Nearly ten years ago, a small group of about 10 – 15 of us met in Christy and I’s home and voted on various names for our little growing church. We thought we might be Crosspoint Church or Coram Deo Church, but the vote was unanimous, and we became The Well within a yard of hell.
The name that won the vote that day was based entirely on Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well in John chapter 4. The story of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well is a story about Jesus’ intentional and passionate pursuit of those who have been sidelined and outcast in this world. All throughout the gospel of John, Jesus continually proves that he absolutely loves the unlovable in this world (John 5:1 – 17; 8:1 – 11; 9:1 – 41; 11:1 – 44; 19 – 20). Look at John 4 with me…
JOHN 4:1 – 42
1Now 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), 3he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4And he had to pass through Samaria. 5So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7A 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.) 9The 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.) 10Jesus 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27Just 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?” 28So 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?” 30They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31Meanwhile, the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35Do you not say, ‘There are four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They 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.”
Jesus sees us in our darkest, filthiest, and most shame-filled moments. And he doesn’t just see us, he pursues us, and he offers himself to us. And he doesn’t just offer to be with us, he offers to satisfy every need we will ever have if we listen to him and believe in him. Think about how Jesus makes this visit to the well in Samaria.
#1: JESUS GOES TO THE WELL IN SAMARIA (VV. 1 – 6)
When Jesus goes to the well in Samaria, it’s almost as if he had no choice but to travel through there. But the reality of the original language is that Jesus chose to travel through Samaria. Most religious people would avoid Samaria because the Samaritans were regarded as a filthy, rebellious, and unwanted crowd of people. Religious people were known to add extra days to their travel plans so they could travel around Samaria instead of through Samaria and if they had to step inside the state lines of Samaria, they would shake the nasty Samaritan dust off their feet when they exited the region.
No self-respecting, God-fearing, religious person would ever intentionally go to Samaria much less a watering hole in the middle of the day in Samaria because those places attract extra filthy rejects and outcasts. The people that would visit the well at mid-day would not be people of upright character; you would never find them in church on a Sunday morning and you certainly would not want to be caught hanging out with them at their favorite drinking spot in the middle of the day.
But this is exactly where Jesus intentionally goes; he goes to places you would never expect him to go. Why? Why does Jesus go to places that most religious folks regard as too filthy, too tempting, or too far below their level of holiness to be caught in? The answer is the woman at the well.
#2: JESUS ASKS A WOMAN AT THE WELL FOR A DRINK OF WATER (VV. 7 – 15)
Jesus is all alone at the well in the middle of the day. All the self-respecting, religious folks would have already gotten their water early in the morning. People who come to the well at midday are doing everything they can to avoid rubbing shoulders with the higher class of society. Vagabonds, homeless people, prostitutes, beggars, drunks who just slept off a hangover, known addicts, thieves, and general outcasts would come to the well at midday.
This is where Jesus is sitting all alone at the local drinking hole waiting for the woman to show up. And when she does show up Jesus intentionally begins the conversation by asking her for a drink of water. It’s easy to see from the rest of the conversation, that this woman is used to being propositioned for a favor (she’s been giving herself to men who wanted something from her for many years), but she’s not used to being propositioned by a religious man.
She makes no bones about how shocked she is that Jesus is even talking to her, and Jesus expertly turns the conversation to her need for an eternally satisfying drink of water. In essence, Jesus begins to reveal that even though she has been used and abused by men for years, and even though she has been seeking fulfillment in those men (in her sin), Jesus himself is the tall, fresh, drink of water that her soul has thirsted for this entire time. Jesus is literally God’s gift of eternal satisfaction for every thirst we will ever experience.
Of course, the woman has a hard time believing Jesus’ words. So, she points out that Jesus couldn’t possibly give her anything of value to quench her thirst because he doesn’t have a bucket and the well is too deep for him to get water from without a bucket. Furthermore, the water in the well is stagnant water (it’s not running water like you would find in a stream). Jacob, the woman’s ancestor, was a famous man who built this well for himself and his livestock and the community that sprang up in that area. So, how could Jesus sit there and talk about being able to provide fresh, running, water to her?
Jesus’ answer is that he is greater than Jacob because the refreshment he offers is eternally satisfying. It’s almost as if the woman is intrigued by Jesus so she decides to see if he is just like every other man she’s ever met, who doesn’t fulfill his promises. She’s tired of unfulfilled promises. She’s tired of fighting the traffic every day. She’s worn out from her life of deception and hiding.
It’s hard work giving yourself away every night to deep patterns of sin and then laboring to avoid the judgmental looks and the nasty jokes about who she’s had in her bedroom lately. It’s hard work avoiding all this by coming for stagnant water in the heat of the day. So, she puts Jesus to the test and says “Fine, give me some of that fresh, running water so I don’t have to work so hard anymore.” She thinks that her greatest need is to lighten her load a little so she can continue to hide out in her sin. But Jesus has her heart in his sights because he knows that the woman’s issue isn’t going to be resolved by helping her avoid the traffic; this woman actually has worship issues.
#3: JESUS AND THE WOMAN DISCUSS WORSHIP ISSUES (VV. 16 – 26)
It’s almost comical to witness this woman doing what we all do to avoid the topic of our sin, our filth, and our shame. She’s talking to Jesus and she’s trying to avoid the subject. But Jesus isn’t letting it go. Her tells her to go grab her husband and come back and she says that she isn’t married. Jesus points out that she is being honest for the moment because the man she’s sleeping with isn’t her husband and she’s had five husbands before this man.
Talk about a deer-in-the-headlights moment! What do you do when Jesus lovingly confronts your sin and uncovers your shame? This woman runs for cover. The sin is too filthy, and the shame is too overwhelming. So, she runs for cover under the disguise of a religious conversation. Jesus must be a prophet because he just read her mail; so, maybe he can answer an ages old religious question for her about where to attend worship gatherings because she’s certain that if she could just find the right place to attend worship, then all of her problems will melt away.
Jesus’ answer brings her right back to where he left off: she has a worship dysfunction, and if she wants to worship the Father, then the Father is looking for people to worship him from the heart, amidst the truth of their sin, in light of the promise of salvation. And it’s almost like a lightbulb goes off in this woman’s heart and she candidly asks Jesus if he is the Messiah that God has promised throughout the ages and Jesus tells her that he is the Messiah, the Savior who has come to ransom and to restore the outcast, the filthy and the shame-filled rejects throughout the world.
It’s almost as though the woman needs a moment to process what she’s just heard because just then the disciples return to find Jesus talking with a woman who so obviously has a bad reputation. Again, it’s almost funny to witness Jesus’ conversation with his disciples because he talks to them about satisfying hunger and working hard for the right reasons (remember that satisfaction and hard work have been part of his conversation with the woman up until this point too).
#4: JESUS TALKS TO HIS DISCIPLES ABOUT NOURISHMENT AND HARVEST (VV. 27 – 38)
Jesus has just revealed that he is the Messiah that everyone has been waiting for when his disciples return and find him talking, alone, with a woman who obviously has a bad reputation. They are shocked to see Jesus interacting with this woman, but they don’t ask the questions that everyone’s thinking. In the awkward silence, the woman leaves and heads back to town where she invites the entire town to come meet Jesus too.
And as the town is headed out to see Jesus, the disciples start urging Jesus to get something to eat but he says he’s already satisfied because he’s found nourishment while doing the work that the Father has sent him to do. Jesus metaphorically tells his disciples that he has been busy working hard to sow the seeds of the gospel into this woman’s life and the field of her heart is ready for the harvest and they are about to experience what it’s like to reap the benefits of his labor.
In essence, the disciples are about enjoy the fruits of a massive spiritual harvest. Jesus’ conversation with this woman was not about getting something from the woman; it was all about giving her everything she ever desired and then witnessing her sharing that gift with a bunch of people from the city. And the disciples get to enjoy the moment where a whole crowd of people come to believe in Jesus.
#5: THE SAMARITANS BELIEVE IN JESUS (VV. 39 – 42)
When I imagine the scene, I see a woman who left the city in the heat of the day as a broken and shame-filled prostitute who returns to that same city in the cool of the evening as a transformed woman who has tasted the living water of the person and the work of Jesus Christ.
And the fascinating part about the end of this story is that even though many people believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony, those same people come to a real and personal place of faith in Christ once they hear Jesus speak directly to them.
The people from Samaria could not be saved by hearing the woman’s testimony. They couldn’t ride the coattails of the woman’s salvation story. The woman’s salvation story (her testimony) only served to create an appetite, a desire, a thirst for hearing Jesus personally and once they heard Jesus for themselves, they couldn’t help but to believe in him as the Messiah, the Redeemer, the Restorer, the Savior of the world.
Can you see yourself in this story? As I immersed myself in this story again this week, I spent some time thinking about my own soul and thinking about this church family. I remembered many sweet memories of experiencing the harvest with many of you as you took your first steps as newborn babies in Christ. Many of you come from different backgrounds and showed up here at The Well looking for a church where you could find some shelter and here you are.
I can’t tell you how many times I have wept massive tears of joy as I witnessed the Lord breaking through into your hearts. I have also wept tears of gut-wrenching agony as some have disappeared or left altogether. But amidst the tears of joy and anguish, I have continuously been in awe of how the Lord has drawn this little church family full of vagabonds, outcasts, rejects, lonely and rebellious people to himself so that we might drink together of the living water that he offers.
I identify fully with the woman at the well (probably more than you’ll ever know). I know what it’s like to be rejected and cast aside because of my sin and brokenness. Nearly every person who has left this church has left with a list of criticism about me; sometimes because they witnessed sin in my life. I guess I didn’t meet the mark of their standard for a pastor. I identify fully with the woman at the well and I am certain that many of you do too. You know what it’s like to struggle with sin, to be rejected, to be alone, to feel filthy and unlovable and ashamed of yourself.
But praise God for the story of the woman at the well. Because in this story, once again, we meet Jesus, who sees us in our darkest, filthiest, and most shame-filled moments. And he doesn’t just see us, he pursues us, and he offers himself to us. And he doesn’t just offer to be with us, he offers to satisfy every need we will ever have if we listen to him and believe in him.
I still think it is pure insanity that we would ever want to plant a church called The Well within a yard of hell. But despite the insanity of the journey over the last ten years, I would have to say once again, praise God! Praise God for his work in planting this church where people like you and me can get filled up with the living water of the crucified, risen, and returning Christ! – Amen!
1 Unless otherwise specified, all Bible references in this paper are to the English Standard Version Bible, The New Classic Reference Edition (ESV) (Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, 2001).