“Who Are You, Jesus?”

“Who Are You, Jesus?”

Romans 5: 1-11————John 3: 1-21————John 4: 1-30

July 25, 2021—————-Rev. Kate Freeman—————9th Sunday after Pentecost

Good Morning, Spanish Springs Church. It is good to be back together with you all.  

Today I invite us to take a look at two familiar conversations which involve Jesus and someone who is seeking to know, “Who is this man?” Want to get to know someone, have a conversation, right?

Let’s discover how Jesus reveals his Identity and what that means for us.

These conversations are found in the third and fourth chapters of the Gospel of John. And taken together they’re a whole lot of verses and I’m not going to read the entire two chapters, however, you are welcome to follow along in your Bibles. In the pew Bible it starts on page _______.

So as we listen in on these two conversations, let’s listen for the ways in which God is speaking to us this morning. Will you please pray with me:

Father, Thank You that Your blessings enrich our lives, bring us the treasures of your grace, and express all the kindness of your favor. We want to know and love you more. Open our ears, open our hearts to receive all that you have for us this day, Amen

The First Conversation in John chapter 3, involves Nicodemus, an orthodox Jew, and a learned rabbi. He comes to Jesus, at night, under cover of darkness.  Nicodemus starts the conversation:

John 3:2  “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.”

Why did Nicodemus come sneaking around after dark? Perhaps because of the very real risk that if he was found consulting this disreputable itinerant teacher he would have lost credibility with his fellows. Whatever his reason for the visit, we are not told. Our author, John, isn’t concerned with Nicodemus’ motive.  In this story, he is just a man in need of a savior. And this is a story about Jesus.

 Jesus discerns what is on Nicodemus’s heart and immediately shifts the conversation to the matter of “Getting Into the Kingdom of God.”  And this is odd. Because Kingdom living is the one topic which a rabbi such as Nicodemus would already be an expert. The conditions required for admittance into the Kingdom of God are: Keep the commandments of God and do His will day by day. Instead Jesus gives Nicodemus a view to the new way of the Kingdom, the walk of the Spirit.

Verse 3 (Jesus says) “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 

“A startling, and attention demanding metaphor,” says Eugene Peterson in his book Christ Plays in a Thousand Places.  Nicodemus is understandably confused.  And then Jesus adds another metaphor perhaps even stranger than the first:

Verse 5:  “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.

The word used for “Spirit” in both Aramaic (which Jesus is presumably speaking) and Greek (which John is writing) is the same word used for breath and for wind. 

The movement of air into and out of the lungs necessary for life, the movement of air caused by a change in barometric pressure and the movement of the life-giving, living God. 

What is Jesus speaking of here? Breathing or weather or God? 

All three? There is no mention of obeying commandments and Nicodemus can only wonder:

(vs. 9)  “How are these things possible?”

Jesus then REVEALS his identity in perhaps the most concise statement of his mission on earth:

“God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”

Jesus is the Way to the Kingdom. Jesus, the best God had to give he gave. And God gives his unmeasurable love to all, not merely to one nation or group. Jesus came so that all who believe would have a life so rich and full it would not end Kingdom living is sourced in God’s unfailing love and His name is Jesus!

Now move with me to the second conversation, found in John chapter 4. Jesus and his disciples are traveling through Samaria.   Jesus is alone, and resting beside Jacob’s well.  His disciples have gone into town to fetch some food and when they return, they find Jesus speaking to a woman. Hmmm. Skip down to vs. 27 and we find this rather curious passage:

John 4:27  They (the disciples) were shocked to find him (Jesus) talking to a woman, but none of them had the nerve to ask, “What do you want with her?” or “Why are you talking to her?” 

Jesus included women in his teachings all the time, Jesus spoke to women everywhere he travels. So what are we missing?

A bit of first century cultural information: In those days, there was one reason a man would speak to a woman alone in public and that was to solicit sexual favors. Now we know why the disciples were shocked.  It’s a wonderful, very human peak into how even Jesus’ closest followers were just people in need of a Savior.

So now back to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Jesus initiates the conversation by asking the woman for a drink. It’s the middle of the day and hot.  She is surprised by his asking. Do we catch a hint of an edge in her response?

John 4:9  “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

Does she mistrust a Jewish man sitting at the well?  It would seem that she had good reason to. Jews and the Samaritans were not on friendly terms.  Peterson writes that she is a woman “hard-used by life.” As the conversation continues we discover that she has been married five times and is now living with a sixth man without benefit of marriage.  What happened?  Did she out live five husbands? Did they divorce because she burnt the bread? (Yes, in Jesus’ day a man could divorce a woman for simply having a bad day in the kitchen.)  However, once again John shows no interest in exploring her motives.  As with Nicodemus, this is not a story about the woman. She is simply a woman in need of a savior. And this is a story about Jesus.

Jesus offers her more than just water from the well:

John 4:10Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

And she is confused. In practical terms, she sees no way for Jesus to draw up water from the well. And Jesus continues to reveal more:

John 4:13-14Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.”

Jesus has captured her full attention. He goes on to speak of things no stranger could know about her life.  She makes the leap to naming Jesus as a Prophet.  That is no small thing for this Samaritan to claim.

John 4:19-20  19 “Sir,” the woman said, “you must be a prophet.  20 So tell me, why is it that you Jews insist that Jerusalem is the only place of worship, while we Samaritans claim it is here at Mount Gerizim, where our ancestors worshiped?”

The Samaritans did not recognize any of the Biblical prophets after the time of Moses. Their belief arose from the statement in Deut 34:10 “There has never been another prophet in Israel like Moses.”  They looked only to the “second Moses,” Messiah, “God’s anointed” who was promised to come.  If this woman seriously means what she says by calling Jesus a prophet she is on the threshold of a radical discovery about this stranger’s identity.

However, faced with the magnitude of such a revelation she quickly shifts the conversation into the time-worn religious argument between Jews and Samaritans.  “Where is the place which the God of Israel had chosen for all to come and worship him?”  The argument concerns a verse in Deut. Chapter 12 verse 5:

The Jews read: “the place which the LORD your God will choose.” Therefore as she says: Jerusalem. 

The Samaritans read: “The place which the Lord your God has chosen.”  In the Exodus story, God calls his people to worship “on this mountain” Mount Gerizim—which by the way is clearly visible from Jacob’s Well, where this conversation is taking place. 

The difference between these two renderings hangs on a single Hebrew letter: a yod. The smallest letter in the Hebrew alphabet; about the size and shape of an apostrophe.

 Faced with the possibility that she could be face-to-face to the ONE prophet whom her people and the Jews have both been faithfully anticipating, the woman chooses instead to hide behind the smallest of points. 

Have we not done the same?

We often find ourselves clinging to our religion, or some trivial distraction instead of allowing God’s Spirit to have control.  We are all people in need of a savior.  

However, Jesus is not deterred.

John 4:23-24   But the time is coming– indeed it’s here now– when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.

Here and Now! Right here standing before you, gazing into your eyes, dear woman, can you see me?

Is it then that she lets go of her fears and takes a hold of all the courage she can and whispers aloud the truth that is doing butterfly-barrel rolls inside her? She dares to speak the name of the One.

She takes the risk and Jesus rewards her step of faith:

John 4:25-26   The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming– the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”   Then Jesus told her, “I Am the Messiah!”

It doesn’t get any plainer than that. Jesus states I AM the one. I AM is speaking to you.

Two conversations. Two stories about Jesus; each bringing its revelation about who he is:

The Son of Man come down from Heaven revealing our need:

  • to be born of the Spirit,
  • to have God’s breath breathed into us,
  • to walk as wind directed from God according to his purpose.

This walk is described by the vivid image of life-giving water, flowing fresh and refreshing, not stuck in an old well but springing forth from within, sourced in the love of God’s Holy Spirit. In these two conversations Jesus shows us that the Christian Life in the Spirit is alive and available to all.

The vocabulary does not exclude.  The spiritual life is not only for the learned or the well-read. Like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman we do not fully grasp all of what Jesus is saying, but we are not excluded from the discussion by religious language.

Jesus speaks to a man, and Jesus speaks to a woman.  There is no preferred gender in the Christian life.

The first conversation takes place in the city, the center of sophistication and learning; the second on the outskirts of a small town in the country. Where we are on this planet has no bearing on what it means to live as a Christ follower.

Nicodemus is a respectable member of a strictly orthodox sect of the Jewish Pharisees and the woman is a disreputable member of the despised heretical sect of the Samaritans. The man is named, the woman unnamed. Racial background, religious identity and moral track record don’t get us any extra points when it comes to spirituality.  Neither do reputation or standing within the community.

In each conversation there is risk involved. Nicodemus puts his reputation on the line and Jesus risks his by talking with a woman.  Faith requires risk. 

These conditions are often used to define who we are and whether we’re in or out: gender, race, social norms, reputation, religious training, moral track record, and geography, Jesus demonstrates that these don’t matter.  None of it amounts to an iota, or a yod of difference. You are dearly loved by God just as you are. God knows you need a Savior.

Only One thing counts: Jesus says, I am the Way. I AM He, the one speaking to you.

Pray with me:

Jesus, God’s anointed we welcome you here, we thank you for our lives and we ask you to give us your mercy, forgive us the wrongs we have done, the stuff we hold on to. Take it take our filthy rags and give us the refreshed garments of praise that we might go out from here today free from the junk that makes our hearts heavy. You came to give us eternal life, abundant life, life worth living in relationship with you. Help us to receive your life and your love. Thank you Jesus,

Amen.

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