The Wrong Miracle

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. …

- Luke 4:16ff (ESV)

“I suppose some will call it a miracle. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I can’t explain it.”

“Soon after Joseph and Mary’s son moved out of town, we heard things about him. You know, news of what he did in Cana, Capernaum – those places. Amazing things! Marvelous things! But funny… it sure didn’t sound like stories of our Jesus. He hadn’t done any miracles for us when he lived here. At least, none that we could verify with our own eyes. But we hoped the next time he came to town, he’d do for us what he had reportedly done elsewhere.”

“And one Sabbath it seemed like we were about to get our wish.”

“That day we were all gathered together in the synagogue, and among all those familiar faces was the one we had waited to see: Jesus, the son of Joseph. We thought, ‘He’s back! Good! Maybe we’ll witness a miracle!’ Seeing him there raised our expectations high… too high, I think.”

“After the prayers, the synagogue ruler honored Jesus by calling him up to the platform. He then opened the ark, took out a scroll, and handed it to him to read. Jesus quickly found his way to the inside where he read:”

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

  to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me

  to proclaim liberty to the captives

    and recovering of sight to the blind,

  to set at liberty those who are oppressed,

  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 1

“I smiled, recognizing the scroll as Isaiah’s… one of my favorites. And this passage he read is from the best part of the book.”

“After Jesus handed the scroll back to the servant, he sat down, looked at us, and said what at the time seemed the most exciting and encouraging words I have ever heard.”

… “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

- Luke 4:21 (ESV)

“‘Wow!’, I thought. ‘The year of the Lord’s favor is here at last? This is great news!’ And from the voices I heard going around the room, I wasn’t alone in my excitement. All those miracle reports: the healings, the deliverances from demons, that’s what they all meant! If those people in Capernaum had experienced the grace of God, surely we would, too! He continued speaking.”

“Doubtless you will quote to me this proverb, ‘Physician, heal yourself.’ What we have heard you did at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well. 2

‘Ah!’, we thought. “He’d knows what we want! We are going to see some signs!’ But what Jesus said next changed all that. After we had honored him with the platform and given him our full attention, he all but spat in our faces! He said:”

“Truly, I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his hometown. But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 3

“As you can imagine, the place was in an instant uproar! What an insult, using our synagogue platform to put us in the same lot as those idolators from hundreds of years ago. We’re nothing like them! And to top it off, implying a Syrian was better than we are! We, of all people, deserve God’s grace!”

“Quickly, the ruler had the servants lay hands on Jesus. They brought him out of the building and led him to the edge of the cliff. We were going to dash this imposter on the rocks below. But as we got there (and this is where it gets crazy) he somehow managed to escape our grasp.”

“How he did it is beyond me. We had him firmly in hand. He was completely surrounded by the crowd. His fate was sealed. There was no way he could have gotten away. And yet, somehow he just calmly walked through us! He didn’t struggle or make a mad dash for freedom. He just passed through us like we weren’t even there!”

“It’s baffling! I’ve been going over the events in my mind for the past few weeks and only now, as I’ve been relating it to you, has it occurred to me: we did see a miracle! We all wanted to see a sign and we saw it. It just wasn’t the one we were looking for.”

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An update

As I write this, there are 3 more days left in the Seeing Jesus book giveaway on Goodreads. With 10 books available, you have a fairly good chance of winning. if you haven’t entered, click on the link to the right.

I am also working on an audio version of the book (read by yours truly), to be included in another Kindle version. I also plan on making a significant portion of the audio available for free here and maybe elsewhere.

In case you’re wondering, I do intend to continue with the Travelogue posts on this blog. I have the next post almost ready to go. It’s just that life is busy right now. Perhaps if the government sequestering hits me (which seems likely) I’ll have more time to work on it (… or less).

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New Book: Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective

Book cover imageIt’s finally done! I’ve been working on my first book for the past 4 to 5 months. The purpose for the book is to help followers of Jesus get to know Him better. The content is based on things I’ve written on here and on my main website. The writing is of better quality because I had a few local school teachers help me proof-read it! The book is called Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective and it should be available in paperback Amazon.com in less than a week. The Kindle version is available right now by clicking on the cover image to the left.

I originally intended, back in August of last year, to put together a book based solely on the contents of this blog. But I found I had some other writings that fit into the theme of following Jesus, so I included them also.

Click here to read more about the book.

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What’s Up

My posting has been a bit slow lately, both here and on my main website. The reason for this is I’ve been busy putting together a book based on the contents of this blog, along with some other related articles from the main website. The book will be called Seeing Jesus – A Disciple’s Perspective.

Because I intend on putting it all in print, I’m paying much more attention to spelling, grammar, overall consistency of wording, etc. Plus I’m having several others proofread it for me. This takes time, but I hope to have it out soon.

I am also working on converting the main website over to WordPress. While this is progressing, it’s also taking time because I have over a megabyte of text in my own custom format to convert into something WordPress will be able to import. I’ll probably post one or two more articles on the old site before the conversion is done.

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The Kingdom Arrives

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."

- Mark 1:14-15 (ESV)

The people of Galilee first heard this message from the fiery preacher, John. The time of God's rule, long foretold by the prophets (Psalm 2:6-12, Isaiah 9:6-7, Ezekiel 37:25, Daniel 2:44, 7:13-14), was arriving. This was good news to an oppressed people. But it required preparation on their part: they must repent and believe.

Now that John's ministry was finished, Jesus took over the work of announcing the kingdom. But He wasn't going to do it alone. It was time to call some disciples.

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen.

- Mark 1:16 (ESV)

Simon and Andrew had gone back to their place of employment. Being with Jesus and helping Him baptise at the Jordan was hard but interesting work, and they had learned a thing or two. But when they returned home, the necessary things of life pressed in on them. They had to work so their families could eat, have a place to live, pay the bills, etc. The incarceration of John only helped them to think realistically.

And this was ok. They were free to do what they wanted or felt necessary to do. They were not bound to Jesus in any way. Up to this point they were no different than the crowds of people who would follow Jesus later on – who would follow for a time, and then leave. There was no commitment. But all that was about to change.

And Jesus said to them, "Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men."

- Mark 1:17 (ESV)

Months earlier Andrew had asked Jesus where He was living, and Jesus invited him to "come and see". Now He commands him and his brother to follow Him – to commit to Him, to become true disciples and take Jesus as their Lord and Master.

They could have said "No thanks", "I'll think about it" or "I'll have some free time next week". But these young men knew Jesus to be the Messiah, God's chosen One who would rule forever as King over Israel and the whole world (John 1:40-41). To refuse the call or delay obedience would be to somehow deny that. It would be like saying "Yes, Jesus, you are the King of Israel (John 1:49), but you have no rights over me personally. You are not my king."

And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

- Mark 1:18< (ESV)/p>

Simon and Andrew submitted to Jesus' authority. The kingdom of God had arrived in them (Luke 17:21).

Likewise, John and his brother James immediately submitted to their Messiah's bidding (vss. 19-20). They abandoned their boats and followed, leaving the net cleaning duties to their father and servants.

There is a difference between coming to Jesus and following Him as a disciple. Salvation and discipleship are two different things, but they belong together. God never intended that we receive new life in Christ apart from following Jesus. This is why Jesus commissioned His disciples to go make disciples, not just doctrinal adherents. This is why the early church believers were called 'disciples'.

The difference between coming and following is one of submission to authority. Those who come to Jesus, but go no further, say "Yes, Jesus is Lord of all (Acts 10:36, Romans 10:12)… but as long as I don't sin, I am free to do what I want.

Simon, Andrew, James and John knew the truth. If Jesus is God's chosen King, then He already has rights over them. Immediate obedience is the only proper response.

Many people come to Jesus. It's easy; it requires nothing of us. That's why great multitudes accompanied Jesus for a time but then left. But to follow as a disciple is difficult, for that involves taking self permanently off the throne of your life and allowing Jesus to rule.

True, no one submits to Jesus perfectly. Simon Peter and the other disciples botched it up many times, and I find myself repeatedly having to get off the throne of my life so Jesus can rule. But regardless of failures, Jesus is still Lord. the commitment to follow has been made.

How about you? Have you recognized Jesus to be the Lord of all? Has your recognition gone beyond belief in a doctrine? Have you submitted to His rule?

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Miracles And Belief

When Jesus arrived in Galilee, the locals welcomed Him back. One of their own had achieved fame in the big city. They saw the signs he performed at the temple in Jerusalem (John 2:23) and they were proud of Him.

It wasn't what Jesus said that stuck in their minds. It was what He did.

And now that He had come home, they hoped to see more awesome sights.

So he came again to Cana in Galilee, where he had made the water wine. And at Capernaum there was an official whose son was ill. When this man heard that Jesus had come from Judea to Galilee, he went to him and asked him to come down and heal his son, for he was at the point of death.

- John 4:46-47

Many people just wanted to be amazed again, but some were in desperate need of a miracle. This king's servant from Capernaum was one such person.

He had heard the reports of the rabbi who miraculously provided wine at a wedding. And he had heard what Jesus did in Jerusalem – perhaps he was there and witnessed a sign or two himself. But his interest in Jesus was personal.

The man's son was gravely ill and about to die. All hope was rapidly fading. Unless Jesus came and did something miraculous, and soon, he would lose his beloved child.

But Jesus returned slowly from Jerusalem. He baptized at the Jordan for a while, then made His leisurely way north, stopping for a couple of days in Samaria.

When the official heard Jesus had finally arrived in Cana, he traveled the 16 miles to confront Him:

"Unless you come and do a miracle, I will lose my son."

But Jesus replied like He didn’t care:

"Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe."

- John 4:48

The man thought, ‘Why is Jesus changing the subject? My son needs a miracle! Can’t He see I already believe He can heal my son, otherwise why would I be asking?"

Frustrated, he tried one more time:

"Sir, come down before my child dies!"

Jesus said to him, "Go; your son will live."

- John 4:49-50

Jesus gave the man a prophet’s answer, predicting that the child would live. As a prophet of God, the people should have taken Jesus at His word. But most dishonored Him (John 4:44) by ignoring His message, regardless of the number of signs they had already seen.

This man, however, believed – at least the part about his son living. As proof, he immediately turned around and went home.

His servants met him on the way with the good news: "Your child lives!" They had no idea how it happened. One moment the boy was sicker than a dog, the next he was in perfect health, doing things boys normally do.

So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. They said therefore to him, "Yesterday at the seventh hour, the fever left him." So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, "Your son lives." …

- John 4:52-53 (WEB)

The man told his servants and his household exactly what Jesus had said. The miracle happened when He gave the prophecy. Jesus didn't come as he asked, but the child was healed anyway.

So he and his whole house came to realize Jesus is more than just a miracle worker – He's the Messiah!

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Risk Revealed

Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee.

- Matthew 4:12 (ESV)

At some point on His journey from the Jordan to Galilee, there came news that John the Baptist had been arrested. No doubt this upset Andrew, Philip, and John.

They worried about what would happen to their former master.

And they suddenly became aware there were risks to proclaiming the good news of the coming kingdom of God.

What if something similar or worse happened to Jesus? …or to themselves?

Our short-term mission trip ended just in time! We better head back to the fishing boats.

It might have seemed good to them to lay low for a while, but not to Jesus. He knew it wasn't a matter of chance that something bad might happen. He knew His mission would cost Him… even His very life (Luke 13:33).

Yet Jesus continued doing what He was doing anyway. In the days, weeks, months and years that followed, He taught in the synagogues and out in the field. The Truth told it like it is, with no thought of the consequences. And even though many wanted to kill Him for it (as in Luke 4:28-29), He was committed to doing His Father's will no matter the cost.

This commitment came about because Jesus had already wrestled with and overcome the flesh during His temptation in the wilderness. The battle was over. He was dead to self and nothing could change that.

The disciples, however, were still living for themselves, even following Jesus for their own personal benefit (Mark 10:35-37, Luke 9:46). They hadn't come to grips with what it would cost them personally to follow Jesus. And they wouldn't until later confronted by their resurrected Master (John 21:18-22).

Like those disciples, chances are we also haven't come to grips with the cost.

Oh, we say we'll follow Jesus anywhere, whatever happens.

"Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!"

But if we lay low while others suffer 'for righteousness sake', we need to realize Self is not dead yet.

Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

- 2 Timothy 3:12 (ESV)

We seek to avoid suffering for Christ because Jesus hasn't confronted us yet either.

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A Necessary Encounter – part 3

When the disciples came back with lunch, they caught Jesus in a (taboo) conversation with a woman – and a Samaritan woman at that! But they didn't interrupt. After she left, they addressed the issue at hand: feeding their hungry Master.

Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, "Rabbi, eat."

But he said to them, "I have food 1 to eat that you do not know about."

- John 4:31-32 (ESV)

The disciples knew Jesus was hungry. They knew He hadn't eaten yet. But now He claimed to have food hidden away somewhere. Did someone drop off a meal while they were away? Or did they make the trip into town to round up some grub for nothing?

Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.

- John 4:34 (ESV)

Oh, it was only that. Jesus wasn't talking about real food, meant to satisfy a growling stomach! The trip wasn't a waste. Their Lord was only speaking about … about…

…hmmm… What was Jesus speaking about?

This statement wasn't meant to confuse the disciples but instruct them. Their Master was using Himself as an example to follow.

During the forty day wilderness test, Jesus was sustained by the Holy Spirit. Even though He didn't eat for over a month, He wasn't hungry until the forty days were over (Luke 4:2).

When Satan tempted Him to turn stones into bread, He responded, "It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." (Matthew 4:4). Doing the full will of His Father was Jesus' food, His priority – more important than satisfying His appetite.

Later Jesus would tell His disciples (including us) to first seek God's kingdom and His righteousness, and all of life's necessities, including food, would be provided (Matthew 6:33).

"Do you not say, 'There are yet four months, then comes the harvest'? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest."

The natural harvest was months away, but Jesus drew their attention to a more important harvest before their eyes, and it was long overdue for reaping.

"Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor."

- John 4:35-38 (ESV)

Knowing the Samaritans were ripe to believe in Him (they were receptive to what He said, unlike many of the Jews), Jesus came to Sychar to reap souls.

He also wanted His disciples to see with His eyes. Later He would send them out on their own (Matthew 9:37-10:6), so they needed to recognize a white harvest when they saw it. They would be the reapers, gathering in souls where others, from the prophets to John the Baptist 2, had planted seeds for hundreds of years. After a successful harvest, they would come back to Jesus rejoicing (Luke 10:17).

Meanwhile, they watched as the Master showed them how it's done…

Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word 3. They said to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."

- John 4:39-42 (ESV)

This was indeed a joyful time!

Notes:

  1. Notice the 'food' related words in this passage. A harvest (vs. 35) is used to provide food. Fruit (vs. 36) is a type of food. Jesus's food is what gives eternal life, unlike physical food. Also, note that Adam was told to work the garden out of which he would eat. Jesus is the Last Adam and also does the work given Him by His Father.
  2. John the sower rejoiced to see people come to Christ (John 3:26-30).
  3. In these two days they fully believed. The Pharisees didn't believe after years. Also, note another fulfillment of Emmanuel (God with us).
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A Necessary Encounter – part 2

The desire for ordinary water had driven a woman of Samaria to Jacob’s well, while she was unaware of a far more serious thirst. But the Fountain of Living Water sat by the well, ready to meet that thirst.

After the woman asked Jesus for the other ‘water’ He offered, He continued to direct the conversation to where she would be able to know what she just asked for.

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”

- John 4:16-18 (ESV)

One thing’s for sure: this woman was looking in all the wrong places to satisfy that inner craving.

At first she thought her thirst could be met by a man who would love her, but for some reason, it didn’t work out.

Then she found another, hoping he would be different. But her thirst remained. Disappointed, she dumped him (or he her) and started looking again.

The cycle repeated itself again and again, and while she probably lost hope of ever finding the one to meet her need, the thirst that was in her refused to let her stop trying. Even now, she was with a man, and even now, she was in despair of ever finding that elusive something that would fill the gaping hole in her soul.

Knowing all this, Jesus summarized what her thirst had driven her to do.

Simply put, the woman was a slave of sin – but Jesus didn’t forcibly try to bring conviction on her. That wasn’t what He was aiming for at this time. He just stated the facts calmly and simply, and it caught her off guard.

This Stranger was getting too personal and it was scary. Who knows what other darker things He might dig up! Better divert the conversation to something safer and less personal…

The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”

- John 4:19-20 (ESV)

It appeared to work. Jesus apparently let the issue of her sin drop and went along with the new conversational direction. But He was still in control of the discussion. His words would accomplish the goal He set for them – they would not return void.

Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

- John 4:21-24 (ESV)

The Samaritans and the Jews both made a big deal about location. The Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerizim and the Jews on Mount Zion. Neither thought the other mountain holy enough to worship on.

But while Jesus spoke of the advantage of knowledge the Jews had (and yes, they did worship at the God-given coordinates), the proper location for worship was becoming irrelevant. Soon both locations would be destroyed and it wouldn’t matter anymore.

The real issue of worship was never about a particular place or ritual, but about the Father. God has always desired real worshippers. There were plenty of hypocrites who went to Zion or Gerizim. Soon they would be unmasked so that the true from-the-heart worshipers would be known.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”

- John 4:25-26 (ESV)

This seemly erratic conversation, moving from a drink of water to a spring of living water to multiple husbands to worship locales, finally settled on its intended destination: Jesus the Christ.

The Messiah would reveal the whole mind and will of God to all: Jews, Samaritans, and gentiles. And He would do a whole lot more.

But right now, He revealed Himself to a thirsty woman.

Six hundred years earlier, Yahweh had spoken to Jeremiah, recalling the good ol’ days of His past relationship with Israel…

I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holy to the LORD, the firstfruits of his harvest. …

- Jeremiah 2:2-3 (ESV)

But even in Jeremiah’s time, that was ancient history. Israel and Judah had both abandoned their God. Like the woman at the well, they had committed spiritual fornication and adultery. They worshiped other gods, and trusted in other nations to deliver them from their enemies.

Yahweh put it this way:

Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

- Jeremiah 2:13 (ESV)

Now, Jesus was having a conversation with one such thirsty person who was tired of going to empty cisterns. Yes, she was of mixed Israeli and gentile blood, but Jesus came to die even for her. He came to satisfy her thirst. He came to bring her back to God.

The identify of this Man began to dawn on her. She left her pot at the well (ordinary water was now the last thing on her mind) and ran into town to tell her people.

“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” They went out of the town and were coming to him.

- John 4:29-30 (ESV)

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A Necessary Encounter – part 1

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.

- John 4:1-3 (ESV)

Evidently, Jesus did not think the baptism controversy beneficial to John’s mission, so He put some space between the Baptist and Himself. He turned His face to Galilee and His disciples followed.

And he had to pass through Samaria. …

- John 4:4ff (ESV)

Samaria wasn’t considered a prime vacation spot. This was a journey most Jews took with a focus on the destination. Like driving through a bad neighborhood, you didn’t want to stop unless you had to. The stricter Jews would avoid the country all together, crossing the Jordan to bypass it to the east. But Jesus had to go through this land.

Around lunch time, the travelers arrived at Sychar. After walking most of the morning, they were footsore, hungry and thirsty. So Jesus sat down to rest at a well just outside the town while the others went into town to buy food.

The well was virtually deserted, the women having come and gone in the cool of the morning to draw water.

Shortly after the rest of the company had gone in to town, a woman came to draw water. She, for whatever reasons, was a bit late for this chore, and that made her job more difficult. But God had arranged it so that this particular woman had to come at a time when water of a different Source would be available.

“Give me a drink.”

A simple request that, to our minds, would warrant a polite ‘sure’ or curt ‘no’. But to the woman, it stirred up uneasy questions.

“Ah… sir… you are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink of water?”

Jews and Samaritans didn’t have dealings with each other and she knew it. This wasn’t something learned in sociology class; it was hammered in to her through life-long experience. No Jew had ever asked her for anything.

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Jesus spoke mysteries to the woman. She did not yet know that God had given His only begotten Son to die for her sins. Nor did she know that afterwards Jesus would send the gift of the Holy Spirit down on ordinary sinful men and women just like her (Luke 11:13). (This word ‘gift’, greek dorea, is mentioned only one time in the gospels, but is used four times in Acts, all in reference to the gift of the Holy Spirit.)

If she knew the gift of God, she would have asked the Fountain of living waters for the drink that would satisfy her thirst forever. She would never have to labor to draw this living water up – it would well up within her of itself.

“Sir, obviously you’re not familiar with this well. It’s very deep and you’re unequipped. You need something to get the water up. But no need to try. I’ve been drawing water from here for years and I can tell you, there’s no ‘living water’ here. …”

What Jesus said hadn’t clicked yet.

“You know this water won’t quench your thirst permanently. But I speak of water you haven’t tasted. If you drink of the water I give you, then you’ll never be thirsty. It will forever well up within you to eternal life.”

It sounded too good to be true, but what if… ? Can’t hurt to ask.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

- John 4:15 (ESV)

She had taken the first step: she asked.

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