Led by the Spirit (John 4:4-6)
This chapter concerns a heathen woman whose life was dramatically changed.
What a wonderful story is recorded here. Jesus went around in various places, but mostly in the vicinity of Jerusalem in the province of Judea. Jerusalem was the capital of the Jewish nation where great numbers of religious leaders such as the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes and priests lived and exercised their authority. These leaders were very jealous of Jesus because of the tremendous effect His teachings had on the community. Jesus knew they had planned to kill Him but at this stage His time to die on the cross had not arrived yet.
He decided therefore to go to Galilee and teach the people there. That would have the advantage that He would move out of the area where the religious leaders exerted their influence and allow the hatred they had built up against Him to cool off a bit.
The Word says He had to pass through Samaria. That was the shortest route to Galilee, but the Jews usually went the longer way round, through the Jordan valley and thus avoided Samaria. Why was that? The answer lay in the distant past. When the Israelites were taken captive by the Assyrians, heathen people out of various parts of Babylon and Assyria were settled there by the king of Assyria. These people did not know God and sinned by serving idols and even offered up their sons as sacrifices. Their behaviour aroused the anger of God to such an extent that He sent lions to tear them to pieces. (2 Kings 17:24-28) It is reported by the king of Assyria, that a Jewish priest from the people in captivity, was then sent to the Samaritans to teach them how to serve the God of Israel. The priest settled at Bethel in the district of Samaria and instructed the people from the Jewish Scriptures. They never actually devoted themselves wholeheartedly to the Lord, but served both God and their idols. In actual fact, they committed the same sin as the Israelites had done, the sin of idolatry for which God had punished the Israelites by causing them to be carried off into captivity.
On the other hand, the group of Jews from Judea who had been carried off captive to Babylon and who much later were given permission to return to Jerusalem and who rebuilt the temple and the walls of Jerusalem, were healed of their idolatry. As a result they hated the Samaritans with their idol worship and looked down on them, and would have nothing to do with mixing with them. Yes, they did not want even to travel through their territory. The Samaritans, in turn, would not welcome a Jew into their houses. They even built a temple for themselves on Mount Gerizim so that it was no longer necessary to go to worship in the Jewish temple in Jerusalem.
Was it right for the Jews to act like that? Well, people of God must be careful not to have too much contact with those who do not know Him, because the Kingdom of Light and the kingdom of darkness are locked in a battle with each other. The one will always try to win the other over to his side. People of God should not mix with worldly- minded people for relaxation’s sake, or to enjoy themselves with them, because they are exposing themselves to danger. But they must not judge such people or look down on them, or think they are better than them. Christians must love unbelievers and look for opportunities to tell them of God’s mercy for sinners. They must also not confine reaching out to them spiritually only inside the walls of their church, but ought to reach out to others everywhere and share with them the Good News of salvation.
This is what Jesus did. Although His Father expected Him to focus on the Jews, there were exceptions when He reached out to those of other nations in the vicinity, as they also needed to hear of God’s new Kingdom. I am therefore convinced that Jesus was led by God to travel through Samaria on a particular day and hour, to wait at the well used by a particular Samaritan woman.
A Saviour who was thirsty and a thirsty soul. (4:7-15 )
A woman of Samaria came in the heat of the day to draw water from the well, because at that time of day, there would probably be no other women there. She had a bad name in that town because she had been married and divorced five times and at that stage she was just living with a boy-friend who was not her husband. Because of that, she avoided contact with other women because they treated her very badly and with disgust. She must have been somewhat uncomfortable to find a man by himself sitting at the well, and a Jew at that!
Another shock was when the man asked her to give him water to drink. She was a woman and He a man, He a Jew and she a Samaritan, and then on top of that, they were alone with each other. No respectable Jew would under those circumstances have asked the woman for water to drink. Can you see how Jesus humbled Himself to reach out to someone so despised. By asking for water he placed Himself in a position of dependancy on her. “I need your help. I am thirsty. Can you please give me water to drink?” See how graciously He approaches her. She is like a little lamb that could easily take fright and run away. His openness gives her encouragement to speak to Him and to ask why He was so different from other Jewish men, and not behave according to their customs.
That gave Jesus opportunity to lead her to discover who He really was.. He does it so gradually and carefully that she accepts what He says. He says: “If you knew what God gives and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a little water to drink’, you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water.” He wanted her to discover that He was different from other people, that He was actually God’s Gift to mankind.
Jesus tried to lead her in to the things of the Spirit, but material things dominated her world and were going round and round in her thoughts. She confronted Him asking Him forthright, “You are not greater than our fore-father Jacob who gave us this well and even drank from it himself with his sons and his animals? From where will you get this living water? (She possibly thought that the living water that He had mentioned, was something like a fountain that bubbles up out of the ground and moistens the whole area around.).
She was tuned in on another wave-length, but at least she was thinking about the matter. Jesus took her yet another step further by saying, “Everyone who drinks this water will get thirsty again, but he who drinks the water that I will give him, will never thirst again. No, the water that I will give, will be in him a spring of water that bubbles up and gives him eternal life.” But her thoughts couldn’t break free from the material physical world with its physical water, and because of that she didn’t realize that He was talking about spiritual water, water for the soul.
Yet the Man impressed her favourably because He spoke with authority. Could He possibly give her something out of the ordinary? Could He do a miracle and give her water that would last forever; would never run out so she wouldn’t have to go repeatedly to the well to fetch water? Now that would be a huge gift! Why not? She therefore answered Him, saying, “Sir, give me that water so that I don’t become thirsty again and have to come here to draw water.”
Jesus forces nothing on us, no, He gives just what we ask of Him. If He sees that we truly believe what He offers us, He gives it to us. When people came to Him He always asked, “What do you want me to do for you?
This woman wanted some of this miracle-water, but she didn’t understand what it actually was, so Jesus explained it to her more clearly so she could have the insight into what her true need was, namely miracle-working water for her soul; water that could put the spiritual life of God into her, because her life was in shambles. She needed a gift from God that would give her eternal life and a holy life. This life that God wanted to give was like a spring that would continually bubble up and flow over to her whole environment. Wherever it would flow it wouldd bring life and growth.
Revelation and confession. (4:16-19)
In order to obtain this life from God, she needed firstly to have insight of the fact, and acknowledge that her life was a mess, and also to actually confess this with her mouth. Jesus helped her to get to that point of confession by saying: “Go and call your husband and come back here.” A woman did not require permission from her husband to be able to give her life to God and Jesus did not really expect that her husband should be present so she could get things right with him. No, there was a deeper reason, namely that she would acknowledge to Him and to herself that her life was like a dead thing that spread an unbearearable odour; something one would rather wrap up and hide away from the eyes of others. That was indeed the reason she came to the well at a time of day when she would not expect to find anyone else there. Her rotten life smelled so bad that other people did not want to be in her presence. When a woman has already been married to five men and divorced from them all, and now living with a sixth man, there must have been a huge problem deep down in her life and she knew it. Jesus was busy opening up this abscess, taking off the bandages that were covering it up and she didn’t like that! Therefore she looked away and said shamefully, “I have no husband.”
Alas, how difficult it is for a sinner to confess what is wrong in his life. God cannot really forgive sins that we hide away. He cannot give eternal life to those who continue in their sinful lifestyle, enjoying and protecting it. I must hand my old life to God with my left hand and with my right hand, receive eternal life. That includes forgiveness of sin and a new heart in which the Holy Spirit will live.
Jesus saw her struggle and helped her towards salvation by acknowledging her confession as part of the truth which she herself had admitted to. Then He completed her acknowledgement of guilt, by spelling it out in detail: “It is true what you said, ‘I have no husband.’ You’ve already had five and the one you now have, is not your husband. Yes, that is quite true.” What a tremendous shock it must have been for her to hear this Stranger expose her covered up life. But at the same time, it was also a relief to find someone who knew all about her and yet did not reject her.
She recognized immediately that this Stranger had to be a prophet of God, for only a man in direct contact with God could know such hidden secrets. Therefore she answered Him: “Sir, I can see you are a prophet.” By saying that, she was not denying what Jesus exposed in her life, on the contrary, in a subdued way she was actually agreeing that it was the truth.
You may say: “I wish I were like Jesus who knew the hidden things about others, because then I could convince them of the truth of the Gospel.” Well, the truth is, that God gives similar supernatural gifts to those who want to bring in a spiritual harvest. It is known as “a word of knowledge”. We read about these gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:8.
Let us return to the woman at the well. Her thoughts were no longer on the physical (natural) water, but on the spiritual. She was very self conscious because the truth about her life had been revealed. She did not want to continue to focus on her own life, so she lead the conversation in a different direction, speaking about religion and church matters.
That is just what people usually do when the truth about them becomes known. The moment they are driven into a corner they will ask: “To which church do you belong?” They want to speak about other things and not about themselves.
She asked Jesus a question which she knew usually lead to an argument between Jew and Samaritan, namely “Our forefathers worshiped God on this mountain, and yet you people say the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” The Samaritans had built their temple on Mount Gerizim, and the question that was always debated, was, “Which church is the correct church? Is it the Jews’ church in Jerusalem, or that of the Samaritans on mount Gerizim?
We conduct the same arguments. “To which church must I belong in order to go to heaven; is it the Evangelicals or Baptist; the Seventh day Adventists or the Dutch Reformed Church; or the Back-to-God group; or the Church of God, or the Presbyterian Church; or the Methodists, or the Catholics, or the Old Apostles, or the Zionists or which Church?” Some will say “There are too many churches; I will rather stay home and drink my beer or sit at a fishing spot and quietly think about God.”
The Lord Jesus answered her wisely saying, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will not worship the Father on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem. You worship without knowing what you worship; we know what we worship, because salvation is from the Jews. But the time is coming, and it is now, when true worshippers will worship the Father by the Spirit and in truth, because the Father is really looking for people who will worship in that way. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth”. Jesus was saying to her that it was not important where you worship. It was not important to God whether you worship on mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem.
What God wanted was for mankind to worship Him according to his Word in truth. You have to be open and honest before Him, pray out of the depth of your heart, and not try to hide what is wrong. When you worship Him, your spirit must meet Him, because He is a Spiritual Being. Your spirit that is cleansed in the blood of Jesus and filled with the Holy Spirit must meet with the Father and the Son. Your own heart, then, will be the church where you worship God.
The woman replied “I know that the Messiah is coming, He Who is also called the Christ. When He comes, He will make everything known to us.” Then Jesus revealed Himself to her saying, “It is I. I who am speaking to you.”
Now we come to the root of the matter. Although this woman had lived a bad life, she had the desire in her heart to hear the truth about God. Now at last, she experienced Him as the living God with Whom she could speak as with a father; a God who could free her from her sinful desires and make her fit to travel the narrow path to heaven. Although she had not been attending a place where she could be instructed in the Word of God, she knew about the Messiah who was coming from heaven and would teach people the truth. How wonderful it must have been for her, to now meet the Him now, the Messiah on whom she had placed her hope, with the Holy Spirit confirming to her that Jesus was indeed Who He said He was.
A harvest of Souls (4:27-42)
Just at that moment the disciples arrived back from town and were very surprised to see Jesus speaking with a woman. However, I believe that the presence of the Holy Spirit was so overwhelming, that they realised that they were treading on holy ground and would transgress by questioning Him about this.
The woman, on the other hand, was so excited about her discovery of the remarkable Man Who said He was the Messiah, that she ran back to the little village, Sychar, where she lived. There she created a huge commotion by shouting to the people: “Come and see, there is a Man here who has told me all that I have done. Is He not perhaps, the Christ?” They realized that something awesome must have happened to cause her, who had lived such a bad life to be so excited way. So they streamed from the little town to the well, to see for themselves this exceptional Person, and to hear what He had to say.
In the meantime the disciples offered Jesus the food they had bought in Sychar but He was so full of joy because of the heathen woman who had received the living water of eternal life from Him, that He declined, saying, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about. My food is to do the will of Him who sent me, and to finish His work.”
He was actually saying that there is a great spiritual reward in doing God’s Kingdom work; that this is so satisfying that you become insensitive to the needs of the body. (Just think of Moses who had been on the mountain with God for 40 days without food.) Let us learn this lesson from the Lord: if we are longing for an overflowing spiritual life, we must partner with God in sharing the Gospel with those that need the Saviour.
The Lord then proceeded to encourage his disciples to look out for opportunities to share the Good News of salvation with others, saying: “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four months to harvest?’ But I say to you, ‘Look, look at the fields, they are ready for reaping! Even now the reaper is receiving the reward, he is bringing in the harvest for eternal life. So the one who sows and the one who reaps rejoice together.”
The disciples thought the Samaritans were such a sinful people that they were not ready to receive the Messiah but they were wrong, because the first Samaritan woman Jesus spoke to, received Him joyfully. The harvest was definitely ripe and ready to be reaped.
He continued, “The saying is true that says, ‘The one sows and the other reaps.’ I sent you to reap and bring in what you have not laboured for. Others laboured and you pick the fruit of their labour.”
Do you remember we spoke of a Jewish priest who taught the Samaritans the Word of God but saw very little fruit for his labour, because they received the new religion, but still continued with their idol-worship. The seed he had sowed had however been germinating and now, when the Messiah came, some hearts were ready to receive Him. Perhaps the old priest witnessed from heaven what was happening down at the well of Samaria and was now was filled with joy as he saw the fruit o his labour.
Let us conclude with verses 39 to 42. “Many of the Samaritans in that town came to believe in Jesus because of the words of the woman, “He told me all that I did.” When the Samaritans came to Him because of that, they urged Him to stay with them. He then spent two days there. Very many more of them came to believe in Him because of what He had said to them, and they said to the woman, “We believe, not only because of what you told us, but we listened to Him ourselves and are convinced that He is the Saviour of the world.”
What a wonderful true story of one day in the life of May we also say to ourselves: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” By doing the will of God, you receive more blessing than a man who earns a million Rand every hour he works.
May the Lord help us to be watchful and believing like Jesus was.
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