27th Jan, 2013
Written By Rev Law Hui Seng
Posted By Teresa Han
Main Idea: Jesus overcomes racial barrier
a. To empower disciples of Jesus to overcome racial barrier to reach out to the indigenous people of Sarawak.
b. To teach the significance of worship.
- The book of Revelation has great teaching about how we should do mission. It is a book which we Christians believe about eschatology, how our future will turn out to be. It is a beautiful picture of the future of God’s people. Therefore, when we live our lives on earth, we want to do mission, we need to bear that end picture in mind. This end picture or final picture must affect how we do mission on earth.
- Therefore, if you are expecting to see only Chinese when we see Christ in judgement or in heaven, we really miss the end/ final picture in Revelation. Revelation15:4 “Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed.” All nations will worship God. The Greek word for nation here is ‘ethnos’, it is also race or tribe. So, the final picture of people worshipping God in heaven is made up of different races.
- As I serve in the area of indigenous people evangelism and mission in Sarawak, as Board of Evangelism put in efforts to mobilize SCAC churches to do mission among local indigenous people, I find all kinds of excuses, prejudices, lacking in vision, and reasons for Chinese Christians reluctance, indifference, and inaction not to make disciples among the indigenous people of Sarawak. Some of us felt it is the ministry of Sarawak Iban Annual Conference because of Iban language; some feel it is difficult to do because of language and cultural barrier; some even feel they cannot be helped as it is very difficult to transform them; some say there is no manpower to reach out; some say they do not know how to preach to them; some honestly say they do not have the burden to reach out to them.
- Could all these excuses or reasons be due to our Chinese superiority mindset and our clannish identity? We subconsciously look down on other races or the indigenous people.
- I look to the Bible to find answers to answer all these challenges. In light of the word of God, all these so called reasons cannot justify their claims.
- So, here locally, in Sarawak, if we do outreach, evangelism and mission, we only focus on Chinese, we have totally missed the big end picture of nations, and we get our Missiology wrong. Jesus has a very teaching about overcoming racial barrier in evangelism. It is a very direct passage urging us to reach out to people of other tribes and races in John 4:1-26. Can you and I follow His example?
- Let us examine the context of the passage to bring out a message today for you. I entitle my sermon/message today as ‘Overcoming racial barrier in worship’.
B. Context and Brief Exegesis
- Traditionally for many centuries, Jewish Judeans of the south were in enmity with the Samaritans in the north. The Samaritans are the descendants of a mixture of two groups. (1) The remnants of the Israelites who were not deported at the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 772 BC. (2) Foreign colonists brought in from Babylonia and Media by the Assyrian conquerors of Samaria (2Kings 17:24ff). The Samaritans (northerners) and the Jews (southerners) were in theological conflict because the Samaritan refused to worship at Jerusalem. After the Babylonian exile, the Samaritan blocked the Jewish restoration of Jerusalem. In 2nd century BC, the Samaritans helped Syrian monarchs to war against the Jews. In 128 BC, the Jewish high priest burned the Samaritan temple on Gerizim.
- Jesus was aware of such hostile background and He went to the North to engage in this powerful conversation with the Samaritan woman. Jesus rested at Sychar, Samaria (verse 5). He was tired after the journey, sat down by Jacob’s well when it was very hot, at the sixth hour, midday (verse 6). Into such conditions, the Samaritan woman came to draw water. Her arrival at this unsociable hour (because of the hot sun), tends to lead to the suspicion that she was an outcast. What caused her to be an outcast? Suspicion she has earned, for drawing water under the hot midday sun was not a consequence of her personal sin (sexual or otherwise) but of racism, that had isolated her and her people (of whom she was a representative) from their rightful place at God’s messianic banquet.
- Jesus totally disregarded the woman’s protest at the impropriety of the situation. He offered her a role reversal: if only she knew who she spoke to, she would ask Him for living water. From then on, Jesus tried to direct her to understand who God is. Jesus used the metaphor of living water to direct her to a knowledge of God. In verse 10, Jesus responded to her protest, “…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.” At this pivotal point, Jesus turned His request for a drink into an offer of living water for her. He engaged her in very deep theological talk, along the lines of living water. She did not understand the metaphor of the living water, as she was still stuck thinking of ‘physical living water’ in verses 11 and 12.
- To help the Samaritan woman to realize what the living water was, Jesus explained that He is the source of living water and a receiver of it would never thirst again. This living water would lead a person to eternal life (verses 13 and 14). Jesus had successfully stirred her to desire this living water so that she answered Jesus in verse 15, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” This positive response to Jesus also reflected her willingness to disregard cultural codes regarding men and women; and Jesus’ success in drawing her closer to God. Jesus was in the midst of His mission to reconcile both the Judeans (Jews) and Samaritans, and direct both ethnic groups towards God, through Himself.
- How did Jesus do it? He boldly created new systems, to break down cultural codes that limited opportunities for the sharing of resources between different groups of people. The new systems here referred to is the open interaction between men (it started with Jesus Himself) and women in a conservative society; and the metaphor of living water which leads to eternal life.
- How did Jesus try to reconcile Judeans and Samaritans? He did not do it directly. The answer probably lies with “Jesus’ Johannine mission: to call people away from commitments to man-made systems of identity and into rebirth as children of God.”
- On the surface, Jesus and the Samaritan woman may have shifted from one subject to another subject such as from the well and water to husbands, prophets, places of worship and the Messiah but below the surface of this narrative, lies a consistent thread: Jesus the ‘prophet’ knew the underlying Samaritan history of hostility with Judean Jews (cf. 2Kings 17:24-41; Ezra 4). Jesus’ mission in going to Samaria (John 4:4) was to offer an alternative to both Judeans and Samaritans to end their endless struggle over ethnic identity. In His effort to draw them to rebirth as God’s children, He urged them to disregard the racial barrier (man-made identity).
- He subtly broke down this great barrier of ethnicity by answering the woman’s question of dispute on the presence of God, in the choice of place of worship (this mountain or Jerusalem). He answered, “neither place”, in verse 21, “…Believe me, woman, a time is coming, when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” God is present where worshippers worship in spirit and truth (verses 23 and 24). Jesus told the woman that God is not concerned with which race worships where, but He is concerned about all worshippers (all ethnic groups) worshipping Him in truth and spirit.
- The build up of insights from the metaphor of living water to the Messiah had enlightenedthe woman’s spiritual blindness, overcoming racial hostility and boundaries. The woman (regardless of the shame of living with a man and not being married) responded by being the first ‘apostle’ (in the sense of being sent forth), rushing back to her people and becoming a messenger for the Messiah, causing many people to drop what they were doing and follow her to see Jesus (verses 28-30). As the woman shared her testimony with her own people, many of them believed in Jesus (verse 39). Jesus had successfully reconciled some Samaritans with Judean Jews (starting with Himself). SCAC churches need to follow Jesus’ example, in regard to the Iban, and start with themselves. This Samaritan woman belonged to another race and another identity. She was a woman difficult to transform.
-The Samaritan woman belonged to a different race from Jesus, and was thus a social outcast. The Iban belong to another race, and some are marginalized economically. If Jesus, a Jew bridged the racial barrier to reach out to a Samaritan woman from another race, and a social outcast, He has set a precedent for SCAC Chinese (a race) Christians to do likewise to the Iban.
- The story of the Samaritan woman is used only to serve as a biblical response to the SCAC Chinese Christians mindset and identity barrier, the main reason being that through this story Jesus calls His disciples in SCAC to move away from a commitment to man-made racial identity and turn to help another race, such as the Iban to be reborn as children of God. A secondary reason is that though the woman was an outcast and marginalized, Jesus disregarded her status and still reached out to her. This should challenge SCAC to reach out to marginalizedIban who are weak socially and economically.
-Biblically, according to the Apostle Paul’s teaching, SCAC Chinese Christians need to be like Christ. In Christ-likeness, we need to be like Him in bridging racial barriers.
- Jesus, out of compassion for the lost, in His mission to direct other race, the marginalized and the social outcast to the kingdom of God, reached out to the Samaritan woman. Jesus rejected any excuse to avoid her. This move of Jesus must challenge SCAC Chinese Christians to change their superiority mindset towards the Iban. All races are equally accepted by Jesus Christ: He loved the world (John 3:16).
-Firstly, one fundamental implication of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman is that SCAC Chinese Christians can no longer say that the socially and economically marginalized and outcast Iban are not related to them.
- Secondly, SCAC needs to change its clannish mindset to teach Iban the word of God; and accept them despite their race and economic and social status. SCAC cannot make excuses such as ‘the Iban are difficult to transform’, ignore the need to reach them, or leave the ministry to SIAC.
- Thirdly, since the Iban are another race, SCAC needs to overcome cultural barriers to bring the gospel to them in terms they can understand and accept; if they do, the Iban will own it.
- 1st January, 2011, I joined a brother in sending a piece of furniture to a poor Iban family. In fact, the next day, 2nd January, I flew to KK for 2 years of theological studies. We were faced with a self-accident Iban with his motor bike lying on the road. We stopped our pick up and upon examination, we found it must be drunk driving as smelt alcohol. He was unconscious and his skull had a hole bleeding profusely. I thought to myself if I did not save him he would die of blood loss as I learnt in first aid. I quickly press my palm on this small size Iban guy and we carried him up and put him at the back of the pick up with me holding him and put my on my 2 thighs, while I sat.
- I kept my palm at the bleeding skull with much blood on my shorts, shirt and hands. Jesus spoke to me in a very deep manner in this encounter. As I looked at the blood on the head, it doomed on me that every human blood is red in color. My mind at the time thought of the white and black skin people (especially African), their skin can of different color but there is all red. Chinese blood is read, Iban blood is red, Penan blood is red. All the human beings are red. The powerful conviction comes when God told me as long as we are human being with red blood we deserve to be saved by Jesus. Jesus shed blood for all the human beings with red blood.
- Therefore, by no means practicing the bad theology of allowing racial barrier to prevent us from preaching the gospel to the indigenous people.