Summary: God can see into the depths of our hearts. He wants us to be honest with him. But he doesn’t just leave us there. He expects us to worship him in spirit. So he gives us his own Spirit to dwell in us and cleanse us.
If you were here last week you may remember how John saw his main role as telling people about Jesus. You may also remember that that task of proclaiming Jesus is also our task. Well today we move on to the next episode in John’s account of Jesus’ ministry. Here we find Jesus’ providing a great model for sharing the gospel. We find Jesus taking every opportunity to bring people to a knowledge of the truth which is found in him, and then we see the woman herself becoming a witness to Christ. And we finish with a reminder that the task of evangelism is ongoing.
Jesus has decided to return to Galilee. The most direct route to Galilee passed through the region of Samaria, so that’s the way they went. We’re told they came to the town of Sychar where Jacob’s well was, and still is. It was the sixth hour, that is midday, and being tired from the journey, Jesus sat down to rest while his disciples went into the town to buy some lunch.
Just then a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. Now this is strange. No-one goes out in the heat of the day to draw water. That’s a job for the morning or evening when it’s cool. So why would this woman come now? Maybe, as we’ll see later, because she’s a social outcast. She comes now so she won’t have to bear the looks and comments of the other women from the town.
So Jesus is sitting by the well and this woman walks up. What do you think he sees? Most Jewish men of his day would have seen a woman, of doubtful moral character, who, even worse, was a Samaritan. Their first thought would have been to ignore her. Even if she’d been brave enough to speak to them they would have turned away. But what does Jesus see? He sees an opportunity to share the gospel with someone who’s in great need of it.
Here we start to approach the central theme of this passage. Every opportunity to share the gospel must be taken. I wonder are you like me, in that when you come across someone, you ask yourself this sort of question. Are they good prospects for the gospel? Do they look like promising material, or should you save your energy for someone else and instead just discuss the weather? Well, one of the amazing things about the gospel is that all sorts of people are touched by it, in totally unpredictable ways.
I mean, look at this woman. As we’ll discover in a moment she’d had 5 husbands already, she was living with a de facto, she had little or no social standing, she would have been looked down on by everyone in town, and yet she’s ripe for the harvest. And what’s more, having heard the gospel she’ll become an evangelist in her turn. So never pass up an opportunity to share the gospel with others. You never know who will respond until you try.
Well, Jesus opens the conversation by asking her for a drink; a very down-to-earth, everyday sort of place to begin. This takes the woman by surprise. She would never have expected a Jew to ask a Samaritan for a drink. It was well known that Jews would never share eating or drinking utensils with a Samaritan. If they did they’d be unclean for the rest of the day. But notice what an effective tool this element of surprise is. It raises the interest of the listener and gets the conversation going.
But then Jesus goes a step further. He takes her response about him asking for a drink and he says: “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 NRSV). See how smoothly he moves the conversation from a cool drink to the water of life? Mind you, all she can think of is living water meaning running water, something that’s rare in an arid climate like that of Samaria. But Jesus isn’t talking about physical water. He’s talking about spiritual water, about spiritual life. He says “Those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
You know, the Old Testament regularly speaks of water as a symbol of the life that God brings. eg. in Jer 2, God accuses his people of two things. He says: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”