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When the Truth Hurts and Heals 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
03/27/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
MARCH 27, 2011

When the Truth Hurts and Heals
Exodus 17:1-7
John 4:5-42


Last week we visited with Nicodemus, that "ruler of the Jews," who comes to visit Jesus "by night," in secret. This week, we encounter the Samaritan woman at the well. Two encounters could hardly be more different as John tells them! Where Nicodemus comes to Jesus "by night," this encounter takes place in a public setting at high noon. Where Nicodemus is "a ruler of the Jews," a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body in Jerusalem, an insider, this woman is not even Jewish. She is a Samaritan, a hated group that shares just enough in common with the Jews to be really despised by them. She is an outsider. Nicodemus is an upstanding leader of his community, this woman has a reputation, as her conversation with Jesus will reveal. (It may be why she came to the well in the heat of the day, to avoid contact and ridicule from others.) Nicodemus is a man of note, this woman does not even have a name ever given to her in John's Gospel, and yet Jesus talks longer to her than He does to any other individual in the whole of the New Testament! Nicodemus comes to Jesus and knocks upon His door. He comes with questions and issues to pursue, and even calls Jesus "Rabbi." This woman is not looking to talk to anyone, much less Jesus.

Jesus initiates the encounter completely with the simple request, "Give me a drink." This is perhaps as good a place as any to begin with this amazing encounter. In spite of all the social and religious differences and barriers between them, Jesus initiates a relationship with this unnamed woman. Jesus reaches across all their differences to draw close to her. Jesus wants to reach out and engage this woman with a shady past and low-down reputation. John makes this point here and elsewhere in the New Testament. Jesus seeks relationship with us. Later, Jesus will say, "You did not choose me, but I chose you." In his first Epistle John says, "We love because God first loved us." Jesus initiates and pursues the relationship here, and it tells us something very important about God. The poet Francis Thompson called God "the hound of heaven," always chasing after us in order to find us.

To understand Christian faith, you need to get hold of this. Our relationship with Jesus is finally because of Jesus, because Jesus wants to draw closer to us. Theologically, it is all about God's grace. Our relationship with God was Jesus' idea long before it ever was ours. That is why we baptize babies. Before ever we thought of reaching out to God, God had already made the first, the initial move toward us.

This woman would have never presumed to speak first to Jesus. And maybe we would all do well to ponder what a miracle it is, what grace it is, how amazing it is, that Jesus has offered the first word to us.

Secondly, please do not miss that this woman first recognizes Jesus as a prophet, and only then can she also see that He is Messiah. That is, she first discovers that Jesus knows her, and speaks words of truth to her. After Jesus speaks these words, she says, "Sir, I see that you are a prophet." Prophets speak the Word of the Lord. Apart from that Living Word, we would never come to know God.

We are not so different from this unnamed woman. We know Jesus by the words He speaks. We come to know Jesus as Messiah, as the Christ, because we have heard His Word. It is only as we can hear Jesus speaking to us that we ever come to know Him.

It is maybe the most important reason there is to let the scriptures speak to you in your life. We hear so many words coming our way in this "age of information" that it is more important than ever that we make time and space to hear Jesus' Word. Only His Word has the power to save, only Jesus' words possess the power to heal and to make us whole. "Come unto me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Jesus says, "take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart, and you shall find rest unto your souls." Without a word from Jesus, we are lost forever in our sin and sorrow. Only His word saves, and Jesus longs to speak that word to every last one of us.

Third, please note this woman's response to hearing Jesus tell her "everything she had ever done." This woman had a past. She was the Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan of her community. Or for others, she was nearly Elizabeth Taylor, who had eight husbands! And Jesus knows her reputation.

This story is powerful for many reasons. But the fact that Jesus knows the truth about her, knows her completely in all her sin and shame, should not be lost on us. Let's face it: We all have a past. We may not have as colorful or as low-down a past as this woman. (Maybe!) But we all have a past … something we hate to admit we did, or failed to do … attitudes and thoughts we secretly harbor … words we have spoken … cruel things we have done to hurt others. We like to pretend as best we can that none of these things ever happened. But in Jesus' presence, and Jesus is always with us, when we know it and when we don't, we are transparent. Jesus sees through us as clearly as He saw through this woman at the well at Sychar. We are keeping our grandson Keller this weekend, who is eleven months old. After doing a funeral yesterday, I came home to Connie and Keller watching the NCAA basketball tournament. Connie said, "I've had to call Keller for traveling!" The kid never stops! We both realize anew why the young have children. He is a joy, but he never quits! This morning, as I was going to get my shower, I walked into our bathroom. I could tell Keller had already been there with Connie. The toilet paper was torn, and Connie had to move everything from the shelves he could reach and put it all on top of the counter next to the sink. The boy gets into everything!

It occurs to me that Jesus is the same. When you connect with Jesus, when you make some space for Him in your life, Jesus has a way of getting into everything. He gets into every part of this woman's life, just as Jesus will get into every area of yours. Yet this woman is not shattered or shamed by being known by Jesus. Rather, she is set free. She is known, really known by Jesus, and this knowing, this truth, sets her free. We sing it in the old hymn: "Jesus knows our every weakness, take it to the Lord in prayer." We do not need to be anything or anybody other than who we really are in Jesus' company. Indeed, we can't be. There is no illusion or pretense, nothing unknown, in Jesus' presence.

This is the longest conversation recorded in the Bible that Jesus has with anyone, yet I am guessing we have only a fraction of it here in John. This woman is not just known by Jesus, she knows how deeply and completely she is known, and in being so fully known, she is set free. Something new is created between them as the past gives way to what is yet to be. That is always the way it is with Jesus.

You are known by Jesus. And even in all His knowing, Jesus loves you. And Jesus longs to draw closer to set you free. Later in John's Gospel Jesus will say, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Nothing less than the truth ever sets us free. We do not need to carry our secret sins shamefully forever through life. We can let them go, confess them to the One who is the Truth, and give thanks to Jesus, for He is good.

This woman learns this. She learns that God is good from seeing God in Jesus. The Psalmist also knew this about God. "O give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever." And the goodness this woman meets in Jesus is so very good that she cannot keep it to herself. "Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?"

"I am," says Jesus literally. To make the grammar correct, our translation adds "he." But what John tells us Jesus said is, "I am." ("The one who is speaking to you.") "Come and see…," she says.

What this woman has received in Jesus is so good, and so full of freeing grace, that she wants to share it. She cannot keep it to herself! God has come to her "in spirit and in truth," as God always does when we encounter Jesus, when we hear Him speaking to us.

Hear how this encounter ends: "Many Samaritans from that city believed in Him because of the woman's testimony." "They said to the woman, 'It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world.'" This is the only place in John's Gospel where the word "Savior" appears. But when "they heard for themselves," they believed. They knew. They were known. And in such knowing, they were saved.

Jesus is, you know. Savior of the world, that is. Jesus is the only One who knows us. And still, Jesus loves us. And this love is saving. "Come and see…" Will you?

AMEN.
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