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Looking for Approval, Receiving Truthfulness
12/09/2007
Scripture: John 4: 1-42
Track 3 of 6 in the Advent--The Great Misunderstanding / Paradox series
Running time: 40 minutes, 18 seconds.


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Chuck Sackett Speaker: Chuck Sackett
Dr. G. Charles Sackett is minister of Madison Park Christian Church.

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Looking For Approval; Receiving Truthfulness
December 9, 2007

Just the nature of the beast. It's what happens in our story. The story is about a woman who goes to a well to draw water wanting to be by herself. At least that's my take on the story. She wants to be there by herself. And low and behold she runs into Jesus. And that can be just a little troubling if you're not ready.

Our text is John Chapter 4. I want to set the context for you just a little bit in the gospel of John. John's gospel, as you know, is a story about a lot of encounters between people and Jesus. John Chapter 3, the story of Nicodemus. John Chapter 4, the woman at the well. The latter part of John Chapter 4, Jesus and the official's son. John Chapter 9, the story of Jesus and a man born blind. And the stories are endless of Jesus encountering people at some particular point in their life.

But John's gospel is more than just the story of encounter. John's gospel is the story of people's transformation, how they move from where they are to where they end up. Sometimes for the better. Not always.

But in John Chapter 3 you're introduced to Nicodemus who comes to Jesus by night. By John Chapter 7 he is already beginning to defend Jesus and to come to Jesus' aid in a controversy. By John Chapter 19 Nicodemus is one of the two men willing to step forward, Jewish leaders willing to step forward and claim the body of Jesus. There has been an enormous transformation in his name.

The same is true in John Chapter 9. When you look at the story of the man born blind, it comes all the way from, I don't know who this guy was, all I know is I was blind and now I see, all the way through this process of beginning to chide the leaders, do you think he might be the Messiah, do you want to follow him, too, and finally coming to the place that he recognizes Jesus as the Messiah.

That's John's gospel. John's gospel is the story of the transformed encounter. When people come into contact with Jesus, they are brought face to face with who they are, and there is an opportunity for them to grow and be transformed in their faith. It's the whole point of the gospel. In fact, if you went to the very last chapter -- don't lose John 4 because we are coming back, but if you went to the very end of the book to nearly the last chapter, John Chapter 20, where this statement is made about why John wrote the book at all. He says in Verse 30, "Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God, and that by believing you might have life in his name."

The whole point of writing John's gospel in the first place was to tell the story of Jesus in such a way that people would encounter him, be drawn to him, and have their lives absolutely totally changed, transformed.

That's what we run into in this particular gospel. It is set up for us in John 3:36, and then we move right into the story. You know, and I don't need to remind you, that no text of scripture is ever there. What I mean by that, they are never where they are by accident. The Holy Spirit didn't just somehow kind of pull things together and stick them in at random. Every text is where it is for a reason, and, therefore, every text that comes before it and every text that comes after it serves a purpose.

So before you get to John Chapter 4, the story of this woman who goes out to draw water, you have to get through John Chapter 3, and the very last verse in John 3 says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life." Do you hear it? That's the point of John's gospel. "Whoever believes in the son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God's wrath remains on him."

Now you've got this contrast between believers and unbelievers, and now suddenly you are walking right into a story about a woman who encounters Jesus, and it is a fascinating encounter when you look at it. Let's take it in pieces, John Chapter 4. Let's just read a part of it. Starting with John Chapter 4, Verse 1, "The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although, in fact, it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and he went back once more to Galilee."

Now, before I read any further, you all know geography well enough to know that in Israel it's Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, and over here on the right side of your map there is the Sea of Galilee and then there is the Jordan River and then there is Dead Sea down here at the bottom. Now, any good Jew would never go through Samaria to get from Judea to Galilee. They would take their trouble to cross over the Jordan River, go up the other side, and then back across into Galilee. They would rather spend time in Gentile territory than in Samaritan territory. The Samaritans were half-breeds. The Samaritans were the product of the Assyrian captivity, and they were a despised race of people.

So the next line in this particular text is really critical. Verse 4, "He had to go through Samaria." No, he didn't. There was nothing geographically that required him to go there because that was not the route the Jews took. But the text says, "He had to go." Well, why did he have to go? This is a word that occurs in our new testament that is consistently communicating that this is divine necessity. He is going because God has insisted that he go. He had to go because of divine encounter.

"He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar," Verse , "near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was the sixth hour." It's noon. "When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, 'Will you give me a drink?' Parentheses, Verse 8, his disciples had gone into town to buy food. The Samaritan woman said to him, 'You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman.'"

Those, by the way, are loaded terms, okay. He is Jewish. She is Samaritan. That already is a problem. He is a man. She is a woman. That compounds the problem. He is a Rabbi. He is a teacher. The garment would have showed you that. She'd have recognized it, and she knows, though she doesn't know that he knows, she's a sinner. Did you follow that? She knows that she is a sinner. She doesn't know that he knows that she's a sinner, but she is going to find out soon enough. So she asks this question, "'How can you ask me for a drink?' Parentheses again, Jews do not associate with Samaritans."

And here you have this really fascinating and unusual encounter. Mark Scott calls this in his sermon that he preached a year ago at the missionary convention, the wrong place at the wrong time. It's just a terrible thing to run into a preacher, particularly if you are trying to hide something, because you just are really convinced he knows. Most of the time we don't, but don't tell anybody. We'd like to keep you thinking we do.

This is a little side bar. I don't want to make more out of it than the text makes out of it, and since the text doesn't even mention it, I'm not going to say much. There is only one way from the town to the well, and the disciples have gone into town to get food, and the woman has come out of town in order to draw water. Guess who passed each other on the road? Not a mention that the disciples even saw her. I have a question about that. If I remember, I'll ask it.

So the woman comes. She comes to the well. Why? Well, ostensibly to draw water. But if you would take a look in your bible at the place of wells, you'd recognize that all kinds of things happen at wells. Business gets conducted at wells. Covenants are signed at wells. Romance occurs at wells. Marriage proposals occur at wells. Wells are the places where you send a nephew to find a mate for a son. So you do at least have to wonder what she is doing, though I think because she has come to draw water, the text says that's what she is there for, but you do wonder what's going on in her head.

Now, why noon? You all know this is Israel. You all know your geography well enough to know that at noon in Israel it's hot. You don't draw water at noon. It's way too hot. Noon is my favorite part of the day. Aside from eating, it's the time for a nap. It's siesta time, particularly in a hot, dirty, dusty climate. You are not going out to draw water at noon. You are going to sit down and take a nap at noon so that you can work in the cool of the evening.

The women always went together as a group. They went early in the morning and they went late in the evening, and they went in a group because they, A, wanted company, they wanted to chat, and, B, they wanted to be safe. They didn't go alone because of just the shear idea of not being by yourself.

She is there at noon. There are two reasons that are real legitimate options. One, she wants to be alone or, two, she has nobody to go with her. Maybe nobody wants to be seen with her. You don't know why yet unless you've read ahead, but there are reasons why that might be true. Here is where the cultural issues come into play. She doesn't expect anything to happen. She doesn't even want anything to happen. You note the shock in her voice. You, a man, Jewish, you're asking me, a Samaritan woman, for something to drink? What an odd encounter. Divine encounter. That's what's so interesting about them, isn't it, how often God puts us in divine encounters?

Have you ever had those moments when you would just as soon be left alone, and here God sticks you right in the middle of a conversation you don't want to be in, but you know you are there because God has chosen you to be there at that particular moment? You sat down on the plane and what you wanted to do was read your book or go to sleep, and the next thing you know some guy sits down beside you and says, where are you going, what are you doing, what do you want to talk about? Nothing. But you know that that's not an option, because they are there for a reason.

His name was Glen. He asked me the most profound question I think I have ever been asked on an airplane other than, what are you doing here, where are you going, where have you been? His story was this. Every Sunday night I slip into a little chapel and there is a guy there and he is talking about somebody named Jesus. Do you know anything about him? My response was, no. Can I go to sleep? I'm kidding. I wonder if it wouldn't be wise for all of us, all of us to be more diligent and more intentional about praying that God would open up those divine opportunities, that we would be sensitive to the woman at the well, someone that we might otherwise overlook, somebody that we might walk right past on the way and never see, that God would make us attuned, attentive to opportunity.

Jesus tired as -- did you hear that in the text? Jesus sat down at the well because he was tired. He is human. He has traveled. He is weary. What he wants to do is be left alone. He didn't go into town to buy groceries with the guys. He said, you go into town. I'm going to sit here by the well and rest. And the woman shows up, and what does he do? He said, would you please go away? No. Can I have a drink of water?

Well, the text goes on. Verse 10, "Jesus said, 'If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.'" By the way, living water in a Jewish situation would have been running water, alive water. It's moving. It's clean. It's fresh. It's not well water, but living water. A little play on words here, all right?

"'Sir,' the woman said, 'you've got nothing to draw with, and the well is deep.'" Boy, you can see she just missed it, didn't she? You talk about just absolutely having it go over your head. "'Are you greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well who drank from it himself as did his sons and his flocks and his herds?' And Jesus answered, 'Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty 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 to eternal life.' And the woman said, 'Sir, give me this water so I won't have to get thirsty again and I won't have to keep coming out here to draw water.'" She is still missing the point. This is some kind of water that she will just never have to bother to come back out here with her bucket.

"So Jesus says, 'Go call your husband and then come back.' And she said, 'I don't have one.' In fact, what she really says is, husband no have. That's the literal translation. Up to this point she has been pretty talkative. She has had a lot to say. Tell me about this water, give me some more of that water, I want water. You don't have any water. She actually she has been quite conversive until he says, go call your husband. And she says, husband no have. Can we change the subject, please?

"Jesus says, 'You're right when you say that you have no husband. The fact is you've had five husbands. The man that you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is true.' And she said, 'Sir, I perceive you're a prophet. How did you know what was going on in my life?'"

Well, the thing that is fascinating to me about this particular section of this text is what I want to try to make the most important part of this whole story for you today. Do you notice Jesus' rather truthful response? She is coming looking to just draw water and go home, and what we are going to see as she interacts in this story is that one of the things that she would really like is for Jesus just simply to accept her. She is going to talk about worship, she was going to talk about a lot of stuff, and I think what she is looking for is Jesus simply to nod his head and say, it's all okay. And he doesn't. He says, you've had five husbands and you're living with a man now that's not your husband, and she knows that that's not good.

It's that truthful response that is so incredibly powerful about this text and so instructive, because all of us -- I am convinced that all of us tend to want to respond to people in a way that is inoffensive. We don't want to cause anybody any anxiety. We don't want to cause too much trouble. We don't want to be hard on people. We'd like to soften people's response. If our wives say to us, does this make us look fat, we pause for no longer than that and say, huh-uh, because we know better. If it did, we couldn't say so, not and live. At least not and eat. We don't want to hurt anybody's feelings. We don't want to encounter anybody harshly.

And I don't say that Jesus is harsh. I'm just telling you that Jesus is truthful here. He tells him the truth. That's a struggle today, because our culture has lost sight of that. We don't like to talk about truth. We don't want to be encountered by truth. We want a world where if it suits you, that's fine, and if it suits me, that's good, and as long as we both feel good about the way that we feel, then everything will be okay. And if you like it this way, then that's fine; and if we like it this way, then that's fine.

I watched T.V. just a little bit last night after the thing that we did here, whatever that was. I've lost it all. It was an interview between New Hampshire's first gay preacher in the Episcopal church, and there was a guy asking him questions about the truthfulness of scripture. And the guy's response was classic. Don't tell me I don't believe in the bible. I believe in the bible. The bible speaks to me, but God isn't done talking and he is still speaking to me, and what he has told me is -- and do you hear it? It's the cultural value that says truth for you is fine, I don't care if you believe in that truth, I don't care, believe it, honor it, but I have a truth of my own, and I want to believe my truth. And as long as I believe my truth and you believe your truth and we don't harm each other, then everybody's happy.

The problem is there is a truth in scripture that is really troubling. It's reflected in John 3:36. It's repeated in John 14:6. "Nobody comes to the father except through me." That's a hard truth. People don't want to hear it. And Peter repeats it in Acts Chapter 4 when he says, "There is no other name given by men whereby men may be saved than the name of Jesus." It isn't possible to be saved outside of a personal relationship with Jesus, and that's a truth that has to be said, but nobody wants to offend anybody. They say, that's okay, you just believe what you want to believe.

Wouldn't you rather be told the truth, really, now, honest? Wouldn't you rather be told the truth? You go to the doctor and you got a problem, and you go into his office. What do you want him to tell you, everything's fine, go home, take a couple of aspirin, and you die three days later? No. You go to the doctor, what do you want him to say? As harsh as it is, you want him to say, your problem is you've got, and here is how we can deal with it. Isn't that far better? Wouldn't we really rather have that in the long run? Maybe you're not nodding your head yes. So I'll just give you my statement. Tell me the truth. When I show up in your office, I want the truth. I have a friend who died because a doctor didn't tell him the truth about his cancer, didn't want to hurt his feelings, thought it would be a little harsh and hard for him to take. Well, it was hard for him to take. He died from it. In my opinion, the doctor ought to have got sued. My friend's family was way nicer than I was. I want the truth. And that's just about my health. If I want the truth about my health, which is a temporary thing, no matter what, then wouldn't I want the truth about that which is eternal so at least I had an opportunity to make the right choice? I mean, I can still say no if I want to, but at least I'd like to have the option.

Well, this lady's faith really gets transformed. Let's look at the rest of this. Verse 19, "'Sir,' the woman said, 'I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.' Jesus said, 'Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you don't know. We worship what we do know. Salvation is from the Jews, but yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and truth.' And the woman said, 'I know that the Messiah called Christ is coming. When he comes, he will tell us everything.' And Jesus said, 'I who speak to you am he.'

Do you see the transformation in this woman? She comes, and there is a man at the well, a Jewish man at the well, who soon becomes sir, and then prophet, and then, could you be the Christ? To which Jesus says for one of the 19 times that he says it in the gospel of John. Egohim (phonetic). I Am. By the way, for those of you who recognize that, yes, that's Exodus Chapter 3, God's name, I Am.

The fascinating thing is after this woman goes back into town in the latter part of our text, the people she talks to not only move from man to prophet to Messiah, they move all the way to, we believe that you are the savior of the world. You talk about transformation. Wow. That's the power of the story, the power of her witness, which starts in the verses that we just read. And she runs back into town and she tells everybody about this man who knew everything there was about her.

Now, that should have been an interesting conversation. People would have perked up their ears on that one. This woman is not in that big a town and she has had five husbands. So you think that probably didn't get a little attention? And she is living with somebody who isn't her husband, and she comes roaring back into town. Wherever she went into, the County Market or wherever she was, she had everybody's attention. She says, you got to come see this guy. He knows everything there is to know about me.

So they are going to go out and they are going to listen, and the whole city gets interested in Jesus. And when you come down to the end of our text, Verse 39, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony. So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay, and he stayed for two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, 'We no longer believe just because of what you said. Now we have heard for ourselves and we know that this man really is the savior of the world.'"

It's the power of story. It's the power of your story to be able to say to people, this is what God has done in my life, and have them move from believing you to believing Him. That's the challenge. Not to call attention to ourselves, but to use the story of God's intersection with our life to be able to help other people intersect with God's life, and you have that story. You have that story in you, and it can be powerful and effective.

I want you to hear one of those stories this morning. Brent has been hanging out here for the last year and a half or so. Many of you know him. And I've asked him to come and just talk a bit about his story. BRENT: Well, when you think about telling your story with people, one of the things that you start with is, boy, what do I include and what do I not include, and, where do I start? And one place to start is just simply owning the fact of my decisions that I made. I can look back on my life, and I can see things that happened in some circumstances that led me down a path, but ultimately the decisions were mine that I made, and so I can't lay the blame at anybody else's feet. Another thing to start with is just the simple fact that a lot of the things that I did were painful and hurtful to a lot of people, first and foremost my family, and so out of respect for them a lot of what I will talk about will be rather generic, but I think the point will still get across, and I don't want to bring anymore embarrassment to them nor my wife.

I was a believer at a relatively young age. About eight and a half I was baptized. I know even at that young age I was doing things in my mind that I thought were really right. I was trying to live for Jesus at a young age, but yet as chronological time passed I did not grow spiritually. I was the youngest of three boys, and so I have the advantage, you might say, of observing what they did and kind of putting things together. And over the course of time I became real adept at being deceitful and sneaky, and I had the trust of people. I knew enough that I could put forward a good face in public. I could be a good student. I could be respectful toward my parents and authority figures, and so there is really no glaring things that people had to look at to be leery of me.

To make things a little bit shorter I wound up in high school, and I was just thoroughly involved in the party scene, every single weekend doing things that I'm not proud of at all. And I remember it was fall of my senior year and it was just going into it and I started to feel some guilt over the things that I had been doing just out of the blue, and it bothered me. Not so much that the guilt bothered me. It's just that I didn't want to feel guilty because I wanted to continue what I was doing because I was enjoying it. And I even talked to one of my friends. I said, Chris, you know, I'm really thinking of just giving all this up and changing my life. But it was my senior year and I really wanted to enjoy that time, and so I didn't.

A few weeks later what I thought was my conscience was no longer bothering me, and at the time I was just glad because I could continue to do what I was doing and not feel any guilt. But looking back on that now I see that that was a very dangerous time for me.

I graduated, and then I made plans to attend junior college, and other than that I was just really aimless in my life. I didn't have any plans or anything like that. I always was involved in sports and had jobs, so it's not like I was doing nothing, but yet I had no direction in my life. And over the course of the summer after I graduated from high school the things that I was enjoying doing just started to become more extreme and more extreme. I started to get into a little bit of trouble with the law, and then coming home from junior college my freshman year on a Friday evening I went into a home football game, and it was at that football game where the foundation that I had been building my life upon at that point started to crumble all around me.

At halftime I went out to my pickup, I was going to meet some friends in the parking lot, and I got assaulted out in the parking lot by two men I had never seen before in my life. They had assaulted me, and in their mind they were doing the right thing. They were paying me back for something I had done earlier toward the end of the summer. And it's at that point where this web of deceit and lies that I had been spinning for years and years and years started to choke and suffocate me, and here I was facing surgery due to being assaulted in the parking lot.

There is rumors flowing rampant all around town about what I had and had not done. And so myself and two of my friends we turned ourselves into the police, and we started a lengthy dealing with lawyers and the police and all these things trying to reduce some rather substantial charges that had been brought against us.

And I'd like to tell you that I learned my lesson, I straightened out at that point, but I didn't. Just over two months later I was arrested for a DUI. And it's interesting because when you are sitting in a jail cell, whether you are sober or whether you are intoxicated, you have some time to think about things. And I don't know a whole lot about the legal system, but I do know that I was fortunate to have the two major offenses that I committed, at least were on record, happen in separate counties. Things are being held up in court, and so I was not yet on parole, and somehow things just kind of bypassed each other in the legal process.

And I'd like to tell you that I learned my lesson there with having to go through surgery, seeing all the anguish that I was putting my family through, but I didn't change. I wised up a little bit, and I realized that, my goodness, lawyer fees and court restitution and fines, those things are expensive. And so I changed a few of the things I did, but pretty much I was just still in the same scene week in and week out.

And there are a lot of things that started to happen that started bringing me back to faith. Many I can point to. One was just simply my mother standing before me and crying and asking if she wanted my niece to grow up wondering where her uncle was because he is in prison. And now I have three nieces and two nephews, and to miss out on their lives I just can't imagine that. I shared with you that at the beginning of my senior year I was starting to feel guilty. I thought that was my conscience, but what really happened, and I found this out after the fact, that there was a lot of people praying for me, my friends particularly.

They went to CIY that summer. I didn't go. I never went to those when I was growing up. And they were praying for me earnestly that I would come back to Jesus. And so what was really happening was the Holy Spirit was prompting me, and I just ignored it. And I still don't grasp the severity of that, but to no longer have the Holy Spirit prompting a person is rather significant and severe.

Well, it got to the point where I was starting to make some progress, and I came to the conclusion that I just simply couldn't keep the friends I had. I had to do something different. And so I got a job as a substitute teacher and I moved out and I moved back home. My parents took me back in. And I alienated myself from those friends. And it's something I still wrestle with today because I don't have contact with them anymore, but I didn't think I was strong enough as a person to be their friend and not be wrapped up in what we had been doing.

Over the course of time I started helping out with my high school youth group back in my home church. I started working with the FCA being a sponsor for that, and then over the summer I was asked to go as an adult sponsor to a Christ in Youth conference, and so I went. That's the first time I had ever been to one of those, and it just blew my mind. I was already growing in my faith and I was trying and making progress, but I saw things and I experienced things that weekend that were just out of this world to me. I didn't know you could gather that many christians in one place. I didn't know you could experience worship like that. I heard God's word explained in ways I looked at my bible that I just started reading recently, are they preaching out of the same thing that I'm reading out of, because this is just unreal?

I began to see the need for people to hear the truth of God's word. And I left that conference just thoroughly confused. I was on a spiritual high like I had never had before, but yet I was confused, because I was starting to feel things that I had been ignoring for awhile, and I was wondering, was God calling me into ministry somehow?

I had already made commitments to a college. I was only two weeks out from having to report for practice and things, and so I didn't think I could get out of the agreement, and I went there. But even before classes started, I was checking into transferring to Manhattan Christian College. I'm glad I went there. I wound up meeting my wife Melissa there. I transferred to Manhattan Christian College, and just through a series of things I was becoming more in tune with God. I can look back and I can see initially it was just a hunger for God, and it just led to one more thing and one more thing. I started serving my home church as the youth group minister, and then I got married and graduated and served a church in Salina, and now we've been here since February of ?.

And I think back on all that, and it just blows my mind. I can't hardly believe the progress that I've made. I still have a long ways to go, I realize that, but a person whose life and whose past is so messed up -- there is so much that I didn't share. Perhaps on a more individual basis we can, but, you know, some stuff you just don't want to say in front of a lot of people. But that's the beauty of the God that we serve. We serve a God who is a redeeming God, who can take people where they are at, no matter what they've done, and can redeem their past for his glory.

And so now I find myself when I talk to people I really don't like to talk so much about what I've done, but about the fact of what has happened through me. And it's not really just my story, although there is some value in that, and it's not just your story, although there is value in that, but ultimately our story is a part of His story. And that's what really matters. Because when it comes down to it, the story of the redemption of human kind, that's the story that I want to tell and share with people.

CHUCK SACKETT: The worship team is going to come, and we are going to sing and we are going to move to a place in our life where we simply say to God, we want our story to be your story. I trust that that's true for you, that what you really want in life is for your story and God's story to run parallel to one another, that you represent him and he works in you and changes people's lives. Because ultimately what really matters isn't us. It's Him. And as long as our story stays our story, it really doesn't make much difference; but when our story becomes His story, then neighbors and friends and family can never escape the truth. They have to look at it all the time. That is worth submitting yourself to him to accomplish.