Tim Keller at Oxford (2) The insider and the outcast encounter Jesus

To watch the lecture on video go to the bottom of the page.

A very insightful lecture on Jesus and the Samaritan woman (amazing insight) and on Nicodemus.

  • See part 1 here – A Sceptical encounters Jesus
  •  Tuesday  See video below – The insider and the outcast encounter Jesus
    • Coming Wednesday – Two grieving sisters encounter Jesus
    • Coming Thursday – A wedding party encounters Jesus
    • Coming Friday – The first Christian encounters Jesus
    • Coming Saturday – Tim Keller’s Q&A session at Oxford

The Insider and the Outcast Encounter Jesus

Each session addresses a big question. This session addresses the question: What is wrong with us (the world)? Keller explores the Christian answer to that question here. He delves into the subject of sin. Keller, „I know the word grates and it’s warranted for people to cringe when christians use the word ‘sin’, because it is a way to marginalize and objectify your opponent. Nevertheless, I can show you that the actual biblical understanding of sin is much more nuanced than that. It can be used that way, but, it is much more profound.”

„To do that we’re going to look at 2 encounters Jesus Christ had. They are in the book of John. In chapter 3 He meets a civil and religious, moral male leader and in chapter 4 He meets a social and moral outsider and outcast, a woman. Both characters are developed in great detail, the stories are full of interest. These 2 (persons) are so different on the surface, yet I think the writer is trying to have us look at both, together… Let’s look at the outsider before we look at the insider”.

1 –  Jesus and the Samaritan woman  John 4:9  

This is a very remarkable conversation-

  1. How gentle He is and what a strong radical outreach Jesus is doing at the very beginning, as He begins to talk with her. It’s not surprising to us to see this conversation, but it should be. If you understand the context you would be surprised. There’s one little reference there: it says the Jews and the Samaritans don’t get along and she is shocked that He is even talking to her. The context is that the Jews and Samaritans were bitter enemies; met centuries before when most of the Jews were taken in exile by their conqueror. Some of the Jews who stayed behind, intermarried with other Canaanites and formed actually a new race, Samaritans, who then also took parts of the Jewish religion and parts of the Canaanite religion and formed a syncretistic religion. The Jews considered Samaritans: racial inferior heretics. This is the first reason she’s surprised He is speaking to her.
  2. The second reason she is surprised is that He was a Jewish man and to speak to a strange woman was a shock too.
  3. But, the third thing is she came to draw water at noon, and what commentators over the years have pointed out is that is that that’s not when women came to draw water. They came early in the day, when it wasn’t hot yet, so they could have water for their housekeeping chores for the entire day. So, the question is, why was she there in the middle of the day? Well, she was a moral outcast, even within her own society she was a moral outcast. And Jesus Christ reaches across every single barrier that the world puts up between.

There was a racial barrier, a cultural barrier, a gender barrier and there was a moral barrier. And, according to every social convention, everything in the world He shouldn’t have anything in the world to do with her yet He didn’t care.  You see how radical He is? He reached right out to her and He wanted to connect to her.

The second remarkable thing is that He is clearly open to her, He is very warm to her. He is astonishingly desirous of a relationship with her and yet, He confronts her. He confronts her in a way I would consider gentle, certainly it’s brilliant. He says, „If you knew who I was, you would ask me for water. If you drink that water, you’ll never thirst again”.

Now, what is He talking about? He calls it eternal life. Jesus is talking metaphorically and He is referring to something as living water. If you lived in ancient times, you lived in arid climates, you would knowing something about the agony of thirst. He is saying, „I have something for you that is as basic spiritually as water is physically, without which you are lost.

Water would be satisfying- deeply satisfying. He says, „My water, if it is in you, will well up like a spring”. It comes from inside. He’s talking about deep soul satisfaction, apart from what’s happening outside of you. Now, you don’t really believe you are that thirsty (in the way He is speaking) as long as your think there’s a pretty good prospect of you achieving your dreams. And those people who do reach their dreams speak about the unbelievable emptiness they are surprised to find when they get to the top of the heap. (17:00)

Everybody has got to live for something that’s outside of you. Jesus is saying, „If it’s not me… I can give you that satisfaction and when I give it to you it will be something inside you, that has nothing to do with the circumstances. But, if it’s not me, then you’re gonna be looking at something outside of you. Whatever that thing is gonna be, you are going to have your whole life rotating around it, and whatever that is, it is going to enslave you and it’s gonna hurt you”.

Jesus tells her how to get the water

Jesus tells the woman to go get her husband. She says she doesn’t have one. Jesus tells her she had 5 but the man she is with is not her husband. Why is Jesus changing the subject? HE IS NOT CHANGING THE SUBJECT. He is showing her where she was trying to get her water. She was trying to get it through men, and guess what it’s not working.

2 – NICODEMUS John 3 

Do you notice that this is almost the opposite of how Jesus treats the woman at the well? The woman at the well, he starts off very gently, surprising her with His openness and then slowly confronts her with her spiritual need. With Nicodemus, Nicodemus says, „Ah, rabbi, I heard many wonderful things about you. People say that you really have a lot of wisdom and God is with you”. „You must be born again!” Jesus does not work off a template. Jesus is not a salesman. He confronts Nicodemus, right up front and says, „You must be born again”.

And he was as offended, as probably you would be if He said the term to you because when you hear the term ‘born again’, I think most people today, say, „Ok, that’s a kind of Christian”. Who are born again christians? Some people are more emotional, or broken and need a cathartic experience or being born again is for people who need a lot of structure in their lives, so they join these regimented, authoritarian structured religious movements. Being born again is for a kind of a person- THE PROBLEM WITH THAT IS –

  • Nicodemus is a male Jew. He is a civic leader in the Sanhedrin. He is at the top, he made a lot of money, he is very prosperous, he is not the emotional type. He is not the broken type and
  • He was a pharisee. Who would have more structure than that? And, not only that, he wasn’t a bad pharisee (today phrase has nothing but a really bad connotation). But, he goes to a man, Jesus – who is only a carpenter, no training, and he calls Him rabbi. That shows open mindedness.

This is the most admirable person possible.  Pulled together, successful, moral and yet, openminded still. Yet, what does Jesus say, „You must be born again”. Now, that’s another metaphor, it’s a metaphor for life. Jesus is talking about spiritual life again. Now He is using a different metaphor, not living water, but, being born again. To be born means you come into life. But, this metaphor has something that comes across that the other one (woman at the well) didn’t about the life that Jesus offers. And it is this: You can’t earn or contribute anything to being born. What did you have to do? Wasn’t it hard work to be born? No. Did you decide to be born?

What is Jesus Christ saying to this man who is as morally and religiously accomplished as anything? The pimps and the prostitutes, outside in the street and you are in the same place. You could contribute nothing to your salvation. You need spiritual life and it’s gonna be a spiritual gift. You’re just gonna have to ask for it. It comes free.

How can you say that? Here’s how He can say it. Jesus is working on a deeper understanding of sin. You look at the woman at the well and you say, „Ok, that’s the traditional understanding of sin”, Right? She broke the rules, maybe she committed adultery, she obviously was a moral outcast. Ok, I understand where christian understanding of sin, it’s breaking the law. But, why is He talking to this man like that? Here’s the answer: There’s a deeper view of sin. Sin, that Jesus is working off of. Sin  is putting yourself in the place of God, putting yourself in the place of being your own savior, your own god and master.

  1. Now, there is a secular way to do that, and that is to say, with my critical faculties, with my hard work I am going to create a satisfying life.
  2. There is an irreligious way: I’m gonna go out and break all the rules, break all the traditional models and show that I’m a free spirit and
  3. There’s a religious want to be your own savior and Lord, to say, „If I live a good life, I am moral, God will have to bless me, He will answer my prayers”. Why are you being god then? For God’s sake? No, really for your sake. Why are you doing that? To get control over God, „God will have to bless me, He will have to save me and take me to heaven.” You’re being your own savior and Lord.

There are 2 ways you can be your own savior and lord. One is by being incredibly bad, breaking all the rules, and by being incredibly good and saying, „Now, God is in my debt”. Both those people need to be born again because, ultimately they are both doing the same thing. They are self centered. There is a moral, self righteous, incredibly moral kind of person who is so self centered, bigoted, looks down on everybody that causes a lot of misery in the world. And, there’s another form of self centeredness, „I’m gonna kill, I’m gonna steal, I’m gonna rape, I’m gonna do whatever I want and this person creates a very miserable world too. But, IT’S ALL SIN and THE ONLY WAY FOR US TO BE SAVED is to a admit, whether we’re good or bad, WE NEED TO BE BORN AGAIN.

So what we’ve got in common, do you see it?

  1. Everybody’s guilty. I’ve had a lot of people say to me, „Look, I’m not religious, and I think there is a God, I guess. But, I’m a good person and that’s all that matters. Isn’t it?”  If there is a God, you owe Him everything. If there is a God, He should be the center of your life. And just because you’re a good person, you actually have a self centeredness there. You’re not letting God be God and you’re guilty.
  2. Secondly, we ‘re all enslaved because if you build your life on men, morality, money and you think, „God should love me because I’m a really good person”. But, if you lose your career, or you break up with your boyfriend/girlfriend or if you fail morally, you’ll never forgive yourself. You know why? Every other master but Jesus Christ, if you get him or you get it, it won’t satisfy you. And if you fail it, it won’t forgive you. Jesus is the only Lord that if you get Him, He will satisfy you and if you fail Him, He will forgive you. Your career can’t die for your sins

Jesus was thirsty

Why was it that she (woman at the well) found the living water? If you keep reading the chapter, she goes off and tells her friends about the living water she found. So, she finds living water. Why? Because Jesus was thirsty. If He hasn’t been thirsty, He wouldn’t have gone to the well and she wouldn’t have found the living water. Why was He thirsty? Because He ahd become human being. He was great. He was God, but He let Himself become so weak that He would become tired. She found the living water because Jesus Christ said, „I thirst”. In the book of John that is not the last time Jesus says ‘I thirst’. On the cross He said, „I thirst”. And there was more than just physical thirst going on there. Jesus was experiencing the loss of a relationship with His Father. He was paying for the punishment we deserved fro our sin. And that was to be cut off from God and lose the source of living water. Isn’t that paradoxical, but astonishing? As Jesus Christ experienced cosmic thirst on the cross, you and I can have our spiritual thirst assuaged. That’s the Gospel. (34:27)

What follows for the last 30 minutes (39:13 )is 5 questions from the audience about sin and other subject matter and ends with this epilogue by Keller:

EPILOGUE: Would you notice something that is common to Jesus and the 3 people we’ve discussed these past 2 nights( Nathanael,Samaritan woman at the well and Nicodemus) ? Nicodemus was confronted early, but I could make a case that if you get all the way to the back of the book of John, you will see him burying Jesus when it was very dangerous to do so, with Joseph of Arimathea. Nicodemus was confronted and then he was loved. The woman at the well was loved and then she was confronted. Nathanael, if you remember from yesterday (Video1) was both affirmed and confronted. To be loved , but not known is nice. But, since they don’t really know you it’s not that satisfying. To be known and not loved is our greatest nightmare. That’s why we cover up and make sure people don’t see all the stuff that’s in there. But, to be known to the bottom and loved to the sky, by the only person in the whole universe whose opinion really counts, is a solid foundation on which you can really build your life because circumstances cannot touch that. Now, the way to do that is to say, „God the Father, would you accept me and forgive me, not because of anything I have done or ever will be able to do, but, because of what Jesus Christ has done in His life and on the cross? In other words, Father accept me because of Jesus’s sake. Amen. That’s your step through the door


  1. Isn’t psychology moving closer, every single day, to explaining  our actions through materialistic forces, rather than spiritual forces of the soul? Answer: The idea that you can explain absolutely everything as the response of chemical reactions in your brain, that are due to the way your genetic code has been programmed by evolution (sometimes it’s called social biology, evolutionary psychology) basically saying (that) everything has a physical cause (and therefore must have a chemical/biological cause), my feeling of love, my feeling of everything actually comes from my brain, if it comes from the genetic … Let me cut to the chase. The problem with this idea that says ‘my feelings are basically just the responses of my brain chemistry- it has to be applied to your reason, as well. Alvin Plantinga has a formidable argument. What he’s trying to say is, „If you say that my moral and my emotional intuitions are nothing but a response of what I have been programmed by the genetic code – i.e. ‘I feel I have a soul, I feel I have human dignity’. His whole point is: If you can’t trust your moral and spiritual  intuitions, then you shouldn’t be able to trust your rational thought as well. It’s in his book called „The evolutionary argument against naturalism”. In other words it undermines the claim itself. If I can’t trust these (emotional and moral intuitions), I can’t trust the claim itself (the rationale of it).
  2. My sister is gay. She feels alienated and judged by christians. What should I do? Answer. That doesn’t square with what Jesus taught. However, If I was debating a Hindu man and I totally disagreed with what he said, I would not feel he was judging me. We disagree. So, this could be a case: just because this christian friend disagrees with you about something, doesn’t mean automatically that they are judging you. Because if everyone you disagreed with was judging, then you  as a non believe would be judging her, by disagreeing with her. The Bible says, a number of times, pretty unambiguously, that homosexuality is not God’s design to use sexuality. According to the bible it is God’s design for uniting a man and a woman in marriage. That’s the understanding of christianity. Of course that’s extremely unpopular. If it’s true that christianity is God’s truth, if the Bible was  actually inspired by God, then it would have to offend every culture, some place. Just because it offends our western culture at this point doesn’t mean you should write it off. Maybe you’re saying, „I’m gay and I don’t see myself fitting in christianity”. All I can say is your sexuality should not determine how you study facts. Sometimes I’ll say to a gay person, „Are you saying that because you’re gay Jesus couldn’t have been raised from the dead?” They say, „No, I’m not talking about that at all”. Then I say, „Do you know if Jesus was raised from the dead or not?” The person says, „I don’t know”. I say, „Well, you’ve got to figure that out. Christianity is based on that”. ANd so, if you’ve got a good read on christianity and you think that Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead, then who cares what the Bible says? But, if on the other hand, you’ve studied it and you say, „I think there’s really good evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead”, then I say, „Go there first, and if you believe that then go to everything else second because becoming a christian means believing in Christ first. And, if Jesus was raised from the dead, then we’ll have to look at everything else Jesus did and said and that will take a process.
  3. Isn’t it harsh that God doesn’t appreciate our good efforts at all? Why bother? Answer: Now, I didn’t say God didn’t appreciate ‘at all’. If (as a christian) I’m mad at somebody and I pick up a stone and want to smash him in the side of the head, there’s a couple of things I can tell myself to stop myself: (1) Hey, you’re a christian and you’re loved by Jesus Christ. You’re completely accepted in Him. Why is this person making you angry? Probably, the person made you feel humiliated, perhaps the person has kept you from some goal. But, in Christ it doesn’t matter, I’m accepted in Him. What people think of me shouldn’t matter. Get your heart right, you shouldn’t be this angry. I could do that. (2) The other thing I could say is, „Just don’t do it because you’ll go to jail; because you’ll hurt the person, because you’ll hate yourself in the morning. It’s likely that when I’m really angry my motives aren’t right and unless they are right, in the long run I’m not gonna become a non angry person. See, unless I get my heart right, I am not going to eventually get over my heart anger. In the short run, I think God does appreciate it if I don’t kill the person. Even if my motives are absolutely wrong. I think God cares about the misery of this world, we’re told in Psalm 145 that He loves all that HE has made. He cares for them. And if you love somebody rather than hate them, if you feed them rather than oppress them, regardless of your motives, I think God does appreciate that because He wants to see us thrive. But when it comes to your salvation and your relationship with God, I would say, „Yeah your deeds are being appreciated by God, but you’re doing them basically to stay away from God.
  4. Why is sex okay after marriage, but a sin before? Answer: That’s right, I did say that, didn’t I? Alisatir McIntyre who wrote the book ‘After Virtues’ said that the only way you can judge the morality of someone or something is if you first determine its purpose. This is really about marital sexual ethics, is because christians have a view of the purpose of sex that other people don’t share. If you’re asking me for the inner logic, I’d be happy to tell you. God sees sex as a unitive act, that is a way for you to say to another human being, „I belong completely and exclusively to you; it’s a way of communication. If you’re not married to the person, then that’s a LIE. What you’re doing is saying, „I want your body, I want you to give me your body and I want to give you my body, but I don’t wanna give you ALL the rest of my life. I don’t wanna give you myself legally, psychologically, permanently. In other words, let’s give each other our bodies but let’s keep the rest of our lives to ourselves. That is not really what sex is for. Sex is a covenant renewal ceremony. After 2 people have said, „I’m giving you my whole life”, sex is a way to renew that commitment and deepen it. It’s a kind of glue. It’s a way of creating deep unity between two people who are saying, „All the rest of my life belongs to you and physically I give myself to you”. And, that unites the whole things. So, since we understand the purpose of sex, for you to say to someone else, „I belong exclusively  to you, I’m not my own, I don’t want anybody else”, then sex is a lie unless you do it inside the context of marriage. Now, if you don’t agree that that’s the purpose of sex, you say that that’s just a big personal fulfillment, or simply just a biological process for pleasure, of course you’re gonna find that that’s too restrictive.
  5. You talked about the fundamental emptiness that people feel when they achieve a material purpose. What if we feel that emptiness because existence has no fundamental purpose or intent? What if religion, including christianity is just another one of man’s attempt to fill the void? Answer: There was a man who used to teach here, C S Lewis. C S Lewis says ‘the very fact that we want something that this world can’t satisfy is a clue that we were made for something beyond the world. Lewis says, „Why don’t animals feel that way (emptiness)? Why do we feel our finitude so strongly? ” He says, „A fish out of water knows it needs to be in water, if you’re in the water you wouldn’t feel that you’re out of your element. Human beings feel meaningless, they’re unhappy about the fact they’re gonna die. Why would you feel that way?” You can read his very eloquent argument- google C S Lewis argument for design. The very fact that you’re feeling meaningless is a clue that there’s something about you that didn’t just evolve.

Uploaded by  on Feb 9, 2012

Tim Keller speaks on the Wednesday evening of „This is Jesus”, OICCU’s 2012 main event.

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