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This sermon was preached on Sunday 31/12/2000 Am, by Kevin Matthews.
We have been considering together the ‘Gospel According to John’, and in particular the fourth chapter as ‘A Wise Example of Evangelism’. Last week we considered three main points dealing with this encounter of Jesus with the woman from Samaria at Jacob’s well.
The first point was ‘Evangelism According to Plan’, and we considered together how Jesus was always conscious of working according to God’s purpose for Him, and how this worked itself out on this particular occasion. The implication for us of course was that all our evangelistic encounters are planned events, planned within the eternal decree of God, and that this understanding should determine the way we pray about the work of evangelism in which we are involved, and also how we view the success or non-success of our evangelistic efforts.
Then we thought about ‘Evangelism by Action’, and how Jesus was interested in this woman and her situation, being willing to get involved in her life with genuine care and concern. And the implication for us was that we too needed to be genuinely concerned for others in our evangelism, being involved in practical ways, demonstrating a genuine care, concern and love for others.
And our final point last week was ‘Evangelism by Thinking’, and how Jesus was thinking through His encounter with this woman, how He might gain her attention and interest in the Gospel. And again this is something we need to do in evangelism, to think about the opportunity given us by the Lord, and how we might seize that moment to witness for Christ, wisely considering what we say, and how we say it - that the opportunity gained is not wasted, but used to its maximum benefit.
And so this morning we come again to consider this wise example of evangelism, and to see what else we might glean from the Master as He further pursues this evangelistic opportunity.
#1. Evangelism Reveals Real Need
It is clear from verse 15 that the woman had not grasped what Jesus was saying to her, and was still interested in only temporal satisfaction. ‘The woman saith unto him, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw (Jn 4:15).’
She recognized that this ‘living water’ was ‘some’ water, but thought that it was only a water that was useful to satisfy her physical needs and thirst. This she would like to have, for it would mean that she wouldn’t have to come to this well to get water, and probably be freed from all the condemning voices of her judges that she now experienced as she went for water.
What happens next was not expected by the woman who was obviously feeling comfortable speaking to Jesus, for out of the blue He speaks to the great issue upon which she is extremely sensitive - her sin.
‘Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither (Jn 4:16).’
Suddenly the ball game changes, and the woman is finally brought to see just what her real need was, that of having her sin problem addressed. What Jesus has now sought to do is to get this woman to move from temporal thoughts, to those of the spiritual - to bring about a spiritual thirst for spiritual water.
To do this He needs to make her aware of her sinful state, and of her real need for spiritual satisfaction, to have this need addressed - and so her sin can no longer remain hidden away, it must be brought to the surface of her conscience.
No-one is going to recognize their need for water without being first made aware of their need, and this is what thirst does, it makes you aware that you desperately need water - and so being made aware of this need you seek to satisfy it.
This is what Jesus is seeking to do with this woman - ‘you have a spiritual need that needs to be addressed, and I am going to make you aware of that need so that you will thirst after that which satisfies that need. You need to recognize the danger that you place yourself in by such a life of ungodliness.’ So what He does is to bring home her need, to expose it.
‘The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: For thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly (Jn 4:17,18).’
The woman was not too keen to reveal to Jesus the whole truth, but only what she was comfortable with Him knowing. But Jesus continues, and makes it absolutely clear that He knows her sin, and that there exists a real sin problem that needs to be addressed. As to what the situation was exactly with all these husbands is not very clear, but the text does strongly imply that this was a morally loose woman.
And this again has important implications for our evangelistic efforts - we must not leave sin out of the equation when we seek to witness to others about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, sin seems to be something that is largely ignored in the work of evangelism. There is a constant concern to make the gospel appealing, entertaining, of some temporal value - but the real issue that the gospel addresses is left out of the picture.
We must not forget, that no matter how pressing the social concerns might be, the real issue that needs to be addressed is that of sin, and this is the crucial point - if this issue is not raised, and explored, then no matter how much you talk about Jesus, you have failed in evangelism. The real focus of evangelism is to confront people with their sin problem according to God‘s assessment, and to bring them to the God given remedy of it.
The knowledge of sin must be brought to the surface before the offer of the gospel. Why? Generally because no one will want the gospel if they don’t recognize their need of it, and I am speaking of the Biblical gospel here.
People will flock to a gospel that appeals to their carnal desires, but God’s gospel they will not desire until such time as they are made painfully aware of their need for it. And this can only be achieved through the exposure of sin.
We must practice evangelism by thinking here also, not just blurting out some things about sin, or accusing - but to be wise in our handling of the subject. All must be in truth, and not just in some vague general terms, for it must be brought home to the conscience to the one with whom we are witnessing.
Yet there must not be the hint of a ‘down your nose’ judgment of sinners, or of trying to set yourself up in some display of self-righteous pride. Remember that this comes from one who has already displayed evangelism by action, showing a genuine care and concern for the person - and this continues right into this part of the evangelistic encounter.
Notice Jesus spoke kindly to the woman, and not harshly - even though He quite rightly could have sent her to Hell that very moment. Evangelism is not about making sinners look foolish, to judge them before their time, to berate them for their sin, to set yourself up as better then them - but to bring them to recognize their sinful state, so that they will go to the one who is the remedy for their sin. Always keep that in mind.
So much damage is done by the self-righteous judge who seeks to condemn every sinner he runs into with harsh and berating words, all in the name of evangelism - that’s no evangelism, its sinful self-righteous pride that will only further turn the sinner away from the gospel.
There must come a time in witnessing when you address the sin needs of the person to whom you speak - and in such a way to bring about a desire in that person to seek the remedy for sin. It must be in truth, according to the Word of God, and in a personal way, so that the person feels their need of the Gospel. Otherwise they will not desire it.
Quite clearly you are not Jesus, and you cannot speak as directly as Jesus did in this passage. Jesus is all knowing, and you are far from that. Never the less, you must seek to make the person to whom you are witnessing aware of their own great need of the Gospel.
#2. Evangelism Reveals Real Christianity
‘The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship (Jn 4:19,20).’
The reply of the woman to Jesus makes it clear that the arrow directed at the conscience has struck its mark. There is no denial on the part of the woman, but rather an implied acknowledgement that Jesus was right concerning her, and this you see later in the chapter also, ‘Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ (Jn 4:29)?’
Also you see in her confession to Jesus an acknowledgment that Jesus is clearly no ordinary man, for there is no way He could have known such details of her life, ‘Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.’
So what do we have here? Do we have a woman who is seeking to throw Jesus off the mark, to change the subject so that she can escape the rising pangs of conscience?
I think what you have here is a woman who is asking Jesus, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ As the Philippian jailer cried out ‘What must I do to be saved?’ when confronted with eternity, so too this woman when struck by the reality of judgment hanging over her head. She has been gripped by a knowledge of her own sin, and can see that she has a problem before God - what can she do about that?
Should she be worshipping at Mt Gerazim where her forefathers worshipped, or should she be worshipping in Jerusalem? ‘What must I do to be right with God?’
She is genuinely confused, and wants to know what is the right thing for her to do. She has been brought up in a place where the Samaritans stressed the need to worship on Mt Gerazim, and she also hears the Jews constantly going on about Jerusalem - what to do? So she asks Jesus whom she believes to be a prophet to help her understand what she should do as regards this question.
And it is here that we see another aspect of true evangelism, for it always reveals true Christianity - otherwise it is not true evangelism, and has nothing to do with Christianity.
‘Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth (Jn 4:21-24).’
The woman is to pay special attention to this, for the real worship of God will soon have nothing to do with exclusive sacred sites and special places and rituals and the like - for ‘the hour is coming.’
The Samaritans didn’t know what they worshipped, or the truths concerning the future kingdom for they had rejected all of the Old Testament except the Torah, and therefore their worship at Gerazim was unacceptable - for it was clear in the Old Testament that the temple in Jerusalem was to be central to the lives of God’s people in Old Testament times.
But the Jews knew for they had the entire Old Testament Scriptures, and in those Scriptures were all the promises concerning the Messiah and His full role, of how He was to deliver His people from sin. Indeed, ‘the salvation’, the Saviour Himself would come from the Jews and not the Samaritans.
Even though the Jewish system had divine warrant - the hour is coming, and now is.’ What ‘hour is coming?’ The hour that is coming is the future fulfilment of the Old Testament promises, the time of the Messiah and the future kingdom. Though it will not be completely fulfilled in her day, it is beginning to be fulfilled. The question of which site to worship will soon be completely irrelevant, for neither would soon exist.
True worship, and true Christianity has nothing to do with physical structures or rituals - for it exists in the realm of the spiritual.
Jesus doesn’t direct the woman to any form of false worship, but to that which is real worship, and real Christianity - even to the spiritual. All the outward form and ritual means essentially nothing when removed from the reality, and no amount of externalism will save a soul.
If this woman is to worship God aright, and to be in a right relationship with God - which is what she is seeking to drive at, then she needs more than ritual and externals, she needs spiritual worship which comes from being spiritual.
And how does spiritual life come about that leads to spiritual worship? It comes about because of the spiritual life created in a person by the Spirit of God, and from this fountain of life flows all the spiritual worship that is required.
It is not to be found on a mountain in Samaria or Judea. Where then does she need to go - to God. It is no good attempting to bow down to any image or picture, to a tree or lump of wood, to a special garden or hilltop but according to the truth as revealed by God Himself.
Sincerity means nothings whatsoever if it is devoid of God given content. Worship must reflect who God is, and as Spirit He is invisible, and is not constrained by a building or a piece of timber.
Neither is there a place in worship for just doing anything that you feel is good and OK, or that you think God might like - it is all according to truth, to do what God has told us He likes - and this is what we must set ourselves to do - to come in the way He has appointed.
Here is one of the reasons why we need to study theology, to see what God has to say about Himself, about what He expects, and how we should worship Him and so on.
This woman has heard what Jesus’ opinion was, but yet remains unsure as to the certainty of what He has said. It is not that she despises what He has to say - but simply expresses a confidence that when the Messiah comes she will be left in no doubt as to what to do for ‘I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things (Jn 4:25).’
This woman really wants to know the truth, and she really wants to hear what she needs to do to have things put right with Jehovah. It won’t matter whether you’re a Jew, or a Samaritan - for He will tell us all what is necessary to be right with God. Then we will know for sure.
‘Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am he (Jn 4:26).’
Now the crucial point is reached, the revealing of just who He is to the woman. Surely the evidence has been there to see - who else could know what this Man knew about the woman?
There have been several jolts for the woman in this encounter with Jesus. The fact that He even spoke to her at all, and was willing to use her water container. Then there was the powerful revealing of her sin. And now there is the revealing of just who He was to her. What an impact this revealing must have had.
‘The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ (Jn 4:28,29)?"’
It would seem to me that this woman’s thirst has been satisfied, and she was now keen to bring others to the Lord Jesus Christ also. The way of salvation has been revealed to her, it is a spiritual way.
True evangelism points to the Lord Jesus Christ as the way to salvation. All true evangelism ends in Christ Jesus, and here at the end of this encounter with the woman at the well, the woman is brought face to face with Jesus the Messiah.
The answer to the question ‘What must I do to be saved?’ is always to be found in Jesus Christ - it is never to be answered by directing sinners to a church, to a particular denomination, to a particular ritual performed - but by bringing sinners to the Lord Jesus Christ.
The woman in this encounter has been led through a process that led to Christ as the answer, as He who is the source of spiritual life and who enables one to worship in spirit and in truth.
As with this woman, so too with all evangelism that we are involved with - we must lead sinners to Christ. We must think through what we are saying, leading sinners to this conclusion always, that Jesus is the answer for my spiritual thirst.
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