WOMAN AT THE WELL John 4
“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 Saviour of the world” (John 4:42).Testimony helps. But to “know,” we have to come to Jesus for ourselves.
Jesus identified Himself to a Samaritan woman (4:1–26). He expressed satisfaction at doing God’s will (vv. 27–34), and spoke of the harvest His disciples would share (vv. 35–38). Many Samaritans came to hear Him (vv. 39–42). Back in Galilee Jesus healed a nobleman’s son (vv. 43–54).
Understanding the Text
“He left Judea and went back once more to Galilee” John 4:1–3.
The other Gospel writers focused on Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, and did not mention an early ministry in Judea. The early popularity of Jesus stirred up the Pharisees, leading Jesus to return to Galilee. John didn’t explain why Jesus left. “A Samaritan woman came to draw water” John 4:4–9. The Samaritans were descendants of pagan peoples settled by the Assyrians some 700 years before on land that had been part of the ancient Northern Kingdom of Israel. They had adopted Yahweh who was viewed as the god of that land, but maintained many of their pagan practices. The centuries-old hostility between the two peoples, whose religion the Jews viewed as apostate, was still intense in the first century. This partly explains the woman’s surprise that a Jewish rabbi should ask her for a drink. Most religious Jews would view her as unclean, and would feel contaminated by any contact with her. We need to surprise people today with our willingness to reach out to “sinners.” Jesus here reminds us that God calls no person unclean, and that the godly person is not contaminated by ministering to sinners. The Samaritan woman came to the well but was ignored by the other women. This was unusual, as drawing water at the community well was a time for socializing in the ancient East. Perhaps this woman, who was sexually promiscuous (4:16–18), was an outcast in her own village. Jesus knew who and what she was, and still took time to lead her to faith. Let’s be guided in relationships with others by His example. “Go call your husband and come back” John 4:16. The instruction was socially correct. In that culture no rabbi would speak with a woman without her husband present. But Jesus had another purpose in mind. He wanted to get beyond mere conversation (vv. 10–15) to touch her deepest emotions, and lead her to face her need for redemption. While attending the University of Michigan I worked in a mental hospital. During that time I witnessed frequently to another ward attendant, who was in the Master’s program there. After leaving to go to seminary, I wrote him a letter in which I spoke very personally—and insulted him to the extent that I never heard from him again. Yet another person I witnessed to, a patient, responded to the personal approach. Though once a Sunday School superintendent in a conservative church, he shared his story of years of alcoholism and marital unfaithfulness, and turned back again to the Lord. I had the joy—against hospital policy—of contacting his wife, and helping the family build a new and different life together. In one case the personal approach led to the slamming of a door; in another to the rebuilding of broken lives. That’s what is so powerful about being open and personal in our witnessing. As we build a relationship, becoming personal breaks through the barriers of superficiality that people erect to isolate themselves. We need wisdom from the Lord as to how and when to attempt a breakthrough. And at times the personal approach will be rebuffed. Yet we need to help people deal with the basic issue of life to which the Gospel so powerfully speaks. “They are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” John 4:19–26. The woman tried to change the subject by bringing up a theological red herring (v. 20). Be alert, for almost every time you are close to touching a person’s heart, he or she will try to change the subject to theology! Jesus was undeterred. The question was set aside, and the issue pressed. God is Spirit, and seeks worshipers who will come to Him in spirit and truth (v. 24). It’s best to understand these words as a promise. God is looking for worshipers. All He asks is that we turn our hearts toward Him, and come to Him without pretense. The woman at the well knew the truth about herself: she was a sinner. God knew too and still sought her as a worshiper! Would she face the truth about herself, and come to God as she was? What a wonderful promise to share with others. God is looking for you! He’s seeking worshipers! Come as you are, not trying to hide your flaws. Turn your hearts toward heaven, where God awaits. “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming” John 4:25–26. This woman, who claimed not to know the difference between Mount Zion where the Jews worshiped and Mount Gerazim, where her people went, did know one thing. God had promised to send a Saviour, and He would have all the answers! That’s all we need to know today. It’s not our theological acuteness that saves us. It’s not our mastery of obscure Old or New Testament texts. It’s the simple belief that God has sent a Saviour, and He has the answers. You and I want to study and grow in our faith. But all we must know as we start each day is that God has sent us our Saviour. And He has the answers we need in order to live our today in God. “I have food to eat that you know nothing about” John 4:27–34. When the disciples returned, the woman was just leaving. They urged Jesus to eat something. And they didn’t understand His reply. What Jesus said shows us how to find what our constitution guarantees we can pursue: happiness. Jesus found His deepest satisfaction in doing the Father’s will. And so will we. “They are ripe for harvest” John 4:35–38. God’s field is perpetually ripe. Each day is the “today” when some will welcome the Gospel and find salvation. Your part may be sowing the seed. Or encouraging its growth. Or perhaps gathering in a crop over which someone else has labored. No matter. Whenever a person is gathered into God’s kingdom, all are filled with joy. “We have heard for ourselves” John 4:39–42. As a college student I sold encyclopedias for a time. I was enthusiastic when I began, and sold 11 of my first 13 presentations. But then I began to think about what I was saying as I followed the script for my presentation. And I realized that much of what I was saying just wasn’t true. After that, though I kept on trying for a while, I could make no sale at all. That’s one thing that’s so exciting about presenting Jesus to others, as the Samaritan woman did. We can share with enthusiasm, for God’s promised benefits are assured. Whoever comes to see for himself or herself will be saved. “A certain royal official” John 4:43–54. Historians note that Herod tended to recruit Gentiles as royal officials, and so suggest perhaps this man was one of them. If so, the three stories found in John 3 and 4 prefigure the spread of the Gospel: to Nicodemus the Pharisee, a Jew (Acts 2; 4)-to the woman at the well, a Samaritan (Acts 8)-and to the royal official, a Gentile, representing the whole world (Acts 10–11; 13ff). If so, these three representative persons illustrate John’s theme. God gave His Son that the whole world might know salvation. “Whosoever will” includes everyone (John 3:16).
The Dilemma of Faith(John 4:43–54)
Nobody ever said having faith was easy. Certainly the Apostle John didn’t say so. In fact, this story shows just how difficult it is. Just glance through the story and you see first of all a frantic father hurrying to find Jesus. His son was close to death, and the only one who could possibly save him was Jesus! When he finally did find Jesus, Christ didn’t seem very sympathetic. “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders,” He said, “you will never believe.” The saying wasn’t a rebuke. Jesus didn’t question the frantic father’s motives. In fact, the saying is intended to stimulate faith! For when the father begged Him again to come, Jesus simply said, “You may go. Your son will live” (v. 50). This is the dilemma of faith. God, in response to our desperate appeals, speaks to us and says, “You may go.” In other words, “It’s done. Go home and you’ll find the sick healed.” And what is there for us to do? If we keep begging Jesus to come with us, we display unbelief. But to go means to head home with no evidence at all that the promised healing has taken place! How terrifying a choice. Do we keep asking after Jesus has said, “You may go”? Or do we leave, trembling, believing despite the lack of proof? The royal official made the choice of faith. On the way excited messengers met him. His son was recovering. The fever had broken—at the exact hour Jesus had told him, “You may go.” Faith is still very much the same. We come to God desperate for salvation. And all He says is, “You may go.” The work is done, your healing accomplished. And, though we lack evidence then, if we are wise we turn, in faith, and walk away as Jesus said. But later we discover to our joy just how completely Jesus has performed His miracle within.
Believe. And go.
“It is the heart that senses God, and not the reason. That is what faith is. God perceptible to the heart and not to reason.”—Blaise Pascal