Follow on Facebook

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

John 4:5,6 So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar

So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

(5) So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.  Jesus came to Sychar, which was called Shechem in Old Testament times.  This was the place where Dinah was defiled after Jacob had brought his children back into the land after his service to Laban in Padan Aram.  Shechem lies in the valley between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim; these mountains would later (during the time of Joshua ) become the two mountains from which the Children of Israel would declare the blessings and cursings prescribed by Moses.  Today Sychar is the modern city of Nablus.  Review the Biblical ruins of Shechem at:

Mount Gerizim, left - Shechem, center - Mount Ebal, right - tb070507660-bibleplaces
Nablus 2013 showing ancient walls (Shechem/Sychar)
The Old Testament does not tell us the location of the particular plot of ground given by Jacob (Israel) to Joseph.  The Scriptures do inform us that Manasseh and Ephraim were the heirs of Joseph's portion in the division of Canaan among the Twelve Tribes.  Shechem lies on the border between the two parcels given to Joseph's sons.
The only reference to a specific plot of land is found in Genesis 48.  Then Israel said to Joseph, "Behold, I am dying, but God will be with you and bring you back to the land of your fathers.  Moreover I have given to you one portion above your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and my bow." - Genesis 48:21,22

Shechem in the land given to Joseph
(6a) Now Jacob’s well was there.  Genesis 33 documents Jacob's purchase of this site from the city's namesake.  Then Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Padan Aram; and he pitched his tent before the city. And he bought the parcel of land, where he had pitched his tent, from the children of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. - Genesis 33:18,19

For more than two thousand years a particular well at the base of Mt. Gerizim has been identified as Jacob's Well.  The Church Father Jerome mentioned, in the fourth century, that a Christian church had been built over the site of the well.  This first church was destroyed by the sixth century, and a Byzantine style church was then built by Justinian to replace it.  The second church was also destroyed prior to the crusaders' occupation of Nablus in the eleventh and twelfth centuries.  In 1175 A.D. a crusader church was built over the well, which was destroyed only a decade later - most likely due to Saladin's campaign.

At the onset of the Zionist Movement, artist David Roberts visited the Holy Land and sketched the well with Mts. Gerizim and Ebal in the background.

Jacobs Well at Shechem April 17th 1839 - David Roberts
Jacob's Well c. 1900-1920 - View looking towards Mt. Gerazim - Library of Congress

Jacob's Well  Nablaus-Shechem c. 1900-1920 -- Library of Congress collection
Around the 1930's another Christian Church was built over Jacob's well, which is still in use today.

(6b) Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well.  It was about the sixth hour.  Jesus arrived at Sychar around noon.  Sychar was roughly 40 miles away from Aenon.  This distance indicates that Jesus would have reached Sychar on the second day of His journey if He had traveled at a brisk pace.  This conclusion is also in keeping with the premise that His presence was needed in the area of Galilee, warranting such urgency that He would travel through Samaria - rather than taking the Jew's preferred route along the Jordan River Valley.
John's Gospel primarily focuses on the deity of Christ.  But the fact that Jesus was wearied from the journey reminds us of the humanity of Christ.  As God incarnate, Jesus experienced the natural restrictions and limitations of the human body.  This exposure to the natural state was, no doubt, for our benefit; so that we might comprehend that when Jesus was scourged, beaten, disfigured, and crucified He felt every blow; that He felt every hair being ripped from His beard - every stripe from the whip, every blow with the rod, each nail in his hands and feet; and the sensation of being pulled apart on the cross, as David foretold in the 22nd Psalm.
I am poured out like water,
And all My bones are out of joint;
My heart is like wax;
It has melted within Me.
My strength is dried up like a potsherd,
And My tongue clings to My jaws;
You have brought Me to the dust of death. - Psalms 22:14,15
How else could we grasp that the horrible debt for all of our sins has been paid in full, unless the punishment that was due for the sins of man-kind was poured out on a kind-of-man?  Upon the God-man, Christ Jesus.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. - Hebrews 4:15

Sunday, December 21, 2014

John 4:1-4 He needed to go through Samaria

Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  But He needed to go through Samaria.

(1) Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John  We were told in the 25th and 26th verses of John Chapter Three that John's disciples were speaking with the Jews about purification.  At that time they announced to the Baptist, "Behold, He[Jesus] is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  We do not know whether Jesus learned this information from John, his disciples, or the Jews who had come to question John about his baptism.  But certainly Jesus may have been aware of their knowledge simply due to His omniscience as the Son of God who knows all things.

(2) (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples)   We are given no direct explanation as to why Jesus did not baptize, but it is supposed that He did not want to honor any individual by such an exclusive privilege, which might lead to the formation of an exalted and separate group.  The first-century church at Corinth exemplified this negative human potential which the Master wisely averted by His reservation from performing the baptisms Himself.
For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe's household, that there are contentions among you.  Now I say this, that each of you says, "I am of Paul," or "I am of Apollos," or "I am of Cephas," or "I am of Christ."  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?  I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name. - 1st Corinthians 1:11-15
(3) He left Judea and departed again to Galilee.  At the close of the previous chapter, John had recorded Jesus' location as the area of Aenon near Salim.  The most direct route back to the Sea of Galilee would have been to follow the Jordan River.  However, the fastest route to the area of Nazareth would have been to travel through the mountain pass to Shechem, and then to proceed along the eastern edge of the interior mountain ridge to Nazareth.
Aenon to Shechem - Base map from Moody Atlas of Bible Lands
(4) But He needed to go through Samaria.   Due to the traditional animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans, it is reasonable to conclude that Jesus needed to return to the proximity of His hometown; and, that timeliness was of some importance.  A basic knowledge of the history of Samaria is necessary to fully understand the narrative of the following verses.  The excerpt below will suffice.  Click the link for a broader discussion from the Pulpit Commentary.
[The antagonism commenced then was deepened into a deadly rivalry by the erection of a temple to Jehovah on Mount Gerizim ( B.C. 409), and by Manasseh, brother of the high priest of Judah, being driven from Jerusalem by his refusal to renounce Sanballat's daughter, and by his becoming high priest of the heretical temple. This temple on Gerizim, in close proximity with the site of Shechem, the abode of the first patriarchs, gave dignity and solidity to some of their traditions and claims; and the modifications they had introduced into the text of the Pentateuch in their celebrated version of it helped to aggravate the schism between the two peoples. The district of country was held during the quarrels of the Ptolemies and Seleucidae alternately by both. Samaritan hatred of the Jews led them to purchase peace during the cruel oppression of Judah under Antiochus Epiphanes, by dedicating their temple to Zeus (Josephus, 'Ant.,' 12:05, 5), and again by siding with the Syrians against the Maccabees. Their temple was destroyed by John Hyrcanus, B.C. 130, and its ruins only were visible in the time of Christ. The city of Sebaste was built by Herod, on the site of the city of Samaria, and Flavia Neapolis, now called Nablous, was erected on the site or close neighbourhood of the ancient Shechem. There were mutual recriminations between Jews and Samaritans, which led to strained relations and fierce condemnation, and yet, strange to say, the rabbis did not treat the land as "unclean" (Edersheim, 'Life of Jesus the Messiah,' bk. 3, 100, 7), and consequently the disciples were not precluded from purchasing articles of food from the Samaritan village. They were the "foolish people," "abhorred" of devout Jews (Ecclus. 50, 25, 26); and Rabbi Chuda treated them as heathens, yet Simon ben Gamaliel regarded them as Israelites, and the 'Mishnah' shows that in many of their customs they resembled the Jews.] - Pulpit Commentary

Monday, December 15, 2014

John 3:35,36 The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand

"The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
The main elements of these two verses find strong correlation to the declaration and instructions of the second Psalm.  Here the Son is presented as the heir of God; and the inhabitants of earth are cautioned to honor and trust in the Son so that they might not come under His wrath.
"I will declare the decree:
The Lord has said to Me,
"You are My Son,
Today I have begotten You.
Ask of Me, and I will give You
The nations for Your inheritance,
And the ends of the earth for Your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron;
You shall dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel.'"
Now therefore, be wise, O kings;
Be instructed, you judges of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear,
And rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest He be angry,
And you perish in the way,
When His wrath is kindled but a little.
Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. - Psalms 2:7-12
(35) The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.  The love of the Father for the Son was spoken from heaven in the words, "This is My Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased."  It should be noted that the Father has always loved the Son.  When the second Psalm speaks of "today" it refers to that day on which the Son was conceived by Mary so that He might enter the world.  But the Father and Son have existed forever.  The Son has always been the object of the Father's favor and affection; and the Son has always honored and pleased the Father.  Thus, even before the creation of heaven and earth, "God is love." - 1st John 4:8,16
The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus stepped into to our place and received the punishment for our sin upon the cross, so that we might enter into to the love of God, as His adopted children.  This is a great and glorious mystery - described briefly by the following verses: 
  •  As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. - John 15:9
  • Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! -1st John 3:1
  • Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.  O righteous Father! The world has not known You, but I have known You; and these have known that You sent Me.  And I have declared to them Your name, and will declare it, that the love with which You loved Me may be in them, and I in them.” - John 17:24-26
  • The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together. - Romans 8:16,17  But also note: Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. - Roman 8:9b
 (36a) He who believes in the Son has everlasting life   Eternal life is a blessing afforded by faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  God has chosen to exalt His Son, and to reward faith.  "He who" believes has everlasting life.  Everlasting life was lost because of sin.  Those who believe have been ransomed from death by the redemption of Christ's death on the cross. 
(36b) and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.  Those who do not believe have not availed themselves of Christ's ransom.  The ransom has, nevertheless, been provided.  He who does not believe has chosen to remain separated and un-reconciled to his Creator.  Failure to receive the love of God which He has manifested through the mission of His Son expresses a hostility in the heart by a desire to remain alienated from God.  Therefore, God's righteous judgment against sin is retained by the unbeliever.
God has chosen the way of salvation.  Man must obey the gospel to be saved.  Neither faith in some other savior, nor faith in one's own good deeds, nor faith in the wholesomeness of one's own nature can bring about the forgiveness of sins and the redemption of the soul.  Christ has been offered - and Christ must be received.  And so, faithful to the gospel, Christ's followers through the centuries continue to offer Christ to the world as the only hope for salvation.
Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.  For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. - 2nd Corinthians 5:18-21

Saturday, December 13, 2014

John 3:31-34 He who comes from above is above all

He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.  And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.  He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.

(31) He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all.  John makes a parallel between the higher spiritual plane from which Jesus entered this world and the right to supervise all lower realms.  The Son's ultimate authority over all created things was not forfeited by His incarnation.  On the other hand, those who have only existed in the material world possess no first hand experience of the things of the spirit, and are therefore unqualified to speak with certainty concerning anything beyond the physical world.

(32) And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony.   Jesus speaks what He knows.  Jesus' declarations concerning: Heaven and Hell, salvation and judgment, righteousness and sin, eternal life and eternal damnation; were not merely speculations which were fitted together to form a cohesive, but theoretical, religious system.  All that Jesus testified to was actually known and experienced by Him as the Son of the Eternal Godhead.  Thus, when He spoke of God He was describing Himself.  When He spoke of Heaven and Earth, He was describing His own creation.  And when He spoke of the principles of life, He was expounding upon principles of His own definition.

When John said that "no one receives His testimony" he was pointing out that none of the Jewish religious leaders had received the testimony of Jesus at the onset of His ministry.

(33) He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.  John, however, had received His testimony.  God's Word had prophesied that He would send His Christ.  So when John the Baptist testified that Jesus was the Christ, he was also certifying that God keeps His promises.  Only the true God is omniscient and outside of time - knowing the end from the beginning.
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel,
And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts:
"I am the First and I am the Last;
Besides Me there is no God.
And who can proclaim as I do?
Then let him declare it and set it in order for Me,
Since I appointed the ancient people.
And the things that are coming and shall come,
Let them show these to them.
Do not fear, nor be afraid;
Have I not told you from that time, and declared it?
You are My witnesses.
Is there a God besides Me?
Indeed there is no other Rock;
I know not one." - Isaiah 44:6-8

(34) For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure.  John reiterates that Christ speaks the words of God; and now insists that Jesus' knowledge is not a limited knowledge, but a full knowledge.  Furthermore, John accredits Christ's ability to speak on the Father's behalf to fullness of the Holy Spirit resting upon the Son.  Isaiah prophesied that the Spirit would be given to Christ without measure.
There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse,
And a Branch shall grow out of his roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him,
The Spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit of counsel and might,
The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord.
His delight is in the fear of the Lord,
And He shall not judge by the sight of His eyes,
Nor decide by the hearing of His ears;
But with righteousness He shall judge the poor,
And decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
He shall strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He shall slay the wicked.
Righteousness shall be the belt of His loins,
And faithfulness the belt of His waist. - Isaiah 11:1-5
Here we must contemplate the mystery of Jesus Christ as the God-man.  The Scriptures affirm that Jesus was both fully God, and fully man.  The incarnation of God was documented in John 1:14, and is also expressly stated in 1st Timothy 3:16, and in the Book of Colossians as "the fullness of the Godhead bodily."  Although the word "Trinity" is not used in the Bible, the Son was constantly in prayer with the Father, and constantly acting and speaking according to the Father's instructions.  On the other hand, the Son of Man was endued with, and empowered by, the Holy Spirit; which was represented by the dove at Jesus' baptism.  God's intent to represent Himself to mankind as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is manifested in the Old and New Testaments.
Another wonderful mystery should also be observed by John's statement that, "God does not give the Spirit by measure."  John might have said that "God did give"; or that "God does not give the Spirit to His Son by measure."  But John states, "God does not give;" making the statement general so as to be applicable to all instances in which God gives His Spirit.  The importance of this observation lies in the fact that God has sent His Holy Spirit to those who believe in Jesus.  Jesus said when "the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come."
Similarly, Jesus said "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." - Acts 1:8  Jesus also said; "Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father." - John 14:12  Jesus made it clear that the Holy Spirit would be sent to those who believed in Him after He had ascended to the Father.
Thus, the Holy Spirit has come to give the Christian knowledge of God's truth, boldness to be witnesses, and the power to work the kind of miracles which Jesus performed.  And the Holy Spirit is not given by measure - but in His fullness.  So what could cause the Christian to feel less than fully endued with knowledge, boldness, and power?  It is certainly not due to any limitation set by God.  The explanation is found in the example of Christ Himself.  He was, without controversy, fully endued with the Holy Spirit.  And yet, at one point in time His works were limited by the unbelief of the people.
Now it came to pass, when Jesus had finished these parables, that He departed from there.  When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, "Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works?  Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas?  And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?"  So they were offended at Him.  But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house."  Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief. - Matthew 13:53-58
We must conclude that any apparent limitation upon the Spirit's operation in the life of Jesus' followers does not proceed from God's restriction, but rather, from unbelief on the part of the believer.  "God does not give the Spirit by measure."  "The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak."  But the 'one-to-another' gifts of the Spirit have been given, and the ministers of Christ's Church have been appointed, so that the weak might be made strong, and ultimately emulate Christ in knowledge, boldness, and power.
And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. - Ephesians 4:11-13

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

John 3:26-30 He must increase but I must decrease

"And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified - behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"  John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'  He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  He must increase, but I must decrease."

Saint John the Baptist Sees Jesus from Afar - James Tissot
(26) And they came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, He who was with you beyond the Jordan, to whom you have testified - behold, He is baptizing, and all are coming to Him!"   As noted previously, the Jesus' disciples actually performed the baptisms rather than Jesus Himself.  But similarly to the preaching of John the Baptist, Jesus also included the call to repentance along with the declaration that the kingdom of God was at hand.  John's disciples observed that Jesus was drawing the crowds that formerly had come to be baptized by John.  His disciples expressed by their altruistic statement, "all are coming to Him," that something had gone wrong with John's ministry; and that by informing John of the situation he might be able to prevent his ministry from diminishing further.

(27) John answered and said, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven.  In the true wisdom which is displayed in humility John assured his disciples that the reduction of his ministry and the coinciding increase of Jesus' ministry was taking place according to the will of God.  John's effectiveness was not greater when all where coming to him to be baptized than it was when the people were drawn away to Jesus.  John knew that he was simply fulfilling his part in the introductory phase of Christ's coming.  John's calling was not a career which he had developed by his own achievement.  His baptismal ministry came by divine appointment.  It was the role which John had received from God.  And just as his ministry was received from God, God was responsible for its success and duration.
The Apostle Paul warns against the selfish sense of possessing one's own ministry.  Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively transferred to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that you may learn in us not to think beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up on behalf of one against the other.  For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? - 1st Corinthians 4:6,7

(28) You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ,' but, 'I have been sent before Him.'   By these two phrases John indicated to his disciples that the reason for Christ's increase should have been apparent because of the superiority of Christ.  No man could ever by striving become Christ.  Christ came from above and is holy, set apart and above all other men.  John was blessed to be Christ's forerunner.

(29) He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is fulfilled.  John referred to Jesus as the bridegroom, and the collective bride as those who were coming to Jesus (who would later become His Church).  John was the friend of the bridegroom who was pleased to see the anticipated union.  Paul also used the analogy of marriage in reference to Christ and His Church:  For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.  "For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. - Ephesians 5:30-32
John the Baptist testifies of Jesus
(30) He must increase, but I must decrease.  John is not stating an intention on his part to decrease so that Christ might increase.  He is stating as reality the fact that increase is an attribute of Christ and thus, Christ shall indeed increase.  Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. - Isaiah 9:7a
In the context of his disciples' observation, John was acknowledging the fact that his ministry, influence, and following were all designed by God to come to an end.  Once the way was prepared for the Lord there was no further need of preparation.  John had completed his calling by preparing the people to receive their Savior and King.
Not only did John prepare the way, he also introduced Israel to their Messiah.  John's mission would have been a failure if the people had not looked past the Baptist in order to behold the Christ.
Now consider for a moment that John's ministry was so effective with the people that the Jewish leaders were afraid to speak out against John.  It would have been easy for John to glory in the success of his own ministry instead of pointing the people to Jesus.  John's genuine willingness to yield to Christ is perhaps one of the greatest indications of how much this humble servant truly believed in his Savior.  You see; John wasn't just pointing the people to their Messiah, he was pointing the people to his own Messiah as well.  John wasn't called to build a great ministry, but to serve a great Master.
May we be like John the Baptist, who committed the ministry that was given to him by God, back to God; so that we might find our temporal loss to be eternal gain.  In the words of Paul, "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ.  Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ." - Philippians 3:7,8


Saturday, December 6, 2014

John 3:22-25 Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim

After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification."

Aenon near Salim
(22)  After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He remained with them and baptized.  Jerusalem, where Jesus was speaking to Nicodemus, was the last location we were given by John before Jesus came into the land of Judea.  However, since Jerusalem resides within Judea we can presume that Jesus had returned to the area of Galilee before traveling south again along the west bank of the Jordan into Judea.  John clarifies in Chapter Four that Jesus' disciples actually performed the baptisms, stating; "though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples."  We recall that Andrew and John were at first disciples of John the Baptist; and because Jesus had not yet been glorified and the Holy Spirit had not yet been sent, it is reasonable to conclude that the disciples were continuing to administer a baptism unto repentance.
Part of the Madaba Map showing Ænon
(23) Now John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there. And they came and were baptized.  Aenon near Salim is identified by the ancient Byzantine mosaic map on the west side of the Jordan - across the river from Bethabara.  The valley descending from Mt. Ebal toward the Jordan Valley contains a number of springs so that new rains would supply the west bank of the Jordan.  Whereas the same rains would need to replenish the lake before spilling out into the Jordan; therefore resulting in times when Aenon would contain more adequate water than the Jordan River itself.

(24)  For John had not yet been thrown into prison.  In the early days of Jesus' ministry, John the Baptist was still baptizing.  But by the time that Jesus' miracles had come to the attention of Herod, John had already been imprisoned and put to death. (Mark 6:14-16)

(25)  Then there arose a dispute between some of John’s disciples and the Jews about purification.  Baptism was a traditional ritual of purification long before the time John the Baptist's ministry of repentance.  A thorough discussion of water baptism's origins and significance can be found at the Jewish Encyclopedia website.  Presented below is an excerpt pertinent to our Bible text, including a the link to the webpage.  The page covers all aspects of the historic applications of water baptism and should be read in its entirety.
Excerpt: [According to rabbinical teachings, which dominated even during the existence of the Temple (Pes. viii. 8), Baptism, next to circumcision and sacrifice, was an absolutely necessary condition to be fulfilled by a proselyte to Judaism (Yeb. 46b, 47b; Ker. 9a; 'Ab. Zarah 57a; Shab. 135a; Yer. Kid. iii. 14, 64d). Circumcision, however, was much more important, and, like baptism, was called a "seal" (Schlatter, "Die Kirche Jerusalems," 1898, p. 70). But as circumcision was discarded by Christianity, and the sacrifices had ceased, Baptism remained the sole condition for initiation into religious life. The next ceremony, adopted shortly after the others, was the imposition of hands, which, it is known, was the usage of the Jews at the ordination of a rabbi. Anointing with oil, which at first also accompanied the act of Baptism, and was analogous to the anointment of priests among the Jews, was not a necessary condition.] - ref:
Because John's baptism was neither an initiation into Judaism nor into Christianity, it would have represented a type of purification.  By claiming to be Isaiah's "one crying in the wilderness" who would prepare the way for the Lord, the Baptist was effectively preparing the hearts of the people by the purification which comes through the repentance of sins.  The Jews who were discussing purification with John's disciples were likely trying to ascertain what was causing the people to go out to John rather than drawing closer to God at the temple, or through the disciplines of the Pharisees.  They wanted to understand the work that God was doing through John without participating themselves.  They were spectators and critics of John's baptism, but refused to repent and experience their own purification.  These disputers resemble those critics of Christianity who tinker from time to time with the identity and mission of Jesus, but who are not yet moved to repent and believe unto salvation.  As Paul wrote to Timothy, they are "always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." - 2 Timothy 3:7
Jordan River near Aenon
Naaman the leper was told by Elisha's servant, "Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean."  Naaman objected, "Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel?  Could I not wash in them and be clean?" - 2nd Kings 5
Archaeologists have uncovered many of the Jewish purification pools (Mikvahs) from the time of Christ.  These were strategically located so that rain water could run into them naturally, without being carried.  Like the uncut stones that God prescribed to be used in building the Jewish altars, the purification waters were to come straight from God without being tainted by the efforts of human hands.  But like the waters of the Jordan, the mikvah waters would not be considered to be clean water.  Because it was necessary to place the mikvahs in low places so that the waters could flow into them naturally, this also meant that the earth from the ground would end up trapped in these pools.
The purification performed by John the Baptist in the Jordan and the traditional purification of the Jews in their mikvahs did not accomplish their cleansing by the translucence of the water, but by the fact that the water was sanctified by God.  This observation provides a wonderful illustration of the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus.  The power of Christ's blood to wash away the stain of sin is not based on the opacity of the blood, but on its perfect holiness.
We read from the Book of Hebrews Chapter Fourteen; "according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission."  And comparing the Old Testament purification by blood to the new covenant in Christ's blood, the writer of Hebrews declares; "For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?"

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

John 3:19-21 But he who does the truth comes to the light

"And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."

(19)  "And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil."  In the previous verses Jesus explained that the sin-infected fallen descendants of Adam are bound to perish due to God's righteous judgment of sin; so that unless a person is redeemed from God's wrath by believing in Jesus, they remain under condemnation.  John has already stated in the final verses of Chapter Two that Jesus knows the hearts of men.  Therefore, in verses nineteen through twenty-one, Jesus reveals the true reason why some people might choose to perish.  Again we are reminded of God's words spoken through Isaiah:
"Come now, and let us reason together,"
Says the Lord,
"Though your sins are like scarlet,
They shall be as white as snow;
Though they are red like crimson,
They shall be as wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
You shall eat the good of the land;
But if you refuse and rebel,
You shall be devoured by the sword";
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. - Isaiah 1:18-20
The great love of Christ which compelled Him to offer Himself up as a sacrifice for our sins also compelled Him to plead with us through reason so that we would not be ignorant of our own self-destructive tendencies.
Just as Adam ran to hide himself and his sin from the sight of God, so fallen man also attempts to conceal his sin by abiding in the darkness.  Whereas, we should naturally be uncomfortable with darkness.  Children are instinctively afraid of the dark.  Darkness presents the dangers of disorientation and restricted vision, thus eliminating the effectiveness of one of our most important physical senses.  Darkness makes life hazardous, perilous, and frightening.  Nevertheless, the darkness appeals to those who have something to hide.
Compare Jesus, who is the light of this world and who did everything openly, with those who went out at night to arrest Him.  Then Jesus said to the chief priests, captains of the temple, and the elders who had come to Him, "Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs?  When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me.  But this is your hour, and the power of darkness." - Luke 22:52,53
(20)  "For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed."  The wording of this statement from the original Greek manuscripts is critical to understanding what verse twenty is saying, and what it is not saying.  The English translation presents the dilemma that; since all have sinned, and sinners hate and avoid the light; then logically no one will avail themselves of salvation.  But Jesus worded this statement with great precision.  The word used here for "evil" is "phaulos" (φαῦλος), which means worthless or bad.  This is not the same word "poneros" (πονηρὸς) used in verse nineteen, and which is generally used for wickedness and evil in New Testament.
Together with the word "practicing" we derive the meaning of "practicing evil" as a regular and habitual lifestyle of worthless behavior based on bad choices made with a heedless attitude.  It is the sinner's determination to continue to remain in the darkness and aloof from his Creator which breeds hatred for the light.  The "practicing" sinner does not wish to be bothered with the discomfort of dealing with sin.  Therefore he or she despises the light and refuses to come into the light.
What makes the difference between a lost sinner and a saved sinner?  It is the mysterious work of God in the heart that brings about the willingness and courage to repent and walk toward the light; then we - like Jonah - will forsake what is worthless to gain the mercies of God.
"When my soul fainted within me,
I remembered the Lord;
And my prayer went up to You,
Into Your holy temple.
Those who regard worthless idols
Forsake their own Mercy." - Jonah 2:7,8
(21)  "But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."  We "do the truth" when we stop protecting our sinful self from the blessed light of God's love, which He has manifested through the cross of Christ.  "Doing the truth" means being open and honest with God.  As David said in his psalm of repentance, "You desire truth in the inward parts."  Once we have come to the light through faith in Jesus, our deeds may be clearly seen without any apprehension, because they have been done according to God's will, under His authority, and by His power.
Psalms 51 provides a beautiful example of confession and repentance.  You may want to pray according to this psalm as you consider Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.  Christ's blood has purchased salvation for everyone who will repent and believe in Him.
Have mercy upon me, O God,
According to Your lovingkindness;
According to the multitude of Your tender mercies,
Blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
And cleanse me from my sin.
For I acknowledge my transgressions,
And my sin is always before me.
Against You, You only, have I sinned,
And done this evil in Your sight -
That You may be found just when You speak.
And blameless when You judge.
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity,
And in sin my mother conceived me.
Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts,
And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Make me hear joy and gladness,
That the bones You have broken may rejoice.
Hide Your face from my sins,
And blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from Your presence,
And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of Your salvation,
And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors Your ways,
And sinners shall be converted to You.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
The God of my salvation,
And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.
For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it;
You do not delight in burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit,
A broken and a contrite heart—
These, O God, You will not despise. - Psalms 51:1-17