LIVING WATER (John 4:1-42 – Part 1)

“Everyone who drinks this water,” Jesus replied, “will get thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I’ll give them won’t ever be thirsty again. No: the water I’ll give them will become a spring of water welling up to the life of God’s new age.” … The woman said, “Give me this water! Then I won’t be thirsty any more, and I won’t have to come here to draw from the well.” [John 4:13-15 (NTE)]

Taos NMJesus was never one to follow man-made rules and, when He spoke with the woman at the well, He broke several. Jewish tradition considered it beneath any man’s dignity to publicly speak with a woman. Rabbinical writing taught: “Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no not with his own wife.” That a rabbi like Jesus did such a thing was scandalous. Those same writings considered women incapable of religious instruction with these words: “Rather burn the sayings of the law than teach them to women.” Jesus speaking of God with a Samaritan woman just made it more outrageous! But, we know from His interactions with women like Martha, Mary, and Mary Magdalene that Jesus wasn’t much for rabbinic tradition so His speaking with this Samaritan woman shouldn’t surprise us.

There’s one thing, however, that seems unlike Jesus in his encounter with this woman when, knowing she’s unmarried, He asks her to get her husband. She admits to having no husband but that’s not the whole truth. Jesus exposes her five previous marriages and her living with a man not her husband. The woman had to have been mortified that a stranger knew of her sordid history. While it’s possible she’d been widowed five times and was living with her brother, that seems highly unlikely. A Jewish man could divorce his wife with the slightest provocation but five marriages reflect badly on her character as do her living arrangements. Since she was drawing water at the hottest part of the day rather than the cool evening (when the village women normally would), she appears to be an outcast who’s gone from one man to another. Jesus never shamed the woman caught in adultery so why would He put this nameless woman on the spot when He knew her disgraceful history?

Prior to being asked about her husband, the woman told Jesus she wanted the living water about which He spoke. Her request was for earthly convenience rather than eternal life. It was then that Jesus inquired about her husband. His knowledge of her secrets established His credibility as a prophet and ultimately identified Him as the Messiah. Recognizing Jesus only as a prophet, she asked Him to clarify the dispute between Judah and Samaria as to the right place to worship. Jesus answered that the time had come when the location didn’t matter because true worshipers would worship the Father in spirit and in truth. She then realized that Jesus was the Messiah, the source of the living water she so desperately sought.

Jesus asked the woman about her husband so she would face her sins and own up to her immorality. It is only with a humble heart that we can come to Jesus and His question was the woman’s moment of humility. Salvation comes to those who confess and repent of their sins, but the woman had to acknowledge those sins before she could repent. The living water only comes to those who know they are spiritually thirsty and salvation only comes to those who see the need for a Savior!

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  If we say that we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar, and his word is not in us. [1 John 1:8-10 (NTE)]

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SEEING THE LIGHT

Blessed are those who fear to do wrong, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. [Proverbs 28:14 (NLT)]

Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin? But because you are stubborn and refuse to turn from your sin, you are storing up terrible punishment for yourself. For a day of anger is coming, when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. [Romans 2:4-5 (NLT)]

Duluth MN lighthouseAn old maritime legend describes the conversation between a U.S. Naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland. The ship kept telling the Canadians to divert their course 15 degrees north to avoid a collision while the Canadians repeatedly responded with the suggestion that the Americans divert their course 15 degrees to the south. Finally, the Navy sent the following message: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this fleet.” It was only when the Canadian authorities responded, “This is a lighthouse. It’s your call,” that the American vessels stopped being so unyielding and changed their course! While this story of an aircraft carrier trying to bully a lighthouse out of its way is just fiction, it’s a lesson about stubbornness, inflexibility, and pig-headedness.

Hoping to catch Him breaching the law, Jesus’ adversaries watched Him closely. When He healed a woman who’d been crippled for eighteen years on the Sabbath, they were outraged. Healing was considered work and He’d broken the Sabbath by restoring her to health. The Pharisees were unyielding when it came to strict observance of the law—even when it made no sense. Carrying clothes out of a burning building on the Sabbath was prohibited but stopping, putting on as many as 18 garments, and wearing them out was allowed! Pointing out that the Pharisees worked on the Sabbath by untying and watering their animals, Jesus chastened the synagogue leaders for their lack of compassion on the woman. Like the aircraft carrier, they were so sure they were right, it never even occurred to them to rethink their position.

There are times we must be unyielding as a lighthouse and firmly hold our position. In fact, we specifically pray not to yield to temptation. [Luke 11:4] Things like obedience to God and our faith in Jesus are non-negotiable and may well place us in opposition with today’s world. There are times, however, when we’re more like the aircraft carrier and the Pharisees—unyielding to a fault. Like them, we’re often so sure we’re in the right that we fail to examine our course or consider the possibility that we could be in error. Perhaps it’s time to re-examine some of our positions to make sure we’re not on a collision course with God’s word. The aircraft carrier failed to see the light ahead of them just as the Pharisees failed to see the Light of World standing in front of them. Let’s not make the same mistake. If we’re headed toward a conflict, confrontation, or collision perhaps it’s time to rethink our course and surrender the controls to God!

But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. [James 3:17 (NLT)]

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IT’S A PROMISE!

Jenny Lake - Grand TetonsIf we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is. [2 Timothy 2:13 (NLT)]

When I first read the above verse in a daily meditation book, I felt reassured; even if I’m unfaithful to Jesus, He’ll remain faithful to me. Wondering if my interpretation was correct and suspecting the verse might have been taken out of context, I looked at the preceding lines: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us.” [2:11-12] Probably part of an early Christian hymn emphasizing the believer’s union with Christ, when put in context with, “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is,” we have a different meaning. Paul was echoing Jesus’ own words of warning: “But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven.” [Matthew 10:33] Jesus cannot deny who He is; if we deny Him, He will remain faithful to His word and deny us.

But what of Peter? He denied Jesus three times and Jesus certainly didn’t deny him! Again I looked to the context: “If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.” Rather than speaking of Christ followers who may have a temporary failing like that of Peter, Paul is speaking of those who have rejected Jesus and denied Him, as did Judas. When Peter denied knowing Jesus that night so long ago, he hadn’t stopped loving the Lord or having faith in Him. Yes, he failed Jesus but let us remember that God’s grace is greater than our human weaknesses. We all have unwavering faith until it is tested and, like Peter, we may fail when it is sorely tested. God, in His mercy forgave Peter, and He will forgive us.

Rather than words of cheer, Paul’s words are a serious warning for those who reject Jesus as Lord! Jesus can’t be false to himself. For the unbelieving and unfaithful, Christ will remain true to his word; no matter their works or virtue, if people have denied Him, He will deny them. Just as Jesus makes good on all of his promises, He’ll follow through on his threats, as well. Not so comforting a thought after all!

Since no man is excluded from calling upon God, the gate of salvation is open to all. There is nothing else to hinder us from entering, but our own unbelief. [John Calvin]

Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved. But anyone who refuses to believe will be condemned. [Mark 16:16 (NLT)]

Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But everyone who denies me here on earth, I will also deny before my Father in heaven. [Matthew 10:32-33 (NLT)]

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THE “TERRIBLE PETITION”

Blessings on the merciful! You’ll receive mercy yourselves. [Matthew 5:7 (NTE)]

Yes: if you forgive people the wrong they have done, your heavenly father will forgive you as well. But if you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.’ [Matthew 6:14-15 (NTE)]

large striped swordtail butterflyWhen our pastor did a sermon series on “Dangerous Prayers,” he didn’t mention one many of us pray regularly: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” After giving the disciples “The Lord’s Prayer,” Jesus elaborated on this single petition by categorically stating, “If you don’t forgive people, neither will your heavenly father forgive you what you have done wrong.”  The parable of the unforgiving debtor told in Matthew 18 leaves no room for ambiguity on this point. After the servant refuses to forgive the debt of a fellow servant, the angry king rescinds his forgiveness of the unforgiving man and sends him to be tortured in prison until the debt is paid. His debt (equivalent to several billion dollars today) was insurmountable and that torture would never end. Jesus warned his listeners that the same thing would happen to them if they withheld forgiveness.

Asking God to forgive us in the same way we extend forgiveness to others is dangerous. We are asking God to forgive us by the standard that we set—to deal with us as we deal with others! Called the “terrible petition” by St. Augustine, we’re actually asking God not to forgive us if we harbor any unforgiveness in our hearts! For some of us, could these words be a petition for condemnation rather than salvation, ones for death rather than everlasting life? If we’re unwilling to forgive, I suppose they are!

Paul’s words to the Ephesians tell us to get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, and harsh words and to “forgive one another, just as God forgave you in the king.” [4:31-32] Without a doubt, forgiveness is a difficult process and time is needed between our being hurt and our ability to forgive. The struggle to forgive, however, isn’t the sin; it’s the decision not to forgive, to hold onto our bitterness, that is!

Fortunately, forgiveness is a fruit of the Spirit! Jesus said that good trees produce good fruit and that every tree failing to produce good fruit would be cut down and burned. Clarifying that people are identified by their actions, Jesus warned that only those who actually did the will of the Father would enter the kingdom of heaven! From His words, it seems that profession of faith alone does not equal salvation. While salvation is not earned by works, our faith is evidenced by them: by our willingness to do the Father’s will! Can there be an unforgiven Christian? I don’t think so. But, if we refuse to forgive, are we true disciples of Christ or merely hypocrites who say we are?

No part of His teaching is clearer: and there are no exceptions to it. He doesn’t say that we are to forgive other people’s sins provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything or that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don’t, we shall be forgiven none of our own. [C.S. Lewis]

Actually, good trees can’t produce bad fruit, nor can bad ones produce good fruit! Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown on the fire. So: you must recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, “Master, Master” will enter the kingdom of heaven; only people who do the will of my father in heaven. [Matthew 7:18-21 (NTE)]

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CLEAN GARMENTS

If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. [Romans 8:31-34 (NLT)]

star jasmine

Around 520 BC, the prophet Zechariah revealed God’s future deliverance through the Messiah to the Jews who had just returned to Jerusalem from Babylonian captivity. In Zechariah’s fourth vision, the high priest Jeshua stood before an angel of the Lord. Instead of being attired in the spotless white linen robe and turban of a priest, Jeshua’s clothing was filthy (the Hebrew word used was tsow’ and referred to the filth of excrement). Standing to the angel’s right, in a court prosecutor’s position, was Satan. The Hebrew word śāṭān means “accuser” or “adversary” and Satan was living up to his name by making accusations that the unclean priest was unworthy of standing before the Lord. Calling the priest “a burning stick that has been snatched from the fire,” the Lord rejected the accuser’s charges.

In Zechariah’s vision, Jeshua symbolized the nation of Israel, his foul clothing the sins of the people, and his rescue from the coals the nation’s release from their Babylonian exile. Satan, of course, had a vested interest in his accusations; if he could get God to reject Israel, God’s plan of redemption would be thwarted. It wasn’t as if God didn’t recognize Israel’s sin; they’d been punished with seventy years of captivity. God, however, hadn’t turned from His people because of their sins; having delivered them back to Jerusalem, they were still His people.

After the angels around Jeshua took off his filthy garments, the priest was told that his sins were removed and he was given new clothes and a clean turban. On the front of the priest’s turban would have been a medallion with the words “Holy to the Lord.” Just as Jeshua was reinstated as a priest with his clean priestly attire, the nation of Israel was cleansed and restored as a priestly nation and made holy to the Lord! What an amazing image this is. The filthy robe of sins was removed and replaced with garments of God’s righteousness.

What followed was a Messianic vision in which the Lord of Heaven’s Armies promised the coming of a servant called “the Branch,” the removal of all the land’s sins in a single day, and an era of peace and blessings when “each of you will invite your neighbor to sit with you peacefully under your own grapevine and fig tree.” [3:10]

What do Zachariah’s words from over 2,500 years ago mean to us? God’s chosen servant was Jesus; He was the promised Branch stemming from Adam, Abraham, and David. The day Jesus died on the cross was the single day when all our sins were removed! Although Satan continues to accuse us, Jesus is now at God’s right hand and, instead of indicting us, He is pleading for us!

Just as God didn’t reject Israel, He hasn’t rejected us. Because of God’s grace, like Jeshua, we can hand off our sin-covered garments to the Lord and have robes of righteousness returned. Our robes, however, are washed in the blood of the Lamb. Social distancing may have kept us from sitting under a tree with our neighbors, but that promised day of peace and plenty will happen when Jesus returns and reigns as King.

God will not lightly or easily lose His people. He has provided well for us: blood to wash us in; a Priest to pray for us, that we may be made to persevere; and, in case we foully fall, an Advocate to plead our cause. [John Bunyan]

They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white. They will never again be hungry or thirsty; they will never be scorched by the heat of the sun. For the Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd. He will lead them to springs of life-giving water. And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” [Revelation 7:14,16-17 (NLT)]

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LIKE A CHILD

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said. “Unless you turn inside out and become like children, you will never, ever, get into the kingdom of heaven. So if any of you make yourselves humble like this child, you will be great in the kingdom of heaven.” [Matthew 18:3-4 (NTE)]

kiboni school - arusha - tanzaniaI used the NTE version of today’s verse because it better captures the original meaning with the words “turn inside out.” Usually translated as change, turn, or convert, the original Greek was strephō which meant more than a slight change of direction. It meant being turned (even from one thing into another) which requires submission. Far more than a mental acknowledgment or intellectual assent to certain ideas, it’s a turning of one’s whole life and person toward God. The kind of conversion or turning meant in strephō is like having one’s life turned inside out.

When Jesus said to become like children, He wasn’t telling us to act childish but to come to Him as would a child. When thinking of some of today’s often spoiled and demanding children, it’s easy to question His words. Children in His day, however, were far less presumptuous, self-sufficient, disrespectful or defiant than today’s youngsters. They were more like a little girl I encountered in Tanzania. She walked across the schoolyard, stopped, looked up at me and, with a shy smile, presented me with her foot. Her shoe needed tying and, as I knelt down in the dust to tie it, she was a perfect example of Jesus words. Knowing she wasn’t self-sufficient, she openly and humbly depended upon someone older and wiser. Trusting and unpretentious, this beautiful child came to me with a faith and simplicity that we adults don’t seem to have.

A child knows when he or she needs help and will freely ask and accept it. Adults, on the other hand, rarely admit their needs or weakness for fear of appearing vulnerable. We want to be in control but, if we’re ever going to enter into God’s Kingdom and enjoy His peace, we have to turn ourselves inside out, cede control and admit our powerlessness.

Any 12-step recovery program begins with admitting our helplessness but we don’t need to have an addiction or compulsive behavior to have our lives spin out of control. Without Jesus, we are broken beings separated from God and powerless over sin. We may be incapable of saving ourselves, but Jesus is not. What He won’t do, however, is force Himself upon us or chase after every loosened shoelace to tie it. It’s up to us to admit our need and turn to Him, as that child did to me.

I will always remember that brief encounter with a little girl who showed me what it means to turn and be like a child: with humility, trust, openness and a lack of self-sufficiency. The kingdom of God is not earned by human effort but is received in childlike trust as a gift through the mercy and grace of God.

With time, that little girl will become more self-sufficient and won’t need someone to tie her shoes. I pray, however, that she always will be willing to acknowledge her weakness and needs to God.

And this is what he said to me: “My grace is enough for you; my power comes to perfection in weakness.” So I will be all the more pleased to boast of my weaknesses, so that the Messiah’s power may rest upon me. [2 Corinthians 12:9 (NTE)]

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