The national census says Christianity is the major religion in the UK. Politicians, like David Cameron, say that Britain is a Christian country. The queen Elizabeth II said recently that Jesus is the king she serves. It is tempting to believe that we live in a city where Christianity is alive and fulfilling its mission, right?
Well, in reality, believe it or not, Christianity in London is in decline. Even though 48% of the population identify themselves as Christians, less than 10% still attends church. According to some specialists, more than one church a week could close to worshipers in the next few years. It is possible that churches can be vanished from the UK in the future if you do not do something very quick. It is time to get to work. It is time to bring life to this dying land. Let me explain what I am trying to say.
Do you know what a dam is? It is basically a barrier built across a river to store water for when is most needed. Besides the positive effect of it, when water is over accumulated it can prevent a river to flow water to other areas in its course. The result is that nothing can grow or live in these areas due the lack of water.
Our local churches are like spiritual dams. We can positively enjoy Jesus presence among ourselves but we cannot have him only for ourselves. We need to allow God’s “living water” to flow to the dying land of London. We need to tell people about Jesus. But how can our churches do it?
In this talk, I would like to look at John chapter 4, verses 1-26, in order to show you that the many people will listen to the gospel in the UK if we simply break down the three barriers that Jesus broke. Let us see what they are and how to break them.
- Break the territorial barrier through a missional approach
In John 4:1-4, the author says that Jesus, in order to avoid friction with the Jewish religious leaders, decided to leave Judea in the south of Israel and head north, to Galilee, in the north. Samaria was in the middle of these two regions. However, strict Jews avoided passing through Samaria due a great hatred between Samaritans and Jews. They would instead go east, crossing the Jordan River. Why did Jesus choose to go through Samaria even though it was not a natural route taken by the Jews? Wasn’t Jesus aware of it?
Of course, Jesus was aware of it. Actually, John says, in verse 4, that Jesus was not there by accident, but that he “had to go through Samaria”. Whenever John uses this verb “have”, it involves God’s will and plan. Jesus had a heavenly mission to accomplish there. He had to meet the Samaritan woman and her people in order to share the good news with them. But how did he do it? He broke the territorial barrier. What do I mean by that?
The territorial barrier, are places we do not want to go to share the gospel. So instead of going to these mission fields, we send out a missionary to go or invite people to come to our local churches. I am not saying that we should not do these things. That is not my point. My point here is that we should not rely on others to do what Jesus commands us to do. So what is the right approach?
We need to break this barrier through a missional approach. In Mathew 28:19, for instance, Jesus tells his disciples to “go” but this word should be translated “as you go”, referring to the day-to-day activities we all engage in life. We need to meet nonbelievers where they are, in the context of everyday life. We are all missionaries in this world and our mission field is wherever we put our feet. I know it is hard to do it in some places, but it is not an impossible mission.
When I went to my previous barber shop for the first time I was decided to have that place as my mission field. So every single time I had my hair cut there, the gospel was shared in that place. Just before, I moved, from Brazil to London, my barber invited me to meet his family and share the gospel with them during work hours. That was a possible and reward mission.
Have you been sharing the gospel in places where you do not want to? If so, you are ready to break the second barrier.
- Break the social barrier through a multicultural approach
From 5-10, John sets the scene for this narrative by saying that at midday, Jesus tired from the journey sits by the well of Jacob and began to talk to a Samaritan woman. But this conversation would never happen due four social barriers. Let us see what they are.
One, there was a racial irreconciliation between Jews and Samaritans. That is why she said, in verse 9, “How can you a Jew ask me, a Samaritan woman, for water to drink?” Two, there was a gender issue. A man would not talk to a woman in public. According to some scholars, religious Jews even used to close their eyes whenever women were walking in the street. Three, there was a religious matter between Jews and Samaritans. We can clearly see it in verse 20 when she asks Jesus about the correct place where to worship. Four, there was a moral barrier. She had been married five times and was living with a mam she did not get married with. Her reputation among her own people was not good at all. Maybe that is the reason why she was drawing water alone at 12 rather than with the other woman in the morning.
Why did Jesus choose to engage with the Samaritan woman even though it was socially unacceptable for a male Jew to do so? Wasn’t Jesus aware of these four social barriers?
Jesus was aware of it all but he ignored the racial, gender, religious and moral differences on purpose. He wanted to tell her the good news and for that to happen, he had to break the barrier that divided them. How did Jesus do that? He broke the social barrier.
People tend to share the gospel only with those who look like them. The issue is that we can relate to people who look like us, but we can never forget that Jesus commands us to make disciples of all cultures. How can we do it?
We can do it through a multicultural approach. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands us to reach the “nations”, a word that could also be translated as “people groups”. In other words, people groups made in God’s image, just like us. People groups separated from God because of sin, just like us. People groups who need to be reconciled to God through Jesus, just like all of us, Christians who were reconciled one day.
There are people from all kinds of backgrounds in England. Just in London, foreign-born people constituted 37% of London’s population, more than three million people. So let us keep in mind that we serve a global God with a global mission in the global city of London.
You might not be able to share the good news with someone different from you in another nation but surely you can do it at your doorstep, right? If so, you are ready to break the third barrier.
- Break the spiritual barrier through a gospel-centred approach
From verse 10, Jesus began to use figurative expressions such as, “the gift of God” and “the living water”. We can assume that Jesus was talking about the same subject as in the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in John chapter three. He wanted both, Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, to know that he was the Christ. But she did not understand what Jesus meant, taking everything he said literally. That explains why she asked him for the “free living water”, in verse 15. But Jesus changes the subject abruptly by pointing the woman’s sin. Why would he do something so politically incorrect?
Jesus moved the conversation in order to challenge her. He needed to expose her spiritual condition otherwise; she would not make the right connection. He had to tell her that she was a sinner, by revealing her past and present sins, to break the spiritual barrier.
The spiritual barrier, are the subjects we do not want to talk about when sharing the gospel. So people tell others about God’s love for the world but do not explain why and how God loved the world. They present only part of the gospel, the easy one. We need to present the good news with the same boldness and compaction that Jesus had for the Samaritan woman. But how do we do it?
We can do it through a gospel-centred approach. Jesus, in Matthew 28:19-20, commands us to teach everything he has taught. We cannot hide anything, including the bad news. We need to use God’s Word to show graciously that we are all sinners who deserve eternal death, but that God can forgive us and give us eternal life through Christ. We need to confront sinners by giving then the bad news in order to present the good news. Let me illustrate what I am trying to say.
Supposed you are a doctor and one of your patients need to start a cancer treatment urgently. Would your patient accept to go through a treatment just because you told him that you care for him? I do not think so. What is the point of going through a treatment without a reason for it? On the other hand, if you tell your patient that he needs to start a treatment due his serious health condition, I am pretty sure he would not say no.
What is the point of telling people that Jesus can save them if they do not understand why they need to be saved? It is time, to be honest with those who are heading towards hell.
I want to conclude with two challenges. The first one is for those who do not know Jesus. In this passage, Jesus explained the difference between physical and the spiritual water. One helps our bodies when we get thirsty. But it only gives us temporary satisfaction. The other helps our thirsty spirit. But the water that Jesus offers gives us permanent satisfaction. In other words, Jesus offers for free eternal life in Heaven. If you haven’t, drink the living water by putting your trust in Jesus, Would you like to try this water now?
The second challenge is for my brothers and sister in Christ, missionaries in this world. Let us go to places where we normally would go. Let us relate to people, we normally would not relate to. Let us share the true gospel with people without hiding why the good news is so good. Let us break the territorial, social and spiritual barriers that hold the living water that this dry and dying land need so much.