Archive for the month “February, 2014”

Pondering John 4:1-26

gospel-of-john

You can read the passage by clicking HERE.

This is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in Samaria. It is helpful to know a little of the history between the Jews and the Samaritans to understand this passage. D. A. Carson, in his commentary on The Gospel of John says this:

After the Assyrians captured Samaria [the capital of the Northern kingdom of Israel] in 722–21 BC, they deported all the Israelites of substance and settled the land with foreigners, who intermarried with the surviving Israelites and adhered to some form of their ancient religion (2 Kings 17–18). After the exile [of the Southern kingdom in Babylon], Jews, returning to their homeland . . . viewed the Samaritans not only as the children of political rebels but as racial half-breeds whose religion was tainted by various unacceptable elements. . . . About 400 BC the Samaritans erected a rival temple on Mount Gerizim.

It was not unusual for Jews to avoid passing through Samaria altogether. It made for a longer journey from Galilee to Jerusalem but it kept the Jews from contact with those “half-breeds” of Samaria.

I see a lot of intentionality on the part of Jesus in this passage. Intentionality is a good thing.

Perhaps the most interesting word in this passage for me is found in verse 4… “And he (Jesus) had to pass through Samaria.” The fact of the matter was that Jesus did NOT have to pass through Samaria. He could have gone around as many Jews tended to do. It is as if Jesus deliberately went through Samaria looking for an opportunity to have a gospel conversation.

And what happens in this passage reeks of scandal. Not only did Jesus intentionally go through Samaria but He intentionally engaged a woman in conversation. This was just not done by upright Jews. And not just any woman but a sinful woman. (vs 7-12)

He intentionally introduced spiritual things into a mundane conversation. (vs 13-15) And he intentionally brought up the taboo subject of her sinful lifestyle. (vs 16-18)

He intentionally challenged her beliefs that had been based on tradition (vs 19-24)

And finally He chose to intentionally reveal, for the first time, to a woman of ill-repute, that He was indeed the long awaited promised Messiah. (vs 25-26)

There are many lessons in this passage for me. Probably the one that stands out the most is that I need to be much more intentional about looking for opportunities to have gospel centered conversations. It is very easy for me to stay where I am comfortable and not venture into Samaria where I might meet “sinners.”

Father, would You create in me such a love for people who are far away from You that I am compelled to go to places that I am uncomfortable. And give me the courage to do so.

Next Week’s Passage: John 4:27-54

Quotes Worth Pondering – David Platt

QuotesWorthPondering“The modern-day gospel says, ‘God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life. Therefore, follow these steps, and you can be saved.’ Meanwhile, the biblical gospel says, ‘You are an enemy of God, dead in your sin, & in your present state of rebellion, you are not even able to see that you need life, much less to cause yourself to come to life. Therefore, you are radically dependent on God to do something in your life that you could never do.” (from the book Radical)

Pondering John 3:22-36

gospel-of-john

You can click HERE to read the passage.

Shoshben.

Now there’s a word that you don’t hear everyday. In fact, I would guess it is a word that you’ve never heard before. The shoshben, in Hebrew weddings, was the friend of the bridegroom. This is how John the Baptist referred to himself in verse 29. He would be somewhat like the best man in our culture, though with much more responsibility.

After doing a little research here is my understanding of the typical wedding customs in Jewish circles at the time of Jesus. It may help to give insight into some of the imagery in this passage (as well as others in the New Testament):

  • The first major step in a Jewish marriage was betrothal. Betrothal involved the establishment of a marriage covenant. By Jesus’ time it was usual for such a covenant to be established as the result of the prospective bridegroom taking the initiative.
  • The prospective bridegroom would travel from his father’s house to the home of the prospective bride. There he would negotiate with the father of the young woman to determine the price (mohar) that he must pay to purchase his bride.
  • Once the bridegroom paid the purchase price, the marriage covenant was thereby established, and the young man and woman were regarded to be husband and wife.
  • From that moment on the bride was declared to be consecrated or sanctified, set apart exclusively for her bridegroom.
  • As a symbol of the covenant relationship that had been established, the groom and bride would drink from a cup of wine over which a betrothal benediction had been pronounced.
  • With the covenant in place, the groom would leave the home of the bride and return to his father’s house “to prepare a place” for her. His job was to build a room in which he and his bride would live in his father’s house. He would not see his bride until this was complete.
  • At the end of this period of separation the groom would come to take his bride to live with him. The taking of the bride usually took place at night. The groom,the shoshben, and other male escorts would leave the groom’s father’s house and conduct a torch light procession to the home of the bride.
  • Although the bride was expecting her groom to come for her, she did not know the exact time of his coming.  As a result, the groom’s arrival would be preceded by a shout and often the blowing of the shofar (ram’s horn). This shout would forewarn the bride to be prepared for the coming of the groom.
  • After the groom received his bride, together with her female attendants, the  wedding party would return from the bride’s home to the groom’s father’s house. Upon arrival  the wedding party would find that the wedding guests had assembled already.
  • Shortly after arrival the bride and groom would be escorted by the other members of the wedding party to the bridal chamber (huppah). Prior to entering the chamber the bride remained veiled so that no one could see her face.
  • While the groomsmen and bridesmaids would wait outside, the bride and groom would enter the bridal chamber alone. There in the privacy of that place they would enter into physical union for the first time, thereby consummating the marriage.
  • The shoshben  stood outside waiting for the groom to tell him that the marriage had been consummated.
  • Once consummated, the shoshben then announced to all the good news that the marriage was on and that the party could begin. Then all the friends really started celebrating for the seven days that the couple were honeymooning.   When the couple emerged there would be much congratulations and the Marriage Supper could begin.

Here is my takeaway. While I understand that the church is the bride of Christ, there is also a sense in which we are “shoshbens“, friends of the bridegroom. And it is our joy, our delight, our privilege,  to tell others the good news about Christ and His bride. We get to announce to anyone who will listen the glorious gospel of the risen Christ who has come to claim us as His own and take us to a place that even now He is preparing for us. And one day there will be a great party for those who are redeemed as we celebrate at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb.

“Father, would You so excite me about THAT DAY that I can’t help but tell the good news to anyone who is willing to listen on THIS DAY.”

Next Week’s Passage: John 4:1-26

Quotes Worth Pondering – Tim Keller

QuotesWorthPonderingHere are 3 quotes by Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC. He has authored many books including The Prodigal God and Counterfeit Gods.

“A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”

“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.”

“If we are saved by grace alone, this salvation is a constant source of amazed delight. Nothing is mundane or matter-of-fact about our lives. It is a miracle we are Christians, and the gospel, which creates bold humility, should give us a far deeper sense of humor and joy. We don’t take ourselves seriously, and we are full of hope for the world.”

Pondering John 3:1-21

gospel-of-john

You can click HERE to read the passage.

As I pondered this passage I was struck by the ease in which Jesus carried on a gospel conversation with Nicodemus. Here are a few things that I see in this passage that helped me think about how to have similar conversations with people that I meet.

Be available to people. Take advantage of divine appointments  (v.2) – This conversation that Jesus had with Nicodemus was not planned. There is not even any indication that they had ever met before. And it happened at night, presumably after a long day when people generally were settling in for rest. Yet Jesus was available. He did not make Nick feel like he was interfering with His schedule. Sometimes you just never know. You never know when an opportunity will present itself. You never know when you will have a chance to be a gospel witness. Now is the time to get ready. Now is the time to pray that God will bring people across your path that need you to tell them about Jesus. You can’t have gospel conversations unless you take advantage of the opportunities that God gives you.

Use language that creates curiosity and provokes questions (v.3) – Jesus was very purposeful with what he said. He did not speak with worn out religious cliches. He used language that made people curious about what He was saying and got them involved in the conversation. Notice verses 4 and 9. Nicodemus is engaged. He is asking questions. He wants to know more. Many Christians shut down gospel conversations instead of opening them up because they say things that sound lame and uninviting. We need to work hard at making sure that our conversation is “always gracious,  seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). You can usually tell if a person is interested in hearing what you have to say if they are asking questions. Give them a reason to carry on a conversation by making it sound interesting.

Challenge common assumptions. Make people think (vs. 5-13) – The common assumption for Nicodemus was that being a keeper of the Law would grant you access into the kingdom of God. Imagine his surprise when Jesus said that “unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” 2000+ years later people are still making the same assumption – that if they are just good enough, if they keep God’s commandments, then God will let them into heaven. As gospel bearers we need to help people think  and challenge them to consider that perhaps  the assumptions they have made all their lives are faulty. Asking good penetrating questions is a great way to do this. For instance, in this case, “how good is good enough to get you into heaven.” Or perhaps “Is it reasonable to assume that a holy God would allow sin into heaven.”. Asking questions also demonstrates that we are interested in what they think  and helps us to frame the conversation in a way that is particularly suited to the individual.

Use stories and object lessons to help clarify  (v. 14) – I’m sure that what Jesus was sharing was pretty incredulous to Nicodemus. To help make things a bit clearer Jesus appealed to a story in the Older Testament, one that Nick would have been very familiar with (see Numbers 21:4-9). Stories, illustrations, and object lessons are great ways to help clarify things that are difficult to understand. Using the familiar to explain the unfamiliar is something that good communicators work hard at doing. It is worth working hard to become good at sharing the gospel since the gospel is the greatest message anyone could ever hope to hear.

Offer people faith, hope, and love (vs.16-21) – Jesus offers Nicodemus all 3 of these as he winds down the conversation. The idea that God was a loving God would probably not have been the first thing that came to Nick’s mind – just as it is a new idea to people today who think of God more as judge and rule keeper. People need to know that God loves them because so many people have never experienced what real love is. People need to know that there is hope because so many people are living lives of hopelessness and despair. And people need something (or rather Someone) to believe in that will not disappoint because so many people have put their faith in people or jobs, or money and have been disappointed again and again. The gospel is great news because it offers faith, hope, and love.

“Father, would You make me aware of the opportunities that you put right in front of me. And would You teach me by Your Spirit to speak in ways that will make people want to know more about who You are and what you have done through Christ at the cross.”

Next Week’s Passage: John 3:22-35

Quotes Worth Pondering – J.I. Packer

QuotesWorthPonderingThese quotes are from the Christian classic Knowing God by J.I. Packer. It is a must-read for all believers.

“What makes life worthwhile is having a big enough objective, something which catches our imagination and lays hold of our allegiance, and this the Christian man or woman has, in a way that no other man or woman has. For what higher, more exalted, and more compelling goal can there be than to know God?” 

“Men who know their God are before anything else men who pray, and the first point where their zeal and energy for God’s glory come to expression is in their prayers…. If there is little energy for such prayer, and little consequent practice of it, this is a sure sign that as yet we scarcely know our God.”

Pondering John 2:12-25

gospel-of-john

You can click HERE to read the passage.

Interestingly, this incident in the life if Jesus is recorded in all 4 of the gospels. In the other 3 (the synoptic gospels), the temple cleansing takes place soon after Jesus enters Jerusalem just prior to his crucifixion. In other words, at the end of His ministry. In the Gospel of John it is recorded as taking place at the beginning of His ministry. Why do you suppose that is? I’ll let you ponder that on your own – but I did think it was worth pointing out.

I have several random takeaways from this passage. I will pose them in the form of questions:

1. What do we do in our churches that prevent people who are seeking God from finding Him? (vs. 13-16) Jesus was really mad! Primarily because God’s house had been turned into a chaotic marketplace. Jewish pilgrims were coming to Jerusalem from all over – and instead of being able to make the required sacrifice, they were being fleeced by those more interested in making a quick shekel than in helping people find forgiveness and worship the One true God. It just makes me wonder what we might be doing that keep people from God. As well as what we aren’t doing that would encourage people to find Him.

2. Do I know God’s Word as thoroughly as I should? (v. 17) – I’m kind of amazed by the disciples reaction to what Jesus did. Whereas everybody else was outraged by His actions, the disciples weighed His actions against the Word of God. And they knew the Scriptures well enough that they were able to see “Messiah” written all over what He had done. It is always a good idea to interpret things that happen around us and to us in light if Scripture. But to do this means that we have to know the Word.

3. When Jesus looks at my heart what does He see? (s.23-25) – There were a lot of people that believed in Jesus because of the miracles they saw Him doing. But it was not the kind of persevering faith that would withstand persecution and difficulty. This is why Jesus did not “entrust Himself to them.” I have lived a fairly comfortable life. I have never experienced persecution for my faith. I have not even had to deal with a lot of difficulty and tragedy. I sometimes wonder how my faith would stand up if everything that I have was stripped away and I was forced to choose Jesus or death. I wonder what Jesus sees when He sees my heart.

Father, I’m very grateful for life and for the eternal life that you have given me in Christ. More and more would You instill within me a hunger and thirst for Your Word. And more and more would You root out the idols in my heart that keep me from following You wholeheartedly.

Next Week’s Passage: John 3:1-21

Quotes Worth Pondering – Jim Belcher

QuotesWorthPonderingThe following is from a book I just finished by Jim Belcher entitled In Search of Deep Faith. An excellent read. He is commenting here on one of his heroes of the faith, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who spent the last part of his life imprisoned because of his role in the resistance movement against Hitler:

“Even in his small, dark and damp cell, Bonhoeffer believed that life was pregnant with meaning because he knew this life had an important destination. His eschatology (view of the end times) shaped his thinking and his imagination in the present. He had the ability, unlike so many of us today, to envision a different world. He didn’t just think about hope; he lived it. In spite of the reality that was all around him, a reality profoundly marked by evil and decay, he saw the world differently – he had an eschatological imagination. And this allowed him to live courageously and hopefully in the midst of the darkness.” (p. 246)

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