John - Chapter 4
This is part 6 in a 23-part study on the book of John. Below is a modified transcript.
We’re looking at John 4 and we’ll be looking at the woman of Samaria but it’s more than that because in this chapter, Jesus ministers to a number of people- the Samaritan woman, his disciples in a brief text, the Samaritans from the village of Sychar and at the end, He ministers to the nobleman and his household. Now what all these accounts have in common is that they all point to faith in Christ. All of them have that conclusion, which is to surrender to Christ and that is John’s real purpose in his gospel. He’s bringing his readership to a grasp of what that means- to be surrendered to Christ.
In the first 30 verses we see the story of the Samaritan woman and immediately we find a surprise here. We know that the Jews rejected the Samaritans. There was this whole situation of antipathy between the Jews and the Samaritans.
John 4:1-4, “Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria, so He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.”
Now there were other ways in which one could go. You could take the coast or more often Jews would bypass Samaria by going into Perea or perhaps going all the way through Jericho and up along the Jordan River on the extreme west, just next to the river and then cutting across bypassing the whole province of Samaria. The most direct and quickest route would be to go through Samaria. Typically Jews would avoid it because of the hostility that was there.
In the year 722 B.C. the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom of Israel. That captivity led to an intermarriage policy where the Assyrian conquerors forced the Jewish people who were scattered there to be intermarried- some with the Persians and some with the other people who had been conquered. As a result, they couldn’t prove their genealogy. After awhile, they actually built their own temple and garrison. They created an alternative form of worship contrary to the Jews. That led to an increased hostility toward the Jews as time went by. They were a people who really owed their origin to the mingling of a remnant. As a result, their worship became contaminated by idolatry.
In II Kings 17:28-41, there is a story of this very concern, a concern of corruption as a result of their own contamination by idolatry. Verses 28-29, “So one of the priests whom they had carried away into exile from Samaria came and lived at Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the Lord. But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the houses of the high places which the people of Samaria had made, every nation in their cities in which they lived.”
In II Kings 17:30, it tells of how the men of Babylon made Succoth-benoth, the men of Cuth made Nergal and the men of Hamath made Ashima. Let me jump down a little bit and you see they actually burned their children in the fire in pagan rituals even in the immolation of their own children to these kinds of demonically inspired gods.
II Kings 17:32-34, “They also feared the Lord and appointed from among themselves priests of the high places, who acted for them in the houses of the high places. They feared the Lord and served their own gods according to the customs of the nations from among whom they had been carried away into exile. To this day they do according to the earlier customs: they do not fear the Lord, nor do the follow their statutes or their ordinances or the law, or the commandments which the Lord commanded the sons of Jacob, whom He named Israel.”
Basically he said that they didn’t listen and did according to the earlier customs so the conclusion in the last verse of II Kings 17:41, “So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols: their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.”
What the writer is saying in effect is that they sought to intermingle a kind of Judaism but a very selective one in which they eliminated everything except for the Pentateuch. They only had their Pentateuch. It became known as the Samaritan Pentateuch because of some of the changes they had made. They rejected the other books, the prophets and the poetical books, thus their whole bible was just limited to their Pentateuch. They had their own alternative worship system in their own temple. This led to tremendous conflict. They did their best, in fact, to interfere with the rebuilding of Jerusalem when the Jews returned from their Babylonian captivity.
In fact when the Jews wished to be offensive to Jesus, what did they call Him? They called Him a Samaritan. John 8:48, “Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” That was a two-fer; they got Him on both accounts!
The Jews when they had the opportunity in 128 B.C. actually destroyed the Samaritan temple. They burned it. Now you can see there that this was not a happy combination. There was a racial enmity. The Jews never accepted them. The Samaritans had an alternative form of worship that was a rather bizarre combination of paganism and Old Testament Judaism in regards to the Pentateuch.
Jesus does something that is very dramatic here. When Jesus is discussed in this chapter as having spoken to a Samaritan woman; it’s a shocking concept. In fact in the synoptic gospels, Jesus does something quite surprising. He made the Samaritan the hero of one of His parables- the Good Samaritan. You’ve got to understand how radical this is. It’s like making an Arab the hero to the Jew or the Jew the hero to the Arab in a parable. That would be the same kind of enmity they had.
Even speaking to the woman, He overcomes a number of barriers, as we’re about to see.
In John 4:2, where Jesus wasn’t baptizing but His disciples were, it corrects an inaccuracy in the information that had apparently reached the Pharisees. Here’s what is happening- tremendous hostility as a consequence of Jesus’ growing reputation. Surely when John the Baptist was brought into captivity and then finally executed and Jesus was really getting their attention, He knew then that He also had to keep Himself away. All four gospels express Jesus’ concern to avoid arrest at the hands of the Pharisees before the appointed time. So that’s why it says in John 4:3-4, “He left Judea and went away into Galilee, and He had to pass through Samaria.” I think He went there because it was the shortest route and also there are appointments that take place.
God has divine appointments. He didn’t necessarily leave Judea with any fixed intention of ministering in Samaria, He just planned to pass through but the Spirit will always blow wherever He wishes. True messengers of God are never subject to fixed programs and to prejudices. We need to keep that in mind for ourselves. You don’t know what you’re called to do. You don’t know what ministry you’re going to have and very often your greatest moment might be something that was not planned- something may appear to be an interruption or something that might not seem very productive.
I had a call this morning from a fellow, whom I hadn’t seen since 1984- a long time ago, maybe 19-20 yeas ago. He called to thank Karen and me for something that we did in his life that we don’t even remember saying or doing. Apparently it had some significant impact on his life. You never know when something will have an impact whether planned or unplanned and it’s often the unplanned things that will go on. I’ve said this many times before but you’re all in ministry. Whether you like it or not, you’re all called to ministry. Your experiences and background and your arena of influence will shape your ministry. You already have a sphere of influence and you’re called to become a manifestation of the life of Christ with those people. You use your unique spiritual gifts, background and experiences. You have a life message you’re supposed to be forging. The key to this is not simply what you plan but often the unplanned agenda takes place.
We see here in a way, the proclamation of the gospel by the early Christian evangelist to the people of Samaria. In Acts 8, it’s already foreshadowed in this interview and in Jesus’ subsequent stay in a Samaritan village. This is something that is very telling because in this text, this prefiguring of what is to come in the book of Acts several years later is the idea of what Jesus is already launching in His public ministry. Namely, that since the advent of Christ, the people of God consists of all who acknowledge Him as the Savior of the world and who have received from Him the life giving Spirit and who worship God in spirit and in truth. In this and the other gospels, Jesus ultimately overcomes all racial and all cultural barriers. It’s an anticipation of things that are to come.
John 4:5-6, “So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” The sixth hour is about high noon, which is very telling because this is when the woman comes out to draw water.
I also want you to notice that Jesus in this gospel, as we’ve seen, is being proclaimed as the Son of God but He also is seen very clearly as being a true man. It shows that He’s weary, hungry and thirsty. This kind of text shows that He’s fully capable of identifying with us in our needs because He’s experienced the human condition and knows what it is like to grow weary, to become exhausted, to become hungry and to become thirsty. This little touch here tells us being wearied, He sat thus by the well.
As you know, when they would dig these wells, very deeply, they would put a little stone wall around them to keep people from falling in and usually they would have a stone covering on top. It would be at such wells that, for example, Jacob would meet his future wife. At such wells, they would have some kind of a tripod that would often contain a bucket where they could lower it down. These were very common.
The two Greek words used in this chapter are both translated “well” in v. 6 and v.14 is the word pege, which means fountain also. This indicates that Jacob’s well was apparently supplied deeply with running water way underneath, reaching down then to some kind of underground source. The other word in v. 11-12, the ordinary Greek word for well, phrear, is used. The point here is that we are seeing again, the Johannine contrast between the spiritual and the physical and the misunderstanding that takes place between the two.
John 4:7-8, “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” So Jesus was left alone, sitting on the well and He sent His disciples off to get something to eat.
John 4:9, “Therefore the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” The woman is a timeless figure because like most men and women she’s almost exclusively concerned with the provision of what will satisfy physical needs, not spiritual needs- particularly the idea of Christ quenching water which can be obtained only by the expenditure of a good deal of time and energy in that particular culture. As a consequence then she is really more concerned for the welfare of her body more than the welfare of her soul. In that way she points beyond to ourselves because we’re often in that condition too.
Now let’s consider this, Jesus not only speaks to her but asks her for a drink. He asked her to do something. Now her knowledge during this interview will increase. There will be a progressive revelation of Jesus during this discourse. Jesus had a discourse in John 3 with Nicodemus, a ruler of the people and a moral religious leader, who came to Him by night. By contrast, here we have an immoral, non-Jewish woman who comes in the middle of the day. We do not see the outcome in John 3 of Nicodemus’ response but here we do see her response. There’s the idea of a bit of a contrast. In terms of responsiveness, this woman actually turns out to be more responsive than Nicodemus was. There is a rather immediate response that takes place.
I want you to note that there are in fact four barriers that Jesus has to overcome even to speak to her. First of all, there is the fact that it was improper in that day for a Rabbi to speak in public to a young woman. In fact, typically, even if you were married, you often wouldn’t even speak to your wife in public. You need to understand how radical the gospels are- how liberating they are with regard to women because they are so utterly contrary to the culture of that time. We often fail to see that. Often what we’ll do is take our own ideas and impose them on the gospels but actually the gospels were liberating and radical in their treatment of women. Jesus, as a Rabbi, furthermore, should be more cautious about speaking to a woman, let alone a woman in this condition who was a Samaritan. There was the barrier of sex because the public discourse between a man and a woman, especially an unmarried man, would be prohibited or looked down upon.
Secondly there was the barrier of race.
Thirdly there was the barrier of lifestyle. In fact, that’s why she was coming in the middle of the day. Typically women would come and it was a place of congregation. It’s a place where they would meet because you had to spend a lot of time collecting water. Usually they’d come early in the morning or at dusk when it was cool. There, women would discuss things with one another. It was a meeting point. Why was she coming in the heat of the day? It was because the women did not accept her so she finds herself virtually an outcast. We discover later she doesn’t have the best reputation in town. Her own people regarded her as an immoral person.
Finally there was the barrier of religion. There’s an expression of bewilderment because Jews and Samaritans don’t share things in common. The Jews did have some dealings with the Samaritans but the idea of sharing from the same bucket was totally contrary to that concept.
We see here that Jesus is soon going to point out to her that there can be no unity between Jew and Samaritan unless both accept the same gift of God - that gift of God which He is prepared to bestow, eternal life, which can be received from God alone. In fact, from Jesus because He Himself is that gift as we saw in John 3:16. He Himself is the actual gift of God to His people.
John 4:10, “Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” See, as it is, I have asked you for physical water but if you knew who I was you would’ve asked Me for another kind of water. Now she’s not really grasping what He’s trying to say. In any case, I want you to notice how He adapts His communication to her to that situation. Notice the way He speaks to Nicodemus and contrast that with the way He speaks to this woman. You’d see that He adapts His very style of communication to the needs of the person whom He is dealing with. He doesn’t have a canned presentation but rather He’s always sensitive to the personality and needs of the person. By the way, I strongly recommend that in our lives as well.
I find, for example, when I’m sharing the gospel with a person who is perhaps a computer programmer or an engineer or perhaps an attorney, often they’re going to be very concerned about evidence. They’re very impressed by the facts. They want some logic and clarity. But if I’m dealing with a person who might be a literature major it might be a totally different kind of a thing- a story, a narrative or a film. You see where I’m going? In a post modern culture a story or narrative becomes particularly relevant. I might have to adapt and I might discover that for this person I will have to adjust my approach midcourse. My approach also depends on the questions they are asking me. You know that you can ask a question in three ways. You can ask a question to say, “Show me how much you know.” You can ask a question to get information- an honest attempt to get it. You can discern sometimes if the question is a smoke screen or not. There’s a need for us being led by the Spirit to adapt our words to speak graciously and wisely to each person we encounter and tailor our speech to each person. Jesus was a master at this. He could know people. Remember it says, He Himself knew what was in man. (John 2:25) He could understand what the heart was and He would adapt. It’d be very interesting for you to contrast His approach to Nicodemus with His approach to this woman. It is a very different orientation.
Jesus says I alone can supply a living water which can supply every need and become the perpetual source of life because it turns out living water was a term for moving water- water that was in a stream or river. That’s why they had to use that in ceremonial purification but there weren’t any streams in this area. She wonders what He’s talking about. Where’s this kind of water that’s alive? In other words, water that you can actually dip into- that’s in motion-that is not in a well or a cistern. Where is this living water? That’s immediately what she assumes He means by living water. Today the well in verse 11 is identified by archeologists as one of the deepest in Palestine. When Jesus mentions living water she’s then seeing this well as being a deep well but she wonders what He’s talking about.
John 4:11, “She said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?” Notice she’s particularly concerned that He may be on to something even though He’s a stranger to these parts and knows something nobody else knows. Maybe He knows where there is a stream here. It’d be a lot easier than having to dip this bucket. She’s thinking I’d sure like to have that so I don’t have to keep coming here day by day and getting it.
John 4:12-14, “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and this cattle? Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” It’s a beautiful metaphor. It’s like an artesian well that springs up and it has no boundaries, no limits. It continues to spring from the inside to the out. This is a marvelous metaphor of the Spirit of God who is ultimately going to be given. We discover there in John 7 when Jesus speaks about the Spirit He uses this very imagery.
Look at John 7:37b-38, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” By the way that’s an allusion as well to Ezekiel 47 where you see this water and it starts out as a little trickle coming out from the east of the temple and continuing as it heads east to get deeper and deeper until it becomes a torrential flow of water. But this He spoke of the Spirit, those of them who believed in Him were to receive for the Spirit was not yet given for Jesus was not yet glorified. This imagery of water is one of the images, one of the symbols, one of the signs of the Spirit. What are some other characteristics or signs of the Holy Spirit? Wind- pnuema even means wind, light, oil, dove-you’re missing a very obvious one- fire. All these are images of the Spirit of God. All of these reveal something that none of them singularly can do but corporately we see many facets of the work of the Spirit.
Clearly we’re being invited by John to see that Jesus is ultimately going to be speaking about that living artesian well that comes from inside and goes outward. He goes on to say that this is water that will satisfy. You see, she was ignorant of three important facts back in verse 10. She was ignorant of who He was. She was ignorant of what He had to offer. She was ignorant of how she could receive it. When you stop to think about it, that’s the gospel. Who is this Jesus? What does He have to offer? How do you receive Him? That’s the essence of the good news.
In verse 13 and 14, He was saying the water that people drink will not satisfy any more than bread will satisfy you forever. It’s only going to be something that will sustain you for a short time. But whoever continues to drink of the water or anything that the world has to offer will discover that that water will bring them to thirst again. The fellow I was speaking to this morning was talking about how he had acquired a great deal of wealth at one time and discovered how empty it was. He was kind of reviewing his own sojourn and discovered that actually when he came to the end of his own financial resources, he discovered God in a more profound way than he did before. It’s not that wealth is the problem. The problem is that often we fail to understand that it doesn’t satisfy the deep desires of the heart. At the end of the day it can only provide so much but it’s not all that it’s cracked up to be. The things of the world never completely satisfy. That’s part of the thinking in this gospel.
John 4:15, “The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.” Do you see what she is saying? I want to get this kind of water so I won’t constantly be thirsty and draw here. I want something quicker and easier. She’s not fully grasping this. She’s thinking it’s some magical supply of ordinary water and she won’t have to visit the well anymore.
Suddenly in verses 16 to 19 the rules change. There’s going to be a need for a change in the way Jesus communicates to her. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Jesus penetrates her defenses with these words. John 4:16, “He said to her, ‘Go, call your husband and come here.” He changes the topic. These are very effective words because her slumbering conscience is going to be awakened and the beginning of a new birth was going to be apparent. She’s going to abandon further attempts at subterfuge.
John 4:17-19, “The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.” The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.” This is an interesting word here. There’s an increasing recognition but I think she’s trying also to change the subject. She wants to move Him off on a detour, let’s talk religion. Let’s get off of the subject of me and let’s start talking about religion. Jesus knows exactly what He’s doing. She recognizes Him as a prophet because He is endowed with the knowledge to know her through and through. He manifests a remarkable understanding- not just the human nature in general but of her very heart. He can read her heart. Look later in verse 29 at what she says to her people, “Come see a man who told me all the things that I have done. This is not the Messiah or the Christ, is it?” She’s kind of suggesting that. That impresses her but it’s a little bit too close to home so she changes the conversation.
John 4:20, “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” That’s true because even to this day there’s a small number of Samaritans who still practice animal sacrifice in that area. She’s trying to bring it into a kind of diatribe there. It doesn’t work because the Prophet informs her that it’s no longer a relevant topic.
John 4:21, “Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” It’s not a question of where you are going to be worshiping. In fact He says neither temple had pure and undefiled worship. The time when pure and undefiled offerings were offered in the temple of God was only for a brief period in Israel’s history. Early on, as you remember, in the time of Solomon there was corruption and it was often beseeched with idolatry and corrupted by images that were actually brought into the temple because of these corrupt kings. The few good kings that there were, many of them would try to make reforms-Josiah for example in cleaning out the temple. But even there, there was often people being pacified with high place worship where there was still a kind of a combination- not an absolutely, unmitigated worship for the living God. There were some moments under Hezekiah and Josiah where they had reformed but as a whole, since that time it had become a religious externalism without and devoid of life. It doesn’t tell us for example after the temple became ichabod- the glory has departed- chabod means glory. Ichabod means that the glory is gone. That’s why Washington Irving’s story about Ichabod Crane is a perfect name because the name means no glory. This guy doesn’t have any glory at all. It’s a great name for Him! But here the temple became ichabod when the glory left the temple in the vision in Ezekiel. It hovered for a period of time in the courtyard and then went up to the Mount of Olives to disappear. The glory, it appears, did not return even in the second temple. It doesn’t mention that when they built that temple that the glory had come back. The point is that the worship in the temple had been corrupt.
So the time was fast approaching and in a real sense the time has already come when as Malachi prophesied God’s name would be great among the Gentiles and then in every place pure offering would be made unto the Lord. Let’s read from Malachi 1:11. It’s one of those prophets in the Old Testament that is easy to find. Usually the small prophetic books are hard to find but here, all you have to do is go to Matthew and go left one book! Malachi 1:11, “ For from the rising of the sun even to its setting, My name will be great among the nations, (Note- Not just Israel among the nations. There’s a prediction of what Messiah alone can bring about and that He can make the name of Jesus great among the nations) and in every place incense is going to be offered to My name, and a grain offering that is pure; for My name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord of hosts.” We have a powerful portrait of what God is ultimately planning to do.
John 4:22, “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” So although He says that the worship in the temple is not ultimately satisfying or pleasing to God, ultimately God is going to remove that and deal with it, yet for all its’ imperfections, it was still better than the worship of the Samaritans. The Jews had a greater horror of idolatry than the Samaritans and because the scriptures of the Jews included the workings of the prophets and poets. Those writings very clearly revealed things that the Samaritan bible did not have. Furthermore, they had greater understanding of the divine will. Look at Romans 9 for example, where Paul speaks about the advantage the Jewish people have. When he speaks about how concerning his kinsmen according to the flesh who are Israelites, it was to them that the adoption as sons belonged- the glory, the covenants, the giving of the temple service, and the promises. They are the ones who were the fathers and it was from them that the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God bless them forever, would ultimately come. We don’t want to minimize that. In other words, Jesus is making it clear that not all religions are acceptable before God. This is Jesus’ own word. Again, popular religiosity would have us believe that all religions are equally valid attempts to reach God- not according to this.
Answer: An affirmation of the Pentateuch. It’s an affirmation of that but it’s an affirmation of the Jews having a greater knowledge than merely the Pentateuch. The Jews have a greater grasp because they also embrace the prophets and the poets whereas the Samaritans deny that. The entire Hebrew bible then is being grasped and embraced by the Jewish people, which give them a decided advantage over the Samaritans who were limited merely to the Pentateuch.
John 4:23, “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.” So it’s devastating that worship would no longer be limited to the Jewish temple. That would finally cease in 70 A.D. That would be the end of it. The destruction of the temple was also the elimination of the sacrificial system; the elimination of the priesthood, all of that would be done and no longer now would there be blood sacrifice. In the year 33 A.D. that one sacrifice to end all sacrifice had been completed. That’s why it says the veil of the temple was split- not from bottom to top but top to bottom. It’s a symbol of God reaching down to us and opening up the way between God and ourselves. What we now have that we didn’t have before is that the blood of this One would be sufficient to pay for all of our sins and thus He could sit down at the right hand of God, never having to have another sacrifice. The whole system was now fulfilled. That which was in shadow anticipated it but could never make atonement for sins as Hebrews says, because the blood of bulls and goats can never pay for sins they only put it off until He Himself – Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. (John 1:1) The Sin-Bearer would take them away and He would bear them all- an awesome burden. God is spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.
So what we have in John so far is a new sacrifice (John 1:29), the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, a new temple according to John 2:19-21, a new birth as we saw in John 3:1-7, and a new and living water in John 4:11. We have a whole new economy then that ultimately overcomes the old. So since God is spirit it’s needful then for us to see that those who have been born anew of the Spirit have become His children and now they can come and worship Him as Father. God wants to be worshipped in spirit but also in truth. Those who accept His revelation in Christ, His ultimate truth, can worship Him in truth. We have this marvelous connect here of spirit and truth. Understand God is spirit but it doesn’t say spirit is God. There’s a big difference. In the New Age spirit is God- force is God- energy is God and so forth. God is a person but His nature, His essence, is that of being a spiritual entity. He does not have parts. He is not physical, as we would have for example in Mormonism where God the Father has a body. Here, He is spirit and those who worship come in spirit and truth.
John 4:25, “The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.” So she has some insight into this.
John 4:26, “Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am He.” What He actually uses is ego eime- I AM. What we’ve seen is a revelation. First she sees Him as a Jew. Then she sees Him as greater than Jacob. Then she sees Him as a prophet. Finally she sees Him as Messiah. The ego eime statement- I AM- is the culmination where Jesus patiently and progressively leads her to a grasp of His true identity, as she’s able to receive it. She accepts His self-disclosure as true. She eagerly avails herself to the opportunity to go and return and tells her own people about this One who has spoken to her about everything she’s ever done.
John 4:27, “At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, ‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why do You speak with her?” At this point the disciples came and they were amazed that He had been speaking to a woman. They were so embarrassed that they couldn’t actually articulate it. This disturbed them. They were amazed. It didn’t fit their category. So when she saw them come, it was her opportunity to go to her own people. She left her water pot (John 4:28)- her mission because now she’s interested in the living water and no longer in the physical water. There’s a sign there.
John 4:29-30, “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?” They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.” Now that’s pretty good because she must’ve had a fascinating life because everybody left to see this guy! In other words, here’s somebody that knows her through and through so the whole city left to find out about Him. There must’ve been plausibility, a credible thing that they wanted to go and see Him.
In the meanwhile, we have this little discourse that takes place with the disciples in verses 31-38. John 4:31-34, “Meanwhile the disciples were urging Him saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’ So the disciples were saying to one another, ‘No one brought Him anything to eat, did he?’ Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work.” It’s not that He doesn’t need physical food, but He’s talking about sustenance, a provision, that is even greater. He viewed His work as nourishment of His soul. That is to say, doing the Father’s will, will nourish you inwardly. It will satisfy you and satisfy your soul as you feed upon the will of God and do it and choose to discern it by asking God to reveal His will. One of the major purposes of prayer is to align our will with God’s will rather than telling God what we want Him to do. I’m not down on intercessory prayer but I’m saying it’s also wise for us to really discern the question, what would You have me to do? As we gain discernment then we discover what our direction is. We discover more as we go on. We are asking the Spirit of God to reveal and clarify our purpose for being on this planet. We discover inward nourishment, indeed a satisfaction, as the living water springs from the inside out and gives us a satisfying task to accomplish- so satisfying that it will last forever. This is water that will ripple on forever. It will continue to feed others. It will nourish and satisfy others as well. That’s why we have this important image.
John 4:35, “Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, and then comes the harvest? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look on the fields, that they are white for harvest.” It’s possible at that very moment that off in the distance you could see the Samaritans coming. They would be the harvest that He is referring to. Do you see the imagery there? At that very moment, as they’re looking up, they are coming in the distance. That’s the harvest He’s talking about. In other words there’s no four-month interval between the sowing by Him of seed in the heart of the Samaritan woman and then the harvest, which has resulted. You see, in the physical world, there is going to be an interval between the sowing and the reaping.
Remember what Amos, the prophet, said? You probably don’t remember, but I will remind you! In Amos 9:13 there’s a wonderful promise about the days of the kingdom. “Behold, days are coming’ declares the Lord, ‘When the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved.” This is almost the imagery of where we plant it and it almost immediately starts sprouting up so that the reaper overtakes the ploughman. It grows so fast, the curse has been removed, that now the earth no longer will yield its’ fruit with the sweat of our brow, but during the kingdom there will be some kind of an ecological transformation that will cause things to be so radically different that the world will now be as it was meant to be- a kind of removal of much of the impact of the curse. The earth will be, I think, transformed in a geopolitical way but there’s also going to be, as a number of these texts indicate, some kind of ecological transformation. Even the carnivores will become herbivorous. Remember where it describes how those carnivorous animals will now no longer be. There is a taming, an order, symmetry and a harmony that the world has not known since the blast of Genesis 3. Here’s the interesting image, in a sense, those days have already arrived. In a sense, in Jesus, sower and reaper can rejoice together because what’s happening here is that there can be if fact a co-joining.
John 4:37-38, “For in this case the saying is true, ‘One sows and another reaps. I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored and you have entered into their labor.” I see the imagery of I Corinthians 3:6-9 where Paul is speaking about the seed of the word. Verse 6, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth.” So we see that evangelism is a process where you sow the seed and you cultivate the soil by love and by prayer.
I’m very, very big on this understanding of evangelism. It’s not just a mere confrontation where we try to get a person to sign on the dotted line- many images of evangelism are. Frankly, people are terrified of it because it seems so confrontational and generally there are few people who are given the gift of personal evangelism. You hear about the person who leads the complete stranger to Christ and all that or about people who have such a passion that they share it wherever they go. That’s a person who’s been given a particular gift and capacity but most of us would be very uncomfortable with a confrontational model. But we can all embrace a relational model of evangelism where we might be involved perhaps in praying for a person even before the seed has been planted. Some people prepare the soil. Other people might plant the seed of the word and actually share the gospel. There may be several plantings of that. Somewhere down the road another person or persons might be involved in that person’s cultivation process.
What’s involved in cultivation? The soil has been prepared, the seed has been planted then you need to water it, fertilize it, weeding and all those things. I believe that the majority of actual time in the process is cultivation. There are many people who have heard the gospel long ago and only later on are they coming to an understanding of it. Somewhere along the line though it is all leading to a process where a person finally comes to faith- the reaping takes place.
Here’s my point, whether you’re involved in preparing, planting the seed, cultivating or reaping, if you are in fact, loving and serving a person who does not know Christ, with eternal values at heart, you’re involved as much in evangelism as the person who sees the reaping.
Evangelism is a process and God is the One who is going to be responsible. God’s the One who is going to cause the growth. That’s so liberating when you realize for the first time that you are not the one who needs to cause the person to come to faith in Christ. You can just be yourself and be available to that person. You see, otherwise the people who prepared, sowed and cultivate might suppose they’re failures. In equal error would be the person who saw them come to faith and supposes he or she is the one who did it when actually there was a whole history maybe involving dozens of people over years. Nobody really knows what role they played because you see intercessory prayer is also a part of it- even if they didn’t talk to the person that much they could’ve still played a part in the process. Only God knows how it works. You’re part of a larger process. You’ve entered into others’ labor. I find that to be a very liberating understanding. God Himself is the One who causes the outcome but we can participate in this process. I love this agricultural imagery.
Next we’ll go to the arrival of the Samaritans. We’ve looked at the woman at the well. She’s never named. We looked at Jesus’ encounter with the disciples. He’s always using teachable moments. They never did mention about the woman but Jesus talks about the harvest and illustrates what a harvest is like. He talks about what food is like. He talks about what the will of God is like and how that satisfies. He’s always using and leveraging teachable moments. Then the Samaritans arrive. It goes from second-hand knowledge to first-hand knowledge. This is always critical.
John4:39-42. “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done. So when the Samaritans came to Jesus, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” This is a strong text here because these villagers then had done what the disciples who were first called by Jesus and what Nathaniel had done- come and see. So they cane and they saw him and they ultimately believed. Their faith was based on a first-hand experience.
You’ve heard the expression that God has no grandchildren. It’s true. You cannot have a relationship with God by proxy. You can raise a child and you can share the truth but there comes a point in a child’s life where they must come to their own faith. They cannot live on the faith of their fathers or mothers. I remember when Heather was in that process. Our daughter was wrestling with this whole issue. She always kind of believed in these things but there was a point when she was in England when she really had to wrestle with whether this was true or not.
All of her friends in England were virtually atheists or agnostics. By the grace of God, He brought a person into her life that was involved with ministry in her particular school. This person had a powerful impact on her life and the lives of some of her friends. She saw a genuineness and authenticity about this man that she had not seen in other parts of the Christian world where she came from. Heather is very sensitive to hypocrisy. She picks it up in a second. She couldn’t explain this guy. It was not just our testimony but she saw the reality in her own school and with these new friends and so forth and that’s where she came to wrestle with this. When she came back to the States, she had pretty well hammered it out in that context. But there comes a point when every person needs to really make it a first-hand, not a second-hand faith. You don’t become a Christian, as you well know, simply by attending church any more than you become a baseball player by going to the baseball stadium. Just being an observer doesn’t work. There’s a choice to be made, a decision to be made, and it’s not going to be done by proxy.
The Samaritans call Him something remarkable- The Savior of the world. It’s found only here and one other place in the New Testament, I John 4:14. It’s very significant that the Samaritans of all people first applied it to Jesus. They had this profound insight.
Then Jesus did something that was quite remarkable. John 4:43, “After two days He went forth from there into Galilee.” Those two days spent in Sychar by Jesus were an exception to His general policy. Remember He said, I’ve only come to the lost sheep of the house of Israel initially. When He saw that the Jews were ultimately going to reject Him then it was after that rejection that the great commission was to bring it to the entire world. This visit is an exception.
Jesus came to Galilee and the Galileans received Him. What does He mean By His own country? In this particular verse He’s dealing with the idea that Jerusalem is really the hometown of every true Israelite. It should’ve been the first to welcome Him as Messiah but it was in the very heart of Judaism that His own did not receive Him. (John 1:12) So while some did believe in His name, He didn’t commit Himself because He knew that they had not accepted the implications of His actions. The word patros refers to Nazareth in the other gospels- His hometown- but here I think it means Jerusalem. If it were otherwise, you’d have a problem. The problem would be that was Jesus deliberately journeying to Galilee because it’s in the region and He would’ve been treated with little or no respect. That wouldn’t make sense. He comes to Galilee and the Galileans give Him a better reception than the people in Jerusalem did. See the idea? As I see it, Jerusalem is really where Messiah belonged but the people there rejected Him already and that becomes an increasingly obvious theme in the gospel.
Galilee is prepared to welcome Him because they had already been impressed by an account of some of their members that had seen Him when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover. John 4:45, “So when He came to Galilee, the Galileans received Him, having seen all the things that He did in Jerusalem at the feast; for they themselves also went to the feast.”
So now we have the fourth group of people in this chapter. First we had the Samaritan woman, then looked briefly at the disciples, thirdly the Samaritan people and finally we look at the nobleman’s son in verses 43-57 (the end).
John 4:46-47, “Therefore He came again to Cana of Galilee where He had made the water wine. And there was a royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum. When he heard that Jesus had come out of Judea into Galilee, he went to Him and was imploring Him to come down and heal his son; for he was at the point of death.” I want to point out something that’s kind of interesting in this with the son. We had Jesus in Jerusalem in John 2. In John 3 we see Him moving up to Judea and then ultimately He moves up into Samaria. That’s kind of an outline of Acts 1:8. The gospel starts in Jerusalem, then goes to Judea, then to Samaria and then finally to the uttermost parts of the world.
In any case we see here that the news of what had taken place at the recent wedding of Cana would’ve been circulated in the district. So in verse 46 this royal official whose son was sick at Capernaum heard about this and he went the 25 miles from Capernaum to try and persuade Jesus to come there and heal his ailing son. The word that is used of a royal official-basilikos- is used here so apparently he was in service; I take it, at the court of Herod Antipas who was the tetrarch of Galilee at that point. I don’t believe that this narrative is the same or a variant account of the story of the healing of the centurion’s son found in Matthew 8 or Luke 7. In both cases it’s true that the sufferer was cured at a distance but apart from that the stories have nothing else in common. In the synoptic story, the centurion says, just say the word, You don’t have to come. In this story the nobleman requested Jesus to come and visit his home. It goes on to say that the son is at the point of death. He heard what Jesus did in Cana, the word has gotten out, and he goes out in this desperate attempt.
John 4:48, “So Jesus said to him, ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders, you simply will not believe.” So His first reaction seems to regard his request as typical of the Jewish demand to see signs first and then they’ll believe. He’s expressing disappointment at that persistent attitude. Some other scholars have suggested instead that this might actually be the word “wonders”. Remember, Herod of Antipas in Luke 23:8 wanted to see some tricks. He wanted Jesus to work some miracles so he was really pleased to have the opportunity to encounter Jesus. He thought He’d work some tricks and Jesus didn’t do a thing for him. He’s not a clown. He’s not a performer so Herod sent him back to Pilate. In any case, He’s rebuffing that whole attitude.
John 4:49, “The royal official said to Him, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.” Instead of taking offense at any implied rebuff here, he speaks as a desperate man. It would touch a cord in the heart of any parent with this child that’s been stricken by fever in any land and at in any time. Wouldn’t it? I mean all he’s thinking about is that this is his last chance. He’s on the point of death and I’ve got to get Him to come with me. So he’s inviting Jesus to come and go out of His way.
But notice what Jesus says in verse 50a, “Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your son lives.’
The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.” This is the biggest risk he took in his life. He wanted Jesus to come. Jesus says, you’ve got to trust Me here. You go, He says, your son lives. You can imagine that was the critical moment in his life. If he goes back and Jesus wasn’t right then that was my last opportunity. Do you see this idea? There’s such finality about that.
I just got an e-mail, actually two e-mails, about the loss of a dear friend of mine in Dallas. It disturbed me greatly that I didn’t have a chance to say good-bye. Two weeks ago he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and he died today. He and I go back to 1969. Every time I went to Dallas I’d always see my friend Ed. We’ve always been in contact. You can imagine the turmoil when they discovered this. I didn’t have a chance to talk with them. So what do you do? You go back to your last time with them. It was a good time that we had together. I went out of my way to see him and we had a rich time during my last trip to Dallas. But death is so final. The royal official knows that if this opportunity is missed that’s it. So here is “the moment” in this man’s life. It’s a story about who Jesus is.
John 4:50b, “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started off.” That’s an awesome statement. He not only believed, he acted. He combines actual trust with that faith. We have not only faith but also a trust that takes place.
John 4:51, “As he was now going down, his slaves met him, saying that his son was living.” Who knows how far he went? It was a 25 –mile journey and as he was going down his slaves were going on their way to find him. Somewhere along the way, they met.
John 4:52-53, “So he inquired of them the hour when he began to get better. Then they said to him, ‘Yesterday at the seventh hour the fever left him. So the father knew that it was at that hour in which Jesus said to him, ‘Your son lives’; and he himself believed and his whole household.”
What was his first question? When did it happen? He wanted to know not only that he was alive but also when it happened. Notice the progression in the faith that takes place- first it starts from a crisis, a faith crisis. He goes there in a last desperate effort. Isn’t that how a lot of people come to faith in Jesus? They come out of a crisis situation. Usually it’s not out of our comfort but out of our pain, our crisis, our loss of control and when our world falls apart that often that is when we come to faith. But then we need to move from our crisis faith to a confident faith and then from a confident faith to a confirmed faith. That’s what happened here. It was a confirmed faith when he saw that the very hour was when his son became well. There’s also a fourth stage- from crisis to a confidence to a confirmed faith to a contagious faith. Who else believed? He and his whole household believed. The man became an evangelist in that regard.
I want you to notice something about this miracle. He performed it at a distance as He did with the centurion. The first miracle at Cana revealed His power over time. What was that miracle? He turned water into wine. It revealed His power over time- instant fermentation takes place. This miracle reveals His power over space. He can heal at a distance as well. He has authority over all things.
We see here the story ends up in a personal surrender to Jesus Christ. That is the image we have here. We have a complete surrender. They put their faith in Him.
There’s a progression as well in the nature of miracles.
As I tie these threads together for us, I want us to see again that God’s desire for us is to be part of a process, to see that we are part of a larger process bigger than we. That the inward dwelling of the Holy Spirit, the living water, is to come through us and become contagious to others where we actually point people to that water and manifest the presence and power of the Spirit of God in our arenas of influence. We are to be a part of that process, having a purpose, being on a trajectory of growth in our faith, our trust, our surrender, and our obedience so that God can use even further crisis, I will say, to draw us to Himself.
You know it’s not just one crisis. Life is filled with these kinds of stories. Another crisis comes and perhaps that will be used to kind of spearhead a new level of trust and faith. There might be a lot of arguing and wrestling with God during that new crisis but eventually the product will also mean growth if we respond eventually by surrendering on a new level. We surrender to a new insight about Him and a new insight about ourselves and we grow. We commit all we know of ourselves to all we know of Him. Another crisis comes along and we then continue to move along. Do you see the point here? What you have are a series of deliverances in the past that will form your present. Wasn’t He there? Didn’t He show up at that time? Did He show up here? After awhile, you begin to build a holy history that can remind you of His working in the past and that will give you hope in the future as well.
May we be a people of hope, a people of purpose, a people of faith, trust and obedience. May we be a people who sacrifice and surrender ourselves, knowing that whatever we have surrendered to Him that’s the only thing that is really safe and secure.
Father, we thank you for this time. We pray that You would guide us into all truth, as we respond to Your Son. In His name we pray. Amen.