Posts Tagged ‘Baptism’

Living Our Baptismal Calling: Confess


John 4:1-42 Jesus and the Samaritan Woman

Key verses:  John 4:13–14 (NLT)  Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

This is the familiar passage about Jesus meeting a woman at the well.  In John 3, we saw Nicodemus, a Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin, sneaking in to meet Jesus at night.  Now Jesus is on his way back from Jerusalem and stops to rest at the well of Sychar, a village in Samaria.  Scholars believe that the village of Sychar is most probably to be identified with the town of Shechem, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph (John 4:5).

There was a well there which is ascribed to Jacob.  The well is still there near the village of Askar.  The well is 100 feet deep and is fed by a nature spring.  It continues to provide fresh water.  In Jesus time, the well was probably had a low wall around it and had a cover over it, upon which Jesus sits.  The well provides the main metaphor which Jesus uses in his discourse with the woman at the well.

We are not told the woman’s name.  In contrast to Nicodemus, she is anonymous.  This may be that she is meant to represent all of us.  In Jesus discourse with Nicodemus, we are left to wonder what happened to him.  Jesus gave him this famous call to eternal life:  John 3:16, 17 “For this is how God loved the world:  He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.  God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the wotld through him.” The contrast between Nicodemus and the woman couldn’t be more obvious.

A lot of sermon points have been made about the morality of the woman.  We shouldn’t judge her too harshly.  Women in the Jewish society of the ANE had few opportunities.  The likelihood is that she was abandoned and/or divorced by these 5 men.  And she was not married to the man she was now with.

The biblical claim is that the Samaritans are the descendants of the pagan settlers of northern Palestine who were resettled there by the Assyrian Empire after the conquest of the northern kingdom of Israel.  These settlers married the poor Jewish folk who remained in the land.  DNA tests have proven the biblical claims of their origin.

There are some 700 Samaritans who still live in Palestine near Mount Gerazim.  Many scholars believe that there was a sizeable Samaritan population in the churches to which John was writing this Gospel.  Hence the inclusion of this passage, which is unique to John.

The antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans is rooted in the Jewish return from exile as recounted in Ezra-Nehemiah.  When the returning Jews asked for help in rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem, the Samaritans refused.  (Ezra 4:7-24; Neh. 4:1-9).  Later they built their own temple on Mount Gerazim.  This temple was destroyed by the Hasmonean king John Hyrcanus in 128 BC.  Hostility toward Jewish travelers through Samaria resulted in most Jews choosing to take the longer route between Galilee and Judea along the Jordan R.

The key question in the passage (and in the Gospel of John) is “Who is Jesus?”  A. B. Simpson wrote a song entitled, “What Will You Do with Jesus?”  The woman’s understanding of who Jesus is changes from “a Jew” (v. 9), to a respectful “sir” (v. 11), to a “prophet” (v. 19).  The Samaritans only have the Torah, the books of Moses.  They do not include the Prophets or the Writings in their Scriptures.

“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  The gift of God of which Jesus speaks, he will later name as the Holy Spirit.  Later Jesus would say, (John 7:37-39), “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me!  Anyone who believes in me may come and drink!  For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’ ” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory.)  The whole setting and discourse help us to remember our own baptismal calling, as the Samaritan woman is being called to make a confession of faith.

The Samaritan woman would have remembered the promise of the coming of a “Prophet” like Moses (Deut. 18:15).  This is the first prophecy of the coming Messiah.  So they too were a people awaiting the Messiah, as the woman’s response to Jesus confirms:  “I know the Messiah is coming – the one who is called the Christ.  When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”  (v. 25)

The climactic moment in the story comes in the next verse, Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”  Literally, “I Am – the one who speaks to you!”  (Ego eimi – ho lalon soi.)  No where does Jesus make such a plain statement of his identity.  He is the Messiah, and all that goes along with that title:  Son of God and Son of Man.  Jesus, announcing the marvelous and unthinkable, stepped right into the center of her hopes.

Jesus’ discourse with the woman is interrupted by the return of the disciples.  Jesus uses the opportunity as a teaching moment for them as he speaks of the coming spiritual harvest (vv. 34-38).

Meanwhile the woman runs into the village and becomes the first disciple to preach the Good News about Jesus Christ to the Samaritans.  And the harvest comes:  “Many Samaritans from the village believed in Jesus…”  And they also join the chorus of witnesses in Jesus:  “Now we know that he is indeed the Savior of the world.”  The promise of John 3:16 is beginning to be fulfilled.

A. B. Simpson’s Gospel song, “What Will You Do with Jesus?” first verse and refrain says:  Jesus is standing in Pilate’s Hall – friendless, forsaken, betrayed by all,

Harken!  What meaneth the sudden call?  What will you do with Jesus?

What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be;

Someday your heart will be asking, “What will He do with me?”

Jesus went out of His way to minister to this woman.  In the same way, He went out of His way – to the cross – so that we could know God’s truth about salvation.





Fight the Good Fight of the Faith

1 Tim 6_12

1 Timothy 6:11–16 (NLT) But you, Timothy, are a man of God; so run from all these evil things. Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight for the true faith. Hold tightly to the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses. 13 And I charge you before God, who gives life to all, and before Christ Jesus, who gave a good testimony before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you obey this command without wavering. Then no one can find fault with you from now until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 15 For, At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. 16 He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen.

Before Paul closes his letter, he gives Timothy a charge to live a life beyond approach.  Paul calls Timothy “a man of God.” Oftentimes, we think of this book as a book for all who are in full-time ministry.  Certainly, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus have this application, as Timothy is serving as the pastor over the church in Ephesus at this time.

Yesterday was Father’s Day (Sunday, June 19, 2016), there can be no greater title for a human man, than that of father.  But with fatherhood comes great responsibility.  Earlier, Paul admonished fathers as to how to treat your children, “Fathers, do not aggravate your children, or they will become discouraged.”  (Col. 3:21)  In the Roman Empire, fathers and male heads of households had supreme authority over their household even to the point of holding life and death over those under their authority:  their wives, children, and slaves.

Its not so in our culture today, yet, fathers remain an important part of the lives of children.  While the role of father has been somewhat diminished in our society, yet sociologists have demonstrated that when it comes to raising children, children need both father and mother to thrive.  W. Bradford Wilcox, Director of the National Marriage Project of the University of Virginia, wrote, “But the view that men are superfluous in today’s families is dead wrong.  While it is certainly true that some children raised without fathers turn out just fine (I did), on average, girls and boys are much more likely to thrive when they have the benefit of a father’s time, attention, discipline and especially affection.  Boys are more likely to steer clear of trouble with the law when they grow up with their fathers in the home…Another study foudn that girls whose fathers disappeared before the girls turned six were about five times more likely to end up pregnant as teenagers than were their peers raised with fathers in the home.  And we know that kids – especially boys – are more likely to excel in school, and to steer clear of the principal’s office, when they are raised in a home with a father who takes their homework and school conduct seriously.”  (“Children Are Better Off With a Father Than Without One”, NYT, Dec 16, 2013)  Christian parents have an obligation to raise their children in the faith.  How much more should Christian fathers be men of God.

So, as men of God, we should flee from all the things of this world.  (1 Tim. 6:11)  Oftentimes in our culture, it seems that we live our lives as if we are playing a game in which the one who accumulates the most stuff wins.  Many things are permitted, but not everything is beneficial.  (1 Cor. 10:23)  Neil Postman, an educator, wrote a book entitled Amusing Ourselves to Death, in which he says that the contemporary world is reflected by Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, whose public was oppressed by their addiction to amusement.  Although the book was written in 1984, Postman’s premise has become even more true in our society with the rise of the internet.  We should flee from the things of this world as if we were fleeing from a snake.

Instead, we should “Pursue righteousness and a godly life, along with faith, love, perseverance, and gentleness.”  Righteousness and godliness describe the right attitude toward God.  Righteousness is the essence of a person who is righteous.  Righteousness fulfills God’s claims of righteousness.  A person who is righteous adopts God’s law for oneself.  Godliness is devotion or piety toward God.  The godly person fulfills their obligations to God.

Faith and love are the fundamental principles of the Christian life.  Rowland has said, “Righteousness is the offspring of faith, and godliness is the offspring of love.”  Patience and meekness express the principles required of those who will successfully resist the temptations and trials of this world.

The Christian church has severely misrepresented the life of faith.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship, wrote about what he calls “cheap grace.” “Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner” (p.46).  “Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate” (p.47).  We have sold people a bill of goods, as if the life of faith were not costly.  We only have to walk down an aisle and say a prayer, and we are in…a heavenly insurance policy.  But as Bonhoeffer states, discipleship is a following after Christ, which means taking up one’s cross daily and following Jesus.  The way of the cross is the way of suffering and denial.  This is why the church in the United States is so weak.

There is no crown without a cross and no victory without a fight.  So Paul suggests with the admonition, “Fight the good fight of the faith.”  Muhammed Ali just passed away, probably the greatest fighter of all time.  We think he was just super talented. But the article about his career in Sports Illustrated shows that he began his career as a youth practicing in the gym daily with disciplined struggle.  At the start of his career, he did not demonstrate any particular genius as a fighter.  It was only by learning literally in the school of hard knocks that he became a great fighter.

So we believers must learn to fight the good fight of the faith, like Paul did.  We should not yield at any point.  And so we will win the prize.  We don’t fight for a belt, like Ali did, or any earthly prize, but the prize that we fight for is “the eternal life to which God has called you, which you have declared so well before many witnesses.”  Paul is asking Timothy to recall his testimony that he shared with the church.

Each of us has a testimony of how we came to the Lord.  In our church, we are learning how to be a witness by answering three questions:  Why God?  Why church?  Why this church?  The goal is to be able to answer those three questions in about 3 min., an elevator speech, so to speak.  One of the most powerful witnesses to the truth of the Gospel is your testimony.  Many people can resist clever and intelligent arguments about the truth of the Gospel, but no one can deny the truth of one’s own experience with the risen Lord.  So we should live into our baptism on a daily basis.

Father, God, help me to live into the covenant of my baptism.  Help me to live into the witness of the eternal life I professed before many witnesses.  Strengthen me to fight the good fight of the faith day by day.  “That being  born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  (UMH 42) Amen.



The Spirit-filled Life (Part 2)


Romans 8:5–11 (NLT)

Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God.

But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) 10 And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life* because you have been made right with God. 11 The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.

The freedom from sin accomplished by the saving work of Jesus Christ results in a new way of living.  Paul contrasts those who live according to the sinful nature with those who live according to the Spirit.

Those who live a life dominated by the sinful nature (flesh) means essentially everyone apart from Christ.  Paul has already spelled this out, but here he rehashes what he already said.  Those who are controlled by the sinful nature live a life that leads to death.  Their whole orientation is hostile to God.

There is no such thing as being indifferent to God.  You are either oriented toward God, or you are hostile toward God.  So letting the Spirit control one’s life leads to eternal life and peace.  The peace to which Paul refers is first and foremost peace with God, as if we were at war with God.  So Paul said in v. 5:1 “Therefore, since we have been made right by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” For that reason, “those who are under the control of the sinful nature can never please God.”  (v. 8:8)

In contrast, those who have the Holy Spirit living in them are not controlled by their sinful nature.  Instead, we are controlled by the Spirit.  (v. 9)  The Holy Spirit directs the lives of believers.  This doesn’t mean that we do not sin.  We are still sinners saved by grace.  However, it does mean that the orientation of the believers life is now toward God, when it previously was toward sin and death.  That is what the word repentance implies, a turning away from sin and toward God, a reorientation of life from what the sinful nature desires to what God desires and wills for us instead.  We turn from death toward life in Jesus Christ.

This reorientation of the will is accomplished by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.  It is part of what it means to say we have new life in Christ.  We are regenerated.  And because we are regenerated, we have the Spirit of Christ as a sign and seal of that regeneration.

Some folks have gotten the idea that we do not have the Holy Spirit in us after baptism, that it awaits some second event that will make us super saints.  But Paul disabuses that notion.  He says (parenthetically), “And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.”  (v. 9)  So in the United Methodist Church, after you are baptized, the pastor lays hands on you and prays for the Holy Spirit to “work within you, that being born through water and the Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ.”  There is an understanding that this life of following Christ is only possible through the power of the Holy Spirit.  So Paul says that this same Spirit consistently opposes sin and death in our lives.

Paul is aware that not all the blessings of the Kingdom of God have been realized.  We still are subject to death until Christ returns.  (v. 10)  But the Spirit is the agent of eternal life.  The indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is the first sign that we have eternal life through Jesus Christ.  And the presence of the Holy Spirit is the guarantee that the Spirit will resurrect us from the dead, “just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead.”

In some mysterious way, we are already living eternal life since the day of our salvation.  Since that day, the sanctifying grace of God has been at work in our lives transforming us into the image of Christ.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us reason to think that the life of glory has already begun in our lives.  Although we still live in this body of clay, in our spirits we have already begun to break away from this present age into the Kingdom of God.  So Jesus preached, “The Kingdom of God is already among you.”  For wherever the King is, there is the Kingdom.”

The sinful nature is dead in us as a result of the work of Jesus Christ in us, through the Holy Spirit.  But Martin Luther said something to the effect that the old man who is drowned in baptism, but the old man is a good swimmer.

Lord, help me to live each day into my baptism.  Help me to walk day by day in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.


The Great Commission


Matthew 28:16–20 (NLT)

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples left for Galilee, going to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him—but some of them doubted!

18 Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. 19 Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations,* baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. 20 Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The 11 disciples were careful to follow Jesus’ instructions after his resurrection from the dead to go and meet him in Galilee.  Matthew concludes with them fulfilling these instructions.  Jesus meets them at the unnamed mountain where Jesus had told them to go.  The mountain is unnamed here, but Matthew may want his readers to remember Mount Sinai, where Moses met with God.

The hard words here are that when the disciples saw Jesus, their response was mixed.  Some worshiped Jesus, but some doubted.  Matthew may be referring to Thomas’ unbelief as in John.  There was a strange mixture of faith and unbelief that accompanied the first appearances of the risen Christ.  The women were afraid but filled with joy (Matt. 28:8).

Jesus’ final words in the Gospel begin with a truth claim:  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him.”  (v. 18)  Jesus had demonstrated his authority through his teaching and his healing ministry.  These signs pointed to Christ’s authority on earth.  But the new information is that all authority in heaven has been given to Christ.

Christ is already on the throne in heaven.  While not yet everything is fulfilled in the Kingdom of God.  Yet somethings are fulfilled.  This “yet and not yet” paradox is evident in many of Jesus’ teachings.  I had a professor in seminary who made the statement that as much as 95% of the prophecies in the OT have been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ.  I think it is impossible to substantiate such a claim.  However, it is fair to say that the majority of OT prophecies have been fulfilled in Christ’s coming and ministry.  The remainder of the prophecies to be fulfilled concern Christ’s return, the final judgment, and other such topics in eschatology.

Jesus’ purpose in making this statement about his authority is that his disciples would accomplish the mission which he was to commission them.  Jesus’ disciples are called first to “Go.”  This is an imperative.  The church is not supposed to stay.  It is supposed to go.  The process of making disciples follows Jesus’ own disciple making process.  Jesus was sent on a mission from God (missio dei) to humanity.  Both the sending and the going are mirrored in the mission of the church.

Secondly, we are called to “make disciples.”  The commission is not to make converts.  We have given the mission short shrift in American religion in that we have the idea that the mission of the church is to make converts.  In fact, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for doing just that.  The commandment here is to “make disciples,” that is followers of Jesus Christ.

Our emphasis on the moment of conversion has given some people the idea that all it takes is to walk down an aisle and say a magic prayer and suddenly you are saved.  Yet, salvation is meant to be a relationship with Jesus Christ, the Savior.  Conversion is the doorway into a life of discipleship.  That is why Christianity was originally called the Way.  Christianity is the way of salvation.  The emphasis is on a life lived for Jesus.  So Jesus said, “I am the door.”  (John 10:6) and “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  (John 14:6)

Then Jesus gives specified 2 tasks in the process of making disciples:  “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Jesus understood water baptism as the entry way int to the life of faith to which he was calling his disciples.  So we continue to emphasize that baptism is the sacrament of initiation into the body of Christ, the church.  Incidentally, this is the clearest reference to the Trinity in Matthew.  The doctrine of the Trinity would take several centuries to fully develop, but the doctrine was present in the words of Christ.

The second task of making disciples is “teaching them to obey everything” Jesus had taught.  (28:20)  Matthew has given a document that alternates between Jesus’ life and teaching.  He may have had this second aspect of the Great Commission in mind as he wrote the text.

The object of this Great Commission is “all nations.”  Right from the very beginning, Christianity has been a religion that was about tearing down walls between Jews and Samaritans (Luke 10:29-37; John 4:1-42; Acts 8:4-25), and those between Jews and Gentiles (Acts 10; 14).  The Great Commission emphasizes the inclusivity of the Good News.  The call to salvation is to “whoever who believes in him.”  (John 3:16)

We have no ascension of Jesus in Matthew.  Instead, he simply disappears like Moses disappeared from the mountain (Deut. 34).  The Gospel according to Matthew ends with the final promise of his presence:  “And be sure of this:  I am with you always even to the end of the age.”

Lord, you have given the church a commandment:  “Go and make disciples of all nations.”  Help us to remember our commission and to be about your business.  Open our eyes to see those in our circle of influence who need to hear the Good News:  our friends, relatives, associates and neighbors.  Fill us with the Spirit of boldness to share the good words with those around us.  Open our eyes to see the open doors you have placed in front of us.  Bring to our minds the unsaved people in our times of prayer.  That “whoever” would come to know you as Lord and Savior, just as we have come to know and love you.  Amen.