Friday, November 02, 2007

John 4:13-18

13Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." 15The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." 16He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back." 17"I have no husband," she replied. 18Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true."

Jesus talks spiritual water; the woman is thinking physical. Jesus patiently and mercifully proceeds to explain more clearly what He had said. He distinguishes between the use of the two kinds of water; that the one serves the body, and only for a time, while the power of the other gives permanent life to the soul. That which quickens the soul cannot but be eternal; the Holy Spirit is an ever-flowing fountain. Jeremiah 2:13

Once again, lacking the tone of the words, commentators suggest two views of the woman’s response. In the first, it is said that she knows full well that Jesus is speaking of spiritual things, yet because she despises Him, she will not allow His authority over all to be her authority. She still sees no need to accept His offer of spiritual blessing (and she doubts that He could provide it anyway) – but she’ll gladly (and sarcastically) take His physical blessing (as if He could really provide living water that would prevent her from thirsting or making a daily trip to the well).

The other view suggests that the woman no longer mocks Jesus – as she perceives that He is serious. Nevertheless, she (like Nicodemus was) is still stuck on physical water – and notes the benefits of His offer, as it would save her both thirst and a daily trip to the well – but does not grasp that He is speaking of spiritual water, despite His language of eternal life. She is genuinely confused about the light, given that she is in darkness. She doesn’t understand the water, because she is parched. Yet in her dry darkness, the Light blinds her with living water. You may have heard, “God is a gentlemen. He won’t make you come if you don’t want to.” And that’s true. Instead, He makes you want to come. And that is so much better, so much more gentlemanly, than leaving us in the gutter where we are, hoping we’ll want to come out on our own. We see this in action in the next series of verses.

Jesus gets personal; the woman is confronted with her sin; Jesus drives the dagger deeper. Jesus, upon hearing her continued scoffs or misunderstandings (however you want to view them), applied an appropriate remedy to her disease. He struck the woman’s conscience with a conviction of her sin. His command to “go call your husband” has absolutely no continuity with their conversation. If we were talking college basketball and you asked me if I thought UCLA would win it all and I replied, “You have stinky breath,” that might be akin to what took place here. It’s not the way that a conversation takes place, yet it is a remarkable proof of Jesus’ compassion. When the woman was unwilling of her own accord to come to Him, He draws her. His drawing her is not against her will, however. Rather, He is performing surgery on her will. He is changing her will, making her willing. He is step-by-step operating on this woman to bring her to Himself. It’s a process. The woman is in her natural state and cannot perceive spiritual things (1 Corinthians 2:14), yet Jesus opens her eyes and makes her see. We experienced the same operation. We were unwilling and unable to come to Him until He brought us to Himself. And for many of us, it was a painful procedure. But we give Him all the glory for it, because we recognize that we did not come to Him until He came to us. John Newton wrote in Amazing Grace, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.” He didn’t cooperate in his transformation, and that’s why he can sing that song.

Jesus says, “Go call your husband.” And the woman says, “I have no husband.” So Jesus presses His point. Calvin sums it up well: “We are so intoxicated, or rather stupified, by our self-love, that we are not at all moved by the first wounds that are inflicted. But Christ applies an appropriate cure for this sluggishness, by pressing the ulcer more sharply, for He openly reproaches her with her wickedness when He says that she has had five husbands…She had prostituted herself to fornication.” Her stony heart wasn’t penetrated by His command to call her husband. She thought little about her sin when she responded, “I have no husband.” But when Jesus is done with His response, you can bet that she is thinking about her sin. What would it be like to hear Jesus tell you the sins in which you are currently living? That’s why we need to live a life of repentance.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

John 4:7-12

7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give Me a drink?" 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to Him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water." 11"Sir," the woman said, "You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can You get this living water? 12Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"

Jesus is thirsty; the woman is surprised, even offended. I love Calvin’s comments on v7: “When [Jesus] asks water from the woman, He does it not merely with the intention of obtaining an opportunity to teach her; for thirst prompted Him to desire to drink. But this cannot hinder Him from availing Himself of the opportunity of instruction which He has obtained, for He prefers the salvation of the woman to His own wants. Thus, forgetting His own thirst…that He might instruct her in true godliness, He draws a comparison between the visible water and the spiritual, and waters with heavenly doctrine the mind of her who had refused Him water to drink.”

Jesus simply asks her for a drink. But this is a culturally absurd thing to do. I don’t know that we can compare it to anything in our culture. Maybe if the President was to tour Mexico and ask a homeless woman for something to eat? The woman’s response sarcastically notes the cultural oddity. She says she is a Samaritan woman – as if He didn’t know. And she tells Him that He is a Jew. He should not be asking her for a drink. Picture her saying, “What? Is it lawful for You to ask drink from me, when You hold us to be so profane?” It appears that she’s mocking Jesus, as she has felt like He has mocked her. Despite her confusion, Jesus – as He was with Nicodemus – is completely serious and patient. And John helps out any of his audience who may not grasp the cultural significance of this encounter with a parenthesis – “Jews do not associate with Samaritans.”

Jesus makes it a teachable moment; the woman is sarcastic, yet curious. It may appear that Jesus only now decides to take advantage of the woman’s culture shock for an occasion to teach her, but we know better. Recall John 2:23-25. Jesus knows all men, and He knows what is in a man. Thus, forgetting His physical thirst and making her spiritual needs the priority, He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” Let’s first acknowledge that the woman does not deserve Jesus’ teaching. She has effectively insulted Him and sinned against the Lord. Yet Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and we cannot fail to see grace in the fact that Jesus will bring this woman from death to life. Jesus does the same with us. Isaiah 65:1 “I revealed Myself to those who did not ask for Me; I was found by those who did not seek Me. To a nation that did not call on My name, I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’” Praise God for that!

Jesus begins teaching the woman with two clauses: “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink…” Some commentators suggest that the second clause is the interpretation of the first, so it could read, “If you knew the gift of God, namely who it is…” In other words, Jesus is the gift of God. And that’s true, but is that what Jesus is saying? Or is He saying that the gift of God is eternal life, and the One who can give that gift is speaking to you? Both? Regardless of His meaning here, we can say that such a set of clauses begins to instill this feeling of an unmet need within the woman. Has anyone ever said to you, “If you only knew…”? It makes you think you’re missing something important. So Jesus plants a desire in the woman with these clauses. And Jesus continues, saying that if the woman only knew, then she would have asked for a drink and He would have given her living water. If she had only known, then she would have asked. That’s our predicament prior to being saved. If we only knew the wrath of God resting on us, if we only knew that we were sinners in the hand of an angry God, if we only knew the eternal punishment that was temporarily being withheld by the forbearance of the Creator, then we would have asked, we would have sought, we would have come. But we don’t grasp the sinfulness of sin or the holiness of God. We don’t know the reality of our condition apart from Christ until we are in Christ, until He has come to us and made Himself known to us and quickened us to spiritual life. We are blessed to see this woman’s transition from death to life in just a short conversation with the Lord Jesus – it likely resembles our own conversion in many ways.

Lastly in v10, when Jesus says that He would have given her living water, He is speaking of the Holy Spirit. Remember the conversation with Nicodemus. We’re right there. We need to be born of water and the Spirit – the living water. The water Jesus gives is not only life-giving and life-sustaining; it flows from a living source, the Holy Spirit.

Now the woman’s response in v11 can be taken one of two ways. Remember we lack the tone with which the words were expressed. Some commentators suggest that she is mocking Jesus, that she is saying He cannot do what He implied that He can do – that is give her living water. In other words, she fully realizes He is speaking figuratively, yet insults Him anyway. Others suggest that she didn’t catch the figurative or spiritual intent. In other words she was baffled by His language and in confusion and curiosity tried to continue the conversation. Either way, we are certain that the woman knows that the water from Jacob’s well is important for is life-sustaining qualities. She is grateful to the patriarch for that. But she, like Nicodemus, is thinking only in physical categories. Thus she insults Jesus by asking rhetorically in v12, “Are you greater than Jacob?” (Of note, the Samaritans had ancestral ties to Jacob, yet that had been corrupted both in blood and faith lineage.) Again, perhaps we can sense the sarcasm in her assertion – “You think you’re more important than our ancestor!” She charges Jesus with arrogance. She compares the servant with the Master, a dead man with the living God. How often unbelievers – and believers alike – make this error! “They exchanged the glory of God for an image…” The woman doesn’t yet know that He created Jacob, that He is the Messiah; and she has no idea that Jesus’ water is greater than that in the well – like the water in the well, Jesus’ water also has life-sustaining qualities, but for spiritual life, not only for physical life.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

John 4:1-6

1The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but His disciples. 3When the Lord learned of this, He left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4Now He had to go through Samaria. 5So He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

An overarching theme of John's gospel is that Jesus is fulfilling the Old Testament types and shadows. The old is passing away, and the new is being ushered in. That continues in this passage as the Kingdom of God is revealed to a woman who wondered where it was best to worship. Jesus tells her that locale is unimportant; what matters is that worship be done in spirit and in truth. Remember we spoke of doing the truth in John 3:21. In our tour of the tabernacle, we’re still passing by the laver, the place of ceremonial washing and cleansing with water, which both cleanses from impurity and sustains us on our journey.

The apostle John has explained the Pharisees’ interest in John the Baptist’s ministry, but now we learn that Jesus’ ministry is overshadowing John’s as it grows larger than John’s. And as you might expect, the Pharisees notice. Precisely because they notice, Jesus leaves the region. Why? It’s not yet time to aggravate them to the point of seeking His death. Jesus knows His time is short; He’s got a schedule to keep. He’s introduced Himself to Judea and now it’s time for Him to continue working elsewhere (namely in Galilee again). Whatever His reason for leaving, the cue was the Pharisees hearing of His ministry’s success. What do you make of the importance of the fact that Jesus is not the One who baptizes? John seems to go out of his way to point this out. Does it matter? Why or why not? Calvin suggests that the point is that the minister of the sacrament is unimportant. Christ is the author and the Spirit does the baptism internally. That’s what matters. Any thoughts? Notice Jesus is “the Lord” in v3.

John uses intentional language in v4 when he writes that Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” The reality is that He did not have to go through Samaria to get to Galilee. The most common Jewish route was along the Jordan River away from Samaria. The Jews despised Samaritans, and rightly so. Samaritans had corrupted the worship of God by mixing in pagan rituals. But of course we know that the pious Jews were only using their supposed zeal for the law to justify their hatred. In reality, the Jews were envious of them, because the Samaritans were dwelling in the land allotted to the Jews. There was just ground for the separation, provided that their feelings had been pure and well regulated. For this reason Christ, when He first sends the apostles to proclaim the Gospel, forbids them to turn aside to the Samaritans (Matthew 10:5). But Jesus had to go through Samaria. He had a divine appointment, and there’s no escaping divine appointment. Have you ever “had” to go a certain direction in your life? Can you look back and see how God purposed it for your good (Romans 8:28)? Others’ good (Philippians 1:21-26)?

We read that Jesus came to Sychar, a town of historic significance – the land Jacob gave to Joseph. Jesus rested by Jacob’s well, because He was tired. His humanity is made clear here, as He is actually fatigued and not just pretending – as some who denied His humanity have said. It was noon – the sixth hour, a time of day when the well would not be used much. People came in the morning and/or in the evening, but not often in the middle of the day. Nevertheless, this divine appointment is obvious. Jesus sat by the well and met a woman. Think about the Old Testament well scenes (Genesis 24 – Abraham’s servant (for Isaac) and Rebekah; Genesis 29 – Jacob and Rachel; Exodus 2 – Moses and Zipporah). Well-scenes in the Bible are scenes of betrothal and marriage – highly significant moments. John parallels them with this account. He might have Moses’ well scene and the subsequent Exodus from slavery and Jesus’ well scene and the subsequent exodus from sin both in mind as he records this episode.

In one commentary that I read on the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, it was said that the woman’s language is filled with imagery of temptation, that she is a sort of a seductress, someone who preys on men – after all, she had 5 husbands and was living with a sixth man who was not her husband. The commentator suggested that we might miss that, as I did due to the lack of tone from reading without hearing the words, but we need to remember that Jesus is tired, exhausted, and He was tempted in every way that we were yet was without sin. As the commentator said, “Whereas this woman is tempting Jesus; Jesus is wooing her also in an altogether different sense. It’s not so much this woman that is advancing toward Jesus, but Jesus who is advancing towards her. He’s come for His bride, you might say. There’s a strategy at work here.” Note that Jesus is breaking down the walls of ethnicity and gender when it comes to a relationship with God. The old is passing away – or is already gone. The new is coming – and is now even here. We'll look at the conversation, beginning tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

John 3:36

36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him.

There is little doubt now that the Gospel writer is commenting with this final verse of chapter three. He begins with a glorious truth: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” What an amazing grace that is! And we should hold truth close to our heart forever. By believing, God does not impute our sins to our account, and thus, we are justified before Him, counted as righteous in His sight on account of Christ’s righteousness. But it’s the latter half of this final verse that I want to draw your attention to as we close: “But whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Notice a couple things:

First, it’s not whoever fails to obey the Son; it’s not whoever sins; it’s whoever rejects the Son. Again, differing thoughts are common on this verse. Some point to it to suggest that it is only by rejecting Christ that we will experience eternal torment and separation from God in hell. That’s not the case. You see, the wrath of God does not come against those who reject Christ when they reject Him; it’s already on them!

It’s not that we are free from the wrath of God until we hear about and reject Christ. No, we are already under His wrath. The wrath of God remains on those who reject Christ. It’s there; it was there from the moment we were conceived in sinfulness. We are descendants of Adam and by nature objects of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). So we’re condemned long before we have the opportunity to reject Christ. So the wrath that remains is of critical implication here. Let’s elaborate, as we conclude, on the critical, yet nearly forgotten doctrine of Christianity: Propitiation.

To propitiate, according to Webster, means, “to gain or regain the favor or goodwill of.” Propitiation in a theological context means “wrath removal.” We are under the wrath of God and out of His favor until His wrath is propitiated. When Jesus died on the cross, He served as a propitiation for our sins. He turned aside, averted, removed the wrath of God from upon all for whom He died, for the elect, for all who believe the Gospel. Jesus regained the favor of God for us. He atoned for our sins. He reconciled us to Himself. The doctrine of propitiation is precisely this: that God loved the objects of His wrath so much that He gave His one and only Son that by His blood He should remove His wrath against the objects of His love. Christ actually accomplished this task. He did not potentially accomplish it. He couldn’t have; it was either Yes or No, not Maybe.

The argument to this view is generally addressed with one Scripture passage in particular, and it happens to be written by our author. Look at 1 John 2:2. The KJV, NKJV, ESV, and NASB say, “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” The increasingly popular alternative rendering is to remove the use of the word propitiation. The NIV says, “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” For whom did Jesus serve as an actual propitiation? “For the whole world.” Without the context, that seems valid. But when we grasp the context and allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, we come to a full understanding of what John means to say here. He’s speaking to Jewish Christians and/or Christians in a particular region. Jesus certainly served as propitiation, as a substitutionary atonement, for John’s audience. But he says even more than that. John says that Jesus served as propitiation, as a substitutionary atonement for all Christians everywhere, believers worldwide, all kinds of Christians. So notice the parallel passage, also by John, in his Gospel – John 11:51-52:

From the NIV, “[Caiaphas] prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.” It’s an exact parallel in meaning, and the Gospel rendering goes even further in telling us why Jesus served in this capacity – to unite us. Ephesians 2:14-16 says, “For He Himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in His flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in Himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which He put to death their hostility.” Jesus did not – and never intended to – remove God’s wrath or serve as a substitutionary atonement, for those who do not believe the Gospel. His sacrifice was only for the elect, only for believers – not for those who would never believe. That’s the doctrine of propitiation. For more information on propitiation, read the article by John Piper found here.

We’ve covered some tough stuff so far, and we’ll encounter more as we go. It’s good to understand and wrestle with these tough issues, because as we think less of ourselves (pride is reduced), we think more about Christ and the work of God.

Monday, October 29, 2007

John 3:31-35

31"The One who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The One who comes from heaven is above all. 32He testifies to what He has seen and heard, but no one accepts His testimony. 33The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. 34For the One whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. 35The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in His hands.

John the Gospel Writer’s Commentary or John the Baptist’s Continued Speech?

Some suggest that John now offers his comments on the whole of chapter three. If so, he ties John the Baptist’s humble testimony into Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus by magnifying Jesus. Jesus is the One from above – and He is above all. John the Baptist was a great man (Mathew 11:11; Luke 7:28), but the least in the Kingdom of heaven is greater. He is merely an earthling – and he speaks as one from the earth. Praise God for him, but fall on your knees at the feet of Jesus. If it is John still speaking, then he is glorifying Christ as Emmanuel – God with us. He is stepping down from his office of “Preparer of the Way” and pointing all comers to the King of Kings – Jesus Christ. Either way, we get a beautiful picture of Christ and His authority.

Notice the end of v32: “No one accepts his testimony.” Which ever John is speaking here, the point is that John the Baptist’s testimony to Christ was not widely accepted. Certainly more than “no one” accepted his testimony, as a couple of his own disciples left him to follow Christ. “No one” here means few when compared to the vast number of unbelievers. And that’s why v33 tells us that the one who accepts his testimony has made God out to be truthful – even though we who believe are few in number. If we believe what John says about Jesus, then we show that God is true. If we disbelieve John’s testimony, then we make God out to be a liar (1 John 5:10).

Much has been made of v34, when John says, “[God] gives the Spirit without limit.” Commentators are divided over this verse, but it seems pretty clear to me, at least from the context. Some take this verse out of context to say that God gives the Spirit to all men everywhere without limits, and it is then up to them to decide whether to accept it or reject it. That interpretation is just not an option here. But whoever is speaking is clearly testifying to the greatness of Jesus. Jesus is clearly portrayed as One on whom the Spirit of God has come to rest. So it is to Christ that the Spirit is given without limit. If anyone ever had the fullness of the Spirit, it was Jesus Christ. As jars of clay, we are leaky – Jesus didn’t leak. And we, amazingly, by union to Him through faith, are constantly being renewed and refilled with the Spirit. Finally, v35 not only confirms what we’ve just said about v34, but also displays the Father’s love for the Son and the authority that the Father has given the Son. Everything is in His hands – your house, your car, your job, your wife, your children, your hair, your clothes, your food, your breath, your mind, your heart, your life. When we sing, “He’s got the whole world in His hands,” we think of the Father, but here we see that the Father has given it all to the Son.