A Close Encounter Through Salvation
Close Encounters Of The God Kind
A Close Encounter Through Salvation
Last week, Reverend McIntyre handed me this little clip from the April 20th, 1998 USA Today newspaper, entitled: “USA Snapshots,” by Anne R. Carey and Gary Visgaitis. The subtitle was “A look at statistics that shape the nation.” The clip was a graphic that showed that there has been an increase in people in America who have a “Belief in the beyond.” They compared the percentage of people today with those in 1976 who said that they believed “somewhat” in six phenomena.
· In 1976, 12% of the people said they believed “somewhat” in spiritualism. Today that figure is 52 percent.
· In 1976, 10% of the people in America said they believed “somewhat” in faith healing. Today that percentage is 45 percent.
· In 1976, 17% of the people said they believed “somewhat” Astrology. Today 37% probably consult their horoscopes.
· In 1976, 24% of the people said that they believed “somewhat” in UFOs. Today that figure is 30%.
· In 1976, only 9% of the people said that they believed “somewhat” in reincarnation. Today 25%, i.e. one quarter of the people of this nation, say that they believe “somewhat” in reincarnation.
· In 1976, only 4% of the people of this country said that they believed “somewhat” in fortune telling. Today that percentage has risen to 14%.
The source of these statistics was the Yankelovich Monitor Minute.
There are some very interesting phenomena here that I would like to elaborate on, but our subject of study is UFOs. Nearly one third of the people of this great nation of ours say they believe “somewhat” in UFOs. These statistics only corroborates my reasoning concerning this present series. Consequently, I felt impressed to use the subject of UFOs as a launching pad for our biblical discussion of “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.”
In first three sermons in this series, we worked hard to develop a definition for a “Close Encounter Of The God Kind.” That definition is
A “Close Encounter Of The God Kind” is a face-to-face meeting with God that cannot be totally explained, but which—when fully experienced—will bring about a response of genuine worship or celebration, which includes the remembrance of a redemptive past and/or the conviction of a liberated future that changes people forever; causing them to move and grow by over-recording the intuitive tapes of their core belief.
In the fourth message in this series, we explored one of the major barriers to experiencing a close encounter with God. We called that barrier: “The Brain Barrier,” i.e. how intellect keeps us from wholeheartedly worshipping God.
We then began to explore twelve “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.” In the fifth message, we explored Abraham’s first encounter with God.
In the sixth message, we explored God’s encountering of Abraham through a test.
In the seventh message, we explored God’s encountering of Jacob through a dream.
In the eighth message, we began to develop a theology of dreams.
In the ninth message, we saw that God encountered Moses through the miraculous revelation of a burning bush that was not consumed.
In the last message, we saw God encounter Israel through a miraculous deliverance through the Red Sea.
(This brings us to the next “Close Encounter Of The God Kind.”)
Notice with me please John 4:1-30.
I see in this narrative before us a thirsty woman. She had come to the well to draw water, but her physical thirst is an indication of something else: her emotional thirst. When Jesus asked her about her husband, she confessed that she did not have a husband. The Holy Spirit revealed to Jesus that she had had five husbands, and the man that she was presently with was not her husband. This was an unfulfilled woman. She was looking for love and fulfillment in all the wrong places.
(But that is not all!)
I see in the narrative a fractured woman. I use the words “fractured” and “broken” different. I use the word “broken” to speak of the good brokenness of crucifixion, which is orchestrated by the Holy Spirit. I used the word “fractured” to talk about the breaking of life that is negative and devastating. This woman was fractured by the negative things that she had experienced in life. Therefore, she could not figure out why Jesus, or anybody for that matter, could really be interested in her. She wanted to know why Jesus, a Jew, was asking her, a Samaritan for a drink—since the Jews have no dealing with the Samaritans. She could not figure out this strange Jew who had taken an interest in her.
I also see a religious woman. This is denoted by a number of things:
· She had a great deal of respect for the well of Jacob. This traditional religious icon was important to her.
· In addition, she later brought up a religious controversy between the Jews and the Samaritans. There was some controversy over which was the correct mountain for worship, and she was aware of that controversy.
· And finally, she knew that Messiah was coming and what He was going to do.
Yet, her religiosity could not quench her internal thirst. As a matter of fact, we can see that her religion had not even prevented her from living a fractured lifestyle—and perhaps had contributed to it.
In the narrative, I also see a materialistic woman. She referred to the physical inheritance of the wells of Jacob. The wells of Jacob represented more than a religious heritage to her. They also represented a physical inheritance.
I also see a loose woman. She had had five husbands and the man she was living with was not her husband. In addition, some scholars believe that this woman’s words to Jesus were sexually suggestive. When Jesus asked her where her husband was, she said to Jesus in verse 17,
“I have no husband.” (Illustrate).
This woman may have been propositioning Jesus. She wanted sexual intimacy, but Jesus is about to give her something far better: spiritual intimacy!
I also see a woman who is proud of her ethnic heritage. She proudly refers to her fathers. Even though she is a Samaritan, which means that she is of mixed origin, she is aware of that part of her roots which run back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
But all of this was about to change, because she was about to have an encounter with Jesus Christ, the son of the living God. It seems to me that Jesus had planned to encounter this woman at this very well. The Bible said, “He had to pass through Samaria.” Jesus, impressed by the Holy Spirit, altered his whole itinerary to encounter this one woman!
(And how did He encounter her?)
Jesus encountered her by confronting her about her situation. He went right to where she lived. He asked her about her husband, i.e. her sick relationship with men! I know she said in her heart, “O, I know you ain’t going there!” But Jesus went there!
Once she became fully aware of her situation, Jesus offered Himself as the well of living water, the trust Thirst Quencher! Her personal wells were dry, but Jesus would be an internal well of water springing up into everlasting life.
I also noticed the fact that Jesus met this woman where she was! She didn’t have to go to synagogue or search for Him in some inaccessible place. He was interested in encountering her and He set up a providential meeting at the well. Paul wrote in
Romans 10:6-8, “But the righteousness based on faith speaks thus, ‘do not say in your heart, “who will ascend into heaven?” (that is, to bring Christ down), “who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead).’ But what does it say? ‘the word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’--that is, the word of faith which we are preaching.’”
And once again we see, as we have seen in each encounter in this series, Jesus encountered this woman to give her a God-sized assignment.
Now keep in mind that some called Jesus Rabbi, which was the Jewish name for teacher, instructor, or master. Unger says that Rab meant master; Rabbi meant my master; and rabboni, being the most elevated, meant my lord, my master. According to religious customs and traditions, Rabbis were not to talk to women in public or instruct them in the law. And, besides this, this woman was a woman of ill repute. Three strikes and your out, but on top of everything else she was a Samaritan. Jesus had good personal, religious, moral, and ethnic reasons to not talk to this woman, much less give her salvation—but Jesus didn’t care about any of Man’s religious customs. He cared about this woman!
Is this not a picture of all sinners and salvation? If you are not saved, there are some great lessons here for you. For those of us who are saved, we need to remember what God did for us.
We were all thirsty people, searching for someone or something to fill our empty souls, until Jesus came and filled our souls with the living water of His person. We were all “looking for love in all the wrong places,” until He became in us, who have placed our faith in Him, a well of living water springing up into everlasting life. The water of this well not only springs up in our spirits, but over flows into our souls and our bodies and becomes a river of water overflowing every dry spot in our lives and flowing out to the world!
We were all fractured people, who really wondered why the God of the universe would be interested in us! But, Jesus encountered us and now we walk and talk with Jesus!
It is too good to be true that God is interested in us and sent His Son Jesus Christ to pay for our salvation and encounter us with that salvation! Our fractures kept and keep many of us from simply reaching out our hand taking the free give of life that is being offered. We just can’t figure out why God would be interested in us. We cannot believe that the God of the universe wants to encounter us. We draw back from the greatest experience in the universe!
We were all religious people, particularly American people and particularly African-American people. American people are spiritual people. This was highlighted in the paper clip I read to you. We are looking for something to fill our empty souls.
This is even more pronounced in the African-American community. African-American people have a deep spirituality that runs all the way back to Africa.
This kind of spirituality is not from the Holy Spirit, and some of it is simply superstition. As a matter of fact, a portion of this modern spirituality really amounts to religion. Religion is Man’s genuine interest in a God or gods, and his attempts to please or serve this God or gods. You are probably thinking, “So what is wrong with that?” Man can never meet or please the true and living God through his own efforts. God sent His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die for the sins of the world and to bridge the great divide between God and Man, i.e. to take the hand of Man and put it into the hand of God.
We were all materialistic people. Materialism is the philosophy that matter is the only reality and that comfort, wealth, and pleasure are the only and highest goals or values (Webster’s New World Dictionary). We were all striving to fill the emptiness in our souls with stuff. But, no matter what stuff or how much stuff we got, it never quite did the trick! But when Jesus came into our lives, we began to experience a joy and contentment in relationship and fellowship with Him that material could never achieve.
We were all loose people, before we met Jesus Christ. It is not that we did not have any morals or values, but whether we understood it or not—we were, in a large measure, subject to our father, the devil. Most people don’t make up their minds to ruin their lives through alcohol, drugs, sex, or crime. We usually believe that we have much more control of our lives than we do—not understanding the power of the sin nature. But Jesus encountered us, we died with Him and were resurrected with Him, that we might walk in the newness of life. This is not just a positional death, burial, and resurrection, but a death, burial, and resurrection that results in a new experience of life.
We were all proud of our ethnic heritage. There is nothing wrong with that, unless we rely upon it to save us from our sins. But Jesus came and encountered us, and gave us a greater appreciation for who we are in Him and in our ethnicity! Paul was a Hebrew of the Hebrews and Pharisee of the Pharisees, and he put this into perspective in
Philippians 3:7-8, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”
We are believers first and African-Americans, Whites, Hispanics, Asians, and American-Indians second.
Jesus wants to personally encounter us in salvation; and He doesn’t care about our religion, denomination, morality, or ethnicity. He wants to meet us face-to-face in the encounter of salvation. He wants to fill the dry wells of our soul and spirit with the living water of Himself—springing up into everlasting life.
· He wants to mend our fractured lives with the glue of His love.
· He wants to take us beyond dead religion to vibrant life in His Spirit.
· He wants to satisfy our deep longing for stuff with the substance of spiritual reality.
· He wants to free us from legalistic morality and give us the living Guide of the Holy Spirit in our spirits.
· He wants to bring us to the full meaning of our ethnic heritage, by first showing us our true worth in Him.
Jesus comes to meet us where we are?
· He will meet us in church.
· He will meet us in our cars, while we are listening to the radio.
· He will meet us in the market place, as he met this woman on her way to get water.
· He will meet us at home, while we are watching TV.
· He will meet us at work.
· He will meet us, while we are walking around the block.
· He will meet us when we lay down at night.
He will turn everyday bushes into flaming bushes of His presence!
(Now remember, we are discussing life, not fairy tales. So, wherever there is good news there is also bad news. Let me give you the bad news in the text.)
The bad news in this text is not as easily visible in this text as in other texts, because the light of salvation has caused the darkness to flee. Nevertheless, I believe the bad news can be seen in the fact that this woman had to give up all that she believed in and held dear to receive God’s wonderful gift of salvation.
This was not going to be an easy thing. She was already despised by her community and society, but now she was being asked to give up the only thing that was giving her life. She was holding on to the religious traditions and her ethnic heritage, but she would have to let them go to take a hold of Jesus by faith!
This is bad news for the people of our society, because we are very reluctant to let go of people, things, and ideas that we believe are giving us life. Yet, we cannot hold on to those things and take a hold of Jesus by faith at the same time. To receive the gift of salvation, we must open our hands—and that means letting go of the things that we think comprise life.
I told you about the old illustration of the man who had fallen off of a cliff and was able to save himself by grabbing a hold of a rope that happened to be there. As hung there, his strength failing, he screamed for help. When all of a sudden someone answered him from above. He hollered, “Who are you?” The voice replied, “The Lord.” He said, “Can you help me Lord?” The voice said, “Yes, let go of the rope.” He thought for a moment, then replied, “Is there anyone else up there?”
That is what we all have a tendency to say, when Jesus wants to save us by faith! Jesus says:
· Let go of your fractured bitterness!
· Let go of your dead religious beliefs and traditions!
· Let go of the stuff of this world!
· Let go of your feeble personal attempts to be holy!
· Let go of your ethnic heritage!
And trust in me!
And like that man, we have nothing to lose by letting go! His strength was going to fail in a few moments any way—and so will ours! Although biblical faith is always based upon biblical facts and the person of Jesus Christ, those things don’t seem near as substantial as what we have been holding on to.
Nevertheless, we must take a risk with Jesus. We must let go of everything else and trust in Jesus.
Now this woman had an encounter and an experience with Jesus Christ. She had a legitimate, “experiential encounter” with God. She did not have an encounter with a concept, or teaching, or a doctrine, or religion, but with the living Lord, Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the divine Author of eternal salvation. And today, we need an encounter with the true and living Lord, Jesus Christ.
This encounter brought about celebration! She got so excited that she left her waterpot. We are so polarized in American Christianity that we are afraid of genuine emotional responses like this. Some are so afraid of emotionalism that they have retreated into dead intellectualism. Some are so afraid of dead intellectualism that they have retreated into emotional fanaticism. Is there any middle ground? Why of course! The middle ground is what the Bible calls the heart. The heart is the intellect, emotions, and will with the emotions dominant. Frank Thomas, in his book They Like To Never Quit Praisin’ God, called this middle ground emotional objectivity. We need legitimate, genuine emotional responses, which are kept in check by our intellects.
She got so excited she forgot about her waterpot and her original reason for coming to the well. She didn’t need the waterpot any more, because she now had an eternal source of water inside.
When we have genuine emotional responses, we sometimes forget about temporal things and get caught up with eternal or spiritual things. That’s all right, because God has got some eternal water for us!
She got so exited that she went into the city and said
John 4:29, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”
Her response was one of celebration. Her response of celebration is exhibited in witnessing. He response of celebration in witnessing was the remembrance of a redemptive past.
(But that’s not all!)
Her response of celebration over-recorded the intuitive tapes and changed her from a religious, self-condemned, shamed, woman, to an outgoing, bold, radiant, herald of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
When Jesus encounters us in salvation, we will get excited and forget our containers for natural, soulical water. We will forget about our fractures, our religion, our greed, our morality, and our ethnicity. Besides, until Jesus comes in, our containers are nothing more than broken cisterns that can hold no water!
When Jesus encounters us in salvation, we will get excited and go and tell everybody that we can find,
“Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?”
When Jesus encounters us, we will respond with worship, praise, and witnessing. When Jesus encounters us we won’t need Four Spiritual Laws, Roman’s Road, witnessing classes or anything else. Not that there is anything wrong with those tools, but we will witness in the power of the testimony of what Jesus has done for us!
· He saved my soul! Is this not the Christ?
· He let me personally experience Him! Is this not the Christ?
· He let me feel His love! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from religion! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from legalism! Is this not the Christ?
· He filled my soul with His Spirit, instead of stuff! Is this not the Christ?
· He cleaned me up! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from alcohol! Is this not the Christ?
· He got me off of drugs! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from immorality! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from lying! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from stealing! Is this not the Christ?
· He delivered me from white-collar crime! Is this not the Christ?
· He released me to see who I really am in Him! Is this not the Christ?
· He gave me a new identity in Himself! Is this not the Christ?
· He gave me esteem in Himself! Is this not the Christ?
· He revealed to me the purpose of my ethnicity! Is this not the Christ?
And people will start to respond to our witnessing, because of the power of our personal testimony and the power of the Holy Spirit!
Where we were once were ashamed to witness, He will over-record our shame with confidence!
Where we were once afraid to witness, He will over-record our fear with holy boldness!
Where we were once only concerned about ourselves, he will over-record our self-centeredness with agape love for our fellow human beings.
I’m not telling you what I heard, but what I have experienced! God gave me a love for other people!
We ought to celebrate this sermon and the marvelous encounter of salvation, by dropping our waterpot and going into the market place this week and looking for an opportunity to lead somebody to Jesus Christ, by telling them what he has done for us!
(Now is the day of Salvation. Come to Jesus, Now!)
Call to Discipleship