THE WOMAN AT THE WELL
Holy Week Commemorative Sermon, 1 April 1991,
Lønstrup, Denmark, with a Contemporary Postscript
It is with great joy and anticipation in my heart that I today take up the preacher's stand to say a few words on the death of Christ which we are today commemorating as we indeed do each year in General Conference. Today we remember the suffering of Jesus upon the Cross at Golgotha and contemplate the awfulness of sin -- our sin -- which he alone bore.
The execution of Jesus upon a Roman cross is an historical event, something that our physical senses can apprehend even if spiritually we sometimes find the work of the cross remote to our experience. Likewise, the resurrection of Christ was an historical event, as of course was His physical birth. These events will be treated in the sermons that are to follow this one.
Death is Not to be Feared
On its own, death might seem a rather uninteresting if not morbid subject to discourse upon. From the world's point-of-view it is, because death offers the unbeliever no hope. But for New Covenant Christians death is neither something we ought to fear nor try to escape from because in Christ it is so intimately tied up with life. We believe that death in its positive aspect leads to life as Jesus proved when He was physically resurrected. Because of His death He is, if anything, more alive than He ever was before.
Today I have a message for you from God. It is a revelation for you but it is going to be conveyed to you in a rather different way to what you are used to. These last three years the saints have grown accustomed to formally written revelations which have been published in our collection of scriptures known as the Covenants & Commandments. But today I want to convey God's Word, if I can, through another medium of revelation. And this I feel prompted to do so that you can understand that the spirit of revelation is rightly the province of every member of the Church.
Today I want to talk about an event which occurred before Jesus was impaled on a Cross, an event which nevertheless has as much to say about that death and what it means to the person seeking Christ. And the event I want to discourse on is an incident in Samaria involving the Messiah and a Samaritan woman by a well for within this story is one of the greatest miracles of conversion ever recorded. And the reason I want to examine this story is because we as the Lord's covenant people have been called to be missionaries. It is our calling to gather in the elect, to assemble the earthly Family of the Firstborn on earth. But to do that we cannot be ordinary missionaries -- the techniques and assumptions of missionaries of other churches cannot be used by us. Therefore what I want to talk to you about today, the first official day of our Holy Week, is the firstborn way of missionary work -- of apostleship -- as we gather here on the Day of Christ's Death to put aside the past year, and indeed, all our past, and prepare to start anew.
The Royal Way of Witnessing
I know you will agree that Christ was the greatest Missionary and Apostle of all. Therefore I am going to show you the Royal Way of witnessing by illustrating one of the most amazing conversion stories of all -- that of the Samaritan woman at the well.
In somewhat over an hour our Lord awakened a total stranger from sudden chance acquaintance to full and glorious recognition of Himself as more than the expected Messiah. And He did this without once overriding her free will and stubbornness of heart.
A Misunderstood Woman
I don't what view you have of this Samaritan lady. I know many think she was an adulteress because of all the husbands she had had. People assume that she was immoral because her last husband wasn't her husband at all. How easily people misunderstand the scriptures! No, this woman was a prophetess and she was certainly no adulteress, no worker of immorality.
A History of the Samaritans
Hostility between Jews and Samaritans had long been intense. After the death of Solomon, the ten northern tribes of Israel seceded from the united monarchy established by David. The capital city of the secessionist tribes was Samaria., this northern confederation being known in the Bible as "Israel" and the southern kingdom with its capital at Jerusalem being called "Judah". After the successful siege of Samaria by the Assyrians in 722 BC, the Israelites were deported en masse and replaced by other Near Eastern captives of the Assyrians. Although these captives were mostly Gentiles and polytheists, they adopted the religion of the region to which they had been sent as colonialists. Thus, by New Testament times, they worshipped Yahweh (Jehovah), acknowledged Moses as the supreme apostle of God, accepted the Torah (Genesis-Deuteronomy) as canonical scripture, recognised Mt. Gerezim (not Zion) as the chosen place of God mentioned in Scripture (Deut.14:23), and expected a final day of judgment.
They were obviously very close in faith to their southern neighbours but, since we always fight more viciously with our brothers than with strangers, that closeness only heightened the hostility. Geography served to make the problem worse. By the time of the Roman occupation, orthodox Jews inhabited the regions both north and south of Samaria. Their feelings against Samaritans were so intense that a pious Jew generally travelled around Samaria rather than pass through it on a trip between, for example, Jerusalem and Nazareth. The resultant racial hatred between Jews and Samaritans made our modern racial tensions seem puny.
Jesus in Samaria
However, Jesus decided to pass through rather than around Samaria. He had walked some 20 to 30 miles, in how many hours we are not told. The disciples had gone ahead into the city to buy food. So Jesus was alone, hot, tired, and thirsty. There was no container with which to draw water. The city carefully provided none, that strangers might not defile now carelessly use all their water, for this was a sacred well in Israel's history. Jesus was therefore dependent upon whomever might happen to come to the well to draw water.
No one likes to be dependent upon others. It hurts our pride very little to give to others, even if we give until it hurts deeply. We can always be proud that we gave. It is much more humbling to receive gifts from others, except perhaps at times when these things are expected or in other circumstances when we feel that gifts pay us honour due. To receive gifts daily, however, is humiliating. Add to this that a man will receive gifts from others only as God prompts, and one is being taught the lesson of dependency implicit in the words: "GIVE us this day our daily bread."
The Way of the Prophets and Apostles
Now apostles (who are missionaries) and prophets are very dependent upon the good will of others. We read in the scriptures that Jesus told His apostles to travel "without purse or scrip (bag/satchel)" (Matt.10:10; Mk.6:8; Lk.10:4; 22:35-36). Can you imagine serving a mission with no money, no suitcase or backpack, with nothing save what you are wearing? But Jesus required this of His apostles to teach them dependency on God. To be a firstborn son or daughter you must be totally "naked" -- helpless -- so that you can rely on the Lord 100%. These days it may not be practical to travel in such a way but the dependence we are to put on God, illustrated by the plea in the Lord's prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread", is still required of us. Do we still rely on the arm of flesh to some extent? What crutches do we use to uphold our faith? All crutches must go especially for apostles and prophets. All in this Church of Christ have been called to be apostles and prophets in their several degrees.
Now if this seems hard consider also the tasks that the Lord gives to His servants. The Lord may command a prophet to speak an extremely hard word to people, for which people are likely to hate the prophet. Yet these same people are the hand of God to feed him! This is something out apostles will learn more of as God sends them out into the world to deliver His message.
Prophets and apostles must learn to live by the Lord's people. This is not something they have had to do as yet for our ministers are self-supporting, as they should be, as they are standing (local) ministers. But the time will come when the Lord will call His apostles to quit their work and their means of income and go out into the world as the apostles did of old. And when that happens, the prophets will have to live by God's people. This will be a two-edged lesson for him: First, it will teach him humility and dependence upon God; Secondly, it will create the kind of relationship among men and women in which prophetic ministry can have the fullest effect. As it is written in the scriptures, whoever gives to a prophet opens doors to the Lord: "He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. He who receives a prophet because he is a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward, and he who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he shall not lose his reward" (Matt.10:40.42, RSV).
On the other hand, prophets must always give their services. They do not charge. That is why we have no paid ministry in this Church. As they give, the Lord gives back to them through men: "Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be put in your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back" (Luk.6:38, RSV). Therefore we shall never "hire" prophets, apostles, or any other servant of the Lord, for such men and women are not hirelings, that they should flee when the wolf comes. Such men and women lay down their lives for the sheep as a free gift from God (John 10:11-13). Therefore a prophet or an apostle will never be paid a salary. He, like the Levite under the Old Covenant, will live from the offerings given to God. They are his to eat.
Dependency on God
We are all to depend on God according to our several callings, to put our service to Him before everything else. If God commands us yo go to a certain place in the world, do we first check to see if there is any money in the bank account or do we go forth in faith? Do we first say to the Lord: "Lord, I must pay this bill first!" or do we obey unquestioningly? If we believe in Him -- really believe in Him -- then He will take care od all our economic needs. If you do not believe that, then you are unqualified to be a prophet or an apostle; indeed, your whole discipleship comes under question.
No, God has not changed the way in which He works. He still commands us to utterly depend on Him. Such will be good for the saints in general as well as specifically for those who are called to prophetic and apostolic ministry. The Lord's servant needs none of the world's assurances, however comforting they may seem. God becomes His sufficient supply, never men.
Threats to Dependency
I will be brutally honest with you. There are many in the Church who rely more upon mammon (money) than they do upon God. There are many who are putting themselves into economic bondage by living beyond what they need in order to be the Lord's servants. Then when He calls they cannot respond because they are the slaves of men. Such economic mismanagement must end quickly if the Church is to progress further. The saints must choose whether their creature comforts are important to them than salvation or not. For you do not yet know what you must sacrifice in order to fulfill the callings He is making to you. Everything has to go onto the altar of sacrifice and some of you are going to have major problems with that. And I say this to you prophetically knowing that this will not be a popular message to some. There are still gods that need to be smashed.
Jesus lived the true way of an apostle and a prophet. He had no real need of the Samaritan woman. He could have commanded the water and it would have flown out of the well and into His mouth. But "though He was in the form of God...He humbled Himself" (Phil.2:6,8, RSV). In this sense Jesus needed the Samaritan woman's help. Many times God arranges it so that others do for us what we think we can do for ourselves.
Learning to Need Help
How many times have you refused the help of someone because you thought you could do it for yourself? Did you consider that you might have a prophetic calling to be helped, so that you could help the other person? Did you refuse help because of pride? A prophet must be sensitive to such possibilities. He must have the mind of God and not judge after human notions. Like Jesus, we must humble ourselves and place ourselves beneath those whom we are serving so that we can be of use to them. I cannot stress this principle enough. You cannot be a servant in Christ and stand above those whom you want to minister to. If you do, you will never reach into their hearts. If the Eternal God of Heaven entered into fallen human flesh to serve us, how do you suppose we are to serve others?
A Prophet's "Humility"
Having first understood this lesson, let us see what Jesus did next in His approach to the Samaritan woman. For all His humility, Jesus did not ask the Samaritan woman politely. He boldly commanded: "Give me a drink!" (John 4:7, RSV). Elijah commanded the widow of Zarepath to give him a morsel of bread (1 Ki.17:8-16, AV). But she was making a loaf for her son and herself, the last they were to have. They were, she grimly explained, preparing to starve to death. Nevertheless, Elijah insisted: "Fear not; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make for yourself and your son" (v.13). Notice that Elijah told the woman to feed him first even though she and her son were starving! Are you surprised? Are you offended, perhaps? The world would expect more courtesy in such circumstances. But we must obey God no matter what looms before us. We must despise our own wisdom in order to choose His. That is true humility. Human humility is inevitably outward. We say: "What a humble man he is!" But by what standard to we measure humility? By a sweet voice? By a totally non-aggressive stance? Now the prophet must surrender that kind of humility. His reward is from God, not from men. If he doesn't then he is no true prophet.
Thus we find that Jesus disregards the Samaritan woman's tiredness, the heat of the day, the exertion required to haul the water up, the fact that she is a stranger, and that she is a hated Samaritan. He commands her to give Him a drink. This alone ought to have begun to tip her off that she was in the presence of a prophet -- probably it did. Incidentally, if she had been a wicked woman, she most likely would not have been allowed to come to this well. It was sacred, and her sins would have defiled it.
The Three Types of Woman
Normally, if a man spoke to a woman in public in that country, the woman would consider herself shamed, and either say nothing or run to the men of her family, who would be counted on to demand apologies of the offender. Only three kinds of women would answer back to Jesus -- a wife, a harlot or a prophetess. We know she was not married to Him and her response shows that she was a prophetess. "How is it that You, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria? For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" (John 4:9, RSV). For the moment she has disregarded that He has not asked but commanded. She is not yet ready to recognise Him as a prophet.
There she is, standing before the Lord of glory, in the confidence of her own flesh, changing His command to an asking, as wee, too, often do. She has encountered a prophet unawares. Her question, however, shows that she is a prophetess among her people. And Jesus immediately moved to call her to see Him as her Messiah. "If you knew the gift of God, and Who it is that is saying to you, 'Give Me a drink', you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water" (v.10).
Stages of Inner Learning
We generally delight to tell others things directly because it is self-exalting. And the learner has not been invited into the process of discovery. However, a man dead to self teaches whenever possible by parable and analogy, that others may learn by discovery. Though Jesus could have announced, "I am the Son of God", He did not take such a short cut. Men and women must go through inner stages of learning, voluntarily, on their own. More than the Samaritan's head must retains what she learns. Therefore He moved indirectly.
The women continued to miss the point: "Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?" (v.12). Another valuable lesson is wrapped up in her not seeing. Why did she not see? Her mind was good. She knew the prophet's way, which Jesus was using with her. But Jesus has offered her a gift: "If you knew the gift of God...". He Himself is the gift of God. It is beginning to dawn on her that He may indeed be the Messiah. This would mean an indescribable blessing to her to have found the Messiah! But that was just too good to be true -- it couldn't be believed easily and quickly. People can far more easily believe bad news than good! Lying at the root of most troubles in Christians is the inability to believe, as the hymn says, "Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
Now why does this prophetess find it hard to believe at first? This woman has been through tragedy repeatedly. She has lost five husbands. And as there was almost no divorce in those days, her husbands most likely all died. Five husbands. Some of us have lost one spouse, or maybe two, but not five. This Samaritan woman had learned to expect trouble, not blessing. To find the Messiah would capsize whole mountains of suffering into a sea of blessing.
Jesus tried again with the water analogy. But the woman was too frightened to claim the good news her mind has already sensed. She fled into "practicality". "Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw" (v.15). It is not that we are actually that practically-minded. But we have fled to the surface meaning to hide. This woman, still unable to believe because of her joy (Lk.24:41), is running away. Her heart, however, does believe.
To Believe but Run Away
Now I know that when many people hear the message of the New Covenant that in their hearts they do believe but they run away for various reasons. Often it is because of the responsibility but also because of the joy in their hearts. They just aren't used to coping with that sort of joy. It seems to be too much for them. One investigator in England was converted to the Gospel and told me that it was like looking into the face of God -- it was too much for him, so he ran away and we have never heard from him since. So remember that -- sometimes people run away for positive as well as for negative reasons. And a prophet must discern that.
When Gid Gives Signs
Jesus answered the Samaritan woman with a sign. A prophet learns to sense when the heart of the other has opened to belief, and when it has closed, and chooses his words accordingly. Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, and Mary the mother of Jesus, were both visited by the angel Gabriel. Both asked Gabriel a "practical question": "How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years...How shall this be, since I have no husband?" (Luk.1:18, 34). But Gabriel knew that Zacharias disbelieved and Mary believed. So Zacharias was disciplined and Mary received signs to confirm her way.
If a man believes, God will give him signs, that he may know that he has heard rightly. He will then be sure that he has not followed his own imagination. But if a man does not believe, God will not give him a sign. If He were to give the unbelievers a sign, He would be proving Himself to him that he might believe in God. God would be jumping to the unbeliever's tune. Who then would be God? God will not give a sign to an unbeliever in order to convince him to believe. He must believe first; then God will confirm.
The Lord's servants are often tempted to think: "O, if the Lord would only work this or that miracle, then these people would have to believe." But a sign will only show His servant that it cannot compel people to believe. One of the most tragically funny things in the Scriptures happened when the Pharisees and Sadducees came to Jesus, immediately after He had healed great multitudes -- the lame, the blind, the deaf, the demon-possessed -- then fed multitudes from seven mere loaves and two fish. These were all the very signs given in prophecy by which to recognise the Messiah. At that moment they asked Him to work a sign from heaven that they might believe (Matt.16:1). Only the Holy Spirit gives the grace of belief -- otherwise nothing, neither persuasion nor miracles, will bring about true belief.
Since Jesus proceeded to give the Samaritan woman a sign, we know that in her heart she had already believed. First, knowing that she has no husband, He says: "Go, get your husband, and come back with him." In effect she has been lying to Him, acting as though she does not believe when she actually does. I have often talked with children who insist that they do not understand what I am talking about when they actually do. They actually end up fooling themselves and come to believe their own self-deception. The Samaritan woman has been feeing from Jesus inwardly in her heart. Therefore He gives her the opportunity to flee outwardly also -- to run away -- to act as though He is not a prophet and therefore does not know that she is not married. He will not force her to believe. If she wants to flee, He will invite her to do so.
Threatenings of the Fleshy Mind
One thing we must never do is say: "If you do not believe this message, or these revelations from God, then you are denying God!" The servant of God should never threaten (1 Pet.2:23). A true prophet must stand mute and meek before the will of another. He must never force another to do his own will. Sensitively, Jesus was saying: "O.K., I won't force you. Go and get your husband and come back here -- knowing either you won't come back or I won't still be here by that time. I'm letting you off the hook."
Had the Samaritan woman actually wanted to get away, she would have seized the opportunity to flee from His presence. Instead she answered that she had no husband. What she answered is of little importance -- that she remained at all is what matters. It said that she had decided not to honour her fear. She would see it through.
As the apostle James said, real faith is a matter of what we do, not what we think or say (Jas.2:18). Doubts and reservations don't bother God when a person is nevertheless living his faith. The woman made no oral confession of belief, but she stayed when given the opportunity to flee.
That is an important key that prophets and prophetesses should learn. If a person stays but makes no profession of belief then they believe. If they go away then they do not believe. If they don't believe, let them go. Never force anyone to believe. There are many others who will believe. -- go and find them instead.
Jesus said: "You are right in saying...'I have no husband'; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly'" (v.18). From this sign, whereby He shows her that He sees into her life by the power of God, she knows that He is a true prophet. Many people have misinterpreted what he said, and thought that she was a wicked woman. But the true explanation is entirely different.
The Levirate and Other Principles
The Old Testament law (the Law of Levirate -- Deut.25:5) required that a widow's brother-in-law succeed her husband if she was childless, so as to guarantee an heir. Thus Boaz could not marry Ruth until Elimelech refused to do the part of the kinsman for her (Ruth 4). The woman at the well has had five husbands because each one has died. The sixth relative has taken her into his household (guarded from immorality by dozens of chaperoning relatives) but has not yet into marriage with her. Indeed, knowing what we do about the marriage customs of the Samaritans, we can confidently say that she was engaged or "dedicated" to her future husband.
If a woman was not married, or lost a husband, she was thought to be cursed by God (Isa.4:1). If she lost a second husband, she would be considered doubly reproached. But if she lost a third, then a forth and a fifth, people began to regard her as being prepared for high service as a prophetess. And a prophetess could speak to men in public. Men and women alike would seek their counsel. Anna was neither embarrassed nor out of place when she gave thanks over the infant Jesus and "spoke of Him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem" (Lk.2:38).
Jesus Honours a Prophetess
Jesus was not reproving the Samaritan woman. Because she stayed, despite her fear, He rewarded her with the sign that He knew her private life and said: "I honour you as a prophetess. I know your sufferings, and the work they have wrought in your heart." She felt welcomed and received by Him.
She now has two signs: His brusque manner and His kind words. So she knows without a doubt He is a prophet. Jesus, however, wants her to see more. But she is still half afraid to believe. Like so many of us, she immediately raises a nagging but impertinent question for the prophet to resolve: "Our fathers worshipped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship" (v.21). We learn in Jesus's answer another technique or attribute of the Lord's prophet. The prophet comes with a Word of revelation from God. His problem is always how to get us to receive that Word. We are not prepared and often do not want to receive the stern words of God. Because of this Amos, for example, used an extremely clever gimmick. He began his tremendous speech by excoriating Israel's traditional enemy, Damascus. Then he scolded another enemy, Gaza, a Philistinian city. Then all the major cities of Philistia came under his thunder-cloud. Then came Tyre, a Phoenician city. Then Edom. The people delightedly listened to the prophet scold their enemies. Next he attacked Ammon, then Moab, then Judah, their bitterest rival and closest neighbour. The trap wa snow sprung. They were listening raptly. Now he could turn his guns on Israel and they had to hear. Likewise, when David sinned with Bathsheba, Nathan called for David to judge a case. David found himself judged by his own words.
The prophet enters upon whatever ground is given him in order to meet the person. Then he expands or turns the subject to cause his brother to open his heart to the new revelation he brings. Paul writes: "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more...I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (1 Cor.9:19,22, AV). We walk on the grounds where people are, not where we are, in order that we might walk out with some.
The Work of the Prophets
The Church must support its prophets for the Lord may send them to coexist with strange people. The Lord may strike up a friendship between His prophet and a Sikh, or a Moslem, or a prostitute, or a bar-tender. Men complained of Jesus because He ate with sinners and publicans (MK.2:16).
It has been my privilege to work with people from many different religions and in the process the Lord has revealed many truths to me hidden up in their traditions. In the process I have been better equipped to minister to people from different religions. Because of such experiences the Lord has opened up my mind to all kinds of truths that I would possibly never have learned by other means. It is true that there is always a danger of accreting false doctrines in such a process, but if we are true to Christ and what has already been revealed, this exploration should not frighten us. In due time the Lord shakes and sifts out the new thoughts that we have, adding true ones to our treasure of spiritual knowledge and casting out that which is false. Paul wrote: "Let those of us who are mature be thus minded: and if in anything you are otherwise minded, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained" (Phil.3:15-16, RSV).
Jesus was not bothered about the Samaritan woman's questions about where men ought to worship. It was His opportunity to expand her thought with fresh revelation: "But the hour is coming, and now is..." (v.23). What He teaches her is important, but more important to her is that by using the words of fresh revelation, He has intimated that He is more than a prophet. Meanwhile, His glorious presence is flooding over her spirit. Gone from her now is the fleeing. She suspects that He is the Messiah. In the polite indirect way of the east she offers: "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when He comes, He will show us all things" (v.25). But He has come as more than the Jewish expectation of the Messiah. He is the Son of God, which none had yet understood, though the prophets had prophesied it. Therefore He used a phrase that could not be anything else than a major sign to her: "I who speak to you am He" (v.26), or to translate the Greek more literally, "I AM, the One speaking to you" (Gk. Ego eimi, ho lalon soi).
In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus would use those same words, "I am He"; whereupon the soldiers, priests, and all fell back from Him on the ground (John 18:6). Because God revealed Himself to Moses as I AM, pious Jews carefully avoided using that phrase or the related word, Yahweh (Jehovah). A superstition had grown up that whoever spoke His Name would be struck dead. Therefore no-one said, "I am". Various circumlocutions were devised to avoid it. And so they all drew back from Jesus, thinking God's thunderbolt would hit Him. It wasn't important that this was only a superstition and not actually true. When nothing happened, they were convinced that the one they were taking before Ananias and then Pilate was the Son of God.
Nevertheless Jesus used those same words, "I AM", to tell the woman that He was more than the Messiah. She got the message. She now sees not merely that He is a Christ, but that he is the Christ. And the Holy Spirit quickly confirmed this revelation to her with sure signs. The disciples return. She sees the amazement on their faces that He is talking to a strange woman in public (v.27). Yet none of the disciples said to her: "What do you want?" or to Jesus: "Why are You talking with her?" The disciples showed perfect courtesy and deference to His authority. Both of these were signs to her. It is still true today. How we conduct ourselves are the signs which confirm or destroy the faith in others. Ghandi once said: "I would accept your Christ were it not for you Christians!" Therefore we, like Jesus' early disciples, ought to be the signs given to the faithful.
Sign of the Water Pot
Therefore the Samaritan woman gave a sign that she believed: she left her water pot. The westerner, who is used to dashing down to the shop to replace cheaply any lost or broken water buckets, says: "O.K. So she left her water pot. So what?" But to the easterner, to leave behind one's water pot is a clear sign of faith.
Water is sacred. Water containers in biblical times became associated with the sacredness of life. Thus they were never to be lost, left behind, or thrown away. If a water pot were dropped and broken, that was a great shame and a tragedy. Even the pieces were not thrown away. Larger pieces were used as mixing bowls or cutting boards. Smaller pieces were used to scrape boils because they had become associated with healing virtue. Job 2:8 says: "And he took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes."
The woman came to the well looking for earthly water. In Jesus she found heavenly water. Therefore she left her water jar as a sign that true holiness and religiosity is not to be found in the forms of Samaritan or Jewish worship, but in the person she has just met. Had she only found a Messiah, she would have kept the forms of worship, she would have kept the water pot. But she has found more and does not need the forms any longer.
The Proper Response to God's Call
When a person receives a call from God, he must leave behind whatever has been his form of life up to that moment. When Jesus called James and John, "they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed Him" (Matt.4:22, AV).
Elisha took his oxen, slew them, hacked up and burned his plough and harness for the barbecue he then held for his friends and relatives. In doing so Elisha has given three irrevocable signs. He has slain his oxen so he cannot return to farming. He has burned his farming instruments. All his family have eaten salt with him to witness to his departure from farming to the service of God. There is no way he can return.
Every person called into the New and Everlasting Covenant by the Lord must renounce whatever has formed him. This is not to insult his heritage. It is to cut the apron strings. It is to deny any formation by the old carnal life. Now he will be formed by, and serve only, the God who has called him. This, or course, demands great faith. Most people lack the faith to make such a once-and-for-all commitment and they usually hang on to bits of their old life. That is why we, in the New Covenant Church of God, have structured Priesthood degrees and temple covenants -- each of these forces the disciple to cut one more apron string with the world -- with the past -- until he is totally free. Every person who comes to Church and the covenants it has entered into with the Lord will pass through this process of change. They will be reminded of what the Lord has called them to week after week until they either yield control to God or leave the Church and yield control to their passions, their fears, and to the world as a whole. At every stage of his growth in the New Covenant Church the disciple will be offered a way of escape, just as the Samaritan woman was. No-one is kept a prisoner to the truth that God has revealed to this Church through His prophets and prophetesses. Thus New Covenant Christians are given the opportunity to run away -- often.
The Way of Christ is not Easy
Does this sound tough to you? Does it seem "unloving", perhaps? However you care to label it, this is the Way of Christ. It is the true Gospel and there is no other, though it may well be expressed in other ways. And because it is the Way of Christ it is, by definition, love. Why is it love? Because it brings you into a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ which no watered-down gospel ever can. It brings security, hope, peace, and strength because it brings you face-to-face with reality and takes you away from all the illusions and fantasies of the false teachings of men.
Let me give you an example of how many of us find excuses not to cut our apron strings with the world, and that concerns our earthly families. There are many sincere people who, seeking to obey the Fifth Commandment to honour their parents, do not realise that they have been given a call by Christ which transcends that responsibility. For example, the Scribes and Pharisees wanted to label Jesus as a false prophet. They told Him: "Your mothers and your brothers are standing outside, desiring to see You" (Lk.8:20). Had Jesus turned from the present work of the Lord to honour His mother or His brothers, they would have cried: "You see, He is no true prophet! He has not renounced His mother. See, He turns back from following God." Jesus used the occasion to teach a deeper lesson by saying: "My mother and my brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it" (v.21).
I want to clarify one point. The Pharisees and Scribes began to make a false use of this principle. They said that "if anyone tells his father or mother, What you would have gained from me is given of God, he need not honour his father" (Matt.15:5, RSV). Jesus told them that for the sake of their tradition, they had made void the Word of God. Every Christian should beware of this trap. We are all to renounce the continuing carnal influence of parental holds upon us when we become adult Christians, so that we may become free in Christ; but that freedom is not a license to reject parental duty.
Hearing and Obeying
Once again it is a matter of truly hearing and obeying God. When He calls us apart, we have to turn our backs on much, if not everything that has been important to us, which may include our parents. Certainly the Holy Spirit will seek to destroy idolatrous relationships with any family in order that the Lord may instate true love and honour. No human being, by his own powers, can possibly discern fully the difference between idolising and honouring one's parents. As always, we are dependent on Christ who alone can guide us along this narrow way.
Let me give you another example of the way in which relationships can be twisted. Lazarus was a friend Jesus loved. "Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So when He heard that he was ill, stayed two days longer in the place where He was. Then after that He said to the disciples, 'Let us go into Judea again'" (Jn.11:5-7). Now to the carnal mind, how can that be love? How could Jesus remain where He was knowing that His friend was ill? Martha said it: "Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died" (v.21). Mary said exactly the same thing (v.32). Jesus had to bear the reproach of His dearest friends.
If Jesus had rushed to His friend's side, it would have been disobedience and idolatry. That would have jeopardized His friend. True love would not do that. No call had come from Lazarus. But his sisters had "used" Jesus' friendship by saying: "Lord, he whom You love is sick" (v.3). Now that was wrong. To inform Him that Lazarus was ill was a true duty. To remind Jesus that "he whom You love is sick" was to put a burden of friendship upon the call for help- It was an attempt to control and manipulate Him. The words were insulting, as though they had to remind Him of His love. And because of their special and intimate relationship with Him, they should have known better. Fear had overcome Mary's and Martha's walk in the Spirit.
Similar kinds of things happen today in the Church. Friendship can be used as a cloak for idolatry. It happens in the world all the time. People are constantly manipulating one another. And worst of all, it happens within marriages with such threats as: "If you love me, you'll do so and so." Our friendships and our labours must not place any special demand upon a servant of God. The Priesthood exists to serve the will of God and not the will of the supposed needs of the membership.
A few years ago a member of the Church got a telephone call from a drug addict. The addict said that he needed money and proceeded to quote from the Bible, saying that if the member were a true Christian she would come immediately. When she went out to find the addict he was gone. I think both learned a valuable lesson. A disciple of Christ must only act as commanded by the Spirit. We are not to do the bidding of men. If, for example, your Pastor is called out to administer to the need of someone and attends to that need when you also have a need and want him, that does not mean that the Pastor does not care about you. If he is listening to the Spirit he will go where God wants him to go.
Hearing criticism about the Church's ministers is not, alas, uncommon. Very often members of the congregation will point out to the Priesthood the very need of the suffering round about us but they forget that the servants of God must do what the Lord commands them. At various times in our history we have desired to help drug addicts, street children and others but the Lord has always given us the veto, saying that other Christians have been called into that labour. I know we have often felt guilty because we aren't doing more. God has spoken to us clearly so many times by revelation and it is to these revelations that we must first respond. The needs of the people around us are infinite but the capacity of any individual is limited by time. Many of our ministers have tried not only to go the extra mile but the extra ten miles. They have burned themselves out and severely reduced their capacity of serve. Is this what God wants? Burned out ministers only leave congregations without effective leadership, reduce the capacity of a congregation to expand and so train up new ministers to shoulder the ever present burdens of leadership.
God's People Must Listen and Obey
God will call a listening, obedient people to acts of service, you may be quite sure of that, but first ministers have to be trained in the school of experience. They must not be so insensitive as not to respond to genuine criticism but neither must they allow themselves to be sidetracked into projects the Lord has not called them into my the emotional manipulation of the uncommitted. Experience has taught us that those who criticise are usually the last ones to do anything about a situation. And if they do respond, it is not untypical to see their initial burst of enthusiasm fizzle out as the challenges and demands of Christian discipleship place real burdens on their shoulders. There are always more talkers than doers, people who manipulate the righteousness of others in order to conceal their own unrighteousness.
I remember well one lady who bitterly criticised the Priesthood for doing nothing about helping street children on the streets of Oslo. Though she was reminded that God had given us the responsibility of 100 orphans in India and that the people were not yet fully meeting our commitments there, she insisted that we were called to help Norwegian street children. Though as a Pastor I do not feel any spiritual call for this work for our congregation, I encouraged this lady in her wish to help these children and said that we would do all we could to back her up if this really was the Lord's call to her. Nothing ever happened, of course, and the lady in question left the Church and abandoned her call for the world. Though I could feel a spirit of bitterness behind her criticism and knew she was using the need of others as a means to attack the ministry who had pointed out her spiritual lack, I gave her the chance to turn a bad situation into a good one.
The Abuse of Righteousness
So beware when people use righteous causes to cover up personal sin. We have all probably done this in the past and may yet be tempted to do similar things in the future. We should not, however, allow ourselves to fall into such a temptation but stay close to the Spirit. It is important that we follow God's timetable, not out own, for life is short and our strength is all too easily thrown away into labours that are not of God and which bring no fruit.
A prophet, or any disciple of Christ for that matter, must therefore always do God's bidding before man's. That is why God established apostolic and prophetic ministry first in His Church (1 Cor.12:28-31). A Church is always going to face what might be called "impossible" choices at sometime in its spiritual life which makes the presence of such ministry paramount. I have witnessed so many churches go off the track by either adopting a false doctrine or going off and doing a project the Lord has not called them to. And when these wrong choices are made, sometimes these churches become utterly useless in the Lord's plan, and end up as mere institutions doing the bidding of man. This has meant that the Lord has had to raise up other Christians to get a job done. And training takes time. Whereas a long-established Church with good resources could have responded immediately, a newly raised group may take years before it is ready to meet the same situation.
The Lord is aware of the limitations of His servants both spiritually and practically. He always makes the right decision, however. Prophets are not always loved for the messages they give, and they don't expect to be. Anyone who acknowledges prophetic ministry in the Church must grow accustomed to that.
The Lessons of Prophecy
Now the Samaritan woman had well learned the lessons of prophecy. She wasn't just any old woman but was a servant of the Lord. Not only did she leave her water pot, but she also left Jesus! You will remember that Peter, James and John wanted to stay on the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus (Matt.14:4). One of the common errors of Christians is that they believe that Christ is to be principally found in worship services, prayer meetings, praise fellowships and the like. There is no doubt that the feeling of His presence may truly be the strongest in group meetings. Perhaps that is as it should be. But the Church should not live by feelings, for the feelings of which people speak in this context are usually good feelings. But Jesus is wherever suffering is (Matt.25:40). Where people ache and need, that is where He is. And that is where the Church is called to be.
Now it is true that we have various commissions in the New Covenant and that these have to be fulfilled also. So let us not criticise others for having received different callings but fulfil what we have been given to do. That is why we have so many different talents and callings. Nevertheless we are not absolved from witnessing. Worship services are refreshments and training between true labours of love. The Worship Service is neither the first labour nor the primary place of God's presence. This Samaritan woman does not fall into the error of making an idol of His euphoric personal presence as so many aesthetic Christians who lock themselves away in nunneries and monasteries do, or who simply sit at home and dream of heaven, forgetting the suffering world around them. She immediately thinks of others, leaves His presence as she should, and goes to others who do not yet know Him.
We can forgive the woman for her hyperbole -- it seems unlikely there was time for Christ to tell her all the things she had ever done (v.29). We must not forget our early enthusiasm when we had the Gospel preached to us and we accepted it and possibly even exaggerated what God had done for us!
Observe one final prophetic lesson in the Samaritan woman's behaviour. We might expect her to blurt out: "This is the Christ Himself!" But the Holy Spirit is restraining her. Instead she says: "Is this not the Christ?" (John 4:29, AV) Her own certainty does not give her the right to overturn her fellow man's search. And her restraint bore fruit. They came back to tell her: "Now we believe, not because of your saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world" (John 4:42).
When the Message Doesn't Get Across
So many preachers and missionaries have magnificently laid out the truth time and time again and then puzzled when their hearers only seemed to get the message at the time they were preaching but then afterwards fell back into unbelief and forgetfulness. Has the devil come and snatched away the Word from their hearts? Do we need to pray harder for their protection? Perhaps sometimes. Perhaps the fault is partly with the preachers who have never learned the lesson of transparency. We have done too much, not too little. Maybe we took away their right to discover. Often our hearers fail because the search has not become their own. A true prophet will wisely invite others into the search rather than tell the people too many answers, even if the prophet knows the answers. People need to be taught to develop the desire to search. If they don't have that desire, but only want to be spoon-fed, then they will eventually fall away. Jesus' call is quite plain:
The Example of Christ
"Ask, and it will be given you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to whom who knocks it will be opened" (Matt.7:7-8, RSV).
Brethren and sisters, nearly two thousand years ago the Son of God died on the Cross of Calvary and paid the price for our own wickedness. He put aside every personal desire and wholly subjected Himself to the will of God. We owe Him everything. Jesus Christ was obedient to everything the Father commanded Him, thus revealing the incomparable love that he has not only for God the Father but for us also, for whom He died. He has called us to be His disciples and to be a prophetic witness in the world. But before we can do that, each man and woman here must die to him- or herself. And until a man dies to himself, he is an idolater. He worships and image which is subtly and unconsciously nothing more than himself. And he spends his life and energy seeking to get people to love, honour, worship and adore him. We are all Nebuchadnezzars at heart and, like him, we have our fiery furnaces into which we cast those who refuse to join in our idolatry. Our carnal natures still rule too much of our lives. I see people dragging each other down constantly, desperately trying to get their attention and worship. That sort of behaviour must die, and it must die quickly.
Therefore God sends us prophets -- the Lord must constantly bring us a Daniel and his three friends to show us, by our angers and bitterness, that we are cherishing things that are not of God, even though we think they are. And because we are living from our unconscious picture of life (which is our idolatry), we tend to think that everyone who fails to agree with us is false. We are trying to program others to be like us. Others, sensing they are being swallowed up into our world, flee from us when they can. Until we fall to the earth and die, we remain alone. Even if others join us we remain alone because by joining us they have ceased to be independent sons and daughters of God who freely choose us -- they become instead extensions of us, satellites in our orbit.
One of the greatest works of a prophet is to set people free from each other. Idolatry can be very deeply entrenched in family relationships and it must be broken. We must be separated from each other's unconscious demands, which is why Jesus said He had come not to bring peace but to divide with a sword (Lk.12:52-53). Those demands often have great power because they are backed by years of mutual family idolatry wherein husbands and wives, and parents and children, have idolised each other and thus controlled one another. They have come to unspoken agreements by which they mutually affirm what splendid people they are. It is, in fact, hatred masquerading as love.
Jesus said: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there shall My servant be also; if anyone serves Me, that Father will honour him" (Jn.12:24-26).
When a person falls into the earth and dies -- daily -- he dies more and more to his own idolatries, as well as to those imposed on him by others. He thus becomes free from others, and free to be to them. At first this causes trouble, for all around are forced to change the way they relate to him. But gradually needy people begin to seek him out. He is no longer alone, for they sense and want his freedom. They can tell they will not be forced into his mold, nor judged nor condemned. With him they will begin to find themselves rather than to become a copy or shadow of him.
Thus a true prophet becomes an enabler. Because he has fallen, and sees himself not as a god but as a creature, others are set free around him. Paul wrote: "For while we live we are always being given up to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus may be manifested in our mortal flesh" (2 Cor.4:11-12).
Jesus, by entering into and conquering death, has made death the joyous route to life. Self-death is that strait gate which, Jesus said, few ever find (Matt.7:13-14). The prophet must therefore die to every picture he might entertain of the good life, that he may stand selfless beside each brother and sister, tribe and nation, that God may be unhindered in the saving and raising of His sons and daughters (Rom.14:10-15:7, Living Bible).
Taking a Good Look at Ourselves
I invite you as a witness of Christ to begin today by looking honestly at all your relationships with others, especially those with whom you are close by marriage, family or in the ministry, and ask the Lord to smash down all your idols. There are many idolatrous relationships in the Church between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, children and parents, prophets and lay-members. On this the anniversary of the death of the Lord Jesus Christ you are challenged to begin anew. God is calling everyone to repentance, to forsake the old and receive the new. May we, over the next five days of General Conference, begin the process of death and restoration. For those of you who have never been formally baptised into this Church you also have the opportunity to mark your new life through that ordinance. And for those who have been touched by the Holy Spirit tonight who are not a part of the Lord's Covenant, you are invited to start a wholly new life as born-again creatures in Christ.
May the Lord God of Israel, through His Son Jesus Christ, bless you this night as you seek the better way with all your hearts. Amen.
THE CHURCH TODAY
Four-and-a-half years on since this sermon was given we, as a Church, have seen great changes. Those who were willing to die to self have experienced a great rebirth and those who were not have departed from us.
Funeral in New York
Recently I had a dream. The night before I had been thinking of the subject of self-death and during the night I dreamed that I was called to a funeral in New York, which for me symbolises an archetypal city of the world. The funeral was to be celebrated by a huge banquet in a high class hôtel. Every non-Christian friend and acquaintance from my past, from my childhood up until today, was there. It was an astonishing gathering. I knew that the funeral was my own and that I was saying farewell to my past.
In order to be fully born-again into the Kingdom of God -- and I use the word "fully" advisedly, because we are in truth born many times and in proportion to our willingness to let go control of every part of our lives to Christ -- we have to completely die to every mental, emotional and spiritual connection that binds us to the world. That does not mean that we physically cut ourselves off from the world, of course, but what it does mean is that we release everything from our past that has formed us to the Lord so that He can completely remold us. And unless we do, we will never fully enter His Kingdom but have our loyalties divided between Him and the world.
A Taste of Persecution
This is the heart and substance of the New Covenant Church of God. This is why we are here. And it is because of this doctrine that the world will both hate and dread us. These last few months we have experienced our first taste of persecution as the world has tried to force us to turn away from Zion and back to the world. And I use the word "force" advisedly too, because the world, having failed to persuade us, resorted as it always does to violence.
Satan is not the least bit troubled by Christians who owe only partial allegiance to the Lord because he knows that so long as the world can claim just a tiny part of their hearts that they will belong completely to the world in the end. The message of the New Covenant is that Christendom in almost its entirety has one foot in the world and one in the Gospel, and that these churches will one day, and not too far off in the future, fall spectacularly. True Christians, who see the hypocrisy of their traditions, will stream out of the churches and gather up to Zion. And there are lots of them. Around the world there are Christians hungering and thirsting after righteousness, frustrated because they are held back by the worldliness of their churches, waiting anxiously for a sign that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found on the earth.
Those of us in the New Covenant who have passed through the recent persecution, which we called the Second Wave because of a prophecy received that foretold of this happening, have seen with great clarity the bondage of the world and all its hypocrisy and pretense at righteousness. It has given us a vision that we never had before. To be a true disciple of Jesus Christ involves the acquisition of this vision, which can only be obtained through struggling through difficulty and persecution. The suffering he must go through is not pleasant -- I will not attempt to minimise this fact -- but the blessing afterwards is priceless. Those who have never been through it can never appreciate it because they have not crossed the veil of understanding, not experienced the deeper fellowship with the Lord, that suffering brings. That is why the Lord said that the Way is strait and narrow, and there are few that find it.
Strictness is Never Popular
We have never pretended that membership in the New Covenant Church would be easy. We have been criticised both within the Church by former members, and outside the Church by our enemies, for our strictness. The Way is hard. But the glory and wonder of it is that we do not need to endure difficulty in our own strength, for in truth we would never manage it, but in the power and strength of the Lord. That which distinguishes a true New Covenant Christian from one who is not true is to be found in the very principle of salvation itself: FAITH.
Many different people have come through the Second Wave and all would admit they have great weaknesses. They will tell you that what saw them through was faith. But was that faith blind? No, it was anything but blind. Throughout our difficult walk we were led and guided by the Lord almost daily by personal revelation, in visions and dreams, and by the presence of the Holy Spirit which we had never experienced before -- an incredibly calm and peaceful, but yet also supremely strong, Spirit that assured and comforted us along the way. Most entertained doubts to one degree or another as the burden of persecution grew intense, but always there was the Holy Spirit reminding and comforting until the wave was over.
Awaiting the Third Wave
We now stand at the edge of another wave, the Third Wave (see NC&C 382), which has been prophesied, and which will come to pass as surely as the Lord lives. And it will come quickly.
May the Lord of the Covenant bless you and prepare you for what is to come for we stand at the threshold of an event which as a Church we have waited for for seven long years. Let us stand firm in the truth, with eager anticipation, as the Lord puts to death the carnal man in the faithful saints and brings new life into the Body. Amen.
This page was created on 30 May 1998
Last updated on 30 May 1998
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