Sermon – January 6, 2019
Who among us likes to be duped? Who among us likes to be taken advantage of? Whether it is just a humiliating prank, or it costs us much more, my guess is none of us desires to be made fools of or, what’s perhaps worse, cheated. In the summer of 2000, Enron stocks were worth close to $91 a share. By the end of November the next year, they were worth less than $1. Through shifty accounting tactics, false reporting, destruction of documents, and flat out lying, executives at Enron fooled not only the SEC but also its own employees. Many of those employees were induced to dumping all of their retirement back into Enron stocks. In the span of one year they would lose all of their savings, all of their retirement, all of their nest egg. They were foolish, yes, and bear a certain amount of guilt for their foolishness, and in some cases I’m sure, greed. But not all. And even so, much of this foolishness is brought about because of the deception and greed embodied by the executives at Enron. Such actions cost more than just a bit of humiliation but ravaged many people’s hope and security in the future.
What is the greatest threat to your security and hope? Big business? Government? Those who don’t like your politics? Physical threats from thugs and radicals? What if the greatest threat to you being duped did not come from outside of you, but rather, came from your own heart? How many of us can stand here today knowing in truth purity of our own hearts? How many of us know that our motives are right in everything that we do? How many of us can be assured that we are not deceived by the desires of our own wicked hearts? Jeremiah 17:9-10 says:
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.
The Bible seems to indicate that we are one of the greatest threats to ourselves. Our own self-deception is real, and powerful. Only God truly knows our hearts.
How do we guard against this? How do we guard ourselves against deception? Can we guard against this? Whether that deception comes from outside, or whether it comes from inside our own heart, what practical assurance can we have that we will not also be led astray?
What’s more, what should we be concerned of being led astray from? What is the most important thing to hold onto? Life and liberty? Health and wealth? The Scripture indicates Jesus is the greatest thing to hold onto, worth even your life. He is due all honor and glory.
In John 4 today we learn about this deception of the heart. Today, let us think through how we might honor Jesus with our whole lives, and not be deceived by our own hearts.
1. Crush your confidence
First, I would ask you to crush your confidence. Crush, destroy, any confidence you might have in yourselves, friends. In verse 43, we read that after two days Jesus departed for Galilee. This is resuming the trip that he began in the beginning of chapter 4, when it was necessary for him to travel through Samaria to get into the region of Galilee. After verse 43, we have a very odd statement by Jesus that needs some explanation. Here Jesus says:
A prophet has no honor in his own hometown.
It is not clear precisely what the “hometown” is to which John and Jesus refer. Furthermore, the fact that he says “for Jesus himself had testified”, indicates that this statement is linked to his whole purpose for going to Galilee, in which the hometown of Jesus, Nazareth, resides. What are we to make of this? Why would Jesus purposely go where he has no honor?
Many solutions have been proffered. The most well-known hints at the fact that Jesus must have gone to Nazareth first, leaving there when he received a poor welcome, and moved on to Cana because of the lack of faith and respect of the people in his hometown. After all, it’s quite possible that people in Nazareth, having seen Jesus grow up, having seen him as a young man, knowing that he was a carpenter’s son, would have naturally had less respect for him then people who had just met him and his teaching for the first time. Familiarity often breeds contempt. The problem is, of course, no mention of Nazareth occurs in this passage. It seems that the best explanation for the “hometown” remark is to think that his hometown was actually the entire region of Galilee, and what’s more, the entire region of Judea. Here, we would do better to consider and accept the translation of the CSB17:
Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country.
This, however, seems to be contradicted by the very next statement in verse 45 where we are told that the Galileans welcomed him. Is not this welcoming a form of honor?
The ending of verse 45 hints that John is being subtle with what he is saying in these verses. Notice that John mentions that they had gone to the feast in Jerusalem, and that they had seen all that Jesus had done in Jerusalem.
The Galileans welcomed him, having seen all that he had done in Jerusalem at the feast. For they too had gone to the feast.
This, you might remember, sounds a lot like the warning passage that occurs at the end of chapter 2. There we read the following:
Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in men.
These people from Galilee had likewise seen the signs that Jesus had been doing in Jerusalem. It is likely that they suffered under the same delusion, the same deception, that those mentioned in chapter 2 did. Namely, that they harbored some sort of belief in Jesus, but Jesus himself did not entrust himself to them. So, when we read they welcomed him, we are to understand that as being a small bit of irony. They think they are welcoming and honoring him, but Jesus does not entrust himself to them, he does not believe that their welcome is true and from the heart. Their welcome is a false facade, a fraud, and a deception. So strong is their deception, they might even have truly deceived themselves.
The beginning of verse 45 helps to cement this as well. There we read several indications that we are to see this as the culmination of his trip from Cana to Jerusalem and then back to Cana again. In verse 46 we read
So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine.
This is what scholars call an inclusio; the idea is that we are to read all of the material in between the two times John mentions Cana as one cohesive story with many parts. John is trying to tell us that we should read all of these passages together, as one unit. It appears that the Galileans welcomed him not because they wanted to honor him, but rather because they wanted more fireworks, they wanted more miracles, more signs.
What do we get then, if we go back to this warning passage in chapter 2, and read through chapters 3 and 4? In the beginning of chapter 3, Nicodemus comes to Christ in assurance of his own ability to decipher the nature of Christ. He says:
Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.
Nicodemus thinks he knows Christ, at least where Jesus hails from, but Jesus says he can’t understand any of what he claims unless he is born again. Not only in verse 3, but again in verse 5: Nicodemus cannot see the Kingdom of God unless he is born of the Spirit and of water. In other words, Nicodemus is deceived by his own eyes; confident in what he has seen at the feast, what he thinks he already knows, he has a hard time taking in what Jesus says. He is flustered and confused by the end of their conversation.
Even John the Baptist’s disciples seem confident in their master, so much so they overlook his own statements of his limitations in the scheme of God’s salvation. They overlook the central point of his ministry!
The Samaritans on the other hand, don’t have a hard time taking in what Jesus says to them. Here we have no miracles done like what Nicodemus was allowed to see. All we have are the words of Jesus given to a woman by a well, and then the words of Jesus to the people who come out to see him. Everything in this passage points at the true, faithful, abiding faith of the Samaritans. The ending of the Samaritan passage further indicates this as they rightly confess him to be the “Savior of the world”. The Samaritans got no fireworks, no miracles, no signs, no wonders, only the words of Christ that they cherished and believed in.
In the first case, confidence was deception. Nicodemus didn’t know what he should have known, so how could he understand what was beyond him? Jesus says to him in verse 10:
Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things?
Then, in verse 12:
If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?
Nicodemus’ confidence in what he can see with his eyes, his confidence in what he himself knew, would not allow him to take in the very things that Jesus wanted to tell him. His heart was full of itself, it had no other room.
The Galileans wanted a miracle-worker, perhaps loving the spectacle of his magic, or even thinking how nice it might be to have a powerful weapon like Jesus they could wield. They are also confident: confident they can master Jesus, confident they can need nothing more from him than nice words, a healing or two, and a show.
In the second case, honest questions and close listening brought faith not only to the woman at the well, but the entire town of Sychar. The Samaritans desire to listen, to hear afresh the words of this living Messiah, brings faith, belief, and conviction outside of any miracles.
Friends, do you let Jesus speak to you in his word, or do you just read it to hear it say what you want it to say? Do you easily brush over well-known passages, assured in your own heart they have nothing new to tell you? Ask yourself honestly, if you find reading Scripture boring, why is that so? Isn’t it because you think that Scripture, or at least parts of it, have nothing new for you? We are easily bored with what we easily master – is this where you are, friend? A master of Scripture, sure in all your doctrine, confident in all your ways?
Do you read it with an open mind, or with such confidence in your own knowledge of the truth that you deceive yourself? Do you even read it? Or are you so confident in your own ability to ascertain the truth and direct your life that you feel you don’t need it? What other reason is there for not opening the word of God other than thinking that you don’t need it? Thirsty people drink water. Hungry people find food. Those needing the guidance and salvation of God read Scripture.
Friends, crush your confidence. Humble yourselves, and let the words of God speak to you, and guide you, direct your faith.
2. Count on Jesus’ words
Secondly, if we are to honor Jesus rightly, and not be deceived in our own hearts, we must count on Jesus’ words. Friend, you can trust them, count on them, in your darkest day and through the brightest path, Jesus words are true and wise, for the name of Jesus is Faithful and True.
While the Galileans paid lip service to Christ in their welcome, a man appears in a desperate spot. Apparently having seen, or been told, of the wonders that Jesus did when in Jerusalem, the man has come to appeal to Jesus for help. His son was ill, and close to the point of death. With no other recourse, he asks Jesus to make the trip to Capernaum that he might heal his son. It is not a small request, but it is an earnest one.
Jesus offers the man, and all of the bystanders, a rebuke:
Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.
Why does Jesus speak this way? First, let us notice that “you” is meant to be plural, something obscured by the ESV, and because of this the rebuke is not addressed directly to the man alone. It is for the entire crowd that has gathered. If we take seriously the idea that Jesus’ reception at the hands of the Galileans was self-serving and skin-deep, we have here further proof that Jesus refuses to entrust himself to them. He flat out doesn’t believe the people who surround him, their welcome and their declarations of joy in his presence. They won’t believe what he says unless they can see more signs. His words are not enough, his command is not good enough, his declarations must be accompanied by proof. Unless they see, they will not believe.
Second, it is clearly a challenge to the man who has come to ask for his help. Jesus has no intention of going to Capernaum at this time; he will not travel there to heal the man’s child, so that his belief can be held in check until the deed is done. Rather, the statement pushes the man to truly believe – how will he respond?
He responds in the best way he can, resolute trust that only Jesus can provide his son healing and well-being:
Sir, come down before my child dies.
Jesus pushes him again, this time forcing him to accept his statement without proof of sight, without seeing the miracle done, with no evidence given to him.
Go; your son will live.
Go. He is well. What could the man do? Would he sit there pleading with Jesus to come? “Yes, yes, you said he was well, sure. But, honestly now, just come down and heal him in person! It’s but a short trip to save a life!” He has come to Jesus because he purported to believe that Jesus could heal the boy. Pleading would now just reveal his unbelief! Jesus had just said that he was healed – not believing that statement is not believing that Jesus could do what he asked! Or, would he walk away thinking that Jesus couldn’t heal his son? Then why come and ask in the first place? No, neither of these options will do. So, the man does the only reasonable thing – he trusts Jesus’ word. He trusts that Jesus spoke the truth to him. He trusts that Jesus is able to heal his son, whether in his presence or at a distance.
This, quite clearly, is not what the man wanted. He wanted the easier route, a miracle at close range, with-holding true faith until the deed is done. Jesus didn’t give him that opportunity. Jesus brilliantly pushes the man to believe what he has reported. The rest of the crowd could still give Jesus lip-service, welcoming him and uttering their own weak-kneed faith in his works. This man couldn’t. Either he would turn and leave, believing in the very thing that he had already confessed, or he would stay and struggle with Jesus, his actions denying his apparent trust in the miracle working power of the Lord.
The man, of course, chooses to believe in the words of Jesus.
He went on his way. John beautifully portrays the man in that one sentence.
He believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.
Friends, let us be no different than this man. Reports came to him, or perhaps he had even see with his own eyes the very works of the Son of man. He then came to him for help. Jesus gave him his word, and he believed. We too, have had reported to us the very great works of Jesus Christ. He who is mighty has done great things. The gospel has been announced and shown to us: Jesus Christ has taken our sins up in his flesh upon the cross. He has purchased our salvation, removed our guilt, cleansed our sin, made us new again. Our sins are as far from us as the east is from the west. Jesus has proven this to us by rising from the grave. We have heard these reports. Many of us sit here today claiming that we believe in them. But I tell you, some of you won’t believe the words and commands of Jesus unless you see signs and wonders. Many of you won’t entrust yourselves to his words unless he proves himself again, and again, and again. Your faith is the faith of the Galileans – skin deep and self serving. Why ask for more signs? Why wait for more wonders? Was the resurrection not enough? No, indeed, it is not enough for some. Not because you don’t have proof, but because you don’t believe Christ’s words.
Luke 16 records the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had all you could ever want, and demonstrated it with lavish feasts daily. Lazarus was sick and poor, and wanted only the scraps that he fought with the dogs over. When both passed, Lazarus found himself in paradise with Abraham, the rich man in hell. When the rich man finds out that his anguish will not be relieved, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers, to warn them of the fate that awaits them, so they might escape hell. Abraham responds, in Luke 16:29:
“They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And [the rich man] said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”
Friends, if you are unwilling to listen to God’s word as it has come to you, even having someone resurrected from the dead will not convince you. Jesus could stand here in your full presence, and you would still ask for signs and wonders.
This man, weak and desperate, turned to Christ for aid and comfort. He turned to Christ because he believed, and he left, not to turn away from Christ, but to do what Christ had commanded him. Friend, if you have come desperate to Christ, listen to his word. The psalmist says in Psalm 19:39-40:
Turn away the reproach that I dread, for your rules are good. Behold, I long for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!
Friends, those of true faith long for the precepts of God. They long for the words of Jesus – for they are life. To say that you believe, and to not seek out the words of Christ, or when given them, to not put them into practice, demonstrates a welcoming of Jesus that does not accord with salvation.
When Jesus was asked to eat, as he watched the Samaritan women leaving the well, he claimed that he had food they did not know about. God gives good things to his people through his word, nourishment and comfort. But these comforts are only available to those who do the word; who believe it well enough to put it into practice. Jesus said:
“I have food to eat that you do not know about.” So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
You cannot live on the miracles alone, even if those miracles are bread and manna. You must live on the words of God. Count on Jesus’ words, friends, for they are your life.
3. Conquer your trials
Lastly, if we are to be those who rightly honor Jesus, we must be those who conquer our trials. Make no mistake, the life that we are called to live is not an amusement park, where the downs are exhilarating and the ups are filled with hope. The valleys that you face are real, deep, and possibly terrifying. David rightly calls our trials and difficulties a valley of death. Yet, rest assured friends, Christ still reigns over the events of your life, so that through faith in him you might conquer. For he has conquered.
There is a bit of a mystery here: Christ leaves the Samaritans, where he has had his greatest success to date. These have come to him, heard from him, rightly confessed him, demonstrated great faith in him, all without the influence of those pesky signs and wonders. Yet, he leaves that field, going to locations where Jesus himself admits (as John says) he will have no honor. Why does Jesus do this? Why leave a good, flourishing ministry, that shows great promise, to return to people that you very well know will not give you the same reception?
It is something most of us would never consider doing. And while the Samaritan mission was something of a success, it seems impossible that Jesus in two days had finished all he could accomplish there. Yet, he leaves. Why not stay, if not for himself, then for the rest of the Samaritans who might benefit from his ministry?
My guess, and I think it a reasonable one, is that he had work to finish that could only happen among those who would ultimately reject him. Christ was, as it has been said, born to die. This is not some sort of abstract fate that is placed upon his life from outside of him; as though forces greater than him had doomed him to this end as some sort of Greek tragedy. No, rather, it is a fate that he himself has taken on, willingly, as part of the work set forward by the Father. After all, in Isaiah we read:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. . . . although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
Certainly, part of the will of God was for Jesus to bring the good news of the coming Kingdom to dark places without true access to the light – like Samaria. But he had a larger mission, one that encompassed all of the other works that God the Father had appointed to him. He must be rejected, crushed, afflicted, smitten, stricken, crucified, die. There is a trial coming for Jesus – and the ending of that trial is one Jesus is fully aware of. His own people must reject him and kill him.
So, please understand, Jesus doesn’t leave the Samaritans and in doing so, ignore their needs, keep them in the dark, leave them without hope. It is only by leaving them that he can ensure that he becomes the Savior of the world; it is only by leaving them that he can give to them the salvation that they need. Jesus must be broken that we might live.
Just as Jesus could not despise the trials given to him – for indeed, these were the trials he took on as his own good will from before the foundation of the world, and he took them on for the joy set before him – we cannot despise the trials that he sets before us. James 1:2-4:
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
These trials are not meant for our harm, but for our good. And there is grace in the storm. Look at the official in our story today. There is little reason to think that he would have ended up much different from the other Galileans that were present: a faith that saw and loved the signs and wonders, but one that would be unlikely to unite him strongly to Jesus through storms and persecutions. These, again, are those who have grown up on thin soil:
And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.
But Jesus pushes the man through his time of testing. The man has no recourse but to come to Jesus, this is testified to by the fact that he makes the trip at all. While not a long trip, it is clear that other options would have been sought before the boy was on his death-bed and before a miracle was needed. It was his desperation that has brought him to Christ, and it is his desperation that yields his true faith in Jesus. What precious desperation, what happy trials that lead us to true and abiding faith in Christ! What beautiful problems we have that expose all our deception and false belief!
What is more, we are not to forget the grace that God gives in the trials. While the man is still walking away, Jesus’ words are proven true. He is met by his servants, who tell him the good news of his son’s recovery, and that the very hour of that recovery was the very hour of Jesus’ pronouncement that the boy would live. He had believed before, but the grace God gave him through his trial only increases his faith, deepening the soil, growing his roots, so that he might face even greater trials in the future.
Friends, Jesus will give you trouble and difficulty. And I mean just that: Jesus will do this. Make no mistake, even these are from his hands. Faith in him will not magically or miraculously make problems disappear. Even when there is provision, you may have to travel many miles before you hear of the deliverance that Christ has promised you. These trials are not meant to bring doubt to Jesus’ ability to save. They are at times the very things that bring about his salvation in your life! It is only through difficulty that this man’s faith shines. It is only through trial that this man’s faith is deepened. Again, in Psalm 119:71-72 we read:
It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
In this, we stand with Christ, for it is only through Jesus’ own rejection that salvation is made available to us at all.
Our times of trial are meant to bolster our faith, as we await the salvation and deliverance that Jesus offers us. Conquer your trials – not by defeating them with sword, or money, or science, or miracle. Defeat them with perseverance and faith. Conquer them as Christ did – with a great display of trust in the sovereignty of God through the darkest of times. Honoring Jesus as Lord does not just mean doing what he says (although that is not an insignificant part of it), it means trusting his good rulership of the world, allowing his will to be unfolded in times of plenty and times of want. Doubt is the victory cry of Satan – but persevering belief conquers over all.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus speaks about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and scribes, saying:
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”
We are not above such things. We are not above ignoring the words of Christ, living out a cheap faith, skin deep and paper thin, propped up by man-made ideas about what faith entails and how we are to live it out. Friend, where is your confidence? Are you looking for God’s miracles to give you some aid in the most dire of situations, not knowing your whole being desperately needs the grace of Christ? Do you only love Jesus because he fills your bellies, your closets, your playlists? Will you wilt and fold when the hot summer rays of trial hit you? Do you have depth to your faith to sustain you, a love of the sovereignty of Jesus to provide for you? Do you model Jesus’ own approach to such trials, approaching them with an eye toward joy and the great deliverance waiting for those who throw themselves upon the mercy of God?
Let these questions prick your conscience and mind, let them bear upon you. Friends, crush your confidence that you may count on Jesus’ words, and through them conquer your trials. In doing so, you honor Jesus, who was born for our deliverance, died for our sins, and was raised for our justification. Therefore, he is worthy:
When the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Lamb who was slain, had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain,
and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth. . . .
Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!
Amen and Amen. Let us pray!