In today’s Bible reading, we read about Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at a well. It was an abnormal meeting because Jews never went through Samaria and women generally didn’t draw water from wells in the middle of the day. But here they are: a young rabbi and a woman with a troubled past. And they’re talking about God.
After telling her that He is the source of living water and that some day both the Samaritans and Jews will worship the Father together in Spirit and in Truth, she runs off to tell her friends and family about a man who knew everything about her. (John 4:29)
Next, the Disciples engage Jesus about his lunch plans. He dodges their questions and tells them to look up; the fields are ready for the harvest. John tells us that many Samaritans believed Jesus because of the woman’s testimony about Him. Still others believe, not just because of her testimony, but because they experience Him for themselves.
So what did Jesus mean by “the fields are ready for harvest”?
Jesus had “primed the pump” so to speak with the woman and the Samaritan people came, interested to find out more. Meanwhile, God was priming the pump of the people’s hearts, making them ready to hear what Jesus would say to them.
We think the people came, seeking Jesus, when in reality, God was already seeking them! (John 4:23) Now, after heartily endorsing the Christian Standard Bible’s treatment of John 3:16 in yesterday’s devotional, I need to point out that the CSB’s weakness on John 4:23 (CSB). It isn’t that the Father wants (CSB) people to worship Him. It’s that the Father seeks (ESV) people to worship Him. We’ll read in 6:44 that unless the Father draws someone, they won’t seek on their own. Paul confirms this in Romans 3:11 as he quotes Psalm 14:1-3.
Our efforts to tell people about Jesus will be completely ineffective if we haven’t bathed those efforts in prayer. If God hasn’t prepared their hearts, they simply won’t hear the Gospel message. And I think that partially explains why there are so many false conversions: people are pressed to make a decision for Jesus when their hearts aren’t in it. They politely pray a prayer and are told that they are forever saved and eternally secure. In many cases, nothing could be further from the truth.
The best witnesses are those who simply tell their experience with Jesus and invite others to know Him, too.
That was true two thousand years ago. And it’s true now. You don’t have to burden yourself learning lots of apologetics arguments. They may help, but unless God has prepared their hearts, no argument under heaven will save them.
Talking about God with people must be preceded by prayer, bathed in prayer, and supported by prayer. There simply is no substitute for prayer in evangelism. And that’s something that any Believer can do!
Pray that God would give you boldness. Pray that God would give you the right words to say. Pray that God would prepare their hearts to receive the Gospel message. And pray that the Gospel message lands on “good soil” (Matthew 13:23)
Today’s Bible reading includes one of the most memorized verses in the Bible. It’s a verse that so many people have loved and quoted. And it’s a verse that was only recently translated into English the way it was intended. WHAT????
Now, before I go any further, hear me out: I believe that God’s people can hear God’s voice in any translation of the Bible they can read or hear. I also believe that Believers should use translations that most closely uses words the way we do in common, everyday life. Language changes. Word usage changes. When God spoke and men wrote the Bible, they recorded it in the common, everyday language. The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew and Aramaic. The New Testament was originally written in Koine (pronounced KOY-nay) Greek. In other words, God wanted ordinary people to be albe to hear Him in their common, everyday language. For this reason, I discourage using translations from several hundred years ago and recommend using translations from the past 50 years. The more recent, generally speaking, the better.
Most of us memorized the verse from the King James Version. The KJV was translated in 1611 so that the people of the day could understand it in their common, everyday language. The KJV translators recognized that as language changes, translations would need to be updated. As modern translators came to the famous verse, they mainly kept the wording the same, and updated “whosoever” to “whoever”, “believeth” to “believe”, and “everlasting” to “eternal”.
I have heard preachers say that the verse says, “God loved the world SO MUCH….” The implication — and many preachers have spelled it out in so many words — is that the world was worth so much, that God sent Jesus. But that isn’t what Jesus said!
I feel that the Christian Standard Bible brings out the best meaning with its translation. And it’s the first translation to translate it, “For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16 (CSB) The Greek word translated in the CSB as in this way could also be translated thus/thusly or therefore. But in this way sounds better to our 21st Century ears than thus or thusly.
Jesus didn’t say that “God loved the world SO MUCH that He sent His Son.” Instead, Jesus said, “God loved the world by sending His Son.” It seems such a small difference, right? Paul said it this way, “But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:8 (CSB)
No, Jesus doesn’t say that the world was worth SO MUCH that His Father sent His Son. Rather, He says that our sin was SO GREAT because it was against a GREAT GOD that it took Jesus’ death to appease the Father’s wrath. The difference between those two statements is staggering. One statement places the higher value on the world. The other statement places the higher value on God.
Too often, we’ve misplaced the emphasis of the Gospel on mankind. But mankind isn’t the central focus of the Gospel. God is! And unless we see God is the center of the Gospel, we won’t see the enormity of the bad news for lost people in light of their sin against a Holy God.
And thus, we’ll miss the corresponding enormity of the Good News that the Gospel brings.
Do you have a modern Bible? Can you understand it as easily as you do a newspaper, magazine, or book? In other words, was it translated in your lifetime? If not, there are lots of resources on the Internet that will let you read the Bible in lots of different translations. Normally, I recommend the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) and the English Standard Version (ESV). Check out Bible.com for a free downloadable Bible app (iOS, Android, etc.) that includes lots of English translations.
In today’s Bible reading, John tells us about Jesus’ first miracle. Jesus and His disciples have been invited to attend a multi-day wedding (as was common). Mary, Jesus’ mother tells Him that they ran out of wine. She doesn’t tell Him what to do. John doesn’t tell us what she expected Jesus to do. Jesus responds that this shouldn’t concern Him. He isn’t the groom. It isn’t His party. Today, He might respond, “Not my circus. Not my monkeys!”
Mary tells the servants to do whatever Jesus tells them to do. Jesus doesn’t “do” anything. He doesn’t say anything except to dip water out of the jars and take it to the master of the feast. The master of the feast calls aside the bridegroom and asks why the best wine wasn’t used first. John highlights the fact that the better wine is normally served first and then the cheaper wine is served later. But in this case, Jesus has turned water into the better wine.
Just this past Sunday, I preached on the Parable of the New Wine needs New Wineskins and I included a reference to today’s chapter. I pointed out the fact that until Louis Pasteur discovered Pasteurization in the 1800s, all grape juice was alcoholic. You couldn’t pick up a bottle of Welch’s Grape Juice at the grocery store because they didn’t have a way to keep the juice from fermenting. The implication is clear: Jesus didn’t turn water into juice. He turned water into the “good stuff”. And note: Each of the six jars contained 20-30 gallons of water. That’s 120-180 gallons of good wine!
Why would I highlight this today? Look at the context: Jesus is celebrating marriage with His family and friends. A need arises. And Jesus supplies above and beyond the need.
Just like He always does!
We begin reading John’s Gospel in today’s Bible reading. The beginning of John reads like the beginning of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” John says, “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God … The word became flesh and dwelt among us. (John 1:1, 14)
Think about that for a second: The word was God. The word became flesh and dwelt among us. God became flesh. John says, “God lived among us in the flesh.” “God walked with us.”
John makes no apologies. He doesn’t brag. But he just puts it out there: God walked with us.
That is a tremendous truth claim. No other religion dares to make such a claim. None. And it either happened, or it didn’t.
If it’s true that God — the Creator of the universe, the Creator of all that is — showed up on a planet He created — this planet — and walked around among His creation, that’s a pretty big deal. And like I said, no other religion has dared to make such a claim. All the others — Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Shintoism, Hinduism — have important teachings, but none features a teacher who makes the kinds of claims that Jesus or His followers made.
What kind of God would visit His creation? What does it say about a God Who would visit His creation? What are some of the repercussions of a creation-visiting God? What difference would it make on your life if it’s true?
(Pssst… it IS TRUE!)
Peter closes his first letter in today’s Bible reading. He reminds the elders how they should lead their churches: with humility.
Humility goes a long way in leading people! Humility recognizes accountability to someone else.
In any organization, everyone is accountable to someone else. Unless you’re working for yourself, someone else has the ability to terminate your employment. And even then, if you’re working for yourself, you’re selling some kind of product or service, so you are accountable to your customers. The CEO/Chairman of the Board is accountable to the Board of Directors. The Board of Directors is accountable to the stockholders. Everyone is accountable to someone else.
It’s true in a church as well. Everyone is accountable to someone else. Everyone needs to clothe himself/herself in humility. What does that look like? It looks like living the Golden Rule with those under your care. It looks like recognizing my place and recognizing that for everything I do and say, I will give an account before God Himself. And that’s a heavy thought!
That’s what Peter was trying to convey to his elders in 1 Peter 5:1-5, with verse 5 echoing Paul’s instruction in Ephesians 5:21.
submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.
Ephesians 5:21 (CSB)
John Donne famously said, “No man is an island.” Each of us is connected to all the others. If Peter were a Southerner, his command, verse 5 would sound something like, “Now all y’all need to look after each other! Don’t be all uppity. God’s watchin’ you.”
Everyone is accountable to someone else. If you’ve been given authority over someone, always remember that you’re accountable to someone else for how you lead those in your care. This applies to church elders. It also applies to parenting and employment situations as well as others.
To whom are you accountable? Live the Golden Rule with those under your care.