Jesus' Parables for Disciples
C. Michael Dudash, "Living Water." Copyrighted by the artist. Permission requested.
Jesus has been in Judea, ministering with his disciples. But the Pharisees in Jerusalem have been closely monitoring the revival meetings taking place near the Judean capital. More and more people are flocking to Jesus, so the religious protectors of the status quo are making it more dangerous for Jesus in Judea. It is time to return to his native Galilee.
"1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was
gaining and baptizing more disciples than John,
2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria." (4:1-4)
There were three routes between Galilee and Jerusalem. (1) Along the coast, (2) along the Jordan valley, or (3) along the central ridge road that wound north through the passes in the mountains. The latter was the fastest and most direct, though it required travelling through Samaria. Antagonism between the Jews and Samaritans sometimes caused tension along this route (Luke 9:52), but, because of its speed, it was the route taken by most Jews going to Jerusalem,except, perhaps, the strictest Jews who avoided the route to prevent contracting some kind of ceremonial uncleanness.
Our text says, however, that Jesus "had to" (NIV, NRSV) or "must needs" (KJV) take this route -- perhaps because it was faster, but surely because Jesus had a divine appointment with a woman at Jacob's well outside of Sychar.
Location of Sychar (larger map)
"5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour." (4:5-6)
Sychar, probably on the site of the present-day town of Aschar, is near the ancient ruins of Shechem.The site lies on the ridge road between Galilee and Jerusalem in the narrow pass between two mountains, Mt. Ebal to the north (3,080 feet elevation) and Mt. Gerizim to the south (2,890 feet elevation).
Jacob's well still exists there, fed by springs and dug out to a depth of more than 100 feet. Though the Bible doesn't tell of its initial construction, it was doubtless dug on the land Jacob purchased from the leader of the nearby city of Shechem (Genesis 33:18-20).
As it was right alongside the main road, Jesus stopped there to rest at noon ("the sixth hour") while his disciples went into town to buy some food (4:8).
John observes that Jesus is "tired from the journey" (4:5). Though John is very clear that Jesus is the Son of God, even "God the One and Only" who is at the Father's side (1:18), yet in his physical body, Jesus becomes tired like everyone else. John is not portraying a superman, some kind of super-hero, but a fully human man in whom the Spirit and Presence of God dwell fully. This is the mystery of the incarnation, what theologians refer to as a "hypostatic union" of two natures in one person.Our best understanding of this union of two natures was carefully stated by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD, when church leaders gathered in order to clearly lay out the teaching of Scripture about the dual nature of Christ in order to defend it from various misunderstandings and heresies.
Detail from Polish painter Henryk Siemiradzki, 'Christ and the Samaritan Woman' (1890) 106.5x184 cm, Lviv National Art Gallery, Ukraine.
A tired Jesus is sitting at the well, waiting for the disciples, when a woman appears.
"7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?' ... 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?' (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" (4:7, 9)
Jesus' request for a drink of water was strange at several levels.
1. Gender difference. In that culture men didn't usually initiate a conversation with women they didn't know.
"His disciples ... were surprisedto find him talking with a woman." (4:27)
2. Religious difference, as the woman herself observes (4:9). Jews considered Samaritans to be unclean, half-breed Jews who refused to worship in the temple at Jerusalem, but rather had developed their own hybrid religion. They had even built a temple on the slopes of Mt. Gerizim to the south so they wouldn't have to travel to Jerusalem, though it had been destroyed a century and a half before. So to use a Samaritan's vessel for water would have been considered by strict Jews to make them unclean.
"Jews do not associate withSamaritans." (4:9b)
3. The Woman's Status. As the story develops, we find that the woman had had five men and was living with a sixth. Most of the time women got water from the well in the evening, not in the heat of the day. But about noon is the time the woman in our story appears, perhaps so she wouldn't have to be subject to the constant abuse from the women in the town who despise her as a home-breaker.
Nevertheless, Jesus asks her for a drink, and, though she doesn't refuse, she wonders aloud why he would go against the social norms to ask her for a drink.
Q1. (John 4:7-9) Why do you think Jesus went against the
social norms to communicate with the woman? Why do we hesitate to go against
social norms to share the good news? How do we balance our need to obey God and
our need to live peaceably in our culture?
My sister-in-law sometimes wears a feminist t-shirt that says, "Well-behaved women seldom make history."Maybe that applies to disciples as well.
Now Jesus says something provocative, something designed to provoke a response, a religious conversation.
"10 Jesus answered her,
'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would
have asked him and he would have given you living water.'
11 'Sir,' the woman said, 'you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?'" (4:10-12)
Jesus' reply draws the woman's attention to two things: (1) his gift, and (2) his person.
"Gift" in verse 10 is dōrea, "that which is given or transferred freely by one person to another, gift, bounty," a word that stresses the freeness of a gift.
Jesus mentions "living water." This phrase normally referred to flowing water from a river or stream, as opposed to standing water from a pond or well. But Jesus uses the word ambiguously (as is common in John's Gospel), giving the word a deeper meaning, water that imparts life, and, as we see in verse 14, a gift that imparts eternal life.
Though the woman probably didn't know it (because the Samaritans only recognized the authority of the Pentateuch, not the Prophets), Jesus is calling upon a Biblical metaphor. Yahweh refers to himself as "the spring of living water" (Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13), his people will drink from his "river of delights," and he offers the "fountain of life" (Psalm 36:8-9). As we'll see, Jesus uses the metaphor of living water to refer to the gift of the Spirit in 7:37-39. And the metaphor appears as a symbol of eternal life in Revelation (7:17; 22:1, 17). The phrase "gift (dōrea) of the Holy Spirit" appears in Acts 2:38 and 10:45. "Heavenly gift (dōrea) is found in Hebrews 6:4.
"If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (4:10)
Jesus is obviously speaking metaphorically, but the woman seems to take it literally, perhaps of the underground spring that fed the well deep below where they were. She points out that he doesn't have any way to draw water from the well, and that somehow Jesus is exalting himself over the patriarch Jacob who dug the well.
Jesus ignores her lack of understanding, but continues to explain the gift he is talking about. He compares literal water with spiritual water.
"13 Jesus answered, 'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.'
15 The woman said to him, 'Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.'" (4:13-15)
The woman still doesn't seem to understand.
Jesus makes two claims for those who drink this Living Water.
- They will never thirst.
- They will have eternal life.
We will never thirst in the sense that we will always be in touch with God through the Spirit, in the flow of God's eternal supply. We will have eternal life because the Holy Spirit who "seals" us (as Paul would say), preserves us until the coming of Christ. And that eternal life begins when we receive the Holy Spirit -- everything becomes new. The expression in verse 14b is of a "spring welling up to eternal life." "Welling up" (NIV, ESV), "gushing up" (NRSV), "springing up" (KJV) is hallomai, literally, "to make a quick leaping movement, leap, spring up," here used figuratively of the quick movement of inanimate things, "to spring up from a source," of water, "well up, bubble up."
It is clear that Jesus is speaking here of the gift of the Holy Spirit, as he does in a variety of ways elsewhere in John:
- "Baptize with the Holy Spirit." (1:33b)
- "Born of the Spirit." (3:8b)
- "In him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (4:14)
- "Streams of living water will flow from within him." (7:38)
- "Another Counselor (paraklētos) to be with you forever." (14:16)
- "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name." (14:26)
- "The Counselor ... whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth." (15:26; 16:7)
- "Receive the Holy Spirit." (20:22)
Of all the Gospels, John has the most developed teaching -- by far -- concerning the difference the Holy Spirit makes in the life of a believer.
The Spirit in us is an active, powerful, life-giving spring flowing with amazing "water pressure," and -- if we will follow his leading -- will enable and propel us to do things far beyond our ability. And this Spirit, birth of this Spirit, moves us from the temporal to the eternal plane. Our "eternal life" begins when we are born by this Spirit!
Q2. (John 4:9-15) Jesus' words to the woman in verses
10-13 seem to imply that all people are spiritually thirsty. What has been your
experience? Does the woman seem spiritually thirsty at this point? What caused
her deep thirst to surface? What does this teach us about our own witness?
Note: Believing Christians disagree about some of these
issues. Be gentle and loving as you respond to one another.
Q3. (John 4:9-15) What does the "gift of God" and the "living water" (4:9) refer to? What does receiving this gift result in (4:14)? Does this gift differ from or is another way of saying the "baptism with the Spirit" that John the Baptist spoke about in 1:33?
Back to the conversation between Jesus and the woman. They have been talking about water and getting a drink. So far, the woman hasn't understood what Jesus is saying on the spiritual level. So he engages her attention in a different way. It is important to understand that the Greek word anēr can mean both "man, adult male" and "husband," just as the Hebrew ʾîsh can mean both "man" and "husband."
"16 He told her, 'Go, call your husband and come back.'
17 'I have no husband,' she replied.
Jesus said to her, 'You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.'
19 'Sir,' the woman said, 'I can see that you are a prophet.'" (4:16-19)
Can you imagine what the woman felt when Jesus told her this? Everyone in Sychar knew, of course. It was a small town. But for a complete stranger to tell her the embarrassing truth about her history with men would have shaken her! These are the possibilities:
- She could have had five actual husbands who had either died or divorced her.
- She could have had five lovers among the men in town, who, like her current "man," wasn't hers in the sense of being her husband.
She wasn't a prostitute, apparently, who had sex for money. But she was the loose woman, the town home-wrecker who went from man to man looking for something that didn't belong to her.
How did Jesus know this about the woman? Or Nathanael sitting under the fig tree (1:48), for that matter?
1. Gossip. He was familiar with the village scuttle-but at Sychar. Unlikely, because Jews didn't mingle with Samaritans. And the woman attributed it to him as being a prophet.
2. Divinity. He was God so He knew everything. It is true that Jesus was and is God. Some people explain all Jesus' miracles on this basis. But in some sense, Jesus "emptied himself" (Philippians 2:7), divested himself not of his divinity, but of some of the attributes of his divinity -- his manifest glory, for example. Luke says that he "grewin wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men" (Luke 2:52).
3. Holy Spirit. Though many would see Jesus' divinity as the source of Jesus' special knowledge on this occasion, I believe it came from the anointing of the Holy Spirit that he was given when he began his ministry (1:33; Acts 10:38; Luke 3:22; 4:1, 14). Jesus is rather clear that he doesn't act on his own volition. He operates by listening to and emulating the Father (5:19), and that when he goes he will send the Holy Spirit who will empower believers to "do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father" (14:12). I believe that Jesus is our exemplar for ministry. Subject to God's direction, we can do what he did through the Holy Spirit's gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-11).
There are some believers today to whom the Holy Spirit will give a prophetic "word" for a person, or will have special knowledge of a person's condition to increase their faith so God might work in them. Sometimes this "word of knowledge" can work in tandem with "gifts of healings." Often, though not always, of course.
Q4. (John 4:16-19) What was the effect of Jesus' special
knowledge of the woman's history with men? What effect did it have on her faith?
How can such gifts of the Spirit work today to bring people to faith or deepen
"'Sir,' the woman said, 'I can see that you are a prophet." (4:19)
Though the woman had been profoundly shaken by Jesus' revelation of her history with men, her immediate response seems to be to engage him in a long-standing religious controversy between the Samaritan and Jewish religions.
A bit of history will help clarify the situation. Samaria was part of the Northern Kingdom that had rebelled against the Assyrians in 722 BC. In order to quell rebellious provinces, it was their practice to exile the leaders to areas of Assyria and then, in their place, resettle people on their land from other areas of the realm. So far as we are told, few, if any, people exiled from the Northern Kingdom ever returned to their land. The result was that, while the area of Samaria retained a belief in Yahweh and the Pentateuch, they rejected the rest of the Old Testament. The Jews considered them heretics and apostates, and had nothing to do with them.
Like their forefathers in the Northern Kingdom, they refused to recognize Jerusalem as the center of worship. Rather, in the fourth century BC, the Samaritans had built a temple on the slopes of Mt. Gerizim. It was destroyed in 128 BC by Hyrcanus, a Jewish king. Nevertheless, the Samaritans maintained that Mt. Gerizim was the proper place to worship, while the Jews insisted on worshipping in Jerusalem (4:20).
So when the woman recognized that Jesus was a prophet she said:
"20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.'
21 Jesus declared, 'Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews." (4:20-22)
Jesus affirmed that "salvation is from the Jews," that the Jewish understanding of where to worship was correct. But he quickly stated that it would soon become obsolete! No doubt he foresaw the destruction of the Jerusalem temple by the Romans in 70 AD, after which Jerusalem was no longer the center of Judaism -- until the second half of the twentieth century!
Q5. (John 4:19-22) What motives cause the woman to bring
up a religious controversy to Jesus? Why do people today try to generate
religious controversies with us? What are their motives?
Jesus looks forward to a new era of worship.
"'23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.'" (4:23-24)
Let's break these verses into their important phrases:
Jesus is ushering in a new age, the Age of the Kingdom. Following John the Baptist's lead, Jesus began his ministry preaching:
"The time has come. The kingdom of God is near.Repent and believe the good news!" (Mark 1:15)
With Jesus comes the long-prophesied Kingdom of God. It is both present as he declares it, and will come in its fullness when he returns in glory. Jesus is saying to the Samaritan woman that the time of spiritual worship of God's people has fully arrived, (and will be clear to all when the temple has been destroyed).
"The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks." (4:23)
In John's Gospel, we frequently see the adjective "true" in the sense of, "pertaining to being real, genuine, authentic."
- "The true light" (1:9)
- "True worshippers" (4:23)
- "True bread from heaven" (6:32)
- "True vine" (15:1)
- "Only true God" (17:3; cf. 7:28)
But John's use of "true" sometimes goes beyond the idea of "authentic" to the idea of "ultimate," reflecting the ultimate revelation of God's truth-- the ultimate Light, the ultimate Manna/Bread, the ultimate Vine. Jesus is looking forward to the "true worshipers," who are not tied to a race or religion, but worship the Father "in spirit and truth."
But what does "in spirit and truth" mean? First we must ask what it means that "God is spirit..." (4:24). The text shouldn't read "God is a spirit," as in the KJV, suggesting he is one among many; there is no article. "God is spirit" doesn't mean only that God is incorporeal, invisible, though it does mean that (in contrast to LDS teaching that God has a corporeal body). Spirit in the Old Testament includes the ideas of renovative, creative, life-giving, so saying "God is spirit" suggests those concepts as well. Of course, "God is spirit" doesn't completely describe God, any more than "God is light" (1 John 1:5) and "God is love" (1 John 4:8) describe all his attributes.
But here John seems to be focusing on the idea that God is invisible and omnipresent, not to be represented by any kind of physical object nor confined to any single place.
"23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (4:23-24)
Worship "in spirit" can be taken at more than one level -- as is typical of John's Gospel. It refers to worship that is spiritual, rather merely physical, such as going though the physical motions of worship (showing up, sacrificing, bringing gifts, kneeling, lifting hands, etc.) in some holy place -- whether Jerusalem or Mt. Gerizim or elsewhere. But since Jesus has taught that only those who are born by the Holy Spirit are in the Kingdom, these "true worshipers" must also approach God by means of the Holy Spirit within them. Unless they are born by the Spirit, they can't truly worship God.
Worship "in truth" can also be taken at two levels. First, Jesus has just affirmed the superiority of the Jews' understanding of proper worship vs. the Samaritans (4:22). Alētheia, "truth," can refer to "the content of what is true," proper doctrine, embracing Jesus' teachings. But it can also refer to "an actual event or state, reality" as opposed to mere appearance, in the sense that we find in John's First Epistle:
"Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue
but with actions and in truth."
(1 John 3:18)
It is quite possible for us believers to gather on Sunday -- or in our daily devotions -- and just go through the motions of worship, with our mind and heart elsewhere, perhaps even half-asleep. To be a true worshiper that the Father seeks, we must enter into worship by the Holy Spirit, with our heart and intent to be focused on him. He is seeking authentic, genuine worship, not just lip-service.
Q6. (John 4:23-24) What does it mean that "God is
spirit"? What does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth? Have you ever "gone through the motions" of worship without worshipping? How can you worship
in a way more pleasing to God?
Jesus' encounter at the well of Samaria ends with the woman's growing awareness that Jesus is more than just "a prophet" but "the Prophet" whom the Samaritans (and Jews) saw as the Messiah who was coming (Deuteronomy 18:15-18).
"25 The woman said, 'I know that Messiah' (called Christ) 'is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.'
26 Then Jesus declared, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (4:25-26)
Rarely is Jesus so open with anyone at this stage of his ministry, that he is indeed the Messiah (Matthew 16:20; Mark 8:30). But here in Samaria, Jesus has little to fear that word will travel to his enemies in Jerusalem that he has declared himself the Messiah, so Jesus tells her openly: "I who speak to you am he!" This thirsty Samaritan woman is beginning to understand her deep need for salvation and wholeness -- and Jesus is her answer.
We'll examine the rest of the story -- the result of the woman's faith -- in the next lesson (4:27-42)
Entire study is available in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.
But first let's consider what we have learned so far in this passage that can help us grow as disciples.
- Jesus gets tired. His is human -- and divine.
- Jesus is willing to break social norms to minister to people.
- Jesus offers truth a bit at a time to tantalize the woman into asking for more.
- The gift of the Holy Spirit brings eternal life.
- Jesus uses prophetic insight, perhaps the spiritual gift of the "word of knowledge," to get the woman's attention.
- Jesus looks forward to worship not tied to place, but by the Holy Spirit, and in reality -- real spiritual worship.
Father, thank you that Jesus doesn't leave us at the surface, but probes until he can lead us deeper. Help us to drink deeply at the well of your Living Water! Help us never take your Holy Spirit for granted. Thank you for your incredible grace that brings us to faith and sustains us unto eternal life. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.
"If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." (John 4:10, NIV)
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life." (John 4:13-14, NIV)
"A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24, NIV)
"The woman said, 'I know that Messiah' (called Christ) 'is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.' Then Jesus declared, 'I who speak to you am he.'" (John 4:25-26, NIV)
Josephus, Life, 269; Antiquities 10:118.
Urban C. von Wahlde, "Archaeology and John's Gospel," Jesus & Archaeology, pp. 556-559.
W. Ewing and D.J. Wieand, "Jacob's Well," ISBE 2:955.
The Greek noun hypostasis means "the essential or basic structure/nature of an entity, substantial nature, essence, actual being, reality" (the underlying structure, often in contrast to what merely seems to be, BDAG 1040, 1). So "hypostatic union" refers to the union of Christ's two natures at the substance or essential nature of his person. He was not a man pretending to be God, or God pretending to be man.
The Chaldonian Definition in part, states about Christ that he is: "... acknowledged in Two Natures unconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the difference of the Natures being in no way removed because of the Union, but rather the properties of each Nature being preserved, and (both) concurring into One Person and One Hypostasis; not as though He were parted or divided into Two Persons, but One and the Self-same Son and Only-begotten God, Word, Lord, Jesus Christ."
"Were surprised" (NIV), "were astonished" (NRSV), "marveled" (KJV, KJV) is thaumazō, "to be extraordinarily impressed or disturbed by something, wonder, marvel, be astonished" (BDAG 444, 1aγ).
"Do not associate with" (NIV), "do not share things in common" (NRSV), "have no dealings with" (ESV, KJV) is the negative particle and the verb synchraomai, generally, "to avail oneself of something, make use of," here, "to associate on friendly terms with, have dealings with" (BDAG 953, 2), from syn-, "with" + chraomai, "make use of, employ."
The phrase originated with Harvard history professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, in her article, "Vertuous Women Found: New England Ministerial Literature, 1668-1735," American Quarterly, Volume 28, Number 1, Spring 1976, p. 20. In 2007 she wrote a book titled with the quote, published by Alfred A. Knopf. Ulrich is active in the LDS.
Dōrea, BDAG 266.
Hallomai, BDAG 46, 2.
"Grew" (NIV), "increased" (NRSV, KJV) is prokoptō, "to move forward to an improved state, progress, advance" (BDAG 871, 2).
R.T. Anderson, "Samaritans," ISBE 4:303-308; H.F. Vos, "Gerizim, Mount," ISBE 2:448-449.
"Time" (NIV), "hour" (NRSV, ESV, KJV) is hōra, "hour," here, "a point of time as an occasion for an event, time" (BDAG 1103, 3).
The verb is erchomai, "to come," here with the idea of "to take place" (BDAG 394, 4aα) The first occurrence is in the present, active sense, which suggests that its coming is still going on a Jesus speaks.
"Has now come" (NIV), "is now here" (NRSV, ESV) or "now is" (KJV) is the temporal adverb of time nyn, "now" (BDAG 681, 1aα aleph), plus the verb eimi, "to be," here probably "to take place as a phenomenon or event, take place, occur, become, be, be in" (BDAG 285, 6). The tense of eimi is the present, active tense, going on as Jesus speaks.
The time (kairos, "right time, opportune time") has arrived (plēroō, "to complete a period of time, fill (up), complete" (BDAG 828, 2). "Has come" is in the perfect tense, denoting a past action and affirming an existing result, which is standing at the present time. "Is near" (NIV), "has come near" (NRSV), "is at hand" (KJV, ESV) is engizō, draw near, come near, approach," in a temporal sense (BDAG 270, 2). It, too, is in the perfect tense, denoting a past action that is true up to the present time.
Alēthinos, BDAG 43, 3b.
Carson, John, p. 122.
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