MORNING MESSAGE – John Cline
Text – John 4:1-43 Reader: Shannon Robertson
Of the four Gospel books, I like John’s the most, simply because he slows things down and gives commentary and explanation. I like that! Each time Jesus does something significant, John doesn’t simply hop from that event to go to the next one. Instead, he comments upon what just happened, thus slowing down the action. Going on from chapter 3 last week where we finished off last week, when a Pharisee named Nicodemus came to Jesus in the middle of the night, coming at that late hour so that other religious leaders might not see what he was up to. We saw that while Nicodemus was a learn-ed man and a leader in his community, and though he later placed his faith in Jesus, it must be said that his encounter with Jesus did not end with the same kind of snap and sizzle that the encounter we are going to read about today.
Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria. So, he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. (John 4:1-5)
Jesus has been in Jerusalem, located in the province of Judea, ministering with his disciples. People were flocking to Jesus, but the Pharisees, who wanted to protect their own position of power in the religious status quo, observed what was happening and were not pleased. So, rather than have another confrontation with them at that point, Jesus decided to return north to Capernaum, Galilee where his base of operations was. There were three routes people took to go from Jerusalem and Galilee. Religious Jews took either route one, along the Mediterranean Sea, or route two, along the Jordan River, for those routes meant they could avoid going through Samaria, for in Samaria lived the Samaritans, a people group who devout Jews considered to be not-true worshippers of YHWH God and thus “unclean”. Jesus, though, took a third route, going straight through Samaria. It was the shortest, most direct route but that was not the reason he took it. Our text says that Jesus “had to” take this route, two words which intrigue bible commentators. Jesus certainly did not “have to” take this route because he was pressed for time; he wasn’t. The only logical explanation why Jesus “had to” take this route was personal and theological: he had to have a conversation with a person he knew he would meet in Samaria at a well by the town of Sychar.
Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (John 4:6,7)
The name of this well outside Sychar was Jacob’s Well. It was noon.
His disciples had gone into the town to buy food. (John 6:8)
Jacob’s Well had been dug 1700 years previously, after the Hebrew patriarch Jacob had purchased a patch of land there. That site would later become the place of a wonderfully kept promise. The event was this: Jacob’s son, Joseph, had been kidnapped from there and sold into slavery in Egypt where God arranged for him to become second-in-command, second in power only to the Egyptian Pharaoh. Upon hearing that his son Joseph was in power there, Jacob then moved to Egypt. When he died, his son Joseph led a spectacular funeral procession back to the land of Canaan where he buried Jacob’s body. Joseph then returned to Egypt but Joseph stated that he also wished to be buried in the land of his ancestors and so he made his descendants swear to carry his bones back to the land when they would return there. However, the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians happened, and Joseph was buried in Egypt. However, four hundred years later, Moses remembered Joseph’s wish and dug up his coffin and carried Joseph’s bones with him when the Israelites escaped Egypt and went on their exodus back to the Promised Land. Enroute Moses died. Joshua became leader, taking the people into the Promised Land where the final thing they did after conquering the land was gather as a nation to bury Joseph’s bones there, right beside Jacob’s Well. What a moving scene! When you go to Israel be sure to go to Nablus and there visit both Jacob’s Well and Joseph’s Tomb.
So, returning now to today’s text: The women of Sychar typically went in the evening to Jacob’s Well to get water. But, we are about to be introduced to a woman who went in the heat, in the middle of the day, to get water. The import of that connects to the fact that Jews did not interact with Samaritans, for they considered them to be misguided in their worship practices and thus ceremonially “unclean”. On top of all that, Jewish men were forbidden from speaking to even their own wives in public, let alone a Samaritan woman. Such a thing would be scandalous. Of course, Jesus broke all the norms and rules in asking that Samaritan woman for a drink.
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew, and I am a
Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” (Jn 4:9-12)
Jesus is the “gift of God”, and the Holy Spirit” the “living water”. The Samaritan woman had no understanding of Jesus’ words, though she did know that getting eternal water from Jacob’s Well (which was over 100 ft deep) would be an impressive feat. Who did Jesus think he was?
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:13-15)
Jesus explains throughout John’s Gospel his meaning. One example of that, which I preached on last December, was when Jesus cried out at a feast in Jerusalem,
“Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given since Jesus had not yet been glorified. (John 7:37b-39)
The Gospel writer John, as per usual, there gave an explanation and commentary upon what Jesus said and meant, but at this earlier time when Jesus was meeting with the Samaritan woman at the well, there was simply no way for her to quickly understand Jesus’ words about “eternal life” and the eliminating of thirst which would accompany the drinking of the water he offers. In any case, of the four Gospel Book writers, John’s has the most developed teaching – by far – about the impact the Holy Spirit will make in the life of a believer but, for now, going back to their conversation, to get through to the Samaritan woman that his words were divinely inspired, Jesus shocked her.
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” ‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see that you are a prophet.'” (John 4:16-19)
The noon-time hour of their meeting suggests that this woman was not welcome at the well in the evening with the other women of Sychar. Everyone knew who she was. Possibly she had broken up different marriages. We can’t know that for sure. The woman would have realized that Jesus could not have learned about her life through gossip or intuition, so the only other possible way was through divine revelation. The woman sensed she was in the presence of something or someone divine. She knew that a spiritually significant moment was taking place in her life and so she asked a good theological question.
“Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.” (John 4:20-22)
Samaria had been part of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that rebelled against the mighty Assyrian empire in 722 BC, who then replaced the taken-away Samaritans with exiled people from other lands, a practice the Assyrians did everywhere to dilute nationalistic pride by enforcing assimilation and crossbreeding, as it were. Over time, the Jews in Samaria intermarried and had children with those other peoples. The result was a watered-down version of Judaism wherein YHWH God was simply one of the many gods worshipped in Samaria. Later, when full-blooded Jews returned from Babylon (which was a place of great purifying of Judaism) they were not interested in allowing into their worship services anyone who claimed to worship YHHW God but, in actuality, probably didn’t. The Samaritans claimed that they were real Jews but were told, “Nope. You are Samaritans and you turned away from the worship of the one true God, YHWH, when you married those other peoples and had children with them. As a result, we are forbidding you access to YHWH’s Temple here in Jerusalem.” Realizing that they would never gain access to Jerusalem’s Temple, they built their own temple on the slopes of Mt. Gerizim, just south of Sychar, in the 4th century BC.
In 128 BC, King Hyrcanus of Israel destroyed the Samaritan temple but the site remained the Samaritans’ chosen place of worship. It is still there today for the 840 Samaritans still alive in our world. We have been there! Now, Jesus knew that the Samaritan understanding of worship was incorrect and that the worship of the one true God had been preserved through the Jews, and that salvation would come only through those who knew about the true worshipping of God, that being the Jews in the Temple in Jerusalem, but he also knew that now, through him, none of that historical stuff mattered. If one wanted to worship God, one could do it anywhere, at anytime.
“Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:23-24)
There would be no more going through the motions in getting to God, for worshipping Him, because of Jesus. Worship in spirit and in truth would be the new norm. A game-changing era had begun with Jesus, a self-evident truth he proclaimed when he first began his ministry:
“The time has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
The woman at the well was seeing that Jesus was more than just “a prophet”. Maybe he was “the Prophet”, another term for the Messiah (the Christ) who was to come. She tested the waters:
The woman said, ‘I know that Messiah’ (called Christ) ‘is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus declared, ‘I who speak to you am he.'” (John 4:25-26)
Rarely was Jesus so open with anyone. To the woman, Jesus declared himself the Messiah. “I who speak to you am he.” This was astounding.
Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, ‘What do you want?’ or ‘Why are you talking with her?’ Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ They came out of the town and made their way toward him.” (John 4:27-30)
The woman was in such a hurry to tell her neighbours about the long-awaited Christ, the Messiah, coming, that she ran off without her water jar. She couldn’t help herself. That really is how it is with spiritually exciting or miraculous events. You can’t wait to tell others!
Meanwhile his disciples urged him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’ Then his disciples said to each other, ‘Could someone have brought him food?’ ‘My food,’ said Jesus, ‘is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.'” (John 4:31-34)
Jesus’ disciples were good guys, but they didn’t understand that, for Jesus, doing God’s will was what satisfied and spiritually invigorated him. “There are some things more important than physical food”. As he was speaking to the disciples, he directed their attention to the approaching crowd of Samaritan people who were headed their way.
“Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35)
“Four months more and then the harvest,” refers to the time between planting seed and then bringing in the crop, the harvest. This was actually a local phrase encouraging laziness. “Ah, what’s the rush? We have time. The crop won’t be in until the four months is done.” Jesus is saying, “Don’t waste time waiting for a particular crop to come in. Go out and plant more spiritual seeds, so a bigger spiritual harvest will occur.” Remember John’s purpose for writing his book?
“…That you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:31)
On another occasion, Jesus also spoke about sowing and reaping:
When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” (Matthew 9:36-38)
The Samaritan woman was a sower. Through her witnessing, she was a worker in God’s harvest field. Jesus continued with his disciples:
“Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus, the saying ‘One sows, and another reaps’ is true.” (John 4:36,37)
Jesus wanted his disciples to understand that what matters about a crop is not who does the seeing and who does the reaping, but that the crop is worked. “So, get working for the kingdom”, he told them,
“I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4:38)
The disciples were reaping what the Samaritan woman had sowed in that they got to meet those new Samaritan believers and disciple them over the course of the next two days. Jesus was in no rush to get on back to Galilee. Days such as those ones were why he had come.
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I ever did.’ So, when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. They said to the woman, ‘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 Savior of the world.'” (John 4:39-42)
Later, another group of Samaritans were blessed with life because of that one woman. After his resurrection, Jesus told his disciples:
“You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
While they, no doubt, did a wonderful job of discipling all the thousands of new believers God brought into the church on Pentecost Sunday and afterwards, the disciples forgot about going out to Judea, Samaria, and the world. However, when the beloved deacon Stephen was martyred, things conspired to force them to go out.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah there. When the crowds heard Philip and saw the signs he performed, they all paid close attention to what he said. With shrieks, impure spirits came out of many, and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So, there was great joy in that city…But when they believed Philip as he proclaimed the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. (Acts 8:1b-8,12)
Who had done the sowing, the planting of the seed, for Philip’s reaping of the harvest in Samaria ten years later? It wasn’t Nicodemus, the upstanding Pharisee. It wasn’t the disciples who followed Jesus. It was the Samaritan woman at the well, that much maligned but greatest of all the early evangelists, a woman despised by many in Sychar and among the Jews, yet whose immediate witness did more for bringing in a harvest of believers than anyone else in the early church. The Lord uses who He chooses, and He took a chance on her. Perhaps He is choosing you! Be prepared. Let’s pray.