Saturday, August 29, 2009

Life-Sustaining Food and Water: A Written Sermon on John 4:1-42

Tomorrow I have the privilege of worshiping with the Saints of Bethesda Baptist Church in Dehli, ON. It's been a blessing to re-work the content of a few sermons I've already preached back into my soul. As I thought through the past little while, a sermon on John 4 stands out as one that really ministered to me, and I look forward to preaching it again tomorrow morning. I first heard some of the insights about evangelism in this sermon over breakfast with John Mahaffey. I promptly downloaded his messages on this text and was extremely blessed. It was a privilege to then do all my own work in the passage and to craft my own sermon on the text, using his insights in my third point. I've copied/pasted my whole written sermon it below.
I was first pointed to the testimony of Rachel Barkey by the women of my church - at the time a CD of her testimony was being passed around my church. At 37 years old she had many things going for her: a loving husband, three beautiful kids, heavy involvement at a vibrant church, strong testimony in her community. . .but dying of cancer. At the time she shared her testimony this past March, she was sleeping 20 hours a day and was on a cocktail of medications. She never felt hungry. She said that the most likely scenario was that the cancer would create blockages that would keep her from eating or drinking, and that she would eventually starve to death. She did die just a few months ago. We could say a lot about this life that was cut short, but was lived to the glory of God. I’d recommend you hunting down her testimony on-line. But for our purposes today, simply notice that food and water are essential for life. Rachel Barkey, you, me, any human can’t live without food and water. They are basic life necessities. Without them we wither and die.
The apostle Paul spoke of suffering Christians and said, ‘if we have food and water, with them we will be content’. You can take the family heirloom, you can take my nice house, but I need food and water to survive. We are physical beings. It is not greedy or selfish to desire sustenance. Food and water are basic to life.
This morning’s passage is about food and water. Actually, in John 4 Jesus says that there are three kinds of food and water. Three things that every person needs. Three essentials for sustaining life. If one of these three things are omitted, a person will wither and eventually die a slow death. None of these are frills. All of these are basic life necessities.
This morning we are simply going to walk through a very famous passage in the Bible: Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman.
We are going to unpack it as it unfolds in John 4:1-42 and we are going to simply notice the three life-sustaining, essential, kinds of food and water that Jesus says everyone in this world needs.
Do you feel any sort of weariness or withering in your life? Let’s look to Jesus’ words and be brought to nourishment!
1. Physical Food and Water - vv. 1-8
Our scene begins with a journey. Jesus and his disciples had been in Judea in the south part of Israel. Opposition was mounting in the province of Judea, though. The Pharisees heard that Jesus and his disciples were making and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist. Maybe Jesus would grow and become a threat to the Pharisees’ religious agenda. So Jesus took the trip from the province of Judea in the south of Israel, to the province of Galilee in the north of Israel. To get there he and his disciples had to pass through the province of Samaria in the middle of Israel.
Jesus and his disciples began their journey, on foot. On their way they found themselves in Samaria, outside the town of Sychar, and they were tired. Jesus collapsed beside a well. The disciples went out, verse 8 tells us, to buy food to nourish the bodies of themselves and Jesus. Look with me at verse 6: “so Jesus, wearied as we was from his journey, was sitting beside the well”.
Here we encounter a hungry, tired, thirsty Jesus. We can picture him sprawled out beside the well, weak from thirst, but without a bucket to draw water with. Weak from hunger, but his disciples are out buying food.
So when a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus looked up and said to her, ‘give me a drink’.
The implication: ‘I need my life to be sustained’.
I don’t want us to miss this point. Jesus is eternally God the Son. It was through him that the world was created and that the world is sustained. He is God to be worshipped. But the incarnation is real. Jesus did not cling to his rights as God but freely humbled himself and became a man. In John 4:6, the mighty creator-God felt weary and needed physical food and water. Without these things his life would not be sustained! The condescension of Jesus is mind-boggling, and he did it to accomplish our salvation.
Part of the price of Christ purchasing salvation for us, was that he became 100% like us. What amazing humility!
Physical food and water are essential to sustain life - our life and the life of the incarnate Son of God!
2. Gospel Food and Water - vv. 9-26
The woman is absolutely astounded that Jesus would talk to her. You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. Now, there is a history here. Samaria was a province within Israel, but hundreds of years before this, the Assyrians had driven the people into exile. The ones who were left intermarried with Assyrians and adopted Assyrian religious practices and added them to Israel’s own. Samaritans also only believed that the first five books of our Old Testament were from God. Books like Joshua or the Psalms or the prophets were all rejected by them. Samaritans did not worship in Jerusalem, but on a mountain in Samaria, where many famous OT events happened. But this was not the place God had prescribed his people to worship in 1 Samuel. But again, Samaritans did not believe that 1 Samuel was inspired and from God.
From a Jewish perspective Samaritans were half-breed compromisers. They were spiritually dirty and untouchable. Many Jews who travelled from Judea in the south to Galilee in the North would take the long way around instead of going through dirty Samaria. We are too pure to approach those dirty people.
Jesus not only goes through Samaria, but he engages a Samaritan in conversation. And not only is she a Samaritan, but she is a woman. Culturally, in those days men would never talk to a woman they did not know in public. It was simply not done. Later, Jesus’ disciples would marvel that Jesus was talking to a woman.
In John 3, Jesus has just come from a conversation with Nicodemus: an educated, wealthy, religious, outwardly pure man. In this next scene he engages in conversation with a dirty Samaritan woman, who we will learn lives a life full of sin.
The principle we learn here is that Jesus broke with custom and personal comfort and initiated conversation with all kinds of people. All people need Jesus. Jesus would target all people!
Whether its the well-dressed business executive down the street, the foul-mouthed guy at work, or your lesbian neighbours, get to know them, and share Christ indiscriminately.
So the woman is understandably surprised that Jesus asks her for a drink. But Jesus’ response to her is puzzling: (v. 10) “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water”.
What kind of a sentence is that? Cryptic. Puzzling. Jesus is hinting with this woman that he has something more to offer than the physical water she can offer him.
The principle is simply: Jesus creates curiosity in this woman.
The woman thinks he is talking about physical water. In that culture there were two kinds of water. Standing water was found in cisterns. It was used for drinking and washing. But living water was even better. Living water was another name for water that was flowing, like in a brook or stream or spring. It was more likely to be pure.
Are you greater than our father Jacob, who dug this well 2000 years ago? It’s 100 feet deep and is spring-fed (living water!).
But Jesus is not talking about physical living water that is pure and thirst-quenching and life-sustaining. He replies in v. 13, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”. The woman does not get it - I don’t want to have to draw water anymore, give me this magic water.
But we can see that Jesus is talking about spiritual water. Water that will give and then sustain eternal life. Water for the soul. Water that will not leave a person longing for more. Water that will leave a person eternally satisfied and eternally sustained.
Augustine put it like this, ‘God, you made us for yourself, and our hearts find no rest until they rest in you’. There is an inner-longing for satisfaction that we try to fill with many things. You feel an inner-emptiness so you go to pornography or money or power or ministry success or job promotions or performance or pleasure, to fill the void. And every time you go to those places you are left feeling more hungry than when you began. Augustine would say and Jesus would say, ‘you were created for relational intimacy with God. Your need is rooted in your separation from God. You need Jesus to give you eternal life, reconciliation with God, wholeness, fullness, quality of life’. How do you receive this? His next words help lead us there.
Jesus looked at the woman and said, ‘go and call your husband and come here’. The woman replies, ‘I don’t have one’. Then Jesus shows the penetrating nature of his knowledge of her. You are right. You have been married four times, and now you are living with a man out of wedlock. Here, the humble man-Jesus is sitting thirsty beside a well. And then the all-knowing God-the-Son sees penetratingly into her heart and life and exposes her.
Jesus leads the woman to see her sin before a holy God. He leaves her exposed. He shows that he knows what that woman would have kept secret.
Secrecy and sin go together. You are ashamed of the way you talk to your spouse behind closed doors, or the shameful things that are a part of your sexually broken past or present. You are ashamed of that mouse click or that malicious gossip. So you never talk about it. You hide it from others.
But you can’t hide it from God. God sees into your very heart. He sees every hint of blackness that is there.
And, in order to receive the food and water of the gospel that will well up in you to eternal life and peace with God, you first need to stand exposed and sinful and dirty before a holy God.
The woman responds inquisitively. She does not duck the issue. You must be a prophet. You see into me. She asks him where the proper place to worship is. This was a running debate in her day and she honestly wanted to know. Show me how I can approach God!
Jesus responds by saying that the Jews are right - worship in Jerusalem. But all that is about to change. The time (or literally, ‘the hour’) is coming when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and in truth. The woman says, ‘this sounds like what the Messiah will reveal’. Jesus responds, ‘yes, and I am the Messiah’.
Jesus does not expose your sin and leave you wallowing in the mud. He exposes your sin and then leads you to worship the father in spirit and in truth. He says ‘the hour is coming’. In John ‘the hour’ in our literal translations comes up over and over again. These are references to ‘the hour’ of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus is saying here, ‘when I go to the cross, I will bear the weight of your sin in myself. When that ‘hour’ comes, people will worship the father in Spirit and in truth. The Holy Spirit will come and enter the people who trust the sufficiency of my work for them. In truth - I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the father except through me.
How do you receive gospel food and water? Come to Jesus and be exposed as a sinner, see him die on the cross, bearing the weight of your sins, see that in love he died for you so that you could come to God through him, and be given the life of God within you. A spring of life-giving, life-sustaining water that will well up to eternal life.
A spring that will not leave your soul thirsting and aching for more. The gospel is a spring of water that nourishes and satisfies and will never fail you. Do you know this nourishment?
3. Evangelistic Food and Water - vv. 27-42
At the beginning of this message I said that Jesus lists three life-essentials, three kinds of food and water that every person needs in order to not wither, but to thrive and survive eternally.
The first kind is obvious: physical food and water.
The second kind is less-obvious, but it is compelling and true! Gospel food and water.
The third kind is probably not at all obvious. According to Jesus, every person needs evangelistic food and water in order to survive.
In other words, when you become a Christian, one way you will be sustained and nourished and fed, is through being active in doing exactly what Jesus did with the Samaritan woman: engaging people with the gospel. Doing all you can to lead people to Christ.
Look at the way vv. 27-42 shows this.
A. The disciples returned and the woman slipped away. Verse 28 tells us that she left her water jar and went into the town and began telling the people about Jesus. Come and see. Is he the Messiah?
It is significant that she left her water jar. The woman had come to the well at noon - the hottest part of the day - because of a basic human need - she and her family needed water. After encountering Jesus, she left that water behind, and was compelled inwardly to seek out people and lead them to Jesus.
The physical water she had come for would have sustained her life, but her even greater inner-compulsion was to tell others of Christ.
B. In verse 31 the disciples urge Jesus to eat. Remember, he was weary from travel and he still has had nothing to eat or drink. He was a real man with real needs and weaknesses. We want you to be healthy and sustained!
V. 32 Jesus responds, “I have food to eat that you do not know about”. They are confused - did someone bring him a burger?
Jesus continues, ‘my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.’ Jesus is saying that engaging this woman with the gospel that leads to eternal life, physically sustained him. He was fed and nourished and energized because he was feeding on the gospel as he shared it with her. ‘This is my food’. I can’t survive without this. Evangelism sustains me. It is basic to life.
Story - share gospel in prison/joy
Wed/prayer - couldn’t sleep
So the woman was inwardly compelled to leave her physical water and go to the town to lead people to Jesus. Jesus was physically nourished by the work of evangelism with that woman.
C. And then he turns to his disciples and he urges the same of them.
In verse 30 hoards of people dressed in the white garments typical of that culture, were coming out to the well to talk to Jesus. In verse 35 Jesus says to his disciples, ‘don’t think we will harvest a crop for our physical nourishment in four months - look - the fields are (literally) white for harvest’. These people coming to me to hear more about the gospel is what will nourish you and I.
People desperately need the sustaining power of the gospel that gives eternal life. We desperately need the nourishment that comes from telling the gospel to people.
The Old Testament prophets, climaxing in John the Baptist, planted seed. And you, disciples, are the harvesters.
And you, Christian, are harvesters.
Are you a Christian, and do you find yourself withering spiritually? Do you find that the fire you once had for God is waning. Do you find it hard to find joy in Christ? Do you find that you feel empty often? Do you feel a distance from the Lord?
Jesus would ask you, ‘are you engaging people with the gospel?’ Are you an evangelist? Not, do you have the gift of evangelism. No, but do you, in your own sphere of influence, with the people God has sovereignly placed in your life, do you do all you can to engage others with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
It is very easy for Christians to get busy with very good things that are not evangelism. Bible studies, and church services and committee meetings. I’m not saying that these things are bad. But if they are squeezing out energy and opportunity to evangelism, they will suck the life out of you!
Don’t get me wrong - churches have multiple services and Bible studies because Christians need the nourishment that comes from fellowship and singing and sitting under Biblical preaching.
But beware of busying yourself to the extent that you don’t evangelize. This may be the root of your spiritual weariness and numbness. Lately, I’ve been more intentional with engaging people with the gospel, and I’ve found myself nourished. Energized. Because as I take in the gospel, I’m nourished, and as I give it out I’m nourished.
So evaluate yourself: have the people you’ve been working with for decades heard the gospel from your lips? Can you seek opportunities, find creative ways to seek to arouse gospel-interest in them, answer their questions, lead them to the cross.
There are three kinds of life-sustaining, basic life-necessities, food and water that every person in our world needs.
Physical food and water to sustain actual physical life.
Gospel food and water welling up to eternal life.
Evangelistic food and water to sustain and spur and grow spiritual life.
Can you say with JESUS: our food is to do the work our Saviour has commissioned us to do, and to be nourished by the words of the gospel, and be nourished by telling others the gospel.

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