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Lesson 3: The Samaritan Woman (John 4)

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Editor’s Note: This article is the lightly edited manuscript for the accompanying audio message that Vickie delivered.

Just before He ascended to heaven, Jesus told his disciples, Go and make disciples of all nations. We know that this is a command for all Christians in each successive generation. Yet I think most of us feel guilty because we hardly ever tell anyone about the greatest gift in the world (salvation through Jesus Christ). But usually our problem is to know how do to do it.

One of the ways is through Friendship Evangelism. The premise is that as we try to win people to Jesus Christ, we must attempt first to become their friends, talk to them, listen to them, invite them to our homes, go places with them, show them love, help them in their need. Then when they see that we really are different, they will want what we have and we can share Christ with them.

We are learning that Jesus Christ was God living here in a human body, fully God and fully man. He revealed the invisible God, our heavenly Father to us in His words, attitudes and actions. He told his disciples He wanted them to be His friends and He showed what true friendship looked like.

Since He is now in heaven, He has given us the responsibility to reveal God, our heavenly Father, through our lives so that others may be born into His family, and He modeled for us in His many relationships how to be a true friend to others.

As we work through our lesson today we will discover principles He modeled that still work in being a true friend.

Jesus’ ministry had begun in earnest and it was attracting attention. He had gone to Jerusalem for the Passover and the religious leaders were beginning to ask questions about him. In order to avoid a direct clash with them at this time He started back to Galilee.

John 4:4-6

He did not have to go through Samaria. This was a deliberate choice other Jews never made. They hated the Samaritans, they considered them to be racial and religious half breeds. So they went around two longer routes to avoid them. But Jesus went through Samaria because there was someone He had to see there.

To make friends, give priority to people and be available

I think we often give priority to activities, schedules and programs. But people must come first.

They arrived at the little village of Sychar about noontime. The road ran through a valley and the town was up on a hill. The well that Jacob had dug 2000 years before was still supplying water. The disciples went into the town to buy food, but Jesus sat alone by the well. He was tired, hungry, and thirsty, a clear indication of his humanity.

John 4:7-9

Imagine this woman’s surprise when a Jewish man spoke to her and asked her for a drink. Jesus did something we can learn from.

Use a common point of interest or contact

They were both at the well needing water. She had a jar, He did not. He asked a favor of her, put himself in a position of need. This is not usually our approach, is it? What was even more unusual was that Jews would not use the same utensils as a Samaritan, because they considered them unclean, but this man wanted to use her waterpot. Not only that but a Rabbi never spoke to a woman in public, not even his own wife and he certainly never would have spoken to a Samaritan woman. But man made rules never controlled Jesus. This woman had a heart’s need and He knew he could meet it. There is a lesson for us here.

Do not discriminate because of race, gender, religion or social class

Do we let social, racial or religious barriers keep us from befriending people who need to know the Lord Jesus and who could enrich our lives and broaden our understanding of the love of God for all people. I see wonderful examples of this in Christians who cross these barriers to reach out to immigrants and homeless people all over our city. Others have gone to help those who lost everything in Katrina and other disasters. Notice how Jesus responded to her question.

John 4:10

If you knew the gift of God and WHO it is... (NIV)

Now Jesus began to reveal who He was to her.

Reveal yourself gradually

We cannot make true friendships when we always wear a mask to protect ourselves and hide our real self. I know we can do this from fear of rejection. But people want to know the real you. We must be authentic and vulnerable. Sure, there is a risk involved. On the other hand, we do not want to dump the whole truck load at our first encounter. It is wise to reveal ourselves gradually depending on the person’s response, just as Jesus did.

He constantly exposed himself to rejection, but He never let rejection change His confidence or His worth.

You see, this woman had to trust Him before she could receive His gift. And people have to trust us before they will trust the Savior we say we believe in. Notice how He stimulated her curiosity. What was the gift? Who was He? What was living water?

John 4:11-14

Living water to her meant a fresh spring in contrast to a pool or cistern. Her answer shows that they were on different wave lengths. She was literal. He used terms that had deep spiritual significance. But he was not discouraged by her cluelessness. Living water was used symbolically in the O.T. to refer to God.

Jer. 2:13 (NIV) My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.

Many references in the Bible to water do not mean H2O, but refer to the Word of God or salvation. Just as we cannot live physically without H2O, we cannot live spiritually without God, who is the Source of living water. Jesus wanted to satisfy the thirst of her soul. That thirst we were all born with.

God built a thirst within us to drive us to Himself.

But instead we spend our time and energy drinking water from the world’s broken cisterns and wonder why we are still thirsty. Wealth, beauty, art, education, power, pleasure, career, even marriage –all are finally meaningless in the effort to find the essential values of life, to find personal fulfillment, to quench our thirst. Nothing material or earthly can satisfy the thirst of our spirits. Jesus claims to give one drink that will satisfy our heart’s thirst forever. To drink is another way of saying, “to believe.”

Later on Jesus made clear how that thirst for God would be satisfied.

John 7:37-38

The Holy Spirit’s indwelling presence satisfies our thirst for God

Here Jesus identifies living water with the Holy Spirit who indwells each person the moment that we put our faith in Christ. In the O.T. the Spirit came upon people to enable them to accomplish specific tasks, then He could leave. But now He lives permanently in each one of us who belong to Jesus. That is why we will not be thirsty for God again.

Many of us, even believers spend our lives expecting another human being to satisfy that thirst –a husband, either present or future, a parent, a child, a friend. No human being, no matter how wonderful can fill the place meant only for God. There are needs people can meet, and there are needs only God can meet and we should know the difference. This will save us from unrealistic expectations and constant disappointment.

John 4:15

The woman was interested. She was entirely literal. She had a wrong understanding and wrong motives. Cannot you hear her thinking: Would not it be wonderful to never have to come to the well again, never to run the risk of woman gossiping about her. What a deal. But Jesus did not lose patience with her.

Accept people where they are. Do not judge by externals

We must show that we are interested in them, accepting them without demanding that they change first. This is hard to do, but if we are going to tell them that God loves them, it might be a good idea to let God demonstrate that love through us from the start.

Now Jesus abruptly seemed to change the subject.

John 4:16-18

Jesus knew all about her before he met her. (Omniscience) He accepted her just as she was. This does not mean he approved of her life style. She was either widowed or divorced 5 times. Only men could initiate divorce. Can you imagine what her self image was. The only man that would stay with her was one who would not marry her. Jesus just stated the facts, but He teaches us something important here.

Do not ask someone to trust Christ unless they know that they are a sinner.

The first step towards recognition of a need for salvation is for a person to acknowledge that she is a sinner. Each of us was born a sinner. That is why we sin.

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. (Ps. 51:5, NIV)

The sins we commit are just the evidence that we have a sinful nature. We all need forgiveness and Jesus is the only One who can give it. Many times human pride will keep us from admitting our sin. That is why this is important.

John 4:19-20

Now she sidetracked him into a religious discussion. This will often happen when we try to share our faith.

E.g. If Jesus is the only way, what about the heathen who never heard? Why would a good God let such evil happen?

We can try to answer those questions if they are answerable, but do not let them get us off point.

John 4:21-24

Do not compromise the truth to win favor.

Jesus was very honest with her. Notice how He used her detour to enlighten her further. He revealed something about God that is nowhere else stated so clearly in the NT.

A time is coming and now has come... (NIV)

His own death and resurrection would bring in a new access to God.

1. The worship of God would no longer be located in a certain place, like the temple in Jerusalem.

2. Samaritans worshiped ignorantly. They had a corrupt mixture of Jewish and pagan religions. He did not use soft soap to win her favor.

3. Salvation is from the Jews. All the O.T. promises about a Savior coming from the Jewish people were true. Jesus in His humanity was descended from Abraham, the father of the Jews.

4. God is Spirit and seeks people who worship Him in spirit and in truth. Worship would not be in man made temples or churches, but in the inner sanctuaries of people’s hearts. God would not be the exclusive property of one race or one denomination. He fills the universe and is everywhere present. But He is also our heavenly Father.

In this exchange Jesus introduces a dimension to friendship we cannot ignore.

True friendship nurtures the spiritual life

All friendships for believers must have a spiritual aspect, either for evangelism or for encouraging and building others up. Friendships will not be deep and intimate that do not nurture the spirit as well.

John 4:25

Well, she did not know a lot, but this was one thing she did know. Samaritans expected a Prophet like Moses to come. Since they did not accept anything but the first 5 books of the O.T. as their scriptures, they did not know the other prophecies about Messiah. They just looked for this Messiah to be a teacher who would explain everything.

John 4:26

This is total self revelation. This the only time before His trial that Jesus stated this so clearly. He revealed His identity to this immoral Samaritan woman, not to the religious leaders or even to His own disciples. This was remarkable in a day when the rabbis taught that to teach a woman spiritual truth was like teaching a dog; that it was better to burn the Scriptures than to teach a woman. But He also models something very important.

Be willing to risk rejection

He had offered Himself to her as the One who could satisfy her soul’s thirst, the Messiah. What would her response be?

She had two choices: faith or rejection. Those are really the only two options anyone has and as we befriend people and witness for Christ, we must make this clear. There is no safe fence to sit on.

But do you realize that we who have trusted Him already must make the same choice daily?

  • Do we believe or reject Him when He promises to guide us concerning our future?
  • Do we believe or reject him when He says that suffering is a major instrument used by God to build into us the character of Jesus Christ?
  • Do we believe or reject him when He says He unconditionally loves us and will meet our every need?
  • Do we believe or reject Him when He warns us that the love of money is the root of every kind of evil?
  • Do we believe or reject Him when He tells us that knowing, memorizing and obeying his word will keep us from sin?
  • Do we believe or reject Him when He says that no one comes to the Father except through him?

What would this woman’s response be: Faith or rejection?

John 4:27-30

The disciples attitude towards women reflected that of the culture, but Jesus never obeyed the traditions of men that violated God’s value system and they did not dare to question him.

The woman was so excited about her encounter with him that she just left her waterpot and hurried back into the town. Notice what was most impressive to her about their conversation.

“He told me everything I ever did.”

Tell your friend what Jesus has done for you

All any of us have to really share is what Jesus Christ has done for us personally. That is why it is so essential to keep growing in our experience with him and in our knowledge of His Word so that we have something fresh to share with others. We cannot give others water from a dry well.

This could not be the Messiah, could it?

It is interesting to see how her perception of Jesus had progressed as He gradually revealed himself. He went from being a man by the well to a Jew to a prophet to the Messiah.

Cultivate the relationship by increasing self-revelation

Friendships and love grow as we reveal ourselves, accept and trust each other and challenge each other. Friendships are pretty sterile if all you do is talk about surface stuff. We all need friends who know who we really are and love us anyway.

John 4:39-41

Look at the impact this immoral woman had on her community. The disciples had gone into the town and only brought back bread. She went in and brought back the town. She was someone none of us would want to represent us. But Jesus was not ashamed to be identified with her.

Jesus stayed with these Samaritans for 2 more days at their request. What did he teach them in those 2 days? Their conclusion is revealing.

John 4:42

This man really is the Savior of the world. (NIV)

Jesus had given them a world view. Not just the provincial idea that the Jews had that the Messiah would deliver Israel from Roman rule. The world needs a greater deliverance than that from political or economic oppression. The world needs deliverance from sin. Maybe Jesus even told them He would die for the sins of the world and rise again from the dead and they believed in Him. But how did it all start?

It started with Jesus truly reaching out in friendship to this outcast woman. He initiated the contact. He revealed himself to her because she needed what He had to offer, and He accepted her as she was. He did not compromise the truth to win her favor. She believed him and he quenched her thirst for a secure relationship with a Person, a heavenly Father who would love her unconditionally forever. And her witness to her townspeople resulted in their conversion as well.

Now I would like to go back to the conversation Jesus had with His disciples while she was telling the good news back in town.

John 4:31-34

The disciples were as literal in their understanding as the woman was. Jesus spoke of the complete satisfaction that comes from doing what God wants us to do. Many of you know the unparalleled joy it is to see a person trust the Savior because of your efforts.

Now as they were gathered by the well, Jesus turned their attention to the town on the hill. A stream of people was already coming down. This was the harvest ready to be gathered in.

True friends share Jesus Christ with others

He tells us here, as he told them, that we all are to be working at gathering in a crop for eternal life. That means we are to be involved in evangelism. One will sow the seed, another water it, another cultivate it and another reap it. But we will all rejoice together. All around us are fields of people ripe for harvest. But we must gather them in. We must learn how to make friends, and be a true friend to them just as Jesus was. Remember, He was called the Friend of sinners.

What does Jesus reveal to us about God, our heavenly Father?

  • Our heavenly Father is a seeking God. He initiates relationships
  • He knew all about her life. He is omniscient
  • Our heavenly Father is Spirit, He fills the universe (omnipresent),
  • He values women as much as He does men. He cares for us individually
  • He is patient with our ignorance and blindness.
  • He leads us gently into light.
  • He makes us confront our sins not to condemn but to deliver us.
  • Our Father loves us and proved it by sending his Son to be the Savior of the world
  • Our heavenly Father wants our worship to be in spirit and truth.
  • He wants to use us to bring others into his family.
  • He wants to be our Friend as well as our Father.

Jesus said,

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, NIV)

That is exactly what he did when He died on the cross and rose from the dead.

He also said,

You are my friends if you do what I command you. (John 15:14, NIV)

If sharing your faith is difficult for you, tell your heavenly Father that you want to be obedient, but you need His help. He will show you how to approach a person and what to say.

Let us be true friends to others and introduce them to the greatest Friend of all, our Lord Jesus Christ.

Related Topics: Christology, Evangelism, Soteriology (Salvation), Women's Articles