July 11, 2011

The Common Thread: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Nicodemus - The Samaritan Woman - The Disciples

What are the responses given by the three various groups toward Jesus and who He was?

The each have a different view of what they thought Messiah would be when He came. They have a misconception of who they believe Jesus is when they meet Him and even misunderstand Him after He is crucified and resurrected.

Nicodemus (and probably the disciples as evidenced by their question in Acts 1:6) were expecting a Messiah of the political/military realm that was going to physically extract or remove them out from under the yoke of Roman oppression and set up His kingdom. It is just the opposite. It is a spiritual issue. It is rebirth spiritually not physical. The kingdom likewise will be ushered in spiritual aspect first or the Now and Not Yet. Change the hearts first and then physically in the second advent. But for now the entrance into eternal life is spiritual and it is through Christ’s sacrifice.

The Disciples and Jesus’ inside circle and those outside of it is one distinction. Even the disciples themselves were outside the loop of understanding Jesus’ mission on earth at first. This persisted until Jesus calls to them to follow Him. Once they are in Christ or within the realm of His teaching, the truths of Christ become more readily available and understandable to them. The more Jesus elaborates on His mission and ministry the more it becomes more apparent to those around Him. Sadly, many never quite “get it” Luke’s Emmaus Road incident is one indicator of this and the question in Acts 1:6 resounds like a gong for dull-witted, “Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Even after Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection they still thought a material/physical kingdom was just hours away and that they would be removed out from under Roman subjugation.

Again with the Samaritan woman we see a case of misunderstanding but unlike the others we see a dramatic turnaround and exuberance from the Samaritan woman that converts a town. The disciples and Nicodemus appear to have needed much more work. We see what truly distinguished the Samaritan woman from Nicodemus (to a lesser extent the disciples) when we compare them. Nicodemus was a man, the Samaritan was a woman. Nicodemus was an orthodox, conservative Jew, the woman a half breed apostate from Judaism. Nicodemus was a prominent, highly regarded leader, perhaps one of the best known religious teachers of his day. The woman was well known, too, but her reputation had to do with the number of men she had lived with. Nicodemus sought out his interview with the Messiah, while the woman ‘chanced’ into a meeting with Him. So far, all the pluses seem to be in favor of Nicodemus. But we should not fail to point out some additional contrasts. Nicodemus was not reported to have been immediately converted, while the woman’s faith is evident nearly immediately. The conversation with Nicodemus had no impact on the lives of his peers. Jesus eventually had to leave Judea because of the Pharisees (John 4:1 3) but the woman brought back nearly the whole town with her testimony, and Jesus was invited to stay on with them (4:39 42). While Jesus spoke of Himself to the Jews in veiled terms (cf. John 2:18 22), He gave one of the clearest statements of His identity to this woman (4:26). The Jews had already begun to reject Him, but the Samaritans received Him as the Savior of the world (4:42).

In the end, all are sovereignly elected of God for His purposes and also choose of their own accord. They are either drawn to Jesus or driven away from Him as Scripture alludes to. In reality it is their sin that drives them away and their repentance that allows them to be drawn near. Stubborn sin makes a person stand-offish, acknowledgment of sin and a desire to rid oneself of it makes one realize they need help. People either humble themselves and can be approached or they stay arrogant and conceited and are unapproachable.

They’re dead in their sins and Jesus has come to release them from their sins as an atoning sacrifice. You either choose to approach the throne or you run away. If we choose repentance, we are then to become His disciples so that inevitably we become more like Him to in-turn become visual and moral magnets for others to do the same. What we are not to do is become overtly pious and arrogant in our “religion” because “religion” does not save, Jesus Christ does.

In the end we see the true message from Jesus reaches them all to a greater or lesser extent. Regardless, all of them are reached. Scripture doesn’t say that only those that believe the most will get to heaven it says those that just believe are saved. This is similar to the statement the last will be first and the first will be last and the parable of the Mustard Seed. It only takes a little faith to believe and it can be at the last minute. It doesn’t matter if you repented and accepted Jesus with you dying breathe, the fact is you did.

What applications can we find in this?

We clearly see here that we should not get too tied up in our “religion” we need to get tied into Jesus Christ or we need to be “in Christ” as the Apostle Paul put it.

Instead of getting too wrapped up in what Jesus can do for us, like those looking for a “sign” during His ministry we need to figure out how we can do things for perpetuation of the Kingdom. The “doing” is “believing” and becoming His disciple. To imply any more than this makes it “works righteousness” and I cannot adhere to this philosophy/theology. The discipleship process is intrinsically linked to our process of sanctification in Christ. Although we participate in the process the justification and initiation is by the work of the Spirit. We only continue in our sanctification due to His continued presence in us.

We are all guilty of sin and subjects in rebellion against their King. The only way to get ourselves right with the King and the Kingdom is to allow Jesus to take our sin, die to self and to be reborn again into a totally new kind of life, a “new creation” that seeks first to serve not be served. We should not be content hearing only sermons and speeches that tickle our ears and make us feel good about ourselves. We need to hear the things that convict us. We are indeed sinners and will remain sinners. I personally believe that one of the main reasons God instituted a death penalty on life for all is so…people would finally stop sinning. If we didn’t die we would continue sinning until the sun burnt to a cinder.

We must never get so haughty that we sit and look at these people as being thickheaded and dumb. They are us. We just have the benefit of hindsight and 2000 years of introspective thought to see the Bible with vision and eyes they did not have.

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