Posts Tagged ‘Truth’

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.





The Whole Armor of God

Ephesians 6_13

Ephesians 6:10–17 (NLT) A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we* are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.* 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.* 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Paul’s final word to the church in Ephesus is to “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.”  He wants to remind believers of the real power behind the opposition against us, the devil, and to urge us to protect ourselves with the power of God.  So he uses the metaphor of putting on the whole panoply, the whole armor of God.

In the western world, we have come to discount the “rulers…powers…the forces of this darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  (v. 10)  We either say that they don’t exist or we spiritual-ize them, identifying them with abstract evils in this world:  alcoholism, slavery, prejudice, hatred, etc.  However, Christians in the majority world have a different understanding of what is taking place in the spiritual realm.  Just as those who lived in the ancient near east, they recognize that the world as we know it consists of the earth, and heaven, yes, but also the in-between world of the spirit.  Someone has called this the “excluded middle,” and it explains the difficulty that mainline churches have had in reaching immigrant populations in the US.  We’re missing a part of how they understand the world.

Marva J. Dawn tells us that the language of powers fell out of use in the Reformation due to the excesses of certain apocalyptic groups.  The rise of liberalism through Schleiermacher and others led them to view the Kingdom of God as subjective and non-cosmic.  So they spoke about evil of injustice in the economic powers, or the evils of social ills:  prejudice, hatred, greed.

In her book Powers, Weakness, and the Tabernacling of God (Eerdman’s 2001)asks us to consider that both might be true.  On the eve of the rise of the power of Nazism in Germany, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote:  “How can one close one’s eyes at the fact that the demons themselves have taken over rule of the world, that it is the powers of darkness who have made an awful conspiracy.”  There seems to be a mind and a purpose that links together evil in the world.  And Paul says that our battle is not just with these human representatives of evil, but also with spiritual forces of evil in this spiritual world.  This helps to explain the pervasiveness of evil in our world.

There is evil in the world, and it is not just evil people.  There is a spiritual battle in the world, and our battle is not against evil people, but against spiritual powers of this darkness.  (v. 12)

Spiritual warfare requires spiritual weapons.  So Paul exhorts us to put on the full panoply, the full armor of God.  He asks us to imagine a Roman soldier as he puts on his gear and gets ready for battle.  (v. 13)  Almost all of the equipment is defensive. “The sword of truth, which is the word of God” is our only weapon.  Paul’s focus is not on the precise function of each piece but on God’s gifts.  Our grounding in Christ and the Word of God provides us the protection and ability to stand your ground.

I was watching a TV show recently that depicted a Roman battle.  As an old soldier, I’m often interested in watching war movies.  This one got it all wrong.  They showed the Roman soldiers jumping out of line and hacking their enemies with their swords.  That was not the case, the armies of Rome always fought in lines and squares.  Each soldier’s shield actually protected their left side and the right side of the soldier next to them.  They marched together as a unit, never breaking ranks.  When they reached the enemy, their “sharp, two-edged sword” was useful for thrusting into the unprotected heart of their enemy.

Paul’s metaphor for spiritual warfare goes against our lone ranger mentality in the US.  We admire the heroes who jump out and go it alone, who pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.  But there are no lone rangers in the Kingdom of God.  We are supposed to be in this together.  Almost every book in the NT was written to the church (the exceptions being Paul’s letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon).

Yet people think they can live the Christian life apart from the church.  Is it no wonder, we so often fail?  Is it no wonder, we fall away from the faith?  Is it no wonder the church in the western world is so weak?  Why is the church in the majority world so strong?

They recognize 1.  We are in a spiritual battle.  2.  They recognize that they are not in the battle alone, but together in the church of Jesus Christ.  3.  They put on the whole armor of God so that they may stand in the fiery trials they face on a daily basis.

In contrast, we crumble and fall away at the least bit of opposition.  It is why the devil has had so much success in causing the church in the US to fall away and wither.  We don’t recognize that we are even in a spiritual battle.  And we don’t use the gifts that God has given to us in that battle.

Paul says earlier in Ephesians why God has given to us the church:  “to equip God’s people to do God’s work and to build up the church, the body of Christ…until we all come to such unity in our faith and understanding of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.”  (Eph. 4:12, 13)

You want to be strong in the Lord.  You want to stop failing in your walk with Christ.  You want to be able to stand firm against the devil:  Get up and out of bed 15 min. earlier and read the Word of God and pray each day.  Get up out of bed on Sunday morning and get to church.  The secret ingredient is there is no secret ingredient.  It’s simple obedience to what we should know are the Lord’s commands.