Following His Footsteps: “The Candidate” – John 3 and 4

the-candidate_lRobert Redford has played some famous roles, but none bigger than the Oscar winning performance in the 1972 movie called “The Candidate. In that role, Redford starred as a lawyer (and son of the former California governor) who was convinced to run against a senatorial incumbent who faced no competition. Even those who asked Redford to run anticipated a dramatic loss, so the candidate was able to run with frankness and integrity in order to demonstrate a new brand of politics. When people realized they preferred a fresh, young and honest looking face – the campaign became serious. Thirty years have passed, but the issues in that election were none other than: abortion, environmental issues, and access to health care. The Candidate demonstrated that it wasn’t simply WHAT the man said, but HOW the man said it. Someone quipped: “If you can fake sincerity, you will have the world as your friend!” We are thinking about The Candidate in this lesson, because our text in John’s Gospel offered some early interviews and reactions to Jesus as He began to become known.

Key Principle: Jesus brought out a reaction in people! The gospels reveal that Jesus was pressed from the beginning of His ministry by scholars, sermonizers and other sinners. He answered them all with sincerity and knowledge of their real need.

John 3 and 4 tell four stories that can easily be “paired” into sets – private interview followed by public endorsements. When you see that we are looking at two chapters of the Bible, it can seem daunting, but these four stories are actually very familiar. In addition, they follow a pattern – a private interview followed by a public story – two times. As you look deeper, you will note that in John 3, these were done in the context of mainstream Judaism, in John 4 they were in the context of a fringe group known as the Samaritans. Let’s look at the stories briefly. One of the four stories we covered in a recent lesson, so we will lightly touch it:

The first story was an “interview” – a private discussion: Nicodemus the Pharisee talks with Jesus of Nazareth (John 3:1-21).

John 3:1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; 2 this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus *said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born [c]again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know and testify of what we have seen, and you do not accept our testimony. 12 If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven, but He who descended from heaven: the Son of Man. 14 As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 so that whoever [d]believes will in Him have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His [e]only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the [f]only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. 20 For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.

The record of the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus is the first interview of the Savior (in the Gospel of John) by a trained theologian. The exchange is offered in two parts. First, John included the context – time and people involved. Second, he included the dialogue. That exchange had three sentences offered by Nicodemus, together with the answers of the Savior, which were longer than the questions.

Look at John 3:1 closely. Don’t forget the context in the story of the Gospel of John: this story of Nicodemus was set up by the penetrating truth offered at the end of John 2:25 “…He Himself knew what was in man.” This story seems to be placed in the text as an illustration of Jesus reading the heart of an important man of His day. Don’t overlook that John 3:1 is short, but PACKED with information that helps the rest of the exchange make sense. John recorded:

There was a “man of the Pharisees” – this was a man of PEDIGREE of PUBLIC (if not also private) PIETY. Nicodemus held a distinguished religious position – but position doesn’t make one live eternally – and this man suspected something was wrong.

He was “named Nicodemus” a name which meant in Greek “conqueror of the people” or “the people’s champion (victor)”. His name suggested the intent his parents had for him was him to be popular – but popularity in the here and now does not solve the issue of afterlife.

The next phrase remarks: “ruler of the Jews”, which offered a statement of obvious POWER and PRESTIGE in the community – but power and prestige on earth doesn’t translate into security for a moment after the last breath on earth.

The subject of the exchange was clearly about being “born again” – but what did that mean? Clearly this new birth was not about human accomplishment – it was something God did through the power of the Holy Spirit. Being born again was explained by Jesus as an intervention from God that leads to a TRANSFORMATION by God… That supernatural act was not given because of a pedigree – for no degree could get a man right with God. It was not a matter of religious reform or behavioral practice – because Nicodemus was already living righteously as best we can tell from the story. This “born again” experience was something brought from above – a transformation accomplished by the work of God.

Consider the three statements of Nicodemus that were recalled in the Gospel account. Each reflect common assumptions that still plague people and keep them from understanding salvation by Grace:

Statement One: “Externals are accurate barometers of internals”. That seems to be the implied idea behind John 3:2 “This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” First, the statement is untrue. Ask Moses’ brother Aaron (a story from Exodus 7) as the eighty year old Moses and eighty-three year old Aaron saw Pharaoh’s black magic men make snakes just like God did. Sadly for the magicians of the court, Aaron’s serpent ate all of theirs – leaving them “staff-less” in the end! The fact remains that in the Bible, JUST BECAUSE A MIRACLE TOOK PLACE, DID NOT MEAN GOD INITIATED IT. Nicodemus assumed that the externals were accurate proof of internals.

Statement Two: “Spiritual transformation occurs because of physical activity.” John 3:4 offered these words: “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Note how consumed the Pharisee is with the ability of the man to DO something to change the outcome of his standing with God. Here Nicodemus offered the mistaken assumption that SPIRITUAL CHANGE OCCURS BECAUSE OF PHYSICAL CHANGES ONE MAKES. In the atonement system, a man or woman’s participation was NOT designed to make them think they “participated” in God’s work of forgiveness, but that is the message many took away. Many who followed the Law of God ended up believing the way to change the INSIDE was to change the BEHAVIOR on the OUTSIDE. Did you ever hear a joke about people entering Heaven. They begin like: “Three men died and were standing at the pearly gates…” We have all heard these kinds of jokes and though they may bring a smile to our face, behind most of them is the false assumption that we must do something to get into Heaven. That wasn’t the message of Jesus. The problem is that by nature, we want to earn and then deserve God’s favor. That isn’t the Gospel – because the message of the New Testament is that you cannot make any effective installment on the payment for sin.

Statement Three: “Only what I understand can work!” That seems to the message behind John 3:9: “Nicodemus said to Him, “How can these things be?” It would have sounded like a reasonable question in the tect, but Jesus’ answer showed that it was nothing of the sort. Nicodemus was assuming that in order for things to be true, they had to fit into his considerable knowledge of the spiritual world – and that wasn’t true at all. His assumption seemed to be, IF IT DOESN’T FIT MY UNDERSTANDING, IT MUST BE NONSENSE! Jesus poured it on at the end with a rather detailed reply to his question.

Jesus each question Nicodemus offered…

Answer One: “Total transformation is needed, and that isn’t from the outside.” In John 3:3 we read Jesus’ response to the idea that externals are reliable barometers of internals: “Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The Savior offered words that set Nicodemus back on his heels – that one can ONLY see the kingdom if they are REBORN. Technically speaking, a baby doesn’t CAUSE their birth – and though the pass through the birth canal – no one observing closely in the birthing suite at the hospital would think they were in charge of the event. A man or woman needed to START LIFE AGAIN – this time as a newborn all over again. The point of the statement that “only by being born again” is this: Nicodemus, you must totally rethink your premise. Entering the Kingdom is NOT by conforming to a set of rules, reforming your lifestyle to a certain set of rules… it is being transformed by a process YOU DO NOT CONTROL!

Answer Two: “The new birth is a spiritual reality, but no less real than physical birth.” In John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6 “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 “Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 “The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

This was a three point response: First, two types of birth are necessary to be in the kingdom – a physical birth and a spiritual birth. You are not born spiritually WHEN you are born physically. There is no special class of “child of believer” that exempts them from the later spiritual new birth experience. No one is physically born right with God.

Second, the two births are distinct from one another. The spiritual birth is LIKE the physical, but not the same thing.

Third, those born of the spirit are compared to the wind – the effects of wind can be seen without the work of the wind being displayed. It is the nature of religious people to look for ways to observe God’s hand. Ironically, whole church movements that began with an emphasis on the work of the Spirit have found themselves tilting quickly into a theology that emphasizes blessing in the physical world… even though Jesus said they were not reliably connected – at least in appearance.

Answer Three: “God will not negotiate this requirement!” In John 3:10 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things? … 16 “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. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The answer Jesus offered was this: First, a true teacher of God’s people should understand transformation by the Spirit is required! Second, this was not a theory, nor an option (3:11). Third, failure to grab the transformation blocks other truth from your heart (3:12). Fourth, Jesus was the only source of this transformation (3:13). Fifth, failure to get behind this message will block your ability to lead others to eternal life (3:14-15). Sixth, Jesus came to SAVE men (3:16-17). His message was God’s MERCY AND GRACE. Seventh, the sole basis of judgment is belief in Jesus’ Word. People could choose not to believe and live in the darkness of their own controls! (3:18-21).

Here is the truth: Jesus wanted a learned man to come away from the interview with one clear message: “You need a total transformation that I control.” That reminds me of the old story of someone who asked revivalist preacher George Whitfield, “Why do you always preach “You must be born again?” He replied, “Because you must be born again!” The interview completed, the message was clear – Jesus didn’t come to offer us a list of reforms – He came to offer new birth, a total transformation of a life submitted to His care.

The second story was of a public endorsement: John the Baptizer commended Jesus (John 3:22-35).

Since we looked at this passage a few lessons ago, we need not give it much more time and space – but stop briefly and consider how John’s reaction to Jesus’ ministry affected Jesus…

The Gospel writer recorded: John 3:22 “After these things Jesus and His disciples came into the land of Judea, and there He was spending time with them and baptizing. 23 John also was baptizing in Aenon near Salim, because there was much water there; and people were coming and were being baptized … 27 John … said… 30 “He must increase, but I must decrease. 31 “He who comes from above is above all, he who is of the earth is from the earth and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. … 36 He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John recognized Who Jesus was, and was unafraid to endorse Him publicly – in spite of the fact that people may decide to stop showing up at the Jordan to see John and his disciples. John’s logic: “It doesn’t matter – He is above all and before all.” Let’s say it in simpler terms that any believer can learn to respect: “Jesus first!” The truth is that Scripture records that John laid down his life long before his head was placed on a platter or his neck on a chopping block. He laid his life down when he decided that Jesus’ glory was worth living for – and that is inherently Christian teaching. A theology of personal abandonment and Christocentric glory is the very essence of the first century disciple’s life choices. Jesus was clear to those who wished to get on board with His gang: “Unless they were willing to take up their cross daily, laying their lives down – they could not become His disciple.

Here’s the truth: Jesus isn’t willing to share the stage with His followers. Either we get the fact that He is Lord and we are His servant – or we don’t recognize the paradigm of discipleship that Jesus offered. A Christian message that is oriented to offering us temporal benefits – a happier life, better relationships, more money in the bank, a better job – all these are not specifically Christian at all. Ask the believers who just fled from Mosul if knowing and loving Jesus guaranteed a happy life and peaceful experience? We have to stop repeating nonsense and get back to Christian teaching the way Jesus framed it. HE is what we get from surrender. Where HE leads is what will bring HIM glory. My best good is found in HIS plan for HIS pleasure. Christianity cannot be about self-aggrandizing and self-affirmation or it isn’t Christianity at all. John understood – and John laid down his life. Jesus said that is the kind of man who will LIVE because he died to self.

The third story was yet another private interview: The Samaritan woman at the well met Jesus (John 4:1-29).

A third story can be found in the beginning of John 4, and we again find ourselves looking at a personal interview – this time with a Samaritan woman. How different than a Pharisee! She was wounded by life and covered the wounds with theological discourse. On second thought: “Was she actually that much different than Nicodemus?” Here is the record:

John 4:3 He [Jesus] left Judea and went away again into Galilee. 4 And He had to pass through Samaria. 5 So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, … 7 There *came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” 8 For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. 9 Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered and 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.” 11 She *said to Him, “[b]Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” 13 Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” 15 The woman *said to Him, “[c]Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” 16 He *said to her, “Go, call your husband and come here.” 17 The woman answered and said, “I have no husband.” Jesus *said to her, “You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” 19 The woman *said to Him, “[d]Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” 21 Jesus *said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 God is [e]spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman *said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” 26 Jesus *said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” …28 So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and *said to the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?….”

It is easy to divide the story into three parts, as John recalls the events: First, the Setting (4:1-6), second, the Exchange (4:7-28), and finally the Results (4:29-42).

The interview lasted for only a short time, but the woman appeared to move from broken to hopeful. How did that happen? Look again. The woman spoke six times in the passage – five of them to Jesus. In the five direct statements, there was a progression to her thinking. Often, when people are confronted with the direction that Jesus offers, they place “road blocks” – objections to the uncomfortable truth – yet Jesus knew how to deal with her objections.

Let me offer a simple observation. Nicodemus was an example that no one can become so great as to rise above the need for the Savior. Yet, the Samaritan woman (a page later in the story) was a great example that no one can sink below the rescue of the Savior, either!

The Samaritan woman raised some common objections to Jesus and His message:

First, there was a doubt of intention: What does Jesus really want from me? (4:9) Clearly the woman was stunned that Jesus as a Jew would ask her as a Samaritan for something to drink. Yet, on more careful examination, it appears that she was not only asking why a Jew would speak to her, but she was exposing a very basic reaction that many people have when Jesus reaches out to them. The Gospel offers life, but it also requires something of them. Without submission of the will there is no real salvation. Jesus began ASKING FOR HER TO DO SOMETHING FOR HIM. The simple act of giving a drink to Jesus was an act of obedience – an act of trust.

Second, there was a sense of unworthiness: How can you deal with someone LIKE ME? Many people carry the misconception Jesus came for, and spent His time with religious people in clean and tidy places. That is not the Jesus of the Gospels. This woman knew prejudice and rejection – and she wasn’t living with someone who valued her highly – which is why she came midday alone to get water! Jesus’ answer was direct to her – You are worried about who you are and what I may really want. Both are the wrong focus. If you refocus on Who I am, you will find a gift is awaiting you! (4:10). Yet, in order for her to receive the gift, she needed to THIRST TO KNOW HIM!

Third, there was doubt of His ability: Jesus made an overt claim that He had something to GIVE the woman, but she couldn’t see how it was possible for Jesus to deliver on the promises (4:11). She chided, “You don’t think you are greater than our fathers, do you? (4:12). Wrapped in her question is one of the oldest forms of objection to Jesus and His message. She wanted to compare Jesus to other great men, and didn’t see how He could claim to offer more than other men of seemingly greater stature could offer. Jesus’ answer was again direct and overt – I am not one among many. That is the wrong conclusion. Jesus said, in essence: “I have the gift and the ability to deliver it.” (4:13-14). It will surely accomplish satisfaction beginning within and flowing outward. It is superior to anything offered before, and it will deliver the ultimate and final rewards.

Fourth, there was a distraction over benefits: The woman appeared to be ready to accept the offer made by Jesus, but Jesus knew she was not truly prepared. There was a hole in her heart, and He wanted to address it. She was distracted by the part of the offer that appeared to care for her problems, but she did not comprehend what Jesus wanted from her (4:15). Jesus peeled into her life to help her expose the deep secret that she was hiding. He asked her to go and bring her husband. This was a respectful request, especially if she was about to make a bold move to accept His claims and follow Jesus (4:16). The woman replied, “I have no husband!” She told a half-truth (4:17-18). She was a woman who both lived in pain, and as a result walked in hidden compromise. Here is the central issue – she wanted to add Jesus to a life of self-will and hidden impure behaviors. That is a wrong assumption. It is true that Jesus loves us. It is true that He came to save us. It is simply NOT TRUE that He is so longing for us that He will simply dismiss our desire to continue to walk as we choose – in sinful practices that are forbidden by God. Hidden sin robs us of full joy – and Jesus wanted her change to be honest.

Because we know that in the first century Jewish context, divorce was an issue of a man putting away a woman in most cases – it is likely that the woman’s history of marriages has more to do with stinging repeated rejection and not simply a life as a “loose woman”. She was evidently repeatedly judged deficient in some way by the men in her life. Rejection upon rejection appears to have left her desolate of self respect. She eventually shed the need to even have the appearance of a real marriage (4:18).

Charles Swindoll, in his book Growing Deep in the Christian Life, tells the true story of a man who bought fried chicken dinners for himself and his girlfriend to enjoy on a picnic one afternoon. He was in for a surprise because the person behind the counter mistakenly gave him the wrong paper bag. Earlier, the manager had taken the money from the cash registers and placed it in an ordinary bag, hoping to disguise it on his way to the bank. But when the person working the cash register went to give the man his order, he grabbed the bag full of money instead of the bag full of chicken. Swindoll says, “After driving to their picnic site, the two of them sat down to enjoy some chicken. They discovered a whole lot more than chicken — over $800! But he was unusual. He quickly put the money back in the bag. They got back into the car and drove all the way back. Mr. Clean got out, walked in, and became an instant hero. By then, the manager was frantic. The guy with the bag of money looked the manager in the eye and said, ‘I want you to know I came by to get a couple of chicken dinners and wound up with all this money here.’ Well, the manager was thrilled to death. He said, ‘Let me call the newspaper. I’m gonna have your picture put in the local paper. You’re one of the most honest men I’ve ever heard of.’ To which the man quickly responded, ‘Oh, no. No, no, don’t do that!’ Then he leaned closer and whispered, ‘You see, the woman I’m with is not my wife. She’s, uh, somebody else’s wife.’” Swindoll closes the story by saying, “Harder to find than lost cash is a perfect heart.”

Fifth, there was theological redirection: Jesus spoke resounding truth into the life of the woman, and she knew it. He opened her eyes to the truth about her own pain and made clear that He knew all about it. He peeled her heart to its core. She perceived He was a prophet. Yet, she was not ready to surrender to Jesus. She re-directed the conversation to theology and arguments over the place and nature of worship, emphasizing the difference between Jews and Samaritans (4:19-20). Jesus answered her and told her that she was essentially on the wrong issue. She was concerned with the PLACE of worship, and Jesus answered with the NATURE of worship (4:21-24). Getting caught up in any discussion that kept away the pressure on the woman to yield her broken heart to the Lord, no matter the value of the discussion, was a distraction.

Sixth, there was the voice of procrastination: “Someday I hope it will happen for me!” was the final objection raised (4:25). Many have raised it. “One of these days, when things work out for me, then I will be ready to commit to Jesus.” Jesus replied to the woman, “You are on the wrong timing!” The time for her salvation was the day Jesus beckoned. Later would be too late.

The fourth story was another public endorsement: The Samaritan Village validated the ministry of Jesus (John 4:39ff).

Before we finish with our lesson, one more short story is necessary to review – the reaction of the Samaritans to the woman’s testimony. John recorded:

John 4:39 From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all the things that I have done.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. … 43 After the two days He went forth from there into Galilee…

Jesus chatted with one woman and the message of His life and ministry reached a village. The disciples went as a group to shop in the midst of the village and reached NO ONE. Why? The answer lies in the truth that Jesus did what they did not want to do. In order to bring about healing to the lives of others, we must first learn to become lovers of the unlovable…that is what our Savior did.

Years ago, in a moving short story by Elizabeth Ballard that was published in Home Life magazine (1976) the fine fiction writer wove a touching story that really helps set love in perspective. Who the story was based on in her life we shall never know. Here is the story:

Teddy Stallard was a young man who was turned off by school. He was sloppy in appearance, largely expressionless in class, and generally unattractive. Some would have called him “slow” – because he had a “dull look”. Often he sat in his school classroom staring into space, unresponsive and blank – which was an irritation to every teacher he ever had. Miss Thompson, who was known to have enjoyed bearing down her red pen — placed many a big red X beside Teddy’s often blank and mostly wrong answers. If only she had studied Ted’s school records more carefully. They read:

• 1st grade: Ted shows promise with his work and attitude, but (has) poor home situation.
• 2nd grade: Ted could do better. Mother seriously ill. Receives little help from home.
• 3rd grade: Ted is good boy but too serious. He is a slow learner. His mother died this year.
• 4th grade: Ted is very slow, but well-behaved. His father shows no interest whatsoever.

Christmas arrived. The children piled elaborately wrapped gifts on their teacher’s desk. Ted brought one too. It was wrapped in brown paper and held together with Scotch Tape. Miss Thompson opened each gift, as the children crowded around to watch. Out of Ted’s package fell a gaudy rhinestone bracelet, with half of the stones missing along with a bottle of cheap perfume. The children snickered, but the wise teacher silenced them by splashing some of the perfume on her wrist and letting them smell it. She put the bracelet on too. At day’s end, after the other children left, Ted came by the teacher’s desk and said, “Miss Thompson, you smell just like my mother. And the bracelet looks real pretty on you. I’m glad you like my presents.” He left. Miss Thompson got down on her knees and asked God to forgive her and to change her attitude. The next day, the children were greeted by a reformed teacher — one committed to loving each of them…especially the slower and harder to love ones…especially Teddy.

Surprisingly — or perhaps not surprisingly at all, Teddy began to improve in class. He eventually caught up with most of the students and excelled beyond a few. Graduation came and went and Teddy was gone into the world. Miss Thompson heard nothing from him for a long time. Then, one day, she received a note: Dear Miss Thompson: I wanted you to be the first to know. I will be graduating second in my class. Love, Ted

Four years later, another note arrived: Dear Miss Thompson: They just told me I will be graduating first in my class. I wanted you to be first to know. The university has not been easy, but I liked it. Love, Ted

And four years later:

Dear Miss Thompson: As of today, I am Theodore Stallard, M.D. How about that? I wanted you to be the first to know. I am getting married next month, the 27th to be exact. I want you to come and sit where my mother would sit if she were alive. You are the only family I have now; Dad died last year. Love, Ted

Miss Thompson attended that wedding, and sat where Ted’s mother would have sat. The compassion she had shown that young man entitled her to that privilege.

I love that story, and I am glad that Elizabeth Ballard wrote it. It isn’t bad to have our hearts tugged to learn an important lesson. Here is the truth: Jesus brought out a reaction in people! He was pressed from the beginning of His ministry by scholars, sermonizers and other sinners – but He knew the hearts of people – so He knew how to respond…and He still does.