Jesus and the Woman at the Well: While traveling through Samaria, Jesus gently starts a conversation with a very unlikely person: a Samaritan woman with a string of failed marriages who was living with yet another man. Jesus offers her grace and truth. She responds by telling everyone in her town about Jesus, and many believe because of her testimony. If you have a past full of guilt, shame, or regrets, this message is for you. Recorded on Aug 27, 2023, on John 4:1-42 by Pastor David Parks.
Finding Life in Jesus’ Name is a sermon series on the gospel according to John in the Bible. Have you ever felt unsatisfied with your life? Or, even when things were going well, something was still missing? Many people sense there must be something more. But what?? John, one of the closest friends of Jesus, believed that Jesus came into the world so that we may have life and have it to the full. Jesus turned John’s life upside down, and John claims this new life — marked by God’s power, presence, and purpose — is available for all who believe.
So all year, we’re working our way chapter by chapter and verse by verse through the gospel according to John. We’re calling this series Finding Life in Jesus’ Name, and if you missed any of the messages so far, you can always go back and watch or listen online. But this morning, we’re in John chapter 4. Starting last week, we started working through a longer section of John’s gospel that focuses on conversations that individual people have with Jesus. And we said that this shows the humility of Jesus, that he would be willing to spend one-on-one time with people and not just bask in the glory of the crowds but also his heart for people. No two conversations are alike. Jesus meets everyone where they are at, and helps them move forward in the truth and in healing and in redemption and in whatever else they most need. But also, each conversation teaches us something new about the person and work of Jesus. Last week, we had a conversation between Jesus and a powerful/influential religious leader named Nicodemus. And said that Nicodemus would’ve been widely seen as a good person (maybe one of the best people!) in their society. But Jesus was clear: even a man like Nicodemus needed to be born again to see/enter the kingdom of God. In other words, the way of salvation is a gift of God and a work of the Holy Spirit, not something anyone can earn by being a good person. It was a challenging conversation. Today, we have another conversation, but with someone who could in many ways be seen as the polar opposite of Nicodemus, that is, with the woman at the well. And this conversation is one of the best examples of John’s statement in the prologue that Jesus was full of grace and truth. The way that he deals with this woman who seems to have something of a sketchy past is really incredible. But what about you? Is there anyone here who could use some grace? Anyone who struggles to keep their life perfectly well-ordered? I know there’s someone here who’s got some junk in their past that follows you around and whispers guilt and shame and regret into your heart. For all who need some grace today, this message is for you. There is One who offers unconditional acceptance but also hope for change. There is only One who offers living waters welling up to eternal life, regardless of who you are or what you have done. If you have a Bible/app, please take it and open it to John 4:1. We’re going to cover a lot of bible today, but this is all one story, so I believe you can handle it, and I’ll unpack it as we go. Let’s jump right in.
John 4:1-10 (NIV), “1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John—2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he 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, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 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?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” Ok, let’s pause here. So because Jesus’ ministry is doing what John the Baptist was hoping would happen, that Jesus would become greater even as John became less, there was increased attention from the religious leaders of the Pharisees, so Jesus decided to travel north. John the Apostle says that they traveled from the southern region of Judea, where the city of Jerusalem was located, to the northern region of Galilee, where Jesus was raised and where he would spend much of the next several years in his ministry. But to get to Galilee, they had to go through Samaria (Shechem). Now, after long and (no doubt) hot days of travel, they stop at Jacob’s well, and the disciples leave Jesus alone to go into town to buy food. So Jesus is there by himself when a Samaritan woman comes to draw water. And Jesus starts a conversation simply by asking her for a drink. “Will you give me a drink?” She’s clearly surprised at his question because of their different ethnic backgrounds — he was a Jew, and she was a Samaritan, and as John says, “Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” Now, what is going on here? Well, Jesus was raised in a Jewish culture that was very anti-Samaritan. In John chapter 8, the Pharisees called Jesus a Samaritan as an insult. They hated each other, and there had been 700 years of violent history leading up to this point in time. There were ethnic differences between Jews and Samaritans; there were cultural/religious/political differences. Plus, they lived right next to each other, so their differences were always bumping up against each other. Despite all this, Jesus gently starts up a conversation with this Samaritan woman, saying, “If you knew who I was, you’d ask me for a drink, and I would have given you living water.” She’s probably thinking, who is this? And what is he offering?
John 4:11–26 (NIV), “11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” Ok! Let’s pause here again. So the woman is intrigued by Jesus’ offer for living water but initially (like Nicodemus) takes Jesus literally. How can you give me living water? You have nothing to draw water from the well? But she’s intrigued because she doesn’t want to keep coming back to the well. She says, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” But why not? Drawing water from a well would be a normal, daily occurrence back then. Why should it be something she’d want to avoid? There’s a clue in the text that this conversation happened at around noon. Now, noon was not the normal time in the day to draw water. Typically, people would’ve drawn water early in the morning to use during the day and in order to avoid hauling water during the hottest part of the day. The fact that she was there at noon suggests she’s trying to avoid meetings and perhaps conversations such as this. Jesus seems to understand exactly what is happening when he responds, “Go, call your husband and come back.” but she responds, “I have no husband.” But Jesus knows this. He says, “The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” Now, how could he know this? How could he possibly have guessed that she had had a string of failed marriages, much less specifically five?! The only explanation is that Jesus had supernatural knowledge of her life. He truly knew her. Now, I don’t believe Jesus brings this up to make her feel bad. In fact, it isn’t clear why these marriages failed. Maybe they were her fault because she hadn’t been faithful, or maybe she had been abused or mistreated in some way, or maybe both. But Jesus brings up her past because he always cuts to the heart of the matter. With Nicodemus, it was his understanding of salvation and the need to be born again, despite his social status or moral performance. With the woman at the well, it was her past, which included an embarrassingly long string of broken relationships. No wonder she was drawing water when it was unlikely she would have to face anyone else! This speaks to the shame she felt around others. She confirms his knowledge of her life by observing that Jesus must be a prophet. And then she quickly tries to change the subject. “Oh, you’re a prophet? I have a theological question for you…where are we supposed to worship?” This was surely an attempt to move Jesus away from talking about her past (she probably would’ve wanted to talk about anything else). But also, this was one of the points of disagreement between Jews and Samaritans. Jews believed that they were to worship God at the temple in Jerusalem, while Samaritans believed they were to worship God at Mount Gerizim near Shechem. There were both religious and political issues wrapped up in this disagreement. What would this Jewish prophet say about it? Jesus says it’s not about where you worship God. It’s about how you worship God. And true worshipers will worship God in the Spirit and in truth. God is seeking people who will worship him like this. The woman seems to believe Jesus but does not completely understand how this could be, but how could she before the cross and the empty tomb? So she says, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” One of the things the Jews and Samaritans had in common was the belief that God would send his chosen one, called the Messiah in Hebrew or the Christ in Greek. Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” And this is a bombshell. Many others have wondered or even guessed that Jesus was the Messiah. But so far in John’s gospel, he has not directly confirmed this part of his identity to anyone. It would’ve made sense to me that Jesus would’ve revealed this to Nicodemus, a powerful religious leader. It probably would’ve been a good political move on Jesus’ part. Start building an alliance of the rich and powerful, the elites in Jerusalem. But Jesus didn’t do this. It wasn’t until he met this Samaritan woman with a sketchy past. What benefit could Jesus have possibly received from her? What did he have to gain from her? Could it be that he just wanted her to know who he was just as he knew who she was? But how unusual of a situation this was is only highlighted by the disciples when they returned from town.
John 4:27–38 (NIV), “27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him. 31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him, “Rabbi, eat something.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” 33 Then his disciples said to each other, “Could someone have brought him food?” 34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. 35 Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. 36 Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. 37 Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true. 38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” So, the disciples return and are surprised at what they find. Here is Jesus talking to a Samaritan and a Samaritan woman of all people! What was Jesus doing? Was this appropriate? But no one questioned him. Anyway, the disciples had brought back the food they went looking for, but Jesus wasn’t hungry. He was fully satisfied with doing the work of his Father. He was filled with joy and gratitude that he had found the harvest fields ripe for the harvest. Of course, the disciples didn’t understand what in the world was happening then, but later, they too were sent out into this same harvest field and found many people like the woman at the well, people with a past who needed both the grace and the truth of the gospel of Jesus; men and women who needed unconditional acceptance, but also hope for real life-change and spiritual growth and freedom and life. People who needed living water. But years before what we would know as the Great Commission of Jesus after his resurrection, to go and make disciples of all nations, this woman, this dear sister of ours in Christ, left her water jar behind her and went to tell everyone (she’d probably tried, up to that morning, to avoid) about a new man she had met — not to marry and not to live with, but a man who truly knew her. Could he be the Messiah? Their response to her testimony about Jesus is even more surprising than the fact of their conversation at the well. Look at v. 39.
John 4:39–42 (NIV), “39 Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” This is God’s word. And what an amazing story! A spiritual revival breaks out in where? In Samaria? But that’s the wrong place! And by what means? By the testimony of a woman with a questionable sexual history? Certainly not the obvious choice. Last week, we saw that if Nicodemus needed to be born again, then there’s hope for anyone. This week, we see this proved true with the woman at the well. And isn’t this an encouragement? Isn’t this good news? That Jesus would care for and know and speak with and reveal what is true to this woman? So I ask again, is there anyone here who could use some grace? Anyone who struggles to keep your life in order? I know there’s somebody here who’s got some junk in their past that follows you around day by day and whispers guilt and shame and regret into your heart. Maybe you do things to avoid being known by others for this very reason. But for all who need some grace today, this message is for you. There is One who offers unconditional acceptance but also hope for change. There is only One who offers living waters welling up to eternal life, regardless of who you are or what you have done. And his name is Jesus. Not only is he the Messiah, but he is indeed the Savior of the world. If you believe that today, if you believe that you are known but you are loved anyways, not because of what you do but because of what Jesus has done, then let us follow the example of our sister, and let us share our testimony with a world that longs for living water, water welling up to eternal life. And just watch what God might do, even in the most unlikely of places. Let us pray.