Love Will Save the World (John 4:16-26)

Love will save the world. That the world needs saving should not be in dispute. All one has to do is survey the news and see that there are constant concerns about wars or rumours of wars, there 65 million people who have been forced out of their own homes because of conflict or natural disaster, and there are shootings in far away places and some close by. We live in a world that needs to be saved.

Far less obvious though is the truth that each of us personally needs to be saved too. We are masters at denying our own need for salvation until something like death confronts us and we cannot avoid it anymore. But, as bad as death is, and death is bad, it is not the worst of our problems. The biggest problem that each one of us is that we are alienated from God our Creator. We were created in the image of God and we were made for relationship with God and yet, because of our inbred penchant for rebellion, God is the one thing that our natural hearts cannot stand. We are all natural-born enemies of God. Without some kind of an intervention, we are all headed towards a hell of our own choosing for all eternity. So we all need saving.

Love will save the world.

Hands by Matthew Henry
Photo by Matthew Henry

But the kind of love that will save us and all things is not a love that we know or comes naturally to us. When we think of love, we think of romantic love. But in romantic love, we love others because of how they make us feel. It is a self-centred love so it can  never save us. We might think of the love between two good friends. But we love our friends because we have similar interests. Friend love is based on compatibility and sameness and that kind of love will have no benefit for people who are different from one another, so it offers not hope for the vast variety of people in the world. Or the love between family members may come to our minds. While family love involves aspects of selflessness and sacrifice, that selfless love is based upon the family bond between two people, and it offers no hope to people who are outside of that bond.

The kind of love that the world needs, the kind of love that will save the world, is a strange love and it’s found only in one source: God. This love is so strange because, unlike romantic love, this love only wants what is best for the other person, even if the lover suffers because of that love. This love is so strange because, unlike friend love, the lover and the object of his love have nothing in common. The love that saves chooses to cross a vast chasm of difference and love an unlovable enemy. This love is so strange because, unlike family love, there is no familial bond that compels the lover to love with a self-less, sacrificial love. The love that saves chooses to love a stranger like they are family.

And we have a clear example of this strange love that saves in the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman that is recorded for us in John, chapter four. First, Jesus loves the woman by reaching out to her and asking her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:7). This is shocking to the woman because Jesus, a male Jew, violates the expected protocol of his own religion by asking her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink. A parallel situation today might be a straight Christian inviting a gay Atheist over to their house for dinner. Certainly not what you would expect. But the love that saves is a love that is so unconditional that it takes chances and crosses over such barriers with no expectation of anything in return.

Saving love loves for the sake of love. This love is so precious, so beautiful, so rare and yet so needed that the lover is compelled to love with great love. This love is at the centre of God’s nature. He can relate in no other way than to love with this self-less, sacrificial, barrier-crossing love.

Saving love leads to questions. Surprised, the woman asks Jesus a question. “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (John 4:9) Questions are good things because they are open doors. The Samaritan woman gives Jesus an open door for him to tell her about the salvation he gives. “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.” (v. 10)

Saving love raises objections. Right away, the woman raises an objection, and there is always an objection to saving love. You see, people object to saving love because it is so foreign to them. They don’t know if it is real and reliable, so they don’t know if they can trust it. Therefore, they always raise objections to saving love to test its nature and authenticity.

The Samaritan woman raises these objections. 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” (vv. 11-12) Later she says, 19 “Sir, …I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (vv. 19-20) Her implied question is, “I can see that you are a prophet, but how do I know if your religion is true?”

Notice that Jesus does not always try to directly answer her objections, he simply continues to love her by holding before her the gift of salvation which he calls living water. The answer to people’s objections about saving love is to give them more saving love. That is the only way that they will learn to trust it.

Finally the woman plays her last card of objection by saying, and I paraphrase, “Well, I don’t know about all this spirit and truth mumbo-jumbo that you are talking about strange man, but I do know that the Messiah will explain everything to us when he comes.”

Then Jesus lays down his trump card and says, “I am the Messiah!” You see, the beginning and the end of saving love is always Jesus. He is the source of saving love and the goal of saving love is always to introduce people to Jesus because he is the only one who can save them.

From that point onward, everything changed for the woman. She goes into her home town, the place where people know all about her shameful past, and she said to the people there, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (v. 29)

This is what happens to people who have been saved by saving love. They cross over barriers to share that saving love with others. The barrier Jesus crossed when he talked to the woman was one of ethnicity, culture and religion. The barrier the woman crossed when she talked to the people in her village was one of shame and social propriety. But because the woman knew that she was loved with an unconditional, accepting love, she no longer felt ashamed because Jesus’ love now filled the place where her shame used to live. The barrier that we see was no longer any barrier to her. Jesus’ love had turned it into a springboard which she could use to share his saving love with others. The objections that she faced were less than the ones she raised with Jesus because she was now sharing that love from the inside of her own culture.

We live in a changing world. Today’s society that is far different than the society of the fifties and sixties. Back then, the Christian church was at the centre of our society and functioned like a cultural funnel where all the best resources and people flowed into it. Now, the Christian church is on the margins of society. This means that, for us to carry out our mission of making disciples of all nations, we need to function like a cross-cultural missionaries. We need to have in us the kind of love that crosses over barriers and loves others in a self-less and sacrificial way. We need to love with that saving love that Jesus has.

The problem is that saving love is not natural to us. We cannot make it ourselves. We can only let ourselves be filled with Jesus’ saving love and then pour out that love  into the lives of others. This means that we need to keep going back to Jesus for more of his saving love. We need it for ourselves. We also need it for our friends, family members and neighbours. Love will save the world. But only saving love will save the world. Only Jesus’ love will save the world. So we continually go back to Jesus and we empty our hearts and our hands before him. And then we receive. We receive the barrier-crossing forgiveness that he gives us. We receive the child-of-God identity that he gives us. We receive the heaven-in-our-heart life that he gives us. And then we cross over barriers to share that saving love with others. That’s naturally what happens when a person’s heart is filled with Jesus’ saving love.

Where can you find Jesus’ saving love? You can find it in the Bible, which his love letter to you. If you are wondering where to start reading the Bible, you could begin by reading the book of Luke and then the book of Acts.

Another place where we can be filled again and again with Jesus’ saving love is in the special meal of Holy Communion which is served and shared at most Christian churches. Jesus has promised us that his body and his blood are in the bread and the wine of Holy Communion.  And though we do not fully understand what Jesus is saying, we cling to his words. Jesus is promising us that he will wash away our guilt and shame and fill us with his love. Again and again we receive more of Jesus’ love until we naturally spring over barriers to share that saving love with others. Love will save the world. Amen.

(This message was shared at Walnut Grove Lutheran Church in Langley BC on November 19, 2017.)


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