Category Archives: John

The Theologically Savvy Samaritan Woman

The Samaritan woman is generally seen as a loose woman who has had her share of sleeping partners culminating in five husbands and one soon to be. But it appears that there is more to the story. Jo Ann Davidson observes the following:

The negative castigations of the Samaritan woman have not been informed by this woman’s political savvy. She was not culturally naive. For example, the conversation between the woman and Jesus opens with evidence that she is well aware of the political situation between the Samaritans and the Jews (v. 9). She seems to teasingly wonder about the “ignorancen of these matters on the part of the Jewish gentleman at the well when she responds to Jesus’ request for a drink of water: “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans).”‘* Furthermore, as the conversation progresses, the Samaritan woman’s respect for the mysterious stranger deepens. She begins to call him “sir,” and then wonders if he might be a prophet. Her questions and comments consistently reveal her profound understanding of both Samaritan and Jewish theology. The conversation in the narrative clearly reveals that she is not “unschooled” in contemporary political or theological matters, and, in fact, she discusses the two categories: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain; and you say, that in Jerusalem is the place where man ought to worship” (w. 19-20). What the narrative details of John 4 seem to portray is an intelligent woman with a keen mind, who has pondered the theological and political realities of her day and culture. Furthermore, the progression in the dialogue reveals Jesus’ desire to bring this woman to faith. The narrative implies that he did so with the assurance that her mind could grasp theological verities. Jesus did not regularly speak this directly regarding himself in Israel or even to his disciples.

One feature this lengthy quote confirms is that this woman seems to be a victim of an overbearing patriarchal culture. Jesus understood her past and betrothed the least of these in her own own culture.

Riding on a Donkey

The Concordia Journal observes that John is using the donkey as key in this text.  The donkey pointed to the Passion Week. The donkey, though used as kingly transportation in the Solomonic days, was also a symbol of peace.

He was riding on a donkey to show just how he would defeat all our enemies.

Jesus does not come to war against His enemies with human weapons, but with humility and blood.

Got Wine?

According to J. Duncan M. Derrett in “Water into Wine,” (Biblische Zeitschrift, Neue Folge, 7 (1963), pp. 84-85,89) Mary was deeply concerned about the shortage of wine in John two for a few reasons:

First, she was deeply involved in the preparation for the festivities.

Secondly, the lack of wine at the wedding would be the cause of general disruption.

Thirdly, there would be obvious embarrassment to the host family.

Finally, there was a possibility of legal action against the family.

The lack of wine could be the source of legal action!  Not only does wine cheer the heart, but it also keeps you out of legal problems. To not provide for the guests of the wedding would be the ultimate insult. But we also know that wine is a sign of kingship. When one is invited to the feast, he joins the royal gathering and drinks what kings drink. Finally, we must keep in mind that in God’s house wine is never lacking, for He prepares a feast for kings and queens every time we gather to praise Him.

John 15, Election and Covenant

John 15 is a covenant passage. We can never be too cautious about using this type of language, but at the same time I often wonder why people miss something so simple. Opponents of Norman Shepherd argue that John is addressing simply an external covenant. This is the only way to make sense out of this conundrum.  But there is a more direct way to look at this passage. Man can claim faith, but not live the life of faith. Shepherd argued (Trust and Obey by Ian Hewitson, 196) that “election does not mean that we can live by sight.” Election means that though we have no insight into God’s decrees (Deut. 29:29), nevertheless it calls us to “live by faith in Christ, to walk in the Spirit, to be in fact the people of the covenant.” The branches live because they are being nurtured by the vine. At the point they cease to trust and follow the vine, they lose their branch status and are cut off. As John Murray once stated: “Covenant privilege always entail covenant responsibility (197). To be in covenant with God is to receive a call to faith. This call is of grace. Not even one iota of our works can be claimed as our own.

The Dance of the Trinity, John 14:15-21; Sixth Sunday of Easter at Providence Church

Introduction: People of God, the Trinity is a way of life. By imitating the Father, Son, and Spirit we enter into this life. This is what Jesus says in our Gospel Lesson.

Prayer: May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, our Rock, and our nearest Kinsman. Amen.

Sermon: When we look at the beauty of God’s revelation–the poetry, the music and the movement—it is simple to conclude that there is a kind of dance involved; a sacred dance.[1] The Bible is rhythmic. It provides a flow. It is not frozen portrait for us to analyze.

We know this to be the case because the Father, Son, and Spirit are constantly involved in creation. They are always moving in perfect harmony. The dance of the Trinity is a dance of glory.

What we find in the Gospel of St. John is a display of a perfect dance. We confessed this dance this morning in our Creed: “We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshiped and glorified.” In our Gospel Lesson, each Person of the Trinity has a unique role in redemption. The Spirit of God though always playing a role throughout history now takes a center stage in history as Comforter of God’s people. But though the Son is physically absent, He is not uninvolved. He is ruling and reigning over His people as King. It is now the Spirit who will comfort the people of God. He will continue what our Lord began.

The Father sends, the Son accomplishes, and the Spirit comforts. There is a connectedness in mission. The purpose of the Father is also the purpose of the Son and the Spirit. There is no disagreement in the Godhead. So, this dance is perfect. The Trinitarian God invites us to enter into this dance. The way we enter into this dance is by loving and obeying God’s Only Son, Jesus Christ.

Jesus says in verse 15 that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” There should be no controversy on this passage. Jesus’ logic is quite simple: “If you claim to love Me, then necessarily you must keep my commandments.” Love and obedience are drawn together. We live in a day and age where obedience and love are seen as two difference things, but biblically, there is no such thing as an obedience-less love or a loveless obedience. To love is to do; to act. We love the idea of love, but with love comes responsibilities. Husbands cannot love their wives without sacrificing for them; children cannot claim to love their parents without obeying them.

Earlier in John 14, Jesus makes the explicit statement that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, and No one comes to the Father, except through Him. Jesus is building on that claim in verse 15. Just as in the first century, our call remains: If we affirm the uniqueness of Jesus in salvation, then we must affirm the unique calling to be His disciples. To be a disciple of Jesus means living out your love for Him in obedience. Lest you think that Jesus is being a legalist, the same John writes in I John 5: “In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome…” The way we enter into this Trinitarian dance is by moving towards God in our actions. Any act of love and devotion to the Son is also an act of love and devotion to the Father and the Spirit.

But this obedience to the Son is obedience by grace; the grace given by the Spirit:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Christ will give strength for His disciples to obey His commandments. He will not allow them to remain destitute of assistance. He will be present with them by His Spirit.[2] He will send the disciples another Helper; a Comforter; an Advocate; someone who will guide us in a way that Jesus guided His followers. And just as Jesus said He will never leave or forsake His own, the Spirit is also said to be with us forever, in verse 16. In this way, the Deity/Personhood of the Spirit is confirmed. Jesus abides with us and He is divine, the Spirit abides with us, so He is divine also. What Jesus did, the Spirit continues to do. The Spirit who Comforts is also the Spirit who is Truth. In John 14:6, Jesus says I am the Truth! Now in John 14:17, the Spirit is Truth. How does one come to the Truth? By the work of the Spirit. The Spirit is the Communicator of Truth. Why? Because He will remind the disciples of the words of Jesus. Whereas on earth, Jesus spoke on behalf of His disciples, now through the Spirit His disciples speak as His representatives on earth. Christ’s followers are His royal speakers. When we speak in the sight of man, we are speaking as Spirit-led people.

As those who carry the message of God in our words and actions, we need to acknowledge that what we learn, what we grasp of truth, does not come from reason, our sublime intellect, rather, it comes from the operation of the Spirit. As John Calvin writes: “Yet Christ’s words show that nothing which relates to the Holy Spirit can be learned by human reason, but that He is known only by the experience of faith.”[3] When our reason is not controlled by the work of the Spirit through faith we are operating in a godless fashion. If you assume you can find neutral ground with unbelievers you are fooling yourself. When a Christian says to an unbeliever: “Let’s assume there is no God for the sake of conversation;” the Christian has just failed his task as a Spirit-led person. God cannot be outside the story precisely because He is the story. And when we intellectually give in to the demands of unbelievers, we are surrendering the work of the Spirit within us. Let me make this exhortation clear to you: Do not place your reason above God’s revelation. Every time you intellectualize, every time you discuss an issue—whether political or social—you must never think God out of the process of thinking. When Paul reasoned in Mars Hill the basis of his reasoning was the good news of Jesus and His resurrection. Paul believed in reason, but a gospel and resurrection reason; a reason that assumes these fundamental truths. Thinking Trinitarianly means thinking biblically.

Verse 18 is at the very core of this Trinitarian dance:  “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” Jesus knows that if He ascends and leaves His little children orphans, they will be swallowed up by deceitful men. Jesus will not leave His disciples without a Master. He will not leave them without an Advocate.[4] Literally, He will not leave them bereaved. Their joy will not dissipate at the Ascension of Jesus; rather they will receive further abundant joy through the ministry of the Spirit. Jesus will come to us through the Third Person of the Trinity. Our union with the Triune God is what compels us to love and obey Him.

This full picture will be revealed to us one day; the day in which heaven and earth will become one will be the day in which we will understand most fully this dance; this profound unity the Son has with the Father and the Spirit, and our union with the Resurrected Christ.

As C.K. Barrett writes: “…because the disciples love one another they will appear to men as members of a divine family.”[5] It is our love for one another that gives evidence to the world that we are part of another family; a Triune family. In loving one another we demonstrate that the Father, Son, and Spirit are One in mission. In fact, our loving one another proves the Trinity. When we imitate the Godhead we are acting Trinitarianly. The Trinity is the very foundation of society. Our goal is to understand as much as it is within our grasp how the Persons of the Trinity interact and engage with One another, so that we may learn to apply that divine relationship to our own lives.

It is my contention that the reason so many Christians are naïve about their faith, and easily prone to adopting theological heresy is because they lack a basic Trinitarian theology. Many evangelicals are modalists[6] in their thinking. Modalism was one of the most dangerous theological errors in the early part of history, but it is surprising how many Christians today define God in exactly those terms. For the modalist, God is a single person that reveals himself in three modes or forms. In Old Testament times God was the Father, then at the incarnation God was the Son, and when the Son ascended God took the mode of the Spirit. “In other words, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit never all exist at the same time, only one after another.”[7]

In Modalism, God is not Three in One, but One who manifests Himself in there modes.

But the Bible teaches that the Trinity is in harmony. They are not separate modes, the

Three Persons are working together in the work of renewing the world and bringing many sons to Glory. And what we see in John’s Gospel is that Jesus is not going to take on the mode of the Spirit, as Modalism teaches, rather He is going to ascend to the Right Hand of the Father. The fact that Jesus is not physically present on earth does not mean that He is not ruling. He is ruling even now by sustaining His people in grace, by being an advocate, and by building His kingdom through the work of the Spirit. The way we participate in this great Trinitarian work is fundamentally through obedience to His revelation by the work of the Spirit. As we read in verse 21: “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Verses 15-21 form a unique structure. It begins and ends with a call to obedience. You may wonder why Jesus stresses obedience twice in this short narrative; the reason is that He knows that obedience to His commands is the declaration to the world that the Trinitarian God lives. By showing love to the Son in obeying His commands, we are also showing love to the Father who sent the Son, and the Spirit who has become our Comforter and Helper.

How Shall We Then Live?

The Triune God provides for us a model for living. Notice how in verse 21 Jesus says “whoever keeps my commandments.” These are the commandments of the Lord. Since the Trinity works together, the commandments of Jesus are the commands of the Father and the Spirit. What are these commands? Everything that God has told you to do are His commands. Jesus does not replace Moses, He becomes the Greater Moses. His laws—like in the Old Covenant—are still a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our paths. We are to be a law-abiding people. When we forsake the laws of Jesus we are ceasing to love Jesus. “If you love me, keep my commandments,” are the words of our Lord; not some legalist, not some works-righteousness teacher, but of Jesus, our King. The way to show our loyalty to our king is by obeying Him. Obedience is truly an extension of our gratitude. The King has been sacrificed for us, so we might be sacrificed for others. The King is not asking us to do anything He has not already done. The King loved, the King obeyed, the King suffered, the King died, and the King was raised. Are you prepared and willing to obey your King? Are you prepared to undo years of habitual sin by taking action towards abandoning sin? The answer to this question depends on how much you desire to enter into the purity of the Trinitarian life. Do you desire to see the Spirit do His work of transformation? It’s possible that at times we want change, but we have no interest in pursuing the One who can change us. In order to enter into this Trinitarian life and to live in it faithfully, God demands your loyalty. It is what the covenant demands. It is what you are called to do if you love Him.

In the Name of the Father, Son, and Sprit. Amen.

[1] A similar Greek word, perichoreuein, which means “to dance around,” has been used as a metaphor for the relation of the Persons. Thanks to Leithart.

[2] John Calvin, Commentary on John’s Gospel.

[3] Ibid.

[4] It is possible that there is a double meaning here where Jesus may also be referring to His Second Coming.

[5] Barrett, Google Book. Limited commentary edition.

[7] Ibid.

Truth and Love

A friend asked if love is also essential–or perhaps even more foundational–to unity than truth. Truth cannot be limited to propositions. The telos of truth is not intellectualization, but rather the outworking of its nature in works. Truth acts.

There are churches that thrive in truth-telling. They develop a charismatic following because of their abundant claims against certain teachers. While there is a legitimate role for the condemnation of false teaching, the under-shepherd who prides in truth while not loving his flock fails to proclaim true truth (to use Schaeffer’s language).

Jesus was not only a defender of Yahweh’s orthodoxy, He was also a tender and caring shepherd.

A Lenten Sermon: Martha’s Resurrection Theology in Light of Death; John 11

Audio Sermon

Sermon: You may be familiar with the great artist Giotto’s famous painting entitled The Raising of Lazarus. The painting is a sermon in and of itself. Giotto portrays Jesus as Creator when He lifts His hands in the blue sky. In this fascinating painting there are worshipers, skeptics, some with their hands in their noses because of the stench of this man who has been rotting in the tomb for four days; and when you consider this glorious painting you realize that Giotto is bringing us into this narrative. The Creator Himself in the form of man has entered into the messiness of man to make him whole; to resurrect not just Lazarus, but all of those who trust in Him.[1]

Continue reading A Lenten Sermon: Martha’s Resurrection Theology in Light of Death; John 11

Saliva and Creation

Concerning John’s account of the healing of the blind man in John 9, my good friend Phil Walters observes that the “saliva is also from the tongue/mouth of God… words come from the mouth/tongue; the world was created by the Word of God. John calls Jesus the Word and says that He was with God and was God at Creation. Jesus is showing us again that He is God (Word) and man (dirt).”

The World as Doxology

John 9 is a perfect example of how God receives glory even in suffering. The disciples attempted to simplify the theology of sin, but Jesus broadens it. Even in suffering (blindness), God’s works are manifested and His glory shown.