My mother-in-law and brother-in-law wanted Tim and I to go visit Grace Church, because their Orlando campus moved from Edgewater High School to a building just a few blocks from our home. This blog post is the first in a series to review the message given the day we attended. This message is one in a series of messages called The Real Jesus, given by Pastor Mike Adkins. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because you’ve read Dare to Hope, Discover Grace Orlando, Get In the Van, Kids, and/or Speckled Goats at Starbucks in 2015. If you want to know more, then click on the above links and get reading. Be sure to read the comments sections, as well.
The difference between big C church and little c church:
Anyhow, Adkins opens by explaining how he had just spent an entire week with pastors and missionaries from all over the world in Manchester (yes, that Manchester, but this sermon was given on April 30th, prior to the bombing).
It was encouraging to me, because sometimes we can get real myopic. We can start thinking about, like, what’s happening in our church. And our church is important, because it’s part of the global church, but it’s incredible to remember, sometimes, to take a step back and realize we are part of the big-C Church, right? We are part of the Church universal, the Church all over the world that proclaims Christ as Lord.
I absolutely love this point, which so often goes overlooked. It would do believers, especially church-going believers, a world of good to always keep in mind that the true Church isn’t made of buildings or programs, but people. If all church buildings were leveled, the Church would remain. If all church programs were ended, the Church would remain. So long as there are believers bumping elbows in this world, the Church remains.
Why would anybody need to have belief if they already have belief?
Purpose of the book of John, according to the Apostle John himself, is that people may believe. What people? Adkins explains that there are two groups: Christians and “people who are far from God.” (I like to call those people not-yet-believers.)
This begs a question. If Christians are already believers, then why do Christians need to believe? The sermon has just gotten under way, Adkins has already grabbed a fist full of my brain, and I am listening very intently to find out what kind of answer he might propose.
The book of John, Adkins says, is to serve as a reminder to believers of what they already believe…
Why would anybody need to have belief if they already have belief? Well, because belief falters, it changes, it takes different shapes throughout the contours of your Christian life. At times it feels like it’s enough. At times it doesn’t feel anywhere near enough. And so faith is constantly being shaped and changed in our world, and he wants you, John wants you to have more faith.
What Adkins says is true. But his answer is incomplete. To understand why believers need to believe, we can look to the stories John writes and find him progressively driving a certain point home. Believers, just like not-yet-believers, begin their relationship with Christ having a very limited view of Who Christ is and what Christ does.
Let’s take a quick look at a handful of the stories in John:
The Apostle John tells the story of John the Baptist:
There came a man — having been sent from God — whose name [is] John, this one came for testimony, that he might testify about the Light, that all might believe through him…
And John the Baptist tells the story of Jesus:
…to his own things he came, and his own people did not receive him, but as many as did receive him to them he gave authority to become sons of God — to those believing in his name…
And Jesus tells the story of Nathaniel, who became a believer in Christ after Christ recounted a private conversation Nathaniel had had with someone else under a fig tree:
Because I said to thee, I saw thee under the fig-tree, thou dost believe; greater things than these thou shalt see…
And with that, we have finally arrived at the point I would like to make, the point the Apostle John makes, and the same somewhat humorous point Jesus makes to Nathaniel — His divine understatement, “greater things than these thou shalt see.” I.e. “You aint seen nothin’ yet.”
When we believe, we only believe what little Christ has made known to us about Who He is and what He does. Were He to reveal Himself all at once, our heads might explode. As we continue to walk with Him, He shows us more about Himself and His motivations and His power, including things we never expected, perhaps even things that might make us, if we give in to fear, want to go back to the simple, tidy relationship we had with Him at the beginning.
If you read the book of John, you’ll discover Nathaniel goes on a journey of increasing faith in Christ as these “greater things” happen, from Christ turning water into wine to reviving a man who went four days with no heartbeat. And Nathaniel is just one of many people throughout the book of John who have such encounters with Christ. Depending on how loosely or tightly these people hold on to their preconceived beliefs, an encounter with Christ elicits a wide range of impressions. Pleasant. Life-changing. Shockingly divergent. Unsafe.
Before Adkins dives into this sermon, he reminds the congregation of a previous sermon,
Today we’re going to be looking at an encounter that Jesus has with a woman. To preface it, we’ve already looked at one encounter that Jesus had with a religious guy.
His name was Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a pharisee, and the Bible called him a teacher of Israel. So, more than likely, Nicodemus was a very popular religious teacher in his day. Hundreds of people would come out and see Nicodemus and listen to Nicodemus, but Nicodemus was interested in Jesus. He wanted to know more about Jesus.
So the first case study that we looked at was from the perspective of somebody who is religious, and we looked at the challenges of somebody who is religious who is encountering Jesus and the true gospel. […]
Today we are looking at someone who is irreligious.
You can read about Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus here. I would say that Nicodemus considered a relationship with Christ, at least at first, shockingly divergent and unsafe. That Nicodemus waited until it was night to go visit Jesus demonstrates he didn’t want his peers to know he was giving serious consideration to the claims of Christ. To Nicodemus, believing Jesus could bring major professional consequences. Keep this in mind any and every time the Spirit of God reveals something to you that goes against what you are told to believe by those you give a place of spiritual authority in your life.
Jesus purposely leads His disciples into the heart of this persistent cultural identity conflict.
The passage for the sermon is John 4:1-26. Please click the link and read it in full.
Jesus leaves Judea to go to Galilee. Although the most direct route to Galilee was through Samaria, Jews did not pass through there. Adkins explains that there had been a long blood feud between the Jewish people and the Samaritan people originating in 750 B.C. when there was a Syrian conquest of the Jewish world, resulting in a diaspora, or scattering of the Jewish people throughout the Syrian empire. As a result, some Jewish people married and had children with Gentiles (non-Jewish people). To those Jewish people who held to traditional Jewish marriage customs, where Jewish people only married other Jewish people, these offspring were considered half-breeds. The acculturation also involved spiritual integration, resulting in certain customs and beliefs that the Jewish people utterly rejected.
And what Jesus does is really unique. Instead of going from one place to the other and going around the East, here’s what He does: He simply goes right through Samaria. The reason for this is because Jesus wasn’t using — and this is such a great, great impetus for us — Jesus wasn’t using standard arguments, standard Jewish arguments — I mean, He’s a Jewish rabbi — but he’s not using standard arguments to push people away. What Jesus was doing was saying, “I’m going to walk through the middle of a nation of the people […] that all the Jewish people hate.”
Here, Adkins makes another excellent point. How often do believers use standard Christian arguments to push people away? Think about it. The Samaritans were, in a sense, Jewish, but there was this huge social divide between them and Jews who subscribed to the traditional Jewish beliefs and behaviors. The modern equivalent would be people who claim to be Christians but don’t subscribe to the mainstream beliefs and behaviors of traditional Christianity. Do you know people like this? Are you one of these people?
Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well…
Adkins doesn’t spend much time on this point. Instead he moves to Jesus’ conversation with the woman He meets at a well in Samaria. Adkins explains that the disciples had gone into the city to buy food. Meanwhile, Jesus hangs back at Jacob’s well, hoping someone can get him a drink of water. A Samaritan woman comes along, and is quite surprised when Jesus asks her for a drink. She says, “How dost thou, being a Jew, ask drink from me, being a Samaritan woman?” for Jews have no dealing with Samaritans (v. 9). It is not clear here whether the words, “for Jews have no dealing with Samaritans” are commentary by the Apostle John or if they were the Samaritan woman’s words.
But wait! Before we move on, there’s one more little gem here. Despite the ongoing animosity between the Jews and Samaritans, the disciples are buying food in the Samaritan city, Sychar. Are the vendors there just as shocked as this Samaritan woman when the disciples approach them? Not likely. Here’s why.
Buying and selling with the Samaritans were permitted, because that was considered as an intercourse merely of interest or convenience; borrowing and lending, much more asking or accepting any favour, was prohibited; because that was regarded as an intercourse of friendship, which they thought it impious to maintain with those whom they looked upon as the enemies of God. Commentary of the Old and New Testaments, Rev. Joseph Benson
While the disciples are being spiritually safe, Jesus is very publicly breaking the rules of the religious leaders. Do you know anyone who breaks the rules of religious leaders? Do you publicly break religious rules? This Samaritan woman certainly did. And Jesus wasn’t shy about pointing that out. What was His purpose? To condemn her?
But I’m getting ahead of Adkins. He explains, “See, she even sees herself through the lens of the Jewish world. […] But Jesus doesn’t. Jesus speaks to her. Jesus has conversation with her.”
Here is their conversation:
Jesus – Will you give me a drink?
Woman – 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.
Jesus – 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.
Woman – Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?
Jesus – Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.
Woman – Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.
Living Water & Eternal Life
Adkins points out that living water is not some kind of “special secret water that lets you live forever.” He explains, “In this day, it simply meant rushing water.” It would seem that Adkins’ explanation is sound, since the woman’s desire for the living water was based on the idea that she could avoid having to repeatedly hike ten miles with a giant jug of water, to satisfy a thirst that is renewed on a daily basis.
So far, the sermon has been informative, and somewhat predictable. We’ve been smoothly strolling through the story and learning a little bit of historical stuff as we go. But then there is a bump in the road… I can’t help but wonder what Adkins does with the English translation of the words Christ uses to describe the living water, that is, water that becomes a spring of water welling up to eternal life (zōēn aiōnion).
Adkins offers an alternative interpretation for the words living water, but doesn’t do the same when it comes to the words eternal life. He does NOT mention an alternative translation, saying something like, “In this day, it could simply mean age-long life.”
The idea that “eternal life” is not the best English translation of the Greek words in this context ought to be given serious consideration. After all, aiōnion can mean “age-long,” and “partaking of the character of that which lasts for an age.” Since aiōnion can simply be “the quality describing a particular age,” and it “does not focus on the future per se, but rather on the quality of the age (165 /aiṓn) it relates to,” it seems perfectly natural that Jesus’ living water metaphor has more to do with providing a lasting remedy for spiritual thirst than gaining immortality in the age to come. That’s why the woman does NOT say, “Sir, give me this water so that I can live forever.”
And as these thoughts cross my mind, I hear Adkins clarify what he said about the living water that becomes a spring of water welling up to zōēn aiōnion:
So here, she’s still thinking that He’s talking about water. Jesus is speaking in metaphors right now. He’s saying I’m going to give you the Spirit, and the Spirit is going to be constantly renewing you and changing you and strengthening you and guiding you and leading you. I’m going to give you this water […] a cleansing symbol in the Bible. I’m going to cleanse you with the Holy Spirit and with Me, a relationship with me, that is going to refresh your whole life, not just your whole life, but your whole eternity. And that eternity is what we are talking about here. The water that I will give him will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life. So you are going to be forever renewed. […]
She doesn’t quite get it. And I think that it’s important for us to recognize that Jesus is probably a pretty good evangelist. […] I mean, like, He has the power to be able to do anything He wants, but yet, for some reason, even here, this woman is kind of dull. She doesn’t seem to be grasping it. I think part of that is because the language that we use, and the culture we have as Christians […] as a result of that here, when He is speaking about this, she’s not grasping it. It’s hard for people to make that transition from irreligious person to believer. It’s hard because there are many obstacles, and we are not always aware of those obstacles.
I would agree that the woman thinks Jesus is talking about physical water, but disagree as to why. Jesus’ word choice doesn’t have as much of an impact on the woman as one might imagine, if one is reading the NIV or similar English translations (there is a doctrine that has its foundation in aiōnion being assigned the English word “eternal” even when it doesn’t make sense in the context).
If we assign a literal translation to Christ’s words, it’s much easier to discover why the woman at the well seems to shrug off zōēn aiōnion as an unremarkable concept.
Young’s Literal Translation:
Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Every one who is drinking of this water shall thirst again; but whoever may drink of the water that I will give him, may not thirst — to the age; and the water that I will give him shall become in him a well of water, springing up to life age-during.’
Concordant Literal Translation:
Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who is drinking of this water will be thirsting again, yet whoever may be drinking of the water which I shall be giving him, shall under no circumstances be thirsting for the eon, but the water which I shall be giving him will become in him a spring of water, welling up into life eonian.”
Reading the literal translation, it is much easier to see how one who hasn’t caught on to the idea that Jesus is speaking figuratively could hear something like, “With regular water, you get thirsty again. With my water, you don’t get thirsty, because it is like a spring of water inside you that lasts a lifetime.”
Consequently, I reject Adkins’ dismissive idea that this woman is dull. Yes, Jesus is speaking about something more deep and meaningful. And no, the woman isn’t picking up on this yet. But with an accurate translation and interpretation, we can put away the idea that the woman is mentally slow. The woman wants to stop hauling her water jug back and forth to her house, and Jesus seems to be offering her a way our of her daily drudgery. It’s not only very practical for her to be interested in a real, physical solution to her immediate situation, it’s consistent with their conversation.
(Check back in the coming days/weeks for another blog post continuing this sermon review.)