I ask the question because I am often told that Jesus’ personal encounters with people he touched in the New Testament, especially the woman at the well in Samaria should be the evangelistic model that we also use to share the message of the gospel.
First of all let me say that all of the accounts of Jesus recorded in the New Testament in which he fed people, forgave sin, healed, raised the dead, taught a principle, or whatever, are all ‘gospel’.
I also think that we have, two principal ‘models’ for presenting the message of the gospel – Jesus’ example and the post-resurrection/Pentecost example of Paul and the Apostles. They are distinctly different ‘models’ and, I think, for good reason.
First and rather obvious is the post-resurrection model based on the definition of the gospel as "Christ died for our sins, was buried, and resurrected…" contains elements that would have in the ‘future’ while Jesus was still walking around feeding, healing, raising dead folks, and teaching Kingdom principles. Can you imagine Jesus meeting someone and saying:
"Hello, I’m Jesus and I’m going to die for your sins, stay in my grave for a few days and then rise for the dead, just for you!"
It’s also important to remember the purpose of all the feeding, healing, raising from the dead, and teaching that Jesus did had the purpose of identifying Him as the long promised messiah; a promise known to even the Samaritans, who were considered persona non grata by religious Jews.
Immediately prior to His resurrection, Jesus promised ‘power’ to carry out the mission to be Christ’s witnesses to Jerusalem, Samaria and beyond. It’s only natural that the message would become more than one about Jesus’ activities during His three short ministry years. After Jesus’ resurrection, the gospel message became much bigger! Jesus followers could now proclaim "Christ died for OUR sins!"
During His life, Jesus demonstrated love and compassion while demonstrating that He was indeed the Messiah, the Christ, the Deliverer. What that mean to the Jewish masses was however a differently deliverer; another temporal King David. That dream was shattered at Calvary, but a bigger dream was realized, permanent forgiveness for sin because of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrifice for our sin instead of temporary atonement based on the ritual sacrifices of men.
Because of Christ’s death for the sins of His people, exactly as announced to Joseph before Jesus’ birth, the gospel to be preached in Jerusalem, Samaria and beyond is exactly as Paul unashamedly preached:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.
(1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)
When we examine the growth of the church recorded in the New Testament beginning with the book of Acts, the evangelistic ‘model’ we see is the proclamation of Christ’s death for sin, personal repentance and belief in Christ as the substitutionary sacrifice for OUR sin. That seems to be it. We do see the miraculous, but as means of authenticating the Apostles’ ministry just as Jesus performed miracles primarily to announce His divinity. Discussing sin, and we must, carries with it the probability of also addressing the topics of God’s justice, eternal punishment, and the prospect of Hell; all of which are offensive to every unbeliever except those with ‘God-opened’ hearts. That probably means that many more will find your message offensive than will welcome it.
What about our evangelistic ‘models’? I find many who delight in sharing Christ and gospel, who completely omit the topics of sin, God’s justice and judgment. Or, they place the issue of sin on the back burner as a background thought while using the temporal benefits of belief in Christ as the primary message, using Jesus’ encounters with people as their model for evangelism. Jesus seemed to place sin on the back burner, didn’t he? He didn’t mention sin to the woman at the well until after his discussion with her about living water. Case closed!
IS the cased ‘closed’?
Before you answer, consider that Jesus knew the heart of the woman at the well, as he did the hearts of all the others to whom he demonstrated love and compassion. He spoke of sin to some, but not to others. He knew who was already dealing with sin issues and who was not. He knew who would just walk away happy and healed and who return to give thanks and worship Him. He knew all of these things. Save for the possibility of supernatural ‘discernment’, such as that of Peter confronting Ananias and Sapphira, as well as Simon the sorcerer, we do not. Also consider that just as Paul and the Apostles, we live in a post-resurrection, post-Pentecost world. In other words, our ‘evangelistic’ climate is exactly the same as when the early church was in its infancy! There have been technological advances and cultural/societal changes, but lost men are still lost for the same reason – unbelief, with the same issue – sin.
We love the examples of others we can adopt as models for our own behavior. It’s not a bad idea, and often we do just that. Why re-invent the wheel? Find a good process and if it’s the ‘best practice’, go for it!
When it comes to sharing the message of the gospel, we have two great models, Jesus himself and the Apostles who were sent by Christ to ‘grow’ the church Jesus was, and even now is, building.
So back to our original question. . .
Should Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well be our ‘model’ for evangelism?
I’ll leave it at that and pray that God bless your sharing of His gospel!