Walking with Jesus (Luke 24:13-35)

Walking With Jesus 01

What do you reckon it would be like to go for a walk with Jesus?

I don’t mean some sort of ‘spiritual’ journey or having a vague idea that Jesus is with us. I mean a real, physical, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other walk. It might be down the road to the shops, through a national park, a couple of blocks to work, or even around the block. What would it be like to walk with Jesus?

It surprises me that the two disciples didn’t recognise Jesus while he walked with them in this story. There are a range of ways people try to explain their lack of recognition, but I wonder how often we go through life with Jesus walking next to us and we just don’t recognise him either…

This story is a great picture of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus: walking with him through life and recognising that he walks with us. As they walked together, Jesus and the disciples talked together as he opened up the words of Scripture for them so they could understand that God’s chosen Messiah had to suffer, die and rise again from the grave (vv 25-27). This caused the disciples hearts to burn within them (v32) as they grew in their understanding of God’s grace for them and as they began to make sense of what had happened to them through their growing faith in Jesus.

What if walking with Jesus and listening to him as he opens up God’s word for us could do the same for us?

There was a time in the early years of my ministry when I was really struggling. For more than a year I battled on the best I could but things were overwhelming me. So I started getting out of bed and going for a walk each morning. As I walked, I would talk to Jesus about what was going on in my life – the things I was struggling with, the things that were overwhelming me, the mistakes I was making, the help I needed. I didn’t talk out loud, but it was still a real conversation as I talked with Jesus in my head. Then I listened to what Jesus had to say to me by reading a couple chapters of my Bible over breakfast. I was surprised how often what I was reading would speak into what was going on in my life. Over time, things got better as I relied on Jesus’ help more and more, and God changed me through what he was saying to me in his Word. I learned from first-hand experience that walking closer with Jesus by talking to him about what’s going on in our lives and listening to him talk to us through his word really makes a difference in our lives.

The promise of this story from Luke’s gospel is that Jesus walks with us to talk to us through his word, to help us make sense of what’s going on in our lives through his suffering, death and resurrection, so we can find grace, hope and joy in his presence with us.

It was only when Jesus blessed and broke the bread at their meal at the end of the day that the disciples recognised Jesus. In the same way, Jesus makes his presence known to us as he gives himself to us in the breaking of bread in the meal we know as the Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion. This same Jesus whose body was broken and whose blood was shed on the cross, this same Jesus who is risen from the grace and who has defeated death, this same Jesus is the one who comes to us in the bread and wine of Holy Communion to make himself known to us as the one who physically walks with us through life. Just as the disciples recognised Jesus when he gave them that meal, so we can recognise Jesus with us as he gives himself to us as a real and present flesh and blood person in the Lord’s Supper. It is his promise and his assurance that he literally walks with us through the ups and downs of our lives, through the good times and the bad, to help us find grace and peace, joy and hope in his presence with us.

So I’m going to ask again: what would it be like to go for a walk with Jesus? How might our lives and our community be different if we lived like Jesus was actually walking with us, speaking grace and truth into our lives, our relationships and our community through his word?

Because what this story says to me is that Jesus really is walking with us, every step of the way.

More to think about:

  • What do you think it would be like to go for a walk with Jesus?
  • Christians often talk about Jesus being with us, but do we live like that’s a reality or like Jesus is actually distant? One way to think about that is ask yourself: would you live your life differently if Jesus was actually walking with you every moment of every day?
  • In the story from Luke 24, Jesus began his conversation with the two disciples by asking them what they were discussing (v17). If Jesus asked you what was going on with you, what would you say to him?
  • Jesus opened up Scripture to his disciples to help them understand God’s plan of redemption, but also to help them make sense of what they had experienced & to find God’s grace in their experiences. Do you think that God’s word can help you make sense of your experiences & find his grace in them? How can we help you open up God’s word to find grace & truth for your own life in it?
  • Jesus made himself known to the disciples as he blessed, broke & then gave bread to them. How can the gift of Holy Communion help us recognise Jesus’ presence with us?

Disciples are Sent (John 20:19-31)

john 20v21

I often hear Christians talk about what we have to do to get people into our churches. The discussion might be about evangelism, outreach, mission, fellowship, programs or any one of a large number of topics. The general focus, however, usually centres around what do we have to do to get people who are ‘out there’ so they can be ‘in here’ with us.

Jesus had a very different focus. As we hear in this reading from John 20, when he appeared to his disciples on the evening of his resurrection, Jesus did not give them instructions on how to move people from ‘out there’ to ‘in here.’ Instead, listen to what Jesus said to his followers in verses 21 and 22. Jesus sent his disciples ‘out there’ in the power of the Holy Spirit to forgive sins.

As we talk about simplifying the work of our congregation by developing an intentional discipling process and aligning what we do with that process, we need to listen what Jesus is telling us. As Jesus’ disciples, he is calling us to participate in God’s mission in the world by sending us out into the world. This continues the same movement our Father in heaven began when he sent Jesus into the world to redeem the world. The Father sent Jesus, and Jesus sends us on the same mission.

This gives us a totally different way of thinking about the work of our congregation. Instead of running events, programs or courses to try to get people from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’, if Jesus wants us to be sending people into the world to continue Jesus’ work in the world, then, as a congregation, we need to be preparing, growing, and equipping each other for this work. Paul says in Ephesians 4:11 & 12 that God gifts his leaders as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers ‘to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ’ (NLT). Paul recognises that if Jesus sends his followers into the world to participate in God’s mission to the world, then we need to be equipping each other for that work.

What might our congregation look like if we started re-thinking who we are and what we do from this perspective? How might things be different if we thought less about how to get people into our church, and instead thought more about how we can send you out to be part of God’s mission in the world in your families, among your friends, in your workplaces, schools or universities, or wherever God leads you during the week? This is really the key to our Simple Church conversation. If, as Jesus’ disciples, his intention is to send us into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit in the same way that our Father in heaven sent him, how do we prepare and equip you for that mission?

As we continue our conversation about simplifying our congregation’s activity with a strong discipling focus, this text becomes critical to that conversation. As the risen Christ meets us, breathes the Holy Spirit into us and gives us authority to be forgiving people, he sends us out as his representatives to participate in the mission of God. Disciples of Jesus follow him to participate with him in God’s mission of redeeming the world.

How do we as a congregation prepare and equip you for this mission? It starts with a change in thinking from trying to get people ‘out there’ to join us ‘in here’, to Jesus sending us out just as the Father sent him.

More to think about:

  • Has your experience of conversations in the church been more about getting people from ‘out there’ into the church, or sending God’s people into the world? Why do you think that is?
  • What is your reaction to the idea that Jesus sends you out to be part of God’s mission in the world? What is challenging, exciting, scary about it?
  • Sometimes people understand Jesus’ words about sending us as a call to overseas mission or church planting, but we can also think about Jesus sending us into our everyday lives as his followers to make a difference where we are right now. How might you view your home, work, school/uni, sporting club differently if you saw it as the place Jesus is sending you in the power of his Spirit to be a forgiving person?
  • When Paul says that ‘Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service’ (Ephesians 4:11,12a NIV), what do you think these ‘works of service/ministry’ might be? How might our activity as a church be different if we thought of ‘ministry’ as what happens outside of our congregations (in our homes, paid & unpaid work, schools/unis, community, etc) rather than inside?
  • What do you need to be prepared & equipped to be sent into the world as Jesus’ followers to participate in God’s mission? How can we as the church give you what you need?

Our Easter Journey

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This year I asked the people of our congregation who gathered for worship over the Easter weekend to imagine themselves going on a three-day journey, following Jesus along the path of his last supper, suffering, death and resurrection.

The journey began on Thursday evening as we followed Jesus to the table. We were welcomed by people who offered to wash our feet in the same way that Jesus washed his disciples’ feet at his last supper with them. The washing of feet shows us that Jesus comes to us as a servant, taking on the role of the lowest household slave, doing the scummiest job in the house for us. In doing this, Jesus gives us an example to follow (John 13:15), and teaches us that his followers will adopt the same posture in relationship to others.

Then, Jesus gives us a new command – to love each other in the same way he loves us (John 13:34). We can only know how to love others in Jesus’ way after we have experienced the love Jesus has for us. That means allowing him to wash our feet, and maybe even to allow others to wash our feet on his behalf. That’s not easy. We often like to think discipleship is more about what we do that what Jesus does for us, but it leads us into the rest of this weekend’s journey, as we encounter Jesus’ love so we can then show that same love to others.

In a lot of ways, that’s discipleship: learning to love like Jesus by being loved by Jesus.

Jesus continues to show us his grace-filled love on the Thursday evening as he then adopts the role of the host of the meal. He serves us again as our host, physically giving himself to us through the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper. This simple meal is Jesus’ self-giving act of love to us. We can hold back parts of ourselves in our relationships with others, but not Jesus. He gives all of himself to us and fills us with his goodness by making us members of his living, breathing body in the world.

We then followed Jesus to the cross on Friday morning. As we again heard the story of Jesus’ betrayal, trial, suffering, death and burial, we followed him in faith to witness his sacrifice for us all.

crucifixion 05Everything in the gospels leads us to the cross so that we can experience the grace of God. As we follow Jesus to the cross we can find grace that frees us from guilt, regret and shame. We can find grace that heals our wounded and broken hearts and souls as the Son of God enters into our brokenness, is wounded for us, and gives us healing with his love. We can find grace that gives us hope in dark times, as the Son of God experiences being abandoned by his Father, finds us when we feel abandoned by God, and is the presence of God with us in even the darkest of times. We can find grace that gives life as Jesus takes our death on himself, because if he takes our death on the cross, then all that is left behind for us is life.

I believe this is the ultimate goal of discipleship: to follow Jesus to the cross to encounter his life-giving and life-changing grace.

We saw how strong his love and life is, then, when we followed Jesus to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday morning.
We can think of Jesus’ resurrection as an historical event, or as the promise that one day Jesus will return to raise our bodies from our graves to eternal life. However, we can also understand the empty tomb the way Paul describes the resurrection in Colossians 3:1 where he writes:

empty tomb 02Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand. (NLT)

Here, and in other places (such as Romans 6:4, Ephesians 2:4-6), Paul talks about the resurrection as a present reality for those who are in Christ Jesus through faith. That means that Jesus’ resurrection is our resurrection!

To be a follower of Jesus means following him to the empty tomb to see that we have been given a new life as God’s resurrected people through faith in Jesus. That is where one journey ends, and another begins. Our Easter journey concluded as we saw that the life of Christ is stronger than anything in this world, and so, whatever we are experiencing in this life, God’s final word to us is life! But a new journey starts for us as Jesus’ followers as we begin to discover what this resurrection life looks like in the day-to-day realities of this world. This is a life that is lived by faith, trusting that Jesus’ life is stronger than anything we might encounter along the way, and then living like this is true. Paul describes the resurrected life of Christ as consisting in compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, love (like 1 Corinthians 13 describes), peace and thankfulness (Colossians 3:12-15). Discipleship in the light of the empty tomb means learning to live this kind of life as God’s resurrected people in this world.

Over the three days of Easter we followed Jesus to the table where he served us with his love, to the cross where we encounter his grace, and to the empty tomb where we see that we have been raised to a new kind of life in him. Our discipleship journey will continue, always in the light of the table, the cross and the empty tomb, as Jesus goes ahead of us into whatever the future holds, and as we follow him in his love, grace, and life.

More to think about:

  • People are often reluctant to let us wash their feet on Maundy Thursday. Why is it hard for us to allow others to serve us? Why is it vital for Jesus’ followers to learn what it is to be loved by Jesus before we can love others?
  • I have described discipleship as basically learning to love like Jesus. What do you like or dislike about this definition? How might your life be different if it was all about learning to love like Jesus?
  • When Jesus called people to follow him, ultimately he led them to his cross so they can find grace. How can the experience of God’s grace to us in Jesus give us what we need to show that same grace to others?
  • Do you tend to think of Jesus’ resurrection as something that is more about the past, present or future? How might today look different to you if you approached it as a person who is risen to new life with Jesus?
  • What do you like or dislike about the idea of discipleship as learning to live every day as a person who has been raised to new life with Jesus? How might your life be different if you lived like Jesus’ resurrection was real for you now?

Son of David (Matthew 21:1-11)

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Over the season of Lent, people from our congregation have been reading through the gospel of Matthew and listening to what Jesus teaches us about discipleship. From the very beginning of book, we saw that Matthew points us to Jesus as King David’s descendant who was promised in the Old Testament to reign over God’s people and establish his eternal kingdom.

This theme began in chapter one when Matthew used Jesus’ family history to show Jesus’ connection with David and the royal house of Judah. When we come to Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem in today’s reading, then, we see the crowds welcome Jesus in the hopeful expectation that he really is the king they have been waiting for, and that he will establish the kingdom of God on earth.

As we have read through Matthew’s gospel, I’ve been thinking about how the two themes of discipleship and the kingdom of God fit together. It seems to me that…

Discipleship is … living with Jesus as our king.

We can often think of kings as being tyrants who are removed from the everyday life of their subjects and who only use their power for their own self-interest. Especially in Australia, we tend to have a strongly anti-authoritarian views of those in positions of power, and so we can be suspicious and cynical of anyone who claims to be a king.

Jesus is a totally different kind of king. It is important to hear the crowds in Jerusalem welcome Jesus as the descendant of David, who was to rule in the same way that David ruled. When we read the stories of David’s reign in 2 Samuel, we see a king who made mistakes and who didn’t always use his power wisely. However, David was thought of as being the greatest king of Israel because he was a king who looked after God’s people like a shepherd looks after the sheep entrusted to him.

This is the kind of king Jesus is. He uses his authority and power for the benefit of those in his care, not for his own personal gain. Like a shepherd, he provides for his people, protects his people from harm and danger, leads his people to green pastures and good waters, and takes care of them in all their needs. When we read through the great shepherd psalm composed by David, Psalm 23, we have a great picture of what our shepherd-king does for us as he provides us with everything we need for this life and the next.

That was why the crowds in Jerusalem welcomed Jesus with the cry ‘Hosanna!’ (v9) which literally means ‘Save us!’ They were hoping that the shepherd-king would save them from their enemies and bring in a new era of peace for God’s people. As a people who were occupied by a foreign and often brutal empire, they looked to Jesus as the promised deliverer who would free them from their oppression.

This is what our shepherd-king does for us. Jesus brings us saving help, not just for the life to come, but also in all the circumstances of life in this world. Matthew points to Jesus as the king who is with us in every situation of life (see Matthew 1:23 & 28:20b) to give us the help we need. We can find freedom from fear, guilt, shame and worry through faith in Jesus the shepherd-king who has all authority in heaven and earth (28:18) and who uses his authority to forgive, heal, make clean and bless. All the way through the gospel of Matthew, Jesus is bringing life to people as their shepherd—king as he gives his saving help to everyone who needs it.

To live as Jesus’ disciple and a member of his kingdom is to look to him and trust in him as the one who brings God’s saving help to us, whatever we might need. We can be critical of the people of Jerusalem who were welcoming Jesus as their king on that first Palm Sunday, but who then called out for his crucifixion only five days later. We are not that different if we turn up to worship, or even in our own private worship, sing Jesus’ praises as our king, but then fail to look to him as the source of our saving help in other aspects of our lives. It is too easy for us to look to ourselves, other people or other places for the help we need instead of to Jesus. To live with Jesus as our king is to live each moment of each day, looking to him, our shepherd-king, as he brings us saving help in all the circumstances of life.

As we journey through Holy Week towards the suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus, we witness what our shepherd-king was willing and able to do for us to provide us with the freedom and saving help that we need. Jesus isn’t a king who sits on a throne in a castle and sends others to fight his battles for him. Jesus is a king who enters into our battles, who embraces our suffering, to take on the enemies we face that would rob us of the life God wants to give us, and who triumphs over them on the cross and in the empty tomb. As we celebrate the events of Easter, we see what our shepherd-king did for us in defeating sin, death and the devil’s power, and the victory he gives to us as his disciples and citizens of his kingdom.

With Jesus as our king, his victory is ours, every day of our lives.

More to think about:

  • What comes to your mind when you think about a ‘king’? Do you usually think of kings in positive or negative ways?
  • When the crowds in Jerusalem on that first Palm Sunday welcomed Jesus as their king, what do you think they were hoping for?
  • Why do you think public opinion towards Jesus changed so dramatically between this event on Sunday and his crucifixion on Friday? What changed their minds?
  • What do you think of the image of Jesus as a shepherd-king who has saving help for us in all the circumstances of our lives? In what areas of life do you need help right now? How might Jesus be able to help you as your shepherd-king?
  • If you were to live everyday with Jesus as your king, would it make a difference? In what ways? or Why not?

Discipleship is Believing (John 11:1-45)

Lazarus open tomb

I wonder what Jesus’ disciples were thinking as they stood with him outside Lazarus’s tomb and heard him call the dead man to come out.

As they followed Jesus through John’s gospel, his disciples had seen him do some amazing things. He had turned water into wine (2:1-12), heal the son of a government official (4:43-54) and a man who could not walk (5:1-15), feed 5,000 men plus women and children (6:1-13), walk on water (6:16-21), and give sight to a man who had been born blind (9:1-41). However, raising a man who had been dead for at least four days was different. In the moments that followed Jesus calling Lazarus out of his tomb, I wonder if they believed he could do it, or if some of them were thinking that this time Jesus had gone too far.

One theme that runs through this story, and in fact the whole gospel of John, is believing in Jesus (see 20:30,31). Early in the story, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘I’m glad I wasn’t there, for now you will really believe’ (v15 NLT). It sounds pretty harsh that a person had to die so that Jesus’ disciples could believe in him, but it also tells us something about the nature of Jesus’ work. He wasn’t just a great moral teacher. Jesus is in the business of raising dead people to new life.

We can Jesus’ words in the same way Martha understood them. When Jesus was talking to her about resurrection, she replied, ‘he will rise when everyone else rises, at the last day’ (v24 NLT). However, Jesus seemed to have something else in mind when he answered her,

‘I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.
Do you believe this, Martha?’ (vv25,26 NLT)

The Apostle Paul saw resurrection as more than what would happen at the end of time when Jesus will return. Paul understood resurrection as something real for believers in Jesus now. In Ephesians 2:5 he writes, ‘even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead’ (NLT). Paul shifts our focus from the disciples outside of Lazarus’ tomb to the dead man inside the tomb and points to his story becoming our story through faith in Jesus. Again, in Colossians 3:1, Paul writes,
‘Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honour at God’s right hand’ (NLT).

Paul is saying that, like Lazarus, we have been raised with Christ who calls us out of our tombs to live a new life as his disciples by believing in him.

We can understand this spiritually, in terms of sin and redemption, but this also makes an impact on how we live our lives here and now. When Lazarus lay in his tomb, he was alone, in the dark, and tied up in his grave-clothes. In one way or another, at different times in our lives I think we can probably identify with Lazarus. We may have known loneliness and isolation from others. Maybe we have felt like we have been trapped in the dark, with no light to shine on us or guide our way. It is possible that we have been tied up or bound in our lives by fear, guilt, shame, addiction, or something else that has robbed us of the life that Jesus came to give us (see John 10:10).

The good news of this story for us is that when we identify with Lazarus, Jesus calls us to come out of our tombs and into the light of new life with him. Believing isn’t just standing outside the tomb and trusting that Jesus can do what he says. Believing is hearing Jesus calling us our from our tombs, from our loneliness and isolation, our darkness, and the things that tie us up and bind us. Jesus calls us into a new relationship with our heavenly Father and into the community of believers who become our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus calls us into the light of his love and grace, given to us in his death and resurrection for us. Jesus calls us into the freedom that comes through faith in his forgiveness, acceptance, approval and peace. Jesus’ answer to Martha, and Paul’s emphasis that we have already been raised to new life, point us to the reality that the resurrection has already begun in Jesus, and we are a part of it by believing in Jesus.

All this helps us see that, even before we do anything as Jesus’ followers,

Discipleship is … believing that Jesus calls us into a new life with him.

As we stand with Jesus’ disciples in the time between hearing Jesus words to come out of the tomb and the final resurrection of the dead at the end of time, I wonder what we will think. Will we assume that Jesus has gone too far this time, and that he can’t really do what he says? Or will we hear him calling us out of our isolation into community, out of our darkness into the light of his love and grace, and out of what binds into his freedom? And in the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit, will be believe and follow him into the new life he has for us?

More to think about:

  • What would you have been thinking if you were standing with Jesus’ disciples hearing him call Lazarus to come out of his tomb? Would you be expecting Lazarus to come out? Explain why.
  • Do you think of resurrection as something that will only happen at the end of time when Jesus returns, or as something we participate in now? How do you understand Paul’s words about having been raised with Christ from Colossians 3:1?
  • In what ways might you be able to identify with Lazarus’ experience of loneliness/isolation, or darkness, or being tied up/bound?
  • In the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-9) the voice from heaven said to listen to Jesus (v5). What do you think of the idea that when Jesus told Lazarus to come out of his tomb, he also calls us out of our isolation, darkness and bonds to a new life in him?
  • By believing that Jesus calls you into a new life as his follower, how might your life be different?

Sight for the Blind (John 9:1-41)

John 9v25

I have really struggled with this text this week.

On the surface, John 9 tells a simple story about Jesus healing a man who had been born blind. The religious leaders want to know who did it because the healing happened on a Sabbath, and so investigate the circumstances of the healing in a way that almost becomes comical. Eventually, they expel the healed man from the community of the synagogue for saying that his healing shows that Jesus must have come from God. Jesus catches up with him and then gives one of his paradoxical statements about the blind being able to see and those who can see being the ones who are actually blind (v39).

It is this statement of Jesus that has sat in the back of my mind all week, making me wonder if I really see what this story is about, or whether I’m blind to what Jesus is trying to teach us.

I know I’m reflecting my post-modern culture, but we all come to Scripture with our assumptions about the message of the Bible and what God is trying to tell us through the Bible. That makes us no different from the Pharisees whose assumption was that the Law of Moses gave them their best understanding of who God is and how God is at work in the world. One of the reasons they rejected Jesus was because he worked this miracle on the Sabbath. He broke the Law of Moses and so, the Pharisees concluded, he couldn’t be from God. The assumptions the Pharisees worked with prevented them from seeing Jesus as the one through whom God was working in the world.

The key to seeing what this story is about seems to lie in verse 3b when Jesus says that this man was born blind ‘so that the works of God might be displayed in him’ (NIV). What Jesus seems to be saying is that the man born blind encountered God working in the world through Jesus because of his disability. The Pharisees didn’t see it because they didn’t recognize their need for God’s grace or healing. The blind man needed it because he couldn’t see, and it’s because of his lack of physical sight that he gained spiritual insight into Jesus doing God’s work in his life and in the world.

Maybe that’s the point of the story – seeing Jesus as the One who does God’s work in the world to bring us grace which makes us whole.

I’m always cautious about drawing parallels between us and the Pharisees because, let’s face it, none of us like to be called a Pharisee. However, like them, we can look for God to be working in lots of different ways in the world – for example, through nature, or a personal experience of some kind, or a miraculous revelation, or doing good things, or even a set of rules or religious tradition. I know that we can encounter God in ways such as these, and I don’t want to discount them. What this story seems to be saying, though, is that the one place we can see most clearly the way that God is working in the world is through Jesus.

This can become a real challenge for us because Jesus doesn’t fit in with the way we expect God to work. When we look at Jesus, we see God at work in humility, in weakness, in suffering and in the cross. We can look at the man born blind and see God working in his life through Jesus who meets him in his disability. In the same way, when we are being humiliated or shamed, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our humility or shame to give us honour and dignity, like we saw in last week’s story of the Samaritan woman at the well. When we are weak, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our weakness to make us strong in faith. When we are suffering for any reason, in Jesus we can see God meeting us in our suffering to give us the hope that he is with us, will give us a better tomorrow, and somehow even use our suffering for good (see Romans 28). In the cross, we see God meeting us in the worst circumstances of life to pour his self-giving, grace-filled love into us which makes us whole and gives us what we need to live in peace and joy now and forever.

I don’t see a God who works like this anywhere else but in Jesus. That’s why, first and foremost,

Discipleship is … Jesus opening our eyes to see God at work in him.

We are all like the blind man in one way or another. We all need to have our eyes opened by the Holy Spirit to see God at work in the person of Jesus, meeting us in our need, showing us grace, carrying our brokenness, and raising us to new life through faith in him. Only then are we able to live as God’s people and glorify him in what we say and do like the man born blind in the story did.

It’s worth asking: where do we look for God? What kind of God do we meet there? And how is that God similar or different to the God we meet in Jesus? We will all come to the Bible with our different assumptions, and they will shape our understanding of God and how God is at work in our lives and in the world. When we think we can see things clearly, maybe that’s when we are actually blind to God’s truth. When we admit we can’t see him, but need the Holy Spirit to open our eyes, maybe that’s when we start to see God at work in Jesus.

More to think about:

  • Where do you look for God at work in the world? In your life?
  • What does that say to you about who God is? What might be some problems with looking for God there?
  • What do you think about looking for God at work in Jesus? What might be helpful in doing that? What might be some challenges about it?
  • When you look at the way God was at work through Jesus in the life of the man born blind from John 9, what does it tell you about God?
  • How might it help you in your life if you could see God at work in humility, weakness, suffering or the cross?

Jesus Knows (John 4:5-42)

woman at the well 02

All of us have probably done things in our lives that we would prefer other people didn’t know about. They might be things we have done, or things that have been done to us. Whatever these secrets might be, we tend to keep them will hidden. The only times we might confide in another person about what we have done is when we trust that person won’t use our secrets against us, think less of us, or reject us because of what has happened.

The Samaritan woman in this story was experiencing a lot of shame. Jesus gets to the source of her disgrace when he asked her to get her husband (v16). Her reply, that she didn’t have a husband, was only the tip of the iceberg. Having had five husbands, and living with a man who wasn’t her husband, meant that this woman was outside of how ‘respectable’ women lived in that time and place. She had to come to the well in the hottest part of the day because her shame prevented her from mixing with the other women of the village. Her relationships with men had made her an outcast from her community.

When Jesus reveals her shame, though, something happens to her. Whenever I read this story, I am always surprised about the message she takes back to the village to tell people about Jesus. In verse 29 we read that she returned to the village saying, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!” This doesn’t sound like good news for a person whose life resulted in her experiencing social shame. However, in the presence of Jesus, her shame was changed to joy because Jesus knew everything about her, but he still valued her enough to talk with her, to give her time, and to value her as a person. Jesus knew everything about her, but instead of experiencing shame, this woman found grace in the presence of Jesus.

In a lot of ways, we still live in a culture of shame. People are regularly shamed on social media for the ways in which they break the rules and expectations of our media-driven culture. Even if we are not on social media, people experience shame for a whole range of reasons. We all tend to keep secrets from others because we can be afraid that if people really knew who we are or what we have done, then they might not want to know us anymore. I regularly talk with people who are reluctant to tell me things about their past because they worry that if I knew, then I would see them differently, or judge them, or condemn them, or reject them.

What the story of the Samaritan woman at the well says to me, though, is that Jesus already knows. He knows the wrongs we have done, the wrongs that have been done to us, our wounds, our grief, or mistakes and regrets. He knows everything, and like the Samaritan woman at the well, he doesn’t judge us, condemn us or reject us. Instead, like the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus gives us his time, talks with us, embraces us in a relationship and gives us a value that overcomes all sense of shame or embarrassment. As we continue to journey to the cross during this season of Lent, this story is a reminder that Jesus embraces our shame as he suffers shame like we could never imagine. When Jesus was beaten, mocked, stripped naked and hung on a cross for all to see and laugh at, he knows our shame. In his resurrection, however, Jesus raises us out of our shame as he gives us a new life as honoured, loved children of God. In his suffering and death, Jesus takes our shame and then raises us to a shame-free life in his resurrection. Like the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus knows everything we have ever done, but in his love for us, he speaks grace and love into our lives.

The challenge and opportunity we have as Christian community, then, is to give people an experience of grace in the same way that Samaritan woman at the well experienced grace. When we reveal what shames us to other people, when we confess the cause of our shame to others, and when we embody the grace of God in Jesus to each other by forgiving sin and embracing each other in relationship, then we become the means by which the grace of Jesus is made real in the lives of people around us. Imagine what it would be like to have such trusting relationships with others in our congregation that you could be honest about your deepest, darkest secrets, your most hidden cause of shame, and only experience grace, forgiveness and love? This is the path to healing and a shame-free life – being vulnerable enough to allow trusted Christian brothers or sisters into the shame we experience so we can experience grace in our relationship with each other.

This would mean that we could think of discipleship as …

… finding freedom from shame in our relationship with Jesus
and then extending that same grace to others.

Jesus gives us the opportunity to free others from their shame by accepting them in the same way that Jesus has accepted us (Romans 15:7) and the way he accepted the Samaritan woman at the well. He knew everything she had ever done, and all he gave her is grace. In the same way, Jesus knows everything we have ever done, even those things which cause us shame and we would prefer others didn’t know about. He knows, and still he accepts us, loves us, and embraces us in a shame-free relationship with himself. Jesus knows, and he still loves us enough to give us grace.

It changed the Samaritan woman’s’ life, and it can change our lives, too.

More to think about:

Putting this into practice can be difficult & risky. On the one hand, we can find a lot of freedom by confessing things that we carry & try hard to keep hidden to another person. However, we need to be sure that the person we confide in can be trusted & will respond with grace.

If you are carrying something you don’t want to share with another person, maybe consider beginning by writing a letter to Jesus about what you’re carrying, and then give it to him by burning it. As the paper is destroyed in the flames, so our shame is destroyed in Jesus’ death & resurrection for us.

Another way to find freedom from shame is to consider confessing what you’re carrying to your pastor or priest. The practice of private confession is a time-honoured way of giving what we’re carrying over to Jesus and hearing words of forgiveness & healing for that specific sin or wound. That’s what Jesus authorised his followers to do, so it makes sense to receive what he gives us (see John 20:19-23). It would be good to discuss how your pastor or priest views confidentiality before you talk with them if there are legal issues connected with what you want to discuss. Sometimes clergy understand what happens in confession differently (eg the need for mandatory reporting to police or other authorities).

In the end, I believe the story of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 points to the way Jesus wants to restore us by removing our shame. This takes trusted & grace-filled relationships which take time to grow. I hope & pray that you will find these relationships in Christian community, and you will be able to provide these kind of relationships for others…