The gospel of John has historically been a book that many Christians turn to for strength, encouragement and assurance during difficult seasons.
Most scholars agree that the main thrust or the main reason that John wrote his gospel is “so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31).
To that end, John as an author, lays out a very powerful case for the historical and supernatural reliability of who Jesus is; what he accomplished while on this earth; how his life, death, resurrection, ascension and promise of Heaven should affect us; and why we should believe in Christ as our hope for eternal life.
Make no mistake; John is not some uneducated fool who can barely read or write. John is a powerful communicator who uses the convincing and compelling force of well-written arguments (in story-form) to persuade you and compel you to believe in Jesus for salvation.
The themes of God’s love, human sin and supernatural power are all connected at the center with the recurring theme of belief.
THE REAL QUESTION ALL THROUGHOUT THIS GOSPEL:
IS SOMETHING TRUE BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE IT OR DO YOU BELIEVE SOMETHING BECAUSE IT IS TRUE?
John gets after this question by organizing his narrative around eight miraculous anchor points that he calls signs.
- In chapters 2 and 4 we see Jesus turning water into wine and healing the wealthy man’s son.
- In chapters 5 and 6 Jesus heals a man who has been lame for thirty-eight years and he feeds five thousand people with a few loaves of bread and a couple fish.
- In chapters 6 and 9 Jesus walks on water, calms the storm and gives sight to a man who had been born blind.
- In chapters 11 and 20 Jesus raises his friend Lazarus from the dead and then he himself is raised from the dead proving that he alone is the resurrection and the life; he alone holds the power over Satan, Sin and Death.
In every one of those narrative anchors/signs, John is seeking to convince us that Jesus is the Messiah; some people believe this (the disciples who follow Jesus) and others don’t believe this (the religious leaders especially).
Nevertheless, the question remains: Is something true because you believe it, or do you believe something because it has been proven to be true? John wants us to believe in Jesus because he is the true Messiah.
Now with all of that context in place I want us to look at one of my favorite stories in all of Scripture in John chapter four. It’s the story of the woman at the well and it’s the story that we named our church after almost eight years ago in our living room when we were a small group of less than ten people. Look at John chapter four with me…
1 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.
As this story begins we find Jesus avoiding confrontation with the religious leaders who were beginning to get upset that Jesus’ fame was surpassing that of even John the Baptist.
It’s not that Jesus always avoided confrontation; the argument could be made that he was crucified because he entered into conflict with those religious leaders who couldn’t reconcile their legalistic beliefs with Jesus’ radical message and ministry. Jesus also didn’t allow his opponents to hinder his ministry or message at all.
The fact that he chooses to make a pit stop in Samaria is proof enough of that; Samaria was full of Samaritans who were basically half Jewish and half Assyrian (2 Kings 17:24; Ezra 4:2-11) and they were deeply hated by the Jews.
The story of the good Samaritan (Lk. 10:25 – 37) helps to further underscore this truth; that the Jews deeply despised the Samaritans to the point that they would avoid traveling through Samaria because it was considered an “unclean” (nearly sinful place) to be.
At best, if a Jewish person traveled through Samaria, they would literally shake the “filthy dust” of that unclean and sinful place off their feet as they came through the other side.
To get at the really uncomfortable nature of what a Jewish person would feel if he or she were in Samaria we only need to think of the places that make us the most uncomfortable.
The places we deem to be sinful, dirty or just outright inappropriate for a Christian or at least a person with morals to be hanging out at.
This is where Jesus decides to take a load off his feet; you could say Jesus takes a break at the local pub among the riffraff. Look at verses 7 – 15…
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.”
Speaking of taking a break at the local pub among the riffraff, it’s important for us to notice what time it is when Jesus encounters the woman at the well.
According to verse six it’s about the middle of the day when the woman comes to the well. The common practice to draw water from the well was to do so early in the morning so that the household had water for the day.
Why didn’t this woman come to the well in the morning with the other women from town? Was she just being antisocial? Was she just simply an introvert?
Notice how surprised she is that Jesus, a Jewish man would even speak to her. I can imagine how caught off guard she was, and I imagine that in her bewilderment she may have even wondered what this man wanted from her.
I get the sense from the rest of this story that she was use to being used by men with deep thirsts and unchecked appetites.
Jesus of course immediately uses the conversation about physical thirst to begin speaking to her about spiritual thirst. And of course, the woman is slightly confused so she begins to rely on her knowledge about the origins of the well and the man who built it.
How could this man in front of her speak about the ability to quench her thirst eternally? She’s so intrigued by this that she asks Jesus to get her some of this living water so that she doesn’t have to come to this well alone at mid-day anymore.
Can you feel her sense of self-preservation? She’d rather be able to hide out at home than to face the crowd at the well. Look at Jesus’ response to her in verses 16 – 26…
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.”
So this is where we learn that this woman at the well has a worship disorder. She’s coming to the well at midday to avoid the other women in town because she’s known to be a promiscuous woman.
She’s had five husbands and she’s living with a man that she’s not married to. Can you imagine the shame she’s living under? The guilt she feels? The fear she lives with?
Let’s not forget that a woman’s entire sense of identity in that culture was wrapped up in whether or not she was married. A woman’s livelihood was often inexplicably tied to the man she was married to.
In other words, an unmarried woman (much less a promiscuous woman) was treated like a little lower than the scum of society. And top that off with the fact that she is now engaged in a conversation with a lone religious Jewish man.
Once she realizes that Jesus is some kind of prophet, she shifts the conversation into the age-old debate about where God’s people should worship; as if location has the power to transform the human heart.
The reality is that the only cure for a worship disorder is the ability to worship God in spirit and in truth. And the only person who has the power to transform the human heart from self-worship to God-worship is the Messiah and Jesus tells this woman that he is that man.
Jesus is the man who looks past the shame, the guilt, the fear and the sin and sees the person who needs to be transformed.
The reality is that this woman at the well is encountering the one man who can transform her life for eternity. What will this woman do? How will she respond? Look at verses 27 – 29 with me…
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.
I can just imagine what it must have been like to be the disciples and to come walking around the corner to find Jesus sitting next to the well alone deep in conversation with a known prostitute.
The questions were rolling around in their heads but they didn’t verbalize them to their credit.
And the woman’s response is priceless. She leaves in such a hurry that she doesn’t even grab her water jar but heads straight back to town and starts telling everyone about the man she has met at the well who must be the Messiah.
Can you imagine what it was like to be the town’s people? The promiscuous woman has found herself another man? And she thinks this one is the Messiah? This is something worth checking out! Look at verses 31 – 38 with me…
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
The disciples can see that Jesus hasn’t eaten anything. Maybe his lack of food is causing him to have a momentary lapse of judgement.
Maybe this is why he was engaging in conversation the woman, so they urge him to get something to eat and they begin wondering if someone else fed him.
But Jesus explains that his satisfaction (similar to the satisfaction we feel when we eat a good meal) is tied to the mission at hand.
The fields are white for the harvest and reaping a spiritual harvest of transformed worshippers is exactly the food and the work that his Father has sent Jesus to accomplish.
Furthermore, Jesus’ disciples are now called into the same soul satisfying labor of seeking to save those who are lost.
Once again, John brings us back to the purpose of writing this gospel; “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name” (Jn. 20:31). Look at verses 39 – 42 with me…
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
This has long been one of my favorite parts of this story. Jesus purposely positions himself in a place where no self-conscious religious man would purposely position himself and he intentionally engages a conversation with a woman that no real religious person would talk to. That alone is really freeing. It’s also really cool that the woman responds by telling everyone in town to come meet Jesus.
But the really exciting part to learn is that after Jesus hangs out there for a couple of days the town’s people come to him and explain that they believe him not just because of the woman’s testimony but because they heard his voice for themselves.
The people in town weren’t just leaching off of the woman’s story. They each had a personal encounter with Jesus and therefore were transformed into worshippers of God.
Jesus took a risk in a shady location with a shady woman so that an entire town could become transformed worshippers of the Father in Heaven.
JESUS PLUS A SHADY LOCATION, PLUS A SHADY WOMAN, EQUALS A TRANSFORMED CITY!
There are multiple ways we can apply this story to our lives. The bottom line is that we all need to encounter the fresh drink of living water that Jesus offers us in his presence.
We are all simultaneously the woman with a worship disorder and the disciples with a responsibility.
Our worship disorders show up every day in our laziness, our selfishness, our greed, our anger, our gossip, our pride, our dishonesty and our slander.
But the good news is that Jesus not only came to offer himself as our substitutionary sacrifice for sin but he also was raised on the third day in a magnificent display of power over Satan, Sin and Death.
And then he ascended to Heaven leaving us with his promised return to take us to Heaven with him forever.
And until then we have the awesome responsibility to be Jesus (a fresh drink of living water) to the communities we live in to the ends of the earth.
When we began planting The Well nearly eight years ago we had a deep conviction that there were many in our community who had not had the opportunity to drink deeply from the well of Jesus’ presence.
We believed and still believe that surrounding community is full of people who are in the shackles of some kind of worship disorder.
From the person who has yet to grace the doors of the gathered church to the person who has been part of the church for years, every one of us still needs a fresh drink of living water from Jesus.
Every one of us, despite the places we come from, still need a transforming encounter with the risen Christ. Whether you are a recovering legalist (someone who loves neat and clean and tidy spiritual experiences) or a recovering rebel (someone who has been to some of the darkest places of society) the good news is that Jesus isn’t afraid to meet you where you’re at so that he can transform you into the person you were meant to be.
THE QUESTION IS, WHICH PERSON ARE YOU?
Are you the legalist who needs his or her world turned upside down by the radical mission of Jesus?
Or are you the rebel who needs to encounter Jesus next to the well of everlasting life?
Or are you in reality both of those people simultaneously?
What part of your life is Jesus wanting to encounter you in today?
Where do you feel a deep sense of shame, guilt or fear?
Where have you experienced an immense amount of pride, arrogance and self-righteousness lately?
Where have you been resistant to the Lord’s leading this week?
Who are you dealing with that you think is beyond the reach of God?
What places of relational frustration or cultural tension have you been avoiding lately?
My prayer for us, is that we would authentically invite the Holy Spirit to examine our hearts so that we can be transformed worshippers who come to the Father in spirit and in truth.
My prayer is that we would encounter Jesus at the well of our hearts’ desires and that we would invite others to drink deeply of the same living water that we’ve found. – Amen!