"Surprise, Surprise" #81-29 Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 23, 2014 By Rev. Gregory Seltz, Lutheran Hour Speaker (What's This "Rebirth By Water And The Spirit?") Copyright 2014 Lutheran Hour Ministries
Text: John 4:5-42
Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed and faith in Him refreshes us with God's living water for eternal life. Amen.
When was the last time someone surprised you in a good way? When was the last time that someone did something for you that you didn't expect, that you didn't think they would do, that actually was a benefit to you, and they didn't expect anything in return? Doesn't happen often, does it?
Well, it did happen to this family at Disneyland. It was a hot day, which wasn't a surprise. They were in California, after all. It was the third day of their dream vacation, one they had saved for, for a long time. John and Sherrie had always wanted to bring their two boys, ages 5 and 7, to Disneyland. And now, here they were. But, wow, was it crowded!
They soon discovered in the summer heat that this dream destination could also be a huge parenting nightmare as they tried hard to keep track of their boys in the large crowd. One look in the wrong direction and those eager boys could easily become separated among the many people visiting the park that day. They, of course, had coached their boys when they arrived, laying out the rules: 1) Stay close to us. 2) If we say stop, then stop! 3) Hold my hand in the crowd. 4) Don't talk to strangers. It was this last rule that especially made them nervous. They had never been to California before, but had seen plenty of TV shows that made one thing clear to them: be careful where you go and who you talk to.
But, they were at Disneyland. What trouble could there be "in this place where dreams are made of"? Well, that's what they thought until they saw him coming toward them. As they walked toward a ride under the blazing afternoon sun, Sherrie's heart began to race as she saw a large, muscular, amber-skinned young man with a goatee, tattoos, and a bandana wrapped around his head walking straight toward her. Exactly the person her mom had warned her about, exactly the kind of person they thought they should avoid. She looked desperately over her shoulder to see if John was still with her and she began to stop and turn toward her husband when she heard the man's voice. "Excuse me, ma'am. Your son...." What about my son? She thought frantically to herself as her mind raced in fear. What does he want with my son?
"Ma'am, your son's feet are bare. He must have taken off his shoes somewhere, and the ground is hot, just thought you might want to know." She looked down at her five-year old who was indeed barefooted and hopping uncomfortably on the blazing hot cement of the walkway.
"Oh, no!" Sherrie said. Lifting her son up into her arms and feeling the heat radiating through her son's feet. "I hadn't noticed!" She looked at the stranger, now standing there smiling, pleased to have been of help, and she wondered about the feelings she had about him just moments before. "Thank you," she said.
"No problem," he said. "Glad to help. Enjoy your day," And he walked off. She looked wide-eyed at her husband, and then at her son as he said to her, "Mommy, you talked to a stranger..."
"Yes, I did, son. Once in a while, it's okay for mommies and daddies, not children, to talk to strangers." (And she was thinking, even though I did break one of these rules, boy, am I sure glad that I talked to that stranger today.)
Surprise, surprise. Blessings that come when you're not expecting them, from people from whom you wouldn't expect them; opportunities arising where you didn't think they would. That doesn't happen in this world. But that kind of thing happens a lot when you engage the Lord Jesus in and through His Word because He is not merely a benevolent Stranger, He is the Lord of the Universe, the Savior who died on the cross for you and me, and He loves us with an everlasting love! When you get to know Him by faith, you will not only be surprised, you'll be graced, blessed, forgiven, redeemed!
In our text for today, John talks about just such a surprise encounter with a surprising blessing. It happened to a woman at a well with a Stranger on a hot day. This particular Stranger shouldn't have approached her, shouldn't have talked to her, at least according to the community rules that had been set up between Jews and Samaritans. But this was no ordinary Stranger. This was Jesus, not just the Savior for the Jews, but for all people. Jesus crossed over the man-made walls of bigotry and hatred, meeting this woman where she was, not only for help for her aching back or parched throat, but for real healing and hope for her lonely, life-parched heart.
Jesus answered her, "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."
What a moment in this woman's life, face to face with Jesus Christ. I wonder if this woman ever got the "don't talk to strangers" lecture from her parents. Actually, it didn't matter for her, because generally nobody wanted to talk to her, not even those from her own village. The other women in town didn't approve of her life, so she found herself trying to avoid them all rather than deal with their scorn day after day. That's why she is at the well under the noon-time sun instead of in the morning when the others come to the well.
But Jesus approaches her anyway. And she did what she always did, whether it was a stranger or someone from the town; she looked down, she stayed quiet. Maybe He wouldn't even notice her and surely He wouldn't talk to her, because there were rules about such things. You see, to keep the peace, there were rules against Jewish men like Him talking to Samaritan women. So she was extremely surprised when this Man approached her openly and asked for a drink. She was surprised that they began to talk and, surprise, surprise; Jesus had something to bring her, something to bless her with. He came with news of God's promises fulfilled, news that would end the separation between God and sinful people and to end bitterness that divides families and communities and nations.
Put yourself in this woman's place. Would you have received Jesus the way she did? Would you have let Him speak pointedly about your life? Would you have let Him have His say as she did? Or would you have put up the walls of separation, the walls of unrepentance and self-pity, preferring to live life even miserably because, well, it's the life totally in your control.
Human beings are notorious for building emotional and spiritual walls of separation. When someone hurts us, rather than dealing with it, calling for repentance, unleashing the power of forgiveness, we would rather simmer in our feelings of disrespect and anger, putting up emotional walls preventing any sort of healing. And when there are problems in our communities, it's much easier to wall it out or wall it in, to make sure that it isn't in our backyard rather than engage our neighbors together as partners in real community solutions. Walls, emotional fortifications, barriers; as broken human beings, we're very good at turning in on ourselves because of sin and fear, and keeping people out of our lives, even keeping God at bay.
Human walls don't come down easily either. In northern Peru, the Inca civilization has disappeared off the landscape except for one important feature, the walls. Even though everything else of this civilization of people is gone, their walls still stand. This is the bad thing about human walls, even when they are supposed to, they don't come down easy.
But as Jesus demonstrates in this lesson, that's no way to live. That's the way of emotional thirst, the way of a soul that's parched, dehydrated, slowly deteriorating. That's no way to live, but it's certainly the way to die; and Jesus won't have any of that, not for this woman, not for you, and not for me.
He calls her to repentance, to trust in Him, to receive from Him the living water that literally brings life and salvation. The woman knew that this Jesus was the One who would cross every chasm, overcome every barrier to bring her eternal life and salvation. He's that for us, too. There's nothing greater in this life than the wall that separates all people from God because of sin. That wall is high, it's deep, it's impenetrable. But that is exactly the wall that Jesus Christ overcame when He died on the cross. That is exactly the barrier that He broke through so that you could have access to God as your Father and not as your judge! Wow!
Surprise, surprise! Instead of being hampered by the silly rules of sinners, rules that say "Don't associate with this group or that group." Rules that said "Don't waste your time talking to that insignificant person in society," Jesus smashes through those faulty rules of sinful bigotry to bring life, reconciliation, healing, and peace not just to a few, but to everyone who believes in Him.
Jesus said to her; He says to us, "Everyone who drinks of this water (the water of Jacob's well) will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."
So, my friend, are you at the same place like the woman in our text who realizes how parched her soul is, how empty her life is on her own terms? Are you ready to say with her, "Lord, give me that living water"? The Lord Jesus is calling you to repentance of your sin today, to be honest with the emptiness in life that's there because you've been running from the God, the God who loves you and cares about you. He's offering you real life, living water as a gracious gift. That's what faith in Jesus is all about.
But to believe, to be satiated with Christ's living water of forgiveness, life, and salvation, receiving the love of One who overcame everything so that we might live; we not only have this life for ourselves, we have this for the sake of others in our lives too. With such a persevering love from God, how can we but not do all that we can to climb every mountain, descend through every valley, strive to overcome any obstacle to share the love of Jesus Christ with those God brings into our lives?
Think about it; in this lesson Jesus was willing to "Go there," to go to the place that people told Him, warned Him not to go. He was willing to go to the place of the hated Samaritans to bless them.
For us too, He was willing to go where sinners needed Him to go; literally, the hell of the cross, so that we might be blessed, redeemed, saved in His Name!
We don't just get to receive that. Like the woman in our text, now we get to give that away to others as Christ has indeed given all that to us!
You know the first thing that this woman did after her encounter with Jesus was to go back to her people and to share what she had received from Jesus. Incredibly, the people that had shunned her, the people that had ostracized her, the people that had made her life miserable; she goes back to them, for them, because she has met Jesus!
With the Living Water of the love of Christ, she could go there for others. Well, that same Jesus Christ has loved you too. You can go there for others as well.
You know, one of the ways that people often put up barriers is emotionally. When they're struggling with something or someone, they just keep it to themselves, even if they really can't handle it. One of the ways that they keep people from penetrating that barrier is to say, "Don't go there. Don't go there." Have you ever been talking to a friend or a family member and heard (well, maybe have even said it to yourself), "Oh, just don't go there!" You know, that's out of bounds, that's too personal, that's too painful.
Well, surprise, surprise, to those you love and care for. Even if it may be difficult, or even if it seems impossible, you can go there for them! And, remember why you go there for others. It is not to judge, to criticize, but to imitate the love of Jesus Christ, a love that can engage people right where they are and bless them. You can go there because you have a Savior who has gone there for you and promises to love those people who are dear to you with a love that is beyond your and our imagination.
As our Savior, Jesus wouldn't let any man-made fears or barriers restrict Him from bringing His love and salvation to this woman or to us.
There are places in this world that no human being should have to go. There are places that no human being should have to live, but they do. Who would imagine that a community of people who have been pushed to the margins of society, who have been walled off from polite society, imagine this, that even they could know the joy and peace of Jesus Christ even there? Well, there is such a town. There is a town on the margins of the city of Cairo, a town built atop an active landfill. That's right, a garbage dump. In fact, it's called "Garbage City" in Cairo, Egypt, a longtime home to an impoverished, marginalized community of Coptic Christians for whom life is only going to get harder.
The so-called Zabbaleen have been the trash collectors of Cairo for generations. The fathers and their sons go out into the city and collect the garbage in beat-up pickup trucks or donkey-drawn carts. They bring it back to their community, where the women meticulously sort through it all. They recycle an incredible amount, as much as 80 percent, selling whatever is salvageable. Particularly poor families rifle through the trash for food to eat. They have created a complex, labor-intensive process for getting the most out of what other people just throw away.
The Christians of Egypt have been historically repressed, and the Zabbaleen are a potent symbol of their station. They were pushed to the outskirts of the city hard up against the Moqattam Mountain. Even when they tried to build a church to worship their Savior, a Savior who would even journey to the dump so that they might be saved, the authorities tried to stop it. Did that stop them from receiving and sharing Christ? No way. Instead of building on the dump then, the Zabbaleen dug out worship space in the adjoining caves. It now boasts a huge amphitheater that can seat thousands. In fact, the "Cave Church" is now a tourist attraction. It is magnificent and spiritually vital, built on the faith of those who believe in a Savior who was willing to come for them, to go there for them.
Asked by the Voice of America about the future of Garbage City a few weeks ago, resident Adel Gad el-Rab said, "We are the garbage collectors, but we live on a mountain of faith."
Do you wish to know this Jesus, the One who can rescue you and me from the posh palaces of prosperity or from the garbage dumps of hopelessness and despair? Are you at a point in your life when you know that you need the living water that only God can give? Well, this is the day; this is the day for you to receive God's blessings to you in Christ by faith. When you put your faith in Him, when you become wise unto salvation and life in and through His Word, and when you begin to live for and love others the way that Jesus Himself loves you, all I can say is that you are in for the surprise of your eternal life. God bless you. Amen!
LUTHERAN HOUR MAILBOX (Questions & Answers) for March 23, 2014 Topic: What's This "Rebirth By Water And The Spirit?"
ANNOUNCER: Once again, Questions and Answers with Pastor Gregory Seltz. I'm Mark Eischer. Pastor, in the story of Nicodemus Jesus talks about the need to be born of "water and the Spirit." That sounds a whole lot like baptism. So, what exactly is baptism?
SELTZ: Mark, our listener picked up on a powerful blessing from the text last week...namely Jesus promising His blessing to all those who are "washed in the power of the Holy Spirit."
ANNOUNCER: And when Jesus gives or promises something, it's always a gift of His grace to us, right?
SELTZ: Exactly. Remember Jesus' last command in Matthew to "Go make disciples, by baptizing them and teaching them!" So already here, Jesus alludes to that. In John 3, being "born again," is to be made alive by the Holy Spirit, through Christ's gifts! Baptism is one of those gifts.
ANNOUNCER: It's also pointing us to that place where water and the Holy Spirit are joined together, namely, Holy Baptism.
SELTZ: Again, Matthew 28 says it, "That's right."
ANNOUNCER: And it's not the water itself or even the amount of water that gives baptism its power.
SELTZ: No way, to Nicodemus, to us, the Spirit is Christ's gift through the water. He takes ordinary water to bring blessing through ordinary things to ordinary people like you and me. But like we said, the power of that "washing" is the power of the Name of God in the Spirit.
ANNOUNCER: I recall a pastor who once said, "Baptism always works because God is the One Who's doing it." What exactly does God do in baptism?
SELTZ: Think of it this way; God finds us and God claims us through the Gospel. The Gospel is God's Good News of salvation through the work of Jesus for us. And that message graciously comes to us in visible and audible words by the power of the Holy Spirit to bring us to faith in this Jesus.
ANNOUNCER: And that Word-in all of its forms-delivers Christ and His grace to us.
SELTZ: Absolutely, It's Good News we can hear, touch, taste, even feel as it's washed all over us!
ANNOUNCER: Well, who then should be washed with this Good News?
SELTZ: Remember Jesus, again in Matthew 28, He said that "all nations" should be baptized. Our Lord's sincere desire is that everyone enjoy the benefits of His baptism.
ANNOUNCER: Why are there so many differences concerning baptism among Christians?
SELTZ: Well, some unfortunately focus on the method of baptism or the amount of water for various reasons. But that really isn't a key issue. As we said earlier, it is the power of the Name connected to the water that makes baptism what it is. Now, we shouldn't ever be stingy about applying God's grace to someone, in fact we should lavishly apply water with the Name. But, in a pinch, even a little dab will do the Name just fine.
ANNOUNCER: What about that issue of whether to baptize adults or children?
SELTZ: All I can say NOW is that those who baptize only adults look at baptism as something "believers do for God." Those that baptize infants, children, and adults emphasize that in baptism, God is principally at work. In fact, He's coming to bless and redeem "all sinners." And there's no age limit to that. Scripture clearly connects the forgiveness of sins with baptism. So, when we're talking about forgiveness, we're talking about justification - something that all people need regardless.
ANNOUNCER: Is that what Jesus infers when He talks about the need to be "born again?"
SELTZ: Yes, it's part of it. Justification is what God did in and through the work of Jesus, to save us. He took the righteousness of Christ and simply and graciously credited it to us as a gift, justified us. Think of a courtroom scene. You know why you're there standing before the judge. You're guilty as sin. You're guilty of sin. And you await the judge's/God's just verdict...
ANNOUNCER: But at that moment God looks at us and declares us innocent of all charges.
SELTZ: Right, Someone has taken your place! Taken your punishment...But in order for the Judge to look at you and say "innocent" He had to look at the One who took your place and say "Guilty." That's Jesus, and that verdict was really, historically pronounced on the cross when Jesus paid the full penalty of our sin. So, for the sake of Jesus we are declared righteous. That's justification.
ANNOUNCER: And to be "born again of water and the Spirit"?
SELTZ: That's people receiving God's "life giving, life restoring news" personally. The apostle Paul even says that in baptism we put on Christ. We now wear His righteousness. You know, in today's fashion-obsessed society you are often identified by what you wear. So, the baptized child of God can now even make a fashion statement for Christ receiving God's gift of "new clothes," and then loving one's neighbor because that's what a person born again of water and the Spirit, that's what they do.
ANNOUNCER: Thank you Pastor Seltz, this has been a presentation of Lutheran Hour Ministries.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"We Believe That This Is Jesus" by Mark Sedio. Concordia Publishing House
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