We left last week with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. Two unlikely characters in an unlikely backdrop, for divine purposes. Jesus had moved into her comfort zone and disrupted her a bit, by asking for some water, but then offering the eternal offer of “living water”. We were left with the reality that each and everyone of us from time to time, go about our daily activities trying to quench our thirst with things of this life, in this world.
Jesus was humble and not condemning as she struggled to engage with him. Being uncomfortable, she kept attempting to change the subject and to steer his focus away from her. Relentless of his desire for her heart, Jesus continue to turn to her, sharing intimate details of her past, loving her regardless and offering her hope.
In our Christian walk we are reminded in this story that Jesus already knows our story, and wants to give us a new hope as well. If the offer is not “new hope” for us, it is a hope at a higher level than we even acknowledge. One of the challenges we face and we were reminded a couple weeks ago is that we must decrease and he must increase. What that comes down to is that we must get rid of our selfish desires and ambitions and “follow him”. One of the things we need to do is step out of denial and acknowledge the past and move on to the future. Jesus pushes in on this point as he begins discussion about the woman’s relationships.
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.”
27 Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31 Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32 But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33 So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35 Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36 Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37 For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”– John 4:16-42 ESV
John tells us that Jesus said to the woman to go get your husband to come her. This could not have been an easy situation. She knows her situation and she has to make that difficult decision to disclose the painful truth or just lie or avoid the facts. We have all been there at one time or another. She makes the decision to be honest with this stranger. But to her surprise, he commends her, and actually discloses the situation. Think of the shock you would feel if a total stranger were to reveal a detailed knowledge of your past, particularly those parts of your past about which you are most ashamed of. We don’t get any details, but we can only imagine the terror on her face. She may have been at that point for “fight, flight or freeze”, and it seems like she just froze in her tracks.
What tends to be your response to high threats? Do you tend to rile up and fight back? Do you tend to just avoid situations when you shouldn’t? Or are you most likely numb, detached and ready to quickly surrender?
The woman is astonished that He knows what he described and most likely it gets a little creepy and she responds with a logical theory… he must be from God. So to attempt to, most likely, change the subject, she responds to steer the conversation from her to him.
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” – John 4:19-20 ESV
What is strange about this response when we reflect on what we know about the people of Samaria?
We need to remember that the Samaritans only retained their faith on the Pentateuch (first books of Moses) of the bible and did not truly believe in any of the prophets, despising any entitlement that the Jewish people thought was theirs. It is a bit odd for her to declare Jesus a prophet, but if the regional belief was that prophets were not of significance. Her questions about the place to worship is most likely intended to consume the conversation, since the Jews and Samaritans had been debating where the proper place to worship. The Samaritans had their central sanctuary at Mount Gerizim. She may have had a real question about the topic, but she certainly hoped that this Jewish prophet would take the bait and forget His discomforting questions about her life. What would he want with the men of her village anyway? Jesus response can be a bit confusing or not clear to us.
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. – John 4:21 ESV
It almost is like he is saying it does not matter whether you worship like a Samaritan or a Jew. This is an example where someone could take this one verse and support their own believe of irrelevant worship, but we need to keep Jesus whole response intact. He goes on to explain:
You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. – John 4:22 ESV
With these words Jesus declared that the Samaritan woman was an agnostic. The word agnostic comes from the Greek word agnosis, which means without knowledge. Jesus said that the Samaritans were worshiping without knowledge, but the Jews were not, their worship was based on true knowledge of God through his self-revelation in the pages of Scripture.
Agnostic: without knowledge.
Atheist: a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.
Now, how many people do you think that do not follow Christ are agnostic versus atheist?
In his response, Jesus did not say that it did not matter whether one worshipped the Samaritan way or the Jewish way. On the contrary, he stated that one of those ways was wrong and one was right. The Jewish way was the correct way. That was the way God had ordained worship, for they were God’s chosen people, and he had personally instructed them on how to worship him.
Jesus then follows with another extremely important statement about worship.
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 4:23-24
A lot of the challenges that our church faces today is the ignorance of the Old Testament, mainly the ignorance of the character of God the Father. We somehow think that Christianity centers exclusively around Jesus. Obviously we are called to honor, exalt, and worship Christ, but we need to remember that Christ came in the first place to reconcile us to the Father. There is a certain sense in which the supreme focus of our worship on Sunday morning is to be on the Father; that is why Jesus said here that “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth”. Again, we worship the triune God; the father, the son and the Holy Spirit, but we need to have the majesty of the Father, in all of His greatness, in our minds as we worship.
What is your thoughts of the concept of worshipping in “spirit and truth”?
Jesus was not saying that people are supposed to be holy spirit devotées and to worship God according to the Holy Spirit. We are supposed to do that, but that was not Jesus’ intent here. Rather, He was calling us, in the first instance, to see that the worship we offer comes from the depths of our souls, from our inner spirits, from the very corpse of our being. We must remember, that Jesus was facing a lot of religion. He was seeing a lot of people just going through the motions. Remember the scene at the temple when He cleared it? God doesn’t want that kind of worship. That’s dead religion. That’s not authentic faith. We’re to come to Him with hearts filled with a sense of awe, reverence, and adoration. The worship that we offer is to be a sacrifice of praise to His name, God, not limited to Jesus.
We are told also, that worship is to be according to the truth. Many times today worship is based on popularity. How do we draw “those people in”. What is the worship that will make the most people happy. Our worship ends up being about how the audience feels, rather than the one we worship. Jesus said that the Father wants people to worship Him according to what He wants, not what the people want. If the worship, and service was all about the visitors, is the concept of church shifted from Him the them?
From time to time, we have most likely, experienced a situation where a church gathering has shifted it’s focus off of Him. How do you react? What is your response?
The words of worship seemed to bring the Samaritan woman back to the subject at hand…
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.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” – John 4:25-26 ESV
We get a rare taste of Jesus openly confessing and revealing his identity to someone. Many times he just hears what a person says and allows their words to be solidify (It is as you say). Depending on the bible translation, He reveals the truth to her. In the New Living Translation he boldly says; “I am the Messiah”. How much more direct can he be. She has to be freaked out at this point. Forget the concept that this guy knows her past, he is the Messiah, right in front of her. Oh my, she probably just forgot the whole discussion that they had. She must be back to “fight, flight or freeze”.
What is an example lately that just took you off guard and you were faced with a situation where you just had to pause and ask the Holy Spirit on whether to fight, flight or freeze?
Just then his disciples came back. They were shocked. They couldn’t believe he was talking with that kind of a woman. No one said what they were all thinking, but their faces showed it.
The woman took the hint and left. In her confusion she left her water pot. Back in the village she told the people, “Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?” And they went out to see for themselves. – John 27-30 The Message
They are interrupted by the disciples returning and the woman takes this as an opportunity to exercise “flight”. She actually takes off to town and leaves her water pot. Remember, this was a ways from town, heat of the day and she needed to get the daily water and now her life is interrupted. She will deal with the consequences of no water later, but she has seen the Messiah face-to-face and she is beside-herself.
Notice that when she goes into town she is not feeling entitled and righteous. She doesn’t brag and invite the town folk to follow her. She is jubilant and joyful about sharing the good news. She wants them to come meet the Messiah first hand. It is almost like the woman is not an agnostic for the very first time in her life.
Because of the woman’s witness, many in the capital of Samaria, Sychar, believed in Jesus. They invite him into the village and ask him to stay awhile, and he stays for a couple days. After that the people could say they believed, not by the woman’s testimony, but because of the direct encounter with Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ.
Upon their return, the disciples offer Jesus some food that they had gone into town to get and they are a bit confused, but Jesus is quick with his explanation.
“I have food to eat that you do not know about.” – John 4:32 ESV
The disciples were confused and wondered if Jesus had gotten fed by someone else, maybe even thought they had taken too long. There concern and confusion must have been obvious, because Jesus goes on to clarify for them:
My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. – John 4:34
That is who Jesus is, his meat, his drink, his all. His passion was to do everything that the Father sent him to do. That included ministering to these people of Samaria , offering them the living water that wells up to eternal life.
In conclusion of the story of the woman at the well, how can we compare this encounter with the one with Nicodemus?
- R. C. Sproul. John (St. Andrew’s Expositional Commentary). Kindle Edition.
- The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.
- Tyndale House Publishers. (2013). Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
- Peterson, E. H. (2005). The Message: the Bible in contemporary language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.