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Every once in a while a new book about Jesus is published claiming to explain what he was really up to. What he was really after during his short ministry on this earth. These books claim to present the “historical Jesus.”
Sadly, the authors of such books fail to realize that we don’t need another book explaining what Jesus was all about. People who knew Jesus personally have already written four volumes which tell us exactly what his purpose was.
The apostle Paul sums up the goal of Jesus’ life and ministry quite elegantly when he writes…
“…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV).
It’s really that simple. We can go into all sorts of detail concerning HOW Jesus saved sinners, and WHY they needed saving. But really, it’s that simple: Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
If sinners were to escape the punishment their sins deserved, then someone would have to suffer that punishment in their place. That’s why Jesus went to the cross.
But sinners also need to know that they’ve been rescued. They need to be connected, by faith, to the salvation Jesus won for them. And that’s why Jesus went preaching across Palestine.
Jesus was well aware of his mission to save sinners. And with each new person he met, he was watching and thinking how to get through to them with the message of the Gospel. In our sermon reading for today, we see Jesus patiently reaching out to one sinful woman. A woman who needed to know God’s love for her. A woman who needed the Savior God had provided.
John 4:5-26 (ESV)
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.) 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.”
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.”
Jesus had been traveling north, from the area around Jerusalem, to Galilee. He and his disciples had risen early and hit the road before the blistering sun got too high. They had made good time, and now, at around noon, they had stopped to rest, and to get some food.
While the disciples went into the town, Jesus remained outside, by an ancient well. Before long, a woman approached to get water from the well. They were in Samaritan country, and so the woman was a Samaritan.
For reasons we won’t go into now, the Jews and the Samaritans didn’t get along. In fact, many Jews would have taken a different route than the one Jesus and his disciples had taken. They would have taken a more difficult route that hugged the Jordan river—just to avoid coming into contact with Samaritans.
That’s why it struck the woman as odd when Jesus asked her for a drink of water. Jews didn’t usually talk with Samaritans if they could avoid it. But Jesus did. Jesus broke precedent and good Jewish decorum because he didn’t see a “Samaritan woman”, he just saw a sinner who needed to know her Savior. It was such a little thing, to start a conversation, but in the end, it would mean the world to this woman, and others.
At first, the woman responded to Jesus rather coldly.
“How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (John 4:9 ESV).
But a snarky response didn’t matter to Jesus—he immediately began to turn their conversation away from the whole “Jew vs. Samaritan” controversy. Immediately he began to hint at the Gospel which he had to share.
“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” (John 4:10 ESV).
Having already cut through the static of cultural squabbles, Jesus was now working on cutting through this woman’s defensive posture.
WE understand right away what Jesus was talking about here. He was the very Son of God, the Messiah. He had the Gospel to share. That message about free forgiveness from God. But the Samaritan woman didn’t understand what Jesus was talking about. Her mind was still clouded with animosity toward all things Jewish. The condescending attitude that so many Jews had toward the Samaritans shows in her response to Jesus.
“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” (John 4:11-12 ESV).
Essentially she was saying, “Who do you think you are, you stuck up Jew? Here you are talking about ‘water of life’ and you don’t even have a pot to draw water with. You just asked ME for a drink, and NOW you’re going to give me water?”
But again, Jesus isn’t frustrated by her defensive response. He’s not thinking about insults to himself, rather, he’s thinking about her desperate need to know her Savior. And so, there’s not even a hint of resentment in his voice when Jesus replies…
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I 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” (John 4:13-14).
Again, WE know exactly what Jesus is talking about. We know that all people thirst to know God, to exist in a relationship with Him that is un-tainted by sin. And we know that this relationship is possible only through Jesus, who suffered for our sins, and who covers them up with his sinless sacrifice. We know that faith in Christ is like an artesian well that just keeps bubbling up refreshing water. Except it’s forgiveness and peace that pour out of the Gospel in an unending stream.
But the Samaritan woman was only beginning to see that Jesus just might not be talking about “well water”. Her next words to Jesus seem to be laced with sarcasm.
“Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water” (John 4:15 ESV).
Perhaps this was her attempt to quiet this unusual Jew. Okay, go ahead and give me this wonderful gift of water that you say you have. Where is it? What is it? Hurry up, let’s be done with this silly conversation.
It’s hard to say what thoughts and emotions the Samaritan woman was experiencing during this conversation with Jesus. But the next thing that Jesus says rattles her, to say the least. Jesus says…
“Go, call your husband, and come here” (John 4:16 ESV).
This was a sore spot with the Samaritan woman. And so she responds shortly, just saying…
“I have no husband” (John 4:17 ESV)
And then, calling on his divine knowledge of all things, Jesus says…
“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” (John 4:18 ESV).
Now, divorce wasn’t foreign to Jewish culture. But the Jews figured that a woman might be divorced a couple times, or at most three. But five times? And she wasn’t married to the man she was now with.
Some have surmised that the whole reason this woman came to the well in the heat of the day was because she wished to avoid the judging looks of others.
By revealing her past, Jesus was cutting through her complacent attitude. Cutting through her I-don’t-need-anything-from-you attitude. Whatever the exact details of her past were, Jesus here reminds her that she is a sinner in need of a Savior.
This is something we’ll need to do when trying to share the Gospel with people today. If we can get the conversation started, and cut through the social static, and through the defensive postures that many take against spiritual conversations, we’ll still need to help people see their sins in the correct light. We’ll still need to help people see that there IS a right and a wrong. That it is GOD who establishes what is right and wrong. And that all sin offends God.
But there was still more static that Jesus needed to get through before touching this woman’s soul.
With the divine revelation of her past plopped in front of her like this, the Samaritan woman finally understood that she wasn’t just talking to some stuck up Jew. This was a holy man. A prophet. And so her mind immediately started coming up with questions to ask him. She blurts out the first that comes to mind…
“Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship” (John 4:19 ESV).
Now it was religious static that Christ had to cut through. The proper place to worship was an on-going debate between the Jews and the Samaritans. But Jesus doesn’t even bother answering this question. Instead of expounding on the outward details of where to worship, Jesus draws her mind to see what TRUE worship consists of. Jesus says to her…
“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” (John 4:21-24 ESV).
Now what does that mean, “in spirit and truth”? If we’re going to understand what Jesus is communicating here, we have to understand those words.
Worship can indeed be offered in an outward way. People do it all the time. They come to one sanctuary or another, and they go through the motions. They sit, they stand. They sing, they listen. They put money in the collection plate. They stay for the right amount of time, and then they move on to the next thing on the list.
But that’s only outward worship. And it’s not the true worship which the Father seeks. First of all, true worship can only come from the spirit. From the inside. From the person who you are. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who once said, concerning the human condition, “You ARE a spirit, who HAS a body.” True worship can only occur when the YOU is involved—the spirit. That’s why God is not pleased by the churchgoer whose heart is somewhere else, even if he puts a million dollars in collection plate.
To worship in spirit, is to worship from the heart, from the YOU.
Now, there are people across the globe who worship from the heart, but who worship something other than the true God. This is where TRUTH part comes in.
“God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24 ESV).
Genuine worship from the heart is better than fake worship. But if the worshiper is genuinely worshipping a tree, or some manmade god, or something else—that’s still not the worship God seeks. He wants us to worship HIM. And this really isn’t too much to ask. He is the Creator, Preserver, and Savior of the world after all.
To worship in truth, is to worship the God of the Bible. The God who promised to send a Savior for sinners, and did so in the Man Christ Jesus.
That’s what it means to worship in spirit and in truth.
God wants us to really look into our souls and see the great NEED we have. Not of water from some well, not of the acceptance of others, but of the great need we have for cleansing. God wants us to see our sin, and long for the Savior that he promised.
And God wants us then to see in Christ Jesus that promise fulfilled. That Savior come. And in his cross, all our guilt and sin taken away.
Worshipping in spirit and truth means recognizing our great need of forgiveness, and believing that God has provided for that need in Christ.
This was a lot to take in. Too much, maybe, for the woman from Samaria. It was all so much bigger than her. And so it was with a different tone that she replied to Jesus, saying,
“I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things” (John 4:25 ESV).
And so the conversation that had started with Jesus asking her for water, ended with Jesus giving her the water of life. He replied,
“I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26 ESV).
There were more words after this. More conversations. You probably recall that the woman brought the rest of the town out to meet Jesus. And they questioned him, and listened to him. He spent two days there in the heart of Samaritan country, in their village. And in the end—many of them came to believe that Jesus was indeed the Messiah which the world of sinners had been waiting for.
“…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15 NIV).
And that’s what he did. By taking our cross on his shoulders. And by preaching the Gospel of forgiveness wherever he went, to whomever he met. And he still preaches that message, in little churches like ours, through the mouths of his servants, to sinners like the Samaritan woman—to sinners like us. Thank God Jesus wasn’t the worldly minded figure that secular historians describe.
This is the “historical Jesus.” The God-Man, who suffered on the cross to save sinners. The patient teacher, who offers the gift of forgiveness, to one and all.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts, and your minds, in Christ Jesus.