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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Jesus: Expert Evangelist and Saviour for All Sorts
Text:John 4:1-30 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 97:1,2,5

Psalm 143:4-6 (after the law)

Psalm 63

Hymn 84

Hymn 41

Scripture reading:  Isaiah 44:1-8

Text:  John 4:1-30

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Christ,

Maybe some of you know a person who can take just about any conversation and direct it towards spiritual things.  There’s a man or a woman, and they can get into talking with someone, anyone, and before long they’re just naturally speaking about the gospel.  You might be inclined to just say that’s a gift that some people have, and that might be true to an extent.   But is it possible that something like that can be learned to a degree too?  And if it’s true that it can be learned, wouldn’t you want to learn it?  Wouldn’t you want to be able to speak with people and be able to naturally start speaking about what’s most important in your life, to speak about the gospel of Jesus Christ? 

If you’re going to learn something, you need a teacher.  Christians are disciples of Jesus Christ.  Disciples are simply students, followers.  Jesus Christ is our Master, our teacher.  We aim to follow him, to follow his teachings, to follow his example.  In our passage for this morning, one of the things he does is show us the way.  Here he gets into a conversation with a stranger and before long, they’re talking about the most important things in life.  We can learn from Jesus the Expert Evangelist.

But there’s more in this remarkable passage.  This passage also answers the question:  who is the gospel for?  That good message of rescue through Jesus, who is that message aimed at?  When we looked at chapter 3 a while back, we saw that the gospel is for religious people.  Jesus came to bring the gospel to Pharisees like Nicodemus.  The gospel is for people who think that they’re doing all right.  But now in this passage we see someone who in many ways is the complete opposite of Nicodemus.  He was a man, she’s a woman.  He was a Jew, she was a Samaritan.  He was a religious law-keeper, she’s morally messy.  There are more contrasts that can be drawn, but you get the idea.  Jesus gave Nicodemus a message of hope and redemption, now he gives this woman the same message.  He is a Saviour of all sorts.

Both those threads feature in our passage this morning.  So we’ll look closer here and we’ll see Jesus as both the expert evangelist and the Saviour for all sorts.

We’ll see that in the process he also shows himself to be:

  1. The Source of living water
  2. The Revealer of true human need
  3. The Introducer of true worship of the Father
  4. The Messiah

The chapter begins by setting the scene for us.  John was baptizing heaps of people.  But the disciples of Jesus were baptizing even more.  That got the attention of the religious leaders, the Pharisees.  Jesus was on their radar.  However, at this point in his ministry, he wanted to avoid any open confrontation with them.  So he leaves Judea in the south, and heads for Galilee in the north.  Verse 4 says that “he had to pass through Samaria.”  That should get your attention.  On the one hand, the shortest route from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria and the Jews were known to prefer that route.  On the other hand, “he had to,” the way that’s worded in the original suggests that more is going on than a short-cut.  Jesus is compelled to go through Samaria – he knows that he must.  This is part of a divine plan.

By now you’re catching on that there’s something unusual with Samaria and Samaritans.  If you’re familiar with the Parable of the Good Samaritan, then you know that Jesus chose the main figure of that story to be a Samaritan for a reason.  The Jews and the Samaritans really didn’t like each other.  “Disdain” might be the right word, but perhaps even hatred.  To understand that bitter relationship, you have to go back in history. 

In the Old Testament, shortly after the reign of King Solomon, the kingdom of Israel split into two parts:  a northern kingdom and a southern kingdom.  The northern kingdom was known as Israel and their capital was in Samaria.  The Jews in both kingdoms betrayed God.  They worshipped idols and lived wicked lives.  In 2 Kings 17, God sent the Assyrians to take away most of the northern kingdom.  They were exiled to Assyria.  Second Kings 17 tells of how the Assyrian king then resettled the northern kingdom with foreigners.  In time, those foreigners mixed and inter-married with the small number of Jews who were left behind.  They became the people known as the Samaritans.  They were not completely Jewish, and the Jews certainly didn’t regard them as Jewish.  The Samaritans had their own way of worshipping God and it differed in some key ways from the Jews – I’ll say more about that later.  By the time of Jesus, these two groups had been rivals for many years. 

So Jesus, a Jew, is travelling through Samaria.  Then he stops at a town or village called Sychar.  It’s located in a historic location.  In the book of Genesis, the Jewish patriarch Jacob had given his son Joseph a field – that was here.  There was also a well here, a natural spot to try and find some refreshment.  While his disciples go into town to buy some food, Jesus rests at the well.  Note what it says in verse 6, “wearied as he was from the journey.”  That reminds us that Christ is a true human being.  He had been probably walking since about daybreak, and now it was about the sixth hour, around noon.  Like any other human being would be, he was tired from all that walking.  Jesus didn’t just appear to be a human being -- he was and is truly man.  Your Saviour understands what it means to be tired. 

Jesus sits alone at the well.  You might wonder why he doesn’t help himself to a drink.  The well is deep.  It still exists today and it’s something like over 30 meters deep.  You need some kind of bucket (made of skin in those days) and rope to drop down to get the water.  People had to supply their own.  Perhaps the disciples had one with them and took it to town.  Whatever the reason, Jesus doesn’t have a way to get the water.  He sits and waits for the disciples to return or for someone else to come along with a bucket.

Eventually someone else does come along.  It’s a woman.  A Samaritan woman.  She’s all by herself.  That’s unusual.  Usually women would come to a well with a group of other women.  But this woman is different.  She’s isolated, by herself.  Moreover, if she’s from Sychar, there’s a well in the village.  But yet she chooses to come to this well, some way outside the village.  That’s curious.  There’s something about this woman. 

Jesus knows.  He knows everything.  He knows that she’s a Samaritan woman, but he doesn’t walk away.  A Jewish man would be expected to avoid this situation.  But Jesus doesn’t.  He’s not afraid of her.  In fact, he even speaks to her.  He says, “Give me a drink.”  In our Bible translation, that sounds a little blunt.  But in the original it really isn’t.  Jesus wasn’t being rude.  You have to imagine these words being said in the kindest, gentlest way, “Give me a drink.”  This is how the conversation begins.  The weary traveller asks for a drink.  It’s fair to say that the Saviour knew this would get the woman’s attention.  He knew that even just speaking to her would spark a dialogue – because such a thing just wasn’t done! 

She says so herself there in verse 9.  You’re a Jewish man, how can you be talking to me, a Samaritan woman, and asking me for a drink?  You’re breaking the social conventions in these parts.  John adds a little explanation for readers unfamiliar with the situation:  “For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”  The Jews regarded the Samaritans basically as Gentiles and unclean.  Worse, the Samaritans had perverted the religion of the Bible.  So, in light of that, what Jesus does here is shocking.  He’s speaking to someone he shouldn’t be speaking to.  He’s associating with someone he shouldn’t.

Look what’s going on here.  The exalted Son of God has humbled himself by taking on human nature.  He came as a human being.  He came with the gospel for all kinds of people, including the outcasts and those considered to be losers.  This woman had everything stacked against her.  But Jesus speaks to her.  He initiates the conversation with this lowest of the low.  This is our Master, and we’re his disciples.  This is our Vine, and we are his branches, we are grafted into him.  Think of what Paul writes in Romans 12:16, “Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.”  Jesus the Expert Evangelist did it and he did it for the gospel.  Those united to him should go and do likewise.

Now Jesus turns the conversation to spiritual matters.  “You want to talk about who is speaking to you, well, all right then!”  He talks about the gift of God – that’s referring to the eternal life that Jesus came to bring.  He is the gift of God.  If she knew that gift, if she really knew Jesus, she would be asking him for water.  And he would give it -- he would give what he calls “living water.”

When he says the words “living water,” he means one thing, but she hears another thing.  In ordinary conversation in those days, “living water” was a way of speaking of the fresh water that comes right out of a spring – flowing or bubbling water, you might say.  That’s what she thinks of.  She points out that Christ doesn’t have a bucket.  The well is deep. Remember it’s over 30 meters.  There’s a spring way down at the bottom of this well, but how is Jesus going to get down there?  Is he greater than Jacob who, tradition says, dug the well for himself and his family and flocks?  Is Jesus a miracle-worker?

Jesus knows that she’s not getting it.  He’s speaking of one kind of living water and she’s thinking of the other kind.  So he gently tries to lead her in his direction.  This is in verse 13.  Do you see how patient he is here?  She doesn’t get it right away, but he doesn’t mock her and he doesn’t walk away.  He just keeps persistently and compassionately leading her.  Fellow Christians, this is our Master showing us the way.  Observe him, learn from him, follow him. 

He says that the water in that well may quench your thirst for a time, but eventually you’ll get thirsty again.  But I have water to give that will quench your thirst forever.  In fact, in verse 14, Jesus says that in the most emphatic way possible.  In English you’re not supposed to use double-negatives.  In ancient Greek you can when you want to emphasize something.  That’s here in verse 14, “You won’t never be thirsty again.”  In other words, you most certainly will never thirst ever again.  Guaranteed!  He’s speaking about spiritual thirst.  Without God and peace with him through the gospel, there’s a lack in your life.  There’s a realization that something is missing, and without it you’re going to die.  That’s the type of thirst described in what we sang from Psalm 63.  “O God, for you I thirst and languish.”  Spiritual thirst is what Jesus came to relieve.  If you drink his water, your spiritual thirst will be forever gone. 

In the rest of verse 14, he elaborates on that living water.  When Christ gives that living water, it becomes in the recipient a spring of water welling up to the life that lasts forever.  So the big question is:  what is this living water that Jesus is speaking about?  What do you think it is?

We have three clues.  One is the conversation with Nicodemus in chapter 3.  There Jesus speaks about the gift of regeneration through the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit comes to a person and he brings life to that person.  He resuscitates and revives, so that people believe in Jesus Christ for salvation.  So clue one comes from chapter 3.  Clue two comes from what we read from the Old Testament in Isaiah 44.  In Isaiah 44:3, there’s a direct parallel between water and the Holy Spirit.  As often happens in Hebrew poetry, there are parallels in the lines of the verse.  So pouring water on the thirsty land parallels God pouring out his Spirit.  That connection between water and the Holy Spirit is found in other passages too.  The last clue comes later in John in chapter 7.  Jesus quotes the Old Testament in John 7:38 and says “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”  Then John clarifies and says that Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit.  So here too in John 4, we can conclude that Christ is speaking about the Holy Spirit.  The Spirit is the living water that Christ gives.  The Spirit, he is the living water which brings people to eternal life.  When you have the Holy Spirit living in you, you will never thirst spiritually.

In verse 15 of our text, the woman seems to still not get it though.  She says, “Sir, give me this water (– good so far --), so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”  It’s the last part that shows she’s still thinking in earthly terms.  The first part of her response was right, “Sir, give me this water.”  When we hear this and understand what Christ is really referring to, that should be our response:  “Lord, please give us your Spirit, send him to us, so that we will be connected to you and have eternal life.”

In Jeremiah 2, God spoke of his people having forsaken him, the “fountain of living waters.”  Instead, they had “hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns than can hold no water.”  They had pursued things other than God to make them happy and those things had proven to be disappointing.  Broken cisterns are going to leave you thirsty.  In those days a cistern was a giant container in the ground for holding water.  If it would break, there goes your water.  A broken cistern is useless for satisfying your thirst.  A fountain of living waters is what makes sense.  Yet broken cisterns are what sinners choose for themselves.  Broken cisterns will never satisfy and therefore choosing them is completely irrational, senseless.    

In our passage, Jesus puts his finger on this Samaritan woman’s broken cistern.  He knows what it is.  Earlier we saw him tired, and we were reminded that he’s a real human being.  Here we see him with knowledge that only God can have.  Jesus is not only a true man, but also true God, and that’s why he can go straight to her heart and her particular broken cistern. 

He says, “Go, call your husband and come here.”  The woman says, “I have no husband.”  Technically true, just not the whole truth.  Jesus knows the whole truth about her, just as he does about each one of us.  He replies and gives her some credit for telling some of the truth, but also points out, “You have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband.”  This woman has quite a history.  She’s got a history of going from one relationship to another.  At the present, she’s living with someone she’s not married to.  She’s living in sin in the classic sense.  She’s an adulteress.  This is likely why she’s isolated.  Her broken cistern is all these relationships.  She thought that a man would satisfy her thirst.  When one man disappointed, she went to the next.  And on to the next.  Eventually, she gave up on marriage and decided to just cohabit with her lover.  It probably won’t last anyway.  Christ reveals all this for what it is.  It’s the thing that’s leaving her thirsty.  This is her broken cistern and he’s come to bring her a fountain of living water that’s far better.  He’s come to bring his Spirit and faith in the salvation through his life and death.

Loved ones, we all have these broken cisterns.  Christ wants us to see them for what they are.  We all have things that we pursue or hold on to that we think will satisfy us.  They won’t.  They can’t.  It’s senseless to think that they will.  Christ has something better.  He is better.  He is God’s answer to our broken cisterns.  He has living water that will really satisfy.  He has something to offer that will quench your spiritual thirst forever.  When his Holy Spirit lives in us and brings us to faith in Christ, we have eternal peace with God.  We have a relationship with our Creator, where he says, “Call me Father.  I love you, my child.”  This is a good and beautiful thing to desire.  That woman in our passage had a messy past and even a messy present, but through Christ her future could be different.  There was hope in him for her.  There’s hope in him for all of us. 

There’s also hope in him for everyone we encounter.  Look again at the Expert Evangelist.  You might say that he could do what he did here because he was God.  He knew this woman’s precise situation because he is God.  That’s true.  But there’s also something for us who don’t have God’s insight into the exact details of every person’s life.  God has revealed to us here and elsewhere that every single human being does have broken cisterns hidden somewhere.  In general, everybody has a spiritual thirst.  We can talk about that with people God brings across our path.  We can ask questions like, “What do you live for?  What’s your purpose in life?  Do you ever feel like that this is kind of empty, that there must be something more to live for?” Those kinds of questions get people to think about their spiritual thirst – and you can get the opportunity to share with them about the One who can relieve that thirst. 

Now we’re at verse 19 and look at what the Samaritan woman does.  Christ has hit a sore spot and so now she tries to turn the conversation a different direction.  She acknowledges that he is a prophet of some sort – otherwise, how could he know this stuff about her?  So a prophet must be a religious expert, right?  “So enough about me, let’s talk religious controversies.”  The Samaritans worshipped on a nearby mountain, Mount Gerizim.  The Samaritans only followed the first five books of the Bible, and in their version, it said that God commanded worship on Mount Gerizim.  But the Jews worshipped on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.  She’s saying, “So, if you’re a prophet, what’s your opinion on this?” 

Notice that Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey, don’t try to change the subject.  I want to get back to your broken cisterns.”  No, he indulges her but then also takes the conversation in his direction again.  In verse 21, he points out that the time is coming when that whole discussion will be irrelevant.  It’s not going to matter where people worship, whether on one mountain or another.  At the moment, he says in verse 20 that the Samaritans are pursuing illegitimate worship – they worship what they don’t know.  They don’t follow God’s full revelation given in the Old Testament.  That revelation has been given to the Jews, they were entrusted with it.  That revelation contained gospel promises and therefore “salvation is from the Jews.”  That revelation also contained commands for God’s worship and the Jews followed it, at least broadly speaking.   They worship at the temple as God commanded.  Then he adds another “But” in verse 23.  Again, all of that is going to matter for nothing because Jesus is fulfilling the temple, he is fulfilling the Old Testament sacrifices and ceremonies.  All that external stuff is going to fall away.  True worshippers will worship in Spirit and truth, he says.  They will offer to God the worship he wants, worship in Spirit and truth.  In his essence, God is a spiritual being.  God is not physical or material.  True worship is similar in that it’s not about the external things.  It’s a matter of the heart.  God wants hearts that are filled with his Spirit and therefore worship him according to the truth of his Word.  That’s what worship in spirit and truth is about.

So Jesus answers the question put to him by the woman.  The Expert Evangelist allows this sort of side-conversation and then he uses it to teach her.  He teaches her that history is in the making.  There’s something momentous happening that’s going to affect worship everywhere.  That has to do with him and what he’s about to do.  When he dies, the curtain of the temple is torn.  The temple worship is declared by God to be obsolete, done, finished.  With Jesus making the ultimate sacrifice for sin, it’s not needed any more.  True worship will take place in Spirit and in truth.  God will pour out his Spirit on his church, and they will worship him according to his Word, not just in Jerusalem, but everywhere – over the whole world, even right here.   

The conversation continues in verse 25.  The Samaritan woman says that she’s expecting a Messiah to come and he’ll clear it all up.  Messiah means the anointed one of God, of Yahweh.  Christ is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Messiah.  It’s interesting that a Samaritan woman would talk about the Messiah.  They only had the first five books of the Bible.  They didn’t have a fully-developed hope for a coming Messiah.  Samaritans never really talked about a Messiah, at least not until the 1500s.  They were expecting a figure known as the Taheb, a great prophet.  Perhaps she’s connecting this Taheb figure with the Messiah expected by the Jews.  Whatever the explanation may be, she does expect someone who will come and make it all plain.

Then Christ drops the truth on her in verse 26, “I who speak to you am he.”  He plainly reveals himself here as the Messiah promised in the Old Testament.  He didn’t reveal himself this clearly to Nicodemus, the Jewish Pharisee.  But he does to this Samaritan woman.  He tells her plainly that he is the Messiah.  From her perspective, that might mean nothing more than that he is a great prophet.  From his perspective and from ours with an open Bible, we know that he is not only a prophet, but also a priest and a king.  He is the prophet who teaches us, he is the priest who makes the great sacrifice for our sins, and our king who rules over us, his people. 

In verse 27, the conversation gets abruptly interrupted.  The disciples return.  As they come to the well, they see their Master speaking with a woman – a Samaritan woman.  This would have been as much of a shock to them as to the woman.  But they don’t say anything, probably the woman is still there and it would just make things awkward.

And when the disciples arrive, the woman leaves.  She leaves her water jar behind – she seems to have forgotten the very reason she came to the well.  She’s got something else on her mind now.  She’s had this encounter with Christ and it’s touched her somehow.  She goes into the village and starts speaking with the residents.  She says, “Come and see.”  Interestingly, that’s the same type of thing that Philip said to Nathanael in John 1:46.  Philip becomes a disciple and then he goes to Nathanael and says, “Come and see!”  Come and check out Jesus for yourself.  Does that mean that this woman believed in Jesus?  Does it mean she became a disciple there and then?  She says, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.  Can this be the Christ?”  She’s been impressed with his insight into her life.  But her question is still a question.  In the original Greek, this question has a peculiar form which says that the woman expects a negative answer.  It’s something like, “He can’t be the Christ, no?”  There’s ambiguity in this. 

It’s just like with Nicodemus.  At the end of his conversation with Jesus, we saw an ambiguous outcome.  Who knows if Nicodemus believed in Jesus then and there?  It’s the same here with this Samaritan woman.  She’s encountered Jesus, she’s heard the gospel from him, but we can’t say what came of it in her life.

What we can say is that her excitement in the town did have an effect.  God worked through that to bring more people out to the well to check out Jesus.  And we’ll see later in verse 39 that John does say explicitly that many Samaritans did come to believe because of the woman.  Even if she herself didn’t believe, she was God’s instrument to bring others to believe in Jesus.  That reminds us that you never know how God might work in or through someone with whom you share the gospel.  That person might not come to faith, but perhaps even through that unbelieving person someone else will.  God works in mysterious ways. 

As I studied this passage for this sermon, I couldn’t help but be impressed with Jesus.  We see him here as such an amazing figure.  We see him here as someone who knows the human plight.  He knows our broken cisterns.  We see him as one reaching out with the gospel of salvation, of life through his Spirit and through his sacrifice.  He has come with living water for me and you. We see him in love going to a despised Samaritan woman and addressing her at the heart level.  Who else is like Jesus?  Show me someone else as amazing as him.  You read this passage and you just can’t help being impressed with him.  But – and here is an important but – but don’t just be impressed with him.  The Samaritan woman was impressed with him.  Jesus made an impression on her.  But that’s not enough to be a disciple, that’s not enough to be a Christian.  A Christian is not only impressed with Jesus, but believes in him, trusts in him alone for the gift of God, and loves him.  Brothers and sisters, look away from your empty cisterns, find your thirst quenched in Jesus, and then also go and tell others, “Come and see!”  AMEN.                                                           


Our great Saviour and Lord,

We stand in awe of you, we worship and adore you.  You were compelled to speak with this broken woman in our passage.  You didn’t think yourself too lofty or important.  You went down to her level and brought her words of hope.  Lord, those words of hope encourage us too.  We thank you for what you said to her and how you interacted with her such patience and mercy.  You are so kind and loving to sinners like us.  We praise you as the source of living water.  From you and the Father proceeds the Holy Spirit.  We ask you to let him come and fill our hearts always so that we are overflowing to eternal life.  With your Spirit, help us see our broken cisterns and flee from them.  We thank you for showing us true worship in spirit and truth.  Please help us to give that worship that pleases the Father.  We exult you as the Messiah, our Prophet, Priest, and King.  Lord, thank you for giving us revelation in your Word.  Lord, thank you for making the sacrifice of yourself in our place.  Lord, thank you for ruling over our lives.  O Lord Jesus, we also pray for your help in sharing our gospel hope.  Please help us to turn conversations in a spiritual direction.  Please help us to speak kindly and be patient.  Please help us to expose broken cisterns, and help us to point to you as the source of living water.  O Lord, even though we are so sinful, so weak and feeble, please make use of us to gather in all those whom you’ve chosen to eternal life.     



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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