A Comparison of the Method of Jesus in Witnessing Used to Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, and the Rich Young Ruler
The New Testament has much to say on the topic of evangelism - A Comparison of the Method of Jesus in Witnessing Used to Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, and the Rich Young Ruler introduction. The beginnings of the church age was one of incredible ambition as the followers of Christ spread the Gospel to the then known world. We can learn many different styles and forms of evangelism. The root of evangelism is found in the teachings of Christ. He set the stage and let His disciples with not only words but also actions as He shared His mission and the salvation message. In Matthew 13:1-18 Jesus gives us the example of the sower. In this parable we see a farmer planting seed and the seed falls on various types of soil.
Each type of soil represents how the seed responded. In this paper I will discuss and compare how three individuals heard the word of God, and how they responded to the Word of God. Each of these individuals; Nicodemus (John Chapter 3), the woman at the well (John Chapter 4), and the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-30) heard the message of salvation from Jesus Christ himself. Nicodemus (John Chapter 13) Before diving into detail about Nicodemus the Pharisee, it is important to view what a Pharisee was back in ancient antiquity, and how they were portrayed in John.
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A Pharisee was a Jewish sect which emphasized strict adherence to the purity laws set forth in the Torah. 1 In the Gospel of John, Pharisees function both as government officials and as the learned doctors of the Jewish law who are interested in Jesus’ teachings and dispute its truth. The Pharisees are an observant and disbelieving opponent of Jesus and his teachings. They compete with Jesus for influence with the people and attempt to undermine his teachings.
They had influence with the people 1. Bart D. Ehrman, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament p. 40-41. ecause they were accepted as the standards of Jewish behavior and belief in their society. 2 Knowing what a Pharisee was and how they function in John’s Gospel and during antiquity makes it possible to understand the meaning of the story the Pharisee named Nicodemus. The interaction in the beginning of the chapter between Nicodemus and Jesus exemplifies how Pharisees and Jewish officials act in John’s Gospel. Throughout the Gospel, they are known for not believing in Jesus and his teachings. In the conversation which Nicodemus initiates, we see that Jesus is the focused. Nicodemus has not come to talk about himself or about Pharisaism.
He has come to find out about Jesus, His message, and His relationship to God. What does Jesus have to say for Himself? Nicodemus opens the door by assuring Jesus that he sees Him as a man with a mission and a message from God. It is a perfect opener for Jesus. All He has to do is pick up from here and tell Nicodemus what His mission is. It doesn’t turn out at all as Nicodemus may have expected. It is important to note that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 3:2). The usage of night may seem insignificant at first, but it is important to look at considering John’s symbolical usage of light and darkness throughout the Gospel.
Night represents unbelief or misunderstanding, while daylight represents clarity and faith in Christ. Like previously describe, Nicodemus is aware of Jesus and his teachings, but he does not completely comprehend the significance of him. John uses “light” at the end of the verse when Jesus says, “But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may 2. David N. Freedman, et al. , ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. p. 297-298. be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God” (John 3:21). John uses this to contrast dark and light in the chapter.
He showed in the beginning of the chapter that dark led to Nicodemus’ lack of understanding. He finishes the chapter by saying that if one believes in Jesus, they will come to the light. In other words, John uses light as the path to salvation. John uses characters such as Nicodemus to show to unbelief and misunderstanding of Jesus. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, John compares light and dark throughout his gospel. John 3:19 is another example of when he uses light and dark to compare and contrast between two ideas.
In this verse, John has Jesus explaining that men choose darkness because they refuse to be shaken out of their comfortable sinfulness. 3 The darkness in this verse obviously represents the sins of humankind. On the other hand, light is used five times in verses 19-21. This further emphasizes the contrast of light and dark. Light is used firstly as a meaning for good. Secondly, John uses light to represent Christ. John is explaining Jesus’ arrival to men. In this passage, Jesus (“light”) entered the world only to be rejected by the people because they loved evil (“darkness”). Overall, comparing light to dark is an effective tool John uses to differentiate between two people or ideas. In verse five, Jesus says “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. ” There is no doubt that Jesus is referring to the regenerating activity of the Holy Spirit of God in this verse.
5 John is explaining that the Spirit of God 3. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John , p. 232. 4. Ibid, p. 234. 5. Ibid, p. 233. provides new life for those who have faith and is the power which moves one into a new existence. This view was not limited to just John’s writing, the Spirit is expressed in he same way in early Christian literature. 6 Viewing the Spirit in gospel makes it possible to understand the Spirit and what it meant in early Christianity. When Jesus makes his statement to Nicodemus in 3:3 that, “no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above. ” Nicodemus misunderstands this as being born “again,” not “from above,” or “from the beginning. ”
Nicodemus is attached to the physical, ordinary reality of his existence in such a way as to be blinded to the spiritual aspect of life and more importantly, the revelation of God in Christ. Nicodemus clearly understood them in the first sense and rejected the possibility of a second birth. But Jesus meant them in the second sense, a totally different kind of birth. Nicodemus’s question in verse four is surprising since he took Jesus words so literally. Nicodemus was being told that some spiritual experience of regeneration was needed for a proper appreciation of the kingdom of God. Nicodemus’s rejection of the idea of entering the womb a second time reflects his confusion. He could not grasp that the kingdom required an act of regeneration.
Jesus is then forced to clarify himself later in the passage because of Nicodemus’ lack of understanding at a spiritual level. Samaritan Woman In our study of our Lord’s dealing with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman in the third and fourth chapters of the Gospel of John, the similarities in these two encounters are few, while the contrasts are numerous. In both cases, our Lord is 6. David N. Freedman, et al. , ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. p. 928. 7. Ibid, p. 916. presenting Himself to individuals as the promised Messiah of Israel. Here is where the similarities end, however. Nicodemus was a man, the Samaritan was a woman.
Nicodemus was an orthodox, conservative Jew, the woman a half-breed apostate from Judaism. Nicodemus was a prominent, highly-regarded leader, perhaps one of the best-known religious teachers of his day. The woman was well-known, too, but her reputation had to do with the number of men she had lived with. Nicodemus sought out his interview with the Messiah, while the woman ‘chanced’ to meet with Him, The one who sought out Jesus becomes discomfited; she who didn’t seek Jesus becomes blessed. So far, all the pluses seem to be in favor of Nicodemus. But we should not fail to point out some additional contrasts.
Nicodemus was not reported to have been immediately converted, while the woman’s faith is evident. The conversation with Nicodemus had no impact on the lives of his peers. Indeed, Jesus had to leave Judea because of the Pharisees (John 4:1-3). But the woman brought back nearly the whole town with her testimony, and Jesus was invited to stay on (4:39-42). While Jesus spoke of Himself to the Jews in veiled terms (cf. John 2:18-22), He gave one of the clearest statements of His identity to this woman (4:26). The Jews had already begun to reject Him, but the Samaritans received Him as the Savior of the world (4:42).
Let us look, then, to this account of the conversion of a Samaritan city, for lessons from the Master in sharing our faith, even across tremendous cultural barriers. The shortest distance between points is obviously a straight line, which would mean passing through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee. But because of the animosity which existed between these two peoples, scrupulous Jews 8 chose to avoid passing through Samaria by traveling around it to the east, crossing the Jordan and passing through the friendlier territories of Peraea and Decapolis. In what sense was Jesus compelled to pass through Samaria?
In part, our Lord may have done so to express His contempt for the narrow bigotry of some of the Jews of His day. Certainly from the divine perspective, He did so in order to bring many Samaritans to faith. But the Jewish historian, Josephus, used exactly the same expression in the sense of necessity for rapid travel. 9 From the divine perspective our Lord must pass through Samaria in order to fulfill the purpose of God. From the human, it was the shortest and most sensible route. Racial prejudice and bigotry were no consideration at all to our Lord, who came as the Savior of the world, of Jews and Gentiles (cf. John 3:16; 4:42). The journey from Judea to Sychar was a hot and dusty one. After a grueling 20 miles, our Lord was tired, thirsty, and hungry. His disciples left him sitting by a well. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food. ) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? ’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans. ) The barrier to evangelism was now one of disinterest or apathy. 10 The need was to make the Gospel both relevant to this woman as well as 8.
Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John p. 255 9. Ibid, p. 255. 10. Eugene J. Botha, Jesus and the Samaritan woman: a speech act reading of John 4:1-42 p. 107-108 desirable. To do this, our Lord worked upon her sense of curiosity and physical need. He said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water” (John 4:10). It is significant to observe that the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus seemingly resulted in no noteworthy results. Personally, I do not feel that even Nicodemus was immediately saved.
If you and I would have been asked to predict which evangelistic effort would produce the most fruit, we would undoubtedly have put our money on Nicodemus. But it is the (forbidden) conversation with this woman that led to the conversion of a city. 11 When Christ spoke with the woman he did not see her as an outcast. He accepted her and talked with her as one does a friend. This was also the case in a spiritual sense. 12 Christ had shown her acceptance instead of rejecting her because of her sin. This is seen many times throught the gospels. Initially, it was the woman’s testimony that convinced the Samaritans that Jesus was Messiah.
But her words were like the light of the moon when compared with the sunlight of direct exposure to Jesus and His teaching. While Jesus could not stay in Judea, the Samaritans urged Him to remain with them (verse 40). While the Jews were still standoffish, the Samaritans were convinced that, “this One is indeed the Savior of the world” (John 4:42). A conversation with one woman opened the hearts of the entire village. Jesus sent her away to get her husband; she returned, instead with the entire village. Maybe 11. Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, Women in the New Testament p. 93 12. Lois E. Lebar, Education That Is Christian p. 67 there is some wry humor going on here. Since she already has had five husbands, maybe her bringing the entire village was an expression of her obeying Jesus’ exhortation in v. 16! The townspeople then become convinced on their own of Jesus’ being the Savior of the world. There are similarities between this narrative and the Nicodemus incident in that in both accounts misunderstandings lead to further explanations. The woman in verse fifteen was still thinking on literal lines. She imagined a constant water supply would eliminate her visits to the well.
She had not yet grasped the spiritual dimension. She had a moral blockage. She had not grasped the nature of her own need. This same idea carried thru the stories of Nicodemus, the Sameritan woman as well as our next individual that encountered Christ, the rich young ruler. The Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30) There are commonalities between the story of the rich young ruler and that of Nicodemus. Both greet Jesus with gracious praise. Jesus’ response is not the expected gracious reply, but seemingly off the wall, jarring, and unanticipated. There is also a lack of spiritual understanding.
John 3 records Nicodemus’ question-filled conversation with Jesus. The story of the woman at the well, recorded in John 4, is also filled with questions. Both Nicodemus and the woman go on from their questions to become followers of Jesus. By asking valid questions the rich young ruler takes another step toward discipleship. The rich young ruler is in good company when he asks, “What shall I do to inherit/obtain eternal life? ” because this question shows that he does not understand something, in his case the means of salvation. He is focused on doing instead of on being; 13 he thinks he must earn merit for eternal life.
He misunderstands the Law, which begins not with man’s actions: “You shall not” but with God’s actions: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. ” (Ex 20:2) The weakness of an imperfect understanding is something the rich young ruler shares with the rest of humanity, including today’s disciples and would-be disciples. Although the rich young ruler begins well by coming to Jesus and asking genuine questions, he never actually becomes a disciple. All the other people to whom Jesus says “Follow Me” obey that command, but the rich young ruler goes away grieving.
There is no record that he actually follows Jesus. In this respect the rich young ruler is actually the anti-disciple, an example only in the negative sense. After coming to Jesus and asking questions, which are a good beginning to becoming a disciple, he does not take the next step of obedience, a step that would make him a true disciple. At the exact point of following and sacrificing, he refuses, and becomes the very antithesis of discipleship. Jesus’ commands explain that true discipleship is abandoning everything for Him, just as many New Testament disciples had already done.
In just a few verses later, Peter will assert, “Behold, we have left everything and followed You. ” (Mk 10:28) As C. S. Mann summarizes, “The demand of Jesus is not for any specific act, but for an attitude of abandonment to loyalty to his ministry and person. ” 14 Seeing his wealth as a sign of God’s blessing and refusing to 13. J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel p. 543. 14. C. S. Mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible p 401. part with it, the rich young ruler lacks the “Jesus only” perspective of abandonment.
When the rich young ruler claimed that he had kept all of God’s commandments, Jesus began to probe more deeply. Let the young man turn his assets into cash, give to the poor and become a disciple. The man’s refusal to do so showed that he did not truly love his neighbor as himself, and that he put himself and his wealth, rather than God, at the center of his affections. Although he kept the law outwardly, his heart was not right with God. Here was clear proof that it is extremely hard for people whose hearts are set on riches to enter the kingdom.
But although people cannot overcome their own sinful hearts by themselves, God can intervene to save those who will respond to his call. Speaking to modern disciples and would-be disciples the rich young ruler symbolizes the permanent human need to relinquish deceitful loyalties. His riches represent every finite and fallible attachment and allegiance. Jesus’ commands to go, sell, give, come, and follow teach that discipleship means loyalty to Himself, sacrifice, and abandonment of whatever keeps us from Him. 15 Jesus’ commands to come and follow are the ultimate commands to discipleship.
This is a call to surrender a life obsessed by security and to take up a life directed towards God’s becoming, i. e. the kingdom of God. This is a life of following Jesus under the sign of the cross. 16 Here is the heart of Jesus’ message, and the exact point of the rich young ruler’s decision to go away. If following Jesus as a disciple means, in the case of the rich 15. Robert Bird, Jesus: the carpenter of Nazareth p. 309 16. William Eleazar Barton, Theodore Gerald Soares, Syndey Dix Strong, His life: a complete story in the words of the four gospels p. 152-153 oung ruler, sacrificing earthly treasure, he is not willing to pay the price. He chooses not to be loyal to Jesus, not to abandon anything; he keeps hold of what he already has rather than give it up in exchange for what he lacks. Jesus’ clear teaching about true discipleship reaches his ears but not his heart. Peter than shows what the mark of a true disciple is. They had made the right response by giving up everything to follow Jesus. Jesus promised that those who were prepared for the sacrifices involved in being disciples would receive far greater blessings both now in the fellowship of God’s people, and in the world to come.
Conclusion In this paper I will discuss and compare how three individuals heard the word of God, and how they responded to the Word of God. Each of these individuals responded in different ways. In the story of Nicodemus, we see a well known and respected individual (a Pharisee at that), coming to Christ secretly and night to inquire of Him about salvation. He left confused and at that point did not make a profession of faith, however we do know that he did later on in the text. So the word planted needed a little time to grow.
The woman at the well did not go about seeking Christ but her daily endeavors led her to Christ unexpectedly. As Christ reveled to the woman not only who she was but that He was the one to come she received the news with great joy. In fact she was so overwhelmed with joy that she told all of the village and they to trusted Christ. We see with the rich young ruler quite a different response. He could not get free from his idolistic worship of his riches and as a result left sad and unchanged. All three heard the message of salvation from Jesus Christ himself. Yet we see three completely different responses. Jesus approach in evangelism was to get at the root of what was holding them back from trusting Christ. He probed around asking questions in order to reveal the heart. Once there Christ was able to convict them of sin and show them their one and only need for salvation.
1. Bart D. Ehrman, A Brief Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), p. 40-41. 2. David N. Freedman, et al. , ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 3, H-J. (New York: Double Play, 1992), p. 297-298. 3. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Michigan: WB. Eerdmans Publishing Company 1971), p. 232. . Ibid, p. 234. 5. Ibid, p. 233. 6. David N. Freedman, et al. , ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. 3, H-J. (New York: Double Play, 1992), p. 928. 7. Ibid, p. 916. 8. Leon Morris, The Gospel According to John (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), p. 255 9. Ibid, p. 255. 10. Eugene J. Botha, Jesus and the Samaritan woman: a speech act reading of John 4:1-42 (the Netherlands: E. F. Brill, 1991), p. 107-108 11. Mary Ann Getty-Sullivan, Women in the New Testament (Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2001), p. 93 12. Lois E. Lebar, Education That Is Christian (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Cook Communications, 1995), p. 7 13. J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton, The Fourfold Gospel (Cincinnati: The Standard Publishing Company, 1914), p. 543. 14. C. S. Mann, Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible 27 (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1986), 401. 15. Robert Bird, Jesus: the carpenter of Nazareth (London: Patrenoster House, 1892), p. 309 16. William Eleazar Barton, Theodore Gerald Soares, Syndey Dix Strong, His life: a complete story in the words of the four gospels (New York: Pastors Publishing Union, 1905), p. 152-153