Yesterday we finished Chapter 3 with Jesus leaving Jerusalem and heading back to Galilee, but he made a brief stop on his journey in a region known as Samaria. And chapter 4 illustrates how the new age inaugurated an outreach that went beyond strictly Jewish boundaries to Samaritans and Gentiles. For you see, faithful Jews normally avoided contact with both groups. Jesus, however, came to be the “Savior of the world.”
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.—4:1-3
Jesus left Judea for Galilee because of the Pharisees’ growing interest in his baptismal ministry. The shortest journey from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria. When the northern kingdom of Israel and its capital Samaria fell to the Assyrians in 722 BC, many Jews were deported to Assyria, and foreigners were brought to settle the land (2 Kings 17:24). Many of the remaining Jews intermarried with these foreigners, resulting in the intermarriage of Israelites and pagan idolaters; this mixed group of Jews and pagans who lived north of Judea were called Samaritans. The Jews thought of the Samaritans as a comprised people, and there was intense hostility between the groups.
After Jesus’ initial encounter with the Samaritan woman is described, the story develops around the topic of living water and true worship. The woman demonstrated a growing understanding of Jesus’ identity as the conversation unfolded. The contrast between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman is striking. Nicodemus was a well-educated, highly regarded rabbi, and a man. The name of the Samaritan woman is not even mentioned. She was likely not very well educated and was considered something of a social outcast because of her immorality. What is shocking is that the Samaritan woman responded much more positively to Jesus than Nicodemus did!
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. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.—4:4-6
The fact that Jesus had to go through Samaria is both geographically and theologically significant. Geographically, passing through Samaria was the shortest distance between Judea and Galilee. Theologically, it pointed to the imminent meeting being ordained by God. The encounter took place at noon, contrasting with Nicodemus’s conversation with Jesus at night. Jesus sat by a well. Wells were normally located outside the village along the main road. Women would typically draw water in the morning and again in the evening. The Samaritan woman may have been a social outcast since she came to draw water in the heat of the day, when others would not want to be there. The well was located near the Samaritan village of Sychar, just east of Mount Gerizim. It was at this place that Jesus rested from his weariness. And Jesus’ rest demonstrates his true humanity.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
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.”—4:7-10
The woman was shocked that a Jewish man would ask her for a drink. Jesus turned the conversation quickly to spiritual matters and the issue of eternal life. Many Old Testament references speak of thirsting for God as one thirsts for water. Jesus had sent the disciples into the Samaritan village to buy food. Jews did not typically associate with Samaritans, but apparently Jesus did not fear that his disciples would be defiled by eating food prepared by Samaritans, which brings us to the main point of this entire passage.
Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman reveals his commitment to his heavenly Father’s purpose and his own inner desire to bring people of all races, cultures and backgrounds into a personal relationship with God. Jesus’ consuming passion was to save the spiritually lost, a goal far more important to him than food and drink. And we must follow Jesus’ example, just as the woman did by telling the townspeople, because all around us people are ready to hear God’s Word. And we must not delay or be unwilling to speak to them about their spiritual needs and about Jesus, who can meet that need.
“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 livestock?”
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.”—4:11-15
The woman misunderstood Jesus’ offering of living water, interpreting it literally as a reference to flowing water in contrast to stagnant well water. She knew that Jesus had no means to draw water, and surely he could not think himself to be greater than Jacob, who had first dug the well. The belief that Jacob dug the well was based on tradition and not Scripture. Jesus clarified his point by contrasting the well water with the gift of living water, which represented the eternal life that comes from the Holy Spirit. While the woman responded more positively than Nicodemus had, she likely understood Jesus’ words literally. Which brings us to another main point in this passage.
The “water” Jesus offers is spiritual life. To experience this life, one must “drink” the living water. The word “drink” (Greek “pineto”, from the root “pino”) is in the present imperative tense, representing continuing or repeated action. This act of drinking is not a momentary, single experience; it is an ongoing lifestyle. Drinking the water of life requires regular interaction with the source of the living water, Jesus Christ himself. No one can continue to drink the water of life if he or she neglects a relationship with Christ and becomes disconnected from the source of the water. Such people will dry up spiritually or become, as Peter describes it, “springs without water” (2 Peter 2:17).
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. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”—4:16-20
Jesus next turned his spotlight on the woman’s moral life. While her answer to Jesus comment about her husband was technically true, she failed to mention that she was currently living with a man who was not her husband. Unlike Nicodemus, she did not flee from the light even as she attempted to redirect the conversation away from herself. Jesus’ knowledge of the woman’s situation once again demonstrates his divinity. Her question concerning the proper place of worship was a longstanding debate between Samaritans and Jews. Mount Gerizim was the Samaritan’s holy place. The Samaritans had built a temple on Mount Gerizim, which the Jews later destroyed.
“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. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”—4:21-24
Jesus’ response to the woman’s question was to note that a change in redemptive history was taking place. True worship would not be relegated to a particular place. In fulfillment of this statement, believers today can worship God no matter their location. Because God is Spirit, he is everywhere present and can be worshiped anywhere. The Samaritan religion was not orthodox, and unlike the Jews, they did not worship the one true and living God. And the Samaritan Bible contained only the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament); their failure to accept much of God’s revelation meant that they knew little about him. Jesus statement that “salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22) means that the God of Israel sent Jesus the Messiah to bring salvation to the world.
Now let’s dig a little deeper into the phrase “worship in spirit and in truth.” Jesus is teaching us several things throughout this whole four verse section.
- The place of worship is not the issue; God’s primary concern is our spiritual attitude.
- “In Spirit” points to the level, or depth, at which true worship occurs. True worship must come from the heart. It should reflect Godly character and a deep inner devotion to God. We must approach God and offer ourselves to him in complete openness and with a spirit that is directed by the Holy Spirit. Above all, our worship must focus on God’s character and attributes and be a heartfelt expression of our own spirit to God’s Spirit.
- “Truth” (Greek “aletheia”) is a primary characteristic of God’s nature and is personified (given human expression) in Christ. It is descriptive of the Holy Spirit, and it is also at the heart of the gospel message. True worship must be a reflection of and response to the truth of the Father that is revealed in the Son and received through Spirit. Those who encourage worship that is not based upon the truth and teachings of God’s Word have in reality rejected the only real and legitimate foundation for true worship.
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”—4:25-26
Jesus felt free to acknowledge his Messiahship to the woman since the Samaritans did not believe the coming Messiah would be a political-military figure. She was the only person before his trial to whom Jesus specifically acknowledged his Messianic identity in this Gospel.
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 Messiah?” They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
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?”—4:27-33
Jesus and the woman finished their conversation just as the disciples returned with food and they were surprised to find him talking to woman and not only a woman but a Samaritan woman. It was very uncommon for Jewish religious teachers to speak with women in public. The fact that she was a Samaritan may have added to the surprise expressed by the disciples. But the disciples did not ask Jesus why he was speaking with the woman, and this very probably could have been because Jesus regularly did things that surprised his disciples. The woman left, and John makes the incidental comment that the woman left her water jar behind. The very thing that brought her to the well in the first place seemed completely unimportant as she made her way back to the village. As soon as the woman entered town, she found a crowd and informed them about her encounter with Jesus. Her response to Jesus was much like that of Andrew and Philip: finding others to tell about Jesus.
“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a 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. 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.”—4:34-38
The disciples’ misunderstanding provided Jesus the perfect opportunity to speak to them about true food, which is to do the will of God. Jesus used a proverbial thought about harvesting crops to teach that the harvest cannot be rushed; however, these fields (the Samaritans who were about to arrive) were ready whether the disciples realized it or not. Eternal life was at stake in the harvesting of these souls. In a spiritual harvest, everyone has task: some to sow the gospel seed, others harvest the gospel crop. The disciples were about to harvest a gospel crop they did not sow. When believers share the gospel, the Holy Spirit uses it to strengthen them spiritually. The “hard work” (v.38) that was already done could refer to the ministry of John the Baptist, but it could also refer to Jesus and the Samaritan woman.
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.”—4:39-42
The arrival of the people from the village illustrated Jesus’ teaching to the disciples. The apostle John underscores the Samaritans’ faith in Jesus in these verses. The woman’s testimony bore fruit of eternal life. The Samaritans declared Jesus to “the Savior of the world” (v. 42). While Jerusalem failed to respond positively to Jesus, this Samaritan village was the site of a large gospel harvest! Believers should never be surprised at what God can do in unlikely settings. For the disciples, Jesus’ outreach to the Samaritans began a foundation for a future worldwide missionary outreach.
The ultimate take from this incredibly important passage at the beginning of John’s gospel is simple this: Those who introduce others to Jesus and lead them to a point of accepting Christ and yielding their lives to him are doing something of eternal significance. They will one day rejoice in heaven over those who were saved because of their prayers, their example and their witness. At the same time, they must remain humble and never lose sight of the fact that any “success” they see in this service for Jesus is the result of the sacrificial work of Christ and the prayers and “spiritual seed planting” of others. In the same way, we will seldom see or experience the full results of our own spiritual labors because other faithful Christians will come behind us and reap a spiritual harvest where we have previously planted and invested in lives. But whether we plant the spiritual seeds of love and kindness that later cause someone to turn to God, or whether we pray with someone to actually receive Christ, we are all part of the same process. There should be no competition among God’s people. When individuals come to Jesus, it is a reason for all Christians to rejoice, because that is the whole point of the church. And we will pick up from here tomorrow when we discuss the healing of the royal official’s son.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
1 Samuel 2:22-4:22, John 5:24-47, Psalm 106:1-12 and Proverbs 14:30-31