There have been a lot of new items recently on the movement afoot by those who style themselves “Freedom From Religion”, who want to ban greetings of Merry Christmas, manger scenes, and etc. from public view. In response there seems to be a resurgence of “Christ, the reason for the season” banners. I have no problem with the celebration of Christmas, but I do wish that slogans could be altered slightly to reflect what He was really all about, not a season, but a life. My guess is that if our celebration of Christ was a little more year-round, a little less seasonal, there might be fewer unbelievers. Well, that aside, let’s look at what our reading might say to us today.
Whatever He says to you, do it. — Jn 2:5
This instruction is from Mary, Jesus’ mother, who has sort of imposed on her son to help someone dodge a social disaster — running out of wine. I’m going to skip the discussion about whether it was alcohol-laced or not; I’m not convinced it matters. What does matter here is that first Jesus performed a substantial miracle in proof of His identity as the Son of God. Second, the servants did what Jesus said. Had I been a servant, I might have been tempted to object to filling up the jars (big as a trash container) with water, “Excuse me, sir, we need wine, not water.” But they filled them to the brim, the Scriptures tell us. And when the Lord told them to take a dipper full to the head waiter, I’d have been very tempted to say something like, “Excuse me, sir, are you trying to get me fired (or beaten)?” But it turned out to be the best wine. “Whatever He says to you, do it” — they did and they were rewarded. “Whatever” covers a lot of territory that sometimes we aren’t too keen on listening to instruction about — because we know what we’re doing. But when we do…
Raising the Temple in three days — Jn. 2:19
This “sign” sounded really crazy to the first hearers, no doubt. They misunderstood Him, though if they had rightly understood Him, they still would have thought Him crazy. Little did they know that raising the physical Temple was child’s play in comparison to what was really happening — the resurrection that was to be the first fruit of all the dead. That’s what Jesus and the Father have always specialized in — the “no way”, “that’s just crazy”, “you’ve got to be kidding” stuff. So also with things He commands today, if we’d just have the faith to do the crazy things He says, we might find that they are less crazy than we think. Paul put it this way, (Ephesians 3:20) “Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us.” O, we of little faith.
You must be born again — John 3:3-5
Although this passage is often cited by folks who would argue against the need for baptism, the early church clearly understood it to be a reference to baptism. The argument against baptism is often made on the basis of a fear that it is some work of merit. F.F. Bruce as he wrote about John 3:3-5 in his commentary on the Gospel of John said,
“…Christian baptism even more emphatically symbolizes the new beginning for every one who by faith-union with Christ share his death and burial in a spiritual sense and rises with him to newness of life. It is a pity when reaction against the notion of baptismal regeneration by an opus operatum (work of merit) leads to the complete overlooking of the baptismal allusion in these words of Jesus.”
Baptism is not a work of merit; in fact, it is a passive act of obedient submission. And getting into the Kingdom of God is impossible without a faith-filled, repentant obedience to it (see Acts 2:38 / 22:16 / 1 Peter 3:20).
He who does not obey the Son will not see life — 3:36
Those who follow Luther’s slogan and teaching of “faith only” are fond of quoting John 3:16; what they fail to note is that just 20 verse farther down the page Jesus is also saying that obedience is crucial, too. Really, there shouldn’t be a debate about whether one is saved by either faith or works, as if they were contradictory matters. The truth is that works are a natural outgrowth of faith. That’s why James 2:14ff tells us, “faith without works is dead”. If one’s faith is not accompanied by appropriate works, it is not really faith — it’s just an unimportant opinion that’s not worth acting on. But if faith does come with works, it is clearly real faith. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and! When these teachings of both faith and works are put together, you create genuine, dynamic, world-changing discipleship.
An unlikely connection to the Samaritans — John 4
The Samaritans were an unlikely bunch for a Jewish rabbi to reach out to, and a Samaritan woman was an unlikely connection for the Samaritans to be reached, and a sinful Samaritan was less likely still. But Jesus reached out anyway — that’s just like Jesus. His love was wide enough to include everyone, even Samaritans, who were considered half-breeds racially and religiously. His love was deep enough to talk with a sinful Samaritan woman, who had had five husbands and was shacking up with another man without benefit of marriage. The apostles were blown away, but they were probably more blown away when they saw the crowds of Samaritans coming their way and they had to stay with them (eeeyyyeeeeewwwwwww) a couple of days. How wide and deep is your love (Ephesians 3:17,18)?
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.