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!

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It Is Not Good For The Man To Be Alone…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WOW!!! I AM NOW COMPLETE!!!

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

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

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

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

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

Now, for a little test:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again, take a close look at their lives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christian marriage is a picture of Heaven!

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

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

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

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

On Death-Row

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings
Steve

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
************************************************************************************
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

Out With The Old – In With The New

This is the story of the first miracle of Jesus, which has no parallel in the synoptic Gospels, and it stands quite alone giving insight into the way Jesus and His disciples lived that many Christians love to ignore: Jesus drank wine. (Horrors!) Just for fun, compare this passage with Colossians 2:20 ff.

If this blows your mind, then let me quickly sum up this passage for you: Jesus performed His first miracle at Cana, where, for the first time His glory and authority was revealed, and His disciples came to believe in Him; let’s have a closer look…

As our next scene opens, Jesus and His disciples have been invited to a wedding. Wedding-celebrations lasted up to a week, depending on the resources of the family, and they were a time of feasting and drinking. This was often a community-wide event.

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there; 2 and both Jesus and His disciples were invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to Him, “They have no wine.” 4 And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does that have to do with us? My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Whatever He says to you, do it.” 6 Now there were six stone waterpots set there for the Jewish custom of purification, containing twenty or thirty gallons each. 7 Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim. 8 And He said to them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it to him. 9 When the headwaiter tasted the water which had become wine, and did not know where it came from (but the servants who had drawn the water knew), the headwaiter called the bridegroom, 10 and said to him, “Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, then he serves the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.” 11 This beginning of His signs Jesus did in Cana of Galilee, and manifested His glory, and His disciples believed in Him.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days. (John 2:1-12)

The scene is set: Jesus, His mother (John never says “Mary”) and the disciples were there. This seems to have been three days after the calling of Phillip. No reason is given for the reason the wine ran out. Some have postulated that the attendance of Jesus and the disciples was the cause, but since John says that they had been invited, this seems unlikely. It would also seem that Mary was well known to the family involved here, since she so quickly took charge of the disaster. When she brings this social catastrophe to Jesus’ attention, His reaction is interesting: literally, “What’s it to me?” Notice that Mary seems to be aware that Jesus can remedy the situation easily; why else would she pass right over His question and tell the servants to do whatever He says? Jesus statement that His time has not yet come has troubled some commentators who haven’t noticed that, in John’s Gospel, John uses this wording to refer to the time of Jesus’ being glorified (by the cross) and not to His performance of miracles, in this case a rather mundane one, if indeed any miracle can ever be called “mundane“.

Running out of wine was serious-business, because either the guests had drank more than anticipated or those responsible for the feast hadn’t planned properly. Either way, there wasn’t a liquor-store in the neighborhood where they could buy more wine. They had a problem…

Mary knew what to do – ask Jesus to take care of their problem, but…

While we might recoil in horror that Jesus called His mother “woman“, but in that culture, it wasn’t disrespectful, demeaning or dishonoring to her. This was the way Jesus normally addressed women.

The next part of His response might also surprise us by its bluntness. “What does that have to do with us?” Jesus and His disciples were guests at this party, so the logistics of the party was not His concern. Jesus was also fully-aware of His mission on earth, and being the “divine-caterer” wasn’t part of the package. Yes, He did feed large crowds on a least two occasions, but that was out of compassion, not obligation. Jesus did NOT perform miracles “on-demand“, and His mother didn’t have any more say in His mission than anyone else. Even though Jesus told His mother that taking care of their host’s wine-problem wasn’t in His “job-description“, I don’t believe that it was a hard-edge rebuke either, as do some Bible-scholars.

“My hour has not yet come.” Whoa! What did Jesus Just say? What is this about His “hour“? As we will see, when Jesus refers to His “hour“, He is speaking of the time of His crucifixion…already… Keeping this party going is a foreshadowing of a much grander party which is to come; the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb, but He will have to die on the cross to make this grander party possible.

Was Mary forcing the issue when she said, “Whatever He says to you, do it.”, or was she expressing full-confidence that Jesus would provide what was needed? I believe that she thought that Jesus would do something, and that what He would do would be good.

The need for the stone water-pots takes us back into the Old Testament, specifically the Ceremonial Law. The Ceremonial Law, which is detailed in Leviticus 12-15, touched virtually ever facet of their daily-lives. The religious-establishment had also added many rules and regulations of their own in addition to God’s laws. They also didn’t have indoor-plumbing or any of the other conveniences that we take for granted, so something as simple as washing one’s hands before eating or after going to the bathroom required water. Some people kept water on hand to take care of their purification needs, as did this family. Others had to go to the public bathhouse or other body of water to bathe, wash their clothes, and take care of other personal-care needs.

The total capacity of these jars would have been in the range of 120 to 180 gallons. It is worthy of note that Jesus used all of the jars and had them filled up completely; nobody could say that Jesus’ power was limited, nor could they claim that He just slipped some kind of magic fairy dust into them: they were full.

It may have taken many trips to the well to fill up those waterpots, but at Jesus’ command, they did. If they averaged twenty-five gallons each, that was one-hundred and fifty gallons of water, which was soon to become wine. That must have been some very good wine, because the headwaiter wondered why they had saved the best wine for last. We don’t know how far along in the feast that this event took place.

While Jesus always performed His miracles for the benefit of others, His primary purposes in performing miracles were to show His glory and to lend credibility to His message, to further-convince His disciples that He was who He said He was, the Messiah.

When the servants drew the “water” from the jars and served it to the master of the banquet, the master confirmed that not only was this wine, but it was the “good stuff”. This wasn’t some cheap “wino’s-wine“; this was “top-shelf-vintage“. It can be hilarious reading commentaries about these verses when the commentator goes on and on about how this was “obviously” not really wine but unfermented grape juice.

We should also see that Jesus was God over all of creation, which meant that He could create something from nothing or turn something into something else, water into wine. He will demonstrate His lordship over creation in many other ways as we progress through John’s gospel and His ministry.

One very important thing to note is that this miracle symbolized the coming of a new kingdom-order. The old ceremonial and sacrificial system was being done away with, symbolized by the water for purification, and Jesus was establishing a new kingdom-order, symbolized by wine, a symbol of the coming Holy Spirit. Jesus came both to fulfill the old law and to nullify it, which He did by His sinless life and atoning-sacrifice on the cross. We are beneficiaries of both His finished work and promised Holy Spirit.

The brand new disciples, who had responded to the testimony of John the Baptist, and then to each other’s witness, saw for the first time, that Jesus was more than a man who had been blessed by God: He had a power that no mere mortal possessed, and they put their faith in Him. This would also be the reason for His future miracles; to confirm His true identity and the authority by which He taught.

One of the cardinal rules of interpretation of the Bible is that you must set aside your pre-suppositions, opinions and traditions and let the text speak for itself. When you are confused or feel that you have come upon a contradiction, there are various things you can do to figure out what the meaning is. Here are two easy ideas: You can usually do a word study and find out what is going on. In addition, a close examination of the complete context will also aid in determining what the text is teaching. After this has been done, if the Bible turns out to support your pre-suppositions, opinions and traditions: Marvelous. But where it doesn’t, your presuppositions, opinions or traditions are wrong. In this case, if you are bound and determined to say that Jesus would never allow the serving of wine, you have two problems to deal with: First, the Greek word used here is “oinos“; which happens to mean “wine”. The Greek word for grape juice is “tnyx“. Why would John, “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit“, make such a “writing error”? Second, note what the master of the banquet said in verse 10. Does that even remotely indicate that they were dealing with grape juice? Does it sound to you like what he would say if the wine was watered down to less than 50% wine? A better question would be,Was Jesus trying to get everyone drunk?” The text does not tell us that Jesus had everyone’s glass refilled, it tells us that the master of the banquet, the only one we know for sure that was aware of the problem got a sample. We don’t know what the other attendees did after that, or if they even became aware that the wine was gone. We do know why Jesus performed the miracle, however.

Yes dear believers, this is the point, and all of the silly business of trying to explain away the wine only draws our attention away from the majesty of our Lord.

12 After this He went down to Capernaum, He and His mother and His brothers and His disciples; and they stayed there a few days.

Jesus had already made Capernaum His “headquarters“, maybe at the home of Peter and Andrew, so that was His next stop. By this time, His entourage already included at least four disciples plus His family, and there was no “Motel-6” or “Days-Inn” to stay in. Other Gospels record Jesus healing Peter’s mother-in-law at his home in Capernaum.

It appears that Mary was already a widow by this time, with kids still living at home, because there is no mention of Joseph in this scene, and Mary will reappear at other times throughout Jesus’ ministry (Mark 3:31-32). It would have been a serious social faux-pas for Mary to show up at the wedding without Joseph at her side. His sisters may have already been married-off by then, because girls got married much younger than boys in that culture. Whatever the case was, the family was together during the wedding and for a short time afterward.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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

Tempted By Satan

Even though it is not mentioned in John’s Gospel, another important step towards beginning His earthly ministry was when Jesus was tempted by Satan. So, we are going to take another brief side-trip into the other Gospels and pick up that event. The ministry of Jesus has begun… or has it? He has been baptized by John, the heavens opened, the Spirit descended upon Him in “bodily form” and the Father has spoken; now He has one more hurdle before He begins; He must be tempted, and in a sense, “tried” or “proven”, much as gem-stones and precious-metals are assayed for their purity and quality. Was He the “real-deal”? Did He have the “right-stuff”?

Satan tempts Jesus

4 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.”

4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took Him into the holy city and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, 6 and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

7 Jesus said to him, “On the other hand, it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took Him to a very high mountain and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory; 9 and he said to Him, “All these things I will give You, if You fall down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Go, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’”

11 Then the devil left Him; and behold, angels came and began to minister to Him. (Matthew 4:1-11)

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4 Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led around by the Spirit in the wilderness 2 for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And He ate nothing during those days, and when they had ended, He became hungry. 3 And the devil said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.”

4 And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone.’”

5 And he led Him up and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. 6 And the devil said to Him, “I will give You all this domain and its glory; for it has been handed over to me, and I give it to whomever I wish. 7 Therefore if You worship before me, it shall all be Yours.”

8 Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’”

9 And he led Him to Jerusalem and had Him stand on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down from here; 10 for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You to guard You,’ 11 and, ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.’”

12 And Jesus answered and said to him, “It is said, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

13 When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time. (Luke 4:1-13)

There are a couple of things to note right from the get-go. Jesus was empowered by the Holy Spirit, but He was also led into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit. He didn’t go into this “unarmed”, because besides being empowered by the Holy Spirit, He had a comprehensive-knowledge of Scripture. His journey into the wilderness was reminiscent of the Jews forty-year wandering in the wilderness, and while the Jews failed their test miserably, Jesus passed His test with flying-colors.

Jesus’ three temptations correspond to temptations common to us today: lust of the flesh, hunger of all types; lust of the eyes, or covetousness; and pride, lust for power.

Turn a stone into bread – The Spirit leads Him out into the desert (Wilderness) where He is to fast for 40 days, just as Moses and Elijah have done before. This is the first of several parallels to Israel’s past in this section. After 40 days, Jesus is terribly hungry, and in this we see His humanity in full force, after He was proclaimed by His Father to be the Son of God. Taking advantage of the situation, the devil comes onto the stage… Because Jesus was fully-human, it was natural and normal that He was hungry, so knowing Jesus’ hunger, the devil points to a stone and tells Jesus to turn it into bread to ease His suffering. Notice how Satan begins this temptation; “If You are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” Satan begins by questioning Jesus’ true-identity as “the Son of God”. Is He who He ways He is?

Of course you’ll recall the ruckus among the Israelites in the Wilderness about their lack of food which demonstrated their lack of faith in the God who had so recently rescued them from Egypt in spectacular fashion. Unlike the Israelites, Jesus’ faith does not bend at this point. Satan tempted Jesus to use His creative-powers to satisfy His own hunger, which He refused to do. That He could have turned a stone into bread is not in question, but He never used His powers for His own self-gratification. Every time He used His creative-powers, it was for the benefit of someone else. He turned water into wine at a wedding. He multiplied loaves and fishes to feed hungry crowds at least twice. He also made breakfast for His disciples after His resurrection on the day that He restored Peter. All of those events, while clearly-displaying His power, were for the benefit of others. Jesus quoted from the Old Testament in response to this temptation.

Jesus was the “real deal”, the true “seed of the woman” (Genesis 3:15), and stands in stark contrast to the Israelites, who had short memories and wanted God to prove Himself over and over in the Wilderness.

You can fly – Satan also tempted Jesus to see if God would really keep His promise. Had Jesus flown that day, it might have been a grand-spectacle, and while it might have jump-started His ministry, it would have violated His relationship with His Heavenly Father. Jesus was not about to use His power and position for His own personal ends, rather He came to be a servant-leader in humility and self-denial. He never had a “road-crew” to make sure that He had a “proper-pulpit” to preach or teach from. He used whatever He had available. When Satan quoted and misapplied Scripture from the Old Testament, Jesus responded by quoting Scripture also.

Become king of the world – Satan shows Jesus all of the world’s kingdoms and offers them to Jesus, if He will only worship Satan. Is the entire world Satan’s to offer? Is a renter authorized to put a property up for sale? Satan was tempting Jesus to bypass the cross and become an earthly-king. The really interesting aspect of the offer is that it would have brought Jesus to His destiny in a sense, while bypassing the cross, for in being the king of all nations, every knee would bow to Him. The irony of Satan’s offer is that Jesus already owned everything in the universe, and once His mission was finished, God the Father was already going to hand the reins of authority over to Him, so earthly-glory wasn’t going to hold a candle to His heavenly-glory, and when He returns, every knee WILL bow and every tongue WILL confess that He is Lord. Jesus once again fended Satan off by quoting Scripture from the Old Testament. In His denial, Jesus has passed another test that the Israelites had failed in the Wilderness, for He refused to bow to another god, while they had not only bowed to other gods, they had actually manufactured gods to bow to.

Could Jesus have failed the test? – Since Jesus DIDN’T fail the test, we will never know if He could have. He was tested so that He can understand our tests and temptations. Those were not the only temptations He faced. There were several times when adoring-crowds tried to make Him their king, but He passed on those as well. Probably His most intense test was in the Garden as He faced the cross and all the suffering that went with it. He did go to the cross, and He endured both the physical-agony and having the full wrath of God for our sins poured out on Him.

In the final verse, Luke tells us that Satan withdrew in favor of a more opportune time, and indeed, we will encounter him again and again in the story. When all of this was completed, Jesus returned to His home town to kick off His public ministry, no doubt to cheers from His friends and family.

Or not.

Why does it matter?

Why does it matter that Jesus withstood these temptations from Satan?

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16)

Jesus has been tried and tempted by everything that we will ever confront, so He understands all of our trials, temptations and struggles. We won’t ever face anything He hasn’t faced and conquered already, so as our great high priest, He is ever-willing to come alongside us to help us face and conquer our trials, temptations and struggles.

Today – While it may be tempting to sell one’s soul to Satan in exchange for earthly-fame and fortune, both of those “rewards” are short-lived, while the consequences are eternal. Many aspiring entertainers have sold their soul to Satan, become shining-stars, and met untimely-deaths.

Satan is still in the business of tempting believers today, because he loves nothing better that to trip us up, tarnish our reputation and cause us to mangle our fellowship with God and other believers. Whether it is lying on one’s income-tax return, perpetrating a shady business deal, or falling into sexual-sin, the results are the same. We become less like Christ and more like Satan. Satan has tripped me up with sexual-sin way too many times. No, I don’t walk on water or commune with angels.

Satan has also infiltrated the church in far more insidious ways. As he tried to tempt Jesus by quoting but misapplying Scripture, he has also gotten church leaders to twist and pervert Scripture by preaching as “gospel” lies from the pit of hell. Many of them have been taught those lies in Bible college or seminary. Unfortunately these lies sound so “right” that many Christians believe that they are true. John the Apostle has given us a stern warning about believing everything we hear from pulpits or read in books. Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

God has promised to supply ALL of our needs, but not necessarily all of our “wants“. In the Lord’s prayer, we say “Give us this day our daily bread“, and even though that may not include steak, God WILL provide for our needs. Trust God for your needs and trust God to help you resist temptation. Jesus understands our temptations and stands ready to help us because He was also tempted.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Steve

John Baptizes Jesus

Jesus was about to begin His public ministry, transitioning from being a carpenter to being an itinerant Rabbi, but were a couple of important things He had to do first. He couldn’t begin until He was “initiated” and had completed His “testing-period“.

No account of the life of Christ would be complete without His baptism by John the Baptist. As we saw last week, John the Baptist alluded to this event in John 1:31-34, so we are going to take a wee side-trip into Matthew 3 to pick up that narrative. We will follow that next week with Jesus’ temptation by Satan from Luke 4:1-13, before resuming our progress through John’s Gospel.

John the Baptist’s ministry…
Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is the one referred to by Isaiah the prophet when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness,
‘Make ready the way of the Lord,
Make His paths straight!’”

4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem was going out to him, and all Judea and all the district around the Jordan; 6 and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, as they confessed their sins. (Matthew 3:1-5)

John’s baptism was unique because he was calling for Jews to be baptized, not for ritual-purification, but as a symbol of spiritual-renewal. Jews used a ritual known as the “mikvah” whenever they were ceremonially-unclean. Gentiles also went through the mikvah when they converted to the Jewish faith.

Would John the Baptist be welcome in your church?

John baptizes Jesus
13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

John was reluctant to baptize Jesus because he recognized that Jesus was the one person who had no need for repentance. but in order to “fulfill all righteousness“, Jesus had to be identified with His people as the bearer of their sins (2 Corin. 5:21). Ultimately John’s baptism pointed to Jesus, for only Jesus’ death on the cross, which He called a “baptism” (Luke 12:50), could take away sins. Jesus’ identification with His people included His baptism and death, His anointment with the Spirit, and His victory over temptation.

God’s kingdom (His sovereign rule in salvation and judgment) is defined by His righteousness. Jesus teaches the perfect righteousness that God requires (Matt. 5:20, 48); He also secures God’s righteousness for sinners. His baptism points to His death as “a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28) and shows the perfect obedience in which He fulfills all righteousness (Jer. 23:5, 6). Remission of sins and the gift of righteousness are received through faith in Jesus Christ (8:10; 23:23; cf. 21:32). Those who lack God’s righteousness, but hunger and thirst for it, will be filled (5:6; 6:23). Jesus calls those burdened with a load of self-righteousness to find their rest in Him (11:28-12:8).

To Fulfill All Righteousness?
That statement, which came from the lips of Jesus, would seem almost like an oxymoron, and yet that was the reason He gave to John the Baptist for requesting baptism. The sinless Son of God was “fulfilling all righteousness” by being baptized? How could that be?

Sit back, relax and buckle up for the tour, as we try to discover what He needed to be done with that act. The journey begins back in the Old Testament, where God gave Moses the instructions for consecrating priests. I also want to touch on why our own baptism should be such a wonderful, deeply-spiritual event.

As 21st century Christians, most of us haven’t been schooled in the Law of Moses. We know and understand the moral law – the Ten Commandments, but those are but the tip of the iceberg for a 1st century Jew. They were also schooled in and bound by the ceremonial law, which impacted virtually all facets of life. In a previous lesson, I mentioned circumcision and its importance and impact. Besides keeping the moral law perfectly, Jesus also kept the ceremonial law to the letter. I encourage you, if you haven’t done so already, to read the Pentateuch, because in my teaching and writings, I try to keep and portray a holistic view of the Bible without imposing 21st century culture on my interpretations.

Something that fails our understanding of worship in the Old Testament is how intimately-tied the Ceremonial Law was to their worship. God had called the children of Israel to be “set-apart“, a people who were markedly-different than their neighbors, and that included in their worship. We don’t quite “get” the difference between someone being “ceremonially-unclean” and something being “bad” or “wrong“, so it is quite easy for us to conclude that something which made a person “ceremonially-unclean” was “wrong”. Was it “bad” or “wrong” for a woman to have her monthly-period, or for a couple to have sex? Of course not, but both made them “ceremonially-unclean“, as did child-birth, which meant that they couldn’t participate in tabernacle or temple worship until they had gone through the necessary “purification“. (Leviticus 15:16-24) The Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law were known collectively as the Law of Moses.

Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one jot or one tittle will pass from the Law until it is accomplished.” (Matthew 5:17-18)

Jesus came to fulfill and keep both the Moral Law AND the entirety of the Ceremonial Law. The Law Giver came to be the perfect Law Keeper

According to the law…
And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived. And when the time came for their purification according to the Law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every male who first opens the womb shall be holy to the Lord”) and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the Law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.” (Luke 22:21-24)

There were no shortcuts in fulfilling the whole Law. Everything was done how and when it was supposed to be done, because Jesus was a “complete” Jew. In spite of being “hick-town” Jews, Galileans, Mary and Joseph were very conversant with the Law and kept it meticulously.

Circumcision is just another “medical procedure” to us, but it was the Rite of Passage to a Jewish boy. It visually-symbolized his inclusion in God’s covenant people, Israel. Jesus could not have been proclaimed to be “The King of the Jews” while He hung on the cross if He had not been circumcised.

Thirty years old…
Why did Jesus wait until he was thirty years old before he began his public ministry? (Luke 3:23) Priests and Levites were not allowed to enter temple-service until they were thirty years old. (Numbers 4:34-37)

Priestly consecration…
God gave very specific instructions to Moses regarding the consecration and installation of priests:

“Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the entrance of the tent of meeting and shall wash them with water and put on Aaron the holy garments. And you shall anoint him and consecrate him, that he may serve Me as priest.” (Exodus 40:12-13)

His baptism…
Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so for now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:13-17)

Even though Jesus was not anointed with oil after His baptism, He was anointed with the Holy Spirit, which the oil symbolizes. Jesus, in His baptism, fully identified with His people, and willingly took on His role as our High Priest. As the water of baptism symbolically cleanses away sin, so Jesus, in entering the water of baptism, symbolically took upon Himself our sin and pollution.

Jesus – our High Priest…
Jesus was not descended from the priestly line of Aaron, the traditional Jewish priestly line. He was from the tribe of Judah, so He became a priest by special decree. “For it evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest, not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, “You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” (Hebrews 7:14-17)

To fulfill all righteousness?
“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men, and being found in human form, he humbled himself by being obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:5-11)

Jesus, who is the eternal Word, laid-aside His divine glory and divine prerogatives, and became a human-being, a man, so that He could live the life we can not live, one of perfect obedience to His Father, and died the death that is rightfully ours, so that we may be clothed in His righteousness. He fulfilled ALL righteousness, because we can not do it for ourselves.

Why does it matter?
To come into the presence of God, we must be perfectly-holy, and a “clean-slate” isn’t good enough. Had Jesus only died for our sins, we would, at the moment of our salvation, be restored to a “pre-fall” condition, but the rest would be up to us. We must be righteous before God, which means that we must live a perfectly-holy life, but we can’t muster that for even one minute. Only by Jesus’ perfectly-holy life can His perfect-record become ours. When Jesus “fulfilled all righteousness“, He did for us what we cannot do for ourselves, make us righteous before God.

The Priesthood of all believers…
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)

“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10)

Baptism – our priestly consecration…
The 21st century church has forsaken the rich symbolism of baptism in the early church, and most people would be incensed if they had to strip naked in public and be baptized nude. Believers in the early church had no such cultural hangups, because they were thoroughly versed in the ceremonial practices of the Jewish faith and didn’t have the conveniences which we take for granted.. We miss out on the richness of the baptism rite, which was meant to symbolize, or reproduce, the consecration and anointing of priests in the Old Testament.

The putting off of the old garment symbolizes putting off the old man, our old, pre-believer self. The washing with water (baptism) symbolizes being cleansed, purified for holy service. The anointing with oil symbolizes the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Putting on a new, clean garment symbolizes being covered with the righteousness of Christ. It symbolizes a complete transformation, because once a priest, always a priest…a perpetual priesthood, under our great High Priest, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Even if we haven’t gone through the whole baptism rite, we must understand what our baptism symbolizes – becoming a kingdom of priests to our God and Father.

Have you been consecrated for holy service?

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve