Retreat to Galilee (John 4.1-6)

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Jealousy or fear?
It’s bad enough that John the Baptist was baptising so many people with great crowds following him, the Pharisees must have felt. But now Jesus was attracting even more people than John. Were the Pharisees threatened by Jesus’ success? Were they jealous that they could not attract and influence the crowds like Jesus did? It happens so often that even Christian leaders find it hard to tolerate one of their people being well-known and popular. Were they afraid of their own position if his teaching outshone theirs and he became the messianic leader of Israel? Or were they fearful lest Jesus cause violent political oppression by the Roman authorities?
John’s Gospel merely tells us that Jesus knew that the Pharisees had heard that he was baptising more people even than John the Baptist. As a result Jesus felt it wise to withdraw to the more friendly Galilee where he felt safer. Later he would purposely go to Jerusalem, although he knew that suffering and crucifixion awaited him there. But at this early stage of his ministry Jesus clearly felt that he still had much to do and teach. He therefore discreetly withdrew and avoided confrontation with the leaders of Israel.
As Christians we need also wisely and prayerfully to discern when it is right for us to avoid opposition and when God is calling us boldly and confidently to face up to it. Thus in Britain today the ‘politically correct’ and so-called ‘British values’ can make a clear declaration of Christian faith unacceptable and some times even illegal. When is it right to stand up for our faith in Jesus and when might it be right to keep quiet?
Who did the baptising?

As soon as Jesus called his disciples to come to him and to follow him, he made them “fishers of men” (Matthew 4.19). Delegating some of his ministry, he began to use them in his service. In this way he was training them in preparation for the time when he would return to his Father and they would take over the full responsibility for his life-giving work. Thus, when he fed the crowds, he actually gave the bread and fish to his disciples. By his power the bread and fish were multiplied and the grossly inadequate resources of five small loaves and two small fish became enough to feed the thousands of people. But it was actually the disciples who gave out the food (Matthew 14.19 and 15.36). Likewise Jesus did not himself baptise, but delegated this ministry to his disciples (John 4.2). What a model for Christian ministry!
In Britain today we face an increasing shortage of ordained ministers. As a result, the church is facing a growing problem with the danger that our clergy can easily become  mere sacramental sausage machines with inadequate time and energy for the primary pastoral, teaching/training and evangelistic ministries which are so much needed and for which they have been trained. There is no specific biblical basis for the traditional practice that only ordained people can administer the sacraments. Our church practice desperately needs to be rethought. More Christ-like delegation would be beneficial for the life and growth of the church.
One day when one of our daughters was about eight years old Elizabeth began to teach her to make gravy. At lunch that day she proudly informed me, “I cooked the lunch” which was rather an exaggeration! And the gravy would have had less lumps if Elizabeth had not delegated the gravy-making to her! Likewise Jesus would doubtless have fed the crowds and baptised people even more effectively than the disciples. But it was good that Elizabeth taught and trained our daughter, giving her a role in our family life and a greater sense of worth. Jesus does the same in giving us various tasks and ministries to do for him and for his church. Like our daughter when she was young, we too are then tempted to pride – “I taught the Sunday School”, “I preached the sermon”, “I led the worship” and we write words like ‘Minister’, ‘Vicar’, ‘Elder’ with initial capital letters! It is good for us to remember that Jesus’ delegation of such tasks comes purely by his grace. A little humility never comes amiss!
Samaria lay between Galilee and Jerusalem. But it was common for Jews to avoid travelling through Samaria because it was believed that this would make them ritually unclean. But Jesus already shows his concern for the Samaritans by taking this direct route to Galilee rather than the usual circuitous ways. For Jesus, contact with Samaritans and then further with Gentiles formed a vital part of his vision. In no way does it make him unclean!
The Samaritans were the product of mixed Jew-Gentile marriages. Their religion was also a mixture of biblical Jewish background and pagan Gentile influence. They believed in the first five books of the Old Testament, but not the rest. They worshipped in a temple, but it was in Samaria and not the true Jerusalem temple. And it seems that the forms of their worship were also a mixture of good Jewish worship and pagan patterns. So the Samaritans are like a bridge between the Jews and the Gentiles. By stressing that God’s purposes include the Samaritans, Jesus is widening the disciples’ spiritual horizons to include Gentiles of every ethnic background.
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One thought on “Retreat to Galilee (John 4.1-6)

  1. James Rae

    Living words that bring a encouraging sense of peace to me, Thank you in the name of Jesus Christ Amen

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