You Can’t Judge a Book by Its Cover… (John 4)

I like buying old books. There’s a mystique that old books have that’s hard to replicate in any other type of media. I often don’t even read them… I just thumb through them, smell the old musty pages, then put them on the shelf where I can admire their bindings.

I own books from which I’ve never read a single word. I don’t know their contents… and I don’t even care.

I find pleasure in judging a book by its cover.

This is ok when it’s a book… but people are different. People are more complex and complicated than books. There’s much more to people than their exterior bindings… where they live, what they do, and with whom they associate.

Sometimes it’s hard to look past a person’s cover… and reconsider what you think you know.

In John 3 and 4 the author introduces his readers to three characters that have questionable covers, but the content within presents unique stories of faith.

In John 3:1-12 – Jesus encounters Nicodemus, a complex man of faith, who works with a group of unbelieving hypocrites. (See the “Nick… at Night” post for more on this).

In John 4:4-45 – Jesus seeks out an unlikely woman of faith at a well in a theologically foreign land (See “You Just Had to Go There”).

And finally in John 4:46-54 – Jesus is approached by a royal official. It’s not entirely clear if this man was a Jew or a Gentile… but for sure he is Hellenized. He has been greatly influenced by the Greco-Roman culture and is likely serving in Herod’s court. He lives in the “Galilee of the Gentiles”.

Is it possible? Could he be a man of faith who represents an unbelieving district? At first it seems unlikely. The man asks for a miracle… and Jesus responds in v. 48 with what seems like a personal critique.

“Unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.”

But the “you’s” in Jesus’ statement are plural (you all’s). Jesus seems to be speaking through the individual man and describing the people this man represents. Why do I say this?  Because the man is the exception to the rule. He believes without seeing a sign or wonder.

The Royal Official is a believing representative of an otherwise largely unbelieving district.

I think we can safely say that this faith thing might be a bit more complicated that we want it to be. In first-century Palestine those that look like believers (the Pharisees) generally aren’t. Those we think wouldn’t have a chance at faith (Samaritans and Gentiles) both produce surprisingly faithful representatives. Back then, a person’s outward appearance was not always a good indicator of the inward condition of their soul.

Could this be the same today? Might we also be surprised by those that don’t fit our locative, social, or ethnic expectations of faith? Is it also possible that others, those with impressive bindings, might not quite be what we expect?

It’s a good reminder to all of us… let’s not be so quick to judge a book by its cover.

John’s presentation of complicated characters in a complicated land is just one of the topics I cover in The John Study video lesson for chapter four. You can watch the video below… or preview other videos (and download chapter lessons) from The John Study by visiting: THE JOHN STUDY VIDEOS page.