By Matthew Ayars
Matt is a student leader at Asbury College in Kentucky , is graduating this spring, and planning to move to Haiti to serve God.
“But he had to go through Samaria.” John 4:4
The world today is smaller than it has ever been. Between modern transportation and communication technology alone, our ability to be heard is increasing daily. In spite of these historically unmatched technologies, few can deny the delay in reaching the unreached in the name Jesus within our lifetime.
The reality of this delay suggests some sort of barrier between the church and the unreached people groups of the world. Nevertheless, we live in a world of division, boundaries, and barriers, which make our hindrance of evangelism far from surprising.
We experience all kinds of barriers every single day. From the people in front of us in the checkout line at the grocery store delaying us from leaving, to our pride delaying our forgiveness for the inattentive driver who proceeds to go below the speed limit in the passing lane. Both delay and interruption are hardly avoidable in today’s world.
Even Jesus, God incarnate, experienced delay and interruption. We read about such events throughout the gospels. Constantly, we encounter individuals interrupting Jesus’ ministry for their own personal needs.
For example, when Mary and Martha summon Jesus with a hope of bringing Lazarus back to health (John 11), or when the woman who had been suffering hemorrhages for twelve years touched his cloak in one final attempt of being healed (Matthew 9:18-26).
The inconvenience of delay and interruption was an inevitable part of God’s human experience through the life of Jesus.
We also encounter Jesus avoiding or overcoming such interruptions and delays. Specifically, in John 4:3-4: Jesus penetrates hostile Samaria in his route back to Galilee from Judea. Samaritans and Israelites were divided to say the least.
The heat and tension of their relationship can be compared to that of the relationship between the political left and right wings within the U.S. Because Samaria is a portion of land that splits the northern and southern portions of Israel directly down the center, Jews from the north visiting the south (and vice versa) would intentionally go around Samaria because of the heightened tension.
Jesus finds himself in this position in the beginning of John 4 as he decides to return to Galilee (north of Samaria) from Judea (south of Samaria). Going around Samaria would delay his ministry yet out of his character he did not allow such an intentional detour to be an option as John 4:4 tells us, “But he had to go through Samaria” (emphasis added).
So then, what is our delay in reaching the unreached world for Jesus? Better yet, identifying what the barriers are not may help in revealing our answer. First, lack of transportation is not keeping us, thanks to God’s gift of air travel and other means of modern transportation.
Second, the inability to communicate is not preventing our outreach due to ample missiological training available for our use along with communication technology such as satellite broadcast, internet and so forth.
From a western perspective, money certainly cannot be a barrier. This fact is evident through all of our spiritual luxuries in the form of modern church buildings, thousands of Christian bookstores, Christian entertainment, etc. So if God has blessed us with the ability to go, and be heard, what is lacking? What is the delay?
I want to suggest that the delay is a result of attitude. It seems as if, we have made reaching the unreached world in the name of Jesus an option. This fact is evidence of a lack of compassion for the dying world. Jesus’ response does not indicate an attitude of option.
Jesus exhibits pure and holy compassion. Such compassion should be manifest in the church with the taking on of the character of Christ. If we are his body then we too should not have a choice but to reach out.
Jesus did not have a choice but to enter a spiritually and physically militant zone for the sake of redeeming the lost. The more we become slaves to righteousness, the less freedom we will have in choosing who we will evangelize.