John 4 – The Samaritan Woman

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I always admire the irony of the things people say to and about Jesus.  When Pilot has Him before the crowd in Matthew 27, they cry “His blood be on us and on our children.”  Little did they know what they were truly asking for.  Here the woman points out that the well is very deep and Jesus has nothing to draw water from it.  Little does she know in that moment how deep the Well of Living Water truly runs.

As people often do, this woman points to the tradition that she knows, the story of Jacob digging that well to give them water.  For them, especially the Samaritans, it was their tradition that gave them their identity.  Yet getting too caught up in that tradition can have dramatically negative consequences.

These folks thought this well, one that Jacob himself, the father of Israel, had dug, was one of many links to their past and therefore to God, and that drinking from it gave them life.  Jesus, however, points out how empty they really are without the true, life giving water that He offers.

When this is all laid out for her, she and the whole town come out to see Jesus and places their faith in Him.  Contrast this harvest of new believers with those that Jesus encounters in Cana, the very place where He turned water into wine.  These people demand more signs so that they could believe, a sad testimony to the faith of the Jews if there ever was one.

Through Scripture, God reveals Himself to us especially in the person of Jesus Christ.  It is important that we find our identity here and not in our own traditions or denominations lest we find ourselves demanding more signs rather than believing God’s Living Word.

John 3 – Nicodemus

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Whenever the Pharisees and Jesus engage in a conversation, it is pretty much expected that sparks are going to fly.  This conversation with Nicodemus though, seems rather anticlimactic; Nicodemus’ seems almost normal, at least for a Pharisee.

In many cases Jesus is always on the defensive when it comes to Pharisee interaction, but what we see here is Jesus interacting on a personal level, fielding questions from someone that doesn’t quite understand completely.  While at times Jesus seems disappointed in Nicodemus’ lack of understanding, that is because of his status as a religious leader, not because Jesus doesn’t welcome the questions.

One of the realities that we see here, actually, is that Jesus welcomes the questions from anyone, on any level, at any time.  He doesn’t run away from the questions, doesn’t reject the asker, and doesn’t sugar coat the answers either because reality of the answers, whether we like them or not, always come back to the over-abundance of grace and love that God has for everyone.  We see this in the words of Scripture’s most famous verse: John 3:16.

John’s Gospel is full of recurring thematic imagery that is good to be on the lookout for.  Back in John 1, the Apostle talks about Jesus as the “Light of the World.”  He also talks about Jesus as a light that the world does not recognize.  Here we get some of this imagery again as Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the dark of night, but also comes to Him in the dark of who Jesus really is.

Verses 16-20 reflect this even more as John writes a bit of his own commentary on the interaction between Jesus and Nicodemus leading to His conclusion about the state of the word’s love for darkness and also its hope for the true Light.

Psalm 8 "Our Father in Heaven…"

Our Sermon Series “Teach us to Pray” continues with the beginning of the Lord’s Prayer.  First and foremost we must recognize who God is as the Holy God, creator of all things.

Pastor Sarah Farkas preaching.

John 2 – Wine and Dine

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The story of Jesus turning water into wine is a favorite among pastors wanting to show that Jesus approves of weddings and marriages.  Some have also used it to point out the fact that Jesus approves of alcohol consumption because of what He did at this wedding.  Sadly, both of these attempts at proof-texting completely miss the point of the passage here.

Jesus’ miracle at this wedding in Cana is the first documented miracle that He performs in His public ministry.  The miracle itself is rather spectacular and compassionate, saving a poor young couple from the embarrassment of ruining their own wedding celebration by not purchasing enough alcohol.  But, as is true in the Gospel of John, there is a great deal of symbolism that is found deep in this narrative.

When the dreadful lack of wine is discovered, Jesus tells Mary that His “hour has not yet come.”  The implication is that Jesus knows who He is and what He has come for.  Interestingly, even though it was not His hour, she still believes and He still performs this miracle.

These nearby stone jars are something that every Jew would recognize; a symbol of Jewish ritualism and the Law.  The fact that they were not full is interesting in itself, and what happens to the water once they are full is even more miraculous!  He takes the empty jars of Jewish ritualism and overflows them with the abundance that is the Kingdom of Heaven.

This is one of many revelations about the Kingdom of Heaven.  In God’s economy, there is always abundance.  More than this, though, is that the best things are yet to come, and will be realized when this Kingdom comes in its fullness when Jesus returns and we celebrate together at God’s banquet table.

John 1 – Prologue

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The opening words of John 1 give a beautiful introduction to the message of this Gospel.  It is a high point from which we can look down on the whole of the Gospel, a point to which we can always return as we being to move through this book.  This is the perspective that John invites us to take as we are introduced to Jesus the Messiah.

John’s whole purpose in writing is to paint a picture of Jesus as God, a theme that is picked up instantly in chapter 1, and is carried throughout the whole Gospel.  Jesus is revealed as “the Word,” coming from the Greek word “Logos,” referring not only to “words” but also to divine wisdom.  Jesus is the “Wisdom of God,” as Paul writes in 1 Corinthians and was present with God the Father before the beginning began.

Contained within John’s Gospel is also a microcosm of the greater Biblical story, from beginning to end.  We get a sense as John talks about creation and the many people that came before “the light” who witnessed to it.  John the Baptist joins the ranks of so many who came before Jesus, testifying to the light of the world that is Jesus Christ.

One of the most beautiful things about this is how John, and really all of Scripture, draws us into the story and then shows us that it is our story and that we are a part of it.  When we meet Jesus, He says to us like the call of Nathanael, I saw you while you weren’t here, but you will see greater things than this!  We are called to be witnesses to the light as well, to testify to all that we have seen and heard, and to the grace that we have experienced.

Introduction to John

The Gospel of John is the fourth and most unique of the four Canonical Gospels.  John the Apostle wrote this Gospel later than Matthew, Mark, and Luke and writes to a much wider audience as well.

John records the life of Jesus in an effort to prove Jesus’ identity as the divine Son of God who is one with the Father.  His writing is highly symbolic, a literary masterpiece.  One could read John on the surface and gain considerable knowledge and wisdom, or start to dig deep and find truths and wisdom that come alive in the text.  I have heard it likened to a swimming pool: you can splash around in the shallow end or dive into the deep end; in either case you will still get wet!

Because of the way John writes, this Gospel is not considered a “Synoptic” Gospel.  John records things in a way that brings out the truth that is being proclaimed here.  Some have argued that, because of John’s lack coherence with the other Gospels, it calls into question the truth of Jesus.  Yet it is important for us to know that “facts” and “truth” are not necessarily always the same thing.  While facts are always true (think: timelines, dates, weights, etc.), truths are boundless and timeless (think: parables, stories, proverbs, etc.).  The Gospel of John contains some of the deepest truths about Christ, even if its timeline is not the same as the other Gospels.

Things to look out for:

John’s Outline:

  • Prologue – 1:1-1:18
  • Book of Signs – 1:19-12:50
    • Sometimes considered the general revelation of Jesus.  Contains 7 miracles of Jesus during His public ministry.
  • Book of Glory – 13:1-20:31
    • Sometimes considered the special revelation of Jesus.  His public ministry finished, Jesus shares with His disciples and then goes to the cross.
  • Epilogue – 21:1-21:25

John records 7 statements made by Jesus, all pointing to who He is as God. Photo Credit:

John records 7 statements made by Jesus, all pointing to who He is as God.
Photo Credit:

Luke 24 – Emmaus

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The narrative of the Road to Emmaus is unique to the book of Luke and sets the stage for Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances.  It also shows us a very particular way that God reveals Himself to us in the person of Jesus Christ through the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.  It was in the moment in which Jesus broke the bread that His true identity is revealed to the two men that were with Him.  We believe that this continues to be true when we come to the Table of Our Lord.  When we eat the bread and drink the juice, Jesus is revealed to us in a unique and mysterious way.

There is another thing that is happening in this story that is really special; it is a narrative of those who are searching for answers and finding them in God’s Word which is the revelation of God and points to Jesus Christ as the true Messiah and Savior.

These two men are walking a road from Jerusalem, after seeing and hearing all of what happened in Jesus’ death.  The implication here is that they are part of those who followed Jesus and were at least somewhat familiar with Him.  But they are also confused about what just happened.  Sometimes this is true with us as we see God at work in our lives; we don’t truly understand it.

Yet Jesus appears, not miraculously and powerfully to chastise them for their questions, but instead comes along side them and joins in their conversation, gently and purposefully revealing Himself through the teaching of Scripture.  God is not afraid of our questions or our faith struggles; He directs us through the Holy Spirit to the true and certain revelation of who He is and His love for us in Scripture.

Luke 23 – Stark Reality

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The series of events that directly leads to Jesus death include at least two hearings of a judicial nature,a beating, torture, a death march, the act of crucifixion, and the process of dying which took hours.

Crucifixion is the most horrific way ever invented to kill a human being. Jesus death took that to an entirely new level. Most people didn’t actually survive a flogging much less a march down main street after being flogged.  It makes the term “cruel and unusual punishment” looks like a warm summer day at the park.

As cruel as all of this seems, there is a deeper reality that we don’t often think of when it comes to this: Jesus did this for us while we were still sinners.  Sometimes we who believe in Jesus do not realize this, having found our Savior and experienced His grace, but Jesus died for those who don’t believe too.

This, my friends, is the true depth of God’s love for us; Jesus died so that anyone and everyone would always have the possibility of salvation, even if they never come to know Him.  The true beauty in this self-sacrificial death is that the act itself is not dependent on a decision from us, but rather it creates the possibility of a decision for all, whether they take it or not.

While it may seem of little consequence to those longing for loved ones to come to know Christ, it is important to remember that the fact they can even consider the question of “who Jesus is” comes from the stark reality of what Jesus did.  Like a parent who loves a child, even in the midst of rejection, so God loves us and always leaves the porchlight on for those who want to come home.

Luke 22 – Take this Cup

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The theme of blood, which seals covenantal promises, is one that runs throughout the whole of Old Testament Scripture and shows up here in the image of the cup.  As Jesus shares His last supper, He offers up the bread, His body, and the cup, which is the “new covenant” that is sealed in His blood.  Jesus offers this knowing what is about to come.

I have always found it interesting though that Jesus also prays in the garden, after the dinner, that God would take this cup from Him.  It is not as though Jesus was unwilling, ultimately He prays that God’s will would be done over His.  But Jesus knows the price for the sealing of any covenant: blood.  As all of the Jewish sacrificial traditions point to, the simple fact is that something must die so that another could live.

Later in the book of Romans, Paul writes that “the wages of sin is death,” and this is abundantly true.  All the way back in Genesis, God tells Adam and Eve that, should they disobey and eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die.  When they did, all of humankind was destined to the same fate.

It isn’t just physical death we are talking about, but spiritual death as well; permanent separation from God, our creator.  This is not God’s desire.  In fact, Paul writes in Ephesians that, because of God’s great love for us, Jesus died for us even while we were still sinners.

God knew that we could not create our own way back to Him, so He made a way for us in Jesus Christ. We celebrate this when we “take the cup” at the Table of our Lord when we celebrate and remember together.

Matthew 6:5-15 "Teach Us To Pray"

Prayer is one of the most vital parts of the Christian life.  This morning we begin a new sermon series walking through the Lord’s prayer and learning from Jesus how He taught His disciples to pray and how our prayer life can impact how we live the life of faith.

Pastor Sarah Farkas preaching.

Luke 21 – How Long?

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The other morning I was sitting with my newborn baby daughterwatching the news while she fell back asleep in my arms.  As we rocked my attention passed between her and the news of the day.  I don’t remember them exactly, but I know they were bad.  Coverage of a bombing, a hijacking, or some other such thing, and I wondered allowed, “how much longer can this go on?”

I didn’t really have an answer at the time until I read this, a reminder of things already covered in Matthew, yes, but a good reminder each and every day that we see things like this.  It is hard to not get calloused, to not become indifferent at this news.  All bad all the time and its hard to find any comfort in that.

Certainly, as those who are called to show the love of God, we need to be mindful of our reactions, especially to those who want to do us harm.  “Love your enemy,” Jesus says, “Do good to those who hate you;” “Pray for those who persecute you.”  Never are we to become inhospitible, even to those who would do us harm.

At the same time, though, it is important for us to not become indifferent to these injustices either.  It is easy to turn a blind eye to things that happen over-seas, but we are called to “mourn with those who mourn.”  So we pray for Paris, for Ankara, for Brussels, and every place marked by such violence.

Finally, it is important to remember this: God is still on the throne.  Jesus says here that “these things have to happen.”  While it is painful to watch so much violence, one thing is sure: the end is coming and Jesus will return to make all things right.

Luke 20 – Religious Authority

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The moment Jesus’ authority is questioned shows up in both Matthew and Mark, and in all three circumstances, after putting them in their place, He speaks a warning about the religious leaders.  They may hold a high place in society, but, as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility.

Jesus’ comment at the end of his warning is telling, for those of us in places of authority, we will be judged “more severely.”  I’ve often wondered what this really means and what it looks like in today’s culture.

It is pretty clear throughout Scripture that those God calls to be leaders, those with knowledge and wisdom, are held to a higher standard.  Jesus shows us how we are to live into this through the model of humble service to one another and sharing God’s love and the good news of the Kingdom of Heaven to all He encountered.  When Jesus sends out the seventy-two and the twelve, He commands them and gives them authority in this way.

I wonder what Jesus would have to say about the leaders of our day.  Some go around touting their status as “reverend,” all the while stirring up trouble, division, and dissension in the name of religious rites, demanding perfection from some while excusing the sins of others.  Others find the use of vulgar speech and emotionally manipulative tactics to be the way to more power.  Sadly, almost every leader that we see in the news or seeking an office does less of the humble serving and much more of the “devouring” that Jesus mentions.

Leaders that say that we need to “help” and “serve” without showing it with their actions (or their pockets) should probably heed Jesus warning here.  Like the parables, when much is given, much is expected.

Luke 19 – Zacchaeus

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The Zacchaeus story coupled with that of Jesus’ visit to the Temple caps off a series of teachings largely relating to money, wealth, and blessings.  Jesus puts things in perspective, talking about not serving two masters, giving away wealth as part of entering into the Kingdom of God, and now we see a concrete example of this in Zacchaeus.

It is entirely possible that Zacchaeus had been following Jesus in His approach to Jericho and now that He was inside the city, wanted to get a look at Him.  I’m sure He didn’t expect Jesus to ask to come over to His house.  However, the transformation that takes place in Zacchaeus’ life in the presence of Jesus and the application of His teaching is profound.

Contrast that with Jesus’ entrance into the Temple after His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Whereas salvation had come to the house of a “sinner,” the Temple, the place where the people worshipped and sacrified to God was anything but the picture of salvation.  In fact, the Temple had become a place in which exploitation was the way of life rather than worship.  Think about what Jesus said just a few chapters earlier, “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.”

God’s Temple had become a place where people were exploited for their religious duties and desires.  To sacrifice, you had to have the “perfect” animal that only they sold.  To donate, you had to use the Temple currency which you could get, at a price.  The difference between God’s economy and that of humans is stark: while Zacchaeus is giving away and repenting, the religious leaders continue to cheat, exploit, and hoard money in God’s name… and we wonder why Jesus is angry?

Luke 18 – Receive Your Sight

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At this point in His ministry, Jesus is moving toward Jerusalem for the Passover celebration and His eventual arrest, conviction, and death.  On this journey, Jesus continues to teach His disciples and those around them, seeking to help them reframe their way of thinking and seeing the world.  As He has been teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven, Jesus gives practical examples about what it looks like to see things from that perspective.

In everyday culture, justice, humility, and the innocence of a child are not readily rewardable qualities.  Yet Jesus speaks parables that point to how God’s economy works, that in the Kingdom of Heaven, these things will be the norm, not the exception.  In the same way, the reception of and entrance into God’s Kingdom comes in the form of childlike faith and innocence.

This is illustrated in the parable of the rich man that follows.  He has great wealth and finds himself unable to part with it when push comes to shove.  And while it seems impossible for the very wealthy to be able to give that up for the Kingdom, Jesus also affirms this: “What is impossible for man is possible with God.”

Perhaps Jesus is making a statement here about all of what He has just taught them.  The rich man can follow the commandments to the letter, but that still does not imply faith.  Only through the work of the Holy Spirit can someone come to the saving faith in Jesus Christ.  When the Holy Spirit works in our hearts we receive a new kind of sight, seeing the world differently, through God’s eyes instead of our misguided human perception.

Maybe this is what Jesus is alluding to when He tells the blind man that his faith has made him well.

Luke 17 – Duty

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Jesus talks here about our duty as His followers.  The most obvious one of these duties is that of service, something Jesus lays out in verses 7-10.  Another one is God’s call on our lives to forgive each other, and to be thankful to Him for the blessings He has given to us and for things such as healing.  All of these could fall under the label of “duty.”

But when we talk about duty we often liken it to a requirement.  When we go to work we have duties to perform.  This can feel similar to the Law, us setting up requirements for Christian living.  When we start to think about it that way, though, we move away from Jesus’ message of grace and dangerously close to what we call “works righteousness,” the notion that we can earn our own salvation.

Often, when we hear “works-righteousness we are quick to deny it.  Of course we aren’t trying to earn our salvation!  We want to live a life that honors God in response to His grace.

This is true; very true in fact and it is important for us to remember that God calls us to a life that reflects His love, living in “grateful obedience” to the grace that He has shown us.  However, all too often, this begins with good intentions but later on starts to become ridgid and unforgiving.  We find ourselves judging others for the way they are living and comparing them to our own “righteous” life.  When we do this, we fall into the trap of self-righteousness and works-righteousness all over again.

What’s so bad about that?  Works-righteousness takes salvation out of God’s hands and puts it back in ours… it minimizes the power of the Cross and the work of Jesus Christ.