Thursday, November 24, 2011


The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes,” (John 9:30).

Of all the miracles God used throughout the Old Testament to show people who He was, there is not one recorded instance of a man born blind ever receiving his sight. This miracle happened in John’s Gospel and give indisputable proof that Jesus is from God – the promised Messiah.

We join the story of the healing of the man born blind right after the heated exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees. This argument about the validity of Jesus’ claim to be Messiah and condemnation of the Pharisees illegitimate authority culminated with Jesus calling himself by God’s divine title – I AM – and the Pharisees trying to kill him. It is right after this scene that Jesus gives us, and all the world, proof of His authority. We don’t know how long a period of time separates the two events. However, they had to happen close to each other, judging by the reaction of the people and Pharisees who witnessed it, and the subsequent investigation.

The 9th chapter of John tells us that, “As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him. ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus ‘but this happened so that the word of God might be displayed in his life.’” It was common thought in Jesus’ day that such an infirmity was a result of sin. Jesus rejected this idea, and corrects his disciples. Jesus tells them that God allowed this man to be born blind so that God’s work could be displayed to all.

The story continues: Jesus heals the man. The man’s friends and acquaintances see the miracle and ask how it happened. He tells them that Jesus did it. Word gets back to the Pharisees who, with hardened hearts and a previous axe to grind, seek to catch Jesus in the act of sin, or “breaking of the law” (their man-made regulations) any way they can.

In the course of their investigation, the Pharisees question the blind man three times. They even talk to the man’s parents, just to make sure that this is the same man. Each time he is questioned, he gives the same account of the story, “’He put mud on my eyes,’ the man replied, ‘and I washed and now I see.’” No matter what angle they try, there just isn’t a way around it for the Pharisees – Jesus healed the man born blind, something, according to their own Pharisaic teaching the Messiah would do, and something God had never done in the past. Finally, the man born blind gets fed up with the question from the Pharisees and tells them, “I have told you already and you did not listen.”

“You did not listen.” That must have really made the Pharisees angry. The text actually says that they “hurled insults at the man,” but it was probably a little more intense than that. Here the Pharisees were, being lectured about this man, this prophet – the Son of Man, Jesus – by someone “steeped in sin at birth.” Their blood must have began to boil as they shouted, “but as for this fellow [Jesus], we don’t even know where he comes from.” Their anger and annoyance must have turned to rage as the blind man explained, “You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners.” Surely the exchange between the man born blind and the Pharisees puts us in mind of Isaiah chapter 6:

“ ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’ Make the heart of this people calloused; make their ears dull and close their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.’”

Here the prophet describes the Pharisees, and all those who deny what God plainly tells and shows them – that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

The blind man could see what the Pharisees refused to acknowledge, because Jesus opened his eyes – not merely in a physical way, but also in a spiritual way. The Pharisees claimed to be Abraham’s children, but they could not even realize what God was showing the world – that He loved them and sent his Son, the promised Messiah to restore mankind to the relationship we had with God before our fall into sin. Those who had true faith in God and His promise to deliver man could plainly see who Jesus was when He declared it by his words or actions – the promised Messiah – even if they did not fully understand what Jesus’ “Messiah-ship” meant. But as for the Pharisees, those who put their trust in earthly things, such as man-made laws and political power, Jesus sums it up best, “He who belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you [Pharisees] do not hear is that you do not belong to God” (John 8:47).

To whom do you belong? Is God your Father, or are you children of the devil? Can you see what God is showing you, like the man born blind, or are you “seeing but never perceiving and hearing but never understanding,” like the Pharisees. Is the Father that you claim reflected in your actions, or are you living under a delusion like the Pharisees? St. Paul wrote in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through Faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ.”

Through Christ’s death and resurrection we have been set free from sin and death. We should not, however, use this freedom to indulge our sinful nature. When we do, we alienate ourselves from fellowship with God. Rather, by the power of God’s Holy Spirit, we must strive to serve one another in love. As it is written, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” When we do good to all people, both to those who believe and those who don’t, we proclaim the love Christ has for humanity, not with words, but by the way we live our very lives.

George Washington's Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"

Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.

And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

George Washington


Shortly after the Thanksgiving Proclamation was written, it was lost for 130 years. The original document was written in long hand by William Jackson, secretary to the President, and was then signed by George Washington. It was probably misplaced or mixed in with some private papers when the US capitol moved from New York to Washington, D.C. The original manuscript was not placed in the National Archives until 1921 when Dr. J. C. Fitzpatrick, assistant chief of the manuscripts division of the Library of Congress found the proclamation at an auction sale being held at an art gallery in New York. Dr Fitzpatrick purchased the document for $300.00 for the Library of Congress, in which it now resides. It was the first official presidential proclamation issued in the United States.

See also:

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-36)

Jesus feeds the multitude.

Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do (John 6:6).

Here Jesus and the disciples face a seemingly impossible situation. It is evening, there is a multitude of people who will need to eat (no doubt the disciples themselves were also hungry), and they have no means of feeding them. Philip reports that two hundred denarii would not buy enough food for each person just to get a bite. To put that into perspective, one denarius was, in Biblical times, an average laborer’s wage for one day.[1] To put that into some kind of perspective; that would be like saying they needed $32,000 to buy the absolute minimum amount of bread to feed the crowd (assuming an average hourly wage of $20/hour, multiplied by an eight hour day, multiplied by 200 for the number of denarii). However you calculate it, they were talking about an immense sum of money. Even if they had the money to buy food for all these people, there would have been no place at which to buy it, as they were sitting on the side of a mountain. Jesus, we are told, already knows how the problem will be solved.

This seems like kind of a dirty trick to play on Philip. If Jesus already knew what he was going to do, why would he feel the need to test Philip? The Greek word translated “test” in this verse may also be translated “tempt”, which makes it seem all the more as though Jesus is making sport of Philip and the disciples.[2] Knowing Jesus’ mission to seek and save the lost[3], however, it is safe to assume that this is not what Jesus is doing. To the contrary, by testing the disciples Jesus is endeavoring to strengthen their faith in him. This is not the first instance of such testing to strengthen faith we encounter in the Bible. God tested Abraham in a similar way.[4]

In Genesis 22 God tells Abraham to take his only son Isaac and sacrifice him as a burnt offering. Isaac was the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham that God would make him into a great nation and subsequently bless all nations through him. It probably didn’t make much sense to Abraham at the time for God to require the death of Isaac, as Isaac’s death would seemingly nullify God’s promise. Abraham, however, responded in faith to God’s command and passed the test. When asked by Isaac where the lamb for the burnt offering was, Abraham replied, “God will provide for himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”[5] Abraham conceded that God was in control of the situation and that God knew what he was doing, even if his human reason said that this didn’t make any sense. Abraham’s faith was rewarded. The disciple’s weakness, in contrast to the faith of Abraham, is made evident in their response to Jesus.

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten (John 6: 10-13).

Jesus demonstrates, by feeding the 5,000 with five barely loaves and two fish, that he is in control of this, and every, situation. I once heard a homily preached on the feeding of the 5,000 that was truly amazing to me. The priest, to put it in a nutshell, said that as all the people gathered, it became evident to the disciples that no one had food and that they were unable to provide it for them. As Jesus preached to the multitude, however, the people were moved by his message of peace and love that, by supper time, the selfish people were eager to share the provisions they had secretly brought with them with their neighbors. That was how wise Jesus fed the 5,000 – by guilting the people into sharing what they were selfishly hoarding for themselves.

This explanation is bewildering to those who believe that the Bible is the inerrant, divinely inspired word of God for several reasons. Theologians who have a more liberal interpretation of scripture, and wish to dispense with all things supernatural in the Bible, love this interpretation. What this misguided preacher was actually teaching, whether he realized it or not, was that salvation is man’s work. The people would have gone hungry if they continued in their selfishness. By pooling their resources, however, they were all able to have enough to eat. All it took was a few words from that good teacher, Jesus. By looking at this passage in such a manner, we make Jesus out to be merely a man with nice teachings. He might have said words to the people, but it was the people who made the final decision to share their bread. It was not provided by Our Lord. Human hearts like to hear such nonsense, because it gives us the false sense that we are in control of our spiritual destiny. That is not, however, what Jesus teaches.

The pages of Holy Scripture demonstrate that God gives life by his word. Jesus illustrates this point with a living parable by his miraculous feeding of the 5,000. He explains the significance of what he had done the next day to the disciples and to the people who followed him to the other side of the Sea of Galilee.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal” (John 6: 25-27).

The people were awed by the miracle they witnessed, and they went after Jesus. They did not go, it seems, because they believed in Jesus as a result of the sign they saw. They were interested in him as if he were a slight-of-hand magician. They wanted to see another trick. This is evidenced by the question they ask Jesus in verse 25. They knew he didn’t get into the boat with his disciples, and they wanted to know about the trick Jesus did. Jesus ignores their question about him, however, and responds with a statement focused on them.[6] He basically tells them that by demonstrating that he can sustain their bodily needs of daily bread, he was providing them with a sign that he was the fulfillment of their spiritual needs as well. The people ask what they must do. It is a logical human question. If I am to receive this food that endures to eternal life (v. 27), surely there is something I must do to earn it. Jesus, the bread of life, gives his answer.

Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6: 28-29).

Jesus singled out one necessary work: faith in Him, which is God’s gift.[7] Upon receiving Jesus’ answer, one they did not like or understand, they demanded a sign. They wanted Jesus to perform a miracle for them as Moses had done.[8] Surely Jesus wasn’t greater than Moses. This, however, is further illustration that, even after witnessing all that Jesus had done up to this point, they had not understood the sign that was being presented to them – that Jesus was the Messiah. Lenski writes:

“These people failed to see what was so gloriously pictured to them, the divinity of Jesus, his ability to feed their souls as he had fed their bodies, his Savior qualities as the Messiah sent of God. They had held the wonder bread in their hands, had eaten it with their mouths, but had never understood its true meaning with their hearts.[9]

Jesus corrects them once again. They focused on God’s instrument – Moses – rather than on the true source of the manna from heaven. Jesus makes a distinction between physical food and spiritual food, and then tells them, through the miracle of the loaves and fishes, and by his words, that he is the source of both physical and spiritual nourishment.

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe” (John 6: 35-36).

Here again Jesus reveals exactly who he is to the people. He does this in two ways. Jesus uses the phrase “I am” in referring to himself as the bread of life, recalling God’s name and applying it to himself. His words also recall those of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote:

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55: 1-9).

Jesus is telling these people that he is the Servant, whose words Isaiah records. He calls us, and all people, to repentance and to focus on what we really need – spiritual healing and nourishment. That isn’t to say that God doesn’t care about our temporal needs and difficulties. Of what importance is “daily bread”, though, to people who are starving to spiritual death? This is why he tells us not to labor for the food that perishes. Jesus illustrates for us by his feeding of the 5,000 that God provides for our earthly needs without us even having to ask him for such provision.[10] He wants us all to focus, however, on being fed with the bread of life, the food that endures to eternal life. We do that by believing in him; by turning from our sinful ways and living as the new creation we now are in him;[11] by gathering together around word and sacrament;[12] and by proclaiming his Gospel to everyone.[13]


End Notes

[1] Matthew 20:2; John 12:5
[2] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, (Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1942), 432.
[3] Luke 19:10
[4] Genesis 22:2
[5] Genesis 22:8
[6] Lenski, 450
[7] The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version, Verse 6:29 notes, p. 1792; Ephesians 2: 8-9
[8] Exodus 16: 13-15
[9] Lenski, 450
[10] Matthew 6: 25-34
[11] 2 Corinthians 5: 16-18; Ephesians 4: 17-24
[12] Acts 2: 42-47
[13] Matthew 28: 19-20

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Healing on the Sabbath

Christ at the Pool of Bethesda

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids - blind, lame, and paralyzed. One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath. So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." But he answered them, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you." The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had healed him. And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath. But Jesus answered them, "My Father is working until now, and I am working." This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5: 1-18).

Let’s take a look at interesting verse from John chapter 5 in light of the book of Exodus:

"Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gate…You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. Everyone who profanes it shall be put to death. Whoever does any work on it, that soul shall be cut off from among his people” (Exodus 20:10; 31:14).

After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem (John 5:1).

John doesn’t say which feast was occurring at this time, but it was a major one. Some commentators believe that John is referring to the Feast of Booths or the Feast of the New Year.[1] It is significant to us, I believe, because John is saying that everyone would be in the city for the feast, and would therefore be there to see Jesus’ interactions with the man he is about to heal and the Pharisees. There were seven feasts celebrated by the Jews. They were: The Sabbath, The Passover, The Feast of First fruits, The Feast of Weeks, The Feast of Trumpets, The Day of Atonement, and The Feast of Booths.[2] These feasts, however, were not intended to be simply dinner get-togethers, or empty calendar observances. God wanted to gather his people together and to interact with them at his altar, in the place designated for that purpose.[3] Each of these feasts had a specific ceremony and symbolism attached to them, which we will not explore at length now. Ultimately, though, the Lord’s feasts were all intended to focus Israel’s eyes on the coming Messiah, and God’s relationship with his chosen people.[4] St. Paul called these feasts, “a shadow of the things to come.” Here, John tells us that the substance and culmination of the feasts was walking in the very midst of the people – God meeting his people in God’s holy temple[5] – and they turned away from him.

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed” (John 5:10).

The Pharisees were telling the man that carrying his mat was forbidden under God’s command to refrain from work on the Sabbath.[6] Technically, I suppose they were correct. However, they were turning a blind eye to the spirit of God’s law. They were so focused on earning God’s favor by their observance of God’s law, which they perverted by the imposition of their man-made regulations, that they forgot that God desires mercy, and not sacrifice.[7] God gave the people of Israel the law through Moses to show them (and us) their sin, so that the people would repent of their sin, turn to Him and be healed.[8] God tells Hosea that, while he certainly wants to see his law obeyed, his commanded sacrifices were only pleasing to him if they came from the heart – a heart of true repentance. This is what Jesus tells the Pharisees, all Israel, and the entire world. In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man with a withered hand on the Sabbath day.[9] In this instance, the Pharisees also accuse Jesus of breaking God’s law, albeit in a roundabout way. They ask him if it is lawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus, however, turns the question back on them. “Which one of you who has a sheep,” he says, “if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not take hold of it and lift it out? Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”[10] Jesus, by his examples of “working” on the Sabbath, shows us that doing good (mercy) takes priority over a too-strict, or legalistic (sacrifice) interpretation of the Law.

Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place (John 5:13).

The Greek word in this verse that is translated “withdrawn” can be rendered as “to lean sideways,” or “to evade” or “slip away.”[11] This implies that what Jesus did was a strategic move, like a retreat. Why Jesus would feel the need to “evade” the crowd is not explicitly explained. It certainly isn’t because he is afraid of a confrontation with the Pharisees regarding his actions, as he has demonstrated time and again. It isn’t because he wants to remain anonymous to the man who was healed, because he seeks him out at the temple later and talks with him.[12] The only conclusion I can come to regarding Jesus’ tactical retreat from the crowd in this chapter is that Jesus was working to do the will of his Father. The large crowd saw the miracle that Jesus had performed. They would have recognized from the miracle that someone very special, possibly the Son of David (the Messiah), was in their midst.[13] Jesus’ continued presence in the crowd could have caused a riot or, worse yet, the proclaiming of Jesus as King of Israel by the crowd. Jesus certainly is the King of Israel. However, the people did not understand the spiritual nature of Messiah’s work, and were expecting a worldly king, one who would rescue them from their earthly oppressors and restore the physical nation of Israel.[14] As Jesus told Pilate, his kingdom was not of this world.[15] So, as he would do later, Jesus slipped away to keep this from happening.[16] Jesus would allow himself to be hailed with shouts of “hosanna”, and be crowned as King according to God the Father’s timetable – with a wreath of thorns.[17]

But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.” This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God (John 5: 17-18).

For all of the differences between Christian denominations, the one fundamental truth about God that all orthodox Christian bodies espouse is the doctrine of the trinity. In fact, one of the earmarks of non-Christian cults is their denial of the Holy Trinity. To human beings, rationality tells us that such a thing defies logic, and thus, could not be true. However irrational, though, this is how God has revealed himself to us through Holy Scripture. The doctrine of the trinity is clearly revealed in the pages of Scripture. Within the nature of God, the Bible teaches, there are three distinct persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. These three persons, while remaining distinct, share the same divine attributes. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all three identified as individuals and all three are identified as God. Yet, according to Deuteronomy 6:4, and a host of other Scripture texts, there is only one God.

The person of the Father is identified in 2 Peter 1:17, “For he [Jesus] received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him for the Majestic Glory, saying ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’” Here Peter is referring to what happened at Jesus’ baptism, when his messianic ministry began.[18] Peter’s quote is also an allusion to two messianic passages from the Old Testament – Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 42:1. In Psalm 2, we are told that the Davidic King will be God’s servant and son. In Isaiah, we are told that God’s Spirit would rest upon his servant – two prophecies fulfilled in Jesus at his baptism.

This leads to the second person of the trinity identified in Scripture – the Son. In the New Testament there is a person named Jesus, who is identified as God’s Son. Not only is Jesus called God’s Son, though, he himself declares himself to be God. It is at this point that we see a divergence form orthodox Christianity in the theology of the cults. Every non-Christian cult denies the deity of Christ and forgiveness of sins by his merit alone. Scripture, however, tells a different story. The amazing exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees, recorded in the eighth chapter of John gives us incredible insight into who Jesus claimed to be, and whether or not the Pharisees understood his claims.[19]

Jesus tell them, “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.” Shocked, the Pharisees reply to Jesus, “You are not yet 50 years old and you have seen Abraham?” Their thoughts that they were dealing with a madman must have been confirmed to them at this point in the conversation. But Jesus goes on to clarify for them. “‘I tell you the truth,’ Jesus answered, ‘before Abraham was born I am!’”[20] Jesus did not say, “I was,” but “I am.” By applying God’s divine title from Exodus 3:14 to himself, Jesus expressed the eternity of his being and his oneness with God the Father. The Pharisees must have understood that Jesus was calling himself God, because they picked up stones with which to stone him for blasphemy.

Another such incident is recorded in John 10:24-33:

So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one." The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, "I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?" The Jews answered him, "It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God" (John 10:24-33).

The Greek word used by John in this passage is neuter – one THING, not one PERSON. Jesus is telling us that he and the Father are one in essence, or nature, but they are not identical persons. As the Scripture says, the Jews took these words to be blasphemy, and tried to carry out the law – the penalty for blasphemy was stoning – though without due process.[21]

Holy Scripture also identifies a third person – the Holy Spirit – and calls him God. It is with this person of the Holy Trinity that, I believe, Christians have the most trouble understanding and explaining. It is doubly perplexing when a Jehovah’s Witness, in the comfort of your own living room, proceeds to tell you that the Holy Spirit is merely a “force” that comes from Jehovah, and not a conscious, thinking, personal entity. Most Christians are usually at a loss to rebut this false doctrine. However, the words of Holy Scripture make things clear. Peter, in the book of Acts, identifies the person called the Holy Spirit and calls him God.[22] The incident with Ananias and Sapphira shows us that the Holy Spirit is regarded as God among his people:

Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the HOLY SPIRIT and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such at thing? YOU HAVE NOT LIED TO MEN BUT TO GOD” (Acts 5: 3-4)

You cannot lie to a table. You cannot lie to a chair. You cannot lie to a hat rack, or even to a dog or a cat. In order for a person to lie to someone/something else, it has to be living, conscious, and have understanding to be able to believe what it is being told. Therefore, for Ananias to lie to the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit must be a conscious and living being, and not merely a “force.” St. Luke, again in the book of Acts, makes this point beautifully:

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, THE HOLY SPIRIT SAID, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work TO WHICH I HAVE CALLED THEM.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off (Acts 13: 2-3).

Only a conscious, living being talks, as the Holy Spirit does in this passage. In addition, St. Luke uses the first person when quoting the Holy Spirit, again indicating personality. Finally the Holy Spirit says that the work to which the worshipers are called is HIS work, making the Holy Spirit equal to the Almighty God.

While there are many more ways in which Holy Scripture reveals the triune nature of God, these are some of the most obvious and easiest to understand. The Bible teaches that the three persons – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – are all individuals, and all share divine attributes, making them all God. In the case of the Holy Trinity, it is not simple arithmetic (1 + 1 + 1 = 3). In this case it is 1 X 1 X 1 = 1.

End Notes

[1] The Lutheran Study Bible, English Standard Version, Verse 5:1 notes, p. 1788.
[2] Leviticus 23
[3] Exodus 29: 42-43; Numbers 17:4
[4] Colossians 2: 16-17
[5] Psalm 11:4
[6] Exodus 31: 12-18
[7] Hosea 6:6
[8] Romans 3:19-20; 7:7; James 2:10
[9] Matthew 12: 9-14
[10] Matthew 12: 11-12
[11] R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, (Columbus, Ohio: The Wartburg Press, 1942), 369.
[12] John 5:14
[13] Matthew 12: 22-23
[14] Acts 1:6
[15] John 18:36
[16] John 6: 14-16
[17] Luke 19: 28-40; Matthew 27:29
[18] Matthew 3: 16-17
[19] John 8: 27-59
[20] John 8: 48-56
[21] Leviticus 24:16
[22] Acts 5:3-4

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Living Water

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 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. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour (John 4:1-6).

Why did Jesus not baptize personally? I don't know why Jesus did not baptize personally; however, I read an interesting idea on the Internet regarding this passage. Imagine the foolish pride of people strutting around Jerusalem because they had been baptized by Jesus Himself![1] This turned out to be a big problem for St. Paul in Corinth, where people were apparently boasting and taking pride in whomever had baptized them, thus shifting the focus from Christ, where it belonged. Paul writes, "I thank God that I baptized none of you accept Crispus and Gaius. So that no one may say that you were baptized in my name," (1 Corinthians 1:14). Baptism is a person being buried and raised with Christ.[2] The servant of Christ who administers the baptism is of no consequence.

A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, "Give me a drink." 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me a drink,' you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (John 4:7-10). 

Who are the Samaritans? Why is it significant that Jesus asks the Samaritan woman for a drink? It is commonly held that the Samaritans were descendants of the Jews who remained in Palestine after the Assyrians defeated Israel. The Samaritans inhabited the area between Judea and Galilee. They came from mixed marriages between Jews and Assyrian settlers who entered the Promised Land.[3] [4] For this reason the Jews of the day despised the Samaritans. They also regarded the Samaritans observance of Judaism as corrupted. It goes without saying that contact with the Samaritans was to be avoided. The religious beliefs of the Samaritans are summarized below:[5]

  • There is one God, YHWH the same God recognized by the Hebrew prophets.
  • The Torah was given by God to Moses.
  • Mount Gerizim, not Jerusalem, is the one true sanctuary chosen by Israel's God.
  • Many Samaritans believe that at the end of days, the dead will be resurrected by Taheb, a restorer (possibly a prophet, some say Moses).
  • Paradise (heaven). The priests are the interpreters of the law and the keepers of tradition; scholars are secondary to the priesthood.
  • The authority of post-Torah sections of the Tanakh, and classical Jewish rabbinical works (the Talmud, comprising the Mishnah and the Gemara) is rejected.
  •  They have a significantly different version of the Ten Commandments (for example, their 10th commandment is about the sanctity of Mount Gerizim).
In traveling from Judea to Galilee, one could reasonably expect a Jew to avoid the land of the Samaritans. Jesus, however, goes through Samaria, which was the most direct route between the two locations. No doubt this surprised not only the disciples, but also the Samaritans themselves. Due to the long history of animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, it would be quite surprising that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan - a woman that, given their low social status at the time - let alone ask them for a drink, and engage in a long conversation with them. Jesus, however, used the opportunity of the water, and the well, to preach the gospel.

What is "living water"? "Living water", quite simply, is the Spirit. Jesus explains this to the Jews on the last day of the feast in John 7:37-39, when he says, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" While no specific scripture verse is cited by either Jesus or St. Luke, Jesus' words call to mind the words of the prophet Isaiah:

"And the Lord will guide you continually and satisfy your desire and scorched places and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail," (Isaiah 58:11).

Jeremiah also writes about the fountain of living water:

"For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hued out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water... O Lord, the hope of Israel, all who forsake you shall be put to shame; those who turn away from you shall be written in the earth, for they have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water," (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13).

These “waters” give life, and strength. That Jesus is speaking of the power of the Holy Spirit becomes evident on the day of Pentecost.[6]

But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).

What does it mean to "worship the Father in spirit and truth."? Why does Jesus say that the Father is seeking such people to worship him? Jesus says true worshipers of God are those who worship the Father in spirit and truth. St. John wrote that grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.[7] Jesus is saying that true worship is that which is done in his name and through him; in other words, that we believe Jesus is who he said he was (Messiah), and did what he said he would do for us (save us eternally). Jesus would ultimately, as he tells his disciples, send the Spirit of Truth to guide them into all truth, and he binds that work of the Spirit to his Word.[8] Temples don't matter, mountains don't matter; faith in Messiah is what matters. Psalm 145:18 says, "The Lord is near to all who call on truth," that is, trusting in God's promise of redemption. Jesus is that promise in the flesh.

In Old Testament times, the people were separated from God by the literal, physical walls of the temple. Only the priests could enter the most holy place to offer the required sacrifices to make atonement for the people's sin.[9] Now, through Jesus, who is the propitiation for all sin, believers have access to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit, who creates faith in men’s hearts.[10] Therefore, no animal sacrifice, or other human work, is necessary to - or capable of - gaining God's favor or forgiveness. Only faith in Jesus, which is worked in us through God's means, by God's power, and given us as a gift, gains us access to God.[11]

Since temples don't matter, does that mean that we don't have to, or shouldn't, be a member of a church? No. Simply put, if you go to church because it is "the right thing to do," and is "good," you may as well just stay home. St. Paul calls the Church Christ's body[12], and Jesus himself says that apart from him, we can do nothing.[13] Jesus wants us to gather around Word and Sacrament so that he can empower us to worship in spirit and truth. Jesus shows us this by his own example when he gathers with his disciples for the Passover; He promises to be among us, "... where two or three are gathered [in my name]."[14] Scripture shows us that the regenerate man, led by the working of the Holy Spirit, seeks out and craves fellowship with his fellow Christians. After Pentecost, the believers "devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship..."[15] Luke further describes the method in which this was done:

"And they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number, day by day those who were being saved," (Acts 2:42-47).

These Christians, compelled by the Spirit as new creations in Christ[16], and moved by His power, gathered together around the word (apostles’ teaching), following the example of Jesus, who gathered with his disciples. The living waters of the Spirit watered them, made them grow, and they became fruitful. Consequently, they put off their old selves,[17] St. Luke records, and their love for God because of what he had done for them, manifested itself by their spreading of the Gospel and doing good to their neighbors.[18] Their good works, like good fruit on a healthy, well watered tree, were the manifestations of their faith in Christ.[19]

Rather than grumbling about all the things we don't like about church, or making "rational" arguments about why it isn't necessary to be an active part of a Christian fellowship, we should all follow the example of the early church described in Acts. We all need to gather together in worship, study and fellowship, and show our faith through our works. “For,” as St. James writes, “as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead.”[20]

End Notes

[1] “Did Jesus Baptize Anyone?” Wiki Answers,, (October 24, 2010)
[2] Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:12
[3] J. I Packer, and M.C. Tenney, Illustrated Manners and Customs of the Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1980) p. 509
[4] 2 Kings 17:24-28, 33-34
[5] “Samaritans” Wikipedia (October 24, 2010)
[6] John 16:7; Acts 1:4-8
[7] John 1:17
[8] John 15:26; 16:13; Romans 10:17
[9] Leviticus 16; Hebrews 7:26-27
[10] Hebrews 9:11-14
[11] Ephesians 2:4-9
[12] Romans 12:4-5; Colossians 1:18
[13] John 15:5
[14] Matthew 18:20
[15] Acts 2:42
[16] 2 Corinthians 5:17
[17] Ephesians 4:22
[18] James 2:14
[19] Mark 4:20; John 15:16; Not just holy deeds, but love and witness leading to new disciples, as evidenced by Jesus’ parable of the sower (Matthew 13:3-23).
[20] James 2:26