The Gospel of Jacob’s Well

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.”
Revelation 21:9 (ESV)

First, allow me to give credit where it is due.  Today’s article is inspired by something I read at www.dougwils.com – a blog by Pastor Doug Wilson.

We have been focusing of late on the Sermon on the Mount, especially the call of Christ to righteousness in regards to sexual purity and faithfulness in marriage.  The sermons have been upfront and candid; this is not the occasion for “beating around the bush.”  Jesus says some things quite clearly, and we must attend to His word through repentance and obedience if we are to be his disciples.

But as I was reading Wilson’s blog this week, something hit me that I felt worth sharing, that maybe I’ve not emphasized enough.  When we talk of purity and faithfulness in marriage, it has a direct impact on our relationships here and now.  But Jesus is also talking about our relationship with Him.  Jesus came looking for a bride, and he finds his bride in the most unworthy candidates.

We read in John 4 of how Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well.  We know about the conversation, the offer of the “Water of Life,” the revelation of the woman’s marital history.  But what is often missed here is the historical significance of Jesus meeting this woman at a well.  Consider the following “Encounters at the Well” stories from the Old Testament.  In Genesis, when Abraham’s servant is sent to find a wife for Isaac, he first meets her at the well (Gen 24:11-21).  When Jacob flees from Esau, he meets his future wife, Rachel, at the well (Gen 29:1-12).  When Moses left Egypt, he met his wife at a well (Exo. 2:16-22).  So when in John we find Jesus at the well, and not just any well, but Jacob’s well (John 4:6), we cannot miss the significance.  This is why the disciples were so astonished when they returned from the grocery store (John 4:8).  No one said it, but they were thinking “What are you looking for?” and “Why were you talking with her?”  They knew what was happening: Jesus was looking for a bride.

The woman at the well exemplified the bride for whom Christ was coming.  She must be a sinner, she must be unworthy, because this is precisely who Jesus came to save.  “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17)

At the well, when Jesus found a bride, we found salvation.  Paul makes this clear in Ephesians 5, when he writes, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:25–27)

This is the gospel of Jacob’s Well.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, so that he might present us, the church, to himself as his spotless bride, purified and adorned by His grace and love.

Doug Wilson writes,

In the Christian church today, there are many [Christians] who are tormented by their sexual past. They know, academically, that they are forgiven, but they have trouble rejoicing in that forgiveness. This is not because of anything in the Scriptures, but rather because of many false assumptions current in the church. And these false assumptions betray our misunderstanding of the nature of grace. We constantly want to earn, to have pride of place. But always remember, when the Son of God came to earth to find a bride for Himself, the woman that His Father had chosen for Him, the choice – when it was revealed – astounded the censorious and the prune-faces alike. The Father and Son and the Spirit are altogether holy, and so the woman who is chosen must become holy. But the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit are also full of grace, and the woman who was chosen was called out from her idols, her lovers, her past, her immoralities. And the Son loved her, and loves her still.

Friends, you and I are the woman at the well.  We are the Magdalene.  We are the woman caught in adultery.  We are the demon possessed, the leprous, the blind and the lame, the tax collectors, even the Pharisees.  We are sinners in need of grace.  And oh!, what grace we have found in Christ our Lord, that we should be healed, forgiven, set free, and called to be His cherished bride.

The Uninspired Life

In case you were wondering, its been a great week for me.  Yes there’s been the added stress and work after my wife’s surgery, but she’s recovering and doing well, and I’ve managed to not burn the house down – so I’d call that a success.

The Easter Service went well.  We had a full house in church. My sermon rocked.  I didn’t really have a lot to confess during that quiet time of reflection.  Success!

Work is going well.  I’ve got this whole “exegetical method” down pretty well — it only took me about 10 years to get it down.  I start with some Greek study, write out some preliminary thoughts, read through some commentaries, write out the sermon.  All in all, it is an enjoyable discipline of studying Scripture – another success.

I’ve started running again.  Now that I’ve written that, something will probably come up and keep me from running tonight, but I’ve been doing well, feeling stronger with every run, going a little further every night, maintaining a steady pace per mile, and even losing a bit of weight along the way.  Winning!

So after my run last night the little voice in my head started in with the praise, “Yup, its been a pretty good week, Big E, keep up the good work.”  Then here was the kicker, “You haven’t had to ask God for anything, way to go!”

Crap!

(I’m sorry if that offends, but its the only word that truly signifies the sudden shift from self-congratulatory hubris to a Spirit led conviction – I stand behind, not in, the word.)

It is an uninspired life that does not depend on the power of the Spirit of God for everything.

I am so weak that I begin to think I am strong.  I practice carefully to discipline myself so that I can stand on my own two feet, independent of anyone – especially God.  I consider it an accomplishment if I don’t have to ask God for anything to help me get through the week, the day, the hour.  I consider it a sign of strength if all my prayers are for those around me, but I’m just fine on my own.  Why would I need God to guide me in my sermon prep, I’ve got commentaries for that.  Why would I need God to help me teach and raise my kids, I’ve read books about that.  I am independent. I am strong.  I am the master of my own life.

I am full of it. (Refer here to the offending word above.)

What I need, I think, is a case of “Learned Helplessness.”  Usually this is considered a bad thing, where, faced with the overwhelming and uncontrollable flow of events, individuals feel helpless and unable to cope with life.

But for the Christian, learned helplessness is the starting point for saving Grace. Being helpless before the Lord is not weakness, rather it is finding true strength. I cannot save myself, I must trust in my Savior.  I cannot be the master of my destiny, I must trust in the One who is.  I cannot get my life together, I must trust in the One who holds my life in His hands.  I am weak, but in my weakness His strength is made perfect.

So where do I turn to learn weakness in the Spirit?  I’ve found the Puritans often help.

Here’s my prayer for the day (from The Valley of Vision):

O Thou Most High,
It becomes me to be low in thy presence.
I am nothing compared to thee;
I possess not the rank and power of angels,
but thou hast made me what I am,
and placed me where I am;
help me to acquiesce in thy sovereign pleasure.
I thank thee that in the embryo state of my endless being
I am capable by grace of improvement;
that I can bear thy image,
not by submissiveness, but by your design,
and can work with thee and advance thy cause and glory.
But, alas, the crown has fallen from my head:
I have sinned;
I am alien to thee;
my head is deceitful and wicked,
my mind an enemy to thy law.
Yet, in my lostness thou hast laid help on the Mighty One
and he comes between to put his hands on us both,
my Umpire, Daysman, Mediator,
whose blood is my peace,
whose righteousness is my strength,
whose condemnation is my freedom,
whose Spirit is my power,
whose heaven is my heritage.
Grant that I may feel more the strength of thy grace
in subduing the evil of my nature,
in loosing me from the present evil world,
in supporting me under the trials of life,
in enabling me to abide with thee in my valleys,
in exercising me to have a conscience void of offence
before thee and before men.
In all my affairs may I distinguish between duty and anxiety,
and may my character and not my circumstances chiefly engage me.

Humbly yours…