The Bread of Life

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As John 6 opens, we find Jesus being followed by crowds of people who had seen his miracles and wanted to see more.  As they gathered around Him as He and His disciples sat in the hills, Jesus asked Phillip how they could feed the crowd.  Seeing only the impossibility of the situation, Phillip responds that it would cost a fortune to feed so many people.  Andrew points out a young boy with five loaves and two fish, but even he doesn’t seem to expect the miracle that Jesus performs.  Jesus takes the loaves and fish, gives thanks to God for it and passes it out to the people, feeding everyone and leaving twelve baskets full of leftovers after everyone had eaten their fill.  The people, seeing this, exclaim that Jesus must be the Prophet for whom they had waited, but they still don’t understand who Jesus is.  The people want to make Him their king when He offers to be their Savior.

The crowds continue to seek Him the next day, and eventually they catch up to where Jesus is teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.  Jesus knows that they are following Him only because they saw His miracle of the feeding of the 5,000 the previous day.  In verses 26 and 27, He says to them:

26 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. 27 But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of Man[a] can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

The people have been seeking miracles instead of seeking the miracle Maker.  They seem to view Jesus as some sort of reality TV show; they want to see His next “trick” and find out how it will be of benefit to them.  Jesus seems to be of great entertainment value to the people.

However, the people do ask Jesus what God wants them to do.  Jesus tells them that God wants them to believe in the one He has sent (verse 29).  The people then apparently suffer a memory lapse, because they tell Jesus that He must perform a miraculous sign for them to believe in Him — as if they hadn’t just seen and benefited from his miraculous feeding the day before!   Jesus explains that they are now being offered the true bread from heaven, and the people say that this is what they want.  At that time, Jesus replies, “I am the bread of life.”  He goes on to explain that anyone who eats of this bread has eternal life and that His flesh is the bread and His blood is the drink.  The people do not understand this concept at all, and they murmur among themselves about what He could mean.  In fact, even His disciples could not all accept this difficult teaching and many abandoned Him that day.  Jesus turns to the Twelve and asks them if they are going to leave Him, too.  The beautiful response comes in verses 68-69:

68 Simon Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. 69 We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.[a]

Aren’t we often like the people in this chapter, seeking the miracle instead of the miracle Maker?  Oh, that we would seek after Him above all else!  Even when we try to follow Him, don’t we sometimes find His words to be hard to understand and difficult to follow?  Take heart!  As James tells us, all we have to do is ask for wisdom and He will gladly give it to us (James 1:5).    Such wisdom will help us understand what God wants us to do, and He will, by His Holy Spirit working within us, give us everything we need in order to follow Him.  Now that is good news indeed.

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“Would You Like to Get Well?”

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John 5 is a chapter in which there are many interesting contrasts. One of the most interesting contrasts is that of people’s reactions to the offering of two different miracles.  One man receives his miracle and the other group of people refuse theirs.  Let’s take a look at what happens.

The chapter opens with Jesus returning to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish holy days.  He passes the pool of Bethesda where there were five porches filled with people who were sick, lame or blind – people hoping for a miraculous healing if they could be the first to get into the pool of Bethesda when the waters were stirred by the angel of the Lord.  There Jesus encounters a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years.  Jesus  asks him, “Would you like to get well?”  The man replies that he can’t because he has nobody to help him get into the pool and someone always beats him to it.  Jesus then commands him, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk!”  The man is instantly cured and begins to walk!

Let’s think about this man for a minute before we move on to what happens next.  This man has been lame for thirty-eight years.  Thirty-eight years of not being in the workforce and able to support himself.  Thirty-eight years of limited social involvement.  Thirty-eight years of being abandoned by friends and family.  Thirty-eight years of watching the waters, of waiting for them to be stirred, and of trying to get into the pool first. That’s a very long time to wait and hope for a miracle, and yet he didn’t give up.  He remained by the pool, ever watching for his chance to receive a miracle.  He had done all that he could do but in the end he was unable to help himself be healed.  He knew that help would have to come from someone else if he were to receive his miracle.  This man who had nobody to help him is ultimately helped by the Son of Man, who cures him in an instant.  Oh, to have a heart like his that remained hopeful and believed through such a long period of suffering!

When the Jewish leaders see the healed man as he leaves Bethesda, they are not amazed that he has been cured.  They do not celebrate his healing with him and welcome him back into society.  Instead, they are concerned that he is breaking the law by working on the Sabbath by carrying his sleeping mat.  They demand to know who commanded him to do such a thing, breaking the law of Moses.  When they find out it was Jesus, they begin harassing Jesus about it.  Jesus replies in verse 17, “My Father never stops working, so why should I?”  This claim, which makes Him equal to God, enrages the leaders, who plot all the more to kill Jesus.

Jesus, fully aware of their murderous thoughts, continues to explain that He is authorized  by the Father to do the things that He does.  He even goes so far as to offer the Jewish leaders the gift of eternal life in verse 24, where He says:

“I assure you, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life.  They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.”

The Jewish leaders react with surprise so Jesus continues to reason with them.  He lays out all the witnesses that testify that He is the Son of God in verses 31-47:

  • John the Baptist testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Jesus’s teachings testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Jesus’s miracles testified as to who Jesus is,
  • The Father has testified as to who Jesus is,
  • Scriptures testify as to who Jesus is,
  • Moses testified as to who Jesus is

In their culture, two witnesses to something were treated as irrefutable evidence and Jesus laid out many more than just two witnesses to testify for Him, and yet the Jewish leaders still refused to believe that Jesus is who He said He was.  You can almost feel Jesus’s heart breaking as He tells the leaders in verses 39 and 40, “You search the Scriptures because you believe they give you eternal life.  But the Scriptures point to me!  Yet you refuse to come to me so that I can give you eternal life.” [Emphasis added.]  He makes another desperate plea for them to believe in verses 45c-47 where He says, “Yes, Moses, on whom you set your hopes.  But if you had believed Moses, you would have believed me because he wrote about me.  And since you don’t believe  what he wrote, how will you believe what I say?”  These men, scholars of the Scriptures, were unable to accept that Jesus was the Messiah and therefore they denied themselves the miracle  of eternal life.

What if the man by the pool had refused Jesus’s miracle because he wasn’t being helped into the water, where he thought the miracle would come from?  What if, unlike the Jewish leaders, we looked at the evidence for ourselves and chose to believe?

We, like the people we just read about, have decisions to make.  Will we prepare our hearts to receive a miracle, even when it seems distant from us?  Or will we be so insistent that the miracle look a certain way that, if packaged differently than we expect, we refuse it?

 

The Woman at the Well

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Of all of the wonderful stories in the Bible, my very favorite is the one of the woman at the well.  Her story resonates with me on so many levels that I hope to one day get to talk with her when I join her in heaven.  Until that day, however, I love to read and re-read her story, which is told in John 4:1-42.

The story opens with Jesus and His disciples travelling through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee.  Going through Samaria would have been almost unthinkable in and of itself as Jews considered Samaritans to be half-breeds.  Contact with Samaritans was to be avoided at all costs.  What makes the story even more scandalous is that Jesus, whom the disciples leave alone near Jacob’s well in the village of Sychar, has a one-on-one interaction there with a Samaritan woman.

In the desert environment in which  they lived, the Samaritan women would have gone to the well to draw water early in the day before the heat was overwhelming.  They would have gone in groups and it would have been a very social time for them.  This woman, however, comes to the well alone in the heat of the day.  It is clear that she is an outcast from the other Samaritan villagers, living as an exile among her people.

Jesus greets her by asking for a drink of water from the well.  In verse 9b, she responds by stating the obvious differences between herself and Jesus.  Undeterred, Jesus proceeds to offer her living water.  By verse 12, she is asking Him who He is.  In verse 14, He offers her the gift of eternal life.  The woman is ready to receive His gift – but she is looking at it through earthly eyes, thinking only of avoiding the toil of  going to the well in the middle of the day every day.

He has much more for her than that, though, so he tells her, “Go and get your husband.”  In giving this command, He is actually inviting her to get real with Him and to be known in her place of brokenness.  The woman responds in verse 17 with a half-truth as she tells Him, “I don’t have a husband.”  Jesus lays out the truth of the woman’s condition in verse 16:  She has had five husbands and she isn’t married to the man with whom she currently lives.  It’s important to understand that Jesus doesn’t say this to humiliate her, to judge her or to make her feel ashamed; He says it so that she can come to the place where she can be authentic with Him and with herself about her need for Him.

She’s not quite ready to be that authentic, however, and she attempts to deflect the truth by turning religious on Him in verses 19 and 20.  Jesus is unwilling to let her settle for mere religion, and brings her to a place of relationship in verse 23.  In verse 25, she states her belief in the coming Messiah.  Finally!  She has reached the point of admitting that she doesn’t have all the answers but she knows where to look for them.  Now Jesus can reveal Himself fully to her, telling her plainly in verse 26, “I AM the Messiah!”

What happens next is remarkable.  In verses 28-30, the woman leaves her jar at the well and runs back to the town, telling everyone about the Man she just met.  She has turned from an outcast to an evangelist; from someone who lives in isolation to someone who is known, accepted and loved. The people come to meet Jesus for themselves.  In verses 39-42, we learn that many of the Samaritans come to also know and believe in Jesus and recognize Him for who He is.  Her life, once hidden, has now been made to shine brightly for Him; her story, once shameful, is used to bring Him glory.

Jesus met me in my own brokenness on October 14, 2001 and brought me to the place where I was ready to acknowledge that I did not have all the answers and needed Him.  He came into my heart that day, and my life has been forever changed.  Your brokenness doesn’t have to look like that of the woman at the well for Jesus to meet you in the middle of it, and no matter how broken you might feel that you are, you’re not beyond His love’s ability to make you whole again.  If you have already accepted Him as your Lord and Savior, won’t you take a moment to reflect on that glorious day and to thank Him for all that He has done in and through you?  Won’t you accept Him as your Lord and Savior today if you haven’t already?  If you don’t know how, it would be my privilege to lead you through a simple prayer to surrender your life to Him right now, wherever you are.  Just message me.