Have you been to Honduras? To Ecuador? To somewhere in Africa? If so, it WILL be a question you or someone will ask at one point before your trip: CAN I DRINK THE WATER? Guess what? The quest for potable water actually recurs many times in John’s gospel too.
What I'd like to do for you now is to contrast the characters and circumstances in Jesus’ interviews with Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. C'mon, it'll be fun!
NICODEMUS: Old Nick was one of the ten magistrates (or 'senators') who had the principal authority in Jerusalem under the Romans. And he had a good question! “How can anyone,” said Nicodemus, “be born who has already been born and grown up? You can’t re-enter your mother’s womb and be born again. What are you saying with this ‘born-from-above’ talk?” (John 3)
I like the way that guy thinks. ;-) I can be a skeptic, too. And I'll bet he was even humourous about it, possibly said it tongue-in-cheek! And like I said, HE HAD A VALID QUESTION!
THE WOMAN AT THE WELL WHO HAD A LOT OF 'HUSBANDS:' Okay, who knows if she was actually THAT loose - I mean loose enough to be called a 'hooker' (although I've heard plenty of sermons from scholars that aid that opinion of her). It doesn't matter; she still posed an equally valid question. “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (John 4) Jews and Samaritans did not particularly get along. The women and men in this culture ordinarily kept a safe civil distance from each other. So she was doubly surprised when Jesus invited her to drink. When she commented to that effect, he instead offered her ... living water. I can just hear her possible response: "Umm .... thanks?" Perplexed, but piqued, she asks about this miraculous water.
The key is that both instances, whether the approached or the approachable, Jesus offered BOTH characters an insight into ... real life. Both listeners were given the opportunity to understand what it means to start over. Jesus uses WATER to explain both to Nicodemus and to a desperate woman what life is “all about.”
“Unless one is born of water….”
“Whoever drinks of this living water will never thirst…”
In one sense, the water springs up from another well to ETERNAL LIFE. In another, it is flowing through the birth canal with the Spirit to enter into ETERNAL LIFE in the kingdom of God. In each case, Jesus offers them something new explaining it through something they could understand - water.
He also knew exactly where both people were coming from and what they would listen to. He knew what Nicodemus was fishing for, so He knew what bait would challenge his intellect. He knew that the woman wasn’t necessarily searching, but that she needed to be searched. She needed someone to search her and reach into the deep well of her soul to draw honesty and conviction. If there be one common thread in the spirit of Jesus’ interviews here, you might say it is this:
HE KNEW WHO THEY WERE AND
HE KNEW HOW TO REACH THEM
I hope that's you. If you know anything about the people you are going to touch, it's a good start. Remember the verse from the same chapter where Jesus met Nicodemus. It’s been on several mission t-shirts I have seen teams wear gregariously off the airplane as they try to look inconspicuously unlike North Americans (*wink*). Hey, maybe it's even on yours! It is John 3:30:
"He must become greater; I must become less."
His message for YOUR mission trip is clear: you must humble myself so that HE may be seen. You want to exalt Him in this mission and be here for HIS motives. And you must take up His cup - and drink the water - not the river water that flows next to your bark hut at your mission point in Australia or your adobe shelter in Guatemala, but the living water He so generously offers us time and again in His Word. Through this water you will have - and offer - eternal life.
Now THAT message offers potable water.
This is the kind of water we need to pack for our mission trips.