It was pretty cool for John the Baptist’s disciples when Jesus showed up and publicly confirmed that their leader was a legitimate prophet of Yahweh. After all, when a guy keeps saying the Messiah is on His way, you want to see that Messiah actually show up. Now He has. And now He’s off in another part of the neighborhood doing what John is famous for: baptizing people. Hm. And He’s drawing bigger crowds. Hm. And He does impressive miracles. Hm. It doesn’t take much wisdom to see where this is going: John’s glory days are over. He’s going to start fading out like a dying flame while this Jesus Guy takes over. John’s loyal disciples don’t know if they like the way things are turning out. They warn John about his Cousin’s growing popularity, expecting John to be upset. His answer surprises them:
“You yourselves know how plainly I told you, ‘I am not the Messiah. I am only here to prepare the way for Him.’ It is the bridegroom who marries the bride, and the best man is simply glad to stand with him and hear his vows. Therefore, I am filled with joy at His success. He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.
Jesus has come from Above and is greater than anyone else. We are of the earth, and we speak of earthly things, but Jesus has come from heaven and is greater than anyone else. He testifies about what He has seen and heard, but how few believe what He tells them! Anyone who accepts Jesus’ testimony can affirm that Yahweh is true, for Jesus is sent by Yahweh. He speaks Yahweh’s words, for Yahweh gives Jesus the Spirit without limit. The Father loves His Son and has put everything into His hands. And anyone who believes in Yahweh’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under Yahweh’s angry judgment.” (Jn. 3:28-36)
Here John confirms that Jesus is God and that He has Yahweh’s full affirmation and support. Not only that, but he says Jesus is now some new requirement for salvation—you have to believe that everything He says is true before Yahweh will accept you. Jesus said the same thing to Nicodemus in our last lesson. But this is all very shocking for Old Covenant Jews. Since when does Yahweh up and change His rules for salvation? Good Jews already know how to get saved—pay attention to the Laws Yahweh laid down in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible). So now they’re supposed to believe this Man is making revisions to what the Almighty Yahweh has said? That’s more than a little hard to swallow.
Imagine if some average looking guy came up to you in the grocery store and said, “I know you’re a Christian who really cares about pleasing God, which is why I’m giving you a personal heads up. I’m your God as well. Yep, I’m Jesus’ twin brother. If you don’t believe I am who I say I am, then Jesus is going to revoke your salvation and throw you into Hell. What’s that? You thought your salvation was eternal? Yeah, I know, but God’s changed up the rules again. We’re moving on to a third Covenant now which I’ve come down to earth to introduce. According to the terms of this third Covenant, I’m your new Savior. You have to worship me as a fourth God, or Yahweh, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will all consider you to be Their enemy.”
How comfortable would you feel with this little grenade? Not comfortable at all. To really understand Jesus, we have to understand what an incredibly shocking figure He was. His claims sounded like outrageous blasphemy in the ears of serious Jews. How arrogant do you have to be to claim to be Yahweh’s equal? And no, You didn’t troop on down here from Heaven—You had a perfectly normal birth in some dumpy house in Bethlehem back during the census. Okay, so You do some miracles—so what? The prophet Elisha raised people from the dead and Elijah called fire down from Heaven. Don’t think You can con us into worshiping You just because You pulled off a few signs and wonders. Yahweh’s very first command to us was not to worship any other God but Him, and now You expect us to believe that Yahweh is smiling on You claiming to be His Son? Yeah right!
Now if Jesus had just materialized in the form of a grown man, it would have helped His story. But He didn’t. There are people who remember seeing young Jesus toddling around in a diaper. There are people who remember Him horsing around with other young boys in the street. Your GOD is not supposed to be some kid that you grew up with. It all sounds so ludicrous, as does the story that some Voice called down from Heaven affirming Jesus after His baptism. Yeah right. Clearly John the Baptist’s disciples had had a few too many when they came up with that story. Oh, but Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding. Right. If you weren’t there, you wouldn’t believe it. Even if you were there, you wouldn’t believe it. It’s just too easy to see Jesus as some pompous showoff who is trying to make a name for Himself. His cousin might think Jesus is all that, but folks like the Pharisees and Sadducees aren’t about to believe such a tall tale. When the Pharisees hear that Jesus is starting to make more disciples than John the Baptist, they’re angry. When news gets back to Jesus that the Pharisees are tracking His popularity, He suddenly leaves town. Hm.
JOHN IS ARRESTED
Now right about this time, John the Baptist goes and chews Herod Antipas out for marrying his brother’s wife and doing a bunch of other immoral deeds. We learned about Herod back in Lesson 45. Herod doesn’t like some weirdo in a camel hair tunic embarrassing him in public, so he has John thrown into prison. Well this is a very shocking turn of events for both John and his disciples. John is very upset. But perhaps Jesus will come to his aid? Not hardly. After all the promoting John has done for Jesus, his Cousin rewards him by skipping town the minute He hears John has been arrested. Gee…thanks.
THE SAMARITAN WOMAN
At this point Jesus is on His way from Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. The problem is that to get from one to the other, He and His disciples will have to pass through the region of Samaria.
Samaria is the home of the Samaritans—icky foreigners who the Jews find special delight in despising. Every country has their share of shameful history, and the United States is infamous for its segregation of blacks and whites in the southeastern states. Back when segregation was considered all the rage, blacks were treated like lesser humans simply because of the color of their skin. The whites built separate facilities for blacks—drinking fountains, bathrooms, etc.—so that they wouldn’t have to associate themselves with those icky black humans. Stupid? Utterly. And as much as Americans would like to believe they’re past such moronic behavior, we’re not. We still wrestle with racism, and in the Bible, racism abounds. The Jews in New Testament times were raised to be proud little bigots who felt it was their God ordained right to treat non-Jews like inferior lifeforms. Especially those icky Samaritans. Jews wanted NOTHING to do with Samaritans—no touching, no talking, no sharing of public facilities. Well, it’s easy to wallow in bigotry when you’re at home, but when you have to pass through your enemy’s territory in order to get home things get trickier. Walking was the common means of travel for regular folks in these times, and walking takes time. When you’re on long journeys, you run out of supplies and you have to refuel. Sometimes you find yourself stuck in the middle of Samaritan country needing to buy bread from local merchants. Then what? They hate you just as much as you hate them, but they’ll still do business with you because they want your money. But we can just imagine how many nasty looks are exchanged and how much the Jews are trying not to touch skin with these inferior Gentiles as money changes hands. How awkward.
Now it’s been a long walk and Jesus is tired. So tired that His disciples are concerned. They insist that He rest by a well while they go on into the town to try and buy some food from the icky Samaritans. Now while Jesus is sitting there a Samaritan woman walks up to the well to get some water. One glance at Jesus tells her He’s a Jew, which means He’ll want nothing to do with her. Plus He’s a man, and in this culture, men were taught to feel superior to women. Well, how unpleasant that this Jewish man has to park Himself right by her well. And yet much to her surprise, the Jew says to her:
“Please give Me a drink.”
The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are You asking me for a drink?”
Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and Who you are speaking to, you would ask Me, and I would give you living water.”
“But Sir, You don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would You get this living water? And besides, do You think You’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?” (Jn. 4:7, 9-12)
People in the Bible are really hung up on ancestry. Jacob was a conniving twerp—why would anyone want to brag about their association with him? This woman clearly does. And since she’s expecting Jesus to be insulting, she is listening for insults and imagining that He’s suggesting her town’s water is inferior in some way.
Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (Jn. 4:13-14)
Now the woman’s attitude suddenly changes and she becomes very interested in what Jesus has to say.
“Please, Sir,” the woman said, “give me this water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to get water.”
“Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her.
“I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied.
Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” (Jn. 4:15-18)
Jesus is flashing credentials here—demonstrating His special knowledge as God. The woman is properly impressed and now she starts talking to Him like a spiritual guide.
“Sir,” the woman said, “You must be a prophet. So tell me, why is it that You Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?” (Jn. 4:19-20)
It turns out this woman is a sincere Yahweh follower. Her personal life is a mess, but she is seeking God in her heart and she knows about His prophecies of a coming Messiah.
Jesus replied, “Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem. You Samaritans know very little about the One you worship, while we Jews know all about Him, for salvation comes through the Jews. But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship Him that way. For God is Spirit, so those who worship Him must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Jn. 4:21-24)
What does it mean to worship God in spirit and in truth? It means worshiping Him sincerely. Instead of just going through ritualistic behaviors, God wants you to worship Him with your soul. Attending church, closing your eyes and clasping your hands when you pray, lifting your hands up when you sing—none of these things mean anything if your soul isn’t involved in what you’re doing. Are you being truthful and sincere about your worship or are you just putting on some meaningless, hypocritical act? Like Christians today, the Jews had a whole bunch of religious rituals worked out for themselves and it was so easy for those rituals to become meaningless, routine habits. But we get the feeling that this Samaritan woman isn’t just handing God a bunch of empty gestures because she now reveals that she’s earnestly waiting for Yahweh’s Messiah to come and provide answers to her theological questions.
The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the One who is called Christ. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!” (Jn. 4:25-26)
Imagine the shock of Jesus’ disciples when they return from hassling with Samaritan merchants to find Jesus talking to some random woman. Great. Leave Jesus alone for five minutes and He has to start stirring up trouble. The last thing the disciples want is to draw a bunch of attention to themselves in the middle of Samaritan territory.
Just then His disciples came back. They were shocked to find Him talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do You want with her?” or “Why are You talking to her?” The woman left her water jar beside the well and ran back to the village, telling everyone, “Come and see a Man who told me everything I ever did! Could He possibly be the Messiah?” So the people came streaming from the village to see Him. (Jn. 4:27-30)
This is a very revealing passage. Notice how Jesus’ disciples are shocked, yet no one dares to complain. Why not? No doubt because they don’t want Jesus to chew them out in public. From what we’ve observed of Jesus so far, He’s not the sort of Guy you want to criticize because He’ll come right back at you with some zinger that will leave you feeling all flushed faced and embarrassed. By now Jesus’ disciples have already figured out that He has supernatural insight into the minds and hearts of others. Talk about an unfair advantage in a fight. So they just zip it and wait for the woman to leave so they can eat in peace. But the woman goes running off to her village and brings a whole mob of icky foreigners out to crowd around them. Double yuck. Jews don’t want to get trapped in a crowd of unclean Gentiles who they’re not supposed to touch. Why does Jesus always have to make things complicated? Why can’t they just eat in peace for five minutes? Maybe if they act fast, they can finish their food before that loudmouthed woman comes back with her friends.
Meanwhile, the disciples were urging Jesus, “Rabbi, eat something.”
But Jesus replied, “I have a kind of food you know nothing about.”
“Did someone bring Him food while we were gone?” the disciples asked each other. (Jn. 4:31-33)
How can Jesus possibly have food? Has He been sneaking something in His tunic? Has He been miraculously changing dirt into bread while they’ve been hassling with Samaritans in the city? Is He going to share His private stash with them after all the trouble they’ve gone through?
Then Jesus explained: “My nourishment comes from doing the will of Yahweh, Who sent Me, and from finishing His work. You know the saying, ‘Four months between planting and harvest.’ But I say, wake up and look around. The fields are already ripe for harvest. The harvesters are paid good wages, and the fruit they harvest is people brought to eternal life. What joy awaits both the planter and the harvester alike! You know the saying, ‘One plants and another harvests.’ And it’s true. I sent you to harvest where you didn’t plant; others had already done the work, and now you will get to gather the harvest.” (Jn. 4:34-38)
So…what in the world is Jesus talking about? Everyone’s hungry, hot, and tired and He picks now for a sermon on harvesting? And what’s with this guff about the disciples getting to harvest where they didn’t plant? That sounds rather insulting. Who is it that’s been dickering with snooty Samaritans while Jesus has been resting Himself by the well? But now it sounds like He’s taking the credit for the food…He is talking about the food, isn’t He? Does anyone ever know what Jesus is talking about? It’s like the Man lives on another mental planet. Oh, good, here comes half the Samaritan village running towards them. So much for taking five. Oh good, now they’re begging Jesus to stay…and He’s saying yes?? Two whole days in Samaritan hell? The disciples are hating life.
THE OFFICIAL’S SON
After two eternal days in Samaria, Jesus finally goes on to Galilee. At last, the disciples are back among their fellow Jews. Plus now they’re in Cana—the city where Jesus turned water into wine. He’s a hero here, and it’s a nice change.
Jesus isn’t in Cana long when an official of the city comes to see Him. The man has a son on the brink of death and he asks Jesus to heal the boy. Tired of being treated like a miracle machine, Jesus is less than pleased with the request.
Jesus asked, “Will you never believe in Me unless you see miraculous signs and wonders?”
The official pleaded, “Lord, please come now before my little boy dies.”
Then Jesus told him, “Go back home. Your son will live!” And the man believed what Jesus said and started home.
While the man was on his way, some of his servants met him with the news that his son was alive and well. He asked them when the boy had begun to get better, and they replied, “Yesterday afternoon at one o’clock his fever suddenly disappeared!” Then the father realized that that was the very time Jesus had told him, “Your son will live.” And he and his entire household believed in Jesus. This was the second miraculous sign Jesus did in Galilee after coming from Judea. (Jn. 4:48-54)
BACK IN NAZARETH
The time has come to face the hometown. This will be interesting. Jesus hasn’t been home in a while and rumors of His wild adventures have reached the town ahead of Him. These people are the ones who watched Him grow up from a boy to a man. How are they reacting to His claims to be Yahweh’s Messiah, or has that particular rumor reached them yet?
When He came to the village of Nazareth, His boyhood home, He went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to Him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:
“The Spirit of Yahweh is upon Me, for He has anointed Me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of Yahweh’s favor has come.” [Isa. 61:1-2]
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at Him intently. Then He began to speak to them saying, “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!” (Lk. 4:16-21)
Subtlety just isn’t Jesus’ style. By selecting a well-known Messianic passage to read, then proclaiming to be the fulfillment of it, He’s just claimed to be Yahweh’s Messiah. That’s a pretty daring claim from the kid who used to work in his dad’s carpenter shop. Jesus is coming on a little strong. But rumors are circulating that He just healed a man’s boy from a fatal illness, so the people decide to go the route of schmoozing. Out come the gushing compliments while under their breath everyone’s wondering if this can really be true. The long awaited Messiah was supposed to be some grand, regal figure—not just some son of a carpenter.
Everyone spoke well of Him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from His lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?” (Lk. 4:22)
Now just when things seem to be going smoothly, Jesus suddenly turns on the hostility and snaps:
“You will undoubtedly quote Me this proverb: ‘Physician, heal yourself’—meaning, ‘Do miracles here in Your hometown like those You did in Capernaum.’ But I tell you the truth, no prophet is accepted in his own hometown.
Certainly there were many needy widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the heavens were closed for three and a half years, and a severe famine devastated the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them. He was sent instead to a foreigner—a widow of Zarephath in the land of Sidon. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, but the only one healed was Naaman, a Syrian.” (Lk. 4:23-27)
Wow! You have to be a zealous Jew to feel how hard Jesus has just slapped these people across the face. Did anyone even ask Him to perform a miracle? No, but He knew it was coming, so He strikes first. He’s not going to do any miracles here. Why? Because He thinks they’re all a bunch of twerps. Even though with their lips these people are all gushing compliments over Jesus, He fires back an accusation that they are rejecting Him. His behavior seems very nonsensical until we remember that as God, Jesus can see into all of their hearts. He clearly doesn’t like what He sees. So much so that He goes on to point out a very nasty fact from the Old Testament.
Elijah is one of Israel’s most famous and revered prophets. Yet what the Jews choose to ignore is the fact that Yahweh sent Elijah to minister to non-Jewish foreigners instead of to Israelites. Why? Because in Elijah’s day, Israel was wallowing in idol worship—particularly the worship of Baal. Because Yahweh’s chosen people were so steeped in willful rebellion, Yahweh sent the Jewish Elijah outside of her borders to be a blessing to foreigners instead.
Elisha is also high on the list of Israel’s greatest heroes. Elisha did many amazing miracles (see Lesson 17). One of his most famous was healing a man from leprosy. Leprosy was a skin disease which ruined your life and caused you to be cut off from normal society. It was an active disease in Israel from the very beginning. To have God heal you from leprosy was an incredible blessing. Yet here Jesus points out Yahweh steered His prophet Elisha away from suffering Israelites and directed him to help a foreign leper instead. In other words, Yahweh intentionally withheld help from the Jews because they had rejected Him in their hearts. Standing here in His hometown of Nazareth, Jesus likens Himself to Elijah and Elisha and tells His neighbors to expect similar treatment. Yes, Jesus is the great Messiah which the Jews have been waiting for—but He plans to be helping anyone but them.
When they heard this, the people in the synagogue were furious. Jumping up, they mobbed Him and forced Him to the edge of the hill on which the town was built. They intended to push Him over the cliff, but He passed right through the crowd and went on His way. (Lk. 4:28-30)
Notice the instant transition from schmoozing to murderous hate. Jesus’ assessment of these people’s true motivations was dead on. They were only buttering Him up to try and pump some miracles out of Him. As soon as He started taking potshots at Israel, they were all too happy to drive Him over a cliff. But no, Jesus has already decided that He’s going out via crucifixion, not a deadly plummet. So He does His God thing and slips right through them.
We don’t know where Jesus’ disciples are at this point. What do you do when your Leader is getting mobbed by His own neighbors? Do you hide in the synagogue and hope He doesn’t notice you ditching Him? Do you sneak out the back door and decide to check up on Him later? Do you crowd around Him like bodyguards and risk getting killed yourself? We don’t know what the disciples decided to do, but we don’t hear about them slipping through the crowd. It sounds like they managed to be conveniently absent at that particular moment.
JAMES & JOHN
Now that Jesus and the people of Nazareth have aired their mutual feelings of hostility, He needs a new home base. The northern city of Capernaum sounds good—it’s a ways away and right near the Sea of Galilee. Now as Jesus is strolling along the seashore one day, He spots the brothers Peter and Andrew doing their fishermen thing. At some point, these two must have parted company with Jesus to go get some fishing in. A man needs money to eat. But when Jesus shows up on the shore calling them to follow Him, they drop the nets and catch up to Him. Strolling along, Jesus then comes upon a father and his two sons who are mending their fishing nets. This is a family of fishermen and the brothers’ names are James and John. When Jesus calls out to them to come follow Him, James and John immediately leave their father in the lurch to go after Jesus. We have to wonder how old Zebedee felt about that.
Now it’s back to Capernaum for Sabbath and Jesus heads off to one of the local community centers where only Jewish men were invited to gather together for a kind of church service. By now alpha Jesus is in a habit of leading these meetings, and He takes over this one as well, wowing everyone with His sermon. Jesus doesn’t tell you what He thinks, He tells you the way it is. He preaches with the Authority of God—quite a change from the regular scribes who just sit around regurgitating other people’s opinions. But as the sermon goes on, some rude fellow in the crowd starts making an agitated ruckus. It turns out he’s demon possessed and his demon isn’t loving being in the Presence of God.
Suddenly, a man in the synagogue who was possessed by an evil spirit began shouting, “Why are You interfering with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are—the Holy One of God!”
Jesus cut him short. “Be quiet! Come out of the man,” He ordered. At that, the evil spirit screamed, threw the man into a convulsion, and then came out of him.
Amazement gripped the audience, and they began to discuss what had happened. “What sort of new teaching is this?” they asked excitedly. “It has such authority! Even evil spirits obey His orders!” The news about Jesus spread quickly throughout the entire region of Galilee. (Mk. 1:23-28)
The folks in Capernaum sound a lot more receptive than the folks back in Nazareth…but are they really? Don’t get your hopes up yet.
Word spreads fast about the new dynamo Preacher who does miracles and drives demons out of people with a single command. But as exciting as it is to watch Jesus in action, Peter is distracted by worries at home. His mother-in-law is very ill and, well, Peter is really hoping that Jesus would be willing to heal her. But Jesus has proven that He can get pretty touchy about the whole miracle subject, so will He flip out and start railing about Old Testament prophets if Peter asks Him for help? We’ll find out in our next lesson.
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