John, Chapter 6, Part 1

John 6:1 – After this, Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias.

John is about to narrate the event which we commonly call ‘The feeding of the five thousand’.  This is one of the few instances where John records the same miracle as the other gospel writers. 

When we read all four accounts, we notice that different writers provide different details.  This is a very common occurrence among people in all circumstances. 

For instance, if we have four people at a football game, each one will remember different details about the winning touchdown, because they each notice different things.  When discussing the game, they may also share different details based on the point they are trying to convey.  For example, one might want to focus on the weakness in the defensive line, while another might want to focus on the abilities of the quarterback.  So the details they give will vary; yet they are talking about the same game and the same touchdown. 

So it is with the narrative of feeding of the five thousand.  The narrative is also recorded in Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44 and Luke 9:10-17.  Although we are focusing on John’s account, we will add details and insights from the other gospel writers as well.

John begins by simply informing us that Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, while Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us why he left – because his cousin John the Baptist had just been beheaded by  Herod.  As a result, an environment of persecution had sprung up.  Because it was not yet time for Jesus to die at the hands of Rome, he left the area before a serious confrontation could occur. 

All four gospel writers had specific reasons for recording this miracle.  John uses it as an introduction for the sermon/teaching which was shortly to follow, which centered on Jesus as the bread of life. 

In the miracle of the feeding of the 5K, Jesus provides an unlimited supply of natural bread/food which sustains natural life for all who partake of it.  This mirrors what is happening in the spiritual realm: Jesus himself is the bread of spiritual life; he will sustain the spiritual life of all those who partake of him/his sacrifice.

As we will shortly see, this was a very controversial and misunderstood teaching at the time.  But for now, let’s examine the miracle that occurred in the natural realm.   

John tells us that the Sea of Galilee was also called the Sea of Tiberius. Herod the Tetrarch had built a city on the eastern shore of the sea/lake, naming it for the Roman emperor Tiberius.  The name ‘Sea of Tiberius’ was in common use by the Gentiles/Greeks of the day, while the Jews still referred to it as the Sea of Galilee.  

John 6:2 – And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick.

Scripture tells us that there was a large crowd of people following Jesus.  Where do you suppose this crowd came from?  What caused it?

  • As we mentioned, the other gospel writers tell us that John the Baptist had just been martyred.  At that point, it would be natural for any disciples or followers of John to switch their allegiance to Jesus (Mark 6:14-29).
  • Secondly, the other gospel writers also tell us that the 12 disciples had just returned from their preaching ministry in the towns and villages of Galilee.  There were probably large numbers of people who wanted to hear more from Jesus himself (Mark 6:7-13).
  • Third, it was the time of Passover.  Therefore, there were thousands of Jews flocking to Jerusalem and the surrounding areas for the feast.  The teaching and ministry of Jesus was probably a common topic of conversation.  No doubt, many of these visitors would take advantage of the opportunity to hear him.   

Scripture further tells us that this great crowed followed Jesus.  In other words, they didn’t just come out to hear him one time; they were literally following him around because the miracles convinced them that Jesus was a new prophet sent to them by God. 

Let’s take a closer look at the spiritual guidance being given to the Jews from the religious leaders of that day. 

Spiritually speaking the Scribes and Pharisees were supposed to be the shepherds of Israel.  They were to feed the people with the word of God, protect them from the dangers/pitfalls of idolatry, and lead them by example.  Unfortunately, they were unfit spiritual shepherds.  They were haughty and full of pride.  They despised the common people, and often laid tremendous burdens upon them, which no one could keep (Matthew 23:1-7)!    

So, it was not surprising that the multitudes were hungry to hear what Jesus had to say and they were willing to inconvenience themselves in order to hear it.

In fact, their actions demonstrate definite spiritual hunger.  Think about it:  In their zeal to hear of the kingdom of heaven and be healed, men and women took their children and walked away from the ease and comfort of their homes to travel to a remote deserted area.

Others who had traveled many, many miles to come to Jerusalem left that city and traveled even further for a chance to hear Jesus, who taught with authority, not as the Pharisees, Sadducees or Scribes.  They were willing to sacrifice time, comfort and money to have their spiritual hunger satisfied.

What about us?  How hungry are we for spiritual teaching or a touch from God?  What would you be willing to walk away from to get it?  Entertainment, sports, work, social media? 

James 4:8 – Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

The scripture says that if we draw near to God, he will draw near to us.  If we lack wisdom in some area, he will impart it to us (James 1:5).  When we spend time in his presence, we are always spiritually refreshed.  So what are you waiting for?  Travel to your prayer closet to meet him!  He is waiting there to satisfy your spiritual hunger!

 John 6:3-4 – Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand.

Jesus and the disciples had gone to a mountainous desert place in order to be alone (Mark 6:32, Matthew 14:30).  They were probably seeking a time not only of rest, but meditation and prayer because of the upcoming Passover. 

But Jesus was always about his Father’s business.  So when the Father sent the multitudes to him in that place, he willingly switched gears and began to minister to them. 

As it turns out, the mountainside was a perfect place to minister to large crowds.  Jesus and his disciples went to an elevated position on the mountainside and sat down.  This position made a kind of natural pulpit; being on a higher level would allow him to be seen and heard by the entire multitude.  This was a much better venue than any open market in the city. 

Of course, we can’t help but notice that ‘desert places’ are void of many of the distractions of daily life.  The people who met Jesus on the mountain left behind their hobbies, their friends, the cares of daily life and the news of the day.  With nothing there to divert their attention, they were able to concentrate on the teaching and miracles of Jesus.    

While we can’t simply walk away from the responsibilities of our lives, we too need to find time to temporarily step away from the things that hinder/divert us from focusing on our relationship with God.  What specific changes could you make in order to spend time listening to God’s voice?

I’d like to present another point for our consideration… Jesus surrounded himself with his disciples; the crowds knew who was closely associated with Christ.  During the chaotic times following the resurrection, the Jews knew who had the true gospel message.

Have you established a close companionship with Christ that is readily apparent to the world?  When people are looking for hope in a chaotic world, are you a light they can see and approach for answers?  The apostle Peter tells us to be ready with an answer for anyone who approaches us about our relationship with Christ:

1 Peter 3:15 – But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:

Are you prepared to lead someone to Christ today?  

John further recalls that these events took place at the time of Passover.  This not only gives us the approximate time of year (early spring), but it helps us interpret the miracle itself and the teaching which followed (Jesus is the bread of life, the Passover sacrifice).  

Jesus proceeded to spend the entire day teaching and healing.  Picture the scene with me:  10 am comes and goes, but no one notices.  In fact, more people probably showed up.  Before anyone realized it noon had come and gone. Still, Jesus continues to teach and heal.  One o’clock rolls around, but the ministry never stops.  The people just can’t bear to leave.   

By evening time, everyone is famished.  Matthew tells us that the disciples as a group approached Jesus and asked him to dismiss the people.  They were probably as hungry as the crowd!

Matthew 14:15 – And when it was evening, his disciples came to him, saying, This is a desert place, and the time is now late; send the multitude away, that they may go into the villages, and buy themselves food.  

In our day, we wouldn’t be so concerned, would we?  We could order a pizza or get Door Dash to deliver something to the mountainside if there wasn’t a food truck around!  But back in that day, the lack of food was a real problem – and the disciples don’t want the burden of it.  They want Jesus to place the problem on each individual/family.

But Jesus has no intention of doing that.  He has been teaching the common people all day long, now it is time to teach his own disciples and bring them to a new level spiritual understanding and faith.

John 6:5-6 – Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?”  He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do.

So in response to the food/provision issue raised by the disciples, Jesus turns to Philip for an answer.  That seems kind of odd, because we know that Jesus already knew what he was going to do about this situation.  Since that was the case, why ask any of the disciples?  Why ask Philip particularly?

Quite frankly, this was a test to reveal what was deep inside the heart of Philip. 

He, more so than the others, had a reason to have compassion on the crowed.  Philip was from the nearby town of Bethsaida.  Being a local boy, he probably knew many of the people in the crowd.  He certainly knew the area and was aware that feeding them was a logistical and financial impossibility. 

But at the same time, Philip had been with Jesus from the very beginning of his public ministry.  He had seen many notable miracles, particularly the first one, where Jesus turned the water into wine, fully meeting the need in that situation. 

Philip has seen the miracles and heard the teaching, but has that had an effect upon his spirit?  What is lurking deep down in his heart?  Is it faith or unbelief?  

Before we look at the answer to that question, let’s make one point clear.  Jesus already knows what is in the heart of Philip.  This means that the revelation of the condition of his heart is not for the benefit of Jesus.  It is for the benefit of Philip himself.

Holy Spirit often does the same thing for us.  He will allow us to experience a challenge in life to reveal to us what is deep within our hearts.  For example, you may have some unforgiveness deep within your heart, that you either are not aware of, or that you have pushed down and ignored.  The Lord may allow a situation/trial into your life that reveals your hidden unforgiveness to you.  He does this so that you can work with Holy Spirit to remove that evil thing from your life.

While we may be tested for a number of reasons, one possibility during every trial is that Holy Spirit is trying to reveal to you something about yourself.  Although the knowledge may be painful at first, Holy Spirit wants to work with you to bring healing to that area of your life.  So take that into consideration when the next trial comes along.   

John 6:7 – Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.”

Unfortunately, Philip’s heart is not overflowing with faith at the moment!  He has completely missed the lesson of the water into wine – that Jesus is divine; he is sovereign over nature and he can meet any need no matter how impossible it is for us. 

Instead, he thinks in the natural realm.  He wonders how he is going to buy food for thousands of people with what amounts to around $250-300, which is probably all the money the company had. 

The good news is that Jesus isn’t done with Philip (or the other disciples) yet.  Jesus is about to transform Philip’s concept of his divine power, as well as prepare him for the spiritual concept of Jesus as the bread of life.

John 6:8-9 – One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?”

The next few verses mirror what is recorded in the other gospels.  The loaves were made of barley.  Barley was about 1/3 the cost of wheat, so most poor people regularly ate it.  Fish was also a common food for everyone in the region. 

Here is a question we considered as we studied this narrative back in the book of Matthew:  Jesus could have miraculously turned the stones into bread to feed these people, but he didn’t.  Why not?

Turning stones into bread is not an example that you and I can follow.  So instead, Jesus shows us how we should handle such situations.  When God calls us to a task that is too great for us, we should begin by rounding up what we have, and giving or dedicating it to him.  This principle applies to our time, our skills/talents, our resources and even our relationships. 

When we give our all to Christ, there is room for him to come in and accomplish what we cannot do.       

John 6:10-11 – Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.”  Now there was much grass in the place.  So the men sat down, about five thousand in number.  Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.  So also the fish, as much as they wanted.  

The next step is to stay close to God, listen to his voice (not the voices of those around you!) and follow his directions no matter how strange they may seem.  That is how you exercise your faith. 

John says that Jesus told the disciples to have the people sit down.  Mark and Luke are a bit more specific.  They reveal that the disciples were to have the people sit in groups: 

Luke 9:14 – and he [Jesus] said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.”

Once organized this way, it would be very easy to calculate the approximate number of people at a glance.  Just between you and me, I’m not sure that increased the faith of the disciples!  Can you picture that exact moment?  Prior to this, you knew there was a large crowd.  Now you not only know exactly how large that crowd is, you realize exactly how inadequate your supplies are, because you still only have 5 loaves and two fish!  It must have taken a lot of faith to have the people sit down to a meal you had no hope of providing!   

When everyone was seated, Jesus said a prayer of thanksgiving for the food.  This was a typical practice for the Jews. 

In Jewish households, the father would say a prayer of thanksgiving acknowledging God as the source/provider of all their food.  Some of these prayers have been preserved for us in Jewish writings.  For example:

“May God, the ever blessed One, bless what He has given us.”  Or, “Blessed be thou, O Lord our God, the King of the world, who has produced this food and this drink, from the earth and the vine.” 

Of course, this practice has been continued in most Christian households today.

Matthew tells us that Jesus looked up to heaven as he prayed (Matthew 14:19).  However, that is not the only way to pray.  A person may pray with eyes open or shut, standing/sitting/kneeling, while speaking loudly or even whispering.  Your method of prayer may be different from others, but that does not mean that you are not heard by God.  Pray in whatever manner seems natural to you.  Remember, pray is a conversation between you and God.  Just be yourself!

Soon, Jesus would give the loaves and fish to his disciples and tell them to distribute them to the crowd.  The disciples were following the directions of Jesus by faith.  We must do the same.

John 6:12-13 – And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.”  So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten.

As we mentioned in one of our earlier posts, when Jesus performs a miracle, he often gives a follow up command.  For instance, the paralytic who was healed at the pool of Bethesda was told to take up his mat and walk.  In so doing, many more people were made aware of the miracle than just those at the pool.

In this case, the follow up action is to take up the fragments, which verified that more was taken up in the form of leftovers than was originally served as the meal! 

The fragments were gathered into baskets by the disciples.  We are not told the size of the baskets, but it is surmised that they were containers often used by Jews who were traveling.  They carried their own food to make sure that they not only had provisions, but that those provisions met their clean/kosher standards.

This display of the power of Jesus made one thing abundantly clear – God is never out of resources. His supplies never run low.  There is no lack in the kingdom of our Lord.  Anything that the church of Jesus Christ needs in order to carry out the gospel mission will be provided, even when it requires a miracle. 

Do you believe that?  If so, don’t let a lack of resources stop you from a ministry.  If God has called you, he will provide what you need, when you need it.  Nothing is impossible with God!

John 6:14-15 – When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”  Perceiving then that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, Jesus withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

After this miracle, the crowd was convinced that Jesus was the Messiah.  Once they realized this fact, they immediately planned to make him king, against his own will.  This shows that they misunderstood how that office was going to manifest itself during their era of time. 

Jesus repeatedly told the Jews that his kingdom was not of the temporal/natural world, but within the hearts of people; it was an unseen kingdom.  He repeatedly stated that his goal was to do the will of his Father, not glorify himself.  Ultimately, his plan was to lay down his life that we could be freed from the slavery of sin. 

But the Jews weren’t listening.  They continued to entertain their own long held opinions of what the Messiah would do when he appeared.  They expected him to raise an army and throw off the Roman yoke.  They expected him to be crowned king as soon as he appeared.  They expected him to usher in a new political and economic ‘golden age’ for Israel. 

And nothing was going to stop them – until Jesus slipped away from them, and retreated to a place in the mountain by himself. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In this post, we looked at the apostle Philip.  He had seen the miracles of Jesus and heard his preaching, but it had not yet reached a point where it affected his spirit and produced faith. 

Sometimes that is true of us too.  We hear sermon after sermon telling us that God can do the impossible, but we still focus on the natural realm, seeing only the immense difficulties that surround us in this world.

I encourage you to spend some time this week looking at those same problems (both national and personal), under the light of the promises of God.  Do this until you feel faith rising up within your spirit.  Then, go out and do what Holy Spirit prompts you to do!

 Let me offer you some relief:

God is sovereign over all things – nothing is impossible with God!

Let me offer you some strength:

Jesus and the disciples had gone to the mountainside for a little rest and meditation.  The last thing they wanted was a visit from thousands of needy people.  Yet, that was exactly what God brought them!

But along with the people came the strength needed to have compassion and minister to both their spiritual and temporal needs. 

How will you and I react when God sends the spiritually and physically needy to us?  If we are obedient to his will, he will also provide us the strength and resources to do what he is asking us to do.

 

 

     

 

John, Chapter 5, Part 4

John 5:35 – “He was a burning and shining lamp, and you were willing to rejoice for a while in his light.”

Jesus has revealed to the Jewish leaders that he is the Messiah or the Son of Man.  

As we pointed out before, Jewish Law required two witnesses in order to accept something as truth.  God the Father was the second witness who confirmed that Jesus was the Son:  

  • He confirmed it with an audible voice at the baptism of Jesus. 
  • He confirmed it by working miracles through Jesus. 
  • He confirmed it through the Holy Scriptures which had been given hundreds of years before (this is a topic Jesus is about to discuss). 

Although it is hard to fathom, the religious leaders rejected these proofs. 

But Jesus does not give up on them.  Because he wants them to find salvation, he redirects them to the witness of John the Baptist.  Obviously, no human testimony could be as trustworthy as Father God, but as we saw in our last lesson, John was still a reliable witness.  If the Pharisees and Sadducees will impartially consider John’s testimony, it will lead them to confirm Jesus as the Christ, which in turn will lead them to salvation.  In the first chapter of this gospel, John describes Jesus as the true light that comes into the world (John 1:1-9).  Jesus even refers to himself as the light of the world (John 8:12, John 9:5). 

When Jesus is referred to as the light, it is the same Greek word commonly applied to the sun, which is the only source of light for our world.  Without that light, everything in the natural realm would be dead.  This is a fitting metaphor because Jesus is the only source of light in the spiritual realm.  Without him, we would all be spiritually dead.   

John the Baptist, however, is a lesser form of light – he is described by Jesus as a lamp.  Although much, much dimmer than the sun, lamps provide light which help people see the way.  Back in the days of Christ, it was common practice to refer to teachers as lamps or ‘lamps of the law’ because their wisdom and knowledge illuminated the way to God.

In his role as a spiritual lamp to Israel, John was burning and shining.  In other words, he was not dim or shadowy.  He never altered the truth to keep people from being offended.  He was a good teacher; his doctrines were clear, distinct and consistent. 

Jesus declares that for a short time the leaders of Israel willingly/voluntarily went to hear the preaching of John in the wilderness (Matthew 3:7) and they ‘rejoiced’ in his doctrine.  In other words, they acknowledged and accepted John as a prophet.  They were full of joy and delight that John had been appointed to introduce the Messiah. 

But all that changed when the leaders found out that John’s testimony identified Jesus of Nazareth as the Messiah. 

Because that testimony did not line up with their own opinions, their attitude toward John grew cold and hostile; they began to actively oppose him and his message.  

John 5:36 – “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John.  For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”

Every Jew correctly believed that only God could perform miracles.  Because Jesus could perform miracles in his own power, this was proof that he was in unity with Father God and that he himself was divine.    

This is in contrast to the miracles later performed by the apostles, which were NOT done in their own power, but by the power of Jesus:

Acts 3:12, 16 – And when Peter saw it, he answered unto the people, You men of Israel, why marvel you at this? Or why look you so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness we had made this man to walk? …through faith in his [Jesus] name … this man strong, whom you see and know: yea, the faith which is by him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.  

The religious leaders had just discovered the healing of the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda.  Had they been honest and impartial, they would have admitted that nothing less than the unlimited power and love of God could have instantly healed that man.  What was impossible with man, Jesus was able to instantly do with only his spoken word.  This miracle (and others like it) provided irrefutable proof that Jesus is the Messiah, sent from God the Father. 

And if Jesus is the Messiah, then his teaching and doctrine must be correct.  In cases where the doctrine of Jesus was different from the traditions of the elders, the traditions must be rejected.  In cases where the doctrine of Jesus was different from the Pharisee’s interpretation of the law, their interpretations of the law must be rejected. 

Jesus came to fulfill or complete the law and usher in the gospel age.  In order to receive salvation, the Jews had to embrace the gospel message.  Jesus was giving them every proof imaginable in order to open their eyes to this spiritual truth.

It should also be noted that the working of miracles was not the only work which Father God had assigned to the Son; Jesus is doing the ‘works’ [pleural] the Father assigned to him.  It was also his work to fulfill the law, publish the gospel, show us the Father and eventually lay down his life for us.  By doing the collective works of the Father, Jesus proves he is the Messiah.   

John 5:37-38 – “And the Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me.  His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.”

Jesus has revealed himself to the Jews as the Messiah, the Son of Man.  In so doing, he has claimed divinity, making himself equal with God.  Although Jesus has provided clear evidence of his claims, they have rejected the confirming testimony offered on his behalf. 

The Jews have now placed themselves in very desperate situation – they have deceived themselves into believing they are the people of God, but they have rejected the Messiah God sent to save them.    

But Jesus loves them so much, he won’t give up on them.  He now reaches out to them through a severe chastisement of their unbelief and self imposed spiritual blindness.  He plainly tells them that they are rejecting the testimony of the very God they claim as their Father!   

When Jesus says that the Father ‘has himself borne witness about me’, our minds naturally tend to the recent events of that day – particularly the baptism of Jesus.  While that is a true witness, Jesus is talking about something else here.  He is stressing to the Jews that the revelation of God about his identity actually extends over the whole duration of all previous revelation.

As we mentioned before, the revelation of the Messiah began in the Garden of Eden:

Genesis 3:15 – And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

Every single revelation of the Messiah between this promise in Genesis and the words spoken at the baptism of Jesus by John (Matthew 3:17) pointed to/testified about the Messiah and what he would be like.  Anyone who was earnestly looking for the truth would have recognized Jesus, just like the disciples did.   

The Jewish religious leaders, however, were refusing to ‘hear’ God.

In this situation, the word ‘hear’ is not used in the basic sense of auditory function as in God speaking to them with his voice (although that did happen to those who were at the baptism). 

Jesus uses the concept of hearing (his voice you have not heard) as he frequently does during his earthly ministry – to reflect spiritual understanding, acceptance and obedience to the commands of God (Matthew 11:15, Mark 4:9, etc).   

Likewise, the concept of not ‘seeing’ God (his form you have never seen), refers to the refusal of the Jews to understand, accept and obey the commands of God which were clearly manifested to them.   

Sadly, the Jews had a long history of refusing to see or hear God. 

Ezekiel 12:2 – Son of man, you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, and see not; they have ears to hear, and hear not: for they are a rebellious house.  

By refusing to hear or see the truth revealed in the Law and the Prophets, they have cut themselves off from God and their only means of salvation/everlasting life.

John 5:39-40 – “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”

The word translated ‘search’ means to seek diligently or anxiously.  It is typically applied to miners, who search for precious metals.  They search anxiously and intensely because they understand the value of the metal they search for. 

In the same way, the Jews had indeed searched the Law and the Prophets, or what we know as the Old Testament.  They were anxiously and intensely looking for the way to eternal life; they wanted to be reconciled to God. 

So far, so good… the Jews were looking in the right place for the truth.  All throughout the scriptures God left a testimony/witness to the Messiah he was going to send.  The scriptures predict his coming, the manner of his life and death, that he will be a future king and many other things (Isaiah 53, Daniel 9:26-27, 1 Peter 1:10-11, Luke 24:27, etc). 

And all of these scriptures lead to one inescapable conclusion – Jesus is the Messiah!      

So, those who are diligently searching for the Messiah will find evidence or confirmation of him in the scriptures.  The Messiah will in turn lead them into eternal life through the gospel.  Thus, the scriptures certainly do contain eternal life, by pointing the way to Jesus.  

But those who choose not to hear or see will miss the witness of God.  They, like the Jewish leaders, will reject the gospel of Jesus, which effectively cuts them off from the ONLY source of eternal life.

This is a point that we never want to lose sight of – Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through him.  Only He can save us (John 14:6, Acts 4:10-12).

The world is confused on this point.  They want to promote coexistence or the idea that all religions lead to God by different paths.  Like the Jews of that day, they are looking for any other way to be reconciled to God EXCEPT through Christ.  But until they reach out to him, they will never find eternal life. 

John 5:41 – “I do not receive glory from people.”

The Jewish leaders themselves were very desirous to have the glory of the common people.  Many of the things they did such as public prayers, giving of alms, having long fringes on their garments, sitting at the places of honor at feasts, etc, were all designed to earn them the glory of men. 

So naturally, when Jesus says he is the only way to the Father, these wicked men will surmise that Jesus is just like them – he is out to gain glory for himself from the common people.  But as we know, nothing could be further from the truth.

Jesus never sought worldly pomp and glory for himself.  He charged those he cured not to make him known and withdrew from those who wanted to make him king.  He was always humble and meek; he received far more dishonor/disgrace than honor/glory during his incarnation.    

 John 5:42 – “But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.”

The Jews professed to have a sincere love for God and thought they proved it by their zeal for the law, the temple and the Sabbath. 

But Jesus charges them with being void of love for God.  And they prove his point when they reject him as Messiah.  If they had a true love for God, they would love his Son and do everything in their power to obey him because love and obedience go hand-in-hand:

John 14:21 – He that has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is that loves me: and he that loves me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.   

Furthermore, Jesus knows they do not have the love of God because he can search their hearts (Revelation 2:23, Jeremiah 17:10, Psalms 44:21).   The common people thought the Pharisees and Sadducees were very devout men, but Jesus can see straight through all the pretences, facades and disguises that masked the evil within their hearts.    

John 5:43 – “I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.  If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.”

False Christs come in their own name, for their own honor and they engage in war against earthly enemies.  But the true Messiah came to bring honor and glory to his Father and to wage war against sin.   

This is yet another proof that the Jews do not love God.  They were willing to embrace and follow after any and every false prophet who fit their opinion of who the Messiah should be – an earthly King and warrior who would free them from Rome and/or grant them secular riches and honor.  But they rejected the true Messiah who faithfully discharges the duties given to him by God the Father. 

  John 5:44 – “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”

The religious leaders had one major obstacle to receiving Jesus as the Messiah and finding salvation.  The obstacle was a toxic combination of pride, vanity and ambition.  They thrived on the praise of men; all of their hopes and dreams were rooted in the honors of this life. 

If Jesus had presented himself to them with earthly glory and splendor such as wealth, political influence, a good family heritage, military prowess, etc, the religious leaders would have welcomed him with open arms.  In that scenario, they would have received honor for being a part of his ministry. 

But Jesus came ‘lowly, riding on a donkey’ (Zechariah 9:9).  He was humble and of a lowly rank in the world.  He was only interested in pleasing his Father; he had no ambition or desire for his own glory.  Anyone who chose to follow him had to adopt the same standards.

Consequently, in order for the religious leaders to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, they must forfeit the praises of the multitude.  They must renounce their own ambitions for Israel to defeat Rome.  They must swallow their own pride and admit that some of their teachings were wrong; they would need to fully accept the teaching of Jesus. They would need to ‘take up their cross’ and follow Christ in seeking honor from God alone and not man.

Until this toxic obstacle is removed, they cannot and will not believe in Jesus because a proud/ambitious heart will never bow to the humble terms of the gospel message. 

The good news is that the obstacle is present because of man’s will, not his ability.  In other words, worldly pride remains as long as men cling to it.  But everyone has the ability or option to let pride go and submit themselves to the gospel and thus inherit eternal life. 

Even though many religious leaders of that day continued to hold onto their pride, there were also those who renounced it and found salvation through Christ.  They made the decision to seek glory from God, not men.  This is the only kind of honor and glory that lasts forever.

John 5:45 – “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father.  There is one who accuses you:  Moses, on whom you have set your hope.”

Jesus is the savior and judge of the world, not its accuser.  Nevertheless, the unbelieving Jews will be accused before God – by Moses.  This is ironic because the Jews actually preferred and trusted in Moses over Jesus:

John 9:28-29 – Then they reviled him, and said, You are his [Jesus] disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples.  We know that God spoke unto Moses: as for this fellow, we know not from where he is.

On what grounds can Moses accuse the unbelieving Jews? 

The law, which all Jews held as sacred, was given to the Jews through Moses (John 1:17) and by it they believed they would find salvation.  Had they truly ‘heard’ and obeyed it (and the other writings of Moses), they would have discovered that the whole of the ceremonial law pointed to Jesus as the Messiah – he is the fulfillment of the law and the cornerstone of the gospel.

While the Jews cling to Moses as their spiritual leader, they refuse to ‘hear’ what he reveals about Jesus as Messiah; they are choosing to be spiritually blind.  The decision to intentionally disregard the testimony/witness/word of Moses is the basis on which Moses can accuse them before God.

John 5:46-47 – “For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me.  But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”

The writings of Moses pointed to Jesus as the salvation of the world in a multitude of symbols and figures.  These are found all through the Old Testament in the history of the patriarchs, the ceremonial law and the sacrificial system. 

These writings were shadowy representations of the birth, life, sufferings, death and resurrection of Jesus, Savior and Redeemer of the world.  Besides all this, the Jews also received numerous other prophetic words relating to the Messiah.

In addition, Moses gave them rules to use in distinguishing a true prophet from a false one (Deuteronomy 13:1-3, Deuteronomy 18:15-22, etc).  If they would have applied these rules to Jesus, they would have proved him to be a true prophet of God.

Now, if the Jews will not believe the writings of Moses, whom they held in the highest honor, why would they believe the words of Jesus, whom they despised? 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

The Jews of that day are not the only group of people to disregard the law of God (the Bible), when it disagrees with their own views and desires.

There is a little bit of this tendency in all of us.  For instance, when God says to honor your parents, that doesn’t apply if you have bad parents, right?  Or when God says to love your neighbor, that doesn’t apply if your neighbor is an idiot, right? 

You get the idea!  I encourage all of us to examine our own lives.  We should ask Holy Spirit to reveal areas in our life in which we have disregarded the commands of God because it doesn’t line up with our own views and opinions.

Let me offer you some relief and strength:

Jesus referred to John the Baptist as a lamp.  But a lamp back in that day was very different than what we have now.  Their version of a lamp was like a bowl of oil with a wick.  In order for the lamp to keep burning, you had to routinely replenish the oil.

In the scriptures, oil is often used to symbolically represent the person and work of Holy Spirit. 

So how brightly is your spiritual lamp burning?  Are you spiritually ‘running on empty’ and maybe trying to accomplish spiritual things in your own strength?  If so, you need to get refilled by Holy Spirit!    

I recommend turning off your phone, your music, your computer and your TV.  Spend some quiet time with Holy Spirit and the word of God.  Soon, your spiritual strength will be renewed!

John, Chapter 5, Part 3

John 5:25 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”

Welcome back, readers!  We are continuing our study of John 5, where Jesus is revealing spiritual truths to the Jewish religious leaders.   

Again, we notice the double use of the word ‘truly’ in this verse, which signifies that something profound or important is about to be shared.  In this case, Jesus is shedding light on the topic of death, a concept he introduced back in verse 24. 

In the scriptures there are two kinds of death (and life): physical and spiritual.

Physical death is the separation of the body and soul.  Physical life is present when the soul and body are united. 

Spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.  Spiritual life is present when the soul is united to God. 

In this discussion, Jesus is speaking of spiritual death.  Spiritually speaking, you could picture the entire world as a vast spiritual and moral graveyard, full of the stench of death and decay, rotting away in the darkness, without any sign of eternal life.  Why is that?  It’s because each one of us was born in a state of sin, which separates us from God.  All of us came into this world physically alive, but spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1, Colossians 2:13).    

But then the ‘hour’ or perfect time for redemption arrived, and God sent Jesus the Messiah into the world.  When spiritually dead people hear the voice of Jesus (the gospel) and receive it, they transition from spiritual death to spiritual life.  They rise up from the spiritual grave, whole and sound, full of eternal life because they are united to God, the source of all life.

Holy Spirit then works through each believer to spread the gospel message, bringing spiritual life to many others. 

John 5:26 – “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself.”

Father God is the source or fountainhead of all life.  He himself does not derive life or existence from any other source, nor does he depend on anyone or anything to sustain him.  He is unchanging; he always existed, exactly as he now is (Psalms 90:2, Malachi 3:6).  It is not surprising that he identified himself to ancient Israel as “I AM” (Exodus 3:14), a phrase that denotes perpetual ‘right now’ existence/life. 

Furthermore, He is frequently referred to in the scriptures as ‘the living God’ (Joshua 3:10, Jeremiah 10:10, Acts 14:15, etc).    

Before Jesus came to earth in a body of flesh, he had that same life, power and authority in himself as an equal member of the Godhead.  But when he took on a body of flesh, he emptied himself of his divine attributes. 

Thus, Father God had to give the power and authority to raise people in spiritual life (and to pass judgment on the world) to Jesus during his incarnation, so he could fulfill his role as Messiah (John 1:4).  This is what Jesus is explaining in this verse.

This was something the religious leaders in Jesus’ day needed to understand.  Spiritual life could not be obtained by the law.  Rather, the law pointed to the need for a mediator or Messiah between God and man.  Jesus had come as that Mediator; therefore God the Father had imbued Jesus and his word (the gospel) with the power of eternal life.  If the Pharisees and Sadducees rejected Jesus, they were rejecting the only means of eternal life.           

John 5:27 – “And he has given him authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man.”

We now come across the phrase ‘Son of Man’ which is used numerous times in the scriptures.  By default the Messiah is divine, but he is also human and has a human nature.  This is why the expression ‘Son of Man’ was used by the Jews to signify the Messiah.

God has given his Messiah authority or dominion, which denotes rule/government.  God has appointed the Messiah to be King, to govern the world; to exercise the power of God himself.  

This authority encompasses everything necessary to execute perfect judgment.  It includes the power to physically raise humans from the dead, the ability to understand the actions/thoughts/motivations of each person’s entire life, and the authority to sit in judgment of all living things.

As a side note, we do not possess any of the qualities needed for just judgment.  Therefore, we are told NOT to judge one another (Matthew 7:1, Luke 6:37).  To do so is to usurp the office of Christ; to unseat him and take his place of authority.  Is that something you want to do?  If not, then don’t judge!    

Acts 17:31 – Because he [God] has appointed a day, in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained [Messiah]; and of this he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead.   

Jesus is NOT a cold hearted, ruthless judge who delights in punishment.  He has all the feelings of compassion and benevolence we could ever hope for in a judge.  After all, he walked in our shoes:  He subjected himself to life in a body of flesh.  He was tempted by the enemy.  He was part of a family.  He went to school.  He worked as a carpenter.  He experienced pain, sorrow, hunger and fatigue as well as joy and happiness.  He knew both friendship and betrayal.  He was misunderstood, slandered and rejected.  Simply stated, he knows what it is like to be human.  Where would we find a more qualified or compassionate judge than Jesus?

And speaking of compassion, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Though there was nothing good in us, he sacrificed his life so that we could be forgiven.  He can never be accused of being heartless or indifferent to our sinful human state (Philippians 2:7-10). 

 John 5:28-29 – “Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.”

The phrase ‘do not marvel at this’, indicates that the Jews were astonished.  However, there is a difference of opinion about what astonished them. 

Some think the Jews were astonished that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.  How could the ordinary man standing before them be the Messiah and the judge of all the earth? 

His family was quite ordinary.  He was a simple carpenter.  Jesus didn’t seem to be a great military man; he was certainly not gathering an army to challenge Rome.  He wasn’t rich or even prosperous.  Jesus spent his time with ‘sinners’ rather than associating exclusively with the elders of Israel.

Jesus certainly did not fit the image of the Messiah that the religious leaders had in their minds.  Thus, they were astonished at his claim to be the Messiah.   

Others think the astonishment is attached to the Messiah being given sovereign and supreme authority/power to raise the dead and execute judgment.  The Jews believed this was something only Father God could do.

Regardless of which opinion is correct, Jesus goes on to assure the Jews that there will be a general resurrection and a universal day of judgment for both the righteous and the wicked.  There will also be corresponding rewards and punishments in the next life.

Daniel 12:2 – And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Now obviously, not every person who walked the earth is buried in a tomb.  Some have been devoured by animals or disintegrated by explosions or lost at sea.  The phrase ‘in the tombs’ is a figure of speech which simply refers to everyone who is already physically dead.  Even though we cannot distinguish the atoms that made up their bodies, Jesus can.  He is well able to reassemble them, and call them forth at the final resurrection.         

The righteous are raised by virtue of their union with Christ; they rise to everlasting life.  They also receive rewards, based on their earthly service.  The wicked are raised by the power of Christ as judge; they rise to everlasting death and punishment, also based on their earthly life. 

We can’t help but notice there is no middle ground, no straddling the fence, no playing both sides, no demilitarized zone.  You are either in one camp or the other.

Furthermore, Jesus indicates that the resurrection and subsequent judgment is not a ‘maybe’ thing, or an ‘if’ thing.  It is a sure and certain thing, for each and every person.  The ‘hour’ or the specific time for this event has already been determined by God the Father.  It will happen, and YOU will be a part of it.    

May this scripture be a reminder to us that we need to be about the Father’s business TODAY, because none of us are guaranteed tomorrow!   

John 5:30 – “I can do nothing on my own.  As I hear, I judge, and my judgment is just, because I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me.”

I can do nothing on my own – Jesus the Messiah does nothing without the approval of the Father.  Whatever he does, it is in complete agreement with the will of God.

As I hear – ‘Hearing’ refers to the things which the Father showed the Son (John 5:20).  Jesus has come to communicate and reveal the will of God to mankind.

I judge and my judgment is just – ‘Judge’ means to determine or decide.  When Jesus passes sentence on mankind at the end of time it will be true and just because he will determine their destiny according to what the Father wills and wishes.  In other words, He will judge justly/righteously.

I seek not my own will, but the will of him who sent me – Jesus assures the Jews (and all mankind) that he has no hidden agenda or private design/aim of his own.  The judgment of Jesus will be perfect, righteous and just because he is in complete unity with the Father and always acts according to his eternal will.  Unlike human courts, there will be no mistrial or appeal when Jesus judges, because his judgment is perfect.

John 5:31 – “If I alone bear witness about myself, my testimony is not true.”

According to the Law, there had to be two witnesses in order to establish something as a fact.  The testimony that Jesus gave of himself was one witness.  The Jewish leaders had a right to expect that the claims of Jesus would be confirmed by another source. 

John 5:32 – “There is another who bears witness about me, and I know that the testimony that he bears about me is true.”

The second confirmation of Jesus as the Messiah is God the Father.  God spoke to the ancient prophets through Holy Spirit, describing the person, office and miracles of the coming Messiah.  The Jews had read the Old Testament Messianic prophecies over and over and over.  No person other than Jesus ever fit the descriptions given of the Messiah, and they knew it.

Again, we see the wickedness of the Jewish religious leaders.  They claim to believe the holy scriptures are of God, yet they refuse to believe in Jesus, even though the scriptures clearly describe/testify of him. 

God also testified about Jesus with an audible voice during his baptism (Matthew 3:17).

Finally, the miracles that Jesus performs testify/prove that he is the Messiah.  No one could do miracles, except by God the Father. 

In John 3:2, we saw that miracles drew the disciples to Jesus and convinced them that he was the Messiah.  In the same way, the miracle of the paralytic man being healed should have been a sure sign to the religious leaders that Jesus was the Son of Man.  

Jesus knows or is certain that the Father’s testimony of him is true, because it is impossible for God to lie.  Even the unbelieving Jews could not reject the testimony of the Father!

So again, the second confirming testimony that Jesus was the Son of Man, came from Father God. 

Jesus is going to delve further into the testimony of the Father in verse 36.  But before he continues, he wants to confront the Jews with a human testimony – that of John the Baptist.    

John 5:33 – “You sent to John, and he has borne witness to the truth.”

God the Father is the only other witness Jesus needs to confirm that he is the Son of Man, however, there is also human testimony – that of John the Baptist.

What makes John’s testimony trustworthy?

  • He is completely free from all self interest.  He does not use his ministry or his reputation for his own personal gain.  In fact, he urges his own disciples to leave him and follow Jesus.
  • He is true, sincere and adverse to any kind of flattery.  As evidence of this, we see him reproving Herod of sin at the hazard of his own life and freedom.
  • John did not know who the Messiah was until God revealed it to him.  God told John that when the Spirit descended upon a certain man and remained there, that man was the Messiah.  Until that occurred, John did not know his identity (John 1:32-24).  Because of this, there could be no collusion between Jesus and John for a false testimony.

Furthermore, identification of the Messiah was a revelation directly from God and it was confirmed by the voice of God. This confirmation is recorded by all of the other gospel writers (Matthew 17:5, Mark 1:11, Luke 3:22).

So if the Jewish leaders were looking for human testimony of Jesus as the Messiah, John was a legitimate source.

John did not seek out the Pharisees and Sadducees – they came to consult him!  And John responded with the truth – Jesus is the Messiah.  Yet the leaders turned around and rejected John’s testimony.

Why would you seek the truth from a trusted source and then reject it, unless it wasn’t what you wanted to hear? 

John 5:34 – “Not that the testimony that I receive is from man, but I say these things so that you may be saved.”

Jesus does not need the testimony of John to validate his role as Messiah.  He brings it up for the sake of the Pharisees and Sadducees. 

As we know, they chose to send a delegation to John to inquire about the Christ.  John responded with a testimony of Jesus that was clear, full and explicit. 

Jesus, desirous that the religious leaders would accept the gospel message, encourages them to accept the true witness that John had provided for them.  If they will listen to the witness of their own choosing, they can still be saved (John 1:29).

Jesus did not and does not need the testimony of any man.  But that does not mean that your testimony isn’t powerful – it is!

The scriptures tell us that we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony:

Revelation 12:11 – And they overcame him [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto death.

Your testimony does two things.  One, it encourages you.  It reminds you that God can be trusted and depended on.  As the enemy is attacking you, he tries to make you think that God is nowhere to be found and you are alone.  But your testimony reminds you that God sticks closer than a brother; God came through for you in the past, and he will do it in your present circumstance as well.  Your testimony builds up your own faith.

Second, your testimony is a huge encouragement to others.  It builds up their faith and gives them hope. 

  • Have you overcome cancer?  Share that testimony with those who are battling that disease right now. 
  • Have you lived through a major loss like divorce or death of a spouse/child?  Don’t hide that experience away.  Use it as a testimony that will help sustain someone else when they are at rock bottom. 
  • Have you been delivered from an addiction?  That is a powerful testimony to others seeking freedom. 

Your testimony can and will help someone else overcome.  So don’t keep it to yourself.  Use it for the glory of God.

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Time has a way of quickly flying by.  Before you know it, days turn into weeks.  Summer turns to fall and then winter.  (Notice I didn’t say, ‘winter turns into spring’.  That particular event seems to take forever sometimes!)  All joking aside, we lead such busy lives that some things we plan to accomplish just don’t get done.

Take a few minutes to stop and examine your long term goals and plans.  What are you doing for the kingdom of heaven right now?  Is there something God whispered into your ear, but you just haven’t done it yet? 

If so, I encourage you to make that thing a priority.  Our time on earth is like a vapor; it disappears as quickly as it came.  So let’s redeem whatever time we have left.   

Let me offer you some relief:

Have you ever made a poor decision in life and it caused you to travel a difficult path?  You might be tempted to think that was a waste, but let me offer you some relief – it wasn’t!  God can redeem every circumstance of our life, even when we mess up. 

He can use that difficult time to draw us closer to him, to mature our faith, to impart wisdom and to give us a testimony that will help others to overcome.  So don’t despise your past mistakes.  Use them for the glory of God and the good of others.

Let me offer you some strength:

There is an old saying, ‘No good deed goes unpunished’.  The meaning is that people who take a stand and do the right thing often suffer for it, instead of being rewarded. 

But you and I know that Jesus, the perfect judge, knows everything that we do.  When the final resurrection takes place, he will right every wrong and reward his saints for all they have done in this life.  So strengthen your resolve to do what is right, no matter what the outcome, and let Jesus handle your reward.  

 

John, Chapter 5, Part 2

John 5:17 – But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now and I am working.”

As you may recall from our introduction to the gospel of John, we noted that many of the truths presented in this book can be easily understood/grasped by new believers.  But at the same time, these concepts also have very deep, far reaching implications ready to be discovered by mature believers. 

The remainder of John chapter five contains these types of truths.  I hope that you will carefully read and make time to meditate on the concepts revealed in today’s post.  If you are willing to do so, I believe you will become better acquainted with Jesus.  Let’s begin.

Our prior post examined the work of Jesus as he healed the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda.  We saw that this was an illustration of mankind being infected with the deadly disease of sin.  We had no cure for this disease; no way to free ourselves from spiritual death.  But, hallelujah, Jesus does!  Through his shed blood and great mercy, he has provided spiritual life for each individual who wants to be healed from sin.

We also learned that Jesus performed this miracle on the Sabbath.  This fact caused a lot of consternation among the Jewish leaders, because they considered this healing to be a violation of the Sabbath law.

No doubt the religious leaders were wondering exactly who or what Jesus was.  Was he a trouble maker, a heretic or a false Messiah?  Was he a peculiar new prophet?  Was God really speaking through him?  Should he be embraced or confronted?  Supported or opposed?

On one hand, the religious leaders cannot deny that he has performed multiple miracles, which can only be done by God.  They cannot deny that he teaches with authority and great crowds are embracing his doctrine. 

But on the other hand, he refuses to be bound by their religious traditions or their interpretation of the law.  He challenges their authority and their doctrine.  He does not fit their pattern of what the Messiah should be.   

In the midst of their confusion, one point remains crystal clear.  The Pharisees and Sadducees had to make a decision about Jesus.  They could no longer ignore him, his actions or his teaching because he was turning the religious world upside down!  They must decide to be for Jesus or against him.

In the remainder of John chapter five, Jesus gives the Pharisees and Sadducees a clear picture of exactly who he is.  He unveils the will and character of Father God to them.  He offers them insight into some deep spiritual truths. 

He gives them a number of proofs which prove that he is the Son of God/part of the Godhead or Trinity; he is divine.  Jesus also gives them several proofs that as God, he is Lord of the Sabbath. 

As the spiritual leaders of the nation, this was information the Pharisees and Sadducees should have been ready to receive, examine and evaluate.  It was their duty to impartially consider the facts before them, comparing it to the truth that had already been revealed.  Had they done so, they would have concluded that Jesus was indeed the Son of God, the promised Messiah.

But of course, we know they did not.  They chose to remain spiritually blind.  But thankfully, we don’t have to make the same choice.  The truths presented to the Jewish leaders have been recorded by John.  It is now our privilege to examine them, and make our own decision regarding Jesus!

The first revelation that Jesus gives them is this: ‘My Father is working until now, and I am working’.

In other words, God ceased creating on the seventh day but he never stopped working – even on the Sabbath:   

  • God still makes the sun rise and set (Genesis 8:22). 
  • He still brings out the constellations at night (Job 9:7-10). 
  • He still and causes growth in the grass, trees, crops etc (Deuteronomy 11:14, Jeremiah 5:4). 
  • God is still bringing babies into the world and calling believers home to heaven, seven days a week (Psalms 137:16).  

In short, He continuously governs and actively sustains creation 24/7.  This includes moving forward with his eternal plans and purposes, like sending his Son into the world to redeem it.  

Are you comforted by the fact that God is sustaining the world?  That should give you peace in the midst of the storms of life.  For even more comforting facts, read Psalms 139.

How does this fit in with the Sabbath?  While the law required creation to rest on the Sabbath, God is not bound by the law or by the tradition of man or by time itself – he is eternally free to act at any point.  He can and does work outside of our concept of time. 

Now that we have a better understanding of what Jesus meant when he said ‘the Father is working until now and I am working’, let’s discuss the reaction of the religious leaders to this truth. 

By calling God his Father, Jesus claims unity and equality with God.  Thus, Jesus reveals that He is not just an ordinary prophet or a teacher – he is much, much more!  He is the Messiah, the Deliverer, the Lion of Judah, the Redeemer that had been promised since the fall of man (Genesis 3:15).      

Furthermore, because Jesus is unified with God/part of the Trinity, He was also present with God during the creative process (John 1:1-3).  In fact, nothing that was created was made without him.  This reveals/proves that Jesus is equal in nature and power with the Father.  Just as God the Father continues to sustain and uphold all life on earth, so too does Jesus:

Hebrews 1:3 – He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power…   

Secondly, since Jesus is one with God (John 10:30), Jesus claims the same exemption from the law which God had.  In other words, the Sabbath law which did not bind God did not bind him either (Luke 6:5).  

This meant that Jesus had the right to do as he wished on the Sabbath; He could impose or repeal laws in the same manner as God the Father.  He had the divine right and authority to tell the healed paralytic to carry his mat on the Sabbath.  He has in NO WAY violated the law, because he is divine and he is doing divine work at the behest of the Father; he is constantly working to save the lost and further the kingdom of heaven (Mark 2:28).

[As a side note, there was also the issue of the Jews twisting the observance of the Sabbath.  While they condemned Jesus for healing on the Sabbath (they considered it work), they were all in favor of work that would benefit them, such as rescuing one of their animals on the Sabbath.] 

The Jews simply refused to even consider the truth of this statement.  In their eyes, the statement of Jesus was utter blasphemy which was punishable by death (Leviticus 24:16).     

John 5:18 – This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

So the Jewish leaders chose to reject the truth that Jesus presented to them.  In fact, his revelation enraged them even more. 

What about us?  What are some principles we can find in this passage?  What can we find to meditate on this week that will bring us reassurance and strengthen our faith?

For starters, we need to stand up for the truth of the gospel knowing that evil men and women will lash out against us and probably accuse us unjustly.  That is what happened to Jesus and we can expect some of the same treatment (John 15:20).  This exact thing is happening more and more in our current cultural and political environment.  We can find examples of it nearly every day.  But we don’t need to fear or be ashamed of the gospel.  As we stand in faith, God will be glorified and he will draw sinners to himself.

It also reminds us that many people rejected the truth which Jesus presented to them.  We can expect nothing different; not everyone will embrace the gospel message we share with them.  Nevertheless, we must continue to sow and water the seeds of the gospel and rely on Holy Spirit to bring forth the fruit.  Don’t give up if you don’t win someone to Christ every time!

The world around us seems very chaotic right now and it is no secret that our nation is divided.  But even in the midst of that, we can have peace knowing that God is working.  Nothing is happening that he is not acutely aware of; let’s continue to put our trust in him.

Isaiah 43:2 – When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you: when you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned; neither shall the flame scorch you.

Now is the time for us to increase our faith in him.  Now is the time to declare that his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Now is the time to pray, like never before.  Now is the time to stand firm and let our light shine before the world.    

John 5:19 – So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing.  For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.”

Having stated the extent of his authority, Jesus now proceeds to reveal its source and nature. 

Jesus begins with a statement of the role/position of the Son.  The Son, who Jesus has just confirmed to be equal to the Father, does nothing independently or in a state of rivalry with the Father.  Because of the union between the Father and the Son, the Son only does that which is commanded by the Father; everything the Son does is in accordance with the nature and will of God.  The Father and Son (and Spirit) are in a state of complete unity, alike in existence and action.  

Accordingly, the Son only does what he sees the Father doing.  This extends to all actions of God including the works of creation and providence, in making laws, and in governing the universe. 

Furthermore, since the Son is doing whatever (or all) the Father is doing, then he too must be almighty, omniscient, omnipotent and infinitely perfect.  In short, he MUST be God.   

What did this mean to the Jewish leaders back in the day of Christ?

Simply put, Jesus is demonstrating the relationship between God the Father and the Son (himself).  They are unified in all respects.  So if the Jews continue to deny, condemn or object to the miracles of Jesus, they would actually be fighting against God himself.   They cannot claim to honor God while despising Jesus.  Yet, this is exactly what the Jewish leaders determined to do – the continued to claim God as their Father, while rejecting the ministry of Jesus.

This is the same kind of heresy that is often found in false religions.  They claim to be following God, but they assign Jesus to the role of a mere prophet or messenger.  They put him on the same level as many of their own earthly prophets, denying his divinity.    

Of course we recognize God as the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  The works of the Trinity are never divided; they are always in perfect unison.  Yet, at the same time, they are also distinct.  For this reason, we often ascribe some of the workings of God to the Father (such as creation and providence), some to the Son (such as redemption) and some to Holy Spirit (such as sanctification).  The Trinity is a mystery we could meditate on for a lifetime!   

John 5:20 – “For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing.  And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel.”

The Father loves the Son – The world in general and many of the Jews specifically hated Christ.  We saw the beginning of this hatred right here in the gospel of John, when Jesus left Judea for Galilee (John 4:1-3).  This rejection and hatred was prophesied long ago in the book of Isaiah:

Isaiah 49:7 – Thus says the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despises, to him whom the nation abhors, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD who is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he has chosen you.

Though Jesus was hated by mankind, his Father loved him.  God loves Jesus because of their eternal relationship and also as the Messiah sent by him into the world to finish the work that was assigned to him.   

Shows him all that he himself is doing – Father God does not conceal anything from his Son Jesus.  The Father shows/reveals all of his plans in making and ruling the world so that Jesus the Son can take appropriate actions in forming and creating the church. 

Likewise, Holy Spirit will take appropriate actions to see that the will of God is accomplished on earth.  This is another example of distinction in the Godhead/Trinity, as well as unity of action between them which result from a unity of their natures, wills and love.

This shows a significant difference between Jesus and human prophets.  The prophets only ever knew the tiniest fraction of the workings/plans/purposes of God.  The vast majority of what God was doing was hidden from their understanding.  But it was never hidden from Jesus, because he is the Son.

Here is something to meditate on – the bible speaks of the church ruling and reigning with Christ.  In order to do that, we too would need to know his plans and purposes.  What is God speaking to you in this age?

And what about eternity?  What do you suppose God has planned for his bride (the church) in the ages to come?  What plans do you think he has for you personally?

Greater works than these/that you may marvel – The miracle referred to here was the healing of the paralytic at the pool of Bethesda (and proof of authority over the Law).  As we have discussed, this was a profound miracle done by the hand of God; no mortal man could have helped the paralytic.  But this was only the smallest sample of what God has in store for mankind.

Jesus will demonstrate works of greater power than the curing of the paralytic. For instance, he will raise people from the dead, both physically and spiritually.

John 5:21 – “For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will.”

Anybody can kill someone; no special power is required to do so.  People have been killing each other since Cain and Abel.  But bringing people back to life is another story entirely!  That is a power attributable only to God. 

In the Old Testament, two instances are recorded in which a prophet of God brings someone back to life.  The first was when God used Elijah to raise the son of the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:8-24).  The second was when God used Elisha to raise the son of the Shunamite woman (II Kings 4:32-3).

The Jews never doubted that God alone had the power to raise people from the dead.

Jesus demonstrates that power when he too raises people from the dead.  But he will not do so as a mere instrument of God’s will and power as Elijah and Elisha did.  Jesus raises people to life in the same way God does – by wielding the same authority and power according to his own will.  Again, the logical conclusion is that he must be divine; he is equal with God.

But that’s not all!  Jesus will do a work far, far, far greater work than just restoring physical life to Lazarus and others.  He will ‘give life’ or quicken infinite numbers of people (including you and me) from spiritual death, demonstrating once again that he is God.  He is the Messiah.  He literally couldn’t be anyone else!  (How could the Pharisees be so blind to the truth?) 

John 5:22-23 – “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.  Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

Jesus says that the Father has given him sole authority to exercise judgment in regards to mankind.  This is an office reserved exclusively for the Son; Neither the Father nor Holy Spirit pronounces judgment. 

The power of judging the world implies the ability to search/know the heart of man, as well as omniscience to understand the motives of the heart.  This is work that only a divine being can accomplish.  Once again, the Jews are left to draw the only possible conclusion – Jesus is divine. As the Son, he is equal to the Father.

And once again they are warned that rejection of Jesus is also a rejection of God the Father.

John 5:23 – …that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father.  Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.”

What does it mean to honor someone?  To honor someone is to hold them in high estimation, to respect, praise and venerate them; to obey them.  Honor can be paid in words, actions and the attitude within our hearts.

We honor Jesus when we ascribe to him the same level of honor, power and authority that we give to God the Father.     

The converse is also true – the person who does not honor Jesus in the same manner as Father God does not truly believe on him, regardless of what he or she may say.  Such a person is in operating in disobedience to God. 

Now, if the Son is to be honored just as the Father is, then the Son should be worshiped and praised.  But to worship any creature or any thing other than God is idolatry.  So if Jesus receives praise and worship from us, then once again, he MUST be God.  Otherwise, he would be a false god, just like Baal.

It is astonishing that the Jewish leaders could continue to hate and reject Jesus after so many convincing proofs that he was the Son of God and the Messiah of the world.

Yet, perhaps we should not be too surprised because many people in our own generation reject him also.  

John 5:24 – “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.  He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.”

The repeated use of ‘truly’ alerts the reader that a deeper spiritual truth is about to be revealed.  This truth refers back to the phrase ‘the Son gives life to whom he will’, in verse 21.  When reading that phrase, one might be tempted to conclude that Jesus picks and chooses who he will give eternal life to.  But here Jesus explains that is not the case!

Jesus offers salvation to all men; indeed it is the will of God that none should perish but that ALL people should be saved (I Timothy 3:2-5).  The gift of eternal life is not limited by God; it is limited by human receptivity.  All who both believe and hear will receive eternal life.  Those who do not believe and chose not to hear will die in sin, even though Jesus freely offers them forgiveness.  God allows each one of us to choose either life or death.

‘Hear’ is one of the key words in this verse.  It does not refer to the physical act of listening to words.  It refers to receiving a concept or principle (the gospel) in a proper manner, to let it make an impression on the mind, to let it affect or change the heart.  The word ‘hear’ is often used this way in the scriptures (Matthew 11:15, John 8:47, Acts 3:23, etc).  The gospel will be preached in all the world, but not every person will ‘hear’ or receive it.

Hearing is linked to believing.  One must believe that Father God sent his Son Jesus to redeem us from sin:

John 3:17 – For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  

Again, we see the unity of the Father and Son (and Spirit).  The Son’s word is the revelation of the Father.  He that hears this word believes not on Jesus only, but on the Father who sent him. 

At the same time, faith in God is only possible through forgiveness of sin by the blood of Jesus; faith in the blood of Jesus is only possible by the conviction of Holy Spirit.  Therefore, eternal life is only possible by the unified working of the entire Trinity or Godhead.

Furthermore, Jesus makes it very clear in this verse that those who believe on him have eternal life.  This promise is in the present tense – you have that eternal life right now.  It is not something that you will be given in the future; you received it as soon as you were brought into relationship/communion with God, the source of all life. 

The one who posses eternal life does not come into judgment because there can be no condemnation for him.  He cannot be separated from God.  He has already passed from a state of death in sin to a state of life in Christ.  All that remains is for that life to develop in eternity.    

 Let me offer you some encouragement:

As we mentioned in this post, God is not bound by law or tradition or by time.  Yet he does bind himself to something – his word!  (Meditate on that!)  God tells us through the prophet Jeremiah that he always watches over his word to perform it (Jeremiah 1:12). 

If you are not in the habit of ‘praying the word’ or claiming the promises of the bible for yourself and your family, I strongly encourage you to start doing so!   

Let me offer you some relief:

Some of the concepts we studied in this post are, well, hard to comprehend.  But that’s okay.  All Christians are at different levels of maturity and understanding.  Holy Spirit works with each one of us on an individual basis to take us into deeper levels of understanding.  So don’t feel inadequate if you didn’t understand it all.  Just hang in there and keep studying with Holy Spirit!

Let me offer you some strength:

God is working – right now – in your life!  Sometimes we get caught up in our problems and trials and we don’t think they will ever end.  But if we examine our past, we find that is not true! 

Review your own personal history right now.  I bet you will see that God has been working in your life all along, even when you didn’t see it.  He certainly uses different situations in life to mature you spiritually or draw you closer to him, but in the end he always brings you through!  Let his presence strengthen you right now, in the midst of your situation.   

 

John, Chapter 5, Part 1

John 5:1 – After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

In our last post, we studied the second miracle that Jesus did in Galilee – healing the official’s son even though he was not present to see or touch the boy.

Sometime after that, Jesus and his disciples went up to Jerusalem for a feast.  John is not specific about which feast it was, and nothing can be gained by vain speculation.  Obviously, we don’t need to know in order to understand the spiritual principles in this passage, so we won’t bother to enumerate the many possibilities that have been given.

In any case, Christ came to Jerusalem partly because the Law commanded it and partly because there would be huge crowds of Jews present, which made this an opportune time to share the gospel.  The particular incident mentioned at the beginning of this chapter has important spiritual implications for all of mankind, but particularly the Jews.

John 5:2-3 – Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades.  In these lay a multitude of invalids – blind, lame, and paralyzed.  

As we all know, the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by a wall.  Here is a trivia question for you:  How many gates did the wall contain? Can you name them?  You can find the answer at the end of today’s post.

The gate mentioned in this passage is the sheep gate, which is situated in the northern portion of the wall.  It was the gate closest to the temple.  It is so named because the sheep (and oxen, goats, etc) which were taken into the city for temple sacrifice were led through this gate. 

Near to the sheep gate was a ‘pool’ or a small lake used for bathing and/or swimming.  The pool was named Bethesda which means ‘House of Mercy’.  Around the pool were five porches or colonnades, which afforded shade from the intense sun and shelter from the rain.  Large numbers of blind and crippled people gathered under these porches.

Why would they choose to be there?      

John 5:4 – ** waiting for the moving of the water, for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water:  whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.

John 5:4 is missing from some of the earliest biblical manuscripts.  Thus, there is some controversy over whether or not it is a genuine part of scripture.  Check your own Bible.  You may find it recorded in one of the margins of your own copy, rather than between verses three and five.   

For the purposes of our study, we are going to consider it a valid portion of scripture, for the following reasons:

  • There is no conclusive evidence that it is NOT true.
  • Scripture supports both supernatural healing, and the ministry of angels to mankind.
  • Springs with medicinal properties still exist today.
  • The historian Josephus does not mention the pool of Bethesda in his writings, however, there are also many other important places and events that he does not record.
  • The Jews of that day believed God was responsible for these healings; they regarded this as proof of the mercy of God (hence the name).

So what was going on here?

The natural waters of this pool/lake/spring seem to have had some kind of medicinal properties.  This in itself is not really supernatural; there are natural springs today which are reputed to have healing properties as well.  In this case, the medicinal properties were activated or concentrated when the water was agitated in a certain way. 

The peculiar or supernatural part of the story is that God, in his mercy, would send an angel to periodically stir up the water and facilitate the healing of incurable diseases.

There is nothing to suggest that the people ever visibly saw the angel.  What they were looking for was a bubbling or agitation of the surface of the water.  This was the signal that healing was available. 

We are told that this occurred at certain seasons.  It is likely that those who were in need of healing knew exactly when those seasons were going to occur, so at the approximate time, they would gather under the porticos/porches to wait and watch.  

It should be noted that this process provided for the healing of diseases and afflictions that had no known cure.  If not for the stirring of the water, these people had no hope of getting better. 

It should also be noted that the scripture does not say these people were instantly healed.  If indeed it was the medicinal properties of the water that did the healing, it was most likely that the healings occurred gradually over time.

Speaking of time, when did this stirring of the water begin?  When did it end?

Nothing can be precisely determined, but there is almost universal agreement that the healings began close to the time of the coming of Christ.  

The gift of prophesy and the working of miracles had been withdrawn from the Jews for the last 400 years.  These healings awakened and raised hope/expectation within the minds and hearts of the Jewish people that the Messiah was shortly to arrive.  The events at the pool caused them to look for other signs of his coming.  Perhaps these healings were partly responsible for drawing people to the ministry of John the Baptist. 

At the very least, these miracles of healing gave them hope that God still remembered his people.  This was of great comfort to them as they lived under the tyranny of the Romans. 

As for when the miracles stopped, there is less agreement but many believe they ended with the crucifixion.

 John 5:5 – One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.

Wow!  We are not specifically told what the actual infirmity of this man was, but we do know that it was paralytic in nature – it prevented him from walking.  His weakness was considered incurable by physicians. 

Back in those days, there were no social programs to assist people as there are today.  Since the man’s weakness rendered him unable to walk, he was also unable to work.  He was a victim of both disease and poverty.

Everyone who came to the pool had probably seen this man and knew of his plight.  Thus, this miracle cannot be disputed.   

John 5:6 – When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”

At that moment in time, Bethesda was truly the ‘House of Mercy’ because the God of all mercy had entered it!

In the midst of this throng of people, Jesus then walks up to this one particular invalid and asks him if he wants to be healed. 

At first glance, that seems to be a strange question; who wouldn’t want to be healed?  But the question actually has several purposes:   

  • First, it reminds the invalid of his helpless state – without the mercy of God, he has no hope to escape his bonds of disease/affliction. 
  • Second, it kindles hope and faith in his heart, preparing him to receive his miracle. 
  • Third, it grabs the attention of everyone else in the portico. 

Let’s picture the scene.  There are dozens and dozens of afflicted people crammed into the porticos intently watching for the water to be stirred.  They are not passing the time talking or playing cards or looking at their phones.  They have a single unrelenting focus – to be healed by being the first person into the water when it is stirred up. 

Now imagine Jesus (speaking loudly enough for all to hear), bringing up the possibility of a complete healing for this invalid without getting into the water.  Don’t you think it would have caught the attention of literally everyone there?  I am sure they turned their attention to Jesus immediately.  This put them in the position of being witnesses to the miracle that was about to take place. 

In turn, the miracle they witness prepares the people to hear and receive the gospel message that will bring them eternal life.

John 5:7 – The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”

The man’s answer implies that he did indeed wish to be healed, but in addition to all of his other problems, he had no friend or relative to help him into the water.  Practically speaking, his chances of being the first one in were zero.  He was utterly helpless and alone.

This answer reveals a lot about the man.  Like the official with the dying son, he limits God.   His mind can only see one path to healing – getting into the water first.  But God has something much greater in store for him.  The goodness and mercy of God extends far beyond the narrow limits of the invalid’s faith and imagination.  Thankfully, it does in our case too!

What miracle are you looking for?  Does it seem as impossible as this man being healed?  With God, nothing is impossible.  Even when you don’t see a way, God has it all under control.  Just stay in faith, and don’t limit God… he is very likely to do something that surprises you!     

John 5:8 – Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.”

If the invalid possessed the ability to walk around carrying his own bed, there would be no need for healing; no reason to be at the pool.  Clearly, this was a command that he could not complete in his own strength. 

Thus, we are presented with a spiritual principle that is still true today – God is made perfect in our weakness. 

2 Corinthians 12:9 – And he [God] said unto me [Paul], My grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather boast in my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

What has God called you to do for his kingdom?  Are you a witness in your work place?  Are you feeding the homeless or ministering to the addicted?  Are you taking ground for the kingdom through political office or other places of leadership?  Are you starting your own company?  Do you ever feel like you don’t have the strength to complete the task you were assigned?  Well, good – that means you are on the right track!

God never calls us to do things that we could do in our own strength.  If he did, we would take all the credit for the accomplishment.  But when we give him room to work in the midst of our weakness, the task is completed and he receives the glory for it.  When he is glorified, men are drawn to him and they receive salvation. 

If you ever find yourself growing weary, stop and remember the example of the invalid at Bethesda:  God gave him the strength to do as he commanded.  God was glorified in his weakness.  God will do the same for me and you!

Here is some further encouragement for you:  The man had his heart and mind set on being healed through the water, but in a single instant Jesus did more and greater things for him than the water ever could!  So lean into Jesus and let him bring about the victory. 

John 5:9 – And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.  Now that day was the Sabbath.

Remember, the stage has been set to accomplish great spiritual things through this miracle.  The man has a long public history of being disabled; his situation is well known in the community.  On the day Jesus shows up, the portico is crammed with people waiting for the water to be stirred. Jesus has called attention to the man by asking him if he wants to be healed, then he gives him the command to rise up and walk.

The man’s sudden and complete restoration to health is an incontestable miracle!  It proves the divinity of Jesus and it shows that God is moving among his people.

But why does Jesus tell him to carry his bed?  What purpose does that serve? 

If we take a general look at the miracles of Christ, we find that he frequently connects a miracle with some kind of action which attests to its truth.  For example, after the miracle of the loaves and fishes, Jesus instructs the disciples to collect the leftovers, which were more than the actual lunch they started with.  This bears witness to the miracle. 

Another example would be the water turned into wine.  After the miracle had been performed, Jesus made the servants take the first cup to the master of the feast, to bear unbiased witness to its goodness and genuineness. 

In this instance, the man was told to carry his bed around, to show that his weakness/infirmity was completely vanquished and he was totally healed.  Thus, those who were not present at the actual healing event under the portico were still witnesses to the miracle when they saw him carrying the bed.  There were probably many more witnesses to him carrying the mat than there were to the actual healing by the water. 

This brings up another issue.

The scripture tells us that this miracle occurred on the Sabbath.  It was a violation of the Law to carry any burden or perform any work on that day (Jeremiah 17:21-22, Nehemiah 13:15-19).  At the time of Christ, violations were punishable by death or scourging. 

We can be sure that the timing of this miracle was no accident.  Jesus is proving that he is the divine Son of God and therefore, he is Lord of the Sabbath.  Because he was the one to give the command to the healed man, it was therefore lawful. 

Jesus did many of his miracles on the Sabbath to prove that the Jews misconstrued the Sabbath law.  They obeyed the letter of it (do no work) but not the spirit of it.  This is proved by the question of Jesus as he healed the man with the withered hand:

Luke 6:9 – Then said Jesus unto them, I will ask you one thing; Is it lawful on the Sabbath days to do good, or to do evil?  To save life, or to destroy it?

Over and over Jesus proved to the Jews that he was Lord of the Sabbath.

John 5:10 – So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed.”

The religious leaders of the day certainly had the right to question the actions of this man.  Unfortunately, they were not interested finding the truth.   

For example, they completely ignore the miracle this man presented.  Here was the very man they had seen countless times over the years in a state of paralysis, unable to even walk.  No physicians had been able to cure him.  They probably watched year after year as he grew weaker and weaker, while slipping into abject poverty. 

And now he is walking around, completely healed!  At that very moment they were witnessing an undisputed miracle, and they knew it!  This should have played a major role in their inquiry.  Instead of rushing to instantly condemn his actions, they should have stopped and examined the evidence with an open mind. 

Had they done so, they would have been immediately drawn to Christ. This demonstration of his authority and power over disease should have led them to conclude that Jesus was not only the Messiah, he was Lord of the Sabbath too. 

John 5:11 – But he answered them, “The man who healed me, that man said to me, ‘Take up your bed, and walk.’”

This common man is making more sense than the religious leaders!  In his mind, the one who healed him was at the very least a prophet and the healing was performed by divine authority.  Therefore, it was lawful for him to obey whatever divine command he was given, even if it contradicted the law or the traditions of the elders.  Therefore, he had no misgivings about carrying his bed on the Sabbath, and displaying the miracle of God to the masses. 

John 5:12 – They asked him, “Who is the man who said to you, ‘Take up your bed and walk’?”

Again, instead of examining this miracle and acknowledging the hand of God in it, the Scribes and Pharisees stubbornly chose to focus solely on what they believe to be a violation of the law.  Their envy and anger are aroused against the person who healed this man!  Can you believe it?  Because of the hardness of their hearts, they are missing the day of their visitation!      

John 5:13 – Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place.

Immediately after the miracle, Jesus slipped unnoticed into the crowd that was there.  By doing so, he avoids a confrontation with the unbelieving religious leaders.  He also avoids another danger – becoming the favorite of the fickle crowd, who would probably have wanted to make him a king so he could fight Rome.    

For his part, the newly healed invalid is only concerned about the fact that he is now healed; he hasn’t yet thought to stop and thank the man he perceives to be a prophet.

John 5:14 – Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, “See, you are well!  Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.”

The healed man seems to have gone at once to the temple, which would have been a privilege for him, since he could not go for so many years.  It was certainly proper for him to give thanks to God for his cure (although the best thank offering would be to live a holy life).

Jesus finds him at the temple and admonishes him to ‘sin no more’.  The implication is that the infirmity of this man had its root cause in some prior sin.  The command to cease from sin is most likely attached to that one fault; Jesus is not commanding him to be perfect in every aspect of life from that day forward.  Rather, the man should repent of that sin/fault and never participate in it again.  For example, if it was drunkenness that caused his problem (there is no evidence that this was the case; this is just an example), Jesus is instructing him to repent and never drink again. 

Further, Jesus warns him about falling back into sin.  This proves that Jesus not only knew the secret past sins of this man’s life, but he knows the future too – if the man returns to his former habits, something worse than 38 years of sickness will occur. 

John 5:15-16 – The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him.  And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.

The man, still full of joy, went to the religious leaders and told them it was Jesus who had healed him.  His motivation was to honor Christ and make him known to his fellow Jews so they too could experience his power and goodness.  (Had his motivation been to betray Jesus, he would have told the Jews it was Jesus who directed him to ‘take up his bed and walk’). 

But his innocent intentions backfired.  The reaction of the religious leaders is to persecute Jesus – to oppose him, to try and ruin his character, to destroy his popularity, even to slay him.

What is the main cause of their jealousy? 

One, Jesus did not operate within the narrowly defined parameters they had assigned to God.  If Jesus had healed this man on a different day, perhaps things would have been different; but healing on the Sabbath was just unacceptable!   

What about us?  We must guard against becoming religiously rigid and self righteous like these Jews.  What if Holy Spirit moves in your church next Sunday in a way that he has never done before?  Will you embrace the mercy and power he shows to people, or will you be angry that the service was ‘weird’? 

What if God touches someone in the next praise service and they dance, or shout or laugh or loudly weep?  Will you be offended and indignant, or are you ready to embrace the move of the Spirit?

We say that we desire God to move in our midst, but we often fail to leave him any room in which to work.  Like the Jews, we try to keep Holy Spirit in the narrowly defined parameters that we have set for him.   What would happen if we spent some time in prayer before our next church meeting, giving Holy Spirit the freedom to minister without any of our preset limits?  What if we didn’t follow the clock so closely?  Do you think He would show up in a powerful way?    

The second cause of the Jews’ jealousy was their loss of power and prestige.  For many generations the Pharisees and Scribes enjoyed being treated as the ‘royalty’ of the nation.  Whatever they said or decreed as tradition was immediately put into practice.  When Jesus came and began to tear down those traditions, he was also tearing down the little kingdom of power and authority they had set up for themselves, and they hated him for it. 

In fact, they had so much pride and blind fury that they sought to kill Jesus – nothing but his blood would satisfy their vengeance.  Pride is a sin that causes us to sin against others and it always leads to our own downfall (Proverbs 16:18).  We need to guard against it at all costs.  

Let me offer you some encouragement, relief and some strength:

Did you recognize the paralytic man in this bible passage?  If you saw a reflection of yourself in him, you are right on target!

In the beginning of the paralytic’s life, he was healthy and whole.  In the beginning of time, God created mankind without sin and placed us into the Garden of Eden. 

At some point, the paralytic physically embraced sin and it completely ensnared him.  It robbed him of his health, his relationships, his money, his work/ability to accomplish things, his peace, his joy and his right to go into the courts of the temple.   Likewise, mankind embraced sin and it spiritually ensnared us.  We too were robbed of our health, relationships, money, work, peace and joy.  We lost the right to enter into the throne room and presence of God.

No one could help the paralytic; neither could he help himself.  There was no cure for his disease.  No physician could free him from the bonds of paralysis.  In fact, his disease got steadily worse as the years passed.  Spiritually speaking, mankind could not help himself overcome or cure the problem of sin.  There was no known cure in the world of man; there was no one to break the bondage of sin in our lives. 

But then Jesus came into the house, bringing his mercy with him!  He asked the paralytic if he wanted to be healed.  Likewise, Jesus asks this same question to each and every person.  If we want him to, Jesus will spiritually heal us.  He will free us from the bondage of Satan and restore us to spiritual health with his blood.  

The paralytic did two notable things after his healing:  He obeyed the command of Jesus to carry his bed, and he went into the house of God to give Him glory.  Once we have been redeemed by Christ, we too should be drawn into obedience.  We too should be ecstatic at the opportunity to enter into the presence of God. 

In truth, this was the lesson Jesus wanted to convey to the Jewish people.  But unfortunately, the religious leaders missed the message entirely.  They found themselves on a tangent that further ensnared them; their path did not lead to life.

Is it possible that this has happened to you too?  Have you somehow taken a wrong turn and you are not as close to Jesus as you used to be?  Is something driving a wedge between you and the Lord?  If so, let me offer you some relief.           

You can make things right between you and God right now.  If you have never had a relationship with him before, you can have one now by praying the following prayer, and meaning it from your heart:

Dear Jesus, I confess to you that I am a sinner.  I am sorry for all the wrong things I have done and I ask you to forgive me.  I believe that you are the Son of God, that you died on the cross and rose again, and that your blood paid the price for my sin.  I invite you to come into my heart and life and to be my Lord and Savior.  I commit myself to you right now.  Thank you for saving me from death and giving me the gift of eternal life.  Amen.

If you have prayed a prayer similar to this in the past, but your love for God has grown cold, you can pray to Jesus right now, asking that your relationship be restored.  Just speak to him from your heart and confess your sin; he already knows what has happened and he still loves you

In either case, begin to walk in obedience to God’s commands, and spend time in his presence thanking him for healing your sin problem. 

TRIVIA ANSWER:

The wall of Jerusalem contained 10 gates.  They are:  The Sheep gate, the Inspection gate, the East gate, the Horse gate, the Water gate, the Fountain gate, the Dung gate, the Valley gate, the Old City gate and the Fish gate.  You can find all of this information in Nehemiah chapter 3.

 

John, Chapter 4, Part 4

John 4:43-44 – After the two days he departed for Galilee.  (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.)

Back in verse 3 of this chapter, the author tells us that Jesus departed from Judea on his way to Galilee.  He left Judea (the area where he was ministering/baptizing) because of hostility from the Jewish leaders, particularly the Pharisees.  Taking the most direct route to Galilee, he and his disciples passed through Samaria where they wound up spending two days ‘harvesting’ souls for the kingdom.

At the end of two days, Jesus and the disciples resumed their journey to the region of Galilee, bypassing the city of Nazareth where Jesus was raised. 

Why did Jesus choose to bypass his home town?  Because he knew he would not be respected or honored there.  This is a general rule which was true of many holy men and women in the scriptures.  For example, Joseph was despised by his brothers when he began to have prophetic dreams (Genesis 37:5-8) and David was distained by his brothers when he was moved to fight Goliath (1 Samuel 17:28-29).

The root cause of this type of rejection is most likely pride and envy.  People do not want to be instructed, corrected or ruled over by those they knew as children. 

Just to be clear, Jesus did not bypass Nazareth because people might hurt his feelings.  The problem was an attitude of unbelief, springing from the sinful hearts of the townsfolk.  Their overwhelming and vehement unbelief would prevent or halt any ministry that Jesus desired to work in their lives.  As a result, ministry in that place at that time would be ineffective. 

You may find the same type of rejection when you try to minister to some people in your family.  If so, don’t worry.  God will either bring someone else into their life to share the message, or bring them to a place where they are willing to allow you to share the gospel with them.       

John 4:45 – So when he came to Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast.  For they too had gone to the feast.

Unlike the people of Nazareth, the Galileans are eager to welcome Jesus and embrace his doctrine. 

This is a wonderful example of God’s promise to Isaiah that his word/message is never unfruitful – it ALWAYS accomplishes his will.   

Isaiah 55:11 – So shall my word be that goes forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.

This is of great comfort to us as well.  Even when you don’t think your testimony is making any difference, it is!  Keep planting and watering the seeds of the gospel and Holy Spirit will eventually bring forth a harvest for the kingdom.

In this particular case, the Galileans had first heard Jesus/the Word (John 1:1, 1:14) when they traveled to Jerusalem for the Passover.  In Jerusalem, they witnessed his miracles and heard some of his teaching, which activated/strengthened their faith and made it possible for them to receive the message/gift of eternal life.

Did you catch the hidden significance here?  Obedience brings blessing.  God commanded all Jewish males to present themselves at his temple three times a year (Exodus 23:17).  No doubt, there were many Jews who did not obey this command.  No doubt, they had many fine excuses for not obeying (I’m too busy, it’s too expensive, I hate crowds, etc).

But those who did come were blessed.  They encountered God and discovered things about him which would not have been revealed to them otherwise.  They positioned themselves to receive both spiritual and physical gifts and blessings. 

Are you walking in obedience to all that God has commanded you?  If so, you can live in a state of expectancy because God does not change.  He still has physical and spiritual gifts/blessings reserved for those who walk in obedience. 

Again, let me ask you:  Have you positioned yourself to receive these treasures?  The Galileans did, and they were not disappointed!  However, if you refuse to place yourself under the open window of heaven, then don’t complain or blame God when you don’t receive!    

John 4:46 – So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.  And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill.

John now begins to relate a specific miracle which the other gospel writers only mention in passing (Matthew 4:23). 

It involves an official (your translation might say ‘nobleman’), who lived in Capernaum, approximately 20 miles from Cana.  Many opinions have been given as to the identity of this man.  Some identify him as an officer in the court of Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee.  Others think he was Chuza (Luke 8:3) or Manaen (Acts 13:1), but there is not enough evidence for a definitive identification. 

What we do know is that this man was a father, who had a sincere love for his son.  We also know that the son had some kind of serious illness, which could not be cured by the medical profession of that era. 

John 4:47 – When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

I believe that every parent reading this post can sympathize with this official.  He is desperate to save the life of his child, and he will do anything, go anywhere, pay any amount and try anything in order to make that happen. 

Fortunately for him, he has heard testimonies of people who have been touched and healed by Christ.  These testimonies cause his own faith to activate and he sets out to find Jesus and beg him to come to Capernaum.      

This brings up an interesting point.  Obviously, the official has a measure of faith, but there is certainly room for growth.  He believes that Jesus can heal his son, but he believes that Jesus must come to Capernaum in order to do so.   

In his mind, the power of Jesus is connected to his bodily presence.  In other words, Jesus had to be right beside you, or perhaps touching you in order to heal you; therefore, Jesus’ power was limited. 

This in turn suggests that the official viewed Jesus merely as a prophet of God who had the ability to work miracles in order to prove that he was from God.  The man does not understand that Jesus is the Messiah, the incarnate Son of God and nothing is impossible for him; there are no limits to his power and ability.    

As we pointed out in our introduction, the divinity of Jesus is one of the main focuses of John’s gospel.  One of the reasons Jesus healed this boy may have been to show that his power was not limited; because he was divine he could heal people in any location on the globe with just a word. 

John 4:48 – So Jesus said to him, “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.”

Jesus now offers a rebuke not only to the official, but to all the Jews who were present. 

By this time there were many, many credible testimonies of the miracle working power of Jesus; there was ample proof that Jesus had been sent from God.  The logical outcome was for the Jews to listen to the teaching of Christ and apply his instruction to their own personal lives.  Belief in his word/doctrine should lead them to deeper spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

But instead of maturing spiritually, they continued to crave demonstrations of the miraculous to satisfy their own curiosity and desires.    

The apostle Thomas (aka Doubting Thomas) demonstrates this same weakness and lack of faith when he refuses to believe Jesus has been resurrected, despite the credible testimony of the other apostles.

John 20:25 – The other disciples therefore said unto him [Thomas], We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.

The desire of these people for miracles was in sharp contrast to the Samaritans, who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, without any miraculous demonstrations at all.

Jesus is calling the Galileans out on this in order to get them past the point of being spiritual babies. It is time for them to begin feasting on his word and maturing in their faith.       

John 4:49-50 – The official said to him, “Sir, come down before my child dies.”  Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.”  The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.

Clearly, Jesus has heard the desperate plea of this father.  He does not rebuke the man as a preface to denying his request.  Rather, he uses this occasion to correct the fault that was preventing all of the Galilean Jews from exercising true/complete faith in him. As we will discover later, Jesus is not afraid to cause people a bit of earthly discomfort in order to bring about their spiritual good.  

Meanwhile, the official continues to display ignorance and lack of faith.  He urgently renews his request for Jesus to come to Capernaum; he does not believe that Jesus can heal from Galilee or that Jesus can help him once his son dies.  It never even enters into the mind of the official that Jesus is capable of raising his son from the dead. 

Nevertheless, Jesus honors the measure of faith that the official has.  By simply speaking a few words, Jesus heals the boy who is 20 miles away without ever seeing him or laying hands on him.    

This stunning demonstration of divine power wipes out the unbelief of everyone who was present.  Their spiritual eyes are opened and they now perceive Jesus as the Messiah, the divine Son of God.  Thus, the kingdom of God continues to advance on the earth. 

As for the official, he departs for home in a state of peace and hope.   

John 4:51-53 – As he was going down, his servants met him and told him that his son was recovering.  So he asked them the hour when he began to get better, and they said to him, “Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him.”  The father knew that was the hour when Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.”  And he himself believed, and all his household.

As the official was making his way home, he was met by servants of his own household bearing good news – his son had recovered from his illness; there was no longer a need for Jesus to travel to Capernaum.

So… was the child healed by the power of God or some natural cause?  In order to confirm what really took place, the father asks what time his son started to feel better.  His servants respond by indicating that the fever left the child suddenly and entirely at 1 o’clock. 

When the father realizes that a complete healing took place at the exact time that Jesus declared it, the miracle is confirmed!  This was not a natural occurrence – Jesus had instantly healed his son from miles away!      

As a result of this miracle the official’s entire household (wife, children, parents, servants, etc) believed that Jesus was truly the Messiah, the Son of God, and they become his disciples. 

John 4:54 – This was now the second sign that Jesus did when he had come from Judea to Galilee.

What lessons can we take away from the demonstration of this second miracle? 

For starters, we are reminded that God has infinite power to heal.  The scriptures tell us that Jesus took stripes on his back to provide healing for us:

Isaiah 53:5 – But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.

This is a verse we are all familiar with.  We routinely refer to it when we pray for people to be healed.  But much like the official of Capernaum, our thinking is often way too small and limited.   

Let me explain. There is nothing in Isaiah 53:5 that limits healing to our physical bodies.  Go ahead… read it again and see.  The truth is that Jesus has not only provided physical healing for us, he paid the price for emotional healing, mental healing, relational/relationship healing, financial healing and any other healing we may need.  He specializes in giving us beauty for the ashes we have in our lives (Isaiah 61:3). 

And there is more good news.  It doesn’t matter who or what was at fault.  For example, if you went through a nasty divorce and you came out of that marriage emotionally scarred, Jesus is there to provide your emotional healing, even if you are partially or completely responsible for the situation.  Hallelujah! Let your faith strengthen and grow.  Trust in God for any and every kind of healing you may need.   

Secondly, we need to understand that God’s power to heal is infinite and he always honors his promises, provided that we do not shut him out with our unbelief.  In this passage of scripture we find Jesus chastising the Jews.  The purpose of that was to bring them into a fuller measure of faith, which gives Him more room to work in their lives.  The same is true for us.  It is essential that we take every opportunity to stretch our faith, so that it grows and strengthens, preparing us for even greater gifts and assignments from God.  Unbelief is one of the only things that can prevent God from working on your behalf.  

Third, the official experienced a delay before his request was answered.  Who among us has not experienced the same thing?  But delayed answers to prayer always serve a purpose in our lives.  They draw us into closer fellowship with Jesus.  They mature our faith.  They provide testimonies to those around us.  They can actually bring people to salvation.  Need an example?  Consider Lazarus.

As you recall, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were siblings who all loved Jesus.  In fact, Jesus sometimes spent the night at their house.  One day, Lazarus gets sick to the point of death.  Mary and Martha send word to Jesus that they need him quick!  And what does Jesus do?  He delays coming to them for two additional days, waiting for Lazarus to die. 

The delayed answer to their prayers caused them anguish, yet God used their suffering to bring many people to Christ:

John 11:44-45 – And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with grave clothes: and his face was bound about with a cloth. Jesus said unto them, Loose him, and let him go.  Then many of the Jews who came to Mary, and had seen the things which Jesus did, believed on him.   

 We will discuss this more fully when we arrive at chapter 11 of John’s gospel, but just so you know, if God has delayed in answering your prayer it isn’t because he didn’t hear you.  It’s because he is doing something much greater than you can imagine.

Finally, we note that Jesus did not answer the prayer of the official in the way he expected (the same could be said of Mary and Martha).  This was also true for the woman at the well when she asked Jesus for living water.  We can expect the same thing.  Again, the truth is that many times we ask for something that is too small; God answers us in another way because he desires to give us something much, much better or bigger or of more worth than what we asked for (Ephesians 3:20, Isaiah 55:8-9). 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

In this chapter, we see that Jesus cured the official’s son from a distance.  This was something that had never occurred before.  Because it did not fit into the expectations of the people, it blew their minds! 

Let me offer you this encouragement:  Stop limiting God by your small thinking and small confessions!  Paul tells us that God is able to do exceedingly and abundantly above anything we could ever think (Ephesians 3:20). 

So who are you going to believe in your situation?  The God of the impossible, or your friends who are telling you there is no hope?      

Let me offer you some relief:

Jesus did not deny the request of the official because of his small faith.  But he did bring about circumstances that would multiply the faith he had. 

Perhaps you recognize a lack of faith in your own life.  Let me offer you some relief – your faith can multiply and strengthen.  Begin by reading and meditating on the scriptures (Romans 10:17) and look for opportunities to trust God.

Let me offer you some strength:

God is not adverse to delaying the answer to some of our prayers, for our greater good, or the good of his kingdom. 

When the answer to your prayer seems delayed, that is no time to give up!  It is time to dig your knees or face into the carpet and steadfastly continue to bring your request before the Father. Strengthen yourself, for in due season you will reap if you do not give up!

 

John, Chapter 4, Part 3

John 4:30 – They went out of the town and were coming to him.

In our last post we were informed that the Samaritan woman left her water pot at the well and hastily went into town.  She went for the express purpose of informing her fellow citizens that she may have discovered the long awaited Messiah. 

Her testimony of Jesus must have been very convincing indeed, for we find that the citizens of Samaria paused right in the middle of a work day, and went to the well to check out her story. 

As this verse indicates, they were ‘coming’ or on the way to see Jesus, but had not yet arrived.  The conversation between Jesus and his disciples in verses 31-38 takes place before the Samaritans actually arrive.

Let’s take this opportunity to comment on the ‘mission field’ of this woman.  Where did she go to share her discovery of the Messiah?  That’s right – her own home town; her own neighbors and friends.  She shared the good news with the people that knew her faults and mistakes.  Many of them probably knew her history and had met several of her husbands.  Because they knew her and saw her excitement, they were willing to come and hear Jesus for themselves; she was a convincing witness because they already knew her.

We too, should consider our own friends, neighbors and cities as our primary mission fields.  While God does call some people into full time mission work in foreign lands, the number is relatively small.  Most of us are called to reach those in our own circle of influence.  Let’s start sharing the gospel there, and see how God uses us.  If he needs us to go to a foreign country, he will let us know. 

John 4:31-32 – Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”  But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.”

For their part, the disciples have no idea what is going on.  They are all hungry and tired.  They are concerned about the well-being of their teacher, who seemed too tired to go into town with them.  They return with provisions only to find Jesus actually (gasp!) speaking to a Samaritan woman in public! 

Unsure of what to do, they keep silent and wait to see what would happen.  The woman left almost immediately and the disciples see this as their chance to refresh Jesus with food and water.  Their actions were completely natural.

But as they offer Jesus some much needed food, he surprises them again by saying ‘I have food you know nothing about’. 

John 4:33-34 – So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?”  Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”

In keeping with their worldly outlook, the disciples are sure that Jesus is talking about physical food.  Although they can’t imagine who would have done it, they are sure that somebody had fed Jesus. 

But just as he did with the Samaritan woman, Jesus turns their eyes from the natural realm to the spiritual. 

The great design of Jesus’ life was to do the will of God.  There can be no doubt that he arrived at the well physically fatigued, thirsty and hungry.  But when the opportunity to save even one lost soul opened up, he embraced it with his entire being.  It absorbed all of his attention, making him forget his weariness and fleshly desires. 

Jesus makes it very clear that doing the will of God and accomplishing his work should be our main objectives in life.

Is it possible that we have lost sight of this?  For the most part, we devote a lot of time, energy and money to avoiding any semblance of fatigue, hardship or discomfort.  Obviously, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the comforts of this life, as long as they are kept in the right perspective.  

What priority does the avoidance of discomfort take in our lives?  Is our main consideration to seek a steady supply of our wants/desires?  What are we willing to sacrifice to see a move of God – some meals, some social media time, an hour of sleep?   

Furthermore, Jesus didn’t just begin the work that God ordained for him, he completed it.  His last words were, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30).  The apostle Paul was also confident that he had accomplished God’s will for his life.  He said to Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (II Timothy 4:7).   

 Are we living our lives with the same goal in mind?  Or have we been side tracked by the pleasures of this world?  Is it possible that God has called you or me to a work that we joyfully began, but then we walked away when the going got tough (or when the discomfort set in)? 

Jesus should be our model in this area.  He was so absorbed in doing the will of God that he forgot everything else.  As he earnestly did the will of God, he rose above all hardship, bearing it with pleasure if it meant doing the will of God.  He was completely focused on his spiritual/eternal mission, and earthly things took second place.  

John 4:35 – Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’?  Look, I tell you lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”

We have already seen that Jesus exhibits an intense desire to bring men to God.  He is so intently focused on his mission that he forgets about his hunger, his thirst and his fatigue. 

He is now attempting to stir up a fervent desire in his disciples for the same thing. 

As he often does, Jesus begins with an example in the natural realm, which helps explain a spiritual principle.  In this case, he reminds the disciples of some common knowledge:  you can expect a harvest after a fourth month wait.

In other words, the farmer who plants corn does not expect to harvest it immediately.  He expects to sweat and labor today knowing that he will not reap his harvest for about 120 days.  In the natural, it takes time for the seed to sprout, take root, grow to maturity and produce fruit. 

But in the spiritual realm, the seed of the gospel message produces immediate results.  Jesus shared the gospel message with the Samaritan woman a short time before the disciples returned.  The message that was planted in her life has already sprouted and taken root.  Already it is producing a harvest – not only does she believe, but she is bringing many more souls to Christ from her village.  Unlike a crop in the natural realm, it took only a matter of minutes for the gospel to produce a spiritual harvest. 

If the disciples will look around with their spiritual eyes, they will see that there are entire ‘fields’ of sinners with fertile hearts that are ready to accept the good news of the gospel (John the Baptist had prepared the hearts of many to accept Christ, Luke 1:17).

They will be ripe for ‘harvesting’ for the kingdom of heaven almost immediately (the Samaritans are a good example of this).  But if the disciples are not focused on this spiritual harvest, they will miss their opportunity to both plant/sow and harvest/reap.

Eventually, after Holy Spirit empowers them during Pentecost, they will not only sow the gospel message to the Jews in Jerusalem, but the message will be carried to Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the world; souls will be harvested for the kingdom in every Gentile nation (Acts 1:8).   

We too should take every opportunity to sow and harvest in the kingdom.  We need to ‘lift up our eyes’ or focus our attention on spreading the gospel message and bringing souls to Christ.

John 4:36 – “Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together.”

Jesus is the Lord of the harvest and he is the perfect example of sowing and reaping.  He sowed the gospel message into the life of the Samaritan woman and reaped a harvest of souls before the day was over!

Jesus invites us to participate in his work.  He recruits and equips people to sow the seed of the gospel message into the lives of sinners.  He sends Holy Spirit to empower that seed to come to life.  He also recruits and equips people to harvest souls – to assist sinners in making a decision for Christ.  Obviously, the harvest is a team effort that requires planters, harvesters and Holy Spirit.  Because we all have the same goal (to win souls to Christ) we can all rejoice together.

This truth should eliminate much of the envy and strife in religious circles.  When a ministry eclipses ours, or the church in the next city experiences a big influx of people, we should not be jealous.  We should always rejoice when the kingdom of heaven is expanding on planet earth.  Paul puts it this way:

1 Corinthians 3:6-8 – I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase.  So then neither is he that plants anything, neither he that waters; but God that gives the increase.  Now he that plants and he that waters are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.

Did you notice that Jesus says the laborers in his kingdom receive wages?  Paul says those who labor in the kingdom receive a reward.  Either way it is evident that God will compensate those who choose to work for him. 

Stop and consider that for a second…. God calls us and equips us to share in the labor of his kingdom.  But that labor would be in vain if Holy Spirit did not make the gospel come alive in the life of a sinner.  Once Holy Spirit does his work, we can then reap that soul for the kingdom.  So God not only calls us, but he makes us successful and then rewards us for our success!  It’s really astonishing, if you think about it!  God is so good to us!   

John 4:37-38 – “For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’  I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor.  Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

If the disciples were reaping a harvest, then someone before them had to have planted the seed.  Who would that have been? 

One example would be the prophets of old, who constantly sowed the laws of God and the promise of the Messiah into the lives of the Israelites.  During their darkest days, God still gave the prophets words of encouragement and hope for his people.  God constantly spoke of the coming Redeemer, who would save and bless Israel.

But it was more than just the prophets.  Public ministers, like John the Baptist sowed the seeds of repentance into the lives of multitudes, but he did not actually harvest those souls.  Jesus and/or the disciples did. 

But there is an even better example.  Every Israelite parent sowed the promises of God’s covenant into the lives of their children.  They were admonished to keep the promises of God alive in the hearts and minds of their offspring (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). They kept the promise of the Messiah alive in every generation of Israel.

The disciples were able to reap a harvest of souls because earlier generations of Israelites had sown plenty of spiritual seeds into the children of their nation.  Thus, the disciples were reaping a harvest that they themselves did not plant; they ‘entered into the labor’ of others. 

This is such good information for all Christian parents.  Just like the Israelites, it is our job to sow the word of God into the lives of our children and grandchildren.  And there are different ways of sowing:

  • We plant some seeds by what we say (or don’t say). 
  • We plant seeds by the way we act and treat others. 
  • The way we choose to spend our money sows yet another type of seed into our children. 
  • We plant seeds in our children when we live by faith. 
  • We plant seeds when we actively read/honor the Holy Scriptures and pray. 

What seeds are you planting in your family?   

John 4:39 – Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.”

Are you aware of just how powerful your personal testimony can be?  The scripture plainly says that MANY people came to Christ because of the testimony of this one woman!

You don’t need a degree in theology or a pastoral license to share the good news of what Christ has done in your own personal situation.  Just connect with hurting people, and be real.  A true, heart-felt experience is much more powerful and persuasive than facts recited from intellectual knowledge.  Your testimony can bring others into the kingdom!

John 4:40-41 – So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days.  And may more believed because of his word.

Based on what we know of the relationship between Jews and Samaritans, this is shocking news!  It was unheard of for the Samaritans to invite a Jew into their midst, and sit under his teaching.  Likewise, it was unprecedented for a Jews to accept an offer such as this!  But with God all things are possible (Mark 10:27).  Barriers that divide people simply melt away under the influence of God and his love.  I’d love to know what truths Jesus revealed to that group of people who were despised by the world!  

John 4:42 – They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

The point here is that as the Samaritans listened to Jesus, their faith develops and grows to a point where they are fully convinced that he is the Messiah.  Their faith is based on the word of God, not solely the testimony of the woman. 

The Samaritans have come to believe that Jesus is not just a prophet, and not just the Savior of the Jews, but the Savior of the whole world. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

Remember, the mission field of the Samaritan woman was the people in her own town; the people she saw and interacted with every day.  For most of us, that will be our mission field too. 

How are you stewarding your mission field?  I encourage you to actively look for ways to introduce Jesus and/or your testimony into every day conversations with people you know.  You might be surprised at the results you get.

Let me offer you some relief:

The scriptures tell us that ‘many’ Samaritans listened and believed the testimony of the woman at the well.  By default, this means that some people did not believe.  But that wasn’t the problem of the woman.  Her job was simply to share her testimony. 

Likewise, when you share your testimony, there will be people who reject the message.  But let me offer you some relief: That isn’t your problem.  You just be faithful to share the truth and rely on Holy Spirit to ripen that seed into a harvest!   

Let me offer you some strength:

Jesus not only began the work his Father assigned him, he finished it.  Obviously, we want to do the same thing.  All of us want to stand before Jesus and hear him say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’. 

Finishing your race well may seem like a difficult assignment, but let me offer you some strength:  Just live one day at a time.  Today, spend time in prayer with the Lord.  Today, ask Holy Spirit to lead you to a hurting soul.  Today, plant some gospel seeds into the life of a sinner.  If we live for Christ one day at a time, it will add up to a life well lived.  

John, Chapter 4, Part 2

John 4:15 – The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Welcome back readers!  In our last post we began to look at the interaction of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.  We took a closer look at the history of the Samaritans and why they were such bitter enemies of the Jews. 

We saw that Jesus started out connecting with this woman on a very common level – the need of every person for water.  He then drew a parallel between the need for earthly water and the need for the spiritual water of Holy Spirit, the source of all spiritual graces including eternal life.

The woman does not yet discern the spiritual implications of what Jesus is saying; she is still focused on the natural realm.  She is probably thinking about how much time and labor she spends coming to draw water at this well every day.  Perhaps she is thinking about how uncomfortable it is to draw water during the hottest part of the day and how wonderful it would be to have water which permanently quenched the thirst.  She is interested in what Jesus has to say because she thinks it will ease her labor in this earthly life. 

John 4:16 – Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

Strange as it may seem, this is actually a partial answer to her request.  The living water of salvation comes when Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin upon an individual and they embrace repentance.  The mention of her husband immediately leads her to consider her own sinful state; no one is more painfully aware of her sexual uncleanness than she is. 

Thus, by one simple statement, Jesus makes her conscious of her own sin.  He begins to open her spiritual eyes.  No doubt, she begins to understand that Jesus speaks of spiritual water, not earthly water.

Jesus is answering her prayer, but not in the way she imagined.  Has that ever happened to you?  When?  Have you ever been unhappy with the way God answered a prayer, only to realize later that he gave you the exact thing you needed?     

John 4:17-18 – The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”  Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’, for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.  What you have said is true.”

The exact situation of the woman is unknown. 

Was she actually widowed five times, but then found to be living in a sinful relationship with a sixth man?  While possible, this is somewhat unlikely. 

A more plausible explanation is that, given the easy divorce laws of the day, she had been divorced from some of these men (Matthew 19:3-9).  While the most trifling reason could be given by the husband as grounds for divorce, the implication is that she had engaged in either adultery or some other lascivious behavior.  So while her life had at least some outward show of respectability, she was clearly living in a sinful relationship.

Notice that Jesus does not publicly announce her sin, so that others can judge her.  His goal is to bring her to repentance, not humiliate her.  We should treat others the same way. 

John 4:19 – The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.”

Look at this startling encounter from the Samaritan’s point of view.  Here is a stranger – a man she had never met before.  He was a Jew, which means he was not hanging around Samaria where he could have picked up local knowledge about her situation.  If a man such as this knew the secrets of her life, then he could only have received that information by divine inspiration.  Conclusion:  The man is a prophet.   

Interestingly, the woman does not deny the truth of the charges Jesus brought against her.  She does not become angry and defensive.  She does not make excuses or attempt to justify her sin.  She implicitly acknowledges/confesses the truth of what he said.

And despite the reproof Jesus has just given her, she respectfully addresses him as ‘sir’ and she shows a willingness to be taught further by him.  (Notice the contrast between this woman and the Pharisees – when Jesus reveals their sins to them, they call him a Samaritan and claim he has a devil; they seek only to silence him.)

This is another step in the progression of this woman’s spiritual awakening.  At first, she regarded Jesus as nothing more than a despised Jew.  She wonders how he would have the nerve to ask her for a favor.  As she engaged him in an unusual conversation, she begins to perceive that he is not just an ordinary man.  Now, she begins to see him as a prophet and she seeks his advice on one of the most troubling religious disputes of that day.

John 4:20 – “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

Our fathers:  Remember, the Samaritans were part Jewish, so they claimed all of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc) as their ancestors.

Worshiped on this mountain:  Again, she is referring to Mount Gerizim.  As we mentioned in our last post, Jacob did indeed build an altar to God in that place, so her statement is technically true. 

However, there is more to the story than just that.  As we also mentioned last time, during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, the Jews had returned from captivity and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem.  They rededicated the priests to God.  Part of that rededication involved divorcing their foreign wives (Ezra 10:3).

One of the priests who had married a foreign wife was Manasses, son of Joiad, son of Eliashib.  He had married the daughter of Sanballat, an enemy of the Jews.  Because of this marriage, Nehemiah expelled him from the priesthood (Nehemiah 13:28). 

According to the historian Josephus, Sanballat promised Manasses that he would build a temple on Mount Gerizim, identical to the one at Jerusalem.  Further, he would make Manasses the high priest, provided Manasses did not divorce his daughter.     

Also according to Josephus (Antiquities book 1 chapter 11), other priests fled to the temple at Gerizim so they too could stay in the priesthood and keep their foreign wives. 

This was the beginning of the bitter dispute between the Jews and Samaritans over the true site of worship.  But sadly, there really was no dispute – God had clearly ordained only one place of true worship during the era of the law (Deuteronomy 12:1-14, 26) and that was Jerusalem.   

But you:  The Jews.

Say that Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship:  As sincere as the Samaritans were, they were still wrong.  There can be no doubt about Jerusalem being the place of true worship, as ordained by God all throughout the Old Testament (I Kings 9:3,   II Chronicles 6:3-6, Isaiah 2:3, Isaiah 44:28, etc, etc).

Jeremiah 3:17 – At that time they shall call Jerusalem the throne of the LORD; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the LORD, to Jerusalem: neither shall they walk any more after the imagination of their evil hearts.

Why does the Samaritan woman bring up this controversial topic?

  • Some believe she asked this question because she really thought that as a prophet Jesus could settle the dispute. 
  • Some hold the opinion that she just wanted to divert the conversation away from the topic of her personal life; many sinners are willing to talk about religious topics, as long as the conversation doesn’t get too close to their own heart.
  • But most feel her question is genuine – she is a true spiritual seeker who wishes to be instructed on the pure worship of God.   

Regardless of her motivation, Jesus has the situation well in hand.  He is going to turn her focus away from rituals and places.  He is going to prepare her to become a true worshiper of God. 

John 4:21-22 – Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

The Samaritan had already acknowledged Jesus as a prophet – one who was there to reveal the will of God to man.  Since this was the case, she should pay careful attention to what Jesus is about to reveal to her.  He is about to make known a profound truth as yet unknown to mankind.  It is something entirely unexpected and so startling, many Jews will stumble because of it.  Nevertheless, it must be true because Jesus emphatically tells her to believe it.

Jesus declares that the Jews had regularly worshiped God in Jerusalem, which was right and proper.  At the same time, the Samaritans had superstitiously worshiped God on Mount Gerizim.  Yet a time was soon coming when the location of worship no longer mattered; it would no longer be confined to one place.  Since that was the case, the dispute over Gerizim versus Jerusalem was a moot point.  

When would this occur?  In slightly less than three years.  God had designated Jerusalem as the only center of true worship under the Law/old covenant.  But with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the ceremonial law (temple worship) would soon be set aside. 

Through the Jewish Messiah, the new covenant of grace would be instituted (salvation is from the Jews).  The wall between Jews and Gentiles would be torn down (Ephesians 2:14).  Under the new covenant, Holy Spirit indwells each individual believer (including those of Samaria) making them a temple of God (I Corinthians 6:19).  Thus, a true believer can worship the Father at any time, in any place.

This is good news for us.  We can worship God in our car, while mowing the lawn, folding laundry, shopping or walking through the woods.  There is no place that we cannot enter into the very throne room of God and make our petitions known to him (Hebrews 4:16).

John 4:23 – “But the hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”

Jesus now drops another bombshell.  Not only will the place/location of worship change, but once he was resurrected from the dead, the worship itself will also be different

Under the law, worship consisted of prescribed rites and ceremonies.  There were holy days to observe, rules to follow, and bloody offerings to make.  God was served and worshiped in a very external manner. 

But with the coming of the gospel dispensation, worship is transformed.  It is no longer an external act but an internal event where the heart, soul and mind and offered to God.  People who worship in this way can be said to worship in the spirit.  In this case, ‘spirit’ stands in opposition to the rites and ceremonies of the law.  This type of worship manifests itself in faith, love, prayer, thanksgiving/praise, purity of heart and willing obedience to God’s laws.  This kind of relationship is what God desires/seeks from mankind.

However, this is not to say that under the law/old covenant God did not know or was not concerned with the motivations of his people.  Scripture shows us that the exact opposite was true.

If the Jews tried to simply keep the rituals of the law without a pure heart, God always knew it (Psalms 139:2-2).  It disgusted and angered him (Isaiah 1:10-15).  Time and time again he sent his prophets to call out his people for vain worship. A good example of this can be found in Isaiah 58:1-14.

In this instance, the Jews could not understand why God did not honor their fasting before him.  But God reveals that their fasting was full of hypocrisy.  While they fasted, they also broke his laws, oppressed the poor and cheated each other.  This kind of worship was not acceptable to God.  Jesus made this plain when he quoted the words of Isaiah:

Mark 7:6-7 – And he [Jesus] said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “’This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”    

God never changes (Malachi 3:6), so while he appointed the old mode of worship found under the law, he still required it to take place with a pure heart.  Worship under the law was still spiritual in its substance, but because the law was a type and shadow of what was to come, the expression of that worship was wrapped in external earthly ceremonies and rituals.    

So we see that true worship, whether under the law or under grace, flows from a heart that is righteous before God. 

Now… let’s examine ourselves.  Is our worship always true and pure?  I know mine isn’t.  I can remember times in the past when I was singing a worship song in church, but thinking about all the tasks I had to complete that day.  I know there have been times when God called me to show love and acceptance to people, but I was unwilling; I did it, but only grudgingly and with complaining. 

God greatly desires us to worship him in spirit and in truth.  Will we answer that call?

John 4:24 – “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus reveals to us the true nature of God – he is a Spirit or we might say a pure spiritual substance; he does not have a body. 

So in order for worship to be acceptable to God (who is a Spirit), it must be spiritual in nature – it must spring from the heart, through the influence of Holy Spirit.  It must be sincere and also performed according to the truth/divine revelation he has given to mankind.

Since God is Spirit, he is absolutely free from all limitations of space and time.  Therefore worship of him cannot be limited to any particular time (like the Sabbath) or place such as the temple at Jerusalem (Acts 7:48-49). 

Since God is Spirit, by default he is not some kind of abstract force, as science might assert, but a true Being that has invited us to have a relationship with Him.  The very basis of this relationship is true spiritual worship.        

John 4:25 – The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ).  When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

Remember, at this point, the woman believes Jesus is a prophet sent from God.  As the conversation progressed, she became aware that an extraordinary change was about to take place in religion.  This, no doubt, brought thoughts of the long anticipated Messiah to her mind. 

She actually reveals several things in this brief verse. 

  • First, she says the Messiah is coming.  In the original Greek, her statement is present tense, meaning that the time is now or near at hand.  At the time of Christ there was a general expectation among people that the coming of Messiah was imminent.  Even the Samaritans looked for his arrival, though they followed a corrupted version of the law and anticipated a much different Messiah than the Jews.
  • Second, she says the Messiah will ‘tell us all things’.  The implication is that she realizes the law (and her/their understanding of it), was imperfect.  There was more that God planned to reveal to mankind.  And when the Messiah finally did reveal the will of God to the world, it would end or settle religious controversies (such as where and how to worship).  
  • Third, she implies a contrast between the prophets and the Messiah.  The prophets of old had given God’s people basic revelations of God and his ways.  They revealed parts or certain aspects of his nature, but their revelation was limited.  On the other hand, Messiah was expected to reveal everything about the Father.  Therefore, the Messiah will be the ultimate teacher/instructor of the godly.

John 4:26 – Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

What an incredible revelation!  And this is the first time Jesus openly professes it. 

The religious leaders of the day asked Jesus point blank, ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’ (John 10:24), but Jesus refused to give a direct answer because the truth would have produced envy and opposition to his work. 

On the other hand, the Samaritan was an honest seeker of the truth.  God always delights to reveal himself to those with a true and humble desire to know him.

John 4:27 – Just then his disciples came back.  They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

As the disciples return from buying groceries, they find Jesus in conversation with the Samaritan woman.  This shocked them, because it was unconventional in their day.

In that culture, men did not speak to women out in public as we do today.  In fact, Rabbinic law even forbid men to speak to their own wives in public.  So it was very unusual for Jesus to be speaking to this woman.  Furthermore, she wasn’t just a woman, but a Samaritan; it was considered beneath the dignity of a Jews to interact with one of them.

But despite the amazement of the disciples, they never even considered questioning the actions of the Jesus.  Their acceptance of him as Messiah and their reverence/respect for him caused them to keep their opinions to themselves.  

John 4:28-29 – So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?”

Based on her conversation with Jesus, the woman is convinced that she has found the long awaited Messiah and she immediately goes into the town and publishes her findings to anyone who would listen.  Her desire is that others would also come to hear him and judge for themselves whether he was the Messiah or not.   

It seems that the living water of salvation was already springing up within her soul; she hardly noticed that she left without the earthly water she so desired!  What a contrast she presents with the Jewish religious leaders, who did their best to hinder people from turning to Christ. 

Let me offer you some encouragement:

God desires worship that is spiritual and true.  This means it is not just an external action, but an internal event of the heart which then manifests itself in an outward action such as prayer, praise or obedience.

Even as Christians it is possible for us to go through the motions of worship, while our hearts are far from God.  This is not acceptable worship.  Perhaps this is a good time to take a fresh look at ourselves.  Is worship something we do on automatic pilot, or are our hearts and minds actively engaged in what we are doing?   

Let me offer you some relief:

You don’t have to have a doctorate in theology to share the gospel with people.  You just have to find some common ground with them.  Jesus connected with the Samaritan woman over their mutual need for water.  You and I connect with people over common things every day.  We need to train ourselves to use these opportunities to share the gospel.

Let me offer you some strength:

When the Samaritan asked Jesus to give her living water, the first step in the process was for her to acknowledge her own sin.  I am sure this was not what she expected.  It must have been somewhat painful, because she tries to avoid the issue of her numerous husbands.  

We too have sin that should be dealt with.  But that can be a painful process; one that we would rather avoid or pretend does not exist!  But if we have the courage and strength to face those issues, Jesus will cleanse us and set us free from the bondages that limit us.    

      

John, Chapter 4, Part 1

John 4:1-3 – Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

In chapter one, we saw that the religious leaders (particularly the Pharisees) sent representatives to question John the Baptist about his religious activities.  We noted that the Pharisees were very zealous for the Jewish religious rites.  They would never allow any changes to Jewish worship except by authority of the Messiah or a prophet. 

After interviewing John the Baptist, they determined that he was not Elijah, a prophet or the Messiah.  Therefore, his ministry of baptism was unlawful.  I am sure they did everything in their power to stop him from baptizing, particularly after he confronted them about their own need for repentance (Matthew 3:1-12). 

In chapter three John testified that Jesus was the Messiah, and he encouraged all people (even his own disciples) to follow Jesus.  Soon, Jesus had even more followers than John.   This would have been a substantial number, because ‘all Jerusalem, Judea and the region around the Jordan’ turned out to hear John (Matthew 3:4-6).  Jesus taught them about the kingdom of heaven and his disciples baptized them in water. 

Can you imagine how irritated the Pharisees would be when they discovered the growing ministry of Jesus?  In their minds, Jesus would be the second unlawful teacher and baptizer in their midst.  Just as in the case of John the Baptist, his ministry drew their own followers away, diminishing their influence and authority among the Jews.

Don’t forget that about this same time, Herod had John the Baptist arrested and put in prison (Matthew 4:12, Mark 1:14, Luke 4:14).  This would actually have increased the followers of Jesus even more, as those who formerly followed John now followed Christ.       

Worse yet (according to the religious leaders), many Jews believed this man Jesus was the Messiah.  But according to their way of thinking, Jesus couldn’t possibly be the Messiah they were expecting.  Therefore, he was an enemy of Israel who was leading people away from their true teachers (themselves). There can be no doubt that the Pharisees would confront Jesus and seek to take his life in order to protect their own religious authority.

So, when it comes to the attention of Jesus that the Pharisees are aware of the extent of his ministry, he simply leaves Judea and heads for Galilee.  By doing so, he avoids a premature confrontation with them. 

This is one example of how Jesus was in control of his destiny on earth.  He was not going to allow himself to be imprisoned or hindered from spreading the gospel; he needed to be free to complete his mission.  At this point, no purpose would be served by provoking the Pharisees, so simply leaving/avoiding confrontation was the right thing to do.

Mary and Joseph followed the same strategy when Jesus was a baby (Matthew 2:13).  Jesus advises us to do the same, if we need to (Matthew 10:23). 

There is a difference of opinion among scholars about exactly how Jesus became aware of the knowledge of the Pharisees.  Some maintain that Holy Spirit revealed it to him.  Others believe that a person (possibly one of John’s former disciples) found out and simply relayed the information to him. 

Either way, the point is that Jesus exercised wisdom in how he dealt with those opposed to the gospel message.  There were times for confrontation and times to simply withdraw.

John 4:4 – And he had to pass through Samaria.

What do you recall about Samaria?

Originally, Samaria was the name of a city in ancient Israel.  It was founded by the wicked king Omri around 925 BC.  Omri made it the capital city of Israel, and he built a temple of Baal there (I Kings 16). 

The city was not a particularly peaceful place.  It was besieged (several times), destroyed, rebuilt and even renamed.  It is important to note that by the time Samaria is mentioned in the New Testament, it no longer refers to a specific city, but to the region or district where the city had been located.

Who did the Samaritans descend from? 

Well, Samaria was originally part of the nation of Israel.  As we would expect, the people who lived there were Jews.  However, in 722 BC when the Assyrians conquered Israel, they really mixed things up.  They resettled the best of the Israelites in Assyria.  Only the poorest and least desirable people were left in Israel (including Samaria).  Then, to avoid the land becoming uninhabitable, the Assyrians brought in foreigners from other conquered lands and forced them to settle in Israel/Samaria.  Over the course of time, the Jews who were left intermarried with these foreigners.  The people born from the union of the Jews and these foreigners were called Samaritans.

What did the Samaritans believe?

During New Testament times, the Samaritans considered themselves believers in the God of Israel, however, their religion had become corrupted: 

The Samaritans only believed in the Pentateuch, rejecting the Psalms, the law and the prophets accepted by the Jews.  Also, their version of the Pentateuch was slightly different than the one used by the Jews. 

The Samaritans were looking for a ‘Taheh’ or ‘restorer’ who was more of a teacher than a Messiah.  The Jews, however, were expecting a deliverer/Messiah who was a warrior/king. 

The Samaritans believed that Abraham had offered Isaac as a sacrifice on Mount Gerizim.  But Genesis 22 says that event occurred on Mount Moriah which is in Jerusalem.

The Samaritans taught that Melchizedek appeared to Abraham on (you guessed it) Mount Gerizim and they also taught that that when the Jews came to the Promised Land, they were to set up an altar of worship at Gerizim.  This was false; the altar was to be set up on Mount Ebal (Deuteronomy 27:4-5).  As you may recall, mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal were the mountains of cursing and blessing as mentioned in Joshua 8:30-35. 

Basically, the Samaritans considered Mount Gerizim to be the most sacred place on earth.  However, the Jews considered Jerusalem to be the most sacred place on earth, because that was where the temple or dwelling place of God was located and it was the place where God had chosen to manifest his glory. 

In fact, when the Jews returned from Babylonian captivity and began to build the temple, the Samaritans asked to help.  The Jews refused, and the hatred between the two groups never ceased (Ezra 41-5, Nehemiah 4:1-3).  For example, the Samaritans ended up building a temple on Mount Gerizim, which the Jews destroyed in 130 BC.

The worst insult a Jew could give someone was to call them a Samaritan.  For their part, the Samaritans were just as hostile; even after seeing the power of Jesus they refused him entrance to their district once they found out he was bound for Jerusalem (Luke 9:35).

So we see that these two groups despised one another because each felt the other had polluted/corrupted the Jewish religion.  By the time Jesus walked the earth, tensions had existed between the two groups for hundreds of years.  (Kind of sheds a new light on the parable of the Good Samaritan, doesn’t it?).

Their hatred of each other was so intense, that the Jewish leaders refused to even pass through the district of Samaria.  Consequently, a trip from Jerusalem to Judea (which took 3 days if you went through Samaria) would take these men 7 days, because they would skirt Samaria and travel through Peraea. 

Now… notice that this verse says Jesus HAD to pass through Samaria.  This cannot mean that there was no way around Samaria, because we already know there was – the route through Peraea. 

John is referring to something else here –The Father had work for Jesus to do in that region.  That is why Jesus had to pass through Samaria, and this is correct explanation of this verse.

Thus we find that the purposes of God over rule the wickedness of man.  The Pharisees had driven Jesus to Galilee with their malice, but God used that occasion to bring the first fruits of the Gentiles into the kingdom of heaven!

In the same way, you and I find ourselves in this world but not of it.  Some Christians go to great lengths to avoid rubbing shoulders with the world (much like the Pharisees).  But let me ask you this – if you never associate with the lost, how can you show them the love of Christ?  If you never go to a movie, or a concert, or pass out candy on Halloween, how do you expect to minister to the lost?  Let’s be honest – they are not flocking to church to hear the message.

Jesus did not hesitate to interact with the women of Samaria.  He met her where she was.  He treated her with respect and had honest communication with her, yet at the same time he did not approve or condone her false religious beliefs.  He spoke the truth to her in love and won her into the kingdom. 

This is an excellent example to us.  We need to interact with the sinners around us, meeting them at their spiritual level.  We need to treat them with respect, but without approving their sin or their false religious beliefs.  We need to be with them, to reveal the truth of the gospel when the time is right.

Being clothed with the whole armor of God and being in close fellowship with Holy Spirit will allow us to successfully minister to the lost without falling into the same sins they are practicing.

John 4:5 – So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.

Passing into the district of Samaria, Jesus comes to the town of Sychar.  This town was formerly known as Sichem, or as you may recognize it, Shechem (Genesis 33:18, 12:6).  It is located approximately 40 miles north of Jerusalem.  It is mentioned several times in the Old Testament.

Shechem was located in the territory of Ephraim (Joshua 21:21).  This was the place where Joshua gathered all Israel together before his death, to renew the covenant with God (Joshua 24).  After the death of Gideon, Shechem became a seat of Baal worship (Judges 9:46).  It was eventually destroyed by Abimelech (Judges 9:45) and rebuilt becoming the residence of King Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:25).  It was eventually destroyed and rebuilt again, being named Neapolis or Nablous. 

But let’s back up a bit, because we want to focus on the history of Shechem during the times of the patriarchs. 

Back in the day, Jacob purchased a parcel of land from Hamor, the father of Shechem.  It was the place where he erected his first altar to the Lord.  Eventually, Jacob gave this parcel of land and an adjoining tract (Genesis 48:22) to his son Joseph:

Genesis 33:18-20 – And Jacob came to Shalem, a city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddanaram; and pitched his tent before the city.  And he bought a parcel of a field, where he had spread his tent, at the hand of the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for a hundred pieces of money.And he erected there an altar, and called it Elelohe-israel.

Interestingly, this was the place where the children of Israel buried Joseph’s bones after they left Egypt (Joshua 24:32).  It was a very historical place for the Jews.  As you probably already surmised, it is very near to Mount Gerizim.

John 4:6 – Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well.  It was about the sixth hour.

There is no well in the Old Testament identified as Jacob’s well.  The name probably came as a result of an oral tradition which stated that Jacob had dug it, or because it was near to the land which he gave to Joseph. 

As we have already discussed in earlier lessons, the Jews marked time beginning at 6 am.  This makes the ‘sixth hour’ noon, a very hot time of the day.  Jesus was probably thirsty, hungry and tired from his extensive walking.  He waited at the well as his disciples went into the town to buy some food.

John 4:7-8 – A woman from Samaria came to draw water.  Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)

Jesus was certainly in need of a drink of water after his exhausting travels.  Although the divinity of Jesus is a frequent point in John’s writings, he also provides proof that Jesus was dwelling in a body of flesh, and was bound to its weaknesses; he exhibits hunger, thirst and tiredness.

“Give me a drink” is a perfectly normal request for a traveler to make to a native beside a well.  This type of request is practically never refused.  But in this case, because Jesus is a man and a Jew, while she is a woman/Samaritan, it is an unusual request.

However, it was not unusual to find women at wells.  As we learn from historical records and other portions of scripture, it was often the job of females to draw water for both their families and their flocks (Genesis 24:11, Exodus 2:16).

The Jews used to say that those who wished to find a wife should go to the wells where the young women were to be found in abundance.  I guess that could be considered an ancient version of a dating site!

John 4:9 – The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”  (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

How would the woman have known that Jesus was a Jew?  Although it might have been a particular mode of dress, the more likely reason is that Jesus spoke with a Galilean dialect; his speech identified him as Jewish.

This helps to explain the reply of the Samaritan woman.  Her response to Jesus is not so much a question as it is a reproach or a jeer, which had its source in the bitter enmity between Jews and Samaritans. 

The woman indicates that there were no ‘dealings’ between the two groups.  History indicates that the Jews had no qualms about buying and selling with the Samaritans, but the Sanhedrin forbid them from any familiarity or social interaction with them.  In other words, a Jew could not accept a gift from a Samaritan, or borrow anything from them, or marry them or even eat with them.

Thus the woman is surprised when Jesus asked her for a favor; any/every other Jewish man would have endured the worst type of hardship rather than be indebted to a Samaritan for help.  Their pride simply wouldn’t allow it, even if it was only a drink of water.   Besides, a Jew wouldn’t help a Samaritan, why should she show kindness to Jesus?

John 4:10 –Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

For his part, Jesus does not argue or debate with the woman, though he certainly could have.  Instead, he uses the situation at hand as a starting point to share the good news of the gospel. 

He builds up some anticipation in her mind by saying, ‘If you knew’.  The implication, of course, is that there is something extremely important and valuable at hand, but she is ignorant of what it is. 

That extremely important and valuable thing is Jesus himself, the Messiah, the gift of God, the lamb who takes away the sins of the world!  She, a heathen sinner, has no idea that she is conversing with the God of the universe who is both willing and able to bestow a priceless blessing upon her – Holy Spirit! 

Holy Spirit is the agent of salvation in the lives of mankind.  He is often metaphorically referred to as water or living water.  Jesus himself refers to him as such later on in the gospel of John:

John 7:38-39 – He that believes on me [Jesus], as the scripture has said, out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.  (But this spoke he of the Spirit, whom they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)

Our souls are like dry, barren fields that have no hope of producing life.  In fact, they are dead.  But when the gentle rain of Holy Spirit falls down upon us, we are revived and brought to life and fruitfulness.

At other times the scriptures speak of Holy Spirit as a cleansing water, which washes us from sin/spiritual defilement (Hebrews 10:22). 

Holy Spirit is living water because he comes from a living source – Father God (Revelation 22:1).

For her part, the woman views Jesus as a weary traveler, burning with exhaustion and thirsting for rest and refreshment.  But in reality, she is the one who is spiritually dry/exhausted and needs to be revived!

John 4:11 – The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep.  Where do you get that living water?”

This woman exhibits the same spiritual blindness we saw in Nicodemus in the last chapter.  It should look familiar to us, because ALL of us were spiritually blind at one time, before Holy Spirit quickened us.  The scripture tells us that the natural or earthly man (like the woman or Nicodemus) cannot perceive or understand spiritual things because they are spiritually blind/dead. 

1 Corinthians 2:14 –But the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.

To us, it seems obvious that Jesus uses earthly water as a starting point to teach this woman about spiritual things.  But to her, it was confusing.  In her earthly understanding, she cannot imagine how Jesus will give her living water since the well is very deep and he has no bucket to draw with.

But we will see that Jesus patiently works with her until her spiritual eyes/understanding are enlightened and she begins to understand that he is not speaking about earthly water from her ancestor’s well. 

John 4:12 – “Are you greater than our father Jacob?  He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”

Apparently, this woman thinks that Jesus has access to another physical well of ‘living’ or fresh spring water.  In her mind, Jesus is saying his water is far superior to hers.  At that point, she defends the well of Jacob claiming that Jacob, his family and his live stock all drank from this well; whatever Jesus has can’t possibly be as good as this.  Clearly, her understanding is still in the natural realm.

John 4:13-14 – Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

But Jesus is about to change all that. 

He begins by explaining to her that Jacob’s well could produce nothing more than ordinary water.  As good as it might be, it is no different than other water.  It will quench your thirst for a moment, but in a few hours your thirst will return.  You will soon have as much need and desire for water as you ever had.

Just as a drink of fresh cold water could satisfy her earthly desire (temporarily), so the gospel of Christ could satisfy all the deep spiritual longings of her heart by introducing her to the living water of Holy Spirit.  Holy Spirit, however, never provides temporary satisfaction.    

Because the Spirit of God indwells the heart of the believer, he has a constant unfailing spring of grace, mercy, peace, joy, love, etc available to him.  This fountain of grace wells up and overflows in the life of a believer at all times – in times of comfort or hardship, hunger or plenty, prosperity or adversity, life or even the valley of the shadow of death.  Outside circumstances have no effect upon the grace that supplies and sustains his soul in all situations. 

The end result of this grace is that it wells up into eternal life, which we will enjoy forever, in the presence of our Savior.  This is the unspeakably wonderful gift that Jesus wants to bestow not only on this woman, but on all mankind!         

Let me offer you some encouragement and some relief and strength:

The world can be a really ugly and repulsive place – just ask the Jews.  They felt that nothing could be worse than a Samaritan.  But Jesus wasn’t afraid to interact with the Samaritan woman.  Unless he stopped where she was and interacted with her, he could never have given her eternal life.    

You and I should definitely have Christian friends, who can support us in a time of need, advise us, sharpen us and journey with us through this life. 

But we also need to have friends and associates that are sinners.  If you know nothing of the struggles of the world, how can you relate to them?  If you never associate with the unsaved or unchurched, how do you expect to win them to Christ?  

I encourage you to take a look at your relationships.  Make sure some of them are with unbelievers.  As we will see in our next post, it is not our job to condone their sin, but it is our job to explain the truth to them in love.   

John, Chapter 3, Part 3

John 3:22 – After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.

Jesus had gone to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  It was during this period that he had the night time meeting with Nicodemus.  Once that was done, Jesus must have sensed that he had accomplished all that was needed in Jerusalem at that time; Holy Spirit was calling him to the more rural areas surrounding the capital.

Although John does not provide all of the details, we can assume that Jesus continued to teach/preach the gospel at various places in the countryside.  His ministry had begun and would continue to grow and increase until his crucifixion.  Also, later in this chapter John tells us that large numbers of people were being influenced by him and his message (verse 26).

Baptism was also occurring at this time.  In this particular verse the wording suggests that Jesus was actually baptizing people, but later on John makes it clear that Jesus preached the word and sanctioned baptism, but the actual physical work of baptizing was done by the disciples (John 4:2).

John 3:23-24 – John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized (for John had not yet been put in prison).

We can’t help but notice that John the Baptist did not retire from ministry.  He could have convinced himself that once the Messiah was actively ministering, he was free to close up shop, move to a sunny climate and live out his days on the beach. But he didn’t.  God had called him to be the forerunner and he was going to continue in that role until his dying day.  This is consistent with what we find in scripture:

Romans 11:29 – For the gifts and calling of God are unchangeable.

In other words, when God calls you to do something (like baptize) or he gives you a gift (like evangelism, or encouragement), it is a lifetime calling.  Like John the Baptist, you will have that gift until your dying day.  And like John, you need to continue working with that calling as long as you can.

This does not mean that you can’t retire and move to Phoenix.  But if you do, look for opportunities there to continue using your gift/calling. 

Let me tell you a story about a former pastor of mine.  God called him into ministry during WWII.  He was faithful to answer the call, and he served as a pastor for over 40 years.  Eventually, he stepped down from the pulpit.  He and his wife ended up in a local nursing home.  I visited them there occasionally, and I can tell you, it wasn’t their favorite place! 

But they continued to share the gospel with people they came into contact with.  One night an employee of the home woke him up requesting his help.  She said there was a resident in another wing of the facility who was dying.  He was utterly terrified, and the staff couldn’t do anything to calm him.  She asked this minister if he would get in his wheelchair and come to talk to the man.

The retired pastor led the man to Christ that night, just before he died.  And within a week, he himself was called home to heaven.  

This illustrates the point I am trying to make – your ministry/gift/calling is an integral part of who you are.  It doesn’t leave you, no matter how old you get, or where you move to.  So plan to stay active in ministry as long as you can (just like this pastor or John the Baptist)!    

Another thing we notice about John is that he didn’t change his ministry to mimic someone else (Jesus).  He did not become jealous when another ministry grew larger than his own.  He steadfastly and humbly continued to do what God had called him to do. 

It is important for each one of us to do the same.  We need to be confident in what Holy Spirit has called us to do, even if others with the same gift have larger ministries.  If Holy Spirit speaks to you about making changes in your ministry, that’s fine.  But don’t change what you are doing for the sole purpose of having more followers.   

If we are consistently doing what Holy Spirit has instructed us to do, we know we will one day hear Jesus say to us, ‘Well done good and faithful servant’!  

John 3:25 – Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification.

A religious dispute – imagine that [picture eye rolling and sarcasm here]! 

Religious disputes have existed since Cain and Abel.  Throughout history, countless lives have been lost or ruined in the name of religious disputes.  These differences have resulted in wars, destruction, divisions and deep seated hatred.  Now remind me again – who loves death and destruction?  Whose goal is to steal, kill and destroy? 

That’s right – Satan.  And he is still at work today, often pitting one Christian denomination against another in an effort to divide the family of God.

How can we stop him?  One way is to agree on the basics and let the rest go.  If we can agree that Jesus died and rose again and that faith in his blood is the only thing that redeems us from sin, we should be able to respect and love each other.  We may pray in different ways, or baptize in different ways, or have different opinions on communion, but we can’t let that divide us.  We need to unite together against the sin and evil that are taking over our nation.  

Did you notice that the exact dispute between the Baptist’s disciples and the Jews is not given in the scripture?  Why is that?  I think there are two reasons. 

First, because it serves as a general warning to us that we should avoid petty differences that divide us.  Second, because the cause of the dispute was not John’s focus.  His focus was the speech that John the Baptist is about to give.  That is the place we need to focus our attention.   

John 3:26 – And they came to John and said to him “Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness – look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him.”

The Baptist’s disciples now come to him with their chief complaint: Jesus now has more followers than their master does.  His popularity is waxing/increasing, while John’s is waning.  The disciples of John are envious and jealous at the success of Jesus.  They are concerned that the influence John had over the Jewish population is coming to an end, now that Jesus is on the scene.    

They are so highly offended because in their mind, Jesus was inferior to John.  In their mind, Jesus was the one who sought out John, not the other way around.  Jesus was the one who was baptized by John, not the other way around.  Jesus was the one who was in need of a public testimony – not John.  They were shocked and angry that the ministry of Jesus was eclipsing that of their beloved master.

John 3:27 – John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.”

The minute his disciples came to him with this complaint, John the Baptist had a choice to make.  He could have joined in the griping session with his followers.  He could have focused on all the work he had done and all the sacrifices he had made.  He could have fought to keep his ‘organization’ in the limelight of the day.

But he doesn’t.  He does not agree with his followers, or entertain any of their envious thoughts.  John’s goal is to honor and serve Christ, not build up a sect or organization. John rejoiced at the success of Jesus and (as we will see in the rest of this chapter), he teaches his disciples to do the same.

The first point John makes to his followers is that a person (himself specifically, but all of us generally), cannot rise to a station greater than the one God intended for us to have.

In other words, John was acknowledging that God had created him in a specific way for a specific purpose.  He was to be the forerunner of Christ.  God never intended him to rise above the Messiah.  Despite the grand ideas his followers had, God never intended him to be the head of a nation-wide ministry that would last for a hundred years.  John understood this; he was teaching his followers to be confident and satisfied with the role that God had designed for them.

Now let’s consider how this applies to us.  The prophets are saying that God is moving in America.  He is planning to root evil out of our nation and to begin the greatest worldwide harvest of souls that has ever been seen.  God is not going to simply wave his hand and make this happen.  He is partnering with his followers to bring about these changes.

Remember, God’s original plan for man was to rule over the earth:

Genesis 1:28 – And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.      

God is now calling the believers of this generation back to that mandate.  He is calling some believers to be active in their local school board.  He is calling some to run for mayor, some for congress and some for other government offices.  He is calling some to be judges and some to be business leaders.  He is calling some of you to exhibit radical leadership in the sports, music or entertainment industry. 

Some of these callings will influence tens of thousands of people, while others will influence only a few.  The number doesn’t matter.  What matters is that you complete the race that God has set before YOU. 

God is calling each one of us to fulfill the specific role he prepared for us before we were born.

What is your role?  If you aren’t sure, you need to be on your face before God seeking the guidance of Holy Spirit.  He is the one who can reveal your calling to you.  He is the one who can lead you into the position where you can steward/influence part of this nation for His kingdom.  If you follow Holy Spirit’s leading, you will receive what heaven has set aside for you! 

John 3:28 – “You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him’”.

John has never been deceitful with his disciples.  He plainly told them from the beginning that he was not the Messiah, but that he came to prepare the hearts of people to receive what God had for them. 

You can’t help but wonder how they missed this important fact.  Perhaps they were hearing what they wanted to hear, not necessarily what their teacher was saying to them.

John 3:29 – “The one who has the bride is the bridegroom.  The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice.  Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.”

The illustration of marriage is one frequently used in scripture to describe the relationship between Jesus and his church (Isaiah 62:5, Revelation 21:2, 22:17, II Corinthians 11:2, Ephesians 5, Matthew 22).

Ephesians 5:23 – For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the savior of the body.

The bride belongs to her husband.  In the same way, the church belongs to the Messiah.  We would naturally expect the Jews of that day to seek/flock to the man they believed to be the Messiah.  Therefore it was foolish and ridiculous for John’s followers to think that John would have more disciples than Jesus.   

Using the same illustration, John acknowledges that he is the friend of the bridegroom, or what we would call the best man.  It is his job to celebrate with the groom and do whatever he can to make things go smoothly until the wedding is over.  

John has fulfilled that role by paving the way for Jesus to rise to prominence through his preaching and baptism ministry.  John rejoices at the success of Jesus because he greatly desires people to find the Messiah and because it means he was successful in his role as well.  When people turned to Jesus it fulfilled John’s joy; it did not take away from it.

You and I have a different role than John did – we are privileged to be a part of the bride of Christ.  Our position is to be faithful to the Lord (our husband), to keep his commands, to rule with him under his direction and to bring others into the family of God. 

John 3:30 – “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Not only is Jesus gaining more disciples than John, but this is just the beginning.  Jesus will eventually be known throughout the world.  His gospel message will be preached to the ends of the earth.  His glory will one day cover the earth.

Habakkuk 2:14 – For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.

It only makes sense that once Christ has come, there is no more need for a herald to proclaim his coming.  John understands this.  

He is satisfied that he has run the race set before him, and he has done it well.  He is ready to finish the course and enter into the reward prepared for him in eternity.  What more can you ask to have in this life?

John 3:31 – “He who comes from above is above all.  He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way.  He who comes from heaven is above all.”

John now explains to his followers that instead of trying to defend his honor, they themselves should turn to Christ, as others were doing.  The reason they should do this is because Jesus is superior to John in every way.

Although John was the greatest prophet to ever live (Luke 7:28), he was still a mortal man.  He had the same fallen nature that all men possess.  His body was formed from the dust of the earth and it returned to dust after his death.  He was familiar with earthly things and his understanding of the spiritual realm was limited. 

By contrast, Jesus was descended from heaven; he had a divine nature.  Because he was divine, he had sovereign authority over (he is above) all things.  Because he is from heaven, he knows and understands spiritual principles and truths.  He alone is qualified to reveal the will of God and show us the way into the kingdom of heaven.

John 3:32 – “He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.”

John now shows his disciples another good reason why they should follow Christ and not be jealous for his ministry.  His own testimony and knowledge of heavenly things was by revelation only.  It was the same partial understanding that all prophets have; he could only reveal the small portions of truth that God had given him. 

By contrast, the teaching of Christ was rooted in first hand divine knowledge.  He revealed (testified or gave witness as one would do in a court of law) what he had seen and heard in heaven.  He discussed truths and doctrines that he thoroughly and completely understood.  The things he revealed about the invisible world were things he had actually seen.  When Jesus reveals the mind and will of God, these are revelations he received from speaking directly with God; they were not like partial revelations spoken by the prophets.  

Truly, John did preach a message of repentance.  But he did not understand the full complexities involved.  He did not understand the staggering debt of sin that clings to every man.  He did not fully grasp what it would take to remove that sin from us.  John did not see that the redemption Jesus was bringing was for Gentiles as well as Jews.  He did not have clear knowledge of spiritual regeneration by Holy Spirit.  So while he had a limited revelation from God about repentance, Jesus had full knowledge and understanding of the entire plan of salvation.  His followers should therefore turn to Jesus the Son of God, who has all revelation and truth from God.

The phrase ‘no one receives his testimony’ seems to be spoken by the Baptist in direct opposition to the claims of his followers that ‘all’ people were now following Christ. 

John no doubt wished this statement to be true, but recognized it was not so.  Many (most?) of the Jews of that day would reject the doctrines of Christ, just as many today refuse to acknowledge Christ as savior.

John 3:33 – “Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true.”

In this verse, the meaning of the word ‘seal’ is key to our understanding of the verse.  In this case, to seal means to confirm, to ratify; that which authenticates, that which assures truth.

We have probably all seen sealed documents in the movies or read about them in books.  A small bit of melted wax was affixed to the flap of an envelope, then a ring or other instrument was pushed into the wax creating an impression unique to an individual.  Since seals were one-of-a-kind, there was no doubt about the authenticity of the document.  

A sealed document was a historical way of showing the authority, source and importance of information.  If a document was sealed by you, you were affirming the truth and authenticity of the contents/information contained in that paper.  

Essentially John is saying that a person who believes in the testimony of Jesus, places a seal upon their lives which affirms/authenticates that God is true: 

  • They are bearing witness that God is true/faithful to all the promises he spoke concerning the Messiah. 
  • They are bearing witness that God was true/faithful to all the promises spoken to the Jews about being his chosen people. 
  • They are bearing witness that God is also true/faithful to all the promises made to us that have not yet been fulfilled
  • When we believe in Jesus as Messiah, we affirm/testify that we place our eternal souls into his hands, confident that he will do has he has promised. 

To be sure, God is true whether we accept (seal) or reject (refuse to seal) the testimony and work of Jesus in our lives.  But we save ourselves, bear witness to others and honor God with our faith in him.  

John 3:34-35 – “For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.  The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand.”

John reveals to his followers yet another significant difference between himself and Christ.  Jesus has Holy Spirit without measure or limit.  He possesses and operates in the fullness of ALL spiritual gifts.  He is infinitely greater than every teacher, prophet, priest or divine messenger that has ever appeared.  In fact, God has put all things into his hands.  In other words, Jesus has been entrusted with all things necessary to our salvation and he is head over the church.

Ephesians 1:22-23 – And [God] has put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.    

This is the opposite of ordinary men.  Paul tells us that each ordinary man/woman is given a measure of grace (Ephesians 4:7).  This is demonstrated multiple places in scripture.  Remember Elijah and Elisha?  When Elijah was taken up into heaven, what request did Elisha make? 

2 Kings 2:9 – And it came to pass, when they were gone over, that Elijah said unto Elisha, Ask what I shall do for you, before I be taken away from you. And Elisha said, I pray you, let a double portion of your spirit be upon me.

Elisha asked to have a double portion or twice as much of the Spirit that Elijah had.  Since this is the case, Elijah obviously had only a measure of the Spirit; he did not have the Spirit without limit. 

No New Testament saint has the Spirit without limit either.  Paul declares that Holy Spirit divides his gifts among various members of the body of Christ.

1 Corinthians 12:11 – But in all these works that one and same Spirit, dividing to every man individually as he will.  

By doing so, Holy Spirit makes each one of us dependent upon the others, just like individuals members of a body (the eye, the hand, the knee, the ear, the foot, etc) need each other in order to function as a complete unit (I Corinthians 12:4-12, Ephesians 4:1-16).

This concept is more important today than ever before.  When COVID hit, and the country was shut down for a while, many if not most churches began to use social media to share their services.  This was a good and proper thing to do and many people have benefited by it.  It continues to be a good option for shut-ins, those with serious health issues, and those who want to hear additional teaching. 

But there is a downside as well.  There are people who could and should be present in the house of God, but they are choosing to remain at home, separated from the body.  By doing so, they are depriving the body of their gifts.  Are you one of these Christians?

Have you stopped to consider that on any given Sunday morning, there will be people in your congregation that need YOU to be present in order to share the specific gifts that Holy Spirit has given you?  They may be in need of your specific prayers, your words of wisdom/knowledge, your encouragement or your discernment for their situation.

YOU!

Maybe there is a suffering saint in that service that needs a financial gift and God is calling upon YOU to meet that need.  What if you aren’t there?  Rest assured, God will still meet the needs of his people, but you will miss out on one of the good works God has called you to do; you have missed a reward that could have been yours in heaven.    

Have you stopped to consider that you are missing out on corporate worship and any move of the Spirit which falls upon those who are attending?  By separating yourself from the rest of the body, you hurt not only yourself, but the corporate body of Christ.  Why are you doing that?  Unless you have a true reason to remain apart from the body, you need to get back in church immediately!    

John 3:36 – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

There is no way to enter the kingdom of God but through Christ Jesus (Acts 4:12).  Thus, whoever believes in him, does not come into condemnation; his sins forgiven and he has passed from death to life (John 5:24).

However, for those who reject Christ, their sin stays with them, and the wrath of God remains on them, resulting in eternal death.   

Let me offer you some encouragement:

When God gives you a gift or a calling, he never takes it back (Romans 11:29).  It is yours for your lifetime, to use (or neglect) as you will.  I encourage you to never stop practicing your gifts!  As you transition into different seasons of life, find new ways to continue to use and expand your gifts.  The body of Christ needs you!   

Let me offer you some relief:

In today’s post we saw John the Baptist acknowledge that God had created him in a specific way, for a specific purpose.  In his case, he was to be the forerunner of Christ.

Likewise, God has a specific purpose for your life and ministry.  So give yourself a break – stop comparing yourself to others!  You don’t need to worry about being like ‘everyone else’.  You need to focus on doing what God called you to do, whether you are ministering to one person or to thousands!

Let me offer you some strength:

In John chapter 3, we find a dispute between the followers of the Baptist and a Jewish person(s).  We noted that there have been religious arguments and disputes since the beginning of time.

But as a mature Christian, we have an opportunity to overlook petty differences between believers.  Other people in your community may pray differently, or have different views on communion, but if they trust/believe in Jesus as their savior, then they are a part of the family of God, just like you are.  Sure, it will take some strength and patience to pursue unity, but there are plenty of benefits for the kingdom of heaven, if we are willing to do so!