3.5.15 – Where is God At Work? – Peter Cheyne

Who was Jesus’ first convert?

I suggest true faith involves three components. Who was the first to respond like that?

Cognition I know this Head
Conviction I believe this Heart
Commitment I will live this Hands

The disciples? Andrew, Peter etc?

Jesus had said “Come and see.” They were observing and we know they were responding in the first two ways but have they yet committed. Has their faith turned into action? Are they in the wheelbarrow?

Nicodemus? We don’t know how he responded. There are suggestions later in John’s gospel that Nicodemus came to faith and it was a faith that was expressed in action.

Maybe Jesus’ first convert was the nameless Samaritan woman at the well. Let’s read her story from John 4. We looked at this a while ago so today we are not going to read Jesus conversation with her but only the beginning and the end where the disciples are involved. We are following their journey.

READ John 4:1-8, 27-42

Note the contrasts between this story and the previous one.

Nicodemus Samaritan woman
Male Female
Jew Samaritan
Morally pure Immoral
Part of the respectable elite Disreputable & Rejected
Came at night Came at midday
Seemed to be open Seemed resistant
Response unclear Response very clear

The culture said that Jesus should not have talked to her – but He did. Jesus crossed the boundaries that convention and culture dictated, in order to reach people. Lost people mattered to Jesus – and still do.

This woman came to the well where Jesus was resting. He asked her for a drink. The conversation went backwards and forwards. Her perception of who Jesus was changed from being merely a Jew, to “Sir”, to a prophet, to questioning could He be the Messiah. Who is Jesus? That is the early question. Ultimately she was convinced by Jesus’ supernatural knowledge of her five husbands and her current de facto relationship. She rushed back to her village and told the people. They came out to the well.

Notice how she invited them to come and see (v.29). That should sound very familiar. She could have told them about Jesus but she invited them to come and experience Him themselves.

But what was happening for the disciples. There is a very interesting comment at the beginning of the chapter. The Pharisees heard about how many people were becoming Jesus’ disciples and were being baptised. John tells us that Jesus didn’t actually baptise any of them but His disciples did.

Very early in Jesus’ ministry, many were becoming disciples. At this stage the Twelve hadn’t even decided whether or not they were committed to Jesus. They were simply watching. And yet they were observing many others putting their trust in Jesus and being baptised. Maybe the many were the first converts. Was their faith real? The disciples weren’t just observing the baptisms; they were doing them! It is very early days. They haven’t yet committed to Jesus but Jesus was using them to conduct baptisms!

What do you think that was like? What must it have been like when they saw people confessing sin, being baptised, coming out of the water rejoicing? Were the disciples experiencing God?

Jews hated Samaritans and normally would take the longer route around Samaria, but the disciples saw Jesus going straight through – either because He didn’t have time for the longer trip or because He was being obedient to His Father and His Father had lined up this meeting with the Samaritan woman.

The disciples experienced Jesus being tired and needing to rest. They saw the real humanity of Jesus. He, like every other human being, got tired. All of this was part of what they were seeing and weighing up. Before the woman arrived, they went into town to get food. They didn’t observe the conversation.

The next thing we know about the disciples was that they returned to find Jesus talking to this woman and they were shocked – but they didn’t question it. I wonder why not. Maybe they were learning that Jesus did some very unorthodox – but, actually, brilliant – things. They saw the woman rush back to town, apparently excited and then they urged Jesus to eat something. But they were about to get a new lesson.

Jesus said, “I have food that you know nothing about.”

Really? Had Jesus been hiding some food under His robes? Was their trip to town a waste of time because He had food anyway? Was He messing with them? Had someone else brought Him food?

Jesus explained, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” Sometimes you don’t need food because what you are doing is so energising and satisfying. The thing that energised Jesus was doing what God wanted Him to do. There was nothing more satisfying than knowing that He was being obedient. His first desire was to finish the work He had been given.

Up to this point, the question had been “Who is this man?” but this now is a life lesson – a fundamental life lesson for followers of Jesus: obedience to God.

Then Jesus talked about the harvest. For Him, and ultimately for them, obedience was about the harvest. He had come to seek and to save the lost. He talked about the urgency of the harvest. “Open your eyes. Look at the fields. They are ripe for harvest.” Indeed, there was a reaping opportunity happening right at that moment. Maybe Jesus was pointing to the Samaritan townspeople approaching. Jesus had sown the seed. Now it was time to harvest. They learnt about the need for labourers in the harvest.

Even now, God was bringing people into the Kingdom and those involved were being rewarded; they were drawing their wages. Some were sowing; some were reaping, but both reaper and sower were rejoicing. Indeed, the disciples had already been baptising people. Jesus said that others had done the hard work and the disciples had merely reaped what others had sown. Jesus might have been referring to John the Baptist or even Himself as having done the hard work. God is at work in people’s lives long before we are involved. All we are asked to do is reap the harvest He has prepared.

The citizens of Sychar came out with the woman to see Jesus. This newly converted, outcast woman, who, a short time ago had been cynical and defensive, was already a missionary – a worker in the harvest field. First there was knowledge, as Jesus answered her questions. Then there was conviction as He revealed supernatural knowledge of her. Then there was action. She rushed back telling people about Jesus. She wasn’t even fully sure herself (“Could this be the Messiah?”) but she was willing to boldly proclaim Him and to invite others to meet Him.

Many of the Samaritans believed because of her testimony and many more believed after the further two days Jesus spent with them. Then they believed not because of what she had said but because of their personal experience of Him.

This must have been hugely pleasing for Jesus. He was experiencing God. People were being converted and baptised. He was being obedient and finding that energising. He was being led by the Holy Spirit to be at the right places at the right time. God was at work. A woman was converted and immediately became an evangelist. Many more people were converted. Was this exciting or what?

Think of the spiritual gifts Jesus exercised in just this incident: wisdom, supernatural knowledge, evangelism, teaching, leadership. Maybe you can identify other spiritual gifts.

Jesus was experiencing God first-hand and the disciples were experiencing God. They saw all these things happen. They saw conversions and baptisms. They saw the effect of a real conversion in this woman’s witnessing to her neighbours. They observed Jesus humanity and His obedience. They saw Him disregard social conventions in order to reach people God loved. They saw His love for the lost. They saw Him ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit and they saw God at work. More than that, they were invited to be part of it – baptising people and challenged to be the workers in the harvest field.

What does this mean for us? Can we experience God like this or was it limited to Jesus and the first disciples? And, if we can, how can we?

I don’t know of any reason why we cannot. In the West, this sort of experience of God is the exception rather than the rule but I still believe it is possible. It is happening in the third world where, in many places, the church is growing at an enormous rate.

How can we experience God? What does the disciples’ experience suggest? God is willing for people to simply “come and see” before making a commitment and He is graciously willing to reveal Himself.

But we need to take it a further step now that we are learning a bit more. Where is God a work? One of the major arenas in which God works is mission. The thing that the disciples were beginning to learn was the importance of obedience, and obedience, at least in this context, is closely linked to mission. None of what we have read about today would have happened without Jesus’ obedience to do the work of His Father. Even very early in their development, the context for their experiencing God is mission. In the Bible there are stories of people experiencing God is worship or prayer – of course – but the vast majority of stories are about God in mission. This is a story about being workers in the harvest field – about people being baptised; Jesus being led by the Holy Spirit to disregard cultural boundaries in order to talk with a despised, immoral woman; that woman immediately getting involved in mission and sharing her testimony; more conversations and teaching; more people believing in Jesus. It is about ordinary people – the genuinely human, tired Jesus and the woman – doing what God had asked them to do.

Is it possible that the lack of experience of God in the West is due to the fact that, in the West, the church is largely not engaging in the mission God has called us to? I think so. Most Western Christians are in church hoping to experience God, when God is outside, in the mission field. I think the biggest key to experiencing God is obedience and obedience includes responding to God’s “Go”. Most Christians in the west avoid mission like the plague. I am challenged by this: How can I be more involved in making disciples of Jesus Christ?

The disciples, as new followers of Jesus, had not been asked to do much although that bar is raised a little here with the talk about obedience and being workers in the harvest field. But essentially they were just watching Jesus and getting a little bit involved. God leads us forward step by step but new Christians need older Christians who can take the place of Jesus in this story – older Christians who are being obedient and are experiencing God at work and can say to younger Christians “Come and see.” Some of us see ourselves as being at the beginning of the journey, essentially just watching but beginning to dip our toes into the water. Others of us have been walking with Jesus a long time and can take the mentoring role that Jesus had in this story. Some of us may be involved in mission and seeing God do similar things to what we read about and we could take someone else along and say, “Come and see what God is doing.” Others are somewhere in the middle. Wherever we are, the challenge is to be obedient to the next step. God knows what is appropriate to where you are at. What is the next step He is asking you to take? Are you ready to put your faith into action? And let us not assume that mission must wait until we are mature. The disciples were involved in mission from the very beginning and that is where they found God at work.

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