Turn your past mistakes into a powerful story of God’s love

Pastor Jeff Struecker

I want to start by asking you a question, and this is a serious question. Does your gospel have a gap in it? Now, if you don’t know what the word gospel means, it just simply means good news that Jesus has done everything necessary for your sins to be forgiven. 

But when I use the phrase gap, this isn’t my phrase. This actually comes from a Christian pastor and author, a guy by the name of Paul Tripp. Here’s what Paul Tripp said: “Many Christians have a gap in their gospel. We do a really good job of thinking about salvation past, or your gospel in the past. And that is when your sins were forgiven by Jesus, back there when Jesus saved you and you became a Christian.” And Paul Tripp says, “We do a really good job with salvation future.That’s the idea that one of these days I’m going to be with Jesus in Heaven.” 

And then here’s what he says, and I tend to think that he’s right, because I sometimes do this. He says, “We forget. We have a huge, massive hole right in the middle of our gospel story, and it’s the gospel present, salvation present. It’s reminding ourselves that what Jesus did for us called us out of sin and into a relationship with him, that we have a new identity, and we call ourselves sons and daughters of the most high God. But not just that. He meets us and changes us and gives us everything we need right here, right now.” 

This is what we mean by “a gap in your gospel”. The gap is salvation present. And today what you get a chance to see from the Bible from John 4 is this beautiful example, maybe one of the most powerful examples in the entire New Testament, of salvation present, the person who’s been radically changed by Jesus and just wants everybody to know it.

Now I want to catch you up. We’re studying through the book of John in the New Testament. We spent a couple of weeks looking at John 3. It’s the story of a very, very religious man by the name of Nicodemus. Nicodemus has a conversation with Jesus, and Jesus tells Nicodemus, “Hey buddy, you can’t be religious enough [Jeff’s words, not Jesus]. You can’t be religious enough to get into Heaven on your own good works. You have to be born again.” Boom! Mind bomb, because this blows Nicodemus’ mind. He doesn’t understand what it means to be born again. This guy in John 3 is about as religious and as “holy”as you can get in the Bible.

Now skip over one chapter and go to John 4, and let me tell you what you’re going to see in John 4. Last week, we looked at this promiscuous woman at the well. Her sin was so notorious that everybody in town knew it, and she had to show up at the well at a time of day when nobody else wanted to be there. You have these two extreme examples in two chapters in John. One really, really holy man. One really, really unholy woman. 

Jesus tells this holy man, “I can set you free, but it only comes by being born again, not by being religious.” He looks at this unholy woman and says, “I’ll set you free, and it doesn’t matter how bad you’ve been. I can set you free from your past.” Are you hearing what I’m saying? What the book of John is describing, what Jesus is describing for us today is, Jesus is going to tell us how to turn your past mistakes (and we all have them) how to turn those past mistakes into a powerful story, into a story about God and how much he loves you and how far he was willing to go to step in and to rescue you from your sin. 

Turn your past mistakes into a powerful story of God’s love.

And newsflash: I’ve made some pretty big mistakes in my past, but I don’t worry about those mistakes anymore. I am far from perfect, but I don’t struggle with my past anymore, and let me tell you why. Because Jesus Christ has totally and completely paid for those past mistakes. 

And so, I don’t have to wonder what other people think about me. Did you hear what I just said? I don’t have to worry what other people think about me, because I know what the God of the universe thinks about me. And when he thinks that I am pure, that I am perfect (not because of anything Jeff has done, but because of what Jesus has done for me), when that’s how God sees me, I don’t care what other people think about me. 

So I just want to try to help you become free from your past today. And I know countless Christians who are still wrestling with a thing that they did or a shame that they’re still carrying with them, even after this radical, born-again relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let ‘em talk. 

So let me just tell you how to do this today. Here’s step one: Just let them talk. Now, you all, I’m being serious right now for a second. How many of you have had somebody say something bad about you, and you didn’t deserve it; you didn’t do anything wrong? You don’t deserve what people are saying about you, but they’re talking bad about you anyway. 

I want you to stop worrying about what others think. Don’t concern yourself with the gossip. Just let them talk. Here’s what the Bible says. We’re going to start in John 4:27, and I want you to hear what the Bible says about this woman at the well after she is radically changed by King Jesus.

John 4:27 Just then his disciples arrived, and they were amazed that he was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”

Now, I want to unpack this verse a little bit, because this verse is going to set up the rest of the story from John 4. Jesus at this point is considered a rabbi. You realize that in Jesus’s day, rabbis didn’t talk to women in public. Check this out, Husbands. Rabbis didn’t even talk to their own wives in public in Jesus’s day. And Jesus is not just having a conversation, but he’s having a conversation with a woman. When the disciples show up, they’re freaking out about this. They’re astonished is what the verse says. 

The Bible doesn’t record this for us, but I’m certain what’s going on in their heads is that the disciples are a little bit embarrassed at Jesus right now. Like, “Hey Jesus, what are you doing, Man? Rabbis don’t talk to women. They certainly don’t talk to women like this. Jesus, do you know what people are going to say about you when they find out you had this conversation? Jesus, do you know what people are going to say about us? We’re your followers. We just left our nets and our businesses to go follow you. Do you know what’s going to happen when word gets back that I went to Samaria with you, these hated people from another race? Do you know what people are going to say about me? Wait until they find out that I was with you when you were talking to this notorious town sinner. Do you know what they’re going to say about me, Jesus?”

Apparently Jesus doesn’t care what they’re going to say about him. Apparently he doesn’t care what the disciples are going to say about him. And I’m asking you to learn a lesson from Jesus. People are going to talk. They’re going to gossip. They’re going to say some stuff about you that isn’t true. And I’m telling you, just let them talk. 

And y’all, this is as hard for me as it is for you. There’s a rumor circulating around in our community that I got fired from the last church that I was in. And let me just tell you a little bit about my personality. If this was 200 years ago, and that rumor was circulating around about me and I lived 200 years ago, you and I would go outside, and we would duel to the death over a rumor like that, because it’s not true. And I’ve had to struggle with that, because I want to stand up, and I want to defend myself.

But here’s something that the Lord has been teaching me lately. “Jeff, just don’t worry about it.” He’s actually showed me, “Jeff, you left the door wide open for people to say stuff like that, but don’t worry about what people think about you. Jeff, don’t worry about what anybody else thinks about you. The only one that matters is what I think about you.” Did you hear what I just said? What God is saying is “It doesn’t matter how much bad stuff they say about you. Let them talk. 

But maybe you struggle with pleasing people. Maybe your challenge is the other side of the equation. It doesn’t matter how much good stuff people say about you. Just let them talk. They don’t know you. The God who created you and called you into a relationship knows you. And what he thinks about you, and only what he thinks about you, matters. So this week, when they say stuff about you, just let them talk, and don’t even worry about it.” That’s the first step in becoming free from your past. 

Don’t be embarrassed by your past.

I want to tell you how the story picks up next, because what we learned from this woman, what we learned from Jesus today is how not to be embarrassed by your past. And this is hard for any of us who’ve made some really, really big mistakes in the past. I need you to humor me for just a second. I need you to repeat a few things out loud. I mean this. Wherever you are, I want you to say this out loud like you mean it:

I have been born again.

I have been made new.

So the junk that I did in my past doesn’t matter anymore. 

I want you to know that if you really have been made new, then what you’ve done in your past doesn’t really chase you into the present and doesn’t follow you into the future. You got nothing to be embarrassed about. And this woman is perhaps the greatest example. I’m not exaggerating right now, because I want you to see what she does next, when this sinks in and she realizes, “Hey, wait a second. I just got set free from my wicked past.” Listen to what she does next starting in verse 28. 

John 4:28-38 Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They left the town and made their way to him. In the meantime the disciples kept urging him, “Rabbi, eat something.” But he said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.” The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought him something to eat?” “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work,” Jesus told them. “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, and then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest. The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper can rejoice together. For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”

The word then is very specific. Apparently this incident, the conversation between Jesus and this woman kept going until the disciples showed up. I’m convinced when the disciples showed up, Jesus affirmed this woman in front of these disciples. Maybe that doesn’t mean anything to you, but I guarantee you, it means something to her, because she’s been looked down on and she’s been disrespected by everybody in her community. And now Jesus is looking at her in front of his disciples and calling this woman his child.

And she’s so fired up about it that she dropped everything after the disciples show up. She leaves her water jar, which tells us this is really urgent, and she rushes back to town. I think this is the moment where Jesus gets a drink of water. He showed up at the well saying, “Hey, can I get something to drink?” And instead of giving him a drink, she starts having a real religious conversation with him. And Jesus was like, “Well, now I can get something to drink, at least.”

She drops everything, and she runs back to town. The first thing that she does, these words in the original language, are a plea to her neighbors. She’s begging her friends to hear. This woman is known in town as a notorious sinner, and she’s running back and telling everybody, “Hey, you know how much of a sinner I am, right? Well, this guy at the well knows how much of a sinner I am. And I want you to come out and meet them.” She’s not embarrassed anymore about her past. “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” This woman has changed so much in one instant. 

Then Jesus talks about the harvest. People have been talking to you and trying to convince you about Jesus. And then one day it makes sense.One day somebody helps put it all together for you, and the person that helped put it all together, they can’t take credit for that because there have been others who have tried to help you understand how much of a difference Jesus could make in your past. 

When the people of the town heard this woman, and when they saw her, wait a second, she’s not embarrassed anymore. She’s not ashamed anymore. When they saw her, they were so moved that the Bible tells us they left what they were doing. They left town, and they made their way to Jesus. They went to go see for themselves because this woman was pleading and begging with them to go meet the man. “Go see the man who told me every sin that I’ve ever done. And I am not at all ashamed and not at all embarrassed, because he’s also taken away every mistake and cleaned up every sin that I’ve ever committed. So I’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about.”

Basically what this woman is saying is, “I’m a whole new woman.” Have you ever been out working in the fields? Maybe you were working in the garden. Maybe you were doing some yard work and digging in the dirt, and you were sweating all day long. And when you got done working in the yard, you first jumped in the shower, and you washed all of that sweat and all of that dirt off of you. When you come out of the shower like that, it’s only natural to say, “I feel like a whole new person. I feel like a completely new person.” 

That’s just simply washing some dirt and washing a little bit of sweat off of you. What you’re reading in the Bible is literally a new person, somebody who has been born again and made new. Except for, Jesus didn’t wash sweat and dirt off of this woman; he washed sin and mistakes and failures off of her.

And I need you to understand that you have been washed by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no sin that is so wicked the blood cannot make you into a whole new person. So why are you carrying the shame and the embarrassment about that sin when he’s already set you free? Why are you worried about what people are going to say? Why are you letting it hang over you like a dark cloud when he has already set you free? If you are born again, you are a whole new person, and you’ve got nothing to be embarrassed about. So just let them talk.

Nothing is holding you back anymore.

And third and finally, when you’ve been made new by the Lord Jesus Christ, nothing is holding you back anymore. Most of us, this is me too, are our own worst critics. We remember the stuff that we did probably better than anybody else remembers the stuff that we did. And this woman is embarrassed. She’s so ashamed that she can’t go to the well in the cool of the day when all of the other women go to the well. I’ve got to go in the hottest part of the day when I’m dirty and sweaty because of my wicked, sinful past. And now she’s just throwing her past out there for everybody to see, because her past is now a beautiful, powerful story about God’s love.

Let’s hear what happens to people in town when they meet Jesus after the woman who was the most notorious sinner in town tells them, “Come see the man. I’m begging you. Come see the man who told me every sin that I’ve ever committed.” Let’s see what they do next starting in verse 39. It says:

John 4:39-42 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what he said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, since we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”

What they just realized is, he’s not just the savior of Israel, but he’s the savior of Samaria, too. Or of Liberia or Australia or the Philippines or Germany or South Africa. He is the savior of all people who will run to him with nothing but dirt and mistakes and failures. And he cleans you up, and he makes you into somebody who is new. 

I promised you at the end of last week’s service, I’d tell you why this woman is the first person to whom Jesus boldly, clearly declared, “I am the son of God. You’re looking at him.” It’s because by changing her, when she gets back to town, everybody in town says, “Wait a second. If he can do that for her, I know he can do that for me, too.” And not only does Jesus hang around at the well for an hour or two (Again, the disciples are ashamed. They’re concerned about, what are people going to say about us?); he stays there for two more days, and many in this town believe. 

They believed because they came there and saw him with their eyes, and they heard him with their ears. And now this is no longer a gap in their gospel. They had thought, God is one day going to send a Messiah. He’ll rescue us. That rescue may be in Heaven one day, totally and completely when we’re made perfect and no longer capable of sinning anymore. No, now they experience it right now in the present when they stand in his midst and they are made clean. They’re made new because they’ve heard for themselves, he really is the savior of the world. If he can clean this woman up, then he can clean me up. And I’m telling you, then he can clean you up too.

I want to end this sermon with a story about Mike. I don’t think Mike would mind me telling you. Mike molested his own daughter. He was tried, convicted, and went to prison for molesting his daughter. After release from prison, he doesn’t hide. He doesn’t broadcast it to everybody, but he doesn’t hide the fact when people ask him, “Are you the guy that I read about in the news?” He looks at them, and he says, “Yeah, I am.” 

The reason why Mike can look people in the eyes without hanging his head in shame and tell them, “Yes, I’m the guy you read about in the newspapers,” because the media coverage was all over this trial, is because while he was in prison, Mike was radically and totally changed. And when Mike got out of prison, he wanted people to know what Jesus could do for them.

So Mike started rolling up his sleeves and helping people like him that were sent to prison for sexual crimes. When they were being released from prison, after they served their time, many of them needed a place to go because their families turned their backs on them. They couldn’t get a job. Nobody wanted to hire them because they’re on the national sex offender registry list. So Mike helped start a ministry to give people a temporary place to live. This is only for Christians who have been born again, who admit their mistakes and who say, “I’m not ever going to do that again.” 

And Mike helps them get a place to live. They stay there temporarily. They get their feet underneath them and then helps them find a job, get a pair of clothes, find a place to live and to move out on their own. These are, in the United States, the modern version of social leprosy. In Jesus’ day, lepers had to live outside the city, and they had to tell everybody who came by, “Unclean, unclean! I’m unclean!” 

In our day, it’s this category of people. Mike took his terrible mistake, his great sin, and turned it into a ministry. He doesn’t offer it, but if you ask him, “Are you the guy who I read about or saw in the news reports?”, he will tell you, “Yeah, I’m that guy, and Jesus changed me so much that I want to make a difference for the rest of my life.” Mike has taken his greatest sin, and he’s turned it into a powerful story of God’s love. And I’m telling you, if Jesus can do this for that woman at the well, if he can do this for Mike, he can do this for you, too.