Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Samaritans Need To Know Jesus Personally

Many people from the Samaritan woman's village of Sychar believed in Jesus because of what the woman had told them about Him. They immediately recognized something powerful about Jesus because of the woman's testimony that Jesus had seen into her past, and into her heart.

So the Samaritans invited Jesus to stay with them. It was a sacrifice of time for these Samaritans, as they put aside their work and other daily tasks and responsibilities in order to have this two-day retreat with the Lord. And Jesus did stay with them and taught them. John recorded no miracles, or even requests for signs.

What a remarkable difference to the time Jesus spent in Jerusalem during the Passover. People were amazed at the miracles Jesus performed there, and John wrote that people did believe Jesus, but we know it was an insincere and shallow belief that did not honor the Lord, because John also wrote that Jesus did not entrust Himself to the people in He entrusted Himself to these people in Sychar.

The Samaritans' faith became grounded, not in supernatural experiences of signs and wonders, but rather in the good strong teaching of Jesus' words,
And many more believed because of his word. 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." (John 4:41-42)
That's the strongest faith, and the most spiritually mature confession recorded thus far in Jesus' ministry. They had met Jesus themselves, and as they spent time with Him, their relationship became firsthand.

How often do you spend time personally with Jesus? It's easy to let our faith hang on someone else's testimony -- books, pastors, spiritual friends. That's why a very important part of your life is going to be spending time reading the Bible and asking God to personally instruct you.

You and I need to have our faith grounded in the good strong teaching of God's word being taught directly to us by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, through His Spirit.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Samaritan Village Comes To Jesus

Jesus showed the disciples all the people coming towards them and explained that their satisfaction would come from doing the work God was presenting to them, reaping the harvest in front of them,
"Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'?" (John 4:34b)
All around them were fields with young crops, four months away from harvest, but
"Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest." (John 4:35)
I think Jesus nodded His head towards the people coming down the road. "Look guys, that 'field' walking toward us is ready! Now's the time!"

When the opportunity presents itself, regardless of what your personal agenda might have been, that's the time to take that opportunity and do the most with it. We never know how much time we truly have.
"Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.'" (John 4:36-37)
The disciples had just been in Sychar buying food. They had had plenty of opportunity to let the townspeople know that the Lord Jesus, Messiah, Who had been performing many signs and miracles in Jerusalem, was just right outside of town by Jacob's well, come and see.

But they didn't.

John's gospel tells us it was the woman who testified about Jesus, and the whole town was her harvest, not the disciples'. Now Jesus was going to rejoice with this woman as her entire town came out to meet Him.

Jesus explained this to His disciples,
"I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor." (John 4:38)
Archeologists have located Aenon near Salim, where John the Baptist had been baptizing at the end of his ministry. It was near Shechem, which was close to Sychar and Jacob's well. John the Baptist had prepared the 'soil' of this town, and planted the 'seed,' and Jesus had come with His disciples to reap the harvest. His disciples were now going to enter into the harvest even though they really hadn't done anything but go buy food.

The disciples had food for Jesus, but Jesus had food for the Samaritans, and He was teaching His disciples to reach beyond their little group to the world around them, recognizing and feeding those who were so hungry spiritually.
True satisfaction is found in doing God's will
Jesus has sent you and me into the harvest as well. God gives every Christian chances to plant His word in others' hearts, and to cultivate that seed with our love and prayers. In due time that seed will bear fruit to the glory of God.

There are times when you and I will only sow and others will be the ones who get to reap the fruit of the harvest.

Sometimes it is us who will get to reap.

Either way, doing the will of God is the important thing

* In what ways are you accomplishing the mission God has set for you?

* Where are the fields white for harvest around you?

* The disciples needed to broaden their view, get out of their little group. In what ways might you need to look beyond your family or friends?

* All the disciples had to do was reorient their thoughts as they looked at those Samaritans headed towards them. Who do you need to reorient your thoughts about?

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Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Knowing God's Will

Doing God's will is not just about doing general good works, and applying His word to your life in practical, every day ways. God also has good works in mind for you to personally do, as the Apostle Paul explained in his letter to the Ephesians,
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
People often ask me: How can we know what those things particular things are?

There are several approaches to this knotty issue, which I talk about here and here

Some food for thought, for today:

1) Believe that God knows what He wants for you, and for your family, to do. Breakthroughs happen for people who believe God.

2) Sometimes God will first speak to you directly from His word, words that seem to leap right up off the page for you in your Bible as you are studying. God guides people through His word in Scripture.

3) The Bible teaches that we should also seek godly advice from those who are wise and to be trusted. Be humble and teachable as you listen to what they have to say.

4) God will also cause circumstances to reveal His will -- such as an invitation that you didn't first cause to happen, to serve God in some way; or maybe a job offer, or the chance to do something, or move somewhere, or be with a certain person, or an opportunity arises.

5) If God invites you with circumstances, He will give you confirmation through Scripture, His published word. If God invites you through His word, then He will provide the opportunity as well, through your circumstances.

6) Be in prayer throughout this process to sense the Spirit's message to your inner being. Ask God for this inner guidance. Throughout Scripture God promises to guide you, so believe that and pray for God's direction, trusting that He knows how to speak to you in a way that you will recognize is from Him. God will guide through the inward witness of the Holy Spirit.

The "peace of God" in a decision is that sense of knowing within you that this is right -- a contented peace, or a conviction that it is the right thing to do, or a compelling desire -- it is difficult to describe, but easy to identify.

When these things are present, you can be sure that God has called you into doing whatever it is you have asked Him about. Right after there will often come some testing, either doubts or opposition of some kind, that will rattle you. Then you must go back to the process and the circumstances that proved the settling of God's will for you in order not to be moved away from the direction God has shown you.

It helps if you write it all down, as you go through the process, to remind you in times of need what the Lord has been revealing to you.

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Monday, March 28, 2011

The Disciples Learn True Satisfaction In Samaria

The disciples had come back from the town of Sychar with some food. When they got to Jacob's well they saw Jesus talking with this Samaritan woman, and they were surprised. That word in Greek means they were astonished, utterly amazed. But they didn't ask Jesus why He was talking with her, nor what He was talking with her about. I think they must have just hung back, politely, and waited for the woman to leave.

A half mile from town, without her water jar, it probably took her no more than fifteen minutes, maybe, to get back, tell everybody about Jesus and have everyone drop whatever they were doing to follow her back to the well. Think quick turnaround!

In the meantime, the disciples had started digging into their meal and trying to get Jesus to eat, too. But I think Jesus was watching the road coming out of town. He had bigger things on His mind. Sure enough, He began to see some people walking back towards Him, as He sat on the lip of Jacob's well.

Imagine Jesus watching those people walking towards Him, while the disciples kept urging Jesus to eat something,
Jesus said to them, "I have food to eat that you do not know about." (John 4:32)
Why would Jesus phrase it in that way rather than just flat out teach them about true heart satisfaction?

He captured their attention by bringing in what their minds were occupied with. And they were all about the food. When did Jesus get food? they asked. How did He get the food? Who brought Him food? they asked as they looked meangingfully at each other.

Jesus had only a few minutes to explain to the disciples that something really big was happening,
Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. (John 4:34)
God the Son had come to accomplish God's work, salvation.

Jesus explained that doing the Father's will -- in this case, leading the Samaritan woman to salvation, and preparing to speak to her whole town -- was true nourishment to His soul. This truth, for Jesus, had been tested in the wilderness when He was tempted (right after He was baptized).

During that time of temptation Satan knew Jesus had been fasting for forty days, and that He was weak with starving. So Satan told Jesus to use His super powers to turn a stone into a loaf of bread. After all, the devil insinuated, if He died of hunger, His whole mission would be a failure.

Jesus' answer was to quote from scripture. A person did not live by bread alone, but by the word of God. Eternal life, and God's will, that is even more important than earthly life.

Now the disciples needed to know where true satisfaction in life comes from:
* Food satisfies physical hunger. In the same way, the food of God gives us meaning in life, satisfying our spiritual hunger.

* Food strengthens the body. In the same way, the food of God strengthens us spiritually. Doing God's will strengthens us for doing the greater things God has for us to do.

* Food supplies enjoyment, and doing God's will brings spiritual enjoyment.

* Food nourishes, keeps us healthy, and protects us from getting sick. In the same way, the food of God keeps us spiritually healthy.

* Food is necessary to live, we eat every day. So it is with God's will. Doing God's will is necessary when you have been born again, for God dwells within you, and every day you and I need to be in His will to receive nourishment, strength, enjoyment and health.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

The Samaritan Woman's "Fruit of Faith"

Can you imagine Jesus’ joy and delight in this woman? How much more joy did she bring Him than Nicodemus, who had all his advantages, but left Jesus that night without putting his faith in Him.

The epilogue to this one woman’s willingness to run back and tell her village about Jesus is found in Acts 8:4-25. The seeds planted on this day became a great harvest of believers when the apostle Philip went back to Samaria three years later to tell them about the Lord Jesus’ resurrection.
What you’re full of is always going to come out
That’s right! Whatever it is.

What are you full of? Have you been born again?

Is God’s eternal life welling up within you like a spring of living water? You don’t have to think about it, you don’t have to work at it, it just comes out naturally because it’s your nature, whether your old nature, or the new nature God has given you. The Samaritan woman had found love and significance in Jesus and she had to tell everyone she kne

An effective witness will have to leave some things behind. Maybe you have been damping down God’s Holy Spirit within you because there are some things you haven’t left at Jesus feet –

* Maybe you are a shy person.
* Maybe you feel like you don’t know enough to talk about the gospel.
* Maybe you’re afraid people will ask you questions you can’t answer, or they will argue with you, or not like you any more.
* Maybe you’re carrying unforgiveness, or prejudice.

If you recognize that this is where you are, I hope you will ask God to make it possible for you to be intentional and proactive about addressing in practical ways what is holding you back.

Think what joy you bring the Lord Jesus when you are filled to overflowing with His love and joy, and you are willing to bring others to Him.

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Saturday, March 26, 2011

The Samaritan Woman's Confession of Faith is Followed by Action

Have you ever heard the phrase “Leave it at the feet of Jesus”? Well this is what the Samaritan woman literally did with her water jug, the symbol of her old life, having to walk a half mile each way every day just to get water.

Leaving her jug was a symbol of repentance, putting down her old life and taking up the new eternal life that Jesus offered her.

– She would not longer seek satisfaction through one romance after another. Her thirst for love and acceptance, for a sense of significance would come from her knowledge of God’s love, and His life, welling up within her.

What do you need to symbolically leave at Jesus’ feet? What have you been trying to find satisfaction in that you now realize is actually standing in the way of you finding true satisfaction in Jesus?

She could trust Jesus with the things of her life. After all, He had proven that He knew everything about her, but instead of condemning her, He loved her and entrusted His revelation of Himself to her.

What do you need to let go of, and trust Jesus with, so that you will be able to receive more from Him?

– She knew she was coming back, and that Jesus would be there, taking care of her water jug for her. He is trustworthy with the things of our lives.

What do you need Jesus to take care of for you, so that you will be free to tell others about Him?

She was born again, and we immediately see the power of God working through her

1) Her values changed, she was no longer burdened about her old life
2) She ran towards the very people she had been trying to avoid before. 3) She was concerned for other people, not protecting herself
4) The most important thing to her was bringing them to the Lord

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Friday, March 25, 2011

The Samaritan Woman's Response of Faith

The woman was tracking right along with Jesus, but it hardly seemed possible that Jesus could be the one everyone had been waiting for, for centuries
"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.'

"Jesus said to her, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (John 4:25-26)
The Samaritans called the Messiah “Tahav,” the Revealer. Someday the Messiah would come, and He would bring about this radical change in worship, but Jesus certainly can’t mean that time had come now
...could He?

The words that John records Jesus having said at this point are, literally, in the Greek: “I that speak to you – I AM” Jesus spoke out loud the holiest of names, the “I AM” of God, Yahweh. It is the boldest claim yet in John’s gospel, and it was to one of the lowliest people you could think of.

You would have thought Jesus would have saved this incredible revelation for someone who could really appreciate it, like Nicodemus, or at least His disciples, or at the very least a Jew, and a man. The rabbis of that day had a saying, “It is better that the words of the law be burned that to be delivered to a woman.” Women weren’t considered to be worthy of receiving revelation from God in that day.

But here the Lord gave this Samaritan, and a woman at that, the revelation the whole world had been waiting to hear.


* She had so little spiritual truth.
* She hadn’t been raised up in the scriptures, or God’s Law.
* She was considered a lowly sinner even by Samaritan standards.

But what she had was humility. She was teachable. She wanted what Jesus had to give. She was willing to receive whatever He had for her.

You don’t need to be a Nicodemus to receive understanding from God. You just need to be humble, teachable, and want to learn.
God desires people to worship Him in spirit and in truth
How often do you really worship God? Even on Sunday mornings, when our minds and hearts are not in it, singing songs and reciting words are not really worship.

When you feel like your joy has gone away, then worship is one of the places you can find your joy back. If prayer has come to feel like a burden, then temporarily put aside all those petitions and spend your time praising and worshiping for a while. Sing songs of praise. Pray scripture that worships God. This is how you drink from the spring of living water, God’s life within you.

When you feel weak, or down, or joyless
1) Think about God’s attributes
2) Find verses that talk about God’s great power, His love and goodness and meditate on them
3) Remember before God all those times that He showed His power in your life
4) Tell the Lord how you know He will meet you powerfully in your current situation

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Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Samaritan Woman's Question: Are You The Messiah?

The Samaritan women didn’t try to defend herself or get away from Jesus. Instead of retreating, she came in closer to Jesus. She was, in effect, admitting the Lord was right about her.

She said “You must be a prophet, you really see me, you know everything about me, you know what’s in my heart.” She was finally stepping into the spiritual plane with Jesus, and this was Jesus other purpose for her – to discover Who He really is.

Remember that the Samaritans only believed in the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. So they didn’t believe in any of the Bible prophets. The only prophet they had ever believed in was Moses.

As far as they were concerned there would only be one more prophet, the prophet Moses had prophesied about, the Messiah. But here Jesus was, obviously a prophet! So she asked Jesus about her religion –

1) What about our holy mountain?
2) Have we been wrong after all?
3) Are the Jews right after all?

Jesus made three remarkable statements in answer to her question:
1) "Jesus said to her, 'Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.'" (John 4:21)
The question of whose mountain was right was soon going to be irrelevant. The Jewish form of worship, with all the sacrifices, would no longer be necessary because Jesus was going to fulfill all that symbolism by dying on the cross.

Jesus’ death and resurrection would make every believer’s body God’s temple. Wherever believers are gathered together, that’s a holy place, that’s where God is worshiped.

2) "'You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.'" (John 4:22)
The Samaritans had some truth, but it was mixed with error.

The Jews alone had the scriptures, the revelation of God, and the right symbolic worship, and through the Jews would come Jesus Himself, the fulfillment of all the scriptures.

3) "'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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit.'" (John 4:23-24)
Man-made religion is not acceptable to God.
* True worship is done in the human spirit.
* True worship comes from the heart. It’s not something you do while your mind is somewhere else.

God is spirit, and so are you and I, in our innermost being. Worship is the human spirit meeting God’s Spirit, a communion which is intimate union.

That can only happen when you are born again. Truth is transparency with God, and it is also meeting God through Jesus Christ Who is the truth.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Definition of Repentance

In scripture, repentance means to "undergo a change of one's mind" which results in a change of the entire direction of a person's life.

Biblical repentance is a radical turning away from sin and towards Christ. It is a key element of saving faith

According to the Bible, repentance and faith go together. There can be no genuine turning to Christ in faith without an accompanying repudiation of sin.

The Bible explains that in the past you and I were spiritually dead, unfeeling towards God. We followed the ways of this world and, even though we didn't realize it, we obeyed Satan, who rules the world. Satan has power over everyone who is dead to God. Before you and I were born again, we were also ruled by the selfish desires of our human natures. Because of this, we were already under God's wrath.

But look at how Jesus was with this Samaritan woman. That is the picture of God's real mercy! We were dead because of our sins, but God loved us so much that He made you and I who received Him alive with Messiah Jesus. It is God's wonderful kindness which saves you and me, which woos us to repentance, and flows into our lives when we repent.

As a person hears the gospel, understands it and accepts it, God's regeneration of that person from being dead in their sins to being spiritually alive, and that person's repentance and calling on God all seem to happen together.

True repentance involves three important steps:
1) Conviction: Becoming convinced, through the work of the Holy Spirit, that what you have done – or not done – constitutes sin, it was wrong and you now hate it as God hates it.

You and I know when we do things that are wrong – yelling at our kids, being rude to someone, breaking a promise we don’t want to keep. Then we try to protect ourselves from feeling bad about it by trying to justify it, trying to make it seem less than it really is. But scripture teaches that confessing our sins honestly and completely, without trying to gloss over it, or make excuses, is really the only way to spiritual health, and that brings us to the next step.

2) Contrition: Along with your confession of sin, with no attempt to excuse it or justify it, you also experience the sorrow that you have offended God and broken fellowship with Him.

3) Conversion: Resolving, deeply, to turn away from sin and turn towards Christ, coupled with a willingness to make restitution whenever possible.

Repentance is a prerequisite, a necessary condition for salvation. But even after a you and I are saved, we continue to sin. The Bible calls us to repent again and again as we are convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Jesus Confronted the Samaritan Woman's Sinful Lifestyle

Jesus knew what was standing in the way of this woman moving from temporary satisfaction to true heart satisfaction. She was trying to find heart satisfaction and that sense of significance we all need, in relationships with men. So He gently drew out what had been keeping her back
"Jesus said to her, 'Go, call your husband, and come here.'"
At first she tried to make her situation look better than it really was by trying to create the impression that she lived alone, that she was single.

Yes, Jesus agreed, that’s technically true. But you’ve already been through five marriages, and you’re actually living with a guy right now who isn’t your husband.

When Jesus brought up her lifestyle choice, she was amazed, but not offended. Jesus had shown Himself to be completely in the know about her sin, but also tender, compassionate, loving and personally interested in her.

* He didn’t condemn her, or try to shame her or ridicule her.
* He didn’t go into a long speech about how immoral that was.
* He didn't go on about how low her standards were, what’s wrong with her, going from man to man.

Instead, without holding back the truth, but with all gentleness, Jesus helped her to see the loneliness and emptiness in her heart.

--> When you and I are in situations like this, talking about spiritual things with people, we also can pray and ask God for this kind of insight, to help people see the truth about themselves, and the truth about God.

Her thirst to be loved, and to find significance had never been satisfied. She knew what falling in love was like, she knew what a hot romance was all about, but she had never yet found true love.

She had found out, again and again, that falling in love only lasts so long – and then something deeper and more real has to take its place, or the relationship will die away. Every time she got married she was looking for a secure and binding kind for love, love that would last a life time. but with each failed marriage her hope dwindled so that finally she had reached a point where she’d given up on the commitment of marriage.

Jesus understood her loneliness, and her fear of being left old and alone. He knew that her search for acceptance and self-worth and love had led her to look for the wrong kinds of love, and now she was a moral outcast. Jesus had two purposes for her at this point.

1) The first was for her to recognize how empty her lifestyle was so she could repent.

[More on repentance tomorrow]

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Only Jesus' Living Water Truly Satisfies

The woman asked the Lord if He thought He was smarter and better than the famous patriarch Jacob who had dug the very well He was sitting on? Where was there a stream? Was He going to dig deeper than the 150 feet of this well? And what was He going to get the water with?

The woman kept speaking on the earthly plane, about running water, but Jesus persevered in talking on the spiritual plane, understanding her cynicism and her soul hunger. He explained that the water He was talking about wasn’t just regular water
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." (John 4:13-14)

Jesus was talking about God’s Holy Spirit, God’s very life being put into her inner being through faith in Him
. The spring of living water would be inside her, and she would have a fresh source of life-giving water day and night.

That sounded fantastic to her
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."(John 4:15)
It’s hard to tell if she understood what Jesus was talking about, or if she was still thinking about regular, earthly water. But either way, she believed Jesus, and she was interested in what He had to offer her. She didn’t have a lot of knowledge, but she was teachable and open to the truth.

--> How teachable and open minded are you and I? How much do you and I miss because we’re not willing to entertain a new idea that’s different than what we always thought?
Only Jesus’ living water truly satisfies
The Samaritan woman had to walk a half mile every day to Jacob’s well to get water. Every day that jug would empty out eventually, as she used the water, and back she would have to go to get more.

Think of all the things in life that promise to satisfy --
* A good job, a good relationship, a good family, good children, good possessions, good source of money.

* If only we had a bigger house, or a maid, or new car.

* If only we could get into that club, or buy at that store, or be included with those people.

That’s earthly water. None of that lasts. Jobs change; people grow old and die, or move on; material things are subject to decay, theft, fires, floods. What earthly thing have you been counting on to satisfy your soul hunger?

Only what God offers lasts. The spring of living water is God’s life which not only lasts, but it stays the same quality forever, rich, refreshing, profoundly meaningful, infinitely exciting life. Eternal life is saturated with God’s own love, joy and peace springing up within you like a spring of living water.

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman

I wonder if it made the Samaritan woman feel uncomfortable at first to see this lone Jewish man sitting on the well she would have to use to draw water. She may have hoped that he would move away, but he didn’t, so she had no choice but to go up to the well to get her water.

Have you ever been in one of those uncomfortable situations? You want to keep yourself to yourself. But the Lord loves people, all people. There’s no ranking system with God, that some people are better, He loved this mixed-race, mixed-religion woman and He respected and honored her.

What opportunity has God opened up for you, no matter how lowly, to talk about the Gospel? What kinds of people have you already decided you won’t be talking about Jesus with because they’re just too coarse, or they’re not too smart, or they’re too worldly?

Maybe you’ve told yourself they have their own religion already, leave well enough alone, or they have science, or they’re just not your kind of people. When do prejudices stand in your way and mine, in these uncomfortable situations?

If you’re the kind of person who lives an outwardly blameless life, how do you act around a person who doesn’t? Do you make them feel comfortable around you, or do they sense your disapproval?

Notice how Jesus reached out to her in such a simple and vulnerable way. He asked her for a drink of water. Though He is God, He is also a man, and He knew what it was to be hot and tired and thirsty, to have physical needs.

She was of course surprised that a Jewish person would talk to her, and here Jesus was also a man, that made it even more uncomfortable. I’d like to think she still poured Him a drink as she asked Him how He could possible by willing to drink from her unclean jug. Jesus had an even bigger surprise for her
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." (John 4:10)
That really took her aback!

What was Jesus talking about? Living water in ancient times meant fresh running water which remained healthy and pure, like a stream. Often water stored in cisterns would grow stagnant, so a source of fresh water was especially valued in the desert. But even wells could go bad or run dry, so a stream was the most valuable of all since it meant that there was a continuing source of water no matter how hot and dry the rest of the area got.

The prophet Jeremiah compared God to living water, and rejecting God for earthly sources of satisfaction as being like drinking stagnant water from broken cisterns.
declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:12-12)
There are other Old Testament references to this idea of God being the source of fresh, pure living water, but since none of them are in the first five books of the Bible, the Samaritan woman would not have been familiar with this concept. Still, she might have remembered God's dealings with His people in the exodus, providing them with water whenever they needed it.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Background on Samaria

Ordinarily, most Jews of Jesus’ day, if they wanted to get to Galilee, took the long way around, six days on foot instead of two, so they wouldn’t have to go through Samaria.

A thousand years and more before Jesus’ time, the ten northern tribes of Israel had rebelled and started their own government, leaving only the two southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin as the "real Israel" under King David’s dynasty. The northern tribes rejected the Jerusalem temple worship and set up golden calves at their own shrines, in "holy cities" of their own making.

Three hundred years later the Assyrians came in and wiped out the northern kingdom, took the people captive, and sent in their own people to repopulate the devastated area. You can read the whole story in 2 Kings 17. Hundreds of years after that, when the Jews came back to Judah to rebuild the temple, they would not let the Samaritans help them and forbade intermarriage with the Samaritans.

For the next 450 years the Jews and the Samaritans hated each other. The Samaritan built their own temple on their own mountain, Mt. Gerizim, in the historic area of Shechem where Jacob had originally pitched his tent and dug a well. They only accepted the first five books of the Bible as scripture, and they also worshiped five other deities besides Yahweh. They were a mixed-race people, part Hebrew and part Assyrian, and they had a mixed religion, like New Age today.

When Jesus and His disciples got to Jacob’s famous well, they decided to take a break. Jesus sat down to rest, and the disciples went into the nearest town to go buy some food. They probably passed by the woman with her water jug as they walked into the town of Sychar. Archeologists show there was another well in town, but she was walking the extra half mile every day out of town to go to Jacob’s well, probably because of her low reputation amongst the other town members.

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Friday, March 18, 2011

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

And Jesus had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 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.

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.)

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.)

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."

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? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock."

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."

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."

Jesus said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here."

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 woman said to him, "Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship."

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. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."

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." Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am he."

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?"

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?" They went out of the town and were coming to him.

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."

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. 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. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 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."

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word.

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."

After the two days he departed for Galilee.

[Blended Gospels, John 4:4-43, ESV]

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Lord Jesus' Reason For Leaving Judea

Jesus heard that John had been arrested. Now after John was arrested, 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, proclaiming the gospel of God. (For Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own hometown.)

[Blended Gospels, Matthew 4:12; Mark 1:14a; John 4:1-3, 44 ESV]
After Jesus’ blockbuster statement to Nicodemus that God actually loves the whole world, not just Pharisees, He made His way to the most despised people in the area.

It seems that after one of the Pharisees went to talk with John the Baptist’s disciples about purification and baptisms, the rest of the Pharisees became involved in comparing Jesus’ ministry to John’s, and started keeping count on who had more followers. This was the reason Jesus left Judea: to avoid the growing controversy.

In fact the word John used for “left” is actually even stronger in the Greek. John said Jesus “forsook” or “abandoned” Judea. He was not going to have anything to do with all this legalistic controversy over baptism.

Instead, the Lord headed up to Galilee, going straight through Samaria to get there.

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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Background on the Herod Family

At the time Jesus was born, Herod the Great ruled all of Palestine. He was the one the wise men came to asking about the baby and the star. It was Herod the Great who ordered the slaughter of all the baby boys in Bethlehem. It was no big deal to him. He had numerous sons and daughters of his own, by ten wives, and he killed them, too, when he thought they were getting in his way.

When Herod the Great died He divided Judea into three portions and, with Rome’s permission, divvied these portions out among three of his surviving sons: Archelaus got Judea and Samaria; Philip got Trachonitis and Ituraea; and Herod Antipas got Galilee and Peraea. It was at this time that an angel came to Joseph and told him it was safe to move back to Nazareth. A fourth son, named Herod Philip, received money as his portion and lived in Rome.

The year before John the Baptist was beheaded Herod Antipas went to Rome to visit his brother, Herod Philip and began to admire Philip’s wife, Herodias. We’re going to see a biblical principle played out in what happened next: Sin begins with what is cherished in the heart.

The Bible says that we are tempted by our own desires that drag us off and trap us. Our desires make us sin, and when sin is finished with us, it leaves us dead. [James 1:14-15] Herod and Herodias had a lifestyle of indulging their sinful desires. Their sin was full blown, but we all have sin to deal with, and there are lessons to be learned here from their bad example.

Who knows who seduced who, but Herod and Herodias ended up having an affair, and Herod brought her and her teenaged daughter Salome back with him to Galilee. One problem. Herod was already married to a princess whose father ruled Petra, right next door to Palestine. Herod divorced this first wife to get rid of her and sent her back to Petra so he could move Herodias into his palace.

John the Baptist boldly denounced what Herod and Herodias had done, and that made them mad.

--> How do you respond to someone who has just pointed out sin in your life? Do you get mad? Do you want to get them back?

For the next ten months Herodias nursed a grudge against John the Baptist and wanted to kill him. The only person standing in her way was her new husband, Herod.

See, Herod liked to listen to John even though what John said often puzzled and even sometimes offended him. And he was afraid of John since he knew that the Baptist was a righteous and holy man, and he was afraid of what the people might do if John were killed, since the people considered the Baptist a prophet. So Herod protected John. He imprisoned him in one of his palace fortresses, but he let John’s disciples have free access to minister to John.

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Blended Gospels: John the Baptist's Imprisonment

But Herod the tetrarch, who had been reproved by [John the Baptist] for Herodias, his brother’s wife, and for all the evil things that Herod had done, added this to them all, that he had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife."

And though he wanted to put him to death, he feared the people, because they held him to be a prophet. And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

[Matthew 14:3-5, Mark 6:17-20, Luke 3:19-20, ESV]

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Monday, March 14, 2011

John the Baptist: He Must Increase, I Must Decrease

The Baptist gave a three-part response to his disciples’ concern about the Lord Jesus being his rival:
1) All our work comes from God.
“No one can receive anything unless it is given from heaven." (John 3:27)
We like to take credit for what we’ve accomplished, but who gave you your intelligence? Or who gave you your health and strength, your ability to work, and the good fortune that enabled your hard work to pay off? All the credit goes to God.

John the Baptist understood this principle. He knew his role had been given to him by God, it was work that would give him satisfaction and fulfillment

2) The Baptist reminded them that he had always known his role. He was not the Messiah, but the one sent ahead.
"You yourselves can testify that I said that I’m not the Christ but that I’m the one sent before him." (John 3:28)

3) He’s like the best man, and all the people are the bride.
"The groom is the one who is getting married. The friend of the groom stands close by and, when he hears him, is overjoyed at the groom’s voice. Therefore, my joy is now complete." (Jouhn 3:29
Jesus is the groom. It would be crazy for the best man to feel like he was in competition with the groom to get the bride, it would be a total betrayal of his relationship with both the groom and His bride. Instead the best man is joyful for the groom, his best friend

The only way for you and I to have a successful mission is to have the same attitude.

These are the last recorded words of John before his arrest, when he told his disciples that he would have to decrease so Jesus’ ministry could grow. John’s mission was for Jesus to increase and for John to basically work himself out of a ministry because everyone would go to Jesus.

John wanted his followers to understand just how significant Jesus was. For one thing, Jesus came from heaven. He wasn’t simply called from heaven, or empowered by heaven, like John the Baptist was. Jesus actually came from heaven. Since He came from heaven, The Lord Jesus represents God, and to reject His witness is to reject God.

Jesus shares what He has seen and heard in heaven, that’s His testimony. Those who receive Jesus’ witness know that it’s true. You have to receive it, the Baptist was saying, you can’t just hear it.

The Baptist could not have been more clear,
"The one whom God sent speaks God’s words because God gives the Spirit generously." (John 3:34)
God sent the Lord Jesus. God gave Jesus the word, God gave Jesus His Spirit, in fact God gave Jesus everything.

The gospel writer, John, echoed Jesus' words to Nicodemus,
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life."
"The Father loves the Son and gives everything into his hands. Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”
(John 3:16 and 3:35-36)
God loves the world and the Father loves the Son. Whoever receives Jesus’ witness also shares in the love the Father has for the Son, and in this “all things” that has been given to Jesus.

The last verse is actually the only place in the whole gospel that John used the actual word “wrath,” but he again echoed Jesus' words to Nicodemus,
"Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son."
"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life. Whoever doesn’t believe in the Son won’t see life, but the angry judgment [wrath] of God remains on them."
(John 3:18 and John 3:36)
obeying the Son means believing in Him and receiving Him.
Joy comes from obedience to God’s call, not getting the glory for yourself
This was a perfect setup for conflict, but it didn’t happen because there was no competition between John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. The Baptist was content with who he was and what his job was. He didn’t have ambition to be or do more than God had given him, and he wasn’t worried about the numbers. He knew that his part was to obey God, and the results were in God’s hands.

I used to belong to a very small church, maybe fifty people on a bumper Sunday. Our building was made out of stucco, and we never did have much money. But we were right next door to a big stone church, beautiful, wealthy and full of people.

Sometimes they would accidentally come into our building, thinking we were like the kitchen or something. But we never felt bad. God had a purpose for us in our smallness. People often joined us for a while who had had bad experiences in a big church, and our church was just like family. We could never have offered them healing and renewal like we did if we had been a big church.

When does your own sense of importance overshadow your service to God? The source of contentment comes from knowing all of us have the same basic job of pointing others to Jesus. How that looks from person to person may be different but the calling is the same. There should be no comparison and no competition.

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Sunday, March 13, 2011

John the Baptist: Contentment, Not Competition

Since John was writing about stories that he wanted to be read side by side to reveal something, he reminded the reader that this next story actually happened a little while before John had been put in prison, before John had been arrested.

For the few months until John the Baptist was arrested by Herod and put into prison, his ministry overlapped with the Lord Jesus. The Baptist did not really want to have followers. His whole ministry was about pointing to the Lamb of God and urging people to trust in Him.

But when two popular leaders are involved in a similar work, there’s bound to be trouble.

Evidently a Jew, we don’t know who, but John uses that word to mean a Pharisee or Scribe, got into a discussion about baptism and purification with the Baptist’s followers. Something must have been said in that conversation that made the Baptist’s followers feel like John the Baptist was getting compared unfavorably with the Lord Jesus.

They were upset about it. They started feeling a sense of rivalry with Jesus’ ministry because everybody was going to Him now, and He was even baptizing people, which had been John the Baptist’s special thing.

Competition is one of the most toxic forces to enter the Body of Christ.

Rivalry between ministries is one of the wedges Satan, God’s enemy and ours, uses to alienate Christians from each other, undermine projects in churches and block the progress of the gospel.

Who might you be feeling in competition with, or comparing yourself to? John’s disciples had gotten caught up in the numbers game: Who Had The Bigger Ministry.

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Blended Gospels: The Last Episode In John The Baptist's Ministry

After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 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).

Now a discussion arose between some of John’s disciples and a Jew over purification. 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."

John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.' 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. He must increase, but I must decrease."

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. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.

Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 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. 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.

[John 3:22-36, ESV]

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Fourth of Four Illustrations

Being reborn is like turning the lights on in a darkened room.
4) light and darkness: Just as, in Genesis, God’s word divided the light from the darkness, so now Jesus, the Light of the world, came into the world and divided those who love the Light from those who embrace the darkness.

It isn’t really intellectual issues with complicated concepts that keep people from trusting in the Lord Jesus. According to this passage, the real problem is moral and spiritual blindness that keep people loving the darkness and hating the light.

Nobody really likes being shown to be wrong. That’s why it can be so hard to change. What have you been defending, and resisting changing with every last ounce of your strength? The light of God’s truth exposes what’s wrong within you and me and that truth presents a dilemma. Acknowledge we’ve been embracing sin, or change.

Verse 21 is the key
Whoever does the truth comes to the light so that it can be seen that their actions were done in God. (John 3:21)
In other words, if you are willing to begin obeying the truth, even when that means that sin will be exposed in your life, then change will take place.

This is called repentance.

When you acknowledge that something is wrong, and it has to change. This process begins with a recognition, a conviction deep inside, that something is not right in your life and you want it to be right. There is only one person Who can make it right. The Lord Jesus Christ.
In order to love the light you will have to hate the darkness
You can’t love what’s wrong and love God at the same time. You can’t love Jesus and your own sin.

The bottom line is that you and I have to pick, and what we pick carries immediate and eternal implications. To pick Jesus means coming into the light, knowing that God’s light will expose the sin in your life. There will be some painful times involved in that, in fact, the Bible describes it as being like dying. But what will really happen is that you will be freed from corruption and death, and you will have, starting now, eternal life.

Where might you be habitually choosing to scoot away from the light of God’s truth because it’s uncomfortable, and you don’t want to change? To reject Jesus means to stay in the darkness, stay under the condemnation of God’s judgement against sin, and to remain under the wrath of God, which will deal with all sin, ultimately.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Shocking Revelation

Here was Nicodemus’ next shocker,
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life. (John 3:16)
Pharisees despised all Gentiles, and held a very low view of most Jews. In fact the only people Pharisees really respected was each other. But God loves not just Jews, children of the promise. God loves the world, Gentiles included.

In fact, think about it. --> Everyone starts out in life as spiritually dead. But God sees the awfulness of sin. His wrath is poised to cleanse all of creation from sin, and He wants to rescue people because He loves people.

The rescue was going to be costly. It cost God pain, separation, being beaten and mocked, descent into darkness when the Lord Jesus, God the Son, was made sin for us in our place. It cost death. And He did all that so that people would not be corrupted by sin anymore, which would end in death, but could be cleaned, healed and have eternal life.

Have” is immediate. Eternal life doesn’t just describe the duration, forever, but the quality of life, having the same spiritual life as God Himself.

The next verse gives you and me crucial insight into how we should be approaching people with the good news about Jesus
God didn’t send his Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
The Pharisees were expecting the Messiah to come as judge, to condemn all evildoers (the Gentiles and bad Jews) and destroy them, and restore Israel to its full glory.

How many people see God as mean and distant judge, never satisfied, not approachable? One of the main criticisms nonChristians have about Christians is judgmentalism, this constant sense of being disapproved of by Christians, being uncomfortable in church settings because of this pressure to look and act a certain way.

This isn’t God’s way at all. His way is love and compassion and understanding. Jesus did not come to condemn, or to point His finger at people and tell them what terrible sinners they are. Instead Jesus’ way with even blatant sinners was always sensing their hurt and their need, and their shame and loneliness.

This doesn’t mean that the Lord Jesus was indifferent to sin. He knows we can’t be free until the sin issue has been solved in our lives. Jesus came to free us from the bondage of sin.

This is God’s gift, given in love, but His gift still requires a response
Whoever believes in him isn’t judged; whoever doesn’t believe in him is already judged, because they don’t believe in the name of God’s only Son.(John 3:18)
The Bible takes the position that humankind is living under the wrath of God all the time. He sees the evil that mars His creation and destroys the people He loves, and God intends to get rid of it. God’s wrath consumes evil and wickedness not as the opposite of His love, but as the expression of His love. God will protect and set free the object of His affection.

It’s not people God seeks to destroy but the sin that destroys His people. In that sense God’s wrath is far more a cure than it is a punishment. It’s primary purpose is not to hurt us but to heal us.

But that’s not to say that God’s wrath doesn’t ultimately consume people as well. His wrath has been described as a refiner’s fire that purifies. But sometimes God’s presence also brought the end to people’s lives when He was dealing with their sin. God’s wrath, as it consumes sin will also consume people who have become so ensared by sin that they are no longer interested in reaching out to God’s mercy.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Third of Four Illustrations

Jesus had given Nicodemus two real life, earthly illustrations. Now they were going to move into theology. Since Nicodemus was a devoted teacher of the Bible Jesus moved to scripture by first identifying Himself as the Son of Man, a phrase that clearly indicated Jesus was the Messiah, and then giving Nicodemus his third illustration,
No one has gone up to heaven except the one who came down from heaven, the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. (John 3:13-15)
3) Snake: This story is found in Numbers 21:4-9
The Israelites had to go around the territory of Edom, so when they left Mount Hor, they headed south toward the Red Sea. But along the way, the people became so impatient that they complained against God and said to Moses, "Did you bring us out of Egypt, just to let us die in the desert? There's no water out here, and we can't stand this awful food!"

Then the LORD sent poisonous snakes that bit and killed many of them.

Some of the people went to Moses and admitted, "It was wrong of us to insult you and the LORD. Now please ask him to make these snakes go away."

Moses prayed, and the LORD answered, "Make a snake out of bronze and place it on top of a pole. Anyone who gets bitten can look at the snake and won't die."

Moses obeyed the LORD. And all of those who looked at the bronze snake lived, even though they had been bitten by the poisonous snakes.
Lifted up had a dual meaning.
--> The first was Jesus being lifted up on the cross. The people had sinned, and they were under the condemnation of God because of it.

The snakes were their judgment. There were too many serpents, and they were too deadly to try and kill them. There was no known antidote They couldn’t just pretend they weren’t there -- like we try denial today, ignore a problem, maybe it will go away. Passing anti-serpent laws wouldn’t change anything. There was nowhere they could go, nowhere they could hide. They were unable to rescue themselves, and everyone would have died.

The bronze snake, nailed to a pole, was their only hope of rescue. It was the image of their sin of not trusting God, and calling His provision for them detestable. They had to look to that symbol of sin and judgement, and believe God’s promise in order to literally be saved from dying.

Jesus was saying “When Moses lifted that serpent in the wilderness, he was displaying a symbol of Me. I will be made sin for the sake of saving the people from eternal death.”

--> Jesus also made an allusion to the other time He would be lifted up off the earth, when He would rise from the dead and ascend into heaven, where He would be raised to all authority, and currently rules as the king in the kingdom of God. Believing in the cross and the resurrection is the same as believing in the snake in the desert.

One day Nicodemus would remember all this when Jesus really was nailed to the pole of a cross and lifted up to die.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Second of Four Illustrations

In order to help Nicodemus understand the concept of being born of water (God's word) and the Spirit (of God), Jesus gave His second illustration, concerning the Spirit,

2) Wind:
"God’s Spirit blows wherever it wishes. You hear its sound, but you don’t know where it comes from or where it is going.” (John 3:8, first half)
The word “wind” in both Hebrew and Greek is the same word for “spirit.” As Nicodemus felt the wind brush against him, and saw the leaves fluttering in the trees Jesus explained that like the wind the Holy Spirit is invisible but powerful, and you can’t predict, explain or control the movements of the wind.
"It’s the same with everyone who is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8, second half)
Regeneration is partly a mystery, it’s all internal, you can’t fully explain it, and there are no physical steps you can take to make it happen, God does it, but you and I can see the evidence of it.
Nicodemus could hardly take it all in. “How could this be?”

But Jesus wouldn’t let him off the hook. If Nicodemus was the teacher of Israel, then he had all he needed in the scriptures themselves to know what Jesus was talking about. He should know that
Isaiah spoke of new life from God;
Jeremiah had predicted a new creation that would be given;
Ezekiel had said God would take out the old heart of stone and replace it with a new heart and His own Spirit.

How often do you and I study the Bible with a preconceived idea of what the answer is, rather than really reading what it says? What have you been trying to understand using your own intellect, without God’s guidance and the help of His Spirit?
To enter the kingdom of God, you must be born again
What spiritual issues have you been trying to solve with earthly solutions? In our natural state people can’t understand spiritual truth, or comprehend the kingdom of God. So often you and I get hung up on behavior before we start talking about the gospel. You have to be born again to even understand how behavior relates to the inner person.

The Pharisees spent all of their energy on the externals. Good behavior was the important thing to them, not what was going on in their hearts. It made me think about my own parenting.

Think how discouraging that is to require good behavior from someone who isn’t good – how often have you and I done that to ourselves, to our children, to others in our lives, setting an impossible standard of good behavior without addressing the need for a changed heart, filled with the goodness of God?

Good behavior doesn’t make you or me a good person. Only being born again can accomplish that by receiving God’s goodness within, in new life.

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Monday, March 7, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: First of Four Illustrations

Jesus gave Nicodemus four different ways to think about this radical new concept,
1) Birth:
“I assure you, unless someone is born of water and the Spirit, it’s not possible to enter God’s kingdom." (John 3:5)
Rabbis of Jesus day were actually familiar with this idea but to them it was completely external. It meant making vows and going through a purification ritual in order to enter into a new order, like the Pharisees, or even to become a Jew. Jesus added a profound new dimension

We often talk about a Christian being someone who gives one's life to God, but first we need to describe a Christian as someone who gets one's life from God.

The same way people enter into the physical world by being born physically, people enter into the spiritual kingdom of God being born spiritually.
"Whatever is born of the flesh is flesh, and whatever is born of the Spirit is spirit." (John 3:6)
One can’t adapt to the new kingdom. You have to be born again, born from above. You need to be a whole new person, born into the kingdom.

Rebirth is that act by which the Holy Spirit puts His eternal life into a person who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. "Rebirth" in theological terms is referred to as regeneration. Regeneration takes what was once dead spiritually and causes it to be born again in newness of life.

The Holy Spirit recreates the human heart, putting into your heart, and mine, an inclination towards God and a desire for the things of God. Just as the child inherits the nature of her parents, so does the child of God. The born again person has God’s nature within.

Just as there are two parents for physical birth, there are two parents for spiritual birth: water, which in the Bible often symbolizes the Word of God, which refreshes and purifies, and the Spirit of God Who enlivens. When put together, believing God’s word and being enlivened by the Holy Spirit, new life begins.

This news rocked Nicodemus to the core. He was a Jew, born of Abraham, child of the covenant, circumcised and keeper of the law. But inwardly he was spiritually dead, as the Bible describes everyone to be. The reason people fail to do what is right is because there is something wrong with who we are. Who we are needs to change, not just what we do.

The Lord Jesus must have seen the shock on Nicodemus face because He said “Don’t look at me like that!”
"Don’t be surprised that I said to you, ‘You must be born anew.’"(John 3:7)
and He gave Nicodemus a second illustration...

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Sunday, March 6, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Be Born Again

Nicodemus was a powerful man in Jerusalem society. He was a Pharisee and a ruler of the Jews. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the council of seventy men who ran the religious affairs of the nation and who had religious authority over every Jew anywhere in the world.

The Pharisees originated in around 135 to 105 B.C. These were devout and courageous men who had stood firm against Greek idolatry and the fierce religious persecution of their day. Each man had taken a vow before three witnesses that he would devote every moment of his entire life to obeying God’s Law.

A group formed within the Pharisees called the scribes who studied the Law and worked out how to apply it to ever aspect of life. They compiled their work into a book called the Mishnah - which was considered more binding than scripture - and a commentary on the Mishnah called the Talmud.

Pharisees considered themselves as spiritually and morally superior to all other people and they were right on many points of doctrine: they believed in the resurrection of dead, the existence of spirits, and rewards and punishments in the future life.

But they also believed in an externalized religion - that if you were a Jew, strict observance of the law and the oral traditions was enough to please God and guaranteed entry to heaven. Nicodemus was a man of high moral character, deep religious hunger, but he had profound spiritual blindness and he didn’t even know it.

Imagine Nicodemus making his way through the Jerusalem streets after nightfall. The wind in the desert always picks up when the sun goes down, so it was blowing through the trees and between the houses. People typically had their living rooms up on the roofs of their houses to enjoy these cool breezy evenings, so there was always a staircase leading up the side of the house to the roof. This is probably where Nicodemus came that night, to meet with Jesus.

Maybe he was being careful not to get in trouble with the Sanhedrin, but maybe he wanted a private audience, too. His approach was cautious and respectful, calling Jesus “Rabbi,” even though Jesus was not an official rabbi, and had no diploma or credentials except for these miraculous signs
“Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God, for no one could do these miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2)
That’s an insight. Nicodemus, and evidently some other members of the Sanhedrin, thought they saw something in Jesus. So Jesus answered
“I assure you, unless someone is born anew, it’s not possible to see God’s kingdom.” (John 3:3)
“See” means to understand, or to know in an experiential way. “Born again” carried three meanings with it:
(1) to be born a second time
(2) to be born in a radically and totally new way and
(3) to be born from above, from God.

This went completely against everything Nicodemus had ever been taught, and that he himself had taught. He knew what Jesus was saying, but what Jesus was saying sounded it impossible.
“How can I make myself get born again?”

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Only A Few Truly Believe

Even though many people believed in Jesus as a prophet, and maybe even as Messiah, they did not surrender their hearts, and so Jesus did not entrust Himself to them.

Jesus’ insight reminds me of an article I read las year about an English chef who’s trying to get people to eat healthier by teaching them to cook with fresh ingredients rather than eat fast food, fried food and packaged food. Everybody believes he’s right. But they’re not changing their lifestyle, and here’s why, I quote:
“What’s really happening is about more than old habits dying hard or the love of frying. The reason the world is still waiting for the Messiah is that most people don’t actually want one, no matter how many fresh fruits and vegetables he’s carrying.”
In the same way, the people enjoyed Jesus’ miracles of healing, but they didn’t really want a Messiah, not the Jesus kind. So the Lord Jesus would only entrust Himself to those few who would follow Him and commit their hearts to Him, to those who would listen to Him and get to know Him.
Jesus will entrust Himself to you only when you entrust yourself to Him
What has Jesus been showing you about Himself in this passage?
* Is He showing you His graciousness, as someone you can trust, someone who is deeply interested in what is going on in your life?
* Or is He showing you that He is intolerant of sin, that if you don’t confess to Him now and repent, the time is coming when He will do something about that sin Himself?
* Or is He showing you He has authority over all of life, including yours? That you will need to bow to His authority or you’re going to break in your current circumstances?

Entrusting yourself to Jesus is more than being part of a religious system. Take some time to think about what a superficial faith is like.
--> A superficial faith reduces Christianity to a philosophy, a formula, a system of rituals.
--> A superficial faith keeps worship on Sunday and has real life on the other six days.
--> It says that religion is something private, a matter of opinion, a sidebar to the things of life.

Entrusting yourself to Jesus is not about being religious, or following a formula, or subscribing to a particular philosophy of life. Entrusting yourself to Jesus means
+ Believing He is Who He says He is.
+ Being in a relationship with Him, a real relationship, an every day relationship.

This is what following Jesus really means, and what His disciples were beginning to understand, and Nicodemus was beginning to suspect.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Jesus' Authority Not Realized

If the miracle of changing water into wine displayed the Lord Jesus’ power of creation by a mere spoken word, then this sign of fulfilling Malachi’s prophecy and cleansing His Father’s house displayed Jesus’ authority. God is sovereign over everything in the universe

1) God determines the outcome of all things according to His wise purposes. Because God is sovereign, what happens in our lives is due, ultimately, to what God has ordained, in accordance with His wise purpose. Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy that had been made hundreds of years before.

God intended that Messiah would be recognized by this very act. Knowing God is in control gives meaning, comfort and security during difficulties and temptations.

3) God's decree governs history. God does not adjust His plan according to the events of human history. In fact, God knew all along how the temple ministry would become corrupted, and He prepared for Messiah to cleanse the temple as a sign of what Messiah would ultimately do for each person -- cleansing them of sin, and restoring them to be pleasing to God.

3) God is in control of His universe, nothing is outside the scope of His rule. God controls and guides all events for His glory and for the good of believers.

But if God is sovereign, a person might ask, then how come God's desires are not always realized, such as the salvation of all people [I Timothy 2:4], even though it would please Him?

People who have been born again have God’s Holy Spirit and know what pleases God. God, in fact, has given every believer the ability to please Him, and yet so often, we don't. God talks about being grieved over sin and death, taking no pleasure in it, yet everybody dies. Does that make Him less than sovereign?

If God is sovereign, then, how come God's Word is not always obeyed, even though God commanded it? Clearly, the religious leaders were not honoring God's intent for the use of the temple, for the temple tax and for the inspection of sacrifices. Even more so, they were not even obeying God's actual Law about not burdening the poor, not stealing and so on. Did the religious rulers view God as sovereign over them?

God's laws, whether written in Scripture, or written on our hearts, is binding and we have no authority to rebel against it. But God has allowed us the power, or the ability, to defy His declared will.

God is not surprised by evil, God does not approve of evil. But God has sovereignly decreed that people exercise their ability to make moral choices – choosing between good and evil. Sin is proof that God doesn't control people the way you and I would control a puppet.

God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God gives real choices and works out His will within them. He is able to work in, around and through people to insure the outworking of His purposes. If God were any less sovereign He wouldn't be able to give people moral freedom because He would not be able to guarantee that His will would be done.

After this Jesus performed many miracles, and we see here that
While Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Passover Festival, many believed in his name because they saw the miraculous signs that he did. (John 2:23)
These were all signs pointing to Jesus’ authority, but the religious leaders missed it. They had asked for a sign, and though they didn’t deserve it, Jesus gave them many.

Only one member of the religious ruling body was willing to accept what those signs really meant.

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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Jesus and Nicodemus: Answering the religious leaders

As upset as they were, the religious leaders did not try to get Jesus arrested, or even try to publicly rebuke Him. Instead, as Jesus stood there with His whip of cords, and the vendors were scrambling to pick up the pieces,
The Jews asked him, “By what authority are you doing these things? What miraculous sign will you show us?” (John 2:18)
Remember that these were the Bible experts, the religious leaders. Right before their very eyes Malachi’s prophecy had been fulfilled. If the disciples thought of Psalm 69, you can bet many others, including the priest and Pharisees, could have thought of it too. Besides, everyone by now had heard John’s testimony concerning Jesus.

What they were really doing was creating a situation where they could push guilt onto Jesus so that they would not have to admit to their own guilt.

Jesus answered with a mashal, veiled remark in the form of a riddle, a very classical Jewish way of teaching and something rabbis used all the time. But the religious leaders decided to take it literally in order to avoid allowing the true meaning of Jesus’ mashal to come out – remember all the people crowding around them, listening in. They refused to admit their guilt.

What Jesus’ mashal meant was: “You leaders, through your unbelief, and your rebellion and wickedness, you are in the process of destroying the Messiah, the true sanctuary of God, and in that process you will also bring about the destruction of this actual temple and your entire religious system.

"However, in three days, I will raise up My body, and as a result I will establish a new temple, made of living people, and My church will worship Me in spirit and in truth, and not in this complicated religious system you’ve devised

Standing there with his fellow Pharisees, and a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, stood Nicodemus. Apparently, Jesus' words were penetrating his mind and heart, and he couldn't stop thinking about the implications of Jesus' mashal.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Blended Gospels: Jesus and Nicodemus

Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, "Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him."

Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?"

Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.

"Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit."

Nicodemus said to him, "How can these things be?"

Jesus answered him, "Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.

"If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

"And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God."

[John 2:23-3:21, ESV]

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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Cleansing the Temple: Jesus Is Publicly Announced

God had appointed this day for Messiah to be publicly announced, and we read about it in the prophet Malachi 3:1-4 Malachi began by saying,
“Behold, I send my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me.”
That was John the Baptist, the voice crying in the desert, prepare the way of the Lord.

Malachi continued,
“And the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap...and as a purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the LORD.”
The whole temple market was run by the priests and Levites

There was certainly plenty of cord around, with all the animals. So Jesus methodically wove a whip and,
He drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, "Take these things away; do not make( my Father’s house a house of trade."
We understand from the Greek that the money He poured out was all of the profit the money changers had taken. Jesus was careful not to damage any property, hurt any animals or cause any harm. But His wrath cleansed the temple.

Malachi finished his prophecy with,
“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the LORD as in the days of old and as in former years.”
Nobody tried to stop Jesus, not the venders, not the money changers, not the worshipers and not the religious leaders.

In fact most people hated the extortion and racketeering, so they were probably relieved and thankful that someone had finally done something about it. The disciples just watched, probably stunned. But they learned some important lesson about holy wrath. It is a cleansing power that intends to rid creation of all sin.

• It is right to be angry with what angers God.
• Jesus didn’t just simmer. At the right time He did something about what was wrong.
• In this case, He had a plan and He executed His plan with care, with authority and with thoroughness.
• He spoke, making it clear what He expected and explaining what was wrong.
• And when He was done, the incident was over.
Jesus has power to cleanse
Jesus will not tolerate sin, and when it is time, Jesus will act. The outward appearance of holiness, when it is actually self-serving, is sin and brings on God’s wrath. In what ways might you and I act holy for the wrong reasons?

What marketplace in your own life has become a place where you trade spiritual values for material values? The religious leaders had turned the worship of God into a money-making business. That is a warning to us today, maybe first of all in the way we do church, to be sure that we do not trade spiritual values in worship and service to God, to material values of gain.

The other warning goes to you and me personally. Every person who is believer is literally a temple of God. The Lord has chosen to live in every believer.
How clean do you and I keep our physical bodies? What habits have you and I fallen into that service our own wants – over-eating, over-drinking, the misuse of drugs.

And what about the emotional and spiritual aspects of our lives? How pure do you and I keep our minds, hearts and spirits with the ways we entertain ourselves, the work we do, the way we talk and what we think about?

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