Posts Tagged ‘evangelism’
Many, may years ago when I was still young, I felt I was being led to be the preacher of a certain church. I began going through all the motions–sending a resume, sample sermon, meeting families and members of the church, preaching trial sermon(s), and finally submitting to a vote of the congregation. During the course of this process I met with a particular gentleman who also happened to be an elder in the church. He was an older man, from a different generation, and was necessarily conservative in his theology. I distinctly recall our meeting one day before I was hired. We were sitting in a quiet room off of the main sanctuary talking with the door closed. I distinctly remember his question to me: What do you think about 'the gays'? Not, "What do you think about Jesus?" But, "What do you think about 'the gays'?"
This is all prefatory to my review of this book called Messy Grace. I received this in the mail on July 21 and on July 22 made it my ambition to read it. I did. It took me about 3 hours (because I underline and make a lot of notes.) I will just say, straight up, I love this book. That's right. I love it. Now don't mistake my loving of the book for agreement with all things written in the book, but I think it is safe to say that by and large there is nothing in this book that I find theologically repugnant.
For this review, I'm staying wholly positive. Except for a couple of minor quibbles (his use of the word 'gender' as a synonym for 'sex', and a couple of generalizations, for example), I have no complaints at all about this book. This is an important book that needs to be read because it strikes a beautiful balance between grace and truth and helps us apply both wisely in our relationships and witness to people who are different from us. So while I understand that he is writing to Christians about the manner in which we relate to homosexuals, as you will see in my conclusion, it's really about how we relate to anyone who is different from us.
So, a few points to highlight.
This past Sunday our preacher made a statement that was utterly profound in its simplicity. He said (and I'm paraphrasing): "We cannot build relationships with people unless we start them." I couldn't agree with him more. The author of Messy Grace makes similar statements throughout the book. One that I found helpful begins on page 31: "It's imperative that we have grace for people while they are still thinking, speaking, and acting in ways we might not agree with. And we need to overcome our own inner resistance to getting involved in a relationship with them. A real mark of spiritual maturity is how we treat someone who is different from us" (31-32, his emphasis.) Isn't this how all of us want to be treated? Do any of us want to be outcasts from the church until we get all of our life together?
The church would be empty.
Kaltenbach consistently calls us to evaluate this question of how we treat other people. He is absolutely on mark when he calls the church to think differently about the way we treat those who are different from us–those who happen to be on a journey that moves at a different speed than the one we are on. I think it is fair for Christians to ask why someone would say, "Christians don't like anyone who's not like them" (39). Could it be that in some ways those who are different from us are in fact more understanding and loving and compassionate than those of us who are called to be defined by those very things: loving, kind, compassionate, and understanding? Shouldn't this change? Shouldn't the church be a place where people can be vulnerable and weak and loved?
"Part of the pursuit is being honest with people, but doing so in a loving way." (45) This theme is developed over and over again in the book. He's asking us to evaluate who we are because of Jesus. Has Jesus changed us? Has he made us new or not? If we are still stuck in days gone by ways of thinking and judging then might we not ask if we have really met Jesus at all?
Second, I want to add that by and large the author handles Scripture very well and does not shy away from the so-called hard passages that talk about homosexuality. He affirms over and over again the testimony of Jesus, Paul, and others. So for example, he notes that "nowhere in the New Testament, however, does God define acceptable sexuality as being other than between one man and one woman. In fact, the New Testament specifically reaffirms the Old Testament's position that same-gender sexual activity is not acceptable" (86). He says later, "Another way to say this is that Jesus had to chance to define an intimate relationship as being other than male-female, but he did not" (90).
This book, so far as I can tell, is wholly orthodox which is a way of saying that he is not blurring lines in Scripture in order to spare people the truth. In contrast to other books on this subject, he is not performing exegetical somersaults to make his point one way or another. He is reading Scripture and talking about its plain meaning. He lays it out for us and allows us to think on matters. He candidly admits we might disagree with him and that he is still searching some things. He is telling us what the Bible says. But he is saying we need to be gracious…much in the same way 'God demonstrated his own love for us in this: while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.' We do well, as Christians, to bear this in mind continually in our dealings with people.
Finally, there is one more thing that stood out to me as important and something that I think served to minister to the author and in some ways served as the catalyst for the writing of the book. He tells in the book the story of his own conversion experience and he tells how his family reacted to his conversion to Jesus. I wrote in the margin on page 118 that Caleb is saying we should respond to homosexuals about their sexuality exactly not how his parents responded to him about his faith. Then a couple of pages later I read that 'the irony of this situation was that my parents thought I would disown them, when in actuality I felt as if they were disowning me" (123). The point is that he did not like at all the way he felt when he was rejected for his faith in Jesus. I'm glad he remembered that feeling. I'm even gladder he shared it with us.
Something tells me that this feeling stayed with him as he grew older and was trying to work through all the things he writes of in the book–in particular, how is he going to treat others because of his faith in Jesus? There is a significant lesson here for all of us who claim Jesus. In America we experience very little rejection because of our faith, but maybe that's not the best thing at all. We grow in our experience. Caleb's experience of rejection taught him how it feels to be rejected and thus how someone else might feel if they are rejected. I see God's brilliance here and I see a brilliant man who understood well the lesson that Jesus was teaching him. Would that more of us learned this lesson. It might make us more compassionate believers and more easily accessible to those who face it daily.
I love that he is open and honest about the relationships he has formed in life with those God has brought to him. I love that this guy didn't write a book crying and moaning and complaining about his 'terrible life' being raised by divorced, gay parents. I love that this guy wrote a book that at its core is telling us to get over ourselves and get to loving people–like Jesus did.
I love that he is open and honest. I love that he weeps and laughs and gets angry and is confused and is (still) searching–I love that when this guy lost someone close to him, he had a group of people to weep with him. I mean this when I say that this book touched me precisely because it is honest and unflinching and yet vulnerable and emotive. He helps us understand that no matter what we believe, there are no easy answers and that there will be pain along the way. But he also lets us see that we belong to a God of hope and mercy and grace and truth and love and Jesus.
Let me tell you how much I love this book!
Here's the truth that I have figured out after a long time in and out of ministry: this book isn't just about Christians and LGBT people even if that is the overwhelming paradigm being established in it. It's about Christians and all people. It's about the way Christians treat one another: abysmally. It's about the way we treat old people: horribly. It's about the way we treat young people: dismally. It's about the way we treat poor people: dishonorably. It's about the way we treat liberals: ugly. It's about the way we treat conservatives: angrily. It's about the way we treat foreigners: condescendingly. Frankly, it's about the way we treat one another–all the time, in every way, in every circumstance. We are not nice people when it comes too most people who are different from us. I could tell you how I have been treated by the church when I was a preacher. It's not pretty.
I teach special education. I have since I was removed from ministry against my will about 6 years ago. You know what I have learned since I started working with students who have autism, Down Syndrome, emotional and behavioral disabilities, ADHD, and more? They all, all to a very large extent although not literally all, come from extremely dysfunctional, broken, and wrecked families. Yep. Almost without fail there is divorce, separation, jail, death, poverty, substance abuse, abuse (in one form or another) and more. And these are the people that God has called me to minister to–not just the students, but the parents. And you know what I have to do? I have to be nice. To all of them. All the time. Every day. I can't tell the parents what I really think. I can't make them all rich or fix all of their marriages. But I say this honestly: I have learned–as an educator in public schools–how not to be judgmental. That's right: how to love people, all people, any people is my daily objective. Anyone who walks through my classroom door. Anyone with whom I come in contact with: I am an agent of God's grace in an often ugly environment.
But it's not just about being nice while something else is swirling in my head. It's about changing and actually becoming a different person (CS Lewis describes this change brilliantly in Mere Christianity, chapter 10, "Nice people or new men?") It's about being a nice person and not just about being nice to people. Anyone can be nice, but not all of us are truly, genuinely lovers of people. God takes these barriers of soft bigotry and hard prejudice and breaks them down–like he did the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. I truly believe this book, Messy Grace, will go a long way towards helping people not just be nice (which is a nice way of saying 'being hypocrites') but also to transform them into the sort of people who actually, truly, genuinely love people for Jesus' sake, love people for their own sake. This is what he has called us to do. To love people, other humans–our brothers and sisters in flesh. To minister to them. To bring the healing of Jesus into their lives when they are ready for it. And to let God do his work on them when he is ready to do his work.
"Christians need to stop trying to convert people's sexuality. It isn't our job to change someone's sexual orientation. You and I are not called by God to make gay people straight. It is our job to lead anyone and everyone to Christ. I believe God is big enough to deal with a person's sexuality" (185).
Well said. Very well said.
It will never be easy for Christians in this culture of 'I want to see results now.' But we can if we are patient, if we pray, and if we pay attention to the often subtle movements of the Holy Spirit of Jesus. My prayer is that our Father will use this book to change the hearts and minds and attitudes of the church of Christ into such as we see in Jesus who welcomed all who came and never drove any away, who called all to repentance, who loved all right where they were but wasn't content to leave them there, who didn't condemn but commanded us to change.
And this is the message to the church. First. First Jesus speaks to the church. And we must listen.
You will do well to pre-order this book and read it prayerfully in one sitting. You will be rewarded for doing so.
Important Book & Author Things
- Where to purchase Messy Grace Amazon (Paperback, pre-order for $11.24; October 20, 2015) CBD (Paper back, $10.99; pre-order 10/20/2015); WaterBrook Multnomah (Trade paperback, $14.99; pre-order).
- Author: Caleb Kaltenbach on Twitter | Messy Grace
- Publisher: WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group
- Pages: 212 (ARC, page count may be different in final publication)
- Year: October 20, 2015
- Audience:Pastors, preachers, Christians, missionaries, elders, deacons, young people, old people
- Reading Level: High School
- Disclaimer: I was provided a free advance reading copy courtesy of WaterBrook Press via the Blogging for Books Blogger program
- Page numbers in this review are based on the ARC. Numbering may be different in final publication.
Here is my third installment of this week’s lectionary notes. These notes are from Acts 8:26-40. It is a short set of notes primarily because I won’t be preaching from this text this week. Still, there’s 8 pages and plenty of references and a couple of outlines. Resources include Rob Bell, Roy Clements, Aijith Fernando, and more. Be Blessed.
May 10, 2009, A Desert Road, a Dry Man, Acts 8:26-40.
Finally, evangelism. Strange that God would choose an Ethiopian eunuch as one of the first converts. Strange the ones that God chooses to be his emissaries. Perhaps stranger still that the eunuch would be going back to Ethiopia without a Bible, without an apostle, without any guidance whatsoever for his new found faith. I wonder if any of the fruit of that first African conversion remains to this day? What is the importance of evangelism? The eunuch went on his way ‘rejoicing.’ “Who can speak of his descendants?” (33) But eunuchs have no descendants, but who can speak of his? Evangelism invites eunuchs to become fathers and prostitutes to become brides. Evangelism invites orphans to become sons and daughters. Evangelism invites people into the story of the Lamb. Evangelism meets people along the desert road and even out of ‘dry trees’ flows springs of living water. Evangelism sends people back to their home town with a completely new story to tell and share with the people they work with and for. Evangelism allows people to see that God can do with them what they cannot do for themselves. Evangelism tells the story of Jesus to those who ask.
I probably do not need to say anything else.
Here is my latest podcast. I have been on break because we have had some issues with our audio equipment, but I think we (the Church) are on track now. Anyhow, the sound quality is a little rough (one aspect I haven’t worked out just yet), but it’s clean enough that you can get the gist. The sermon is based on Colossians 4:2-6and lasts about 30 minutes. In it, I am dealing with the myth that our faith is practiced only in corporate worship and not ‘in the world.’ In 1 Corinthians the apostle wrote, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people–not at all meaning the people of the world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave the world.” (5:9-10, NIV). The point is that Christian faith islived and practiced ‘out there’ so to speak. The operating metaphor in Colossians is that we are both ‘in Christ’ and ‘in Colossae’ (1:2; this is brought out much more clearly in the Greek than say the NIV; NKJV is close.) We must not forget this. The sermon opens with four lengthy quotes from NT Wright’s book The Challenge of Jesus (IVP, 1999).
Soli Deo Gloria!
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I’m not going to say much about this. I just happen to find it profoundly ironic.
Christian Post has two stories on its front page. The link-lines appear in the following order and with the following words:
So, Jews need Jesus, but Africans need Purpose! That’s a helpful way of looking at things; it simplifies matters.
Concerning the latter article:
The statement, sponsored by the World Evangelical Alliance, expressed friendship and love for the Jewish people, but unapologetically declared that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ.
“We want to make it clear that, as evangelical Christians, we do not wish to offend our Jewish friends by the above statements; but we are compelled by our faith and commitment to the Scriptures to stand by these principles,” read the evangelical statement on “The Gospel and the Jewish People.”
Concerning the former article:
Churches, business and government leaders gathered Friday and Saturday to listen to the best-selling author of The Purpose Driven Life explain how to live a life of purpose and make a difference in the world.
“Our hope and prayer is that lives will be transformed and churches will be strengthened,” Warren said in Uganda, according to the program’s publicity team.
“My message to individuals is to build your life on purpose, instead of prestige, possessions or pleasure. My challenge to churches is to cooperate, not compete,” said he added, “and my challenge to business and government leaders is to use their influence for the glory of God and partner with local churches in solving community problems.”
For all those Africans: Not one mention of Jesus in the article. Not one. At this point, I think I have greater hope that the Jewish people will be saved than I do the Africans.
PS–The following is a list of those who affirm that Jews need Jesus (how does Chuck Colson get his name on every document produced by the church?):
Evangelical Christian leaders who affirmed the statement include the Rev. Dr. Lon Allison, director of the Billy Graham Center; Dr. Mark Bailey, president of Dallas Theological Seminary; Doug Birdsall, executive chair of Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization; Dr. Yonggi Cho, senior pastor of Yoido Full Gospel Church in Seoul, South Korea; Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship; Dr. Jerry B. Jenkins, owner of Christian Writers Guild; Dr. Haddon Robinson, president of Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary; Gordon Showell-Rogers, general secretary of European Evangelical Alliance; and Dr. Lon Solomon, pastor of McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va., who is Jewish.
Here’s a fun story. Not only are there strippers for Jesus, but now they are making a movie about them. Here’s a glimpse:
The documentary, “The Pussycat Preacher,” which was released Friday, follows ex-stripper Heather Veitch as she struggles to start a ministry for women in the sex industry. The film chronicles the formation of the ministry JC (Jesus Christ)’s Girls – from Veitch gaining acceptance from other women at her church to bringing a few women from church to minister at strip clubs.
Perhaps the most controversial part of the ministry is its method of evangelizing those in the sex industry.
Veitch and her team, mostly women from her church, go to strip clubs and hire strippers for private lap dances. But instead of getting a dance, they use the time to talk to the strippers about God. They also invite the strippers, without pressuring them, to go to church and “check it out.”
You know, I’m glad someone is going into these places and attempting to make disciples. I know there are people in strips clubs who need to hear the Gospel, I know they are not going to come to church on Sundays, I know that I cannot go to them, but here’s a woman who can! I’m sure a lot of people will be hateful towards this woman for doing what she’s doing, but I say that as long as Christ Jesus is being preached she should be encouraged with our prayers and we should praise God that He has raised her up to do this. I do pray that Christ is exalted in her life and the lives of those she ministers to in His Name.
Would that more people had such courage, you know, the courage to reach the truly lost who are still living under the dominion of darkness. Would…
PS–Here’s the link to her site: JC’s Girls
PPS–This is a sex story that the church can legitimately talk about on Sundays. People being rescued from a life of sexual slavery is much better than so-called challenges that have been written about here and elsewhere.
Many of the criticisms that have been leveled against some things I have said have revolved around the notion that Christians are simply closed minded and intolerant because we ‘won’t listen to atheists’ and try to ‘understand their point of view’ (which is really no point of view at all since they don’t believe in anything except some enigmatic empathy, compassion, and tolerance. It’s all blathering nonsense.
Well, here’s a story from another point of view. This story is about the ongoing efforts of Muslims to convert Christians (or anyone) through violence, threats, and other such nonsense. Now, I’m not saying Christians never try to convert people to Jesus–although, I wonder if a Christian actually can convert someone to Christ (it seems to me that conversion might just be a work of the Holy Spirit and that all I can do is plant a seed or water some dirt)?
Anyhow, this story ought to be fun for you to read. Here is the story of two boys who have an exceptional grasp on the meaning of their faith. Here is the story of two boys who are firmly in the grasp of Jesus.
Here’s a second story from the nation of Cambodia. VOM is reporting that Cambodia is now eliminating door-to-door evangelism. Now, to all my atheist friends, who is being intolerant?
A new directive has been issued by the government in Cambodia that essentially eliminates Christian evangelism, according to a new report from Voice of the Martyrs.
Sources told the Christian ministry that works to serve members of the persecuted church worldwide that the new directive from the state Ministry of Cults and Religions ordered that Christian groups no longer are allowed to visit door-to-door in Cambodia.
That, the government concluded, “disrupts society.”
And, finally, a little more about those darned disruptive, intolerant Christians:
Have fun with these stories. They are sure to make all of my atheist friends throw flaming arrows at me again and accuse me of all sorts of insensitivity and judgmentalism. Pray for these Christians.
39Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41And because of his words many more became believers. 42They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
“Christianity is not up for sale. Its price has already been fixed and that price is the complete and ongoing surrender to Christ of those who embrace him by faith. It can only be had on his own terms. It can be had only as a whole. It refuses to offer only selections of its teachings. Furthermore, the Church is not its retailing outlet. Its preachers are not its peddlers and those who are Christians are not its consumers. It cannot legitimately be had as a bargain though the marketplace is full of bargain hunters…No. Let us think instead of the Church as its voice of proclamation, not its sales agent, its practitioner, not its marketing firm. And in that proclamation there is inevitable cultural confrontation. More precisely, there is confrontation between Christ, in and through the biblical Word, and the rebellion of the human heart. This is confrontation of those whose face is that of a particular culture but whose heart is that of the fallen world. We cannot forget that.”—David F. Wells, Above All Earthly Pow’rs, 308-309
First, the Samaritans came out from the town because of the woman’s testimony and as a result of this coming out many believed in him. Well this was certainly the intended result. Her testimony was compelling whatever ‘He told me everything I ever did’ might actually mean. I disagree that she ‘shared her experience’ with the town folk. Instead, she went and shared Jesus’ words, ‘he told me everything I ever did.’ It was not her experience that persuaded people, but Jesus’ words. Even so their faith did not end there. Jesus stayed with them for two more days. Then verse 41.
Second, ‘And because of his words many more became believers.’ So this woman’s testimony did not stand on its own. Jesus’ testimony confirmed what she had been saying and also had the effect of causing many more to become believers. Again, the intended result—producing believers—was accomplished. But it was not mere experience that persuaded the first group and an additional group. No, again, it was the words of Jesus. They heard for themselves what Jesus was saying. They heard for themselves his testimony. Because of his ‘words’ many more became believers.’
Here’s the part that is most important to consider in today’s meditation: We know that this man is really the Savior of the World. They believed something about Jesus because of something Jesus said. It had something to do with what he told them, something we are not privy to. What did he say over the course of two days that so convinced them? Better, how did all these people give up their day jobs for two whole days to do nothing but sit and listen to what He had to say? (Did they take breaks for volleyball or shuffleboard? Did they sit in a circle like a sort of ‘Sermon in Samaria’? What was the content of his instruction to them?
I hate to harp on this, but here’s the simple truth. There were no gimmicks, no tricks, not nonsense, no fliers, no banners, and certainly no side-show. These people went out and listened to what Jesus had to say. On the other hand, there’s this: Jesus had something to say. I suspect that the content of his message is found in part in the words he spoke to the woman. I suspect he discoursed about freedom of worship, His identity as Messiah, eternal life, Living Water, springs of water that well up inside, the reaper gathering wages for eternal life and all such things. But whatever it was, it was surely the Gospel. The fact remains, the people went out to listen and Jesus had something to say.
Churches need to get a grip on this. People come to worship, they come from cities, they come from the country, they come from here and there; we meet them by wells, water-coolers, at ball games, at the soccer field, and all such places as this and more. So, when they come out, when we meet them, do we in fact have something to say? I don’t mean fluffy nonsense that has nothing to do with pointing to Jesus, the Messiah. I mean precisely that: Do we persuade them about Jesus the Messiah? I suspect that is the real content of Jesus’ message that day. They believed precisely because he took the time to explain things about himself. This is also our job: If we expect people to believe, then we must tell them about Jesus. Jesus must be the content of our message, our testimony, our proclamation. If we don’t tell them about Jesus how can they ever announce, “We know that He really is the Savior of the World”? And isn’t that quite the point of Gospel proclamation?
All I’m saying is that churches would do better from the pulpit if churches had preachers who stood up and pointed to Jesus and not to anything else. I’m steadfast on this belief. There are other venues for learning about good sex, managing finances, raising children and the like. But the only place people will hear the Gospel is from the church. The Church, in my judgment, must be about the business of proclaiming Jesus: Every time, All the Time, and At Every Opportunity. It is Jesus people need; it is Jesus people must hear about.
Jesus is the One, the only One, Who is the Savior of the World. That we must not forget.
I hope your 16th Day of 90 is Blessed in the Lord!
Soli Deo Gloria!
27Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 31Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.”
“Jesus came to the fountain as a hunter…He threw a grain before one pigeon that he might catch the whole flock…At the beginning of the conversation he did not make himself known to her, but first she caught sight of a thirsty man, then a Jew, then a Rabbi, afterwards a prophet, last of all the Messiah. She tried to get the better of the thirsty man, she showed dislike of the Jew, she heckled the Rabbi, she was swept off her feet by the prophet, and she adored the Christ.”—JA Findlay, as quoted by George Beasley-Murray, John, (Word Biblical Commentary), 66
There are two stories going on at the same time in these verses. The woman is busy running back to her community to announce that she has met someone who could be the Messiah. While she is doing that, Jesus is giving his disciples another lesson in theology. Really the lessons in the verses for today are not terribly complicated, so I would like to make but a couple of observations as we prepare to close out this chapter and our week together, as we prepare to worship together on Sunday.
First, as I have noted, the most striking feature of this entire chapter, the most enduring image, the most profound observation is found in verse 28: ‘Then, leaving her water jar…’ I could get stuck on this verse all day. It is so full of meaning and grace. It is so full of redemption and salvation. It hits me the way Jesus using those ceremonial watering jars filled with water to perform his first sign: Water into wine. There we learned Jesus was better. It strikes me like Jesus telling Nicodemus that he needed a new birth of water and Spirit because his physical birth (i.e., being an Israelite) was not sufficient. It smacks me like the woman’s first question to Jesus: “Are you greater than our Father Jacob.” It clobbers me like Jesus’ statement, “A time is coming, and how now come, when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Or, “You will see greater things than this.” It is a parable, this leaving behind her water jar, whether she intended it to be or not. It speaks volumes about the progress she has made from ‘will you give me a drink’ to ‘I who speak to you am he.’
She left behind that which satisfied her only for a moment and returned to the people, the people who evidently shunned her daily, and announced to them: Could this be? It is reminiscent of what Philip said to Nathanel, what Andrew said to Peter, what John the Baptizer said to his disciples: We have found the Messiah! This woman, this unnamed, Samaritan woman with a jaded, checkered past, and questionable character, and suspect lifestyle is one of the fist evangelists to announce the arrival of Messiah. In a very similar way we see Jesus refusing food when his disciples return. She forgot about, or purposely disdained, her water jar in her hurry to get back and announce to the people of Sychar that she had found Messiah. (On a slightly side note which I may pursue later, some commentators note the similarities and contrasts between the story of Jesus and Nicodemus (3) and Jesus and this Samaritan woman. I would note one outstanding difference: She had no fear of going and announcing Jesus to people. We have no such information about Nicodemus.)
Second, there are the disciples who had just returned to find Jesus talking with the woman. Evidently they thought something was amiss, but they kept quiet about it. They were, as usual, very concerned about food. What they prove about themselves is that they are still stuck back in verse 15: “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” They, unlike the woman, had not progressed along very far at all. Their minds are still on earthy things; they had yet to let go of their water jars: “Could someone have brought him food?” They are stood in stark contrast to this Samaritan woman who left behind her water jar and went back to town, not to buy food as the disciples had done, but to announce the Messiah.
There is probably something to be said about this without obscuring the theological point. But have you ever seen someone who all of the sudden has an awakening to the identity of Jesus? And how do they compare with those insiders who have been walking with him for some time? Well, this woman, left her jar for Jesus; the disciples left Jesus for food. I don’t want to abuse the text of Scripture, but that much is obvious, isn’t it? And what I wonder about are those who have walked a long time or even a short time compared with the Newly Awakened and have lost their zeal. In other words what Jesus says, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” I think that was a crushing blow to those disciples who had gone to get food. Remember those at the beginning: Andrew went and found Peter. Here’s what it says, “The First Thing Andrew did was to find his brother Simon and tell him, ‘We have Found the Messiah.’ And he brought him to Jesus.” We might readily assume that the first thing Philip did was find Nathanael.
Well, here are the twelve. They arrive in fertile territory, where barely any seeds had been planted, and they are first concerned with food, second concerned with why Jesus is talking to this woman, and third concerned with why Jesus won’t eat. The woman starts off the same: Concerned about water. But as it slowly dawned on her who Jesus was her priorities shifted: Her job was to tell. Maybe I’m making too big a deal out of it. But why does it seem to be the exact opposite for those who have followed Christ for a short or long time? That is, why with new people does the awareness of who Jesus is dawn, and for those who have followed Him, the awareness sets? New disciples enthuse; older disciples grow, well, complacent?
So when Jesus says, “I sent you to reap what you have not worked for, Others have don done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor,” I think he is talking about that crowd of people from Sychar who are walking out at the heals, beck and call, of the unnamed Samaritan woman. I sense in her statement, “He told me everything I ever did,’ something more than just ‘he told me about my 5 husbands,’ because, if in fact she was shunned by the community because of her reputation…well, everyone would have known ‘everything she had ever done.’ She went and proclaimed Christ. There was something in her testimony that provoked more than a passing interest. This crowd of Samaritans were the harvest Jesus was speaking of. Nevertheless, Jesus says, all have a share in the harvest; all have a share in the joy. All receive the same day’s denarius.
In conclusion I have this to say. Open your eyes. Look around. There is a harvest waiting to be reaped. Seeds have been planted, I can’t imagine any less now than then, and are bursting through the soil. And what Jesus says is this: These seeds do not take a long time to produce fruit. You say, ‘Four more months and then the harvest.’ Jesus says, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.’ There’s no time like the present. Eternal life has already begun for those who can accept it. It’s time for you and me to get our minds on the business at hand. It’s time for you and me to get our minds off of water, food, water jars, and eating and get our hands, heads, hearts busy with doing the will of God. Dare I say that when we do we shall find joy, satisfaction, and plenty beyond what this earth can provide, beyond what the culture promises?
I hope this 15th Day of 90 is Blessed For you in the Lord.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4Now he had to go through Samaria. 5So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8(His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.”
This is the first of our meditations on John chapter 4. We’ll be here for the next five days reading about Jesus’ encounter with an unnamed Samaritan woman. What strikes me here is that John tells us that Jesus was tired, that he ‘had’ to go through Samaria, and that he asks this woman for a drink—he is thirsty! There is something magnificent about Jesus being tired and thirsty and having to do something that he, according to all the smart people, did not have to do. I suppose all of this might be beside the point, but I have not found John to be one who throws words around for no purpose. He uses words carefully and not necessarily liberally. So later on he will famously tell his readers that the woman ‘left her water jar behind’ as a way of telling us that because she met Jesus she forgot about her worldly problems. It’s sort of the same way the author of the book of Judges tells us, the Samson narrative, that Samson’s hair started to grow back apart from the notice of the Philistines. It’s a narrative clue giving you and me information that the characters in the story may not have. The woman did not know that Jesus had to go through Samaria. She did not know, when she woke up that day, that a tired and thirsty Jewish Male would be at Jacob’s well and ask her for water.
I might also add this: Why did Jesus wait behind by the well when the disciples went into town to buy food? Did it take 12 men to get food? That’s a lot of food! Why didn’t Jesus go with them? Why did he wait? Well, all of this could be just my fanciful desire for there to be something more going on than there actually is. It could just be that Jesus was tired, thirsty, and didn’t feel like going into town to get food. Later on he does say, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Maybe he wasn’t hungry and food was their idea, not his. Who knows?
Ironically, it is Jesus who begins the conversation by asking this unnamed Samaritan woman for a drink. We are told rather pointedly that Jews and Samaritans do not ‘associate’ with one another. The NIV footnote informs us that this could also mean ‘they do not use one another’s dishes’ or something to that effect. Whatever the case is Jews and Samaritans did not get along well at all with, sadly, the Israelites leading the way on hate and dislike. What’s worse is that this woman was, well, a woman. So, here’s Jesus. All alone. A man. A woman. Talking. Preachers don’t do things like this in today’s world. In today’s world that is taboo. Someone might get the wrong idea or spread a rumor or gossip and cause the ruin of reputations or formulate all sorts of sick mind fantasies. Not so with Jesus. Jesus talks to anyone, anywhere, and he really could not care less what people think or say. (Later John says, in verse 27, the thing all of us were thinking: “Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’”)
I think the woman is either offended or surprised at Jesus’ request. I’m not sure which it is. I’d like to think surprised, but something tells me that she did not like Jews any more than Jews liked her. I cannot get into this too much, but there is something to be said about this (and I don’t want to get too far away from the theological point Jesus was making). But how many times in our lives have we come across someone and written it off as mere chance or coincidence? How many times have we purposely refused to talk to someone precisely because we were terrified of what someone else might say about us; what they might say about us? Or how many times do we simply go out of our way to avoid someone because of what we think we know about them? Yet here is Jesus for all intents and purposes going out of his way on purpose to meet with this unnamed, Samaritan woman. That was bad enough. At this point we have yet to read verses 16-18 which, when read and understood, will surely make this situation far worse for Jesus and his reputation probably will not hold up under scrutiny. Interestingly, Jesus was more concerned about this woman than he was about himself. The servant life, the Cross driven life, carries this burden and refuses to be stigmatized or calloused by the world’s peccadilloes. Jesus sat down—he didn’t stand up, back way off, wait for his disciples so that all hint of scandal could be diffused. He sat down, meaning he meant to stay for a while, and he initiated the conversation.
And then it gets fun. Jesus said, “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.” Jesus cuts to the chase and begins to unveil his identity to this woman.
This is not something for mere admiration. Forsyth wrote how some people, liberals in his day, viewed God. They think ‘God is our helper and no more. He is not a real sense, but only a figurative sense, our Redeemer. He helps us to realise our latent spiritual resources and ends. There is no break with self and the world, only a disengagement from an embarrassing situation” (The Cruciality of the Cross, 65). Jesus did not engage this woman in conversation that day to merely help her through a bad day or to help through her embarrassing marital situation or to help her through all the, undoubted, abuse she had endured at the hands of many men, or even, really, to help her physical thirst be quenched. He unveils to her not the solution to all of life’s woes and inadequacies and injustices and tediums, but he unveils to her himself. And it is only after she realizes who Jesus is that she eventually leaves her water jar behind. Jesus did not stop by Jacob’s well that day merely to engage in polite conversation about water, or merely to rest, or merely to break all sorts of social and racial taboos. Jesus sat down that day to reveal to this woman the Savior of the World: Himself.
Finally, did Jesus ever get his drink of water? He asked, but John never tells us if he got it or not. And the woman who came to draw water? Did she ever get her drink? Oh, I think she did! What happened though is that Jesus diverts attention away from her physical need, thirst, and redirects it to himself. He does the same thing later in chapter 11 when he raises Lazarus: He diverts Martha’s attention away from her grief and redirects it to himself. Essentially he is saying, “I am the solution to your grief, the victory over death (”I am the Resurrection and the Life”)” and here in chapter 4, “I am the solution to your thirst (”I you knew the gift of God…He would have given you living water”).”
Sometimes we think that the only way to be effective evangelists and witnesses for God is to solve the physical problems people have and then introduce God as the purpose or reason behind our good deeds and joy. People politely listen so they can get what they really want from us or Him. I think it should be exactly the opposite. Jesus first introduced himself. I believe we must first confront people with the reality of God, with the presence of Christ–they must hear the Gospel. It is through the Gospel that people will come to faith (Romans 10). Jesus saves; water does not. In other words, what people most need in their lives is Jesus Christ.
I hope this 13th Day of 90 is Blessed for you in the Lord Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria!