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Last week, Pastor Mark told us about John trying to clear up the confusion surrounding his baptism. John seemingly spoke in riddles talking about one coming from above and one coming from earth. The one from above is over all and has the testimony of what He has seen and heard. We learned God sent Him and He speaks the words of God and gives the Holy Spirit without measure. The Father loves the Son and we were left with, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life, but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” This morning, we’ll take a look at the first part of a very critical story that gives us some insight into prejudice and how to deal with un-Christlike thinking.
Our passage today comes from John 4:1-14. I hope you take the time to read it.
I always find it interesting when people miss the point of a story and this is no different. John tells us, “Therefore when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), He left Judea and went away again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria.” This is more than a geographical update. John typically links passages together. He’s creating a narrative that reminds his readers of the central theme of the book found in Jo. 20:30-31, “Therefore many other signs Jesus performed in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” John is providing clarification because there was a misunderstanding the Pharisees had about Jesus. The Pharisees heard something and ran with it. I’ve been on the receiving end of Pharisaical people. It’s not a lot of fun and sucks all the energy out of you. I’ve had things said about me that were not true, but it’s way easier to share the gossip then to find out if it’s true or not. I am still learning to ignore that kind of nonsense.
The Pharisees thought Jesus was baptizing more than John and I love how John casually says, “Although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were.” John is known as the Baptizer, and Jesus is not like John in that way. Remember back to the first chapter, the Pharisees sent Jews from Jerusalem to question John about baptism and what it meant. They wondered if John was the Christ. They asked if he was Elijah. The Pharisees were concerned from the beginning about who John was and who he represented. From the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, it seems they were bent on destroying or damaging the message of Christ regardless of the cost. The Pharisees were self-proclaimed keepers of the truth. They were not open for conversation: if you did not agree with them, they deemed you a blasphemer. It seems the only bright spot in their group was Nicodemus. Remember from a few weeks ago when Pastor Mark shared how Nicodemus went to Jesus under the cover of night to seek guidance from Jesus. Nicodemus left Jesus confused because the things Jesus said were so contrary to the way he was raised. Don’t give up on Nicodemus; we’ll see him again.
So, Jesus’ disciples were baptizing and even if the Pharisees didn’t get it exactly right, the growth of this movement was very concerning to them. Jesus was gaining followers through the work of His disciples. People were believing the message that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (Jo. 3:16) This reference to the disciples baptizing will be the last reference in John to baptism. I make this point to counter those that say baptism is required for salvation because it is not. Baptism is a demonstration or representation in our life of what Christ did in His life, His death, and His resurrection. It is a picture of our new life in Christ.
Jesus leaves, “Judea and went away again into Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.” At first glance, you might think, “Why doesn’t He stay and fight? Why doesn’t he confront those that accuse him?” We know He is God, after all, and could smite down these troublesome, evil attackers. If you spend more time defending yourself than you do sharing the message, then it might be time to move on. Matt. 10:14 says, “Whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake the dust of your feet.” Jesus had work to do and it was not the time to hang out and waste time fighting. Jesus leaves, “Judea and went again into Galilee. And He had to pass through Samaria.” Jesus is on a mission and His destination was Galilee. He had friends there, work there, and the area was presumably free of Pharisees that would hinder the work His Father sent Him to accomplish.
In order to get to Galilee from Judea, “He had to pass through Samaria.” The quickest way to get from Jerusalem in Judea to Galilee is the main ridge road that goes through Samaria. This route takes about three days walking. There is another route that many Jews would prefer to take because it avoids Samaria. The longer route takes you down the Jordan River and you get into Galilee at Beth Shan. The route could add a couple of extra days of travel, but you would avoid Samaria. Jews and Samaritans have a troubled past. About 700 years earlier, Assyria took the ten northern tribes of Israel captive. 2 Ki. 17:6 says, “In the ninth year of Hoshea, the king of Assyria captured Samaria and carried Israel away into exile to Assyria, and settled them in Halah and Harbor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes.” It only got worse. For some history on the Jew – Samaritan issue, read 2 Ki. 17:24-41. Throughout the years, those Assyrians intermarried with the remaining Jews. Those exiled Jews lost their identity and became less Jewish with each generation. Ezra would enact policies that separated out the people of Samaritan descent. The Samaritans would enact their own measures including building a false temple on Mount Gerizim. The hatred for the Samaritans ran deeply even though centuries have passed. I’m reminded of what Jesus told His disciples in Acts 1:8, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” In that incredible promise, Jesus included the very path He had taken to arrive in Samaria.
“He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.” This is the area near Shechem that Genesis tells us was given to Joseph by his father and where Joseph’s bones are buried. This is a very important area not only because Joseph’s bones were near there, but “Jacob’s well was there.” Wells were an important part of the day-to-day affairs of the people of that time just as they are important today. Not everyone can simply open the tap and get water. Even today, people rely on wells to provide their drinking water. This well has been reported to be 75 to 105 feet deep and nine or ten feet across with solid masonry walls. Even in our modern assessment, that is quite a well, but for back then, that is an extraordinary accomplishment. “So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.” Jesus has walked the road from Judea into Samaria. He was tired and needed a break from the hot dusty road and sat down by the well. It was the sixth hour and if John used Jewish time keeping, the sixth hour would make it noon. If the sixth hour is from Roman time, that would make it 6:00 am. It seems more likely the time is noon because of what follows in the story and it’s unlikely that Jesus and His disciples journeyed through the night to arrive at the crack of dawn.
The meeting at the well. Jesus is sitting on the edge of the well resting from His journey. The Word was in the beginning with God and the Word was God. Jesus, according to John, is the Word made flesh and John frequently points out the humanity of Jesus. God in the flesh is wearied from His journey – a human condition. God in the flesh is thirsty – a human condition. Jesus is thirsty following his journey. I want you to really get the idea of what’s happening here. Like many things in Scripture, it’s hard for us to place ourselves in the context of the story. If we’re tired, we take a break. If you go on a journey, you take water and snacks and activities for the kids. If you don’t prepare, you can simply pull off the road and go to one of the stores at the exit. Jesus and His disciples are not walking for pleasure or exercise; they’re walking for transportation. “There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her. “Give me a drink.” The well here is like Walmart. Not only can you get what you need there, you can mix and mingle with people from the community. It would not be unusual for an encounter to take place at the town’s well. Jesus’, “disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.” It is certainly possible that John remained with Jesus and watched this whole scenario play out. It’s possible Jesus related this story to the disciples when they returned. We do know this story is included here because the Holy Spirit of God wants us to know it happened and learn from it.
Jesus is by the well and a woman of Samaria came to draw some water and we find ourselves in a dilemma. The woman says to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For the Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” It is obvious to the woman that Jesus is a Jew. She knows the Jews hate her and her kind. She has done nothing that we know of that would generate such hatred for her. But she does know the history between the Jews and the Samaritans. What she doesn’t know is who she is talking to. Just because there are other Jews that hate Samaritans doesn’t mean every Jew hates Samaritans. Just because despicable things have been done to Samaritans in the past doesn’t mean that Jesus will do despicable things to her. Will there be condemnation in the present for the actions in the past? This chance meeting for the woman of Samaria and Jesus is going to upend her previously held beliefs about Jews. Perhaps Jesus is all by Himself because you know His disciples would likely have something negative to say about Jesus talking to the woman. Why are you talking with her? Don’t you know where she’s from? You know she’s a Samaritan, right? Jesus was different. He saw beyond prejudices. He looked beyond previous actions. He understood how hatred in the past can influence hatred in the present. I’m glad the disciples were out getting food and not the other way around. The conversation that takes place next is incredible. Have you ever been in a conversation where you lead someone to a truth that you know like the back of your hand, but they miss the point altogether? Is the Jew she is talking to going to be like other Jewish men she has encountered? Even to have a conversation with a Samaritan would be culturally wrong.
Jesus answered her question with a question, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.” For the Samaritan woman, this is a weird statement. How could she possibly know who she is talking to? She was going to the well to draw water and had to do it herself, she didn’t even have a servant in the house to do it so she was a woman of humble means. The conversation turns from physical need to spiritual need. “If you knew,” Jesus says. It’s a conditional clause. If she knew that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.” If she knew the gift of God and understood who was speaking with her, she would not have asked the question that follows. “She said to Him, “Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water?” Water is essential to sustain life. But Jesus is no longer talking about drinking water. Just like the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, there are two meanings here: one is physical and one is spiritual.
“You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?” The Samaritan woman knows some things. She knows about Jacob and the well they’re at and how they came to have that well. She knows the physical importance of the well and Jesus lays on the spiritual truth that will rock her world. “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” Jesus talks of the need to continually satisfy one’s physical thirst. That’s the water the woman can provide, but that need for physical water will have to be repeated over and over again. The water Jesus provides is a spiritual water that bursts forth from within that satisfies the spiritual thirst. The living water Jesus provides is never ending: it is eternal.
The stage is now set. Jesus encountered a Samaritan woman at the well where He wanted to satisfy His physical thirst. He broke the customs and traditions of the Jews by engaging with that Samaritan woman. How can living water satisfy spiritual thirst? What will happen to this woman? Will she drink from the never ending cup of living water? Join us in two weeks to find out.