Summary: God allows us to participate in building his kingdom.
Thomas Edison (inventor of the light bulb) said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
Today we are with Jesus’ disciples when they miss an incredible opportunity. Not dressed in overalls, but as the much despised Samaritans. John MacArthur calls Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well a “preview of his plan for global evangelism.” Pretty important – and those closest to the Lord totally miss it. They are not the first.
A young clerk found that the hardware store where he worked had thousands of items that were obsolete or seldom bought. He convinced the owner to let him have a ten cent sale. It was a fabulous success, but when the clerk asked for capital for a new store that would sell all items for a nickel or dime, the boss said, “The plan will never work; you can’t find enough items to sell for 5 or 10 cents.” So Frank Woolworth took out a loan for $300 and made millions with his five and dime stores.
In 1878, an internal memo at Western Union announced: “This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication.
After the invention of the transistor in 1947, several US electronics companies rejected the idea of a portable radio, insisting that no one would carry a radio around.
“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.” Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment, 1977.
“The concept is interesting and well-formed, but in order to earn better than a ‘C’, the idea must be feasible.” Fred Smith received a ‘C’ from a Yale Professor on his paper proposing an overnight delivery service (which became Federal Express).
“Drill for oil? You mean drill into the ground to try and find oil? You’re crazy.” (Workers said to Edwin Drake when he tried to enlist them in his project to drill for oil in 1859.)
Google stock debuted for about $100 in 2004. Today it trades for $478. Gold was at $250 in 2000; today, about $750.
And Charles Duell, of the US Office of Patents in 1899, “Everything that can be invented has been invented.”
Some may be urban legends, but missed opportunities are common. The word “opportunity” apparently comes from the Latin phrase, ob portu. Before modern harbors, a ship had to wait for the highest tides before entering the port. Thus the ship was ob portu, off port, captain and crew ready for a chance to make it. An ob portu was a ship ready to come in when the tide changed. An opportunity is a chance to make it.
John 4 can be divided into a drama in three “acts,” each with a different main character. Act 1 focuses on Jesus. As we studied two weeks ago, verses 1-15 show that 1) Jesus defines our thirst (pointing out that God is the one our souls long for); 2) Jesus accentuates our thirst (offering, “life-giving water”); 3) Jesus satisfies our thirst (reminding us that worldly water leaks through souls like a sieve); and then, 4) Jesus transforms our thirst (allowing us to be a source of refreshment to others).
Act 2 spotlights the woman at the well. She is confronted with her sin; she is called to true worship; she confesses Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, as God’s solution for her dry soul.
Today, Act 3 highlights the disciples and their missed opportunities. Look at the end result (the conversion of the Samaritans) in verses 39-42: “[read text].” Jesus is training “a few good men” to establish and expand his kingdom after his resurrection and ascension. We would expect these men – guys willing to leave all and follow him – we expect them to be ready evangelists. Yet a woman of ill repute establishes a beachhead for the Gospel in Samaria.
Immediately we see that you need not be a pastor or professional for effective ministry in Jesus’ kingdom. She was neither educated nor sophisticated, and her presentation was neither refined nor polished. She simply had the heart of an evangelist: she was 1) converted, 2) willing, 3) caring, 4) risk taking. As a result, she could not be stopped and many believed in him because of her testimony.
Now clearly, following Jesus requires that we strive to improve our evangelism techniques, to become more biblical and more effective. But when our quest for a better method stifles our enthusiastic testimony for Jesus, we have lost our way. We miss opportunities God places before us.
Before we consider the details, let me make an observation: sometimes evangelism is taught in such a way as to motivate through guilt. We feel (or are told): “If this woman had not witnessed, the Samaritans would have remained lost in sin and died and gone to hell. So you best get busy, get a handful of tracts, and get knocking on doors.” I do not think that is correct. Everything in this chapter speaks of God’s sovereign grace in conversion. Let’s compare the Jews and Samaritans: