Category Archives: Gospel Centrality

Bethlehem’s Supernatural Star

From Solid Joys by John Piper

“Where is he who has been born King of the Jews? For we saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.” (Matthew 2:2)

Over and over the Bible baffles our curiosity about just how certain things happened. How did this “star” get the magi from the east to Jerusalem?

It does not say that it led them or went before them. It only says they saw a star in the east (verse 2), and came to Jerusalem. And how did that star go before them in the little five-mile walk from Jerusalem to Bethlehem as verse 9 says it did? And how did a star stand “over the place where the Child was”?

The answer is: We do not know. There are numerous efforts to explain it in terms of conjunctions of planets or comets or supernovas or miraculous lights. We just don’t know. And I want to exhort you not to become preoccupied with developing theories that are only tentative in the end and have very little spiritual significance.

I risk a generalization to warn you: People who are exercised and preoccupied with such things as how the star worked and how the Red Sea split and how the manna fell and how Jonah survived the fish and how the moon turns to blood are generally people who have what I call a mentality for the marginal. You do not see in them a deep cherishing of the great central things of the gospel — the holiness of God, the ugliness of sin, the helplessness of man, the death of Christ, justification by faith alone, the sanctifying work of the Spirit, the glory of Christ’s return, and the final judgment. They always seem to be taking you down a sidetrack with a new article or book. There is little centered rejoicing.

But what is plain concerning this matter of the star is that it is doing something that it cannot do on its own: It is guiding magi to the Son of God to worship him.

There is only one Person in biblical thinking that can be behind that intentionality in the stars — God himself.

So the lesson is plain: God is guiding foreigners to Christ to worship him. And he is doing it by exerting global — probably even universal — influence and power to get it done.

Luke shows God influencing the entire Roman Empire so that the census comes at the exact time to get a virgin to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy with her delivery. Matthew shows God influencing the stars in the sky to get foreign magi to Bethlehem so that they can worship him.

This is God’s design. He did it then. He is still doing it now. His aim is that the nations — all the nations (Matthew 24:14) — worship his Son.

This is God’s will for everybody in your office at work, and in your neighborhood and in your home. As John 4:23 says, “Such the Father seeks to worship him.”

At the beginning of Matthew we still have a “come-see” pattern. But at the end the pattern is “go-tell.” The magi came and saw. We are to go and tell.

But what is not different is that the purpose of God is the ingathering of the nations to worship his Son. The magnifying of Christ in the white-hot worship of all nations is the reason the world exists.

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The Language of Experience

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:16–19 ESV

I recently watched a message by Ligon Duncan on Ephesians 3:14-19 (here) in which he discusses how Paul’s plea for the Christians at Ephesus was that they would “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.”  In his message, he says “Paul just prayed that you would know a love that is beyond knowing – that is clearly the language of experience.”  Something clicked in me as I began to recall how the bible is so full of experiential language.  Most modern evangelicals are uncomfortable with such language and have nowhere to file it.  Perhaps it is because we are so information driven or because we can’t program it or make it happen.  However, the language of experience seems to be the Bible’s native tongue.

How does one know that God is good?  We know that He is good by tasting and seeing that He is good (Psalms 43:8).  There is a difference between knowing that honey is sweet and tasting honey and experiencing its sweetness.  And what about anxiety?  We are told that there is a peace available to us that surpasses all surpasses (Philippians 4:7).  We are to be partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).  Our souls will be satisfied when we hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6).  In John 6, Jesus identifies himself as the Bread of life that satiates our soul’s hunger pangs.  He is the living water that quenches our thirst (Jeremiah 2:13, John 4:10, Revelation 7:17).

One can hardly read a page in the Psalms without being invited to experience God at a level that is beyond mere intellectual understanding.

  • “For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” (Psalms 107:9 ESV)
  • “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalms 63:1 ESV)
  • “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” (Psalms 42:1 ESV)
  • “My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God.” (Psalms 84:2 ESV)
  • “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”  (Psalms 119:92 ESV)
  • “When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah” (Psalms 77:3 ESV)

Let us taste; let us hunger; let us thirst; let us pant; let us long; let us delight; let us be satisfied.  Let us pray with Paul “that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” (Ephesians 1:17–23 ESV).  Lord, give us eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to believe (Mark 8:17-18, 7:31-35, 8:22-26, Isaiah 6:8-10)

 

Rats in the Cellar

“We begin to notice, besides our particular sinful acts, our sinfulness; begin to be alarmed not only about what we do, but about what we are. This may sound rather difficult, so I will try to make it clear from my own case. When I come to my evening prayers and try to reckon up the sins of the day, nine times out of ten the most obvious one is some sin against charity; I have sulked or snapped or sneered or snubbed or stormed. And the excuse that immediately springs to my mind is that the provocation was so sudden and unexpected: I was caught off my guard, I had not time to collect myself. Now that may be an extenuating circumstance as regards those particular acts: they would obviously be worse if they had been deliberate and premeditated.

On the other hand, surely what a man does when he is taken off his guard is the best evidence for what sort of a man he is? Surely what pops out before the man has time to put on a disguise is the truth? If there are rats in a cellar you are most likely to see them if you go in very suddenly. But the suddenness does not create the rats: it only prevents them from hiding. In the same way the suddenness of the provocation does not make me an ill-tempered man: it only shows me what an ill-tempered man I am. The rats are always there in the cellar, but if you go in shouting and noisily they will have taken cover before you switch on the light.

Apparently the rats of resentment and vindictiveness are always there in the cellar of my soul. Now that cellar is out of reach of my conscious will. I can to some extent control my acts: I have no direct control over my temperament. And if (as I said before) what we are matters even more than what we do—if, indeed, what we do matters chiefly as evidence of what we are—then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about And this applies to my good actions too. 

How many of them were done for the right motive? How many for fear of public opinion, or a desire to show off? How many from a sort of obstinacy or sense of superiority which, in different circumstances, might equally had led to some very bad act? But I cannot, by direct moral effort, give myself new motives. After the first few steps in the Christian life we realise that everything which really needs to be done in our souls can be done only by God. And that brings us to something which has been very misleading in my language up to now.”

CS Lewis, Mere Christianity page 93-93

The Gospel of God

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,” (Romans 1:1 ESV)

A slave. Paul viewed himself as a slave (Greek word for servant is also translated “slave”) of Jesus. He was under the authority, rule and command of Jesus. This thinking is used throughout Paul’s writings. We are a slave to sin or to righteousness; to the flesh or the Spirit. Slaves are purchased, they have an owner and master. For the Christian that owner is God, the purchase price was the blood of the Son of God. We have been legally transferred from one kingdom to another; we have been delivered from darkness to light; moreover, we have been adopted into God’s family. We have been emancipated from the bondage to sin. We are first, and foremost purchased by Christ before we are ever called to go and do anything.

The Gospel of God is the proclamation of good news regarding God’s redemptive purposes in the world which are culminated in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel is not only a call to saving faith, but the comprehensive message about Jesus’ redemption of all things – this gospel saves us AND transforms us. It is comprehensive from start to finish as the letter of Romans boldly proclaims. The gospel reconciles and sanctifies.

“The noun euangelion [translated gospel] originally signified announcement of victory after battle and later the content of that message. The term also came to describe the birth or the rise to power of a new king. An inscription from Priene in Asia Minor, probably written around 9 B.C. describes the enthronement of Augustus as the new Roman emperor. Augustus is lauded as the savior who will bring peace and hails his birthday as “the beginning of the glad tidings (euangelion) that have come to men through him.” This illustrates the religious content of the term in emperor worship.
When one compares pagan use of euangelion and the LXX’s [Greek translation of the Old Testament] use of euangelizomai, a striking parallel arises of a king worshiped by his people. The gospel and its confession that Jesus is Lord confront the claim that Caesar is Lord and declare that in the cross and resurrection Jesus is enthroned as the King of kings. Caesar or any other created thing claiming lordship will bow before the crucified and risen Jesus. “GOSPEL,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, n.p.

John Owen on Romans

John Owen writes in the Introduction to Calvin’s Commentary on Romans:

“We have set before us in this Epistle especially two things, which it behoves us all rightly to understand — the righteousness of man and the righteousness of God — merit and grace, or salvation by works and salvation by faith. The light in which they are exhibited here is clearer and brighter than what we find in any other portion of Scripture, with the exception, perhaps, of the Epistle to the Galatians. Hence the great value which has in every age been attached to this Epistle by all really enlightened Christians; and hence also the strenuous efforts which have often been made to darken and wrest its meaning by men, though acute and learned, yet destitute of spiritual light. But let not the simple Christian conclude from the contrariety that is often found in the expositions on these two points, that there is no certainty in what is taught respecting them. There are no contrary views given of them by spiritually-minded men. Though on other subjects discussed here, such men have had their differences, yet on these they have ever been found unanimous: that salvation is from first to last by grace, and not by works, has ever been the conviction of really enlightened men in every age, however their opinion may have varied in other respects. It may seem very strange, when we consider the plain and decisive language, especially of this Epistle, and the clear and conclusive reasoning which it exhibits, that any attempt should ever be made by a reasonable being, acknowledging the authority of Scripture, to pervert what it plainly teaches, and to evade what it clearly proves. But a right view of what human nature is, when unrenewed, as exhibited in God’s Word, and as proved by history and made evident by observation, enables us fully to account for what would otherwise remain an enigma. No truth is more fully confirmed by facts (and it ought ever to be remembered) than that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God,” and that he “cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” This declaration clearly accounts for the fact, that men of great learning have often misunderstood many things in Scripture, and such things as are plain enough even to the unlettered when spiritually enlightened. The learned Scribes and Rabbins were blind leaders of the blind, when even babes understood the mysteries of the kingdom of God: and no better then the Scribes are many learned men, professing Christianity, in our day.

There is indeed a special reason why, on these points, unenlightened men should contrive means to evade the obvious meaning of Scripture; for they are such things as come in constant contact with a principle, the strongest that belongs to human nature in its fallen state. Other doctrines may be held as speculations, and kept, as it were, at a distance; but when we come to merit and grace, to work and faith, man’s pride is touched; and as long as under he is its prevailing influence, he will be certain, in some way or another, direct or evasive, to support merit in opposition to grace, or works in opposition to faith. When the authority of tradition supplanted the authority of Scripture, the doctrine of merit so prevailed, that the preposterous idea, that merits were a salable and a transferable commodity, gained ground in the world. A notion of this kind is too gross and absurd to be entertained by any who acknowledge God’s Word as the only umpire in religion; and yet what is not essentially different has often been maintained; for to say that salvation is partly by faith and partly by works, is really the same thing, inasmuch as the principle of merit is thereby admitted. Man naturally cleaves to his own righteousness; all those who are ignorant are self-righteous, and all the learned who understand not the gospel; and it is wonderful what ingenious evasions and learned subtleties men will have recourse to in order to resist the plain testimony of Scripture. When they cannot maintain their ground as advocates of salvation alone by merits, they will attempt to maintain it as advocates of a system, which allows a part to grace and a part to works — an amalgamation which Paul expressly repudiates, Romans 11:6.

But it is remarkable how the innate disposition of man has displayed itself in this respect. Conscious, as it were, in some measure of moral imperfections, he has been striving for the most part to merit his salvation by ceremonial works. This has been the case in all ages with heathens: their scarifies, austerities, and mechanical devotions were their merits; they were the works by which they expected to obtain happiness. God favored the people of Israel with the rituals of religion, which were designed merely as aids and means to attain and preserve true religion; but they converted them to another purpose, and, like the heathens, regarded them as meritorious performances, and expected God’s acceptance for the very religious acts which they exercised: and in order to make up, as it were, a sufficient quantity of merit, they made additions to those services which God had appointed, as though to multiply acts of this kind was to render their salvation more certain. The very same evil crept early into the Christian Church, and still continues to exist. The accumulation of ceremonies is of itself a sufficient proof, that salvation by faith was in a great measure lost sight of: we want no other evidence; it is what has been ever done whenever the light of truth has become dim and obscure. We see the same evil in the present day. Outward privileges and outward acts of worship are in effect too often substituted for that grace which changes the heart, and for that living faith which unites us to the Savior, which works by love and overcomes the world. The very disposition to over-value external privileges and the mere performances of religious duties, is an unequivocal evidence, that salvation by faith is not understood, or very imperfectly understood, and not really embraced.

The only remedy, as means for this evil, is that which we find employed by Paul in this Epistle. He begins by showing what every man, Jew and Gentile, is by nature; he proves by the clearest evidence, that all have sinned and become guilty before God. And having done this, he discloses the way of salvation which God himself has planned and revealed; and he teaches us, that it is altogether by grace and through faith that we can be saved, and not by works. In order cordially to embrace this latter truth, it is necessary to know the first, that we are sinners under condemnation. It is impossible, according to the very constitution of man’s mind, that he should really and truly accede to the one, without a real and deep knowledge of the other. The whole need not a physician, but the sick. It is only he who is really convinced of sin and who feels its guilt and its burden intolerable, that ever will, or indeed ever can, really lay hold on that free salvation which God has provided. And when this free salvation is really known, all other things compared with it will be deemed as nothing; and then all outward privileges will be viewed only as means, and all outward acts of religion only as aids and helps; and then also all our works, however great and self-denying, will be regarded in no way meritorious, but imperfect and defective, and acceptable only through the merits of our High Priest at God’s right hand.

-John Owen

Wisdom Worships in Wonder

There is a vanity that takes place on earth, that there are righteous people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the wicked, and there are wicked people to whom it happens according to the deeds of the righteous. I said that this also is vanity. And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.
When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
(Ecclesiastes 8:14–17 ESV)

It is frustrating and meaningless that bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. Let us not attempt to over spiritualize or sugar coat the reality that those who walk in open to rebellion to their Creator often times receive apparent blessings while those who seek to walk uprightly in humble dependence upon their God seem to have profoundly difficult circumstances that they must endure. There is no apparent reward for walking uprightly. Ah, but there lies the rub that reveals our hearts! Should we walk uprightly just to be rewarded or because the Creator calls us to and we long to walk in obedience? One is birthed out of wanting something, the other is out of wanting Someone. Choose the latter.

If God grants satisfaction and joy in the simple pleasures such as good food, drink and a few people to walk through this life with then be grateful. These pleasures, along with a degree of satisfaction in our work are nothing short of simple graces that the Almighty bestows upon His creations due to His goodness.

Solomon concedes that there is so much mystery that we will never find out. This mystery should point us to the Creator, but often times we double down and resolve to figure things out. Should we investigate, think, study, invent, create, etc? Of course, when we do so we reflect God’s glory as His image bearers! But the more that we make advances, the more we should realize the vastness of God’s creation and how little that we know and understand. This is rarely the case for we praise ourselves for new inventions or discoveries – as we should – but the praise terminates upon us. Our worship was designed to point to Someone greater. When we let our worship terminate upon created things instead of flowing through to the Creator of all things, we stunt our worship and become less human than we were designed to be. The more we know, the more we should see how little we really know, which should lead us to worship God more fully and deeply. It does not matter how hard we resolve and try, there are things that are God’s and we will never understand, know or have the capacity to comprehend. True wisdom knows when to worship in wonder; true wisdom knows when to stop and be amazed at God’s vastness and beauty. This should amaze us because this infinite, all powerful Creator determined to limit Himself by clothing Himself in flesh to rescue rebellious people like you and me.

How Not to Read the Old Testament

Preaching Christ in All of Scripture Diagram

“Some people have understandably been deterred from the kind of Christ-centered approach that I am describing here. They may have had bad experiences with people who saw Jesus behind every bush (burning or otherwise) in the Old Testament. Charles Spurgeon, for example, said that if he ever found a text without Christ in it he would go over hedge and ditch to find the road to Christ4—and if you read his sermons, it seems at times that that is exactly what he has done. Not every perceived connection to Christ in the Old Testament is valid.5  So in this section, I want to look at various wrong ways to approach the Old Testament as preparation for learning to read it correctly.

It is helpful to begin with a diagram borrowed (and adapted slightly) from the late president of Westminster Theological Seminary, Dr. Edmund Clowney.6

The first wrong way in which we read the Old Testament is what I have called the way of allegorical moralism, in which we extract a detail from its original context and apply it directly to our own lives without reference either to its original context in Scripture or to Christ and the gospel. For example, a woman visiting our church recently told me how meaningful Ezekiel 48 had been in her life. In the prophet’s vision of Israel’s future, the passage describes the borders of the different tribes, and she had taken away from this the message, “the boundaries of Dan need to be restored.” This was significant for her because her husband’s name was Dan and, as she read this text, she realized that her husband had not been keeping good boundaries between work and home.

While this observation may have been true and relevant for her life and could probably have been drawn legitimately from other passages of Scripture, this insight is hardly the purpose for which the Holy Spirit inspired Ezekiel to pen the chapter! She had moved directly from text to application to herself without understanding the flow of the text or the significance of its original context. A great deal of preaching in evangelical churches today resembles this process of interpretation: it is allegorical in that it fails to connect the passage with its original context, and it is also moralistic because instead of showing us Christ and the gospel, it simply seeks “timeless truths” or “life principles” in each passage to become guides for our behavior.

The next wrong approach to the Old Testament is allegorical interpretation, whereby people (especially preachers) fasten once more on superficial details of the text, but this time use them to find references to Christ where none was originally intended. This approach has been pursued with great popularity throughout the history of the church. For example, in a sermon on Ezekiel 40:6–8, the church father Gregory the Great identified the east gate of Ezekiel’s temple as Jesus, the steps leading up to the gate as the merits of the virtues that lead to salvation, and the threshold of the gate as the ancestors of Jesus.7

In more recent times, a Christian author argued that the reason that the tent pegs of the tabernacle were partly in the ground and partly out of the ground was to teach us that the gospel is not just about the death of Jesus Christ (the part in the ground) but also about the resurrection (the part out of the ground).8 While this doctrinal conclusion is important and true, I would suggest that the reason the tent pegs of the tabernacle were partly in the ground and partly out of the ground was simply that otherwise it would have been impossible to secure the ropes that held the tabernacle to them! We may admire the desire to connect the Old Testament to Christ, yet find the outworking of the methodology misguided.

In an effort to avoid the wild excesses of allegory, many modern interpreters have rightly placed the emphasis on understanding an Old Testament passage in the light of its original context. They encourage people to discern the message of the text within the broader concerns of the book in order to search out the intent of the original author in writing it. Having discerned this original idea, the next step is often seen as discerning the “timeless truth” that stands behind this particular historical writing.9 What life principles does it teach us that are universal and unchanging? How can we then take those same universal principles and apply them skillfully to our own daily lives?

There is much that is right and laudable with this approach, yet I have labeled it moralism because of its inevitable tendency to place the reader in the center of the interpretive process and make the Old Testament fundamentally a story about us. In looking for universal principles of behavior that I can apply, this approach generally ends up urging me to “dare to be a Daniel” or “just say no to being a Jephthah.” It flattens out the contours of the Old Testament history of redemption, and treats Old Testament characters such as Abraham and David as if their primary function were to model a life for me to live by.

This is the strength of Dr. Clowney’s diagram, which reminds us that we must indeed begin by putting every passage of Scripture in its appropriate literary and historical context. We must start by seeing how this verse, passage, event, or institution relates to other verses, passages, and events around it. There is no place for the kind of allegorical speculation that takes a passage out of its original setting and completely ignores the human author’s intent.

Yet we must also ask where this passage fits in the larger history of God’s dealings with his people and what the divine Author’s intent was in including it in our Bible. How does this event or story advance God’s program and point us to the great work that God is accomplishing in this world, which is the work of salvation in Christ through the gospel? How does this passage show us the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow? For example, does it uncover the sins for which Christ had to come and die? How does it demand or demonstrate the righteous behavior that Jesus came to perform in our place? Only after we ask these kinds of primary gospel-focused questions can we properly get to the secondary question of personal application: how does this gospel then teach us to live in light of this specific portion of God’s Word, out of gratitude for what God has done? Application is important, but the gospel comes first. What is more, even after we have applied a passage rightly to ourselves in this way, we constantly need to return once again to the comfort of the gospel’s focus on Christ, for even as believers we will never live up to the standard of perfect holiness that God demands.”

4Charles Spurgeon, “How to Read the Bible,” a sermon preached in 1879 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, http://www.spurgeon .org/sermons/1503.htm (accessed June 8, 2012).
5Spurgeon himself warns of making connections that strain credulity—for example, the preacher who spoke about the Trinity from the three baskets on the head of Pharaoh’s baker (Lectures to My Students [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1972 reprint], 97).
66. Adapted from Edmund Clowney, Preaching Christ in All of Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2003), 32.
7The Homilies of Gregory the Great on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, trans. T. Gray (Etna, CA: Center for Traditionalist Orthodox Studies, 1990), 179–85.
8Martin R. DeHaan, The Tabernacle (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1955), 37, 65.
9See, for example, Steven Mathewson, The Art of Preaching Old Testament Narrative (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2002), 101. Mathewson certainly wants to avoid moralism (see pp. 102–103), yet his method of application inevitably pushes him in that direction.

Duguid, Iain M. (2013-02-04). Is Jesus in the Old Testament? (Basics of the Faith) (Kindle Locations 144-198). P&R Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Shame Interrupted

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.”
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”” (John 4:15–20 ESV)

The Providence of God had divinely orchestrated this conversation before time began.  Jesus offers her living water BEFORE He discusses her sinful lifestyle.  God always initiates, woos and draws.  This woman was a total outcast, but Jesus saw through her brokenness to her need. She was a:

  • Racial outcast. Samaritans were ½ breeds that were despised by the Jews and Gentiles alike (Luke 10:33; 17:16; John 8:48).
  • Gender outcast. She was a woman. Women were not highly valued in the first century.
  • Moral outcast. She had been married five times and was currently living with a man.  She was trading sex for rent; she was looking to satisfy her thirst in a relationship with a man.
  • Community outcast. Probably due to her decisions in life, she was a societal or relational outcast. She went to draw water in the middle of the day – the rest of the women would draw water in the morning or in the evening. She was alone.  It was hot in the middle of the day, most people would have been resting.

She was an outsider that didn’t feel like she belonged anywhere. She was alone.  She was religious, but her religion lacked the power to deliver her from the darkness in which she lived.  She was looked down upon, a status that she likely all too easily embraced.  She felt useless, meaningless, hopeless and alone.  Why in the world would the Creator come to such a sinful, hopeless and insignificant person?  Because Jesus came to seek and save the lost; Jesus came to find His lost sheep; Jesus came to redeem people just like this woman.  The messiest people become the greatest trophies of His majesty and grace.  We are all messy people, some are just better at hiding it than others.  What a beautiful picture of grace.

It seems apparent that she does not understand what Jesus was talking about, but wants some of the water that He has to offer if it keeps her from having to continuously go to the well to draw water for herself.  Her daily trip to the well must have been a painful reminder of her aloneness – anything that would eliminate that reminder was welcome.  Shame tends to cause us to hide, withdraw and isolate.

Jesus tells her to go and call her husband, and she responds with a technically correct answer, but her answer does not tell the whole story.  Jesus steps into her moral failure and filth.  He reveals her sin and His deity by telling her that He knows that she has had FIVE HUSBANDS and was currently living with a man who was not her husband.  You have to wonder what caused her to be so broken. The Almighty knew all of this about her, and still engaged her and showed grace and mercy to her. She already knew her sin and shame, what she needed was to be freed from it. Her own thirst had driven her to chase destructive things in her life. Jesus came to satisfy her thirst forever, setting her truly free.

She wants to change the subject.  She does not want to discuss her life – its way too close to home. She wants to discuss God, worship and the differences between her (a Samaritan) and Him (a Jew). She wants to talk religion and Jesus graciously obliges her.  She knew that she was unclean, unworthy and dirty (the law reveals our sin) and being reminded of that was more than she could bare.

Jesus makes unclean people clean. More than that, He makes unclean people, holy people. Even the offer of freedom and forgiveness is more than she can imagine.  It had been a long time since she had experienced hope.  Hope that she could be free, different, clean and truly loved. She was beginning to sense that redemption was possible; she was beginning to believe that redemption was here. It was and she was talking to the Redeemer.

The Providence of God

he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.” (John 4:3–5 ESV)

Seven words form a short sentence that we often read right over in order to get to the “real story.” When we do so, we miss a beautiful truth that will stir our affections for the Almighty.  Jesus did not physically “have” to travel through Samaria.  It was the most direct route between Judea and Galilee, but no respectable Jew would travel that route.  Devout Jews would go around Samaria by crossing the Jordan and going up the east side in order to avoid becoming unclean or defiled by coming in contact with a Samaritan.

The Samaritans were a people that resulted from the intermarrying between Jews and people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva and Hamath that the king of Assyria brought in to settle the region (2 Kings 17:24–31). The Samaritans had their own version of the Pentateuch and worshiped on Mount Gerizim instead of in Jerusalem.  They were half breeds that were despised by both the Jews and the Gentiles.  They didn’t fit in anywhere, they were alone.

Jesus had to pass through Samaria because of the providential call of God.  The Greek word used here (see also John: 3:7, 14, 30; 9:4; 10:16; 12:34; 20:9) means that it was necessary, it was a divine mandate or requirement – it was part of God’s plan.  He had to travel through a land that would make Him unclean, but one of the beautiful realities of the messiah is that He cannot be made unclean by interacting with defiled people.  Quite the opposite, He makes dirty people clean.  Religious Jews would go around this region.  Religion always blinds us and makes us self righteous and avoidant of those we deem to be unworthy – as if we are worthy because of our own doing (1 Corinthians 4:7).

We must ask the question, “why?”  Why did Jesus have to go through Samaria?  Why did God’s providence lead Him there?  Could it be that He is showing us that no one is too unreachable, too unworthy or too unclean?  Could it be that He was demonstrating that the gospel is for all ethnicities, genders, socio economic classes and moral type of people?  Jesus had to go through Samaria because He came to seek and save His lost sheep and apparently there were quite a number of lost sheep in Samaria because many of them believed (John 4:39-43).

The Samaritans asked Him to stay two extra days and He obliged them – I can only imagine what the disciples were thinking!  Many believed in Jesus based upon the woman’s testimony alone.  Jesus stays with a group of outcasts two extra days! Jesus loves those who are unloveable by the world’s standards.  We often times seek to be loveable – that is to bring something of merit before the Almighty – instead of resting in the love that He has for us.

These unclean, outcasts profess Jesus as the Savior of the World.  He is not only the Savior of the Jews, but the Savior of the world.  He saves all people – from every nation, tribe and tongue!  First to the Jews (Nicodemus in John 3:1-15), then to the Samaritans (John 4:1-42) and then to the Gentiles (the official at Capernaum in John 4:46-54). This is the mission of the church.

What does this providential appointment mean to us today?  The Word, Creator, Almighty condescends Himself to a defiled, unclean, unholy place & people in order to redeem.  The Creator serving the created is backwards, but that is what it took to undo the effects of the fall (John 4:30-34, Mark 10:45, Matthew 20:28).  God providentially invades the world of His lost sheep.  God’s redemption means that He makes lost sheep forgiven, acceptable, clean and holy. He makes unclean outcasts clean.  He makes clean people holy.  He makes us family.  In God’s kingdom, the unwanted outcasts are welcomed with open arms.  Jesus’ good words of forgiveness & redemption are only spoken to those who feel unworthy, alone and dirty because  good people see no need for grace.  The grace of God has adopted you and made you His son – perfectly acceptable.  You are no longer on the outside looking in and this was done because He “had to” go through Samaria and He “had to” come to you.  You didn’t seek Him, He sought you.  You were lost and He found you, redeemed you and adopted you according to His plan which He determined before He breathed a star into the heavens.

Concealing Sin

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” And Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.” And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died.
(2 Samuel 11:6–17 ESV)

The conniving wickedness of David should not make us feel self righteous, but should serve as a mirror to us in our own sinfulness.  Unconfessed sin is never content to live by itself.  Though David had supreme rights as a king, some things were off limits – like another man’s wife! Instead of confessing and repenting of his sin, he set a plan in motion to cover it up.  Getting sin out in the open with confession and repentance is freeing.  David summoned Bathsehba’s husband, Uriah, and asks how the battle is going.  Then he sends him home to clean up – and expecting that he will have sex with his wife.  But Uriah did not cooperate!  He slept outside with the king’s servants.  David asked Uriah why he didn’t go into his home.  Uriah responds, ““The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing (v11).”  Uriah is a righteous man, he viewed this as being improper.  It is ironic that he is righteous and the king is not.  David doubles his efforts and throws a party for Uriah and gets him drunk, thinking that would do the trick.  It did not.  Uriah again will not go into his house and have sex with his wife.

David is consumed with covering up his sin.  That is what sin does, it drives us to conceal it.  But, concealed sin will destroy you.  David sends a letter by way of Uriah (ironic!) unleashing a plan to have Uriah killed by placing him in the most fierce fighting area and then withdrawing all of the troops so that he is alone.  Joab is complicent in this and Uriah is killed.  Living an upright life, in the fear of the Lord like Uriah, does not ensure a good outcome in this world.

Sin rules and reigns in this world. Don’t miss how unconfessed sin always drives us to conceal it and that we will go to great lengths to hide it.  But, just because we think that sin is hidden does not mean that it is absent.  It is still swirling around below the surface, wreaking havoc on our lives and the lives of others – destroying our communion with God.  Even in this story, don’t miss the echo of the gospel – the righteous (Uriah) dies for the sins of the unrighteous (David).  It is because of the beauty of the gospel that we can boldly approach the throne of grace.  Confess your sins and repent of them and receive the cleansing grace of God.