Scripture: John 4:27-42
Key verse: (29) “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?”
Reflection: “Repent of your sins, you wicked woman!” That’s what “Brother Jed” would always yell at the co-eds outside Haley Center at Auburn University in the late 80’s. “You cigarette sucking sinner!” he would bellow if he saw someone smoking. He and his wife, “Sister Cindy” could really gather a crowd with their unyielding rebukes of us college kids. Drinking, smoking, and sexual immorality were their unholy trinity of sins. Brother Jed calls it “confrontational evangelism.” At Auburn, most of us thought of it as stand-up comedy. I wonder how many people rejected Christian faith because of their judgmental witness?
Looking at Scripture, it’s hard to find many examples of this kind of evangelism. On Pentecost, Peter certainly rebukes the crowds for their rejection of Jesus, but he never wails on any wicked women for their cavorting. Paul could be a little edgy from time to time, but his barbs were usually reserved for religious folks, not the crowds. In Athens, he certainly condemned idolatry, but never really laid into any individuals. There’s not a single instance of Jesus ever shaming anyone into following him.
To the contrary, one of the most effective evangelists in all of the New Testament is the Samaritan Woman we meet in John 4. Yesterday, the first part of the story was the gospel reading. Jesus meets her at a well. She’s been through multiple marriages. Christian history often treats her the same way Brother Jed and Sister Cindy treated college co-eds. Jesus doesn’t. He meets her where she is and invites her to drink of the living water he offers. When the disciples see them talking together, they put on their moralistic mindset — just like Brother Jed and Sister Cindy — but Jesus will have nothing to do with that. For her part, the woman returns to her village and becomes the first evangelist to the Gentiles. Many Samaritans believe in Jesus because of her testimony.
So what was her powerful witness? “Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done. He cannot be the Messiah, can he?” Not exactly, “Repent of your sins, you wicked Samaritans!” It’s so simple and straight forward. It has three simple parts. The first is an invitation. “Come and see.” This phrase appears multiple times in the early chapters of John’s gospel. Jesus says it to Andrew in John 1. Philip says it to Nathanael immediately after that, inviting him to come and see Jesus. And here, the Samaritan Woman says it to her whole village. To this day, personal invitation is the most powerful way to encourage someone to get involved in their faith. “Come and see.” The second part of her witness is her own testimony. She shares what Jesus has done for her. She doesn’t tell them what he can do for them, nor what they need to do in order to know him. She simply shares his impact on her life. Finally, she asks a question. “He can’t be the Messiah, can he?” This is nowhere near an exhortation. It’s simply a question, leaving the listeners to consider for themselves who Jesus may or may not be.
What is your witness? Presbyterians are notoriously bad at evangelism. Our theology centered in the sovereignty of God, not our own decisions is an important reason why. Yet, Christ calls us to be his witnesses. What is yours? The Samaritan Woman offers us a powerful example of what a faithful witness can be. Invitation. Testimony. Question. In the Bible, this approach is so much more effective than “confrontational evangelism” ever could be. Ultimately, it’s much more faithful, too.
Prayer: Thank you for claiming me as your own, O Lord. Help me to be your faithful witness in the world. Amen.
Author: Joe Clifford
[Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved].