Jesus the Evangelist

John 4:1-26

 

Some folks are terrified standing in front of crowds, while others relish the moment.

Given my current job—and given what I now am doing here before you—I suppose you can guess to which group I belong.

I don’t know if it’s the “only child syndrome”—you know, that situation where a child grows accustomed to getting all the attention.

But, in any case, I’m perfectly at ease in the spotlight.  Others would find themselves in a different group.  It’s not necessarily due to fear.

It’s certainly no sign of weakness.  They simply would not prefer to be in front of others, as the center of attention.  It’s out of their comfort zone.

 

And then, we’ve got those who find themselves in between the two groups.  These folks don’t mind so much being in front of large groups of people.

They just don’t want to be asked to speak.  Give them an instrument to play.  Give them a ball to shoot.  Give them a test to take.  Just don’t ask them to speak.

These folks could give a stirring speech that would rival Martin Luther King, Jr., so long as it was delivered to a small group or to an individual.

For some reason, however, the eloquence and forcefulness goes out the window once a large crowd is involved.

 

Interestingly enough, I could find myself in the opposite camp, especially in regard to my calling to proclaim and preach the good news about Jesus.

I love people.  I love hanging out with people.  I love building relationships with people.  But it is much easier for me to share the gospel in this form.

Maybe I feel like I can get away with more, because this pulpit has been entrusted to me.  But face-to-face, with just one person, there’s little I can hide.

In a one-to-one conversation, there’s no possible way that someone listening to me might think I’m referring to someone else.

Sharing the gospel on an individual basis requires at least some semblance of a relationship, and it requires the sharer to lay it all out on the table.

 

Now, we might naturally assume Jesus would be more apt to the public side of speaking, especially when it came to sharing the good news of God’s Kingdom.

As we have already read in recent weeks, He was no stranger to the public arena.

Most of His miracles were done in public.  He was a great preacher and teacher, which no doubt required an audience.

To be sure, some of His teaching came on an individual basis with His disciples, but by and large He seems to be a public figure.

When He tells the people what God’s Kingdom is like or invites folks to surrender their lives to Him, we tend to assume it will happen in a public setting.

 

And yet, we have this account from the fourth chapter of the gospel of John, which is where we’ll be this morning.  And we have that other account from chapter three.

That’s the one Casidhe read for us earlier in the service, with that old familiar verse.

In both of these instances, Jesus approaches folks—or rather, is approached by folks—in the most intimate sort of setting.

These conversations with Nicodemus and, as we are about to read, the Samaritan woman happen on a one-to-one basis.

So what can we glean from these passages?  What might Jesus be teaching us about our ability and availability to share the good news with other persons?

We’re going to take this passage, one bite at a time.  We’ll read it in parts, pausing after each portion to discuss.

For now, let’s begin with the first verse of John, chapter four.  (Read John 4:1-6.)

 

These first few verses give us a little bit of background, and I think it would be good to expand on that background.

First of all, we see context for Jesus’ journey.  The Pharisees—Jesus’ enemies throughout the gospels—have just gotten wind of a juicy tidbit of information.

Jesus’ disciples were baptizing, much as John the Baptist and his disciples were.

It was Jesus’ disciples who were gaining more popularity, however.  John, of course, would have been just fine with this.

He always knew he was a mere stagehand to Jesus’ leading role.  But His disciples, however, were a little prone to jealousy.

In fact, they ran to John on one occasion, fretting that their baptismal numbers were diminishing while those of Jesus and His disciples skyrocketed.

Goodness knows the Pharisees are just the sort of people to exploit this possibly divisive situation.  So what does Jesus do?  He gets the heck out of Dodge.

 

Jesus never was one to back down from a confrontation, but He also knew there were some battles that were purely destructive and flat-out stupid.

He would not allow some petty competitive jealousy to damage His ministry.  He was nipping this thing in the bud.  Some fights are worth fighting.

I would say we are even called by the Lord to enter some conflicts and confrontations.  But others are downright ridiculous.

Many of you have been in church for a long time.  You’ve seen some of those that were ridiculous.  Jesus simply left.  Sometimes we ought to do the same.

 

But where might Jesus go?  He had been in Jerusalem for some time, as covered by the end of chapter two and chapter three.

He decides to return to His home region of Galilee.  Now, the only direct route from Jerusalem to Galilee was through Samaria.

You may know a little bit about Samaria.  In the days when there was a Southern Kingdom and a Northern Kingdom, Samaria was associated with the north.

In fact, the northern King Omri actually named his kingdom’s capital, “Samaria,” and it soon came to be synonymous with the kingdom as a whole.

But the division between Jews and Samaritans goes much deeper than the northern kingdom of Samaria and the southern kingdom of Judea or Jerusalem.

 

During the time of the Babylonian captivity, a remnant of folks from the kingdom of Israel remained behind.  Most of these were northerners.

The Babylonian Empire opted to inhabit the area with other foreigners, shipping them to the Samaritan region to keep life moving there.

Many of the remnant Israelites intermarried with these foreigners, and some naturally adopted those same foreigners’ religious practices.

When those in captivity returned, they didn’t like what they saw.  They viewed the Samaritans as racial and religious half-breeds.

So, as you might expect, the Samaritans formed their own version of the religion that both kingdoms knew so well.

These Samaritans stuck to the first five books of the Bible as their holy scriptures, but they refused to adopt any of the prophets that went past Moses.

Therefore, Isaiah or Jeremiah would carry no weight with them.  What’s more, they built their own altar of worship, located on Mount Gerizim.

So, while there were some similarities in the religious practices of the Jews and the Samaritans, there were also some very clear distinctions.

 

Near the end of the second century BC, a ruler from Judea named John Hyrcanus invaded Samaria and destroyed that temple on Mount Gerizim.

Needless to say, these two groups want nothing to do with each other during them time referenced in our passage this morning.

Jews view Samaritans as defiled and detestable.  Samaritans view Jews as bigoted and elitist.  So it is no small thing that Jesus, a Jew, chose to travel through Samaria.

 

In the midst of His travel, He comes to a plot of land very familiar in the lore of the Old Testament.  He takes a seat by Jacob’s well.

Our passage says He was tired from the journey.  Jesus is weary.  John, the author of this gospel, wants to make something perfectly clear.

We are never to forget the humanity of our Savior, Jesus Christ, lest we begin assuming Him to be some sort of superman, not prone to our fleshly weaknesses.

We worship a God who took on flesh for us.  We worship a Savior who wearied Himself for us.  We worship Jesus, who knows what it’s like to be in our shoes.

 

Now, as you might expect from the introduction a few moments ago, Jesus is about to have company here at this well.  Look at verse seven.  (Read John 4:7-9.)

Along comes a Samaritan woman.  She’s there, as you might suspect, to draw water.

Jesus, being tired from His journey and without a tool to draw water, kindly asks her for a drink.  Seems innocent enough, wouldn’t you say?

In truth, however, this is a culturally inappropriate conversation, and the woman immediately knows so.  She clearly discerns that He is a Jew.

She also knows that Jews don’t associate with Samaritans, as John writes in verse nine.  Some translations put it as “Jews do not use dishes Samaritans have used.”

And, clearly, Jesus would have to use her water pot in order to get this desired drink.

Furthermore, there’s the notion of her being a woman.  The Jews, who knew that there were certain times when their own women were deemed “unclean”, basically viewed Samaritan women as in a state of perpetual uncleanliness.

So this is not merely an inappropriate conversation in the cultural context, but this is also a shocking one.  The woman is completely taken aback.

What’s more, we have already learned something about this woman.  Commentators F.F. Bruce and D.A. Carson offer some valuable insights regarding her.

First of all, she came to the well alone.  Women did not typically come to the well alone.  There were certain dangers involved for lone women.

What’s more, she comes at noon.  In other words, she is coming in the heat of the day.  Typically, they would come toward the cooler end of the day.

In seems as though John is painting a picture of a loner here.  Not only that, but she prefers the isolation.  She doesn’t want to draw water with a group.

She would seem to want no attention drawn to her at all.  Up to this point in the passage, we don’t know why.  But regardless of the “why”, this seems to be the case.

 

And notice the comparisons between her and the person Jesus had a face-to-face with in our previous reading.  Of course, I speak of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus was a man, and she was obviously a woman.  Nicodemus was a Jew, in fact a Pharisee—about as Jewish as one could get.  She was a Samaritan.

Nicodemus held a position of prominence among the people, while this woman simply wanted to disappear, it would seem.

In other words, Jesus didn’t discriminate.  Perhaps you feel most comfortable talking about Jesus and church with only certain types of people.

“I just don’t get along with or connect with other types of people,” you might say.

But that’s not the case with Jesus.  You couldn’t find more opposite ends of the spectrum than Nicodemus and this woman at the well.  It didn’t matter.

Jesus engaged both of them in conversations, as His Father provided opportunity.

 

Speaking of that conversation, let’s get into it.  I’ll continue our reading with verse ten.  (Read John 4:10-15.)

Jesus does one of the many things at which He is a Master.  He shifts the direction of the conversation.  I believe we must be able to do this.

I believe we must pray for the ability to do so.  I believe we must practice it.  We do well when we engage the world in terms of everyday, worldly conversation.

Jesus did so in teaching His parables.  But we cannot allow ourselves to blend in seamlessly with the world, only speaking on fluffy, non-threatening matters.

Somewhere along the way, Jesus must come to bear on our conversations and relationships.  So Jesus confronts this woman.

 

He lets her know that, in actuality, she should be asking Him for water.  It is He who can provide “living water”.  There’s a phrase that warrants at least a little attention.

Those who have been in church for lengthy periods of their lives might be thinking of some spiritual symbolism being reference by Jesus.

But let’s take it at face value, for that is all the woman can really understand.  Living water refers to water that is not stagnant, which is running, flowing, and fresh.

Now this woman knows that this is a good well, and also one with certain historical significance.  So how does Jesus plan to access this water?

And is there anyway that He could provide better water than Jacob?  Surely He wouldn’t dare claim to be greater than the forefather of Israel!

 

But Jesus continues to let her know that He most certainly is greater.  His water, He claims will permanently remove the thirst of the drinker.

Jesus speaks of a water that wells up to eternal life.  The earthly conversation has moved to a completely spiritual one.  Obviously, the woman has not followed.

She doesn’t hear of this eternal life.  She only hears of this water—water that will mean she’ll never have to come to this well again.

Already we have discussed her plight—that she prefers isolation, that she has to go through the arduous task of water retrieval alone.

If she could get this water, the process would be finished forever.  No more slinking around.  No more going in the heat of the day to avoid human eyes.

What she sees is an opportunity for relief.  But Jesus isn’t offering relief.  He’s offering life.  There are a couple of lessons here for us.

First, are we simply seeking relief from Jesus?  Relief often makes things temporarily better, until a new problem arises or the old one resurfaces.

What’s more, we can send Jesus on His merry way after obtaining this relief.  But this life Jesus offers requires Him to stay with us.

This life requires His Spirit to flow and live through us, empowering us.  The relief is easy and non-invasive.  The life changes everything for good.

 

Secondly, we must evaluate whether or not we are merely offering people relief when we share Jesus with them.

“Is your life not going well?  Come to Jesus, and He’ll make it better!”  That’s a true sentiment, so long as your definition of “better” is the same as God’s.

Jesus comes to turn people’s lives upside down.  I say this because folks without Jesus are living for themselves.  They sit on the throne of their lives.

We’ve all been there.  The life Jesus offers is a life where He is King.  We are cast off the throne.  It’s an overthrowing and a revolution.

Though she doesn’t yet realize it, that’s what’s on the table for this woman.

 

It would seem that Jesus senses there is no connection between His words and her understanding.  He tries a different approach.  (Read John 4:16-18.)

Don’t you find this almost comical?  “Go get your husband,” Jesus practically commands.  Most likely embarrassed, the woman searches for the right response.

Sure, she doesn’t have one.  But she has had five in the past, and the man she is currently living with is matrimonially unattached to her.

Do you see what Jesus is doing here?  He’s getting to the real issue, her real issue—her real need.  She is a broken woman with a broken reputation.

Now we see why she preferred to come to the watering hole alone.  She was willing to undergo burdensome labor and more burdensome heat to avoid prying eyes.

People undoubtedly knew all about her.  Surprisingly enough, so did this Jewish stranger.  The conversation continues.  (Read John 4:19-24.)

 

The woman now knows something’s up with this man.  She refers to Him as a prophet.  This is a big step for a Samaritan.

Samaritans hold that, as we mentioned before, there were no true prophets after Moses.  The only true prophet after him would be the Deliverer, or Messiah.

Therefore, she is willing to entertain the possibility that she is speaking with her Savior.  But notice what she does here.  We are often guilty of it as well.

When confronted with Jesus—His presence and His truth—we attempt to avoid the real issue, namely our sin, and focus on matters of religion.

Her sin has been brought to the forefront, but she quickly tries to turn this into a debate about Samaritan religious practices versus Jewish religious practices.

But Jesus doesn’t want to play this game of religiosity.  Where you worship doesn’t matter—whether the temple in Samaria or the one in Jerusalem.

It also doesn’t matter what style of music you use, what translation of the Bible you use, or what kind of clothes you choose to wear.

 

Jesus says that what matters is worshipping in Spirit and in truth.  Is your worship focused on the true God, and is it true worship or empty, false worship?

The Jews, at least to a degree, have it right.  Unlike so many other nations and religions, they worship the true God, Jesus states.

But, as we know from reading the Gospels, their worship of Him was empty and vain.  They had wrong motives and wrong understanding.

In Jesus, however, people can worship God in Spirit.  We can be filled with the Spirit, enjoying the very presence of God deep within us, flowing and living through us.

That’s what matters.  This woman was trying to do a religious two-step, but she couldn’t get away.  She still hems and haws in our final verses.  (Read John 4:25-26.)

 

She basically tells Jesus, “That’s all well and good, but it’s a little much for me.  I’ll just wait for the Savior, and He’ll make it all clear to me.”

And Jesus simply looks at her and says, “That’s Me.  I’m the One.”  Now, look.  I’m not going to read any farther this morning.  You may know the rest of the story.

I would certainly encourage you to go read the rest of it later today.  But this woman is at the epitome of a fork in the road.  What will she do?

Her sin is out on the table.  The same it true with ours; it’s never hidden from Jesus.

Will she face up to her real need?  She doesn’t need an easier way to get water.  Nor do we need a quick fix for whatever problems we are facing.

She needed deliverance from sin and its consequences.  And so do we.  She needed to experience life in the Spirit.  And so do we.

 

She needed to worship the Savior, to put Him in the rightful place in her life—Lord and Master.  And so do we.  In short, she simply needed Jesus—and that’s all.

Are you at that fork in the road today?  Have you been there before, but simply lost touch with it?  His Spirit is present today.  His Spirit is drawing you to Him.

What will your response be?  (Pray.)