John 4:1-30 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
If you wanted to take someone to a passage in the Bible to help them understand the nature of salvation, where would you take them? In the context in which I came to faith, the “Romans Road” was the go-to. In general, today, I take people to Ephesians 2:8-9, “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
In that same vein, if someone came to you and asked, “What does the Bible say about Christian worship?,” where would you take them in Scripture? What are the main passages that shape your understanding of what it means to truly worship God. For many years, I’ve been drawn to Exodus 33-34 where Moses pleads with God, “Show me your glory,” then, “The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.”
Romans and Exodus are fine places to go for a biblical take on salvation and worship. But our passage for this morning is one of the few that addresses both together with such clarity. In Jesus words and actions, centuries of confusion and wandering among His people on these two issues are cleared up for those with ears to hear and eyes to see. Grace, God sent His Son to teach on, model, and accomplish true worship and salvation and we’re given awesome glimpses of both in John 4:1-30.
Obviously, those are some impressive and dramatic claims. However, while it’s easy to make claims like that about this passage, it can be a bit more difficult to see them in the text at first. There is a lot embedded in this passage that doesn’t show up on the surface. There is always a cultural gap between 1st century Middle Eastern, Jewish culture and ours, but it shows up more than usual in this passage. That means careful readers will be filled with questions. And I hope to help you see this morning that getting at least some of the answers to some of the questions is necessary to really make sense of the passage. In other words, we have a bit of work to do if we’re going to see all there is to see regarding salvation and worship in this passage.
For all of those reasons, this morning’s sermon is a sermon of questions and answers intended to bridge the cultural gap and set us up well for the next two Sundays in this same passage—looking at salvation next week and worship the following. Let’s pray that God would help us appreciate this passage and along with it, receive and grow in His salvation and be filled with true worship.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
There are nine background questions that I intend to ask and answer in the next few minutes. My aim in doing so, once again, is to help us appreciate the context of this passage so that we can most fully embrace the salvation of Jesus and engage in the worship of God taught here.
Why did finding out that the Pharisees knew Jesus was gaining more disciples than John the Baptist cause Jesus to depart (1, 3)?
The first question that I had when coming to this passage comes from the first three verses: Why did the Pharisees care that Jesus was making more disciples than John the Baptist and why did Jesus care that the Pharisees cared? In other words, why did finding out that the Pharisees knew Jesus was gaining more disciples than John the Baptist cause Jesus to depart?
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John … 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.
The heart of the answer to this question has two prongs. The first is that it was a part of the exchange that Pastor Mike talked about last week. That is, as questions and tensions rose concerning the relationship between the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus, Jesus chose to clear out in order to allow the matter to resolve itself. There was no confusion in John or Jesus, but only among their followers and the Pharisees. Again, the first reason Jesus left as His ministry came to the fore was simply to allow the tension with John the Baptist’s followers to naturally and appropriately fade as they worked their way through the “ministry exchange zone”.
The second part of the answer to this question is one that will play out over and over again throughout Jesus’ ministry. He left because His time had not yet come (we’ll see this plainly at the beginning of chapter 7). The fact that Jesus’ was crucified in the place He was now leaving testifies to the fact that the further away from Jerusalem He got, the less intense the opposition. Jesus was not afraid of opposition. Indeed, He knew it was the tool His Father had chosen to use to bring about His crucifixion and the salvation of the world through it. Jesus wasn’t afraid, but He was strategic. He had more work to do on earth before He was to return to His rightful place in heaven. This is important, not merely as an interesting bit of trivia, but because it helps us to understand more clearly the constant strategizing of Jesus. He was truly as innocent as a dove, but also as shrewd as a serpent.
Why is it important that Jesus didn’t baptize but only His disciples (2)?
John 3:22 seems clear enough, right? “Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing.” If that’s all we had, it would seem obvious that Jesus was traveling around Judea and baptizing those who received His message. Well, it might be clear if not for what our passage for this morning adds. In John 4:1-2 we read, ” Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples)…”
So what’s going on? Was Jesus baptizing or not and why is it important for John to add what he did in v.2? Again, there are two keys to this. First, although we’re never told why, John’s clarification of his own words helps us to see that Jesus did not do any of the actual baptizing Himself. In some ways, this is how the Apostle Paul handled it as well (1 Corinthians 1:14-15). Beyond that simple truth, it’s dangerous to read anything more into it.
Second, however, we must settle on the simple fact that every legitimate baptism (from John, Jesus’ disciples, and even us today) was/is a baptism of Jesus. Jesus alone has authority to authorize and legitimize anything. Even if the baptisms of John and Jesus’ disciples had slightly different points of emphasis at that time, both were from God. In that way, as one commentator (Edward Klink) put it, Jesus alone is “the true Baptist,” in that all legitimate baptisms are “in His name”. The simple point is that the Gospel leaves no doubt as to the God-honoring nature of John the Baptist’s ministry and the rightness of Jesus’ disciples baptisms, and for those things to be the case, they must have been baptizing on Jesus’ behalf.
This question is especially important in that as we consider salvation and worship, it is a good reminder that although we might want to know things the text doesn’t tell us, God has given us everything we need. Where the text doesn’t answer our questions and when it answers questions we didn’t ask, we need different questions.
Who were the Samaritans?
In the words of commentator, Edward Klink, “The Samaritans were most likely descendants of the undeported Northern Kingdom and foreign colonists brought in from Babylon and Media by the Assyrian conquerors of Samaria (see 2 Kgs 17:24-41). [Consequently,] the Samaritans [were a people who] adapted the worship of the God of Israel with the gods of Babylon” (Klink, ECNT, 235-236). They were also a people who accepted only the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, as inspired by God.
Probably the main things for us to understand about this for the purpose of rightly interpreting this passages’ teaching on salvation and worship, is that there was mixed lineage in the Samaritans (Jewish, Median, Assyrian, and Babylonian), that they occupied a land rich in Israelite history (next point), and above all, that as a result of all of this (and more), there was genuine hatred between Jews and Samaritans (the following point).
The fact that Jesus went to Samaria and spoke as He did with this woman was no small act of cultural defiance. And that leads us to the next question.
Why did John include information on Jacob and Joseph (5-6)?
John mentions that on His way to Galilee, Jesus ended up in a town in Samaria called, Sychar, that Sychar was “near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph” (v.5), and that “Jacob’s well was there” (v.6). Again, to most fully grasp what this passage says about salvation and worship, it’s important for us to understand why John felt the need to include these details.
The primary reason was to establish the simple fact that like nearly everything else, the Jews misunderstood their place in God’s plan. God meant them to be a holy light to the world. And God meant their holy light to flow out of a deep and profound sense of humility and dependence on God. Their history was riddled with every bit as much idolatry and spiritual adultery as the Samaritans. Their only hope was always the mercy of God rather than the merit of their souls. Rather than humbly, graciously, mercifully imitating the love God had shown them in spite of their unworthiness, the Jews stood in prideful judgment over the Samaritans. That is not to say that the Samaritans were not wallowing in sin that needed to be repented of, but it is to say that the Jews understanding of their response needed to be significantly recalibrated if it was to be consistent with their salvation and worship.
Again, in mentioning this land and this well of Jacob and Joseph, pillars of Jewish faith, John established that (contrary to Jewish thinking) it wasn’t merely having a claim on the land that made someone right with God. And by mentioning their common ancestry, John established that it wasn’t being a mere physical descendent of Abraham that made someone right with God. In short, these things matter because they helped John’s readers understand that (as we’ll see next week) Jesus will save based on His mercy and grace or no one will be saved.
Why was the woman at the well when Jesus was there (6-7)?
Typically, for their protection and help, women would gather water in groups. Also, due to the heat of the noonday sun, women typically gather the water for the day in the cool of the morning. Thought not for certain, it is likely that the woman was alone collecting water at the sixth hour (at noon) because she was an outcast among the Samaritans for being as promiscuous and immoral as she was. She’d had five husbands and was currently living with another man out of wedlock. And this is important because it will help us see that just as God’s salvation and worship are not ultimately rooted in a person’s nationality, neither are they rooted in a person’s past. This woman was as shameful as they come, but that did not stop Jesus from offering Himself to her.
Why was it surprising to the Samaritan woman that Jesus would ask her for a drink? Or, why don’t Jews have “dealings with Samaritans” (7, 9)?
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” …9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
Why was it surprising to the Samaritan woman that Jesus would ask her for a drink? Or, why don’t Jews have “dealings with Samaritans”? In addition to all the reasons we’ve already seen, that is, in addition to the mixed ancestry, the pagan, syncretistic worship of the Samaritans, and to the fact that this was an adulterous woman, “by the early first century [the time of the writing of John’s Gospel] there had already been around two centuries of conflict and strife between the groups, with both sides commit ting violent war crimes against the other. For this reason, the very mention of ‘Samaria’ in v. 4 is intended ‘to evoke unease with the readers.’ The reader is expected to be aware of the sharp conflict existing at numerous levels between the two groups…The encounter between these two was normally avoided at all costs, and when unavoidable it warranted merely a public repudiation of the other group for the establishment of their own.” (Klink, ECNT, 235-236)
According to custom, virtually everything about the woman, and especially in relation to a “religious leader” such as Jesus, demanded that Jesus have nothing but disgust to do with the woman. Rather than disgust, however, Jesus talked to the woman with respect and dignity. The glory of this reality, as we’ll unpack next week, is that it is yet another example that Jesus did what He did for the Father’s pleasure, not for that of man. Jesus came to do God’s will, not keep peace with those who had put themselves in God’s place. Likewise, there is glory in the fact that Jesus does not look at a person’s face, but at their heart.
What’s up with all the woman’s questions (9, 11, 12, 19, 25)?
The woman asked Jesus five questions—three explicit (vs.9, 11, 12) and two implied (vs. 19 and 25).
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”
The way Jesus spoke to the woman simply didn’t make sense to her. It was a clear break from the norm.
After being offered living water by Jesus, “11 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?’”
Just as the woman was confused by the way in which Jesus addressed her, so too was she confused about what He said. Living water?!
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob?”
Dwelling in the land of someone as prominent as Jacob and Joseph, drinking from the same well as these men, and walking in the place that God had so clearly worked, were all a source of great pride for the Samaritans. When they were looked down upon by the Jews, they could point to each of those things as a retort and an argument for their validity. In response to Jesus’ significant claims, the woman was playing a familiar card. She intended to back Jesus down a bit by putting Him next to one of the vary fathers of their faith, next to one that everyone agreed was superior to them.
Rather than back down, however, Jesus doubled down. He claimed once again that His water was in every way superior to Jacob’s. In response, “19 The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’” And in that statement is an implied question: What do you have to say about that, Jesus?
In response to the woman’s attempt to knock Jesus down a peg (by referencing Jacob), Jesus responded to her by describing in detail her sordid marital history. And in response to that, the women tried to stump Jesus with an “unanswerable question”—one she’d witnessed debated countless times by countless people. It was like the Sadducees who asked Jesus about whose husband a woman would be in heaven after marring five brothers or the Pharisees asking Jesus about the greatest commandment. These were questions that had been hotly debated with no acceptable answer. This was a common defense. The main point is that the woman was trying everything she could to get out from under the unique authority of the unique man in front of her.
25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Implied—We’ll just have to agree to disagree, won’t we? Truce until the Messiah comes?
Finally, in a last bit of desperation, the woman basically said “well, I guess we’ll just have to wait until the Messiah comes to find out who is right in these matters.”
The thing for us to see from all of this as we move toward salvation and worship in the coming weeks is that the woman’s questions were not sincere. They were defense mechanisms designed to help the woman avoid the implications of Jesus being the Son of God. We will never be able to receive salvation or offer proper worship if we care more about being “right” or safe or in line with what other’s believe.
How did Jesus know the woman’s history (16-18)?
This is a question that godly men and women have debated from the beginning. Why did Jesus seem to know some things perfectly and not others? Likewise, how do we make sense of passages that talk about Jesus not being able to perform miracles?
The simple fact of the matter is that God’s Word doesn’t explicitly answer that question for us. We must, therefore, be humble and cautious in our speculation. For what it’s worth, the answer I’ve found most compelling and biblically defensible is the idea that part of taking on human flesh and nature was a total surrender to the Holy Spirit. Where Jesus knew things that only God could know on earth, it was because the Spirit revealed that to Him. Likewise, where He was able to perform miracles, it was because the Spirit empowered Him.
While it may be interesting to speculate, that’s not why this question is relevant to us about salvation and worship. It’s relevant because however Jesus knew what He knew, it could have come only from God and people who have things that can only come from God need to be taken seriously. What Jesus says here about salvation and worship is from God and therefore it matters more than what you or I or anyone else thinks.
In what sense did Jesus have to go to Samaria (3)?
Finally, and to the very heart of the matter, in what sense did Jesus have to go to Samaria?
3 [Jesus] left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria.
I’ll only briefly answer this question as unpacking it is the main subject of next week’s sermon. There were two roads between Judea (where Jesus was) and Galilee (where Jesus was going). One took travelers west of Samaria and one crossed the Jordan River and took travelers east of the region (this is the road Jesus took on His final trip into Jerusalem). In other words, there was no geographical reason that Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” But if not a geographical necessity, then what? Certainly, it was because He had a divine appointment with the woman at the well. He was there to talk to the woman that she might believe, be saved, worship, and spread the good news of Jesus to all her people that they too might believe, be saved, worship, and tell others (which she did and they did).
Again, that’s where we’re heading…to the nature of the salvation and worship Jesus came to bring!
This was an unusual sermon. I’m not sure I’ve ever given another one quite like it. But wherever people are convicted that the role of preaching to explain and help people to apply the Word of God, there will be sermons that (as determined by the text itself) are more inspiring, some that are more convicting, others more challenging, rebuking, recalibrating, and informing (like this one). Good preaching is dependent on the text and teaches the hearers to be dependent on it as well. While our personalities, preferences, seasons of life, culture, and daily context all shape what we might want to hear, God’s Word unrelentingly brings us back to what we need to hear. And what we need to hear is that salvation (1) is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, (2) is necessary because we do not worship God as we ought, and (3) ultimately leads us into right, everlasting, and all-satisfying worship. This sermon, from this text, is meant to set us up well to see all of those things more clearly as we press further into them. May it be so!