The human aspiration is to seek and find in many walks of life. How doomed is any civilisation which has lost that search.
by Meirion Thomas
[Meirion Thomas is the minister of Malpas Road Evangelical Church in Newport, South Wales, and on the Tuesday evening of the Evangelical Movement of Wales Conference in Aberystwyth August 2002 he delivered the following message on John 4.]
Many of us may remember from lessons in school the great word ‘Eureka!’ It is the word of discovery: "I have found it." The human aspiration is to seek and find in many walks of life. How doomed is any civilisation which has lost that search. Societies should dream and compose and invent and find new ways of communicating with one another. People want to progress and also share their discoveries with others. Many people look for new lands and new starts – are there new frontiers to cross? Religious experience testifies that there are people wanting to know if there is an Ultimate Being. Is he there at all? Destiny, the meaning of life, reality – what is it? People are bored with the act and joke,
Discovery is the theme of John’s gospel. He is the only one who tells us why he put a gospel together – that we should believe and have life in the name of Jesus Christ. You can discover life! It is in the name of Christ. In accepting him you may have life. John’s gospel tells us about the source and quality of life. He tells us what life is. It is Christ’s life and his gift to men who believe. It is eternal in its duration.
What John does is to introduce us to believers who make this discovery. They find out about God, and how they may have a relationship with him as Father. John tells us how he came to discover the true identity of Jesus Christ. John the Baptist discovered who Jesus was. Andrew, Simon and Nathaniel found him. Then at a wedding in Cana of Galilee he revealed his glory. The disciples saw that he had more than human glory and they put his trust in him. Nicodemus made that discovery too in John 3.
So the fourth gospel is a book of discovery. In John 4 the individuals were from Samaria who made this discovery, "We know that this man really is the Saviour of the world." They had come to a new knowledge of who he is and of themselves. This is one of the earliest Christian confessions. It is remarkable because of the sense of conviction that these men displayed. "We know this: it is our personal conviction." It carried freshness and zeal. It does not have anything stale about it. A Christian is someone who can say that this man is the Saviour of the world. This is the language of believers, of the confessing community. They had been exposed to him for just two days but their lives were changed.
There are more reasons why this discovery of faith is remarkable. There are people 2000 years later who believe and confess as these people did.
1. The Very Context out of which this Confession Arises.
We are in our world making our confession and they did it in their world. They were Samaritans under the control of Rome. The Saviour of the world was not a particularly Christian phrase. Romans saw their leaders as Rescuers and Saviours and Deliverers. This minority Samaritan group declared that deliverance is not in politics or military might but that the Saviour is Jesus Christ. He is the real King. Empires rise and fall, but Jesus shall reign wherer the sun doth his successive journeys run. The Roman gods had clout and power and they promised it to their followers. The Samaritans had their own religious traditions, scriptures and temples. But these men are saying that Christ is the Saviour of the world. So it was a bold confession. It is dogmatic, an absolute affirmation that Christ is the Saviour of the world. It is only in one person, they said. It is channelled in one God and one name. I went to a school and spoke at a Christian Union and there was just one boy who came to the meeting, who had been converted in a camp and knew that he was now a disciple of Christ, an 11 year-old who thought he might be the only Christian in the school. His message to that school was of the one Saviour.
2. How Were They Brought to This?
From a human perspective it was through the power of personal testimony. The testimony of one woman is strategic. How do you reach Samaritans? She was once on a different side. She had no voice in her community. He was a Jewish man different in so many ways from her, but he had to go through Samaria. He first identified with her, coming close to her at a time when she was being shunned at the communal well. She is there with no one. She was an outsider and Jesus spoke to this isolated woman. He sat where she sat and he was interested in her. That is the context always of faith. With you, someone took interest and spent time with you. Christ knows everyone here, in a large congregation like this. He says to this woman that he has the gift of living water for her. The water that I give ‘will be in you.’
God is not niggardly. He is no scrooge. At the very beginning he gave so generously, and when they fell the Lord gives them a promise to lean upon – one who will bruise the serpent’s head. Jesus gave to her a new relationship. All the muddle and sadness of her life was because of sin, but Jesus had come to deliver her from that. She must ask if this is the promised Messiah. This was the first awakening of faith, and she went on to share it with others. Though she was a broken cistern he has come to wash, cleanse and restore this damaged being. "Could this be the Christ?" What an impact this hurting guilty rejected person was to make on her community. Christ entered Samaria through this frail woman.
3. They Heard for Themselves.
He spoke to them and many of them believed. That is how people come to faith. Faith is discovered in the environment of the word of Christ. He will do his work in his way through his word. If we think there can be another way then Christ himself says "Think!" and tells us that his words are spirit and life. They came to the discovery of faith as we have, by hearing the word of Christ. A sermon, or hymn or testimony brings us the word of Christ. Communication from Christ brings life to us. Our God speaks and when he made us in his image that we too can speak and communicate to one another. Jesus is the Word; he is God revealing himself to us. The heavens declare his glory and majesty. We know about God through the precious words of Jesus. he speaks and is not silent. This is the voice of God. So wake up, for this living creator is speaking t us.
Verily verily, he says. I tell you the truth, he says, about himself. He is not a liar or charlatan. That is why any strategy that bring people to the word of Christ we will use it. It has never failed. His word is bread to the hungry, creating and fulfilling the hunger. He creates the thirst and satisfies it. What will you do with the word? In the word God addresses you and what are you going to do with it? It is the word that triumphs in the book of Acts. Have you heard the voice of Jesus pleading, and explaining who he is?
4. The Content of the Word.
What did they hear him say? How long did he preach and what did he say? What illustrations did he use? We don’t know those answers but the end of the preaching was their knowledge that this man was the Saviour of the world. Their faith was focused on him. The greatest thing about faith was its object. He – the Saviour of the world. They were not talking about their own experience and understanding. You cannot be a Christian without such an understanding. Faith cannot be without it. They are young believers but they have this world vision. He was not the Saviour just of them and their village and country. They had the view of a cosmic Saviour from this small town.
"This man", they said. Not a robot nor genie but a real human being who had got thirsty and asked for a drink when he was here. This man suffers and knows grief. The world’s Saviour is not remote from its inhabitants. He sympathises with all our human needs. "Who every grief has known that wrings the human breast." He is God but he is also man. This man really is the Saviour of the world.
Why does this world need to be saved? Rome and Greece had a wonderful culture, but it was in darkness concerning the light of Jesus Christ. Humanity is dark because of human sin and is loyal to that darkness. They love darkness rather than light. Our sins have separated us from God, and the Bible tells us that it is a dangerous state to be in. That darkness can expand and will one day result in outer darkness. No one there says that Christ is the Saviour of the world. That is a display of God’s condemnation of sin. His wrath remains on those who defy him.
It had been dark in Sychar and then one day Jesus walked into town. He had always lived in this darkness of ours and then he must go into Samaria and it is to save Sychar sinners. The love of God triumphs there. So there is hope for the bad world. What a discovery, that my salvation is in him. "We know now that he is the only Saviour of the world. We know it by faith and one day every eye will see it."
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