Sermon March 23, 2014 / Pastor Terry Defoe / John 4:3-7 / The Woman at the Well/
3 (Jesus) left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar… 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (N.I.V. © 2011)
The fourth chapter of John’s Gospel records an incident that took place early in Jesus' ministry. Jesus was traveling northward, with His disciples, from Judea to Galilee. Here in our text this morning, we see Jesus the evangelist. In our text, we see His unconditional love for all people. Here we see how he used God's word to meet the needs of one particular disadvantaged individual. The Gospels reveal that, during his ministry, Jesus often travelled from place to place. Here in John chapter 4 he's "on the road again." This time he's on his way to Galilee – which, in those days, was a journey of three or four days. I pray, as I always do, that God would bless our consideration of His Holy Word.
In Jesus’ day, if you wanted to travel from Judea in the south, to Galilee in the north, you had to pass through Samaria. In those days, Jews and Samaritans didn't get along, and, because of that tension, many Jews avoided Samaria by crossing over to the eastern side of the Jordan River and then heading north to Galilee. But, for some reason, Jesus and His disciples didn't do that on this particular journey. By the time Jesus met the woman at the well, he was probably on the second day of his journey. He and the disciples had probably been walking for several hours. It was noontime. And it was hot. Jesus and his disciples arrived at a well and looked forward to a cool drink of water. The disciples went on into a nearby town to find food for the noon meal. Jesus stayed on at the well, alone.
John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus and his disciples had come near to a Samaritan village called Sychar. Today, that place is called Nablus, and its 30 miles north of Jerusalem. Close by is a mountain called Mount Gerizim. A woman came to the well that day. She was carrying a water jar. She planned to fill it and head back to town. Jesus boldly asked the woman if she would give him some of the water she had drawn from the well. It's important to remember that the individual he was speaking to was a woman, and not just any woman – she was a Samaritan. At that time, as I say, the Jews and the Samaritans weren't getting along. But that didn't bother Jesus. He knew that His message of Good News was just as much for her as it was for the Jews. As we heard last week, John’s Gospel (3:16) says: "God is not willing that ANYONE should perish – and that includes Samaritans – but that everyone would come to everlasting life."
You know, there's a world of people out there who need to know about Jesus and his love. And, as His Holy Spirit works through the Word, Jesus seeks a response of faith from each one. Hugh Duncan of Moses Lake, Washington has an illustration of a basic Scriptural principle. He says:
I recently read about an old man, walking along a beach at dawn, who noticed a young man ahead of him picking up starfish and flinging them into the sea. Catching up with the youth, he asked what he was doing. The answer was that the stranded starfish would die if left until the morning sun.
"But if the beach goes on for miles, and there are millions of starfish," countered the old man, "how can your efforts make any difference?" The young man looked at the starfish in his hand and then threw it to safety in the waves.
"IT MAKES A DIFFERENCE TO THIS ONE," he said.
When you think about it, we live in a world where countless people are stranded on the beach of sin, vulnerable to the hot sun. Each one that comes to faith is like the starfish the young man tossed into the sea. There are countless people in this world, and you and I can't reach them all. But for each one we do reach – each one who comes to faith by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament – our efforts make a great deal of difference – the difference between spiritual life and death.
Jesus offered the Samaritan woman something she very badly needed. She came seeking water that day. But Jesus was offering her something much more valuable. The water she drew from that deep well would quench her thirst, temporarily. But the water Jesus was offering her would quench her thirst forever. Jesus was speaking about spiritual things. But she was thinking about physical things. That’s a common theme in John’s Gospel. Jesus preached the Gospel to this Samaritan woman. He was offering her the forgiveness of her sins and the promise of eternal life. But he also preached the Law. He confronted her sin. He had words of comfort, but he also had words that challenged her.
"Go call your husband," Jesus said.
Why would Jesus do that? Well, the customs of the day indicated that it wasn't right for her – a woman – to be speaking to him – a man – in a public place like that. It was appropriate for her to have her husband present.
"I have no husband," she said.
"You're right," said Jesus.
"The truth is that you've had FIVE husbands, and the man you're now living with, is not your husband."
These words had a powerful impact. She realized that this bold and unusual Jew – this stranger she'd never met before – knew all kinds of things about her life. His preaching of the Law left her uncomfortable – embarrassed and ashamed. In her heart, she knew her lifestyle was wrong. She quickly changed the subject. Jesus’ amazing knowledge about her situation made him a "prophet" as far as she was concerned. It's important to notice that Jesus didn't condemn this woman for the way she lived. But he didn't approve of it, either. He dealt with her graciously. She wasn't used to being treated that way. She expected to be condemned. But Jesus did NOT condemn her.
She changed the channel. She asked Jesus – obviously a Jew – about His views on worship – an ongoing point of contention between Jews and Samaritans. She wanted to know what he considered to be the best place to worship God. Jesus didn't enter into the controversy. He said that it doesn't matter where people worship God. What does matter, he said, is that God in worshipped a manner appropriate for believing people – that He be worshipped in Spirit and in truth. The woman then told Jesus that as far as she was concerned, when the Messiah came, He would straighten out complicated issues like this. Jesus surprised the woman by saying, directly and explicitly, that HE was the Messiah.
It's easy for us today to miss the importance of this statement. During His ministry, Jesus avoided telling the Jews that he was their Messiah. He normally let His actions do the talking. When the Jewish religious leaders asked him for a sign that would prove he was the Messiah, he said that the only sign he would give them would be his resurrection from the dead. But here at the well, speaking with this non-Jewish WOMAN, Jesus came right out and said that he was the Messiah. This foreigner, this woman, this SINNER, was privileged to know a critical, world-shaking truth. JESUS IS THE MESSIAH! Such is the mysterious grace of God! Here, as He often did, Jesus broke with tradition. And that, of course, was one of the things that bothered the Jewish religious leaders about him. In the Jewish religion, women were denigrated, looked down upon. But Jesus didn’t do that. He trusted this lowly woman with information critical to her eternal salvation – and to ours!
Bible scholars tell us that there was something very unusual about this woman. Her behavior was unusual – out of the ordinary. She had come to the well at the hottest time of the day. And she had come alone. Normally, women came for water early in the morning, or after sunset, when it was cooler. And normally, women took on this task as a group and used their time at the well to catch up on the latest news. It could very well be that this woman was an outcast in her village. That might be the reason why she came at this odd hour of the day – and why she came alone. It could be that she felt bad about herself and her situation. It could very well be that her life had been disintegrating and she didn't know what to do about it.
This woman was surprised that Jesus was willing to speak with her. After all, she was a woman. And a Samaritan, as well. But Jesus did talk to her. She didn't understand what he had to say – at least not right away. This woman is like the rest of us. At first, she couldn’t understand the spiritual truths Jesus had for her. I think it’s significant that Jesus spoke of his blessings in terms of water. The Old Testament often compared God's blessings to the blessings that water brings to a dry land. Psalm 42:1, for example, says,
As the deer longs for streams of water, so my soul longs for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God...
It’s clear from our text this morning that this Samaritan woman recognized something special about Jesus. She was willing to listen to what he had to say. She had an open mind. She was not like the Jewish religious leaders. When she heard Jesus say that he was the Messiah, she left her water pot behind, and headed back to town. She wanted to tell anyone who would listen that she had met the Messiah. Her problems faded into the background. A miracle had occurred. Faith had been sparked in her heart.
There are several lessons that we can take from this story. The first is that sharing of faith is a critical task in the Kingdom of God. The Gospels reveal that, for Jesus, this was a high priority. He tailored his message to meet the particular needs of particular people. He dealt with this Samaritan woman in one way. He dealt with others in different ways. He always had the right word to say. The sharing of faith isn't easy. But as we reach out with God's word, we can watch with amazement when we see what God does. We plant the seed, and we water it, but only God can make it grow.
The second lesson for us from John chapter 4 is that the fields are ripe for harvest. The Lord sends His people opportunities, on a daily basis, to share their faith with others – by their actions as well as by their words. For many people we meet, we represent the Christian faith to them. And one person brought to faith may lead to the salvation of many others. The Samaritan woman came to faith in Jesus as the Messiah that very day. And her conversion led, within a short time, to the conversion of many others in her village. When it comes to evangelism, as Jesus Himself put it, the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
There’s a third lesson for us here in John chapter 4: many people – more than we know – are open to the message about Jesus. Our task is to share the message. God's part – the Holy Spirit's part – is to grant salvation. You might think that the Samaritan woman would reject Jesus. You might think that she would not be interested in his claim to be the Messiah. But her heart was ready to believe. My point? A lot more people are open to the Gospel of Jesus Christ than we might think.
The fourth lesson from our text this morning is that faith is to be shared in the context of unconditional love. Jesus' unconditional love surprised the woman at the well. She was surprised by the fact that He didn't condemn her. He simply shared Law and the Gospel – the bad news about her sin and the good news about forgiveness – and, as the Holy Spirit enabled her, she responded with faith and trust. Jesus' love gave credibility to his words.
The fifth lesson that we can take home from our text this morning is that Jesus took the time to overcome at least three different barriers that stood between this woman and saving faith. He overcame the GENDER BARRIER by talking to a woman even though that was frowned upon in his day. He overcame the ETHNIC BARRIER by talking to a foreigner, a Samaritan. And He overcame the UNDERSTANDING BARRIER by taking the time to carefully explain his words.
In our text from John chapter 4 this morning, we have heard of an extraordinary meeting that took place at a well in Samaria. A woman who had been living a sinful lifestyle, a woman from a despised ethnic group, met the Jewish Messiah. And a spark of faith was kindled in her heart. As a result of her conversion, many more came to know Christ as Savior and Lord. You know, our world is full of people like the Samaritan woman. May God give us eyes to see them. May he give us lips that speak of our Savior. And may he give us hands that reach out to offer support. In Jesus' name. Amen.
LET'S PRAY: Dear Heavenly Father -- Help us to reach out to hurting people with Law and Gospel, as Jesus did. Help us to share the Good News of sins forgiven and a place prepared in heaven. Give us the joy of seeing your Word at work. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.