The Hope of Spring

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

On the way to our subdivision, trees line the road and, in many places, form an arch over you—lush and green in the summer. But in winter, the dark, bare limbs reach out with eerie arms against cloudy skies. It seems all life is gone out of them.

We bear the cold winds and the dismal colors, believing full well that Spring will come. We’ve seen it over and over every year, so we have confident hope it will come again.

Sure enough, the weather gets warmer, the first daffodils bloom, and we know that Spring is coming. Soon, the forsythia waves its yellow arms at us.

Then, just as the daffodils begin to fade, the dainty weeping cherry bushes sprout their pink blooms. Suddenly pear trees and cherry trees join the pink and white display along with new lime-green  growth on trees and bushes.

Slowly leafy growth moves up the taller trees, then the red bud trees dress in their purplely-pink accents. It is glorious! The hope of life has come. Likewise…

Low in the grave he lay, Jesus my Savior! Waiting the coming day, Jesus, my Lord!

Vainly they watch His bed, Jesus, my Savior! Vainly they seal the dead, Jesus, my Lord!

Death cannot keep his prey, Jesus, my Savior! He tore the bars away, Jesus, my Lord!

Up from the grave He arose, With a mighty triumph o’er His foes;

He arose a victor from the dark domain, And He lives forever with His saints to reign.

He arose! He arose! Hallelujah! Christ arose!

How wonderful that we had a late Easter this year—just in time to put us right in the most beautiful Spring ever.

For the beauty of the earth, For the glory of the skies,

For the love which from our birth Over and around us lies:

Lord of all, to Thee we raise This our hymn of grateful praise.

A blessed Easter Resurrection Day to you all.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

4 – A Teachable Moment

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Tucked between Jesus’ discussion with the woman of Samaria (2 – The Woman at the Well) and her witness to the townspeople (3 – She Spreads the Word!), Jesus senses the disciples’ response to the woman and takes advantage of a teachable moment. 

You may remember, the disciples had left Jesus there at the well while they went looking for food.

Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman.

Never mind the five-husband business, just the fact that he is sitting there talking to a woman (a Samaritan woman) was taboo in their culture.

But no on asked [her], “What do you want?” or [him] “Why are you talking to her?”

They may not have spoken these words, but you can sure bet there were thinking them!

The woman gets up and leaves her water jar behind, because she’s on a mission to tell the townspeople about Jesus.

Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.”

They have food on their minds, but Jesus has already been fed by his conversation with the woman and in anticipation of what will happen to the people of the town. 

Jesus tells the men,

“I have food to eat that you know nothing about.”

The disciples whisper to each other,

“Could someone have brought him food?”

They are thinking physical food while Jesus has spiritual food on his mind. Jesus launches into this teaching moment in almost parable fashion. Keeping with the food theme, he compares the harvest of the field with the gathering in of believers. Listen up boys!

       

“My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.” 

Harvest for eternal life! Okay, maybe now they get it—spiritual food. Tie that with the analogy of what they have just done in going to buy physical food. 

“Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” John 4:27-38

They will soon see how this Samaritan woman is in town sowing and Jesus will be reaping the harvest. They will witness perhaps their first Gentile harvest—a task they will be doing after the resurrection for the rest of their lives.

Open my eyes, Lord. Where do you want me to sow the seeds of your love today? Has someone else sown seeds and you’re just waiting for me to harvest a new believer into your kingdom? Open my eyes, Lord.

~ Joyce ~

3 – She Spreads the Word!

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Didomi (Dee-doh’-mee), our main character this time, has had quite a conversation with Jesus at the well. (See 1 – We’re Going Where? and 2 – Woman at the Well)

It ended last with her saying “when the Messiah comes, he will explain everything to us.” Amazingly Jesus declares to this common woman, “I who speak to you am he.” She evidently believed him and trusted him so much that she felt empowered to go into town and share this news with the people.

Not all joined in her enthusiasm, but…

Many of the Samaritans from that town believed because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I did.”

They believed enough to check it out further.

So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. John 4:39-41

This woman, who had probably been shunned before, speaks with such joy and belief that she has shared with her neighbors the good news, and they have listened to her and responded. She opened the way for them to hear Jesus.

They said to Didomi,

“We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” John 4:42

Those are strong words, my friends! The ball started rolling all because she stepped out with joy and courage. Oh, that we could be so bold to bring others to Jesus!

The people soon learned (as did Didomi) that it doesn’t matter on which mountain they worship, God is spirit and we are to worship him in spirit and in truth.

        

Jesus gave her living water, not with the well dipper, but with his words of truth. She, in turn, gave to the townspeople. In two days, they could declare, “He is the Savior of the world.”

Jesus gave to her, and she gave to them. Didomi is the Greek word for “gave.”

Meanwhile, how did the disciples respond to all of this? Remember, they were the ones who asked, “We’re going where?” (You hear it coming, don’t you?) Next week!

~ Joyce ~

 

 

2 – The Woman at the Well

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Last week, we began the story of the “woman at the well.” (1 – We’re Going Where?) Let’s give her the name Didomi (dee-doh-mee) We left her bragging about her Samaritan well, dug by none other than Jacob himself!

Jesus reminds her that when they drink from this well, they are thirsty again. But the water he gives will spring up into eternal life. They will will never be thirty again. Of course, we realize that Jesus is talking about spiritual water, but she is stuck on physical water.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to to draw water.” John 4:15

It’s not just the labor of walking to the well that bothers Didomi. Jesus is going to get to the source of her problem, the reason she comes by herself rather than with the other women—shame.  He tells her,

“Go, call your husband and come back.” 

“I have no husband,” she replied. 

All-knowing Jesus pops right back at her,

“You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” John 4:15-18

Didomi is quite astonished that he knows this about her. So what does this sinful woman do? She compliments and changes the subject. Didomi says,

Sir, I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place we must worship is Jerusalem.”

Jesus does respond to her comment, but soon turns to a deep truth that spans the ages right down to our very lives.

“Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

This moves Didomi to think of the Promised One to come, not realizing that he stands right before her. She says,

“I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” John 4:19-26

Wow, this is significant! Jesus has avoided a direct mention of his Messiahship with others, but to this sinful Samaritan woman, he has openly declared that he is the Christ.

This is one thing that makes this woman special. Next week—another thing that defines her.

~ Joyce ~

 

 

 

 

 

1 – We’re Going Where?

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Let’s visit just one more unnamed woman in the Bible. Her location will probably spark your memory of her and her story.

Jesus and the disciples had been to the Temple in Jerusalem. They were heading back to Galilee, but the disciples noticed that Jesus wasn’t veering the right direction. 

I love the way comedian, Grady Nutt, once told this story. He said, “They were walking along trying to steer Jesus to the east toward the Jordan River, but Jesus, wiping the smile off his face, said, ‘No, we’re going through Samaria,’ ‘We’re going where?’ they protested. And Jesus kept heading due north.”

They may not have said it, but I’m sure the disciples were thinking, “We never go through Samaria!” Judean and Galilean Jews always went around Samaria, never through. For one thing it was always cooler down by the banks of the river and not as rough and rocky, but truth be known, they detested the Samaritans and the feeling was mutual. Regardless, off they went and by noon, they were hot and hungry.

So they came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. [noon]

         

When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) John 4:5-8

Oh my, there are all kinds of faux pas to this scene. Samaritan versus Galilean, a man talking to a woman in public, and asking for a drink from the jar which she will touch! Besides that, she’s out here alone, not with the other women. Sounds suspicious. 

She doesn’t back down and asks why a Jewish man would ask a Samaritan woman for a drink. Jesus answers,

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” John 4:10

She tries to have one up on him as her pride takes over. She declares her Hebrew roots to be greater than his.

“Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” John 4:11-12

Ah, but one can’t rely on Jewish heritage.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Eternal life. Now the subject is getting heavier. How will this “woman at the well” react? Next week, we’ll give her a name.

~ Joyce ~

What Do We Learn?

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

So what do we learn from the four-part story we’ve had of the unnamed woman caught in the act of adultery?

I named her Aphiema (forgiven) and gave an enhancement of her story.

We don’t know that there was such a character as Mark, who indulged in promiscuity, was spurned, and set a trap, but it stands to reason that the scene was conveniently set up in some way. It would be unlikely that these Pharisees just happened upon a couple in the act of adultery.

This is one of many times the religious leaders sought to trap Jesus, only to be caught in their trap. (Hmm, maybe another series—Setting Traps for Jesus.) Does this incident show that Jesus thinks adultery is okay? Absolutely not! He urged her to leave her life of sin. Is he saying they no longer need to follow the Mosaic laws? No. He said,

“Do not think I have to destroy the law or the Prophets. I have come not to destroy them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17

He took it a step further.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27

I believe Jesus’ mission in this incident was not to dilute the sin of adultery, but to show the leaders their own sin, the sin of judging.

It’s always been a puzzle as to what Jesus was doing when he “wrote on the ground with his finger.” Was he just biding his time while they thought about his question? Some have offered that he might have been writing some of their sins in the dirt—pride, gossip, lust, rage, etc. 

“If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to cast a stone at her.” John 8:7

You may remember that adultery was what Joseph assumed about Mary when he learned she was “with child.” He cared about her and didn’t want her to have the penalty of stoning. Before the angel assured him that the Spirit of God had brought this to pass, he already had decided to sign divorce papers, but not have her judged publicly and stoned.

Stoning was in the Mosaic law. Was Jesus putting an end to stoning? There’s no record of Christ followers stoning.

Sin is rampant in this story. The sin of the woman and the sin of the unseen man; the sinful desire of the religious leaders to trap Jesus and the way they used the woman. As always their sense of judgment always overpowered any sense of mercy and grace. Another lesson for us.

Oh Lord, help us to accurately identify sin that we tend to overlook in our society today. “Tolerance” often sets the stage for increased sin. At the same time, let us temper harsh judgmental attitudes with mercy and grace as you taught us.

~ Joyce ~

 

Who Was Caught? -Part 4

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Now we know that the unnamed woman this month, the woman caught in the act of adultery. I named her Aphiema (Ah-fee-mah) and gave a possible enhancement of the story. (See “Gone Astray – Part 1“, “A Trap envisioned – Part 2“, and “The Trap Is set – Part 3“.)

 Let’s look at the incident straight from the Scripture.

At dawn, he [Jesusappeared again in the Temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. John 8:2-9

One by one, the accusers drop their stones and finally Mark’s partners leave. Mark looks over at Apheima. Her hair is disheveled, a tear steaks down her cheek. For the first time, Mark is deeply aware of his own sin. It seems that both Aphiema and he have been caught.

It is just as the teacher said, I held lust in my heart and acted upon it. When she used me and I used her, I didn’t feel shame; I felt anger. My anger turned to hate, my hate to rage and revenge. Had Jesus said the word, I would have committed murder that day.

Apheima is aware that only one accuser is left. She glances up to meet Mark’s glazed eyes. He turns his head, drops his stone and walks away. As he leaves, he hears Jesus say,

“Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one,” she said. Then neither do I accuse you. Go and leave your life of sin.” John 8:10-11

Note that while Jesus did not condemn her, neither did he condone her act of sin. He urged her to leave that life.

Oh, what lessons we learn from this scene. We’ll look at some of those lessons next week. My hope is that she confessed her sin and ended up becoming a follower of Jesus. If so, she would live up to the Greek word I named her. Apheima means “forgiven.”

~ Joyce ~ 

The Trap Is Set – Part 3

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Our ongoing character, Mark, has been spurned and now conceives a plan to trap Apheima. (See “Gone Astray – Part 1” and “A Trap Envisioned – Part 2“)

He shares the details of his plan with one of the more vocal, angry Pharisees.

“So you see,” Mark concludes, “If the teacher says to stone her, we can let the Romans take care of him. They, of course, will not allow us to carry out death sentences, but we can blame him. And if he says that we should not stone her, we can say that he is going against the Law of Moses.”

“Excellent!” cries the Pharisee. “But how are we to set up such a scene?”

“Just leave that to me.”

And so, Mark proceeds with his diabolical plot. With a sly grin, he marches off to find a strapping young man who might like to have an exciting evening. Now I will give the Pharisees a counter attack, and at the same time, have a satisfying revenge of my own.

Mark has been watching for the last few days to see that the teacher gathers listeners in the same place at the Temple court. Mark knows the owner of a house nearby and asks if he might use his house that night. The friend agrees.

Mark has also been bating a young man with suggestions that Apheima has had her eye on him. The plan is to have the passionate young man meet her at this conveniently positioned house for the evening.

At dawn the next morning, the people have already begun to gather once again to listen to Jesus. He sits and continues to teach them.

Meanwhile, two assigned Pharisees break into the designated house and grab Apheima. (Of course, two witnesses are needed to make it legal.) They drag her out the door, down the street, and shove her in front of Jesus.

Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say? John 8:4-5

Apheima stands there shivering in the morning dew with only a blanket wrapped around her. She stares at the ground, ashamed to look at anyone for she feels the daggers of their stares. Several Pharisees gather around with stones in hand.

Jesus pauses a moment then slowly stands to look at each Pharisee, one by one. He bends to the ground to to write with his finger. Mark stretches his head around the men in front of him to see what’s happening.

“What is he doing?” he whispers to his partner in crime.

“I don’t know.”

Finally, one toward the front asks again, “What do you say? Stone her or let her go?”

How will Jesus answer? Have they finally trapped him? Well, you probably know the rest of the story now as you’ve discovered who our unnamed woman is.

Next week, the rest of the story.

~ Joyce ~

 

A Trap Envisioned – Part 2

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

As we read Scripture, we don’t always think about all the people involved. Last week, (Gone Astray – Part 1) we left Mark making excuses to his wife and meeting, yet again, with a former lover. After their romantic evening, he was about to leave for home.

“Our time together should be worth something, don’t you think?” Apheima hinted.

Puzzled, Mark frowned. “Worth something?”

“Well, you wouldn’t want your wife to know about these little get-togethers, now would you? Three denarii should take care of things.”

“Why, you little slut…”

“Uh, uh, let’s be careful. Your precious elders at the Temple would be very disappointed in you.”

Mark’s temper flared, but he could see that he had been trapped. He juggled some coins from his money pouch and threw them on the floor as he stormed out.

How dark the night felt as he shuffled his way home—dark as the sin that hung on his shoulders. But more than shame, he felt anger. How dare her trick me in such a way. She will regret this. His mind raced as he tried to think of forms of retaliation, but his thoughts were merely a jumble of revenge with no clear action.

The days wore on. Mark made it a point not to see Apheima again. The money may have taken care of the threats but not his bitterness.

Two weeks later, as Mark came near the Temple, several Pharisees were discussing the preacher from Galilee who had gained quite a following with the people. The leaders had questioned him on numerous occasions, but every time the religious leaders set up a verbal trap, this Jesus caught them instead, making them appear weak and incompetent.

The next day, Mark observed the teachings of this intruder to the city.

Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them… You have heard it said, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.” But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement… You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery.” But I tell you anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:17, 21-22, 27- 28

The intent of Jesus’ teaching went right over Mark’s head. Instead, the wheels began spinning in his mind until he had concocted a perfect plan.

Hmm, what is the plan? Stayed tuned next week for the plot to thicken! 

~ Joyce ~