The Relational Heart of God and the Relational Call of Discipleship

INTRODUCTION

We are thinking around the relational heart of God. That the God of the Bible is someone who by his very nature is relational: he wants to draw people to Himself, because He himself is what they were made for. Another way of saying it is God is Missional. He wants to draw people to himself. Yet, this wonderful truth is not just something to be worshipped, to find comfort in. This truth is both for us our hope and our example.

A Biblical Grounding for the Missional Heart of God.

At the beginning of Genesis God made humanity to dwell (in a relationship) with him. Sin destroyed our intimacy with God and removed that intimate relationship. Yet, God did abandon us to ourselves he set to work out his plan of salvation, to draw his chosen people back to himself, by his own hand so they could know the Goodness of relationship with him. The mission of God begin

  • Exodus 19:5-6: “Now, therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”: (People doing the work of God so God is known.)

  • Joshua 4:23-24: For the LORD your God dried up the water of the Jordan before you until you had crossed over, just as the LORD your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up before us until we had crossed over. This is so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD’s hand is mighty, and so that you may always fear the LORD your God.”

Throughout the Old Testament we see the Missional Heart of God, the desire to draw his people and all people into a relationship with him. Even when time and time again his people turn away from him, to sin or to other idols. Even though time and time again his people think they can find better elsewhere, and that any other relationship than their covenant one with Yahweh would be more fruitful – God is still faithful, drawing them back into relationship with himself, and outworking the fruits of that relationship: protecting, guiding, leading. If you think throughout the OT as God constantly calls people to himself, it is not just to remain there, but to make Him known throughout the world.

Yet, time and time again they fell into sin: either by ignoring their relationship with God or wanting to keep Yahweh to themselves. Israel’s pride, folly, and sin are summarised in the Story of the reluctant missionary sent to preach repentance to Nineveh. Jonah. Who when the city repents – turns from their sin and turns to God – is annoyed at the compassion the Lord shows. Thus the Lord speaks to says to him:

“But the LORD said, ‘You have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left – and also many animals?’
Jonah‬ ‭4:10-11‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

God was reminding Jonah and all of us that he is concerned for all people. Jesus came not for the few but the many. God wants a relationship with all so is missional to all.

A Knowable God (Incarnation)

Today, Mission is where we seek to bring the good news of Jesus and what he has done for us into different places or cultures, in a way that it can be understood. Jesus was God incarnate, God made flesh, specifically in a Jewish Culture. That is God made himself known in a specific place in a way that place would understand. So, that in time it would be able to understand the message and God’s desire and plan for Relationship.

Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory.

Titus 3:16

Thus, every time we do mission – share our faith, serve, perform an act of Kindness, Study God’s word with someone – we are in some way incarnating the good news of Jesus. We are following the example of God and allowing him to use us to draw people into a relationship with himself!

All the Gospels recount the beginning of the Mission of God, by God himself – Jesus. Every sermon, act of healing, casting out of demons is done in the name of God, for the Glory of God, to drawn people to God – it is all Mission: Acts to bring Glory to God’s name and draw sinners into a relationship. The mission of God under Christ culminates at Calvary where Jesus bears the price of our sin so that we can stand free before God and in relationship with him – like Children.

CALLED TO JOIN IN THE MISSION OF GOD (The Great CO-Mission)

Because God is at his very heart Relational/Missional. We are called to be a Missional/Relational People.

And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.
Matthew‬ ‭28:16-20‬ ‭ESV‬‬

It is why Matthew finishes his Gospel with the Great Commission charge from Jesus to his disciples. Hear that word again: The Great ‘Co’ ‘MISSION’ it is “co” because, in response to what he has done for us, we are called to follow him in bringing Glory to God throughout the earth. We Join in his mission. Drawing people into a living relationship with God. If we are disciples, then we are the Mission of God.

Our imperative is to Mission. It is why Luke also records a co-mission at the beginning of Acts: to remind the disciples that yes they were saved from something, but more importantly, they are also saved for something. Specifically, they are saved and then empowered by the Holy Spirit to be his witnesses In Jerusalem… and to the end of the earth.

“So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”” Acts‬ ‭1:6-8‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Mission is an Extension of what we where made for: Worship

God is missional as an extension of the fact that he is relational and wants people to know him. We were made for relationship with God, this is one of outworking of the Imago Dei.

Thus, when we come into a relationship with him we find what is best for us – God. Worship is the essence of that relationship with God. Being thankful for all that we have received: we Worship him. Thus, we live to Glorify God in every area of our lives (Worship) and by our lives, people are drawn into a relationship with Jesus. Mission is a fruit of our worship, our relationship with God.

RELATIONALLY INCARNATIONAL: JOHN 4

““Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”” ‭‭John‬ ‭4:39-42‬ ‭ESV‬‬

The above has to be one of Jesus most challenging, and inspiring encounters in all four of the Gospel: Jesus is journeying from Judea to Galilee and chooses to go via Schyar, Samaria. A place that some commentators note is neither culturally or geographically practical for a group of travelling jews. Yet, a place where Jesus chooses to go. Jesus has stopped just outside of town, by the well of Joseph, then he has sent the disciples off into town to try and locate some resources after a tiresome journey. Jesus has seemingly moved them on, to allow him to have the space he needed to meet with the Samaritan women and transform her life.

By removing the disciples, he removed with them their cultural dispositions that would make them hostile to the approaching women, and with hostility would go any chance of sharing the good news. Added to that, it would create a far safe environment for the women approaching in the middle of the day. The sending of the disciples, on to find food is at its most basic level practical: Jesus is tired and hungry so they needed to get food. Yet, he could have sent a three or four, and then kept some with him. Thus, the sending of the disciples is something much more profound, it is a reminder of the heart of God – the relational heart of God. The God who wanted to meet and work in the heart of the Samaritan, to shine the light of the Gospel in her heart, illuminate her sin and draw her into truth. Thus, the God who will make it possible to encounter someone by whatever means necessary. In this case for God to draw someone into a relationship, it meant removing the disciples for a short time.

The emerging details in John 4 do not paint an attractive picture of the approaching women; we know she is not an upstanding member of her society. Normally, to draw water the women would come either early at Dawn or late at Dusk (the coolest parts of the day) and in groups (for safety). Yet, here in the middle of the day, Jesus would watch as a lone figure approaching the good form the horizon. A figure that would soon reveal a lone woman carrying a bucket. Neither can it have been an easy approach for the women either as she made her way to the well for, to meet her most basic of need (water). I love this encounter because it shows the very relational heart of God as made known through the incarnate Son.

At the most awkward of points: A Jewish man alone with a “sinful” Samaritan women, a point in their context where cultural norms would dictate that there should be no interaction, acknowledgement, contact of any kind. A contract that would morally taint Jesus if it became public (noted by the reaction of disciples when they rerun from town). In a culture where the women were seen as less because she was a woman, then even less because she was a Samaritan, then (as the narrative unfolds) even less than less because she was a Samaritan woman who had had five husbands and was living with a man who was not her husband. This was not a person any Jewish man would interact with, never mind a public figure and teacher like Jesus. At the point when the world says: “No relationship!” Jesus – God incarnate – declares: “Come to Me!“. Why? because God at his heart is a relational, missional, seeking. God desires people to know his Goodness. Thus, for the first time the social outcast, who spent most of her time trying to avoid relationships found inclusion from a man who was not looking something form her, he was only looking at her. An unseen woman who sought the shadows to survive now stands gloriously in the light seen by God-incarnate in a way that illuminates to her both her sin and value. It is an amazing scene that shows us the heart of God – Relationship. Then, as always with Jesus, in his way we see our way. As Jesus encounters the Samaritan women we see what Kingdom relationship should look like. It is a true relationship: Relationship-based not on want, self, or desire, or need; a relationship built on a foundation of the other.

As Jesus does, we are called to do. The relational God draws us into a relationship with himself to then draw others into relationship with him. This is the outworking of our discipleship, our being known by God. then is the challenge and the outworking of being known by God. As we know the best relationship, we are changed to the point where we do not want to keep it for self, it is so good, so freeing, so life-giving that we want as many as possible to enjoy it, delight in it. As we think of where we live and who we interact with on a daily basis where does this passage challenge us to act? To renew old relationship or seek or new ones, to love people simply because they exist and in the hope that through us they might encounter something even greater. To phrase it another way: Where are the people in the shadows of our culture who need to be drawn into the light of Christ? Yet, because of stigma or pressures elsewhere we chose to ignore them, we chose to focus our efforts elsewhere based on fleshly standards, defining a relationship in terms of value to us.

The call of the Gospel as magnified in the example of Christ is to have relationships that mirror God. The God who enters into a relationship with us yet needs nothing from us. He requires us not for help, wisdom, insight, experience, perspective, influence or resources. There is nothing we can bring that he requires, nothing we can make that he has not already done so, no insight we can have, that is not already known to him. God is perfect in every way, content within the relationship of the Trinity. Yet, he would still choose to draw us to himself, and delight in us! Why? because he is a good God, a God who wants to be known and be made known, a God who creates out of the overflow of his goodness so that which he has created can eternally attest to his goodness. God made us to know him and will do anything to make that possible. That is what the cross of Jesus represents, God paying the price for our sin, our broken relationship with so that we could stand beside him and enter into a relationship with him. God, who from Genesis to Revelation would give us the choice, because he has no need for us to choose, yet, by his sovereign Grace and Majesty would draw some to himself.

It is the definition of a selfless relationship as displayed through every interaction in the Old Testament whether in the meta-sense in God’s convent relationship with his people or in the macro-sense as God interacted with Prophets, Kings, and so many more. It is the same heart that draws Jesus to the Samaritan women, then changes her to draw others to Jesus. It is our example and call: if we are a people known by God, then the overflow of that knowledge should be to make God known through our relationships. Thus, because the objective is God and not ‘us’ (in theory) we become free from selfish ambition in a relationship as we seek to love, serve, and illuminate Christ to people.

The challenge for all of us who are disciples of Christ: How many of our actual relationships could we say even display half of this reality? Where must we submit and allow God to use us to love other people and allow the Gospel to take root in their lives? To draw them out of Darkness and into the light. This is the reality of our faith, beyond the cliched statement: ‘Christianity is not about “religion” but about “relationship”’ is that our faith is defined by how we relate to God and others. Our faith is outworked in relationships. As we relate to God, we are changed by his spirit in a way that allows us to relate to others, so through us, they can have the same relationship with God. We become conduits of Grace. Let us daily mirror the mode of Christ. As we live out of our relationship to God through Jesus in relationship with others, they too are drawn to Christ. That is what we see with the Samaritan women.

DRAWING PEOPLE TO CHRIST BY LIVING FOR CHRIST

The passage finishes with two parallel scenes:

  1. The disciples confused by the scene: Jesus standing chatting to a single woman. then not able to willing to heed his teaching on it.
  2. The Samaritan women living out of her relationship with Jesus: Knowing her sin, and value. Then declaring what Jesus has done and drawing people to him.

She has joined in the mission of God and the only qualifier for her is that she is known by Jesus and has entered into a living relationship with him. Thus, the women with whom none of the discipleships would dare have glanced at because of social convention, never mind converse with, now becomes their example; our example of kingdom living. She found what she did not know what she was looking for, and immediately recognised its value. Then, because she knew that that which has true value must be shared she exampled the inverse way of God’s kingdom. She sought not to keep it for herself but bring it to all she could as she headed into her home village and proclaimed “Jesus” to people she previously sought to avoid. Added to that she boldly professed the sin of her own life, because Jesus had done so: Yet, not in judgement but love. It is amazing, because of how Jesus treated her, and the boundaries of the relationship he set with her, she became the first person (in Johns Gospel) to declare: “he must be the Messiah.” The women who lived to not be noticed, who literally moved in the shadows to avoid the judgement of her peers, now because of her relationship with Christ stands in front of all declaring her sin, yet better the one who can save her from it! Her encounter with Jesus became a relationship with Jesus that leads to Worship of Jesus. So changed was she by it that she wanted to share it – she joined in the mission of God. Have we humbled ourselves enough to do the same: to admit our sin and our need for saving and then know the goodness of that life-giving relationship. Then, if we have responded to the Good news of Jesus, and become a disciple. Are we living daily in a way that intentionally draws people into unto Jesus?

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