John 4—the Living Water
The one question about Christianity that never seems to go away, and people have been asking me for thirty years is, “What about those who have never heard?” Their assumption is that there are good people all over the world who have never heard the Gospel, but they certainly deserve to go to heaven. The Bible is clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Therefore it is incorrect to call them good people, but more importantly God has promised to send His spokespersons (missionaries) to anyone, anywhere who is interested and seeking for God (Rom.10:12-18, 1 Tim.2:3-7, Jeremiah 29:12-13). It may seem impossible to us to take the Gospel to the guy on the deserted island or the Pygmy in Africa, but God has promised to send His messengers to anyone who is interested. There are numerous biblical examples of God doing just that throughout the Bible. Stories like Acts 16:6-10 where Paul intended to go northeast but God made it clear there were people in Macedonia to the west seeking God. This reveals the sovereignty of God in evangelism. In John 4, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter of the Samaritan woman at the well as one of the examples of God’s sovereignty in evangelism. The woman was seeking the Christ, but she was of a race and in a region that no Jew would go. If you had asked any of Jesus’ audience about how an adulterous woman in hated Samaria could ever have heard the Gospel, they probably would have told you, “She couldn’t because none of God’s people are going there”.
During the time of Christ, Samaria was the area where the Jewish tribe of Ephraim had settled after they drove the Canaanites out in the book of Joshua. In 722 BC, the Assyrians attacked and destroyed Israel along with its capital (at the time) of Samaria. The Assyrians took all the leading citizens off to captivity to other parts of their empire, and then resettled the land with foreigners who cohabited with the remaining Jews. Their descendants were called Samaritans after the city there. This mixed race of people also practiced a hybrid religion combining the Jewish Scriptures with pagan idolatry. In 400 BC they even built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim thus rivaling the temple of the Jews in Jerusalem. In 536 BC, the Jews had returned from captivity to rebuild Solomon’s Temple that had been destroyed by the Babylonians, but the Samaritans opposed them and harassed them thus temporarily stopping the construction (Ezra 4). Therefore the Jews from that time forward hated the Samaritans as enemies. The Samaritans were half-breed unclean idolatrous evil rivals, and no Jew would be caught speaking to a Samaritan. Even though in first century Israel Samaria was between Jerusalem and the Jewish Galilee, all Jews travelled the longer way around to avoid Samaritans. Nevertheless, John 4:4 tells us that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria”. We will see that the reason He had to go there was that He had a divine appointment with a very unlikely person who was seeking the Christ.
If You Only Knew–John 4:4-15
Jesus and His disciples were traveling from Jerusalem to the area around the Sea of Galilee, but contrary to normal practice they went through Samaria, and stopped for food and water at a place that had been Jacob’s well back about 1800 years before. They stopped at the “sixth hour” which was 12:00 noon during the heat of the day. Anyone stopping there would have expected no one to be there since people typically gathered water in the cool of the morning. Jesus’ disciples were sent away by Him to find food (they thought), but we find out He had a greater reason to be left alone. It was here at this time that He encountered the Samaritan woman. Even though Jews don’t go to Samaria, and even though water was usually drawn in the morning, and even though Jews don’t speak to Samaritans, and a Rabbi didn’t speak to women, Jesus was in the right place at the right time for God’s appointment with this woman. What about those who have never heard? God finds them.
The woman was probably at the well at noon because she was a disgraced shameful woman trying to avoid the self righteous “in crowd”. Therefore Jesus would shatter yet another barrier of approaching a known sinner by taking the initiative and approaching her–what a contrast of the holy righteous Rabbi speaking to the fallen lost woman. Jesus made a simple request, “Give me a drink”. Why was this his “breaking the ice” conversational piece? In John 3, Jesus did the same thing with Nicodemus. He started with something physical they understood so that He could move them to a spiritual truth they did not yet understand. Just as she needed H2O to sustain her physical life, she also needed the spiritual water that only Jesus could give for spiritual life. In Jn. 4:9, we see her surprise as she asks Him why a Jewish man would speak to a Samaritan woman–unheard of! Jesus then redirected her attention by making a profound statement, “If you only knew who I am and what I can do for you, you would ask and I would give you living water” (my paraphrase). How often do we say or hear people say “If you only knew”? If we only knew what the stock market was going to do we could get rich. If we only knew how to cure cancer we could save millions of lives, and if people only knew and believed in Jesus they could be forgiven, saved, and have eternal life. The prophets had spoken of this ” living water” that Jesus was offering. We can see in it Jeremiah’s indictment of Israel in Jer. 2:13, “you have forsaken God who is the fountain of living waters, to dig for yourselves broken cisterns that can hold no water”. What a great image of the human race rejecting the only true spiritual truth in order to make up their own truth, their own false religions that are full of holes as Jeremiah said in 17:13, “all who forsake The Lord will be put to shame…because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the Lord”. To her credit, the woman eagerly asked for the living water. Apparently life without the living water was not good for her, but still she was thinking only on the physical realm of H20. Like all of us she was focused on her current circumstances, and was seeking relief from the hardships of life on planet earth. She probably considered her hard work and difficult conditions as her primary problem, but Jesus knew what her real problem was.
In this story of John 4, we can see the “four spiritual laws” that make up the Gospel. In verses 4-15, the first law is, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”.
The Conviction and the Confession
In John 4:16-19, Jesus moved the conversation to her great need and her real problem. In order to expose her sin, convict her, and provoke a confession, Jesus set her up by saying, “Go call your husband”. Being omniscient, Jesus knew that she had had five husbands and was now living with another man, but she needed to be convicted of her sin and confess. We might ask why she had been through so many failed relationships. I would guess she was desperate for love, acceptance, and security, but like the country and western song says, she was “looking for love in all the wrong places”. This reveals the second of the four spiritual laws, “we are sinful and separated from God, and the penalty of sin is death”.
The Turning Point
In John 4:19, the light bulb finally is turned on for the Samaritan woman as she proclaimed to Jesus, “you are a prophet”. Now she realizes that Jesus is special and His teaching about living water has spiritual significance. Her statement also confirmed that Jesus was right about her having five husbands, and it constituted a confession on her part. Now she wants to talk theology and religion with this Jewish prophet, so in v.20 she asks the “where” and “how” questions which everyone is opinionated about. Everyone thinks their denomination and church is the best, and they are loyal to a fault. Everyone thinks their church’s way of worshipping is best, so she asks Jesus if the Samaritan temple is better, or is the Jewish temple the place of worship? The implication also is that she is asking which way and place is correct. Which religion should we follow? Her comment lays out one of the points of contention between Jews and Samaritans, but the application for us is “My church is better than your church”. His reply to her was a surprise, and caught her off guard—neither. In the New Covenant that Jesus was ushering in, the physical location of worship is not the issue, and in a short while both temples would be destroyed by the Romans (actually happened in 70 AD). The New Covenant of grace renders all ceremonies and rituals obsolete. True worship will be “in spirit and in truth”, and the two go together. In God’s eyes, true worship is spiritual and sincere from the heart of a person, and it is in accordance to the truth, guided by the truth. Many people think all that’s important is having faith, but the object of your faith is all important. The disciples of Jim Jones had faith in him when they committed suicide, but they were sincerely wrong. Faith and belief are only as good as the truth they are based on. Your faith in the truth must be consistent with the truth God has revealed in His Word, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Climax of Salvation
In v. 25, the woman expresses her belief in and expectation of the coming promised Messiah (Christ). She believes that when He comes He will reveal the truth that we need. At this point Jesus is no longer mysterious but gives full disclosure by telling her that He is the Christ that they are anticipating. He is the “living water” come to give eternal life. He is the solution to all her needs. You have heard people say, “Rock my world”, and Jesus definitely rocked her world. Clearly she believed in Him as her Savior, as she dropped everything to run up to her village to tell everybody she knew. She was so clearly changed that many Samaritans came down to encounter Christ, and we know they believed in Him and were saved from v. 42, “we…know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.”
From this we can see the third and fourth spiritual law: Jesus Christ is God’s provision for man’s sin, and we must individually receive Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord.
In each of these stories it is amazing how Jesus goes right to each person’s individual problem issues. In John 3 Nicodemus’ problem was religion, throughout the four gospels Jesus exposed the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The rich young ruler of Luke 18:18 had the problem of materialism, and the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 was looking for love in all the wrong places. What did they have in common? They were all separated from God by sin, as we were, but my prayer is that we would be convicted by our sin and receive God’s grace—His provision for our sin, Jesus Christ, our living water.