The Power to Give Life

John 4:1-15,25-26

 

Tom J. Nettles

 

I.                    Setting

A.     In the Gospel – Movement from interview with a self-righteous Jewish teacher to one with an outcast and desperate Samaritan Woman

B.     Journey – seemingly initiated to avoid conflict with the Pharisees. Jesus knew that the Pharisees opposed John the Baptist and, in addition to their questio0ning of him would now add their obvious suspicion of John (1:19, 24) to him. Jesus’ leaving the place was purposeful for, in the words of Leon Morris, “He would not precipitate a clash until the right time.”

C.     Samaria – The interview with Nicodemus was in Jerusalem at the Passover feast. This interview is in Samaria, the place that was synonymous with rebellion, rejection of the prescribed ceremonies of worship, and a mongrelized race, perverted from the purity of their Abrahamic descent. The Jews had refused the help of the Samaritans in rebuilding their temple (Ezra 4:2) and had burned the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerizim in 128 B.C. Relations were bitter and this provided a powerful opportunity for Jesus to show that he was the savior of the “world.”

D.     The need to go through Samaria was two-fold apparently. Seeking to get to Galilee as quickly as possible, and in light of the weariness of Jesus, he did not want to extend the walk by taking the longer route that avoided Samaria. As this language indicates the need of spiritual urgency, or moral necessity; Jesus had an appointment there ordained from eternity.

E.      It might be merely coincidental in John’s narrative style, or it might be a providence that John points out purposefully, that it was the sixth hour and again points it out during Jesus trial before Pilate (19:14) on the day of the preparation for the Passover. The commentator Lightfoot mentions this and another interesting parallel. In 4:34 Jesus s aid that his food was to do the will of “Him that sent me and to accomplish his work.” In 19:30 Jesus said “It is finished.” These words are from the same root that has the thrust of bringing to completion a purposeful activity.

II.                 Interview

A.     Jesus initiates the conversation  - again note the presence of water as an element of the narrative and eventually as a symbol of life. Here he asked for a drink and in the possible parallel of John 19, Jesus stated, “I thirst.” (John 19:28).

 

1. The woman remarks at the incongruity of the request. Perhaps it was ironic to her that the despised Samaritan was in the position of meeting the need of a weary Jew, and he had consented to recognize her advantage at this point. In Luke 10, Jesus tells a story about a Samaritan that was in a position to aid a needy Jew.

2. In addition, not only was she a Samaritan, but she was a woman. The apparent parity of the engagement took her back, and perhaps some bit of conscience about her life gave her pause.

 

B.     He compares the recurring need for physical replenishment to the nature of eternal life. Note that number of rich items he immediately introduces into the discussion.

1. The gift of God – In spite of our unworthiness, God is poised to give needy person a gift of incomprehensible proportions. Recall Paul’s extended exposition of grace in Ephesians 1 and 2, summarizing it with these words, “and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.

2. Who it is that is speaking to you. This “chance” happening had put this outcast, downtrodden woman, and untouchable reject among an untouchable people with the Creator of the world who had come into it to redeem it. On the one hand nothing is more incongruous than this interview, but on the other nothing more at the heart of Jesus’ mission. This contact establishes clearly who he is, Jesus, the one who saves his people from their sins.

3. She should be the one that recognizes her need. [“You would have asked him”]. Though he was, indeed, not just feignedly, weary and in need of a drink of water for physical refreshment, she had an eternal need for life. She was not merely tired spiritually, but dead, not merely oppressed by the heat of a journey, but under condemnation because of an insurmountable load of sin. She should be doing the asking, not he.

4. Living water.- What an image! This image extends the conversation into the very point he was driving at.

·        Though the image is puzzling, she is undaunted in pressing him for greater clarity. Her narrative proceeds with an observation and a question based on that observation. Then she asks another question that establishes a challenge for Jesus to go further in telling her just how great is this water he will provide.

·        Since it was clear that he had nothing with which he could draw water from the well before them, She wanted to know the source of this “living water.” An excellent question indeed!

·        For Jesus to have something that would provided her with more than this well had provided al her life he must be superior to the ne that provided it; so naturally she queries, “Are you greater than our father Jacob?”

·        That well had served Jacob, his sons, his livestock and had kept providing water generation after generation right up until her present need for water in her household. What Jesus had must be very impressive to outstrip the provisions of that well.

5. verses 13, 14 - As he had done with Nicodemus, Jesus now shows that analogous relationship that things in the natural world (created by God) have to spiritual realities.

·        The satisfaction granted to a physical need by a physical thing will be short-lived and will have to be done again. The implication is that much less can any created thing meet the spiritual need that has led, as Jesus soon will point out, to the tumultuous bungling of relationships that has plagued this woman’s life.

·        The water that Jesus gives is not from the deep well before them, but from the infinite depths of his own being as Son of God whose death will forgive sins and whose grace will grant the adoption of sons through the Spirit, and the end thereof, eternal life. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

·        So intriguing are this possibility and the apparent confidence that Jesus has that he can give it that the woman asks for it. Who would not want such a gift; but the character of both the need and the thirst-quenching gift must now be explored. The blessing of eternal life, freedom from frustration and want, freedom from the threat of divine wrath and other blessings have an attraction all their own. But the path to reception of them calls for an awareness of the strength of the barriers to such life.

 

C.     Her personal sin and dissatisfaction [16-18]. Jesus begins to point out both the sin and the frustration of her life.

1. Clearly symptomatic of her problem was that serial adultery under the guise of marriage that punctuated the short clauses of her life. Again, as we have seen as a theme in John [e.g  1:47, 48; 2:25], Jesus knows what is in all the persons that he engages. This clearly is a function of his deity. So, knowing what her life history has been, Jesus asked the woman to bring her husband before he told her about this living water.

2. She answers truly but with the technique of mental reservation. Although, as Jesus pointed out, she has had five husbands, she does not have a husband at present, but is living with a man without the trouble of any recognizable form of vows. So Jesus said that she answered truly.

3. In light of this answer, the woman noted that Jesus is a prophet. Probably in an effort to deflect the attention away from the discomfort of looking at her personal moral failures, she turns to a well-worn religious discussion.

D.     Conflict between Samaritans and Jews over worship leads to affirmation and expansion

1.      Jesus does not avoid this discussion; nor does he allow it to turn him from the real issue of her life and of his mission. Not place of worship, but the nature of true worship and Salvation is the issue. This cannot be shoved aside in the interest of an abstract discussion.

2.      Because the Samaritans had invented their own places of worship and sacrifice [which they continue in small isolated pockets even to today] Jesus said that they did not know what they worshipped. Worship that is man-made  as a mere ritual not built on divine revelation is a mere form and the essence of ignorant idolatry. The Jews, who had the full revelation of the entire Old Testament and worshipped according to the prescribed rites in Jerusalem know what they worshipped. This entire system was designed to lead to a knowledge of salvation when properly received and believed. Salvation is of the Jews and their knowledge of God is more accurate than that of the Samaritans 22

3.      God is Spirit, however, and when Messiah comes all the types will be fulfilled and the New Covenant will being in a full knowledge of salvation and true worship of God. God, in reality, not isolated to any geographical location. The specifying of a place was designed to focus the attention of all the people on the one place of sacrifice of acceptable unblemished offerings by priests set aside for the purpose. When Christ fulfilled al that, then the place formerly designated loses its relevance. “The hour is coming and now is here.”

4.      Worship in Spirit and Truth – To worship in Spirit brings one to see that only by the operation of the Holy Spirit in convicting the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment may one be brought to a true worship of God. The new birth, spoken of in the last chapter, brings the sinner into a true frame of worship. Truth refers to the message of Christ received by faith.

5.      Worshippers must be such as can worship in Spirit and truth. The new birth that brings about faith in the completed work of Christ is the only foundation for true worship.

E.      Messianic Claim   26 [cf.10, 29] When the woman again tries to divert the discussion to a remote theological idea, she again discovers that this Jewish stranger responds with a radical claim. Certainly, she thinks, if I go beyond him in an appeal to the Messiah to which Moses pointed, this prophet will stop sounding so authoritative. He might be smart and know more than I do, but I will just avoid further interaction with him by saying that Messiah, when he comes will tell us all things. Jesus response again takes her completely off guard.: “I who speak to you am he.” Jesus makes a direct claim to be the Messiah.

III.               Lesson for the Disciples

A.     The delight in doing the Father’s will 31-34

B.     The law of sowing and reaping

1.      Father and Son 34-36

2.      OT Prophets and NT Apostles  38 [cf. Acts 2, Acts 10]

IV.              Savior of the World

A.     they believe the Woman’s testimony

B.     They believe because they hear Jesus

C.     They believe though there is no “sign”

V.                 Galilee and the Royal Official’s Son

A.     No honor – Is this a complaint or an affirmation toward the Galileans?

B.     Perhaps of the household of Herod – kin or courtier

C.     We do not know why Jesus responded this way other than his knowledge of all persons’ hearts and his comparison of the response fo the Samaritans with the expectations of the Jews

D.     Jesus shows the unmediated unilateral nature of his power and authority by not going down and merely speaking the word

VI.              Observations

A.     John begins to develop his meaning of the word “World.” It includes the Samaritans as well as the Jews.

B.     There is genuine fulfilling pleasure in knowing and doing the purpose of God

C.     The core of the gospel, humanly speaking, is its fitness for the worst of sinners

D.     Jesus shows himself to be Messiah, but also there is an identification of his power in the healing of the son along with his discussion of the nature of the worship of God