Teays Valley Church of God what is your story? “I am created by God and am re-created by the Holy Spirit to become like Jesus. I trust God, seek Him, follow Him, worship Him, and tell others about Him. When I sin, I will ask for forgiveness and move on in victory. That’s my story, and I am sticking to it.”
Doesn’t that feel good? Isn’t it great to get it out of your heart and mind and confess it with your mouth? Jesus said in Luke 12:8, “”I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God.” It feels good to tell our story! We are saying “Goodbye” to closet Christianity in 2014! Part of our story is found in the stories of those whose stories are recorded in the Bible. Please turn to John 4 and be ready to also read I Timothy 1.
John 4:4-8 Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
John 4:11-14 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
John 4:28-29 (NIV) Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”
This is the Apostle Paul speaking about himself: 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (NIV) I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
A woman’s past and living water. What do we make of this discussion between Jesus and the woman at the well? Just an aside, but this is the longest recorded conversation between Jesus and anyone in the Bible and part of the conversation focused on the woman’s past. Jesus wanted to talk about it, and He wanted her to talk about it. Some people can think their past makes for awkward or embarrassing conversation. Not Jesus. He is ready to talk about it and wants you to talk about it.
You see, Jesus doesn’t by-pass people with a past.
John chapter 4 tells us Jesus had to go through Samaria. No He didn’t. Not really. There were other ways to get to where He was going. Jesus could have chosen other routes. He could have bypassed Samaria and gone the long way around it like all of the other Jews who hated Samaritans. Racism started long before any of our lifetimes. Turf wars have been around for centuries. No, He didn’t have to, but yes, He had to because there was someone He wanted to meet, someone He wanted to challenge, someone He wanted to rescue. It was a woman who had made bad choices, one everyone in town knew, one they all talked about, and laughed about. They had code words to use when she was around. They had nicknames they called her behind her back. She was so ostracized by everyone that she chose not to come to the well to get water when she knew everyone else would be there. She wanted to avoid the stares and whispers that accompanied her as she moved about town. She waited until she knew she was alone, even though it meant getting to the well at the hottest and toughest part of the day. How her past was complicating her life. How do people with a past truly live when they try so hard not even to be seen?
Her past wasn’t really even in her past because she was still doing the same thing she had been doing even though they hadn’t worked. Why do we continue to do the same things and expect different results? As Jesus talked with her in John four we see she was still going from man to man, trying to find acceptance, love, and security through sexual encounters. She was living the reality that sin never sustains. The pleasures of sin never last. Sin is its own seductress, that keeps us on a leash and makes us live below where God intends, beneath our dignity, beneath the image of God in us, beneath the potential and destiny we were made for.
One thing is common to each of us this morning. We all have a past. We all have done things we wished we wouldn’t have done. We all have regrets. We all have embarrassing moments or for many embarrassing months and years. There may be entire decades we would rather forget, but we all have a past. Jesus wasn’t trying to get her to focus on her past, but He wanted her to see that there was something missing in her past that caused her past to still be a factor in her present and would cause her future to continue to be a cycle of broken relationships, heartache and disappointment. That missing element was something many of you have been without due to the recent chemical leak . . . H2O. He wanted her to know that the reason her past was still a problem was because she hadn’t taken a drink of the Living Water which would cleanse her of her past and satisfy her so that she could choose a different future.
By talking with her, He was helping her realize what He had to offer was far better than anything she had ever tried. Even though her past had stained her, she could have a cleansed past and an uncontaminated future by drinking of some Living Water! You know why Jesus went out of His way for her; why He HAD to go through Samaria? He wanted her to know her past wasn’t a problem for Him and that the antidote for her future was Him. In order for her, however, to receive the antidote, she had to acknowledge the past. She had to see that which was broken.
Jesus wants your past. I’m serious. It is a tool for the convicting of your soul. It teaches you why there can be a better way. Looking back on our sin, acknowledging it leads us to a place where we want something different. Your past can become a tool to lead you to Christ. It’s true! More than that it can become a trophy, a testimony to share for others to see what a difference Christ makes. Yes, He wants your past.
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him (John 4:27-30).
Do you see it? Her willingness to be open about her past and to talk it through with Jesus opened the door for other people to make their way to Jesus! Your past and your willingness to be honest about it can be the open door others need to make their way toward Jesus! Who here is ready to give their past to Jesus? I’m not just talking about putting it to rest, but I am talking about putting it on display! Who here is willing to allow their story to include that once they were a drunk and now they are sober? Once they were a sex addict and now they are committed to one person? Once they were a thief, and now they work honestly to sustain themselves. Once they were a porn addict, and now they live a life committed to purity. Once they were. . . but now they are and all because of a drink of Living Water! Hallelujah!
Jesus also wants your past so Satan can’t have it. That’s right. Satan wants your past. He wants your past to use it against you. He wants your past to disqualify you and discredit you and beat you down. He wants your past in order to shame you. Listen, you need to own your past or it will own you. It can be a tool in the hands of God or a tool in the hands of Satan. In God’s hands your past can be redeemed and can become the gift that sets you free from shame and condemnation. In Satan’s hands it can become something you loathe about yourself, about your story, and you can become defined by it and diminished and degraded because of it. In whose hands will you place your story?
John 4:39-42 tell us that the lady the whole town had talked about and pigeon-holed as a good-for-nothing outcast became the one many followed to Jesus. Perhaps they thought, “If He could accept her and her past,” they thought, “surely He would accept me.” In verse 42 the townspeople testified that they had tasted the Living Water for themselves and started a personal relationship with Christ that was real.
Listen, you may be ashamed of who you are right now, but once you taste Living Water, you no longer have to be ashamed of who you are because all things will be made new in your life and that transformation is what will reveal the power of God to others who need a transformation!
Well, if those townspeople thought the Woman at the Well had a racy, messy, nasty story, a dark and dismembered past, they should have met the Apostle Paul. He was horrible, violent, nasty, rude, uncaring, cold, a blasphemer and murderer, and he knew it. He was even proud of it! He didn’t try to cover up anything. He was what he was and he wasn’t apologizing to anyone for it. Paul was one everyone feared. He didn’t just talk big and mean, but he could also pull off the assassinations and threats he made. He killed people just because they were Christians! He knew people in high places, and everyone got out of his way. In our I Timothy passage, Paul owned his past. He even called himself the worst of the worst of sinners. I venture to say no one in this room has even out-sinned the Apostle Paul!
No one would dare to stand up to the Apostle Paul, but God Himself. But when God, through a series of events we don’t have time to tell, opened his eyes to the truth of the Gospel and who Jesus was and what He came to do, Paul was gloriously saved. Read about it in Acts 9! Paul did a complete 180. He went from persecuting Christians to preaching the Gospel overnight and became the greatest preacher of the Gospel ever recorded in the Bible and wrote 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament.
He not only went everywhere telling his story as is seen in Acts 9, Acts 22, Acts 26, Galatians 1 and 2, Philippians 3, and I Timothy 1, but he wrote it down to make sure you and I and every subsequent generation could know his story. To me, Paul’s conversion is one of the greatest evidences for the truth of the Resurrection. You don’t go from living your own life the way you want to, to becoming a full-time evangelist unless you have encountered the Living God, the Living Water, in a real life-changing way. Making the change bought Paul a whole lot of trouble and heartache. You don’t choose that unless you have really met God!
You know what happened as Paul told his story? Every time he did, God’s grace was celebrated. Every time he did, God’s mercy was on display. Every time he did, people could open up to the possibility that Paul was a miracle in the making, and if God could change the plot to the story of Saul turned Paul He could change the plot to their stories as well!
Perhaps the reason Paul told his story in a letter to Timothy is because Timothy was studying for the ministry. Perhaps Paul wanted Timothy to know the best ministers are ones who are authentic and vulnerable enough to tell their stories. Perhaps he wanted to help Timothy see that no matter what is in your past, it doesn’t disqualify you from serving the Lord.
Maybe Timothy was one who did it right. Maybe he followed God from an early age and never veered off course, but if he became a pastor who only pursued “perfect” people or people without a “past” to lead in ministry he would be doing a disservice to the power of God and people of God. Maybe Paul wanted Timothy to remember as he led his flock to preach about how God can change lives and that people’s pasts can be cleansed and redeemed. If Timothy was going to be a successful pastor, he needed to know how to handle people with a past. He needed to remember that the Gospel was about grace and it was the message that ought to accompany the message of repentance.
Paul’s testimony was really about the grace of God. Re-read it with me from I Timothy 1:12: I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life.
Grace runs through every verse we just read. No wonder Paul started so many of his letters with “The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you.” That was his personal story! Let’s break down Paul’s testimony here. Paul started his testimony to Timothy with a note of thanksgiving to God. Grace will make a person grateful for sure!
Verse 12- It was the grace of God that strengthened Paul. He was going to need it. He was going to be on the receiving end of the persecution he had been dealing out. On behalf of Christ he was going to suffer, be imprisoned, suffer beatings, be shipwrecked, and more. He was going to need strength, the strength that comes through the grace of God at work in a person’s life. Listen, without grace creating strength in his life, Paul would have quit. He would have thrown in the towel. He would have said, “It’s not worth it,” but because Paul rested in the grace of God he had strength to endure whatever came his way.
It was by grace, verse 12b that Paul was chosen for God’s service. God doesn’t choose us because we are qualified to serve Him. None of us is qualified to serve Him, speak for Him or work on His behalf. It is because of His great grace and mercy that He has made us worthy, that He has called us partners, that He has redeemed our stories and given us a voice in His name.
Verse 13 tells us that it is the grace of God that overlooks what we are to enable us to become something different. It is the grace of God that though we are ignorant, all of us . . . ignorant, though we are ignorant and unwise to spiritual truth, God, takes us as is and begins to teach us so that we can be used effectively.
Paul helps us see in verse 15 that we are saved by grace alone. People who are workers, people who are self-made, people who pride themselves in their skill, their effort, their smarts, their savvy, whatever they think they have to offer, they must realize as we tell our story that as we come to God with all we are even if we think we are all that and a bag of chips, we are nothing to Him. It is only by grace that He receives us and doesn’t obliterate us!
Finally, Paul says in verse 16 it is because of God’s grace that He is patient with us as we transform. He is patient because ultimately He wants us to truly become someone who can serve as an example, whose story is credible and can be told to change the lives of others.
“Before Christ I was a ___________________.” Fill in the blank in your mind. What were you? People need to know change is possible. Tell your story. Maybe you aren’t walking with Christ today. Maybe you were a Christian and you are backslidden. You have turned your back on God. Maybe you have never accepted Christ. How would you fill in the blank? “Right now I am a _________________?” God is here to write a different ending for you, friends.
Famous baseball player, Ty Cobb gave his life to the Lord Jesus at the end of his life. Commenting on that late decision he said, “I came to Christ in the bottom of the ninth. I could only have wished that it was in the top of the first.” (http://www.sermoncentral.com/print_friendly_illustration.asp?illustration_id=60948) Why wait to let God author your story when it can be so much better than the one you are trying to write?
The Woman at the Well and Paul had at least two things in common. They both had a story, and they both were willing to tell their stories in order for others’ stories to have a different and better ending. Will you put your past in Christ’s hands so that He can put it on display?