John 4 - Gospel Radius
Updated: Jan 21
The radius of the gospel is limitless. It reaches all people in all situations and speaks to the human condition at every level. The buoyancy of the gospel sustains every conversation so that as we proclaim the gospel, we live it; and as we live it, we cannot help but proclaim it. When we open our eyes we see the Holy Spirit at work in people’s lives as God woos them to himself, even in the so-called mundane.
We bear the gospel in simple powerful witness through the daily stuff of shared life, in homes, over tea, and at work. The discourse of the gospel should encompass the entire radius of our discourse ability in our new language, using everything we know in the language, covering all topics. As we begin to view our lives through the lens of the gospel, all conversations become those precious opportunities we are given to share the gospel with our neighbors.
Consider the multiple ways in which the gospel is woven into the fabric of so many conversations on diverse topics, stories and life situations throughout Scripture. We read over and over how Jesus, the apostles, and other witnesses ministered to those around them in all walks of life.
John 4 tells us that Jesus was leaving Judea and traveling through Samaria on his way to Galilee. He came to a town called Sychar, which was near Jacob’s Well. Jesus, worn out from his journey, sat down at the well. A woman of Samaria came to draw water (John 4:1-26).
This is the backdrop to one of the most surprising gospel conversations we find in all of Scripture. Jesus initiates by asking this foreign woman for a drink. She was in shock; “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?”
Forget the drink. Jesus immediately responded, taking her completely off guard again, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”
When she asked about this living water, he surprised her with a knowing intentionality that once again, broke all the rules, “Go call your husband,” he told her, “and come back here.”
“I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Jesus’ discourse was full of the gospel, completely attentive, personal, full of compassion, direct, and to the point, while at the same time, wildly surprising. Do we have this kind of intentionality in our intercession, and in our gospel conversations? Do we really believe that the gospel is able to reach every crevice of a person’s life? Jesus did. As crazy as this conversation was, it was definitely going straight to this woman’s heart.
She responded in the only way she knew how, eerily reminiscent of conversations I regularly have with neighbors who like to take the conversation back to similarities and differences in our beliefs. “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Undeterred, Jesus responded with astounding, almost shocking, clarity, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.”
The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Driving this truth home, Jesus reached her heart, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
Jesus proclaimed the gospel to this woman in ways that quite honestly blow my mind. It certainly wasn’t culturally appropriate. And it represented incredible and miraculous spiritual insights into this woman’s life and soul.
Jesus exemplified for us here, in an amazingly powerful and provocative way, exactly what it means to be fluent in the gospel. When God leads us to proclaim the gospel, he will empower us.
The Bible says the disciples were amazed that he was talking with a woman (v. 27). We read that the woman left the jar and went and told the men of the town about Jesus, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did!” (vv. 28-29), and they all came to meet with Jesus. This all feels very counter-cultural, yet so amazingly powerful. This is the power of the gospel as it reached the heart of this woman and radiated throughout her whole community.
Did Jesus in fact tell this woman everything she had ever done? To her understanding, he did. The gospel reached every meaningful recess of her heart. The gospel has the power to reach into our lives and expose everything we have ever done, felt, or thought. It has the power to reach everyone and meet every need in all circumstances, and through all cultures, no matter how surprising. This is the radius of the gospel.
Jesus was deeply satisfied to be doing this work of the gospel, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work” (v. 34). The will of God is for us to proclaim and teach the gospel. By the power of the gospel, God draws men and women to himself. We sow and reap spiritual fruit. Jesus said to his disciples, “Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest” (v. 35).
What are we expecting in our ministry? Should we be ready for the unexpected? Jesus crashed into the common culture, inviting people – in strong encounters like this one at the well – to drink living water, and to respond to the truth of the gospel. He knew people – intimately. He knew their lives, communities, and cultures. He knew their problems, their pain, their sins, their secrets, their shame, their trappings, the deepest longings of their hearts, their deepest questions, and even the questions behind their questions.
The woman asked, “Give me this water,” and Jesus responded, “Go call your husband.” Everything he said to her peeled back the layers of deception, grief, shame, pain, sufferings, and deep longings... he nailed it.
“That’s fine,” we may say, “but I’m not Jesus. I don’t really know my neighbors’ deepest problems, pain, sins, and secrets.” Perhaps as we begin to tap into tap into Christ’s love for our neighbors, when we just love them with his compassion, we begin to know them less as we would and more as he does. We begin to see the gospel less from our own perspectives, and more from his, as the shepherd who seeks his lost sheep (Luke 15:4) or as the father who runs to embrace his lost son. “But while his son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion. He ran, threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
It is absolutely impossible to ignore the simple, profound compassion that permeated all contexts of Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 9:36, Mark 1:41, Luke 7:13, etc.), inviting him in so many amazing ways into the painful, sinful, grief-filled lives of those around him.
As Jesus was leaving Jericho, two blind men sitting by the road cried out for mercy. Though the crowd rebuked them, they cried even louder, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” (Matthew 20:29-31).
Jesus stopped, called them, and said, “What do you want me to do for you?” (v. 32).
Wasn’t it strangely obvious to Jesus and everyone else (us included) that these blind men simply wanted to see? But Jesus still asked. He wanted to hear it from them. And I think this has a lot to do with the compassion he had for them.
“Lord,” they said to him, “open our eyes” (v. 33).
Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they could see, and they followed him (v. 34).
When we compassionately proclaim the gospel to our lost neighbors we begin to know them and love them as Jesus does. That’s how Jesus lived, and that’s how we should live, too. We are called to follow Jesus. We are called to proclaim the gospel. We are called to host the presence of God as we live and learn about life in our new language and cultural setting, and as we get to know our new neighbors.
Our lives truly intersect with the world around us, the world God called us to, in powerful and true ways, in ways that demonstrate spiritual integrity when we hone in on the gospel. Are we orienting the core of our lives to the gospel? Until we view the gospel as the center of everything in our lives, then our entire global and cosmic orientation remains faulty, worldly.