Let’s look at John 4:16-18. “Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” Who was the woman Jesus met at the well? Let’s not read more into the story than it says. She’d had five husbands. Whether simultaneously, sequentially, divorced or widowed we don’t know. She lived with a man but their relationship is unclear. What is clear is that Jesus did not condemn her. He taught her about true worship.
In John 4:14-15 we read, But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” When Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman about living water, he was referring to something spiritual not physical. Unlike well water, living water is like a stream or river. It flowed from the woman’s encounter with Christ into her community. So the Gospel flows into our communities. We were all once enemies of Christ, drinking from a well with still water. Jesus offers us living water that flows regardless of ethnic or religious background. Only He can satisfy every thirst.
Let’s look at John 4:10-11. Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.” “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? Jesus seized a Samaritan woman’s curiosity by speaking about living water, a term for flowing water. She assumed he meant good water from the well. But she was about to find out that he was speaking metaphorically about something entirely different, deeper truths which the whole world desperately needs to know.
In John 4:7-9 we read, Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food. The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?” Jesus broke several taboos talking with a Samaritan woman alone. He did not care. Jesus knew he was doing right. Do we care more about what others think than doing what is right?
Let’s look at John 4:5-6. Eventually he came to the Samaritan village of Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Jesus was not a bigot, but willing to enter a Samaritan village despite the hatred between Samaritans and Jews. The name Sychar is possibly a derogatory nickname, meaning a place of drunkards, similar to nick names like Sin City or Filthadelphia. Would we enter a neighborhood with a sinful reputation for the sake of the Gospel? Would we enter a bar even if Jesus himself was there?
Sychar is between Mount Gerizim (“cut up mount” meaning “rocky mount”) and Mount Ebal (perhaps “bald mount”). On the southern rocky mount Israel shouted the blessings and on the northern smooth mount they shouted the cursings (Deuteronomy 11). This could picture how the way to blessings is often rocky and the easy way is often the way to cursings. Between the two mounts is Jacob’s well. Sychar may be a derogatory nickname for Shechem. The nickname possibly meant place of drunks. The Greek Orthodox St Photini Church near Nablus, Israel, is now built over the well. Photini is a variant of the Christian name of the Samaritan woman in our story.
In John 3:17 we read, God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. We are extremists, either condemning or condoning sins. Jesus did neither. He did not condemn a woman caught in a sexual sin, but neither did he condone her sin. He did not come at that time to condemn the world. At the judgment that is a different story. While we recognize that sin exists in the world, we are not qualified to judge and condemn others. Let’s not be self-righteous haters but allow the Holy Spirit to transform us into lovers who are born from above.
In John 3:16 we read, “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. This familiar verse has its true meaning clouded by a change in English from the old King James use of language. The English words “so loved the world” actually mean in modern English in this way or in this manner God loved the world. We could also say that God loved the world in this manner. How did God love the world? By lifting up his son on the cross as Moses lifted up a serpent.
When Jesus appeared to His disciples after His resurrection did He really establish confession to a priest?
Let’s understand what Jesus said and how it was understood in early church history.
Let’s look at John 20:19-31 and Jesus’ appearance to the disciples.
John 20:19 Peace in Our Fears
In John 20:19, what did Jesus mean, peace be with you? He said it on Resurrection Sunday and the following Sunday. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon defines it as "the tranquil state of a soul assured of its salvation through Christ, and so fearing nothing from God and content with its earthly lot, of whatsoever sort that is." The apostles began their letters with this greeting. Christians ought to offer peace to friend and foe alike. Many churches offer peace before communion. Jesus came to the disciples in their fears and brought them peace from heaven. They were then sent with the message of peace, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
John 20:23 Sent Proclaiming Heaven’s Forgiveness
Does John 20:23 mean confession to a priest? Early church fathers taught confessing to God for most sins and in public for grievous sins. In the early Church, confession was before all. Western practices are from the 7th to 11th centuries and are not the most ancient interpretation of this passage. In the east, sins are confessed to God and witnessed by a priest. For practical purposes the priest represents the entire community. Verse 23 literally means, “their sins have already been forgiven” i.e. by heaven. This instruction was given to all those assembled. Anyone sent in power of the Holy Spirit is sent with this message of forgiveness.
John 20:23 Faith and Forgiveness
In John 20:23, does Jesus contradict his instructions mandating forgiveness in the Lord’s prayer? The gospel message is a message of forgiveness of sin to those who accept it, but those who refuse forgiveness are not forgiven. Thomas saw Jesus’ wounds, but faith is evidence of things without visible proof (Hebrews 11:1), a mystery. All the disciples doubted, not just Thomas. This is written that we might believe and that believing we might have life through his name. Faith is a gift from God. God entrusts incredible authority to faulty disciples. We accept the message of Jesus, delivered by ordinary faulty people, and will be forgiven when we do.
Early Church Fathers on Confession
Does the church have authority to forgive sins? This is a topic of dispute between Protestants and the two most ancient church communities, Catholic and Orthodox. Though its format has changed, the early church fathers seem to have accepted confession of sin to God in the presence of a priest as normal.
- Didache ca. 70 AD “Confess your sins in church, and do not go up to your prayer with an evil conscience... gather together, break bread, and give thanks, after confessing your transgressions so that your sacrifice may be pure.”
- Irenaeus of Lyons 180 AD “make a public confession”
- Origen of Alexandria ca. 244 AD “he does not shrink from declaring his sin to a priest of the Lord and ... if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him [James 5:14-15].”
- Cyprian of Carthage 250 AD “sins are expiated... conscience has been purged in the ceremony and at the hand of the priest... let everyone who has sinned confess his sin while he is still in this world”
- Athanasius of Alexandria 295–373 AD “he who confesses his sins with a repentant heart obtains their remission from the priest.”
- Basil the Great 330–379 AD “confess our sins to those to whom the dispensation of God’s mysteries [i.e. the Sacraments] is entrusted [i.e. priests]... in the Gospel ... they confessed their sins to John the Baptist [Matthew 3:6]; but in Acts they confessed to the Apostles [Acts 19:18].”
- Augustine of Hippo ca. 354–430 AD “...when you hear a man confessing his sins, he has already come to life again; when you hear a man lay bare his conscience in confessing, he has already come forth from the sepulchre; but he is not yet unbound. When is he unbound? By whom is he unbound? “Whatever you loose on earth,” He says, “shall be loosed also in heaven” [Matthew 16:19; 18:18; Jn 20:23]. Rightly is the loosing of sins able to be given by the Church… (Psalms 101:2-3)
- Ambrose ca. 333–397 AD “for sins to be forgiven ... Christ granted even this to His Apostles, and by His Apostles it has been transmitted to the offices of priest.”
- Jerome ca. 347–420 AD “Just as in the Old Testament the priest makes the leper clean or unclean, so in the New Testament the bishop and presbyter [i.e. priest] binds or looses”
- Theodore Of Mopsuestia ca. 428 AD “It behooves us, therefore, to draw near to the priests in great confidence and to reveal to them our sins”
- Chrysostom ca. 344–407 AD “Priests ... Whose sins you shall forgive,” He says, “they are forgiven them: whose sins you shall retain, they are retained” [John 20:23].
- The Letter of Barnabas 74 AD “You shall confess your sins. You shall not go to prayer with an evil conscience.”
- Ignatius of Antioch 110 AD “For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of penance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.”
- Hippolytus 215 AD [The bishop conducting the ordination of the new bishop shall pray:] God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ... pour forth now that power which comes from you, from your Royal Spirit, which you gave to your beloved Son, Jesus Christ, and which he bestowed upon his holy apostles... and grant this your servant... to have the authority to forgive sins, in accord with your command.
Scriptures on Confession
What does the Bible say about confession?
“he shall confess that he has sinned” (Leviticus 5:5). “confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers” (Leviticus 26:40). “make confession to [God]” (Joshua 7:19) “in a great ceremony... confessed that they had sinned against the Lord” (1 Samuel 7:6). David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13) “make confession to the Lord God” (Ezra 10:11). “When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away” (Psalm 32:3). “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” (Psalm 32:5). “He who covers his sins will not prosper, But whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)
“confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel” (Daniel 9:20) “baptized ... confessing their sins” (Matthew 3:6) “many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds” (Acts 19:18) “every tongue shall confess to God.” (Romans 14:11) “Confess your trespasses to one another” (James 5:16) “confess our sins” (1 John 1:9)
“whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32) “confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus” (Romans 10:9) “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:11) “confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims” (Hebrews 11:13) “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4:2) “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.” (1 John 4:15)
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Confession is an ancient part of a godly life. People confessed their sins publicly, and to God’s representative, and in prayer. Confession is good for the soul. Confession seems to come in two parts. We confess that we are sinners and that the sinless One is our Savior. In other words, after confession of sin comes forgiveness and public confession of faith in Christ.
John 20:28 MY Lord and MY God
At the cross all the disciples abandoned Jesus. He appeared to them and offered his peace. Thomas confessed very personally, “My Lord and my God!” He did not say OUR Lord or even THE Lord, but MY Lord and MY God. This is what is meant when people speak of a personal relationship with God. Jesus went on to give a special blessing to us who would believe even though we have not seen. We see Jesus, not with physical eyes. When we see Jesus with spiritual insight, we also believe like they did. And as Jesus revealed himself to those disciples, so he reveals himself to each of us.
We confess that we have not faithfully stuck by Jesus but have been fearful like those disciples. Jesus stands among as he stood among them granting us the peace which surpasses all understanding. Ministry begins when we openly confess our sins. Then it awakens as we are able to boldly confess the One who forgives us all our sins.
Labels: John 20
In John 3:14-15 we read, And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. God had punished Israel by sending poisonous snakes into their midst (Numbers 21:4-9). He instructed them to look at a bronze snake on a pole and they would live. And so, God provoked them to repentance and faith. Humanity is still in trouble and the solution comes through the man Jesus, who was lifted up on a pole. If we will keep our eyes on Him we will also live.
In John 3:13 we read, No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. This literally says Jesus “is in heaven.” He was someone on earth and at the same time “in heaven,” in constant communion with the Father. Jesus is the bridge between heaven and earth. In a similar sense, all believers are “seated in heavenly places” (Ephesians 2:6). Jesus is able to reveal heavenly secrets to Nicodemus because he “has come down from heaven” and “is in heaven.” In Jesus, there is a bridge from heaven to earth which no other brings because he came from heaven.
In John 3:9-12 we read, “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked. Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? The discussion changed to, “we tell you.” Who is the we? Does this include the prophets, heaven or the disciples? All Christians can only testify to what they have known and seen, and no surprise, some will not believe.
John 3:7-8 says, So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” The means of entering the kingdom of heaven is being born from above. The new Spirit-born life is as mysterious as the wind. In specific terms, we cannot tell where the wind came from or where it is going. Christianity is not about physical rituals alone, but a life of faith trusting God where His Spirit is blowing us.
John 3:6 says, “Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life.” Humanity seems to seek a form of immortality by giving birth to children. Yet, each of us who is born flesh will die. So will each of us who is born of water and the Spirit live forever. The Christian life is different than a physical life based upon material hopes and dreams. It is a spiritual life, based on spiritual hopes and dreams. The physical is temporary and passes away. The spiritual is permanent and cannot pass away. Only by being born from above can we enter the hope of eternity.
In John 3:5, Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Born from above is also born of water and the Spirit. We don’t enter our mother’s womb again, but the kingdom of heaven. Baptism in water is only complete with the transforming power of the Spirit. Christian baptism is water and the Spirit. Is Jesus referring metaphorically to the waters of birth as well as the waters of baptism? It seems Jesus primarily means the waters of baptism which can picture our physical birth and also our birth from above with the baptism of the Spirit.
In John 3:4 we read, “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?” Nicodemus seemed to hear Jesus words only as “born again” instead of “born from above” as Jesus intended. Immature believers often promote a literal understanding of things when heaven intends a spiritual meaning. Early Christians focused on literal circumcision instead of circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:29). Being born again physically is not being born from above. Being reborn physically is impossible. Yet, even in old age like Nicodemus, life in Christ is new. We have every reason to live with youthful joy.
In John 3:3 we read, Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Born “again” also means “born from above,” from heaven, regeneration. According to the Opportunity Index, those born poor are less likely to have earthly opportunities. Everyone has a better opportunity in God than anything on earth. To be born from heaven above is to belong to heaven. Our allegiance is to a kingdom not of this world. We are each a child of God. Every status in this world is inferior to what we have from heaven. In God we have the highest status of all.
In John 3:2 we read, After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” Nicodemus came to Jesus by night representing others. He said, “we know.” In verses 19-21 Jesus spoke symbolically of darkness until light came into the world and we came into that light. In the Old Testament, the law was a light. Now it is Christ. Even the most devout and moral person who may obey all the commandments can still be in relative darkness, because the great light is Jesus.
John 3:1 says, “There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee.” Nicodemus was a senator in the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He appears three times in the Gospel of John (John 3:1–2; John 7:50-51; John 19:38-39). Jesus explained to this wealthy and popular Jewish leader the mystery of regeneration as was taught in the prophets. Nicodemus was not offended at Jesus’ teaching but received it in humility. He later defended Jesus against the Pharisees, assisted at his burial and was eventually kicked out of the synagogue for believing in Christ. He later retired to a country home where he died.
After Jesus’ temptation, Matthew 4:11 says, Then the devil went away, and angels came and took care of Jesus. Moses taught three tests of our love of God, “love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)? John mentioned life’s great temptations, “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life” (1 John 2:16). False preachers tempt us with misusing miracles, foolish risks and materialism. It’s easy to do the right thing when people are watching. The Temptation of Christ was a victory in the wilderness far away from the watching crowd.
Matthew 4:10 states the principle behind Deuteronomy 6:13, “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him.’” Notice that Jesus substitutes the word fear from Deuteronomy with the word worship. The fear of God means worship. Jesus also calls Satan by name. Satan means the adversary. In passionately telling the devil to get behind him, Jesus reveals his total aversion to gaining worldly power through compromise with any evil. He will eventually have that power and far more from God and not the devil, for good and only good, without any hint of evil.
Who rules the world? Satan is the ruler (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11), the god of this world/age (2 Corinthians 4:4). We are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, and against evil spirits (Ephesians 6:11-12). The world around us is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19). The devil is the one deceiving the whole world (Revelation 12:9-17). Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. (Matthew 28:18). Christians are rescued from the kingdom of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13).
In Matthew 4:8-9 is the last of Jesus’ three temptations. Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” This is not as subtle as Jesus’ first two tests. Would he be tempted by the lust of the eyes for worldly power? Satan rules this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 6:11-12; 1 John 5:19; Revelation 12:9-17). How many people have received great power from the devil?
When tempted by the devil to take a foolish leap from a Temple wing, Matthew 4:7 says, Jesus responded, “The Scriptures also say, ‘You must not test the Lord your God.’” He wasn’t fooled by someone twisting Scripture. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 6:16 where Moses and Aaron had tried to take glory to themselves for a miracle involving water, instead of giving God the glory (Numbers 20:7-12). This cuts to the heart of the test. Instead of bringing glory to himself with a big display, did Jesus only want to bring glory to the Father? Do we trust God at His word or provoke Him with our presumptuous self-will?
In Matthew 4:5-6 we read, Then the devil took him to the holy city, Jerusalem, to the highest point of the Temple, and said, “If you are the Son of God, jump off! For the Scriptures say, ‘He will order his angels to protect you. And they will hold you up with their hands so you won’t even hurt your foot on a stone.’” Would Jesus be tempted by the pride of life and take a foolish leap from a Temple wing perhaps 50 meters above ground? How often do we take foolish chances without prayer? How often do we confuse a foolish jump with a Spirit-led leap of faith?
In Matthew 4:4 we read of Jesus’ response to the 1st of 3 tests as the tempter tried to trick him into turning stones to bread. But Jesus told him, “No! The Scriptures say, ‘People do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” This is a quote from Deuteronomy 8:3, which tells us the context. God fed ancient Israel manna, so they would learn to be fed by Him and not their own efforts. Even though he had the power to make bread from stones, Jesus had the answer in Scripture and waited for His Father’s timing to be revealed.
Matthew 4:3 reveals the 1st of 3 tests on Jesus. We read, “During that time the devil came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become loaves of bread.” In this verse the tempter is introduced. His form is not given. He tries to incite Jesus to do his bidding. If he really is the son of God, he should not need to put up with lack of food. His appetite is tested. Would he use his heavenly powers to satisfy the lusts of the flesh? Would he pass the test? Do we follow the tempter’s untrustworthy words or God the Father’s?
We read in Matthew 4:1-2, Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. In these verses, Jesus was tried. Did he love God1 with all his heart, soul, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5)? Jesus’ responses2 come from a section of the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 6-8) that begins with the well-known saying, the Shema Yisrael (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) commanding our love for God. The Greek word for tempted also means being tested. Jesus’ love for God was being tested after a preparatory time of fasting. Would he pass the test?
1Brown, Fitzmyer & Murphy. The New Jerome Biblical Commentary. Prentice Hall. 1990. 638.2R. T. France. The New International Commentary of the New Testament. The Gospel of Matthew. Wm. B. Eerdmans. 2007. 124-136.
Some things are better off not being explained too early in life. After the encounter on the mount of transfiguration, Jesus instructed Peter, James and John in Matthew 17:9 not to tell anyone until after his resurrection. Like children who are not ready for solid food some people should only be fed milk (1 Corinthians 3:2). That’s also why Jesus spoke in parables, to disguise the truth among those who were not yet ready to receive it (Matthew 13:10-14). That’s not an insult, but a matter of spiritual growth. It is given to some to know the mysteries of the kingdom, but to others it is not - yet.
God’s voice frightens us mere mortals. As God spoke to Peter, James and John on the mount of transfiguration, we see in Matthew 17:6-8 that they were terrified and fell on the ground face down. Jesus set us the example of human touch. Sometimes all a person needs is a touch on the arm or a hug. It is a good thing to do. Even modern science knows the importance of a caring touch. Babies and animals can die without a loving touch. In a cold-blooded world that separates families because of heartless, draconian laws and destroys people because of heavy-handed cruelty, a touch of human kindness is particularly urgent.
On the mount of transfiguration, we are not told what Moses and Elijah discussed with Jesus, but we are told what God said in Matthew 17:5. A cloud covered them and God spoke from the cloud. He said these important and familiar words, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him. The present imperative active voice of the original Greek can be translated as: “you [plural] keep on listening to him.” What about motivational preaching with homey philosophy? To “keep on listening to him,” shouldn’t we be in a church where his words are rehearsed in our hearing and his words are the focus?