Category Archives: Talking About Jesus

John 1:35-42: Talking about Jesus Andrew’s way

You see a gorgeous sunset, or a full moon, or a funny cat video on Youtube. Or perhaps you find a great new coffee shop, or a band, or playground, or craft brewery, or fashion label. Your FIRST reaction is to ENJOY it. But then, for most of us, our SECOND reaction is to want to SHARE it with someone who’ll APPRECIATE it.

Why do we DO that? I think there are TWO REASONS. Firstly, because a pleasure shared is a pleasure DOUBLED. We get EXTRA enjoyment out of seeing someone ELSE enjoy it. It’s not just the experience, there’s the SHARED experience. Which is EVEN BETTER.

The second reason we want to share good things is because we want our friend to BENEFIT. We want THEM to have a good laugh, or to find JOY just like WE have.

And that’s at the heart of why many people in our church are quite evangelistic about A CERTAIN DIET. Lots of people have found it a really effective way to lose weight, with other health benefits too. And they want their friends to benefit like THEY have. And people have found that the topic of food and the ketogenic diet seems to find its way into ALL SORTS of conversations.

Wouldn’t it be WONDERFUL if we were as enthusiastic about sharing OUR SAVIOUR and LORD as we are about OUR DIET?! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got such JOY and BENEFIT from Jesus that telling others JUST BUBBLED OUT of us?! Because we want THEM to know him TOO!

And that’s what we see about the Apostle ANDREW. How he brings people to meet Jesus.

  1. ANDREW’S CHARACTERISTICS: JOHN 1:40

The first thing to notice about Andrew is HIS NAME. ANDREAS. It’s Greek for “man”, or “manly”. And it may be John, the author, wants us to see him as A REPRESENTATIVE DISCIPLE. Every man. Someone for us to IMITATE.

He’s Mr Average. One writer calls him “Saint of the rank and file.” He was never known as a great teacher, or preacher or scholar. God never used him to write Scripture.

He’s less well-known than some of the other disciples. In v40 he’s referred to simply as “Simon Peter’s brother.” Because it’s PETER who’s the well-known one. But that doesn’t mean Andrew doesn’t have an impact. Ordinary people can still make a difference!

Notice that Andrew’s the FIRST one to meet Jesus. (In the Greek Orthodox he’s called Protokletos – the first-called.) And then it’s Andrew who brings Peter to Jesus.

  1. ANDREW’S CONVERSION: JOHN 1:35–39

Jump back up to v35, and notice how Andrew met Jesus. John’s out in the wilderness, baptising people. And he’s with two of his disciples. They’re un-named at the moment. He sees Jesus walking past, and he points his disciples to him. “Look, the Lamb of God.”

It’s a summary of what he’d said the PREVIOUS day. Back up in v29, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away, or who CARRIES, the sin of the world!”

Remember, dealing with SIN is what John the Baptist’s ministry is all about. Preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, Mark 1:4 says.  And in Matthew 3:6 people are coming to him in the wilderness, CONFESSING their SINS. And he’s BAPTISING them in the Jordan. And he preaches, in Luke 3, that people need to produce fruit in KEEPING in repentance. (To share with others. To not be greedy. To be just and fair. To be CONTENT.)

But even as he’s DOING that, he recognises that he’s not really DEALING with sin. He’s preaching about people changing their attitudes, and their behaviour. But he can’t change people’s NATURE. He can’t change them so they don’t sin any more. Or don’t WANT to sin. And he can’t bring FORGIVENESS. Or remove GUILT.

He’s only introducing the One who REALLY WILL deal with sin. JESUS. Who’ll baptise WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT. Who’ll bring new birth. Genuine change. From God HIMSELF.

And here in John’s Gospel, he calls Jesus “the Lamb of God who CARRIES the sin of the world”. It’s the language of a sacrificial sin offering. Leviticus 1:4 says that when the priest offers an animal for pay for sin, he’s to “lay his hand on the head of the animal, and it will be accepted ON HIS BEHALF to make atonement for him.”

The priest, by laying his hand on the animal, symbolises that it’s his REPRESENTATIVE. He is ONE with the sacrifice. His sin, and its guilt, is TRANSFERRED to the animal. And the animal CARRIES it. And then is PUNISHED for it. On behalf of the person who BRINGS it.

And that’s the picture John presents of Jesus. Someone who can deal with your sin. Who can CARRY it. And then bear God’s wrath for it in your place.

John’s preaching can’t do that. And his water baptism can’t do that. And the changed behaviour of his hearers can’t do it. It’s no wonder he points his disciples to Jesus instead. And it’s no wonder his disciples FOLLOW JESUS INSTEAD.

There are all sorts of ways you can help your friends and family. Good advice. Practical help. Financial support. A shoulder to cry on. But you can’t carry their sin. Only Jesus can do that. Do what John did. Point your friends to JESUS.

The two disciples change their allegiances. And start following Jesus, instead. Before long we’ll find out one of them is Andrew. The other one is probably John, the writer of the gospel. V38 and 39. They ask Jesus where he’s staying. He invites them back, and they spend the day there with him.

Most of our English translations say something like that. But a more literal translation of the Greek gives a different emphasis.

“They asked, Teacher where are you remaining (or dwelling)? He said, Come and see. So they went and saw where he remained (or dwelt), and they remained WITH him (or dwelt with him) that day.”

Just in case you didn’t pick it up. Remaining with Jesus seems to be important. In fact John’s gospel uses the word forty times. Especially when we get to Ch 15, and Jesus describes himself as the VINE. And the disciples are the BRANCHES.

You see, for John, the Christian life is about FOLLOWING JESUS, TRUSTING him, and then REMAINING in him.

And Andrew, our representative “every” man, gives us the example to follow.

Don’t follow HUMAN leaders. They can’t carry your sin. Follow Jesus. Trust him. And REMAIN with him. Don’t follow another. That’s the lesson! That’s the model.

We don’t know exactly what they talked about. Or even how long they were there. But it must have been a pretty significant conversation. Because the first chance Andrew gets, once he leaves Jesus, v41, he goes and tells his brother Simon, “We’ve found the Messiah.” And he brings him to Jesus.

Andrew follows Jesus on the strength of John the Baptist’s recommendation – “Look, the Lamb of God who carries the sin of the world”. And by the end of the day, he understands that HE’S THE MESSIAH. Probably KNOWING what it means to have his sins CARRIED. And dealt with. And genuinely washed away.

He experiences something wonderful. And he wants to SHARE it with the brother he loves. He wants PETER to know the joy HE knows. He HEARS about Jesus. He FOLLOWS him. Then he TELLS Peter. And then he BRINGS Peter to Jesus. That’s the process.

And then when PETER meets Jesus, we see the beginning of the NEXT step in the chain. V42. Jesus looks at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter).

It’s the beginning of Peter’s relationship with Jesus. Andrew means MAN. And Peter, in Greek, means ROCK. In the future, Peter will be part of the foundation stone Jesus builds his church on. One of the key people in how the church grows and spreads. Grows as people like Peter and Andrew HEAR about Jesus, TRUST him, go and TELL others, and bring THEM to Jesus TOO.

And it BEGINS because Andrew TELLS Peter about Jesus. And BRINGS him to Jesus.

But it’s not only Andrew’s FAMILY he tells. There are people he doesn’t even know.

We get a couple more small glimpses into Andrew’s method of evangelism. And they’re only found in John’s gospel. Perhaps John, as a close friend, with the shared background he had with Andrew, was the only one who NOTICED.

In John 6, a huge crowd follow Jesus and the disciples up on a mountainside. Phillip can’t see any way they’ll be able to feed everyone. V7 He says that even if they had eight month’s wages, it wouldn’t even buy enough for a BITE for everyone. And v8 is where Andrew comes into the story.

8 Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, 9 “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”

Such a small decision, but look at how Jesus used it!

Andrew’s looking around. Perhaps gone for a walk, and meeting people. And he finds a boy, whose mum’s packed him lunch. He can’t see such a small amount will really help the situation. But he does what he’s in the habit of doing. He brings the boy to Jesus. Andrew can’t solve the problem. But he goes to the One who CAN. He brings Jesus what he’s GOT, and trusts Jesus for THE REST.

And it’s not even BIG faith, is it!? “But how far will they go among so many?” he says.

Jesus multiplied that small act of obedience, and used it to bless thousands. Jesus could have produced food out of thin air, but he doesn’t. Instead, he works with what Andrew brings him. He loves to see our dependence and faith.

Can you do THAT? Can you come to Jesus part way? With your questions? And your uncertainties? And trust him for the answers?

“Jesus, here’s my unbelieving family. I’ve tried to share you for years. But they’re not interested. And I keep messing it up. I’m not sure what you can do with them, or with me.”

“Jesus, here’s my Uni friends. They’re all far smarter than me. And everything they say always sounds so reasonable, and well thought out. I never seem to be able to answer their questions very well. I’m not sure how you’re going to be able to save them.”

“Jesus, here’s my gifts and talents. It’s not much. I’m inconsistent, and my prayer life isn’t much. And I’m not experienced. But there’s that need for … a Scripture teacher/ a musician/ someone to meet up with that new Christian … I’m not sure how I can help.”

Can YOU be an Andrew? Bring what you’ve GOT to Jesus. And leave the results up to HIM?

Our last small story about Andrew is in John 12. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Passover. He’s just entered Jerusalem on a donkey with the crowds cheering him, and blessing him as king of Israel.

But it’s not only the Jews who are attracted to Jesus. In v20 we read about some Greeks who are there for the Passover TOO. And they want to find out more about Jesus. They ask Phillip, one of the disciples. Perhaps his Greek name shows he spoke Greek well.

For some reason, rather than taking them straight to Jesus himself. He goes to Andrew. And look at what Andrew does. It’s no surprise. 12.22. “Andrew and Phillip told Jesus.” Such a small gesture, you hardly even notice it. But it may have been LIFE-CHANGING for those Greeks!

Can YOU do that?

Bringing people in from the fringes. Outsiders. To meet Jesus. Gentiles who haven’t been included in God’s people. But their part of the WORLD whose sin the Lamb of God has come to carry. They’re part of the WORLD God loved so much, he sent his one and only Son that WHOEVER believes in him won’t perish, but have eternal life.

And Andrew BELIEVES that. Believes that ANYBODY can have forgiven sins, and eternal life, through Jesus. So that’s who he brings them to.

That’s all we’re told. We don’t know what happened when Jesus met them. Whether they became disciples or not.

And, in a sense, that’s the way it works when WE do it as well. We never know, beforehand, how it will turn out. And often, we never find out AFTERWARDS. But Jesus’ salvation doesn’t depend on whether we’re aware of the outcome. It doesn’t depend on our work AT ALL. Because we can’t save them. Or carry their sin. But we can bring them to Jesus, like Andrew did. And leave the rest up to HIM.

Do you know Jesus like that? Have you had YOUR sin forgiven? Carried? Dealt with? Perhaps you’re OLD. Perhaps you’re YOUNG. Perhaps this is the FIRST TIME you’ve heard about Jesus. Or perhaps it’s the HUNDREDTH time. But if you don’t know what it means to walk through life with the burden of sin and guilt removed, then COME TO JESUS. And let him CARRY it FOR you.

I can’t DO it. But I can bring you to the One who CAN.

Many of you have already DONE that. So I want to encourage you to do what Andrew did next. Find someone to TELL. And then BRING THEM to Jesus.

You may be an ordinary person like Andrew. But God can use ordinary people in extraordinary ways.

YOU can’t save your friends or family or workmates. But you can bring them to Jesus, who CAN save them. You can’t deal with their sin and guilt. But you can bring them to Jesus, who CAN.

Bring them to Jesus in PRAYER. Bring them to the Bible where they can MEET him. Bring them to events and other people who can explain what following Jesus looks like.

And leave the rest up to Jesus. The Lamb of God, who carries the sin of the world.

Acts 10: Talking about Jesus God’s Way

What’s the most EXTRAVAGANT DECLARATION OF LOVE you’ve heard of?  Perhaps someone proposing marriage by skywriting? Or in front of a huge crowd at a baseball game? Or an elaborate trail of clues with expensive gifts along the way, finishing in an amazing spectacle and proposal.

A friend of mine was recently married. And the story of his proposal to his Canadian wife is fantastic. And IT’S the most extravagant declaration of love I’ve heard of. He went to Canada to spend time with her, and to propose. Which is fairly extravagant on its own. But then he took his friend’s brothers out for a day bushwalking. And their plan was to scout for the PERFECT location for the proposal. They spent ALL DAY LOOKING. One brother was running late for a music lesson, but my friend had ONE FINAL DESTINATION in mind. So he headed off down a 2 mile forest path to check it out. Because he wanted his extravagant declaration of love to be perfect.

On the special day, they had lunch at a lovely restaurant, and then they went walking through the forest. As they came near a clearing, they could hear some violins playing. As they walked into the clearing, my friend had organised a picnic, and a string quartet of her brother and sisters, playing their special song. At which point my friend proposed, and everyone started crying.

An extravagant declaration of love.

And today I want to think about GOD’S extravagant declaration of love. His declaration of love for humanity.

He gave us life, he gave us creation, he gave us a relationship with himself, he gave us companionship, and a job to rule over it.

And even though we proved unworthy of it, and ungrateful, and rebels against him, God continued to pour out his love for humanity. He sent us rain, and sun, made food grow for us. He made promises to his people, and he rescued them.

But God was planning A MORE EXTRAVAGANT DEMONSTRATION of his love. Through the prophet Isaiah, in about 600 BC he promised to send a servant who’d come and restore his people, Israel, back to God.

But even THAT wasn’t enough for God. He had even BIGGER plans. Listen to what he says in Isa 49:6.

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for THE GENTILES, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

God’s plan was NEVER to keep his love confined to only ONE NATION. His servant would be a light for ALL THE WORLD. To NON-Jews EVERYWHERE. That’s how big God’s plans are. How EXTRAVAGANT his love is.

And in the fullness of time/ he sent JESUS. God’s SERVANT. His light to THE WORLD. God’s ultimate declaration of his love. John 3:16

16 “For God SO LOVED THE WORLD that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

WHO did he love? The WHOLE WORLD. How much did he love it? SO great, he sent his ONLY SON, so that those who trust his Son would have life that LASTS.

And so, in the fullness of time, Jesus was born, lived an extraordinary life, then was killed, and then resurrected. God’s extravagant declaration of love to the world.

But so far, only really having had an impact on a small number of Jews. Hardly all God had promised to Isaiah!

But as we take up the story at the start of the book of Acts, we see Jesus promising the Holy Spirit to his disciples. God dwelling in and with his people. They recognise the beginning of a new age. Acts 1:6

Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

But they’ve failed to recognise the extravagant nature of God’s love. How BIG his commitment to his world is. Jesus answers, Acts 1:7-8

7 …”It’s not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and YOU WILL BE MY WITNESSES IN JERUSALEM, AND IN ALL JUDEA AND SAMARIA, AND TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH.”

Witnesses about God’s servant Jesus. Witnesses not just to Israel, but to the ends of the earth. To the whole world.

That’s the plan for God’s extravagant declaration of love to humanity. And it’s that plan WORKING OUT the book of Acts describes.

And the first 9 chapters describe how the message of Jesus s through Jerusalem, and then all Judea, and then Samaria.

Acts 10: Salvation:

And so we come to Ch 10. And we’re at Caesarea. A Roman colony in the north of Israel. Where we meet a Roman centurion called Cornelius. A GENTILE.

He’s someone who wants to know God. But he doesn’t yet. We’re told he’s a God-fearer. He was devout, and generous, and he prayed regularly. But it’s not enough. He needs a personal introduction.

And God’s got a plan for him. A plan to reveal Jesus to him. A plan for SALVATION. But it involves A MATCHMAKER.

I don’t know whether you’ve ever thought much about MATCHMAKING people? Mark Glanville’s had people trying to set him up with lovely Christian s for years. I’ll admit I’ve had a few passing thoughts in the years I’ve known Mark. But, for one reason or another, none of the introductions ever worked out. And Mark was getting older, and he was REALLY keen to get married.

In the end it was Mark and Erin’s FATHERS who got their heads together and decided they’d be a good match. Not normally fathers who are good at this sort of thing. But they were spot on in this case. Mark’s father was the principal at Tyndale Christian school, and Erin’s father would regularly come out from Canada to do in-service training for the teachers at Tyndale.

But this time last year, after their conversation, Erin’s dad decided to bring Erin with him. And Erin and Mark were introduced at a Parramatta Eels footy game. And the rest, as they say, is history. They married in April this year.

It took matchmakers.

Same with Cornelius. He was keen to know God. And God LOVED this Gentile Cornelius. But they needed an introduction. A matchmaker. And the matchmaker was GOD HIMSELF.

And Acts 10 fills us in on the story. Have a look at v3. An angel appears to Cornelius, probably during his regular prayer time. And tells him his prayers and gifts to the poor have caught God’s attention. And that he’s to send a messenger to get Simon Peter from Joppa.

That’s all. But presumably Peter will then tell him what to do next.

And as we work through the rest of the matchmaking story here in Ch 10 – a story much better than Mark and Erin’s – we see a whole lot of things about SALVATION. About God’s extravagant love for people, and how he REVEALS that through Jesus.

  1. One nation is not enough Isa

First thing we’ve seen already about salvation. One nation is not enough. God’s plans have always been to save not just Israel, but THE WHOLE WORLD. That’s how much he loves it.

Which was great news for Cornelius, the FIRST Gentile in Acts God introduces himself to.

And it’s great news for us. Gentiles on the other side of the world.

  1. God’s initiative

Second thing we learn about salvation. Is that it’s GOD’S INITIATIVE.

Cornelius was a God-fearer, he PRAYED, he did good things. But it took GOD sending an angel to make the introduction.

Salvation is ALWAYS God’s initiative. Whether it was Cornelius THEN, or you and I TODAY.

On our own, we can NEVER seek God, never understand our need for him. Or how to be saved. It may not involve an angel, but it’s ALWAYS God opening our eyes, showing us our sin. Giving us the faith to understand Jesus’ , and the faith to trust him.

  1. good works are not enough

Third lesson about salvation. Good works are not enough. Which would be a bit of a shock for people around Blacktown if you took a survey today. How can you get to heaven? How can you be saved? Do enough good works! 7 or 8 times out of ten I reckon you’d get that answer.

But that’s not we find here. Cornelius and his whole family were DEVOUT – religious. They PRAYED, they generously gave money to the poor. Down in v22 we’re told he’s righteous and respected by all the Jewish people. And God had even NOTICED it ALL. Surely they’d be at the front of the queue.

But it WASN’T ENOUGH.

No one can EARN their way to God. It’s where every human religion falls down. Christianity is UNIQUE in this. It says God has to bridge the gap. God has to take the initiative.

Good works aren’t enough to save someone.

  1. an angel’s message is not enough

Fourthly, an angel’s voice isn’t enough to learn about salvation. If it was you or I making the introductions, we’d think an angel would be the most impressive way of introducing Cornelius to God. Yet, what’s the angel’s message? Not, here’s how you get saved. But “You need to go and get PETER. HE’LL tell you what you need to know to be saved”.

And, for the most part, that’s exactly how God chooses to reveal the message of salvation to people TODAY. Obedient normal Christians telling people they care about the news about Jesus using normal words in normal conversations in normal situations.

Not very exciting. But that’s God’s preferred method. An angel’s message wasn’t enough. It needed the witness of a faithful Christian.

And when it comes to the Jesus All About Life media campaign, that’s the emphasis as well. The TV ads don’t tell viewers the news about salvation. They spark interest, get people talking, hopefully either to friends who are Christians, or to other Christians at the campaign call centre. And the point is for ordinary local churches, filled with ordinary local Christians, to be doing the explaining and proclaiming.

That’s the way God did it with CORNELIUS, and it’s the way he mostly does it today.

  1. externals don’t count

The fifth thing we can learn about salvation is that externals don’t count.

From v9. Cornelius’ mates are on their way to Peter’s house. Meanwhile it’s Peter’s turn to pray. He’s waiting for lunch to be cooked. And while he’s praying he sees a vision. It’s a big parachute full of unclean animals. All sorts of food Jews couldn’t eat: pig, snake, lobster, eel, vulture, bats, lizards. And it’s let down out of heaven, and in v13, the command, “Get up Peter, and EAT!”

Like one of those challenges they have on SURVIVOR. You can win immunity if you eat a plate full of spiders, or roaches.

And Peter, like the good Jew he was said, v14,

14 “Surely not, Lord!” “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”

And the voice answered, “Do not call ANYTHING impure that God has MADE CLEAN.”

And just in case Peter didn’t get the message the first time, the same thing’s repeated twice more. And then the unclean animals and the sheet return to heaven WHERE THEY CAME FROM.

Some dreams you wish you never woke up from. They’re THAT GOOD! But I reckon THIS ONE Peter was glad to get behind him. He woke up wondering about what it MEANT. Because it DID mean more than simply what FOOD was going to be on Peter’s plate for lunch. As he was about to find out because Cornelius’ mates arrive. V19.

19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.” 21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?” 22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”

And at some point during their explanation the penny must drop for Peter because look at what he says next.

23 Then Peter INVITED THE MEN INTO THE HOUSE to be his guests.

Normally a Jew would NEVER invite a Gentile into his house. They were seen as UNCLEAN. Yet Peter works out what the vision meant. That with God externals don’t matter anymore. It’s not just FOOD that God makes clean. ANYTHING/ or more importantly ANYONE God declares clean shouldn’t be thought of as unclean.

It doesn’t matter to God the colour of your skin, or where you’re born. Doesn’t matter to God what language you speak, how old or young you are, or what your education is. Doesn’t matter how far you’ve wandered from God. If God declares someone clean, then they’re CLEAN. The OUTSIDE doesn’t matter, it’s the INSIDE that counts.

Peter learns the lesson, and invites these previously unclean Gentiles into his house. And the next day they head off to see Cornelius.

When they get there, Cornelius has rounded up all his friends to hear what Peter has to say. After all, it’s not every day an ANGEL tells you to invite someone to visit.

And here’s what Peter says (v28)

“You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with a Gentile or visit him.

Not exactly the introduction designed to win friends and influence people. But Peter’s learned an important lesson.

But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection.

When it comes to salvation, externals don’t count with God. Which is exactly what Peter realises after Cornelius retells his story about the angel. Down in v34.

“I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts men from every nation who fear him and do what is right.

  1. is peace with God through Jesus Christ

And so we finally come to the message of salvation. Lots of things we’ve seen that DON’T count when it comes to salvation. But here’s what DOES COUNT. V36

36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, telling the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all.

Salvation is peace with God through Jesus Christ. No longer enemies with the God who made you/ through Jesus who is LORD of all.

Peter goes on. Jesus was anointed by God with the Holy Spirit, went around doing good. And then how he was killed, v39, by hanging him on a tree, a sign of God’s CURSE.

But then, rather than being CURSED by God, he RAISED HIM FROM THE . Proof of God’s APPROVAL. And we’re WITNESSES of it all! And v42.

42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the . 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”

That’s how you’re SAVED. How you receive peace with God. How you’re FORGIVEN. Trusting in Jesus, the one who died in your place, but raised to life.

So:

That’s what salvation is. Who it’s offered to. And how they get it.

But let’s ask the “So what?” question. If that’s God’s extravagant declaration of love, what do I DO with that? Let me suggest the same thing Erin did with Mark’s proposal, grab it with both hands, and commit your life to loving him back.

If God offers us life and forgiveness and love through Jesus, the FIRST thing we should do is ACCEPT it. Repent of our sin, and submit to the Lordship of Jesus. That means commit your life to RETURNING the love that God has for you by following Jesus. Living HIS way instead of yours.

The second way we respond to God’s extravagant proposal of love is to view his world the way God does.

One nation is not enough. One class is not enough. One language. One age group. One suburb. One church. One continent.

God wants to see people EVERYWHERE recognising his love. Yet we settle for 5% of Christians in Australia. Dozens of countries with NO KNOWN CHURCHES, and we’re happy with how the Christian is going.

Let’s lift our gaze. Widen our vision. Let’s become EDUCATED about mission. And the needs of our brothers and sisters in other countries.

Let’s settle for nothing less that PEOPLE EVERYWHERE loving God BACK.

And let’s look beyond externals the way GOD does. We look at someone RICH, and think they won’t be interested in Jesus, because they’ve got everything they need. Or someone comfortable, or popular, or healthy, or talented.

But externals count for NOTHING.

We look at rough people, people who swear, or are on , or alcoholics, or criminals. And assume they won’t be interested in God. They’ve made their choice. They’re too far gone.

But externals count for NOTHING with God.

Third way we respond to God’s extravagant declaration of love. Is to CONFIDENTLY PROCLAIM JESUS AS CHRIST AND LORD OF ALL. His body ISN’T in a tomb somewhere. He ISN’T just another moral teacher. He ISN’T just a good example. The founder of another religion.

He’s LORD and CHRIST. God’s anointed king. Eternal conqueror of sin and . Ruler over every power and authority. Deserving of all honour and respect and allegiance and obedience.

We RESPOND to God’s love by confidently proclaiming Jesus as Lord and Christ over all.

And finally, we reflect God’s extravagant love for US, by LOVING GOD’S WORLD EXTRAVAGANTLY. By giving our lives over in service of others.

Extravagantly spending our TIME and ENERGY and EMOTIONS on people who can’t repay it. People God loves. People God gave EVERYTHING to because he loved them SO MUCH. And so he calls us to love them like HE does.

God’s extravagant declaration of love to his world is this – he loved his world SO MUCH, he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not perish, but have eternal life.

Acts 17:16-34, Col 4:2-6: Talking about Jesus Paul’s way

There’s a saying about EDUCATION. Those who CAN, DO. Those who CAN’T / TEACH. And those who can’t TEACH / teach teachers. I remember when I was doing my teacher training, it seemed like our education lecturers were the WORST teachers we’d ever seen! They’d mumble, they were boring. They’d have no plan, no structure, no visual aids, no classroom interaction. But they were supposed to be teaching us how to teach. The message was, “Do as I SAY. But don’t do as I DO”

But when it comes to the Apostle Paul, the greatest missionary and evangelist EVER. It’s different. He’s someone who could DO it. AND can teach US how to do it as well. We need to be doing as he SAYS, and as he DOES. Because he’s someone who TALKS THE TALK about evangelism, but who WALKS THE WALK. Word AND deed.

It’s one of the interesting things when you study the New Testament. That you’ve got the book of Acts that tells the story of what Paul DOES. Written by Luke, a co-worker. And then you’ve got HIS LETTERS that tell us what he SAYS. Written at roughly the same time as he was DOING all this missionary work. And it’s interesting to COMPARE them.

Today we’re going to look at two of those sections. One from his letter to the Colossians where Paul TEACHES how to do it. And then from Acts 17 where he DOES it. We’ll begin with what he SAYS. Colossians ch 4. V2. Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains.

First thing to notice. One. Paul is PRAYERFULLY DEPENDENT. Pray for yourselves he says. But don’t forget to pray for ME TOO. Pray that God would open a door for our message. Because it’s all about what GOD does. You see, when you’re telling people about Jesus, it’s not a sales pitch. It’s not all about getting the words right, and leading someone down the path, until they can’t back out of the deal.

Pray, ask for GOD’S help, because it’s all about HIM opening doors. He’s the one providing opportunities, guiding paths, arranging circumstances, providing courage, giving words, softening hearts, opening eyes, granting faith.

Some people think if it’s all about GOD, then we can just sit back and do nothing. But that’s not it at all. Paul goes on to talk about all the areas where WE have a responsibility TOO. It’s BECAUSE God’s in charge of it all, that we tell others, and that we KEEP GOING. Because if it was just up to US, we’d stop whenever things looked hard, or we were tired, or people rejected us.

Our motivation to do OUR part is that GOD is doing HIS part. Notice how Paul describes it back at the end of ch 1. v29 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. 29 To this end I labor, struggling with all HIS ENERGY, WHICH SO POWERFULLY WORKS IN ME. He keeps working hard, BECAUSE God’s working powerfully in him.

Second part of Paul’s approach is there in the next verse. He’s CLEAR. V4. Pray that I may PROCLAIM IT CLEARLY, as I should. When you’ve got a message that saves lives. It’s wasted if no one hears you. If they don’t understand. I sometimes watch those Beach Rescue shows – at Bondi, or on the Gold Coast.  And you see the frustration of the lifeguards as they try to communicate the dangers of the beach to tourists who don’t speak English. They do everything they can to make their message AS CLEAR AS THEY CAN because it SAVES LIVES.

We need to make sure we work hard at KNOWING OUR CULTURE. So we can communicate Jesus in a way they understand, that they can relate to. With language and concepts they understand, and in settings they can relate to. Will men listen to a talk around a BBQ, and with a beer in their hand? Then let’s do THAT. Or will they open up if you’re working together building a deck? Then offer to HELP someone. Are parents looking for holiday activities for their kids? Then let’s run a holiday kids club. And if they’re watching and reading Harry Potter, or Frozen, let’s use THAT to get across our message. That’s how Paul does it in Athens. Understand the culture you’re immersed in. And speak YOUR message in THEIR language, in THEIR categories. We’ll look at that passage in a moment, but let’s just run through the rest of Paul’s advice.

Third, be WISE. V5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; Be THOUGHTFUL. Don’t speak first and think later. Ask yourself, “How will they respond if I say THIS? What will happen if I do THAT?” What’s the issue BEHIND the question? Wisdom is about knowing when to speak and when to LISTEN. It’s about knowing what battles to fight, and which ones to overlook. Listen, pray and think before you speak. That’s wisdom. Be WISE in the way you act towards outsiders.

Four. Be OPPORTUNISTIC. Second half of v5. “Make the most of every opportunity”. That’s part of wisdom TOO. Being ready, and knowing WHAT to say when someone says, “Those floods in Townsville are terrible, aren’t they? What’s God DOING?” Or when they tell you about their sick child. Or complain about real estate prices. Or ask you what you think about the latest movie, or cricket scandal.

Sometimes it takes COURAGE to make the most of opportunities. Like when it’s with a close friend or family member – you don’t want to risk the relationship. Or perhaps the comment comes when you’re in a big group. And it will seem easier to say nothing, and perhaps follow it up later.  But do it anyway. Be OPPORTUNISTIC.

Fifth, be GRACIOUS. V6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, That’s wisdom too. Better to lose the argument and keep the friend. Than win the argument and lose the friend. I find that asking lots of questions, and listening well is a good way of being gracious. People like to talk about themselves. It’s not only gracious to listen, it’s SMART. Because it helps you know the other person better.

Six. SEASON your conversation. v6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, SEASONED WITH SALT, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Salt gives things FLAVOUR. Makes them INTERESTING. Make sure you VALUE-ADD to conversations. Make sure you move them from plain, uninspiring stuff to something bursting with life and flavour. And do it in a way that’s attractive. That people catch a glimpse of something THEY want to have, or be, or experience.

And I think the LAST phrase of Paul’s description is THE END RESULT of all that. When you’re doing the previous six. THEN YOU’LL KNOW HOW TO ANSWER EVERYONE. Whatever comes up, whoever says it, in whatever situation. You’ll have something to say that FITS. That’s just right for that person.  The Greek says “you’ll know how to answer EACH one”. A custom-made answer for EACH PERSON. No one approach will work for everyone.  We’re to be like the electrician up the power pole. With a tool belt full of tools. Things hanging off hooks and filling up pockets. There’s screwdrivers, drills, tape, pliers, connectors. Whatever comes up, he’s got the right tool to deal with it. That’s the Christian who’s ready to take the opportunities God brings across his path. Knowing how to answer each person.

Paul in practice

That’s the THEORY. Now let’s see how Paul puts all that into practice. Acts 17 v16. He’s in Athens. He’s got some time to kill while he waits for his traveling companions to join him.

Athens. It’s an amazing place, even today. One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, where you can still see the evidence of the incredible architecture; and the artworks.  Except that, what these days we call works of art, back then were IDOLS. That they WORSHIPPED.

And while tourists today might Ooh and Aah as they walk around, Paul did something DIFFERENT. See it there in v16. He was GREATLY DISTRESSED. Idols EVERYWHERE. Gods for every area of life. For rain and sun. For luck and war. For fertility and love. For protection. For wealth.

Regular, natural, ordinary

And so, Paul, moved by compassion, has to speak. So, v17, he goes to the synagogue FIRST. Reasons with the Jews and Gentiles who are there. They understand the God he’s talking about. They’ve got the SCRIPTURES.

Not a bad starting place. But that’s not all. They’re not really the ones serving the idols. So where ELSE does he go? The marketplace. Right in the middle of town. Where all the hustle and bustle and noise is. Finds something to stand on. And begins to speak. Or maybe he just wanders around chatting with people. But WHATEVER he does, he DOES it. Day after day. To ANYONE who’d listen. Conversation that was REGULAR, NATURAL and ORDINARY.

What’s the equivalent of the marketplace for US in Ashfield? Perhaps it’s the Carnival of Cultures. Or maybe outside the Council Chambers on a Saturday morning. Perhaps if you’re a bloke, it’s the Pub, or the Sports Club, or gym. If you’re a woman, perhaps it’s Mum’s playgroup, or tennis, or the hairdresser. Or maybe it’s on the sidelines of the kids’ soccer. Or pushing the kids on the swings at the park. Or sitting in the doctor’s waiting room. Or at the school gate waiting to pick up the kids. Or the craft group. Or book club. Or Lions Club. If we want to be like Paul, that’s where we’ve got to be. And we need to fill those places with natural, consistent, God-soaked conversation. Talking that’s a LIFESTYLE thing. Something we do without planning it. It doesn’t JUST go on the calendar, it happens naturally – SPONTANEOUSLY – as we get to know those people around us. It needs to happens with INDIVIDUALS as well as what we do as church. Regular, natural, ordinary. As Paul wrote in Colossians 4. Make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so you may know how to answer everyone.

That’s what Paul’s doing. And it doesn’t take long before people start to notice. V18. He starts getting HECKLED from the crowd. Some Epicureans and some Stoic philosophers. Which is the OTHER thing Athens was famous for. Idols/ and PHILOSOPHERS. Great thinkers like Aristotle and Plato. And in THIS case. Epicureans and Stoics. And verse 21 sums it up.  21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there SPENT THEIR TIME DOING NOTHING BUT TALKING ABOUT AND LISTENING TO THE LATEST IDEAS.) Like one long episode of Seinfeld, or Friends. Hang around, and talk about nothing at all. Sit and drink coffee, and chew over the latest trends in philosophy. And here, they’ve found ANOTHER new idea – in PAUL. And they both join forces in RIDICULING him. “What’s this BABBLER saying?”

  1. Proclaiming the unknown God

But Paul seemed to have an effect on at least SOME of them. Look at v19. He gets an invitation to the meeting of the Areopagus. It was the ultimate compliment. Like being invited to address the National Press Club. Or the National Geographic Society. “Give us your best shot. Make it as clear and well-thought-out as you can” And we’ll let you know what we think.” This is Paul’s big chance. It’s a much better gig than the marketplace. Like being upgraded from busking on the street corner, to singing on the main stage at the Opera House. So how’s he going to do it? Like he said in his THEORY. He’s got to be CLEAR. And to be CLEAR, he’s got to be RELEVANT. Building bridges. Finding common ground.

And if you watch Paul in action at the Areopagus, that’s EXACTLY what he DOES. Notice, first, as he talks to a bunch of NON-JEWS, that the message Paul delivers in verse 22 to 31, is VERY, VERY DIFFERENT to the sort of thing he says when he’s talking to the JEWS. To the Jews, it’s a bunch of quotations from the Old Testament scriptures. Matching up THE PROMISES with the MESSIAH. You can see that in Ch 13. But this is different. Plenty of Old Testament IDEAS. But the only two things he directly quotes are a couple of their favourite poets. Verse 28. “For in him, we live and move and have our being.” And ANOTHER poet, who wrote, “WE ARE HIS OFFSPRING”.  And the only other thing Paul quotes is an inscription on one of their IDOLS, v23. “To an unknown god.”

Now think about that for a minute. The first thing he says. Because when he first sees their city full of idols, you know already Paul’s DISTRESSED BY IT. But when he starts TALKING to them, you wouldn’t guess that, would you? He’s actually gone around READING THE INSCRIPTIONS. Thinking it through. Because in verse 22 and 23, he’s looking for COMMON GROUND. And rather show that he’s upset. He COMPLEMENTS them. “Men of Athens. I see that in EVERY WAY YOU ARE VERY RELIGIOUS.” They sure ARE! There are idols EVERYWHERE.

  1. Who made who?

And so Paul goes on. And he quotes from something he’s seen/ that makes the PERFECT BRIDGE for what he wants to talk about. As he’s walked around Athens, he’s spotted AN ALTAR. With an inscription on it. These Athenians, they’re so worried they might have missed making an idol to some god or other, they’ve made ONE EXTRA. To the GOD THEY DON’T KNOW. Just in case.

It’s a bit like at the American War memorial in Washington DC. Where they have a TOMB OF THE UNKNOWN SOLDIER. The remains of an unknown soldier killed in battle / who represents the loss of ALL UNKNOWN SOLDIERS. Except in America there was a huge stir a few years ago, because it turned out that the US Army knew EXACTLY who the unknown soldier killed in Vietnam was. And they hadn’t bothered telling his family. The Unknown Soldier was KNOWN AFTER ALL.

Well, Paul’s going to do the same thing here. The unknown God was KNOWN AFTER ALL. v23. Read what he says  “For as I walked around and observed your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something UNKNOWN, I’m going to proclaim to you.

And in verse 24 to 31, the next 7 verses, that’s exactly what he does. He says, DON’T WORSHIP IDOLS THAT YOU’VE MADE. Worship THE REAL GOD. Who MADE YOU!  They’ve built their beautiful temples. They’ve carved their incredible idols. But the point is, they’re all MAN MADE. They’ve created their own gods in their own image. To suit THEM. Paul says the REAL God isn’t like that at all. The God they don’t know. Is the EXACT OPPOSITE. Look at verse 24; “The God who made the world and everything in it IS THE LORD OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, and doesn’t live in temples built by hands.” He made YOU. To suit HIM.

And you can’t CONTAIN him. Just the opposite. GOD CONTAINS YOU. Verse 28; and he quotes THEIR OWN FAVOURITE POET. He says, you know this already. Your own poet says it. IN HIM WE LIVE AND MOVE AND HAVE OUR BEING. We are HIS offspring. He determines US. We are defined because of him. Not the other way around.

See, that’s what it’s like when you make an idol, isn’t it? You INVENT A GOD FOR YOURSELF. You figure out the sort of god YOU’D LIKE. A comfortable god. A god in your own image, who doesn’t make too many demands. And you carve it the way you think it should look. Trouble is, the REAL GOD; the God they DON’T KNOW – is the God who made THEM. To do what HE WANTS. Keep reading from verse 25; he’s not served by human hands as if he NEEDED ANYTHING – because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. And he says in verse 26, he MADE US. And he put us where he wanted us. And he determines the times and the places FOR US; exactly how he wants it. A very different picture from the sort of tinny little gods in Athens. Even if the tinny little gods looked big and golden.

Verse 29 sums it up. He says THEREFORE, since WE ARE GOD’S OFFSPRING – he MADE US, he designed us in incredible detail – we shouldn’t think that the divine being is like gold… or silver… or stone – an image made by man’s design or skill.

Repent

(And here’s the sting) In the past God OVERLOOKED such ignorance. But NOW HE COMMANDS ALL PEOPLE… everywhere… TO REPENT. Exactly the same message Paul and the other apostles have been preaching all along. Whether to Jews or Gentiles. Turn back to the God who made you. The essence of the Christian message. But said in a very different way

And I need to ask, have YOU done that? Paul’s message to the Athenians is a message just right for Australians TOO! Are you serving the god of yourself? Are you the centre of your world? Or is GOD? Because God’s set a day when everything you’ve ever said or done is going to be judged – with absolute justice. And Paul says, we’re going to be judged by JESUS HIMSELF. And God’s given proof of that. By raising him from the dead.

At the MOMENT, God’s being PATIENT with your ignorance. But one day his patience will run out! So listen to the warning. And turn to God. God’s already got the day picked out. When you’ll face the prospect of being treated by HIM/ in the same way you treat HIM NOW. Whether you’ve spent your life worshipping THE CREATION. Or the CREATOR. Which is where Paul ends his speech.

And the usual thing happens. Some just laugh. Others say, WE WANT TO HEAR YOU AGAIN. And keep their options open. Some believe. A few men and women in the midst of all the thousand who heard Paul speak. Which is not to say Paul’s method was WRONG. Because when you’re declaring the message about judgment and forgiveness through Jesus, people WILL reject you. But there’ll also be people who DO BELIEVE. Because it’s GOD doing his work.

And our job is simply to do OUR job. And leave the saving up to God. 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

1 Peter 3:8-18: Talking about Jesus Peter’s way

I want to begin by pointing out THREE SHOCKING SENTENCES in Peter’s letter. The first two we just read. I didn’t hear any sharp intakes of breath when we read them, so perhaps you didn’t notice them.

One. Look at v9 of 1 Peter 3.

Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, BECAUSE TO THIS YOU WERE CALLED so that you may inherit a blessing.

God has CALLED you to be CURSED by people. That’s his PLAN for people he LOVES! Shocking!

Two. Down to v14.

14 But even if you should SUFFER for what is right, you are BLESSED.

Not just has God PLANNED IT, but there’s something GOOD about it when you suffer. God’s BLESSING you when you’re persecuted. Shocking!

And finally down to ch 4 v19. Summing it all up. Just in case we haven’t grasped it yet.

19 So then, those who SUFFER / ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL should commit themselves to their FAITHFUL CREATOR and CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.

TWO shocking things there. First, when you SUFFER, it’s GOD’S WILL. Somehow the faithful Creator WANTS us to suffer.

And the second thing is what Peter calls us to DO when we suffer. Rather than shake your fist at God, he says COMMIT YOURSELF INTO THE CARE of the One who’s WILLING the suffering. The one who’s your FAITHFUL CREATOR. And then CONTINUE TO DO GOOD. DESPITE what’s happening to you.

Is that REALISTIC? Is that SHOCKING? How is it POSSIBLE that suffering can be a BLESSING? That GOOD can come from it? And, in particular, how can your REACTION to suffering serve to advance the cause of the gospel?

They’re the questions we’re going to answer today. But let’s pray before we begin.

PRAY FIRST

John Bunyan, the author of Pilgrim’s Progress, was released from prison in England in 1672 after 12 years, off and on, in prison. His crime? Daring to preach the gospel of Jesus in a church other than the Church of England. I visited Bedford in England where Bunyan’s non-conformist Baptist church was.

Before his imprisonment his first wife had died, leaving him to care for four children, the oldest of which, Mary, was born blind. He re-married a year later. Within a year he was arrested, leaving Elizabeth, pregnant, to care for four children not her own, with no means of support.

While he was in prison, Elizabeth miscarried. For 12 years, off and on, she cared for the children on her own, and bore John another two children.

After his release he continued as the pastor of his little church that met in a barn in Bedford. But the persecutions continued. One biographer describes the situation,

Meetings were broken in upon, worshipers hurried to prison, “separatists changed the place of gathering from time to time, set their sentinels on the watch, left off singing hymns in their services, and for the sake of greater security worshipped again and again at the of night. Ministers were introduced to their pulpits through trap-doors in floor or ceiling, or through doorways extemporized in walls.” Bunyan expected to be taken away again and deeded over all his possessions to his wife Elizabeth so that she would not be ruined by his fines or imprisonment.

Pretty tough! Shocking to think that all of that could be A BLESSING. And that it could be GOD’S WILL.

But that’s what Peter’s teaching. He’s writing his letter to a pretty similar situation. Christians being persecuted for nothing more than following Jesus. The Roman Emperor Nero blamed the fire in Rome in AD 64 on them. He had them arrested, and killed for sport.

And it’s in a situation like this that Peter writes the shocking words: they were CALLED to suffering, that suffering is BLESSING, and that it’s God’s WILL. Shocking!

So how CAN good possibly come out of suffering? It’s a question Peter returns to again and again through his letter. Let’s just quickly run through THREE of them. v6 of Ch 1. Trials REFINE your faith

Now for a little while you may have had to SUFFER GRIEF IN ALL KINDS OF TRIALS. 7 These have come so that your faith-of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire-MAY BE PROVED GENUINE and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

All sorts of things we’re tempted to trust in. But when suffering comes. All of that gets burned away. Money, or intelligence. Health, approval and popularity, or good planning. The Sovereign, loving, all wise God who created you for his purposes is the only one WORTH trusting.

And suffering has a way of CLARIFYING things. What SEEMED so important just doesn’t MATTER. Who cares about WORK, or leisure, or promotion, or possessions, or ambition? When LIFE ITSELF is in the balance?

That’s the REFINING NATURE of trials on our faith.

The second good thing that can come out of suffering is that it means WE’RE FOLLOWING JESUS. Peter doesn’t try to explain suffering away. In fact, he says over in 4:12 you should EXPECT it. Have a look

Do not be SURPRISED at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something STRANGE were happening to you.

Here’s the way to approach it.

13 But rejoice that you PARTICIPATE IN THE SUFFERINGS OF CHRIST,

Christ suffered FOR A PURPOSE. Good came out of it. It brought our salvation. If we’re following Jesus, then we should expect suffering to come to US TOO. He puts it like this in 2:21

21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, LEAVING YOU AN EXAMPLE, THAT YOU SHOULD FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS.

It’s no more and no less than what Jesus went through for US. So follow Jesus through it. That’s the GOOD that can come through suffering.

Three. Suffering shows we’re DONE WITH SIN. Have a look at Ch 4:1.

4:1 Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because HE WHO HAS SUFFERED IN HIS BODY IS DONE WITH SIN.

You have to make choices about what MATTERS when life is falling apart. And it can help you harden yourself to the seductiveness of sin when is near.

When you choose to endure suffering in Christ’s name, you’re deciding that HIS NAME is more important than YOUR COMFORT. That HIS PURPOSES are more significant than YOUR self-centredness. And that’s a choice God can USE to make you more like Jesus.

(Three. Suffering shows we’re DONE WITH SIN)

But what I want to FOCUS ON today is the FOURTH good thing that can come from suffering. It can be GOOD FOR THE GOSPEL. It can make people recognise Jesus in us. And hand their lives over to him.

The particular sorts of trials Peter is thinking about here is not sickness or unemployment or a in the family. But persecution because you’re a Christian. Not something we’re PARTICULARLY familiar with. But plenty of places in the world we’re it’s an everyday occurrence.

And Peter says the way you RESPOND to people who persecute you can bring GOOD out of those sorts of trials. Have a look at v9 of Ch 3.

9 Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult, but with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.

Choose to give blessing when they insult you. Because God’s blessing for YOU depends on you giving THAT to others.

That’s the way to respond to suffering. It’s the way GOD INTENDS you to deal with it. That’s what the third of our shocking verses said. 4:19

19 So then, those who SUFFER / ACCORDING TO GOD’S WILL should COMMIT THEMSELVES TO THEIR FAITHFUL CREATOR AND CONTINUE TO DO GOOD.

That’s saying to God “I don’t understand this. But you made me. You know what’s best. I’ll just keep trusting you, and living the way you want.”

Why is that God’s will? Jump back to 2:12 to see what EFFECT that can have.

12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Your opposite response to those who persecute you can actually cause them to recognise Jesus in you. That’s the RIGHT way to respond to suffering.

And yet, often, we’re tempted to do the OPPOSITE in the face of being treated badly. We often use suffering or persecution as AN EXCUSE TO SIN.

It might just be that we RESPOND IN KIND. We bite someone’s head off when they tease us about being a Christian. We curse when WE are cursed. That’s the way.

Or we get defensive and embarrassed. Ashamed of Jesus. Clam up and say nothing.

Or it might be PRIDE. Thinking we know better than God. And BLAMING God. Accusing him of not noticing, or caring, or being ABLE to change our situation.

Or perhaps in the face of suffering, we feel sorry for ourselves, and we try to make ourselves feel better. It might be by taking it out on someone else, like the kids, or our spouse. Easy targets.

Or perhaps there’s a sin you fall back into easily when life’s kicking you in the guts. For guys it might be , or anger, or drinking. For s it might be self-pity, or worry, or shopping. But we think, “I DESERVE this. It will make me feel better.”

We’re tempted to shift our identity from belonging to Christ, and seeking to bring glory to him in everything. To being a SUFFERER. To being someone who deserves pity. A victim.

We’re tempted to covet. To wish we had what someone ELSE had, or belonged where someone else belonged. Tempted to distrust God. Tempted to think he DOESN’T know what he’s doing.

How do YOU respond to suffering and persecution? Do you respond by SINNING? Or by living godly lives, which is God’s will? Responding by DOING good, and SAYING good. So that people can SEE IT, and give praise to God.

The next hint Peter gives about responding to suffering is there in v14 of Ch 3.

14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “DO NOT FEAR WHAT THEY FEAR; DO NOT BE FRIGHTENED.”

Whether it’s persecution for being a Christian, or suffering like sickness, or loss. SO OFTEN the Christian distinguishes himself from others by facing it WITHOUT FEAR.

  • We’re not afraid of REJECTION, because we’re accepted by God.
  • We’re not afraid of PAIN, because Jesus enduring much worse for our sake.
  • We’re not afraid of SICKNESS, because the worst that can happen is we DIE.
  • We’re not afraid of , because Jesus has beaten it
  • We’re not afraid of LOSING FAMILY, because we’ll spend eternity with our SPIRITUAL FAMILY. Those in Christ
  • We’re not afraid of POVERTY, because we have a RICH INHERITANCE waiting for us

Do not fear what THEY fear, says Peter. They’re all things THE WORLD fears. Those who don’t know Jesus.

Instead, he says, v15.

15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

Set apart comes from the word to MAKE HOLY. To exalt. To make special. Put him NUMBER ONE. Set him apart as LORD. As BOSS. Nothing comes before him. Everything is decided, and defined, IN RESPECT TO HIM. He’s the centre of your Universe, not YOU.

Is that the way YOU approach things? “How can I make Jesus LORD in this decision? How do I SHOW that?”

And with those two attitudes in place, Peter moves on to THE PRACTICALITIES. V15 again

Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

With a life where you continue to do good despite suffering. A life lived without FEAR. A life where you’re committing yourself to your faithful Creator, and setting apart Christ as Lord. It’s a life people NOTICE.

And WHEN they ask how you can react the way you do. BE READY TO ANSWER. Know why and how you’re doing it. Know what Jesus has done for you. Know how to explain that to someone else.

And then Peter goes on to say “Do it with GENTLENESS AND RESPECT.” Don’t Bible bash someone. Don’t be so full-on, they won’t want to talk to you again. That they cross to the other side of the street when they see you coming. Trust God to do his work. In HIS timing. Be gentle and respectful.

It’s the VERY METHOD the Jesus all about life campaign wants quiet Christians to be using.

ONE way to talk about what Jesus has done/ is to do it the way Peter does in v18. In v17 he says again it’s better, if it’s God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. In other words sometimes God’s PLAN FOR YOU is to suffer because you’re a Christian. And then in v18 he gives a REASON for what he says in v17. Have a look. Why is it sometimes God’s plan for you to suffer though you’ve done nothing wrong?

18 For (Because) Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to in the body but made alive by the Spirit,

Because that’s EXACTLY WHAT Jesus ENDURED. Suffering to though he did nothing wrong. Jesus LOVED YOU TO .

And it was God’s plan because he died FOR ALL. IN PLACE of all. The righteous INSTEAD of the UNRIGHTEOUS. So we could come to God. Guilty, but forgiven.

There was a PURPOSE to the suffering.

And, even though he SUFFERED. THAT WASN’T the end. God had a BIGGER plan. He moved THROUGH . And was MADE ALIVE by the Spirit.

And that’s exactly what you can be saying when someone asks, “Why is this happening to you? I thought God was supposed to look after you Christians. I thought he was supposed to love you.”

And your answer could be something like, “I don’t know exactly why it’s happening. But I know Jesus went through worse than me. And he did it because he LOVED me. And God PLANNED it that way because he wants to deal with the mess the world’s in COMPLETELY AND FINALLY.

And it wasn’t the end for Jesus. And I know it won’t be the end for ME EITHER.”

That’s being ready with an answer that’s giving a reason for the hope that’s in you.

And Peter’s words here aren’t simply theoretical teaching he read in a book somewhere. He’d LIVED this sort of response to suffering. Flip over to Acts 3. He heals the lame man in Jesus’ name. Then he gives the reason for the hope he’s got. V13.

13 The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his servant Jesus. You handed him over to be killed, and you disowned him before Pilate, though he had decided to let him go. 14 You disowned the Holy and Righteous One and asked that a er be released to you. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the . We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

Into ch 4 we see the priests and temple guards don’t like that sort of message, so they arrest Peter and John, and throw them in jail. But look at v4 of Ch 4.

4 But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

Isn’t that exactly the way Peter describes it in his letter? 2:11-12

12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Peter speaks up against the high priest and the Sanhedrin. The very group of people who’d been responsible for Jesus’ about two months earlier. V12.

12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”

And look at the response from the Sanhedrin.

13 When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

Do not fear what they fear, says Peter, But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.

Peter and John are warned from preaching anymore. To which they respond (v19)

“Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. 20 For WE CANNOT HELP SPEAKING ABOUT WHAT WE HAVE SEEN AND HEARD.”

Jump over to ch 5. The apostles are STILL preaching in the temple. Crowds gather, miracles are done. The Sanhedrin, v17, are filled with jealousy. They throw the apostles in jail. But an angel opens the prison doors at night, and at daybreak (v21), they’re back in the temple preaching again.

When the Sanhedrin find out, they’re arrested again. V28

28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s .”

Peter and the other apostles respond. “We must obey God rather than men! That’s setting apart Christ as Lord!

Jump down to v40. The apostles are FLOGGED, and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus, and released. And look at how the episode finishes. Does the flogging and warning WORK? V41.

41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

And the gospel throughout Jerusalem, and then Judea, and then Samaria. And ultimately to the ends of the earth. Through the godly response of Christians to persecution and suffering. Through Christians setting apart in their hearts Christ as Lord, and always being prepared to give an answer to everyone for the hope they have.

Peter TAUGHT it, and Peter LIVED it.

So how did it work with John Bunyan? How did HIS suffering cause the gospel to advance? For Bunyan the key to setting apart Christ as Lord in his heart was to focus on the Word of God. That was the key. A biographer said this:

Prison proved for Bunyan to be a hallowed place of communion with God because his suffering unlocked the Word and the deepest fellowship with Christ he had ever known. (He quotes Bunyan)

I never had in all my life so great an inlet into the Word of God as now [in prison]. Those scriptures that I saw nothing in before were made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now. Here I have seen him and felt him indeed. . . I have had sweet sights of the forgiveness of my sins in this place, and of my being with Jesus in another world. . . I have seen things here that I am persuaded I shall never, while in this world, be able to express.

He especially cherished THE PROMISES OF GOD as the key for opening the door of heaven. “I tell thee, friend, there are some promises that the Lord hath helped me to lay hold of Jesus Christ through and by, that I would not have out of the Bible for as much gold and silver as can lie between York and London piled up to the stars.”

Charles Spurgeon described Bunyan like this:

“He had studied our Authorized Version . . . till his whole being was saturated with Scripture; and though his writings . . . continually make us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ him anywhere; and you will find that his is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak with out quoting a text, for his soul is full of the Word of God.”

And God used suffering and persecution as BLESSING. To turn Bunyan to himself. So Bunyan might set apart Christ as Lord. And proclaim Jesus to the world.

Without Bunyan’s persecution, imprisonment and suffering, the world probably wouldn’t have “Pilgrim’s Progress”, the most widely distributed book in the world other than the Bible.

George Whitefield said of The Pilgrim’s Progress,

“It smells of the prison. It was written when the author was confined in Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory then rests upon them.”

Let me finish with one of the greatest scenes in The Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian recalls in the dungeon of Doubting-castle that he has a key to the door. A key called PROMISE. And what’s significant is not only what the key is, but where it’s HIDDEN.

What a fool I have been, to lie like this in a stinking dungeon, when I could have just as well walked free. In my chest pocket I have a key called Promise that will, I am thoroughly persuaded, open any lock in Doubting-Castle.” “Then,” said Hopeful, “that is good news. My good brother, do immediately take it out of your chest pocket and try it.” Then Christian took the key from his chest and began to try the lock of the dungeon door; and as he turned the key, the bolt unlocked and the door flew open with ease, so that Christian and Hopeful immediately came out.

God’s promises hidden in our heart. That’s the key to responding to persecution the way God intends. And here’s one final PROMISE to hide in your heart. From 1 Peter 3.

14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.”  15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.

John 20:24-31: Talking about Jesus John’s Way

Three important words.  When I googled that, I got some interesting results from blog writers. Someone at Motivation Grid’ said the three most important words for life were. Be. Do. Have. Be the person you want to be, then do the things that flow from that. And then you can have the things you want. Which really means that HAVING THINGS is what life is all about.

Eileen, at “Thrive Global”, offered these three words: “I really appreciate…” Relationships, thankfulness and contentment are what life is all about for Eileen. And there’s a lot of truth in that.

And then there’s Kevin from “Leadership and Learning”. His three important words are “I can do…” In other words, the answers and solutions for life are found INSIDE YOU. Which is fine as long as you’re SUCCEEDING.

What about YOU? Whatever your three important words are, they say something about what’s most important for you. And what the purpose of life is.

But what about for John? What are HIS most important words? In his gospel there’s a number of THEMES he keeps returning to. Big ideas that summarise his main message about Jesus. And in ch 20 v30-31, there’s THREE of them. And they’re the three important words I want to talk about. So, have a look at the two verses. And I want to see if you can work out what the three key words are:

30 Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

SIGNS, BELIEVE, and LIFE.

  1. Signs:

Firstly, SIGNS. Jesus performed SIGNS. When John writes about Jesus’ miracles, he doesn’t use the word for MIRACLE, or WORK of POWER, like the other gospels. He uses the word SIGN.

When Jesus turned the water into wine in ch 2, we’re told

11 This, the first of his miraculous SIGNS, Jesus performed at Cana in Galilee. HE THUS REVEALED HIS GLORY, and his disciples put their FAITH in him.

The sign reveals who Jesus is. Reveals his GLORY. So people can see JESUS.

At the end of ch 4. Jesus heals the official’s son, and John tells us (v54)

54 This was the SECOND miraculous sign that Jesus performed,

And when he feeds the 5000, ch 6 v14,

14 After the people saw the miraculous SIGN that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely THIS IS THE PROPHET who is to come into the world.”

Do you see it? A sign SIGNIFIES something. POINTS to something. Helps people to take notice of something. In this case, to notice JESUS.

But a sign is never the centre of attention itself. Nobody goes to Sydney Harbour, or the Opera House to take a photo of the SIGN that points to the attraction. The sign just helps you GET there. It’s all about the REALITY, not the sign.

And it’s the same with the signs Jesus did. They’re designed to POINT PEOPLE TOWARDS JESUS. Not so people can marvel at the tricks, or enjoy a free feed, or simply so they can be healed.

People need to SEE JESUS. And that’s exactly why John describes the signs Jesus does for us. Why he wrote the whole book. “Jesus did many other miraculous signs which are not recorded. But THESE ones are written that you may BELIEVE THAT JESUS IS THE CHRIST”.

LOTS of things Jesus did. John didn’t describe ALL of them. But the signs he chooses are there TO POINT PEOPLE TO JESUS.

And that’s something Franklin Graham realises. We’re in the middle of his Australian tour at the moment. And he’s been quoted as saying he’s focussing just on Jesus. Clear and simple. About sin and forgiveness through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Nothing CLEVER. Nothing DISTRACTING. And hundreds of people are making commitments. Which is wonderful.

But that focus on Jesus is something people sometimes MISS. A number of years ago, when I lived in Blacktown, some of the Pentecostal churches organised a major evangelistic rally. And they invited us to be involved. They invited a German evangelist Suzette Hattingh to run HEALING RALLIES. And that’s the way they were advertised. No mention of sin, or forgiveness. Just Jesus’ power to HEAL.

My guess is most people went because they had a sore back, or cancer, or were blind, or couldn’t fall pregnant. Not because they wanted to be forgiven, or wanted to know God through Jesus. And they MAY have been healed. But still not known Jesus, and not had their sins forgiven. That’s getting distracted by the SIGN, and missing out on the REALITY it’s POINTING TO.

And it happened in Jesus’ time too. In the chapter after Jesus feeds the 5000, ch 6, the crowd follows him to the other side of the lake. And, in 6:26 Jesus says to them

“I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, NOT BECAUSE YOU SAW MIRACULOUS SIGNS but because you ATE THE LOAVES and had your fill. 27 DO NOT WORK FOR FOOD THAT SPOILS, but for food that endures to ETERNAL LIFE, which THE SON OF MAN will give you.

He’s saying, Don’t get distracted by the SIGNS. Bread and fish will be gone tomorrow. Healing will only last for a few years. Keep your focus on ME. The One the signs POINT TO. And then, in v35 he says,

I am the bread of life. He who comes to ME will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.

Get your eyes off loaves of bread that will satisfy your hunger for a FEW HOURS. Fix them on ME, the bread that gives life. And I’ll satisfy you FOREVER.

And that’s what I want to say to people going to a healing rally looking to get their legs fixed, or their sore necks, or their indigestion. Look to Jesus – he’s the strength and the life and the power you need. Way more important than ONLY a body that’s healed.

Word number one. SIGNS. Signs that point people to Jesus.

But let me ask you: Are YOU a SIGN? Do you point people to Jesus?

That’s what Jesus wants. When he washed the disciples’ feet in Ch 13. He says, v15, I’ve set you an example that you should do as I’ve done for you. And then he says, down in v34, As I have loved you, so you must love one another. BY THIS ALL MEN WILL KNOW THAT YOU ARE MY DISCIPLES. If you LOVE ONE ANOTHER.

We point people to Jesus when we LIVE like Jesus. When we love and sacrificially serve them, and each other.

Are you a living signpost to Jesus?

  1. Or do you point somewhere else? AWAY from Jesus. Nothing turns people off Jesus quicker than individuals or churches who don’t do what they say. Hypocrites leave a bad taste in the mouth of EVERYONE. Be consistent! Point people to Jesus.
  2. Or perhaps you’re a GUERRILLA Christian. Largely disguised among the general population. Indistinguishable. Occasionally sticking your head out to make an attack. Then bolting back to safety. Nobody KNOWS you’re a Christian. That’s like an old sign the lettering’s fallen off. Points SOMEWHERE – just no one knows WHERE. Are you AFRAID to stand up for Jesus. That’s not being a sign!
  3. Or perhaps you DO speak up. People know you’re a Christian. But are you pointing people TO JESUS? We sometimes make the mistake of talking about less important things. And getting distracted from the MOST IMPORTANT thing.

It’s a great approach to take when people start asking questions. Try to look for ways to bring Jesus into the conversation.

  • If someone asks, “How do you know God exists? What’s he like?” Say, “Jesus said he was the image of the invisible God. Let’s look at what he was like.”
  • If someone asks, “what about other religions?” Say, “Jesus said he was the only way people could come to the Father. No one comes to the Father except through him. Let’s look at what ELSE Jesus said.”
  • If someone asks about the reliability of the Bible, get them looking at the gospels.
  • If someone wants to talk about the mistakes the church has made through history. Talk about how Jesus hated hypocrites, and wanted a pure church TOO. But that he also came to SAVE sinners who turned to him.

Or, here’s another mistake we make.

  1. We’re more concerned for OUR reputation than we are for that of Jesus. Are the things you say and do as a Christian determined by what will paint YOU in a good light? Or Jesus? Are they HIS priorities or YOURS that drive your agenda? HIS kingdom you’re building, or YOURS?

I’ve heard that sort of thing from some people starting out in Youth Work. “I’m going to be cool, so the kids will LIKE me. Then I can show that following Jesus is cool too.”

Is your attitude like that of John the Baptist? In Jn 3:30, his disciples are worried Jesus is attracting more followers than John. But John says he’s just like the best man. His job is all about MAKING THE BRIDEGROOM LOOK GOOD. Pointing everyone TO HIM. He’s just a SIGNPOST. V30. He must become GREATER. I must become LESS.

Is that YOUR declaration? Are you becoming LESS while you make Jesus BIGGER? Are you a SIGNPOST for Jesus?

  1. Believe:

Word number two. BELIEVE. That’s the PURPOSE of the signs. So we might BELIEVE that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. It’s a major theme in John. 88 times he uses the word. It’s only used 36 times in Matthew, Mark and Luke COMBINED.

To believe is to TRUST. To place your CONFIDENCE in. It’s more than simply taking Jesus’ advice. More than just following his example. To trust Jesus means to trust his identity. And his words. And his work. Believe who he SAYS he is. And trust what he’s DONE.  To believe that he’s the Christ, the Son of God, means to recognise him as God’s anointed king, his Saviour, his representative, his ambassador, his spokesperson, his IMAGE. And that’s not just something you do WITH YOUR HEAD. It’s not a theoretical thing. Like believing the sky is blue.

To trust is to DEPEND ON. It’s being stuck down a well you’re drowning in, and when a rope lands next to you, and a voice calls out to put the harness on, and that he’ll pull you out, believing means to put the harness on, and hold onto the rope as if your life depends on it. Because it DOES. It’s trusting the voice at the top of the well.

Believing that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God is a matter of life and death. John 1:12-13

12 Yet to all who received him, to those who BELIEVED in his name, he gave the right to become CHILDREN OF GOD-

Listen to his words. John 3:14-15. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life. 

In the desert, in Moses’ time, the Israelites were dying of snake bite. God told them to LOOK AT THE BRONZE SNAKE and they’d be healed. They’d LIVE. Look to Jesus, hanging on a cross, trust that God is SAVING you through that action. And eternal life is yours.

Trusting is a matter of life and death. Listen to Jesus in John 5:24-25 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and BELIEVES him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; HE HAS CROSSED OVER FROM DEATH TO LIFE.

Is that something YOU’VE done? Who do you think Jesus is? Today can be the day you pass over from death to life. From condemnation to acquittal. From guilt to forgiveness. Trust Jesus. Trust his words, and his work.

The context of these verses in ch 20 is doubting Thomas. Jesus has been raised from the dead. Proving he’s God’s Son, God’s chosen king. But Thomas hasn’t seen him yet. And he doesn’t believe what the other disciples are saying. V25

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

Unless I SEE, I won’t believe. It’s what plenty of people say THESE DAYS. PROVE IT. Prove God’s real. Prove Jesus IS who he SAID he IS. It’s a cheeky attitude, isn’t it? An insignificant individual daring the God of the Universe to prove he exists. But it’s exactly what Jesus agrees to do. V26. A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

And Thomas DOES. He responds, “My LORD and my GOD” The SIGN points to the REALITY. So that he might believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.

And then Jesus has some words for US. Those of us eavesdropping in on the conversation a couple of thousand years later.

29 Then Jesus told him, “Because you have SEEN me, you have believed; blessed are those who have NOT seen and yet have BELIEVED.”

There’s something of God’s blessing for those who SEE THE SIGNS, recognise they point towards who Jesus was. And TRUST HIM.

Why are they blessed? Because of the RESULT of that faith. Our THIRD word. LIFE.

  1. Life:

John says, “By believing you may have LIFE in his name” It’s another of John’s KEY WORDS. 49 times the word’s used by John. Perhaps the most well-known at Jn 3:16

16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever BELIEVES in him SHALL NOT PERISH but have ETERNAL LIFE .

Having LIFE is the opposite of PERISHING. Being DESTROYED. Trusting Jesus is the way to avoid God’s judgment, and to LIVE, INSTEAD.

And it’s ETERNAL. That’s life that DOESN’T FINISH. But it’s also about life that’s ULTIMATE. COMPLETE. Lived to full potential. Lived with the perspective of the ETERNAL ONE.

So, in that sense, John’s talking about LIFE THAT BEGINS NOW. That’s the aspect Jesus is talking about in Jn 10:10. He’s the good shepherd who’s going to look after his sheep. Not lead them into danger. V10

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life , and have it TO THE FULL. OR ABUNDANT life.

That’s what John wants people to have when they recognise Jesus. Is that the life YOU’VE got?

It’s the sort of life people are HUNGRY FOR. SEARCHING for. But they’re searching for life in all the wrong places. In promotion, or renovation, or family holidays, or leisure, or retirement security.

How’s life for YOU at the moment? Distracted, busy, empty, uncertain, hollow? Knowing and trusting Jesus is what LIFE IS ALL ABOUT. GIVE him your life. Hand it OVER to him. He’s DESIGNED you. He knows what’s BEST for your life. Living HIS WAY is the only way for HIS PURPOSES to be brought about.

Keep your eyes on Jesus. Do it JOHN’s way. Read John’s gospel. Slowly, meditatively. Together with someone else. Prayerfully.

Look to Jesus. Trust him. And TRULY LIVE.

That’s John’s purpose. Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. 31 But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 4:1-42: The water of life

This is week 3 in our series on Talking about Jesus. (Different Biblical models for how to share the wonderful news we have about forgiveness and new life through Jesus.)

Today we’re looking at how JESUS HIMSELF speaks about the gift of life he offers.

But we’re doing much more than studying a TECHNIQUE or a STRATEGY. Jesus is far greater than just a teacher, or a coach, or an example to follow.

We want to learn more about THE GLORIES OF JESUS HIMSELF. And more of the RICHNESS and SATISFACTION of life he offers. The living water of his Spirit that SATISFIES us like nothing else in life.

Because that’s REALLY what will motivate us to share him. Not knowing more TECHNIQUES. But knowing more JESUS.

Because it’s JESUS we’re bringing people to. We’re not selling a lifestyle. Or a morality code. Or a club to join. We’re offering them JESUS. As their Saviour and Lord. And shepherd. And friend. Their joy. Their food and drink. Their comfort. And life.

(pause) Today we’re looking at how Jesus moves the conversation from ORDINARY things/ to things that MATTER MOST. How he moves the topic around from PHYSICAL things to SPIRITUAL things.

And that’s really what WE need to be doing. Making the most of opportunities as we talk to friends and workmates. Turning conversations about their weekends, or movies, or TV ads to things that MATTER.

Four good excuses Jesus DIDN’T use

Firstly, let’s look at four good excuses Jesus DIDN’T use. I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but I’m quick to come up with excuses NOT to talk about Jesus. “It’s not the right time. They wouldn’t be interested. They’ll think I’m weird. I won’t know what to say next. It might end the friendship.” All sorts of excuses. But that’s all they are. Excuses.

Listen to four excuses Jesus COULD have used, but DIDN’T

  1. He was tired, hot, hungry and thirsty. V6 and 7. Every excuse to REST. To keep to himself. But, for Jesus, it’s all about THE WOMAN’S timetable. Not his. She was ready to talk THEN, not later. She was alone, and willing to share some personal details THEN, not later. So Jesus grabbed the teachable moment, and used it.
  2. The second excuse Jesus COULD have used for not talking. It wasn’t socially acceptable for men and women to talk in public. The social convention was for men to talk to men. And women to women. Jesus was risking causing offense, or being accused of improper behaviour. And yet he still initiated the conversation.

What’s the equivalent today? What social conventions could YOU risk breaking? Talking to people on the train. Or in the lift. At the gym. Or in a supermarket queue. Nobody seems to feel comfortable doing THAT. Are you willing to break THOSE conventions? The funny thing is people are often MORE than willing to talk. As long as you make the first move. And if you do it in a friendly, non-threatening way.

  1. Third excuse Jesus didn’t use was that he was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. There’d been a long history between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Jews looked down on the Samaritans as INFERIOR.

The Samaritans were a MIXED race. Part Jewish, and part everything else. The result of forced inter-marriage – the foreign policy their Assyrian conquerors had brought in about 700 years before. And the Jews saw them as second-class.Jesus COULD have used it all as an excuse. But he didn’t. Even the WOMAN was surprised he’d spoken to her. V9. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)

I wonder whether YOU’RE willing to break cultural norms to open conversations with people. What about the Chinese people all over Ashfield? They LOOK so different. And communicating can be HARD. Or Muslim women. They’re more noticeable than the men. But do you use their headgear as an excuse to keep quiet? Jesus didn’t use cultural differences and awkwardness as an excuse. And neither should we.

  1. Fourth excuse Jesus could have used, but didn’t. The woman had a bad reputation. And Jesus reputation was at risk. V18 tells us she’d had five husbands. And she was living with ANOTHER one who wasn’t even her husband.

It’s probably the reason she was collecting water in the middle of the day. And at this out of town well. She’d been rejected by the other women in the town. Everyone else would collect water in the cool of the morning, or in the evening. But not THIS woman. The only time left was the hottest part of the day. Jesus was risking his reputation even being SEEN with her. But Jesus made the most of the opportunity. And didn’t let the woman’s reputation be an excuse.

So why talk?

So why DID he speak up? We’ve thought about why he could have KEPT QUIET. But why did he initiate the conversation?  The phrase I want to concentrate on is there in v10. The woman’s asked Jesus why he’s talking to her. And Jesus replies, “If you knew the gift of God”  If ONLY YOU KNEW. If you just had enough knowledge. You DON’T, but if you DID…

Caron and I enjoy a glass of wine. But we don’t really APPRECIATE it. Not in any INFORMED way. We make a decision about what to buy based pretty much on red or white or sparkling. On price, and what the label looks like. And we like what we like, and don’t like what we DON’T like.

If only we knew what we were looking for! Or tasting! If only we knew the flavours to taste for! And the vocabulary to describe it! And something about the process of going from grape to bottle. We’d get so much more enjoyment out of a glass of wine.

It’s the sort of experience you get at the Cellar Door of a winery. Like we visited on holidays a few months ago. And we tasted some wines. And the winemaker and his wife guided us, and made it so much more enjoyable. They knew all about how the grapes were grown. And how their wines were made. And they were able to tell us all sorts of interesting things. They described the flavours to identify. And how to match each wine with a type of food. And they lamented how hard it was to get local restaurants to stock local wines. Because they were all about the PRICE.  “If only they knew how much MORE there is to wine!” they said.

And it’s the same with Jesus. He says to the woman. “You look like you’re not enjoying things. You’re looking for love in all the wrong places. If you only knew what I know. You’d get so much more enjoyment out of your journey. Let me TELL you.”

Why does Jesus talk? Because he KNOWS SOMETHING she DOESN’T. He knows LIFE. He IS life. A rich, full, complete life. Life THAT LASTS. Life she’s SEARCHING for, but NOT FINDING. Life that satisfies her THIRST.

And it’s the same reason WE should speak. We shouldn’t speak out of GUILT. Or because we’re trying to work for our salvation. Or because we want to win an argument.  We should speak because WE know something someone else NEEDS TO KNOW. That’s it. The Sri Lankan author D. T. Niles said that evangelism was nothing more than “One beggar telling another beggar where to find bread”. Fairly simple really. There’s no pride in that. No ulterior motive. You’ve got life-giving information that needs to be passed on.

So what is it Jesus knew/ that the woman NEEDED to know? Have a look there in v10.

“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.”

Two things. She needed to know THE GIFT OF GOD, and JESUS HIMSELF. Which is really the FIRST thing she needs to know. To know WHO Jesus IS, and, then, WHAT he offers.

Why does she need to know Jesus? Because he’s the one who can give her the GIFT of God. But what’s the gift of God?

In v10 Jesus says it’s LIVING WATER. Which doesn’t make things a WHOLE lot clearer. So, what’s LIVING water? They’re at a WELL. Jesus is THIRSTY. And she’s there to DRAW water. So the idea of WATER is, fairly obviously, in their minds.

And that’s Jesus way of teaching. He uses physical things that are nearby to point to SPIRITUAL things. He does it a bit further down, in v34, when the disciples bring back some FOOD, and Jesus talks about his FOOD is doing his Father’s will. And he does it again in v35 when he’s looking at fields of GRAIN, and he talks about the fields of PEOPLE being ripe for the harvest of becoming his followers.

But here, they’re sitting around a WELL, so Jesus talks about LIVING WATER. And there’s a double meaning. A bit like when we say RUNNING water. It’s not actually RUNNING, but we mean FLOWING. Same with LIVING water. It means FLOWING water.

And when Jesus says LIVING water, he means water that GIVES LIFE. But the woman thinks he’s talking about FLOWING water. Water that’s not STAGNANT. V11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?

That’s the only water around here. Jesus makes it clearer. He’s got her interest. “Everyone who drinks THIS water will be thirsty again, 14 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.”

Eternal life. Not just life that never ends. But life of the AGES. Life we were DESIGNED for. ULTIMATE Life. Life of the kingdom of God…. Which sounds pretty good to the woman! “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” Show me where to find the water that will give me THAT kind of life.

At which point Jesus says something that seems a bit funny. V16 “Go, call your husband and come back.” She reveals she’s had five husbands, and she’s not even married to number six. Which Jesus knew all along.

So what’s he doing? Is he just changing the subject? Trying a different approach? I don’t think so. His question is all about how she’s SEARCHING FOR WHAT SATISFIES HER THIRST. He’s saying, “You want to know where to find water that gives life? Something that satisfies your thirst? … How have you been going at satisfying your thirst for life SO FAR? Where have you ALREADY LOOKED for fulfilment in life? In physical, uncommitted relationships. And how’s THAT going?

Or we could add (to the people WE talk to), asking them in gentle ways, “How’s that corner office and the promotion? How’s the holiday house? How’s golf club membership? How’s retirement? Now that you’ve GOT it, after SEARCHING for it. And striving for it so hard. Was it WORTH it? Are you SATISIFED? Does it make you HAPPY?”

Jesus says, “Those things are a DRY WELL. There’s no life there. I’ll show you a type of water that really WILL satisfy you.”

So what’s the water? When we read about WATER in John’s gospel, it stands for God’s gift of THE HOLY SPIRIT. God’s Spirit who gives SPIRITUAL life/ the way water gives PHYSICAL life. God’s Spirit who washes you clean, when God forgives your sin.

In Jn 3, Jesus is talking to Nicodemus, and he says, (v5) “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of WATER AND THE SPIRIT. Which is really Jesus quoting a promise God makes back in Ezekiel 36. To sprinkle clean WATER on his people, and wash them clean of their sins, and put his SPIRIT in them to make them new. WATER is a symbol for God’s Spirit. Just like it is here in John’s gospel.

And over in Ch 7, Jesus makes this invitation to the people listening (v37) “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, STREAMS OF LIVING WATER will flow from within him.”

And then John explains it for us 39 By this he meant THE SPIRIT, whom those who believed in him were later to receive.

That’s the gift of God Jesus wants the woman to know about. The Spirit of God filling her up. God himself joined to her spiritually. And he’ll satisfy all her desires for life. And give her refreshment and abundance. And it will well up in her to ETERNAL LIFE. And EVERYTHING ELSE she’s tried just can’t measure up.

But there’s a third thing Jesus wants the Samaritan woman to know about. And it FLOWS OUT of that gift. It’s the EXPERIENCE. When God fills people everywhere with his Spirit. When he makes them NEW. When they’re born again. Then there’s A BRAND NEW EXPERIENCE OF WORSHIPPING God. Of relating to him, and honouring him the way he intends. If God is IN you – if you’ve drunk the living water of his Spirit – there’s no need to meet him AT A CERTAIN PLACE. The Jews would all travel to the temple in JERUSALEM to worship God. The Samaritans had their OWN special place to meet God – Mt Gerazim.

But Jesus says when you have the gift of God. When you have the living water of his Spirit living in you, then place no longer matters. Down in v21. “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.

And then in v23. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

PLACE no longer matters, when God’s Spirit lives in you. You can worship God ANYWHERE. Because God is WITH you anywhere.

That’s worship that’s TRUE. And it transforms your WHOLE LIFE/ when you know that God’s always with you. In ANY CIRCUMSTANCE. It ENLARGES YOUR VISION for what Christianity is about. It’s not about attendance or services or a religious PART of your life. It’s about EVERY part of life. You worship God in EVERY part of life because his Spirit is WITH you EVERYWHERE.

I reckon it’s one of the best things about being a Christian. Is that something YOU know? I’d love to talk to you after about it if you DON’T.

That’s what Jesus wants this woman to KNOW. And it seems like that HAPPENS. The disciples turn up with lunch, which seems to spook her. She heads back to town, and announces to everyone. V29. “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!”

And they follow her back out to the well. The first evangelist in the Christian church. Hardly the one you’d PICK. She doesn’t have all the answers. But she’s pretty effective as far as we can tell. V39. Many Samaritans believe. Jesus stays two more days. And even MORE believe.

And v42. The story concludes. They say, “We don’t just believe because you’ve told us. Now we’ve heard for ourselves. We KNOW this man really is the Saviour of the World.

Jesus begins. If only you KNEW. And by the end many people KNOW FOR SURE.

So what can we learn?

And her approach is a good model for US to copy. “Come and see. Don’t just follow me. I don’t have all the answers. But I know the one who DOES. Come and let me show you what Jesus is like!”  Which is what we saw LAST WEEK. With Andrew. How he followed Jesus. Then brought OTHERS to meet Jesus TOO. “Come and see,” he said.

But there’s ANOTHER lesson to learn. And that’s TO VIEW THE WORLD THE WAY JESUS DOES. Jump back a bit. To when the disciples arrive back from town with lunch. Meanwhile, the woman’s evangelised the town, and, v30, they’re all heading out to meet Jesus.

The disciples want Jesus to eat something. But he’s got more important priorities than lunch. V34 His food is to do his Father’s will. And that work is reaping a harvest. V35

35 Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.

Is he pointing to the fields? Or is he pointing to the TOWNSFOLK streaming out to MEET him. They’re the fields ripe for harvest!

The disciples went into town and brought NO ONE back with them to see Jesus. Unlike the woman. They’ve missed the opportunity because they’re not seeing things the way Jesus does. The disciples saw dirty Samaritans to be avoided. Jesus saw a field ripe for harvest. They saw food to be bought. Jesus saw a field ripe for harvest.

And that’s OUR world TOO. Not simply people too busy, or too satisfied, or too knowledgeable, or too good, or too bad for Jesus. But friends and workmates and family members and neighbours who are THIRSTY. Longing for something that REALLY satisfies. A harvest ready for reaping. And only the gift of God in Jesus will DO it.

We might see excuses NOT to speak. But Jesus sees a field ripe for harvest. We see pride and stubborn attitudes. Jesus sees the potential for rich joy and flourishing of abundant life.

The field is ripe for the harvest. Let’s be PART of that harvest, as we make the most of opportunities in our everyday conversations / to introduce people to Jesus.