Four Life-Changing Discussions with Jesus
“It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto
you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).
by Tom Ruggirello
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When considering the life of Jesus, examining some of his personal conversations can prove beneficial. These discussions reveal important and precious truths and likely had profound effects on the ones who shared in them. These discussions were held away from the large crowds that often followed Jesus and were more private in nature. The four individuals discussed in this article were profoundly touched by the Master.
“Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover, during the feast, many believed in his name, observing his signs which he was doing. But Jesus, on his part, was not entrusting himself to them, for he knew all men” (John 2:23,24 NASB). Jesus could read the heart, and though many believed in him, he did not trust their new-found faith. “Jesus did not trust them; for he knew the fickleness of their hearts, and having the gift also of discerning of spirits,
he needed not that any man should testify of them, for he knew what was in them” (Reprint 1696:4). However, when the Pharisee Nicodemus came to Jesus, he seemed more willing to share the truth with him.
“The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, ‘Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him.’ Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God’ ” (John 3:2-3).
Unlike his experience with the crowd, Jesus interacted differently with Nicodemus, perceiving in him a hunger for truth. One must be “born again” to see the kingdom of God. The meaning in Greek is “born anew,” or “born from above.” It can also carry the thought of “begotten anew.” This was confusing to Nicodemus, causing him to ask, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb, and be born” (verse 4)? But the great truth was not meant to be taken literally. It had to do with the work of the holy Spirit within a believer. When individuals are begotten of the Spirit, they become new creatures who then develop and mature, eventually to be born as spirit beings. This imagery describes a transformation process which allows one to enter the kingdom of heaven. For Jesus to share this truth with Nicodemus suggested he felt Nicodemus was a candidate for the High Calling.
A Copper Serpent
Although Nicodemus did not understand the analogy of being born anew, Jesus went on to reveal his own role in God’s plan. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so, must the Son of Man be lifted up; so that whoever believes will in him have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him
shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:14-17 NASB).
This passage contains one of the most oft-quoted verses in the Bible. As a Pharisee, Nicodemus may have noticed that Jesus made no mention of the Law, or of its importance. It was the love of God that sent Jesus to bring eternal life to the world. Jesus played a crucial part in the plan of God, and in the salvation of the world. The story of Moses lifting up the serpent in the wilderness would have been familiar to Nicodemus. But its deeper significance was revealed when Jesus added, “even so must the Son of Man be lifted up.”
The account Jesus referred to is found in Numbers 21:4-9. Because the Israelites had complained against God and Moses for leading them into the wilderness, the Lord sent serpents amongst them and many died. When those remaining repented and appealed to Moses for relief, God instructed Moses to make a copper serpent and put it on a pole. Any Israelite who had been bitten would live after looking at the raised-up serpent.
Jesus’ reference to this scene reveals the beautiful symbolism. Copper is indicative of perfect human nature (See Tabernacle Shadows, page 18, and Notes on the Tabernacle, Anton Frey, page 11). The copper serpent being lifted on a pole foreshadowed the perfect humanity of Jesus being lifted on the cross. Being in the form of a serpent suggests that Jesus, while still
a perfect man, was made a sin-bearer for us, “he bare the sin of many” (Isaiah 53:12). “For he (God) hath made him to be [a] sin [bearer] for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Bro. Russell comments on the symbolism. “The whole world has been bitten by sin, and, as the apostle declares, all are groaning and travailing in pain, all are dying (Romans 8:22)” (Reprint 4126). As the Israelites repented for their sin of unbelief, their healing came only after looking upon the copper serpent on a pole. This indicates that repentance and belief in Jesus are necessary for salvation. As God instructed Moses to create the means for the deliverance of the Jews, so God is responsible for providing His son to be lifted up for our sake.
This brought a new and deeper understanding to Nicodemus, words to reflect upon in coming days. However, it is unlikely that he could understand the depth of meaning until he and Joseph of Arimathea removed Jesus’ lifeless body from the cross. Yes, he was lifted up so that we could have life!
The Samaritan Woman
“There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, ‘Give me to drink’ ” (John 4:7). “Samaria was the name of a stretch of country lying between Judea and Galilee. … The Jews, while dealing with them commercially … treated them in every respect as they treated Gentiles in general, as being outside of divine favor” (Reprint 2574). This animosity felt between Jew and Samaritan made Jesus’ discussion with the woman most remarkable. Even she was surprised when Jesus requested a drink of water, saying, “for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (verse 9).
Jesus responded with a remarkable truth. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, ‘Give me to drink;’ thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (verse 10).
The woman first believed Jesus was referring to literal water from Jacob’s well, nearby. But Jesus then contrasted the literal water with spiritual water. “Whosoever drinketh of this
water shall thirst again: But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall
never thirst, but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (verses 13,14). Still not understanding his meaning, the woman simply asked for the water to which he referred, so she would never have to return to the well.
The way Jesus opened her eyes to his meaning was interesting. He instructed her to call her husband and bring him to Jesus. She responded that she had no husband. Jesus said, “Thou hast well said, ‘I have no husband:’ For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly” (verses 17,18). She responded, “Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet” (verse 19).
Rather than simply telling the woman who he was, he demonstrated his ability to know about her personal life. This surprised her and she immediately understood that Jesus was special. Bro. Russell says, “The Samaritan woman seemed anxious to avoid any discussion of her own character and life, and skillfully turned the question to a theological one — whether the Jews or the Samaritans were right in their different views respecting divine worship and its proper place” (Reprint 2575). Jesus then said, “The hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth”
(Verses 23, 24). It was not through Judaism or the Samaritan religion that true worship could be achieved. It required a sincere heart searching for God and His truth. The enlightenment of the holy Spirit would be needed to fully worship God.
Bro. Russell comments on her reaction. “She wondered whether the Messiah could be more wonderfully wise than the prophet, the teacher, to whom she talked. She did not like to ask the question directly, but suggested it sidewise, saying, ‘I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.’ Seeing her readiness of mind, our Lord expressed to her — more plainly, perhaps, than to any other person during his ministry — the great fact that he was the Messiah: ‘I that speak unto thee am he’ ” (Reprint 4131).
There was a wonderful readiness in this woman. She was quick to believe. What a contrast to many of the Pharisees, who, despite witnessing miraculous signs, refused to accept Jesus. Our Lord was thrilled with her open heart and spoke plainly to her. There was no need to speak in parables. Her excitement at possibly finding the Messiah caused her to leave her water jar and return to her town, where she told friends and neighbors about Jesus. Her own work of filling her water jar was no longer the focus of her attention. She saw a work more urgent, more important, than her own. Her enthusiasm resulted in a great blessing for others when Jesus spent the next two days teaching in Samaria. Many accepted him as Messiah. He was planting seeds in these Gentiles, preparing them for when the Gospel would be open to them (Acts 8).
The interchange with this Samaritan woman illustrates the joy our Lord feels when we are open-hearted and quick to believe. Our response to the truth should be like hers as she was moved with excitement and shared it with others. There are many truths in this world. But only one will result in eternal life. Jesus gave her the “living water” of how eternal life can be obtained. She would never be the same.
Capernaum was the home base for Jesus’ ministry (See Matthew 4:13 and 9:1). It was a reasonable assumption that Jesus could be found there. The Luke account (Luke 7:1-10) says the centurion’s servant was sick, ready to die. The Matthew account (Matthew 8:6) says the servant was “sick of the palsy.” The word “palsy” (Strong’s 3885) may suggest he was a paralytic. It was highly unusual for a Roman to have such positive feelings towards his servants or towards the Jews. The accounts in Matthew and Luke differ on how Jesus was approached.
The Matthew account describes the Centurion himself coming to Jesus. In Luke, he sent “elders of the Jews” beseeching Jesus. These Jewish men were willing to speak on behalf of a Roman, telling Jesus, “he was worthy … for he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue” (Verses 4,5).
“We notice the good deeds of this centurion. He evidently respected the religion of the Jews and had used his wealth in the building of a synagogue, the ruins of which are supposed to
have been found recently. Of these ruins, Edersheim says, ‘The remains now, after eighteen centuries, in their richness of elaborate carvings of cornices and tablets, of capitals and niches, show with what liberal hand he had dealt his votive offerings’ ” (Reprint 2620).
This nobleman likely saw that the Mosaic Law and customs, which tended to lift up Jewish society, were superior to paganism, which was so prevalent in Roman society. Unlike the
Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees who Jesus often condemned, there were many Jews who
were not corrupt or arrogant. Jesus raised the daughter of Jairus, a humble man and ruler of the Synagogue in Capernaum (Luke 8:41). So, the Centurion could discern the good in people and was willing to help, even at his own expense.
Seeking help for his servant indicates a tender heart. The Matthew account (Matthew 8:6) uses the Greek word often translated “child” (Strong’s 3816). There may be an endearing connotation in this description. This was not a battle-hardened man, but a tender, respectful individual. He was a blessing to others, even to Jews and servants. It is little wonder then that Jesus made an exception to the practice of going only to the house of Israel (See Matthew 15:24).
Jesus agreed to go with the Jewish elders to the Centurion’s home and heal his servant. As they approached their destination, the Centurion sent “friends” saying “Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof: Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed”
(Luke 7:6,7). Sending friends to Jesus rather than servants was a sign of the respect he had for Jesus. The elders had previously said he was worthy of Jesus’ help. But he saw himself in a much humbler light, that he was not worthy for Jesus to even enter his home.
Our Lord was amazed at this response. “When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel” (Luke 7:9). The only other instance of the Lord “marveling” was at unbelief (Mark 6:6). It was an unexpected joy for Jesus to see such faith in one not versed in the Law.
“They that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick” (verse 10). It was a simple statement to describe Jesus’ marvelous response to faith.
There are some meaningful lessons in the exchange between Jesus and the Centurion. First, Jesus responds positively to expressions of faith. They bring him delight. Second, good
character is revealed in how people treat others, especially those who may be of lower social rank. Kindness and good works are expressions of a tender, loving heart. Third, in yet another
example, the scriptures reveal the importance God places on humility. It prepares the way for the blessings and favors of God.
The Pharisee and the Sinful Woman
On one occasion Jesus was invited to dine with a Pharisee named Simon (Luke 7:3650). Simon’s motive is unclear, and yet, in the dialogue that occurred, we hear a meaningful discussion about judging and forgiveness. During the supper, a woman, labeled as “a sinner” (verse 37), came uninvited with an alabaster box of ointment. She “stood at his [Jesus’] feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment” (verse 38). Her tears likely reveal a guilt-ridden conscience. The ointment was her way of honoring one who had so often expressed compassion for sinners and instilled hope of forgiveness.
Her presence in the home of a Pharisee seemed inappropriate. But, she came despite knowing she would be unwelcome. Some have supposed she was a harlot. The Greek word for “sinner” (Strong’s 268) is the common word for a sinner and does not necessarily refer to a harlot. (See its use in Matthew 9:10, Luke 6:32, Galatians 2:15). However, being described as a sinful woman may support the suggestion of a previously immoral lifestyle.
Others have suggested that this woman was Mary Magdalene. But there is little support for this, and most scholars have rejected the notion. It may be a divine kindness that this
sinner washing Jesus’ feet remains unnamed. Nevertheless, what a legacy she has left. Farrar provides a moving description of the scene.
“She found the object of her search, and as she stood humbly behind him, and listened to his words, and thought of all that he was, and all to which she had fallen — thought of the stainless, sinless purity of the holy and youthful prophet and of her own shameful, degraded life — she began to weep, and her tears dropped fast upon his unsandled feet, over which she bent lower and lower to hide her confusion and shame. The Pharisee would have started back with horror from the touch, still more from the tear, of such an one; he would have wiped away
the fancied pollution, and driven off the presumptuous intruder with a curse. But this woman instinctively felt that Jesus would not treat her so; she felt that the highest sinlessness is also
the deepest sympathy; she saw that where the hard respectability of her fellow-sinner would repel, the perfect holiness of her savior would receive. Perhaps she had heard those infinitely tender, gracious words which may have been uttered on this very day — ‘Come unto me, all that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’ ” (The Life of Christ, Frederic Farrar, page 237).
“Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, ‘This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39). There is a remarkable contrast in how Simon viewed this woman and how our Lord viewed her. Simon saw only her sin and how her touch would bring defilement. Jesus saw a broken and contrite heart, one which sought forgiveness and wanted to express her love. The judgmental attitude of Simon pales before the merciful heart of Jesus. How grateful all should be that our Lord can read the heart and see beyond our sinful natures.
As his guest, Simon had not provided any of the customary kindnesses to Jesus. In noting Simon’s indifference, Jesus said, “Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head. Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment” (Luke 7:44-46).
These were the gifts of hospitality which Simon should have provided, but, instead, were offered by the woman. Jesus understood why Simon and the woman were so different and offered the insight to Simon in a short parable. He said, “‘There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me, therefore, which of them will love him most?’ Simon answered and said, ‘I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most.’ And he said unto him, ‘Thou hast rightly judged’ ” (Luke 7:41-43).
Simon could not appreciate how this described his own lack of gratitude. As a Pharisee, he simply did not believe he needed mercy and forgiveness. But the woman understood her need of a savior. She was the debtor of the parable who owed “500 pence.” She had been forgiven much. In the parable, Jesus connected the appreciation of forgiven debt with love for
the creditor, an appropriate response. It is an important lesson for each child of God who has received atonement for sin. The natural response should be love for the one who has graciously provided forgiveness.
The scriptures do not describe Simon’s response to the parable. This may suggest that he did not respond positively. But, like on so many other occasions, the greater benefit is often to those who read the lesson at some future time and receive the instruction. Simon was judgmental. Jesus was merciful. Simon was arrogant. The woman was humble. Simon did not see his need for forgiveness. She craved it. It is clear from this experience what the Lord is looking for in the hearts of any who would be his people.
Our Lord’s final words to the repentant woman were, “Thy sins are forgiven … Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace” (Luke 7:48, 50). What comfort she must have gleaned from these kind words. But they were more than expressions of kindness. They were indicative of the work of salvation he had come to accomplish for all, even for Simon the Pharisee.
A Common Theme
The brief discussions Jesus had with these four individuals were enlightening. There appears to be a common theme that encouraged Jesus to bless them. Unlike many other leaders
in his position, Nicodemus came with honest questions and an open mind.
As a result, he received knowledge of how to share in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus openly shared the message of how he would be lifted up as a sacrifice for sin. It took time for Nicodemus to process these great truths, but once he
understood them he would be blessed beyond measure.
The Samaritan woman was not an Israelite, yet Jesus showed no prejudice in speaking to her. He could see her ability to easily believe his message and told her how she could drink of living waters and never thirst again. She responded instantly and shared the message with family and friends.
The Roman Centurion was a good man who cared for others. His generosity built a synagogue for people who, under normal circumstances, could have been his enemies. His concern for a lowly servant was appealing to Jesus. Authority did not distort his view of people but allowed him to use his resources to
The sinful woman expressed great remorse over sin. She poured her love at Jesus’ feet and received kind, gentle words of encouragement and forgiveness. She was a model of repentance.
In these brief encounters, the Lord has shown us qualities he values highly: honest and open hearts, readiness to believe, and a humble view of one’s self. The care and concern of others is Christ-like thinking. As we reflect on these precious individuals, let us likewise raise thankful hearts for having been touched by the Master. Let us persevere in seeking after the Simon the Pharisee Lord and his spirit.