Sermon: Living Water: Second Drink. Gifts of Grace
Scripture: Ephesians 2: 4-10
Date: July 24, 2016
Last week we talked about Jesus’ interrupting the Festival with the promise that he would give the living water that would quench our every thirst and, even more than that, would flow out of us into a thirsty world as a river of love and grace. Well it turns out that day at the festival was not the first or only time that Jesus had spoken of living water. Perhaps you remember this story. One day He and His disciples were traveling through the land of the Samaritans, who were the hated enemies of the Jews, and they stopped to rest at a town well. And while He was resting, a Samaritan woman came in the heat of the day, by herself, to fill her bucket at the town well. Now the usual time for the women to come to the Well was early in the morning when it was still cool. But this woman felt so ostracized by her lifestyle that she deliberately avoided the women of the village and so came in the middle of the day, when it was hot, not to mention dangerous for a woman alone. And she is astonished and a little frightened when this Jewish Rabbi, Jesus, begins a conversation with her. But he talks to her about the very things that I said last week lead us to great thirst in our soul. . (Here is my paraphrase.) I know the water you have been drinking, He said to her. You have been drinking the bitter water of broken relationships, and the polluted water of regret over choices that you have made in life. And your water has been fouled by the pain of loneliness and isolation. And made impure by your sin. And stagnated by your hopelessness. And so you come in the middle of the day because you have lost all hope. Aren’t you tired of drinking such a toxic concoction? You follow me and I’ll give you living water and you’ll never be thirsty again.
The truth is that this living water of Jesus is an amazing gift for all of us who are thirsty. Some years later the Apostle Paul would be the recipient of such a gift and he is writing about that gift I think when he says to the Church at Ephesus:
Read Ephesians 2:4-10
In a few days the Summer Olympic Games will begin in Brazil and they start with a lot of questions about the readiness of the host country to host the games. And a lot of those questions revolve around water. Some of the boating competitions will be taking place in polluted water which Brazil had promised to clean up but never did. There are warnings about athletes and visitors drinking the water. I even read that near the beach volleyball courts human body parts had washed ashore. But perhaps the biggest question mark is the prospect of the Zika virus infecting athletes and guests alike and being taken then throughout the world. The polluted water is a breeding ground for the mosquitos that carry the virus. It is the latest pandemic scare that sweeps across the world. Athletes and visitors to the games contracting the virus and then spreading it around the world. Two years ago it was the Ebola virus and the fear that it could not be contained in the area of Africa where the outbreak occurred. It seems like every generation has some terrible disease to deal with. Twenty to thirty years ago it was the Aids virus that was the modern day plague. A terrible killer for which there was no treatment or cure. If you got it, your only choice was to wait and die, which is pretty much what the woman at the well had resigned herself to. And though things have gotten much better as far as treatment and prevention, there is still no cure or a vaccine to prevent it. And before Aids it was cancer, which, though great advances have been made, is still a disease that we struggle to get our hands on. Many of your families and certainly this church family has been profoundly affected by Cancer. And before that there was Polio. And before that there was the great flu epidemic of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. And then, long before that, there was the black plague, which in the 1300’s killed 25 million people which, at that time, was one third the population of Europe. It was nearly impossible to stop the spread of the plague because it was transmitted by fleas that were carried by rats, and because of the poor sanitation of the day, rats were everywhere. There are records of the population of entire towns being killed by the plague. As late as 1655, three hundred years after the first cases were reported, 100,000 people in London died because of an outbreak of the plague. But I think Paul has in mind an even deadlier plague. It has infected everyone who has ever lived on this planet. And it is always fatal. It is the disease of sin. Paul tells the Ephesians, “we were dead because of our sins.” And pastor Max Lucado writes:
Blame sin on a godless decision. Adam and Eve turned their heads toward the hiss of the snake and for the first time ignored God. Eve did not ask, “God, what do you want?” Adam didn’t suggest, “Let’s consult the Creator.” They acted as if they had no heavenly Father. His will was ignored, and sin, with death on its coattails, entered the world. Sin sees the world with no God in it. The sinful mind (sinful heart) dismisses God.
I suspect that when most people think about sin, they think of things that we do which displease God. But scripture makes it clear that sin is much more than that. Sin is the total rejection of God, and that apart from God, there is no life. In the view of scripture, Sin is a plague that always leads to death. There is no escaping it. And once you’ve succumbed to it, there is no cure. But there is a solution to the plague of sin. Did you know that the reason that the black plague is virtually non-existent in the world today begins with a small village in England. The plague came to the village through a package that the village tailor opened that was infested with plague carrying fleas. A few days later, the Tailor died of the disease. And so the town, knowing that once the plague was released in their midst, they could do nothing, quarantined themselves from the rest of the world, and they all prepared to die. Surrounding villages would leave food and supplies on the outskirts of town for the people who remained. After about a year of there being no contact with anyone in the town, some outsiders decided to go in and dispose of the bodies that they knew they would find in what they perceived to now be a ghost town. But, instead, they were amazed to find about ½ of the townspeople were still alive. Doctors and scientists of the day were baffled. But as science has progressed, modern scientists studying the descendants of those who survived, were able to isolate a Gene that would marshall the body’s immune system to fight the disease. This gene did not prevent the plague from infecting the body, but rather fought it once it did. And eventually, doctors and scientists were able to develop a vaccine from that gene, that would stop the plague from killing its victims. Now the Plague is nearly non-existent. But you know, it’s a curious thing about most vaccines. They often work by putting enough of the disease into the system to arouse the bodies immune system, but hopefully not enough to make us sick, and certainly not kill us. The disease is in us, it infects us, but it is killed by our immune system. I saw a story on sixty minutes not too long ago, that Doctors at Duke University are now treating patients with previously inoperable and always fatal brain tumors by injecting them with enough of the polio virus to arouse their body’s immune system to fight off the polio and in doing so the body also seems to be killing the tumors. Doctors are hopeful that from this they can develop a vaccine against all types of cancerous tumors. Terrible plagues are most often defeated from within. Well, Paul tell’s the Ephesians that’s how grace works. Grace is like this living water that cleanses from within and then flows from us to vaccinate the world. We are vaccinated from the plague of sin by the Grace of God. And here’s what really blows my mind. It’s free. We don’t pay a thing for it. In fact, no matter how hard we might try – we can’t pay a thing for it. Grace is God’s gift to us not because we’ve done anything to deserve it but because He loves us. We are saved from this plague of sin by His amazing gift of grace. When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman about living water what He was really offering her was Grace. Last week I talked about the headwaters of the Jordan River being a Spring in the pagan region of Caesarea Phillipi. It flows from there and brings life to the Sea of Galilee and then from the Sea into the Jordan Valley and brings life to the crops that have fed and sustained the people of Israel for centuries. How ironic that it begins in Pagan land – land of the spiritually unclean. But the reality is that the living water that Jesus gives, always begins in the unclean, sinful places of our lives. When Jesus offered the living water to this woman, her first thought was I am a sinner. Don’t you get it Jesus. I’m here in the middle of the day because my life choices have made me an outcast. I don’t deserve this living water. And Jesus replies, I know who you are and what you’ve done. I don’t offer this living water because you deserve it or have somehow earned it. I offer it because I love you. It is my gift of grace to you and to everyone who will step from their past, and come drink forever from my Well. Come and you will never thirst again. You will never succumb to the plague of sin again, as long as you drink deeply from the well of my love and grace. You see, human beings through the centuries have equated the giving and receiving of gifts with somehow being worthy to receive. At Christmas time we tell our children that they must be good if Santa is going to come. He’s making a list and checking it twice. But true gifts are those given without strings attached. They are not earned. They are given and received without thought of reward. True gifts are those that are given from the heart. The living water that Jesus offers is given from His heart and grace is it’s headwaters. We do nothing to earn it or deserve it. We simply receive. But just like this woman we must be willing to receive it. Because here’s the thing, the living water, this gift of grace, though it is offered to everyone, it is received by few.
Have you ever had the experience of receiving a gift but you weren’t really sure what it was? What it did? I’ll never forget the Christmas that my Mom and Dad gave each of us boys new Hula hoops. Now it was right at the beginning of the hula hoop craze and my Dad was a manager of department store and they had gotten a shipment of these new things in, so he decided that he was going to bring one home for the three of us. And so we each found one under the tree, with our name on it and none of us knew what it was. Even though I was only three or four years old, I’ll never forget my father trying to demonstrate how that new toy was supposed to work. I think that Christmas was the beginning of the back problems that my Dad had in later life because no matter what contortions he made with his hips and body, he couldn’t get those hula hoops to “work”. Finally he gave up and said in frustration, “these things will never catch on.” And still more than 50 years later, I have never mastered the hula hoop. Well I think that so often God offers His gift of grace but because we don’t really understand how it works we end up rejecting it. It never really catches on in our lives.
But ever since Jesus had come to him on the road to Damascus, Paul was all about grace. And this part of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is his attempt to explain how the gift of grace works in our lives.
First, he says, grace is the gift of new life. Last week we talked about water as the key ingredient in our physical well being. When Christ offered the living water to this woman, He was offering her new life. The chance to have the old life washed clean and away by the raging river of grace that Christ brings. You see, when we are infused with God’s grace, everything changes. We become spiritually alive. Look what Paul says in this verse:
God is so rich in mercy, and He loves us so very much, that even while we were dead because of our sins, He gave us new life when He raised Christ from the dead.
Do you understand what is implied in that statement? Don’t miss incredible truth that Almighty God, the creator and sustainer of life, all powerful, perfect, would rather die for us, then live without us. The “new life” that comes to us by grace is not simply a remaking of our life, it is the infilling of Christ’s life in us. He did not come to live with us. He came to live in us. We receive new life when we receive the gift of Grace.
Secondly, grace is the gift of eternity, of living with God forever. Look here what Paul says:
Because of Grace “He raised us from the dead along with Christ, and we are seated with Him in heavenly realms.”
The apostle Peter writes:
Christ never sinned, but He died for sinners that He might bring us safely home to God.
Not only does He give those who receive His grace, His living water, new life, but He also gives us a new address. The assurance that no matter what may happen to us in this life, that this earth is not our home. That we dwell here only temporarily while Christ prepares our home in heaven. It is a home that is far from the terrible toll that sin plays on our life on this earth. A place where there is no sin. A place where there is no disease, no more pain. A place of perfect joy and peace. Jesus says to the Samaritan woman: Once you receive this living water, you will never thirst again.
By grace, we are given new life, and a heavenly address for eternity.
And then thirdly, it is by the gift of grace we enter into relationship with Jesus Christ. We are made one with Christ. Scripture compares this relationship to the bond between a husband and wife, and a parent and child – where two lives become one. Are intertwined. Look at what Paul says. We have new life and a place in heaven “all because we are one with Christ.” To the Romans, Paul writes: For His Holy Spirit speaks to us deep in our hearts and tells us that we are God’s children. And since we are His children, we will share His treasures, for everything God gives to His Son, Christ, is ours too. Through grace we become joint heirs with Christ of the Kingdom of God. Jesus invites us into relationship when He says Abide in Me, and I in you. Through grace we become one with Him. We abide in Him and He abides in us. It is the great gift of relationship.
And then fourthly, through the gift of grace we become like Christ. Max Lucado says we become billboards of God’s mercy. Paul describes it this way. Look at the seventh verse: So God can always point to us as examples of the incredible wealth of his favor and kindness toward us, as shown in all He has done for us through Christ Jesus. He lifts us up as the examples of a grace filled life. William MacDonald in his book Alone In Majesty writes:
Let me give you a modern illustration of (grace) in action. One day, a Christian named Paul went into a coffee shop and sat on a stool, and ordered lunch. When he began speaking to the man next to him, he realized that Fred was in deep spiritual need. After sharing the gospel with him, Paul arranged to meet him again. It was at the second meeting that Fred was (saved). Then Paul began to disciple him on a one on one basis, and Fred grew in grace and in knowledge of the Lord Jesus. But it wasn’t long before Fred learned that he had a life-threatening disease. He had to go to a convalescent hospital that was sadly substandard. Paul visited him regularly, bathed him, changed the sheets, and did other things the staff should have been doing. The night Fred died, Paul was holding him in his arms, whispering verses of scripture in his ear. It’s a wonderful thing to see the grace of God at work in a human life.
When we receive God’s grace, we become the examples, the billboards, the witness of grace to others.
And all of this is God’s gift to us, the gift of grace so that we might have life, eternal life, lived in oneness with Him in such a way that we witness to His great love through our own lives. Because Paul says – look at this 10th verse. We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works – that we should walk in them.
You see this woman thought that her life was over, that her sinful life had robbed her of the opportunity to live in Christ, to be His workmanship, and our sin does the same to us, but the gift of Grace allows us to be washed clean, to walk away from our past and walk with Him forever. To never thirst again. And then we become witnesses to God’s grace. This Samaritan woman ran from the Well and told everyone she encountered: “Come and meet this man I just met at the Well. He knew everything about me, all the bad choices I had made, and it didn’t matter. He still gave me His love and His grace.” And the scripture says: Many of the Samaritans believed in Jesus because of this woman’s testimony. She became a billboard to God’s mercy and grace.
I wonder how many thirsty people we encounter everyday who need that living water to quench their thirsty souls -a gift of grace to open them to new life. Maybe it’s just a pat on the back, or an encouraging word. A cool drink of living water on a hot day. A helping hand. Thirsty people are all around us. And when we are filled with the living water of Christ, saved by His grace, we become God’s workmanship, His gifts to a world that is dying in its sin. We become the Living Water whose headwater is the very grace of God. I hope you’ve come thirsty this morning because now is the time, this Christmas, to receive this gift of God’s grace for yourself. Come and let God’s love and grace wash over you. What a Savior we have who knows everything we’ve ever done and still wants to fill us with His love and grace – that living water that will fill our thirsty souls forever.