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John 4:27-42. Food. And Harvest.

John 4:27    Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28    Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,  29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

31    Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32    But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33    Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

34    “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

39    Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  41 And because of his words many more became believers.

42    They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Jesus is talking to a Samaritan. A Samaritan woman! The disciples are just as surprised as the woman was in the first place (v9). The emphasis on her gender rather than ethnicity (v28-29) may suggest that she was identifiable as a woman of ill repute. Why would Jesus be talking to her???

But this is irrelevant to Jesus, just as is the food that his disciples have brought back from the town. Jesus’ food is doing God’s work. He is harvesting for God with great urgency (v34-35). Jesus sees the harvest, even in the Samaritan town! He urges his disciples to recognise that it is these places —even the Samaritan villages— that are ripe for harvest. Just as Jesus has challenged the Jew/Samaritan division with the woman, so also the disciples need to see the work of God includes the Samaritans.

Jesus’ language suggests that the disciples have a vision problem and so he uses three ‘looking’ words: ἰδοὺ (behold!), ἐάρατε τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς (lift up your eyes), θεάσασθε (see, wonder!). They should recognise that now is the time for harvest, with all its associated urgency and toil. They need to identify the places that are ready for harvest and apply themselves to the task.

In verse 38, Jesus seems to be saying that there has been a preparation (sowing) for the gospel in the history of the Samaritans. Some of those seeds have taken root. Even the Samaritan woman had an expectation of the Messiah coming and revealing all things (v25). The Samaritans might have got the ‘worship in Jerusalem’ bit wrong, but the seed has been sown and now is the time for the disciples to reap, to enter into the labour of those who have gone before them.

As we return to the narrative of Sychar in v39-42, we see that many from the town hear Jesus and believe that he is the Messiah. The harvest is ripe. Many believe. And yet, many Jews did not believe (see Jn 1:11-12).

Among your circle of friends and acquaintances, who would you say is the least likely to receive Jesus? Perhaps they are a bit like the woman of Sychar– a stranger to God, with some confused religious ideas, struggling with a messy past, just trying to get by. They are exactly the kind of people whom Jesus must meet. The harvest is ripe!

Dear Father, give me eyes to see the harvest as you do. Lead me to the people whose hearts you have prepared to receive Jesus and give me such wisdom and courage, that I might engage them in a way which will bring them to you. Amen.

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John 4:1-26. Water

John 4:1    Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—  2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples.  3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4    Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.

7    When 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.)

9    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. )

10    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.”

11    “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?  12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”

John 4:13    Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

15    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.”

16    He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

17    “I have no husband,” she replied.

Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.

18 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.”

19    “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21    “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

25    The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26    Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

Water. It is an essential for life. And so in ancient lands a reliable water source supported the life of a town or village. Without pipes, running water and taps, the daily trip to the well was a necessity at the beginning of every day. Another day, another trip to the well for water.

Jesus is returning to Galilee to avoid further conflict with the Pharisees at this time. But for some reason he must travel through Samaria to return to the northern parts of Israel (v4). He could have gone around Samaria, not through it. But he is emphatic. He must. And so he meets the woman of Sychar at the well.

The common ancestry of the Jews and Samaritans is emphasised in verse 5 with the introduction of “Jacob’s well”. Throughout the narrative the woman is not given a name, only the parochial name of “Samaritan”. For now, that is her identity.

It’s not immediately clear why she comes to draw water in the middle of the day. Customarily, she would have come early in the morning with all the other women of the town. But perhaps she is an outcast.

Jesus’ request for water is rebuffed along the familiar grounds of ethnic and social barriers. Jews and Samaritans have no dealings, especially across genders, and certainly not sharing a cup. Anyway, a ‘strange’ man just does not talk to a woman in a traditional culture.

The conversation turns in verse 10 when Jesus introduces two unknowns for the woman to consider: (i) the gift of God, and (ii) Jesus’ identity. She is told she doesn’t know either. Further there is the intriguing “living water”. What is that?

Jesus explains the water. Instead of water that only temporarily sustains, Jesus offers water that lasts “into the Age”. This phrase is used here to mean “forever”, as in “never thirst again”. But the idea of “the Age” as an eschatological future time period— the kingdom of God— is picked up at the end of the verse, usually translated as “eternal life”. The water Jesus gives becomes a spring of water gushing up into “the life of the age”. I imagine that Jesus has the woman’s attention.

To what does the water refer, exactly? Is it the Holy Spirit himself?  Or is it “new life”— a new quality of relationship with God which never ends? Of course, the former leads to the latter.

By verse 15, the Samaritan women wants ‘in’ — whether just as a labour saving strategy (no more trips to the well!) or due to a very real spiritual thirst. So Jesus decides to test her authenticity, and in so doing, strips away any pretence. He knows she is a woman in desperate need. Her back story reveals a difficult life of relationship failures and the resultant social stigma. Jesus’ gift of life giving water is freely available to such as her– even Samaritan women with an inglorious past.

But the woman’s instinct for self-protection in verse 19 is remarkable. Having been exposed as an adulterer who hides the truth, she immediately turns attention away from herself— first to the fact that Jesus is a prophet, and then to an old religious chestnut (where is the right place to worship?). If this is going to be a religious conversation, she’d feel safer on the other side of the age old Samaritan/Jew divide. And so she points to Mount Gerazim as an alternate to Mount Zion as the proper place to worship (See Joshua 8:33).

In response to the woman’s attempt to discuss proper religious form— the right place to worship– Jesus speaks about personal worship. Put aside religious controversies and disputes: the Father is the one to worship, regardless of location. He seeks spiritual integrity: spirit and truth.

The woman seems to try to avoid any personal response to all that Jesus has said. She wants to say, “Well, someday this will all become clear when the Messiah shows up…. but until then we can agree to disagree.” But Jesus will not let her off the hook. The time for a response cannot be put off. The Messiah has arrived and is even speaking to her now!

Dear Father, forgive me for the times I have tried to dodge the truth and hide behind religious debates. Instead, I now come to you without pretence. You know my past. And yet, you still offer me your Spirit and a new life with you. Be gracious to me and grant me this spiritual water that brings life into ‘the Age’. Amen.

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John 3:22-36. Less

John 3:22    After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. 23 Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized.  24 (This was before John was put in prison.) 25 An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. 26 They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”

27  To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven.  28 You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ 29 The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. 30 He must become greater; I must become less.”

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.  32 He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony. 33 Whoever has accepted it has certified that God is truthful.  34 For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit.  35 The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. 36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

Competition for baptismal candidates? No, not really. John has no interest in competition but, in fact, directs attention away from himself onto Jesus. That is his role. His final words recorded in this gospel are “He must become greater; I must become less.” With this, he can rejoice because his mission is coming to fulfilment.

Jesus, for his part, does not actually baptise anyone. It is his disciples who do the work instead (see John 4:2). There are several different kinds of baptism described in the New Testament. The baptism described here is not the Christian baptism referred to in places like Mt 28:19-20. Instead it is a call to repentance, in preparation for the coming kingdom of God– in the same category of John the Baptist’s ministry.

The coalescence of the two baptismal ministries leads us to consider John the Baptist’s joy in seeing his vocation fulfilled. John knows clearly what God has commissioned him to do and so is delighted and satisfied in that work. His wisdom saying, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven…” reveals a man content, under God, in knowing his role.

Lord, Grant that I may be similarly content to know my vocation with clarity and delight in its fulfilment.

Verses 31-36 seem to be further explanation and elaboration of John 3:9-21, as well as a summary statement of all that John’s gospel has revealed about Jesus to date. Notice how the themes of Jesus’ heavenly/divine origin, his testimony from God, and the necessity of faith in him for salvation are re-stated. Particularly, Jesus’ relationship with God as ‘father-son’ is foundational to his identity. This understanding of Jesus becomes the bedrock of a new series of ‘signs’, controversies and discourses that John is about to describe.

Also for prayer: turn the themes of John’s gospel stated in 3:31-36 back to God in praise. Give glory to Jesus for whom he really is! He must become greater and we must become less.

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John 3:16-21. Explanation

John 3:16    For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

Verse 16, one of the most treasured bible verses, begins with the word, “For.” It is an explainer verse, whether from the lips of Jesus or the inspired mind of John, it is actually expanding upon the truth that all who believe in ‘the son of man lifted up’ like the snake in the wilderness (v14-15) will have eternal life.

Why do the believers get eternal life? How is it possible? Because of the love of God! Don’t read on. Just take that in. You will not see eternal death because God was motivated by love to ‘give up’ the second person of the Godhead, his unique Son, for you.

The ‘son of man’ has been the object of the preceding verses 13-15, but now there is a shift to the more explicit “first and unique Son” (τὸν υἱὸν τὸν μονογενῆ). This description is further developed as ‘sent by God to save’ (v17), and then “God’s only, first-born and unique Son” (τοῦ μονογενοῦς υἱοῦ τοῦ θεοῦ v18). He comes to save, not to judge.

And yet there is a judgement that becomes self-evident (v19). The actions of the unbeliever reveal their evil: they prefer to hide their sin in the darkness instead of coming to God. They choose separation from God instead of fellowship with God. Ultimately, they get what they chose.

Dear God, enable me to come to you, stumbling out of the darkness into your light, depending on your love alone for forgiveness. Enable me to live by your truth. May my deeds be plainly seen as wrought by you, for your glory. Amen.

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John 3:9-15. Lifted Up

John 3:9    “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.

10    “You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things? 11 Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. 12 I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things? 13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man.  14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up,  15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”

Nicodemus is still wrestling with Jesus’ assertion that, to enter the kingdom of God, a person must be ‘born again’ / ‘born from above’. It is an imperative. Spiritual re-birth, which is God-initiated and therefore uncontrolled by humans, will bring understanding. To the unbelieving– no matter how educated and highly esteemed– this will remain a mystery.

The difficulty here is that Jesus is heavenly in origin, as John has asserted from the beginning of his gospel. His revelation from God is not received by the merely ‘earthly’ teachers of Israel. Verse 13 asserts that because Jesus has ‘descended’ from God in heaven, he brings new revelation about the kingdom of God. And he will go back into heaven, to rule this kingdom as the crucified and resurrected “Son of Man”.

In the background to this saying, Jesus expects that Nicodemus (Israel’s teacher) will recognise three or four significant Old Testament motifs. Psalm 68 refers to God’s mighty rule, through his anointed Saviour-Warrior. He brings victory for God’s people and ascends with captives and gifts (the spoils of victory) for God on high (Ps 68:18, see also Eph 4:8-10). This ascent into heaven (reminiscent of Jacob’s ladder in Gen 28:11-13, referred to in John 1:50-51) can never be the work of a mere human being– for who can ascend to God in heaven on their own merits? No, only the one who has originated from heaven, the Son of God, can ascend into heaven.

Further, the central figure of the Old Testament who is received by God in glory is one ‘like a Son of Man’ in Daniel 7:11-14. In the midst of opposition, he is presented before God Almighty, the Ancient of Days, and he is given all authority and power to rule forever. But, says Jesus, this Son of Man will only be elevated to heavenly glory by being ‘lifted up’ in the same way that the bronze serpent in the wilderness was ‘lifted up’ by Moses. In Numbers 21:9 Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole in the middle of Israel’s wilderness camp. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake– a curse for disobedience– if they looked at the bronze snake, they lived. Of course, the bronze snake had no magic power of itself. It was offered by God as an opportunity for faith. If the bitten person would trust God’s promise of healing represented by the snake, then they would be healed (see 2 Kings 18:4 for what happened next with the snake!).

In the same way that the bronze snake was ‘lifted up’, when Jesus the Son of Man is ‘lifted up’ on the cross, all who look to him in faith will receive the life of the kingdom Age.

I feel a bit of sympathy for Nicodemus, with Jesus expecting him to grasp so many Old Testament references all at once, and then apply them all to Jesus. It does seem, however, that Nicodemus’ faith was slowly transferred to Jesus Christ. For a time he was a secret believer, finally going public at the crucifixion. See John 19:38-40.

So when we gather up all these Old Testament motifs and references, what do they all mean? John will elaborate in the following verses, but for now, we need to see Jesus as God’s anointed Saviour-Warrior bringing in the kingdom of God– even in the face of opposition. Although this opposition will continue through to his death, nonetheless, through his death, he will ultimately return to heaven in glory to rule with all power and authority. And all who put their faith in him, trusting in God’s promise, will receive the kingdom life.

Dear Father, please grow my understanding and embrace of the absolute rule of Jesus, both now and forever. Let my trust in his salvation flourish, that I will be able to understand all that he reveals that is both heavenly and earthly. Amen.

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John 3:1-8. Nicodemus

John 3:1    Now there was a Pharisee, a man named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council. 2 He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

3 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”

4 “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”

5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus is an important man who comes to Jesus at night to conceal his interest. Jesus’ signs are compelling and so he wants to find out more about the kingdom. In response, Jesus both reveals and conceals the way into the kingdom: a kind of ‘birth’ is required.

The adverb Jesus uses to describe this ‘birth’ can refer to time (born again) or place (born from above). The implication here is that the source of ‘birth’ is divine. God is ‘above’ in heaven. This ‘second’ birth is different to the physical ‘first’ birth, and therefore super-natural. And besides, birth is not something to be ‘controlled’– it just happens, to both the mother and the child. But it’s all a bit of a puzzle for Nicodemus.

In a clarification that continues to both reveal and conceal, Jesus says that this birth must be both of water and of Spirit (v5-8). Some say that Jesus’ words here mean that to properly enter the kingdom a Christian must be spiritually born and baptised in water, as per the typical practice of the early Christian church. But I do not find this interpretation compelling.

The only baptism yet introduced in this gospel is John’s water baptism of repentance– not the fully orbed Christian practice– so we must be careful not to put too much sacramental weight on these words. Old Testament usage would infuse ‘water and Spirit’ with the meaning that God would act for the cleansing of his people (see for example, Ezekiel 36:25-27). The reference to Spirit must refer to the Holy Spirit because of what follows in verse 6, where the contrast with flesh (sarx: human sinfulness) requires the externally sourced Holy Spirit of God for regeneration.

So gathering up all these observations, Nicodemus was being told that a spiritual experience of regeneration is needed in order to enter the kingdom of God. This will involve a desire for purification from sin (water) and the divine action of God (Spirit). Wind/breath/Spirit are all the same word in Greek and so, like the wind, this unseen birth is both real and uncontrollable. God gives this Spiritual birth to whomever he pleases.

Nicodemus is surely frustrated but all this. He seeks a way into the kingdom of God– “how do I get it?” “What do I need to do?” But Jesus says that a person is born of the kingdom. It is only seen by those born of it, of water and the Spirit.

Father, thank you for the evidence of Spiritual rebirth. May my life continually and increasingly demonstrate this unseen birth to the world. Amen. 

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John 2:13-25. Temple – part 1

John 2:13    When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.  16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

18    The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19    Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20    They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?”  21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

23    Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people.  25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

This is the first of three Passover festivals that Jesus attends at Jerusalem during the time of his public ministry (see also Jn 6 and Jn 13). The Passover remembered God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt. Central to this celebration was the sacrifice of a lamb.

It seems that the large outer courtyard of the temple, the court of the Gentiles, had become a thriving marketplace serving pilgrims who needed to buy animals for sacrifice. The activity taking place there was not without justification. The general principle of exchanging money for goods to eat or sacrifice at the temple was set up in Deut 14:22-27. The use of temple currency was intended to keep the Roman coinage, with its homage to Caesar and foreign gods, outside the temple precinct. The problem was that this marketplace activity had completely taken over the only area a Gentile could draw near to God for prayer. Instead of offering a “house of prayer for all nations” (Isa 56:7) the temple markets were rife with extortion and rip-off merchants.

And so, in a display of righteous anger, Jesus disrupts the market and throws out the traders. In response, the Jews ask for a ‘sign of authority’. It seems that Jesus already has a reputation for signs, such that he would be asked for one to verify his prophetic action here. ‘Signs’ continue to be central to this gospel’s testimony to Jesus (note also v23).

Jesus’s reply in verse 19 is cryptic, explained only by John in verse 21. Destroy this temple– his body– and he will raise it again in three days. The connection between the two requires explanation. The Jerusalem temple represented God’s presence among his people. He lived in their midst. Although his greatness and glory could never be contained by the temple, it was a point of address. A person interacted with God through prayer and sacrifice at the temple. His word was taught at the temple. In short, for Israel, the temple was Emmanuel– “God with us”. And now Jesus– God with us– would completely supersede the temple and all its sacrificial functions. What ‘sign’ does Jesus offer? His resurrection from the dead.

Jesus’ replacement of the temple’s significance and function continues today in a surprising way. The church has been joined to Jesus as ‘the body of Christ’, animated by the Holy Spirit. His disciples, the Christian community, have become that temple; representing the living presence of God, revealing his glory to humanity!  (see 1Cor 12:27; 1Cor 6:19-20).

This realisation changes my relationships with other Christians, as they become the vehicle for revealing the glory of God to the world. The life of my local church is as near as many people will come to experiencing Jesus Christ. Reconciliation and forgiveness with other Christians now become a priority. Love– of the kind that Jesus demonstrated– is the new currency of ‘the temple’.

Gracious God, please change me that I might truly demonstrate what it means to be a member of the body of Christ, that body which is your temple. Transform my local church more and more to become a ‘spiritual household’, a holy priesthood offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to you through Jesus Christ. Amen.

 

 

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John 2:1-11. Water to Wine

1    On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there,  2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding.  3 When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.”

4    “Woman,  why do you involve me?” Jesus replied. “My hour has not yet come.” 5 His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

11    What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him.

Signs are only important because of their function. They relay attention upon something else. The sign saying, “Welcome to Sydney” is not Sydney itself– it simply announces that one has arrived at the edge of the emerald city. Presumably, if you keep on travelling along this road, you will come to the Harbour, the Bridge and the Opera House. You will find beautiful beaches, traffic jams, high rise overdevelopment and infrastructure projects in various states of repair. The sign is only important because it directs our attention to something much greater.

Jesus’ action of turning water into wine is only important because it is a sign announcing something far more significant. The passage has several clues to help us understand the message.

First of all, there is a timing issue. Jesus’ “hour” has not yet come (v4). Fulfilment is near but not yet. Further, the timing of the wine is back to front. Somehow, God has saved ‘the best’ wine in abundance until what seems like ‘the last’– the end. God is surely doing something wonderful, right now.

Next, the sign involves a significant transformation. The ordinary water for Jewish purification is changed to beautiful wine. The purification rituals of the Old Testament seem now to be surpassed by a great celebration. Traditionally, wine was always associated with blessing and abundance, good times and celebration. The water foreshadowing purification has become the fulfilment of the harvest, i.e. wine.

And finally, post-resurrection reflection upon this first of Jesus’ signs reminds us that the great wedding banquet of the Lamb is imminent.

Rev. 19:9    Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

Rev. 21:1    Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”  for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.  2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.  3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’  or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Lord Jesus Christ, I praise you that you have replaced ritual purifications and washings with the celebration of your victory over sin. Thank you for inviting me to the great wedding banquet, where the best has indeed been reserved for last. Please shape my living now in anticipation of that great day. Amen.

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John 1:40-51. What’s in a name?

  Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus.  The first thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.

Jesus looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter ).

The next day Jesus decided to leave for Galilee. Finding Philip, he said to him, “Follow me.”

Philip, like Andrew and Peter, was from the town of Bethsaida. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”

“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked.

“Come and see,” said Philip.

When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”

“How do you know me?” Nathanael asked.

Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”

Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You will see greater things than that.” He then added, “Very truly I tell you, you will see ‘heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on’ the Son of Man.”

As Jesus’ collects his first disciples, the titles ascribed to Jesus pile up and overflow. Let’s explore some of them together.

V41. “Messiah / Christ”: the anointed successor to King David who will rule God’s people with justice and righteousness forever. (2 Sam 7:9-16; Isa 9:6-7).

V45. “the one Moses wrote about in the Law”: a new Moses, who will speak directly from God (Deut 18:14-20).

V49. “the Son of God; you are the king of Israel.”: the two titles are clearly synonymous and overlap with “Messiah / Christ”. See also Psalm 2, 110.

V51. “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on…”: This is a reference to Genesis 28:12-15 where Jacob has a vision of a ladder bridging heaven and earth. The ladder is the intersection of heaven and earth, of God and man. The significance  of the vision is the reaffirmation of the covenant with Israel (Jacob). Hence, the reference is to the idea of ‘blessing to all people through the offspring’– this offspring is Jesus. Note also that Jesus substitutes the Son of Man for the Ladder– the two have the same function.

V51. “The Son of Man” is an ambiguous title. In Aramaic– likely the language which Jesus spoke most commonly in the north of Israel– the phrase can be a humble way of referring to yourself in the third person, in the way a Texan might say, “just little ‘ole me.” Alternatively, ‘the Son of Man’ referred to the exalted ruler given eternal power and glory by God in Daniel 7:11-14. Throughout John’s gospel Jesus refers to himself frequently as ‘the Son of Man’, deliberately trading off the ambiguity of the term.

The ascription of these titles to Jesus– and his willingness to receive them– challenge me to enlarge my view of him.

Jesus, I praise you that you are Messiah, Christ, the Son of God, the one who speaks directly from God, the intersection of heaven and earth, and the glorious Son of Man. Amen. 

 

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John 1:35-39. The Lamb of God

   The next day John was there again with two of his disciples.  When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”

When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus.  Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”

They said, “Rabbi” (which means “Teacher”), “where are you staying?”

“Come,” he replied, “and you will see.”

So they went and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him. It was about four in the afternoon.

For a second time now, John declares Jesus to be ‘the Lamb of God’. Two of John’s disciples hear it, immediately abandon John, and start following Jesus as their ‘Teacher’. Jesus seems at first a little surprised by this turn of events, but invites Andrew and the other disciple (Philip?) to tag along anyway.

So what does it mean to Andrew and Philip for Jesus to be ‘the Lamb of God’? In the Old Testament lambs were usually associated with the idea of sacrifice and the temple cult. A one year old lamb, without defect, was considered an appropriate sacrifice in many situations. But these sacrificial lambs were provided by sinners seeking a restored relationship with God. When did God ever provide a Lamb?

At God’s direction, as Abraham set out to sacrifice, his young son Isaac asked, “Where’s the lamb?” In Genesis 22:8 Abraham replies, “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And so, in the fullness of time (and just in the nick of time!), God provides a ram for the sacrifice.

Whatever Andrew and Philip understood by John’s use of the phrase, “the Lamb of God,” the sum of his testimony prompted them to transfer their allegiance to Jesus.

Lord, grant that all my former allegiances be absolutely transferred to Jesus. May he fill my horizon. May his sacrifice truly stand in my place. Amen.

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John 1:29-34. Testimony

   The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” (John 1:29-34)

Here, now at last, is John’s formal testimony. He gathers up his preparatory remarks from earlier in the chapter and focusses them all upon Jesus of Nazareth. His concluding remark, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One” is framed in the perfect tense. This infers that John’s statement, made at a singular point in time, has enduring effect. His words echo down through time, even in the pages of this gospel, for the benefit of those who will hear. John declares that Jesus is God’s Son.

I know that in the NIV cited above John says, “…God’s Chosen One” but the best Greek text that we have actually has John saying, “this is the Son of God.” The usually very good NIV translation is perhaps trying to give the reader some kind of interpretive help but it robs us of the introduction of one of this gospel’s great themes (culminating in John 20:30-31). John’s testimony– both the baptiser and the gospel author– is that Jesus is ‘the Son of God.’ When John spoke these words, ‘Son of God’ did not necessarily mean “Divine second person of the Trinity”. Instead, this phrase meant something like, ‘a king in the line of David.’ The true kings of Israel were referred to as God’s sons (see D.A. Carson, The Son of God, Crossway, 2012). It was a messianic term. And yet, it is only as John’s gospel unfolds do we come to understand the greater reality that Jesus the Son of God is also truly divine, the second member of the Godhead.

In addition to the Baptist’s personal testimony, John also reports the action of the Holy Spirit. His dwelling with Jesus (an enduring reality) not only commissions him for his ministry, but also shows God’s recognition and approval. Jesus is truly God’s agent, acting with his authority and power, affirmed by the Spirit.

Once again, I am prompted to consider my response to this further revelation of Jesus. John’s ministry had a twin purpose– (i) to prepare Israel for their Messiah by calling people to repentance, and (ii) to testify to Israel as to the identity of their Messiah. “Turn back to God because here He is in our midst!” I wonder if our response to ‘God in our midst’ is true repentance?

How might this reality prompt you to prayer now?

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John 1:19-28. The Baptiser

  Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders  in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was.  He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, “I am not the Messiah.”

They asked him, “Then who are you? Are you Elijah?”

He said, “I am not.”

“Are you the Prophet?”

He answered, “No.”

Finally they said, “Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’ ”

Now the Pharisees who had been sent questioned him, “Why then do you baptize if you are not the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?”

“I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know.  He is the one who comes after me, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.”

This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. (John 1:19-28).

The prelude complete, John’s gospel now moves into narrative mode. The prophet Malachi (4:5-6) created the expectation that Elijah– whether resurrected or a ‘type’– would come as a heralding prophet immediately prior to the Messiah’s arrival. The ministry of baptising and preaching repentance would be seen as “turning the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents”. So the delegation from Jerusalem are asking reasonable questions of John.

Verse 24 employs a narrative technique used frequently throughout John’s gospel. A further detail is introduced into the story that heightens the drama. Only now do we find out that the delegation from Jerusalem also included a group of Pharisees (imagine some foreboding music now added to the soundtrack). The Pharisees were the ultra-orthodox religious party– ‘different’ to the priests and Levites previously introduced in verse 19. Their scrutiny ups the ante on John. He’d better know his bible and he better be careful what he says.

John’s series of denials—all of which could be true in one sense or another— serve to give increased attention to the quote from Isaiah. The reason for John’s denials is unclear. Perhaps he refers only to his own perception of his calling. His later queries addressed to Jesus suggest he knew little detail of God’s plan in progress. But what is clear is that he believes he is announcing the arrival of the LORD coming to his temple (Isaiah 40:1-5). “The time for exile is complete. Get ready because God is coming. His glory is about to be revealed and everyone will see it together– not just the high priest in the temple.”

This interaction between John and the Pharisees feels a bit like two boxers testing each other out at the beginning of round 1– a jab here, a poke there. In verse 26, John’s answer to the Pharisees’ interrogation sounds incomplete. “I baptise with water…” Yet he does not continue, “but the one to come will baptise with the Holy Spirit.” Instead, enigmatically, John simply affirms that he is indeed baptising with water, and then he redirects to his purpose of revealing the coming One, whose sandal he is not worthy to untie. Instead of John, the Pharisees need to pay attention to the One who is to soon be revealed. He is already among the people of Israel, so they must be alert; be ready.

I’m moved to ponder my own response to the coming of Jesus– his second coming. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, God’s word tells me he’s coming. I have a rough idea of what to expect. The prophets continue to speak. I’m curious about any signs or hints of his impending arrival. But is my heart ready to receive his revelation for all that it will be?

Lord, prepare my heart to receive you when you come. Thank you for all who have come before me, all who have sought to prepare the way for your coming. Grant that I might be ready: no excuses, no regrets. Amen.