Category: John the Apostle

Story 44: The Right Side of Belief Part 2: Hearing what He really said

John 5:31-47

This stained glass of Jesus expresses such a beautiful sense of His patient strength as He taught the people that came to Him.  When most of us are attacked by others, all we want to do is return the attack or run away. But when Jesus taught  the religious leaders that were plotting to have Him killed, He continued to explain and give examples and answer their questions.  It wasn’t a one-time generosity. It was an ongoing, lavishly loving endurance towards those who wanted Him dead over several years.

Listening can be a dangerous thing.

Often, we can have so many thoughts in our head…so many assumptions about ourselves and others and the way the world works…that even when we do listen, we only hear what makes it through the grid of our own mental noise. It is something we can do with the words of Jesus. We hear or read what He says and decide what it means by processing it through the grid of what we think we already know.

Instead of coming to His Words and allowing them to change us, we alter our reading of what He said to fit our understanding. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a lot of reasons to want to keep their own grid in place, and it blinded them to the danger of a failure to listen.

Imagine it. Crowds of the Jewish people had flocked to Jerusalem for a religious festival. The radical young preacher that everyone was talking about was there with rumors about His healings and vibrant, new teaching. Imagine standing there as the religious leaders came to Him, angry and hostile. Here were the most powerful men in Israel confronting Jesus, a carpenter…a blue-collar worker from the backwoods. Most people would have wilted under the force of their intimidation. Jesus did not. He went on with His words to the religious leaders that were plotting to kill Him:

“‘If I testify about Myself, My testimony is not valid. There is another who testifies in My favor, and I know that His testimony is valid.”

Jesus is talking about God the Father.  The men Jesus was talking to believed that God was absolute Truth.  Whatever He says is what is True.  So according to their own worldview, if this God testified that Jesus was His Son, then nobody in Heaven or on earth could argue against Him.  Jesus was letting the religious leaders of His day know that if they were really listening to God…if they were faithful leaders…then they would accept what He said.  Jesus wouldn’t have to argue with them.  They would know who Jesus was and they would honor Him as the Messiah.  Jesus went on:

“‘You have sent to John and he has testified to the truth. Not that I accept human testimony; but I mention it that you may be saved. John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light.’”

There is a lot going on in these words. John the Baptist was a hot political topic. He was a true prophet of God.  He spoke with truth and power, and the people of Israel flocked to him. But when the religious leaders came to John, he called them a brood of vipers…or poisonous snakes.  He denounced their ministries and demanded that they repent.

It is easy to see why the religious leaders were divided over how to handle John. He was so popular with the people that they had to play a political game. They couldn’t really embrace the man who renounced them, but if they rejected him, the people might decide they were on the wrong side of history. They might look in the Old Testament stories about the evil leaders of the past who persecuted the prophets and decide their own religious leadership was from the same clan.

Of course, the leaders could have simply repented, which was all that John required.   Instead, they continued with their politics, more concerned about their positions of power and keeping the people pacified than seeking the truth of what God was doing in their time.  God had given them privileged positions in His nation, and they arrogantly responded by doing only what was good for themselves.

Jesus had no problem with the truth. He gave John a ringing endorsement and pointed out that at one point, the religious leaders had, too. It is interesting that Jesus also explained His motive. He said that He was saying these things so that the religious leaders might be saved.

Imagine it. These men were plotting to kill Jesus.  The reason they were talking to Him was to figure out a way to destroy Him.  Jesus knew this, and all the while, He kept persevering… taking their accusations and returning with answers of Truth, coming up against their anger and hostility and insults again and again. With all the amazing good He was doing in Israel, transforming the lives of the hurting and bringing Words of grace and life, He still took time for the haters. He didn’t bend the Truth for them, but He kept engaging them.  He said:

“‘I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the very work that the Father has given Me to finish, and which I am doing, testifies that the Father has sent Me. And the Father who sent Me has Himself testified concerning Me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe in the One He sent. You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me and have life.’”

These words should be a source of reverent, holy fear for everyone of every era who seeks to be faithful to God. Technically, these men knew the Bible better than anyone in the world. But they still didn’t understand the Bible. The only way to truly understand the Words of Scripture is by reading it out of devoted love for God.  It is meant to be read with an earnest desire to learn His will…and to allow our own desires to be transformed by Him.  The religious leaders were reading it for the sake of their own knowledge, power, and prestige.  Jesus went on:

“’I do not accept praise from men, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your heart. I have come in My Father’s name, and you do not accept Me; but if someone else comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?’”

Clearly, it was possible to have a different kind of relationship to Scripture and to God than these men were willing to understand. If they had understood…if their hearts were full of devoted love…then when they met the Son of God, they would have dropped everything to follow Him.  Jesus told them:

“‘But do not think I will accuse you before the Father. Your accuser is Moses, on whom your hopes are set. If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote abut Me. But since you do not believe what he wrote, how are you going to believe what I say?’”

Now Jesus was going straight for the lie they were clinging to. These were men who followed the outward laws of Moses better than anyone. Their confidence in their own obedience was the shield they used to justify their abuse of power.

But Moses was a man who loved the Lord as his friend. He longed with God for the Law to be obeyed with hearts of devoted, surrendered, love.  Not only were these religious leaders missing what God was doing in their own time, they had missed what He had been doing from the beginning of their nation!  And now they were standing there, trying to block the path of God’s Son!  Would they ever learn to listen?

Story 42: The Man at the Pool

John 5:1-9

Piscine de Bethesda

This is the modern day ruin of the Pool of Bethsaida by the Sheep Gate in Jerusalem. The feet of Jesus might have stepped on some of those stones! In the 18th century biblical scholars saw no evidence for the pool.  They concluded that the Book of John must have been written much later than John and that the disciple of Jesus could not have written it. In the 19th century, this site was discovered, proving the story was about a place that had truly existed at the time of Christ. How amazing that the Bible told us about a place with such accuracy against the faltering attempts of humans to grow in knowledge.  These stories aren’t mere myths, they are rooted in the history of a place, a nation, and the world!

Another feast of the Jews had come, and so Jesus travelled down to Jerusalem to worship His Father at the Temple. Jerusalem was surrounded by high, protective walls that had been built hundreds of years before. These walls had large gates so the people could enter their holy city. One of them was called the Sheep Gate. Near that gate was a pool called Bethesda. It had five porticos. Many people would bring their family members and friends who were sick or lame or blind to this pool and wait in a portico for something very special to happen. It seems that from time to time the water of the pool would stir. They believed it was the work of an angel, and that whoever climbed in the water after it stirred would be healed of whatever was wrong with them.

On the day that Jesus came there were crowds of people waiting for the waters to move.  Imagine all the people in their brokenness, bodies shattered by the wages of the Curse.  From among all the people the Lord noticed a particular man lying there. He had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus understood how this man had suffered and said, “‘Do you wish to get well?’”

The man said to Jesus, “‘Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.’”

What a terribly loneliness! This man was without any help at all. How frustrating to watch people walk callously in front of him no matter how long he waited. But now Jesus had come, and unlike all those others, He saw. He said, “‘Rise, take up your pallet, and walk.’”

The man was instantly healed. Imagine how it must have felt for him….to suddenly move from misery to health.  He stood up, took his pallet and began to walk around! Wow! Can you imagine the look on his face? Imagine the surprise of everyone around! A great miracle had taken place! A son of Israel was set free!

The day of this beautiful freedom was the Sabbath, the day of rest set aside by God for His people. It was a day that was meant to be set aside from work and the cares of daily life and given to God for worship and reflection on His Word. Over the centuries, the Jewish religious leaders took the ideas of Sabbath that God had given in the Old Testament and added a bunch of new rules to it. They wanted to make sure nobody got even close to breaking the Sabbath rest! The rules were so severe that it was illegal to even spit on the Sabbath day.  The rulers said that the spit might dig a little hole in the dirt, and that could be called work. It was ridiculous.  They put these rules on all the people of Israel, creating a rigid, wearying legalism on the day meant for rest in the Lord! Jesus would have none of that. He knew what His Father intended the Sabbath to be, and that was the code He followed.

Some Jewish religious leaders saw the man walking along, carrying his pallet. They asked him why he was carrying it on the Sabbath day. He said, “‘He who made me well was the One who said to me, “Take up your pallet and walk.”’”

The men asked him who it was that told him to do this, but he didn’t know. Jesus had slipped out of sight before he could find out.

Later on, the Lord Jesus found the man in the Temple. He said to him, “‘Behold, you have become well; do not sin anymore, so that nothing worse may befall you.’”

Why do you think Jesus might have said that?  What might the man have been doing that required this warning?  It doesn’t seem like the amazing healing that God had given him had caused his heart to change.

So the man went and told the religious leaders that Jesus was the One who healed him.  Jesus healed him, and he turned around and got Jesus in trouble.

The Jewish leaders were enraged. Who was Jesus to tell someone else to violate the law of the Sabbath! They began to attack Jesus with their words, accusing Him because He had broken the rules they had crafted for the people. How dare He show their authority such utter disrespect?

Jesus looked at them and simply said, “‘My Father is working until now, and I Myself am working.’” Wow. Jesus basically declared that He was above their rules.  Notice that He wasn’t trying to convince them anymore.  The time for that had passed.

It was a bold statement. He called God His Father. He claimed to be the Son of God! In Jewish culture, that was the same as declaring that He was equal with God. It was bad enough that Jesus was causing people to break the Sabbath. Now He was claiming to be God Himself!

If somebody said that to you, what would you do?  Would you reject it immediately?  Would you laugh?  What if it was someone who had just miraculously healed someone from a debilitating disease?  Would you at least pause for a moment and think about what He said?

The Jews were livid with anger.  Have you ever seethed with rage?  Have you ever been around people seething with rage?  It isn’t pleasant.  Sit in the moment and imagine what that was like.  These men were so emotionally committed to their false rules and their own positions of authority that they were taken over by their wrath.  They weren’t excited about the healing.  They weren’t curious about this radical young preacher whose teaching had amazed the common people of their land.  None of the goodness of Jesus seemed to touch them. Nothing God was actually doing in their world had any effect on what they demanded in their supposed service of God.  Their hearts were utterly hardened.

The problem for the religious leaders was that technically, Jesus had done nothing wrong.  He wasn’t the one who picked up the pallet and walked.  He told someone else to do it.  They had nothing to charge Him with.  The religious leaders began looking for ways to accuse Jesus so they could put Him to death. Did any of them ask themselves where He got the power to heal? What if He truly was from God?

As we read these stories, we are meant to be drawn into the deep wonder and amazement of the beauty of Christ. There He was, knowing that this all would end in His death.  He knew these guys were going to kill Him some day.   That didn’t stop Him from spending His days healing and helping and setting the society straight about its corruption and misuse of the things of God.

We are also meant to watch the behavior of the all the characters around Him. What do they do with His teaching? What do they do with the miracles? And then we can ask: What would I have done? What would I do if the same thing were happening now?  What about you?

 

Story 37: Leaving Everything You’ve Known for Everything You’ve Needed

Matt. 4:23-25 ; Mark 1:35-39; Luke 4:42-44

Jesus Christ preaching on a boat on the sea of Galilee

Peter, Andrew, James, and John left their jobs and followed Jesus. They were called by a Man that they were growing to love. He had truth, an internal strength that they trusted, and He did amazing things that showed that God cared about this world and the suffering in it. How do we grow in that same confidence in Jesus…to believe He is as strong and good as we say we believe He is?

How different were the people of Capernaum from those in Nazareth! They heard the words of Jesus and believed! Many were healed of their suffering. Can you imagine the excitement the people felt as they watched people being set free?

Early the next morning, before the sun began to lighten the eastern sky, Jesus went off to a quiet place of solitude where He could pray to His Father in Heaven. Pretty soon, the multitudes of people from the towns were up looking for Him. Imagine them coming to pound on Peter’s door! Simon Peter and his brother and their companions went out to look for Jesus. When they found Him, they said, “‘Everyone is looking for you.’” They might have thought that this would make Jesus hurry back to the crowd. Hadn’t He come for that very reason? They were to be fishers of men!

But Jesus said, “‘Let us go somewhere else-to the nearby villages-so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’” The other cities and towns needed to hear about the Kingdom of God, too!

So Jesus set out with his disciples. They travelled all around the Sea of Galilee. The Lord would teach in the synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven. He healed the diseases of all the people who came and cast out demons. Can you picture these glorious days when so many were being set free from their burden and pain?   Imagine how the region must have been turned upside down with stories of this miracle worker! Did they also talk about His Words? Did their fascination end with the things He could do, or did His messages about the Kingdom of God sink in?

After touring the region of Galilee and preaching in the synagogues of all the Jewish villages and towns in the area, Jesus returned to Capernaum with His disciples. Peter and Andrew and James and John all returned to their fishing business. But the people did not stop coming to Jesus. One day, a whole multitude of people had gathered by the shoreline of the sea. They were pressing up against Jesus, listening to Him as He taught the Word of God. Simon and Andrew were standing nearby washing their nets. Their empty boats were lying beside them.

Jesus got into one of the boats and asked Simon Peter to take Him out into the water. Jesus began to teach the crowd again from the boat. When He was done, He turned to Peter and said, “‘Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.’”

On this day, Simon Peter was a very weary man. He was also discouraged. He had already spent hour upon hour throwing His nets into the water, but they hadn’t caught anything. He said, “‘Master, we worked hard all night and caught nothing, but at your bidding I will let down the nets.’” What respect Peter had for this teacher of his. What willingness to obey. Already he had grown into a man of faith, but soon, his faith would grow even more.

They pushed the boats out on the water threw their nets back into the sea. As he watched the network of ropes sink down in the water, do you think Peter had any hope of catching something? He knew the Sea of Galilee like the back of his hand. It was where he grew up. How many nights had he fished on its waters? How many hours did he sit under the stars, praying for a catch so he could take care of his family? How many days were spent under the burning sun washing nets? He would obey his Master, but he knew the patterns of the life of the Sea. It would take a miracle to catch a fish that day.

As Peter and his men watched the nets, something remarkable happened. The empty sea was coming alive with slippery shining little creatures! Suddenly, their nets were full of fish! As they tried to drag the bulging nets onto the boat, they realized it was impossible! The catch was too big! Imagine their shouts of laughter and excitement!

They called out to James and John, who were still on the shore. They were Peter’s partners, so they jumped into their boat and came out to help. They pulled the bulky nets onto both boats. As the fish poured out, they began to fill the boats up and weigh them down. They became so heavy that the boats started to sink! What a wonderful problem! Did the people on shore stand and laugh with delight at the abundance?

But as Peter stood in the boat, knee deep in fish, he wasn’t laughing. He understood the Sea, so he understood the impossibility of what happened. He had already seen that this Master of his had power over evil spirits and diseases. He was a brilliant teacher who spoke with commanding authority. But now it was clear that he had power over nature, too. Peter was filled with the kind of purified awe that made him totally aware of his own shame and lack of faith. He turned to the Lord in the boat. He fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!’”

Peter’s fellow workers were all just as amazed as he was. They watched on as Jesus looked down at Peter and said, “‘Do not fear, from now on you will be catching men.’”

Jesus was calling these men once again. Would they follow Him as He proclaimed the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven? Would they give up their lives as fishermen to walk with Jesus wherever He went? The men brought the boats to the shore of the sea. From that day on, they left everything to follow Jesus.

Story 33: The Messiah’s Preaching in Galilee Begins: Will the People Hear His Call?

John 4:45-54

Roman soldier on horseback

The Samaritan woman…steeped in sin…saw Jesus for who He was and was transformed along with her whole town. A Roman Official comes to Jesus and finds his son completely healed. They both saw their desperate need and invited His work in their lives. Would the people of Israel recognize Him, too? The beauty of what He did and said was amazing…but He is still at work today. As He calls upon each one of us to respond to Him for salvation and transformation, will we recognize His voice? Will we respond to His transforming love?

As the Lord travelled to Galilee to begin His ministry there, He stopped for several days in Samaria. The people there had responded to His message of freedom and transformation with great faithfulness. Then the Lord journeyed to Cana. This was the town where the Lord had turned water into wine at the wedding feast. It was His first miracle, proclaiming that the bridegroom of Israel had come!

News about Christ had begun to spread all around the region. Everyone was watching for His next move. They knew He was coming north from Judea, and that He could be arriving in Galilee any day. As He arrived, He received a warm welcome. The people of Galilee had been in Jerusalem for the Passover feast. Many of them had heard His teaching and seen His miracles, and some of them had probably been healed. Some of them were probably there when He turned over the tables of the moneychangers in the Temple. Whoever this Jesus was, He was powerful, and He was dynamic. What was he going to do next?

The people of Galilee were fascinated with this man named Jesus, but it wasn’t for His words of truth. Their hearts were not hungering after God or His will. They wanted to see miracles. They wanted a genie who could grant them wishes.   They wanted a victorious warrior who could heal hundreds of years of Israel’s wounded national pride. They didn’t welcome Him by faith like the Samaritans. The Galileans didn’t want a true prophet. They were looking for a miracle worker. They wanted someone that would amaze and entertain them. There were some in Galilee whose hearts were ready. Would the rest of them embrace their Savior for the reason He had come?

As Jesus arrived in Cana, a man came to Him with the greatest need of his life. He was a royal Roman official living in Galilee and his son was dangerously sick. His home was in the seaside village of Capernaum. His child lay there at the point of death. How desperate he must have felt! How powerless! But he had heard of this man Jesus who had special power to heal, and so he searched Him out. When he found Christ, he began to beg him.

The royal official pleaded, “‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’”

Jesus looked at the him and said, “‘You may go. Your son will live.’”

The man had faith in what Jesus said, so he headed home. It was a long way back to Capernaum. Can you imagine his thoughts as he went along? He was still on his journey the next day when his servants found him on the road. They had come with wonderful news. The boy was alive!

The man asked them what time the boy was healed. They said, “‘The fever left him yesterday at the seventh hour.’” That is one o’clock in the afternoon. The man thought about it and realized, that was the exact same time Jesus had said, “‘Your son will live.’” God used the timing of the healing to prove that this was truly a miracle of Christ!

Can you imagine how excited the official was to get home? Imagine the happiness of his whole family and the massive hug he must have given his boy! Imagine how they must have all talked about this traveling preacher who could speak healing from miles and miles away. Everyone in the official’s household listened to the amazing story of what happened and believed in Jesus.

Christ stayed in the region for some time after this. As He began to preach, He went into the Jewish synagogues and proclaimed the Good News to the people there. These synagogues were the place where Jews came to worship on the Sabbath. They were kind of like church. The synagogues had been set up by the Pharisees to train the Jewish people in the Word of God. Respected Jewish men would stand up and read from the sacred scrolls of the Old Testament, and faithful Jews would sit and listen to the Words of their Lord.

Now the Lord had come, and His first business was to go to the children of God and explain that a great shift had taken place in history. A New Era had come, and their hearts needed to be ready. The day of salvation had arrived! The prophecies of the Old Testament were coming true right in front of them! Would they believe?

As we read about this time of His life, we will hear stories of His glorious miracles. They will tell of amazing healings. They will explain the authority of Christ over the demonic forces that tormented the people of His time. And there will be amazing tales about His mighty power over nature. All of these things proclaimed that Jesus was the One the people were waiting for! He had come in the power of the Living God. We will also listen in on the words He preached. Different people in these stories will respond to Jesus in very different ways. At first, the Galileans were pleased with Jesus. They wanted signs and miracles and were thrilled to see His power. But will they put their faith in Him? As we read about Him, we are being given a chance to put our hope in Jesus as well. How will we respond to the Savior of the world?

Story 32: A Broken Woman in a Broken World and the Cleansing Streams of Living Water

John 4:1-26

Water drop and splash

As the ministry of Jesus began to grow in influence, a lot of people weren’t happy. John the Baptist’s disciples weren’t the only ones who noticed how popular Jesus was becoming. The Pharisees were taking notice of Him, too. As the people went out to see Jesus, the Lord’s disciples were doing the baptizing, but it was His name that was on everyone’s lips and His teaching that the more and more people wanted to hear.

Somewhere around that time, King Herod learned that John had spoken out against him. This King Herod was the son of the Herod who ruled over Israel when Christ was born. The older Herod was the one who ordered the murder of the baby boys of Bethlehem. This new pretender king was no better than his father. He was doing wretched things, and he didn’t want John talking about it, so he threw John in prison. The Lord heard about John’s imprisonment. He also learned that the Pharisees were taking an interest in His ministry, so He left Judea and went back north to Galilee.

Can you imagine what people were saying all over the countryside? John the Baptist was in jail, and this Jesus who had become so popular was on the move. Who were these men? Were they sent from God? Was their ministry over with?

As the Lord journeyed towards Galilee, He went through an area called Samaria. It was about forty-two miles north of Jerusalem. It is interesting that He took the road that went through Samaria. That wasn’t the way the Jewish people normally went. The Jews hated the Samaritan people. Whenever they travelled between the Jewish regions of Galilee in the north down and Judea in the south, they would took a longer, more difficult path just to avoid going through Samaritan territory!

Hundreds of years before, their own Jewish ancestors had lived in the Samaritan region. It was part of the Land of Promise. Back then it was called the Northern Kingdom of Israel.   But for hundreds of years, the Jews of the Northern Kingdom rebelled against God with despicable badness. Their sin was horrific and the manner in which they worshipped their idols was revolting and destructive to their whole community. God warned them through His bold and brave prophets over and over again, but still they refused to change. Their kings persecuted God’s messengers and kept leading the people into deeper sin. Finally, after hundreds of years of warning, the judgment of God came down on them. He sent a nation called Assyria to invade the Northern Kingdom and take the Jews who lived there captive. The Assyrian army forced them to march to lands far away to work as captured slaves. Only a few were allowed to stay in the land. Then the Assyrians brought in people from far away nations they had conquered and settled them among the Jews that had remained behind.

The Jewish people called anyone who was not a descendent of Abraham and who did not follow their Bible a Gentile. The Bible told them not to marry Gentiles or follow after their idols. They were called to be a culture set apart from other cultures. It wasn’t that God was racist.  This was a part of God’s plan to bring goodness and light to every race and culture. But sin is not something that people simply commit on their own without outside influences. Each culture has its own patterns of sin. Each of us tends to commit the kinds of sins that are encouraged by the culture we belong to. Often, a culture can put tremendous pressure on its members to sin. Every culture has powerful ways it emphasizes certain good ways of living and certain bad ways of living.

God chose His servant Abraham to have the descendants that would become the nation of Israel.  They would be raised  up to be the nation that lived God’s culture in the midst of the cursed world. Israel was supposed to be the light that showed the rest of the world how to live in God’s goodness together as a people. The Law of Moses spelled out how the people of Israel should treat each other so that it would be a place where everyone was protected and provided for. They were supposed to marry other people who were just as committed to God’s ways and raise children with the same commitment. That way, a whole culture would rise up in their ability to honor God’s goodness. Then they could invite people from other cultures into that goodness…in the safety of people who honored God’s laws by being trustworthy, kind, and generous.

That was God’s beautiful plan, but the Jewish people kept failing to follow it. They failed to bring a community of justice and peace. Often, they set an even worse example than the cultures around them in the name of Yahweh. So the Lord brought an end to His special blessing on the Jews in the Northern Kingdom.  He lifted His protection. He allowed them to fall under the full sway of the evils of this world that they had chosen instead of Him, and they fell to the powers of the Assyrian Army.

The Jews that were left behind could have cried out to God and asked Him to help them walk in goodness and light. They could have sought to love Him and obey His holy commands and bring a new era of justice, compassion, and peace. But they didn’t. They fell into the ways of the cultures around them. They worshipped their idols and married their children. They also taught false things about the Most High God. They believed in the Torah, but not the rest of the Old Testament. They said that Moses was the only prophet. They also said that their own mountain, Mount Gerizim, was God’s chosen place of worship instead of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The Jewish people of the south in Judea hated them. They resented how the Jews of the Northern Kingdom had betrayed the ways of the Living God and lost their portion of the Land of Promise.   The betrayal of those who had been left behind was even worse, for they combined the worship of the One, true God with false worship and idolatry. By the time of Jesus, the hostility had been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years.

But Jesus was not bound by the entrenched hatreds of this world. He only did the perfect will of His Father in Heaven, and God was going to do a new thing through His Son. The Lord took His disciples through the region of Samaria until they reached a place called Sychar. This region was remembered by the Jewish people because it was near the land that their great ancestor, Jacob, had given to his son Joseph.   There was a well there called Jacob’s well, and when they came to it, Jesus stopped to rest. It was about noontime, and the Lord was weary from all their travels. Meanwhile, His disciples went off to find some food.

As Jesus sat there, a woman came to the well to draw some water. This was a strange time for her to come. Why choose to lift heavy buckets of water out of a deep well during the hottest time of the day? Why hadn’t she come in the evening when it was cool with the rest of the women from town? Well, there was a reason she could not come with them. This woman had a bad reputation…and for good reason. She deserved it.

When Jesus saw her, He asked, “‘Will you give me a drink?’”

The woman was shocked. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritan’s! And they certainly didn’t talk to women like her! She asked Him, “‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?’”

What the woman didn’t understand was that Jesus was not really asking for water. He was searching for her heart, looking for something much deeper. So He said, “‘If you knew the gift of God and Who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.’”

What a strange answer. What do you think Jesus meant? What was this living water she should have asked Him for? A lot of times Jesus asked hard questions where there was no easy answer.  His listeners wouldn’t be able to give Him the automatic, everyday, unthinking response they would normally say. It provoked them to think harder and search deeper. Jesus was giving them a chance to see truths that were greater than they had recognized before. Jesus was giving this Samaritan woman a chance to see Him as something more than the normal Jewish men who would hate her or use her. He was going to show her that He was the Messiah!

The woman said back to Him, “‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’”

The Samaritan woman did not understand what Jesus was trying to say. In fact, she might have been picking a fight. She knew that any Jew would be enraged that a Samaritan woman had called Jacob her father! They would consider it a terrible insult to one of the great father’s of their nation. Surely she knew this. Was she trying to provoke Jesus?

Jesus had not come to argue with her. He had come to show her truth. So He said, “‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’”

Hm. Read that again. What do you think Jesus means? Have you ever heard of water that can take away your thirst forever? Do you think He is talking about real water? Or do you think He was using water as a symbol for something else? What was this spring that Jesus said would leap up inside her?

The woman said to him, “‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’”

Jesus was planning to give her the living water, but there were areas in her life that were still full of sin. Her soul was full of the toxic consequences of wrong, and she needed the sweet freedom of being cleansed. So Jesus said, “‘Go, call your husband to me.’”

“‘I have no husband’” she answered.

Then the Lord said, “‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’”

Wow. Can you imagine how it felt for the woman to hear a stranger tell her these things…these secrets…about her own life?

“‘Sir,’” she said, “ ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’”

The woman knew that what Jesus said was exactly right about her, but she didn’t want to talk about it. So she changed the subject! She tried to start another argument with this Jewish man who understood far too much about her life and her sin.

God had given the Jewish people very specific directions about how to build the Temple in Jerusalem. After King Solomon’s workers finished building it, they held a great celebration. In the middle of their jubilant national worship, they watched as the presence of the Living God descended on the Temple and into the Holy of holies. Yet this woman was claiming the old Samaritan lie. She claimed that their own Mount Gerizim was God’s holy place. If she had said this to most Jews, they would have raged with anger!   But Jesus had bigger goals for the day, and once again He wouldn’t let Himself be distracted. He said:

“‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’”

John 4:21-24

Wow. Jesus was proclaiming a lot of important things here. First of all, He told this broken Samaritan woman that she would worship the Father. He treated her like she had something to offer to God, as if she had worth. Her chances with God were not over yet.

For hundreds of years, God Himself had ordained that His worship would be at the Temple in Jerusalem. But now the Lord Jesus was declaring that all of that was going to change. God was doing a New Thing. The Temple in Jerusalem was not going to be the center of worship of the Most High God any more. God wanted worshipers who came to Himself. They would come in spirit and truth. The woman’s argument wasn’t going to matter anymore, because neither the Temple nor Mount Gerizim were going to matter. Jesus was declaring that after a thousand years of Temple worship, God was going to do something totally different. The way God operated in the world was about to change, and the world would change with it!

Why would Jesus choose to tell this woman the mystery of these high and mighty plans of God? He hadn’t told the important religious leaders in Jerusalem who ran the Temple. There is no record of Him explaining it this clearly to His disciples or John the Baptist up to this point in the story. Why her?

As the woman listened, she wondered who this Man must be that He could make such bold proclamations. “‘I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.’”

Then Jesus declared the most stunning statement of all, “‘I who speak to you am He.’” Wow. For the first time in the recordings of Scripture, Jesus announced who He truly was! But why would He choose this timing…and to this woman?   He hadn’t been that clear to anyone else! Why would He speak in riddles to so many, but speak openly to a woman of ill repute? He didn’t tell it to the crowds of Jews that had come to be baptized. He hadn’t told the disciples. Yet He proclaimed it to a broken, shamed foreign woman who was still living in the middle of her sin. Why?

Part of the reason John told this story is because he knew that many Jews of his time would not like the idea that their Messiah had come to anyone but the Jews. As they read this story, they wouldn’t have liked that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan. And they really wouldn’t have liked that He spoke to a woman that even the Samaritans rejected! But that was the message the Jewish people…and all people needed (and need) to hear. Jesus violated the social rules of His time to show the greatness of the love that had come. The grace of the Messiah was far more lavish than anyone had imagined, and it was going to be poured out on even the lowest of the low. The Lord Jesus had come to open wide the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Even the greatest of sinners could receive the honor of belonging to Him.  This lonely, broken woman was the first person that the Messiah declared Himself to.  She was also the first person in the Bible to respond to Him with proclaiming faith. What a breathtaking honor, indeed! Watch what she does next.

Just as Jesus was finished telling this woman that He was the Messiah, His disciples came walking up. They were shocked to see the Lord talking to a woman. Men were not supposed to talk to women they didn’t know, but none of them asked Jesus why.

Meanwhile, the woman got up and rushed back to town. She was so urgent that she left her water jug behind. She began to declare to all the townspeople, “‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” How bold of this woman to speak to all those people who had probably rejected her for years! What faith and humility to speak out about her sin in order to give glory to the stranger at the well! And how beautiful that this woman whose life was so torn by the curse was raised to be the first herald of the Messiah to the nations!   Jesus had come to break the power of the curse, and the healing of her heart was a symbol of the deep of blessings to come!

The townspeople heard the woman’s testimony about Jesus and walked out to meet Him. Meanwhile, His disciples were telling Him to eat some of the food they had brought. They had probably purchased it in the same town the woman was now proclaiming the message of Christ to, but His disciples had been nowhere near as faithful. The Lord told them, “‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’”

That confused the disciples. It would confuse me, too! What did he mean? They asked each other, “‘Could someone have brought Him food?’”

Jesus knew they didn’t understand, so He explained what He meant:

“‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work. Do you not say, “Four months more and then the harvest?” I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.’”

John 4:34-38

 As the townspeople came to listen to Jesus, they saw that all His words were true. Many of them heard the word of the Samaritan woman as well. Her truthful confession and freedom pierced the hearts of her neighbors. They had seen her life, so they understood the power of what Christ had done at the well!

These wonderful events were a feast to the heart of Christ Jesus as the hearts of many turned to the Kingdom of God. The Samaritan townspeople begged the Lord to stay.   There was so much to learn! So Jesus and the disciples spent another two days with them. He taught them from His perfect wisdom, and even more put their faith in Him. They told the woman, “‘We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.’”

Wow! The harvest was truly great! Their hearts were open and ready to hear the Word of God!

Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to sit and listen in as Jesus taught? How bright and free the atmosphere of the room as people laid down the burdens on their hearts and accepted the wonderful relief of knowing their Savior? These were a group of people that had been rejected and hated for centuries, but now the Messiah had come to them with His arms open wide. He welcomed them into His Kingdom, and by faith, they entered in! How the angels in Heaven must have rejoiced that day!

From that day on, Jesus began His ministry of preaching. He wanted to declare the Gospel, which is the breathtakingly good news of God’s unimaginably loving plan to bring salvation from the Kingdom of Darkness that has fallen over this broken world. Jesus declared that the time of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies had finally come. John the Baptist had prepared the way, and now it was here! “‘Repent!’” cried out the Lord, “‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’”

How the Lord Jesus must have longed for them to trust His words! How deep His joy when they did! This great love was the reason He had come!

Story 31: Divine Paradoxes and the Sin-Shattering Power of Humility

John 3:22-36

Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey. Jesus and John the Baptist

This mosaic is from a wall in the Hagia Sophia, the first cathedral of Christendom. The building of the Hagia Sophia started somewhere around 530 AD in what was then Constantinople (now Istanbul, Turkey). Its artwork reflects the themes that the members of the Early Church were reflecting on. In this beautiful mosaic, we see John the Baptist humbly bowing before Christ, showing deference to the Son of God. How beautiful that this image of deep humility has been imprinted on millions of hearts over thousands of years through the writings of the Gospels. May our generation embrace that humility as well.

After the Lord and His disciples left Jerusalem, they went out to the hilly region of Judea. Jesus spent time with His disciples there and they baptized those that came to Him. John the Baptist was baptizing people in an area called Aenon. There was plenty of water there and many people journeyed to him as well. His disciples began discussing something that they thought was a real problem. In fact, they were upset. It seems that more people were going out to be baptized by Jesus than by John. They went to him and said, “ ‘Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan-the one you testified about-well, He is baptizing, and everyone is going to Him.’”

John’s disciples didn’t like it. They wanted to protect his ministry. But John wasn’t worried about his own fame or popularity. He had given his life to serve the will of God and prepare the way for the Messiah. Listen to the strength and beauty of John’s humility:

“‘A man can receive only what is given Him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, “I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of Him.” The bride belongs to the Bridegroom. The friend who attends the Bridegroom waits and listens for Him, and is full of joy when he hears the Bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”’”

John 3:27-30

Wow. John is saying that Jesus was (and is!) like the Groom in a wedding. For thousands of years, God had been preparing a bride for Him. The bride was the nation of Israel. And just before God was going to send the Groom, He sent John to get the bride ready for the One she had been waiting for. Everyone who repented of their sin and was baptized showed that their hearts were ready for Him. And now He had come! John was happy to hand the Jewish people over to Jesus. That was his calling in life! He wasn’t worried if everyone forgot all about him as long as they followed their glorious Groom.

It is interesting to think about what other choices John could have made. He could have been bitter that all of his hard work was passing on to another person. He could have competed with Jesus…and the will of God. He could have decided that his own ministry and influence were so important and necessary to God that he needed to go right on increasing alongside Jesus. He could have found his identity so wrapped up in his popularity and influence that he couldn’t help but fight this transition in his role.

That is exactly what the powerful religious leaders in Jerusalem and throughout Israel were doing…fighting the will of the God they claimed to serve and undermining the work of their own Messiah. They are a clear example of what we humans often do in our frailty and faithlessness. But John the Baptist is a shining picture of the humility that honors God. His focus simply wasn’t on himself. It was wholly on supporting the work of the Lord:

“‘The One who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony. The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives His Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.’”

John 3:31-36

Wow. God gave Jesus His own Spirit without limit. In Philippians 2:6-7 we learn that “…though He was in the form of God [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (ESV). For all eternity past, Jesus was ruling and reigning in the glories of Heaven with all honor and power. Somehow, He laid those divine privileges aside in order to enter this harsh, sinful world that is so contaminated by the Curse. He became the Man who could rescue us by depending on the unlimited power of God’s Spirit.

It is impossible for us to understand how Jesus was fully God and fully human. It’s like trying to teach a bird to play the violin. A bird can hear the music and chirp along, but it could never understand the notes on the page or play the instrument. We can appreciate the wonder of what Christ did for us when He became a human, but it is beyond our limited human capacity to comprehend. It is a divine paradox. But we do know that He emptied Himself for us, and that it was the Spirit of God…the same Spirit that God gives to those who put their faith in Jesus…that empowered Christ’s amazing ministry when He walked the earth.

John the Baptist understood that he was a mere man with a particular role he was meant to play for his God. We have seen that he knew it was right to boldly fulfill his role. It was also okay not to force his way into more ministry, influence, and accolades. In fact, one of the great beauties of his ministry (and one that the Apostle John made sure to highlight in his book) was that John the Baptist was willing to honor the limits of his calling so that his own will did not hurt his ability to honor the will of God. He willingly decreased so that Christ could increase. His belief in Jesus was profound on the deepest personal levels of his own life’s work, making it a powerful testimony of faith in the truth of Christ. John said that many would not accept the testimony of Jesus, but he did with his very life, and so can we.

Story 30: Delving into the Mysteries of God: Nicodemus the Brave

John 3:1-21

the entombment of Jesus Christ,

Imagine having to watch Him die…and then being the one who took Him down from the cross…cleansing and wrapping in clean cloth the broken body of the One you loved and followed…the One that bore the sins of the world? Agonizing sorrow.

The world of the Jews was being shaken. In the midst of their great, national Passover celebration, the young man named Jesus was turning everything upside down. As the Jewish people poured into the city of Jerusalem for a week of remembrance and worship, they brought stories about Jesus with them.  Rumors had it that He was the cousin of John the Baptist, the wild preacher in the dessert who was baptizing sinners in the Jordan River even as he denounced the religious rulers in Jerusalem. Some said that Jesus Himself had been baptized. Some even claimed that they heard the thunder of God’s voice when it happened. As the week went on, there was more rumors.  Jesus had attacked the moneychangers in the Temple and gotten Himself in trouble with the religious leaders. But the most remarkable rumors were those of the miracles. Many of the people who went to see Jesus were being healed. He seemed to have power over diseases, disabilities, and demons like nobody had ever seen before…or even heard of.

And everybody wondered: Where did the power come from? If the stories were true and the power came from God, why didn’t the religious leaders raise this man up and honor Him as the new spiritual leader of the nation? Did they reject Him because He was evil or because He was good? Throughout the history of the nation of Israel in the Bible, the good rulers like Hezekiah honored the prophets of God.  They listened to their message and did what they said.  The bad rulers persecuted the prophets.  Sometimes they even put them to death.  But what if Jesus was a false prophet?  What if He deserved to be silenced?  And yet it was hard to argue against the power and the beauty of His miracles.  People were being set free from terrible suffering and struggle.  It had to be a work of God!  These were the discussions that were going on all over the city during the feast that celebrated the salvation of God for the people of Israel.

One night during the Passover celebration, a Pharisee who ruled on the counsel of the Sanhedrin came to visit Jesus. His name was Nicodemus, and he had many questions for this young Jew who had caused such a stir. Yet Jesus was becoming a dangerous man to be friends with, so Nicodemus met with Him in secret.  “‘Rabbi,’” Nicodemus said, “ ‘We know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.’”

The Lord gave an interesting reply:

“ ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’”

Wow.  That explained a lot. If Jesus came to bring a message of the Kingdom of God and nobody could even SEE the Kingdom unless they are born again, it is no wonder that nobody understood who Jesus was.  But what did it mean to be born again?  Nicodemus didn’t understand. How could someone be born twice?

Jesus went on, “ ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, “You must be born again.” The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is of everyone born of the Spirit’”

There was a reason the Jesus thought Nicodemus should understand more about what He was saying. The Old Testament prophets spoke of a time when God would do a new thing.  He bring about a new time where the inner change of the heart would be so profound that it would be like a whole new birth.

The prophet Jeremiah spoke of it to bring hope at the time of the Jewish exile:

“‘The days are coming,’ declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,’ declares the Lord.

‘This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,’ declares the Lord. ‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor or say to one another, “Know the LORD,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’ declares the LORD. ‘For I will forget their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.’”

Jeremiah 31:31-34

 The prophet Ezekiel gave a similar message from the Lord:

“‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’”

 Ezekiel 36:25-27

Nicodemus was still confused. Jesus said:

“‘I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?…Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.’”

 John 3:12, 14

 Wow. Christ was explaining the very edges of the deep things of God.  There is a story in the Bible that happened fifteen hundred years before Jesus walked the earth.  In the story, Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole to heal the people of Israel from their wounds (See Numbers 21:4-9).   Jesus is saying that this was a foreshadowing of what He would do on the cross. It had already been worked out that He would be crucified, and that everyone who looked upon Him for eternal salvation would receive it. But that future was still a few years off, and Christ’s words must have seemed strange and confusing. The proper task of Nicodemus and the rest of Israel was to start trusting Jesus in the moment before them. The power of His miracles and the authoritative wisdom of His teaching were evidence enough.

Then Jesus went on to tell Nicodemus some of the most wonderful words the human race would every hear:

 “ ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned…’”

 John 3:16-18a

Wow. Take that in for a second. If it is true, it is the Great Answer to all of our troubles. But if it isn’t, then Jesus must have been crazy. To claim to be the answer for the problems of the entire human race is insane…unless it is true. If it is, than woe to the person who rejects it.  Jesus went on to say: 

“ ‘…whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.’”

Jesus did not leave room for a middle ground for Nicodemus. He wasn’t going to leave one for the nation of Israel. He hasn’t left one for us. He wasn’t rude, but He was direct and clear.

Many of the people in Jesus’ time did not want to come to terms with His message, and that is still true today. But if we have any respect for Him at all, we have to honor what He said and take it seriously. Declaring faith in Jesus while rejecting His Words or deciding He didn’t mean them is a fool’s errand. It won’t work. He knows, and He said it’s not enough:

“ ‘This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God’”

John 3:19-21

And here is where Jesus reveals the heart of the problem. It is the love of darkness. The Jewish people had a choice…the same one posed by John the Baptist. Would they hold onto their sin and pride, or confess their bondage and rebellion and receive the bright, hopeful cleansing of His Light?

As we move through the stories of Jesus’ life, we will see many characters wrestle with that decision. And as we do, the Spirit of the Lord will be working in our hearts as well. Will we allow the Lord of All to draw us in?

The beautiful truth of this story is that Nicodemus did. He probably faced severe condemnation for it, but he joined the men and women that followed Jesus (John 19:31-42).   Nicodemus started coming to the Lord in the secrecy of night, but he ended by identifying with Christ before the world at His darkest hour. He was there to take Jesus’ body down from the cross, wrap it in cloth, and lay Him in the tomb. He had the tender privilege of caring for the body of his precious Lord. He also got to see Him rise again.

Story 29: Proof to Believe: What Can Satisfy the Resistant Soul?

John 2:13-24

To this day, devout Jewish people make pilgrimages to visit what we believe are the last remnants of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. Today it is called the Wailing Wall. It is so named to describe their grief over the destruction of their most sacred place of worship. But what if their own God provided a far better Temple? What if He is calling them still?

Jesus performed an amazing miracle for His mom. It was quiet and unseen by most, but a few of the people at the wedding feast understood what happened. The parents of the bride had failed to bring enough wine, and to save them from their shame, Jesus had turned many gallons of water into the fine drink. The Lord who created the universe is also the God who thought up the wonder of wine and weddings and falling in love. And One Day, The Son of God is going to celebrate a wedding of His own (Rev. 19: 6-9).

After the feast in Cana, Jesus went back with His mother to Capernaum. His brothers and His disciples went with them.  They stayed there together for a several days. Imagine the conversations!  Then the time came for the Passover. The Lord Jesus and His companions travelled to Jerusalem to worship at the holy feast. But when He got to the Temple, He was filled with rage. The outer courts were full of men selling cattle and sheep and doves. It looked like the scene of a common market! These creatures were supposed to be there so the people of Israel could offer them to God as sacrifices in the Temple. They were meant to be a holy offering, but these men were turning it into a dirty money-making scheme. Jesus took cords of and began to scourge the moneychangers and merchants who were taking advantage of the people. As He drove them out of the Temple with their animals, He threw down their money and turned their tables over in disgust. “‘Get these out of here!’” He commanded. “ ‘How dare you turn My Father’s house into a market?’”

Imagine the intensity of the moment! There were animals and men running in every direction, fleeing the purifying wrath of Christ. As His disciples watched their Teacher rage fiercely in His righteous anger, they remembered that the Old Testament told about One who would burn with passion for the Temple of God. Psalm 69:9 says, “‘Zeal for your house will consume me.’” This verse was meant to point to Jesus. It was meant to show that God approved of the Messiah when He came in His blazing goodness. The disciples saw the connection and believed.

But the Jewish leaders were affronted. Who did this carpenter think He was to come into their Temple and defy their way of doing things?  These men were in charge of the Temple, and they had allowed those moneychangers and animals to come inside. The only person would could override their decisions was someone who had been sent by God Himself, and He would be able to prove His authority with miraculous powers.  They confronted Jesus by challenging Him: “What miraculous sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?’”

Jesus said to them, “‘Destroy the temple and I will raise it up again in three days.’”

Wow. That is a bold statement. The Temple was a massive, grand building. The Jewish leaders questioned Him, “‘It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?’”

But the Lord wasn’t speaking to them plainly. He was speaking in mysteries and riddles because their hearts were hard. The Temple He spoke of wasn’t the building in Jerusalem. He was talking about the Temple of His own Body.  At the time, His disciples didn’t understand what Jesus meant, either. But after Jesus died and rose again on the third day, it all became very clear.  They remembered what He said, and they believed.

While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover, He performed many miraculous signs. They showed that He had a special power from God. It meant that they should have believed Him when He said He was sent by God. It is interesting that the religious leaders had demanded a miracle from Jesus, but when He performed them, they still didn’t believe. They said that a miracle would be proof of His authority, but then refused to accept it.

Many other people saw these signs and believed in Jesus. But the Lord did not put His trust in them. Jesus was walking the earth as the Man who is God, but He lived in total dependence on His Father in Heaven. He did nothing apart from obedience to His Father’s leading. God knows the motivations and desires of every person. He knew that even those who had begun to believe in Christ’s message were still burdened with the sins that lead to betrayal. Jesus could not put His trust in the frailty of those around Him. But His Father was nothing like that. The love of God is loyal, strong, and never failing. Jesus looked to His Father alone, and He was more that enough.

Story 28: A New Way to Party: Changing Water into Wine

John 2:1-11

Wedding at Cana in stained glass

The time had come for the most important work in human history to begin…the ministry of Christ.  But He didn’t go it alone.  During His final days at John the Baptist’s encampment, John continually pointed out to his own followers that Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.  This lit a fire under some of the men and they went to Jesus, seeking Him as their rabbi.  Their names were Andrew, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathaniel.  They left with Jesus on His journey from the Jordan River up north to the region of Galilee. It was over 60 miles away. Their journey would have taken about three days. Imagine walking with God…literally.  Wouldn’t it be interesting to listen in on their conversation as they made their way north?

When they arrived, the Lord went to a wedding in a town called Cana. It was on the west bank of the Sea of Galilee. The Bible doesn’t tell us whose wedding it was, but we know that His disciples and His mother went with Him.

At some point during the wedding feast, all of the wine ran out. In the culture of the Jewish people, providing guests with plenty of food and drink was crucial. It was an important part of their honor as the hosts, and a terrible disgrace to fail. It would be a source of lasting, public shame for the entire family. Jesus’ mother wanted to save the family from this terrible humiliation, so she turned to Jesus for help. She went up to Him and said, “‘They have no more wine.’”

Jesus knew his mother wasn’t just telling Him the facts. She was asking Him for a favor. She wanted a miracle! He looked at her and said, “‘Dear woman, why do you involve me? My time has not yet come.’”  But Mary knew what her Son was capable of. She was sure that He would listen to her.   She turned to the servants and said, “‘Do whatever he tells you.’”

There were six large stone jars close to where they were standing. They were normally used by the family to wash themselves and make themselves ritually clean as part of Jewish purification rites. Each jar could hold between twenty and thirty gallons. Jesus told the servants to fill them up with water. Then they were to take some of the water and give it to the master of the banquet. By the time he tasted the water it had turned into wine! The master didn’t know where it came from. He thought the bride’s family had brought it out. He declared, “‘Every man serves the good wine first, and when the people have drunk freely, he brings out the poorer wine; but you have kept the good wine until now.’” When Jesus transformed the water in to wine, he made the finest wine of all.

Imagine the relief of the bridal family when they realized their crisis was over! Did they wonder where the wine came from? Did they know that it was Jesus who saved them from their shame?

This is the first miracle recorded about Christ. It is interesting that John is the one that tells us this story because he will also explain how Christ is the great Bridegroom who comes at the end of time. The book of Revelation tells about a great wedding feast between the Messianic King, the Lamb, and His beautiful bride:

“ ‘Let us rejoice and be glad and give glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.’ It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. “Then he [an angel] said to me, ‘Write, “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”’ And he said to me, ‘These are true words of God.’”

Revelation 18:7-9

The Bride of Christ is an image or metaphor for the Church.  She is made up of all those who put their faith in Jesus.

Throughout the Old Testament weddings were used as expressions of God’s impassioned love towards His people. One of the best ways to explain God’s deep care was to compare it to the fervent devotion of someone who has fallen in love.  In Isaiah 61, the prophet tells about an Anointed One, the Messiah, who would come and bring salvation and transformation to His beloved:

“The Spirit of the Lord God is on me,

Because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,

To proclaim liberty to the captives and freedom to prisoners.

 

To provide for those who grieve in Zion,

To bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

The oil of joy instead of mourning,

And a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,

A planting of the LORD, for the display of his splendor.

 

I will delight greatly in the LORD;

My soul rejoices in my God.

For He has clothed me with garments of salvation,

He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness,

As a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest,

And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

Isaiah 61:1, 3, 10

(NIV except for v. 1c and 10b

which are NASV]

For hundreds of years, God wooed the nation of Israel and longed for their faithful love in return. But the hearts of the Jewish people (and the whole of humanity) are so imprisoned by our bondage to sin that we can only return His love if our hearts are set free. We all need a Savior to come and save us from the captivity we have pledged ourselves to.

 A little bit later on in His story, Jesus will explain that He is the Anointed One of Isaiah 61. The miracle at Cana was more than a kindness to the friends of Mary. It was a quiet, subtle declaration. The Groom had finally come to the nation of Israel, and He had brought His blessings with Him. Would they allow Him to break through their bondage to sin? Would they accept His love? What would this Messiah have to do to bring salvation to His Bride?

Story 20: The Light that Shines: Where Are You Getting Your Hope?

John 1:9-13

People walking towards a huge cross passage

What do you do with your words?  I’ve got to admit that sometimes the phrase “talk is cheap” is a good description for the things I take the trouble to say.  If the Bible is right (and I believe it is) then we can know that the opposite is true of God.  He only says what is absolutely true.  And because He is God, His Words have the power to make whatever He says happen.

John began the story of the life of Jesus by explaining that Christ is the Word of God (see John 1:1-3). He made all the heavens and the earth. He has lived forever, all the way backwards into eternity, with no beginning, because He is God Himself. The Lord Jesus reigned in Heaven with God the Father through all of human history until the time came for Him to come down to earth to be born as a human infant.

Wow.  Even for those that don’t believe in Christ, it is an astonishing concept.  God became a man.  It is such a strange and epic moment that it is hard to grasp, especially for those of us who actually believe it is true!  The King of Creation that continually keeps the universe going…who energizes the breath of all living things…became a tiny, breathing baby boy.

We don’t know how it can be true, but it is. It is greater than the human mind can comprehend. Trying to figure out all that God is and does is kind of like if a butterfly tried to figure out how a computer whiz has programmed a video game.  It isn’t in the nature of a butterfly to comprehend such things…it is quite beyond their capacity.  The difference between the human capacity for understanding and God’s is much greater than the difference between a butterfly and a computer nerd.  John was very careful to make this the first thing he explained about Jesus in his book. This is what he wrote next:

“In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

John 1:4-5

Do you see how John uses the words life and light to describe the power of Christ’s work in the world? He brings life where there was none before. He gave life at the beginning of the universe. And now, Jesus brings new life for humans who have been scarred and brutalized by the sin and death of the Curse.

John also speaks of Christ as the light. You can imagine what happens in a very dark room when a candle is lit. When Jesus shines in this world, He always brings light against the darkness and confusion of sin. He shines the brightness of purity and truth against corruption and lies…even the lies we harbor in the deepest places of our hearts.

As we read about Jesus’ life on earth, we will see Him shine His perfectly right ways into the world of His time. His life of righteousness showed the ways that the people of His time were getting it wrong. And though His perfect life of obedience took Him all the way to death on a cross, He made it possible for us to be right with God again. The darkness of Satan and the evil of the Curse can never undo the beautiful work that Jesus began when He came to earth.  One day, He will destroy them both utterly and completely.

The question of the Gospel story was never if Jesus would have total victory. He is absolutely all-powerful and totally undefeatable! The question of the Gospels was this: When the people of His day were given the light of Christ to see their sin and their need, would they repent like the righteous heroes of the Old Testament, or would they harden their hearts in stubborn rebellion?  This is what John said:

“The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”

John 1:9-11

Wow. John is telling us ahead of time what is going to happen in the story. Jesus came as the Messiah, the Savior, to the Jewish people. They were the nation of Israel, God’s treasured possession on earth. They had been picked out by God to be a holy nation of priests who would welcome the Savior of the world when He came to break the power of death and sin. But John says here that when He came, His own people rejected Him. They refused to repent and worship their holy Lord. It was a great and terrible tragedy. It was the lowest point in human history. But that is not where the story ends. For not everyone in the nation of Israel would reject the wonderful love of the Savior. This is what John said about them:

“But to all who did receive Him, who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh nor the will of man, but of God.”

John 1:12-13

When John writes about believing in Jesus’ name, it means that His followers accepted and embraced everything about all that Jesus claimed to be. It is not enough to believe that Jesus was a wise teacher or philosopher. It is not enough to believe that He is just one good god among many other gods. The Lord Jesus said that He was the only way, the only truth, and the only light, and that nobody could come to God the Father unless they came through belief in Him.

Saving faith in Jesus Christ means faith in Christ alone. The gift of knowing Jesus as Lord is something that is given by God…not by human will or striving.  It isn’t something we can inherit from our parents.  When a person comes to Jesus in faith, it is like they are born again. This birth is not like their first birth, when they came from their mother as a squirmy little infant. This birth happens inside the heart. It is as if the Lord took our sinful hearts of hardened stone and gave us new hearts of living flesh. We become new creatures. He purifies us and makes us holy, trading the debt of our sin for the righteousness of Jesus.

Wow.  That is what the Gospel, or the Good News, is all about. That is the bottom line of the Christian faith.

As we read on through the Gospels, we will come across many characters. Each of them will have to respond to the coming of the Messiah. Some will show themselves to be the children of God. They will repent and follow Jesus. Others will show themselves to be the servants of God’s enemy. They will rebel and fight against the Good News of God’s Kingdom. They will try to destroy Jesus. But as John the Apostle already told us, the darkness could not overcome the light of Christ. Two thousand years later the people and nations that ruled the world back then are gone, but the light of Jesus still shines all over the globe in the hearts of millions upon millions of devoted disciples.

As we read through the stories of Jesus’ life, we will have choices to make. Which of the characters do we want to be like? Will we chose to believe, or will we reject the Savior? Will you respond in stumbling acceptance of Him like John or Peter? Or will you refuse His message like the religious leaders of His time? The authors of the Bible never meant for their audience to read it like an old, ancient document or a moral code. They did not want to merely give a history lesson. Their goal was to challenge us with choices…choices with the power to transform us into the image of Christ.

The way we respond to Jesus is the most important thing about our lives. It is dangerous to read about Him if we aren’t willing to let Him have His way in our hearts.   If is also dangerous to not read Him…a chance to respond might not come again.  The only safety is found in going deeper into His story, embracing Him with belief, and letting Him have His way with our lives.

 

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