THE HEALING AT BETHESDA – John 5:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl argued that the “loss of hope and courage can have a deadly effect on man.”  As a result of his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Frankl contended that when a man no longer possesses a motive for living, and has no future to look forward to, he curls up in a corner and dies.

In 1965, James B. Stockdale became one of the first American pilots to be shot down during the Vietnam War.  He was captured by the Viet Cong, and spent seven years as a prisoner-of-war.  During that period of time he was frequently tortured in an attempt to break him and get him to denounce the U.S. involvement in the war.  He was chained for days at a time with his hands above his head so that he could not even swat the mosquitoes.  Today, he still cannot bend his left knee and walks with a severe limp from having his leg broken by his captors and never reset.  One of the worst things done to him was that he was held in isolation away from the other American P.O.W.s and allowed to see only his guards and interrogators.

How could anyone survive such treatment?  As he looks back on that time, Stockdale says that it was his hope that kept him alive – the hope of one day going home; that each day could be the day of his release.  Without hope, he knew that he would die in hopelessness, as others had done.

In this passage of Scripture, John 5:1-9, we will see the description of a man whose life seems hopeless.  Then he has an encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and everything changes.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 1-2)

Verse 1 says, :After these things there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem”  We don’t know for sure what feast this was.  The Jews living a day’s journey from Jerusalem were required to observe three feasts a year:  Passover, Tabernacles, and Pentecost, so it was probably one of these three feasts.  Notice also that Jesus is mentioned by name but His disciples are not mentioned in this verse, nor in this passage of Scripture we are studying.  It appears that Jesus went to the feast alone.  Once again, we do not know for sure.  But we know from what follows that the Father had another appointment for the Lord Jesus to keep, and this appointment was near the Temple area in Jerusalem.

Verse 2 describes that location in some detail.  “Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes.”   From his description, the apostle John is telling us that the pool at Bethesda is going to be Jesus’ first stop in Jerusalem.  As we shall see, this pool is not a place that healthy people would normally visit.  Bethesda means “house of mercy”, but some manuscripts use the name Beth-Zatha which means “house of the olive”.  This pool is located by the sheep gate.  That gate is only mentioned four times in the Bible:  here, and three times in the book of Nehemiah (3:1; 3:32; and 12:13).  It is a gate near the temple area which is used to bring sheep and oxen to the temple as sacrifices during the temple services.  Commentator William Barclay gives a helpful explanation for the pool of water at Bethesda.  “The word for pool is kolumbethron, which comes from the verb kolumban, to dive.  The pool was deep enough to swim in.”  The five porticoes were porches that were probably covered, providing some protection from the sun or the rain.  This is the only place in the Bible where the word Bethesda (Beth-Zatha) occurs.

II.  THE ENCOUNTER (verse 3)

Verse 3 describes what Jesus sees as He enters the pool area and gets a panoramic view of the five porticoes:  In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered [waiting for the moving of the waters.].”  The place was crowded with people, and they were people who were limited in their mobility and were probably not able to take care of themselves.  Family and friends probably carried them to these porticoes or helped them to get there.  You’ve probably heard the saying “Misery likes company”, and maybe you’ve used those words yourself in appropriate situations with various shades of meaning.  The phrase has been around for many centuries.  A translation of the words of 14th century historian Dominici de Gravina reads:  “It is a comfort to the unfortunate to have had companions in woe.”  Having other people to converse with, who understand what you are going through because they are going through something similar themselves, can be a real source of comfort and encouragement.  Sometimes the greatest suffering can be emotional and social – the feeling that you are alone in your suffering; that someone else understands or cares.  As John Stockdale said in my introduction, that one of the worst things that happened to him as a P.O.W. was being isolated from the other Americans.

The apostle John says that the sick people were “waiting for the moving of the waters”.  What do those words mean?  Historians have remarked about a spring underneath this pool, and excavations have verified John’s words.  It was an “intermittent spring” that would occasionally force hot water up between the rocks at he bottom of the pool.  When this happened, the surface of the water would become agitated and bubbles would appear.  That’s what the disabled people lying on the porticoes were watching for and waiting to see.

III.  THE POPULAR OPINION (verse 4)

The explanation of the moving of the waters is given in verse 4 as the popular opinion of the people.  “for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then first, after the stirring up of the water, stepped in was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted.]

It was not unusual for the Jewish people of that time to attribute such occurrences to the ministry of angels.  In the Old Testament, angels are mentioned as protectors of the nation of Israel against oppressors, and as the ones God used to supply the physical needs of the prophets.  When the nation of Israel turned away from the true God to worship false gods, many of those religions of the other nations believed that every body of water had its own spirit that protected it.  So it became customary and popular for the people to attribute to angels or spirit beings any natural occurrences that they did not understand or could not explain.  Many bibles show brackets from the second half of verse three and continuing to the end of verse four.  This was done to indicate that the information within the brackets is missing from some of the oldest manuscripts.

IV.  THE WORST CASE SCENARIO (verse 5)

In verse 5, the apostle John gives us the worst case-scenario.  “And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness.”  We don’t know when this illness began in his life; we are only told how long he has been afflicted with it.  Thirty-eight years – that’s half a lifetime!  If anyone there would be considered a “hopeless case”, it was he.  We  also don’t know the diagnosis, only that he had no strength in his body and was incapacitated.  Little does he know that he is going to become the focus of Jesus’ attention.  In the midst of that crowd of ailing people, Jesus is going to be talking to him personally.”

V.  THE QUESTION (verse 6)

In verse 6, we see the situation from Jesus’ perspective.  “When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, ‘Do you wish to get well?’ “   Does that sound like an odd question to you?  It did to me at first.  The Lord Jesus’ question reveals to us something about what Jesus knows and what He doesn’t know.  While Jesus was here on this earth, He was not all-knowing.  When He became a man, He became like us in all things except sin (Philippians 2:5-8; John 8:46, Hebrews 7:26).  His knowledge consisted of what He learned from experience and study, plus what the Father revealed to Him.  So in this case, He was not given an understanding of this person’s thoughts and emotions.  He did not know whether this person wanted to be healed or not.  The ailing person knows that what Jesus is asking by the question, “Do you want to be healed”  is “Do you still believe that you can be healed, or have you given up all hope of ever being healed?”  Does he have the faith needed to be healed or has he closed the door of his heart to such a possibility?  If his answer reveals that his faith and hope are completely gone, there would be no reason to pursue the conversation any further.

VI.  THE RESPONSE (verse 7)

The man gives Jesus the answer He hopes to hear, but he does so in an indirect way.  He’s saying, “I’m helpless, but I’m not hopeless.”  He didn’t need hope; he needed help.  I think this man is also giving Jesus a hint  concerning his unspoken request:  “Would you be willing to help me into the water the next time the ‘stirring’ occurs?”  Since Jesus asked him the question, would He be willing to be part of the answer?  Little does he know that he’s talking to the Son of God!  The answer to his “long-suffered problem” is just a few words away!

VII.  THE HEALING (verses 8-9)

To his surprise, a command is given to him by Jesus, and he responds by faith.  A miracle happens!  “Jesus said to him, ‘Arise, take up your pallet, and walk’.  And immediately the man became well, and took up his pallet and began to walk.”   There were actually three commands given by Jesus:  “arise”, “take up your pallet”, and “walk”.  All three of those commands were fulfilled when the man obeyed.  It became obvious to him and everyone around him that this was no “adrenalin rush”, nor “power surge”, but a complete and total healing.  Muscles, tendons, and ligaments were restored; joints lubricated, circulation restored, nerves reconnected to the brain, and the ability to walk while carrying his pallet – all done instantly without any physical therapy or re-learning.  All the effects and side-effects of his long illness were removed at once.  Amazing!  And I’m sure I missed many other physiological and neurological events that happened at that moment in time.  When the Lord Jesus gives commands, He also gives the enablement to carry out those commands.  As the Son of God, Jesus has the power and authority to instantly heal body, soul, and spirit.

When the Lord Jesus gave the command, did this disabled man feel the strength in his body before he chose in his heart to obey and make the effort to get up?  It doesn’t say.  I prefer to believe that faith came first – faith that this Man had the power to fulfill His command.  As the ailing man believed, made up his mind to obey, and began to act in obedience to Christ, the strength and healing came to him to enable him to fulfill Christ’s command.  This man who had not been able to do anything for himself for thirty-eight years, was instantly able to everything that a healthy man could do!

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome to this work-in-progress!  We are nearing the conclusion of this project.  Let’s see what we can learn and apply from the work that has been done.

Please view other completed sites while you’re here.  There are over 100 completed sermons on this website.  The work goes on!  There’s always work to do when you’re studying God’s Word.  It’s a never-ending gold mine of truth and wisdom, revealing to us the character and purposes of God!

 

NOBLEMAN’S SON HEALED – John 4:45-54

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INTRODUCTION;

A 39-year-old woman in England, who was born deaf and is going blind because of Usher syndrome, is offered the option of having cochlear implants surgically placed in her ears.  There are serious risks involved.  She recounts her fears as she considers the alternatives.  “I’m overwhelmed by fear.  My mother is worried too.  ‘You’re OK as you are, Joanne’, she says, ‘What if it goes wrong?’  But what if it doesn’t?  What if there’s a chance that I’ll take out my hearing aids and never put them back in again?”  (She wears hearing aids but they just provide a constant “white noise”, nothing more).  But if her auditory nerve is damaged during surgery, she will hear nothing for the rest of her life.  What’s she going to do?  Is it worth the risk?

The man in the passage of Scripture we are studying is also faced with a decision.  His son is about to die and there is nothing that the medical doctors can do to change that prognosis.  He’s heard about the “Miracle-Worker” who changed water into wine at Cana in Galilee.  He needs a miracle and this Man is his only hope.  There may be serious consequences to him and his family if he pursues such a course of action.  What’s he going to do?  Let’s take a look at John’s Gospel, chapter 4, beginning at verse 45.

I.  JESUS’ RECEPTION IN GALILEE (verse 45)

Jesus and His disciples were on their way to Cana in Galilee, having passed by Nazareth where Jesus commented to His disciples about that town.  As they enter the region of Galilee, their reception is much different from the reception they had in Judea.  Verse 45 says, “The Galileans received Him, having seen all the things He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.”  Jesus and His disciples were in friendly territory.  Many of these Galileans were present when He performed His first miracle, and many others heard about it from those who were there.

II.  THE NEED EXPRESSED (verses 46-47)

Verse 46 says, “He came therefore again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine.  And there was a certain royal official, whose son was sick at Capernaum.”   We aren’t given the exact reason why they are making this trip.  We do know from other passages of Scripture that one of His disciples, Nathaniel, comes from there, and Jesus and His mother have friends in Cana.  There is also someone in Cana who has travelled a day’s journey to meet Him, and is anxious to talk to Him.  This man is described as a “royal official” (nobleman, courtier).  The Greek word is basilikos, which literally means ” of the king” or “belonging to a king”,  He is probably a royal official appointed by King Herod in some capacity.  We don’t know whether this man is a Jew or a Gentile, but we do know that he is desperate.  He would not have come all the way from Capernaum to be seen in public talking to Jesus if he wasn’t desperate.  What did he have to lose by doing such a thing?  He might lose his reputation, his job, his friends, his family, and possibly even his life.  But right now, what he might gain is more important than what he might lose.  His son is dying and he is willing to do anything, and risk everything, in order to keep that from happening.

Verse 47 tells us how he responds to this critical need in his household.   “When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him. and was requesting Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.”  He arrived at Cana and waited for the opportunity to speak to Jesus.  When the opportunity was given him to speak, he pleaded for Jesus to come and heal his son.  The nobleman could have sent his servants to make the request but preferred to lay aside his nobility and come humbly to Jesus.  His faith has been called “crisis faith” because believing in Christ’s healing power was his only hope for saving his son who could die at any moment.  You can imagine that a man wearing fine clothing that distinguished him as a high-ranking member of the Roman government, arriving in the little town of Cana, would attract the attention of everyone in the town.  Then to see this nobleman approach Jesus and plead with Him to come and heal his son – this would cause people to come closer to watch what is going on, and to hear the conversation.  The crowd may be thinking, “I wonder if Jesus is going to perform another miracle like He did at the wedding?”  Some members of the crowd may want to “go along for the ride”, so to speak, to watch Jesus perform another miracle.  It’s as if they are saying in their hearts, “Keep showing us miracles; we aren’t convinced yet!”

III.  THE CROWD REBUKED; THE NEED REPEATED (verse 48-49)

The Lord Jesus, looking around at the crowd that has gathered around them, says in verse 48, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.”   I don’t believe that Jesus is saying those words to the nobleman, but to the crowd and to the people in general.  He was not performing His miracles for entertainment purposes.   Jesus may have looked away from the nobleman and around at the crowd when He said those words, because the pronouns (“you . . . you”) in the Greek text are both plural.  The nobleman also understands that those words weren’t directed toward him because he says in verse 49, “Sir, come down before my child dies”.  We see no offense taken.  He wasn’t concerned about the crowd, nor about his reputation.  He just continues his conversation, repeating his plea; this time addressing Jesus as “Lord” (“kyrie” in the Greek text).  He’s gaining a clearer understanding of Who Jesus is, and his persistence tells me that he is convinced that Jesus can and will heal his son.  However, his understanding of Jesus’ healing abilities is limited.  He thinks that Jesus can only heal someone by going there in person.  As God, the Lord Jesus Christ is not limited by distance (or space).

IV.  THE REPLY OBEYED (verse 50)

In verse 50 his faith is put to the test.  “Jesus therefore said to him, ‘Go your way; your son lives.’  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him, and he started off.”  After Jesus kindly spoke those words of assurance, the royal official’s “crisis faith” has now become “obedient faith” (“confident faith”).  He’s taking Jesus at His word, and his faith in Jesus’ Person and His healing abilities has been tested and has increased as a result.  He’s heading for home.  I’m reminded of the centurion’s words to Jesus in Matthew 8:8, “Lord, I am not worthy for You to come under my roof, but just say the word and my servant will be healed.”

V.  THE RESULTS RECEIVED (verses 51-52)

As the royal official is walking those 20 miles back home, he has nothing but Jesus’ word to keep him going.  Then, in verse 51, something unexpected happens.  “And as he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.”  The child’s recovery was so sudden and unexplainable that his servants hurried to find him and let him know what had happened.  Verse 51 says that “,,,.his servants met him, saying that his son was living.”  Without knowing it, they were echoing Jesus’ words to him:  “Your son lives”.  Jesus was telling him that his son was immediately healed, and his servants were saying that his son was suddenly and completely healed.  The royal official responds, in verse 52, with words you would expect to hear:  “So he inquired of the hour when he began to get better”.  He was expecting a gradual recovery.  His servants replied, “yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”.  They were telling him that it was an immediate recovery for it happened at the seventh hour (one o’clock that afternoon).  I think the servants were hurrying to find their master before he talked to Jesus in the hope of sparing him the risk of losing his reputation, job, or even his life as a result of being seen with Jesus.  But their words confirmed that the Lord Jesus was the One who healed his son, removing all doubts that Jesus truly was the Messiah, the Son of God.

VI.  THE REPONSE GIVEN (verses 53-54)

Verse 53 says, “And the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed, and his whole household.”  I am convinced that the royal official “believed”, surrendering His life to Jesus Christ as his Lord, at the moment he was given the hour the fever left his son; and the man’s life changed immediately and dramatically.  As he talked to his servants on the way home they could sense this change in his life because he spoke with joy and conviction about the Man who had healed his son.  When he arrived home and held his son in his arms again, he shared with them, not only the details of his meeting with Jesus, but also the change in his own life when he believed.  His “household” – family and servants, heard his testimony, witnessed the change in his life, and “believed”, making the same commitment to Jesus Christ that he made.  It was now a Christian household.  In verse 54, John records that this was the second miracle that Jesus performed, and both of them occurred in Cana of Galilee.

By believing in Jesus Christ, this household was accepting new risks, besides the ones the father took by going to Jesus.  Is it worth the risks?  Ask anyone who has truly made that decision, and whose life has changed because of the power and presence of Christ.  You will see a smile come to that person’s face and a gleam in his or her eyes.  You will also hear expressions of joy from the person’s lips.  The results and rewards are infinitely greater than the risks.

As you review in your mind all the excuses and fears that have kept you from making that decision, also consider what Joann considered in my opening illustration.  “What if it goes wrong?”  “But what if it doesn’t?”  What if it’s true?  What if my life can be drastically changed and I can have a joy, peace, and purpose in my life that’s beyond comparison?  Isn’t it worth the risks?  Won’t the Lord Jesus be faithful to keep His promises if I put my life in His hands and trust in Him?  He was faithful to keep His promise to the royal official.  Why put off the joy that would begin today and last forever?

Joann decided to put her fears aside and have that surgery.  The implants were now in place, and she had to wait a month for her ears to heal.  Then the audiologist connected electrodes, made adjustments, put new hearing aids in place, and made more adjustments.  When the adjustments were completed, the words:  “caaaaaan , , , yooooooou , , , heeeeeear . . . meeeeeeee?” rang in her ears.  “The first words I’ve ever heard . . . tears spill into my lap as I try to take it all in . . . “.  (“Hearing For The First Time … at Age 39 “, by Jo Milne, (Readers’ Digest, 7/8/2015); from the book, “Breaking The Silence”).  It was worth the risks!

There’s a whole new life and a whole new world that opens up to you when you repent of your sins and let the Lord Jesus Christ take control of your life.  He took the greatest risks and paid the greatest price to provide you with this opportunity.  His grace is sufficient to enable you to rejoice and give thanks in all circumstances that might result from your decision (Ephesians 5:20; I Thessalonians 5:16-18).  As you consider again the two alternatives:  a commitment to Jesus Christ, or not; remember that in this case, what you gain, you gain forever, and what you lose, you lose forever.  Is it worth the risks of putting it off?  Is it worth the risk of suffering the consequences both now and forever?  I hope you will follow the example of the royal official and his household.

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

This work-in-progress is complete.  There may still be some finishing touches.  The next construction site will be John 5:1-9.  If this is your first time at this website, I put my study of God’s Word on this site a section-at-a-time as I study it   There are over a hundred completed sermons on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  May this be a joyful and productive day for you, whether it’s risky or risk-free.

WHEN FAMILIARITY BRED CONTEMPT – John 4:43-44

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INTRODUCTION:

The story is told about a judge who had been frequently ridiculed by a conceited lawyer.  When asked by a friend why he didn’t rebuke his assailant, he replied, “In our town lives a widow who has a dog.  And whenever the moon shines it goes outside and barks all night.”  Having said that, the magistrate shifted the conversation to another subject.  Finally someone asked, “But judge, what about the dog and the moon?”  “Oh”, he replied, “the moon kept on shining –  that’s all.”

Most of us have sayings that we tend to use when the situation is appropriate.  I mentioned one proverbial saying in my previous message:  “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  Other sayings that come to mind are:  “Birds of a feather flock together”, “That’s the way the ball bounces”, “You can’t judge a book by its cover”, and the one I used as the title for this message  (“Familiarity breeds contempt.”)  Do you have favorite sayings that you use, or that come to your mind?

The Lord Jesus and His disciples have left Sychar, Samaria after the revival that occurred there, and they are headed north for the region of Galilee.  As verse 43 says, “And after the two days He went forth from there into Galilee.”  What follows in verse 44 is a proverbial saying that Jesus gives to His disciples.  “For Jesus Himself testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.”  It is significant that those words spoken by Jesus (“A prophet has no honor in his own country“) are recorded in all four Gospels, and may have been said at different times and with different results .  The other three passages of Scripture where those words are recorded are Matthew 13:54-57, Luke 4:21-24, and Mark 6:1-4.  Those three passages of Scripture give us more information, and a better understanding of Jesus’s reason for using that phrase, so we will be studying all three passages of Scripture and bringing all that information together.  I think that there is much that we can learn and apply from those few words that Jesus may have repeated to them several times.  Studying all four passages may also answer our questions and explain the “mystery” behind those repeated statements.

I.  “A PROPHET” (John 4:44a)

When He said those two words (“A prophet”), Jesus was asserting that His proverbial saying has been true of all the prophets of God.  Is there any evidence to affirm this?  We see many cases in the Old Testament where the people of Israel tried to kill the prophets.  So we see that Jesus’ saying did occur.  The prophet Jeremiah, however, agrees with the Lord Jesus and puts his experiences into words, in Jeremiah 2:19, describing what his own people, the people of Judah, were trying to do to him.  “But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; and I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, ‘Let us destroy the tree with its fruit; and let us cut him off from the land of the living, that his name be remembered no more.’ “

One of the prophets who may have been scorned because of his profession was the prophet Amos.  He is described as being a farmer and a grower of sycamore figs.  I can hear their jeers in my mind:  “Amos?  Isn’t he the farmer?  What makes that fig-picker think he has the right to tell us what to do?”

The Lord Jesus refers to Himself as a prophet, and He is a prophet.  But He is also much more than a prophet.  He is the Messiah, the Son of God, whose coming was predicted by the Old Testament prophets and by His forerunner, John the Baptist.  He deserved not only honor but also worship, adoration and obedience.

II.  “HAS NO HONOR IN HIS OWN COUNTRY”  (verse 44b)

Here in John’s Gospel, these words are not given as a direct quote from Jesus, but as a reference to a quote made by Him.  As they are passing by, or passing through the city of Nazareth on their way to Cana in Galilee, those words of Jesus come back to his John’s mind.  John may be saying those words as an explanation for why Jesus did not stop there, or spend any time in Nazareth as they were passing by it on this trip.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s Gospels, this saying is given as a direct quote from Jesus, and the settings and reasons for His response are also given.  Luke’s Gospel reads:  “And He came to Nazareth where He had been brought up . . . . went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day . . . was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah . . . ‘Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing’.”  Their response:  “Is this not Joseph’s son?”  That’s a snide remark if I’ve heard one!  “How can Joseph’s son from our own community dare to make the claim that He is the Messiah?”  Beside the fact of the family’s low income, there may also have been the rumors that Jesus was an illegitimate child because of the virgin birth.  That’s the way it is in some small towns, even in that day!  When Jesus reminds them that the prophets Elijah and Elisha performed miracles for Gentile people outside the nation of Israel, the people of Nazareth try to throw Jesus off a cliff!  (Luke 4:16-30)

III.  HIS OCCUPATION AND FAMILY (Matthew 13 and Mark 6)

In Matthew 13:54-57, just before Jesus quotes that proverb, the Gospel writer Matthew records these words:  “And coming to His home town He began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they became astonished, and said, ‘Where did this man get this wisdom, and these miraculous powers?  Is not this the carpenter’s son?  Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us?  Where then did this man all these things?’  And they took offence at Him.”

Notice that twice they address the Lord Jesus as “this man”.  He’s a “home-town boy” and they won’t even address Him by His name!  They’ve also added more ammunition to their insults!  They won’t mention His name but they mention the names of His family members.  I call this tactic of theirs “guilt by association”.  They can’t find sin or imperfections in Jesus’ life and character so they mention the names of all His family members.  They can recall sins and imperfections in their lives, so Jesus must be the same way since He’s one of the family, and sinfulness “runs in their family”, so to speak!

As bad as those insults are in Matthew’s Gospel, it gets even worse in Mark’s Gospel.  A couple more insults are slipped into the conversation and one of them is the worst insult of them all!  Mark 6:3 says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James, and Joses, and Judas, and Simon?”  They call Jesus a “carpenter”.  This is the only place in the Bible that refers to Jesus’ occupation before beginning His public ministry.  The Greek word is tekton, and we get our English words “technical”, “technician”, “technique”, and “architect” from forms of that word.  He was basically a handyman, working  with wood, stone, and metal to build whatever needed to be built and fix whatever needed fixing.  He worked hard, got His hands dirty, and is an example to all who are in a trade, in the construction business, or in technical professions.  In Matthew 11:29-30, Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you shall find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My load is light.”  The literal Greek says, “MY YOKE FITS WELL”.  As a handyman/carpenter, the Lord Jesus must have built many yokes for oxen.  I’m sure that farmers from miles around asked Jesus to come, measure, build and fit yokes for their oxen because He did the job so well – 100% satisfaction guaranteed!

But His profession was looked down upon by the rabbis and leaders.  They despised Him because He was a working man.  But their worst insult follows right after his occupation.  They called Jesus “the son of Mary”.   A man was never described or addressed as the son of his mother, even if she was a widow.  It was intended by them to be an insult, stating that He really was an illegitimate child.  This time their intent was clear.  Now the apostle John’s words in John 1:11 ring out loud and clear:  “He (Jesus) came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”

CONCLUSION:

Criticism seems to be a favorite pastime among many people in this day and age.  The temptation to compare and criticize is always present, asking for permission to pass from our minds to our mouths.  Here is one example.  Two taxidermists stopped before a window in which an owl was on display.  They immediately began to criticize the way it was mounted.  It’s eyes were not natural; its wings were not in proportion with its head; its feathers were not neatly arranged; and its feet could be improved.  When they had finished with their criticism, the old owl turned his head . . . and winked at them!

The two specialists thought they were criticizing the owl’s taxidermist, when in actuality, they were criticizing the owl’s Creator!  It’s easy to criticize from the outside, looking in.  Why not go inside, leaving your prejudices and your biases behind, and view the real thing from all sides and angles, having all your questions answered.  Your perceptions might change drastically!

If we are children of God through saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are going to have critics, especially among unsaved family members.  But we ought to live in such a way that no one will believe our critics, and pray that some day, by the grace of God, our critics won’t believe their criticisms of us anymore either.

May we be so deeply rooted in the Word of God and so closely tied together in our fellowship with the Lord Jesus Christ and obedience to Him, that the winds of criticism won’t take us off-course, no matter how strong they blow and no matter which direction they come from.  May we continue to shine like the moon in spite of all the “howling and barking” that goes on when we are present.

 

 

GOD’S HARVEST IN SAMARIA – John 4:35-42

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One evening a man who lived in the western part of the United States was walking home across an open field.  Looking up he saw his little son running through the tall grass to meet him.  Suddenly the boy disappeared.  The father thought he had just stumbled, but when he came nearer he heard a gurgling cry and found that the child had fallen into an open well.  He was almost too late, and was barely able to save him.  When the little fellow finally regained consciousness, he looked up and said, “Daddy, why didn’t you hurry?”  Those words, and the child’s gurgling cry for help, rang in the father’s ears for many days.

We’ve spent much time studying the conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well.  At the end of that conversation she believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, and, leaving her water pot behind, she hurried back to her town to tell the men about Jesus.  I think she jogged the half-mile or so to her town of Sychar and probably made it there in less than 10 minutes.  Verse 30 tells us that the men of the city listened to her, believed her words, and were following her out of their city and coming to meet Jesus.  Have you ever done any speed walking or power walking?  I don’t know how effectively you could walk in such a way on dirt roads, and wearing long robes and sandals, but she was doing her best to make haste.  Not only is this woman an evangelist to her people, she’s also their personal guide and pace-setter!  She wanted to get everyone there before Jesus and His disciples left the well and continued their journey.  I imagine that the pace slowed down a bit once Jesus and His disciples came into view.

I.  TIME TO HARVEST (verse 35)

Meanwhile the Lord Jesus was having a discussion with His disciples.  In verse 35, Jesus uses a popular saying:  “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest.’ ”  It may have been a saying that a farmer would use in order to let people know that his seed had been sown and the crop would be ready to be harvested in four months.  That’s the normal growing season for grain in that part of the country in those days.  The farmer may also be using it to spread the news, and have others spread the news, that he’s going to need help harvesting his crop in four months.  So those words “there are yet four months, and then comes the harvest”  would be passed along in people’s conversations.   Along with those words goes the promise that he will pay a day’s wages for a day’s work when harvest time comes.  You could say that this was a way of advertising and “spreading the good news”.  The Lord Jesus is saying these words to His disciples as both an illustration and a contrast to what is about to happen.  Once again Jesus is using physical realities in order to lead into and explain spiritual realities.

The Lord Jesus continues the conversation by giving them some startling and convicting news.  “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.”  He probably used the words “lift up your eyes” because the grain fields were on higher ground which slopped down toward them.  The term “white for harvest” means that the grain is already mature and dried out, ready for immediate harvesting.  He directed their gaze away from Himself by stretching out His hand and pointing in a sweeping motion in the direction of the city, to the grain fields along the way.  As they look, they begin to realize the difference between physical harvesting and spiritual harvesting. What do they see?  At first glance they see green fields of grain that are not mature because it is not yet that time of the year.  What they see next really startles them.  The fields are beginning to turn white as droves of Samaritans, dressed in their white tunics, are walking toward them down the hillside along the paths through the grain fields, and they are being led by the Samaritan woman.  What the Lord Jesus has just said to them is literally coming to pass:  the fields are “white” for a spiritual harvest!

II.  SOWING AND REAPING (verses 36-38)

While the Samaritans are still a short distance from the well, the Lord Jesus uses this opportunity to teach His disciples about sowing and reaping, and about the rewards that come as a result.  He says in verse 36, “Already he who reaps is receiving wages, and is gathering fruit for life eternal; that he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together.”  Usually it’s the reaper who gets the glory here on this earth.  But the sower works hard cultivating the ground, then planting the seed and watering it.  It’s a responsibility that requires patience, persistence, and faith.  There are prayers to God, often with tears, that God would provide favorable, growing conditions and rain at the proper time.  All this work is done without seeing any immediate results, and without the assurance that he will see any results for his efforts.  Harvesting is also hard work but the results are immediate and the joy is immediate.

In this case, Jesus is pointing out that the spiritual harvest of souls has followed closely behind the sowing of the seed pf the gospel message.  The woman believed and is bringing the men of the city to meet Jesus and to hear what He has said to her.  But even in this case, there were others who may have had a part in preparing the ground and sowing the seed.  The Old Testament prophets predicted His coming and gave information concerning the coming Messiah.  John the Baptist may have been baptizing nearby and many Samaritans may have observed him and listened to his words.

In verses 37-38, the Lord Jesus uses His explanation of what is happening before their eyes to teach them two principles about sowing and reaping a harvest of souls for the kingdom of God.  “For in this case the saying is true, ‘one sows, and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

Each step in the process of a spiritual harvest of souls is equally necessary and equally valuable in God’s sight.  It’s a team-effort, even though we may not know, and may not have met all of the members of the team.  The popular saying “one sows, and another reaps” gives us principle #1:  OUR RESPONSIBILITY IS TO BE FAITHFUL AND OBEDIENT WITNESSES FOR CHRIST.  THAT’S WHAT HE DESIRES OF US, AND THAT SHOULD BRING US JOY BECAUSE OUR LABORS WILL NOT BE IN VAIN.  GOD WILL BRING THE HARVEST AND WE WILL BE REWARDED FOR OUR FAITHFULNESS.  As the apostle Paul said in I Corinthians 4:1-2, “This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.  Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”

In many eastern countries, professional weavers often are unable to complete the extensive tapestries assigned to them during their lifetime.  As one of them dies, however, another weaver picks up the threads and weaves on according to the original pattern until the masterpiece is completed for all to see and admire.  In a similar way, God wants Christians to be faithful witnesses for Him by their words, their prayers, and their example so that others may enter into their labors to continue the work.  Thus, even after we die, others will be reaping where we have sown and watered the seed of God’s word.

A second principle may be drawn from Jesus’ words in verse 38:  WHEN GIVEN THE PRIVILEGE OF HARVESTING SOULS, REMEMBER THAT OTHERS HAVE PREPARED THE WAY FOR US, AND THAT ONLY GOD DESERVES THE GLORY.  Speaking of the harvest of souls in the city of Corinth, the apostle Paul said, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth” (I Corinthians 3:6).  Without the convicting work of the Holy Spirit of God, as He empowers the Word of God, there would be no salvation, and there would be no changed lives as a result.  Let’s give God the glory when He gives us the privilege of bringing others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, and as we witness the changed lives that are a result of that commitment.  Remember, only God can make things grow; only God can change the heart of a person and impart spiritual life.

A Chinese National, Christiana Tsai, told of her ministry to her family after years of suffering pain through many illnesses.  One day, one of her brothers, who had rejected the gospel, assembled the members of the family without them knowing the purpose behind it.  He then said to them, “I have been to see Christiana many times and wondered how she could endure all this suffering.  Now I can see that she has been given some sustaining power and can only explain it as coming from God.  So, I have decided there must be a God after all.  I have read the Bible and realize that I am a sinner.  So here and now I want to tell you that I have accepted Christ as my Savior, asked Him to forgive my sins, and promised to follow Him.”

Christiana commented that “the brother who tore up my Bible and persecuted me in the early days at last confessed my Lord.  In all, fifty-five of my relatives have become God’s children and expressed their faith in Jesus.  I have never been to college, or theological seminary, and I am not a Bible teacher; I have only been God’s hunting dog.” (Christiana Tsai, Queen of the Dark Chamber, p. 184).  I like her description of herself.  As a “hunting dog” she has stayed close to her Master, obeyed His every command, and is always ready to retrieve what belongs to Him.  No advanced degrees or professional licenses are required – just a willingness to be of service and a deep love for the Master and for all whom the Master loves.

III.  MINISTRY TO THE SAMARITANS (verses 39-40)

By this time the crowd of Samaritan men from Sychar, who were seen coming toward them, had arrived at the well.  Verse 39 says, “And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done’.”  So many of these Samaritans had already believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, based on the testimony of the woman, before they even met Jesus.  Such is the effect of a personal testimony empowered by the Spirit of God.  An important principle can be learned from this verse of Scripture, and evangelist Billy Graham expresses it very clearly and powerfully.  He says, “As we look at history time and again, we are struck time after time by the fact that God has used the most unlikely and the most unworthy instruments to bring about spiritual awakening.”  First Corinthians 1:27-29 says, “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things that are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised, God has chosen, the things that are not, that He might nullify the things that are, that no man should boast before God.”

Billy Graham continues by giving a challenge:  “If God could use such a woman two thousand years ago to bring a revival to the city of Sychar, how much more can He use you and me today, if we would put ourselves in His hand!  He can use us in our community, our town, our city, our country!” (Unto the Hills, pg. 166,167)

Verse 40 says, “So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.”  What a generous and enthusiastic response by the Samaritans!  They were treating Him like a King with His royal officials, and were eager to show their hospitality and learn more about Him!  Never had Jesus received such treatment before, and never would He receive it again during His three years of ministry; and it came from Samaritans, not Jews!  You might say that a revival was taking place in Sychar, Samaria, and Jesus gladly accepted their invitation.  He had already shown them that He was free from racial and social prejudices.  Those two days in Samaria included more than just holding meetings, sharing God’s Word, and answering questions.  Jesus and His disciples were getting to know the people of the city personally, on a first-name basis  – visiting their homes, meeting their families, eating their food with them, and sleeping in their beds.  What a learning experience this must have been for His disciples!  Many of the Jewish rules and traditions were being set aside because people are more important than traditions.

IV.  THEIR RESPONSE (verses 41-42)

What was the result of their time spent with the people of Sychar, Samaria?  Verse 41 says, “And many more believed because of His word.”  Not just “more”, but many more”!  You know how it is when something really unusual and exciting is going on – people from outlying areas come to the city to find out what’s happening.  Good news spreads fast, doesn’t it?  Especially when the good news is that the Messiah is here in Sychar – “Come and see”!  Notice that the Samaritans didn’t ask for any signs.  Jesus performed no miracles for them.  They didn’t need any miracles because they believed who Jesus was, and eagerly received the words He said to them.

After spending two days with Jesus, the men of the city said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”  This is the first time that the title, “the Savior of the world”, is used when referring to Jesus, and the title was given to him by the Samaritans.  Jesus had said to the woman at the well, “Salvation is from the Jews”.  By using that title (“the Savior of the world”) when referring to Jesus, the Samaritans were saying:  “We have found, not just salvation but a Savior, and not just the Savior of the Jews but the Savior of the world.”

CONCLUSION:

Is the Lord Jesus Christ your Lord and Savior?  If not, why not?  Can you face that question honestly and be honest with yourself and with God?  You are in the process of sinking into the mire of your own sins by your own choice, and you’re the only one who can choose to be pulled out of it by the grace of God through the death of the Lord Jesus Christ in your place.  The saying, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions” is true.  Delayed intentions are “non-intentions” in the sight of God.  He doesn’t accept “promissory notes” as proof of repentance and commitment.  The saying, “You’re playing with fire; you’re going to get burned” is also true.  Please, don’t put off until tomorrow what you will eternally regret if this turns out to be your last day on this earth.  If there was something that you really wanted to do, more than anything else on this earth, and there was nothing standing in your way, would you put it off?  I don’t think so.  If you say to yourself, “I’m working on it”, what’s left to be done that can’t be done right now?  Please don’t put off for another moment the joy of being a new person – a child of God, and the assurance of spending eternity with Him in heaven through faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior.

If you are a Christian, are you concerned about those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior?  If you saw a little child fall into a well, you would do everything in your power to save his physical life, wouldn’t you?  What are you and I going to do today, and every day, for those around us who are drowning spiritually and eternally?  Be sure to apply this lesson from the response of the Samaritan woman at the well:  IF YOU WANT OTHERS TO KNOW WHAT CHRIST CAN DO FOR THEM, LET THEM SEE AND HEAR WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR YOU.

May God give you the desire and enabling to do what you know He wants you to do as a result of studying this passage of Scripture.

WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART IV – Witness, Response, and Lesson – John 4:27-34

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I.  INTRODUCTION:

Luis Palau, a Latin-American evangelist, tells of the conversion of a woman in Peru whose life was radically transformed by the power of Christ.  Rosario was her name.  She was a terrorist, a brute of a woman who was an expert in the martial arts.  As a terrorist she had participated in the death of twelve policemen.  When Luis conducted a crusade in Lima, she learned of it.  Being incensed at the message of the Gospel, she made her way to the stadium with the intent to kill the preacher.  Inside the stadium, as she contemplated how to get to him, she began to listen to the message he was preaching.  She fell under conviction for her sins, and embraced Christ as her Savior.

Ten years later, Luis met this convert for the first time.  By this time she had assisted in the establishment of five churches.  She was a vibrant, active Christian witness and worker in the church, and had founded an orphanage that cared for over a thousand children.

Almost two thousand years before this amazing transformation, another notorious woman was converted through the words of the Savior Himself.  We don’t know her name, but in this sermon we will be studying the dramatic change in her life, and how the Lord used her testimony in a mighty way.  We will also learn the lesson that the Lord Jesus is teaching His disciples as the effects of this woman’s conversion are in the process of happening.

I.  THE DISCIPLES’ REACTION (verse 27)

The Lord Jesus has been talking to the woman at the well, offering her living water, revealing her “secret” sins, and then revealing Himself as the Messiah that she had been longing to see.  Here in verse 27 the scene changes. “And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He had been speaking with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why do you speak with her?’ “   It was not customary for Jewish men to speak to women in public, and it was forbidden to speak to Samaritan women.  That was the teaching of the Rabbi’s during that period of time.  If it had been one of their fellow-disciples engaged in that conversation, they might have said something like “You know that is forbidden!  What’s the matter with you?”  But no one questioned Jesus, or rebuked Him.  Their respect for Jesus was great, and they were beginning to realize that He didn’t share their prejudices.  He treated all people with respect and love, and they were learning from His example.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verses 28-29)

It’s obvious to me, from verse 27, that the passage of Scripture we are studying does not record every word of the conversation between the Lord Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  When the disciples return to the well, the two of them are still conversing with each other. What’s recorded here is what the Spirit of God revealed to the apostle John, and he recorded in his gospel.

Verses 28 and 29 focus on the woman’s reaction and response to the words and claims of Jesus.  “So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?’ ”  We can see from her words and her actions that this woman had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, was converted. and became a devoted follower of Him.  Like Rosario in my opening illustration, her life was completely changed, and in her case we get to see the immediate results.  She left her waterpot behind at the well when she left.  She was so filled up with the “Living Water” that both her spiritual and her physical thirsts were completely satisfied.  Besides, she was going to be coming back for it very soon. The city of Sychar was at least half a mile from the well, and I believe she ran the whole distance!  This woman immediately became the first woman-evangelist in the New Testament.  She even gave an invitation:  “Come and see”!  She said those words respectfully, wanting them to find out firsthand and come to their own conclusions.  Her last words are “This is not the Christ, is it?”  She believes it.  Jesus Christ has already changed her life; but she is saying those words to arouse their curiosity.  They are looking forward to Messiah’s coming also.  Enthusiasm can be contagious, and this woman certainly had enthusiasm that day!  She was starting her life all over again, and getting off to a running start!

This brings an illustration to mind.  A young salesman was disappointed about losing a big sale, and as he talked with his sales manager he lamented, “I guess it just goes to prove you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink.”  The manager replied, “Son, take my advice:  your job is not to make him drink.  Your job is to make him thirsty.”  (Preaching, Dec., 1985).  This woman, by her words, her attitude. and actions had created a thirst in the men of Sychar, and they were following her to the well in the hope of satisfying that thirst.

III.  INVITATION ACCEPTED (verse 30)

A miracle was about to occur in the city of Sychar.  Normally the men of that city would not dare to be seen in the presence of such an immoral woman, and would have refused to talk to her, but something had drastically changed about this woman, and they could see it in her face and hear it in their voice.  I imagine that she was breathless from running that distance, and there were tears of joy in her eyes and an expression of excitement on her face.  The Spirit of the Lord had also gone before her to prepare their hearts for what she was going to tell them.

Amazingly, the men of the city decided to accept her invitation and began to follow her to Jacob’s well.  They wanted to find out for themselves whether or not her words to them were true.  We’re not talking about a handful of men, or a company of men, or even a large group of men.  If “all” of the men in the city of Sychar followed her, there would have been hundreds of men, stretched across the countryside, coming to Jesus!

A similar situation and response occurred in Mainland China.  A Chinese farmer, after having cataracts removed from his eyes, made his way from the Christian compound to the far interior of China.  Only a few days later, however, the missionary doctor looked out his bamboo window and noticed this formerly blind man holding the front end of a long rope.  In single-file, and holding onto the rope behind him were several dozen blind Chinese whom the farmer had rounded up and led for miles to the doctor who had worked a “miracle” on his eyes.  His restored sight was cause enough for this man to share what had happened to him with those in like condition. (1500 Illustrations for Biblical Preaching).

IV.  MEANWHILE . . . BACK AT THE WELL (verses 31-34)

A.  DISCUSSION ABOUT FOOD (verses 31-33)

Verse 31 may not seem to be saying much of any consequence, but it is actually a pivotal verse that gives us much information about the disciples.  “In the meantime the disciples were requesting Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat’.”  Those two words, “Rabbi, eat”. speak volumes about their trip to Sychar to buy groceries.  Let me describe what I mean.  A group of twelve Jewish men show up at the market place in Sychar, Samaria that afternoon.  Do you  think anybody noticed?  I think every eye in the market place was on them, wondering what they were doing in their city.  I also think that the disciples could sense this, and felt uneasy about it.  Did the disciples make use of this opportunity to tell the people about Jesus and invite them to meet Him?  No.  Did they say anything to anybody at all?  If they did, it would only have been what was absolutely necessary in order to purchase the food.  How do I know that?  Because of those two words, “Rabbi, eat”, which indicate that their only concern was the enjoyment of the food they bought Add to that the fact that they “marveled” that Jesus was talking to this Samaritan woman.    If they had been witnesses of Christ to those people, they would have come back with hearts full of joy and love, and their first concern would have been to tell Jesus how God had used them.  In fact, the men of the city might have followed them back to the well to meet Jesus if they had been invited to do so.  Sadly, their prejudices and their concern for themselves got in the way, and the disciples were ineffectual for the Lord on that day.

In response to the entreaty of His disciples, Jesus says in verse 32, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”  The Lord Jesus has a masterful way of generating curiosity in His listener or listeners.  He peaked the curiosity of Nicodemus and the woman at the well through His conversations with each of them, using physical realities as a transition into spiritual realities.  He does so once again with His disciples and gets a similar reaction.  They are whispering to one another in verse 33, “No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?”  They thought He was talking about physical food because they had never experienced the joy and excitement of bringing another person to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ as their Messiah, their Lord and King.

B.  DOING THE WILL OF THE FATHER (verse 34)

Jesus overhears their quiet conversation with one another so He gives them an explanation in verse 34, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to accomplish His work.”  Doing His Father’s will was the essence of His life.  It brought Him complete satisfaction and renewed His spirit the way that food nourishes and renews the body.  In this case, doing the will of the Father meant sharing the good news of forgiveness of sins and eternal life with the woman at the well.  It was the good news that her long-awaited Messiah had come and revealed Himself to her.

Have you ever been so happy and excited that you didn’t even feel like eating?  Did you just want to think about what happened and share it with everyone who would listen to you.  If you’ve had such an experience, then you know what Jesus is talking about.  Jesus speaks about doing the Father’s will several times during His life on earth, and He faithfully did so.  If we change one word in verse 34, we can apply it to our own lives as well.  “My food is to do the will of Him who SAVED me, and to accomplish His work.”  The Lord Jesus gave us a perfect example of what it means to do the will of the Father, even to the point of death on the cross for us.  In this particular instance, doing the will of the Father refers to the salvation of souls.  That was the food that nourished His spirit the way physical food nourishes and strengthens the body and delights the senses.

CONCLUSION:

Is something missing in your life?  Are there major questions that are still unanswered and issues that are still unresolved?  Does life seem to have no meaning or purpose beyond this present moment?  Have you been trying to fill that void with all kinds of earthly things to no avail.  You’re not alone.  One of the greatest and wealthiest men of all time had the same problem and tried to solve it “his way”.  His name is Solomon the king, the son of David, king of Israel.  He wrote a book of the Bible entitled “Ecclesiastes” describing his problem of not being able to find lasting joy and purpose in life.  He pursued human wisdom, pleasure, riches, fame, building projects, and other pursuits but could find no lasting satisfaction.  He said it was all “striving after wind” (Eccl. 1:14,17).  The book of Ecclesiastes ends with these words:  “The conclusion, when all else has been heard, is fear (worship) God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person.  For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:13-14).  Prior to this statement, Solomon said that the truly wise are like goads, irritating our consciences until we allow the Shepherd to nail down those truths forever as convictions in our lives through faith in Him.  Will you give your life over to the Shepherd today?  Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).  There is no better place to be, and no greater One to follow.  Whose sheep are you? 

If you are a Christian, or just became a Christian, did you know that surveys taken by the Billy Graham Association, Campus Crusade for Christ, and other Christian organizations have found that the number one reason why many Christians don’t share their faith is because of the fear of what others might think of them?  But if you are truly enthusiastic about your faith in Jesus, you won’t let anyone or anything get in your way.  That concern won’t even enter your mind because you’ll be thinking about the will of God and the person’s need, not about yourself.  Pastor and author, Stuart Briscoe gives a very concise definition of a witness:  “A witness is someone who, by explanation and demonstration, gives audible and visible evidence of what he has seen and heard, without being deterred by the consequences of his action” (S. Briscoe, “Getting Into God”, p. 76).  Let’s ask God to empower our witness as we strive to tell everyone we know about the life-changing message of the Gospel, and let them see how that message, and the Person of Jesus Christ, has changed our lives.

Thank you for visiting.  I hope that this study of God’s Word has been of encouragement to you today.  The next passage of Scripture that I will be studying is John 4:35-42.  There are also over one hundred completed sermons on this site and you are welcome to visit them all.  May the grace and peace of the Lord be with you today and always.  May you delight in doing the will of God and sharing the Word of God with others.

WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART III – Guilt, Repentance, and Worship – John 4:16-26

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INTRODUCTION:

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well has progressed.  Jesus began by asking her for a drink, putting Himself in a position of being indebted to her for her kindness.  She responds by giving Him the drink and asking Him why He would make such a request of her.  Jesus uses the setting of the well to tell her about “living water”, and in the course of the conversation she decides that she really wants this water and trusts that He is telling her the truth.  Now she is ready for the next step in understanding who He is and what is her present condition in the sight of God.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CONSCIENCE (verse 16)

In verse 16, Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here”.
Why would He say such a thing to her, especially when the conversation is going along so well?  It sounds like a command, but it’s actually said in the form of a request.  Jesus knows her past and her present condition because He is God, and the Father has revealed those things to Him.  So He wants to find out how she will respond to those words.  Will she be angry or will she feel ashamed and guilty about her sinful relationships.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verse 17a)

She feels ashamed and guilty alright!  This is her shortest response in the entire conversation:  “I have no husband”.  Only four words in English, and only three words in Aramaic!  She is basically saying, “Here’s my answer; end of conversation on that subject!”  I believe that she lowered her eyes away from His gaze as she quietly said those words (“I have no husband”), and may have hung her head in shame as she did so.

III.  FACING THE FACTS (verses 17b-18)

The Lord Jesus doesn’t change the subject, as she was hoping He would, and hinting that He should.  Instead, He congratulates her for her answer by saying, “You have well said ‘I have no husband’ “.  That must have brought a shocked look to her face – “He’s paying me a compliment!  How did He know?”  There may also have been a quick sigh of relief:  “At least He doesn’t know the whole truth.”  But before she could respond, Jesus reveals information about her that no stranger could possibly have known, especially a Jewish stranger.  He says to her in verse 18, “For you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”   I believe that Jesus said those words to her courteously and gently.  The words themselves revealed that this was no ordinary man who was speaking to her.  We will see that the words of the prophets must have come to her mind also.

Now the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit together.  It explains why she is coming to draw water in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the early morning or the evening.  She was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle, and the other women probably belittled her and refused to let her be part of their conversations or use the well while they were there.  She must have been a very lonely and discouraged woman, encumbered by the guilt of her sins.

IV.  A DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?  (verses 19-20)

I found myself laughing as I considered the woman’s frame of mind when Jesus has just complimented her on her honesty, and then, zing!  He tells her all the private information she left out!  How do you respond to a revelation like that?  Verses 19 and 20 give us her reply.  “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped at this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men are to worship.”  Has she been paying close attention to the way in which Jesus is directing this conversation?  The reason I ask is because she just paid Him a compliment, and then directs Him to an issue that has divided Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  Touche!  The tables are turned!

Seriously, I think she truly believes that Jesus is a prophet.  Her concept of Him is getting closer to reality.  She also wants to move this conversation away from herself and her personal issues.  If He truly is a prophet, He will have a definitive answer to this issue.  Notice that Jesus allowed her to change the topic of conversation.  In spite of her motives, this discussion is moving in the exact direction that Jesus wants it to go.

So I don’t believe that her question was primarily meant to be a side-track.  There is a genuine reason for her question, and it’s based upon the words that Jesus has just spoken to her.  Jesus had exposed her sins, and I think there is a genuine conviction of sin and a repentant heart on her part as a result.  She may be asking, “Where should I go to present a sin offering to God as an act of repentance and worship.  What I’ve been taught disagrees with what you Jews believe.”  Warren Wiersbe comments, “She didn’t  know who to worship, where to worship, and how to worship.”  There are some historical events and teachings that need an explanation before we can understand her quandary.

The history of Samaria and the Samaritan people is complex, so I’ll try to put the meaning behind the woman’s question into a nutshell.  In my previous sermon I shared how the captives who were left in Israel intermarried with captives from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in Israel, thus losing the purity of their Jewish race and religion.  In an attempt to restore their legitimacy as God’s chosen people, the Samaritans changed some Scriptures in the Law of Moses and altered some historical events.  They built a temple on Mount Gerizim and said that this was the place where God wanted them to worship, rather than at the temple in Jerusalem.  So the woman wants to know where she should go to present her sin offering to God,  Where is the proper place to worship, and how do I do this in the traditional way?

V.  TRUE WORSHIP (verses 20-26)

Once again, the Lord Jesus doesn’t give this woman the answer she wants to hear.  He gives her the answer she needs to hear.  To her, worship is limited to a specific place and time, and is a ritual that is performed in a certain way.  But now she has come to the point where she wants to worship God and seek forgiveness for her sins.  She is now ready to learn the meaning of true worship.

1.  JESUS’ PROPHETIC ANSWER  (verse 21)

In verse 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”  When Jesus told her, “believe Me”, He’s saying, “since you have come to the conclusion that I am a prophet, then put your faith and trust in what I am about to tell you because it is coming from God.”  He then gives her a glimpse of the near-future.  Very soon the present system of worship is going to be replaced.  What He doesn’t share at this time is that the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system will no longer be needed.  He’s referring to His own sacrificial death on the cross.  When Jesus says, “It is finished”, the penalty for sin will be paid for once-and-for-all.  At that very moment the curtain that separates the people from the presence of God will be torn from top to bottom.  He’s telling her to get ready for a new way of worship that’s not dependent upon physical locations, nor limited by format or ritual.

2.  JESUS CORRECTS HER MISUNDERSTANDINGS (verse 22)

Before going on to explain what this new way of worship is all about, the Lord Jesus first corrects her misunderstandings about the Jewish faith.  In verse 22 He says to her,  “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  That may sound like a blunt statement but that’s the way truth is – it’s uncompromising.  Salvation is from the Jews – the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to that, but it is for everyone who believes.  Notice that Jesus tells her that her misconception is based on ignorance, not defiance.  She has already been demonstrating her desire to know the truth, so He tells her the truth, plainly and simply.

3.  REAFFIRMATION AND EXPLANATION (verse 23-24)

Obviously, there was no outburst of anger on her part as a result of what Jesus said, and she didn’t walk away because the Lord Jesus continues where He left off, without a word spoken by her in response.  Jesus continues by using the words again, “An hour is coming”.  In verse 23 He says:  “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.”  The phrase “is coming and now is” sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it.  I think Jesus is saying that what is about to come is already beginning to happen.  His disciples and a few others are beginning to worship Him as their Messiah, and this is the preview of things to come.  The focus of their worship is now based on a personal relationship with the Messiah rather than the Temple services.  The words of Jesus are being added to the Scriptures, and a whole new relationship to God is being expressed by His words,  Jesus, the God-man, is touching the hearts of people and drawing them to Himself and to the Father in worship that comes from the heart.  This is the kind of worship, and these are the kinds of worshippers that the Father desires and seeks.  Now the Lord Jesus concludes this discussion about worship by giving this woman the reason for His statement and the logical conclusion.  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  There is no other way to truly worship God.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri, deeply immersed in meditation during a church service, failed to kneel at the appropriate moment.  His enemies turned to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege.  Dante defended himself by saying, “If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing.”  We can only hope that his accusers felt remorse over their own failure to truly worship God.

I heard a short definition of worship many years ago and have never forgotten it.  “Worship is all that I am, responding to all that He is.”  It’s my whole being (body, mind, emotions, will, and spirit) wholeheartedly responding to all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word and in His creation.

4.  AN ALTERNATE MEANING (verses 23-24 revisited)

There is a member of the Trinity that has been missing from my study of this passage of Scripture so far, and He deserves much more than just “honorable mention”.  There is another interpretation of the words “spirit and truth” which, in my opinion, agrees with the rest of Scripture, fits the context of this conversation, and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Does that statement arouse your curiosity?  It gets even better!  Have you ever heard of a figure of speech called a hendiadys.  The word literally means “one through two”.  This figure of speech usually occurs when two words connected by the word “and” are capable of being restated so that the one word modifies or is subordinate to the other, and yet the resulting statement is still true and the words still have the same basic meaning.  Have I lost you with that description?  Let me give you a couple of examples.  “This coffee is nice and hot” could be changed to “this is nice hot coffee” and still have the same meaning.  In Mark 11:24 the literal Greek text says “whatever you pray and ask“, but in most English translations it reads:  “whatever you ask in prayer“.  Have those illustrations given you a clearer concept of what a hendiadys is?  I hope so.  Now let’s apply this figure of speech to the words “spirit and truth” in John 4:23-24.  Jesus has told the woman that “an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  Let’s apply that figure of speech and see what happens.  If we remove the conjunction “and”, we have “spirit truth”.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  But if we insert the preposition “of” so that the second word modifies and is subordinate to the first word, we get the phrase “spirit of truth”.  That is a phrase that the Lord Jesus often used when referring to the Holy Spirit.  In John 14:16-17, after telling His disciples that He will answer their prayers so that the Father may be glorified, He says, “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth . . . He abides with you and will be in you.”  The Lord Jesus says the same thing in John 14:26, and then adds “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  We find the title again in 15:26 where He is again called “the Helper”.  In John 16 Jesus says, “He will guide you into all truth . . . He will glorify Me.”  

The Holy Spirit is the One who teaches us how to pray and provides assistance as we pray.  “He intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Praise is called “rejoicing in the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18f); confession of sins is “under the conviction of the Spirit” (John 16:8).  The apostle Jude tells us to “pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).  The Scriptures were given by the Holy  Spirit, and our minds are illumined by the Holy Spirit as we study them.  The list goes on.  The Holy Spirit has everything to do with every aspect of worship and ministry.  I encourage you to do a personal study on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

So, whether you and I want to consider the expression “grace and truth” to be a hendiadys or not is really immaterial.  The important thing to realize is that the change in worship that was about to come to pass would occur at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would indwell believers, and would teach them and empower them to worship in spirit and in truth.

VI.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE, AND WHAT PROMPTED IT (verse 25)

Returning to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, I believe that when Jesus said, “the hour is coming” (verse 21), and then said “the hour is coming, and now is.” (verse 23), one of the most beloved passages of Scripture for both the Jews and the Samaritans came to her mind.  Hardly a week would have gone by without thinking about and praying for the fulfillment of the prophesies spoken by Isaiah and written down in the Scriptures.  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of peace.  . . ” (Isaiah 9)   In her joy and expectation, she couldn’t help but express her excitement about that coming day.  John 4:25 says, 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.’ ”  The Messiah would answer all her questions and correct any misunderstandings.  Her response seems to indicate that she expected the Messiah to be coming soon.  Little did she know how soon her words and her hopes would be fulfilled.

VII.  THE REVELATION (verse 26)

Try to imagine her response when Jesus said these words:  “I who speak to you am He.”  You don’t get the full effect of His words until you understand what the Lord Jesus actually said to her.  The literal translation of the Greek text reads:  “I am is speaking to you.”  He spoke to her in Aramaic, so the Lord Jesus was using the word Yahweh (Jehovah), God’s covenant name.  There was no doubt that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.  This was the first time that Jesus used that name in public; the first time that He publicly declared that He was the Messiah.

VIII.  CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In the next passage of Scripture, we will be examining the woman’s response to this good news, as well as a lesson that Jesus teaches His disciples.  There is an illustration that will help bring some lessons from John 4:16-26 home to us today.  Have you ever been kite-flying?  A boy was flying a kite one day, and the kite was so high in the air that it had disappeared into the clouds.  A man came by and asked, “Why are you holding onto that string?”  The boy said, “I’ve got a kite up there.”  The man looked up and said, “I don’t see it.”  The  boy replied, “Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.”  Do you feel a “tug” in your life?  Is conviction of past sins, a lack of peace, purpose and joy in life, and a fear of what happens after death tugging at your heart?  It’s not your imagination nor your present state of mind that’s causing that feeling inside.  The Holy Spirit wants you to worship God in spirit and in truth, and the first act of true worship is to repent of your sins, turn your life over to Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior, and let Him rule in your life.  Then you will be a child of God.  Your act of worship will be accepted in His sight and He will begin to remove those hindrances, bring new joy, peace, and purpose to your life.   Then He will begin to transform you into His image as you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, worshipping Him with joy in your heart and serving Him wholeheartedly.  Please go to my “About Page” if you would like to read how this happened in my life and the Scriptures God used to bring me to Himself.

If you are a Christian, do you feel a “tug”?  The Holy Spirit wants you to know that He’s always there with you, even though you can’t see Him.  He wants to keep taking you higher and higher in your fellowship with God and worship of Him.  He’s calling you to come closer; to enjoy a deeper fellowship with Him.  Maybe you’ve been allowing other things to occupy your time to the point where He’s being left out or limited to only certain times and places.  He’s tugging because He misses that intimate fellowship with you.  Don’t ignore His “tugs”.  They are given in love.

As a practical application, you may want to consider going and flying a kite yourself.  As you feel the kite tugging on your hand, be reminded of the One who is tugging on your heart.  When you do, let out some more string and let the kite soar even higher!   Then spend some time worshipping our unseen, but ever-present and all-powerful God!

May your life be filled with true worship of God.  May it be the highest priority in your life.  There will always be potential obstacles and hindrances along the way.  May you recognize the obstacles that are presently in your way, and any further obstacles along the way.  May you give up the struggle to try to remove the obstacles yourself, and your efforts to cover them up as if they don’t exist.  Turn those obstacles over to the Divine Contractor for Professional removal and reconstruction.  You can’t miss Him.  He has pre-paid ads all over the B-I-B-L-E.  Tell Him I sent you.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL (Part II): LIVING WATER – John 4:10-15

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INTRODUCTION:

Jesus broke several Jewish traditions by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  In response the Samaritan woman broke several Samaritan traditions by giving Him a drink and by speaking to Him.  Now an open conversation between them is ready to begin.

I. THE TRANSITION TO “LIVING WATER”.  (verse 10)

Jesus responds to her question by appealing to her curiosity rather than answering  her question directly.  She asked Him:  “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?  Jesus responds by saying, “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.”  The Lord Jesus is saying, in effect, “I’m not really who you think I am” and “I have something to give you that you don’t really comprehend.”  Jesus used this very same approach with Nicodemus when He said to him, “You must be born again.”  We will find that these two conversations follow a similar pattern throughout.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CURIOSITY (verses 10-12)

So here in verse 10 Jesus is telling her that, before she can receive the gift that God wants to give her, she must first have a correct understanding of the gift, as well the identity of the One who is speaking to her and offering it to her.   Only then will she understand that He alone is capable of giving her this gift if she asks for it.

The woman’s response , in verse 11, demonstrates that she misunderstands what Jesus is saying.  “She said to Him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water’?”  She thinks Jesus is speaking about physical water, and there is a logical reason for this misunderstanding.  The words “living water” were sometimes used to describe moving water, such as a river or stream, or gushing water, such as a spring or geyser.  However, this well did not fit either of those two descriptions.  This well had what is called “percolating” water.  The word literally means “filters through”, or “seeps through”.  The water in this well gradually seeped upward through the rock or stone at the bottom of the well, providing a steady supply of water.  If you’ve ever used a percolator coffee-maker, you know what I mean.  The hot water at the bottom of the pot rises up the tube, splashes down on the coarse-ground coffee beans and the result is boiling-hot coffee.  Drinking it is an art-form.  I call it the “blow and slurp method”!  My dad used to do it loudly, but to perfection!  Once you got below “slurp level”, the coffee had cooled slightly so that you could start sipping it without the danger of blistering your lips!  Do you remember those days?

Getting back to the conversation, the woman is trying to figure out how Jesus is going to get this “living water” out of the well without a bucket and a rope.  You don’t walk through the desert for three days without bringing a bucket and a rope to draw water from wells along the way.  I’m sure the disciples brought them along and had them as they went to town to buy groceries.  I think she sincerely wants to believe what He is saying, but from her perspective it still doesn’t make any sense.  She thinks He is talking about physical water.  This is all part of Jesus’ plan, just as it was with Nicodemus.  He is adding information for her to consider in order for her to come to the conclusion that what He is saying is physically impossible, so that He can, step-by-step, direct their conversation to spiritual realities as the only explanation.

In verse 12 the woman becomes defensive because she thinks that Jesus is comparing His water to the water in Jacob’s well.  This leads her to question whether or not He is comparing Himself to Jacob.  “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”  Her understanding of Jesus is growing.  First, she called Him “a Jew”; now she is comparing Him with the patriarch Jacob, who dug this well.

II.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER DESIRE (verses 13-15)

In response to this woman’s frustration and defensiveness, Jesus carries the conversation a step further, in verse 13, by appealing to her desire.  She doesn’t like having to walk all the way to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day to draw water and carry it home, but she can’t survive without water and there is no other way for her to get it.  So Jesus says in verses 13 and 14, “Everyone who drinks of this water (in Jacob’s well) shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; for the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  The Lord Jesus is making it clearer to her that this water is spiritual water by using the words ‘shall never thirst again” and “water springing up to eternal life”.  He is also saying that this water is a gift.  She can’t work to obtain it.  She must only ask Him for it in faith.

Now the woman wants this water – she really wants it!  In verse 15 I can sense excitement in her voice as she replies to Jesus’ words. “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.”  She has taken another step in the right direction.  She still thinks that Jesus is speaking of physical water, but now she wants it, and she asks Him for it.  Even if a bit of humor could be detected in her voice, the inner desire was real. 

This woman apparently was not very knowledgeable of the Old Testament scriptures because there are many scripture passages in the Old Testament where the words “living water” and “thirst” are used in a spiritual sense.  And yet, none of those passages of scripture came to her mind.  For example, in Psalm 42:2 the psalmist says, “My soul thirsts for the living God”.  Psalm 39:9 says, “For with Thee is the fountain of life.”  The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah used those terms several times.  They are also used by Ezekiel and Zechariah.

CONCLUSION:

Like the woman at the well, each of us is composed of body (physical make-up), soul (intellect, emotions, will), and spirit (a capacity for fellowship with God).  It is usually obvious to us when our bodies are thirsty.  Normally, when our bodies get low on fluids, our brains sense this and give us a thirst – a desire or impulse to satisfy that need by getting something to drink.  We may also have physical symptoms such a dry mouth or throat, or a feeling of weariness.  Our souls also get thirsty.  Just as each of us is different physically, we also differ emotionally and intellectually. We have mental and emotional thirsts for knowledge, for meaning, for stability and for peace in our daily lives.  When these thirsts of ours aren’t being satisfied, we may feel drained, stifled, discouraged or depressed.  You might say that the soul is the essence of who we are, whereas the spirit is our connection to God.

Each of us also has a spiritual thirst, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  God put it there.  He created us in His image so that we might have fellowship with Him.  King David, as well as the sons of Korah, speak of their thirst and yearning for God.  (Psalm 42:2; 63:1; 143:6).

Are you personally unsatisfied with life?  Are you longing for something more, something that earthly things, earthly endeavors, earthly relationships and earthly pleasures have failed to provide?  It’s probably because Someone is missing from your life.  Don’t you think it’s time to reach for the living water that only Jesus provides.  If you repent of your sins, release the control of your life to Him, then He will fill your life with the living waters.  Your dissatisfaction with life will end, you will be filled with new life, new peace, new purpose, and refreshment that never ends.  Why waste another “percolated” moment when it can be “spring-time” in your life forever?

If you are a true, born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, your life will be evidenced by joy and satisfaction.   But witness by life is not enough.  Have you been offering anyone a drink?  There’s more than enough “living water” to go around.  It’s our God-given responsibility to share it, and it should also be our delight to quench someone else’s spiritual thirst.  Don’t you want to hear the words, or see the expression on people’s faces that says, “Ahhhhh , , , that satisfies like nothing else can!”

May you find in God’s Word, and in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer to your emotional and spiritual thirsts.  Then may you come to Him in faith, drink deeply, and satisfy those thirsts forever.

You might enjoy the songs I found on YouTube that relate to this passage of scripture.  The first song is “Living Water” and shows slides along with the song.  Clicking the following link should take you there.  https://youtube.com/watch?v=D1Xs3Kdur7E.  When you get to the site, if you click the full-screen icon at the bottom of the screen on the far right, you will get the full, visual effect.

The second song is “Fill My Cup, Lord”, sung by Wanda Jackson along with a video.  I was unable to set up a clickable link, but if you type into your web browser:  fill my cup lord-wanda jackson-video, you’ll see a list of her songs, and the version with the video is the second one.  Both of these songs are beautiful renditions and have very good visual effects.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL (Background and Opening Greetings) – John 4:1-9

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INTRODUCTION:

Do you find it easy and natural to open a conversation with a total stranger?  Are there certain people you would not go out of your way to begin a conversation with?  Are there certain people, or kinds of people, that you would try to avoid having a conversation with?   Are there people with whom you would feel hesitant or awkward about opening a conversation?  If you were honestly able to say “yes” or “no” to the first question,  and “no” to all the other questions, you are a very unusual and remarkable person!  The Lord Jesus Christ was an unusual and remarkable person when it came to initiating a conversation with a stranger.  There is much that we can learn from Him.

In John’s Gospel, the Lord Jesus’ last one-to-one conversation with a “stranger” was His conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee and Ruler of the Jews, and a devout and upright man.  They talked about “being born-again”, or “born from above”.  The next conversation is going to be as different as night and day because of the differences between the two people who talked to Jesus.  Let’s take a look at what led up to this meeting, and examine the opening remarks.

I.  THE DEPARTURE TO GALILEE (verses 1-3)

Chapter 4 begins with the words:  “When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were)”.  How quickly news spreads and gets distorted in the process!  What was a private conversation between John’s followers and John the Baptist has been turned into a “bone of contention” by the Pharisees.  Apparently they only heard, or wanted to hear, one side of the conversation.  What about John’s answer to them?  After sharing the relationship between the bride and groom and the friend of the bridegroom, John says, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).  The Pharisees weren’t interested in that part of the conversation.  They were looking for an excuse to start a major confrontation between the Jews and Jesus.

Verse 3 gives us Jesus’ response.  He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.”  Jesus wasn’t running away out of fear.  He was obeying the will of the Father.  His time of confrontation, leading to His death, had not yet come.  He was avoiding that confrontation for the time being because He was on the Father’s timetable, not theirs.  It was time to go back to the headquarters of His ministry, which was in Galilee.  There was much to be done there, as we shall see.

II.  THE ROUTE TAKEN (verses 4)

Verse 4 says, “And He had to pass through Samaria”.  Geographically speaking, Jesus did not “have to” pass through Samaria.  There were two other routes.  There was the direct route through Samaria, but most Jews, and all the Pharisees and  teachers of the Law, refused to take that route.  They would either take the coastal route or they would cross the Jordan River, travel north through Perea, and then cross the Jordan River again north of Samaria.  Using these two routes would double their travel time from three days to six days.  Jesus, however, had to go through Samaria because it was the Father’s will for Him to do so.  The Lord Jesus had an appointment to keep with a particular Samaritan, and no advance-notice was given to that person.

Why this unwillingness, on the part of the Jews, to go through Samaria?  Well, to say that the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along with each other would be putting it mildly!  Historical events from several hundred years earlier caused this hatred for one another to develop, and more recent events only served to fan the flames of that hatred.  Later on in Jesus’ ministry, the Jews, in an attempt to give Jesus the worst possible insult, said, “Do we not say rightly that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” (John 8:48).  Notice which description came first.  They are either saying that being a Samaritan is worse than being demon possessed or that all Samaritans are demon possessed.  Such was their hatred for the Samaritan people.

It all began 700 years earlier when the Assyrians invaded the northern kingdom (Samaria) and took most of the Jews into captivity.  Those Jews who were left behind intermarried with the people from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in the northern kingdom of Israel.  They became despised by the Jews in the southern kingdom of Judah because they were no longer pure Jews.  The rest of the Jews who were taken into exile never came back but were assimilated into the gentile nation.  They were called “the lost 10 tribes of Israel”.  More information will be revealed in the upcoming conversation.

III.  THE REST-STOP ALONG THE WAY (verses 5-6)

In verse 5, the apostle John, since he was along with Jesus and the other disciples on this journey, gives us some geographical and historical information along the way.  He says, “So He (Jesus) came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there.”   Jacob’s well had a special place in Jewish history and historians say that Jacob’s well is “one of the best attested sites in Palestine, at least since New Testament times.”  Yet it’s possible that none of His disciples had ever seen the well before this occasion.  They may never have taken this route before, but they don’t question the Lord’s decision to go through Samaria.

Verse 6 gives us a brief description of the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ.  “Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.”  He got tired like we all do after physical exertion.  He needed time to sit down, get some rest, and quench His thirst.  Though the apostle John’s major focus is on the deity of Christ, he doesn’t pass up any opportunities to show that Jesus was also truly a man.  The Lord Jesus was now alone.  Verse 8 explains that “His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.”  The scene was ready in preparation for another private conversation.

“It was the sixth hour”.  They didn’t have clocks or watches in those days, and time was measured beginning at approximately 6:00 in the morning.  So it was about 12:00 noon, the hottest part of the day in that region.

IV.  A CONVERSATION BEGINS:  OPENING REMARKS (verses 7 and 9)

As Jesus sits there resting in the heat of the day, he beholds a Samaritan woman coming His way.  She has her water jar on her head or shoulder, and her leather bucket and rope in her hand in order to lower the bucket into the well and bring up the water to fill her jar.  This was not the usual time of the day for drawing water from this well.  Women usually came in the early morning or the late afternoon when it was cooler.  She came at noon, possibly because she had a bad reputation among the women in her village.  So she preferred to come to Jacob’s well for water at a time when no one else would be there.

As she begins to draw water to fill her jar, Jesus does the unthinkable.  He breaks tradition but He obeys God’s Word which says, “You shall love  your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18). He asks this woman to do Him a favor.  In verse 4 the Lord Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink”.  He is not giving her a command but making a request of her.  Translated into our culture, Jesus is saying “May I please have a drink” or “Would you do me the favor of giving me a drink of your water.”  We don’t know His tone of voice but we know the kind of Person that Jesus was and is.  He obviously said those words with kindness and love in His voice because of her response.  I can imagine that her eyes must have widened and her jaw dropped.  She probably looked Him square in the eyes to see if He was being honest and sincere.  She must have seen much more than that in His eyes and facial expression because she does something that a Samaritan woman would never do to a Jewish man – she answers Him!   She broke her traditions by breaking her silence and responding to Him.

“How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink, since I am a Samaritan woman?” (verse 9).  How did she know that Jesus was a Jew?  Was there a difference in physical appearance, clothing, or speech between Jews and Samaritans?  Probably all three, since they were a people of mixed race with different customs.

l don’t think this woman was being rude or sarcastic when she said those words to Jesus.  I think she was amazed by His words, the kindness in His voice and the sincerity and love in His eyes.  I also think that she said those words to Jesus after she gave Him the cup of water to drink.  The words “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans” are in parentheses.  John may be adding those words to explain the reason for her reply.  They don’t appear to be words that were actually said by the woman.

I’ve learned a couple of lessons from the introductory remarks to this conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman.  First, people are more important than traditions, laws, customs and prejudices.  When the Lord Jesus began and continued a conversation with this woman, He overcame just about every major prejudice you can think of:  racial, moral, religious, social, cultural, geographical, historical, and sexual.  She was more important to Him than her “dossier” (her public and personal background and reputation).  What about you and I?  What thoughts, attitudes and responses do we have toward different kinds of people, especially people who are vastly different from us, people who may treat us with distain or silence when we are around them?  The kind of love that Jesus demonstrated by His words and actions is impossible for us to imitate unless we are “born-again”, having become a child of God through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we become a new person, the transformation into the likeness of Christ can begin as we yield to the control of the Spirit of God within us.  Then the barriers between us and others can begin to break down and new relationships can be formed.

Secondly, The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us a lesson about receiving from others. There was an article in Psychology Today entitled “5 Reasons Why Receiving Is Harder Than Giving.”  Author John Amodeo gives these five possible reasons. 1.  Defense against intimacy  (keeping people distant).  2,  Letting go of control.  3.  Fear of strings attached.  4.  Belief that it is selfish to receive.  5.  A self-imposed pressure to reciprocate.

I had been giving to the support of two missionaries while in the military and in college, A few years after graduating from college I decided to go to Bible school in order to become a missionary myself.  When a mission board accepted me, I struggled with the idea of raising support for several of the reasons given above.  I talked to my spiritual mentor about my struggle to receive support from others.  He was one of the missionaries I supported.  I still remember his words.  He said, “Tom, it brought you a great amount of joy to give to the support of me and my family and the ministry God has called me to, didn’t it.  Well, your generosity to us brought us a great amount of joy also, and I’ve shared that with you many times.  Now you are in a ministry that involves raising support so that you can give full-time service in your focus of ministry for the Lord.  Don’t deprive others of the joy they would receive if they chose to support you, and continue to send your newsletter to everyone on your list whether they support you monetarily or not.”  He also encouraged me to add a personal note to  my prayer letters to make them personal.

We find many times in the Old Testament and the New Testament where God’s priests, prophets, disciples, as well as Jesus himself received gifts from others.  Like them, may we also be humble enough to receive and thankful enough to express our gratitude.

As I continue this study of John 4, I’ve found several enactments of this conversation between Jesus and the woman at the well on YouTube.  I’ve chosen to link to the following site because it shows two different enactments one after the other, and it follows the Scripture passage closely.  The second video is even more detailed and inclusive than the first.  Watching these two videos, as well as others, has given me a fresh perspective of John 4:1-42.  Here is the site.  Clicking it should take you there:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sma4o3mCPwA

Thanks for visiting.  I hope you will visit other sermons on this site as well.  May your conversations be seasoned with love and genuine concern for others.  May you also experience great joy in both giving and receiving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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THE WORDS OF A HUMBLE MAN – John 3:22-30

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An article in the Discipleship Journal in the mid-1990’s said that we live in an age of self-love.  There is even a popular magazine on the market entitled “Self”.  Words like “narcissism” (the love of self), and “hedonism” (the pursuit of pleasure) are being used more-and-more often to describe our society.  I had never heard of those words when I was growing up.  Focus on the Family magazine had a short article entitled, “Remember What’s Important to a Man”.  Here are a few of the things mentioned in the article:  1)  Men fear nothing more than failure.   2).  Men are motivated by feeling significant.  3)  Men want to manage their own problems and be “Mr. Fix-It”.  The apostle Paul warns us in II Timothy 3:2 that in the last days “people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant . . . “.

A virtue that is fading among men and women in our society, and in our churches today, is humility.  Evangelist Billy Graham made this comment:  “Most of us suffer from spiritual near-sightedness.  Our interests, our loves, and our energies are too often focused upon ourselves.”  A man by the name of John Seldon made this  observation:  “Humility is a virtue that all men preach, but very few practice.”  In the passage of Scripture we are now studying, John 3:22-30, a man is being described by the apostle John, who not only preached humility, but also demonstrated it by his life and by his attitude.  That man is John the Baptist.

I.  THE SETTING (verses 22-24)

Verse 22 says, “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing.”  Actually, according to John 4:2, Jesus wasn’t doing the baptizing Himself, but His disciples were baptizing under His authority and direction.  In that sense Jesus was involved in the baptism proceedings.  It appears that they were baptizing in the wilderness areas rather than near the city, and may have been moving around the area where they had begun to baptize.

Verse 23 says, “And John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and they were coming and were being baptized.”  For a short time, until John the Baptist was put in prison (verse 24), the ministries of Jesus and John the Baptist overlapped.  From the description given of their locations, they probably weren’t very far from each other.  Since they weren’t far from each other, and were doing identical ministries at the time, it’s a natural tendency to make comparisons and “keep score”, as if they were competing with one another.

John the Baptist had a great deal of popularity because of his preaching and his message.  Luke tells us that “multitudes went out to hear John.”  Matthew tells us that people came to him from Jerusalem, and all of Judea, and all the region beyond the Jordan River.  Some of these people were journeying for several days just to hear John the Baptist preach.

II.  THE PROBLEM (verses 25-26)

The problem was that the crowds around Jesus were growing, and John’s disciples were becoming worried about it.  They didn’t want to see their teacher and leader take second place to anyone else.  Verse 25 reads:  “There arose therefore a discussion on the part of John’s disciples with a Jew about purification.”  At first I wondered what this verse had to do with the verses that follow, but I think it’s beginning to make sense.  The Greek word, katharismou, refers to cleansing or removal of dirt.  To the Jew, baptism was considered a form of cleansing.  They may have been discussing with this Jew about which baptism made you cleaner.  Which baptism had the greater cleansing effect:  the baptism of John or the baptism of Jesus performed by His disciples?  The comparison about their baptisms would lead to comparisons about the two people, John the Baptist and Jesus.  You know how one thing leads to another when you start making comparisons!

Well, it’s time to pass the bad news on to John the Baptist and help him come up with a new marketing strategy.  Off they go.  It says in verse 26. “And they came to John and said to him, ‘Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have born witness, behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him’.”  They don’t even mention Jesus by name.  I don’t think they are being derogatory.  I think they still don’t know who Jesus is.  To them He is “the new Preacher on the block” who is taking away their teacher’s business.  They have forgotten, or overlooked the fact that John the Baptist had already encouraged at least two of his disciples to follow Jesus, and they did so (John 1:35-39).

III.  JOHN’S RESPONSE (verses 27-30)

A.  A Perspective (verse 27)

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and seeking their help, John the Baptist rejoiced at the popularity of Jesus, and is going to give them reasons to rejoice along with him.  He begins by looking at earthly abilities and earthly success from a heavenly perspective.  “John answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing unless it has been given him from heaven.”  John is saying that all success ultimately comes from the same Source.  If God is the Giver, then we should rejoice, not only over what He gives to us, but also over what He gives to others.  If Jesus and His disciples are being successful, that should bring us joy because God is being glorified through them.

B.  A Reminder (verse 28)

Now John the Baptist reminds them of something he said to them earlier.  “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ’, but ‘I have been sent before Him’.”  Those words were recorded earlier in chapter 1, verses 20 and 23. 

Leonard Bernstein, the great music composer, arranger, and conductor of the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, was once asked which instrument was the most difficult to play.  He thought for a moment and then replied, “The second fiddle.  I can get plenty of first violinists, but to find someone who can play the second fiddle with enthusiasm – that’s a problem.  And if we have no second fiddle, we have no harmony.” 

Up until this time, John the Baptist was “first fiddle”.  Everyone was coming to listen to him.  But he is reminding his followers that he was called and gifted to be the “forerunner”, the one sent on ahead to get people ready for the “Master Violinist”.  John is saying that it is now his privilege to “change seats” and play alongside Him in harmony and with enthusiasm.  In so doing, the sounds of the Master will be all the more attractive and pleasing to the ears of their listeners as the two of them follow the direction of their Conductor, God the Father in heaven.

C.  An Illustration (verse 29)

John the Baptist now uses the context of marriage to give a very clear and beautiful illustration of his relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ.  The following are his words in verse 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.  And so this joy of mine has been made full.”  John the Baptist calls himself the “friend of the bridegroom”.  It is not his wedding.  His function was to serve the bridegroom.  The closest similarity in my culture would be the “best man”.  I’m going to compare the two roles so that you can see the differences and gain a better understanding of what John the Baptist has said.

Have you ever been the “best man” at a wedding?  If you are married, did you have a “best man” at your wedding?  Being a “best man” is quite an honor, isn’t it?   It is questionable these days just what the responsibilities of the “best man” are.  A classmate of mine was asked to be the “best man” at his friend’s wedding and he had no idea of what he was supposed to do.  So he borrowed a book on etiquette from the library.  He looked up the responsibilities of the “best man” and it said, “help seat the family and friends of the bride and groom, give the ring to the groom during the ceremony, protect the groom’s car”, and when he read the last responsibility he started laughing.  It read, “help the groom dress himself”.  Well, the glorious day of the wedding arrived, and as he and the groom were in the dressing room getting ready, he quickly found out why that responsibility was written in the book.  The groom was so nervous and his hands were shaking so much that my classmate had to button all the buttons on his friend’s tuxedo for him!

In the Jewish culture during the time of Christ, the “best man”  was called “the friend of the bridegroom” (the “shoshben“), and he was in charge of everything:  the preparations for the wedding ceremony, the ceremony itself, and the reception afterward.  With the exception of the bride and groom, everyone else in the wedding, as well as everyone making preparations for the wedding, answered to him and took orders from him.  The friend of the bridegroom was the most-trusted friend of the bride and groom, and had the responsibility of protecting them and acting as a liaison between them, delivering messages to them from each other.  He also sent out the wedding invitations or personally delivered them himself.  His objective, as he made preparations, was to make this wedding celebration a memorable time of great joy and rejoicing for the bride and groom, their families, and all who were invited.

The friend of the bridegroom’s last and most important responsibility was to protect the bridal chamber.  After the wedding the friend of the bridegroom would open the door to the bridal chamber for the bride to enter and make herself ready for her husband.  He would then station himself at the door to keep any false lovers from entering.  When it became night he would wait and listen for the sound of the bridegroom’s voice, and when he heard it and recognized it, he would let the bridegroom into the chamber and go on his way rejoicing.  The lovers were now together.  His responsibilities as the friend of the bridegroom were now finished.  He could now go to the wedding banquet and enjoy the feast,

D.  An Explanation (the Old Testament Prophets)

Now that we have a basic understanding of a first-century Jewish wedding, let’s see how it applies to John the Baptist.  If he is the friend of the bridegroom, then who are the bride and groom, and when is the wedding?  John the Baptist doesn’t give any details in answer to those two questions because there is no need to do so.  The prophets have already given those details, and because they are Messianic prophecies, his listeners know them very well.  Let’s take a look at them and you will see what I mean.

John the Baptist had already told his disciples that he was the forerunner, in fulfillment of Malachi’s prophesy at the very end of his book.  Now He is telling them that the Messiah is no longer coming – He’s already here and He is the One they are complaining about!  I can just see their eyes widen in amazement as he gives them the news!  Now that marriage-illustration he just used is bringing many prophesies to their minds because the long-awaited Messiah is here.  In several places God refers to Israel, or alludes to Israel, as His bride.  For example, in Isaiah 54:5 says, “For your husband is your Maker, whose name is the Lord of hosts”.  Isaiah 62:4,5 says, “But you will be called ‘My delight is in her,’ and your land, ‘married’. . . And as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so your God will rejoice over you.”  In Hosea, God tells the prophet Hosea to marry a harlot as a visual depiction of what Israel has done to Him.  In Hosea 2:19, God tells the people of Israel, “And I will betroth you to Me forever.  Yes, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice.”

It’s obvious from the illustration that John the Baptist uses in verses 28-29 that the groom refers to Jesus Christ.  There is debate, however, about whether the bride he refers to is Israel or the Church.  I’m personally convinced that the bride, in this case, is Israel because he is speaking to Jews, his ministry is to the nation of Israel, he is using the Old Testament as his backdrop, his purpose is to introduce the nation of Israel to their Messiah, and the church-age doesn’t begin until Pentecost (Acts 2).

AN APPLICATION:

Now we come to one of my favorite verses in the Bible:  John 3:30.  After I turned my life over to Jesus Christ, and was reading the whole New Testament once a week, this verse, John 3:30 was the first verse that I wrote down on the inside cover of my Bible.  To me, it described the essence of living the Christian life, and I wanted Christ to become more and more evident in my life.  John the Baptist gave that response in Aramaic, and we don’t know what Aramaic words he used.  But I believe that he said those words with a smile on his lips and his face beaming with joy!

In verse 30, John uses a particular word twice.  It’s the English word “must”.  We often think of that word as being negative and unbending.  As you were growing up, do you remember times when your parents used that term when speaking to you?  Was it used when telling you to do something you didn’t like to do or didn’t want to do?  Was the conversation something like this:  “Do I have to? . . . Yes you must!”  Was it one of those “end of conversation” conversations?  In order to keep from getting a wrong understanding of the apostle John’s reasons for using that word, we need to take a close look at the Greek word that has been translated “must”.

The Greek word that is used in verse 30 is dei.  Remember that John is writing these words to a Greek-speaking audience who are influenced by the Greek culture.  In the classical Greek writings the word dei was often associated with fate – an inner compulsion or calling that spurs a person on and brings personal fulfillment.  The word is sometimes used to describe the fulfillment of one’s destiny.  These descriptions may be closer to the meaning of John’s words.  In that case, it would not only be motivated by joy but produce greater personal joy as a result.

There is no clear Hebrew equivalent to this Greek word – no word or phrase that matches it exactly.  So what is the Christian equivalent of the Greek word dei, and the Greek concept of fate?  How do you translate it into Christian terms that we might understand?  Because the God of the Hebrews is an infinite, personal God who is sovereign over all, there was no need for such a thing as fate.  The word “dei” meant the divine plan of God in a person’s life –  “That’s my calling from God”; “That’s the fulfillment of God’s plan for my life”.  God’s plan for John the Baptist was very clear and specific.  It was written in the Old Testament scriptures and it was described to his parents before his birth.  So it was very clear to him that he had now fulfilled his God-given privileges and responsibilities, and that brought him great joy.

We don’t get much of a look at John the Baptist.  There aren’t many words written about Him, but what is written gives us a clear picture of his role in God’s plan of salvation, and his enthusiasm in fulfilling that role.  As the result of studying the person of John the Baptist, I believe that a truly humble person is not a person who tries hard to be humble.  He is not a person who makes it a point to be humble by wearing humble facial expressions, saying humble words and doing humble deeds.   A truly humble person is definitely not a person who considers himself to be humble!

I sincerely believe that a truly humble person doesn’t even think about humility.  The focus of his thoughts and attention is on God and others.  John the Baptist would never admit it, but by his words and his actions he has demonstrated that he is a remarkably humble man.  No wonder the Lord Jesus praised him so highly!

May we find rest for our souls from the One who is “meek and humble in heart” – the Lord Jesus Christ.  May we also learn from the example of the man whom the Lord Jesus praised above every other man:  John the Baptist.

Please visit other sermons on this site if this message has been of instruction and encouragement to you.  The next construction site, John 3:31-36 will be underway soon.  I hope to see you there.

CONVERSATION WITH NICODEMUS (Part III) – John 3:14-18

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               THE ILLUSTRATION OF THE SERPENT ON THE POLE

INTRODUCTION:

The conversation with Nicodemus is still underway and the Lord Jesus has much more to say.  In verses  8-13 of chapter 3, Jesus used the illustration of the wind in order to help explain the mystery of being born from above.  We can’t see the wind itself but we can see its effects and its results, and they can be very powerful.  Jesus was reminding Nicodemus of Ezekiel’s prophesies, and the way the Spirit of God was going to work in the lives of His people to change their hearts and fill them with His Spirit.  It was going to be a miraculous event with powerful and amazing results.  As I mentioned in my last message, there was a price to be paid in order for this to happen.  In the next part of their conversation, the Lord Jesus uses a familiar illustration in order to communicate to Nicodemus the means by which one can be born again.

I..THE OLD TESTAMENT EVENT (verse 14a)

Jesus now says to Nicodemus, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness”.  This was a very familiar event and Nicodemus knew it very well.  Jesus is referring to the book of Numbers, chapter 21, and verses 4-9.  Verses 4 and 5 give us the background leading up to the event:  “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.  And the people spoke against God and Moses, ‘Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?  For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food.’ “

Complain, complain!  That’s all these people have done since they crossed the Red Sea!  Now they are blaming God and Moses for the food, the water, and the delays.  Their needs have been taken care of, but it seems like there is always something to complain about and someone to blame when the focus of their attention is on themselves.  The Hebrew people are sinning against God by their attitude and actions.  God has been patient with their complaints but now it has gotten out of hand.  It was time for Him to do something about it, and God deals with them in a very unusual way.

Numbers 21:6 describes the punishment that God metes out to the people for their sin.  “And the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people so that many people of Israel died.”  There are a number of poisonous snakes in that area, and I think it will be helpful to know which variety of snakes is doing the biting.  You’ll understand when I’m through.  Of all the snakes, researchers believe that there is one particular variety that best fits the criteria and sequence of events that are given in verses 6-9.  G.S. Cansdale, in his article in the Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible entitled SERPENT (FIERY SERPENT), (Vol. 5. pp.356-358), describes the various serpents which live in the wilderness area mentioned in Numbers 21 and cited again in John 3:14, seeking to determine which of them were the “fiery serpents”.  He, and others mentioned in his article, believe that the most-probable candidate is the “carpet or saw-scaled viper”.  It proliferates (has many babies), so much so that many nearby countries have put a bounty on them.  It is the only viper in that area that can move quickly over sand and rock.

It’s venom is hemolytic. affecting the blood by breaking the small blood-vessels, and the victim eventually bleeds to death within about four days.  The victims often start feeling better after two or three days and assume that all is well, when in actuality they are very close to death.  The effects of this venom are irreversible (except by a miracle from God).  The slow-acting venom gave Moses time to cast the bronze serpent and tell everyone what they needed to do to be saved from certain death before it happened.  As you can see from the description, these snakes could well be the ones used by God to punish His people.  

Numbers 21:9 says, “And Moses made the bronze serpent and set it on the standard (as God commanded him), and it came about that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.”  It was a time of decision.  Moses had made the bronze serpent, and put it on a standard ( a pole with another pole attached horizontally near the top) for the purpose of holding a banner.  In this particular case it was holding the bonze serpent, and it was raised high enough so that everyone could easily see it.  Each person had to decide whether or not he was going to look at the serpent on the standard when bitten.  His life depended on it; it was his only hope.  But, knowing the pride and stubbornness of the people of Israel, there were probably some who thought, “That’s ridiculous!  How is looking at that snake going to make any difference?  I’m feeling better now anyway.  I can take care of myself!”  That decision cost those people their lives. 

II.  THE NEW TESTAMENT ILLUSTRATION (verse 14b)

Now the Lord Jesus compares that illustration to Himself and His mission on earth when He says:  “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up”.  So the snake on the pole represents Jesus, not Satan.  It was made of bronze, which was often used in the Old Testament to represent judgment.  The pole or standard on which the bronze serpent was affixed represented the cross of Calvary.

The Lord Jesus was telling Nicodemus that, as the serpent in the wilderness provided physical healing from the deadly poison of the snakes, in a similar way He was going to provide spiritual healing and new life to the souls of people who believe in Him.  Jesus said that He would be “lifted up”.  The Greek word translated “lifted up”  (hypsos) means “to exalt”.  How could Jesus be exalted while He is hanging naked, bleeding, and humiliated on the cross?  What glory was there in that horrible situation?  His enemies and His executioners didn’t realize it, but by lifting Him up on the cross to die before their eyes, they were fulfilling prophesies and enabling the Lord Jesus to fulfill the Father’s purpose.  Jesus had laid aside His glory to come to this earth and die and pay the price for the sins of the world.  Only then could His resurrection and ascension back to heaven be fulfilled.  As Philippians 2:8-9 says, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on the name which is above every name”.   Being raised up on that cross was the first step of His exaltation, “that He might draw all men to Himself” (John 12:33).

III.  THE PROPER RESPONSE AND THE RESULT (verse 15)

Is the Lord Jesus Christ being exalted in your life?  He can’t be truly exalted in your life if He isn’t present in your life.  Pastor and author Warren Wiersbe shares an insight and then gives a remarkable, true illustration of Christ’s exaltation in a person through His death on the cross.  “The whole world has been bitten by sin, and ‘the wages of sin is death”  (Romans 6:23).  God sent His Son to die, not only for Israel, but for a whole world.  How is a person born from above?  How is he saved from eternal perishing?  By believing on Jesus Christ; by looking to Him in faith.”

On January 6, 1850, a snowstorm almost crippled the city of Colchester, England; and a teenage boy was unable to get to the church he usually attended.  So he made his way to a nearby Primitive Methodist chapel, where an ill-prepared layman was substituting for the absent preacher.  His text was Isaiah 45:22  –  “Look unto Me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.”  For many months this teenager had been miserable, and under deep conviction; but though he had been reared in a church (both his father and grandfather were preachers), he did not have the assurance of salvation.

The unprepared substitute minister did not have much to say so he kept repeating the text.  “A man need not go to college in order to look,” he shouted.  “Anyone can look — a child can look!”  About this time, he saw the visitor sitting to one side, and pointing to him and said, “Young man, you look very miserable.  Young man, look to Jesus Christ!”  The young man did look by faith, and that was how the great preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon was converted.  (Warren Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, pp. 296-297)

The people on the hill of Golgotha that day couldn’t help but see Jesus because He was lifted up above them on a cross (Matthew 27:33ff).  For three hours He hung there in the sight of all, suffering and dying.  We know that at least one person looked to Jesus in faith that day – a thief on a cross dying next to Him.  That thief said, “. . . we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong . . . Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”  And Jesus said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:40-43).
In this thief’s eyes, Jesus was exalted there on that cross.  He recognized that Jesus was a king, and he asked to be a member of His kingdom.  Jesus told him that he now had something wonderful to look forward to.  He also had Someone wonderful to exalt and enjoy forever in the kingdom of heaven.

IV.  THE MOTIVE AND PURPOSE OF GOD (verses 16-18)

John 3:16 is one of the most well-known, and one of the most beloved verses in all the Bible.  Jesus says to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”  By saying those words, Jesus is stretching Nicodemus’ present understanding of the scope of God’s love way beyond it’s limits.  “God loves the world, not just His ‘chosen people’?”  “What did those sinners and idolators do to deserve that?”  The world didn’t deserve God’s love anymore than he did.  God’s love was a gift, and it came wrapped up in the Person of His “only begotten Son”. the Lord Jesus Christ.  He is the only hope, the only antidote, the only alternative for sinful mankind.  Otherwise we are all perishing.  II Thessalonians 1:9 gives a good description of the word “perishing”:  “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  It doesn’t get any worse than that!

Years ago, two young parents were faced with a life-or-death decision:  either allow the doctor to give their baby an experimental drug or their baby would be dead by morning because of a 109 degree temperature caused by a sudden ailment.  Of course they gave that permission or I wouldn’t be here today to tell you about it!  When we look at the very best of human love, we can gain a bit of a glimpse of God’s love.  The following is one example of the very best of human love:

In his book, Written In Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion.  The doctor explained that she had the same disease that the boy had recovered from two years earlier.  Her only hope for recovery was a transfusion from someone who had previously conquered the disease.  Since the two children had the same rare blood type, the boy was the ideal donor.

“Would you give your blood to Mary?”, the doctor asked.  Johnny hesitated.  His lower lip started to tremble.  Then he smiled and said, “Sure, for my sister.”  Soon the two children were wheeled into the hospital room–Mary, pale and thin; Johnny, robust and healthy.  Neither spoke, but when their eyes met, Johnny grinned.  As the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, Johnny’s smile faded.  He watched the blood flow through the tube.  With the ordeal almost over, his voice, slightly shaky, broke the silence.  “Doctor, when do I die?”

Only then did the doctor realize why Johnny had hesitated, why his lip had trembled when he agreed to donate his blood.  He thought that giving his blood to his sister meant giving up his own life.  In that brief moment, he’d made his great decision.  Johnny, fortunately, didn’t have to die to save his sister.  Each of us, however, has a condition more serious than Mary’s, and it required Jesus to give not just His blood but His life.  (Thomas Lindberg) 

Below is a brief description of the greatness of this verse:  John 3:16

“God”–The greatest Lover.
“So loved”–The greatest degree.
“The world”–The greatest company.
“That He gave”–The greatest act.
“His only begotten Son”–The greatest Gift.
“That whosoever”–The greatest opportunity.
“Believeth”–The greatest simplicity.
“In Him”–The greatest attraction.
“Should not perish”–The greatest promise.
“But”–The greatest difference.
“Have”–the greatest certainty
Everlasting life”–the greatest possession.

How great is our God!  I hope that reading the words to John 3:16 from that perspective will give you a fresh realization and appreciation for what God did for us and why He did it.  You may want to copy those words and place them in a place where you will see them often, as I am going to do.

Martin Luther referred to John 3:16 as “The Miniature Bible” because it contains the essence of the Gospel in “a nutshell”.  During World War II, it was the custom for any household that had given a son in the service to place a star in the window in the middle of a white banner.  A gold star, however, indicated that the son of the house had already given his life’s blood in support of his country’s cause.  Sir Harry Lauder related a touching story in regard to this custom.  He said that one night a man was walking down a certain avenue in New York City accompanied by his five-year-old son.  The little fellow was greatly interested in the brightly lighted windows of the houses and wanted to know why some of the houses had a star in the window.  The father explained that those houses had given a son to the war.  The child would clap his hands as he saw another star in the window and would cry out, “Look, daddy, there’s another family who gave a son for his country!  And look, there’s another!  And another!  And look, there’s one with two stars!”

At last they came to an empty lot, and a break in the row of houses.  Through the gap could be seen the evening star shining brightly in the sky.  The little lad caught his breath, “Oh, daddy”, he cried, “look!  God must have given HIS Son for He has hung a star in the window of heaven!”  (Our Daily Bread, 9/6/1960)

How true are that little boy’s words!  As we look at the brightest star in the sky tonight, may we be reminded that the Lord Jesus Christ gave his life for our sins; and as we count the other stars in the heavens, may we be reminded of all the believers who are shining for Him, both on earth and in heaven.  There are more than we can count.  I hope you are one of them, shining brightly for Him today and every day (Matthew 5:16).

Jesus has just described to Nicodemus how He was going to die and the reasons for His death.  In three short years, I believe that Nicodemus would be standing at a distance together with the other Pharisees and Leaders, watching Jesus die, and he would be realizing the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to Him.  He could not help but think about the serpent on the pole and put the two events together.

Verses 17 and 18 are sometimes overlooked because of the greatness and popularity of John 3:16.  But these two verses amplify the mystery and the eternal consequences of Christ’s death on the cross.  Verse 17 begins with the words, “For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world.”  This is a mystery to me because, logically and realistically, God should have sent His Son into this world to judge us and condemn all of us to hell.  That’s what we all deserve because we’ve all sinned against a holy and perfect God.  But God wasn’t acting logically; He was acting emotionally.  Love is a powerful emotion and God’s love is perfect and unconditional.  That’s why the rest of verse 17 says, “but that the world should be saved through Him”.  Notice the word “should.  God has expressed His desire and provided the way.  There is no reason why we shouldn’t repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, turning our lives over to His control.  There are no “good reasons”.  There are only excuses.  If you haven’t done so, what is your excuse?  You’re making the biggest mistake in your life, you’re passing up the greatest opportunity of your life, and you’re missing the greatest joy in life if you don’t respond to His great love.  The Lord Jesus is not just saying these words to Nicodemus, but to each of us as well.

I personally believe that the Lord Jesus Christ was the greatest preacher and teacher who ever lived on this planet.  There is much to learn by studying how He communicated with people.  I’m sure that Nicodemus had never been in a conversation quite like this one before!  Jesus had made some shocking statements to Nicodemus, given illustrations, asked questions, corrected misconceptions, and made comparisons.  In verse 18 the Lord Jesus ends this illustration of the serpent on the pole with another principle of preaching and teaching:  REPETITION.  He says in verse 18, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe in Him is judged already. because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”  Jesus is saying basically the same thing to Nicodemus, but this time His purpose is to establish blame or fault.  The Lord Jesus did not come to this earth to judge, but to save and remove judgment by taking that judgment for sin upon Himself.  Therefore those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are not judged  because it has already been taken care of through His death on the cross.  However, those who refuse to believe, those who reject God’s gift are “judged already” because they have made the call; they have made their choice in view of the consequences, and by so doing they are judging and condemning themselves at that moment.  They have no one to blame but themselves.  To not believe in His name is to not confess Him as Lord.

While Nicodemus is still reeling from the impact of Jesus’ words to him, the Lord Jesus gives one final illustration and exhortation:  the contrast between light and darkness.  We will study that illustration in the next message.  I hope that the words of Jesus so far have given each of us some things to think about and put into practice in our own lives.

 

CONSTRUCTION SITE:

Welcome!  This is a completed construction site.  If you are new to this blog site, my purpose, as I study a passage of Scripture, is to place it on the site a section at a time as I complete it so that you can see the progress and study along with me if you would like to do so.  I call it a work-in-progress.  May God teach us all patience as we learn to accept the events in our lives, and diligence to make the most of our situations by His all-sufficient grace.