A Samaritan Woman Meets Her Messiah

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, Jesus WAS greater than Jacob, WAY greater!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessings!
Steve

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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

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

Tough Times…

I’ve had them, you’ve had them, even the Apostle Paul had them, and some of you may even be going through tough-times right now. Maybe you are going through financial-difficulties such that there is “too much month at the end of the money“, health issues for which there is no “cure“, relationship issues, or are in a spiritual-slump, and while it may be hard to imagine anything “good” coming from them, we aren’t abandoned in our struggles. Paul reminds us that “we are not alone“.

The Apostle Paul was certainly no stranger to pain, suffering and tough times, and as he wrote the letter to the Romans, he knew that more sufferings were ahead of him. He had been beaten many times, imprisoned, and stoned and left for dead. While the exact date of this letter is unknown, we do know that Paul hadn’t been to Rome yet, but that there was already a vibrant church there. He wrote Romans 8 out of those experiences, combined with the assurances he had received from the Holy Spirit. Romans 8 also contains some of the most “difficult” verses in the whole Bible because they are counter-intuitive to us and our experiences. With that in mind, I want to look at verses 18-27. I have covered Romans 8:28-39 in a previous post entitled “Good?” which was posted in August, 2015. I invite you to read and study that post as a “follow-up” to this treatise.

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. 24 For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.

Paul kicks-off this section by comparing the significance of his sufferings with the glory that awaits him after his journey is over. 18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us. As much as Paul had already suffered, and as many sufferings were still on the horizon, they paled in comparison to the glories of Heaven.

While it is not “wrong” to ask, “When will this all end?“, or, “When will I get some relief?“, if you have accepted Christ as your Lord and Savior, your spirit should be buoyed by the fact that your suffering will end when you take your last breath, and when you wake up in Heaven, you will have the perfect health and have the perfect body which you may have even been denied at your birth. Yes, I am looking forward to seeing perfectly with two good eyes, hearing perfectly and not having my body riddled with arthritis, the true glory will be seeing my blessed Savior face-to-face and having perfect fellowship with God and with His people.

Paul then reminds us that we are not alone in yearning for when all things will be made right, for when all things will be made new. 19 For the anxious longing of the creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. 23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.

When God created mankind, He gave us custodial-responsibility over all of His creation. When Adam and Eve fell, God placed a curse on the rest of His creation as well. However, rather than being good custodians of God’s creation, mankind has exploited and raped God’s creation in our endless greed for MORE, MORE, MORE. While I don’t know how much of “climate change” is man-made and how much of it is really climate-cycling, I do remember the days when coal-fired power-plants belched acrid black smoke twenty-four hour a day, seven day a week, and when diesel trucks left a plume of acrid black smoke in their wake. I don’t miss those days, but at that, we should be doing a much-better job of tending God’s creation. Yes, even creation eagerly-waits that time when all things will be made right, and all things will be made new.

23 And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. While some false religions are looking forward to the time when our spirits are “liberated” from our bodily-shell, Christians are looking forward to our bodily-resurrection. Christ’s resurrection was more than merely Him coming back to life; it serves as the iron-clad assurance of our own bodily-resurrection. To be “humanmeans to have a “human-body“, and that is what God created us to be for all eternity.

Our Victory in Christ
26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Have you ever thought that you NEED to pray, and may even have urgent things to pray for, but really couldn’t put your thoughts into a coherent-prayer? Have you ever tried to pray, but all you did was sputter and stammer? Did you ever stop and remind yourself that the Holy Spirit knows what is on your mind and is praying with and for you? Maybe you have read these words before, but their significance still hasn’t sunk-in yet, if so, read them again and let them sink-in to the depths of your heart. 26 In the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27 and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. We have an intercessor Who knows how to make our petitions known to God the Father even better than we ever could. The Holy Spirit never sputters or stammers. Take comfort in that glorious-reality!

From Isaiah 40:
Eight centuries before Paul wrote his letter to the Romans, God addressed His exiled-people through the prophet Isaiah. As they struggled to endure the hardships of their exile, they asked “Has God abandoned us?”, a question we may be tempted to ask when we are struggling with tough times. God’s answer to them, and to us, should give us comfort and assurance that we are NOT abandoned.

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?

28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable.

29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power.

30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly,

31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:27-31)

God, through Isaiah, asks: 27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the Lord, and the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”? As they yearned for their homeland, they may have wondered whether God had abandoned them, or God was “on vacation” and had forgotten their plight. Do we ever have those thoughts?

Notice God’s answer to their immediate-question: 28 Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. God tells them, AND us, that He NEVERtakes a vacation” or even “goes to sleep“. God is ALWAYS on “high-alert“.

In the aftermath of 9-11, many people wondered where God was on that fateful day, and even more recently, where God was during the Pulse Nightclub massacre, but God has assured us that NOTHINGescapes His notice“.

In the midst of our tough-times, we may ask “WHY?” many times, but God reminds us that we may never understand His reasons for our struggles. His understanding is inscrutable. There are many times in my life when I have asked “WHY?“, only to be met with deafening-silence, and it would only be many years later before I finally caught a glimpse of “why” those things happened.

Have you ever wondered, as you struggled through tough-times, how you were able to keep putting one foot in front if the other? Tough-times wear us down and wear us out, but God concludes His message with one of the most amazing promises in all of Scripture.

29 He gives strength to the weary, and to him who lacks might He increases power. 30 Though youths grow weary and tired, and vigorous young men stumble badly, 31 Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, they will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.

Some of you may have read “Footprints In The Sand” before, and I can’t think of any more fitting way to close this treatise.

Footprints in the Sand
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.

This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.

So I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, You would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. “Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?”

The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”

If you are going through tough-times, or know someone who is, my prayer is that your spirit will be buoyed by these precious promises from Romans 8 and Isaiah 40. I need to be reminded of them too, because my life isn’t exactly “smooth” right now either.

Sola Deo Gloria!
Steve

Image and Likeness…

As I have struggled over the past several months with the implications of being created in the “image and likeness” of God (Genesis 1:26-28), I have also struggled to understand how we, as believers, have strayed from the original intent and understanding of this key passage. Certainly the invasion of Gnostic dualism has played a part, but I have come to the conclusion that, until we go back to a true understanding of God, we will never make peace with God’s image in us.

If our understanding of the nature of God is faulty, our understanding of ourselves will be faulty also. A faulty understanding of God will never create a true understanding of man. There is one key, which just came to mind as I was contemplating this topic, which certainly rings true in my own experience over the last fifty or so years. I am not bold and brash enough to claim that this is the ONLY key…only God knows for sure, but I believe it is a key…a clue.

God is Spirit…

Jesus was speaking to the Samaritan woman at the well when He said: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). That passage should be straightforward enough, but where I believe it is tripping us up, is that we mentally add the word “only“. Do we, when we read this passage, read it as “God is ONLY Spirit“? That was the essence of what I was taught…

Throughout Scripture, there are many instances where God appeared to various people for intimate, relational encounters. The first of those encounters was in the Garden of Eden, where God walked and talked with Adam and Eve…person to person. (Genesis 2:8 and following) Did God merely “appear” to be a person? Was God communicating merely by “thought-transmission“?

The LORD appeared to Abraham, and ate supper with him, promised him a son, and told him about the impending destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah…(Genesis 18)

Jacob wrestled with God, and saw His face…(Genesis 32:24-32)

When God appeared to Moses on the mountain, and hid Moses with His hand until He passed by, did God only “appear” to be a person? Moses was not allowed to see God’s “face“…(Exodus 33:18-23)

Theologians have tried to explain these “appearances” with high-sound names like “Theophany”, but I believe what they are trying to do is “dis-embody” God. Are they also “de-personalizing” God?

Aaron and Miriam rebelled against Moses, and God called them in for a chat. What God told them was that He and Moses spoke “face-to-face“, and that Moses had “seen the form of the Lord“. (Numbers 12:6-8)

The LORD said to my Lord, sit at my right hand“…(Psalm 110)

Daniel had a vision of God, and in his vision, he saw “the Ancient of Days“…(Daniel 7:9-14)

Jesus, while talking to the religious leaders, said “And the Father Himself, who sent me, has testified of me. You have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form.” (John 5:37)

Stephen saw “the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God“…(Acts 7:54-56)

In heaven, we shall see God’s face…(Revelation 22:4)

Form“…”face”…just figures of speech? I seriously doubt it, because these descriptions of God appear way too many time in Scripture to ignore.

Man is spirit…

What sets mankind apart from our biological and physiological “cousins” in the animal kingdom is our possession of a spirit, or a soul. After God formed that first man from the dust of the ground, He could have merely caused life to enter that man, but instead, God chose to breath His own breath into the man, endowing him with a part of Himself, giving him a soul…a spirit.

Man is not merely “just another animal“, and neither is he a “disembodied-spirit“. He is a union of a mortal body and an immortal spirit, which God intended to be united for all eternity, and indeed will unite…for all eternity, when we are raised from the dead in the resurrection.

If I had said “Man is ONLY spirit“, that would have contradicted everything we know from Scripture about humanity. If I had said “All that really counts is man’s spirit“, I would have played into Gnosticism’s heretical lie, but I don’t believe either of those lies.

Image and likeness…

When a couple conceives a child, they have reasonable expectations that the child will be in their “image and likeness“. Some of those expectations are:

1) Since they are human, the baby will also be human. Humans don’t give birth to animal babies.
2) The baby will be the same ethnicity as they are, and if it isn’t, the husband will have justifiable reason to believe his wife had sex with another man. If they are a mixed-ethnicity couple, the baby will still look like a mixture of both of them.
3) The baby’s hair and eye colors will match their own, or at least someone in their family line. (My first three children had blonde hair and blue eyes, as I do. My fourth had dark eyes and dark hair, like her mother. I certainly could not have “disowned” any of them as not being “mine”, because they all looked like they belonged to our family. They were my children.)
4) The baby’s facial features will resemble one or both parents.

Have you ever seen a picture of a LARGE family, and noticed the strong family-resemblance? It isn’t “accidental“. That resemblance is part of God’s design.

True worship…

God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Everything we do as humans, we do through the agency of our body. Our spirit experiences life in and through our body, and as we worship God, our spirit connects with God, as it directs our body to physically give Him praise, whether it is through song, prayer, or the spoken word. However, unless our spirit is engaged in worship, all we are doing is going through some form or ritual. It takes our whole being to adequately worship God.

Conclusions…

What I am NOT suggesting is that God is a “divineman“, however there is evidence to support the conclusion that God has some sort of physical form…which is described in masculine terms. A dis-embodied God is much easier for us to deal with, as is a disembodied Jesus. If God and Jesus are merely concepts…knowledge…gnosis, we need not have an real relationship with God. Indeed we can NOT have a relationship with God. All this gnosis…knowledge…can be formulated into neat “doctrines” and put on our theological shelf. Relationship requires person-hood.

What we DO know for fact, is that our Lord Jesus is in heaven, at the Father’s right hand, in His true human form. Our flesh and blood is at the right hand of God…as real…as human, as we are.

Are we willing to accept what God has said about Himself in His Word? If so, it must revolutionize how we see ourselves, as made in His “image and likeness“…body, soul and spirit, and we must quit calling what He called “very good“, something evil, something to be ashamed of.

LORD God,
I want to see you as You are, so that I may gain a true picture of who I am, as Your image-bearer. Show me Your glory, and remove the blinders that the evil-one has placed over my eyes, so that I may know Your truth, and that Your truth may set me free. Remove that wall of false dualism, so that I can become whole, and a new creation in You.

In the majestic and powerful Name of Jesus, Amen!