Come As You Are
Conversations with Jesus Come As You Are John 4:1-42 Pastor Pat Damiani February 10, 2019 NOTE: This is a manuscript, and not a transcript of this message. The actual presentation of the message differed from the manuscript through the leading of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, it is possible, and even likely that there is material in this manuscript that was not included in the live presentation and that there was additional material in the live presentation that is not included in this manuscript. As a high school sophomore, he was cut from the varsity basketball team after being told he wasn’t good enough or tall enough to play on the varsity team. Using that rejection as his motivation, he worked hard on his game and grew 4 inches before his junior year and made the varsity team. The following year, as a senior, he became a McDonald’s All-American and went on to win a national title at the University of North Carolina and eventually he won 6 NBA Championships and 5 MVP awards. Michael Jordan worked hard to overcome his deficiencies and become good enough to not only play on his high school team, but also to become arguably the greatest basketball player ever. I think we all admire people like Michael Jordan, who have worked hard to overcome the shortcomings in their lives and the stories of those who have done that motivate us to strive to become better at what we do, too. And there is certainly nothing wrong with that. But there is a problem when we carry that same mindset over into our relationship with Jesus. With the exception of Biblical Christianity, which I would argue is not really a religion anyway, every single religion in the world is predicated on the idea that if we’re not good enough for God, we need to improve our lives and work to overcome our deficiencies and shortcomings first and then we can approach God. But as we’ve discussed frequently, that is a very frustrating way to live because we can never know for sure if we’re good enough. And while I’m confident that most of us here would reject the idea of needing to earn favor with God through our good works, I also know that it’s so easy to fall back into that mindset, even for those of us who have put our faith in Jesus. That is one reason that we’re taking some time to focus on the simplicity of the gospel in our current sermon series – “Conversations with Jesus” – in which we are taking a look at the conversations that Jesus had with some people that are a lot like us. Last week, we began with the account of Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. Although Nicodemus was a religious leader, we discovered that he was actually a lot more like us than it might appear at first glance. He sensed that there was something missing in his relationship with God in spite of his outward religiosity and so he came to Jesus and learned that when it came to his relationship with God, what he believed was much more important than what he achieved. Today, we’ll look at Jesus’ conversation with someone who could have not been more different than Nicodemus: • He was a man, she was a woman • He is named, she is not • He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan (We’ll talk more about that in a moment) • He was highly regarded, she was well-known, too, but for all the wrong reasons. And yet, we’re going to find that she, too, needed Jesus to fulfill what was missing in her life. So go ahead and open your Bibles up to John 4. Before I begin to read and comment on this passage, I just want to note that there are so many principles that we could take away from this passage, which is probably why a lot of other pastors have devoted anywhere from 3 to 8 or more sermons on just this chapter. But since we’re only going to spend one week on this chapter, we’re going to focus on just one gospel takeaway today. [Read John 4:1-6] At this point in His ministry, Jesus did not want to get into a conflict with the Pharisees, so He decided to head back to Galilee, The quickest way from Judea to Galilee was to go through Samaria [Show Map]. But for some reasons I’ll explain in a minute, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along well at all, so many devout Jews would go around Samaria, either taking a much longer route along the seacoast to the west or by crossing over the Jordan River to the east. But in verse 4, it literally says that Jesus found it necessary to go through Samaria. Some have speculated that was only because He wanted to take the quickest available route – one that would allow Him to make the journey in as little as three days. But as the story unfolds, I think we’ll see that Jesus found it necessary to take that route because He had a divine appointment. Jesus and the disciples had likely left at daylight and been traveling all morning and they arrived in the town of Sychar in the heat of the day, at noon. Sychar was located about 30 miles north of Jerusalem, at the base of Mount Gerazim – we’ll talk about the significance of that mountain in a moment. Jacob’s well was located about a half mile outside of town. Jesus sat down at the well while the disciples went into town to get groceries. [Read John 4:7-9] A Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water and Jesus asks her for drink. The Samaritan woman is shocked that a Jewish man would ask her for a drink. So we see right off the bat, that Jesus is willing to overcome barriers in order to reach people with the gospel. Three barriers that Jesus overcame: • The male/female barrier A devout Jew, and especially a rabbi, was not permitted to talk to a woman, even his wife, in public. In fact there was a group of Pharisees that took this idea to such an extreme they became known as the “bruised and bleeding Pharisees”. Every time they even saw a woman, they would immediately close their eyes and so they kept running into things and became bruised and bleeding. That is one reason the woman was so surprised when Jesus, a Jewish man, asked her, a woman, for a drink. • The religious barrier The deep-seated hatred between the Jews and Samaritans can be traced all the way back to 722 BC when the Assyrians conquered the northern 10 tribes of Israel and took them into captivity. Then the Assyrians brought in Gentiles to settle those areas and the Israelites that were left in the land began to intermarry and to incorporate the pagan religions of those settlers into their own Jewish faith. So the Jews considered them to be “half-breeds” Eventually the Samaritans developed their own language and their own version of the Scriptures which contained only the Pentateuch – the first five books of the Bible. That’s one of the reasons that Jesus tells the woman that she and her people worship what they do not know since they had no idea what was contained in the prophets and the writings such as the Psalms. And since they were no longer permitted to worship in the Temple in Jerusalem, which was located in the southern kingdom of Judea, they built their own temple on Mount Gerizim. That temple had been destroyed by the Jews around 129 BC. So there was deep seated hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans. • The moral barrier Even before what we are going to learn about this woman as the account progresses, we already have an idea here that this woman isn’t well regarded in this town. First, the women would normally come to gather water in the early morning or the evening, not in the middle of the day. And that was an important social time for the women of the community as they gathered. But this woman comes alone in the hottest part of the day. And she travels a half mile each way to get water that is not as easy to obtain or of the same quality of the water she could have gotten right in town. So as we see frequently in the gospels, Jesus is associating with a known sinner, something that almost always gets him in trouble with the religious leaders. I haven’t personally verified this, but one Bible commentator calculated that Jesus had 132 contacts with people. Six were in the Temple, four in the synagogues and all the rest were in normal life situations, like this one. Time after time, we see Jesus going to the people who would not come to Him, like this Samaritan woman. [Read John 4:10-26] This conversation essentially follows the same pattern as the one Jesus had previously with Nicodemus: • Jesus makes a statement. He tells the women that if she’ll just ask, He will give her a gift of living water. • The statement is taken literally rather than spiritually. The term “living water” was understood by the woman as “running water”, the way that phrase would normally be understood in that culture. In first century Palestine, running water was always of a higher quality than water that was stagnant, like that from a cistern. • Jesus expands on His original statement The woman notes that Jesus has nothing with which to draw water and asks where He is going to get that living water. She also asks Jesus if he is greater than Jacob, who had dug the well and drank from it. Jesus doesn’t initially answer that question, but He does explain that the spiritual living water that He gives will satisfy a person’s spiritual thirst permanently and result in eternal life. The woman still doesn’t understand what Jesus is saying but she is interested in the possibility that she won’t ever have to come draw water again, so she asks Jesus to give her that living water. • Jesus compels the other person to respond personally to what He has just shared Jesus now directly confronts the woman about her sin. When she says that she has no husband, she is technically telling the truth, but not the entire truth. So Jesus challenges her about the fact that she has had five husbands and that the man she is living with now is not her husband. He takes the necessary step of confronting her sin. But as we’ll talk about more in a moment, He does that in an unexpected way. The woman immediately changes the subject and asks Jesus about whether she should worship on Mount Gerazim there in Samaria, or whether she needs to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. Just as we saw with Nicodemus, Jesus does not follow the rabbit trail here. He tells her that the place of worship is not nearly as important as the way one worships. And He brings her back again to a place where she must personally respond to all that He has just shared with her. There is obviously something about Jesus that causes this woman to consider that He might be the Messiah, which is really phenomenal considering that the learned religious leaders, who should have been the ones who picked up on that, had completely missed it. And Jesus plainly tells her that He is the Messiah. We’ll come back to the woman’s response in a moment, but before I do that, I want to pause to focus on the first part of… TODAY’S GOSPEL TAKEAWAY Here Jesus makes it clear that we don’t have to “clean up our act” before we can have a relationship with God. It is important to note here that Jesus did not tell the woman to go clean up her life first and then come back and He would give her the living water she had asked for. He didn’t tell her to first break off the relationship with the man she was living with. He didn’t tell her to first go and reconcile with her previous husbands. He didn’t tell her that she had to first go worship in the right place in the Temple in Jerusalem. We really see the simplicity of the gospel clearly in verse 10. Jesus told the woman, all you had to do is ask and I would have given you living water. In that same verse, He tells her that salvation and eternal life is a “gift”. The word that is translated “gift” there is a word that refers to a gift that is given freely, with no expectation of repayment of any kind. Blaise Pascal, a famous French mathematician and philosopher once wrote: There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God the Creator, made know through Jesus Christ. The problem is that we try to fill that vacuum with all the wrong things. Some try physical things, like sex or alcohol or drugs. Some try spiritual things – eastern mysticism, the occult, or even joining a church. Many try to fill it with doing good things like joining the Peace Corps or working in a soup kitchen. Others try to fill the void by achievement, much like Michael Jordan did. And most commonly, people try to fill that vacuum by trying to clean up their lives. But Jesus said that if we drink from any of those wells, we’ll just get thirsty again. As Pascal rightly observed only Jesus can fill that vacuum, and He does that by giving us a gift. Religion says, “Do this. Don’t do that. Then God will reward you.” Jesus says I have a free gift that I’ll give to you if you just ask. That does not mean that there is not a place for changed lives when it comes to the gospel, though. We’ll see that as we continue reading. [Read John 4:27-30] When the disciples got back from the grocery store, they were surprised to see Jesus talking to the woman, for all the reasons that we’ve already talked about. And Jesus ends up having a whole conversation with those disciples that we won’t have time to cover this morning. But what I do want you to see here is the impact that this conversation has on the woman. She leaves her water jar at the well and she walks the half mile back into town and she begins telling everyone who will listen about Jesus. And her words must have been pretty convincing because the people rushed to see Jesus. That brings us to the rest of today’s gospel takeaway… The woman came to Jesus as she was, but she sure didn’t leave that way, did she? This woman with a bad reputation who had come to an out-of-the-way well in the middle of the day so no one else would see her, now leaves her water jar at the well and returns to town and can’t help but tell everyone she meets about Jesus. We don’t have time to read the rest of the chapter today, but if you’ll skip ahead to verse 39, you’ll see that as a result of this one woman’s testimony, that many of the people there in Sychar believed in Jesus. So while it is true that we don’t have to clean our lives up before we come to faith in Jesus, it is equally true that genuine faith will always make it impossible for us to remain as we are. I love how Scottish theologian Dr. Sinclair Ferguson reinforces our gospel takeaway: It is misleading to say that God accepts us the way we are. Rather he accepts us despite the way we are. He receives us only in Christ and for Christ's sake. Nor does He mean to leave us the way He found us, but to transform us into the likeness of His Son. Without that transformation and new conformity of life we do not have any evidence that we were ever His in the first place. I’d like to close by talking briefly about a couple important ways that this simple gospel truth ought to impact our lives. How this truth should impact my life: If I am not yet a disciple of Jesus: • Don’t wait First, let me speak to any of you here this morning, who may be reluctant to put your faith in Jesus because you think that you first need to clean up your life and to those of you who may have been putting off committing your life to Jesus until some future time when you think you might be more worthy. Jesus knew everything about this woman and yet he still sought her out even when she was not seeking Him. Jesus is still in the business of seeking people out in the same way, even though He knows everything about them. And if this immoral Samaritan woman and many of the people in her town could believe in Jesus and put their faith in Him without first having to clean up their lives, then so can you. Here’s the problem with waiting until you first clean up your life to come to Jesus. You can’t do it on your own. Again this January Mary and I encountered the same thing we see every year. Right after the first of the year the gym where we go was filled with all kinds of people we had never seen there before. But you know what? Now, only a little after a month later, most of those new people are gone. One study found that the average date people have already given up on their New Year’s resolutions is January 12 and another study found that by mid-February 80% of people have already failed to keep those resolutions. So if you think you’re going to clean up your own life, the odds are stacked against you. But the good news is that Jesus is in the business of partnering with those who put their faith in Him to give them both the desire and the ability to become more like Him. I normally don’t use a lot of different Bible translations in my messages, but the NLT does such a great job of getting to the heart of this familiar passage: Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. (Philippians 2:12-13 NLT) Notice here that obeying God is the result of our salvation, not a pre-requisite for it. That’s because without first committing our lives to Jesus, we have neither the desire or the ability to change our lives and become more like Him. So if you’ve never put your faith in Jesus because you think you’re just not good enough you’re right – you’re not. But please don’t let that stop you. If I am a disciple of Jesus: • When it comes to sharing my faith, my heart is much more important than my skill For those of us who have, like the woman at the well, believed in Jesus in spite of our shortcomings, we are blessed indeed. But there is much we can learn from this passage, too. A lot of that has to do with the most effective way to share our faith with others. But since that’s not really our main focus this morning and we just don’t have time to dig into those principles anyway, I want to just focus for a moment on this idea. It’s pretty obvious from this conversation that the Samaritan woman didn’t have any religious training. She even had some pretty faulty theology. But once she met Jesus and believed in Him, she didn’t let that stop her from telling others about Jesus. She even left her water jar, which was probably one of her most valuable possessions, behind, because that was no longer as important to her as introducing others to Jesus. Far too often, we are reluctant to share our faith in Jesus with others because we’re afraid we don’t have all the answers or that we won’t know what to say or even that we’ll be rejected. Certainly this woman faced all those same obstacles. But her heart had been so changed by Jesus that she didn’t let any of that get in the way of telling others about Jesus. We would be wise to follow her example. Aren’t you glad that Jesus operates like that? I know I sure am. I am grateful for the peace that comes from knowing that Jesus loves me just as I am, but that he also loves me enough not to let me stay that way. As always, this message won’t really make a difference in your life unless you take some concrete steps to apply it personally. So I want to encourage you to spend some time this week using the space on the back of your bulletin insert to write down some specific things that you’ve learned today and to take some concrete steps in you life to apply what you’ve learned. I also want to encourage you by reminding you that even those applications may be personal, you don’t have to try and implement them on your own. One reason that Jesus puts all His disciples int His body, the church, is so that we can encourage and equip each other. We would consider it to be a great privilege to come alongside of you and help you in any way that we can as you grow in your walk with Jesus. But we can’t do that unless you let us know you’d like some help. So some of our Elders will be at the back during our final song to talk with you or pray with you. And you can always contact any of us by using the contact information on the back of the bulletin or on our website. Discussion questions for Bible Roundtable 1. Jesus was willing to cross cultural barriers to talk with this woman. What cultural barriers might we need to cross to share the gospel? 2. What were some misconceptions that Jesus needed to clear up before this woman could believe in Him? What other misconceptions might we need to clear up in our culture today? 3. Based on this passage, how much does a person need to understand before he or she can be saved? 4. What can we learn from this passage about how we should address the sin in the lives of unbelievers? 5. What would you say to someone who felt like they couldn’t become a Christian until they first cleaned up their life?