Searching For Approval and Significance

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Probably all of us would agree that during the course of a typical 70 or 80 year life, there usually comes a point - a moment - and it might only be for 5 minutes. But for at least those 5 minutes, you and I ask this question, “am I alive for a reason?”

I can see, think, talk, feel . . . I can have fun. But is there any purpose to life? For at least those 5 minutes we ask: Why am I here? Why is anything here? How come there’s something rather than nothing? Why did anything begin to exist? Why is there a universe with me living in it? Why is there a planet earth with me living on it?

You know I showed you a few photos from my life. You could take your phone right now and show me a few photos from yours. But once we’ve added them together, does it mean anything? Do our lives count for anything in the greater scheme of things? Or, are we just meaningless bags of chemicals? Is life ultimately pointless?

And as we are thinking about this huge question, along comes a 33 year old man, Jesus of Nazareth. He’s by far the most famous person who’s ever lived. He looks you and me straight in the eye this evening and says: ‘You are not an accident. You are supposed to be here. You are worth something.’ Jesus of Nazareth says that ‘there really is, a God. A God who always planned that one day, you would exist!’ And that ‘this Loving Father God, made you deliberately, for a reason, in the hope of having the most wonderful love relationship with you. Which you can enjoy in this life and the next!

And for the next few minutes we are going to look at what happened when Jesus met someone who had spent years chasing happiness, and had almost given up hope of ever finding it. And, as our title suggests, this is a woman who had been looking for approval and significance.

And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar . . . Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) (John 4:4-9)

By speaking to a Samaritan, Jesus ignores a wall of hatred that had divided Jews from Samaritans for 400 years.

By speaking to a woman, Jesus cuts right through Middle Eastern social protocol. So she’s shocked. Jesus has crossed a racial divide, a religious divide and a gender divide to show her radical acceptance.

Jesus was always getting into trouble for doing this sort of thing. He doesn’t mind what class you are, what race you are. Jesus was always going to the parties of the wrong people.

And as we’ll see later, this woman was also a moral outsider. She was shunned by her own community, which is probably why she was going to draw water on her own, at a time when no-one was around to criticize her.

And it is typical of Jesus that he deliberately shows love to someone who may have thought they weren’t good enough for God.

Let me see if I can explain what I mean . . . I don’t know if you ever seen the TV show Dragon’s Den – if not - what happens on Dragon’s Den, is that an entrepreneur comes in and they pitch their business idea. And then, one by one, the super-rich dragons find a fault, they find something wrong with the person in front of them, or they find a mistake they’ve made.

And as each dragon finishes his or her analysis of why the person in front of them is bound to fail, they usually finish up by saying: “And for that reason, I’m out!”

And it’s almost as if, Jesus comes to this woman, and says: “Do you know what, for the very reason that everyone else has said you’re out, for that reason, I’m in. For the very reason that everyone else has rejected you, for that reason, I am in.”

And Jesus comes along and says “I’m interested in you, I’m going to stop and talk to you.” Tonight, Jesus is in!

Now this woman did not go to the well to meet Jesus. She wasn’t on a religious search. In the same way, I wasn’t looking to meet Jesus.

I was not on a religious search. I didn’t go to church.

But I met a large group of Christians whose happiness was not dependent on their circumstances.

Now why was that so appealing?

Was it because I was unhappy at the time?

No, I was very happy at the time.

What I admired about the Christians I’d met was the person of Christ in them. The attraction in Christianity is Christ. I can remember the first time I ever read a bit of the New Testament. I was sitting in the back seat of a, red, Volkswagen Polo. When I read the words of Jesus, I did feel an unexpected sense of joy. That had nothing to do with my circumstances. The joy was all to do with the person of Christ, whose words I was reading.

So like me, this woman wasn’t looking for Jesus. But Jesus came into her life un-expectedly, and un-announced.

And Jesus simply values her as a woman. He simply loves her as a woman made in God’s image.

Does Jesus value me? The answer is yes. And it’s not a case of mistaken identity.

A funny thing happened to me the other day when I was on the tube in London. The train stops at Earl’s Court. The driver changes over. We’re waiting for the new driver. I’m sitting in the compartment, the doors are open.

There’s about 15 of us in the carriage and I’m sitting there and I just noticed there’s this woman who’s standing on the platform and she’s just staring at me in a slightly manic, piercing kind of way. I’m feeling a bit uneasy about this. I’m trying not to look at her. Complete silence of course, no-one’s talking.

And after about 2 minutes of manic staring, this woman shouts at me: “Lars! Lars! I can’t believe it’s you! It’s me Jennifer! How are you Lars, Oh I’m so pleased to see you after all this time!”

And I look around the carriage, and everyone is looking at me!

And so I stand up, and I look at her and I say: “Hi! Ha-Ha-Ha! I’m going to be completely honest and say that right now I don’t immediately remember who you are. But I’m sure that as we carry on chatting, sorry what was your name again, Jennifer, I’m sure it will all come flooding back . . .

She says: “What? You don’t remember me? You don’t remember me? After all we’ve gone through!” she says.

I say, “it’s not that I don’t remember you at all, it’s just that right now, kind of immediately, I don’t remember all the details . . .

She says: “No no! It’s too late now, I’m offended!”

I said, “It might be that the reason why I don’t remember you is because my name is not Lars.”

And she looked at me again, she looked me up and down and she said: “Oh, I am so embarrassed.”

And her friend put her arm around her and they walked off down the platform like this.

And at that moment, everyone in the carriage burst out laughing.

It was a case of mistaken identity. The most amazing thing about you, is that this is not a case of mistaken identity. God knows all the best that there is to know about you. God knows all the worst that there is to know about you. And He loves you. He’s in. (As we’re about to see Jesus already knows the worst that there is to know about this Samaritan woman.) This is not a case of mistaken identity. Jesus wants you. He’s for you and not against you. And he’s drawing you to himself, a bit like this woman is being drawn in.

Jesus answered her, “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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10-14)

What does Jesus mean when he says: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again”? He means, until we come to him, to Jesus - we’ll never be completely satisfied. We’ll always have this feint sense of chasing, striving, looking forward to the next thing.

Folks, the brilliant thing about this woman is that by the end of the story, she realizes that the reason she’s still thirsty and not satisfied, is because she is separated from God.

Jesus is offering us something so much better than well water. It turns out that we’ve been too easily pleased. It turns out that God is more committed to our happiness than we are!

So Jesus says here “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water." In other words, “Lady, if you knew that eternal life is on offer right now, and if you knew that it’s being offered to you personally by God’s Son – if you knew that, you would ask: “Can I have your eternal life Jesus?” and I would answer ‘yes’”.

So Jesus offers her eternal life. But she hasn’t yet understood the symbolism.

The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”

The woman answered him, “I have no husband.”

Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:15-18)

So Jesus suddenly changes the subject and gets personal. He says: “Go, call your husband” Now why change the subject?

He didn’t. Jesus didn’t change the subject. That’s the whole point. He’s staying on exactly the same subject. She’s been saying: “I’m not spiritually thirsty, that’s not my problem. And he says “Oh yeah, so what does the fact you’ve had 5 husbands tell you about you?” Jesus is saying: “You don’t think you’re spiritually thirsty, but you deeply thirst for acceptance, for significance, for God, you just don’t recognize your thirst for what it is! You lady, have been drinking at the fountain of male approval. And now you’re fed up with it aren’t you? Each time you got married, you thought: ‘This man will make me happy,’ and each time you’ve been disappointed.” Jesus says to her: “After 5 disappointments, you’ve lost your spark.”

Can I ask you tonight, “have you lost your spark?”

Jesus is hinting to this woman: “The light that once burned bright in you has now become dimmed by bitter experience.”

Jesus is hinting: “These husbands have been like pseudo-saviours for you, but they didn’t deliver. They didn’t last. They didn’t even stay. And this latest guy . . . what do we know about him? He makes you come out and haul water for him in the heat of the day doesn’t he? He’s a false master too.”

In just the same way, someone might be sitting here tonight thinking: “I wish I could have faith”. But you don’t have to create faith, all you have to do is transfer your faith from where you’ve already got it! You’ve already got more than enough faith. All you need to do is transfer the hopes that you’ve already got to Jesus. There is already some place we’re drinking deep, somewhere we’re going for that spiritual deep love. Hey we’re all human.

In her case it happens to be men, but in our case, it could be our family, our home, our appearance, our friends, our status, or being accepted by a certain group of people.

We can put our trust in these things, in fact we can use these things to cover over our insecurities, but then, we discover that a bit like wearing a hospital nightgown, we find that we’re not as well covered as we thought we were.

But the good news is Jesus comes to you this evening and says, “I’ve got living water. Drink from me. If you come to me, you will never thirst again.”

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”
Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
(John 4:25-26)

This is a massive moment. The way Jesus very gently deals with this woman is so impressive. First he shows you where you’ve already got your hopes, he shows you what your pseudo-saviours and false masters are, and then he can finally say, “here’s the living water. I’m the Jewish Messiah. I’m the one who’s going to fulfil all 322 Old Testament prophecies, all of which were written down at least 400 years before I was born.”

So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?"
They went out of the town and were coming to him . . .
Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me all that I ever did.” (John 4:28-30, 39)

You see, now she’s free! Now you can’t keep her down now! She’s found a new source, a new joy.

She’s experienced radical acceptance.

So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.” (John 4:40-42)

So what makes Jesus the Saviour of the world?

Well he’s the Saviour of the world because he saves us from ourselves. He saves us from our pseudo-saviours and our false masters, and our idolatry and the places where we’ve got our hopes.

And when we put other things ahead of God . . .

And of course he went on to become the Saviour of the World on the cross.

And these Samaritans had worked out that Jesus was the Saviour.

Look at how the woman in our story responds. Does she tell the townspeople: “Come see a moral code that’s improved me!” No! She says: “Come and meet him!

She goes to the people who she has been avoiding. She doesn’t care what they think anymore. She has a totally new self-image.

She’s finally, fully satisfied. She has found a person called Jesus who satisfies her need for approval and significance." And she’s got eternal life because she said “yes” to Christ, when she had the chance.

Now you’ve got the same opportunity. You can say “yes” to Christ.

You can have eternal life.

Anyone anywhere in the world can pray a simple prayer like this:

“Father God,
I’m sorry for the wrong things I’ve done. For the times I’ve put myself first. I have sinned and fallen short of your glory.
But thank you so much for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross in my place, as my substitute, instead of me.
I am turning to you. You are my Saviour and Lord. Amen.”

And I'd like to just read that prayer again, and as I do, if you want to make that prayer your prayer you can. You don’t have to pray out loud.

I’ll just read it again, and then I’ll say “if you just prayed that prayer, make sure you tell one person who you know is a committed Christian before you leave this building.”

OK, let’s pray . . .

“Father God,
I’m sorry for the wrong things I’ve done. For the times I’ve put myself first. I have sinned and fallen short of your glory.
But thank you so much for sending your Son Jesus to die on the cross in my place, as my substitute, instead of me.
I am turning to you. You are my Saviour and Lord. Amen.”

OK, now if you did pray that prayer, and you are turning to Christ, you need to tell someone. No-one can live the Christian life on their own. We’re a family. Tell someone else who’s in the family. Come and tell me if you like, I’ll be here at the end. Tell someone you know here at this church, and they’ll help you.

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