Jesus Moves Towards Outsiders
Well, good morning. We are going to be in John 4 today, and so, if you have your Bibles, I would encourage you to keep those out or take them out for the first time. It’ll be helpful as we follow along with the narrative of the woman at the well.
My name is Nathan, as Allan said, and I think we have a picture of my family. There’s my wife, Lauree. We’ve been married almost ten years … our kids, Gray and Bennett. If you’ve been around for any time, you’ve probably seen them running up and down the halls during the service or after the services.
So, one of the things I love to do about my job, and I’ve been here about five years, is connect people with exactly what Miriam was talking about, with people in the community that are serving and loving different people in our community and ultimately introducing them to Jesus. And that’s what we’re going to be talking about today — how does Jesus move towards outsiders, people that are outside our normal groups of people we hang out with, and then how does he call us to do that same thing?
So, let me pray for us, and then we will jump in. Father, thank you that we get to gather together freely when that’s not the case in most of the world right now. God, thank you that we can hear from your Word. We pray that you would clear our minds from things that we’re thinking about from this past week, from work, projects we may have to do after this service. Maybe we were super busy trying to get kids out of a van just a few minutes ago. God, whatever it is, clear our minds so that we can hear from you. We know your Spirit’s already working. And God give us the freedom to be obedient as you instruct us today to actually do whatever you’re calling us to do. Give us freedom and the ability to do that. It’s in your name we pray. Amen.
So, Rosaria Butterfield might be a familiar name to some of you. She was raised and educated in a liberal Catholic setting. She fell in love early on with the world of words. Allured by feminist philosophy and LGBT advocacy, she adopted a lesbian identity. She earned her Ph.D. from Ohio State and went on to work at Syracuse University for about ten years, where she specialized in critical theory, specifically queer theory. She advised LGBT student groups. She wrote the first policy for same-sex relationships on the campus that then was translated to many other universities, and they used that as well. She actively lobbied alongside her partner for LGBT aims at the university. And she would say that she was very much like the woman at the well in our story today, a very unlikely convert. She actually describes herself as a very unlikely convert, unlikely in that she probably is never going to come to know Jesus or follow Jesus. She would describe herself as an outsider in the Christian circles.
So, how does Jesus move towards people like Rosaria? And how does he call us to do that same thing? Well, thankfully, Jesus has lived out most of what he calls us to do already. And in John 4, we see a very similar story of Jesus moving toward an outsider and giving us this example of how to do that.
So, before we jump into the actual story, it’s important for us to get a little bit of context for John. Why is John writing this book? So, John is the author, and he experienced or was with Jesus for almost three years. He had several experiences with him, saw teachings, miracles, a ton of stuff that he could have written and put in this book. But he decided to put the specific stories that are in the book of John for this reason — that we, the readers today and the readers in his day, would believe that Jesus is the Christ, the promised One, to come save his people. And he states this actually later in the book. He makes it super easy for us. In John 20:30-31, he basically says, “This is the purpose of my book. Read it through this lens.” And he says this.
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these [these stories] are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in His name.”
So, as we look at any story or any passage in the book of John, we look at it through the lens of people that are in need of a Savior and know that by believing in him, we can have life in his name. And that’s the only way.
So, to fully grasp the story of the woman that we’re going to look at today at the well, we need a little bit of context for who were the Samaritans? Samaritans — they were this mixed-race people. They had intermarried years, actually centuries, before to the Assyrians. And so, the Jews specifically hated them because of this intermingling. They didn’t like that. It wasn’t pure. They also hated them because they went on and kind of took it two steps further. They went on one step and made their own temple that they could worship in, further isolating themselves from the Jews and the rest of the world, and then they even had compiled their own scriptures and passages to make their own Bible to study. So, the Jews hated them, and really the rest of the world hated them.
So, when we think about Jesus moving towards an outsider, this woman at the well that we’re going to look at, it’s not that she was just an outsider. It’s actually her whole people group were outsiders at that time. So, knowing that John says, “Hey, you have to read this book through the lens of people in need of a Savior,” this is what we’re going to look at today.
First, we’re going to identify with the lady at the well as outsiders, because we’re all people that are in need of a Savior, and we can only get this life by believing in his name. And then second, we’re going to look to Jesus as our example for how we move towards outsiders. You could simply put it … before he is our example, we have to recognize that he’s our Savior.
So, what are outsiders, or who are outsiders? I picked the simplest definition for us so not to box us in. “An outsider is a person who does not belong to a particular group.” Pretty mind blowing, right? So, I want to note that it’s not necessarily a negative thing. Sometimes if we think, “Man, I feel like an outsider,” it feels negative. Or, if we have a particular group, and we say, “Well, they’re outsiders,” it could seem negative, but that’s not necessarily the case. We’re not speaking primarily in negative terms when we say “outsider.”
There are both physical and spiritual outsiders — physical in the sense that we all have our particular groups, our clubs, our workplaces, people that we run with. And anyone outside of that would be an outsider to us. Spiritually, in the sense that anyone who has not accepted this invitation that we’ve been talking about the past three weeks to come and dine at Jesus’s table, anyone that’s not been adopted into his family, anyone that doesn’t believe that Jesus is the only way, that you can have a right relationship with God, and this connectedness with God that Allan was just talking about … If you don’t believe that, then spiritually, you would be an outsider.
So, let’s first look at physically, and this is where we’re going to jump into our story … or you could even say culturally. So, the Samaritan woman … She comes; she appears on the scene; she comes to the well, and we see her arriving there in the middle of the day; so, about 12:00. And this is highly uncommon because typically women in Samaria would travel in groups for two reasons — for protection and for community. Protection against anything else that was out there on their journey, and then just community. Basically, they needed that each day to get through the day.
So, she shows up, and Jesus is sitting at this well. Now, this wasn’t just any random well. This was actually Jacob’s Well, and this is somewhat of a meet-and-greet spot in that day. So, think The Commons, Unity Park, Falls Park, anywhere you would go as a meet-and-greet spot. And actually in the Old Testament, we have several records of wedding ceremonies being performed here. So, the fact that Jesus, a Jew, and the Samaritan woman meet at Jacob’s Well is so countercultural — Jesus is a male Jew; she’s a Samaritan woman. In fact, it was culturally unacceptable for any man to speak to a woman that was not his wife in that day.
And during this conversation that we’ll unpack in just a second, Jesus actually breaks three Jewish customs. So, first he speaks to her despite that she’s a woman. Second, we know that Samaritans and Jews hated each other. So that’s number two. And then he goes so far to ask the lady for a drink of water, which doesn’t seem like that big of a deal today, but in that day, for him to drink from a Samaritan woman’s cup of water would make him ceremonially unclean. This is a huge deal that Jesus is meeting her and talking to her.
Rachel Gilson writes for the Gospel Coalition. She describes this initial encounter like this. She says,
“There are invisible lines in the sand, unknown to modern readers, but well known to John’s first audience. Cultural lines, religious lines, ethnic lines, and gender lines all mark these dramatic rings around that particular well.” And then she says, “But here’s the thing about Jesus: he’s not afraid to cross those lines.”
And that’s how we want to be. I would imagine that when we think about being a physical outsider, even among our little North Hills culture we’ve created, you could feel like an outsider. Maybe you’re not from the South, you think Southern culture is weird. I understand. Maybe you didn’t grow up in church like everyone else, right? It can feel that way. Maybe your own socio-economic status as you’re talking to different groups of people in the church, makes you feel like an outsider. The point is that we all can relate or have been able to relate in some way to feeling like physically an outsider.
Second, spiritually, there are outsiders. So, physically, I think we can all relate or at least somewhat think back to a time where we could relate to being physically an outsider. But second, spiritually. So, in the story we see spiritually this lady was thirsty, she was blind, and then at the root of it, she was not a true worshiper.
So, she was thirsty. I mean, the lady comes to the well, obviously, because physically she needs some water, just basic water. But like many, she was searching for much more, whether she knew it or not. She was searching for much more. I love this quote, and I’m not sure who said it. I would claim it, but that would probably be wrong. So, here’s the quote —
“As dehydration draws the whole of our physical being to longing for water, so a spiritual void will draw our spirits into a search for deeper meaning for our lives.”
Me and Allan have had multiple meetings over the past couple of weeks with people from high school to later on in their years, and all of them … it seems a common theme right now … is there’s got to be more to life. Do you ever think, “There’s got to be more to life than the friends that I hang out with and the things that I own?” Those are good things that God has given us to enjoy. We’re meant for community. We’re meant to have these things that we can enjoy, but they’re ultimately not satisfying in themselves.
And that’s what Jesus is trying to tell the lady at the well. He says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Later in John, Jesus stands up at this banquet and claims a similar thing about himself. He says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” It’s this abundance of life represented at the table that we’ve tried to display, and in this story is life-giving water that is overflowing, and it’s available to us. He says “anyone who thirsts” — all of us; it’s available to us.
Second, she was blind. So, Jesus has just said “if you’d asked me for a drink, I would have given you living water.” And it seems like that would have been the aha! moment, right? “Oh, I came for just a cup of water, and you say you have living water.” It seems like she would chase after that, but no, she goes back to speaking about physical water. She says, “Well, Jesus, you don’t have a pail to get your water, and the well’s too deep. What are you going to draw it with?”
In a similar way, the story of Nicodemus … Do you all remember Nicodemus? So, in the story of Nicodemus, Jesus says, “You must be born again.” Spiritually he’s speaking “born again,” as in “you have to leave the old self, become a new creation.” But Nicodemus goes back to saying, “Well, how can I crawl up in my mother’s womb? It seems impossible.” Nicodemus, it is impossible.
The thing that Jesus is trying to show both of them is that he satisfies completely and forever. He’s saying, “Don’t worry. You’re so caught up on the physical pieces you’re blind to what I’m offering you.” He says, “Come and have this spring of life.” It’s not throwing away the fun to come follow Jesus. I used to think that. That’s not what it is. Jesus is saying to Nicodemus, he was saying to Nicodemus, he’s saying to the woman at the well, he’s saying to all of us, he’s saying, “Open up your eyes to see how full life can be when you taste of the living water that doesn’t run dry. It’s abundant. It’s something you’ve never experienced before.”
So, she was thirsty, blind, and kind of at the root of all of it is Jesus gets to saying, “You’re really not a true worshiper. It’s not just these two things. Really, you’re not a true worshiper.” So, Jesus asks her to go get her husband. Then he tells her he knows that she has had several. And Jesus really levels the playing field for all of us here because when the standard is a perfect God, it doesn’t matter if you’ve had five husbands, twenty husbands. Whatever you’ve done, you’re seen as immoral when the perfect God is the standard. So, he moves the conversation. He starts talking about this sin issue of “Hey, what’s going on? Why have you been in so many relationships?” But then really gets to the heart because that’s what’s underneath, what’s fueling the sin.
He says this. It says,
“Jesus said to her …” This is John 4:21-26. “‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know the Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’”
God is seeking true worshipers. He’s not just seeking people to come to a service. This is good. This is part of how the church is supposed to function, right? This is where we hear from God’s Word. We encourage each other. We go to life group during the middle of the week to unpack it. But that’s not ultimately what God’s seeking. He’s seeking true worshipers. He’s also not seeking you just to tack him onto a list of things to do through the week. He says, “We worship in spirit and truth,” meaning we receive the truth from his Word, other places that we hear his truth, and then God’s Spirit moves that to our heart to transform our heart, and then his Spirit excites our spirit to then worship him.
And before we were Christians, we worshiped just like this lady did — everything but God, right? And we’re still prone to. We’re not out from under that. We still have to fight against that daily. What are we worshiping? The good news is, though … Maybe you’re sitting in the room, feeling a little bit discouraged that you feel like an outsider spiritually. You’re still wrestling through what does it mean to have this connectedness with God, this abundant life? I haven’t really seen that. I’m not sure what you’re talking about. The good news is that Jesus came to seek and save the lost, the outsiders like us, which we all were at one time, or maybe you still are. He doesn’t move away from us. He moves in towards us. He’s saying, “You’re welcome at our table. Come and feast. I want to offer you this abundance, this living water that will overflow and change every area of your life, every area.” That’s the gift we have.
So, knowing that we have this gift of eternal life that God is offering to us, he then says, “Okay, I’ve given you the invitation. Now it’s your turn to go out and extend the invitation to others. Go to the outsiders and give the invitation.”
So, how do we do that? How do we see Jesus in this story, his example of moving toward outsiders? And this is what I love about the life of Jesus as you follow it through the Gospels. He’s never calling us to something that is unattainable. He gives us his Spirit, one, to help, the Helper. And then he calls us to things. They’re not easy, but they’re very simple steps in following him. And this is what I mean.
How do we see Jesus move towards the outsider in this story? The first one is just simply find people. We have to get where people are. The Samaritan woman … She shows up in the middle of the day, and it’s by herself. We see it’s probably because she’s embarrassed or unwelcomed with the other women. It’s also the hottest part of the day that she decides to go. So obviously, she’s not expecting to meet anyone else there unless they’re training for some kind of marathon or something else, or it’s like a natural outdoor sauna. So, she’s there, and Jesus is there, and actually Jesus wasn’t supposed to be there, not just because Jews weren’t supposed to be with Samaritans, but in his traveling, Jews would usually spend two extra days to go outside of Jacob’s Well as to avoid it. Because in verse 6, it says they had no dealings with Samaritans.
So, what does this mean for us? It means that we have to be intentional as Jesus was. Jesus was intentional moving toward this well because he knew he was going to meet people there, specifically this woman. We have to be intentional in moving toward outsiders. It may take more time and effort. It actually may require us to be a little bit uncomfortable. But Jesus calls us to do it.
It’s like Cam and Joy last week. Before Eleos started, they had the idea, and they were exploring where to go and where to move. They moved their entire family to Nicholtown with the primary reason or the primary focus of meeting kids. They both liked going to play basketball. So, they went to play basketball several nights a week. They met kids. They developed genuine relationships with them, befriended them, and then now are inviting them to their table.
So, the question for us is, where are the places we go to find people? We’ve got to ask it. If we’re going to reach the outsiders, where are the places we’re going to find people? And it doesn’t have to be somewhere new. Another way to say it would be what are the natural areas where I’m already at, where people are? This could be the park. It could be your kids’ soccer practice. It could be the bus stop waiting for school or for work. It could be your workplace. Where are the places that we’re being intentional in meeting people? So, we have to find people.
But we can’t stop there. We see Jesus crosses barriers. So, we find people, and then we cross barriers. So, Jesus … We know this. People that have studied the Bible in the last several weeks, we’ve seen this. Jesus has a huge heart for people. But a fear of being rejected or let down, it can cause us to have a small heart. It can cause us not to want to move toward people like we normally would. C.S. Lewis says,
“To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
We see religious, social, racial, moral barriers all crossed for Jesus to simply talk to this woman, ask for a drink, and then offer her this living water.
We’ll have probably ten people from North Hills this afternoon at 3:00, go in the kitchen, get food that was prepared by a life group on Thursday night. They’ll get the food, and they’ll cross many barriers to go to the homeless camps in Greenville to hand out food, knowing that the situation is very unpredictable. They don’t know what they’re going to see.
Over the past summer, we’ve had teachers and tutors and volunteers work with close to forty students in our Score Program, every day crossing barriers to meet the kids where they are, knowing that there’s going to be rejection. But they do it because they know that they have this life in Jesus that only he can offer. And unless somebody takes it to them … We’ve got to take it to them. We’ve got to cross barriers to get it to them, to invite them.
So, here’s the question for us — who are the people in our lives that we know there would be barriers we would have to cross? Who are the people that are already in our lives that we know there would be some pretty major barriers we would have to cross to start engaging with them? If you can’t think of anybody, I think you’d have to go back to the first step in finding people, right? You got to go to places where you find people, where there’s people not like you so that you can engage with them. And what’s holding us back from crossing those barriers? I think when we identify that and pray through that, God helps give us this boldness, this unusual boldness to cross those barriers and meet people where they’re at.
So, we find people, we cross barriers, and then this might be the most frightening for some of us. We actually have to start a conversation. We find people, we cross the barriers to get to them, to engage with them, but in order for them to know that they’re invited to his table, we actually have to tell them, right? There’s no perfect time to do any of this. If we’re waiting on the perfect time to … we’re going to go, we’re going to wait till the perfect time is to go and engage with someone and then start up a conversation, it’ll probably never happen. And we see that with Jesus. Jesus was weary from his journey. He made that clear, but yet he engages with this woman, and it ends up being one of the longest one-on-one conversations with another person in the entire Bible. It’s on a day that he was weary. And then the lady, we’re going to see later, goes in and tells the entire town about Jesus. He started this conversation in a very authentic way. He didn’t do it by saying a three-point sermon, kind of like what I’m doing right now. He didn’t do that.
We don’t stand in a grocery store and tap the person in front of us and say, “Hey, can I tell you four things that start with the letter S about lettuce or whatever it is.” We don’t do that. But for some reason, when it comes to talking about Jesus and inviting them to his table, we think we have to have this perfectly packaged thing. Let’s just start conversations like we would with anybody else about any other topic and then explain to them that Jesus is inviting them.
Lastly, he shows compassion, and he speaks truth. He shows compassion, and he speaks truth. So, Jesus doesn’t shy away from pointing out the sin, right? It has to be addressed that there’s sin. That’s the reason we need a Savior. That’s the reason we need God. But he’s also patient and kind as the lady worked through what all of it meant. She says, “What do you mean we worship here? You say we worship there. You came here for a drink, but you’re saying you have living water. What is it?” She’s digressing from what Jesus is trying to get at. He’s patient and kind with her. And that’s the way we need to be as we interact with others.
Sometimes when we hear a sermon like this, we feel maybe convicted, maybe even a little guilty that we haven’t been finding people and intentional in our relationships. And so we put it on this list of things to do, which there’s a place for that. But sometimes it can just become this guilt list — “Oh, we didn’t get out this week,” or “We didn’t get out last month. Let’s all let’s make it up today.” I would encourage you that when the desire comes from a true love for Jesus and for others, it will not feel like that. We don’t want to treat people like projects, but rather like people just like we were — in need of a Savior, waiting for someone to come tell us of this invitation that only Jesus is offering to us.
One of the ways that Lauree and I have talked about. We lived a couple of years in India. One of the ways that we could tell if a person was becoming a project is if, very honestly, if this was the dialog going on in our head, something like this, “Well, if they don’t become a believer, I should probably just move on to another person,” or “If they don’t end up seeing it this way, then I don’t really have anything else for them.”
We all start with good intentions, right? But if we model the way Jesus did this, we move toward people interested in them and truly wanting them to feel invited. And we have to pray for that. It doesn’t come naturally. We have to pray that the Spirit helps us in that.
So, the disciples … Jesus is ending this conversation with the woman at the well. The disciples have been off in the town, getting supplies, getting food. They come back, and they see Jesus is still weary because he’s had apparently the second longest conversation in the history of the Bible with this woman. It’s pretty long. And so, they asked him, “Do you need something to eat?” And this is what he says.
“Jesus told them, ‘My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months then comes the harvest?’ Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor” [John 4:34-38].
So, basically the disciples say, “Do you need anything to eat?” He says, “I have food. You need to get to work.” This picture that he’s painting for the disciples of this white harvest many scholars think is actually literally happening right then. So, the woman has left the well. She ran into the town, and she said, ‘You’ve got to go meet this guy that told me everything I’d ever done.”
So, all the Samaritans, it says in the story, are coming up to meet Jesus. And in that day, they would have worn white headdresses, white cloaks. So, the disciples literally could be hearing this from Jesus, looking out, seeing this sea of white coming over the hill to meet Jesus, knowing that the lady was the laborer. She went in. She told them. And now the harvest is coming, and it’s their job to now enter into that harvest and minister. The woman at the well invites the whole town to meet Jesus, and then Jesus invites them to be people that feast at His table for eternity.
It says many believed because of Jesus’s word. They first believed the lady that, “Wow, there’s this man out here that’s told me everything I needed to know about myself.” And then they meet Jesus, and Jesus tells them truth. He ends up staying there two days in Samaria, a place that otherwise … a place that anyone else would have avoided. And this is the first group of people in Scripture to confess that Jesus is the Savior of the world, to taste of the living water and be welcome at his table, and it’s a group of outsiders. How awesome is that?
Let’s watch this video.
So, there’s a little comic relief for us. This paints a very accurate picture of what we’ve just been talking about. As believers, we have this abundance. He says we have this abundance, this overflowing well in us, and there are people all around us dying to have it. And we have it! We just have to extend the invitation and give it to them. It’ll be uncomfortable. It’ll probably take more time. It’ll most likely be awkward at some points. But Jesus has invited us in as outsiders and now says, “Hey, it’s your turn. You go to the outsider.”
Last week, Cam said that once you’ve been a guest, you then become a host. And that’s similar to what the woman did, right? She immediately went to her neighbors, neighbors that she had intentionally avoided because of her circumstances or reputation and told them to come meet a man who had told her everything she’d ever done. She wasn’t worried about not being received because of her past. She wasn’t worried about not knowing enough, not having this perfectly packaged gospel presentation. She wasn’t worried about that. She just started with what Jesus had done for her and said, “I’ve been invited. Now you’re invited.”
In a similar way. Rosaria Butterfield, whom we talked about in the beginning, came to know Jesus. So, Rosaria, as you probably can tell from the first bit of her story … She hated the Promise Keepers. This was a parachurch organization focused on men living with integrity. And the group came to Syracuse, and so she wrote an article about it. She received tons of mail, half hate mail, half encouraging mail. And there was one letter that she said she didn’t know what to do with. It was from a Pastor Ken. And she said it was very engaging, and basically all he said was, “I want you to prove your premise. Prove to me the article you wrote is true.” She said she had never been approached like this before. It was respectful. And this started a two-year conversation between Pastor Ken, his wife, and Rosaria, where they would sit around their table, discuss what they believe, discuss what she believes, study the Bible. They would turn off the air conditioning because it offended her. They would serve vegan meals because she didn’t eat meat. She says they simply loved her to Jesus. This is the way she describes it. She said,
“I tried to toss the Bible and all of its teachings in the trash. I really tried.”
And this is after she’s been engaging with Pastor Ken, trying to refute the Bible from a lesbian perspective. And so, she starts doing this research project, reading the Bible with him.
“So I try to toss the Bible and all its teachings in the trash — I really tried. But I kept reading it, reading it not just for pleasure, but reading it because I was engaged in a research project, a program trying to refute the religious right from a lesbian feminist perspective…. After my second or third, maybe fourth pass through the Bible, something started to happen. The Bible got bigger inside me than I. And it absolutely overflowed into my world. I really fought against it. And then one Sunday morning, no different from any other, I rose from the bed of my lesbian lover, and an hour later I sat in a pew at the Syracuse Reformed Presbyterian Church. I went there very conspicuous to the fact that I didn’t fit in, but I really had to confront this God.”
And she did. Embracing Jesus, she says she found herself “single, ex-lesbian with a defunct Ph.D.” She says her conversion in a nutshell was, “she lost everything but the dog” but then found it all in Christ. She now invites outsiders on a daily basis to her table to offer them this life that only Jesus can give. That’s what God is calling us to do, too. And like the woman at the well, she was not beyond the reach of God’s sovereign grace. And thankfully, neither are we.
Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for the amazing grace that you offer to us that while we were yet sinners, you died for us to save us, to extend this invitation to be with you forever. God, may we be good stewards of this message, and may we be people that are willing to go out, cross barriers, start up conversations to find people to extend this invite, where they’ll experience life like no other. God, help us with that. We need your grace. God, thank you for being a kind, gracious, loving Father. In your name, we pray. Amen.