How would you describe a "bad person"? Perhaps you would even identify yourself as one, and think that you are "too bad" for God to save you? Tonight we’ll explore what it means to be a bad person and what it means when Jesus meets with someone like this!
(A) Gracious Blessing: Jesus approaches us graciously, and offers us eternal life (John 4:1-15)
To help us better understand this passage, we'll need to get a sense of the context first (John 4:1-6). We read of how Jesus is traveling from Judea to Galilee (South to North), because the Pharisees are on the lookout for Him (John 4:1-3). Samaria lay between Judea and Galilee and is inhabited by the Samaritans. Interestingly, John writes that Jesus ‘had to’ pass through Samaria (John 4:4), but a map shows us otherwise. Jesus had to, not because of the physical and geographical need, but because of a divine reason. Another important piece of contextual information is to know who Jacob and Joseph are. Jacob is one of the Patriarchs of Judaism, also known as Israel. Joseph is his son – both are important figures in Judaism
(Gen 25-50). Thus, this is how Jesus ends up in Samaria.
A tired Jesus waits at the well, and encounters a Samaritan woman (John 4:6-7). But this doesn't seem like a normal meeting. There are a few odd things about His encounter with the Samaritan woman.
- Time (John 4:6b): The Jewish day starts at 6 am thus the sixth hour is noon, the hottest part of the day. Drawing water is a morning/evening chore because of the heat. What is this woman doing, doing this strenuous chore at the hottest, most inconvenient part of the day? Could the Samaritan woman be avoiding people?
- Jew and Samaritan (John 4:9b): There is a deep-seated animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans. The Samaritans were a mixed-race, between Israelites from the Northern Kingdom and foreigners that they intermarried with when they were under others’ rule. They had some similar beliefs: one God, the Pentateuch, reverence of Jacob, but in history they have clashed multiple times especially over places of worship. To the Jews, the Samaritans are corrupt and defiled. The Jews really respected the idea of religious purity.
- Rabbi and Woman: Besides the racial difference, in social standing this encounter is also thoroughly unexpected. The Samaritan woman might have recognised His race and position from His clothing e.g. tassels that rabbis wore, thus her astonishment. A Rabbi would not really be talking to a woman, much less a Samaritan woman.
Despite these reasons in the background, Jesus still approached and talked to the woman. This is why the woman responded with such astonishment (John 4:9). At the same time, we’re also beginning to have a glimpse of Jesus’ character, His mission, who He came to minister to. Jesus came not necessarily to people who are like Him and He did not just come for the people that we expect Him to minister to. There appears to be a wider, surprising reach to Jesus’ ministry.
Jesus initiates conversation by offering "living water" -- water that when drunk will cause a person to never thirst again, water that will become a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:10). This water is figurative and the key is in verse 14. This is not a small claim because Jesus claims to be offering eternal life, i.e. no death. Jesus is offering the woman salvation and eternal life. This is not the first time this image is used. In Jeremiah 2:13 and 17:1 God Himself is described as the fountain of living waters.
Jesus is offering an amazing thing. So how would the woman respond? How would you respond if you were the woman? There is definitely a sense of confusion and bemusement as we read her response. She was initially thinking in literal terms (John 4:11) and wondered if He’s claiming to be greater than the patriarch Jacob (John 4:12). By John 4:15, she seems to be willing to try and take up this offer. However, in all her responses, it really does seem like she misses the point completely. She is concerned only with physical thirst and the trouble of drawing water, rather than the amazing promise of eternal life. The confusion is understandable, but it doesn’t mean that it is not sad that the woman totally misses the point. She is only concerned with the physical and literal things, similar to Nicodemus in the chapter before. She can only see things in literal terms, and because of her narrow view, she was unable to see that Jesus had just offered eternal life to her!
We too can be like the woman, totally unprepared to encounter Jesus. After all, she was just completing her daily routine of drawing water! We too could be preoccupied with our own lives to the point that we miss out on the promises of God. We think that “God stuff” can wait for Sunday, or even later in life. Like her, we
want the blessings, without God. So what does Jesus have to say to her, and to us, who are not prepared to meet Him? God responds in grace. Grace means unmerited favour. This woman did nothing to earn the attention and promises of Jesus. He initiated this encounter.
Maybe you’re like the woman, unprepared. Maybe you think that Jesus won’t want anything to do with you, or that you're just trying to get a taste. But do you realise that if you are here tonight, Jesus approaches you and asks if you’d like to have this living water, this eternal life? Maybe you’re a Christian for a long time and just preoccupied with life, work and school. Jesus also comes to you and offers Himself,
this eternal, living water. What does this tell you about the God Christians worship? He is gracious beyond measure and there is nothing we can do to earn that!
(B) Gracious Revelation: Jesus knows us thoroughly, and shows us the truth of Himself (John 4:16-26)
Jesus goes on to ask her to bring her husband here (John 4:16). This marks a switch in the conversation topic. The woman did not mention her husband and yet Jesus knew. Jesus has only just met her, and yet He knows so much about her! It shows how Jesus is omniscient. He is all-knowing. This reflects His power and authority over all the earth as Creator! By knowing all these things without her ever saying anything, Jesus shows that He is God! Jesus knows all things and yet also knows people personally, even those who do not know Him. If you’ve ever only thought of God as an all-knowing, powerful, detached being, He is not just that! He knows all the things that she kept hidden in her heart too. Truly He is powerful and personal.
We also see from this exchange that Jesus cares about sin and we can see that in His bluntness. Sin is important to Jesus, and is important in our relationship with Him. This exchange reveals the woman’s deepest sin – she was an adulteress, and
was currently living in an adulterous relationship. From her response, she is probably aware and guilty about it, because she tries to hide it, but Jesus exposes it and brings it into the open. Jesus is kind. He does not start out by accusing, but actually drew the woman out. He acknowledges her ‘telling the truth’, even though it was not the whole truth (in the exchange in John 4:17-18).
The conversation topic turns again in John 4:19-24. Suddenly, there is a discussion on worshipping in spirit and in truth. It seems that once confronted by her own sin and the presence of a religious authority, the woman is prompted to consider spiritual matters (John 4:19-20). Jesus is ushering her thoughts toward them, away
from the physical things. She asks about the temple and worship, perhaps casting an eye toward the possibility of having to repent of her sin at the correct temple.
Jesus offers the idea that people are to worship in spirit and truth.
What does it mean? The woman wanted to find out which was the right place of worship but Jesus is basically saying that the Jewish Scriptures are accurate, that the Messiah will come from the Jews. But the temple location is a non-issue because a new time is coming and is here, where there will no longer be a need for a temple. Her idea of worship is tied to a location, but Jesus is saying that it is not tied to that. Jesus talks about spirit and truth, addressing the state of Jewish worship, which had become an empty set of rituals. They had added a lot of rules to God’s initial commands in order to remain pure. However, their worship was shallow and superficial, and was not in spirit (having spiritual quality, the right attitude and posture of worship), and not in truth (understanding the true meaning of the Scriptures).
This topic is important for us to consider today, as the definition of worship can sometimes be a bit fluid. When someone says “worship” what do you think of? Praying? Songs? Worship is not just that! It is important for us to understand what it means to worship in spirit and in truth, and also to consider what kind of a life it means we live. In the context of today’s passage, Jesus appears to be saying to the woman who is convicted of her sin: do not attempt to turn to empty rituals, surface-level changes, to combat the sinfulness within you. Go deeper, truly worship God in spirit and truth. Jesus is pushing her to find out more about a deeper worship, not just a ritualistic foray to the temple.
In explaining this kind of worship, Jesus also reveals something of Himself in the passage (John 4:25-26). The woman expressed the Samaritans' anticipation of the coming of a prophet who is like or greater than Moses, and when He comes, He will reveal all things (John 4:25). Jesus revealed and declared Himself to be the Christ – the one people have been waiting for (John 4:26). This is an incredible
declaration, and it is here that Jesus says it for the first time. People had long awaited the one who would crush the head of the snake (Gen 3) and reverse the curse of original sin. He would come to bring freedom, peace, to make things right.
What does it mean to you and me today? Jesus revealed these not to a holy person nor the religious leaders and not even to His disciples. He revealed it to a woman, a Samaritan woman caught in the sin of adultery, weighed down by guilt and shame
and isolated from community. Whether or not you believe in the same God, if you think that you are too far from God and there is no way that God could save you, in this passage, we read that Jesus knows us thoroughly. He sees the things we try to hide, try to keep in the dark and try to leave buried away away everyone else. He knows them, and calls us to worship God in Spirit and in truth, through Christ. Whatever it is that you are thinking of at the moment and even things in your past, Jesus already knows it and He calls us to confess it to Him and He reveals Himself to us as the One who can make it right.
(C) Gracious Transformation: Jesus changes us completely, and draws others to Him (John 4:27-30)
As John writes, he seems to indicate the significance of the timing of the disciples’ return (John 4:27). The disciples returned at the right time and saw Him talking with a Samaritan woman but did not probe further. After this, there seems to be a change in the woman (John 4:28-29). Firstly, her priorities have changed. Previously, she was concerned primarily with her physical well-being, her physical thirst. Now, she leaves her water jar behind to tell people about Jesus (John 4:28). She has found something greater than her need. Secondly, previously, she appeared to be avoiding people. Now, she goes looking for them (John 4:28). Also, previously, she tried to hide it and tried to speak cleverly to avoid talking about her past (John 4:28). Now, she speaks about her shameful past openly in relation to who Christ is. She can talk about it openly because there is something greater and more powerful that covers that shame. The Christ, they have been waiting
for is finally here to deal with all her sin, guilt, shame and needs. Jesus is bigger than everything else and all she can say to those around her is "Come and see" this Savior.
Jesus uses this woman to bring a whole town to Himself (John 4:39), and this woman didn’t do anything. By grace, Jesus initiates this encounter and drew her to Himself. When we come to Jesus, the things that we were once ashamed and fearful of start to fade away when we see how wonderful this grace is that He extends to us.
But what does this transformation mean? Does Jesus just erase everything and declare people as “transformed individuals”? God Himself comes to earth to initiate contact and establishes a relationship with sinners. He sees the sins of sinners, and promises to take their sins upon Himself if they believe in Him. He promises an atonement better than the sacrifice of animals in the temple. He promises to be the
atonement for their sake. If you are a Christian today, do you realise that this is the reason you have been transformed? God wasn’t just a kind and benevolent God who forgets sin. If you are not a Christian, this is also available to you. He also calls you to “Come and see”. What will you take away tonight? How will you
respond to this truth and person?