The second aspect is the response of the two disciples of John who heard it: they followed Jesus. Notice however that their initial following of Jesus was literal in the sense that they were going to go where He went as opposed to give Him their lives. When Jesus saw them he simply asked them what they wanted, a question that He would ask many over time. The two did not give a great theological reply; they just wanted to see where He was staying, maybe to have a chance to talk with Him later. Jesus gave them a classic reply, “Come and you will see.”

Evidently Andrew, in his “off-duty” time, was a disciple of John the Baptist, because as this scene opens, Andrew wasn’t out fishing but was with John the Baptist. Andrew, while not mentioned in previous scenes, had probably heard quite a bit of what John the Baptist had said about Jesus. Thus, when John said “Behold the Lamb of God“, he was prepared to find out more about this man named Jesus.

Heeding John’s testimony, Andrew and the other disciple went with Jesus and spent the rest of the day with Him. It was about four o’clock in the afternoon (the “tenth hour“, according to first-century Jews’ reckoning of time), so the disciples began what would become a lifetime of discipleship. Hospitality customs were such that someone who was providing a room for the night to a visiting Rabbi would also open their home to whoever was with him.

Andrew, while he never rose to be in the limelight with Peter and the other leading Apostles, can be seen as the “great-introducer“, and he starts with his own brother, Simon. That he had already accepted John’s testimony about Jesus, that He was the Messiah, is evident in what he told Simon, “We have found the Messiah”. Even though the religious leaders would assess them later as being “uneducated men“, they knew more than the religious leaders gave them credit for.

In truth, this is the matrix for all personal evangelism: Someone hears about Jesus and they want to check it out. Our approach is “Come and see”. In the case of our text, they arrived at Jesus’ lodgings at around 4 in the afternoon. Time in the Gospels is reckoned more or less as a twelve hour day from roughly 6 am to 6 pm. The tenth hour would be about 4 pm. During their visit, Andrew goes off to get his brother Simon, who comes along to see Jesus. Andrew was now certain about the identity of Jesus. Jesus, in verse 42 tells Simon that he will be called Cephas. Note that the synoptic Gospels record this name change roughly in the middle of Jesus’ ministry; is this a conflict? It is not a conflict because Jesus did not change Simon’s name to Cephas; He only said that he will be called by that name: future tense, it will happen someday. As we will discover later on, Peter’s new name came with a new occupation.

Perhaps the most important thing Andrew ever did as a disciple was to introduce his brother, Simon, to Jesus. Simon, as is well known, would go on to serve a foundational role in the establishment of the Christian church, and that is foreshadowed here in Jesus’ renaming Simon as Cephas or Peter. Aramaic was the common language of first-century Jews in Palestine, and Cephas comes from the Aramaic word that means “rock”. Peter is from the Greek word that means the same thing. Jesus would again identify Simon as Peter, the Rock, later in His ministry (Matthew 16:13-20), but this record in John’s Gospel that Jesus identified Peter as the “rock”, as having a key role in the disciples, long before Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. He would be essential for laying the foundation of the church by preaching on Pentecost, by being the instrument through whom God worked to convert the first Gentiles to Christ, and by writing part of the New Testament (Acts 2:10; 1 and 2 Peter).

We have noted that Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, does not play as large a role in the foundation of the early church as does Peter. Yet, it was through Andrew that Peter first met Jesus.

The next section takes place on the next day as Jesus moved on and in the process came upon Phillip. He simply said to him, “Follow me.” Phillip’s response was immediate: He followed Jesus.

43 The next day He purposed to go into Galilee, and He found Philip. And Jesus said to him, “Follow Me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, of the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found Him of whom Moses in the Law and also the Prophets wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered Him, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” 50 Jesus answered and said to him, “Because I said to you that I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And He said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see the heavens opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51)

Jesus began calling disciples with Philip, who later found Nathanael. It isn’t recorded what their occupations were, but whatever they had been doing, they forsook and started following Jesus.

Why was it important that Philip was from Bethsaida? Bethsaida was a small fishing village, so it is likely that Philip knew Peter and Andrew. As we will see, Jesus and His disciples formed a tight-knit community.

The “bait” Philip used was their knowledge of the Old Testament, Moses and the Prophets. As was common in that culture, Jesus was referred to by who His “father” was and where He was from. Nathanael was naturally skeptical; “Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?”, because Joseph was a carpenter and Nazareth was a sleepy-backwater town in Galilee with no real significance. It isn’t even mentioned in the Old Testament, unlike Bethlehem.

The New Testament tells us clearly that Nazareth was an insignificant, even despised town. Even fellow Galileans looked down on Nazareth, as is evident by Nathanael’s response when Philip told him about finding the Messiah, Plainly, Nathanael could not believe that the promised Savior would come from such a humble locale. It’s kind of like Minco, Oklahoma: Nowhereville! Nathanael, it should be noted, is likely the same person as Bartholomew, who is listed among Jesus’ twelve disciples in the Synoptic Gospels.

Funny, it is interesting that the Son of God should be from “Nowhereville”, and He was born in a stable, to an unwed teenager, while on a road trip, and He died on a cross, naked and penniless. There is no worldly appeal to Him; there is only who He is to draw a person closer. Philip’s reaction is a classic: “Come and see”.

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming to Him, we see an interesting statement, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” Nathanael wasn’t just a nominal-Jew who just went through the motions in his worship. Rather, Nathanael knew and was trusting in God’s promises to provide a Redeemer for Israel.

48 Nathanael said to Him, “How do You know me?” Jesus answered and said to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” How did Jesus know Nathanael? Jesus was God-Incarnate, God in the flesh, and He revealed some of His supernatural knowledge to Nathanael.

Based on what Jesus had just revealed to Him, Nathanael made an incredible statement, “Rabbi, You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.” Nathanael immediately recognized that he was standing before the long-promised Messiah, and Jesus promised that what Nathanael had just witnessed would pale in comparison to what he was going to witness later on, the glory of God.

When the skeptical Nathaniel first meets Jesus he is surprised by what Jesus knew about him. His reaction was to believe what Phillip had told him, and he responded in faith. Jesus has an interesting reply to Nathaniel’s expression of faith: “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet!”

Jesus begins His final comment in this chapter with “Truly, truly I say to you” the first of 25 times in this Gospel to introduce an important statement, and then proceeded to make a statement that reminds us of Genesis 28:12, Jacob’s ladder. “…you will see heaven open and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This statement gives the commentators some trouble, but my take is that His disciples would see that Jesus was directly connected with heaven, speaking for heaven and being of heaven. Jesus and the Word cannot be separated. This is also His first use of the title “Son of Man”, which will become His favorite way of referring to Himself. In calling Himself the “Son of Man“, Jesus was affirming His full-humanity, which was necessary for Him to become our Sacrifice, the perfect Lamb of God.

Once again, we see one man, Philip, once he was called by Jesus, going out and finding another man, Nathanael. As Andrew introduce Peter to Jesus, Philip introduced Nathanael to Jesus. Isn’t our calling to introduce people to Jesus?

Fishers of men

We now go to Matthew 4:18-22 to pick up the call of the four fishermen, Peter, Andrew, James and John:

18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. (Matthew 4:18-22)

The Sea of Galilee is an inland lake which is about thirteen miles long and eight miles wide. In other parts of the New Testament, it is also called the Lake of Gennesaret or the Sea of Tiberius. It is fed from the North by the Jordan River, beginning at its headwaters, and drains out to the South through the Jordan River to the Salt Sea (Dead Sea). Many of the events in the life and ministry of Christ took place along the Sea of Galilee. Because it is ringed by mountains, it is well-known for its violent storms.

Even though Jesus had met Peter and Andrew before, we now see Him call them to be His disciples. Peter, Andrew, James and John were commercial-fishermen, so they left a lot behind when they started following Jesus. We are told later on that Peter had a family, so following Jesus was not trivial. Matthew, or Levi, was a tax-collector before Jesus called him, so he left a very lucrative occupation behind (Matthew 9:9-13).

We should note that “Follow Me…” is not merely a “suggestion“, it is a COMMAND. Could they have blown Him off and said “We’re not interested”? They could have, but they didn’t.

Note that Jesus doesn’t recruit His disciples and “fishers of men” from the religious intelligentsia but from ordinary people from ordinary walks in life…people like us.

“God doesn’t call the “qualified”, He qualifies the called!”

The cost of discipleship…

19 Then a scribe came and said to Him, “Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.” 20 Jesus said to him, “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.” 21 Another of the disciples said to Him, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 22 But Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and allow the dead to bury their own dead.” (Matthew 8:19-22)

Discipleship has a cost, as His first disciples quickly found out. Discipleship also has a cost for us, because, even if we aren’t called to leave our old occupation behind, we certainly do have to leave our old lives behind, including our old sinful ways of thinking and our old sinful ways of living. Whatever the cost of discipleship is, our heavenly-reward will make it all worthwhile.

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” – Jim Elliot

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

John’s Testimony

Many scholars consider this section to be a second introduction to John’s Gospel, bringing the first section of a Heavenly view down to an earthly witness of the one sent to prepare the Messiahs path. John the Baptist is the first witness of Jesus as the Christ, and his is the first testimony recorded. Witness or testimony is the clear theme of this passage, and in doing so, the Baptist has made a clear link between the Old Testament prophets and the appearance of Jesus on the scene; this is a theological foundation to Jesus’ later claims on this subject.

The Testimony of John
19 This is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent to him priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” 20 And he confessed and did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” 21 They asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” And he said, “I am not.” “Are you the Prophet?” And he answered, “No.” 22 Then they said to him, “Who are you, so that we may give an answer to those who sent us? What do you say about yourself?” 23 He said, “I am a voice of one crying in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,’ as Isaiah the prophet said.” (from Isaiah 40:3)

24 Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. 25 They asked him, and said to him, “Why then are you baptizing, if you are not the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” 26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.” 28 These things took place in Bethany beyond the Jordan, where John was baptizing.

29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is He on behalf of whom I said, ‘After me comes a Man who is greater than me, for He existed before me.’ 31 I did not recognize Him, but so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water.” 32 John testified saying, “I have seen the Spirit descending as a dove out of heaven, and He remained upon Him. 33 I did not recognize Him, but He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the One who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.’ 34 I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:14-34)

“Who are you?”
Verse 19 refers to Jews of Jerusalem, priests and Levites. These distinctions should be understood as referring first to what we might call the “powers that be” among the Jewish leadership of the time. The priests are those Temple functionaries who perform the duties of that office under the Law, and Levites refers to those from the same tribe who perform ancillary functions in the Temple, such as being teachers of the Law and Temple guards. This delegation was sent from the city to find out just who this crazy guy was who was dressing badly, preaching and baptizing people in the Jordan. Johns reply to all of their questions was no; he was not any of those

Why did the religious-authorities question John the Baptist? Didn’t he have the “right-stuff“? Didn’t he have the right “pedigree“? His father, Zachariah, was a priest, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a “daughter of Aaron“, so he certainly had the right “pedigree“, but our answer comes in the “who” that questioned him, the religious leaders. Had John followed his father’s footsteps into the priesthood, as he was qualified to do, he would have never appeared on their “radar”, but his calling was much higher than that. They didn’t believe that he had the “authority” to do what he was doing, specifically, baptizing people. John the Baptist had not graduated from the “Jerusalem Theological Seminary“, nor had he gone through the proper steps to become “ordained” by the “powers that be“. John’s “ordination” came from God, not from man. In a nut-shell, he was operating outside their “system“, and they didn’t like it.

So, if John wasn’t the Messiah, Elijah or the Prophet, then who was he and why was he making such a commotion?

The “Elijah” who was to come was foretold in Malachi 4:5, and the “Prophet” was foretold by Moses in Deuteronomy 18:15. The priests and Levites were trying to pin-down who John the Baptist claimed to be. Jesus, in Matthew 11:14, clearly referring to Malachi 4:5, tells the crowd that John is the “Elijah who is to come.” John comes in the “spirit and power of Elijah” (Luke 1:17), but he denies that he is Elijah himself.

Why are you baptizing?
John now identifies himself by quoting from Isaiah 40:3. John was Gods word spoken, not Gods word Incarnate; Johns mission was to call for the people to prepare themselves for Gods arrival by repentance and baptism in water. He baptized in water to make preparation, but the One who was coming would baptize another way.

John the Baptist recognized that he was fulfilling the prophesy from Isaiah:

“I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord;
Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” (Isaiah 40:3)

John the Baptist came as the forerunner of the Messiah, much as a herald announces the imminent-arrival of a king or other dignitary. His job was to “prepare the way of the Lord”.

After me…
26 John answered them saying, “I baptize in water, but among you stands One whom you do not know. 27 It is He who comes after me, the thong of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”

When John the Baptist said that he was not worthy to untie the thong of Jesus’ sandal, he wasn’t demeaning himself, rather he was recognizing the greatness of the very Son of God. After the Jewish delegation had left, at some point, John made his declaration that Jesus was the One for whom he had been preparing the way.

We, not unlike John the Baptist, are also heralds for the King. John announced His imminent-arrival the first time, His “stealth-arrival”, but we are called to announce that He is going to return with power and great glory. He is no longer “the carpenter-from-Nowhere’s-Ville”; He is King of kings and Lord of lords, and nobody will be able to miss or ignore His second-coming. We are also not worthy to proclaim this glorious-news, but we must proclaim it anyway. The message is far more glorious than we can ever do justice to, and we, with the Apostle Paul, recognize that “… we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Corinthians 4:7)

The Lamb of God…
29 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Behold, the Lamb of God. He calls Jesus “the Lamb of God” making a clear reference to the sacrificial animal used in Temple sacrifices for the atonement of sin. Jesus would take sin away entirely, not merely making a temporary atonement as the lambs in the Temple did.

Who takes away the sin of the world. The sin that the Lamb of God takes away is the sin of the world. Here, the “world” refers to all people without distinction, not all people without exception. That is, Jesus did not take away the sin of every person who has ever lived, only those who trust in Him for their salvation. He made no distinction regarding regarding the kinds of people for whom He died. Jesus, as the Lamb of God, atoned for the sins of rich people, poor people, Africans, Asians, Americans, Europeans, rulers, servants, men, women – all kinds of people. The “world” designates humanity in its hostility to God, as elsewhere in this Gospel. Although not all persons without exception will be saved, His sacrifice is the only atonement necessary for human sin, and its effectiveness is not limited by time or place (John 3:16).

Our understanding of Christ’s atoning sacrifice to “take away the sins of the world” can be further enlightened by remembering God’s promise to Abram; “And in you all of the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3c).

Where else have we seen the promise of God’s provision of a lamb before?

6 So Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife, and the two of them went together. 7 But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, “My father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

Then he said, “Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?”

8 And Abraham said, “My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.” So the two of them went together. (Genesis 22:6-8)

Abraham believed that God would provide the lamb for the sacrifice and his faith was rewarded with that provision. God’s provision of that lamb that day was a powerful symbol and foreshadowing of the perfect Lamb of God. Animal sacrifices could only cover-over sin, but could not take it away. Only the perfect Lamb of God could actually take upon Himself our sin and truly take it away.

He was before me…
This is the one I meant when I said, A man who comes after me is greater than me because he was before me. I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” (John 1:31-32)

John’s statement that he hadn’t known Jesus refers to John’s not understanding that Jesus, his cousin, was the One. John the Baptist also told the people that he himself did not know that Jesus was the Messiah, but that His identity was revealed to him. This does not mean that John had never met Jesus before; after all, they were relatives (Luke 1:26-45). John the Baptist’s point was that his insight was not due to personal acquaintance, but was by revelation from God.

Then John gave this testimony: I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, 10 The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. I have seen and I testify that this is Gods Chosen One. (John 1:32-34)

Even though Jesus and John the Baptist were related, John knew very little about Jesus or His upcoming ministry until God revealed it to him. The clincher was when John baptized Jesus and the Holy Spirit descend on Him in the form of a dove, combined with the Voice from heaven.

When John the Baptist baptized Jesus, all three members of the Godhead were revealed, Jesus, the Son of God, God the Father, by His voice, and the Holy Spirit, as represented by the dove. God had never revealed His fullness in this way before, which led John to say: “I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.” (John 1:34)

This is the Son of God. In making this assertion, John is reporting the heavenly-voice that accompanied the heaven-sent Spirit, as recorded in Matthew 3:17, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” While “son of God” was used variously by Jews (2 Samuel 7:14; Psalm 2:7) and Gentiles (Mark 15:39), the Baptist’s witness, as the last of the old-order Prophets (Matthew 11:11-14), is clear. Jesus is the Son of God, the “only begotten of the Father” (v. 14).

Here, John clearly tells the people how he knows Jesus is the One; John has seen the sign that God told him to watch for. Thus, because John has been made to see the Spirit of God descend upon Jesus like a dove and then remain there, John states positively that Jesus is the Son of God.

John’s statement probably caught his Jewish listeners off-guard, because God didn’t have a “Son”, or so they had been taught, so how could this be? Observant Jews recited the Shema twice a day; “Hear, O Israel! The  Lord  is our God, the  Lord  is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Would John’s testimony be good-enough to put this notion to rest? No, because, as we will see as we progress through John’s Gospel, many people will be offended by the notion that Jesus is God, and ultimately, that claim, that Jesus IS God, will consign Him to the Cross.

What a marvelous testimony!

In spite of the overwhelming-evidence in the New Testament, there are still people who call themselves “Christians” who deny the Deity of Christ. That heresy has had a devoted-following since the time of Christ, and it isn’t going to go away anytime soon. We need to keep our eyes open to recognize it for what it is – heresy.

Wishing you God’s richest blessings in 2018!

Steve