Life of Christ 30
Jesus, here at the beginning of His ministry, has just spent some time in Judea. He had gone down from Galilee for His first public Passover, and then gotten some attention due to His miracles. He stayed for some time, preaching and baptizing converts in the mold of John the Baptist, until the Pharisees sought to drive a wedge between the two men. When Jesus saw this, out of deference to John, and because His ministry was always the itinerant type, He decided to head back to Galilee. And on this trip He felt the need to go through Samaria (John 4.3-4).
Galilee was the northern territory of Israel, and the larger of the two. Judea was the southern territory, and contained the all-important city of Jerusalem and the Temple. Several feasts and sacrifices called for the physical presence of the Jews in Jerusalem, and so there was a constant stream of travel back and forth. Curiously, though, they didn't go by the shortest possible route, but rather went a substantial number of miles out of their way in the process. From Galilee they would travel east toward the Jordan River and follow it down toward the Dead Sea. On reaching Jericho, they would turn west, and head up into the Judean hills and Jerusalem. The reason for this was simple: they hated to go through the region directly between Galilee and Judea known as Samaria.
The source of this deep aversion can be traced back about 700 years before Christ. The kingdom of Israel, united under David and Solomon, had split into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah. To the far north, the rising power of Assyria, headquartered in Ninevah, threatened and then eventually swallowed the northern Jewish kingdom of Israel. In those days it was customary to pacify new territory by transplanting the local tribes conquered to another place in the empire, and so the Assyrians depopulated Israel and resettled those Jews around Ninevah. To replace them, they brought in other conquered peoples. These people soon mixed, in marriage and religion, with the few Jews left behind. Headquartered around the collapsed Israeli capital of Samaria they became known as Samaritans. Not only were they an impure, yet related, strain of Jewry, their religion became an impure, yet related, strain of Judaism.
For instance, the Samaritans only accepted the books of Moses, and not the psalms and the prophets as canonical. They believed in a coming messiah, but placed the location of the Temple, naturally, in Samaria rather than in Judah. Three centuries after their genesis the Jews return from the Babylonian Captivity in order to rebuild the Temple only to discover the Samaritans already had – in Samaria. This was completely unacceptable, and although they offered to help Nehemiah rebuild Jerusalem he could not allow them because they were unclean. When Nehemiah made that decision, the Samaritans, in fury at being rejected, sided with Israel's enemies in their attempts to destroy the infant Jewish nation. This bad blood was still percolating 400 years later in Jesus' day, but for some reason He felt the urgent need to go through Samaria on the way back to Galilee instead of going by way of Jericho and the Jordan River valley.
On the way through, accompanied by His little group of three or four disciples, He stops to rest at Jacob's well, and sends the disciples into the closest town to buy supplies. When a woman comes out to draw water Jesus asks her for a drink, and this leads to a fascinating conversation (John 4.7-35).
She objects to His request for water on the racial grounds that He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan, and the two just don't talk to each other. He, in response, brings up the subject of living water, the kind that brings eternal life. She says, in essence, 'Sure, I'll take some of that', at which point He brings up her sin in such a way as to leave no doubt of His complete knowledge of the worst parts of her life. In awe, she asks His perspective on the Jewish Samaritan disagreement over the location of the Temple. He tells her essentially that it doesn't matter anymore, at least in this dispensation, as we can now worship God anywhere rather than at one particular location. She tells Him she does believe in a coming messiah, and Jesus asks her to place that faith in Himself specifically. She obviously believes, and goes into town to spread the word.
At this point, the disciples come back and marvel that Jesus was actually speaking to a Samaritan, which goes to show that they really had no clue as to the world-wide point of His coming. Simeon knew, for he pronounced over the babe at His Temple dedication, 'A light to lighten the Gentiles' (Luke 2.32). John the Baptist knew, for he pronounced over a freshly baptized and tempted Jesus Christ, 'Behold the lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world' (John 1.29). But His newly minted disciples of just a few weeks experience did not. It would be just one of the many times that we see those closest to Him completely misunderstand Him, and in this I see a warning for all of us. We must see Him for Who He is, not for Who we want Him to be. To Jesus' everlasting credit, He did not partake of their ethnic prejudices. He came to die for the entire world.
In His response to the return of the disciples He displays an incredible sense of urgency about the lost condition of the multitude of humanity heading straight to hell. 'Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest' (John 4.35).
It is with great sadness I say that in twenty first century America there are a great many of Jesus' followers who suffer from the same affliction. They want to follow Jesus because of what Jesus will do for them, and because of what they think He is and will be for them – yet they totally fail to grasp His sense of urgency regarding the plight of humanity. They come to church occasionally, in order to get their needs met. They pray occasionally, in order to get their needs met. They read the Bible occasionally, in order to feel better. But there is in them no heartbeat at all for a lost and dying world, headed to hell in a hand basket by the millions.
Our church in the inner city of Chicago is an average sized, yet growing congregation. Like most modern churches our highest attendance on the property each week is on Sunday morning. Of course, this only makes sense. It is the day of the week and the time of day which is easiest for people to come. In other words, it doesn't greatly inconvenience them. Chicago has terrific traffic problems, but thankfully those are not a concern on Sunday mornings. The music in our services has greatly improved in the last few years, and many visitors comment on how wonderful it is to be in a service with such heartfelt and beautiful music. Parking in our neighborhood is always a problem, but for the Sunday morning service we use a remote lot a block away and shuttle people to the front door of our church in a late model fifteen passenger van. On Sunday morning, we are pleased to offer something of interest for each member of the family in our schedule, and I preach a time limited sermon so our dismissal time can be anticipated. And our building is filling up to the point which we are raising money in order to expand our seating capacity.
…but let me schedule a weekly time to go witnessing to the lost, and our attendance drops by 75%, at least. Why? Because even though I preach on it often, emphasize it hugely, and model it with my own life and schedule, the majority of people that attend my church have little to no sense of urgency regarding the spiritual condition of the hundreds of thousands of souls who live within walking distance of our church building.
Jesus was completely different. His sense of urgency drove Him to witness to all kinds of people, including Samaritans. His sense of urgency drove Him to initiate the conversation, rather than waiting for her to speak to Him first. His sense of urgency drove Him to keep the conversation pointed toward the Gospel when she tried to change the subject. His sense of urgency drove Him to thoroughly explain the Gospel rather than simply settling for handing her a tract with a vague invitation to attend church. Additionally, Jesus' sense of urgency drove Him to tell His followers of the urgency.
Beloved, there is an urgent need to get the Gospel out to those around you and around the world. That need is urgent, not when you grow up, or when life calms down a bit, or when you retire, but now at this very moment. If you want an excuse to delay the devil will be sure to furnish you with a couple of dozen suitable (you think) to the occasion. You don't have time. It's too cold out. It's too hot out. You have errands to run. People aren't ready and we shouldn't pluck green fruit. You are too young; no one will listen to you. Your health is too bad. Confrontational evangelism doesn't work in our generation. You don't have the gift of witnessing. And I could go on and on and on with the excuses that have been handed to me like get-out-of-jail-free cards in Monopoly.
Is your heartbeat His heartbeat? Is His heartbeat your heartbeat? What are you doing to reach the lost with the Gospel? What will you do this week? What will you do today?
If you would like to listen to the audio version of this blog you may find it here on our church website. Just press 'launch media player' and choose We Preach Christ 13, 'Look On the Fields'.