WOMAN AT THE WELL, PART III – Guilt, Repentance, and Worship – John 4:16-26

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INTRODUCTION:

The conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well has progressed.  Jesus began by asking her for a drink, putting Himself in a position of being indebted to her for her kindness.  She responds by giving Him the drink and asking Him why He would make such a request of her.  Jesus uses the setting of the well to tell her about “living water”, and in the course of the conversation she decides that she really wants this water and trusts that He is telling her the truth.  Now she is ready for the next step in understanding who He is and what is her present condition in the sight of God.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CONSCIENCE (verse 16)

In verse 16, Jesus says to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here”.
Why would He say such a thing to her, especially when the conversation is going along so well?  It sounds like a command, but it’s actually said in the form of a request.  Jesus knows her past and her present condition because He is God, and the Father has revealed those things to Him.  So He wants to find out how she will respond to those words.  Will she be angry or will she feel ashamed and guilty about her sinful relationships.

II.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE (verse 17a)

She feels ashamed and guilty alright!  This is her shortest response in the entire conversation:  “I have no husband”.  Only four words in English, and only three words in Aramaic!  She is basically saying, “Here’s my answer; end of conversation on that subject!”  I believe that she lowered her eyes away from His gaze as she quietly said those words (“I have no husband”), and may have hung her head in shame as she did so.

III.  FACING THE FACTS (verses 17b-18)

The Lord Jesus doesn’t change the subject, as she was hoping He would, and hinting that He should.  Instead, He congratulates her for her answer by saying, “You have well said ‘I have no husband’ “.  That must have brought a shocked look to her face – “He’s paying me a compliment!  How did He know?”  There may also have been a quick sigh of relief:  “At least He doesn’t know the whole truth.”  But before she could respond, Jesus reveals information about her that no stranger could possibly have known, especially a Jewish stranger.  He says to her in verse 18, “For you have had five husbands and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.”   I believe that Jesus said those words to her courteously and gently.  The words themselves revealed that this was no ordinary man who was speaking to her.  We will see that the words of the prophets must have come to her mind also.

Now the pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fit together.  It explains why she is coming to draw water in the heat of the day instead of the cool of the early morning or the evening.  She was a social outcast because of her immoral lifestyle, and the other women probably belittled her and refused to let her be part of their conversations or use the well while they were there.  She must have been a very lonely and discouraged woman, encumbered by the guilt of her sins.

IV.  A DIVERSIONARY TACTIC?  (verses 19-20)

I found myself laughing as I considered the woman’s frame of mind when Jesus has just complimented her on her honesty, and then, zing!  He tells her all the private information she left out!  How do you respond to a revelation like that?  Verses 19 and 20 give us her reply.  “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshipped at this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men are to worship.”  Has she been paying close attention to the way in which Jesus is directing this conversation?  The reason I ask is because she just paid Him a compliment, and then directs Him to an issue that has divided Jews and Samaritans for centuries.  Touche!  The tables are turned!

Seriously, I think she truly believes that Jesus is a prophet.  Her concept of Him is getting closer to reality.  She also wants to move this conversation away from herself and her personal issues.  If He truly is a prophet, He will have a definitive answer to this issue.  Notice that Jesus allowed her to change the topic of conversation.  In spite of her motives, this discussion is moving in the exact direction that Jesus wants it to go.

So I don’t believe that her question was primarily meant to be a side-track.  There is a genuine reason for her question, and it’s based upon the words that Jesus has just spoken to her.  Jesus had exposed her sins, and I think there is a genuine conviction of sin and a repentant heart on her part as a result.  She may be asking, “Where should I go to present a sin offering to God as an act of repentance and worship.  What I’ve been taught disagrees with what you Jews believe.”  Warren Wiersbe comments, “She didn’t  know who to worship, where to worship, and how to worship.”  There are some historical events and teachings that need an explanation before we can understand her quandary.

The history of Samaria and the Samaritan people is complex, so I’ll try to put the meaning behind the woman’s question into a nutshell.  In my previous sermon I shared how the captives who were left in Israel intermarried with captives from other nations that the Assyrians had conquered and placed in Israel, thus losing the purity of their Jewish race and religion.  In an attempt to restore their legitimacy as God’s chosen people, the Samaritans changed some Scriptures in the Law of Moses and altered some historical events.  They built a temple on Mount Gerizim and said that this was the place where God wanted them to worship, rather than at the temple in Jerusalem.  So the woman wants to know where she should go to present her sin offering to God,  Where is the proper place to worship, and how do I do this in the traditional way?

V.  TRUE WORSHIP (verses 20-26)

Once again, the Lord Jesus doesn’t give this woman the answer she wants to hear.  He gives her the answer she needs to hear.  To her, worship is limited to a specific place and time, and is a ritual that is performed in a certain way.  But now she has come to the point where she wants to worship God and seek forgiveness for her sins.  She is now ready to learn the meaning of true worship.

1.  JESUS’ PROPHETIC ANSWER  (verse 21)

In verse 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall you worship the Father.”  When Jesus told her, “believe Me”, He’s saying, “since you have come to the conclusion that I am a prophet, then put your faith and trust in what I am about to tell you because it is coming from God.”  He then gives her a glimpse of the near-future.  Very soon the present system of worship is going to be replaced.  What He doesn’t share at this time is that the Levitical priesthood and the sacrificial system will no longer be needed.  He’s referring to His own sacrificial death on the cross.  When Jesus says, “It is finished”, the penalty for sin will be paid for once-and-for-all.  At that very moment the curtain that separates the people from the presence of God will be torn from top to bottom.  He’s telling her to get ready for a new way of worship that’s not dependent upon physical locations, nor limited by format or ritual.

2.  JESUS CORRECTS HER MISUNDERSTANDINGS (verse 22)

Before going on to explain what this new way of worship is all about, the Lord Jesus first corrects her misunderstandings about the Jewish faith.  In verse 22 He says to her,  “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  That may sound like a blunt statement but that’s the way truth is – it’s uncompromising.  Salvation is from the Jews – the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to that, but it is for everyone who believes.  Notice that Jesus tells her that her misconception is based on ignorance, not defiance.  She has already been demonstrating her desire to know the truth, so He tells her the truth, plainly and simply.

3.  REAFFIRMATION AND EXPLANATION (verse 23-24)

Obviously, there was no outburst of anger on her part as a result of what Jesus said, and she didn’t walk away because the Lord Jesus continues where He left off, without a word spoken by her in response.  Jesus continues by using the words again, “An hour is coming”.  In verse 23 He says:  “But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.”  The phrase “is coming and now is” sounds like a contradiction in terms, doesn’t it.  I think Jesus is saying that what is about to come is already beginning to happen.  His disciples and a few others are beginning to worship Him as their Messiah, and this is the preview of things to come.  The focus of their worship is now based on a personal relationship with the Messiah rather than the Temple services.  The words of Jesus are being added to the Scriptures, and a whole new relationship to God is being expressed by His words,  Jesus, the God-man, is touching the hearts of people and drawing them to Himself and to the Father in worship that comes from the heart.  This is the kind of worship, and these are the kinds of worshippers that the Father desires and seeks.  Now the Lord Jesus concludes this discussion about worship by giving this woman the reason for His statement and the logical conclusion.  “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  There is no other way to truly worship God.

The Italian poet Dante Alighieri, deeply immersed in meditation during a church service, failed to kneel at the appropriate moment.  His enemies turned to the bishop and demanded that Dante be punished for his sacrilege.  Dante defended himself by saying, “If those who accuse me had had their eyes and minds on God, they too would have failed to notice events around them, and they most certainly would not have noticed what I was doing.”  We can only hope that his accusers felt remorse over their own failure to truly worship God.

I heard a short definition of worship many years ago and have never forgotten it.  “Worship is all that I am, responding to all that He is.”  It’s my whole being (body, mind, emotions, will, and spirit) wholeheartedly responding to all that God has revealed about Himself in His Word and in His creation.

4.  AN ALTERNATE MEANING (verses 23-24 revisited)

There is a member of the Trinity that has been missing from my study of this passage of Scripture so far, and He deserves much more than just “honorable mention”.  There is another interpretation of the words “spirit and truth” which, in my opinion, agrees with the rest of Scripture, fits the context of this conversation, and emphasizes the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  Does that statement arouse your curiosity?  It gets even better!  Have you ever heard of a figure of speech called a hendiadys.  The word literally means “one through two”.  This figure of speech usually occurs when two words connected by the word “and” are capable of being restated so that the one word modifies or is subordinate to the other, and yet the resulting statement is still true and the words still have the same basic meaning.  Have I lost you with that description?  Let me give you a couple of examples.  “This coffee is nice and hot” could be changed to “this is nice hot coffee” and still have the same meaning.  In Mark 11:24 the literal Greek text says “whatever you pray and ask“, but in most English translations it reads:  “whatever you ask in prayer“.  Have those illustrations given you a clearer concept of what a hendiadys is?  I hope so.  Now let’s apply this figure of speech to the words “spirit and truth” in John 4:23-24.  Jesus has told the woman that “an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth.”  Let’s apply that figure of speech and see what happens.  If we remove the conjunction “and”, we have “spirit truth”.  That doesn’t make sense, does it?  But if we insert the preposition “of” so that the second word modifies and is subordinate to the first word, we get the phrase “spirit of truth”.  That is a phrase that the Lord Jesus often used when referring to the Holy Spirit.  In John 14:16-17, after telling His disciples that He will answer their prayers so that the Father may be glorified, He says, “And I will ask the Father and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of truth . . . He abides with you and will be in you.”  The Lord Jesus says the same thing in John 14:26, and then adds “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  We find the title again in 15:26 where He is again called “the Helper”.  In John 16 Jesus says, “He will guide you into all truth . . . He will glorify Me.”  

The Holy Spirit is the One who teaches us how to pray and provides assistance as we pray.  “He intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Romans 8:26).  Praise is called “rejoicing in the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18f); confession of sins is “under the conviction of the Spirit” (John 16:8).  The apostle Jude tells us to “pray in the Holy Spirit” (Jude 20).  The Scriptures were given by the Holy  Spirit, and our minds are illumined by the Holy Spirit as we study them.  The list goes on.  The Holy Spirit has everything to do with every aspect of worship and ministry.  I encourage you to do a personal study on the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the New Testament.

So, whether you and I want to consider the expression “grace and truth” to be a hendiadys or not is really immaterial.  The important thing to realize is that the change in worship that was about to come to pass would occur at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit would indwell believers, and would teach them and empower them to worship in spirit and in truth.

VI.  THE WOMAN’S RESPONSE, AND WHAT PROMPTED IT (verse 25)

Returning to the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, I believe that when Jesus said, “the hour is coming” (verse 21), and then said “the hour is coming, and now is.” (verse 23), one of the most beloved passages of Scripture for both the Jews and the Samaritans came to her mind.  Hardly a week would have gone by without thinking about and praying for the fulfillment of the prophesies spoken by Isaiah and written down in the Scriptures.  “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of peace.  . . ” (Isaiah 9)   In her joy and expectation, she couldn’t help but express her excitement about that coming day.  John 4:25 says, The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ ”  The Messiah would answer all her questions and correct any misunderstandings.  Her response seems to indicate that she expected the Messiah to be coming soon.  Little did she know how soon her words and her hopes would be fulfilled.

VII.  THE REVELATION (verse 26)

Try to imagine her response when Jesus said these words:  “I who speak to you am He.”  You don’t get the full effect of His words until you understand what the Lord Jesus actually said to her.  The literal translation of the Greek text reads:  “I am is speaking to you.”  He spoke to her in Aramaic, so the Lord Jesus was using the word Yahweh (Jehovah), God’s covenant name.  There was no doubt that Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah.  This was the first time that Jesus used that name in public; the first time that He publicly declared that He was the Messiah.

VIII.  CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In the next passage of Scripture, we will be examining the woman’s response to this good news, as well as a lesson that Jesus teaches His disciples.  There is an illustration that will help bring some lessons from John 4:16-26 home to us today.  Have you ever been kite-flying?  A boy was flying a kite one day, and the kite was so high in the air that it had disappeared into the clouds.  A man came by and asked, “Why are you holding onto that string?”  The boy said, “I’ve got a kite up there.”  The man looked up and said, “I don’t see it.”  The  boy replied, “Well, I know it’s there because I can feel the tug.”  Do you feel a “tug” in your life?  Is conviction of past sins, a lack of peace, purpose and joy in life, and a fear of what happens after death tugging at your heart?  It’s not your imagination nor your present state of mind that’s causing that feeling inside.  The Holy Spirit wants you to worship God in spirit and in truth, and the first act of true worship is to repent of your sins, turn your life over to Jesus Christ as your only Lord and Savior, and let Him rule in your life.  Then you will be a child of God.  Your act of worship will be accepted in His sight and He will begin to remove those hindrances, bring new joy, peace, and purpose to your life.   Then He will begin to transform you into His image as you spend time with Him in His Word and in prayer, worshipping Him with joy in your heart and serving Him wholeheartedly.  Please go to my “About Page” if you would like to read how this happened in my life and the Scriptures God used to bring me to Himself.

If you are a Christian, do you feel a “tug”?  The Holy Spirit wants you to know that He’s always there with you, even though you can’t see Him.  He wants to keep taking you higher and higher in your fellowship with God and worship of Him.  He’s calling you to come closer; to enjoy a deeper fellowship with Him.  Maybe you’ve been allowing other things to occupy your time to the point where He’s being left out or limited to only certain times and places.  He’s tugging because He misses that intimate fellowship with you.  Don’t ignore His “tugs”.  They are given in love.

As a practical application, you may want to consider going and flying a kite yourself.  As you feel the kite tugging on your hand, be reminded of the One who is tugging on your heart.  When you do, let out some more string and let the kite soar even higher!   Then spend some time worshipping our unseen, but ever-present and all-powerful God!

May your life be filled with true worship of God.  May it be the highest priority in your life.  There will always be potential obstacles and hindrances along the way.  May you recognize the obstacles that are presently in your way, and any further obstacles along the way.  May you give up the struggle to try to remove the obstacles yourself, and your efforts to cover them up as if they don’t exist.  Turn those obstacles over to the Divine Contractor for Professional removal and reconstruction.  You can’t miss Him.  He has pre-paid ads all over the B-I-B-L-E.  Tell Him I sent you.

THE WOMAN AT THE WELL (Part II): LIVING WATER – John 4:10-15

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INTRODUCTION:

Jesus broke several Jewish traditions by asking the Samaritan woman for a drink of water.  In response the Samaritan woman broke several Samaritan traditions by giving Him a drink and by speaking to Him.  Now an open conversation between them is ready to begin.

I. THE TRANSITION TO “LIVING WATER”.  (verse 10)

Jesus responds to her question by appealing to her curiosity rather than answering  her question directly.  She asked Him:  “How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?  Jesus responds by saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give me a drink’, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”  The Lord Jesus is saying, in effect, “I’m not really who you think I am” and “I have something to give you that you don’t really comprehend.”  Jesus used this very same approach with Nicodemus when He said to him, “You must be born again.”  We will find that these two conversations follow a similar pattern throughout.

I.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER CURIOSITY (verses 10-12)

So here in verse 10 Jesus is telling her that, before she can receive the gift that God wants to give her, she must first have a correct understanding of the gift, as well the identity of the One who is speaking to her and offering it to her.   Only then will she understand that He alone is capable of giving her this gift if she asks for it.

The woman’s response , in verse 11, demonstrates that she misunderstands what Jesus is saying.  “She said to Him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water’?”  She thinks Jesus is speaking about physical water, and there is a logical reason for this misunderstanding.  The words “living water” were sometimes used to describe moving water, such as a river or stream, or gushing water, such as a spring or geyser.  However, this well did not fit either of those two descriptions.  This well had what is called “percolating” water.  The word literally means “filters through”, or “seeps through”.  The water in this well gradually seeped upward through the rock or stone at the bottom of the well, providing a steady supply of water.  If you’ve ever used a percolator coffee-maker, you know what I mean.  The hot water at the bottom of the pot rises up the tube, splashes down on the coarse-ground coffee beans and the result is boiling-hot coffee.  Drinking it is an art-form.  I call it the “blow and slurp method”!  My dad used to do it loudly, but to perfection!  Once you got below “slurp level”, the coffee had cooled slightly so that you could start sipping it without the danger of blistering your lips!  Do you remember those days?

Getting back to the conversation, the woman is trying to figure out how Jesus is going to get this “living water” out of the well without a bucket and a rope.  You don’t walk through the desert for three days without bringing a bucket and a rope to draw water from wells along the way.  I’m sure the disciples brought them along and had them as they went to town to buy groceries.  I think she sincerely wants to believe what He is saying, but from her perspective it still doesn’t make any sense.  She thinks He is talking about physical water.  This is all part of Jesus’ plan, just as it was with Nicodemus.  He is adding information for her to consider in order for her to come to the conclusion that what He is saying is physically impossible, so that He can, step-by-step, direct their conversation to spiritual realities as the only explanation.

In verse 12 the woman becomes defensive because she thinks that Jesus is comparing His water to the water in Jacob’s well.  This leads her to question whether or not He is comparing Himself to Jacob.  “You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you, who gave us this well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”  Her understanding of Jesus is growing.  First, she called Him “a Jew”; now she is comparing Him with the patriarch Jacob, who dug this well.

II.  JESUS APPEALS TO HER DESIRE (verses 13-15)

In response to this woman’s frustration and defensiveness, Jesus carries the conversation a step further, in verse 13, by appealing to her desire.  She doesn’t like having to walk all the way to Jacob’s well in the heat of the day to draw water and carry it home, but she can’t survive without water and there is no other way for her to get it.  So Jesus says in verses 13 and 14, “Everyone who drinks of this water (in Jacob’s well) shall thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; for the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  The Lord Jesus is making it clearer to her that this water is spiritual water by using the words ‘shall never thirst again” and “water springing up to eternal life”.  He is also saying that this water is a gift.  She can’t work to obtain it.  She must only ask Him for it in faith.

Now the woman wants this water – she really wants it!  In verse 15 I can sense excitement in her voice as she replies to Jesus’ words. “Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the way here to draw.”  She has taken another step in the right direction.  She still thinks that Jesus is speaking of physical water, but now she wants it, and she asks Him for it.  Even if a bit of humor could be detected in her voice, the inner desire was real. 

This woman apparently was not very knowledgeable of the Old Testament scriptures because there are many scripture passages in the Old Testament where the words “living water” and “thirst” are used in a spiritual sense.  And yet, none of those passages of scripture came to her mind.  For example, in Psalm 42:2 the psalmist says, “My soul thirsts for the living God”.  Psalm 39:9 says, “For with Thee is the fountain of life.”  The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah used those terms several times.  They are also used by Ezekiel and Zechariah.

CONCLUSION:

Like the woman at the well, each of us is composed of body (physical make-up), soul (intellect, emotions, will), and spirit (a capacity for fellowship with God).  It is usually obvious to us when our bodies are thirsty.  Normally, when our bodies get low on fluids, our brains sense this and give us a thirst – a desire or impulse to satisfy that need by getting something to drink.  We may also have physical symptoms such a dry mouth or throat, or a feeling of weariness.  Our souls also get thirsty.  Just as each of us is different physically, we also differ emotionally and intellectually. We have mental and emotional thirsts for knowledge, for meaning, for stability and for peace in our daily lives.  When these thirsts of ours aren’t being satisfied, we may feel drained, stifled, discouraged or depressed.  You might say that the soul is the essence of who we are, whereas the spirit is our connection to God.

Each of us also has a spiritual thirst, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  God put it there.  He created us in His image so that we might have fellowship with Him.  King David, as well as the sons of Korah, speak of their thirst and yearning for God.  (Psalm 42:2; 63:1; 143:6).

Are you personally unsatisfied with life?  Are you longing for something more, something that earthly things, earthly endeavors, earthly relationships and earthly pleasures have failed to provide?  It’s probably because Someone is missing from your life.  Don’t you think it’s time to reach for the living water that only Jesus provides.  If you repent of your sins, release the control of your life to Him, then He will fill your life with the living waters.  Your dissatisfaction with life will end, you will be filled with new life, new peace, new purpose, and refreshment that never ends.  Why waste another “percolated” moment when it can be “spring-time” in your life forever?

If you are a true, born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, your life will be evidenced by joy and satisfaction.   But witness by life is not enough.  Have you been offering anyone a drink?  There’s more than enough “living water” to go around.  It’s our God-given responsibility to share it, and it should also be our delight to quench someone else’s spiritual thirst.  Don’t you want to hear the words, or see the expression on people’s faces that says, “Ahhhhh , , , that satisfies like nothing else can!”

May you find in God’s Word, and in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer to your emotional and spiritual thirsts.  Then may you come to Him in faith, drink deeply, and satisfy those thirsts forever.

You might enjoy the songs I found on YouTube that relate to this passage of scripture.  The first song is “Living Water” and shows slides along with the song.  Clicking the following link should take you there.  https://youtube.com/watch?v=D1Xs3Kdur7E.  When you get to the site, if you click the full-screen icon at the bottom of the screen on the far right, you will get the full, visual effect.

The second song is “Fill My Cup, Lord”, sung by Wanda Jackson along with a video.  I was unable to set up a clickable link, but if you type into your web browser:  fill my cup lord-wanda jackson-video, you’ll see a list of her songs, and the version with the video is the second one.  Both of these songs are beautiful renditions and have very good visual effects.