April 29 – May 6

Friday, April 29

John 3:1-13: Much of Johannine theology theology is elaborated in conversations between Jesus and certain individuals. Most of the time, these individuals can easily be understood as the historical “source” of the conversation in question. Thus far, it appears that John has relied on the personal memories of Andrew, Philip, Nathanael, and the Mother of Jesus. The material in the first part of the present chapter surely came to him through the memory of Nicodemus. Other conversations will follow, such as those with the Samaritan woman at the well, the lame man at Bethesda, Mary and Martha of Bethany, and so forth.

In this conversation of Jesus with Nicodemus, it is nearly impossible to determine exactly which words pertained to that original conversation and which words represent the Evangelist’s extended meditation on that conversation. That is to say, John himself appears to be meditating on the words of Jesus. At a certain point in this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus, the dialogue becomes a monologue of the Evangelist himself. We will meet the identical phenomenon when we come to the words of Jesus’ prayer in John 17.

The Pharisee Nicodemus, “a ruler of the Jews” and “a teacher of Israel,” appears only three times in the New Testament. Each time Nicodemus is found only in the Fourth Gospel, it is always in the context of the Lord’s redemptive death.

Ezekiel 34: Ezekiel knows that the recent disaster at Jerusalem and its dire consequences, such as the scattering of God’s people, were in large measure the fault of those appointed to care for them: the royal house and the government, the priesthood, the teachers. All of these were Israel’s shepherds, commissioned by God to tend, govern, and feed the sheep. Not only did they fail to do so, but also they used their relationship to God’s people in order to serve themselves.

Thus, unfed and without guidance, the flock had “been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” God Himself, however, will come to shepherd them, and He will do so through His Anointed One—the new David—who will inherit the promises made to his ancient forebear (2 Samuel 7; Psalm 89 [88]). This imagery and its promise will in due course be taken up by that new David who, in John 10, describes Himself as the Good Shepherd.

Ezekiel then (verses 17-22) criticizes some of the sheep themselves, who have exploited and ill-treated one another. God will judge them, not by classes, but as individuals (“sheep by sheep”) responsible for their decisions and their behavior.

The final section of this chapter (verses 25-30) describes the coming care of the Good Shepherd in terms reminiscent of paradise (compare Psalm 72 [71]).

Saturday, April 30

John 3:14-21: The image of the serpent comes, of course, from Numbers 21:4-9, but it is being read through Wisdom 16:5-7: “For when the fierce rage of beasts came upon these, they were destroyed with the bitings of crooked serpents. But thy wrath endured not for ever, but they were troubled for a short time for their correction, having a sign of salvation to put them in remembrance of the commandment of thy law. For he that turned to it, was not healed by that which he saw, but by thee the Savior of all.”
The expression “be lifted up,” used by our Lord in His discourse with Nicodemus, is repeated halfway through John’s Gospel, again with reference to the crucifixion: “‘And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself.’ This He said, signifying by what death He would die” (12:32–33). In addition to being a reference to the crucifixion, the expression “lifted up” also alludes to a prophecy of God’s Suffering Servant: “Behold, My Servant will prosper; He shall be lifted up and glorified exceedingly” (Isaiah 52:13, LXX). As this text makes clear, the Lord’s lifting up refers not only to His crucifixion but also to His exaltation in glory.
In this respect it is useful to compare the Lord’s words to Nicodemus, as recorded in John, to the predictions He makes about His coming sufferings, as recorded in the Synoptic Gospels. It is noteworthy that what Jesus proclaims to His closest disciples in the Synoptics, He proclaims to the Pharisee Nicodemus in John. We may take Mark 8:31 as an example: “And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Ezekiel 35: In this chapter we find expressed toward the Edomites, symbolized in Mount Seir, that same spirit of bitter condemnation that inspired the entire prophecy of Obadiah and the last several verses of Psalm 137 (136).

The material here expands on ideas found in a seminal form in Ezekiel 25:12-14. Edom has assisted and cheered on the Babylonians in their wanton destruction of the temple (cf. 1 Esdras 4:45). Ezekiel is our witness that the Edomites hoped to annex territory left open by the destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (verse 10), but they will not do so, he tells us, because God has other plans for that land. Those plans of God form the substance of the next chapter.

The Edomites in the Bible comprised what we may call . . . well, a special case. Israel did not like them very much. Indeed, the Lord had to command Israel not to despise the Edomites (Deuteronomy 23:7), a thing they were prompted to do, perhaps, on the excuse that the Lord Himself was said to hate Esau, the father of the Edomites (Malachi 1:2; Romans 9:13). Truth to tell, the Edomites were not easy to love. They had obstructed Israel’s path from Egypt during the days of Moses (Numbers 20:21). They were known to be without pity (Amos 1:11) and engaged in international slave trade (1:6,9). For Ezekiel, as for Obadiah, however, the major sin was their attempt to exploit Babylon’s destruction of Judah.

Sunday, May 1

John 3:22-36: The position of this section of John mat have been determined by the earlier reference to Baptism in 3:5. The evangelist now returns to John the Baptist for the last time.

The reference to Jesus baptizing does not mean that He did so with His own hands. From 4:2 we will learn that Jesus’ apostles normally performed this rite. It is not easy to determine the exact nature of this baptism, and it is difficult to affirm that it was the Christian sacrament of Baptism of which John the Baptist had spoken earlier (1:33), because the Holy Spirit will not be conferred on the Church until much later in this Gospel. However, there is no need to be apodictic on the nature of the baptism here in John 3; we may leave the question as unclear as the evangelist leaves it.

The place named in verse 23 is not identified with certainty, though we presume John’s earliest readers recognized it. The name means “springs,” which suggests that it was not a site on the banks of the Jordan. Some archeologists identify it with a site in Samaria. If true, of course, it indicates that John the Baptist had some following among the Samaritans.

In verse 24 the evangelist presumes his readers’ familiarity with the story of the death of John the Baptist (cf. Mark 6:17-29).

Verse 25 indicates the context of the words of John the Baptist. It is clear that controversies about Jewish cleansing rituals were not uncommon (cf. Mark 7:1-5).

The disciples of John the Baptist were understandably disturbed that the prestige of their leader was being eclipsed by the growing notoriety of Jesus. In answering them, John the Baptist again affirmed his own preparatory and subordinate role with respect to Jesus. He knew the ministry and task given him from heaven and dared not attempt to transcend the limits of his vocation (verse 27). Jesus, as the Messiah (verse 28), was the bride’s groom, whereas John was only His best man (verse 29).

Ezekiel 36: As the previous oracle was addressed to Mount Seir in Edom, so this one (verses 1-15) is addressed to the mountains of Israel. It condemns all the nations that have set themselves against God’s people, but special attention is given, once again, to the Edomites (verse 5).

In verse 8 Ezekiel begins a series of several prophecies of the Israelites’ return to their homes. Whereas in Chapter 6 he had infallibly foretold to these same mountains the many sufferings that have since ensued, he now tells them, again infallibly, of the joys that lie ahead.

And why should God perform these mercies, in view of the fact that Israel has deserved all that it has suffered (verses 16-20)? Because of His own gracious election (verses 21-38). God will pour out all these new blessings on His people in order to testify to the gratuity and steadfastness of His choice. God will be faithful, even though Israel has not been faithful.

The most famous lines of this section are in verses 26-28, repetitious of 11:19-20 and reminiscent of Jeremiah 31:31-34. God will restore Israel, not because of the merits of Israel, but to vindicate His covenant fidelity. The gift of cleansing and a new heart is entirely God’s, but it will not be given except in the context of repentance (verse 31).

Monday, May 2

John 4:1-15: John surely knew that woman’s name, just as he knew the names of the paralytic at the pool and the man born blind, because he narrates all of these one-on-one encounters with details that he could only have obtained from the individuals themselves. So John most certainly knew their names. His omission of those names in the stories, then, has literary significance, and Celano is probably right to suppose that we are dealing here with anonymity for the sake of reader identification. That is to say, each of us, as we ponder the text prayer-fully, becomes that paralytic, that blind man, and that woman at the well, encountering the Lord in the power of His Scriptures.

As an “every Christian” account, the story of the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well serves to illustrate certain distinct stages in the path of conversion.

In John’s own context, this story establishes a contrast between two receptions of Jesus—that of the Jews and that of the Samaritans—and the Samaritans come out looking much better!

The three-days walk through Samaria was the shortest way of making the trip between Jerusalem and Galilee. Luke records that Jesus took that route, but in that instance the Samaritans did not receive Him favorably (Luke 9:51-53). We should observe that only John, among the evangelists, tells of a ministry of Jesus to the Samaritans.

The well is identified with the town Sychar, known today as Askar. (The well is still there and well known; it lies between Gell el-Balatah and Askar. )Jesus sat down beside the well (pege), though one papyrus manuscript says that He sat “on the ground” (ge).

What Jesus did next was nearly unthinkable in the social context of that time. A Jew, He spoke to a Samaritan. A man, He spoke in private to a woman who was not His relative. A Jew would normally never have drunk from the defiled water pot of a Samaritan. In the context envisioned by John, this whole story has the ring of improbability, not to say shock and scandal.

He asks her for a drink, and she is appropriately shocked. In response, Jesus speaks of living water—hydor zon. This was a common metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, signifying Wisdom, divine grace poured out in the last days, the Holy Spirit, and so forth. Thus,

Ezekiel 37: We come now to Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones, unarguably the best known part of this book. It consists of a Spirit-given experience (verses 1-10), followed by an interpretation (verses 11-14). In its immediate historical sense, the valley of the dry bones represents Israel after Jerusalem’s destruction in 586.

As a prophecy to be fulfilled in the fullness of time, it refers to the resurrection of the dead, of which the principle and first-fruit is the Resurrection of Christ. (Hence it is most appropriate for us to be reading this text on the eve of Ascension Thursday, the feast celebrating the heavenly exaltation of Christ’s risen flesh.)

In this vision the dynamic principle in the resurrection of the dead is the same Spirit who brought the prophet to the valley (verse 1).

The reader should bear in mind that, all through this chapter, there is a single Hebrew word (ruah) translated in different ways (“Spirit,” “breath,” “wind”), simply because no one English word expresses the fullness of its meaning (Cf. also Genesis 1:2).

This section is followed by another prophetic pantomime (verses 15-17), accompanied by an interpretation (verses 18-23), according to which all of God’s people will be rejoined, with the new David to shepherd them (verses 24-28).

Tuesday, May 3

John 4:16-26: As in the dialogue with Nicodemus, the Christian reader understands what Jesus is saying, even though the Lord’s interlocutor does not.

In understanding the words of Jesus, this woman is even slower than Nicodemus (verses 15-18). The Lord’s figurative language becomes a kind of stumbling block, rather like the Lord’s speaking in parables in Mark 4 and Matthew 13. In fact, however, it is difficult to imagine how Jesus could speak more clearly than He does to this Samaritan woman.

The woman’s problem is a moral one: She is living in sin. People living in sin can hardly be able to understand the spiritual truths that the Lord enunciates here. The Lord, therefore, turns the conversation in a different direction: “Go, call your husband, and come here.” In her response and the Lord’s answer to this response, the woman is confronted with her deeds. These deeds have been brought to the light; the woman does not try to hid e them. She thus takes a step on the right path.

Embarrassed, however, she does try to change the subject. Not eager to talk about her moral failings, she introduces a theoretical question—even a liturgical question! “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers adored on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where it is necessary to adore.”

We observe that Jesus does not press the point about the woman’s moral state. He has said all that needed to be said, and He will permit His comment about the “five husbands” work its way into the woman’s conscience. (Which it does — cf. verse 39.)

Ezekiel 38: In the composition of the Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 38-39 are especially striking and, at first sight, incongruous. Nonetheless, they form an intentional link between the promises in Chapter 37 and the prophecies of God’s final temple in Chapters 40-48.

Chapters 38-39 describe a terrible invasion from the north, led by a commander of an international army (verses 2-6,15), named Gog. This invasion is not imminent; it will come “in the latter years” (38:8), a reference to the indefinite future (indefinite because only God knows the future) that may be described as the “last times.” Gog represents the final great enemy of God’s people, and his invasion will be the last great attack against God’s kingdom.

The name “Gog” would have surprised none of Ezekiel’s contemporaries, for it was the name of a person from the somewhat recent past and still well known in the sixth century before Christ. The Hebrew name Gog corresponds to the Assyrian Gugu and the Greek Gyges. He was a famous seventh century king of Lydia in Asia Minor, who had died in 648. Accounts of the original Gog are found in Assyrian annals and the History of Herodotus. (If Ezekiel were writing today, he might use, for the same purpose, “Bismarck” or “Garibaldi.”) The name is not especially important for the identification of the invader; like all the other names in this chapter, it is symbolic of evil realities much larger and more menacing than their historical references.

Thus understood, Gog and his forces will reappear in Revelation 20. (“Magog,” by the way, appears to be an abbreviation of the Hebrew min-Gog, “from Gog.” In the Book of Revelation he is a derived ally of Gog.) The most important thing to know about Gog is that God’s people do not need to fear him, for his doom has already been determined.

Wednesday, May 4

John 4:27-38: It is at this point that the Lord’s disciples return, and the woman quickly departs, leaving her water pitcher, rather like the disciples earlier left their nets. Since John explicitly mentions this point, it seems likely that she left the water jar so that Jesus might drink from it.

She runs to tell her fellow citizens what has occurred. “Come,” she invites her friends, “see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (4:29).

Two points may be noted here.

First, the woman’s tentative question—“Could this be the Christ?”—bears substantially the same message that Philip bore to Nathanael: ““We have found Him of whom Moses wrote in the Law, and also the prophets—Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” (1:45).

Second, the woman’s identification of Jesus as an anthropos ties this story to the Lord’s Passion. Jesus will be identified later by Pilate as “Man”—“Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And [Pilate] said to them, “Behold the Man!” (19:5).

This is one of the places where John ties the story of the Samaritan well to the Lord’s Passion, as Celano perceived. Another is John 6:14—“Now it was the Preparation Day of the Passover, and about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ But they cried out, ‘Away, away! Crucify Him!’” In John, both this meeting with the Samaritan woman and the Lord’s crucifixion take place at the same time—midday.

Jesus continues His discussion with the newly arrived disciples: In the meantime His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” But He said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know.” Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him something to eat?”

The failure of the disciples to understand the statement on food corresponds to the woman’s inability to understand the statement about living water, as well as Nicodemus’s misunderstanding the necessity of being born again. Jesus must be more explicit with them: “My food is that I shall do the will of Him who sent Me, and that I shall complete His work.” This is a summary of Jesus’ whole life and ministry.

In the next verse Jesus cites what was evidently a proverb about the distance between sowing and harvest: “There are still four months and the harvest comes.” In His mouth, however, it becomes a parable about God’s sowing and harvesting. This is His commentary on the message that what the woman is currently doing by way of witnessing to her countrymen. Jesus is telling the disciples to keep alert: They are about to see a harvest. In fact, as John well knew when he wrote of this scene, Samaria was to become an important step in the Gospel’s promulgation throughout the world (Acts 8). Indeed, John himself would be sent to Samaria to confirm the work of Philip’s evangelism.

These words about a prior sowing in the north country probably refer, as well, to the ancient ministry of the prophets up there: Elijah, Elisha, Amos, Hosea. The Christian preachers will reap the fruit of their sowing.

Ezekiel 39: This continuation of the previous chapter uses the mystic number seven (the inference reached by the addition of the divine number three and the human number four [and if you multiply them, you arrive at the other mystic number, twelve]) to designate the number of years that the burning of the discarded weapons will supply the need for fuel. Seven, too, will be the number of months required to bury all the dead from Gog’s great army.

In this section, verses 11-16, we see Ezekiel’s priestly preoccupation with ritual purity (cf. Numbers 5:2; 19:16; 35:33f). So great will be the battle’s carnage that the beasts and carrion birds will be glutted with the corpses (verses 17-20; cf. Revelation 19:17-21). The chapter ends with a summary of God’s restoration of Israel, which brings this third part of Ezekiel to a close.

Ascension Thursday, May 5

Psalm 47 (Greek & Latin 46): The Ascension of Christ into glory is lthe object of biblical prophecy, especially in several places in the Book of Psalms. One of the more notable places is today’s psalm: “God has ascended with jubilation, the Lord with the sound of the trumpet. Oh sing to our God, sing! Sing to our King, sing!” This is an invitation to us on earth, a summons to join our voices in jubilation with the angels on high. The Ascension of Christ is the event where heaven and earth are joined forever.

David’s taking of the ark of the covenant into the Holy City may be seen as a figure and type of the Lord’s entry into the heavenly Jerusalem, and that long-distant day was likewise marked with the rapture of happiness at God’s approach: “Then David danced before the Lord with all his might; and David was wearing a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet” (2 Sam. 6:14, 15). Our psalm calls for similar marks of celebration at the coming of Christ into the Holy City on high: “Oh, clap your hands, all you peoples! Shout to God with the voice of triumph! For the Lord most high is awesome; He is the great King over all the earth.”

What the Old Testament prophesied in narrative and psalm came finally to pass when God “raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (Eph. 1:20, 21).
Our psalm of the Ascension, therefore, sends forth its invitation to all the peoples of the earth. By reason of His glorification, all of history and all of culture belong to Christ. All nations are summoned before His throne, to share His exaltation: “God reigns over the nations; God sits on His holy throne. The princes of the peoples are gathered together with the God of Abraham. For all the strong ones of the earth belong to God; they are greatly exalted.”

Ezekiel 40: These final nine chapters of Ezekiel contain his visions of the future temple, to which God’s glory will return. These visions also contain regulations by which the worship in the temple will be determined, rules with respect to the various sacrifices and ministries, ordinances about holiness, and all manner of prescription governing the priestly services of the temple.

These final chapters serve as something of a foil or counterpart to the terrible visions of Chapters 8-11, where the prophet, touring the temple under the guidance of a heavenly minister, witnessed the abominations that led to the departure of God’s glory from the holy place. Now, in these final chapters, Ezekiel is once again led by the same heavenly minister to tour the temple and to behold the return of God’s glory.

The temple herein described vastly transcends the new earthly temple that will be constructed by Zerubbabel. Indeed, this description points in prophecy to a greater reality transcending all the expectations of Israel according to the flesh. This temple is “ideal” in the sense of conforming to the heavenly model of the sanctuary seen by Moses in the Book of Exodus, and of which we read in the Epistle to the Hebrews.

Friday, May 6

John 4:39-45: During the time that Jesus stays with the Samaritans, they come to a mature faith in Him, no longer dependent on the testimony of the woman at the well. At the end of the story, the woman’s Samaritan friends add another important Christological title: “We know that this is in truth the Savior of the world” (4:42).

This confession of the Samaritans—“Savior of the world”—forms a summary, as it were, of John’s reflections on the discourse with Nicodemus: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.” That is to say, the conversion of the Samaritans is an important step in the evangelization of the whole world.

Ezekiel 41: Everything in the temple expresses the principles of mathematics. In the Bible (as in Pythagoras and Plato), numbers are sacred; they are spiritual emanations of God’s creative act, giving form, structure, and significance to the universe. Numbers are the basis of “form,” that internal principle of proportion that causes things to be what they are. And because the knowledge of anything consists in the comprehension of its form, all knowledge involves a mathematical perception, a “measure,” the perception of “limits,” which “define” things.

Even this future temple—a reflection of the heavenly sanctuary seen by Moses on Mount Sinai—now being “visited” in prophetic vision by Ezekiel, is shaped (that is, receives its form) by the principles of measurement. Because the house of God is a house of order, not chaos, it is a house structured according to the eternal principles of proportion.

Step by step, and in reverent silence, the angelic tour guide patiently lays his royal cubit stick to determine the proportions of the sacred space. The unit of measure that he employs is the royal cubit, which in modern measurement is 52.5 centimeters or 20.6692 inches.

When the heavenly minister enters the Holy of Holies to take its measure in verses 3-4, Ezekiel reverently remains outside; when that inner sanctuary has been measured, the angel gives the prophet a brief explanation.

Ezekiel also receives an explanation of the altar in verse 22. The elaborate carvings described in verses 19-26 are early proof that the Jews of that period (and for centuries to come, well into the Christian era), did not interpret the Decalogue as prohibiting works of representative art in places of worship.