MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM
BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC
Over the last 2 weeks, I read a number of stories where it felt like I was walking into a CS Lewis wardrobe to discover unexpected worlds. Like the unexpected of a woman remodelling her house only to find a pool and hot tub that for years had been covered over by hardwood floors. And then there was the discovery of 700 Civil War gold coins buried for 150 years in a Kentucky cornfield – some of these coins valued previously at $100,000 per coin.
Then there was the really unexpected of a Turkish man chasing his chickens through a hole made during a basement renovation. Once that hole was enlarged, he discovered a tunnel leading to a 2,000-year-old underground city once populated by 20,000 people.
Discoveries – unimagined, unexpected and definitely, not looked for. Present but not seen.
This morning we are looking at two Scriptural accounts of the unexpected and unimagined - the 1st seemingly an unimagined chance encounter; the 2nd a desperately needed unexpected.
Our first story takes place in Samaria where we see a woman whose answers for life have come up empty. Relationally she is a mess, 5 failed marriages and a 6th relationship where she’s given up thinking long-term. It’s doubtful she ever imagined life going this way. Likely, there was a time she imagined ‘happily ever after’ but happily never materialized, at least for any amount of time. When we are introduced, we see her at a community well at a time when no others would be there. Socially and emotionally she is on the outside looking in - the community’s outcast.
And entering her world, when she had no expectation of anything different, Jesus. Coming to where she was. Coming to a life He knew was empty. Coming to bring order into her disordered life and the result of His coming, a discovery she never thought possible. That discovery led her to invite all she knew to, Come and see One who knows everything about me Jn 4:29. Her story was rewritten and many believe it because of her testimony.
The fact that people believed what she had to say was no small thing. Not with her messed up life. Add to that, being a woman in the culture of the day meant that her story was given less value. Sadly and so wrongly, over the centuries ugliness repeatedly raised its head.
Evidence of this disregard is seen in philosophers like Plato, who tradition says expressed gratitude, ‘that I was born a human and not a beast; a man and not a woman; a Greek and not a Barbarian.’ Or the Talmud’s prayer, ‘Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a woman.’ Or Roman society’s practice that a woman’s testimony was inadmissible in court.
In contrast, Jesus defied the culture of the day by placing the highest value on women. No ranking of lesser value. No restrictions on where you can go and who you can talk to. No hiding behind veils. Very different from rabbinic oral law states: ‘He who talks with a woman in public brings evil upon himself’ or another rabbinic teaching, ‘One is not so much as to greet a woman.’ Yet in God’s economy, it was women - the last to leave the foot of the Cross and the first to witness the victory of the Cross. To women, a resurrected Jesus first revealed Himself. And to women like Rahab and Tamar; Ruth and Bathsheba who are included in the genealogical line of Messiah.
Things like this are just one reason the Bible is trustworthy. If you want to design the ‘perfect’ belief system like religions do, you don’t script a holy book with a cast of characters, male and female, who are considered, unworthy or who fail and who betray. Instead, you populate them with the air-brushed and picture-perfect - the heroic, the attractive, the credible not those the culture doesn’t value or consider trustworthy. But God did and has never stopped doing it.
Because His story IS the story of redeeming love that gives value, coming to people where they are, as they are. God redeemed us from past events and past failures. Coming to us no matter what our story has been and offering us instead, God’s story written in Jesus. This woman’s story changed because of an encounter with Christ. His invitation to her, Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life Jn 4:14.
A totally new life is what struck a chord with those who knew the woman-at-the-well. That when she returned to her village, how she talked was different. The hope she spoke with was different. The man she spoke of was different. Different in a way that her words rang true.
I wonder, how compelling is the story our life tells? Does it speak of hope? Does it demonstrate peace? Does it convey joy? Does it stir up curiosity that demands a closer look?
Oh, I don’t mean just the stories we give words to. I mean the stories our life tells when we think no one sees and no one hears. But they do see. Sometimes only with a glance. Often appearing to not care about what they see. But what’s seen - making an impact far more than what we know.
But a watched story also needs words when the opportunity presents itself. Not religious words. Not church. Just an authentic explanation of our encounters with Jesus.
That’s all this Samaritan woman did - she told her story and many came to discover and believe. Undoubtedly, some in the village were cynical, after all, they’d heard her stories before – lots of hope then another failure. Yet something about this story was different. Different enough causing many to be curious. Curiosity compelled those who knew her to look. This causes me to ask, IS CURIOSITY THE RESPONSE PEOPLE HAVE WHEN THEY LOOK AT OUR LIVES? Is something qualitatively different, attractively different about how we live, about how we talk?
Don’t underestimate the power of curiosity. Interviews with 2,000 college students found that most of those who came to faith in Christ did so through 5 steps of faith: 1 Trusting a Christian 2 Becoming curious 3 Opening up to change 4 Seeking after God 5 Entering the kingdom
This brings us to the account of another who was curious - a royal official. When Jesus came on this man’s radar is anybody’s guess. I suspect he had heard of Jesus for some time but given his position and influence, his observations would have been made from a distance.
Intrigued? How could he not be? Fascinated? Undoubtedly. But a follower? Little chance of that. Given the position held, he wasn’t going to put his lifestyle and reputation at risk for that. But then life’s hurricane hit and life caved in. Now stories about Jesus were more than curiosities
And isn’t that often the case with us? Jesus is not radically pursued until imperatives demand more than curiosity, demands that need to know whether the stories told of Jesus are true.
In fact many here today are now believers in Jesus because you witnessed truth in someone’s story when your story didn’t make sense. Like the confusing but attractive story of a colleague, a friend, or a parent. Stories were the first spoken in what was seen before any words were said. Lives that ‘told you’ that their story about Jesus was more than just some, ‘life will be better’ belief.
And when time was right, their story demanded a closer look when you realized your story wasn’t working like what Lady Gaga expressed in a sobbing confession to her friend, "I'm alone, Brandon. Every night. And all these people will leave, right? They will leave and then I'll be alone. And I go from everyone touching me all day and talking at me all day to total silence."
At times like these, the search for answers is no longer a curiosity but an imperative.
That’s where this royal official was. His life plans had been shredded, his son was dying and there was nothing he could do. And then we are told, ‘he heard that Jesus had come into the area.’
Different from Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman, this time Jesus came into the area rather than to where the man was. He came close enough to be reached BUT FAR ENOUGH TO BE SOUGHT. There is something significant about that. One of the tragedies of the Western church is that we have downplayed what it means to follow Jesus. Where following Jesus is presented as an easy ‘add on’, someone to follow as long as He is within easy reach.
Where we set the terms of following Him as long as our following doesn’t require too much of us. We’ll pray silently where we sit rather than step out to decisively come to Him. Where we look around to see what others are doing before we are willing to step out and respond to God’s call. When we pray others will hear what God is saying instead of responding to what God is saying to us. And then we wonder why our experience with Jesus seems so insipid, so powerless, so unattractively dull. Listen, if you and I want a dynamic relationship with Jesus, it demands that we step out and come to where Jesus is. We need to stop praying for a revival to come and instead, step out into the revival that is – one person at a time. To risk. To humble. To bow. To respond and follow the One who wants our hearts. When that happens, the revival the Holy Spirit is wanting to do will come. I’ve never known a revival to happen any other way.
Discipleship isn’t about fitting Him in or making room in our comfort zone. It’s not gathering to worship unless we’re too tired from the night before. Truly encountering Jesus isn’t coming to Him as long as there isn’t a ‘must see’ game or a better, ‘must do’ event. Nor is it entering into worship if the songs have the right tempo or they’re songs valued from my past.
Try explaining that to those in the persecuted church who give up everything, for the privilege of meeting to worship and pray with other believers. Try explaining that to believers in India, Iran or Nigeria who are herded together to recant their faith or die, who then choose death rather than deny their Lord. Try explaining that to this father who desperately needed Jesus.
On a closer-to-home level, try selling ‘our sold out to Christ belief’ to onlookers when bright summer days call us to prioritize beach time over worship time with other believers on a Sunday morning.
Okay, I hear the rumbling, getting rather legalistic. As if my attendance or lack of response disqualifies me as, ‘an authentic follower of Jesus’? Well, ‘no’ but also an aspect of ‘yes’. We are deceiving ourselves if we don’t think our actions reflect our hearts. And if we want to see the Holy Spirit truly do the supernatural in this place where Jesus is glorified; where we experience the power of God’s presence in our lives, then it demands that we pray, we humble ourselves and we come to Him with the same desperation this man demonstrated.
If not this, I think we have to ask ourselves, what is the message given to those who hear declarations of a dynamic, life-changing Christ who then sees half-energized a place of worship half-filled and half energized?
I think we have to ask ourselves, what is the message given that Jesus is worthy of our time, our passion, and our behaviour when the evidence of what’s seen is in short supply?
I’m quite sure the royal official wouldn’t have left his dying son to seek after Jesus if his decision were based on tepid demonstrations so often seen of what it means to follow Christ.
The issue is far more than perfect Sunday morning attendance. But when people come, they need to see Jesus, evidenced in those who love Him. Jesus, who stands in times of life’s hurricanes. In all of His strength. All of His grittiness. All of His glory. All of His rescue. THIS is the Jesus the man got up and went to and THIS is the Jesus we are called to go to as well.
It's this Jesus that we need to offer our children, our young people, our broken and hurting, our searchers who are looking for meaning and truth. This is the Jesus we have been called to believe and unashamedly love.
Our decision is simply this – do we settle for a faith of routine and habit or will we be like this royal official who no matter how far he had to go; no matter how long it took; no matter what he had to leave behind; he was going to where Jesus was!
Going to Him to bow. Going to Him to worship. Going to Him NO matter where anyone else is going. Going because He is Lord.
Understand, there is no real encounter of Christ until we come to this place.
Look at what happened when this man met Christ, “Go, your son lives and the man took Jesus at His word and departed.” :50
That is one incredible statement. The man believed and headed home. As far as he was concerned, what he had set out to do was done! His son would be well.
That, my friends, is a powerful belief, not having evidence in hand before believing but having been with Jesus, taking Him at His word and doing what he was told to do.
I wish I could say that I always believe like that, but I don’t. Trusting that His word is enough. Believing that what He says, He will do. Believing, when He tells me to trust and go.
I love it that this man didn’t have to wait long before seeing his answer, but his answer wasn’t given by Jesus when the father left, it was given when the father came. Jesus’ love and grace met him as this father drew near - the evidence given while he was on his way home.
“His servants met him on the way.” :51
What a great picture - his servants running to meet him. It doesn’t say they were running but I know they were. I don’t need the story to tell me - because there’s no slow walking when you have this kind of news to tell. No, they were running because what they had to tell was amazing
But while amazing, they had no idea it was miraculous. Spectacular – yes. Miraculous – no reason to think that. After all, fevers break and crises, even at the point of death, pass. But the father understood something they didn’t so upon hearing the news, he asks, WHEN? To the servants that question must have felt like, Who cares? What difference does that make?
But the father knew it meant all the difference in the world. The difference - coincidence or miracle? Coincidence meant celebration at the moment; MIRACLE MEANT WORSHIP FOR A LIFETIME.
Because worship doesn’t stop at an event. It looks past the event to see the One who authors all events. Worship worthy of my life rather than a moment in time, exultant high five.
The answer to the man’s question, When? confirmed that he had come face to face with God.
Though the official had no way of knowing, his request was granted the moment he asked. He also didn’t know that the story of the miraculous would extend far beyond this time and this son.
As a result of the story, his entire household came to faith. The son who was healed; the servants who bathed the boy’s head; his wife who held vigil through the night; the servants who changed the bedding; the kitchen staff who prepared the meals. His entire house, all brought to new life in Christ. Very similar to what happened when a 1 on 1 encounter at a well brought great numbers to Christ. All began with a 1 on 1 meeting that started a revival. And it’s that same revival we are called to participate in as well. All begins with a supernatural encounter with Jesus – stepping out to meet with God who is waiting to do the miraculous.
Unimaginable? No question. Unexpected. You would think so. After all, how could God possibly do the miraculous with someone like me? I’m just someone with little to offer. No influence. No status. No background in getting things right. Just me.
No different than a Samaritan woman who had gotten life so wrong and a father who went looking for answers he did not have.
Stepping out and coming to Jesus to discover the treasure they didn’t think possible. And in that step, finding what God wants each and every one of us to discover, the miraculous of truly meeting Jesus. You and I were also invited into being, Stretched by the Miraculous.
That miraculous predicated on one thing –
our willingness to risk
out and come.