Discipleship

More Than Enough

Jesus did many miraculous signs while on earth—healing people, bringing back the dead, and a few unusual things. Only one of His miraculous signs is recorded in all four gospels—the feeding of 5,000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish.

As with all the miraculous signs in John (John 20:30-31), this one has a lesson and illustrates an important aspect of the Lord’s ministry. Each sign is temporary and situational. They’re not eternal and their purposes are specific not an end in themselves.

John helps us see this miracle as a teaching opportunity with the dialog between Jesus and Philip. Jesus wanted His closest followers to learn something about Himself and the Kingdom of God. It was a lesson for His disciples not for the 5,000 people who were fed.

The miraculous sign was not about food. Everyone, including Jesus and His disciples—especially the crowd of 5,000—needed to eat again the next day. Several lessons can be gleaned from this event. One thing is certain—the crowd missed the point completely—as many people still do now.

Scripture

Jesus later crossed to the other side of the Sea of Galilee (or the Sea of Tiberias). A large crowd followed him because they saw the miracles that he performed for the sick. Jesus went up a mountain and sat with his disciples. The time for the Jewish Passover festival was near. [vss 1-4]

As Jesus saw a large crowd coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus asked this question to test him. He already knew what he was going to do.

Philip answered, “We would need about a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each of them to have a piece.” One of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, who was Simon Peter’s brother, told him, “A boy who has five loaves of barley bread and two small fish is here. But they won’t go very far for so many people.” [vss 5-9]

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” The people had plenty of grass to sit on. (There were about 5,000 men in the crowd.) Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed them to the people who were sitting there. He did the same thing with the fish. All the people ate as much as they wanted.

When the people were full, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted.” The disciples gathered the leftover pieces of bread and filled twelve baskets. [vss 10-13]

When the people saw the miracle Jesus performed, they said, “This man is certainly the prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus realized that the people intended to take him by force and make him king. So he returned to the mountain by himself. [vss 14-15]

(John 6:1-15 GW)

Key phrase—

Gather the leftover pieces so that nothing will be wasted

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • Where does Jesus go with His disciples and what time of the year does this happen?

  • Who follows Jesus and the disciples and what is their reason for following?

  • What does Jesus ask Philip and what is Philip’s response? Who else tries to help with the situation?

  • What does Jesus do with the available food and what happens as a result?

Reflection...

The feeding of the 5,000 is an amazing miracle but what is even more amazing is what’s gathered up after all the people ate and were full—12 baskets full of leftover bread and fish!

Jesus used this situation as an opportunity to train His disciples. Here are just a few of the lessons He wanted them to learn—

  • Have compassion and care for the needs of the people

  • Utilize what you have rather than focus on what you don’t have

  • Look to God as a first option rather than a last resort

  • Practical guidance on delegation, organization, distribution, and follow-up

There’s much more to be learned from this miraculous sign but this list is a good start. Later in this chapter (Chap 6), Jesus will explain how this sign relates to Him in a metaphorical sense and His purpose for coming to earth.

So, why would Jesus have the disciples gather up what is leftover? Yes, so nothing will be wasted. But why would this be important? Two quick thoughts. First, it reinforced the miraculous nature of this feeding of 5,000 people. It also showed the Lord’s concern for what we might call follow up or follow through.

He’s always our example of faith and trust in God. Jesus saw beyond the immediate to what was next—the two events and teaching following this story.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Why do you think Jesus tested Philip when He knew what He would do?

  • What did the crowd of people say among themselves and what did they want to do after this miracle?

  • How do you think Jesus knew what the people wanted to do and what was His response?

  • What are the many specific and practical things Jesus does in feeding the people and what specific insight or lesson did you gain from this story?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Understanding why Jesus did what He did requires discernment and guidance from God’s Spirit. We also need to carefully observe what is said and done, and dig deeper by imagining ourselves in the story and asking ourselves relevant questions.

Prayer Focus— When you are faced with what seem to be impossible or overwhelming situations, look to the Lord first for wisdom and guidance. Trust Him to help you see beyond the circumstances, to see people with His eyes, and to know how to move forward by faith.

©2019—Word-Strong

Like Father, Like Son

One of the difficulties people have with the Christian faith is Jesus being in God in nature. It was something I struggled with in my journey of faith. How could Jesus be both God and human? How could He have two natures at the same time?

The gospel of John begins with this truth. The purpose of the apostle John’s account of the gospel is to reveal who Jesus is through what He said and did (John 20:30-31). The Pharisees—the religious elite—struggled the most with Jesus’ declarations as the Son of God.

One simple reason the Pharisees didn’t accept Jesus as the Son of God was their religion. Not Judaism as established by Moses but the complicated and restrictive system of religion they developed over the years. I believe the reason most people struggle to believe and trust in Jesus is because of opposing religious beliefs and traditions.

Humanity tends to turn the relationship God calls us into by faith and make it a religion—a set of rules and expectations. We try to deconstruct what is eternal and infinite, then reconstruct it in a way that fits our finite and limited understanding. And so, we struggle to accept what God makes simple by creating barriers and restrictions Jesus removed through His life and death on earth, and His resurrection from the dead.

Scripture

The Jews began to persecute Jesus because he kept healing people on the day of worship. Jesus replied to them, “My Father is working right now, and so am I.”

His reply made the Jews more intent on killing him. Not only did he break the laws about the day of worship, but also he made himself equal to God when he said repeatedly that God was his Father. [vss 16-18]

Jesus said to the Jews, “I can guarantee this truth: The Son cannot do anything on his own. He can do only what he sees the Father doing. Indeed, the Son does exactly what the Father does. The Father loves the Son and shows him everything he is doing. The Father will show him even greater things to do than these things so that you will be amazed. In the same way that the Father brings back the dead and gives them life, the Son gives life to anyone he chooses. [vss 19-21]

“The Father doesn’t judge anyone. He has entrusted judgment entirely to the Son so that everyone will honor the Son as they honor the Father. Whoever doesn’t honor the Son doesn’t honor the Father who sent him. I can guarantee this truth: Those who listen to what I say and believe in the one who sent me will have eternal life. They won’t be judged because they have already passed from death to life. [vss 22-24]

(John 5:16-24 GW)

Key phrase—

The Son does exactly what the Father does

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are we told the Jews begin to do?

  • What are two reasons the Jews treated Jesus as they did?

  • How does Jesus describe His relationship with His Father?

  • What does Jesus say about judgment? How is this relevant and important for those who do trust in Him?

Reflection...

Many people—even those who don’t claim to be Christians— see the life Jesus led as exemplary—a model life. Indeed, Jesus lived His life on earth as an example. One of His primary goals was to disciple those who trusted in Him to live by faith.

The core element of Jesus’ life of faith was His relationship with His Father. Is this something every believer can do? Yes, absolutely! How Jesus prayed, spoke, and acted are all the ways believers—those who trust in and follow Him—are to live.

But following the example of Jesus isn’t about holding to a set of beliefs and practices in a religious sense. True disciples are to live by faith as Jesus did—relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us each step of the the way.

The followers of Jesus are not called to set up a religious way of life and judge others who don’t hold to their same ways. This would make us more like followers of the Pharisees. We’d become modern-day religious elites. Jesus calls His disciples to follow Him by faith so we may be free of judgment and pass from death into life—eternal life.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • What great blessings does the Lord give those who honor Him as the Son of God?

  • What type of life is guaranteed those who listen to and believe (trust) in Jesus?

  • How can a person who believes in Jesus as the Son of God pass from death to life while on earth? What do you think this means?

  • Are you living by faith with assurance of eternal life? Is this life Jesus promises already present in your heart?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Following the example of Jesus isn’t about holding to a set of beliefs and practices in a religious sense. It’s a life of faith—relying on the Holy Spirit to guide us each step of the the way.

Prayer Focus— If you don’t have assurance in your heart of the promise of eternal life Jesus extends to all who trust in Him, ask God to give it to you. Ask in faith—accept His promise by trusting in Him by faith.

©2019—Word-Strong

Harvest Time

In America, we prize our individualism, as if it were sacred. But our commitment to individualistic expression is at odds with the call of Jesus and the faith and life of the believers in the early church.

If we claim to be followers of Jesus who calls us to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23), then our attempt to cling to individualism as a Christian believer becomes a non sequitur—it’s illogical.

When Jesus encounters a Samaritan woman at an ancient well, she returns to her village to share this good news. As the story unfolds, we see their response to hearing Jesus for themselves. This was not something the disciples could see as possible.

The apostles—Jesus’ closest followers—see their relationship with Him as somewhat exclusive. What Jesus tells them and what the Samaritan villagers declare later reveals the opposite. God’s heart is not exclusive but inclusive to others.

Scripture

“Don’t you say, ‘In four more months the harvest will be here’? I’m telling you to look and see that the fields are ready to be harvested. The person who harvests the crop is already getting paid. He is gathering grain for eternal life. So the person who plants the grain and the person who harvests it are happy together. 

In this respect the saying is true: ‘One person plants, and another person harvests.’ I have sent you to harvest a crop you have not worked for. Other people have done the hard work, and you have followed them in their work.” [vss 35-38]

Many Samaritans in that city believed in Jesus because of the woman who said, “He told me everything I’ve ever done.” So when the Samaritans went to Jesus, they asked him to stay with them. He stayed in Samaria for two days. 

Many more Samaritans believed because of what Jesus said. They told the woman, “Our faith is no longer based on what you’ve said. We have heard him ourselves, and we know that he really is the savior of the world.” [vss 39-42]

(John 4:35-42 GW)

Key phrase—

“One person plants, and another person harvests”

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What does Jesus tell His disciples about the time of harvest?

  • How is this at odds with what they say and think?

  • What type of harvest is Jesus speaking of and how is this made clear?

  • What does Jesus tell the disciples about their involvement with this harvest?

Reflection...

Individualism does not have a place in God’s kingdom and the work of service Jesus calls His followers to do. Jesus tells His disciples plainly that working with Him is a partnership not an individual assignment.

Jesus says His disciples have the easy part of gathering the harvest that others have sown. Who was Jesus referring to? Most likely, the Old Testament prophets, including John the Baptizer. It would also include the faithful remnant such as Simeon the prophet and Anna the prophetess mentioned in Luke (Luke 2:25-38).

Even the Samaritan woman at the well gives us an example of this. She leaves her water jar at the well to tell those in her village about Jesus. They respond by coming out to Jesus themselves (verse 40), which He refers to in verse 35. The Samaritans prevail upon Jesus to stay with them and He does for two days.

Many of them believed because of the woman’s testimony but many others believed when they heard Jesus for themselves. Our responsibility as believers is to introduce people to Jesus, as partners with Him and others who are called to this eternal harvest.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • Who has spoken to you about Jesus and shared the gospel with you?

  • As a believer, who have you and are you speaking to about the Lord and His love?

  • Was Jesus speaking of this eternal harvest just for those disciples or for us too?

  • Do you personally know Jesus—the Savior of the world? If so, who have you told about Him? If not, why not and what holds you back from believing?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Jesus calls those who choose to follow Him into a partnership with Him and others to sow and gather in an eternal harvest. This requires each believer to choose Him and His Kingdom’s work above their own personal interests. God is the great Includer—inviting us to partner with Him as we invite others into His family of believers.

Prayer Focus— Pray for God’s vision to see the harvest He sees. Ask Him to open the eyes of your heart to see people as He sees them. Ask Him to open your heart to those He wants to gather into His family, His kingdom.

©2018—Word-Strong

The Jesus Diet

Are you searching for the perfect diet? Americans spend inordinate amounts of money on special diets, supplements, and exercise regimens. It’s a cultural obsession. One of many.

A while back, I wrote about a self diet but this will be a look at what could be called the Jesus diet. It has nothing to do with eating food or exercising but everything to do with life—what we focus on in life.

This part of the story of Jesus in Samaria begins with an awkward social situation. A Samaritan woman who comes to draw water from an ancient well leaves without it. The sight of Jesus speaking to this woman is unsettling for His disciples—it was socially unacceptable (John 4:9).

The disciples return from their food shopping excursion in town and try to convince Jesus to eat but to no avail. His reasoning for not eating their food leaves the disciples even more puzzled than the awkward social encounter as they arrived.

Scripture

At that time his disciples returned. They were surprised that he was talking to a woman. But none of them asked him, “What do you want from her?” or “Why are you talking to her?”

Then the woman left her water jar and went back into the city. She told the people, “Come with me, and meet a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could he be the Messiah?” The people left the city and went to meet Jesus. [vss 27-30]

Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, “Rabbi, have something to eat.” Jesus told them, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” The disciples asked each other, “Did someone bring him something to eat?”

Jesus told them, “My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do and to finish the work he has given me.” [vss 31-34]

(John 4:27-34 GW)

Key phrase—

My food is to do what the one who sent me wants me to do

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What is the reaction of the disciples to Jesus speaking with the Samaritan woman?

  • What did they seem to want to ask Jesus but didn’t? Why do you think they didn’t?

  • What is the primary concern of the disciples and how is this obvious?

  • How does Jesus respond to the disciples’ urging Him to eat something?

Reflection...

The disciples found it difficult to understand what Jesus said many times and His explanations didn’t always clear up their lack of understanding. Most of us have similar difficulties today. Why? Because we, as they were, are restricted by our own personal perceptions.

The primary food of Jesus—His diet—was whatever the Father asked of Him and to do the Father’s will until it was finished. Jesus explains further what the work of the Father is in the remainder of the story.

But for now, consider what the priority is of your daily diet. Is it more like the food of Jesus or the concern of the disciples? Are you more concerned with God’s will or your own?

When our priorities in life are centered around us, they tend to be selfish and limited. When our priority is God’s priority—His will for our life—we’ll be free from the worry of what we’ll eat or drink or wear. God’s already promised to take care of those needs (Matt 6:31-34).

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How does this story show the Samaritan woman as more spiritually perceptive than the disciples of Jesus?

  • Have you found yourself struggling to understand God’s will for your life?

  • Why do you think it’s hard to see what God is doing in the midst of our life each day?

  • How do you provide time each day to seek the Lord’s direction for your life?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— Jesus was clear what His Father’s will was for His life. The disciples made their own priorities (food) important and tried to impose that upon the Lord. But the woman at the well—focused more on spiritual things than the physical appears more connected with Jesus than the disciples.

Prayer Focus— In your times of prayer, ask the Lord to help you see how you are displacing God’s priorities for your life with what’s more important to you. Then ask Him to help you see how to put His will above your own in daily life.

©2018—Word-Strong

A Story About Water

It's important to read a story from the author's point of view—including their time and culture. If we don't see it from their point of view, we'll miss both essential and more subtle details.

Here, Jesus and His followers are traveling from Jerusalem in Judea in the south to Galilee in the north. This causes them to go through the region of Samaria. The Samaritans were considered a mixed breed of people with a false religion by the Jews.

The Jews were prejudiced against the Samaritans who responded with antagonism towards the Jews. Prejudice and mistrust between people groups have existed since ancient times.

Jesus and the disciples stop in Sychar near Shechem at Jacob's Well. Jesus stays there while His followers go to town to buy food. When a Samaritan woman comes to draw water in the heat of the day, Jesus asks the woman for a drink of water. This in itself would be unusual, as revealed in the story (below), but their conversation takes an even more unexpected turn.

Scripture

Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was making and baptizing more disciples than John. (Actually, Jesus was not baptizing people. His disciples were.) So he left the Judean countryside and went back to Galilee.

Jesus had to go through Samaria. He arrived at a city in Samaria called Sychar. Sychar was near the piece of land that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s Well was there. Jesus sat down by the well because he was tired from traveling. The time was about six o’clock in the evening. [vss 1-6]

A Samaritan woman went to get some water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink of water.” (His disciples had gone into the city to buy some food.) The Samaritan woman asked him, “How can a Jewish man like you ask a Samaritan woman like me for a drink of water?” (Jews, of course, don’t associate with Samaritans.)

Jesus replied to her, “If you only knew what God’s gift is and who is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink. He would have given you living water.” [vss 7-10]

The woman said to him, “Sir, you don’t have anything to use to get water, and the well is deep. So where are you going to get this living water? You’re not more important than our ancestor Jacob, are you? He gave us this well. He and his sons and his animals drank water from it.”

Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks this water will become thirsty again. But those who drink the water that I will give them will never become thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life.” [vss 11-14]

(John 4:1-14 GW)

Key phrase—

The water I will give them will become in them a spring that gushes up to eternal life

Digging Deeper...

Review the Scriptures above as you answer the following questions

  • What are the specific details we're told about the situation in this story?

  • What seems to be the turning point in the conversation between Jesus and the woman?

  • How does the woman respond to the statements Jesus makes?

  • What kind of water does Jesus offer and what do you think He means by this?

Reflection...

Jacob's Well was hundreds of years old even in the time of Jesus and was quite deep. The region of Samaria was disputed land then as it is now. This is evident in the story by the woman's contentious responses to Jesus.

But Jesus immediately flips the conversation by telling her she should be asking Him for a drink of living water.

The woman doesn't back down. As Jesus so often did, He turns what seems like a typical conversation into an opportunity to reveal spiritual truth.

He offers her living water—water that continues to flow like an artesian spring—giving eternal life. This conversation and the story continue, but we'll stop here to consider how Jesus turns a contentious situation into an opportunity to share spiritual truth.

Taking it to heart...

Read through the Scripture text again as you consider and answer these questions

  • How do you typically handle or respond to contentious people and situations?

  • We are not Jesus, but what can we learn from how He responded to the woman?

  • How does Jesus describe what He has to offer her, and us, by shifting the conversation from a focus on the physical to the spiritual?

  • Have you personally experienced what Jesus says about the living water He offers?

Personalize it...

Meditate On This— When we focus on the true need of a person, we can choose to see them through the lens of God's love. We can trust God's Spirit to lead us in how to turn mundane conversations into opportunities to consider eternal concerns.

Prayer Focus— Ask the Lord each day to help you see the people you encounter as He sees them—who they are, their needs and life situations. Pray for wisdom and grace to turn everyday conversations into opportunities to share your faith.

©2018—Word-Strong