Lent III

  • 15 March 2023
  • Stuart Robinson

John 4: 1-26; 39-42.

Romans 5:1-11

In the winter of 1935, the US was, as you know, in the throes of the Great Depression.  

Fiorello La Guardia was the mayor of New York City during those dark days. He was completely unpredictable and full of surprises.

One night he showed up at a night court in one of the poorest wards of the city. 

He dismissed the presiding judge for the evening and sent him home to his family.  Then the mayor himself took over the bench.

A tattered old woman stood before the bench, accused of stealing a loaf of bread. These were desperate times. 

With quivering lips and tear-filled eyes, she admitted to the theft.  ‘But’, she added, ‘my daughter’s husband has deserted her, she is sick, and her children are crying because they have nothing to eat’.

The shopkeeper, however, refused to drop the charges. ‘The law must be upheld; she’s got to be punished to teach other people a lesson’.

La Guardia knew that her accuser was right.  The very office that he swore to uphold required that he enforce the letter of the law.

La Guardia sighed. 

He turned to the old women and said, ‘I have to punish you; the law makes no exemptions’.

He then pronounced the sentence.  

The old woman shuddered when she heard the words, ‘ten dollars or ten days in jail.’ Severe back in 1935.

But already the judge, La Guardia, was reaching into his pocket.  He pulled out a ten-dollar bill and threw it into his hat, ‘Here’s the ten-dollar fine, which I now remit’.

Furthermore, I’m fining everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat.  Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant’.

Sitting in that courtroom that night were about seventy petty criminals, a few New York policemen, and her accuser, a fuming, red-faced, storekeeper. 

The bewildered old grandmother left the courtroom with $47.50.  This was enough – back then – to buy groceries for several months.

That’s a gracious and generous gesture, right?

So moved by the woman’s plight was the mayor that he himself was willing to release her from debt whilst ensuring the law was upheld.

That woman – on that day at least – was well served by her mayor; he declared her right with the state…because he himself was willing to absorb the penalty for her guilt.

That story might help us grasp something of the breathtaking nature of the statement in Romans 5:2, , ‘since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

‘Justified’, is a legal term.

It means that God has nothing against us…and declares it to be so.


Because he himself, having ruled on our guilt for sin, pays the penalty.

God-in-Christ – the Lord Jesus – gives his life for us or as v. 6 says, ‘just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly’.

And mark well, Jesus truly died.

His shed blood (v.9) is the direct consequence of God’s wrath being poured out – in full – on the Lord Jesus – for me.

That death (and subsequent resurrection – the “life” referenced in v.10) saves me from judgement and hell and reconciles me to my Heavenly Father.

Here’s a question: That lady who had her debts paid and was set free the judgement handed down…do you think she left that place and shared the good news?

I think so.

And that is God’s expectation for all whom he sets free and reconciles to himself; all whom he justifies.

V.11 – uses the phrase – ‘we boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ’.

That is, we tell people of God’s goodness and grace.

As the psalmist says, ‘we sing for joy to the Lord and extol him (declare his praises) with music and song – Psalm 95:1-2.

And there’s a lovely example of this in John 4.

Jesus engages with a woman (culturally inappropriate in his context) from an ethnic group that was generally avoided by his tribe and clan; yes – Samaritans were considered to be ‘unclean’, ‘unlovely’, ‘unworthy’ and thereby ‘unfit’ to know and be known by God

And this dear woman, we learn, has been caught up in a great many relationships – and for whatever reason – she had moved on – and the person with whom she now lived was not her husband. Perhaps she known death or abuse or destitution…

Well inspite of all this, Jesus elects to reveal himself to her as the one who will address all her spiritual needs; he promises to slake her spiritual thirst. He says…”the water I give people will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” – v.14

‘What I offer’, says Jesus ‘is free of charge; it is a gift – v.10.

‘All one need do is to ask’, he says – v.10.

And to help her grasp his ability to deliver on his promises he reveals his true identity – he is the Messiah, the Christ, the long-awaited Saviour v.26.

Let me just pause for a moment and make an observation: if ever you thought your past, or your gender, or your brokenness, or your lack of formal training, or your newness to things Christian would hold you back from being an effective and powerful channel of God’s grace think again.

How does this woman respond to God’s kindness in drawing her to the Saviour?

Answer: she tells people; she shares the good news; come and meet the one who ‘told me everything I ever did’. Come and meet Jesus!

So Jesus – at their urging met with them (a whole bunch of unclean and unlovely and unworthy Samaritans) …and here’s what they conclude, “we no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”

Through this woman’s testimony – a whole community was introduced to Jesus. I’d call that revival!

Now then, how might we – to return to Paul’s words in Romans – boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ through who we have received reconciliation?

Well, here is just one simple and immediately practical suggestion:

With just three more Sundays left before Holy Week, can I encourage you to stop right now and think of just one person that you know – who is not a Christ follower -and pray for them, asking God to draw them to faith in Jesus?

And perhaps as a supplementary suggestion – that person for whom you just prayed, why not invite them to join with you at one of our services this Easter?

Our task – is to help our friends meet Jesus as a result of our testimony and witness – just like the Samaritan woman – so that they might decide for themselves, that Jesus is indeed the Saviour of the world.


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