John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 4

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The Woman at Well

If anything, the gospel narrative is a story of unyielding compassion.  You cannot read John and miss how much Jesus cared for all people, not just those who were “socially-acceptable”.  When we open in chapter 4 of John, we find Jesus in Samaria.  Here He finds a woman and although all she gives Him is a drink of water, He gives her so much more.

At the risk of “beating a dead horse”, you cannot read this story without pointing out the strained relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans.  The Samaritans and the Jews come from similar lineage, however, the Samaritans (in the eyes of the Jews) had been “tainted” by other nations.  Not only had the bloodlines of the Samaritans had been determined “unclean”, but because the Samaritans were not allowed to offer sacrifices at the Temple, they were also considered spiritually unclean.  This feud began long before Jesus arrived on the scene, but the two nations had only grown further apart.

To make matters worse, this woman was obviously living in sin.  She had had “five husbands” and the one she had was “not her husband” (John 4:18).  At the time the only one who could initiate a divorce was the husband, so this woman, either through a fault of her own or other cause, had been rejected and cast aside at least 5 times.  And the man she was with now would not even marry her (perhaps because he was already married).  She was a woman no one wanted, rejected, wounded (ever felt like that?).  Jesus was not even supposed to speak to this woman.  To receive at drink from her jar would make Himself unclean in the eyes of the Jews.

And yet…

Here we find our Savior, asking little from her, but offering His whole self to her and everything she wanted.  Jesus’s interaction with this woman is so different than what she was accustomed to and what even we are accustomed to today.  Although He was aware of all her “faults”, all the things that would cause Him to steer clear, He held none of it against her.  He did not bring them up to condemn her.  He used them to make her aware of her need.  Her need for Him.

Jesus does the same for us today.  He doesn’t not point out our sin merely to condemn us.  He does it to convict and make us aware of our need for a Savior.  If we had no sin, we would need no savior.  And if our Savior only condemned, we would have no hope.

Living Water

Once again, John brings up the theme of “old vs. new”.  This particular well that Jesus and the woman are chatting beside is “Jacob’s Well”, a place steeped in traditional significance.  It was through Jacob (also known as Israel) that blessings came from God to the 12 tribes of Israel.  This well symbolized a part of those blessings that made for the provision of the Israelites (of which both the Jews and the Samaritans were descended).

Jesus offers the woman “living water”.  This provision is better than the old.  It doesn’t just provide for the temporal physical needs, this water is everlasting and provides for the eternal life.

The woman is so moved by His words and actions that she returns to the town to share the news with the very people who she lives in rejection amongst.  The news was THAT important.  Do we treat the gospel with this much importance, that we would even share it with our enemies?  Once again, because of the testimony of one, many come to Christ.

There is an important lesson also to be learned in the reaction of the town to the woman’s testimony and the words of Jesus.  They came to Jesus themselves to find the truth out for themselves.  They didn’t allow themselves to be swayed only by the words of this woman.  We need to do that today, not just accept what others are saying about God, but go to Him and find out for ourselves.  Like the Bereans when “they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11 ESV)  If we only rely on others’ interpretation of Scripture, we may miss a lot of what God is trying to reveal to us, or worse, we may even be led astray.

Jesus Heals an Official’s Son

Jesus returns once more to Cana, the very site of His first recorded miracle at the wedding.  Here He meets a Roman official.  Once again, another “enemy”, perhaps even more hated than the Samaritans.  This particular one may have been one that was helpful to the Jews, aiding them in their synagogues, yet Romans were still Romans.  But Jesus’s compassion is for all.

Whoever this official was, he begged for Jesus to heal his son.  Jesus does not go with the man, but sends him away with the words “Go; your son will live” (John 4:50 ESV)  As a tribute to his faith, the official takes Jesus at His word.  When he returns home, he finds his son healed.  Because this man had enough faith to go to Jesus in the first place, His son was healed and all those in his household also believe.  Yet encouraging stories chosen by John in which the faith of one affects many.  And Jesus is enough for all.

 

 

 

 

John: A Walk with the Messiah: Chapter 3

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Born Again

As we have learned in the story of the past two chapters, Jesus is rapidly gaining fame.  As Chapter 3 opens, we meet another character.  This man’s name was Nicodemus.  Nicodemus was a Pharisee (the sect of the Jews known for being strict adherents to the old Law, also known for being adversaries of Jesus) and a “ruler” of the Jews, this indicates that he was part of the Great Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.  The Sanhedrin was a group of men chosen to be the supreme religious leaders.  He comes to Jesus at night, possibly to avoid ridicule from fellow religious rulers while he sought answers from Jesus.  Unlike many of his fellow Pharisees, Nicodemus treats Jesus with respect calling Him “Rabbi”.  In addition to this, Nicodemus acknowledges that Jesus’s signs come God and because of this believes that Jesus must have been sent by God (he uses the words “we believe” meaning that there are others with this same view).  Nicodemus comes to Jesus to learn what he can from this God-sent teacher.

Jesus begins his teaching with “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).  What can this mean?  Nicodemus first believes that Jesus is speaking literally and after all “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)  Jesus isn’t talking about a physical birth, but a spiritual one.  Flesh is flesh and spirit is spirit.  They are two different things.

Jesus speaks about being born of water.  Baptism is a symbol of this very thing.  One “dies” to the water when he is immersed and is “reborn” when he comes up again.  He is a new creation in Christ, a new spiritual babe.  Jesus also mentions being born of the Spirit which points to the Spirit’s role in this new birth.  Rebirth is impossible without the direct influence of the Holy Spirit.

Nicodemus, a supreme religious ruler, does not yet understand.  This man is expected to help lead Israel, and yet he misses what Jesus is saying like so many other “leaders”.  Before we are too harsh on him, however, remember, a lot of what we take for granted as common knowledge as Christians today was hidden from the Jews until after Christ’s resurrection.  Christ was indeed sent to teach, to teach the true meanings of the Law, meanings that had been missed for a long time.  Nicodemus wasn’t the only one in the dark.  Thankfully for him, he knew where to seek the Light that was sent to enlighten mankind, the only one to ever descend from heaven to explain heavenly things.

Lifted Up in the Wilderness

Jesus also takes this time with Nicodemus to also give the first hint to His coming death.  “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15).  If you are unfamiliar with that Old Testament story, it can be found in Numbers 21:4-9.  Essentially, the Israelites were continuing to wander in the desert because of their disobedience and began to grumble and complain once again.  God became so angry with them that He sent deadly serpents among the camp who bit and killed many Israelites.  Those who had not died cried out to God to save them.  God commanded Moses to craft a snake out of bronze and to raise it up on a staff for all to see.  Those who were sick and dying from the snake bites could look upon the bronze snake and be healed.  However, they had to believe and to look.  Jesus says that, just like that bronze snake, He too would be lifted up above the people.  All who believe and look to Him will not only be healed from all their souls diseases, but will also be given eternal life with God.

God’s Love

Jesus also gives us a glimpse of the vastness of the Father’s love for His children.  He allowed His only Son to taste death so that we could have forever life.  The Father’s love is not condemning but forgiving (Rom. 8:1).  Christ didn’t come to pronounce our doom, but to offer us an alternative, to offer us life.  We condemn ourselves by our sinful actions, by rejecting the Light that came to rescue us from our darkness.

John the Immerser

Jesus’s disciples were baptizing people with the guidance of Christ.  When John’s disciples heard of this, they were jealous for their own rabbi.  John says something interesting “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven” (John 3:27).  John recognizes that all good things come from God and that if God chooses to bless Jesus’s ministry there is nothing he can or should do to hinder it.  John realizes that now that Jesus is here, he must yield to His ministry.  I wonder if John expected to be “done” so early.  All his life he had been preparing for the job that he had been born for and now, at the age of 31 or so, his life calling is coming to an end.  Talk about a reason for a mid-life crisis! And yet, John gracefully yields to Christ because he recognizes the greatness in Christ.  John is one of the few people at this point who truly understands (through the revelation of the Spirit in him) that Jesus is in fact the Son of God and what that truly means.  How wonderful it must have been for him to know that he helped to open the way for God’s one true Son.