Summary: 4th in the series "Near to His Heart: The Gospel of John." Christianity is a personal experience.
I remember as I was growing up hearing my parents say to me on more than one occaision, "Just wait until you have kids of your own, then you’ll understand." I don’t suppose that any of your parents ever said anything like that to you, but mine said it regularly.
The thing that is so frustrating about that statement is that it turned out to be true. There is something inexplicable about parenthood, something that can never be understood by hearing about it, reading about it, or thinking about it. It has to be experienced. When I stood holding my breath in that delivery room as Alexandra came in to the world, instantly I knew that my life had changed in a way I could not describe. From that point on I was going to be someone’s daddy.
Like parenthood Christianity is something that must be understood primarily by experience. In the passage that we read today there are a group of people who found that out. Earlier in this fourth chapter Jesus had an encounter with a woman at the well. That encounter was to change her life forever. She went back to her town and told everyone who would listen about this man who had known everything about her.
Many of the Samaritans in that town believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony and they sought out Jesus to see and hear Him for themselves.And then at the end of the passage they make a fascinating statement, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world."
This statement embodies the very heart of what I want to talk about today. The Samaritans were not satisfied with a second hand knowledge of Jesus, They wanted to meet Him for themselves--they wanted to experience Him. That experience is what I want to explore with you today.
I believe that experience is at the very heart of the Christian faith. I am willing to proclaim without excuse that I have had a personal, heartfelt experience with Jesus Christ and it is that experience on which the anchor of my Faith holds. I can say with the Samaritans that I no longer believe because of what I’ve been told but because I have experienced Jesus for myself.
Christianity is more than just a statement of faith, more than church membership. It is not merely a philosophical position. It is a faith experience. You can’t buy Christianity, and you don’t inherit it from your parents. It must be experienced!
So what is the Christian experience based upon? What is the nature of this experience And what is its value? I’d like to examine all of those questions using the experience of the Samaritans in John 4:39-42 as a guide. And I’d like to look at it in a novel way--
Begining, Middle, and End...
The Christian Experience Begins By Hearing the Message (v. 39)
Verse 39 of our text says, "Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ’He told me everything I ever did.’"
Hearing about Jesus is an important first step. Without hearing the message we would not know what to believe. The Samaritans were made aware of the presence of Jesus and His power by the testimony of the woman. In the same way today we must become aware of the gospel message in order to know that we must have an experience with Him.
The Apostle Paul made this very point when he wrote to the Romans, "How can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ" (Romans 10:14,17).
Hearing the message is important because it gives objectivity to our faith experience. Experience is a very subjective matter. We need an objective, unchanging standard of truth in which to place our faith. That standard is the Gospel as handed to us by the apostles through the Scriptures. Peter wrote in His second letter "We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty" (2 Peter 1:16). Peter and the other apostles faithfully recorded the message about Jesus in the Scriptures. It is on this unchanging, inspired record of the Good News about Jesus that we base our faith.
Without this firm foundation of Scripture we would have no way to judge the authenticity of our experience or of anyone elses. Some one could say, "My experience tells me that we should smoke dope and eat pizza for communion," and we would have no standard to judge that against. Experience is essential and is by nature a personal and subjective thing but it is not without boundries--it must be based in the truth of the Scripture.