These pulpit notes are provided unedited and will thus contain some grammatical or typographical errors.
It was early morning in the Samaritan city of Sychar before the Sun had fully risen and before the heat of the punishing heat of the day had arrived. This was the ideal time to make the trek out of the city to fetch water for daily chores and cooking.
But instead of rising early and joining the other women with their water jars, one woman lay in bed staring at the ceiling. Lying beside her was a man who was not her husband. This was no socially acceptable, but she bore so much stigma and rejection from others due to her previous five marriages, that she gave up trying to maintain any sort of moral reputation.
She had, in the past, joined the other women at the well but the disapproving glances and judgmental muttering became too much to bear. Even if they weren’t talking about her, she began to assume they were.
It was not as if this woman was without religion, or a sense of morality. After all, she was a Samaritan.
The Samaritans worshipped the God of the scriptures. They embraced the first five books of the Jewish canon (though slightly edited). At one point they had their own temple and they prided themselves on being true worshippers of God. To them, the Jews worshipping in Jerusalem had it wrong. Those Jews had the corrupted religion, founded upon spurious scriptures.
The fact of the matter however is that this woman’s entire culture, including her religion came from dubious roots.
When the Kingdom of Israel was divided into Northern and Southern Kingdoms 1000 years earlier, Jeroboam chose the city of Shechem to be his capital. To discourage people from going to the temple in Jerusalem to worship, he erected images of golden calves and led the people to worship them. Jeroboam went further and appointed his own priests, established his own altar, and instituted his own feasts. In doing so, Jeroboam instituted a perverse religion combining paganism with the worship of Yahweh. His new religion would be centered in Shechem and Mount Gerizim in Samaria. And so, during this time there arose competing worship centers in Samaria and Jerusalem.
Many years later, God sent the Assyrians in judgment against the Northern Kingdom. The Assyrians led hundreds of thousands captive out of Samaria. The King of Assyria then resettled men and women from the other nations he had conquered into Samaria. Samaria at this time then was populated by foreigners and those Samaritan stragglers who were left behind by the Assyrians.
With the resettlement of these defeated peoples came the import of all sorts of pagan religion. The new inhabitants brought their own religions and worshipped their own gods in the land.
The new settlers didn’t have it easy however. In judgment against their pagan worship, the Lord sent a plague of lions. The frequent lion attacks became such a problem that the King of Assyria sought a solution. He was convinced that the reason the attacks were coming was that the new inhabitants of the land didn’t know the law of the god of the land. His solution was to send one of the Samaritan priests back to the land to instruct the people in the law of God.
This had questionable outcomes. The result was a city which worshipped a variety of false gods, along with the worship of the Lord. Representatives of the diverse nations in Samaria erected their own shrines and worshipped their own gods while also claiming to fear the God of the jews. It was syncretism at its worst.
Meanwhile socially, the Jews left behind in Samaria after the deportation to Assyria inter-married with the pagan interlopers. With this intermarriage came also an inter-mixing of religion.
There were of course some Jews in Samaria who remained faithful to their religion, but even that religion remember was a distortion of Judaism. It was a system with its own priests, own altars and own feasts. It would even eventually have its own temple. Even a faithful adherent to this version of Judaism was in gross error.
Consequently, there was great conflict between the Samaritans in the North, and the Jews in the South and things would only get worse.
Eventually the Southern Kingdom of Judah would also suffer the judgment of God through captivity. The Babylonians would conquer them. Once the Persians took over, the Jewish exiles in Babylon were permitted to return to their land and begin rebuilding the temple and the city of Jerusalem.
We read an interesting account in the book of Ezra as men from Samaria in the North encountered the recently returned exiles in the South.
Ezra 4:1-5 ¶ Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the LORD, the God of Israel, 2 they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you, for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” 3 But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the heads of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.” 4 Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
The Samaritans came and wanted to help rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. After all, they said, while you’ve been captive in Babylon, we’ve been worshipping your God in Samaria! And what was the response? “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel.” In other words, “Get lost! This doesn’t concern you!”
From that point on, the Samaritans tried and succeeded for a time, to prevent the rebuilding of the temple and Jerusalem.
The resentment and animosity between Samaritan and Jew only grew. As far as the Jews in Judea were concerned, the Samaritans were a defiled people who abandoned true religion, intermingled with foreign nations and had no claims on Jewish identity. For all their talk of worshipping the same God, they were actually apostates.
As far as the Samaritans were concerned, their version of Judaism was the true religion and true worship had to offered, not in Jerusalem in Judea but on Mount Gerizim in Samaria.
Divisions not only continued, but escalated during the time after the close of the Old Testament and before the birth of Christ.
In 128 BC, John Her-cain-us (Hyrcanus) a Jewish King in the Maccabean dynasty defeated the Samaritan nation, enslaved them, and destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim.
Although the temple was never rebuilt, the Samaritans insisted that true worship must be centered on Mount Gerizim. Their version of the Pentateuch reflected this as they edited the Ten Commandments and a handful of other scriptures to point to that mountain as the holiest of sites.
The hostilities between Samaritan and Jew continued into the first century. Early on during one Passover celebration, some of the Samaritans snuck into Jerusalem and left dead bodies in the temple, in an attempt to desecrate it. From that point on, the Jews excluded Samaritans from the feasts.
In Jesus’ day, Jews avoided dealings with the Samaritans. For a Jew to pass through Samaritan territory was to risk being subject to heckling and perhaps violence. Remember the account when the Samaritans would not allow Jesus and his disciples to pass through, because they were “headed to Jerusalem”. Jesus’ disciples responded in kind by asking if they could call down fire from heaven to consume them!
So, the woman in our text is a Samaritan woman
Hers was a corrupted version of Judaism. But beyond the theological differences, it seems that her religion hadn’t done much to affect her lifestyle or morality.
In this woman existed a serious emptiness which she sought to fill through illegitimate means. It appears her chosen idol was men. It seems she longed for joy, or happiness, or security, or meaning and felt she could find it through relationships. She burned through five marriages and hadn’t learned her lesson. The emptiness she kept trying to fill, remained empty. Even now, with her live-in boyfriend, she was still longing.
So, some time after the other women had been to the well and back with their supplies of water, our woman headed to the well. It was a well rich in history. The well dated back to Jacob who dug it himself. Interestingly, the bones of Joseph were buried just few hundred yards away.
She grabbed her water jar, and headed to the well at about noon. It was the hottest time of the day but she would rather endure the heat of the sun, than the scorching looks and burning comments of the other women.
As she approached the well, she saw a man already sitting there.
John 4:1-9 ¶ 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.)
The woman’s shock was twofold. First, Jesus was clearly a Jew and Jews don’t talk this way to Samaritans. Jews don’t interact this way with Samaritans. Next, she is a woman of Samaria. Even if she were a Jewish woman, this interaction would be highly unusual in that day.
But Jesus was there, asking her for a drink. Why? Because he was thirsty! Yes, but also because God himself was seeking this woman, to save her (4:23).
John 4:10 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.”
Jesus sat at the well, and asked this woman for water so that he could speak specifically to her using just this metaphor. He doesn’t want to talk to her about water; he wants to talk to her about eternal life. The metaphor is helpful however because it was this woman, not Jesus, who was suffering from the greater thirst.
She did not have eternal life. She was spiritually empty. She had spent her life dealing with that emptiness by trying to find satisfaction in man after man; relationship after relationship. Now, she was living in out-and-out sin, either having resigned to her emptiness, or in hopes that she might yet still find some semblance of joy.
So Jesus begins a conversation about salvation and eternal life with this woman using an analogy to water in order to help her see her own spiritual emptiness. He is seeking to bring her around to see how she has sought to deal with that emptiness in futile ways. He is helping her along so that she can eventually realize that the emptiness she feels can only be filled by God, and that can only happen through salvation through him.
John 4:10-14 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.”
Like Nicodemus in the previous chapter, this woman isn’t catching the metaphor. She’s still thinking about physical water and thirst. Having no idea of the significance or irony of what she says, she questions Jesus, “Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself.” Little did she know at this time, that Jesus was indeed greater than Jacob.
Although Jacob the Patriarch, whose name would be later changed to Israel, would be the progenitor of the twelve tribes of Israel, Jesus was even greater than him.
- Jacob dug a well for water, and was used by the Lord to bring forth his chosen race of people, Israel.
- Jesus on the other hand had come with living water, eternal life, and by it would bring forth a new Israel, a new people, comprised of men and women from every race.
She doesn’t know this yet and hasn’t even clued in that Jesus is talking about something other than physical water. Look at verse 15:
John 4:15 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.”
She’s not there yet, but she is now thinking in terms of thirst and need. “If I had this kind of water, I could have my thirst satisfied always. I wouldn’t have to keep coming back and forth to this well.” Like I said, she doesn’t get it yet. However, Jesus now has her thinking about her own needs in terms of thirst and satisfaction.
Having set this stage, look what Jesus says next:
John 4:16-19 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.”
This seems like a strange shift in conversation, doesn’t it? From talk of water, to talk about her lifestyle. From talk about eternal life, to talk about her love life. What is Jesus doing?
He has set the stage so that this talk about the woman’s many marriages and current sinful relationship is set in the context of thirst and the need for satisfaction. He would have her understand that she has been going through life with an emptiness which can only be satisfied by God, and she’s been trying to fill it with other things. Relationships were her idols and she hoped the next one would make her complete.
So here Jesus sits at Jacob’s well with a Samaritan. With a Samaritan woman. And a Samaritan woman who is an overt sinner. Why? Because as I said earlier, and as we will see in a moment, God himself was seeking her.
Look at the woman’s response to Jesus:
John 4:19-20 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.”
Jesus’ knowledge of her life and lifestyle could mean only one thing – he was a prophet. But, she’s thinking, he’s also a Jew. This raises questions in her mind regarding the differences between Jewish and Samaritan religion.
The age-old question – is it Jerusalem or Mount Gerizim where true worship takes place? You appear to be a prophet, so tell me. It’s not out of the question that this woman’s sudden interest in theology may also be an attempt to steer the conversation away from her own sin, and personal life!
Jesus however, keeps pursuing her soul.
Look at his response:
John 4:21-22 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.
Centuries of debate regarding the true locus of worship! There was resentment, animosity, division, hatred, prejudice, even bloodshed between Jews and Samaritans over this question. Jesus addresses this, the biggest question which divided Jews and Samaritans, and said the day is coming when the entire question will be irrelevant. No more would Samaritans contend that they were the true worshippers and no more would the Jews answer back that they were the true worshippers. The day is coming when genuine worship will not take place on Mount Gerizim or even in Jerusalem!
He then makes it clear however that the Samaritan religion was not true Judaism. He states clearly, salvation is from the Jews. This was an important statement because in verse 25, he is going to reveal to this woman that he is the Messiah. She will have to accept that the Messiah arises from the Jews, not the Samaritans.
Look how Jesus continues in verse 23:
John 4:23-24 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth,…
Jesus says, the hour is coming and is now here. The time has come that it will be clearly seen who are the true worshippers and it will have nothing to do with location. The true worshippers will be those who worship the Father in spirit and truth.
So, why is Jesus sharing all of this with this sinful Samaritan woman at the well? Why has he sat down at this well, at noon, in the heat of the day, precisely when this woman was coming to draw water? Why was he reaching across racial barriers to talk to a Samaritan? Why was he breaking social convention by talking with a woman? Why was he risking his reputation by conversing with a sinful woman? Why? Because God was seeking this woman.[23 ]“the Father is seeking people to worship him in spirit and truth” and she was one whom he was seeking.
It’s not about Samaritans or Jews. It’s not about Mount Gerizim or Jerusalem. It’s about her as an individual. It’s about her soul. She was a lost sinner, captive to her sin and needed deliverance. She was suffering under her own spiritual emptiness and neither her sin, nor her false religion could satisfy her.
She needed salvation. She needed eternal life. She needed Jesus. And God sought her out, to give her it all.
Well, this woman hears this talk about true worship and responds in verse 25:
John 4:25 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.”
When the Christ comes, he will settle all this stuff. He will show us definitively where true worship must take place, and who are true worshippers.
John 4:26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
With that, Jesus has chosen this sinful Samaritan woman to be the first and one of the only to receive such a direct, explicit revelation of his identity from his own lips.
“I who speak to you am he.” In other words, everything I just told you about worship, and eternal life, is the truth. It is authoritative. It is from God. I have given you the answers to the questions of worship and worshippers.
In other words, God is seeking people to worship him in spirit and truth, to whom he will grant eternal life, and he has sent me to you!
With that, Jesus revealed to this woman that the time was coming and was now here that all true worship was to be centered, not upon Mount Gerizim and not even upon Jerusalem, but upon him. He was the locus of genuine worship. This is what Jesus already revealed in chapter 2 when he stated that he was the new temple.
Remarkably then, what we witness here is a sinful, Samaritan woman who would have been banned from temple worship on multiple counts sitting directly beside God’s new temple – Jesus, and being offered a personal invitation to come and worship.
But what about the fact that she was a Samaritan? Through Jesus racial prejudices are eliminated. But what about the fact that she was a woman? Through Jesus sexism is eliminated. But what about her immorality and sin? Through Jesus, sins are forgiven.
The day had come when those who would worship in Spirit and truth would be comprised of unworthy men and women of all races. Through Jesus, moral failures would be forgiven, racial prejudice would be eliminated, and gender divisions would be healed. This true religion would see worshippers transformed by the Holy Spirit who would endow them with eternal life and full spiritual satisfaction.
This woman has been sought and found by God. The Father has introduced her to his Son, the Messiah. Jesus had come to offer her true satisfaction, true acceptance. Through faith in him, she would receive eternal life, springing up in her soul like living water.
She would never have to return again to the dry well of sin, and immorality to try to quench her spiritual thirst. She could stop trying to draw water from the well of illicit relationships. Instead, she could find true joy and satisfaction through Jesus, as one who worshipped her God in spirit and in truth.
The question is, would she believe? Look in verse 27:
John 4:27-30 ¶ 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.
The woman so ashamed of what she had made of her life that she avoided coming to the well with the other women, now runs into town drawing all attention to herself.
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Did he tell her everything she had done? No. But he told her the things that she most regretted and the things that she was most known by others for.
She proclaims to others that she believes she has found the Christ. As a result of her words, many begin to come to Jesus and to believe. With that, Jesus not only saved her, granting her eternal life, but then proceeded to send her as one of the first heralds of the gospel.
As we conclude, notice something striking in verse 28. It’s hard to know whether or not John intended this to be significant or not but, notice that when all that Jesus said to her finally sunk in, John gives us the detail that when this woman ran away, she left her water jar behind.
It’s as if to symbolize that although this woman came to draw water from Jacob’s well, she instead found herself filled with living water given by one greater than Jacob. With that realization, she ran into town, overflowing with spiritual satisfaction and spilling it over onto whoever would hear.
So, how about you this morning? Is there anything in the account of this Samaritan woman that you can see to be true about you?
- Have you been guilty of seeking satisfaction in your personal idols, instead of God?
- Are you guilty of coping with life, and seeking happiness through sinful thoughts and behaviour?
- Are you guilty of using relationships to fill and emptiness that only God can fill?
- Are you one this morning who is beholden to a religious system which really has no power to transform your soul, or give you eternal life?
Or how about this question?
- Do you bear a stigma due to your past sins which you can’t seem to shake?
- Do you have an overwhelming sense of unworthiness before God?
- Have you so messed up your life that you now feel out of the reach of God’s grace and forgiveness?
The message this morning is that God’s love, through his Son Jesus Christ tears down these walls. He seeks unworthy men and women from every race, no matter their background and invites them to believe in him. The invitation stands this morning. Will you trust Jesus and Jesus alone as the one who can give you eternal life? If so, he will save you. He will adopt you. He will forgive you. He will transform you from whatever you are, into a true worshipper.