Because of His Word (John 4:41-42)

Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”

John 4:41-42

There is a major obstacle to others coming to faith in Christ: me. It is not that I am a horrible person, there are much worse than me and much better than me out there — I am just folk. It is not that I am a terrible Christian as there are both far better examples of what a Christian ought to be and far worse examples.

The problem is not actually what I am at all, but that I am at all. We, as people, get stuck on the messenger and neglect the message. We focus on the disciple — for good or ill — and ignore the Master.

In the case of the people of Samaria, the woman from the well came and told them what Jesus had done — He had told her the truth about herself — and they, knowing that truth for themselves, went out to meet the Man Who could know the truth of this woman without knowing her personally. She had been married and divorced or widowed (it is a little unclear which) five times and was living with a different guy entirely when she met Jesus. Her testimony was enough to get people out to meet Jesus. After they met Him and talked with Him and listened to Him, they concluded that It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.

They made the transition from messenger to message.

This morning, I distinctly heard from God through the teaching on the radio while I was commuting. God orchestrated the whole thing so I heard exactly the part that He wanted me to hear. How do I know? Because the message spoke to me and where I am in my life and walk. The disciple through whom the word came could be amazing or terrible, I have no desire to know. I know this much: the Master spoke through him to me.

While I should not neglect to check for consistency between messenger and message, I should be certain I do not get hung up on the messenger to the exclusion of hearing the message at all. Testimony is good. The Word of God is better.

Spirit and Truth (John 4:24)

God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

John 4:24

Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman while His disciples are off getting food. During the conversation, the woman asks a question about the right place to worship — in Jerusalem or elsewhere — and Jesus comments that God the Father is spirit and must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.

I found myself wondering, this morning, if those two words might be capitalized — Spirit and Truth. Jesus will later in John’s gospel say that He (Jesus) is the Truth (cf 14:6). So I got to wondering if Jesus was saying that the true worshipers must worship in the Holy Spirit and the Truth, a.k.a. Jesus Christ. It is a thought and does not, as I consider it, run contrary to any doctrine revealed in scripture (that I can think of at present … I, obviously, can be wrong).

Am I worshiping — telling and showing God the Father what He is worth — in Christ and in the Holy Spirit? There is, I suspect, no other way that I can do that. Paul writes that the Holy Spirit helps my inability to pray as I ought and so translates my sad attempts at expression into groaning that words cannot express. Peter writes that Jesus is my Advocate; my Intercessor; the One Who stands between the Father and me and makes me able to stand in God’s presence. By Christ I am able to enter into the Father’s presence. By the Spirit I am able to speak in a way that fully conveys what is in my heart. In no other way, I think, can I worship the Father as He deserves.

Let me take the time to consider this further and to enter into the Father’s presence through Christ and to speak with the help of the Holy Spirit so that I may be accepted and understood.

(John 3:30)

He must increase, but I must decrease.

John 3:30

This verse is one to which I frequently return. Coming to it this morning, I found it fresh and new as the first time I read it.

The context is John the Baptist’s disciples telling him that Jesus was baptizing people nearby. John says, and I paraphrase, that it is all good; that Jesus is the whole reason for his (John’s) ministry; that Jesus must increase while John decreases.

This concept of Jesus increasing and John decreasing has often been applied to believers in various ways. John is treated as a stand-in for the believer and Jesus is Himself. The idea boils down to Jesus increasing in whatever area is appropriate in the life of the believer and the believer decreasing in that area. If the subject is obedience, then Jesus must increase in me so as to make me obedient as He is obedient and I must decrease so that I stop disobeying.

Today, I felt that I needed this reminder that Jesus must increase while I must decrease. There are many areas in my life in which this is true — trust, obedience, desires — and there is not a single area in which an increase in Christ would not augment the positive until it reached the fullness of Christ or attenuate the negative until it was gone. Regardless of the area of my life, Christ must increase and I must decrease. Jesus must be the focus.

Up to the Brim (John 2:7)

Jesus said to them, “Fill the waterpots with water.” So they filled them up to the brim.

John 2:7

This interaction takes place during Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus is at a wedding celebration and Mary, Jesus’ mother, tells Him that the wine has run out. She then tells the servants to do whatever He tells them. This verse is what He tells them to do and how they carry out His instruction. The water contained within these waterpots will shortly become wine.

These waterpots were, John notes, huge. Two or three measures apiece which means twenty or thirty gallons apiece. With six waterpots, this works out to between 120 and 180 gallons in total. That is a lot of water that is about to become a lot of wine.

It struck me that the servants filled them up to the brim. They could have filled the containers most of the way up or even just filled one or two, thinking that Jesus wanted to use it for its intended purpose. They did not know why He instructed them to fill the waterpots, only that He had told them to do so. They did not exploit the ambiguity of the command — Fill the waterpots with water —so they could slack off and get back to other things. Rather, these servants obeyed the most complete version of the command that could be conceived. They filled them up to the brim.

In God’s commands to me, am I exploiting loopholes so as to do as little as possible or is my obedience up to the brim? Jesus’ provision for this wedding feast was in direct proportion to the obedience of these servants. Had they obeyed less, then there would have been less wine for the party. Since they obeyed as they did, there was as much as 180 gallons — gallons! — of the best wine ever.

Let my obedience be up to the brim and I will see God’s blessing poured out according to the measure of my obedience.

Law v. Grace (John 1:17)

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ.

John 1:17

There is much written and much said about Moses. There is still more written and said about Christ. For all of that, we believers often still find ourselves putting on the yoke of Law instead of living in the freedom of grace. And there are excellent explanations for why.

Before I go off on a tear about the whole issue of how I place myself under a Law that no longer applies, let me first understand the divide between Law and Grace — capitalized, because it is God’s Grace about which I am speaking, not the lesser graces I am capable of showing.

Law, the Ten Commandments; The Torah — choose your poison — is the ideal; the standard against which everything else is measured. The Law is the litmus test; the plumb line; the laser level that tells me I am one hundredth of a degree out of alignment with perfectly level. Men have made lesser laws like speed limits — which we Californians seem terminally incapable of obeying — that are made for our safety or the safety of others — because telling lawyers not to lie does not help them. Law in all its forms — both Divine and human — is an ideal against which our actions are measured. But Divine Law, being Divine, can go further and be the standard against which our thoughts and attitudes are measured. Law does only one thing: Tell me what the standard is. Laws do not give me the ability to obey them — see my previous comment about Californians and speed limits — only the knowledge of what the nature of my disobedience — or, on rare occasions, obedience — is.

Grace, to the contrary, is a dispensation; a giving to me of that which I do not, cannot deserve. If I deserve it, then it is not grace. When speaking of God’s Grace — that capital “G” again — then I receive a great deal. I do not deserve to be forgiven of my wrongdoing — both unintentional, sin, and intentional, transgression — nor to be set free from being judged against that standard. Yet that i precisely what Grace does. Grace both allows me to be forgiven for my wrongs — all debts erased, all bonds paid, all charges dropped — and to enter into a place where I am free from further judgment by that standard. I am now judged by the standards of relationship. And everyone who has been in any sort of relationship knows that it is both more and less terrifying to be judged by that standard.

See, The Law does not love me. It cannot. The Law, once made, needs no one to give it any more. It is given once and abides immutable. Grace, requiring someone or, in this case, Someone to give it, is capable of bringing love along for the ride. In point of fact, we are seldom gracious to those whom we do not love. How can we be? More, Grace is ever-changing. The thing for which I need Grace this moment is not what I needed Grace yesterday, nor even ten minutes ago, and it is certainly not the same thing for which I will need Grace in an hour. Grace is, by its nature, a living, changing thing. The Law is none such.

All of this to come around to the central point: I choose under which of these to place myself. When I accepted Christ’s offer of salvation, I chose to place myself at His Mercy; to cast myself on His Grace. The Law, I know full well, condemns me. Only in Grace have I any chance at all. Am I living accordingly? To be under Grace is to have a freedom that comes only within the bounds of a relationship. My wife is gracious to me. She has to be to remain with me. I am gracious to her, as well. It is within the bounds of our love that we exercise grace. With this as a sort of guide — thinking from the lesser to the greater — what then should I expect from my God? If my wife is able to show me grace, how much more will my God show me Grace. If I — horrific human being that I am — can show grace to my wife, how much greater will the Grace offered by my Savior be. If I live as if I am obligated to obey The Law, then I am missing the point. I am free to obey The Law because my God provides Grace for those times when I fail so to do.

Let me live in Grace — the Grace that is offered to all and appropriated by so very few. Let me be one of those few.

In the Beginning (John 1:1)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

The best place to start any story is at the beginning. The Bible begins with Genesis: an account of the beginnings of many things. John begins his gospel; his account of the life of Jesus Christ at the beginning. Not the beginning of Jesus’ life on Earth or even of Jesus’ Earthly lineage, but at the beginning of time. John asserts, right out the gate, that Jesus existed from before the beginning of our world; that Jesus was with God and was God before His incarnation and before His death and burial and resurrection.

Jesus was not granted godhood for His righteous deeds as some believe — like a sad echo of the myth of Herakles (Hercules). He was always God.

I think that the concept of being with God could mean more than simply co-existing. I take the idea of with God to mean that Jesus was on board with what the Father had in mind and what His role — Jesus’ role — would be. He knew what uttering those fateful words by which everything was created would mean and He was with God as far as choosing to create this place. Knowing the cost; knowing that some of us would reject Him; knowing everything that would transpire, He was still with God and chose to create this world and all of us.

Jesus would say, during His lifetime, that those who are not with Him are against Him — there is no middle ground, where Christ is concerned.

This year is still nascent; still in its beginnings. At this beginning, where do I stand — with God or against Him? Let me be with Him.

Deserving (Luke 23:41)

And we indeed [are suffering] justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.

Luke 23:41

The context of this verse is the crucifixion. Christ is hanging on the cross between two criminals. One criminal is hurling abuse and telling Jesus that He should save the three of them. The other criminal tells the first that he should stop talking; points out that all three of them are nailed to crosses; reminds him that they deserve what they are getting.

That, I have been reminded twice this morning, is where salvation begins — at the place where I understand that of which I am deserving.

The criminal on the cross understood it. He knew that he was deserving of the death sentence he received. He knew that his crimes deserved death. He knew that Jesus had done nothing wrong. He knew. And I know he knew because he gave voice to that knowledge.

Pilate, for all that he sentenced Jesus to death, knew that Jesus did not deserve what He received. He recognized that Jesus had nothing nothing wrong.

Do I see my transgression and sin and rebellion for what they are? Do I know, in the core of my being, that I deserve damnation? If not, then my eyes are clouded and my mind does not comprehend. My transgression and my sin and my rebellion merit damnation. I am deserving of Death — the only Death anyone should really fear — and God, gracious as He is, offers me Life. I am deserving of punishment and God offers me comfort. I am deserving of shame and ridicule and God offers to call me His own. Let me understand that of which I am deserving and in understanding be humbled.

To Each His Own (Luke 20:25)

And He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Luke 20:25

In a vain attempt to trap Jesus, the religious leaders sent people to Him on the sly with questions and challenges designed to catch Him saying something untoward. In context, these folks came and asked Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Rome. Obviously, they did not mean to ask if it was permissible under Roman law — these were taxes being paid to Rome, after all — but under The Law; the Torah. Somehow, the religious leaders had found a verse that they had mangled to mean that taxes should not be paid to secular governments — they still wanted people to pay the temple tax, let’s not get crazy — and knew that Jesus would have to speak contrary to that teaching in order to say that paying Roman taxes was lawful. On the other hand, Jesus could agree with their teaching and they could scarper off to some Roman official or another and say that Jesus was teaching people not to pay their due to Rome and have Him arrested for that. It seemed like a Catch-22. But Jesus knew. More, Jesus had an answer that called them out for their hypocrisy while maintaining civil authority. This morning’s verse is that answer.

Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s. Give what is due to whom it is due in the physical world. Caesar could easily be replaced with terms like “the government” or “your spouse” or any person or entity that has a place in the physical world. My wife is due certain things — I owe these things to her. The physical world is replete with those to whom something is due. Jesus’ instruction to me is to give them their due. This, as an aside, does not preclude God having claims on my physical life, only points out the limits of the claims of others.

Render … to God the things that are God’s. Give what is due to Whom it is due in the spiritual world. My wife is not the One I should worship. My government is not worthy of my prayers. While there are those who have very real claims on me and my resources in the physical realm, the spiritual is another matter entirely. God alone claims my all in that realm and He is the only One Who has any right so to do.

“To each his own.” is a phrase most often applied to people having preferences or interests. This morning, it occurs to me that I ought to render to each his own — to God what is rightfully His and to those to whom I owe something in the physical world what is rightfully theirs.

Praise (Luke 19:41)

But Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these become silent, the stones will cry out!”

Luke 19:40

The context of this verse is what is commonly called the Triumphal Entry. Jesus is entering Jerusalem at the beginning of the last week of His life. He will teach in the temple, be examined by the priests, be betrayed, and be crucified. He will rise the following week. As Jesus enters the city, His disciples are shouting praises. The Pharisees tell Jesus that He should command His disciples to stop making such a ruckus and Jesus answers with this verse.

Would the stones literally have cried out? John the Baptist told the religious leaders that God could raise up sons for Abraham from the stones (Matthew 3:9; Luke 3:8). Joshua set up stones as a witness to the might of God (Joshua 4). But the most compelling statement comes from Paul, who wrote that all creation groans for redemption (Romans 8:19-22). Every created thing looks forward to the day when God will set it free from the presence of sin and the rocks might very well have shouted in triumph at the appearance of the Redeemer.

This is a reminder to me that the things God is doing should be allowed to prompt my enthusiasm and my praise, unfettered by concern about what others might think or say. David danced before the LORD (2 Samuel 6:14-16). He was so carried away with joy over what God was doing that he — the king of Israel — danced and jumped around in the streets. And this is the man reputed to be “after God’s own heart.” If I wish to have the heart of God in me, then I need to give place to the joy of the LORD when it bubbles over into expressions that may or may not be thought proper by those around. Let me praise my God as my God deserves. It is about Him and what He deserves. No one else.

BC (Luke 19:10)

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.

Luke 19:10

I wondered what God had to say to me when this verse popped off the page this morning. A little digging into the concordance for some Greek and the meanings behind it led me to an interesting insight: Jesus did not come to find people who had merely wandered off and lost their way (as the English would suggest), but to seek out and save from destruction those who would otherwise be destroyed.

First, the seeking. The word used sounds much stronger when all of the possible translations are read from the concordance. It can mean to seek in order to find; to seek a thing; to seek [in order to find out] by thinking, meditating, reasoning, to enquire into; to seek after, seek for, aim at, strive after. There is much more intent and intensity in these meanings than the English conveys. Not only does it sound stronger, but the fact that it carries within it the intent to find is important. I have played Hide and Seek with nephews and my “seeking” is lackadaisical — I generally know where they are. Christ came to strive after we who are lost. We were His aim then and we are His aim still.

Second, the saving. The word carries the potential meanings of to save, keep safe and sound, to rescue from danger or destruction; to preserve one who is in danger of destruction, to save or rescue. The imagery is less akin to someone playing Hide and Seek and more akin to a lifeguard looking out across the churning surf to find the person who is in danger of becoming a drowning victim. There is focus and purpose and an intent to preserve.

Last, the lost. Possible meanings include to destroy; to put out of the way entirely, abolish, put an end to, ruin; render useless; to kill; to declare that one must be put to death; to perish, to be lost, ruined, destroyed. This is not lost in the sense that I have most often read this verse or thought about a person being lost, but is, rather, in the sense of having lost someone to illness. The people whom Christ came to actively seek out and to rescue are those who under the sentence of death already; who were already dead; who were ruined and useless. Christ did not come to save people who just had a few things wrong with them. He came to save those who were effectively already dead.

I feel that I needed to be reminded that I am among those for whom Christ came. I was never anything more or less than utterly and completely damnable and damned until Christ came for me. I was, as the NT writers penned, dead in my trespasses and sins until Christ brought me to life. I was useless until God worked in me both to will and to do His good pleasure. As Ezekiel saw in his vision, Jesus Christ came to a valley of dry bones — so far gone that no one could even consider these recovering — and He bade them stand and covered them with flesh and sinew and clothed them with skin. Those bones were me. Let me remember where I was when Christ came for me lest I become proud and think I was something useful or worthwhile before Christ.