John 4

John chapter three ends with an ominous verse, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him”. Then Jesus and his disciples leave the area surrounding Jerusalem to travel back to Galilee. But instead of going the long way around which was customary, John emphasizes that “now He had to go through Samaria”, Jesus was on a mission, prompted by the Holy Spirit, to travel through the land of Samaria, which was hostile towards the Jews. This hostility was reciprocated, the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews, their hostility was rooted in a political decision 950 years earlier, when the northern tribes refused to submit to Solomon’s heir Rehoboam. In the intervening years the hostilities grew, the north known as Israel set up alternative worship sites, they still worshipped Yahweh, just not in Jerusalem the capital of the southern kingdom Judah. Both Judah and Israel were plagued by evil kings with some faithful kings that would bring them back to faithful worship, but their downward track towards idolatry was persistent and continual. In 722 BC, the northern kingdom of Israel was invaded by Assyria, many people (mostly the upper classes) were carried off as slaves, and then Assyria repopulated the land with people from the pagan nations they conquered. The pagan settlers intermarried with the Israelites and intermingled pagan practices with the worship of the one true God. By the time Jesus arrives at Jacob’s well the hostility and prejudices are great, almost insurmountable except for the Messiah who cuts through the rhetoric to speak the truth in love.

Jesus is left exhausted at the well, when a woman arrives to draw water; we all identify with her in some ways because all of us at some time in life have felt rejected and used by the people we should trust the most. Jesus asks for a cup of water, the woman responds with veiled hostility, because Jews would not touch anything that a Samaritan touched because they were considered unclean. Jesus responds with kindness saying, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” and “whoever drinks the water I give him will never be thirsty again”. She responds, I’ll take some of that water, then I won’t need to ever come back here to draw water, she misses the spiritual and thinking only of her daily trials. Jesus cuts right through the quick response to say, “Go, call your husband”, then proceeds to tell her knows all about her sad life, her five husbands, her rejections, sins and trials. Surprised that he knows her inner secrets, she calls him a prophet and drags the conversation right back to the hostilities, this time about where and how to worship the LORD. Jesus refuses to be drawn into endless discussion about details that divide, instead he declares that soon you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem, the reveals himself to her as the Messiah.

Meanwhile, the disciples return, they are surprised and confused. Jesus is talking to a Samaritan woman of questionable morals and no longer seems interested in the food that was so important just a short time before. Jesus speaks of food that he eats that they know nothing about; that food is to do the will of God and that it is time to harvest. As the whole town arrives to find out about Jesus, he says, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest”. Jesus and his disciples stay in the village for two days, many people in the town became believers, they affirmed the rejected woman saying, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves and we know that his man really is the Savior of the world”.

Colossians 1:21-22 is a perfect summary for Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritans,

“You yourselves are a case study of what he does. At one time you all had your backs turned to God, thinking rebellious thoughts of him, giving him trouble every chance you got. But now, by giving himself completely at the Cross, actually dying for you, Christ brought you over to God’s side and put your lives together, whole and holy in his presence”. (The Message)

This chapter concludes with Jesus’ second sign, they continue their travels to Galilee on their way to Cana again. The crowds gather excited to see Jesus, hoping to see a spectacular miracle, they were not looking for the “Savior of the world” that the Samaritans encountered, they were looking for entertainment. A man approaches, he is an official in Herod Antipas’ household, he has traveled 25 miles to persuade Jesus to come heal his son, he says, “Sir, come down before my child dies”. Jesus simply replies, “You may go, your son will live”. I doubt that the crowds and the disciples even noticed this interchange; they were looking for the spectacular sign, yet Jesus healed with power from a distance, without touching or seeing the boy, the man believed him and turned to go home. As he was walking home his servants met him to report that his son got better at the exact moment that Jesus spoke to the man.

This chapter is one of encouragement to those who are feeling rejected and alone. Jesus saw both the woman and this father, while the town and the crowds would have brushed them aside. Jesus healed both the woman and the son; the woman of her spiritual darkness the boy from sickness. Even though the crowds didn’t acknowledge Jesus, he revealed his majesty to a woman at the well and the Samaritans proclaimed that he was the Savior of the World!

John 3

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The last verses in chapter 2 reads, “But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men. He did not need man’s testimony about man, for he knew what was in a man”. Chapter three continues with the story of two men Nicodemus and John the Baptist. It begins with Nicodemus, seeking Jesus out at night. Nicodemus was from the party of the Pharisees, he was a respected man, known for his faithful keeping of every detail of the Law. As a good polite man, he offered respect and a compliment to Jesus first; he called him Rabbi, who has come from God confirmed by miraculous signs. Before Nicodemus can even form a question for the Rabbi, Jesus declares, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again”. We feel Nicodemus’ confusion, I am not sure what question Nicodemus was going to ask, but I am sure it would have reflected profound theological thought, showing his understanding of scriptures, meant to impress and allow for deep discussion. Nicodemus is trapped in the here and now, the literal – “How can a man be born again, he cannot enter a second time his mother’s womb to be born”. Jesus answers, “No one can enter the kingdom unless he is born of water AND the Spirit”. This statement is helpful in understanding this encounter; the Pharisees were expert at ceremonially cleansing, they had the rules down pat for the outward adherence to the Law, they felt completely assured that their position in the kingdom of God was well established with honor and position. Luke 7:29 records that all the people, even tax collectors had repented and were baptized by John the Baptist but the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law had refused to be baptized by John; they obviously didn’t think they needed additional cleansing.
Jesus further confounds Nicodemus by stating emphatically that “You must be born again” by the water and Spirit, an inward circumcision of the heart, by means of grace from above for everyone not just the Pharisees. The Pharisees had it all worked out, if you are born a Jew and you follow all the rules like they did, God would bless and reward you. Now Jesus says, they got it all wrong; Jesus, the one Nicodemus acknowledges came from God completely overturns his long held sacred held beliefs.
Jesus then uses an illustration from Daniel 7, connecting himself to the prophecy about the Messiah saying, “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life”. Son of Man, was Jesus’ favorite title for himself, it is used 81 times in the Gospels and never used by anyone but Jesus. This is the first hint that something is coming, that will provide the How to be born again from above. The Son must be “lifted up”; Nicodemus and the disciples would have remembered that the snake lifted up by Moses saved the Israelites from certain death from snake bite.
The next verses (16-18) give us the simple gospel; God’s motivation for sending Jesus was because he loved the entire world. The purpose of God’s gift is for everyone to believe and those who believe that Jesus is God’s One and Only Son will have eternal life. Those who reject God’s gracious gift are condemned, not because God condemned the world, but because they refuse God’s purpose and plan through Jesus, his One and Only Son.
This chapter has given us some emphatic truths and imperatives for our life:
“You must be born again”; we can devise all sorts of rules and alternate ways to salvation but Jesus himself declared that we must be born again by water and the Spirit; there is one way, God’s way.
“The Son of Man must be lifted up”; as much as we would like for this salvation to be accomplished any other way than Jesus’ crucifixion and death, this is God’s plan, motivated by God’s love for the world, for all mankind.
John the Baptist gives us our final imperative for this section; “He (Jesus) must increase and I must decrease”. This chapter concludes with this statement, “For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands”. We are in good hands.

Memory Verse for Lesson 4:
John 4:24
“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth”

John 2

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This chapter records the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry, with his first miraculous sign and His first confrontation with the Jerusalem establishment. Increasingly we will see these exchanges, where Jesus’ disciples will catch glimpses of His true power and glory side by side with rejection of His authority, power and glory. At this point we begin to identify with different people or groups in this unveiling story, I like to think that I am right there with Jesus, seeing in wonder who He really is rather than being a part of the establishment that resists the Savior and don’t recognize their corruption and sin.

The chapter begins with Jesus with his family and disciples attending a wedding in the town of Cana, in Galilee. Cana is about 10 miles from Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth; Mary appears to be in charge of the reception because when they run out of wine, she comes to Jesus to solve the problem. Jesus says, “My time has not yet come” but then quickly solves the problem his mother presented to him. We wonder about Jesus’ relationship with his mother, and her calm command to the servants “Do whatever he tells you”. John skillfully crafts this encounter drawing us into the story and the truth of God represented in this celebration. Jesus’ directs the servants to fill up the water jars – these jars were set aside to hold the water for ceremonial washing, which represents the Old Covenant and our endless need to be cleansed from our filthy sins. Jesus directs the servants to draw out some and take it to the master of the banquet, who discovers that now there is more than enough wine for days (by my calculation it was the equivalent of at least 605 bottles of wine) and it was better wine than all that was served before. What a picture of the perfection and the abundance of God, the old is replace with something even better, the new wine of the New Covenant. This first miracle was not done in a spectacular way, we are told the servants who drew the water knew what really happened and the disciples were the ones who saw Jesus’ revealed glory and they put their faith in him.

After this quiet and abundant miracle, Jesus, his mother and brothers and his disciples travel to Capernaum, on the sea of Galilee, for a few days before going to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover Feast. Jesus arrives at the Temple, where he finds that the Priests have turned the court of the Gentiles into a market place, full of sheep and cattle and moneychangers. They had taken what was holy to God and used it to extort excessive fees from the pilgrims coming to worship. They had forgotten that God’s blessing to them through Abraham was intended to be a blessing to the nations; they had defiled the place set aside for the Gentiles to worship, restricting their access. Jesus arrives, sees the corruption and declares it a den of thieves; he then makes a whip and drives out the animals, the sellers and turns over the tables of the money changers and no one tries to stop him. After creating such uproar, disturbing the status quo, the Jews demand a miraculous sign from Jesus to prove that He has the authority to disrupt their commerce. Jesus responds with prophecy that will eventually will bring Him into His final confrontation with the establishment and result in His crucifixion. “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days”, the Jews scoff at this statement, the Temple was a wonder of the world, it had been under construction for 46 years, begun in 20 BC by Herod the Great it sat high on the hill, shining with gold. The work would continue until 64 AD then just 6 years later would be destroyed by Rome in 70 AD. John and the disciples would understand completely after the resurrection that Jesus was speaking of his body. The Old Covenant with the Temple worship would be replace by New Covenant that relied on Jesus’ final sacrifice and His victory over death and sin.

Memory Verse for lesson 3:

John 3: 16-18

For God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s One and Only Son.