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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
January 2, 2000
God’s Grace to Outcasts
Recently, I have been corresponding by e-mail with a fellow that avows himself to be an atheist. He had sent an e-mail to me with some rather silly statements and then signed off with "atheism rocks." I could have just deleted the message as just another piece of junk mail (yes, you get that with e-mail too), but I thought it would be better to respond and ask him a couple of questions. How fruitful my correspondence with him remains to be seen. At present he has avoided answering my questions and seeks to change the subject, but he is writing back.
Part of my reason for engaging this self described atheist comes out of the Scripture passage we will be looking at this morning in John 4. We are to engage those around us and try to bring them to a knowledge of the truth. It does not matter the person’s background or what sins they have committed. As we have already seen in John 3, God loves the world and He sent Jesus to save sinners. We will meet a sinner in our text this morning. A woman that would have been considered by the religious community of the time to be an outcast too far away from God to merit any attention. Yet, God loved her. We might think an atheist too far gone to be worth the effort, yet God even loves those that deny His existence. We are to love those that God loves for Christians are to be reflections of Jesus.
Often the most difficult part in talking to someone about spiritual matters is getting the conversation to turned. Today we will see how Jesus accomplishes this. Turn to John 4.
DEPARTURE FROM JUDEA (1-3)
As this chapter begins we find that Jesus and His disciples are still in Judea in the ministry of baptism. But some news comes that causes Jesus to change both His location and His ministry.
John 4:1 (NASB) When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea, and departed again into Galilee.
From our previous study of John 3:22-26 we know that it had become apparent that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John the Baptist. The apostle John clarifies that it was not Jesus Himself that was baptizing, but rather His disciples. This practice would have removed any claim by someone to having a superior baptism because Jesus did it instead of John. The insertion of this clarification is meant to demonstrate that the work of both Jesus and John were the same. Jesus does not leave because His ministry is overshadowing John’s, as if there was competition between them. He leaves because with the Pharisees now aware of Jesus’ ministry surpassing John’s there would also come their opposition. Matthew and Mark both indicate that Jesus withdrew to Galilee when He heard that John the Baptist had been put into jail (Matt. 4:12; Mark 1:14).
Jesus leaves because it was not yet time for Him to bring on the full opposition of the Pharisees to His ministry. A minor theme throughout John’s gospel is the importance of Jesus being on a timetable. Jesus had opposition from the very beginning of His ministry and He knew that the opposition of His enemies would one day bring about His crucifixion, but Jesus was in control of when that would occur. He would not bring it about prematurely.
John the Baptist was taken into custody in December A.D. 27, and so Jesus now sets aside the ministry of Baptism in the land of Judea and returns to Galilee where He had started a ministry earlier in the year with the miracle of wine at the wedding in Cana (John 2). Jesus will now focus on a ministry of teaching, proclaiming the gospel, and healing in the land of Galilee where there will be less opposition from the Pharisees (Mt. 4:23).
PASSING THROUGH SAMARIA (4-6)
John 4:4 tells us And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; 6 and Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
I like the way the KJV states verse 4, And he must needs go through Samaria. Some commentators try to interpret this as just the normal way that Jesus would have gone back to Nazareth for the Galileans did not avoid Samaria the way the Judeans did.
There was antagonism between the Jews and the Samaritans that extended back to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah some 400 years earlier. The Samaritans were the decedents of the foreign people that Shalmaneser had brought in after the Assyrians had conquered Israel and deported the Israelites to other lands. These were pagan people who pleaded with Shalmaneser to provide a priest from the Israelites so they could deal "with the god of the land" – which is how they viewed Yahweh (2 Kings 17:24-41). The result was a mixture of paganism and Jewish worship of the LORD. When Nehemiah returned from Babylon to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem he refused to allow the Samaritans to help because of their mixture of truth and error though they claimed to be worshippers of the LORD. The Samaritans instead built their own temple on Mt. Gerizim and continued their own practices. The religious and racial antagonism continued in the time of Christ.
The Judean Jews, being a bit more snobbish, would not go through Samaria if they could help it. If they needed to go to Galilee, they would go down to the Jordan valley and then travel north through Perea and Decapolis. The Galileans, on the other hand, did not mind as much and would take the direct route north from Jerusalem through Samaria and into Galilee.
Some claim this is why Jesus went through Samaria. However, for Jesus, this would have been more effort because He was already in the Jordan valley and it would have been a lot easier for Him to travel up the Jordan River road and then through the plain of Meggido to Cana than to ascend into the Judean hills and then travel north. The route he took would have been both farther and required climbing to a higher elevation – and when you have to walk, that makes a big difference! In addition, our text makes an emphasis on the fact that Jesus "had to" / "must needs" go through Samaria. Some have said that this was because Jesus was trying to avoid Herod. That is possible, but I think the story here proves more than adequate that Jesus had to go through Samaria because His Father had an appointment for Him at Jacob’s well near Sychar.
If you really believe that God is sovereign, then you do not see circumstances as happenstance, but God’s providence. That is also true with the people we meet. Our circumstances are not an accident, but divine opportunities to give glory to Him by what we say and how we act.
Since Jesus did take the more difficult route, we can understand the comment in verse 6 that Jesus was "wearied from His journey" and so was sitting by the well, or possibly even on the rampart that surrounded the well. It had been a long journey that morning climbing out of the Jordan Valley up to Shechem. It was now about noon and Jesus sits down by the Jacob’s well, which is by the road there. (The sixth hour from sunrise – if this was Roman time of 6 p.m. it would have been dark at that time of year. The disciples would have had to been looking for a place to stay as well as something to eat).
OPENING THE CONVERSATION (7-9)
While Jesus is sitting there, a divine encounter begins.
John 4:7 (NASB) There came a woman of Samaria 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 therefore said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)
The disciples to off into the city to buy some food and leave Jesus sitting by the well. A Samaritan woman comes to get fill her pitcher with water and Jesus’ surprises her with a request she would never have expected. He asks her for a drink of water. She would have recognized that Jesus was a Jew both from His clothing and His speech. Just as there are regional accents today so there was then and the Jews and Samaritans had different accents. She does not understand how it would be that Jesus, being a Jew, would ask her, a Samaritan woman, for a drink. John adds a comment at the end of verse 9 to clarify the reason for her surprise. The translation as "The Jews have no dealings with Samaritans" is not accurate. The fact is that the Jews would deal with the Samaritans and their land was not even considered unclean, even though the Judean Jews sought to avoid it. The Jews did buy and trade with the Samaritans even as Jesus disciples had gone into the city to do. They went to buy food from the Samaritans. This would be better translated as "For the Jews do not use together with the Samaritans." The word translated as "dealings with" is sugcrwntai /sugxrontai which is a compound word from sun (sun) meaning "with" and crowmai (xroomai) meaning "to use" or "make use."
Jesus did not have anything to either draw water from the well or to drink from. His request required that He drink from her pitcher. This was considered an unclean practice by the Pharisees and the Jews in general. It is one thing to trade with the Samaritans, but quite another to actually drink from the same cup.
How do you get someone’s attention in order to talk with them about God and Jesus? We can learn from Jesus here that we should not act according to religious stereotypes but according to God’s Word. Jesus did not see this woman as an unclean Samaritan, but as the object of God’s love, and one day He would die for her sins in order to cleanse her.
How often do Christians actlike the Pharisees with a religious snobbery that separates them from sinful people rather than reaching out to them as Jesus did? The result? They miss the opportunity to demonstrate God’s love and to tell someone the gospel that would save their souls and change them. Have you been like that? Are you like that? I am glad for the opportunities I have had in jail ministries, with rescue missions, hospital ministries and such to talk with and touch those considered outcasts by our society.
Do you want to open up a conversation with a non-Christian that could lead to sharing the gospel? Then don’t act in the stereo-typical religious manner. Demonstrate a true interest in others. Be kind to those who don’t expect it. Ask them questions and show genuine interest in their answers. Jesus even asked the Samaritan woman for help. Ask them for a favor or do them a favor. Either can open up a door into their hearts. Jesus’ request to the Samaritan woman opened the door for meaningful conversation with someone that would have otherwise ignored Him.
INVITING QUESTIONS (10-12)
Next, Jesus makes a statement designed to get intrigue her and prompt her to ask questions. It is another mashal, a riddle-like saying causes reflection to make a hidden point. John 4:10 (NASB) Jesus answered and said to her, "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."
Jesus statement lets her know that there is more to Him than what she sees. He interjects a statement giving a clue that He is talking about a spiritual subject, "If you knew the gift of God," but she does not recognize it. Neither does she recognize the double meaning to "living water." Jesus is talking about something spiritual, but she only understand the common meaning.
Water that was in a cistern or a stagnant well was referred to as just water. Water that was from a stream or a spring was referred to as "living water." It was water that came from something that was moving or bubbling up. This kind of water is always better than stagnant water and therefore much more desirable. She is intrigued with His statement and responds in verse 11,12.
11 She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water? 12 "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?"
She could only see what was before her and so she questions how Jesus could get this water since He did not even have a rope and bucket. She expects a negative answer to her question about Jesus being greater than Jacob, but the question shows that she is beginning to sense there is more to this stranger than meets the eye.
One of the tasks we have when witnessing to others is to try and get them thinking for themselves. Jesus does that here using a mashal. We may not be able to come up with something as profound as Jesus, but we can ask make statements that speak of a world beyond the physical here and now. We can challenge people to think beyond their own little world and consider what may be beyond them. We can also ask some open ended questions to get them think through issues. That is what I am doing with this professed atheist. I have challenged him to apply the logic he has used to claim there is no God to his own beliefs. I have challenged him that he can not be an atheist since he is not omniscient. God could very well exist and he just has not found Him yet. I have asked him questions such as what is the source of his own ultimate origin, to explain the origin of moral good and what caused the radical change in Jesus’ disciples?
They, like the woman at the well, may not get it, but getting them thinking is the first step toward understanding spiritual truth.
INTRODUCING THE SPIRITUAL TRUTH (13-15)
Jesus answer in verse 13 introduces the spiritual truth to her, but she still does not understand.
John 4:13 (NASB) Jesus answered and said to her, "Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again; 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life. " 15 The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw."
Even though all that Jesus says about this living water is contrary to physical water, this woman is still thinking in physical terms. Physical water can not stop a person from becoming thirsty again. You have to drink again and again and again and still you will be thirsty in the future. The living water Jesus spoke of gives lasting satisfaction. Physical water must come from an outside source. The living water Jesus spoke of will be an internal spring of resource. Physical water is needed for life, but physical life is limited and in time and it will end. Death statistics are pretty impressive – one out of one die. The only exceptions so far are Enoch, who was not for God took him (Genesis 5:24) and Elijah who was taken up in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11) – Jesus died and then conquered death. The living water Jesus spoke of resulted in eternal life. In addition, as Jesus had already pointed out in verse 10, this living water comes as a gift.
Even though Jesus spoke of eternal life, which is certainly a spiritual concept, the woman did not understand the nature of what Jesus was talking about. She only thought of the convenience of not having to go to the well for water anymore. This was even better than running water in the house, because you never got thirsty.
Remember that Satan has blinded the eyes of the unbelieving so that they can not see or understand spiritual truth (2 Cor. 4:4). Don’t be discouraged when those you talk to about spiritual things do not understand. Until such point that they knowingly reject the gospel and become swine, before whom you are not to cast the pearl of the gospel (Matt. 7:6), you still have opportunity. Make another thought provoking statement, ask another question. Perhaps it may also be time to make the spiritual truth personal to them. That is what Jesus does in vs. 16.
CREATING THIRST (16-20)
John 4:16 (NASB) He said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." 17 The woman answered and said, "I have no husband." Jesus said to her, "You have well said, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly. "
Some have said that Jesus gives up and changes the subject here in verse 16. Others have said He is calling for the husband in hopes of him understanding. None of that is true. Jesus is omniscient. He knew the answer to His question before He asked it. He asks the question to make the spiritual matter He is talking about personal to her. His question is designed to force her to admit her need for spiritual help. He is creating a spiritual thirst within her by gently bringing out her sinfulness and need for a savior.
Her curt answer demonstrates that Jesus hit a soft spot of conviction. Whereas prior to this she had been pretty talkative, now her answer is very short, just three words in Greek. This is her defense. By quickly saying she has no husband she is trying to put an end to the subject. But Jesus does not leave the subject, and because He is omniscient He reveals to her that He already knows all about her life.
We are not told why she had five previous husbands. Perhaps they had died, perhaps they had divorced her or perhaps a mixture of both. The great conviction was in the fact that the man she was currently with was not her husband. She was living in an immoral relationship. She knew it, and so did Jesus.
We need to be gentle with people and show them love, but that does not mean we ignore their sin. We need to bring up the subject and point out that they have failed to meet God’s laws. It is best if you can get them to see that for themselves, as Jesus does here, than to bluntly point it out. One of my favorite ways of doing this is to talk about someone else committing sin and so they can see the parallel in their own life. That is what Nathan the prophet did with David when he had sinned with Bathsheba and murdered Uriah.
Many have said that the Samaritan woman’s response in verse 19,20 is just trying to change the subject. While there may be a certain element of truth in that she does not want to continue talking about her own sinfulness, I see in her response a longing for something deeper in her life.
John 4:19 (NASB) The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. 20 "Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you [people] say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."
By her own declaration she concludes that Jesus is a prophet. She knows she is not dealing with an ordinary man. That is why I do not believe her response is just trying to avoid further exposure. She has already been exposed by Jesus’ omniscience and is well aware that she can hide nothing from Him. I find in her statement a longing to know how to properly worship God. The Samaritans had produced their own copy of the books of Moses in which they had changed certain passages. From their adulterated Pentateuch they taught that the true worship of the LORD had to take place on Mt. Gerizim, which was directly south of where they were standing. She may well have pointed to it as she made her statement. The Jews argued from the uncorrupted books of Moses that the true worship of God was to occur in Jerusalem. This woman is appealing to a man she believes to be a prophet, and may have already been wondering if He was the Messiah, to solve this problem for her. How could she truly seek God if she did not even know where to go to worship Him.
DECLARING THE TRUTH (21-24)
Jesus responds to her with the truth. He is not afraid of offending her, yet He is gentle with her for He points her beyond the conflict between the Jews and Samaritans.
John 4:21 (NASB) Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father. 22 "You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 "But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24 "God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth."
Jesus makes it very clear that the issue in worshiping God is not the location but the spirit and attitude of the worshiper. Jesus points out there was a time coming when true worship would not take place in either Jerusalem or on Mt. Gerizim. This is looking forward to the crucifixion and resurrection which would render the animal sacrifice of the Jews and the Samaritans obsolete. Jesus came to establish a new covenant. When Jesus died the veil in the Temple was torn from top to bottom. God would not dwell in a temple made of human hands but in the hearts of those who love Him.
Jesus is also very clear that the Samaritans were wrong. They "worship that which [they] do not know." Their attempt to worship the LORD was commendable, but it was perverted and so they had wrong ideas about God. The Jews were given the revelation from God and from it could know and worship the true God. But Jesus did not stop there. He goes on to declare the more important truth.
We too must be careful to press on to the more important truths. It is very easy to get wrapped up in winning the point and in doing so alienating the person we are trying to talk with. Yes, we declare the truth, but always in love and always with pointing to the truths of greater importance. God is seeking true worshipers and you can be one if you want.
Jesus states that "an hour is coming, and now is," because that is the nature of His kingdom. It is still true. We worship God now, but the greater reality will be when we reach heaven. It is both future and present.
The true nature of the worship of God is doing so in spirit and in truth for that is in reflection of His own nature. God’s nature is completely spiritual. He is not a deity of stone or wood as the idolaters believe. He is not a God of just one location such as Samaria as the Samaritan forefathers had believed so many centuries earlier. He does not exist in the created elements as the pantheists believe. God is a spirit. He is incorporeal. He created the world and all that is in it and He transcends it.
The true worship of God does not occur in performing religious rituals. There are many that perform acts of humility and submission to a god of some sort, perhaps even in the belief it is worship of the true God, as did the Samaritans. Yet the whole time they live in a manner contrary to God’s commands. True worship comes from within the person’s spirit out of a desire to honor and glorify their Creator with their lives in every area. True worshipers of God not only will worship Him in spirit and truth, they must do so.
We must remember when we are talking with people that the goal of our conversation is God’s glory and not our winning an argument. We seek to point people to God Himself that they may worship Him in spirit and in truth
PROVIDING HOPE (25,26)
Jesus’ conversation with this woman ends with hope.
John 4:25 (NASB) The woman said to Him, "I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us." 26 Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am [He."]
In many ways this woman is very ignorant, but she does understand some basic truths. She has no clue about when Messiah would come, but she yearns for that day, for in it there is hope. He would teach them all things. Jesus then declares Himself to be that very person. He is the Messiah.
We might ask why Jesus would disclose Himself to this Samaritan woman when He did not do so to so many others? We could speculate on this, but regardless of what speculations are put forth, the final analysis would have to be that God is gracious.
We must keep that in mind whenever we talk to someone. God is gracious. He has extended an offer to all mankind that "whosoever will" believe in Jesus Christ may be saved. We do not understand the spirit’s work on a human heart. We do understand that God is gracious and He wants us to tell others about it.
Jesus had a divine appointment by Jacob’s well where He asked a favor from a Samaritan woman that was completely unexpected. He was kind, gracious and humble to someone most people treated with contempt. He opened up a conversation and turned it to spiritual matters she did not understand. He created a spiritual thirst within her by pointing out her need for God. We was truthful with her, but also loving. He did not condemn her. He had no disdain for her. He treated her with grace and respect and revealed to her the hope she had always longed for.
That is what Jesus wants us to do as well. Let’s follow His example in reaching out to those disdained by religious society, but still loved by God. We need to tell them about the God they do not know. We are to speak the truth to them in love by giving them a hope they did not know they could have.
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have ever lasting life.
Parents, you are responsible to apply God’s Word to your children’s lives. Here is some help. Young Children – draw a picture about something you hear during the sermon. Explain your picture(s) to your parents at lunch. Older Children – Do one or more of the following: 1) Tell in your own words what Jesus talked about with the woman at the well. 2) Discuss with your parents what it means to worship God in spirit & truth.
THINK ABOUT IT!
Questions to consider in discussing the sermon with others. Where as Jesus and what had He and His disciples been doing? Why did Jesus leave Judea for Galilee? What would have been the easiest route for Him to take to Galilee? Why did Jesus go through Samaria? Why was the Samaritan woman so surprised when Jesus asked her for a drink? How can you start a conversation with someone that would otherwise be antagonistic to you? What was the double meaning to Jesus’ statement in John 4:10? What can you do to prompt another person to think? How did Jesus introduce spiritual truth to this woman? Did the woman understand? Why not? How can you introduce spiritual truth to someone? What can you do if they do not understand? How did Jesus create a spiritual thirst in the woman? How can you create a spiritual thirst? What is the desire of this woman? How did Jesus both correct her and give her hope? Why did Jesus mean that worship would not be either at Jerusalem or on Mt. Girizim? What does it mean to worship in Spirit? What does it mean to worship in truth? Why are both necessary to true worship? Do you worship that way? What false ideas are corrected by stating that God is spirit?
Sermon Notes – 1/2/2000 a.m.
God’s Grace to Outcasts – John 4:1-26
DEPARTURE FROM JUDEA (1-3)
PASSING THROUGH SAMARIA (4-6)
OPENING THE CONVERSATION (7-9)
INVITING QUESTIONS (10-12)
INTRODUCING THE SPIRITUAL TRUTH (13-15)
CREATING THIRST (16-20)
DECLARING THE TRUTH (21-24)
PROVIDING HOPE (25,26)
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