THE WOMAN AT THE WELL – 5

Bible Reading: John 4:15-26

Yesterday we saw how Jesus challenged the woman at the well in a gracious and non-condemnatory way about her past. She had five husbands and the man she was now living with was not her husband!

There is a great danger of wanting experiences of the Holy Spirit but not being prepared to deal with our past sins. Such an attitude will cheapen the gospel, and mean that we don’t fully enjoy what Jesus has made available to us. For this reason Jesus challenged the woman about her life-style. Her life-style was a barrier to spiritual understanding and salvation. “Inner healing is simply cooperating with the Lord to let Him remove from our psychological natures the things that are blocking the flow of the Holy Spirit” [Dennis Bennett]

Repentance is the Greek word, metanoia, and means a change of mind that leads to a change of behaviour. Repentance is far deeper than remorse or regret over something that has happened. Repentance implies that if we had the opportunity to commit that sin again we would not do so. Paul writes about godly sorrow that produces repentance – it leads to salvation. On the other hand, worldly sorrow, that is remorse and regret, and sorrow at being caught out, leads to death [2 Corinthians 6:17].

What exactly does godly sorrow look like? The Holy Spirit convicts of sin and reveals how God’s heart is broken over sin. It is literally seeing our sin as God sees it and recognising how it grieves Him.

The woman quickly changed the subject when she knew that Jesus knew all about her private life. His presence exposes sin! Instead she raised the issue of the correct place to worship God. Strange how so often people use religion or theology to cover up sin, but Jesus would not be side tracked. He dealt with her very gently, explaining to her that the issue of worship is not the location but the heart attitude of the worshipper. Jesus then brought her back to the necessity of making a decision, but without demanding it of her.

With great simplicity Jesus led the woman of Samaria to faith. It was not well formulated or very extensive in its understanding, but it was sufficient! What did she actually know? She knew about the coming Messiah [v25]; Jesus’ claim to be Messiah [v26]; She recognised that Jesus knew her intimately [v17-18, 25], and that Jesus could transform her life with “living water” [v14]. She also knew something about God and worship, although it was probably hearsay and very limited [v21-24].

Questions:

Considering how much the Samaritan woman understood, how much do you have to understand in order to genuinely come to Christ and be saved?

How would you explain repentance to someone who was seeking salvation?

Why do you think that Jesus challenged the woman about her five husbands but did not continue to question her or challenge her any further about this?

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL – 4

Bible Reading: John 4:15-26

Although the Samaritan women does not fully understand what Jesus meant by ‘living water” she asked to Him to give her this water [John 4:15]. In response to her request Jesus asked the woman to call her husband, and she told Him, “I have no husband” [v.17]. She did not tell Jesus a lie, but she did not tell the truth either. Jesus, however, knew the truth about this woman, and talked with her about her five husbands and the man she was living with not being her husband.

How did Jesus know about this woman? I would suggest that this is a clear example of the Holy Spirit giving a word of knowledge. Jesus had never met her before, and yet He knew all about her. There is absolutely nothing hidden from God.

Why did Jesus raise the matter of the woman’s past and her relationships? It is probably for two reasons. Firstly, immediately after Jesus spoken this word of knowledge the woman recognised Jesus as a prophet, but secondly because the past needed to be dealt with before she could enjoy the living water that Jesus was offering her. It is wrong to think that you can just enjoy a new experience of God without dealing with wrong things in your life.

When Jesus preached the message of God’s kingdom He began with repentance [Mark 1:15]. It was the same message of repentance preached by Peter on the Day of Pentecost [Acts 2:38]. Repentance is a vital element of salvation. Salvation is more than merely embracing Jesus. It is a total change in the way that we live, where Jesus becomes Lord of every part of our life.

It is very easy to misjudge people and to presume things that are not true. Most people assume that this woman was immoral because she had five husbands and was now living with a man who was not her husband. I have carefully looked at this story and would suggest that she was not necessarily a prostitute or a woman of questionable morals. There is another possible explanation. In the culture in which she lived it was expected that a married woman would bear children, and if she did not do so the result was often that the husband would divorce her. What if this woman could not bear children and had been divorced five times for that reason? I am not justifying her having five husbands, but could there be another reason for her failure other than immorality? Whatever the reason this had to be brought to the light and Jesus was not embarrassed to do that. He did it firmly and graciously and without condemning her. He didn’t let her off the hook!

Tomorrow we will take a closer look at repentance and what it really means.

Questions:

Are you tempted to judge people without having a full knowledge of the background and facts? Why is this a dangerous thing to do? What does Jesus say about judging others in Matthew 7:1-2?

Why does Jesus have to bring the woman’s past life before He can fulfil her request for living water?

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL – 3

Bible Reading: John 4:1-38

“Jesus answered and said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” [John 4:10]

We see in the story of Jesus and the woman of Samaria the remarkable way in which He connected with her and opened her to the truth. Not only did Jesus ask her for a favour, but He also began with what was of interest to the woman. They both wanted water! It was a perfectly natural setting to talk, and it is always easier to share the gospel in a natural setting rather than a false or artificially created situation.

I am reminded of the late Rev. Alf Lawson, who was a very godly Methodist minister. He lived in Hull but on one occasion needed to travel to a meeting in London. It was in the days when trains had compartments in each carriage. Alf was wearing his clerical collar and shared a compartment with another passenger. After a while the man asked Alf if he would like a cigarette. Alf politely declined, saying that he didn’t smoke. Nothing much was said after that until the train was close to London. Unexpectedly the man said to Alf, “You must think that I am a terrible sinner because I smoke.” Alf responded, “Of course not! We have never met before, and you offer me a cigarette. I think that you are a very generous man.” Before they arrived in London Alf led this man Christ! It was such a natural and not a falsely created situation.

The woman’s questions not only reveal her lack of real spiritual understanding but also her curiosity. When she asked, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman” [v.9], the door opened for Jesus to speak with her and He offered her living water. Jesus is speaking not only of the fresh water in the well, but also of the Holy Spirit who would dwell in believers. Later in John’s Gospel Jesus speaks of the Holy Spirit as “rivers of living water” that flow into and from the believer [John 7:37-39].

The woman takes what Jesus says literally and misunderstands Him, just as Nicodemus did [see John 3:4]. In John’s Gospel, Jesus frequently spoke in terms of the visible, physical world [birth, water, bread, light] to teach about spiritual life. Although the woman does not understand what Jesus is offering, a desire has been created within her, and so she asks, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw” [John 4:15].

Questions:

Why is it much better that if an opportunity to share the gospel with someone opens up naturally? Why not make it a specific prayer that God would open doors for you to share the gospel in a totally natural way?

Why do you think that Jesus used the picture of living water to explain the Holy Spirit?

Why does Jesus not immediately grant the request of the woman of Samaria for the living water?

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL – 2

Bible Reading: John 4:1-38

Yesterday we saw how Jesus defied religious, social, racial and cultural barriers to reach out to a woman of Samaria, but how did He actually connect with this woman?

Because Jesus loves people He draws alongside them, making Himself vulnerable and them comfortable. Here is an important principle. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable, but also let the people we reach out to feel comfortable with us. In some cases making people feel comfortable may be difficult and require patience. Yesterday I heard that because of the terrible dictatorship and conditions in North Korea it might take up to two years for a North Korean to feel comfortable enough to trust another person!

How did Jesus make Himself vulnerable and the Samaritan woman feel comfortable? Jesus was tired, thirsty and probably hungry after the long journey, and He made the woman feel needed by asking her to help meet His need – “Give Me a drink” [John 4:7]. He asked what He knew she could give Him. This is so different to an attitude that just says, “You’ve got a need and I’ve got the answer!” If we are honest we all have needs. Corrie ten Boom once said, “Never say that you have no needs, because if you do, then God cannot meet your need.”

Making ourselves vulnerable will always make it easier for other people to feel comfortable with us. It may be a simple need like a drink as in the case of Jesus, or it may be confessing personal failure, disappointment or something that you struggle with. I have noticed that honest testimonies of struggles or failure and of how God brought you through are often more powerful than the testimonies of great success and personal achievement.

To love always makes a person vulnerable. C.S. Lewis penned these remarkable words: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal! Wrap it carefully around with little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it safe in the casket of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable…the only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers of love is hell.”

Questions:

Why do you think that making ourselves vulnerable makes people more comfortable to trust and listen to us?

What are the personal needs that you are aware of in your own life? Why not open up to someone in the next week and share this with someone that you trust, and then take the opportunity to pray together?

Why do you think that Christian leaders in particular might find it difficult to be open and share their personal needs and struggles?

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL – 1

Bible Reading: John 4:1-25

Jesus was covering a large area. He was at wedding in Cana of Galilee [John 2:1], then Jerusalem for the Passover [2:13], and then in the countryside of Judea near to Jerusalem [John 3:22]. After this He headed back to Galilee [John 4:3,43], but on the way to Galilee went to Samaria [John 4:4].

Jesus went to Samaria with a specific person in mind. Over the next few days we will look at the beautiful story of how Jesus met with, and ministered to, a needy Samaritan woman. It is a remarkable lesson in loving people and dealing with them wisely.

The passion of Jesus to share the good news of the Kingdom [John 4:4] motivated Him to deliberately go into Samaria. No strict Jew would ever have dealings with Samaritans [see John 4:9]. Following the death of Solomon there was a rebellion and Israel was divided into two nations [2 King chapters 12 & 13]. The capital of the Northern kingdom was Samaria. In 722 BC the king of Assyria brought foreign people into Samaria [Kings 17:24-31]. The local people inter-married with the gentiles and assimilated a non-Jewish culture. The Samaritans had their own scriptures and their own temple at Mount Gerizim. The animosity between Jews and Samaritans had existed for nearly a thousand years when Jesus went to Samaria. Strict Jews would actually take the longer route from Jerusalem to Galilee by crossing the River Jordan rather than travel through Samaria.

Jesus not only defied strict Jewish convention but also racial and social barriers in order to meet with this Samaritan woman. People were always more important to Jesus than rules and regulations and individuals more important than crowds. Consider three of the social rules that Jesus broke. Firstly, men did not speak to women without their husbands being present. Secondly, Jesus was a Jew speaking to a Samaritan, and thirdly, Jesus was speaking with a woman from a morally questionable background.

In His memoirs, Robert Murray McCheyne wrote the story of two Moravian missionaries who worked in a leper colony in Africa. They were burdened to bring the gospel to the lepers who were regarded as untouchable. The colony had only one entrance, and anyone entering the colony would never be allowed to leave. For a time these missionaries were unable to communicate easily with the lepers. Only when the missionaries themselves contracted the disease did the lepers want to hear the good news that they had to share. What is perhaps even more remarkable is that when these two brave men died others from the Moravian community were prepared to take their place.

Questions:

What do we learn from this story about the necessity to die to self in order to bring the gospel to someone in need?

Are there cultural issues that make it difficult to share the Gospel with certain people in the society in which you live? What are barriers that need to be broken down, and how could you go about doing that?

“SIR, WE WISH TO SEE JESUS”

There have been a few posts missed for technical reasons. Please accept my apologies. I am re-posting the three blog posts that some people have missed over the next three days. Michael Ross-Watson

Bible Reading: John 3:22-36

John the Baptist was facing two issues. The first was a theological argument over the issue of purification [v.25]. Can you imagine the foolishness of people arguing over purity? The second issue was in some ways more sinister. It was a complaint from the disciples of John the Baptist who were concerned that people were coming to Jesus instead of John [v.26]. In both of these cases John the Baptist responded by pointing to Jesus. The best way to handle such issues is always to point to Jesus and focus on Him.

John refused to be drawn into unnecessary and unhelpful arguments that cause division and unrest. It is helpful to see how John the Baptist focussed on Jesus.

He made a clear statement about the person of Jesus. He called Him the Bridegroom [v.29]. This was very meaningful to the Jews, because Israel was frequently depicted as God’s bride in the Old Testament. The Jewish understanding was that the Bridegroom was the Messiah!

John is not interested in being popular. His passion is that he should decrease but that Jesus should increase. What a cure for the temptation to become proud. Jesus as being above all [v.31], and John the Baptist recognised this. Writing to the Colossians Paul says that Jesus is far above all powers and principalities [Colossians 2:15], and that He has the pre-eminence in all things [Colossians 1:18].

Although Jesus has come in human form, He is heavenly, in that He has come from heaven [v.31]. Literally, He is above all because He comes from heaven. Because Jesus has come from heaven He has experienced what he is speaking about [v.32]. John is referring to Jesus’ eternal existence in heaven and of His infinite knowledge of God’s nature and character.

Because Jesus has the Holy Spirit without measure He speaks the words of God [v.34]. At a later date the Jews marvelled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me” [John 7:15-16].

The Father has placed all things in Jesus’ hands [v.36], and has delegated to Jesus authority over the whole created universe. Jesus alone is the source of eternal life for all who believe [v.36]. If a person does not believe on Jesus they shall not see life, and they remain under God’s judgment.

What a remarkable answer to those who get tied up in the knots of theological arguments, jealousy and self-aggrandisement. It reminds me of words spoken to Philip, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus” [John 12:21].

Questions:

What can we learn about the way John the Baptist faces controversies and jealousy? Why is it always important to avoid controversy and instead point people to Jesus?

LIGHT AND DARKNESS

Bible Reading: John 3:18-21

“This is the crisis we’re in: God-light streamed into the world, but men and women everywhere ran for the darkness. They went for the darkness because they were not really interested in pleasing God. Everyone who makes a practice of doing evil, addicted to denial and illusion, hates God-light and won’t come near it, fearing a painful exposure. But anyone working and living in truth and reality welcomes God-light so the work can be seen for the God-work it is” [John 3:19-21 The Message]

One of John’s favourite subjects is light and darkness. It almost seems that in these verses John is enlarging upon the statements in John 1:5-8. It is John who also repeats the statement of Jesus, “I am the Light of the world” [John 8:12; 9:5]. Later in John’s Gospel Jesus said, “I have come as a light into the world, that whoever believes in Me should not abide in darkness” [John 12:46]

In his first epistle John writes, “God is Light and in Him is no darkness at all” [1 John 1:5]. God is good, pure, true, holy and reliable, and as His children we are called to live in this same godly way! One of the names given to God’s children is “sons of light” [John 12:36]. To be in Christ means to have come out of darkness and into the Light [Colossians 1:12-13]. Just this afternoon I was asked by a Christian to talk with someone else about an issue but to say something that is, to say the least, being conservative with the truth. That is a perfect picture of not walking in the light! James says, “Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’ be ‘No’ lest you fall into judgement” [James 5:12]. To walk in the light is to live a life of purity and transparency, before both God and men. It is to have no hidden agendas or double standards.

Because light reveals what is in the darkness it is therefore both a challenge and a threat to those who walk in darkness. Men love darkness more than light. Darkness is where God, who is Light, has not penetrated. To walk in darkness is to live in a way that displeases God. It is the way of impurity, uncleanness and untruthfulness. Those who live in darkness and whose deeds are evil hate the light because it exposes their acts and the evil of their hearts [John 3:20]. The Bible says that people who refuse to come to the light are condemned because they choose darkness, on the other hand the person who does what is right is unafraid of the darkness.

When my wife and I lived and worked in Westminster, we regularly prayed, together with others, that the light would shine in Parliament, and the works of darkness would be uncovered. Not long after that the expenses scandal came to light and the dishonesty of some of our leaders shocked the nation!

Questions:

Have you ever been intimidated by a boss at work or some other person to do something wrong or to tell a lie? How did you handle that situation?

What might happen if you would pray for light to shine in the darkness?

Read 1 John 1:7. Why is walking in the light a key good Christian fellowship?

A LIFE TRANSFORMED

Bible Reading: 2 Samuel 9:1-13

Sometimes the best way to illustrate Scripture is to compare Scripture with Scripture. Today I want to use an Old Testament story to illustrate the new birth. Recently I was asked to speak at a church in Singapore on healing the roots of rejection. I introduced the subject by reading the story of Mephibosheth. The following Sunday, the Senior Pastor, George Butron preached from the same story and he has allowed me to use his points in today’s message.

Three of the most powerful negative forces are fear, guilt and shame. Jesus dealt with each of these on the cross. Mephibosheth is an example of someone who has been overcome with shame. The roots and fruits of shame are clear in the life of Mephibosheth. He had a disgraced family [v.1]. His grandfather was king Saul and the family, because of sin, had been wiped out. Only Mephibosheth remained. He would have been five years old when his family were destroyed [2 Samuel 4:4]. He had a disfigured body [v.3]. He was lame in both feet. He had a doubtful future [v.4]. He lived in obscurity on the other side of the Jordan. He had a displaced inheritance [v.4, 7]. He was the rightful heir to his grandfather’s land but was living in poverty. He had a distorted identity [v.8]. He considered himself to be a dead dog – worthless!

King David wanted to honour any living descendants of Saul, and so David initiated a search for Mephibosheth [v.1-4]. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost [Luke 19:10]. David intended to show kindness to Mephibosheth [v.1, 3,7]. It is because of the kindness of God that we can be born again and our lives changed. Both Joel 2:13 and Titus 3:4 speak of the kindness of God. David invited Mephibosheth into his presence [v.5]. Jesus made a way, through the cross, to come into the presence of God. David ensured the future of Mephibosheth [v.5]. This is a promise also given by Jesus to those who are born again – He gives us a living hope. David included Mephibosheth at his table in the palace [vs.10-13]. That same promise is given to those who have been born again – “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” [Psalm 23:6].

For Mephibosheth it must have seemed to be a whole new life. This is an amazing picture of the new birth that God made possible for us in Jesus. He searches for us, desires to bless us, brings us into His presence, gives us a future – eternal life, invites to feed at His table, and be with Him forever. Jesus is a wonderful King and it is our privilege to accept His invitation and all that He has promised us.

Questions:

What parts of the story of Mephibosheth can you relate to personally?

What do you think would have been the response of Mephibosheth to the way that David showed kindness to Him? What is your response to the kindness of God in giving you a hope and a future in Jesus?

THE BASIS OF THE NEW BIRTH – 2

Bible Reading: John 3:1-21

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”  [John 3:16]

Jesus continues His sharing with Nicodemus but now explains to him the basis upon which a person can be born from above. In other words, He is summing up the Gospel. The bad news is that humanity is utterly lost because of sin, but the Gospel is good news. Let’s take a closer look at John 3:16.

The Gospel is God initiative. He first loved us [1 John 4:19]. Paul wrote, “God put His love on the line for us by offering His Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to Him” [Romans 5:8 The Message].

The Gospel is God’s love in action. God loved fallen humanity. He loved us so much that He was prepared to give His only Son to bear the penalty of our sin. God doesn’t just love – He is love! Love always gives the best. In the words of Darlene Zshcech, He gave the “darling of heaven” to be crucified. Oswald Chambers said, “The love of God is not in accordance with human standards in any way.”

The Gospel is for everybody. It does not matter what culture we come from, or what depths of failure, shame and depravity we may have fallen to. You can replace the word “whoever” in our text today with your own name. No one is beyond the reach of God’s love.

The Gospel gives us hope. Jesus promises us eternal life! It was once said, “Born once die twice, Born twice die once. It is not that one day we will receive eternal life – if you have been born again you already have eternal life! To be born again is to be in Christ, the hope of glory!

The Gospel is received by Faith. In John 1:12-13 the writer explained that we are not saved because of our family background, or of human effort, or by the will of someone else. Billy Graham once said, “because you were born in a garage it doesn’t make you a car, and because you were born in a church it doesn’t make you a Christian!” We have to make the personal choice to believe on Jesus Christ. We confess our sin and receive His forgiveness and as we do that we are born again. Our spirit is made alive. To believe on Him means to trust Him, to lean upon Him, adhere to Him, to honour Him and to let Him be the Lord of every part of your life!

Questions:

We may have heard this message many times but we should never lose its freshness and vibrancy. Is this still as real and exciting for you today as the day that you received Christ as Saviour?

Will you rejoice today in the simplicity of the Gospel and share it with someone today?

THE BASIS OF THE NEW BIRTH – 1

Bible Reading: John 3:11-14; Numbers 21:4-9

Jesus told Nicodemus that His authority for speaking about the new birth was that He had come down from heaven and He was the Son of Man. To help Nicodemus understand this Jesus to him back to a story that he would have been familiar with in the Book of Numbers. Jesus begins with something that Nicodemus understands rather than that which he does not understand.

The Lord sent judgment upon Israel in the wilderness, when they were complaining and speaking against both God and Moses. Fiery serpents bit the people and many of them died. Recognising their sin, the Israelites asked Moses to pray that the serpents would be taken away. The Lord told Moses to make a bronze image of the fiery serpent and put it on a pole. Any of the children of Israel who had been bitten by a fiery serpent would be healed and would live when they looked at the bronze serpent on the pole.

Jesus immediately linked Himself to that story, and said that in the same way the serpent was lifted up in the wilderness, so He, the Son of Man, must be lifted up. Here is the heart of the new birth. It was made possible by the death of Christ upon the cross. Jesus specifically uses the words “lifted up” when referring to His death. He said, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am He” [John 8:28]. They would remember from the Old Testament the story of the brazen serpent in the wilderness. Jesus promised, “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” [John12:32,33].

In the wilderness it was the fiery serpents that caused the disease, and it was a brazen serpent that was placed upon the pole and which brought life and healing. Stung by serpents and healed by looking at a dead serpent! Jesus who knew no sin became sin – the very thing he came to destroy. He was made sin for us, so that we might be set free from sin.

On 6th January 1850 Charles H. Spurgeon was forced by inclement weather to turn into a Methodist Chapel in Colchester, Essex. The preacher did not turn up and a leader in the chapel had to speak. Totally unprepared, he just kept repeating, “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and there is none else” [Isaiah 45:22]. That day the man who became the “Prince of Preachers” was born again. The cross is the basis of new birth. Perhaps that is why Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I am determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

To many the cross is foolishness and a stumbling block, but it is the only way to be born again and be saved.

In the mid-nineteenth century Amelia M. Hull wrote this verse of a hymn:

“There is life for a look at the crucified One,

There is life at this moment for thee;

Then look, sinner, look unto Him and be saved,

Unto Him, who was nailed to the tree.”

Will you take some time today to focus on the cross and be grateful?