Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Questions & Observations
Q. (John 3:1-22): Nicodemus acknowledges Jesus’s power and comes to Him to seek answers about being born again. I don’t understand why Jesus answers in riddles instead of more directly. Is it that Jesus knows Nicodemus’s heart, so He knows He will not understand baptism and getting to heaven? How could Nicodemus understand baptism when it is a fairly new concept (except for you explaining how the priests were cleansed with water in the OT)?
A. I honestly have no idea why Jesus answered in the way He did, but apparently it was what Nicodemus needed to hear. Our former pastor, Isaac, once gave a sermon about this encounter where he noted that Nicodemus probably went away from this encounter with more questions than answers. But since he had this personal encounter with Jesus, the questions faded in significance. He has met the Man, and so the questions no longer mattered.
I think the baptism question is understood as being something that was fairly new, but not brand new — John may have been doing it for some time before this encounter, and as I mentioned, this tradition is grounded in the priestly washing and ritual cleansing ceremonies of the Jewish faith.
Q. (John 3:16): This is probably the most recited verse in the Bible. And, simply put, is beautiful and direct. So, if you believe that Jesus is God’s son and our Savior, then you will live eternally. But, in 3:5, Jesus says that we must be “born again” if we ever want to see the kingdom of heaven. So, baptism has two purposes: to repent and wash away your sins and to receive the Spirit. But also, when I was baptized, I was asked if I believed that Jesus was God’s son. This is why they ask that, because you won’t receive the Spirit if you don’t believe in Jesus? Since I was baptized so young, I often wonder if I was of the right, mature mind to do so. I do feel the Spirit in me, but not all the time. Many times my personality dominates, but the Spirit is getting stronger. Like I said before, I never had that “wow” moment when Jesus came into my life. It just seems like He was always there because I grew up going to church every Sunday. I was 9 or 10 years old when I was baptized. I worry that my baptism wasn’t “official” in God’s eyes.
Then, there is the question about all those people who are good people, but have had little or no exposure to Jesus. Will they be saved? There are so many topics to discuss on baptism.
A. Wow, that was a mouthful. Let’s untangle one of your famous 10 question questions! (I kid!) While baptism is an important part of the act of becoming a Christian, it is NOT what saves us: only the blood of Jesus does that, at least that’s my understanding of baptism and atonement. Baptism is a public declaration that one has decided to follow Christ, but it does not do anything to change our state in God’s “eyes”: it is our faith in Christ that changes our standing, not immersion in water. That’s why the questions and public declarations are so important: THEY (representing your faith) are the true mark of salvation, and what allows for the presence of the Holy Spirit to enter into our hearts. So with that understanding, I think it is safe to say I feel no worry about your baptism being “official” to God — it ultimately matters far less than your heart and desire to be like Christ RIGHT NOW.
Alright, we’re heading for some pretty deep water in the “what about people who are good but don’t know Jesus” issue, one that has no simple answer. I call this the “Gandhi Scenario,” since he is the most common “good person” named when this issue comes up. I’m going to tell you my opinion, but since we’re dealing with issues of salvation and afterlife, I really can’t say I’m any sort of expert.
First, as the OT has long established, there are no “good people.” Every human who has lived from Adam and Eve on down has chosen the path of sin and turned away from God. So trying to say that there’s “good” people out there who just haven’t heard the Gospel is stacking the deck on this question. It simply doesn’t in any way match what Scripture tells us (take for example, Isaiah 64:6, Jeremiah 6:13, and Psalm 14:1-3). One of the central understandings needed to fully grasp Christianity is the gravity of our situation: we think of ourselves (and others) as good people who just need a little “help,” but the reality the Bible points to is that we are impossibly corrupt people who have hearts of stone and no desire to follow after God! None! It is not simply that we want help but can’t get it, it is that we flatly REJECT the very notion that we need God’s help. The ship is going down, and we say, “I’m fine on my own” to the person (Jesus) offering us a lifejacket. THAT is our reality, so let’s dispense with this “good person” nonsense. We can see this truth in the people that others have throughout the generations seen as the most holy or righteous: these individuals (I’m thinking of Mother Teresa and Francis of Assisi just as two examples) are quick to say they see the corruption in their own souls, and no matter how “holy” the world sees them, the rightly see themselves as not measuring up to God’s perfect standard without His help. So even the people who others would declare, “that’s a perfect, holy, good person” would turn and quickly say, “not compared to Christ, I’m not. I’m hopeless without Him.”
Ok, with that out of the way, let’s address the major issue here: the necessity of having to have the Gospel preached to you in order for you to have salvation. To be honest, this question has at its heart a core of distrust in God. If we learned anything in the OT, it is that God is the Being who can be trusted. As you noted, this verse (John 3:16) is everywhere, and it declares God’s everlasting love for not just His people, but the entire world — past, present, and future. That doesn’t mean that God will ignore or not punish our sin, but that in the midst of all else, Scripture declares a love of God for His creation. So it seems incredibly unlikely to me that God would declare eternal damnation upon a soul simply because that person never got to hear about Jesus. Can we see God saying, “well, I’d love to admit you into heaven [we’ll deal with THAT misconception another day], but you never heard about my Son, so you’re out of luck. Say Hi to the devil for me.” Honestly, does that sound like the logic of God? It certainly doesn’t to me. In my opinion, each of us will be held responsible for acting on the information we know, not on the information that we don’t. This is the same way I resolve all sorts of sticky issues that non-believes like to throw at Christians: what about the mentally handicapped? What about infants who die? What about Gandhi? Etc. God is just, as He proved to Abraham — the Lord of all earth will do what is right (Genesis 18:25).
One more thing: just because I have made the above statement (God will do what is right) does NOT mean that I am convinced that all will be saved (a position known as Universalism). I am simply stating that when all is said and done, each of us will know that God has done what is right and just in each of our eyes. We will not be able to cry out to God, “it isn’t fair!”: God will have made all things right, and justice will be done. Count on it.
O. (4:1): At many, many points in the NT, Jesus is concerned about crowds. Here, we see that Jesus is getting a lot of attention and so He flees. In a previous Bible study looking at the book of Mark, we discussed reasons that Jesus would have steered away from crowds: the larger the crowd, the angrier the Pharisees became; He tried to reach those in the countryside away from the larger cities; and Jesus needed to rest and the crowds wouldn’t let him. I think the first reason was the dominant one in the study. I just found another reason in the next day’s reading (Mark 1:38-39): he moved on to spread the word. Upon going to my thinking spot (lol, can you tell my daughter has read A.A. Milne?), I can see where Jesus would speak and do a miracle or two, then his work was done there. The people either accepted or proclaimed Him or they didn’t. If they didn’t join in, staying there would only breed more rejection and then his life would be in danger. So, why not spread the news in other places and harvest more believers!
O. (4:15): I never thought about the very nature of water before and how good it feels to the human body. Swimming, drinking, bathing, splashing it on my face is all so refreshing. There is nothing like it. Then, to think Jesus is all that for eternity. Nice symbolism. Our bodies are made up of 70-some percent water. Jesus should be more than that. Just think how refreshing water is and then how refreshed Jesus can make us.
Q. (John 4:34-38): So, I understand that Jesus is finishing the work of God here. God’s work is giving the people His Word and now His Son. Jesus’s end of it is to spread the Word, be a live demonstration of God’s promises making more believers to the Kingdom of Heaven? Although, we are nowhere near the awesomeness of Jesus, we are supposed to take His example and apply it to our own lives. I do struggle with hearing God. I listen for Him, but many times I do what I think is right in His eyes. I have the Word to guide me and the Spirit, but many times I don’t know whether to take Road A or Road B. Specifically, I have plans to expand this blog into something else. It just popped into my head once when I was with my daughter and we immediately started brainstorming. I assume this idea and some others that are related to it are from the Spirit. But, since we are scraping by financially — God is providing what we need when we need it — I keep feeling the guilt for not bringing home a paycheck. My brain says to keep charging ahead and I pray that my husband’s business will start earning more money (which it is picking up). The waiting is so hard!
Back to the scripture. I love how it says that some may plant, but He sends us to harvest things that we have not planted. And we will all come together to gather the harvest (people brought to eternal life). I like the picture painted here of God’s people working as one, all enjoying the harvest, not one taking credit for his/her work.
A. Me too. This is one of my favorite chapters in all of the Bible (John 4). Watch for other references to Samaria and Samaritans in the coming days, and let’s talk about who they were at a future date.