We can’t be Jesus’ disciples without helping others also become his disciples – Becoming Disciplemakers, Part 5

When Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples, they did so. Their disciples continued the mission, making more disciples. 2 Timothy 2:2 is a wonderful vision of this cycle, as Paul tells Timothy to teach people who will be able to teach more people. That’s four generations of disciples in just one verse! We Christians in 2022 are the benefactors of this never-ending cycle that began two millenia ago. How does the disciple-making cycle work?

It starts when a person begins a relationship with Jesus begins by believing, by trusting in him. But that relationship must move beyond the initial believing. A relationship with Jesus will not be a relationship very long if the trusting and believing is not followed by following Jesus.

Trust and obey, we teach our children, for there’s no other way.  Or as James says in James 2, “Faith without works is dead.”  “Even Satan and the demons have faith,” James says.  They know Jesus is the truth.  But of course they do not obey him.  That’s where a true disciple is different, they give their lives over to deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.

We all need to ask ourselves the serious question “Have I crossed the Matthew 7 line?”  What’s the Matthew 7 line? See this post. Once we have crossed the Matthew 7 line, then we help others cross the Matthew 7 line.  It involves spending time with people.  Lots of time. Intentional time. 

But what do we do with that time?  Or to put it another way, what is time well spent so that we are helping people grow in their discipleship to Jesus?  The easy answer is to go through a Bible study workbook together.  That is not a wrong answer.  There are plenty of Bible studies. Good Bible studies that can lead to good discussions.

But did Jesus lead his disciples in Bible studies?  Sometimes, yes.  We see that from time to time he discussed Scripture with them and others.  More often he told parables, stories to get them thinking.  But are there others ways that we see Jesus actually investing in his disciples?

He led by example. He demonstrated graciousness, forgiveness, boldness, kindness, and love. He spent time alone with his Father. He asked questions. Lots of questions. He gave the disciples responsibilities. First, he asked them to baptize people. Then he sent the 12 on a mission trip. Then he sent 70 or 72 on a trip. Gradually, through patient investment in their lives, he molded them to the place where they were ready to take over for him.

Who are you investing in? Who are you helping mold into disciples of Jesus?

Photo by Small Group Network on Unsplash

How to change – Becoming Disciplemakers, Part 4

How do people change?

How do people who are following Jesus become more like Jesus?

An extremely important way to begin is to humbly and teachably read his word and ask the Spirit of God to convict you of any sin in your life that needs to be changed. 

The next step is to share this with people who will speak honestly with you.  Invite people who are also disciples of Jesus to speak the truth in love to you.  To hold you accountable with you. 

And continue in this until you are making changes that God wants you to make. 

A disciple is learning from Jesus how to live.  One aspect of being Jesus’ disciple, therefore, is putting off the old selfish way, and putting on the new way of Jesus.  The apostle Paul used that image in Romans 13:14 when he wrote, “Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”

It is like clothing.  When I go out to mow the grass, do yard work or split and stack wood, I get very sweaty and dirty.  Those dirty sweaty clothes represent the old way of life, the selfish way, where certain sins reside in our lives.

I come inside, cool off, get a shower, put on new clean clothes.  Those clean clothes, Paul says, represent the new way of Jesus.  His way is the way of a transformed heart.  Paul calls it the Fruit of the Spirit, where the good things of Jesus are growing inside us, and those good things naturally come out.

Turn back to Matthew 7, but a few verses earlier. This is what Jesus says in verses 15-20, “By their fruit you will know them.”  I look at my berry bushes and I know what kind they are.  The ones on the left have black berries and the ones on the right have red berries.  Then there are also plants that look similar that grow up in the middle of the berries.  But those plants, though they look similar, they have no berries.  They are weeds. 

You know a person by his or her fruit too.  If you find or if others tell you that you are regularly grumpy, complaining, angry, upset, selfish, hiding away, escaping to fantasy, manipulative, lying, hurting feelings, rough, harsh, talking too much, having to be the center of attention, then those are the fruits that are coming out of your life. 

Here’s the thing though, so often those negative fruits are coming out of our lives, but we are more than willing to let ourselves off the hook and say “Well, I’m not so bad.”  Or “Tough, that’s just me.”  “Deal with it, that’s how God made me.”  If you ever hear words like those coming out of your mouth, or even if you just think thoughts like that, you should be very concerned about yourself.  You need people to confront you, to tell you the true story of who you are, and you need to listen to them. 

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

The failure of the American church’s educational model of discipleship – Becoming Disciplemakers, Part 3

We’ve been talking about what Jesus meant in Matthew 7, verse 21, when he says that the only ones who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven are those who do the will of the father in heaven.

What is his will? 

Jump ahead to Matthew 16:24-28.  Jesus says it clear as day: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”

That’s a disciple:  Deny yourself.  Take up your cross.  Follow him. 

Do you see how different that is than street corner evangelism?

Do you see how different that is than showing up for church services and maybe greeting people on a Sunday morning?

We’re talking about something different than what has typically been taught as discipleship.  Even if you have been in church all your life for 80+ years, I am saying that it is very possible that you have been taught an incorrect description of what a disciple is. I am saying that you might think you are a disciple, but you actually are not. 

I’m saying that you might not have crossed the Matthew 7 line, and yet you think you have, just like those people in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 7:21-23 who said “Lord, Lord.”  I do not want you to be deceived into thinking that you are a disciple when you actually are not.

So it is extremely important that we look at the Christian church has approached disciplemaking.  When we say that we want to become disciplemakers, does that mean we haven’t been a disciplemakers in the past?  Yes, I think it is very possible.

We have had a lot of hopes.  In particular, we have based a lot of our hopes on an educational model.  We have not used the disciple-making approach of Jesus.  We have used teachers, classrooms, lectures, studies, workbooks…all educational model activities.  These are not bad or sinful activities.  They actually have good intentions.  But notice what the educational model does.  It focuses on the communication of knowledge, on people gaining knowledge. 

But that’s not what Jesus did when he made disciples out of those followers.

Here’s another point of confusion.  Jesus made disciples and he asked his disciples to make more disciples.  He said “Make disciples.”  Jesus did not say “I want you to make believers.” 

What he said is that he wants us to disciple people in such a way that they, too, deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.  We do not want make believers.  We want make disciples.  When people get connected to a church, we do not want them to just be Sunday morning worshipers and fellowshippers, we want them to be people of whom it can be said, “They are denying themselves, taking up their cross and following him.”

Therefore, if you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” you should not be assured that you are a disciple.  If you say “Well, I believe in Jesus,” and you look at your life and you see that your relationship with Jesus is focused on attending Sunday morning worship services and other church fellowship gatherings, you should not be assured that you are actually a disciple. 

Jesus taught that discipleship was a life of learning from him.  To be his apprentice.  To learn from him how to live.  Gradually he molded his disciples into the men and women who could take over the mission of God’s Kingdom for him.

His central teaching was that to be his disciple, we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow him, and then help others do the same.

So what is taking up your cross?  How do we do that in our world?

First, let me ask “What is NOT taking up your cross?”  We hear the phrase “That’s my cross to bear”.  Is that what Jesus is talking about?  Not necessarily.

“Well, I have to take care of my elderly parents.  It’s my cross to bear.”  Usually we say that as a “poor me”. 

Or “My boss is a jerk.  It’s my cross to bear.”

All kinds of stuff can be our cross to bear.  But that’s not what Jesus meant.

Instead a disciple carries his cross daily and follows Jesus.  Jesus meant that his way, his life, becomes our focus.  We learn to do what he did.  Even if it is difficult.  Even if it is putting your life at risk for Jesus and the advancement of his Kingdom.  Even if it means you don’t get to experience the pleasures of this world, though you see your friends and neighbors and co-workers doing. 

Jesus described it perfectly when he said that taking up your cross starts with denying yourself.

Taking up your cross is a figurative picture of giving up everything to follow Jesus. It is saying to Jesus, “I give you permission to do what you want with me.  I give you permission to have control of every area of my life.”  Then we actually change whatever areas of your lives he wants to change.

But how do you do that? Check back in to the next post and we’ll try to answer that question.

Photo by Dylan Gillis on Unsplash

The time Jesus told people “Depart from me!” – Becoming Disciplemakers, Part 2

What is discipleship?

It is crossing The Matthew 7 line.

Our Faith Church logo has four squares, with a vertical line in the middle.  We call that the Matthew 7 line.  Let me explain.

In Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus teaches one of his most important, I think, and revealing parables.  What he says there, I call the Matthew 7 line. 

In Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus introduces us to people who want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  That should resonate because I suspect just about everyone reading this blog wants to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. And yet, what Jesus says is very disappointing, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” 

Imagine that. People there at the gates of heaven, thinking they are getting in.  Thinking they have a close enough relationship to Jesus.  They even call him “Lord, Lord,” as if he actually is their Lord. 

Jesus looks at them and says, “Wait a minute, there is a different criteria for getting into the Kingdom of heaven.”  See the end of verse 21.  Jesus says that the only people who can enter the Kingdom of Heaven are those who do the will of his father in heaven. 

Well, right away, these people think, “Good, I have done God’s will!”  Those people are happy, believing they have it made because they did God’s will.  In fact they can prove it.  They can look at their lives and present the evidence of how they did God’s will.  So they start telling Jesus all about it, “Lord, Lord, we prophesied in your name.  We drove out demons in your name, and we even performed miracles.”

They’re not lying.  That would be ridiculous.  Jesus could say, “Uh, no you didn’t.”  So these people truly did some pretty amazing things, and they did so in his name.  You and I, if we came across people doing miracles and exorcisms, we would think “Woah…the Holy Spirit is at work in that person’s life! They are definitely making it into the Kingdom of Heaven.” 

You can see why these people thought they were good to go.  You can see why they thought that the evidence of these miracles guaranteed that they were getting in the Kingdom of heaven.   

What Jesus says in response to them is shocking, “I got some news for you.  I never knew you.  Depart from me you evildoers.”

If I was one of those miracle workers, I would be totally surprised by this.  I’m thinking, “No way, Jesus, this cannot be.” 

You know what you and I can learn from this parable?  That there are people who will think they are absolutely positively going to heaven, and they will be shocked to learn that they are wrong. 

That freaks me out.  Let’s be frank.  This passage should give all of us cause to hit the pause button on life and ask ourselves about our relationship with God.  This is why I think this teaching is one of the most important in all of Jesus’ teachings. 

I want every reader of this blog to hear the Lord say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into your rest.”  But I am concerned that if all we are is worshipers and fellowshipers, we will hear “Depart from me, I never knew you.”

We need to cross the Matthew 7 line.  We need to do what Jesus says here in Matthew 7:21.  If we want to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, what we need to do, he says, in verse 23 is to know him.  But what does that mean, “to know him”?  Those people sure seemed to know him. They even did miracles and cast demons out of people.  How can Jesus say that they didn’t know him?

In verse 21 he gives us a pretty bold clue as to what it means to know him.   He does not say “believe in your heart.”  He does not say “do religious stuff”.  That’s what the people in verse 22 think qualifies them to make it in the Kingdom.  Jesus says “Nope. There is something else.”  Look again at verse 21.  He says that the only ones who will enter the Kingdom of Heaven are those who do the will of the father in heaven.

And what is his will? 

We’ll talk about that in the next post.

Photo by John Bussell on Unsplash

What discipleship is and isn’t – Becoming Disciplemakers, Part 1

In our study through the Gospel of John, we have seen Jesus interact with his disciples. Their relationship began in chapter 1 when Jesus showed up to be baptized by John.  Then the disciples watch him at the wedding in Cana in chapter 2.  They’re with him when he clears out the temple.  In chapters 3 and 4 Jesus begins a baptism ministry in Judea, and he has his disciples do the baptizing. 

But just as ministry is going great, to avoid the watchful gaze of the Pharisees, they pack up and head north to their home area of Galilee, but not before a pit stop in Samaria.  Jesus’ decision to talk with a Samaritan woman surprises his disciples, because in their culture a Rabbi would rarely talk with a woman in public, and especially not a Samaritan.  This gives Jesus an opportunity to discuss ministry and mission with his disciples.  As we continue studying John, we’re going to observe even more about Jesus in his role as disciplemaker. 

That is what I want to talk about further this week.  Next week begins Advent. So we’ll return to the Gospel of John series in the new year.  As we’re watching Jesus, absorbing how he interacted with his disciples, let’s try to apply his discipleship choices to our lives. 

That begs the questions, though Jesus made disciples, are you and I called to make disciples?  We’re certainly not in the same league as Jesus, right? Well, turn to Matthew 28:16-20.

In this passage, Jesus is just about to leave the disciples and return to his father in heaven.  These are his final instructions for them.  What does he say? 

“Make disciples, teaching them to obey everything I taught you.” 

He had made them into his disciples, and now he wants them to do what he did.  And that’s exactly what they did. 

Another time Jesus hints at this is John 20:19-23,

On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord. Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Christians are people who are sent by Jesus, just like Jesus was sent by his Father.  God sent Jesus to the earth to die, yes. But that’s not all Jesus was sent to do.  If all he was supposed to do was die, then he could have been born one minute and die the next.  No, his mission was larger.  God sent him to make disciples, to start a movement of disciplemaking.

This is why Jesus needed time.  As we saw in John 4, though he had a thriving ministry in Judea, Jesus packs it up, and along with his disciples, he heads north, away from the headquarters of the Pharisees.  He wants time with his disciples.  He wants to invest in their lives, to teach them the way of the Kingdom.  Jesus was a disciplemaker. 

But here’s the problem, there is much confusion in our day about what disciples are and what discipleship is.  What is discipleship?  What exactly are we talking about when we use the word “discipleship”?  What do you think it is?  Take a moment and write down the words or pictures that come to mind when you think of discipleship.

Is discipleship what an outdoor evangelist does? Think about people who have a bold outward style of evangelism.  They are out on the streets, on college campuses, at major sporting events, holding signs hoping to attract attention of passersby and engage them in conversation.  Many people have thought of that as discipleship.  Many have wondered, “If I have go out on the street corner and tell the crowds about Jesus, then I don’t think I can do that.” 

But what outdoor evangelists do is only one of many options for proclaiming the content of the Gospel. Furthermore, proclaiming content is different from discipleship.  It is part of discipleship, but it does not encompass all of discipleship. 

When you hear Jesus instruct his disciples to “make disciples” he is not referring to what outdoor evangelists does. Proclaiming the content story of Good News is not discipleship.

This brings us back to the question: What is discipleship?

Discipleship is crossing the Matthew 7 line. Do you know the Matthew 7 line? No? We’ll find out about it in the next post.

Photo by Maayan Nemanov on Unsplash

Why believing is just the beginning – Becoming Disciplemakers: Preview

How do we help people who are not currently followers of Jesus become followers of Jesus?  I ask that question admittedly making the assumption that being a follower of Jesus is the best possible way of life, holding hope for both abundant life now and eternal life in the future. I recognize that many people disagree with those assumptions. But I start with that disclaimer because in what follows, I run the risk of sounding like religion that treats people as projects, and I do not agree with that. Instead, my hope is that more people will become followers of Jesus because I genuinely believe it is in everyone’s best interest.

My guess is that there are a lot of people in our communities who are not followers of Jesus.  People that you and I know and interact with every day.  Think about your neighbors.  In your minds imagine their homes, located around your home.  Who are your neighbors?  Do they follow Jesus?  Now think about your family and close friends?  List their names in your mind.  Take a pause from reading this article. Write down their names.  Do each of them follow Jesus?  How about your co-workers?  Are they followers of Jesus?

So far in this post, I’ve only asked you to consider the people you probably know fairly well. My guess is that there are also many other people you know as acquaintances. Friends of friends.  Parents of your kids’ friends.  Other parents on your kids’ or grandkids’ sports teams.  The wait staff at the restaurant you frequent.  Your plumber.  There are plenty of people you have a connection with.  Are they followers of Jesus?

I ask you to think about these names and faces because my guess is that there are at least a few people in each of our lives who are not followers of Jesus.  What will it take for us to invite them to become followers of Jesus?  In our study of the Gospel of John, we’ve been watching as Jesus interacts with his disciples and some other people, like the Samaritan woman at the well.  They all become his followers.  How did he do it

There is a starting point in their followership.  There is a moment in which they make the decision to begin following him.  It is the moment of belief, no matter how immature that belief is.  They place a small enough measure of trust in Jesus, and off they go, following him.  Does that mean Jesus’ work is done?  Right after they first starting following him, are the disciples ready to take over for Jesus?  Now that he followers, can he complete God’s mission for him by giving up his life, dying, rising again and ascending back to the Father?  Not a chance!  Why not?

Because though they are now his new disciples, this discipleship relationship has only just begun.  They are only infants in their journey of learning how to follow Jesus.  Jesus knows he must invest a lot more time in their lives.  What will it take for the disciples and other friends of Jesus to grow to maturity so that they can take over for him?

It will take time, and lots of it.  This is why Jesus packed up his thriving ministry in Judea (see John 4:1-3) and headed north to Galilee to restart ministry there, farther away from HQ and watchful eye of the Pharisees who were not thrilled about no-name preachers rising up and wooing the crowds away from the Pharisees.  Jesus needed a lot more time with his friends.  So he made that time, because he wanted to help the disciples become men and women who could carry on the mission when he left.

Because of this important discipleship dynamic, this coming week we’re about discipleship, and how you and I can be disciples who make disciples in 2022 and beyond.  We’re not going to be single, itinerant preachers like Jesus.  At least not many of us we will be.  Most of us have families, jobs, bills, and are living in one place.  And that’s okay; that’s normal.  Though we live very different lives than Jesus’ life, he still calls us to be his disciples who make more disciples.  That’s a calling for all of us.  Not just the professional ministers.  But how do we make disciples?  Join us on the blog next week, and we’ll talk about it further.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

God has an important role for you in his mission – John 4:27-42, Part 5

In the previous post, Jesus taught his disciples that they should see themselves as harvesters. He wasn’t referring to harvesting in the farming world, but harvesting for God’s Kingdom. Jesus was saying that just as they were his disciples, their mission was to help more people become his disciples.

Just then, something happened to illustrate what Jesus was talking about. A harvester brought in a harvest. The harvester was the Samaritan woman who had five husbands, and was now living with a man who was not her husband.  Not the kind of person you’d think would be an evangelist!  She told the people in her town about her conversation with Jesus, and now they wanted to meet Jesus.

What can we learn from this?

Don’t write yourself off.  You are loved by God, and he desires a deeper growing relationship with you.  Know that God sees you as someone that can serve in his Kingdom.  You have gifts and talents that can always serve God’s mission, resulting in bringing you life and life for others in God’s kingdom. You might think you are the last person who could help other people become followers of Jesus. But know this. God is in the business of empowering even the most unlikely people to do great things, big and small.

You can introduce people to Jesus by telling the story of God at work in your life.  The woman’s message was simple, “Come out and meet the man who told me everything I ever did.”  Is she exaggerating?  Yes, of course.  But she is also getting at the truth.  She met Jesus, and Jesus revealed himself to her.  She found truth.  And she wanted everyone to know the truth as well.

What will it look like for you and I to embody that same spirit?  With that same passion? 

First, it means that we meet Jesus.  Not to know about him, but to be in a growing relationship with him.  Where we are watching him, observing him, learning new things about him, meeting with him, and gradually doing what he did.

Second, it means that we introduce other people to Jesus. Who are the people in your life that you can introduce to Jesus?  In what ways can you show others who Jesus is and what you are learning from him?

Photo by Hannah Busing on Unsplash

Jesus’ unlikely harvest in an unlikely place – John 4:27-42, Part 4

I live in Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s farm country. My back yard is adjacent to a corn field, so just a few weeks ago we watched as harvesters brought in the corn at night. Other years we’ve watched the combines mowing down the fields and spraying a golden stream of kernels into trailers. Harvest is a normal part of the rhythm of life here.

Just a few minutes down the road, however, is the City of Lancaster. Lancaster City is a typical Eastern USA city with many narrow streets and row homes. It was not designed for cars, but over the years, the major streets have been turned into one-way thoroughfares and numerous parking garages have been built. Still nearly all streets are lined with cars on both sides. What you wouldn’t expect to see is a harvester or a combine driving down any of Lancaster’s streets.

But as we’ll see in our continuing study of John 4, Jesus has an unlikely harvest in an unlikely place.

This week and last week, we have been following the story of Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well. In the previous post, we learned about the conversation Jesus had with his disciples after the Samaritan woman went back into town. Just then, the Samaritan woman shows up, and now she has a posse of townspeople with her. Are they looking for trouble? Are they thinking they will confront the group of 13 Jews who had ventured into their land?  Look at John 4, verses 39-42:

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

What Jesus has just talked about with his disciples now plays out right in front of them.  There is a harvest for the Kingdom experience of eternal life now.  The people in that Samaritan town believe in the savior of the world.  The wild thing is that this occurs in what the disciples would have considered the most unlikely place.  In Samaria.  Enemies of the Jews now become sons and daughters of the king.  Brothers and sisters.  This is a story of a breaking down of a wall of cultural, ethnic and gender separation.  In the kingdom of God, all are equal.  Jesus took the time to be sure his disciples could not only hear about this, but observe it and participate in it first hand.

The result?  Many Samaritans believed.  Jesus stayed there two days and many more believed.  Jesus saw the kingdom moment and invested in it.  He was not only harvesting for the Kingdom, he was also teaching his disciples to see the harvest fields that others did not see.  Those harvest fields might be in a different location than home, might be in a different culture, a different ethnicity.  They might be in the unlikeliest of places. 

What will you do to open your heart, mind and eyes to the unlikely places around you?

Photo by Gozha Net on Unsplash

The food that gives Jesus life – John 4:27-42, Part 3

What gives you life? Being with friends or family? Your job? Perhaps a hobby? Serving as a volunteer? Reading? Exercise? Art? Music? As we continue studying John 4:27-42, we learn what gives Jesus life.

Earlier in the chapter, Jesus had a thought-provoking conversation with a Samaritan woman. They had a chance meeting around a well just outside her town. Jesus’ disciples had left him there and went into town to purchase food for lunch. Just as the disciples return, the woman leaves, heading back into town to tell the people there about her conversation with Jesus. While the woman is in town, we learn that Jesus and his disciples have a fascinating conversation of there own:

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?”

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”

Jesus is talking on the symbolic level, but he knows his disciples will interpret him on the figurative level.  This is classic Jesus, every moment a teaching moment.  This is Jesus the disciple-maker, always ready to invest in his followers’ lives.  Asking them questions. Getting them thinking. Speaking with symbolism.  Challenging them.  Surprising them. 

Here he is using an analogy.  Food doesn’t mean food.  Instead, Jesus likens food to doing the will of God.  Certainly there is a comparison between the two.  Food energizes us.  It’s like phrase, “That gives me life!”  Or “I felt so alive doing that.”  What we are talking about is an energizing facet of life.  When we do something that we like, when we use our gifts and talents, when we create, when we help people, when we solve a problem, find a solution, fix something broken, we say, “I love that. That gives me life.” 

The funny thing about life-giving activities is that they often require a lot from us.  Physical toil.  Mentally-strenuous focus.  Lots of time.  Investment of money.  But when we’re done, feeling exhausted, we call it a “good tired,” a “good soreness”.  In fact, we usually want to do it again, because it was life-giving. 

Jesus says that is how he feels about doing the will of God.  It’s what energizes him.  That’s his food.  So Jesus says to his disciples, that is “the food I have that you know nothing about.”  I don’t get the sense that Jesus is being harsh here. I think he is just bending their minds a bit, getting them thinking. 

He also expands of what he means by the will of God.  He says in verse 34 that God’s will for Jesus is work that Jesus will finish.  He is committed to the mission God has for him, come what may. 

Then he reminds them of what was likely a common proverb, “Four more months and then the harvest,” which is basically to say that we plant, and then we have to wait.  It is a gardening, farming rhythm that we know well.  You do not plant a seed and then harvest the next day.  You wait.

Jesus follows that proverb by saying that the four months have passed, “Friends, the fields are ripe to the harvest.”  He means that they should see that the time is now.  But he is not talking about farming.  He is talking about lives.  People. 

Jesus says the reaper is harvesting to eternal life, meaning that the time is now to help bring in the harvest.  Jesus is giving his disciples a vision for the urgency of the mission.  What was his food, in other words, they should also see as their food: to help people enter into eternal life, to show people God’s goodness, so they can live like him in the world.

But again, remember that eternal life, for Jesus, is not simply life in heaven after death on earth.  We studied this in John chapter 3.  Eternal life starts now.  Jesus wants to be in relationship with people now.  Jesus wants people to experience the life of God’s Kingdom now.  People in relationship with God also have the hope of eternal life after death.  God desires relationship, restored relationship with those he loves, with us. With all people.

Jesus tells his disciples that they get to participate in this process of reaping what others have sowed, of harvesting what they did not plant.  Others did that planting work.  Which others? Maybe Jesus is referring to John the Baptist.  We don’t know.  But the planting is done, and now it is time to harvest.  Now it is time to invite people into the Kingdom, to introduce them to the King.  To Jesus.

Just then, the Samaritan woman returns and now she has some of her townspeople with her. Remember that Jews and Samaritans are enemies. When 13 Jewish men show up in their town, how will the Samaritans handle it? We’ll find out in the next post.

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash

What to do when you meet Jesus – John 4:27-42, Part 2

In John 4:1-42, there are two major themes running side-by-side.  The first we talked about last week: Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman about worship.  Now this week, we’re looking at Jesus’ interaction with his disciples during this episode. 

They travel with Jesus from Judea, heading north to Galilee. When they arrive in the Samaritan town of Sychar at lunchtime, we read in verse 8 that the disciples head into town to get lunch for everyone, while Jesus stays alone at a well on the outskirts of town.  It is curious to me that no one stayed with Jesus.  Did all twelve men need to go into town to buy lunch? Was it a case of teenage herd mentality?

We attended my daughter’s end-of-season soccer banquet the other night. At one point during the meal, I watched as an entire table of girls got up together to check the dessert table.  Not one or two.  The entire table, at the same time.  They didn’t need to do that.  But that’s herd mentality. 

Maybe it’s FOMO.  Fear of missing out.  Maybe it’s also protection.  Who wants to be alone?  Especially when you are a group of Jews heading to enemy territory, a Samaritan city. Remember the Jews and Samaritans detest each other.  So it would be a lot safer for a group of 12 Jews to travel in a pack.

Yet, that means they leave Jesus alone, which strikes me as irresponsible.  Then again, Jesus spent time by himself a lot.  Maybe he directed his disciples to go and give him some space.

Eventually though, they return, and what they find is shocking.  Look at verse 27:

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

The disciples show up, likely with a bit of emotion because their teacher is doing what their culture deems wrong.  He is talking with a woman.  She’s a Samaritan woman to boot.  The disciples would have been surprised, concerned, and confused.  Jesus, however, was not the least bit concerned.  Repeatedly in the Gospels we see Jesus giving women the equality they deserve as humans made in the image of God.  What could have been scandalous in that culture was nothing to Jesus, because in his view, which is the right view, it wasn’t scandalous at all.  The cultural view of women was wrong. 

But just as the disciples were likely shocked to see Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman, the Samaritan woman might have been surprised by twelve Jewish men showing up.  What does she do?  Look at verses 28-30:

Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.

The sudden appearance of twelve Jewish men gives the woman enough reason to leave, not to mention the exceedingly thought-provoking conversation she’s just had, a conversation she cannot keep to herself.  We talked about that conversation in-depth in last week’s posts, starting here. It was a conversation with a Jewish man…who knew her life story…who taught with compelling authority…who bested her in a theological duel…who claimed to be the Messiah, and she had to admit it all made sense.

Because of that, she heads back into town and starts telling people about Jesus.  Which is what you do when you meet Jesus.  You tell people.  That’s what we still do, still should do.  We have met the Messiah.  Just like the Samaritan women, we still tell the story.  The people in the Samaritan town of Sychar who hear her are intrigued.  Could this be the Christ?  They want to see for themselves. 

Before we learn what happens when the townspeople arrive at the well, the scene changes.  While the woman has been in town, we learn that Jesus and his disciples are having a conversation of their own. We’ll learn about their conversation in the next post.

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash