Recently I started working out again. It seems the older I get, the more aware I am of my body’s shortcomings and the need to be healthy. And every time I start working out its hard. Really hard. This last time after my workout I felt particularly thirsty, like a man crawling through the desert trying to get to a spring, kind of thirsty. After downing one bottle of water and starting another, my thirst finally felt quenched.
I thought about that experience this week as I mediated on John 7. The chapter tells the story of Jesus leaving Galilee to go to Jerusalem for the Feat of Booths, one of the traditional 7 feasts of Israel. Jesus originally didn’t want to draw attention to himself, at least not yet, as he told his ungodly conniving half-brothers before he left. There was a certain time and place the Spirit had told Jesus to begin teaching and reveal himself (as the Pharisees and rulers of the Jews had been conspiring to kill Jesus). It wasn’t until the middle of the feast that Jesus began teaching at the Temple.
In the midst of all the uproar from the people and the Pharisees about who Jesus really was, whether he was a prophet, the Messiah, or someone else…on the very last day or the feast, Jesus stood up and said something that really caught my attention for this devotional.
37 “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” – John 8:37-39
This isn’t the first time that Jesus has talked about “living water.” If you remember earlier in John 4 we met the Samaritan woman at the well. There too, a discussion began around water.
Are you hungry? Would you like to eat some Jesus today? Are you thirsty? Would you like to drink a cup of his blood? Sounds kind of graphic doesn’t it? And yet, Jesus says these offensive words in John 6:51-58…
51 “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.” 52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.”
In fact the people were so offended that even some of his disciples took issue with Jesus’ words, being tempted to leave Jesus:
60 “On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” 61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? …66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”
What was the reason for Jesus saying such controversial things?
One of my favorite stories in all the Bible comes in John 6:1-14. The story is known as the feeding of the 5,000. That’s a misnomer actually. The text says that there were 5,000 men. Somebody counted. Add not a few wives and children and you have a crowd of easily 10,000 or more.
While the actual number of those who were present is not as important, what is important is what is happening the midst of the story. The crowds had grown around Jesus because of his healing miracles and because the Passover was near. As Jesus looks at the crowd, standing near the Sea of Galilee, he decides that it is time to give his disciples a test.
Stop right here for a moment. That sounds negative doesn’t it? A test. No one really likes a test. A test is meant to stretch you. Challenge you. But when Jesus does it, you can trust that it is always a good thing, and much needed too.
5 “Therefore Jesus, lifting up His eyes and seeing that a large crowd was coming to Him, *said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” 6 This He was saying to test him, for He Himself knew what He was intending to do.” – John 6:5-6
Two days after the little revival that took place down in Samaria, where the woman at the well came to belief in the Messiah, as well as many throughout Samaria, Jesus took a trip back north to Galilee, to the area where he did his first miracle of turning water to wine in Cana.
John reminds us, to set up this next story, that Jesus himself had been saying that “a prophet has no honor in his own country.” In other words, don’t expect the wide acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah in Galilee. He’s not going to get the same welcome there that he got in Samaria or earlier further south in Judea. Here the people have very little faith and seem to be fixated more on Jesus’ miracles and what he can do for them more than anything else.
45 When he arrived in Galilee, the Galileans welcomed him. They had seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, for they also had been there.
This sounds great on the surface. But we find out soon enough that “being welcome,” is not the same thing as “having faith.” John tells us that this crowd is mainly those who had seen his miracles down in Jerusalem (see John 2:23-25). But there in that text it’s clear that their faith is only cosmetic and shallow. Their faith allows them to believe that Jesus can do miracles. That, they don’t doubt. But that faith is not leading them to the conclusion of who Jesus is. They are believing in miracles, not believing in him.
Someone who’s been following my little series on the gospel of John pointed out that I had skipped John 3, the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night. I had not intended to skip the story per se, but just had never intended to be thorough in this little study—only pointing out things as they stood out to me, as they are highlighted in my spirit by the Holy Spirit.
But for the sake of this request I went back and looked over the material in John 3 and to my great surprise, as the Spirit always does, He left for me a great spiritual nugget. I will share that with you now…
John 3 and the Nicodemus story is actually set up at the end of chapter 2 verses 23-25 where the text says:
23 “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
John makes the point that Jesus did not need to entrust himself to anyone because he already had the ability to see what was in the heart of each person, to see the root of their spiritual sickness and like a Great Physician, offer whatever spiritual remedy was needed.
The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is one of the most time honored stories in the Gospels. It breaks so many barriers and opens up so many points of discussion; Jesus speaking to a woman when no self-respecting rabbi would ever do such a thing in the first century, crossing racial bridges between Jews and Samaritans, when they typically wouldn’t even talk to each other, and the topic of sin, which in this story is presented as the woman is living with a man (in shame no doubt) and has had 5 previous husbands (bear in mind there is a reason she has to walk all this far to get her water, as opposed to getting it in the city).
The centerpiece of this story is actually not in chapter 4, it is in chapter 3, right between the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, and Jesus meeting the woman at the well during the day. In fact the two stories were meant to be read and understood next to each other as they serve as a teaching contrast to a very important truth that Jesus has been teaching.
The central text is this.
20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” – John 3:20-21
The question here is what will people do? Will they come to the light (and expose their darkness, their sinful deeds, or will they remain in darkness and conceal them.
The wedding at Cana is known as the place where Jesus began to publicly perform miracles. In my devotion today I was caught off guard as I watched the scene where Jesus was sitting with is disciples, brothers, mother, and probably other family members.
Up until today I had always thought along the same lines as many commentators, that the wedding feast and the first miracle were symbolic in some way, that perhaps the fact that Jesus instructed the servants to use water pots that were used for ceremonial washing was significant, indicating Jesus’ authority over ceremony? Perhaps the miracle proved that God saves the best for last, as Jesus’ miraculous wine was far superior than anything they had served at the wedding to that point. I have heard conjectures like these all my life.
Now I will say, it is true, that Jesus’ creation of wine may be significant, prophetically. Jeremiah had foretold that in the Messianic age “they will rejoice in the bounty of the LORD—the grain, the new wine . . .” (Jeremiah 31:12). Amos said that Israel “will plant vineyards and drink their wine” (Amos 9:14). The association of the Messiah with a time of plenty—including freely flowing wine—makes Jesus’ first miraculous sign all the more meaningful. But I don’t think that is the main point of the passage.
John opens his gospel with the following: “1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5
Unlike all the other gospels, John takes us on a journey deep within the soul and Spirit of the gospel. Instead of focusing on the genealogical pedigree of Jesus, as Matthew and Luke does, John takes us back to the root of who Jesus really is, that he is the Word of God, that He has always existed with God, and that He is, in fact, God.
This is important as the Word of God, the words that Jesus speak are the very words of life, literally, not figuratively. Think of it this way. It says in verse 3 that through him all things were made, This echoes back to the 7 days of creation, when God created the heavens and the earth. So how were all things created? Through God’s word. You will remember that God said in Genesis 1:1, “Let there be,” and there was. God who is life, spoke the word, which produced life, and as a result all things came into being.
There is a real war on Christmas. But it has nothing to do with Starbucks.
If you’re one of the Christians “outraged” at Starbucks’ new minimal holiday cups, can I be honest with you about something? You’ve been deceived. Yep. I’ve said it. And I will say it again. You have been deceived. More on that in a minute. But what have you been deceived with? Simply this: that a company that takes snowmen and ornaments off of their cups is throwing Jesus under the bus.
Let’s remember. We are the church, not Starbucks. So don’t expect a mainstream, non-Christian company to hold our beliefs. And besides, it’s not like they had the baby Jesus on their cups. I mean, they had snowmen, trees, ornaments, etc. These symbols might mean a lot to us, but they are not Christian symbols.
The over-hyped media about the war on Christmas is really, I think, a war on Christian intelligence. The real war on Christmas, which I’ll share in just a minute, is much darker than any coffee Starbucks serves up.
Note: Here is a great devotional thought from John Piper (below with my own thoughts added) about Spiritual gifts and the implications on unanswered prayers. I have thought about this for a long time over the years, especially after everything we experienced before, during, and after Caleb’s accident. I’ve come to the conclusion that our beliefs in the Churches of Christ, when it comes to cessationism (the belief that God doesn’t work miraculously today–that He only did such things in biblical times), really limit the potential power of God in our lives. Who knows the many untold times God has desired to answer our prayers, but they were left unanswered because we rejected the means through which God desired to answer them.
“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams.” – Acts 2:17
First, let’s just remind ourselves of some truths about spiritual gifts from 1 Corinthians 12. Then we will notice a simple implication for unanswered prayer.
1. God wants us to know about spiritual gifts.
“Now concerning spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 12:1).