A young pastor was looking for a cloth he could use over the communion table, and found one on a street sale.
The next day, while unlocking the building, he noticed an elderly lady on the curb and invited her to come inside for warmth. While she making herself comfortable in a pew, the pastor was covering the hole. She gasped as he unfolded the worn tablecloth. “That’s mine,” she exclaimed. “It’s my table cloth!” And she rushed to show him her initials embroidered in one corner. The minister listened as she retold the story of her days in Vienna, Austria, before the war. She fled from the Nazis, but her husband was captured. She hadn’t seen him since. The minister offered her the cloth, but she refused. It looked pretty over the communion table.
The following Sunday morning an ageing gentleman lingered behind to talk with the pastor. The cloth behind the pulpit brought back painful memories for him. “Many years ago my wife and I owned such a tablecloth,” he told the pastor. “We lived in Vienna then.”
The pastor made some calls, and not long after the two men were standing on the front steps of her apartment. The pastor witnessed a reunion more touching than he ever imagined possible.
That might have been coincidence. In the scheme of God’s program there is no such a thing as coincidence; providence – yes!
I bring to you the Word of God under the theme, “The Messiah sent by the Father, the thirsty sinner, the living water, the harvest”. In the first place then,
The Messiah sent by the Father
As we followed the Gospel of John up to this point the Bible introduced us to Christ as the Word who was there in the beginning. This Word is Jesus Christ, through whom all things were made. His mission into this world John describes as light shining in darkness. We learn from John that Christ dwelled with us and He revealed the glory of the Father. He was the promised prophet, more than Moses and Elijah – yes the Messiah. As Messiah He was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. John writes about Jesus Christ that He was the only true Son of God whom the Father sent so that whosoever believe in Him will not perish, but have eternal life. Luke writes,
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10, NIV)
Luke declares about Him,
… the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Matthew 20:28, NIV)
John testifies about Christ his food ..
“is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish his work.” (John 4:34, NIV)
What is intriguing about Christ is his foreknowledge about the people He came in contact with. He knew Nathaniel even before he met Jesus. He knew how He would use Simon and called him Peter. He knew that heart of Nicodemus and understood that he had very little understanding, if anything, of God’s plan of salvation. Indeed, as John 2:24 says, “He knew all men.”
This takes us to verse 4 of John 4:
Now He had to go through Samaria. (John 4:4, NIV)
Following the will of the Father, doing the work of his Father, our Lord was travelling north from Judea to Galilee. There were other roads to Galilee which Jesus could follow, but He chose that one – the one who led Him to the well of Jacob.
After the exile from Babylon, those who settled back in Samaria intermarried non-Jews. The Jews in Judea looked at them as “religious bastards”. So, culturally and spiritually Jews and Samaritans avoided one another.
About 400 years before Jesus arrived at Jacob’s well, some Samaritans build a temple in Gerazim, not too far from where Jesus met the woman at the well. There they practised a faith based only on the Five Books of Moses (but nothing else), believed in one God, revered Moses and saw Mt Gerazim as the mountain God appointed for the temple. This temple however was destroyed around 200 B.C. When the Romans took over in Israel, both the area of the Samaritans and the Jews were under the political sphere of Rome.
There was no social and religious contact between the Jews and the Samaritans, but Jesus, the Lamb of God, the Messiah, had to go through Samaria. That was his mission. When He became tired and rested at the well of Jacob at Sychar, all fitted in neatly in the providence of God. One could say it was with expectation that our Lord found Himself there at that hour, with his disciples not there, having gone into town for food. Christ was alone – but He was on God’s business.
But He was also a human being. He Himself was tired, he was thirsty and hungry. His feet was dirty because of the dusty roads He travelled. This is the picture of Hebrews 4:
… we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet He did not sin. (Hebrews 4:14–15, NIV)
The thirsty sinner
It was just another day for the woman who arrived at the well with her water jars on her shoulders. Engaging in conversation with men, even one’s whom she did not know, was not uncommon for this woman. She had been married five times, and she then became a partner of a sixth. This woman had some moral issues and her burden and guilt were heavy. But this was not what drove her to the well. We know quite well it was a heavenly appointment. Not coincidence, but providence.
But the man she met this time at the well was different. He was a Jew, and Jews were not on speaking terms with Samaritans. He put his reputation on the line talking to her. She was alone, and He was alone. He was thirsty and exhausted. She could give Him the water He asked for.
But what He asked for is what she herself needed. His business was to talk to sinners, and if ever there was one, He found one.
She protested and actually had some good theological arguments – at least if you take her understanding of who God and his people were. She actually knew about the coming Messiah, but – and this is the key to understanding this women and all others whose heart was still shut, and whose minds are dull – could not see or recognise Him right in front of her, offering her water that would take her thirst forever.
He started the conversation with something all of us know well: thirst. The water she would give Him was good for that moment. But the thirsty and exhausted stranger, was indeed greater than Jacob, who dug the well. If one drinks from the water of that well, the thirst will come back again, but
“whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up eternal life.” (John 4:14)
Who would not want this water to drink! Give me some!
“Go call your husband and come back.” (John 4:16)
What do my past and present relationships have in connection with this water of eternity. Everything.
Jesus who knew, He knew about her sins and moral corruption – and she had to admit it. He knows me, He knows all of us. He knows our sins. To worship Him as the Giver of life demands confession of sins. And who better can we admit to that we have a terrible load of baggage than the Messiah!
We just try to keep on searing our troubling consciences with a busy lifestyle, but every time we face others speaking behind their hands, pointing their fingers to us, we stand bare and guilty. And our accuser, the devil, makes it his business to remind us of our guilt. We can try to hide it, but we also stand before Him who knows everything. “You are right when you say…” And because He knows, He might just as well say, “You are wrong when you try to hide …” Because I know you.
Does it scare you to know that He who was there when everything was created knows everything about you? Don’t forget this: He is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Remember our paragraph of last week?
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned… (John 3:17–18, NIV)
It almost seems as if this woman dug up some Sunday school knowledge about where and how to worship to make look her past a bit better, but it didn’t cut with Jesus Christ. What counts is not what we think we know about worship, but who we worship, and that we worship Him. We need to bow before Christ who stands before us, who speaks to us – the One whom the Father sent because of his love for sinners.
He is speaking to me, to you. Bring your past – it might not be as bad as that of the woman at the well, it might even be worse – only Christ and you really know! But bring it to Him who offer the living water and take the thirst away.
The water and the harvest
When she understood Who she was speaking to, her water jars did not even count any longer. As if she did not need daily water anymore, she went back in to her town and became a disciple of Him who knew everything about her. Indeed, the water Christ give her became in her a spring of water welling up eternal life which she passed on to others. She did not hide from people who she really was, because her past was with Christ. “It is no secret what Christ can do, what He did for others, He can do for you.”
She probably then returned to the well, and others followed her. They wanted to find out who makes it his business to speak to a woman of ill repute and give her honesty, joy and restoration. They met Him and urged Him to stay – and He did! In the house of Samaritans: and they believed and drank of the living water which flowed for the Saviour.
The harvest were ready. Christ changed and saved lives. He, the living water, fell on dry ground and it produced a crop.
The world and the mission
The disciples returned from the village with the food, but our Lord was busy with other food: He was doing the will of the Father and wanted to finish it: there were sinners to be saved!
They were horrified that their rabbi was talking to a Samaritan woman; stunned they said nothing!
Jesus looked up and save the ripening wheat paddocks. “Four months and then the harvest.” But there is another harvest. It is a people harvest. Our Lord prepares the harvest; his church just need to bring them in. The mission field might astound us.
Rev. David Jones tells that people in his congregation prayed for years that they might see people come into the kingdom of God through repentance. But when it happened, they opposed it because those who came to Christ were off the streets; they looked rough and spoke a different language. They did not represent your typical Presbyterian!
Our Lord took his disciples with Him and for the two days they spent in that city. It was a lesson they had to learn for Christ: those who are saved come from all backgrounds, and to reap that harvest we need to be prepared to go and search for them in places we never thought we would ever venture into.
Our first step is probably to open up to whoever Christ lead us to and tell them, “He knew everything about me – and still, He saved me.”
Are you prepared to do that?
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 30 October 2016