88. Moses’ Downfall

Meditations in Exodus: 88.  Moses’ Downfall

Num 20:10  Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?”

We need to identify first of all just when this all happened. In the first month the whole Israelite community arrived at the Desert of Zin, and they stayed at Kadesh. There Miriam died and was buried.” (20:1) Now no year is mentioned, just a reference to “the first month” but in verses 22 to 29 of this chapter, warning of Aaron’s impending death is given. In Num 33:38 we read in respect of Aaron, “he died on the first day of the fifth month of the fortieth year after the Israelites came out of Egypt.” (Num 33:38) We have clearly jumped some thirty eight years forward. Israel have obviously done their wandering and the older generation has died off.  There is no record of the things that happened in that thirty eight year gap because it was a time of shame. At the beginning of this chapter Miriam dies and at the end of it Aaron dies (Num 20:27-29). In between, Moses future is determined by an event that had similarities to what had occurred some thirty eight years earlier (Ex 17:1-7).

So thirty eight years have passed and now we are told,  “there was no water for the community, and the people gathered in opposition to Moses and Aaron.” (Num 20:2) There is a real sense of deja-vu here: “They quarreled with Moses and said, “If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the LORD! Why did you bring the LORD’s community into this desert, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Num 20:3-5) The only thing is that this is the NEXT generation. The previous generations have virtually all now died.

Moses falls down before the Lord and God’s glory appears to them (v.6). The Lord tells Moses to take his staff and speak to the rock and the Lord will bring water out of it, enough for everyone (v.7,8).  It is at this point that things go slightly differently from the time many years before: “So Moses took the staff from the LORD’s presence, just as he commanded him. He and Aaron gathered the assembly together in front of the rock and Moses said to them, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” Then Moses raised his arm and struck the rock twice with his staff. Water gushed out, and the community and their livestock drank.” Num 20:9-11)

Note Moses’ language: “you rebels” and “must we bring water out”. And then he struck the rock twice instead of speaking to it. Yes, water comes out, but that’s not the point. The point is that Moses is supposed to be the Lord’s representative and only do what the Lord tells him to do. Clearly Moses is utterly frustrated by the Israelites. It may be all the worse for him because thirty eight years have passed and the next generation are getting ready to enter the Land and then the same thing happens all over again! He has not handled it well. So we find, “the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust in me enough to honor me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.” (v.12) Psa 106 records, “they rebelled against the Spirit of God, and rash words came from Moses’ lips.” (Psa 106:33)

A great deal is yet to happen, as is spelled out in the remaining 16 chapters of Numbers (which we will only summarise) and indeed the entire book of Deuteronomy is to be written by Moses yet, but eventually we read of his death on his own on Mount Nebo, overlooking the land in Deut 34:1-8.

So how can we sum up this? Moses overstepped the mark on this occasion and for that he was not allowed to enter the Land. Why? Perhaps to show to Israel that even someone as great as Moses is answerable to the Lord and has to be held to account. Yes, the reality was that he was now 120 years old when he died and had spent the first forty years of his life as an Egyptian Prince, the second forty years of his life as a Midianite shepherd, and then the final forty years of his life as the shepherd of Israel. That last role had involved delivering them out of Egypt, taking them to Sinai, then up to the Promised Land,  but then just looking after them for nearly forty years in the wilderness before finally taking them up the east side of the Dead Sea until they were ready to cross the Jordan near Jericho to enter and take the Land. There on the plains of Moab he gave Israel a reminder of all that had happened over these past forty years, and then gave them detailed instructions about entering and living in the Land, which we now have as the book of Deuteronomy.

Commentators often disagree on dating the time of Moses life and so also of his death, but it is possible (if not probable) that from the time of striking the rock to dying on Mount Nebo was only about a year or so. If that is so, then his final year was a very active and very fruitful time. One hundred and twenty is a good age to die and he was more active in guiding Israel through the territories up the east of the Dead Sea and instructing Israel that most people would be in their sixties! No way does he let this restriction imposed on him by the Lord limit his ongoing service as the Shepherd of Israel.

In fact, I find this quite a challenge. If the Lord told me He was disciplining me and so all my hopes and aspirations were to be cut short (as happens when we find ourselves with a terminal illness) how will I feel about the months left to me? Would I sulk (I hope not) or would I seek to be as fruitful as Moses was? (I hope so). Part of our reply would also depend on how we coped with our own failure, if it had been like Moses and our shortened lifespan was a disciplinary act of God.

Indeed, how we learn to live with our failures is a big part of many of our lives. When we have blown it (and I have on more than one occasion) will we sink into a self-centred morass of gloom and doom, or will we receive the grace of God and get up and say, “Lord, please yet do what you need to with me, but please continue to use me.” We can yet be fruitful for that is always the Lord’s intent for us, even after He has had to pick us up and set us going again after some failure.

I think one of the greatest examples of this that I have observed in my lifetime was the life of Charles (Chuck) Colson, indicted and imprisoned for his part in the Watergate Affair when working for President Nixon. Through this he came to the Lord and went on to found Prison Fellowship  and was greatly used in a teaching ministry. His failure was able to be used by the Lord to bring a new son to glory. Failure was not the end, and it was clearly not so for Moses. May it not be so for you and me.

56. More on Water – Complain or Ask?

Meditations in Exodus: 56. More on Water – Complain or Ask?

Ex 17:1-2   The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

What a difference just a few words can make!  What could Israel have said to Moses? They move on at the Lord’s leading: The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded.” (v.1a) As we have observed before, the Lord is leading this people and so if there is any lack it is down to the Lord, and so now the next lack appears: “They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.” (v.1b) And there was are, back in a testing situation yet again where there is a need. How do they handle it?

“So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” (v.2a) Those five words could have been so different if there was a ‘please will you…’ in front of them, but their attitude is hostile, hence the word, ‘quarreled’. Moses faces them up with what they are doing: “Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” (v.2b) It’s not me you are having a go at, he says, it’s the Lord.

Now what might have been an appropriate response of the people in the light of this situation? Let’s be fair, they need water and there is none so there does seem to be a problem, but as we have now noted more than once, they are where they are because the Lord has led them there. Now He has either made a mistake – and they have yet to learn that God doesn’t make mistakes – or He has brought them there to destroy them – and they have yet to learn God does not tell lies, because He has not only delivered them from slavery but He has said He has Canaan waiting for them, so He is not going to destroy them now – or He has some other purpose in mind which they have obviously not yet understood. It is obviously the last one that applies and it is, as we’ve said a number of times, to teach them to trust Him and be obedient to Him. That’s how blessings will come in the years to come and so they need to learn that.

Before we rush on we need to check out our own approach to these things. I have already confessed to being a grumbler – that is so often my first response – but I am learning to pause up and check out what is going on. Be honest, when things start going wrong, what is our response, how do we handle it.  Illness strikes, redundancy occurs, we have a break-in, somebody runs into our car, and so on. Life can have its difficult moments. When those moments arise, what is our immediate response?

Now I suspect most would now respond, “Pray!” which is a truly spiritual answer, especially when we have just read such a passage as this, but I want us to be honest and honesty compels me to acknowledge that so often I don’t identify what is happening as ‘one of life’s little problems’ until a little time at least has passed. I don’t know what it is, but it takes a while for me to think, “Ah, this is a difficulty where I need the Lord’s help”. It may be because so often my first response to such a situation is, “What can I do about this to sort it out?” Now, please, this is not a wrong response because we are called to take responsibility for our own lives and so, yes, we maybe do need to take action ourselves, but sometimes ‘the thing’ is beyond us, or for us to handle it well, we really do need His grace. It is only as that fact dawns on me that I then pray and ask for His help.

But Israel haven’t realised they need God’s help, they just blame Moses and basically say, “Get us out of this!”  But he can’t, it is God who is leading and God who knows where there is water. As it happens it is under a rock just not far off where they are standing, but the people don’t know that and they have a hostile outlook, maybe generated by fear, but whatever generates it, they are hostile: “But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?” (v.3) Trouble!

Now Moses has started to learn what to do in such situations: “Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (v.4) The right approach of the people would have been to go to Moses and say, “Moses, we seem to be running out of water again. Would you speak to the Lord again please and ask Him what He wants to happen. Does He want us to do something or does He want to do something.”  That should be our approach, as well, to our difficulties: “Lord, please will you help. Please will you give me your grace to handle this, or will you please deal with it yourself.”

The Lord always has the right answer and so He instructs Moses: “The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.” (v.5,6) Now wasn’t that easy! Well no, actually it was a miracle. He was told where to go and then what to do, and the water pours forth. End of problem!

Now if we had been standing in the desert with Moses wondering how to resolve this problem I am sure we would never have guessed that way out! This is the thing about God’s wisdom, when you are facing the difficult situation, you may stand there and think, “What would Jesus do?” or whatever is the current bracelet tag reminder, but actually you can think and think and think and you will still be clueless – until God speaks and tells you the answer. Sometimes you will say, “Well that is obvious, why didn’t I think of that?” but other times it takes faith to respond to what you hear because it seems a bit far out. The lesson? God knows, ask Him! Then be obedient. It’s called trust and then faith.

6. New Birth Bringer

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   6. The New Birth Bringer


John 3:3  In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again


The object of these particular meditations we have said is to catch the big themes that come through in John’s Gospel. In chapter 1 we had a quick glimpse of Jesus changing Simon’s name to Peter, an indication of the change that was going to come to his life. In the first half of chapter 2 we saw Jesus change water into wine, a picture of what he has come to do with each of our lives. In the second half of chapter 2 we saw him speaking of his capability of bringing life to even a dead body, thus bringing us hope for eternity and hope that our spiritually dead lives can be brought alive by Jesus.


An now we come to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Here we will not focus on who Nicodemus was or even why he came at night time to speak with Jesus. In this context all we want to note is the area of thinking that Jesus led him into – which is more about new life, more about being transformed.


The conversation again starts with reference to the ‘miraculous signs’ that Jesus is performing (v.2). Jesus’ response is challenging: I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (v.3)  Now why does he say that? He says it, I suggest, because he sees into Nicodemus and sees a longing and a frustration. The fact that Nicodemus has risked coming to Jesus says he is a seeker. Yes, he wants to know but even more, he wants to experience. It like he was saying, “Jesus, you have obviously got it all worked out. You are a teacher but unlike any of our other teachers, you operate with God’s power. What is that all about?”


Jesus’ response infers, “Well yes, these miracles are clearly signs of God on the move, God ruling, God’s kingdom in operation, but if you want to operate in this realm you need to start life all over again on a completely different basis.”


“Hold on,” says Nicodemus, “how can that happen? The picture language you are using says I need to start life all over again. How can that possibly be?”. Well, says Jesus, you need the work of both water and the Spirit. (v.5). Many have speculated on that double suggestion because it is not spelt out. Yes, it is a mystery, like where the wind blows (v.8) but water in the Bible, apart from being a source of life, is usually associated with getting washed, and the Spirit is associated with power. So Jesus’ indirect references suggest this ‘new birth’ comes with a washing away the old and being renewed or rather brought to life from death by the Spirit.

That’s incredible, suggests Nicodemus, how can that come about? These are spiritual things discerned by spiritual people, people who have encountered heaven, is what Jesus implies and turns the conversation towards himself: “I tell you the truth, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony. I have spoken to you of earthly things and you do not believe; how then will you believe if I speak of heavenly things?” (v.11,12) In other words, look, you are struggling when I try to convey these things in human terms, how will you do if I try to convey the secrets of heaven?

The answer, of course, in the light of what went before, is that you won’t, you’ve got to be born again first. It will only be when the Spirit enters your life and empowers you that you will plug into God’s wavelength and He will be able to teach you these things. But that still leaves Nicodemus and any other seeker feeling helpless. So what help is there to bring all this about?

It will be, says Jesus, when I am lifted up (v.14). Do you remember how Moses had a bronze snake that was lifted up on a pole so anyone who came and looked on it was healed from their snake bites? Well that is how it’s going to be with me. When I am lifted up – first on the Cross, then by resurrection, and then in the ascension – then you will have something to focus your belief on, and when you believe I am who I am, then my Father will grant you eternal life. It is that simple.

Wow! There is the personal life transformation spelled out. The name changing gave an indication of what was coming. The wine showed the power that was available to bring the change, the talk of resurrection pushed it to include spiritually died lives, and now the talk of new birth pushes it to its conclusion. It will come as a work of cleansing from the past, and power for the future, and it will bring a total life transformation. It all comes about when we are confronted with and come to believe in the thrice ‘raised up’ Son of God. When we see him as he is, and see ourselves as we are, we fall on our knees before him in surrender and in worship and he puts his own Spirit in us and we are reborn. Transformation! Hallelujah!  He does in us what we cannot do ourselves. How wonderful!

4. The Life Transformer

Meditating on Great Themes in John:   4. The Life Transformer


John 2:11   This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.

So far, John has given us light-bulb revelations, knowledge of Jesus  that comes in quick bursts through the mouths of others. Suddenly that all changes. As we move into chapter 2 John recounts an incident, early in Jesus’ ministry, that he calls the first of Jesus’ miraculous signs. John is big on signs; he sees the miracles of Jesus as signs that reveal him for what he is.  We find the phrase ‘miraculous signs’ appear in 2:1,  2:23,  3:2,  4:48,  6:2, 6:26, 7:31, 9:16, 11:47, 12:37 and 20:30, i.e. 11 times!  The words ‘miraculous sign’ appear in  2:18,  4:54, 6:14 , 6:30, 10:41 and 12:18 i.e. another 6 times. So seventeen times John refers to Jesus’ miraculous activities as signs pointing to himself. We will also see later the number of times John uses the word ‘testify’. The two things go together as ways things point to Jesus to reveal who he is.

So here we find Jesus and his first followers a few days later at a wedding in Cana back in Galilee. They are there because Jesus’ mother is a guest and so Jesus has been included and he simply brings along his few followers. It’s an ordinary wedding but soon things go wrong: the wine runs out. Some Christians are a little sensitive about drinking alcohol but whether this was full blown wine or watered down wine, the fact is that wine was the drink to have at a celebration because it tasted good and it lightened people up. Don’t forget that latter part. Yes the apostle Paul did teach, “Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.” (Eph 5:18)   The thrust of his teaching was don’t lose self control.

So the wine runs out which would be both a cause of shame to those organizing the wedding celebrations and a dampener on the remainder of the party. To cut the story short for emphasis, Jesus gets large jars filled with water and then turns that water into what turns out to be very good quality wine. Now we sometimes so focus on the nuts and bolts of a story that we miss the big picture, the things being revealed in the wider sense.

First, this is a miracle, of that there can be no doubt. If Jesus had leant on a neighbour or nearby friend who had a large source of top quality wine, the logistics of ferrying it all in without anyone knowing would have made that impossible. Similarly if this story got out afterwards and it had not been true, the servants would have said so. Likewise there is no possibility that the person running the celebration would have held back a secret store of top quality wine because a) that would have reflected badly on him when the news of no more wine leaked out, and b) the practice was to use the best wine first and then bring out the poorer quality wine when every had had too much to drink (v.10) and were less discerning!

Second, this is about transformation. At the heart of it is water being transformed into wine, the ordinary being transformed into the special. Water simply slakes thirst, wine blesses the palate and releases the heart: “wine makes life merry.” (Eccles 10:19) There is no doubt about it that alcohol in small measure lifts the spirits (sorry for the pun!). Yes, in excess it causes unpleasantness, but winegrowing was a particular characteristic of the Promised Land. Remember the spies came back bringing bunches of grapes from Canaan (see Num 13:23). It had already got Lot to act without knowledge there for drinking too much of the produce! (see Gen 19:32-35)

But this is a major issue in this particular incident. Jesus isn’t simply helping out, he is revealing his purpose in life to bring life transformation, from the humdrum to the boosted joyfulness. Do you remember when the Spirit was poured out on the Day of Pentecost  the effect on the disciples was to have some to accuse them of being drunk (Acts 2:13). Joy is a normal response to being filled with the Holy Spirit.

When Luke was recording the early events of Jesus’ ministry, he used the incident of Jesus reading the scroll in the synagogue: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed,  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Lk 4:18,19 quoting Isa 61) That also is all about life transformation. Luke’s record had been around many years so John didn’t need to repeat it. Instead he conveys the same thing but through the first of the acts of Jesus, the miraculous signs.

Jesus in his teaching conveyed this, speaking indirectly of what he was doing as ‘new wine’: “Neither do men pour new wine into old wineskins. If they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. No, they pour new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” (Mt 9:17)  The message is clear, Jesus came to bring an effervescent life to replace the gloom and darkness of the sin-laden life. As Jesus’ ministry developed and crowds were healed, joy must have been the primary characteristic of what was going on. That is what Jesus had come to bring and John conveys it through this miracle.

29. Water Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 29 : Jesus, bringer of Living Water

Jn 4:10-14 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” ….Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

If you were an alien who had just arrived on earth and didn’t know what water was, John’s Gospel would be rather a mystery to you, because water keeps on cropping up.  Jesus was baptized in water (1:33), he turned water into wine (2:6-), he referred to our natural birth as birth of water (3:5), he speaks about water to this Samaritan woman (4:7-), he healed a man by a mystical pool of water (5:1-), he walked on water (6:19), he spoke about streams of water to refer to the coming Holy Spirit (7:38), he washed his disciples feet with water (13:5), water poured out when he was pierced  on the Cross (19:34), and his last miracle was on water (21:7).  What all this says is that water is very common. There is lots of it on the earth and we use it to drink, to wash, to cook with and to manufacture things. Without it we’d be dead.  Water is a vital and essential element of our lives.

The Samaritan woman has come looking for water, ordinary water from the well, but does Jesus sense another yearning in her? It’s a strange thing isn’t it, that we can have different yearnings. When we haven’t drunk for a while we’re thirsty, we yearn for water. In that respect water is symbolic of all the material things we need to stay alive. Yet the truth is that we find yearnings within us that go beyond material yearnings. We have yearnings for love, for beauty, for meaning in life. Without these things ‘life’ is very ‘dry’. The woman was very jaded about life. She’s been through a number of relationships which had all failed or passed. Whether her husbands left her or had died we aren’t told, but she’s had five already. Even for a Hollywood movie star that’s going some. More than that, she’s living with a man now who’s not her husband. For this woman life is unreliable and upsetting. When we form relationships we anguish when they end. This woman yearns for something permanent, something stable, something that will put security into her life, something that will transform it. She comes with at least two needs, therefore.

Jesus senses this and starts talking about ‘living water’.  Living water could first refer to spring water that bubbles up from the ground and she seems to understand it in this way first of all because she says he has nothing to draw up the water.  Jesus’ answer in our verses today indicates that his water is different, because when you drink it, you’ll never thirst again, i.e. if you take Jesus’ provision, all of your non-material yearnings will be for ever satisfied. This provision will remain in you and will act like a spring within you, constantly welling up and providing all you need. This ‘water’ is living, constantly self-perpetuating, never ending in supply.

Even as we mentioned above in John 7:38,39, Jesus referred to this water there and meant the Holy Spirit. There, and in the present passage, are two requirements to receive that ‘living water’: first that you thirst (Jn 7:37), that you have a deep yearning for something more that the material world cannot provide and, second, as seen in the story of the Samaritan woman, you face your state and recognize your need and see that only Jesus can satisfy it. Thus when we surrender to him, he gives us his own Holy Spirit, who lives within us and acts as a constant, never-ending supply of life from within, the ONLY real life satisfying supply.

28. Equality Bringer

Meditations on Jesus in John’s Gospel : 28 : Jesus, bringer of Equality

Jn 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?

Our world is riven with divisions of all sorts. It seems division is one of the ‘natural’ fruits of Sin. The first sin in the Garden of Eden demonstrated that. The couple were immediately divided from God (they hid from Him, Gen 3:8) and from each other (he blamed her, Gen 3:12).  In our world today we have prejudice – nationality against nationality, colour against colour, creed against creed etc. etc. – but also divisions at all levels of relational society – people against government or authority, employees versus employer, parent versus child.  Division is rife.

In Jesus day, the Samaritans were a sort of under-class in the eyes of the traditional Jews. Their history meant that they had become a mixed race and in Jewish eyes, inferior. Women were largely seen as the inferior gender and power and authority was mostly in male hands, and often badly used. A woman on her own in public was likely to be considered dubious, they was some probably dubious reason why she was on her own; three things that make this woman who appears at the well where Jesus was resting, questionable, a woman who a respectable male Jew would avoid. Not so Jesus.

Jesus had no problem crossing national, religious, class or cultural boundaries. He was happy to talk to Romans (Mt 8:5-), Greeks (Mk 7:26), Samaritans, (4:7), civic leaders (Jn 3:1), blind beggars (Jn 9:1-), the morally strict (Mk 12:13-), the religiously liberal (Mk 12:18-), and the morally lax (Lk 15:1); Jesus came to ‘the world’.

It is perhaps easy to say this or write this, but the truth is that Jesus did it but we find it incredibly difficult.  What would be the person or people you would find it difficult to speak to?  Would it be the member of the Royal family?  Would it be a powerful company director?  Would it be a way-out pop star?  Would it be a heavy metal addict?  Would it be a drug addict?  Would it be an alcoholic?  Would it be an AIDS infected person? Would it be a known criminal?  Would it be a wife beater? Would it be a paedophile? Would it be a Nazi, a Communist, a Conservative, a Socialist, or a Liberal?  Would it be a beggar or simply someone unemployed? Would it be someone mentally retarded or physically disabled? Would it be a homosexual? Would it be an adulterer? Would it be a pornographer? Would they be black or white or brown? Would they be Muslim, Hindu or Jew? Would they be French or German or Spanish or a hundred other nationalities?  If they came hungry and seeking, Jesus would not have a problem with any of these and hundreds of other types or groups that you might think of.

How did Jesus relate so easily to this woman in our verse today?  First of all he knew he has something that could bless her: Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.’ (v.10). He also knew her plight: you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband (v.18). That was true of whoever came to Jesus. He knew he had resources to bless them and he knew their situation and their plight. Jesus came into the world to reveal God’s love – to whoever!  We struggle to get past a person’s colour, their clothes, their appearance, their language, their expressions, their background, their philosophy of life, their quirks, and their unpleasantness, but Jesus sees past all of that and sees what they could become when they know his Father.

20. Life Transformer

Jesus in John’s Gospel : 20 : Jesus, transformer of life

Jn 2:7-10 Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.” They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, “Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.”

John’s Gospel is full of picture language. Some of it is Jesus’ direct teaching, e.g. I am the gate (Jn 10:7), some of it are references from others, e.g. Behold the Lamb of God” (Jn 1:29). Some of it was clearly figurative language with a meaning, e.g. If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him (Jn 7:37,38). Sometimes he did things which were a picture of a spiritual reality, as in today’s verses.

First of all the facts of what actually happened, the things we would have seen if we had been there. They run out of wine at the wedding feast, Jesus instructs the servants to fill large jars with water and when they do that and take it to the master of the banquet it has all turned into first class wine. That is what actually happened but the next verse, as we’ll see tomorrow, says This, the first of his miraculous signs, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. He thus revealed his glory, and his disciples put their faith in him.” This, says the writer John, revealed something of Jesus.

So what did it show about Jesus? Well first, quite obviously, it shows that Jesus was a man of care and compassion. The wedding was in trouble and he had the means to help so he did. Second, he obviously had the power to do miracles, for turning water into first class wine is certainly a miracle. But was that the only reason that John included this miracle which does not appear in the other three Gospels? John tries to get us to think and believe. So in its basic terms, what happened here? Jesus took something very ordinary (water) and turned it into something capable of bringing pleasure, something of character and wonder (well that’s what connoisseurs of wine tell us about a fine wine).

So here are millions of tired and weary people, living ordinary, humdrum lives, who are longing for something more and Jesus comes along and says, “Yes, they’re a bit like water aren’t they, just sufficient to stay alive, but would you like them transformed to be full of interesting flavour, full of potential to bring life and joy, and to be freed up?” That’s the offer that is hidden in this little episode, the offer of life transformation.

Isn’t that exactly what Jesus did all the time? He did it with the twelve disciples who travelled with him and with the women who accompanied them. Mary Magdalene was a classic example. He did it with people he encountered. Zacchaeus was a classic example.  When I look back on my life I see a life that has very clearly been changed from ‘water’ to ‘wine’. I have friends who I know have been similarly transformed. There is a challenge in all this: if we have become a Christian, has it been a life transformation, because if it hasn’t you’re not getting the full effect! Paul spoke about us, we…are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord (2 Cor 3:18). That is what the Lord is doing, changing us into Jesus’ likeness, and it’s a change as different as water into wine!

25 Samaritan Woman

People who met Jesus : 25 :  The Samaritan Woman

Jn 4:4-10 Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar …..  tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well….. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

As we come to consider the lady in our verses today her very designation is what makes her stand out. Like the crippled lady we considered previously she is someone who Jesus approached, not someone who came to Jesus. The first part of her designation is quite natural. This is the province of Samaria and so anyone who came from the little town would be likely to be a Samaritan. Nothing strange there! The emphasis is made because Jesus was a Jew and the Jews and Samaritans never got on. There is not space here to go into their history; sufficient to say there was hostility between them. We see Jesus here crossing racial, cultural and social divides in approaching this woman and her response to his request confirms this.

Now Jesus doesn’t simply say something like, “Oh, racial divides mean nothing to me.” Instead he drops an enigmatic bombshell in front of her. There are two areas where you are ignorant, is what he is saying gently. First you don’t know what God wants to give you and, second, you don’t realise that I am the one who can bring you that gift! If you had realised these two things, you wouldn’t be questioning me about social niceties, you would be asking for the gift that I alone can give you.

I think if Jesus had said that to me out of the blue I would have stood there with my mouth open wondering about it. What is he talking about? This woman ploughs in where angels fear to tread and takes what he says literally and starts questioning him about the practicality of him drawing water for her. Jesus doesn’t respond to that but declares, Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (v.13,14)

Now she may not understand this for her answer seems to suggest that she is still thinking in material terms, but who knows, she might be glimpsing what he means: “The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (v.15) Now she may be unclear but Jesus decides to take her on in the process. To receive eternal life, something else has to happen first so he asks something (even though he knows the answer), “He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (v.16) to which she replies, “I have no husband.” (v.17). Well that’s the first sign of honesty, of willing to face her situation.

But then Jesus reveals that he knows all about her: “Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (v.17,18) When we come to Jesus, when we start thinking about becoming a Christian, coming to God, however else you might express it, we need to realise that He knows all about us already, so there is no point in trying to hide anything from Him. To this she responds that he must be a prophet and in the dialogue that follows the subject of the Jewish Messiah comes up and Jesus declares, “I who speak to you am he,” (v.26) one of his most specific claims. Her response was to go and tell the people back in the town what had happened.

As with so many of these encounters, they often reveal more about Jesus than they do about the person meeting him, yet there is more to be considered about her. Yes, she may be summed up as a lady with a less than stable background. The fact that she’s had (and been rejected by five husbands – for that is how Jewish divorce took place) indicates that here is a lady who either feels rejected by life, or who doesn’t care what people think anyway.

We make that latter comment because, of course, another reason for her being divorced five times is that she could have been found guilty of adultery. Now according to the Jewish law that should have resulted in stoning but it seems fairly clear from the Gospels that the moral state of the land was not good when John the Baptist came, so it is not unlikely that that was not followed. Her willingness to dialogue (argue) with Jesus almost suggests that the latter is more likely. She does not appear to have low self esteem, which would follow from being rejected five times. It seems more that she is forthright and has actually been in control of her destiny. It is her folly, therefore, that has brought her thus far – where she is living (as it used to be said) ‘in sin’ with yet another man.

Now what is remarkable about all this is that Jesus clearly knows all about her and is not in any way put off. Indeed, to the contrary, he seeks to minister to her need and show her the way to eternal life. This is Jesus who not only steps over racial and cultural boundaries but who steps over all boundaries to seek the lost. He will not do or say anything that makes him like the people he seeks to reach, but he will love and accept them just like they are as he reaches out to them. Only thus can they receive God’s love and be changed.

However ‘bad’ our life, Jesus loves us and desires to reach out and save us. That must be one of the primary messages of this account. The challenge to us who are his disciples is, will we do the same?