The Missional Heart of God
The heart of the Gospel of John, and something we learn particularly in John 4:1-26, is that God comes to us in Jesus, seeking to save this world that He loves (cf. John 3:16); that “they might believe” and “by believing have life in His name,” (John 20:31).
In other words, the missional heart of God is His seeking worshippers out of sinners.
This is His great work, His great will, His great mission. And He is inviting us to join in His work with Him.
In the sermon on John 4:1-26, we saw three things that help us see the missional heart and activity of God along with His grace that brings us both satisfaction and purpose. If you want to listen or watch, click here. For this post, I wanted to flesh out more of one of the main points and it’s implications for our life as a church, as well as invite you to imagine what could happen if we acted upon these implications in our homes, neighborhoods, places of work, and throughout our city – or, in other words, everywhere we live, work, play, and worship.
We see that the movement of God’s grace and mission is outward (4:1-6). Jesus “had” to go through Samaria to get up to Galilee. This was in direct contradiction to the common practice of Jews of his day who had no desire, intention, or inclination of having anything to do with Samaria or Samaritans. They never went through Samaria; they went around it!
So we see that God’s grace and mission are intentional. The Spirit that comes from above and like the wind blows where it wants or wills (cf. John 3), now blows those He is empowering outward with intentionality to engage the world around them – friend and foe alike.
The strategy of God’s grace and mission is to satisfy every need of the human heart (4:7-26).
First, we see that Jesus welcomed her (4:7-9). He initiates a conversation with her. It’s clear that this is not merely a project or a bait-and-switch tactic to have a spiritual conversation. The mere fact of him – a Jewish, man, who is identifiable as a Rabbi by a well in Samaria – would speak with a Samaritan woman is earth-shattering to her. It seems so benign to us, but to her, in that one single request for a drink, Jesus literally shatters multiple dividing walls and layers of separation.
In other words, He was hospitable towards her. He created space for her to belong, long before she would believe in him. He treated her with dignity, respect, and even equality; they were both there because of their shared need to quench a thirst after all. Where she saw every possible reason why there should be no interaction between them, Jesus shatters them all with a simple, ordinary act of welcoming and creating space for her, an outsider to him, to feel like she belonged.
This allows Jesus to press further and engage her at deeper levels (4:10-15), the second aspect of God’s grace and mission.
Jesus asks her for a drink and they get into a conversation about multiple things, but it starts off oriented simply around “water and drinking” – catchment systems, transportation, and general kindness to strangers. This is something of a “water cooler conversation” – seemingly ordinary, and perhaps on the surface benign. But this is the context within which friendships are formed; the ordinary stuff of life.
Sometimes people get closer to Jesus through a felt need and a perceived solution that He or His people can offer. As a Reformed church, let me just say and clarify, THAT’S OK! We should be welcoming and inviting everyone in to see all that Jesus has to offer them: belief, yes, but believing that leads to true living – living in peace, joy, fulfillment, purpose – all in Jesus.
Perhaps we have struggled in engaging our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ because we have largely, and wrongly, separated believing from living? That we have cared only for our neighbors’ religious commitments and have given less attention to their everyday cares and concerns?
What might happen if we instead began with an intention to bless, love, and serve our neighbors by addressing and hopefully answering – at least to some degree – their very real needs and concerns?
I personally believe and have experienced how conversations about faith and Jesus flow more naturally and genuinely in the context of people knowing and believing that I actually care for them as demonstrated through real friendship and authentic engagement with their everyday cares and concerns.
This is more than a nice option. I believe it’s a necessity. If our expression of faith is to be taken seriously by others, they need to know that we love and take them seriously as well.
And this sets up the third aspect of the strategy of God’s grace and mission; winsomely challenge and press towards Jesus (4:16-26).
Eventually, what matters to all of us is what we do with Jesus. Either He is who He says He is – the Lord of all and thus, it really does matter what we think about and how we respond to Him. If that is, in fact, true (and I believe, as does every orthodox Christian and church throughout history), then we can’t simply ignore or dismiss Him. We might disagree or not believe that is true of Him. We might go the options C.S Lewis gives of seeing Jesus as a liar who tricked people in His day, or worse, a lunatic who was fooled Himself and compelled others to believe something false. But C.S. Lewis is right in limited our options to these three, as Jesus, Himself does not give us the option of merely saying He was just a good teacher or moral example – He didn’t leave that option open for us. So Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or He’s Lord. And if we are intellectually honest, if He truly is Lord, then it will not ultimately matter that or if you disagree with or dislike Him. It will matter ultimately though what you do with Jesus.
This is not me trying to cajole or coerce anyone to believe anything about Jesus. It’s me simply trying to paint the really only logical and historically true options we have for dealing with Jesus.
We notice here in John 4 with the Samaritan woman of Sychar, that Jesus Himself is lovingly challenging this woman with the reality of Himself. But He does this in a winsome, not combative. She already knew He was FOR her, not against her. But eventually she must be challenged by the gulf between, not Jew and Samaritan, nor man and woman, nor priest and laity, nor saint and sinner, but the gulf between the One who is the Author of life and the one who is thirsting for life.
There’s something of an interesting bit of dialogue here too, with Jesus bringing up her “husband(s).” Commentators and historians have speculated on the validity of Jesus’ claim here about her. Did she really have 5 husbands (if so, what’re the stories there)? or Sexual partners (sexually promiscuous)? Or is this “allegorical” and refers to the “spiritual promiscuity” of Samaria (cf. 2 Kings 17 – seriously, go read this chapter. It is a fascinating bit of historical context).
My answer to that question is all three to some degree. The conversation and setting lead me to see the connection to the spiritual promiscuity of the Samaritans; they had a history of mixing their religious commitments to the God of Israel with other deities – five to be exact according to 2 Kings 17. The reference to this being Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given his son Joseph leads me to see a connection to the comfort that God brings in His presence with those who suffer unjustly; so perhaps she was someone who was “looking for love in all the wrong places” and continually used and abused by men who wanted her body, but not really her.
But this is why I can’t shake that there is more to this woman’s identity than just a symbol of spiritual promiscuity or a victim of someone else’s sin. The woman’s own testimony in 4:29 and her question to Jesus after being challenged by her love life (4:19-20) make me think that she was seeing herself not merely as a symbol for a cultural-/religious-historical drama, nor an innocent victim of the sins of others, but that she herself was a sinner, in need of salvation. A woman in ruin in need of redemption. Someone in desperate need of a true and lasting satisfaction beyond what she or others could provide.
It’s in this context that her question to Jesus about which mountain to worship on makes the most sense. She’s not changing the subject and trying to deflect off of her sin to the generic question of religion or theological differences.
Let me ask you something: When you are confronted by and challenged with your sin, where do you take it? What do you do with it? What can you do with it?
Her question has to do with that very issue. She is being challenged by someone who is obviously for her, and yet, lovingly challenges her at her point of greatest need – her sin. She is now more than thirsty; she’s desperate. She sees herself as a sinner and she needs to know, “Where can atonement for sin be made? Is it on Mt. Gerizim in Samaria, or on Mt. Zion, the temple in the center of the city of God, Jerusalem?
His answer is: give it to me.
Jesus comes as the true and better sacrifice and temple where sacrifice for sin is fully and finally accomplished.
“But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins…For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:12, 14)
What was she challenged to do with her sin? Give it to the One who comes to bring true and living satisfaction for all of your spiritual thirst and all your vain and repeated attempts at finding satisfaction on your own. Come to the One who on different mountain altogether would offer up His life for yours, so that you need not worry anymore about worshipping appropriately on this mountain of Gerizim or that mountain of Jerusalem/Zion. Instead, come to the cross and worship Jesus, who stands in your place, and welcomes you into His grace.
This woman of Sychar, was a symbol, a victim, and a sinner, and yet she meets and receives Jesus because the Father is seeking worshippers out of sinners.
The response to God’s grace is simply and humbly receive Jesus (4:15)
In next weeks sermon (4:27-45) we will see that her response is to let the “all I ever did” get drowned out by God’s “all I’ve come to give.” She receives the grace of God in His Son Jesus Christ, who is there in Samaria because He is for her, and for her people. His Word becomes more defining and liberating than anything that has come before. She replaces her sin and attempts at life apart from God, for God Himself.
She goes from inference of God to reality with God.
In her own words, she simply and humbly asks, “Sir, give me this water.” (4:15)
Implications and Invitation
What about us? Where is our joy in the Lord of our Salvation? Who pursues us, welcomes us, engages us, and lovingly challenges us to give Him our sin and take up His life?
What if we experience so little of the joy of/satisfaction in the Lord because we are too busy/preoccupied with our hunt for personal happiness?
What could happen if we changed from pursuing our own happiness/satisfaction in the things of this world only, to seek the One who seeks us and invites us to be with Him?
What might happen if we actively and intentionally joined in with God in His mission of seeking “worshippers” through saving sinners?
I want to encourage us at Christ Church Mansfield to remember and live out our mission together as part of God’s church in this part of the world He has called us.
CHRIST CHURCH MANSFIELD MISSION (what do we do?) and Values (why we do it?):
Christ Church Mansfield exists to help all people believe the gospel more deeply and apply it more widely because we believe that Jesus changes everything.
- Gospel-centrality – What matters most is what God has done for us, not what we do for God. Our love for God is in response to His love for us. (Worship)
- Personal Ownership – Jesus changes me. In Christ, I am a friend and follower of God. (Discipleship, Personal Responsibility)
- Family Membership – Jesus changes us. In Christ, we are brought into and made members of God’s family. (Community)
- City Partnership – Jesus changes the world around us. In Christ, we are empowered and commissioned to be ambassadors of and reconcilers for the King. (Mission)
- Generational Legacy – Stakeholder in God’s Better Tomorrow – Jesus changes the world beyond us. In Christ, we are stewards of God’s grace for this and the next generation (Multiplication).
VISION (what is possible and our sense of God’s preferred future for His people in His world). We want to see Jesus be the unmistakable and non-ignorable issue for every man, woman, and child in Mansfield, South DFW, and beyond.
Let me suggest some practical ways to live this out. These are suggestions because I don’t want to limit your imagination or obedience to all that God is calling you to do in following Him. But, if I may, as a church, can we just imagine what might happen if wrestled with and followed through on some practical steps of faithfulness with God and joining in His mission together?
- What if we all – every family, every household – carved out just one meal (a week; a month) and actually invested that time, energy, and resources in befriending someone who is not part of our immediate family or church, in hopes of having gospel-conversations and invitations to church, community, belief, etc. over the next year?
- What if we actively and intentionally prayed for and sought to love and serve our coworkers, neighbors, friends, or even enemies, with the love of Christ?
- What if we actually gathered with more of our church family – on Sundays at 9, or in Groups, or elsewhere – and started to deliberately and faithfully pray for our friends who don’t yet know Jesus? What if we start to strategize ways we can as a church love, serve, bless, and welcome them into genuine friendship with the hope of engaging them to go deeper with Jesus?
- What might need to change in your life, in our church, and throughout our city if we gave ourselves to the mission of the One who gave Himself for us?
What could happen if we as God’s people experienced His grace in giving us Himself and engaged more deeply in His mission of making worshippers out of sinner in Mansfield, Dallas/Fort Worth, and to the ends of the earth?
So let’s be intentional.
Let’s welcome and engage people where they are.
Let’s love and serve them so that they come to not only rationally know, but truly feel that we are for them.
Let’s invite them to join us at Christ Church Mansfield on Sundays, or in Community Groups or Bible Studies throughout the week, or take them out to lunch, or invite them over for dinner, or grab a drink and strike up a real and genuine friendship with them.
And let’s engage them in such a way that we go deeper together and lovingly and winsomely challenge them (as well as ourselves) to get to Jesus, and make Him the non-ignorable issue in their life and throughout our world.