We are going to be looking this morning at a great story which I am going to refer to as "A Biography of Belief." It tells us how it is possible for a person who lives, not merely in unbelief but in non-belief, to come to the place where she is instrumental in leading almost a whole village to belief in Jesus. The story of that process is so instructive, not only in how we may grow in our walk with the Lord, but also how we can help other people to believe in Jesus.
In John 4, the circumstance in the Lord's life is important. He has been involved for some few months in a very successful and growing ministry in Judah in the south. His disciples have now begun to baptize more people than John's disciples had done. That, of course, begins to arouse some envy and some animosity on the part of the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders. So the Lord decides at this point to move north to the region of Galilee, where he will continue his ministry to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
We learn in verse 4 that he had to pass through Samaria. Some versions will say "he must needs pass through Samaria." That could mean that since he wanted to get to Galilee as quickly as possible he had to journey straight northward in order to make the trip. But it may well be that there is something more involved in this statement. Since it suggests over at chapter 4, verse 35, that the Lord's food was to do the will of the one who had sent him, it may be that he is thinking here about God's mission for him and the Father's purpose in his life. I am told that very often when Jews would travel from Jerusalem to Galilee, in order to avoid passing through what they regarded as the foreign land of Samaria, they would go down to Jericho and go across the Jordan River and go up on the east side of the river and then cross back over to Galilee. Maybe Jesus, instead of taking that customary route, needed to go through Samaria in keeping with his mission, which was to seek and to save that which was lost. Maybe Jesus needed to go through there to teach his disciples a lesson about what their mission was going to be later on.
Notice that the Bible says that they came to a town of Samaria called Sychar. Sychar was about 40 miles straight north of Jerusalem. It was in a region where Abraham had once built an altar and where Jacob had come back to after he had been with Laban for several years. It is the place where the Israelites came to when they entered the Promised Land. They had Mt. Gerizim on one side to the south and Mt. Ebal on the other side to the north. There the curses and the blessings of the covenant were read and the people agreed to them with amens.
Jesus came to this place, and the Bible says in verse 6 that "Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well." Zero in on that mention that the Lord was wearied. The word for "wearied" means to be beaten, to be beat up, and then the tiredness that comes from it. As we would say it down home, "The Lord was beat." He was tired; he was worn out.
It says it was about the sixth hour of the day. If it is counting from Jewish time, it means that it was about noon, and that the Lord and his party had set out walking at dawn that morning, and that he was tired from the journey. If John happened to have been reckoning from Roman time, it means that it was about six in the evening and that they were worn out from having walked all day. Wayne Jackson observed that I need to underline in my Bible that term "wearied" and write out in the margin "for me." The Son of God wore himself out in our interest. He sat beside a well, a site which is still present. This well is one which is seven feet in diameter. It was cleaned out in 1935. The depth of the well is somewhere around 135 feet. In the summertime it was about 75 or 80 feet down to the surface of the water. It was about half a mile or so from where the village is thought to have been. He sits there while the disciples go to buy food. It is at this point that our story introduces to us a woman, a Samaritan woman, a woman who has a background which is troublesome.
We want to bear in mind in the rest of our study this morning that there are some obstacles that would naturally have existed between Jesus and this woman. One, of course, is her moral background. We are going to discover that this woman had lived a troubled life, that moral failure was a part of her existence.
Secondly, this was a Samaritan. The Samaritans and the Jews had a troubled past and had few dealings with each other. The Jews regarded the Samaritans as foreigners and regarded them as being people that it was wrong to associate with or to have anything to do with. The Samaritans were a mixed race. They were people who resulted from the Assyrian practice of taking the people they conquered away captive and then brining people from foreign lands to settle the territory. The intermarrying that took place between these two groups produced the Samaritan race. When the people of Judah had returned to Jerusalem about 500 BC, the Samaritans had come wanting to aid them in the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, but they had been rebuffed. And, partly in retaliation, the Samaritans had gone to Mt. Gerizim, 40 miles north of Jerusalem and built their own temple there. They carried on their own worship of the Lord there. In 128 BC or so, John Hyrcanus, a Jewish leader, destroyed that temple, thus deepening the resentment between these two groups. There is a lot of animosity between them by this point.
The third detail that our passage is going to tell us would have been a natural obstacle to any discussion between Jesus and this woman is the fact that she was a woman. The disciples were surprised when they came back to find Jesus talking with a woman, verse 27 says. According to Jewish custom at the time, no Jewish man would be seen talking with a woman in the streets, even if they were his wife or his daughters. That is unimaginable to us, but that was their custom. They were afraid of what someone would think.
Those two individuals - a Lord who had a mission and was weary and a woman who had these things between them - leads us to a story of belief. Before this story is over, we are going to see this woman going from thinking of Jesus as a Jew to thinking of him as a respectable man, to thinking of him as a prophet, to thinking of him as a Messiah, and finally leading a village to think of him as the Savior of the world. How is that journey made? Will you notice with me the steps in this story?
The first step is that communication has to be opened. In verse 7 beginning, "There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me a drink.' (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 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.)" How do you open up communication between people who are this far apart in all the ways we have just mentioned? Jesus did it by asking her for something that he needed. Jesus did it by calling for the best from her, by giving her the opportunity to do something that would be a blessing for him. Very seldom are lines of communication opened up when one person wants to be up here and he regards the other as being way down here. One of the biggest obstacles for evangelism is the feeling that people end up having that some of us think we are better than others are. Jesus overcomes that obstacle by asking this woman to do something as a favor to him. Give me a drink. That was going to mean that he was willing to associate with her and that he was willing to drink from something that she might have touched (which the Jews would not have done). This woman is taken aback by it. Maybe there is a little bit of barb of criticism here toward Jesus. "Ah, you are willing now as a Jew to let me do something for you when you need something, but you won't otherwise." But she makes the point here that she is familiar with how things ordinarily went in the world at that time. "You asked me for a drink, now, me, a woman of Samaria." But it had opened up communication. He said something to her, and she answered.
The church today will have to decide, each of us individually, how we are going to open up communication with our friends and neighbors around us. Obviously, it won't be done in this building with me standing up here. The people who are your friends and neighbors and my friends and neighbors may not be inside this building. That means that you and I in our daily lives are going to have to have our eyes open to the opportunity to open up communication with our friends and neighbors, an interaction which will lead to the opportunity to say something on behalf of the Lord. Are you watching for that chance on a daily basis?
Secondly, notice that the story takes a second step when Jesus begins to call forth the interest of the woman by referring to something that would have been desirable to her. He says in answer to her statement in verse 10, "'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.' 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? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.'" You see the discussion now that has begun here. Jesus refers to some things that are going to be of interest to this woman - a gift in verse 10. The gift that you and I think of immediately is the salvation which is the free gift of God. Jesus is going to be leading her in that direction, but he has to start with a gift that she would have had some interest in. "If you had known," he says, "who it is that says to you give me a drink." A gift that is going to involve who Jesus is. That is the direction he is heading. And then he said, "He would have given you living water (water that produces live)." Living water stands here for eternal life, according to what we will discover in verse 14.
Jesus had a habit of using illustrations or pictures of what he wanted to give men that would appeal to those he was talking to at the time. Here, it is living water. They were at a well where this woman came to draw water. When he found himself out in the wilderness where people were hungry, he talked to them about the bread of life, which he was. When he dealt with a man who had been blind from his birth, Jesus talked to people about being the light of the world. When he referred to his disciples not being left alone, he said to them, "I am the good shepherd." They needed the guidance and the care of a shepherd. He figured out something that a person was needing at that point in his life. He listened to what people where thinking and where people were at that time in their life, and then he used an appropriate illustration to stir up their interest in what he offers. And that is what he was doing here. This woman was puzzled by it. How are you going to draw something out of that well when you don't have anything to draw it with? And are you greater than Jacob who dug this well to start with? What are you saying, anyhow?
Communication is open, interest is stirred, and in the third place desire has to be expressed. For Jesus or anybody else to start trying to offer the gift of life to somebody who has not voiced any interest in it is often a frustrating and a self-defeating thing. You will notice that down to this point in his talk with this woman, no passage of scripture has been read. You wouldn't have called it personal work at this point. And yet, Jesus was doing something which is crucial. He is leading her to the place where she will express her interest in, and her desire for, living water. Look at verse 13 now. "Jesus said to her, 'Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.' 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.'"
You see her desire in that statement. If she was at there at noon, the middle of the day, that may have meant that this poor lady had to come out to the well at a time when she would be by herself. Ordinarily, they drew their water at the close of the day. This woman is out in the heat of the day, maybe because other people would not associate with her. If this well is, as we believe, a half mile or so from the village, that would mean that she would have to draw the water 75 or 80 feet, she would have to put it in a jar, and then carry that water with her in a utensil on her head back to the village. It was hard work. Clearly, if she has an opportunity to drink something which would leave her never thirsting again, she is going to be interested.
Now, it is true that she misunderstood the kind of thirst Jesus was talking about. She knew that this water had to be drawn every day. People have to drink and then drink, and then drink again. Jesus was talking about a different kind of satisfaction of the longings that are deep inside us, something that would be a blessing that would well up in us, like the bubbling springs. I have seen the springs down in Ozark County and how they bubble up from the ground. There are thousands of gallons of water just running all the time. Jesus uses that picture here for the spiritual blessings that provide eternal life for us, and the lasting satisfaction they bring. In John 10:10, he said "I came that they might have life and have it abundantly." This dear lady says, "Sir (notice that she has begun to call Jesus sir, now, addressing him with respect), give me this water." She has expressed a desire now. That brings us to the fourth step.
This woman who is interested in having living water for eternal life is going to have t confront what it is that has been keeping her from having that blessing. So, Jesus does something that is unexpected to us at this point. He said to her in verse 16, "Go call your husband and come here." He was doing something more than just saying, "Your husband will be interested in this, too. Go and get him." In order to fulfill her request and to give her this water, this living water, he is going to have to gently get her to confront the lostness in her life. There is no way for us to help somebody have life until that person can for himself or herself recognize the lostness that comes from being separated from God.
"Go call your husband." Notice now that the woman's reply has no "sir" attached to it. It is a little more curt than that this time. She simply answers him, "I have no husband." Jesus then reveals that he knows her heart, he knows her life, he knows what the problem is that is making her spiritually thirsty. "You are right in saying 'I have no husband' for you have had five husbands and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.' The woman said, 'Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.'"
Notice here that we have now dealt with two of the most delicate matters in human relations - race between this Jew and Samaritan - and family with this woman who has serious marriage troubles. The Lord's plan had been neglected and ignored in her life. She had been disobedient to the law which said "For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife and the two of them shall be one flesh." And that disobedience and that unfaithfulness in her life was one of the things which had created distance between her and the God who provides living water. She needed to face the situation but it was uncomfortable for her. She recognized in the process, though, that Jesus was a prophet and that he knew what he was talking about and that he could recognize what the real situation was.
The point for us is that whatever it is that separates us from God needs to be addressed. For me, it may not be having had five wives. It might be pride; it might be greed; it might be worldly habits; it might be an evil tongue; it might be envy and hate in my life and my heart. Whatever it is, before I can enjoy living water, I have to recognize the need that is there that the Lord can satisfy.
That brings us to the next step in this process, which is facing the authority of the Lord. I don't know why the woman brings up the question that she does here. Maybe she was uncomfortable from the light having been shined on her personal life. But she said to Jesus, "Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship." There is that deepest divide between the Jews and Samaritans. It was a religious divide. The Samaritans worshiped the same God as the Jews, but they did it their way on Mt. Gerizim, without any authority from the Lord.
Jesus directly addressed the woman's question. He said, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." What a crucial statement that is! Now we have moved into a third area which is so difficult for us to discuss in human relations, and that is our religion. Sometimes we want to maintain for ourselves the right to worship and to get to heaven on our own terms. Right now in the Lord's church there is more strife and problems over worship than anything else I can think of. This passage is crucial.
It tells us first that the only object for real worship has to be deity. It is our Father who should be worshiped and not a god of our own making or of our own creation. Second, this passage says that worship to that God needs to be in keeping with the nature of that God. The Father who is Spirit - that is his essence - he is not a material god, he is spirit - needs to be worshiped in spirit, that is real worship needs to come from my soul, from deep inside me where it sincerely states the condition of my heart. And then, worship of this God needs to be in truth. Some are now wanting to say that "in truth" in this passage represents just the fact that truth is associated with Jesus and the gospel of John. Some want to say that truth just means that it is sincere and genuine. Friends, in this passage, that won't work. I want you to see why.
The problem with Samaritan worship, Jesus said, is that they were worshiping what they did not know. Do you know why they did not know? They, in their strife with the Jews, rejected all of the Old Testament except the first five books. They had what was called the "Samaritan Pentateuch." They had rejected everything that God had revealed about who he is and how he was to be worshiped and all the rest of the Old Testament scriptures. The worship that they had created for themselves was not based on scripture but on what they wanted. There was no authority beyond that. And Jesus was saying to them, "Worship like that won't do." Worship that comes from "I like it this way" and "I don't see anything wrong with it" won't do. Jesus said salvation is of the Jews, meaning that the Messiah who would be the savior of the world was going to be sent from the Father to the Jews.
Now there is the challenge of authority that this passage presents. The woman had to decide whether she was willing to be told how she ought to worship. There is something about human pride that resents that and rebels against it. And yet it is the turning point in this text. The woman said, "I know that Messiah is coming who is called Christ. When he comes, he will tell us all things."
And that brings us to the next point in this process - the point of decision. Jesus said to her literally, "I, who speak to you, am." Most of our English versions will say, "I am he." But literally, he was making a claim even more impressive. He was claiming not only to be the Messiah but also to be deity!
Now when you are confronted with a straightforward claim like that, you can't avoid it, can you? It has to be dealt with. Do I believe this or not? Can I accept that Jesus is, that he is God's son, that he is the Christ? Am I willing to recognize the implications from that in my life? Can I trust him? Am I willing to obey him? Will I serve him? All of those questions come. They have to be answered when we are talking about a biography of faith.
And then the seventh step is that faith has to be confessed. About this time the disciples come back. All they can think of is bread or food that they have been to town to get. They are wondering what he is doing talking to a Samaritan woman. She just leaves her water bottle there and goes back to town, and says to the people, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" They went out of the town and were coming to him. This lady is not an expert in personal work or anything else. But she knows what Jesus has said to her, and her word is "come see." "Come see a man. Come see a man who told me everything I ever did." Now, he hadn't told her every little thing she ever did, but he had told her about her life. "Can this be the Christ?" And it is stated here as if it expects possibly a negative answer. She is inviting these people to disagree with her and to go out and see for themselves, which they did. Jesus uses this time to say to his disciples, "This is why the Father sent me. If you are going to serve me, you need to remember it is not about bread and physical things but it is about people. Lift up your eyes." The people in this village believe in Jesus - first because of this woman's word (verse 39), and second because they had a chance because of her to hear him for themselves.
There is a biography of faith, a biography of belief. Communication is opened; interest is stirred; desire is expressed; obstacles are faced; the authority of the Lord is recognized; the point of decision is reached; and then confession is made. Are you somewhere in that process this morning? Are you at the place where you would like to say "I believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and where you are ready to be baptized into him?" Are you a believer in him now and you have forgotten our mission in this world and need to be reminded of that? Let's take the example of this lady and say to our neighbors this week, "Come and see what the Lord can do for you." If you are interested in living water, won't you come this morning while we stand and sing?