Monthly Archives: July 2015

Today’s Scripture – July 27, 2015

John 4:25-26 (NIV):  The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

One of the things that the Samaritans had inherited from the Jews was the understanding that God would send the Messiah, and that He was coming soon.  As John explains in his brief aside, Messiah was the Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word “Christos” (which gives us the English form “Christ”).

Both of these words literally mean “anointed,” and had a wide range of generic meanings.  The kings of Israel and Judah were anointed with oil at their coronation, as were the priests at their ordination, giving both of them the title of messiah (lower-case m).  Prophets were seen to be anointed by God’s Spirit for their work, bestowing on them power and wisdom, so they, too, were lower-case messiahs.

But the Messiah to come was different.  He was expected to be anointed by God Himself as a prophet, a priest, and a king.  In the minds of the people, the figure of Messiah had grown to mythic proportions.  Some believed He would suddenly appear out of nowhere, and that on one would know where He had come from (cf. John 7:27).  It was also believed that the Messiah would be immortal and invincible – that He would never die or be able to be killed (cf. John 12:34).

But Jesus was in fact the Messiah.  He fulfilled every one of the prophecies that God had caused to be written about the Messiah, including where He was born (Bethlehem, Micah 5:2), and how He would die and rise again (Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

The people were not entirely wrong.  Their information had just been tainted by human thinking.

  • Jesus was anointed by the Holy Spirit at the time of His baptism (Matthew 3:16-17).
  • He was anointed as a prophet who spoke the very words of God to the people (Hebrews 1:2).
  • He was anointed as a priest, who brought the ideal sacrifice of His own blood into the heavenly Holy of Holies (Hebrews 7:23-28).
  • He was anointed as the King of kings and Lord of lords, whose throne will last forever (Revelation 19:11-16).
  • Jesus did in a sense appear “out of nowhere,” having spent the first 30 years living anonymously in a small town in Galilee.  And, even though His birthplace could be traced to Bethlehem and His childhood to Egypt and Nazareth, the people didn’t know or realize where He had really come from:  the right hand of God the Father; the place to which He would return when His work here was done (John 1:1-2, 17:5, 20:17; Acts 1:9-11).
  • And Jesus was very much the immortal leader that the people were looking for.  Even though He allowed Himself to be taken and killed by the Jewish leaders (Matthew 26:52-54), He rose from the dead and lives and rules forever (Revelation 1:18).

Jesus had already startled the woman by His knowledge of her personal history.  But when she asked Him about the proper place to worship the true God, His answer was not as black and white as she had hoped.  She found Jesus to be a puzzling man, and so she pushed back her hope of an easy to understand answer to that question to the time of the coming of the Messiah.  Surely when HE came, He would just say that either Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem was the correct place to worship, without all of this hard to understand stuff about worshipping God in spirit and in truth.

But then Jesus told her, in as clear, as black-and-white terms as she could possibly want, “I am the Messiah.”  The wait was over!  The time had come!  The long awaited Messiah was not only here, He was standing right in front of her, smiling!

Father, sometimes we find ourselves waiting for the next big thing, when the biggest possible thing is right in front of us!  We want flashing lights and stereo surround sound to announce Your presence and Your word, when all the time You are right in front of us, speaking quietly into our lives and hearts.  Lord, please give us ears to hear Your voice, eyes that see Your hand at work, and hearts eager to move at Your command.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 25, 2015

John 4:20-24 (NIV):  “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Now that her shell has been broken through, the heart of this woman is starting to show.  She is a woman who has some serious questions about God, and here is a man, a prophet, perhaps, who might be able to give her some answers.

Sychar was located in the shadows of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, two rises that played an important part in the history of the land.  When the Israelites had conquered Ai and Bethel, Joshua led the people north to these two mountains where the Lord had commanded them to read all of the blessings and curses He had pronounced over them (Deuteronomy 27:1-26).  Joshua built an altar on Mount Ebal and offered sacrifices (Joshua 8:30-35).  Thus Mount Ebal became a sacred high place, especially honored by the Samaritans.

But the woman knew that the Jews worshipped exclusively at Jerusalem, saying that their temple there was the home of the true God.  At last, here was a man who might have that answer as to who was right!

Jesus’ answer contains two parts.  First is the acknowledgement that the Jewish people were the source from which salvation was springing.  God had revealed Himself to the Jews in ways that other groups, including the Samaritans, who believed that they were worshipping the true God, could not relate to.

But the question ultimately missed the point.  In the second part of His answer, Jesus points out something that would be made conclusively apparent when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed in the near future:  the worship of the true God was not about where, but about Who, and about how.  The true God exists everywhere at all times, and so He can be worshipped in all places all of the time.

What Jesus was pointing out was that, not only was it possible to worship God anywhere, it was also possible to worship at Jerusalem and not be worshipping the true God.  Many of the people who devotedly went to the temple, like the Pharisees, were worshipping a god of their own making; a god that they had made in their own image; a god that would even approve the killing of someone like Jesus.  But God is spirit, and His true worshippers must worship Him in spirit, not as some manifestation that can be seen, but in relationship with Him.  And He must be worshipped in truth, as He really is, not as they imagine Him to be.

When the Christians were scattered from Jerusalem (Acts 8:1) where they had frequently met and worshipped at the temple, they discovered that God was with them in power every place that they went, and He could be worshipped effectively everywhere they went because He was with them, ,and His presence dwelt in them.  And so they gathered in homes and in public places, praising God, worshiping Him in spirit and in truth, and experiencing His presence and power at all times.

Father, it is amazing to realize that Your presence and power can be just as real for us who worship You today in spirit and in truth as it was for those first disciples.  It is sad that so many have been taught to still think of You as inhabiting a building or a “sacred space,” reducing our worship of you back to a “where” instead of a Who and how.  Help us, Lord, to worship You the way You are to be truly worshipped, and to experience You in powerful ways.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 24, 2015

John 4:16-19 (NIV):  (Jesus) told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus 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.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.

Jesus’ command for the woman to go and get her husband was an effort to turn the conversation in a different direction.  He already knew her history, as well as all that was in her heart (cf. John 2:25), so He was speaking from knowledge of her situation, not from ignorance.

This woman, as she freely admitted, currently had no husband.  She had had five husbands up to that point in time.  Jesus’ insight and the woman’s response gives no clue as to whether she was divorced five times (the usual teaching these days), or if some of her husbands had died, leaving her to remarry (at least possible for some of them).  But the central fact was that this woman’s heart had taken a beating over the years.  Five times she had given her body and heart to another, and five times it was broken, whether by death or divorce.

Jesus’ statement that “the man you now have is not your husband,” can be taken a couple of ways.  It was unlikely for a woman to be living with a man out of wedlock back then (whatever form marriage had in that society), even in Samaria, but is not entirely impossible.  But Jesus’ statement could have meant no more than that a man was courting her, and may have even proposed marriage to her, but the marriage had either not taken place yet, or she was putting him off, afraid to give herself a sixth time and risk having her heart broken again.

Whatever the situation was, the precision of Jesus’ insights blew the woman away completely.  Up to this point, Jesus had been nothing more to her than “a Jew” (verse 9) who made strange requests and puzzling proclamations.  But now some of His strangeness seemed to slip into focus.  He must be a prophet!  How else could He know all of these things about her?  In all of the old stories, prophets were depicted as strange men who spoke from God many things that were hard for people to understand.  This man certainly fit that pattern!

And so this woman took the first step toward this man who now appeared to be so much more than He had seemed at first.  There were still more steps that she needed to take, but the journey had begun!

Father, everyone’s journey into relationship with Jesus must begin with the realization that He is more than just a man.  So many today are not willing to take that step, insisting that Jesus never claimed to be more than a human being.  They admit that He might be an unusually good man, a great ethicist and teacher, but still believe that He was merely human, like Plato or Aristotle.  In their minds, there is no room for a divine Jesus.  They have to be moved so that they can take that first step, to at least acknowledge that the words Jesus spoke were far beyond anything that could have come from a mere human brain.  If they can, like this woman, acknowledge that He must have been at least a prophet whose words came from You, that is a step in the right direction.  Thank You for this insight.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 22, 2015

John 4:11-15 (NIV):  “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

Like Nicodemus before her (cf. John 3:1-21), this woman’s worldview had her mired in the material realm, struggling to see the spiritual nature of the things Jesus was talking about.  Nicodemus could only initially understand the new birth as a physical rebirth, which he found inconceivable.  The Samaritan woman could only initially understand the living water that Jesus promised as physical water.  “Living water” was a Hebrew/Aramaic phrase that simply meant water that flowed and was thus continually refreshed, like water flowing in a river or a spring.  It had no distinctly spiritual connotations until Jesus used the term in that way.  To the people of Jesus’ day, the opposite of “living water” was simply stagnant water in a pool or cistern.

The woman wondered where Jesus had found another water source in the area that the people, even father Abraham had missed.  But Jesus wasn’t talking about physical water.  Physical water is good, and is essential for physical life.  But to sustain spiritual life, spiritual water is needed.  Jesus used the image of water to speak about the Holy Spirit on more than one occasion.  (See, for example, John 7:37-38, where He uses very similar imagery to that which He was using with the Samaritan woman, and verse 39, where John explains that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit.)  Those who came to Jesus would receive “living water,” the Holy Spirit, who would then flow through their lives as it did through His, bringing eternal life into their hearts, and changing the world around them through them.

This was exciting stuff.  But, the woman, like Nicodemus before her, was still blinded by the limitations of her own needs and her own worldview.  She heard what Jesus was saying, but she still had no idea what He meant.  But Jesus wasn’t done yet with this woman.  He knew the potential that existed in her, and He wasn’t going to give up until the breakthrough came.

Father, how slow we can all be to see all that is contained in Your words and in Your promises.  And how patient and persevering You are, not giving up on us, no matter how obtuse we seem to be.  Help us, Lord, now that we do see, to have that same patient perseverance with those around us who need Your new birth and Your living water, but who just don’t get it.  Help us to keep pressing, lovingly but persistently, until their eyes are finally opened and they truly see.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 21, 2015

John 4:10 (NIV): Jesus 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.”

The Samaritan woman had asked Jesus how He, a Jewish man, could ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink, contrary to all social mores of the time.  Jesus’ answer, in a nutshell, is that she is right:  He should not be asking her for a drink; she should be asking HIM for a drink!

Jesus knew that the reason the woman’s view of things was skewed was because she didn’t know who He was.  The man standing before here was, in fact, God’s gift to the world (cf. John 3:16).  It was no “Jewish man,” who was asking her for a simple drink of water, but the very Son of God.

But the woman had no eyes to see this.  She was a woman of the world, who was focused on worldly things that were important to her right now, like getting water.  So her eyes saw only a man.  And her soul, devoid of spiritual life, did not even resonate with God’s presence when it was only five feet away from her!

Had the woman only had eyes to see, she would have responded like John responded when Jesus presented Himself for baptism:  “I need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” (Matthew 3:14)  She would have fallen at His feet crying out, “You are asking me for a drink of water, but I need the living water that only You can give!”

But the woman’s eyes were blind to these spiritual depths.  Thankfully that was only a temporary problem, because the One standing before her, holding out the gift of living water, was also the One who could open blind eyes, even spiritually blind eyes, and make them see.

Father, how often do we allow our hearts to get so full of the things of this world that we miss you entirely when You speak directly to our hearts; when you try to point out something You want us to see or do; when You hold out gifts for us to receive?  Forgive our distraction and our preoccupation.  Open our deaf ears and our eyes that have been blinded and turned inward, so that we can hear You, see You, and obey You completely.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 20, 2015

John 4:7-9 (NIV):  When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The 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.)

To the Jews of Jesus’ day, in this short interchange Jesus had committed three serious errors.  The first and most basic error was that He had gone into Samaria in the first place.  The second was that He spoke to a woman He was not married to or related to.  And finally, He asked a Samaritan for a drink.

The Jews believed the Samaritans to be morally corrupt, idolaters, and therefore cursed by God.  Because they combined the worship of the true God with the worship of other gods, they were considered gentiles and unclean.  And since they were unclean, contact with them, or with any of their stuff, was believed to make other people unclean.

But Jesus was on a mission.  He wasn’t in Sychar for pleasure or recreation, or even because it was the shortest distance between His departure point and His destination.  He was here because the Samaritan people in Sychar were in the darkness, and the Father had instructed Him to take light to them.  As He waited at the well, He sent His disciples into the town to buy some food.

Then came the woman.  Much has been made of the fact that she was coming to the well at noon instead of early in the morning, the normal time to draw water for the day.  Some teach that she did this because she was an outcast in the town due to her bad character, and so she came later, after all of the other women had finished drawing water, to avoid their scorn.  If that was the case, she might have waited until 7 or 8 in the morning, but probably not until noon.  The most likely explanation was that she simply needed more water, so she went to the well, and stepped into a divine appointment.

When Jesus saw the woman, He knew that she was the one who would be receptive to His light.  But He would have to be the one to initiate contact.   If He hadn’t said anything, she would have ignored Him as propriety dictated, drawn her water, and then simply gone away.  So Jesus made the first move.

Asking for a drink was a perfectly natural opening.  Jesus had no jar with Him to draw water, and it was the heat of the day.  It was apparent that, if He needed water, He was going to be dependent on the kindness of someone who did have a jar to draw it with.

The woman was taken aback by the request.  Again, it war rare for a man alone to speak to an unrelated woman alone, even among the Samaritans.  But even more, it was unheard of for a Jew to be willing to drink from a jar or cup that had been used by a Samaritan.  It would have been considered by them contaminated beyond all cleaning.

But Jesus was no more concerned that a Samaritan jar would contaminate Him than He was that touching a leper would make Him unclean (cf. Matthew 8:2-3).  Jesus was light, and light can never be overpowered by darkness as long as it shines.  Jesus needed to share good news with this woman, so He threw aside prejudices and social niceties knowing that, when all was accomplished, not only this woman, but the whole town would find new life in Him, and be filled with His light.

Father, it is really easy for us to give in to our comfort levels, and to only associate with those who are like us.  And, for Christians, that often means hanging out only with Christians.  It seems safer, less uncomfortable.  But Jesus knew that the work of the kingdom was to take Your light into the places where it was dark, among people who were very unlike Him.  Help us to realize the same thing.  Help us to hear Your voice clearly when You need us to put aside our prejudices and our uncomfortableness, to take Your light and love into the dark places all around us.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – July 19, 2015

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

It was not yet time for Jesus to be getting into conflict with the Pharisees.  The day would come soon when He would have the discussion with them about who and what He was, but that time was not now.  So when the potential conflict arose, Jesus withdrew back north to Galilee.

Directly between the region of Judea, the home of Jerusalem, and Galilee, where Jesus had His home base at Capernaum, lay Samaria.  Most Jewish people took a longer, less direct route between the two regions, crossing to the east side of the Jordan River, so as not to dirty the soles of their shoes with Samaritan soil.

The Samaritans were the descendants of Assyrian transplants, brought into the area when Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, captured the remaining cities of Israel and took all of the people captive because of their blatant rebellion and idolatry (2 Kings 17).  The resettled Assyrians came from all over the Assyrian Empire, and were very much pagan.  God sent lions among them, and they requested that the king of Assyria send one of the captive priests back to teach them how to worship the god of the land.  So the king sent one of the captive priests back, little more than a pagan himself, to supposedly teach them how to worship the true God.  In the end, the religion of Samaria was a highly syncretistic one – they worshipped the God of the Jewish people in a corrupted way, but their worship was combined with the worship of the other gods that they had brought with them from their home territories.

In Jesus’ day the Jewish people saw this corrupted worship as a danger to themselves.  After all, it was idolatry that had sent them off to exile in Babylon six centuries before, and they did NOT want a repeat of that!  They also were offended at the Samaritans’ claim to be legitimate worshipers of the true God, and heirs of the promises that He had made to His people.  So they cut a wide swathe around Samaria, quite literally, by crossing the Jordan River and bypassing the whole area to the east.

But Jesus had to go through Samaria on this trip, following God’s instructions.  So He did not take the longer way, but went straight through to a town called Sychar, the town known as Shechem in the Old Testament.  The town had a bloody history (cf. Genesis 34), but God had amazing plans for the people there.  Their hearts were ripe to receive the Messiah, so Jesus came into this dark, “unclean” area to bring light and holiness to the people there.

Father, Jesus’ obedience was so intuitive.  When You told Him to go somewhere, even somewhere that most other people saw as a bad place to go, he simply went, seeing the good that You would work through Him.  Lord, help me to have that same kind of intuitive obedience – to go where You send me, to do what You command, and even to say what You call me to say – so that in Your power I can spread the light of Jesus everywhere You lead me.  Amen.

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