Can I get a witness…? (5:31-47)

witnessI was sat in our local Pastors Prayer meeting this morning – each week anywhere between 20 and 40 of us gather together from all manner of traditions and backgrounds from within Christianity to pray for our community. Anyway, I was sat there this morning and the appointed leader of our group was taking us through the steps of what we were to do during our time together. Today he had prepared a passage of Scripture for us on a piece of paper, and he was inviting us to spend about 20 mins in silence as we each read the Scripture and listened for God’s voice in the passage. Then we would come back together and use the things we had heard as we spent time in the passage as the source material for our prayers. As he led us he stopped at one point and asked the question : Can I get a witness? This is a phrase which might commonly be heard coming from preachers mouths in the midst of any church service. A preacher will use this question as a means of checking that a congregation is still with him or her and following what is being said. Either that or the preacher is using the question as a means of waking the congregation up a little – I’ll let you decide! Seriously though, when a preacher uses this question it is giving the community that is listening the opportunity to agree with or corroborate what the preacher is saying at that particular moment.

Having a witness or witnesses to back up the claims we make is important. Whether claims are being made in a sermon in church or by an individual testifying in a criminal court – if we do not have someone or some evidence to prove that what we are saying is the truth then any testimony simply becomes “he said/she said.” or “my word against yours,” and the truth proves impossible to find.

Jesus has just made a staggering claim before the Jewish leaders – a claim that could get him in a lot of trouble with them. He has made the claim that he is God’s own son, or, as would be understood in that culture, that he is equal with God. This is a claim which must be backed up by evidence, and Jesus knows this.

That’s why John includes the todays passage.

Jesus knows that in a case of his word against anyone else’s word there is no grounds for his claim to be believed.
But Jesus has got evidence.
Jesus has got witnesses.

His first witness was John the Baptist, as John the author has already pointed out in the prologue:

“There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning the light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.”

John had been accepted by and large as a man of God who also had a message from God. In modern parlance you might say that John was a respected religious leader whose authority on all things spiritual would not normally be questioned. Jesus is making the point to the Jewish leaders that he has John the Baptist in his corner as a witness and corroborator of the claims that he is making about himself:

“You sent to John and he has testified to the truth”


The ministry of John the Baptist had been to point to the one who was to come from God.
John the Baptist had seen Jesus and exclaimed, “Look! The Lamb of God!”

Jesus has John the Baptist as a witness to back up the claims that he is making about himself.

But that is not all.

Jesus has a testimony that is even “weightier” than John’s, namely the works that he is doing, having been sent by the Father to do them. He has turned the water into wine at Cana. He has met with a Samaritan woman, told her everything about herself and offered her living water and new life. He has healed the man who has been sick and waiting by the pool of Bethesda for 38 years. In pointing to these things Jesus is asking the question of his doubters: If this power, if these acts are not of God, then where or who are they from? And if they are from God then are they not proof that what Jesus is saying to you might just be the truth?

Jesus has indeed got witnesses, and still the people who have been waiting for him, and who are watching him act do not believe him.

“He came to his own and his own would not receive him”

Jesus then meets their accusations of him with an accusation of his own when he tells them that they do not even appear to believe in the things that they profess to believe in. These people have built their lives around the law that came through Moses – they are good, law abiding, ritual-observing people no doubt, yet they have absolutely and completely missed the spirit of that same law. Where this not the case then these observers would have no problem accepting the testimony of Jesus and the witnesses he has to back it up. As Tom Wright puts it:


“…they don’t know the God they profess to believe in. They have not truly seen [God] or heard [God]. [God’s] word finds no place in them.”


“He came to his own and his own would not receive him”

The worrying thing in all this is that these deniers were the religious people of the time and place. They were the ones who were seemingly engaged in the story of God; who were attentive to the ways of the Divine.

They believed the story of God in their lives.
They practiced the rituals of God in the Temple.
They knew the word of God in their minds.

Yet when God showed up among them in Christ, they could not recognize him.

I can’t help but wonder if me and the rest of the religious people of today’s world might be in a similar boat, which is where this text speaks to us today.

Jesus has said who he is – God’s son; the Chosen One; the Light of the World.
Jesus has witnesses (‘a great cloud of them’) to back up his claims.

The only question for us is this one: What will we do with him?

In his day, and as we have seen in these opening 5 chapters, when folks were faced with the full story of who Jesus is they had to make a decision to either reject him or follow him. Following Jesus led to a new life being transformed from the inside out (4:14). Rejecting him meant doing nothing and experiencing nothing new (when you do what you’ve always done, you get what you’ve always got!). In our own days the choice is still the same and the results of that choice are still the same.

So what will you do?

One remarkably crazy, yet completely courageous moment (5:19-30)


There are times when we come across a passage of Scripture and find it to be just baffling. Really. It is something I hear all the time from people in conversations: “I have a hard time reading the Bible – it just confuses me. I don’t understand what it is trying to say or what it means…” This is one of those passages. If we come at it cold, and let it stand alone as we read it the chances are that it will be confusing and difficult to understand, let alone apply to our own lives. However, if we take a moment read this passage in the context of the previous 4 chapters, in the context of John’s overall agenda and purpose for writing, and in the context of the 1st century listeners that John was writing for then it starts to make a bit more sense.

Stay with me.

In regard to this passage, William Barclay states: “we must remember that John is not seeking so much to give us the words that jesus spoke as the things that Jesus meant.” Barclay reminds the modern day reader that John is writing this book years after having been with Jesus and as a result he has had time to think through and reflect upon the words Jesus spoke, the actions Jesus took, and the ultimate purpose of Jesus’ life. With years of thinking, experience, wisdom, and of course, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, John is seeking to tell his readers not only what Jesus said and did, but more importantly what it all meant.

Imagine for a second that you are reading/hearing this passage as one for whom it was written. This passage is quite literally full of meaning, and for us to grasp that meaning we must do our best to put ourselves in the shoes of the first century Jews who John was primarily writing for. They were different in their background, experiences, and religious understandings than we are. As 21st century Christian people, we have have absolutely no issue with Jesus describing himself as the Son of God. We come at this passage on the back of hundreds of years of trinitarian thought and theology being taught and preached to us and as a result the thought of the Trinity, while complex and mysterious, is easy for us, and the words ‘Father, Son & Holy Spirit’ easily roll off our tongues (whether or not we have any real understanding of ultimate mystery of the Trinity!) This would not have been the case for the first century Jew whose shoes I am asking you to stand in. For the first century Jew, the idea of another human being declaring his or her self to be the Son of God was both preposterous and blasphemous. They did, of course, look forward, with great hope, to the day when the Messiah would be sent and arrive among them, but they looked at it with a similar attitude to me as I look forward with great hope to the day that the hover board (introduced in the Back to the Future movies) becomes a (safe) reality – it is something which is possible, and it is something that i want, but it is in the future and any current expression of it is dangerous and it would be crazy to get on board.

(See what I did there?)

For Jesus to stand there before the local Jewish leaders and explain his actions by speaking of himself as the Son of God was somewhat of a suicide mission. He could indeed be stoned to death for speaking these words of blasphemy.

Listen to a little more of what Barclay says about this passage and the importance of this passage and of understanding it in its context:

“The significance of this passage is hidden to us until we read it against its Jewish background, and until we ask ourselves how it would sound to the Jews who heard it for the first time. To them it would be all at once clear that Jesus was claiming rights that belonged to God alone; that he was declaring that the things which marked the dawn of the age of God had begun to happen; that he was claiming functions and privileges and powers which belonged to the Messiah and no one else. When we really understand the meaning of this passage we see that it is nothing else than a series of deliberate claims to be the Chosen One of God

And when we understand that, this passage becomes not simply a discourse of Jesus. It becomes an act of the most extraordinary and unique courage.”

From the get go John told has told us that this Jesus is the very Word of God; the light of the world come to defiantly shine in the darkness; the Chosen One of God. In this passage John is no longer pointing to this fact by using the words of John the Baptist, or the Samaritan woman at the well. No, John is now letting the words of Jesus himself confirm what John has been stating in the first 4 chapters: that the Messiah who the Jewish world has been waiting for is now among them; that God’s new work of restoration and reconciliation is happening before their very eyes, and it is there for all people to grasp because God, the Father, so loved the world that God’s only Son was given to the world, in love, so that whoever believes in him will not ever perish but will have new and everlasting life.

For the first century Jew there were only two possible responses to this – either believe it and embrace the new life that comes with it, or reject it and in doing so become a hater of Jesus the blasphemer and seek to destroy him. Jesus said as much himself:

“Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life”

This is the work of Jesus. This is what he came to do – to enable human beings, all human beings, to cross over from death to life, and to live a new resurrected life beginning here and now and carrying on for eternity.

These claims of Jesus were staggering in their magnitude but nonetheless true. They were true whether or not the first century Jews believed them or not, and they are true also whether you and I believe them or not. The simple question is this: do we believe it?

Today, I hope that these words of Jesus, which seem confusing and complicated at first glance, can begin to be less confusing and complicated for you, my reader.

Today, I hope that these words of Jesus begin to take on a new meaning in your life.

Today, I hope that you receive these words for yourself and that you receive the gift of Christ which invites you to crossover from death and darkness to life and light; which invites you to live in a new way, reconciled with God and reconciling with other humans too.

Today, I hope that you will let go of that which holds you back, and that you will walk freely into your new life with Christ!

Do you want to get well? (5:1-15)

jerusalem_presentation05In this section there are two major things taking place which are worthy of comment – the healing which Jesus brings to the man by the pool, and the subsequent reaction of the Jewish leaders.

Before talking about the healing itself it is important to understand just where this event was taking place. The Pool at Bethesda was a place which had a reputation for having healing qualities. From time to time the waters of the pool would bubble up and the local belief was that the first person to get into the bubbling water would be healed of their ailment. This was a pool where Jewish people gathered for healing. It was also a place where pagan people gathered in the hope of healing. This pool was recognized as a sacred place by many traditions at the time.

At the pool Jesus encounters a man who has suffered from his ailment for 38 years. Jesus has a very simple question for him: Do you want to get well? It seems like a silly question doesn’t it? In one sense you would imagine that the man would be extremely eager to get well – he has been bound with this ailment for so long surely he wants to be free of it, right? On the other hand though, he has been in this situation for 38 years and there is the strong possibility that he has become used to the life that he lives, and the idea of change is more of a threat to him than an opportunity at this time, after all no one really likes change – even when it is for the better. In response to the question the sick man responds by stating that he does indeed want to get well, but each time the pool water is stirred and bubbling someone else makes it into the pool before he does because he has no one to help him. Jesus abruptly responds to him by telling him to get up, take his mat and walk. Immediately he was healed, he took his mat, and he walked.

Just. Like. That.

The sick man, by the word of Jesus, is invited to stand up and walk in a new direction. Not only is his body now able to function properly, but this healing opens up to him a world of new opportunity. He no longer needs to sit by this pool at Bethesda and wait for healing. He no longer is dependent on the help and generosity of others. He is able to stand up and walk into a brand new life so completely different from the old one. Where he was bound and restrained by illness in the old life, he is now free to move. Where he was resigned to scraping his way through life on the generosity of others, he now has the potential to work and create and even be generous to others who might find themselves having to remain by the pool. His old life has gone and his new life is just beginning.

Old life gone.

New life beginning.

Is that ringing any bells with you in regard to what John has been talking about all the way through the first 4 chapters of his gospel? Can you make the connection? Jesus is not simply healing this man so that he can come back to the pool the next day and keep on living life the way he was living it before this encounter. Jesus is removing the shackles of illness and injury in order to give this man the opportunity to live a completely new life. When Jesus heals it is not just business as usual afterwards for this man. When Jesus heals it is an invitation for him to go and live a new life. This is the over-arching message of John’s writing: The light has come and shines in the darkness; the Chosen one of God has come so that all may find this new life and walk in it. Jesus is here to announce and enact the fresh work of God in the world and he is doing that in acts like this one.

It is great news.

There is one problem though: Jesus performed this particular healing, and invited this man to get up and carry his mat on the Sabbath.

In the creation narratives of the Jewish Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) God worked for 6 days to create the world and on the 7th day God rested. In response to God’s rhythm of work and rest good lawful Jews would operate in a similar way – they would work for six days and then religiously observe sabbath, a day in which no work would be done. Much thought had gone into the careful defining of ‘work’ and lawful Jews would know exactly what constituted work and what did not. Carrying your mat on the Sabbath was definitely work.

Jesus, it would appear, had deliberately instructed the healed man to break the sabbath rules by telling him to carry his mat. And this did not go unnoticed. The Jewish leaders confronted the man and reminded him what day of the week it was and that he was not lawfully allowed to carry his mat. The healed man told them what had just happened and that the the one who had healed him told him to get up and carry his mat.

When I read this text there is huge part of me that wants to take the Jewish leaders aside and give them a good shake. The awe-struck, signs and wonders obsessed side of me wants to ask these guys how on earth it is that they can encounter a man who has been physically healed after 38 years of chronic disability and their only response be to comment on the day of the week that it took place. To me, theirs is an exercise in completely and utterly missing the point. The man has just been physically healed for goodness sake!

But I am not a first century, law observing Jew. Whether I like it or not, the fact that this took place on the Sabbath was important to this group of leaders.

It is also important in this story because John is emphasizing his main point again: Jesus has come to bring light into the darkness and to announce and enact the fresh new work of God.

Think about it.

Jesus knows exactly what he is doing here. He knows it is the sabbath and he knows what is lawful and what is not lawful. Did Jesus have to heal this man on this particular day? No way! The man has been like this for 38 years – one more day is not going to make that much of a difference. Jesus could have come back the next day and healed this man and there would have been nothing more said by the religious leaders of the time. But Jesus’ actions were not simply about making a sick man well. They were about making a bigger point – that God is doing God’s new work, a work that these Jewish leaders and their ancestors before them had been waiting for. Unfortunately these guys could not see who Jesus was (the Truel Light/God’s chosen one), and the words of John’s prologue in chapter one were being lived out: “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” (John 1:11)

When I consider this I can’t help but ask the question of myself and of you who read this: Is there anything that I/you am/are holding on to, which is blinding me to the work of God and blocking me from embracing and joining in with that work of God? If there is then the question rising out of this passage is very simple: Out of the characters in this story, who do I/you want to be more like?

Do we want to be like the sick man who is given the gift of new life? Or do we want to be like the religious leaders of the time, who were so fixated on rules and regulations that they could not accept or fathom a God who might be doing God’s new work in a new way which took no real notice of the laws and boundaries that had been put in place by human minds?

I know which one I want to be.

How about you?

The man took Jesus at his word… (4:43-54)


I have spent the morning looking for something different to write about in regard to this passage. I have tried to focus in on the identity of the Royal Official so that I can write something about that. I have tried to think through the geography of it all and see if I can find something significant about where Jesus is moving to and from. I keep looking for something else; something different, but i cannot seem to get away from the main theme: faith.

In the twenty years since I became a disciple of Jesus, my best friend (and mentor in the journey) has always said the same thing to me:

“You are a man of great faith.”

He says that because he has watched my life in the last 20 years and has seen me take some steps that could only have been taken by faith, i.e. those decisions did not always make perfect sense at the time they were being taken. Now I don’t know if I am really a man of great faith or not, but I do know this: the royal official in this story IS a man of great faith.

The book of Hebrews perfectly defines faith for the reader:

“Now faith is being sure of what you hope for, and certain of what you do not see” (Heb 11:1)

In this story, the royal official exercises such faith. He has heard about the things Jesus has been doing and makes the journey where Jesus is in order to ask Jesus to help his sick child. The official wanted Jesus to come back with him to his house and perform the healing there but Jesus was having none of that. In fact he seemed quite indignant when he responded by saying “Unless you people see signs and wonders you will never believe.”

And perhaps he was.

Jesus had not simply come to entertain the masses with a ministry of miracles. Remember John’s opening statement in the prologue – this Jesus is the very word of God; the light – the true light who had come to the world to be the belligerent light beaming brightly in the darkness. Jesus had come to change the game and to announce God’s new work of grace and mercy available for all people. This new work would not always be accompanied by the signs and wonders that the masses loved to witness – finding this new way would be an exercise in faith and belief in the promise of God – the Word of God!

Jesus sent the man away stating that his son would be healed. The royal official had to turn and walk away from Jesus in blind faith. He had come all this way to invite this healer/miracle worker to come with him and make his son better, but the healer/miracle worker would not oblige. Instead the royal official now faced the long and uncertain walk home not knowing for sure if what Jesus had said would become a reality. He chose to believe what Jesus had said, turned, and headed for home. On the way, his servants come to meet him and they bring good news. The boy is healed and it turns out that the healing took place at around the same time Jesus had said that he would be well.

By telling this story John is reminding his readers that humans are to believe Jesus – take him at his word. People had been responding to the signs and wonders that Jesus was involved in – it was the signs and wonders that were becoming the centerpiece of the show and not Jesus, the very Word of God. This story reminds us that our core task in being followers of Jesus is to remember that he is the Word of God; that he is the true light of the world; that he is the chosen one of God. We are called to believe relentlessly in the fact that this new work of God, a work of grace and deep agape love, is taking place in and through Jesus.

Perhaps today is a good day for you and me to take a moment to stop whatever it is we are doing or being distracted by and pray the following prayer:

Light of the World;
Chosen one of God;
Word of God.
Forgive us if we too have become caught up in the side show of signs and wonders;
If we too have forgotten that you are the centerpiece of this wonderful work of God that you came to announce.
Turn our eyes back to you, the author and perfecter of the faith;
Be our beginning and our end – and everything else in between.
Right now,
In this moment – enable with courage and grace to turn once again and follow you.
May we refuse to take our eyes of you as we journey on in faith.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
May it be so.

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed… (4:27-42)

Share 3

Jesus and this woman have just been engaged in this deep and truthful conversation about the mysteries of salvation and the depth and breadth of God’s grace for all people…and then the disciples walk in. As I read it it feels like one of those awkward moments when my wife and I might be chatting privately about something important only to get interrupted by the children. The conversation, no matter how deep or significant, stops right there. The moment has been intruded upon.

The disciples are returning from their food run to find Jesus alone and chatting with a woman, which, as I explained yesterday, is socially inappropriate on many levels. Their curiosity is peaked but not one of them says anything to Jesus. Then the woman disappears, leaving her water jar right there at the well. She doesn’t care about her jar anymore, not after the conversation that she has just had with this man – nothing material matters anymore in this moment. The only thing that matters to her now is that she goes and tells someone the story of what has just happened to her. That’s what happens when big things like this happen to humans – we all have a need to share our best experiences (Isn’t that what Facebook/Instagram/Twitter thrive on?) She returns to her home town – a town in which she is a woman of poor reputation and in which she has been socially excluded – and she simply begins to tell people what just happened.

“I met this man at the well…”

The eyes of the people she is speaking to roll as they imagine what this woman is about to tell them about the man she met at the well.

“No! No! It is not like that. Listen to me. I met this man at the well and he told me EVERYTHING I have ever done. EVERYTHING! Do you think he could be the Messiah?”

Whatever it was exactly that she said, and however exactly she said it, the people of the town came out to meet Jesus and see what all the fuss was about.

They came to meet Jesus. They listened to him. They weighed up what he was saying with the testimony the woman had initially shared with them, and they believed.

They believed and asked Jesus to stay with them a while longer. He stayed two days and spoke with the people there and as he spoke, John tells us, more and more people came to believe. The people of this Samaritan village heard for themselves Christ’s word of grace and mercy and became convinced that Jesus is indeed the true light; the Chosen one of God; the Savior of the world.

The thing I notice most in this section is the same thing that I noticed in the encounters of chapter two. When Jesus meets a person and they become convinced of who he is (God’s Chosen One), the urge to share this news cannot be contained. John the Baptist believed and testified (1:34). Andrew believed and testified to his brother (1:41). Philip believed and testified to Nathanael (1:45). This Samaritan woman believes and testifies to her neighbors. For each of these people, the news of God’s grace and mercy; God’s living water for all people is so good that they cannot contain it.

Has some of that been lost on us in the 21st century western world?

Have we lost a sense of the goodness of the good news?
Have we lost it to the extent that we no longer really testify to it?

I think that perhaps we have.

I think that we live in a world in which headlines (based on actual events, of course) have served to discredit the Christian church, and by extension the Christian faith in general. We live in a world where the Christian faith (and faith/belief in general) appear to have been rejected by many in favor of Enlightenment based reason and rationalism. I think that we live in a world in which many Christians have become afraid to share the good news of their experience with Christ because the good news of Christ appears to have been rejected already by the world around them.

Of course some of you will read this and be thinking that you definitely have not lost it. You will possibly be thinking right now about just how good the good news is for you. You might even be thinking about the fact that you are not ashamed of the gospel and will happily testify to its power and goodness in your life – when someone asks you about it.

But folks don’t really ask about it anymore.

What I am trying to say here is that what I see in these opening chapters of John’s gospel are individuals whose encounter with Christ is so pure, so deep, so powerful that it cannot be conservatively contained within them. The living water really has been given to them and it really has become a spring of water welling up within them and overflowing into the world around them.

What I am saying here is that the experience of these individuals is not an experience that I see in the lives of many Christian people around me – and I do know a lot of Christian people! In fact, more often than not, what I see in many Christians around me (and I can be guilty of this myself) is a contentment with conservatively containing the good news within ourselves or within the comfortable confines our churches and fellowship groups.

I am challenged by this passage of the gospel.
I am challenged personally and find myself asking: Am I willing to talk about Jesus with my friends? Am I willing to find the way to talk about this amazingly, exceedingly good news with the folks that are all around me in my network of relationships?

Have I tasted the living water of Christ? Is it a spring which is welling up within me? Or is it a stagnant pool?

Does this passage challenge you in a similar way? I would genuinely be interested to know and to hear your thoughts?

Perhaps you will offer a comment to this blog post and we can start a conversation which might lead to transformation in our lives – a transformation which might turn stagnant pools in to vibrant, flowing streams of living water.

“I, the one speaking to you – I am he!” (4:1-26)

Woman at well

I grew up in God’s own country…Northern Ireland. It is a country which is stunning in it’s natural beauty, and uniquely rich in the character of its people. It is also a country which was and is profoundly divided along political, territorial, and even religious lines with Roman Catholic and Protestant people famously not being able to see eye to eye. I (and anyone else who grew up in Northern Ireland in the 1980’s) was blessed with the ability to be able to work out within a matter of minutes whether a new person was a Roman Catholic or Protestant. To any reader who is not from Northern Ireland that might seem ridiculous, but it was certainly the case back in the day. I would be able to tell by asking a person’s name, or where they were from (the area in which they lived), or what school they went to or had gone to in their childhood. In a deeply segregated society such as Northern Ireland was at the time, the answers to these simple questions would have given most people’s religious identities away. In such a society and in the volatile and divided times as they were in the 1980’s, when a Protestant met a Roman Catholic (or vice versa) there might often have been an air of suspicion. You see there were lines that were drawn all across our society which traditionally would not have been crossed without some sense of fear and trembling on the part of the one who was crossing them. 18 years after the Good Friday Peace Agreement was signed, Northern Ireland is a completely different place from the place I grew up in, and all that division and segregation that i grew up with is a bit of an embarrassment, but it does not take away from the fact that back then it was real. There were lines that were not very often crossed by people on opposing sides of the divide.

As a result of growing up in a segregated, divided society, this passage from John 4 has always had a special place in my heart because in this passage Jesus crosses many of the cultural barriers that were in place for him, as a Jewish male rabbi, at the time. We have already seen in the previous three chapters of John’s work that little details are often of significant importance in the overall message and this story is no different.

Jesus, a Jew, is passing through Samaria – home of the Samaritan people who the Jewish community regarded as the very worst sort of people.

Jesus, a Jewish male rabbi, is talking with a woman. This would have been a no-no for rabbis in the time that this story was being written. Rabbis would have feared gossip, false accusations, temptation in such a situation. It was simply not the done thing for a Jewish male Rabbi to ever even be alone with a woman, never mind having a conversation with one.

Jesus, a Jewish male rabbi, is talking with a woman who has a questionable reputation. It is midday – the hottest time of the day. The only reason that a woman is approaching the well at this time of day is that she has been rejected by the other women who would gather together earlier in the day in cooler temperatures.

In other words, as N.T. Wright states, everything is wrong with the picture being drawn in John 4. There are several lines which Jesus crosses in communicating with this woman, which he should simply not cross.

But he does cross them.


Because the chosen one of God has come to world with good news for all people.

Even Samaritans.

Because the light of the world has come to shine brightly in every dark corner.

Even the dark corners of hearts of the sinful, the lost, the rejected, and the broken.

In telling this story, John is continuing to show Jesus as the Chosen One of God who has come to do a new thing in the world. No longer is the God of Israel only interested in these chosen people, the the ones who can manage to keep the law and observe the rituals of the old religions. This is a new way, a way open to all people: men and women; Jews and Samaritans; saints and sinners; a way which will cross all the lines of division and segregation which have been put in place.

The Samaritan woman is slow to get what Jesus is saying. When he speaks of the living water he is offering she does not get it. She continues to think that he is speaking of actual water which will quench her physical thirst but this is not the case. The living water that Jesus is talking about is the water of grace; the water of transformation, which can take any life and dramatically turn it around and set it on a new path. As Wright states:

“What Jesus says about this living water makes it clear that he’s talking about something quite different, something for which all the water on earth is just a signpost, a pointer. Not only with the water he’s offering quench your thirst so that you’ll never be thirsty again. It will become a spring bubbling up inside you, refreshing you withy the new life which is coming to the world with Jesus and which is the life of the whole new world God is making.”

Jesus tells her that a time is coming when all the lines of division and separation which exist now will no longer be in place. Geographical location, social status, gender, and religious background will no longer be the determining factors of who is within the family of God and who is without. True worshippers, according to Jesus, will be the ones who worship the Father in spirit and in truth because that is the kind of worshippers the Father is looking for.

When Jesus explains this to the Samaritan, she is left hungry. She wants this living water. She wants this good news. She wants it for herself.

The great news is that she can have it.

That’s why Jesus, the male Jewish Rabbi had this conversation with this Samaritan woman of ill repute – because the good news of living water was good news for all – even her.

And it is good news for you and me too.

This passage is a passage which promises the reconciling, transformative power; the amazingly, exceedingly good news of God’s living water for all people. What are the lines that you have drawn in your life; the lines which you think God’s grace and transformative power cannot cross? What are the reasons for you – social or spiritual – that make you think Jesus might not want to share living water with you?

Whatever they are, my prayer for you is simply this: that you would read this passage and allow the boundary breaking, line crossing Chosen one of God meet you in your place of isolation and separation, have a conversation with you, and offer you the transforming, living water of grace.

Go on. I dare you.

He must become greater; I must become less

I have only ever had the honor of being best man at a wedding once. Truth be told it is the only time I would have wanted that particular honor in my life. That day (and in the build up to it) I got stand beside my best friend, who I had known for 20 years, and make sure that he did not have anything whatsoever to worry about or think about aside of marrying his love, and enjoying his day. From the moment he asked me to do the job until the very end of that great and happy day, I was devoted completely to the task. For that day it was all about him and very little about me. What gave me joy during that time was to see the joy in my best friends experience of getting married

In this second half of John 3, John the Baptist is making a similar testimony. John’s disciples had had a dispute about “ceremonial washing” and afterwards they came to John to report that this same person was now baptizing people – and the people were flocking to him. In response, John calmly reminded his disciples that his ministry was not about how many people flocked to him for baptism – rather he was like the friend of the bridegroom at a wedding. For John, there is no joy in merely attracting people to be baptized. Rather, John experiences joy in hearing the voice of the bridegroom. John’s joy is made complete in the fact that his ministry is not about his own popularity and acceptance by others – his ministry is about pointing to the light; the true light who has come into the world to give light to everyone. Because John’s ministry is about pointing to the Christ he can say with full conviction that he himself must become less so that the bridegroom (Christ) can become more.


It seems that more and more these days our culture is saturated and consumed with an unhealthy obsession with self. Everything that we read, watch and listen to points us to looking after number one. Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook are all slammed full with “selfies.” In fact the “Selfie Stick” was the highest selling gift of Christmas 2014! The idea of us decreasing so that something or someone else might increase is all but absent from our western existence, but John the Baptist is consumed by the notion, and John, the author of this gospel, is consumed in these early chapters with getting this notion across to his readers. John wants us to be in no doubt that the Chosen one of God has come into the world, has the power to transform, and is calling humans to walk in a new way. John the Baptist got that. John the author wants you and me to get that too.

Yesterday was Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the lectionary year. On this Sunday each year we declare the Kingship of Christ to be the supreme kingship to which we must bow the knee of our lives in total surrender. In declaring loyalty, allegiance, love and devotion to the Christ the King we are saying that Christ and his mission must increase, and to that end we must each be willing to decrease.

Will you make that the statement of your life today? Will you live a life that points completely to Christ and Christ’s mission, and which ultimately states to the world that Christ must increase and we must decrease? I believe that this is the call of this passage today.

May it be so.

How can this be? (3:1-21)

Be born again

Vaguely I remember it.

It happened in my late teens, I think…maybe my early twenties. I had been having some kind of conversation with a friend – the kind of philosophical conversation you have at that stage of life. I cannot remember what the subject of the conversation was exactly, but I can remember me starting to talk with my friend in terms of things being black and white in the world. As I remember the conversation developing, I can remember it dawning on me that there was no correct answer to the question we were discussing. In this moment I started to realize that things were not always black or white, and that more often than not things were some kind of shade of grey more than anything else.

Since that moment, boxing things off in neat compartments has been all but impossible for me.

In this passage, Jesus meets with a Pharisee, Nicodemus – a member of the local ruling council, which means he is kind of a big deal. It also means that Nicodemus is sold out on the old ways that I was talking about in the previous post. Nicodemus is a leading part of the system which, according to John, Jesus seems to have come to blow wide open. For Nicodemus, the world is somewhat neatly boxed off and compartmentalized. He knows what is what, and how things work in the world.

Except that Jesus is not fitting into those boxes.

Jesus came to town and turned the tables upside down in the Temple.

Not only this, but Jesus had been performing some pretty serious signs – signs which were convincing many people that perhaps Jesus was worth following and listening to.

Curiosity got the better of Nicodemus and he sought Jesus out in the hope of clarifying a thing or two. If he was looking for clarification this was not his lucky night at all. The first thing recorded as being said by Jesus is a bonfire curve ball:

No one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again

To someone like Nicodemus, who operates in a black and white kind of world, this word from Jesus is difficult to comprehend. One cannot simply climb back into the womb and be born again. Nicodemus is quite right, right? He absolutely is if Jesus is talking in purely physical terms. Unfortunately though, this is not the case. The rebirth Jesus is talking about is a new birth; a spiritual birth from above. The Greek word used by John in this particular verse, anōthen, can be translated in two ways. It can either mean ‘anew, over again’ or it can mean ‘from above, from a higher place.’ Is Jesus saying that in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born ‘anew or over again?’ Or is Jesus saying that in order to see the kingdom of God one must be born ‘from above?’ Remember that in the prologue, John has said that to all who believed in the Chosen One the right had been given to become children of God:

…children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision, or of a husbands will, but born of God

This theme of new birth from above is right there throughout everything John has written so far. Jesus tries to explain it to Nicodemus but does not appear to have much success. You see this new work of God does not fit easily into the neat boxes of Nicodemus’ worldview. For Nicodemus, if a human has been born into the right family (i.e being born fully into his tradition) then there is no need to be born again. But Jesus is blowing apart this understanding that God is only interested in one group of people. Jesus is coming with a new message – that God is working to redeem all of humanity and bring all people into the family of God.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his son to the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.

How does this happen? By being born again from above; by having a spiritual new birth which leads to a new life where the old has gone and the new is come. And all this is possible because Jesus is the very Word of God; the Chosen one, who can transform water into wine; who can breath new life into seemingly dead things.

I don’t know about you, but for me this is exceedingly good news!

May we each of us live our lives in the light (v21)

I will raise it again in three days…

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The year was 1999, it was September, and I had made my long awaited journey to Sydney, Australia to see my great friend. He had moved there about 5 or six years before. I was excited to see him, hang out, sample Australian culture, see Sydney, and, since I was in the area, I wanted to pop along to Hillsong Church to experience things there. Hillsong had been churning out some pretty amazing worship songs over the preceding decade or so and I wanted to know what it was like on a week by week basis there.

One of the Sunday’s of my trip rolled around and I made my pilgrimage to Hillsong. The experience of the worship service itself was nothing extraordinary. It all seemed to come and go again as any normal service I had known or experienced. In fact, I don’t think i could tell you one single detail about the service if you were to ask me. There is, however, one thing that I do remember quite vividly: my experience of leaving church that day. I do not know for sure if we were herded intentionally through the church store on the way out that day, but I do not remember any other options being available to me as an exit (of course there must have been other exits in the relatively modern building that we were worshipping in!) As I filed my way through the store on my way out of worship I can remember feeling quite disgusted by what appeared to be a focus on merchandising more than anything else. The cash registers were ringing again and again. Quite honestly I felt disheartened by the whole thing. I had come all this way to experience something which i thought was holy, blessed by God, and uniquely making a difference for the Kingdom, and my only lasting memory was one of ringing cash registers and a culture of Christian merchandising. Historians tell us that Martin Luther, when he made his pilgrimage to Rome, was going there with the similar starry-eyed thoughts about what he would see there. Martin Luther was bitterly disappointed in what he found in Rome, and I was bitterly disappointed in what I found in Hillsong, Australia.

I wonder if the table-turning, trader-chasing Jesus also felt that similar disappointment. Whatever emotion and motive was behind Jesus’ Temple outburst – you and I as readers must understand that Christ’s act of rebellion in the Temple Courts was just about the most hell raising act of social disobedience that anyone could have done at the the time. In Jerusalem, for the 1st century Jewish community, the Temple was the centerpiece of EVERY aspect of life: religion and worship, politics, local trade, community celebration, community mourning. There was no more an important place in the life of the community – this fact cannot be understated – and Jesus came in there and literally turned the place upside down!

Why did he do it?
What was so wrong with the Temple scene?
Why does John put it here at the beginning of his gospel when Matthew, Mark & Luke leave the same story to the end sections of their gospels?
What does it all mean for you and me, the readers, as we take this next step in John’s gospel telling journey?

Like I mentioned in my comments yesterday, John is building a story which will include signs and hints along the way regarding what the whole story ultimately points to. In the story of the miracle in Cana, the big point was around transformation – that Jesus can substantially transform one thing into a complete new thing. If the first half of the chapter is about transformation then this second half of chapter two is about the power behind such a transformation – the power of resurrection through which dead things are raised to life.

When Jesus is asked for a sign proving his authority to rebel and act in the manner in which he did, his response was to tell them to tear the Temple down and he would rebuild it in three days. Of course, Jesus was not referring to the literal rebuilding of the bricks and mortar which formed the Temple, rather he was referring or pointing to his own resurrection. John is dropping in another sign post for his readers here: The light who has come into the world; the Chosen one of God who can transform water into wine has come to do a new thing among God’s people and all of humanity. The old ways must come to an end (destruction of the Temple); they must die their death in order for this new work of God to rise up in to life. The Temple has become a market place more than anything else. The activity taking place there is so far removed from what the Temple was set up to be (the place where heaven meets earth, where God is present for the people) that things must change. This is the reason that Jesus is overturning tables and chasing out traders. Jesus has come to bring light to all the world and in a place where people have taken the very symbol of God’s activity among them and turned it into a market place, Jesus’ task is impossible. Tables must be turned. Traders must be chased out. The old ways must die so that the new work of God can rise to life.

John is pointing to this simple fact: the transformative power, which Jesus displayed at Cana, is only possible through death and resurrection. Old ways must die in order for new ways to rise to life.

In your life, what old ways must die in order for the new work of God to take place?

On the third day… (2:1-12)

waterintowineJohn has taken the first chapter to prologue his story; telling us much of what we need to know about who Jesus was (Son of God/true Light/God’s Chosen One) and what he came to do in the world (baptize with the Holy Spirit/make transformation possible for human life.) The remainder of John’s Gospel is the fleshing out of Jesus’ story and all along the way John drip feeds his readers with little signs and hints of where Jesus’ story ultimately going.

There are so many minute details in these 12 verses that it would be very easy to get bogged down in them. Jesus has a strange conversation with his mother in which she points out the lack of wine, he asks her what it has to do with him, saying that his “hour has not yet come.” She seemingly ignores what he has said, looks to the servants and tells them to do whatever Jesus tells them. What is a reader to do with this strange conversation? Then there is the fact that this is a covert miracle. It appears that no-one knows what is happening until the servants take the liquid to the master of the banquet who is astounded at the quality of the wine he is sampling. What is a reader to do with such a hush-hush miracle? What are we to make of it? Like I said, the details are many in this story and if we allow them to, they will bog us down as we look for some kind of symbolic meaning in every one of them. To get trapped in the details here will be to miss the hints and signs that John is placing for us. This is just the beginning of the story and John has much more unfolding to do. As Beverly Gaventa states:

Instead of looking at the story as a puzzle to be “solved,” we might regard the elusive, vexatious, enigmatic character of the story as one of its primary functions. As “the first of his signs” (v. 11), the Cana miracle points ahead toward the mysterious story that is unfolding.

This story is a starting point. It is a sign post pointing to the things that are to come as John tells the story of Jesus. John has already stated in the prologue that this Jesus is the very Word of God; the Word who has become flesh and is making his dwelling among us. As these stories get told throughout this gospel we must know that John is making the point that in Jesus all the life of heaven has come down to earth and as a result a wonderful new opportunity is presented to humanity.

This story is about transformation. Jesus literally transforms water into wine and in doing so presents a hint of how different things can be when Jesus is present and, as N.T. Wright points out, when people do whatever Jesus tells them (as Mary had instructed the servants). In telling this story of substantial transformation John is pointing to the fact that this very same substantial transformation can take place in the lives of human beings. The same power of God which transformed the ceremonial washing water into the very best of fine wines is the very same power that can transform your life and my life too.

Stop there for a second and consider the need for transformation; your need for transformation. If Jesus can transform dozens of gallons of water into wine at a party is it possible that Jesus can transform your life too? The Cana miracle is only the first sign in this story to say that he absolutely can. I believe that is great news and I am excited to read on and see more signs along the way; signs which point to the fullness of who Jesus was and what he came to do.