Friday, March 14, 2003

Jesus One on One

This is the fifth post in a series that examines Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To start at the beginning, click here.

The woman who found the reward of love's guided choices.

This episode requires some identifying background. Mary Magdalene first appears in Luke's gospel:

Sometime afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Cuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their own resources. (Luke 8:1-3, The Net Bible)

May Magdalene was a follower and financial supporter of Jesus and His ministry. This brief paragraph comes immediately after Luke's account of the woman who cried over Jesus' feet, wiping them dry with her hair, and anointing them with oil. I like to think that that woman and Mary Magdalene are one and the same. The woman in chapter seven was touched deeply by Jesus' love and had financial means. It is not unreasonable to imagine that she continued as a disciple.

Of the remaining eleven disciples, only John was at Jesus' execution. However, the women who followed Jesus were there. In the following excerpt from Matthew's gospel, notice Mary Magdalene:

Many women who had followed Jesus from Galilee and given him support were also there, watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. Now when it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then Pilate ordered that it be given to him. Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut in the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance of the tomb and went away. (Now Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there, opposite the tomb.) (Matthew 27:55-61)

John's gospel tells us that Mary Magdalene drew close to the cross.

Now standing beside Jesus’ cross were his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. (John 19:25)

Mary Magdalene, who knew where the tomb was because she had followed Joseph, was one of the first to return after the Sabbath:

Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance. So she went running to Simon Peter and the other disciple whom Jesus loved and told them, “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!” Then Peter and the other disciple set out to go to the tomb. (John 20:1-3)

As far as is recorded, Mary Magdalene did no great things. But she loved Jesus enough to be there every step of the way through His death and burial. Of course, she was joined by other women. But it was she who hung around the empty tomb when all the others left. This gave her the most unique gift of all:

So the disciples went back to their homes. But Mary stood outside the tomb weeping. As she wept, she bent down and looked into the tomb. And she saw two angels in white sitting where Jesus’ body had been lying, one at the head and one at the feet. 

They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” 

Mary replied, “They have taken my Lord away, and I do not know where they have put him!” When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 

Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?” 

Because she thought he was the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will take him.”

 Jesus said to her, “Mary.” 

She turned and said to him in Aramaic, “Rabboni” (which means Teacher). 

Jesus replied, “Do not touch me, for I have not yet ascended to my Father. Go to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 

Mary Magdalene came and informed the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them what Jesus had said to her. (John 20:10-18)

Mary was the first to see Jesus alive after His resurrection! What can we make of this?

Who was more faithful than she was during this episode in Jesus' life?

  • She had supported Him financially.
  • She was at His execution and was among those who approached the cross.
  • She was there when He was buried.
  • She was the first one there on Sunday morning.
  • She was the only one who stuck around.

When I think of the nature of worship, my thoughts often turn to the woman who washed Jesus' feet, and Mary, the sister of Lazarus and Martha, who sat at Jesus' feet, and Mary Magdalene hanging around when all seemed lost. Each of these three incidents demonstrate a heart abandoned to self and focused on Him with no regard for propriety.

Monday: Common Themes and Important Differences

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Defenseless Museums

If you came for my regular daily posting, its down below, or you can click here to get there right away. Sometimes I find something that I believe needs an additional post. Usually it has to be over the top in some way. This is such a time.

The following link will take you to an article of both dubious science and politics. It purports the discovery of batteries discovered to be over 2000 years old.

First clue of dubious science: These were found when "In the early 1900s, many European archaeologists were excavating ancient Mesopotamian sites, looking for evidence of Biblical tales like the Tree of Knowledge and Noah's flood."

First clue of dubious politics: We must, therefore, avoid war because, "In any war, there is a chance that priceless treasures will be lost forever, articles such as the "ancient battery" that resides defenceless in the museum of Baghdad."

You must now realize that this dubious discovery that so needs world peace for its protection is in Baghdad, "the region, whose civilizations gave us writing and the wheel." I guess we have to throw in dubious history as well.

Jesus One on One

This is the fourth post in a series that examines Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To start at the beginning, click here.

The fisherman who got caught in his own net and became a shepherd.

For this fourth one on one encounter, I again go to the gospel of John. As you read, please note the three-fold division of this story: the fishing episode, the "do you love me" episode, and dialog about the future:

After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias. Now this is how he did so. Simon Peter, Thomas (called Didymus), Nathanael (who was from Cana in Galilee), the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples of his were together. Simon Peter told them, “I am going fishing.” “We will go with you,” they replied. They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing. 

When it was already very early morning, Jesus stood on the beach, but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, “Children, you don’t have any fish, do you?” They replied, “No.” He told them, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they threw the net, and were not able to pull it in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” So Simon Peter, when he heard that it was the Lord, tucked in his outer garment (for he had nothing on underneath it), and plunged into the sea. 

Meanwhile the other disciples came with the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from land, only about a hundred yards. When they got out on the beach, they saw a charcoal fire ready with a fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said, “Bring some of the fish you have just now caught.” So Simon Peter went aboard and pulled the net to shore. It was full of large fish, one hundred fifty-three, but although there were so many, the net was not torn. 

“Come, have breakfast,” Jesus said. But none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. 

Then when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these do?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus said a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.” Jesus told him, “Shepherd my sheep.” Jesus said a third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that Jesus asked him a third time, “Do you love me?” and said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus replied, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the solemn truth, when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go.” (Now Jesus said this to indicate clearly by what kind of death Peter was going to glorify God.) After he said this, Jesus told Peter, “Follow me.” 

Peter turned around and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them. (This was the disciple who had leaned back against Jesus’ chest at the meal and asked, “Lord, who is the one who is going to betray you?”) So when Peter saw him, he asked Jesus, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus replied, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours? You follow me!” So the saying circulated among the brothers and sisters that this disciple was not going to die. But Jesus did not say to him that he was not going to die, but rather, “If I want him to live until I come back, what concern is that of yours?” (John 21:1-23, The Net Bible)

The fisherman of this encounter was Peter. During the Last Supper, Peter had made bold claims to be able to die at Jesus' side defending Him. Instead, he denied that he even knew Jesus, swearing in fisherman's language to ward off his accusers. In some ways the problem was more the boasting the previous night than fear induced lies that Peter spoke. His heart was good. Where nine of the others had fled to hide, Peter stuck close to Jesus out of concern and a desire for news. He, at least, had put himself in harm's way. Had he fled like the others, he would not have failed!. In other words, Peter in denial was braver than any of the other disciples.

Before going on, I would encourage you to read this blog post that describes the meeting with Jesus at which Peter left everything to follow Him. Note the similarities between that fishing episode and the one in the above story. Notice how Peter asked Jesus to leave, because "I am a sinful man."

Back to this story, why did Peter suddenly announce that he "was going fishing?" Could it not be that he once again felt unworthy of Jesus' calling on his life? I picture Peter saying to himself, "Why didn't he just leave when I asked him to? I told him I was no good, and now I have shown him how true that is!" Peter was returning to his boats for a third time since meeting Jesus in the early days. 

So Jesus engineered a encore fishing experience to connect Peter with that earlier call to leave everything and follow. Once again, Peter returned from a night of disappointing fishing, heard the the call to fish on the other side of the boat, and brought in a huge catch of fish. Recognizing Jesus, Peter jumped out of the boat to get to Him before any of the others. That much, in Peter, had at least changed. Peter's affection for his Master was undying. There was no begging Jesus to leave. There was thanksgiving that He was there.

Jesus gently began to restore Peter to ministry one last time. Jesus asked, "Do you love me more than these do?" The NET Bible adds the word "do" in this sentence and, disappointingly, removes some of the ambiguity in the Greek text. Without "do," the text reads, "Do you love me more than these." To what, then, does "these" refer. The NET translations suggests the other disciples, which to me is a strange request. Nor does Peter's answer "Yes" make sense either. Peter is contrite, the boasting is gone. On the other hand, there is a huge pile of large valuable fish on the beach along with the boats and nets. Jesus could have been asking if Peter loved Him more than the fish and fishing. Peter answered, "Yes, Lord, you know I love you." 

Three times, in this exchange, Jesus drew from Peter a statement of love. Finally Peter said, "Lord, you know everything..." In effect Peter says, "Lord you knew I would betray you. You know my heart better than I know it. You must know the truth of my love." And at this juncture, Jesus brought closure on Peter's fears by revealing to him a future martyr's death. Peter accepted this, but wanted to know about John. To this, Jesus simply stated His sovereign right to decide such issues. Peter's task was to follow Jesus.

So the fisherman became the shepherd following the Great Shepherd and Fisher of Men.

Friday: The woman who found the reward of love's guided choices.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Jesus One on One

This is the third post in a series that examines Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To start at the beginning, click here.

The rich young man who balked at a futures investment strategy of great return.

The Matthew's gospel has the next one on one encounter:

Now a man came up to him and said, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?” 

He said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 

“Which ones?” he asked. 

Jesus replied, “Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself.” 

The young man said to him, “I have kept all these things. What do I still lack?” 

Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 

But when the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he was very rich. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God.” The disciples were greatly astonished when they heard this and said, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and replied, “This is impossible for man, but for God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:16-26, The Net Bible)

There at least three things wrong with the way this young man approached Jesus:

  1. "Teacher" -- Jesus was more than a teacher. The fact that the young man referred to Him as such tells us that he has not paid much attention to Jesus' teachings or claims.
  2. "What good thing." -- Note the singular noun. He wanted one "good thing." The young man sought the proverbial "silver bullet." Why complicate things by asking for more than one good act.
  3. "Gain eternal life." -- Here we must note that the young man's desire was for his current life and status to continue forever in a much improved condition. There is a strong core of self-interest here. 

Jesus' response requires some careful parsing as well.

  1. "Why do you ask me about what is good?" -- Since you haven't taken the time to listen to my teachings and learn who I am, why bother me with this question?
  2. "There is only one who is good?" -- This "only one who is good" would be God. Jesus was already beginning to shift the conversational direction to the essential truths this man needed to here. He wanted information about a "good thing" and Jesus was telling him that he needed a the good Person.
  3. "If you want to enter life, keep the commandments." -- Jesus did not say "eternal life" here. The young man needed to get a life that was worth keeping forever. That life needed to be based on a better understanding of the nature of Torah.

The young man asked, "Which ones?" Note the relationship to the singular "what good thing." The young man had now acknowledged that maybe he had multiple responsibilities. However, the young man was just haggling for the best price. It did not occur to him that perhaps all the commandments were important.

Jesus set a trap for him by quoting from the ten commandments, in which the young man apparently had confidence, and an obscure verse in Leviticus (19:18). Perhaps you would fare well with the first commandments that Jesus listed. You and I might think that murder, adultery, theft, perjury, and dishonor were far from us. But Jesus tagged the list with "love your neighbor as yourself." 

I can know that I have murdered, or stolen, or committed adultery. I may have more difficulty knowing whether I have honored my father and mother, but the young man might not have faced the test of aging parents yet. But how do you know when you have loved your neighbor enough? Our legalistic minds dwell on the commandments of measure. By this, I mean clear unambiguous and often negatively stated commands. As I like to put it, "Legalism likes the tithe and hates the corners of the field." There is a command to set aside one-tenth of our livelihood. It is easy to know whether I have done so or not. There is another command to not harvest to the corners of the field so that the poor may have food. (Leviticus 19:9). How much of a corner can you leave? Can you count it as part of your tithe? Leviticus 19:9 and 19:18 are about generosity and character and heart. They are open-ended commands, because you can always leave more and love more.  The legalist and the rich young man are about performance and gain.

The young man said, "All these I have kept..." This was a brash statement and showed little reflection. At another time, when Jesus quoted this verse, a Jewish leader had the presence of mind to ask, "Who is my neighbor?" That leader understood the difficulty of such a command and sought to constrain it by a narrow definition of neighbor. Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan greatly expanded the definition of neighbor instead. As you can see, this young man is was in trouble.

So Jesus sprung his trap, “If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus directly challenges the young man's obedience to "love you neighbor as yourself," as if fulfillment of such a command was even measurable. Jesus purposely set the bar higher than the young man could reach. Jesus said, in effect, "You have loved your neighbor enough when you have made him better off than yourself." He also said, in effect, "You will need treasure for your eternal life. It's time to invest now."

And then Jesus answered the young man's original question, "What good thing..." He was to come and follow Jesus. This is completely sensible. Eternal life is entirely about knowing God, glorifying Him, and enjoying Him forever. To follow Jesus is to begin to taste eternal life now.

But the young man left. Did Jesus fail? His dialog with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman came out well. Where did this dialog go wrong? There are several things to note here:

  1. The young man left, but he left sorrowfully. He did not get what he expected, but he did not leave in angry cynicism. Jesus connected with him at some level. The seed was planted.
  2. Consequently, the young man's story does not necessarily end here. 
  3. According to Mark's account, Jesus loved this man (Mark 10:21)
  4. And Jesus would say about this situation, "For God, all things are possible."

So I think the young man found His Lord and gained eternal life. He needed time for the conversation with Jesus to sink in and grow. He needed to come to know that it is God who is good and his greatest treasure. 

Whom do I have in heaven but you? I desire no one but you on earth. (Psalm 73:25)

So it is my hope that this young man came to the insight that Paul had when he wrote,  "More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things—indeed, I regard them as dung!—that I might gain Christ, (Philippians 3:8)" 

Tomorrow: The fisherman who got caught in his own net and became a shepherd.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Jesus One on One

This is the second post in a series that examines Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To start at the beginning, click here.

The woman who came to draw water and returned refreshed and full.

The gospel of John records more one on one encounters than do Matthew, Mark, or Luke. What makes this interesting is that the John's gospel, more than Matthew, mark, and Luke presents Jesus as the Son of God. Rather than the gospel of aloofness, John tells us that God will meet as one on one. 

Yesterday, we looked at Nicodemus in John 3. Today we will look at an unnamed woman that Jesus met at a well. This is from John 4.

Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar, near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, since he was tired from the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was about noon. 

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me some water to drink.” (For his disciples had gone off into the town to buy supplies.) So the Samaritan woman said to him, “How can you—a Jew—ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) 

Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 

“Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? Surely you’re not greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and his livestock.”

 Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” 

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” 

He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” 

The woman replied, “I have no husband.” 

Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” 

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” 

Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming—and now is here—when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spirit, and the people who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” 

Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” Now at that very moment his disciples came back. They were shocked because he was speaking with a woman; however, no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you speaking with her?” Then the woman left her water jar, went off into the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Surely he can’t be the Messiah, can he?” So they left the town and began coming to him. (John 4:5-30, The Net Bible)

Jesus' tone of voice and body language began bridging the cultural divide between Jews and Samaritans and men and women. First of all, He sat by the well and remained sitting when the woman came. This gave her control over an awkward situation. Secondly, He asked for water in a tone of voice that, I believe, communicated real need and was not condescending in tone. His deference gave her the boldness to attack Him, "How can you -- a Jew -- ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?" Perhaps, one might say that her tone was meek here as in, "why are you asking for water from little ol' me?" I do not think so. The conversation that follows shows this woman to be of keen wit and senses. "How can you -- a Jew..." suggests that maybe or maybe not will Jesus get the drink he wants.

Jesus now took the physical situation and turned it into a spiritual opportunity. He said, "If you had know the gift of God..." This gal had heard pick up lines before. And although Jesus was not speaking in that way, she responded such that He was to keep His distance. She was not impressed. He was still a Jew and she was still a Samaritan.

Jesus then spoke clearly into her heart's yearnings, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks some of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternal life.” Here the tone, and the Power of the Spirit behind them, spoke truth. She began to let down her guard, "Give me this water, not for that eternal life business, but so that I do not have to keep coming here alone to avoid the other women who avoid me and fear for their husbands." I have, of course, expanded her words to include her thoughts and misgivings, of which Jesus knew.

"Go get your husband!" Could any command to her have been more effective in getting to the core of her life? How do you spell failure? Five husbands gone, perhaps driven off, and the safety of a non-committal relationship. Note how Jesus revealed, but did not condemn. This gave her the means to press Him further about His nature and ministry. She already, I believe, suspected that He was the Messiah, because she had been told that the Messiah "will tell us everything." He affirmed her intuition and off she went to bring out the town. In town, she spoke without shame. She had met Jesus and her past life was past. If Jesus did not condemn her, who were the towns people to try. She had found the healing of soul that we all so desperately need.

Jesus' purpose in this encounter was to satisfy this woman's longing for a permanent and meaningful relationship. The means for this was a relationship with the Father and worship that was in Spirit and in truth. He informed her that truth came from the Jewish Scriptures and that the Holy Spirit fills and refreshes and enables true worship. It is significant that Jesus used the word Father with her rather than God or Adonai. God is remote, the Father is here.

Wind and Water and Food

To Nicodemus was given the metaphor for the Holy Spirit as the wind that blew where it wished. For this woman, the metaphor was living water that fills and refreshes. The wind blew around a well in the Samaritan town of Sychar and many people drank their fill. And Jesus, who began hot, dry, and hungry was, Himself, revived:

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” So the disciples began to say to one another, “No one brought him anything to eat, did they?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete his work. (John 4:31-34)

I have things in my past life that I do not talk about. My wife knows them, because that is her right, but she does not speak about them either. Shame affects us all. If Jesus had come to condemn, this woman would have seen her doom, and we would have seen ours. Jesus never condoned her failure, and I imagine that she had to get right following this meeting. That was OK, she had met Him and that made the difference. I have seen similar changes in many others. Being the source of our wholeness is something that Jesus finds delight in.

What are you ashamed of? What guilt weighs you down and isolates you? Know this! Jesus did not condemn the woman at the well and He will not condemn you unless you avoid Him, because you like the dark better. Knowing Him brings about change. Repentance is trading in your agenda for His agenda and plan for your life. As she found wholeness and healing, so will you.

Jesus wants to meet you. Open the door and say, "Hi."

Tomorrow: The rich young man who balked at a futures investment strategy of great return.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>

Sunday, March 09, 2003

Jesus One on One

In this series, I will examine Jesus' encounters with individuals and what they reveal. To begin, I ask you to please think of the person you know best. How would you tell someone else what your friend was like? Would a simple history be enough? Is his or her public persona reflective of the private person? Would you want people to know your friend better? Through one on one encounters, the gospels round out our knowledge of Jesus and let us know his transparency. By them we come to understand that we can and should know Him better.

Now answer these questions. What are the chances of your meeting your U.S. congressman, senator, or president? What are the chances of them remembering you if you ever met them again? What are the chances of your meeting the King of the Universe and His remembering you? Within human relationships, the higher up the scale you get, the more distant the relationship becomes. But at the top, it is somehow intimate. This reflects the greatness of our God. As it says in the Psalms:

He heals the brokenhearted, and bandages their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; he names all of them. Our sovereign Master is great and has awesome power; there is no limit to his wisdom. (Psalm 147:3-5, Net Bible)

Notice how the scope of this psalm moves from up close and personal -- "He Heals the brokenhearted" -- to far away -- "He counts the number of the stars." Since "there is no limit to his wisdom" our God's greatness makes Him close by all the time. So it is no wonder that Jesus spent time with individuals. 

In this series I want to look at:

  1. The Jewish leader who came to Jesus in the dark and left in the light.
  2. The woman who came to draw water and returned refreshed and full.
  3. The rich young man who balked at a futures investment strategy of great return.
  4. The fisherman who got caught in his own net and became a shepherd.
  5. The woman who found the reward of love's guided choices.

My strategy for each of these segments is to briefly cover each situation, examine their common themes and note important differences, and relate them to life today.

The Jewish leader who came to Jesus in the dark and left in the light.

John records the story of Nicodemus in his gospel:

Now a certain man, a Pharisee named Nicodemus who was a member of the Jewish ruling council, came to Jesus at night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus replied, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born from above, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must all be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it will, and you hear the sound it makes, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus replied, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you don’t understand these things? I tell you the solemn truth, we speak about what we know and testify about what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I have told you people about earthly things and you don’t believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? (John 3:1-12)

This passage is so common that many of us miss its extraordinary beginning. Nicodemus makes a comment, "Rabbi, we know..." and Jesus answers an unasked question, "Unless a person is born from above..." What is clear from this is that Jesus is interested in moving Nicodemus into a relationship with the Lord that comes from being "born from above" or the more commonly known "born again." Nicodemus comes from the Jewish sect of the Pharisees. Jesus would later say of them:

“But I have a testimony greater than that from John. For the deeds that the Father has assigned me to complete—the deeds I am now doing—testify about me that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified about me. You people have never heard his voice nor seen his form at any time, nor do you have his word residing in you, because you do not believe the one whom he sent. You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me, but you are not willing to come to me so that you may have life. (John 5:36-40) 

But Nicodemus was different. He saw the "deeds that the Father assigned" to Jesus and he came to Jesus so that he could "have life." Being born from above is an activity of the Holy Spirit, enabled by faith in the Son of God (John 3:16). There is a mystery here. The paths and ways of the Holy Spirit are only indirectly perceived, like the wind blowing through trees. Nevertheless, the process is one of energy and regeneration. I am here reminded of Genesis 1:2 and the Spirit of God brooding over the surface of the waters. People are born from above and we see them change. By this change we see or perceive the activity of the Holy Spirit.

The good news for us is that John makes it clear that Nicodemus believed Jesus' words and found life.

Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus before and who was one of the rulers, said, “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” They replied, “You aren’t from Galilee too, are you? Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” (John 7:50-52)

After this Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish authorities), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away. Nicodemus, the man who had previously come to Jesus at night, accompanied Joseph, carrying a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about seventy-five pounds. Then they took Jesus’ body and wrapped it, with the aromatic spices, in strips of linen cloth according to Jewish burial customs. Now at the place where Jesus was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden was a new tomb where no one had yet been buried. So because it was the Jewish day of preparation and the tomb was nearby, they placed Jesus’ body there. Now very early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been moved away from the entrance. (John 19:38-20:1)

It was hard for Nicodemus to be public with his faith right away. His associates vigorously opposed Jesus and His followers. He and Joseph were secret believers. None of the gospels or letters say, but I imagine that, with the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and the new power that He brought to believers, Nicodemus was not always a closet believer. Perhaps he was among the 120 in the upper room that day when the age of the New Covenant dawned.

Sometimes it can be hard for us, as new believers, to tell our friends about this new thing in our lives. To this I advise you to ask the Father to fill you with the Holy Spirit. That is what made the real difference in the disciples. Jesus told them that they would "receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses." It can be the same with you. Not only will you have new boldness, but there is a good chance that you will find your words effective as well.

Tomorrow: The woman who came to draw water and returned refreshed and full.

<>< Test everything. Cling to what is good. ><>