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.