As we transition from the activities of John 3 into an incredible exchange that occurs in John 4 we do have a final few verses in this third chapter that demand a moment of our attention and quick consideration. In verse 30 John the Baptizer makes a most glorious declaration to his disciples relating to Jesus. John remarks, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Now if you’re simply reading through the chapter it would be easy to see the remaining verses as a continuation of this discourse between John the Baptizer and his disciples. And yet, because the Greek structure takes a radicle shift beginning with verse 31, it’s more likely John 3 ends with our author providing the reader a few summary observations.
John 3:31-36, “He who comes from above is above all; he who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth. He who comes from heaven is above all. And what He has seen and heard, that He testifies; and no one receives His testimony. He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.
For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
In light of the first two chapters, Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus and the dialogue that takes place between John and his disciples concerning Jesus’ growing popularity in the third - our author (John) seeks to recap for the reader several important truths concerning Jesus.
Not only does John affirm Jesus’ divinity by declaring He “came from above,” but he points to His subsequent authority by saying “the Father loves the Son and has given all things into His hand.” - Since Jesus “came from heaven” logically He is “above all” or literally “over all.”
Aside from Jesus’ divinity and natural authority, John also attests that “His testimony certifies that God is true” as He came to “speak the words of God.” John’s point was that Jesus was not just a natural man speaking truths about God or for God. Because of His divine nature Jesus spoke as God. It’s what John means when he says, “He who is of the earth is earthly and speaks of the earth,” but “He who comes from heaven is above all.”
Honestly, the plain reading of the end of verse 32 and verse 33 appear to be contradictory; and yet, in many ways they validate this is no longer John the Apostle quoting John the Baptizer. At the end of verse 22 John says, “No one receives His testimony” only to write with the next stroke of his pen, “He who has received His testimony has certified that God is true.”
Keep in mind, John not only writes with a limited 600 word vocabulary, but he’s writing years after the fact. While in his day clearly there were multitudes of men and women all over the Roman world that had indeed “received Jesus’ testimony,” John wants his reader to realize that at this point in His earthly ministry no one really understood Jesus and His mission.
John closes out this recap by making a most incredible statement reaffirming what Jesus earlier said to Nicodemus. John declares the essence of Jesus’ mission and why “receiving His testimony” was so important writing, “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Friend, please know your sin requires the “wrath of God.” Sin demands judgment for God to remain just and the “wages of sin is death.” And yet, the Gospel (Good News) is that there is a way around it. In an act of faith you can accept that God’s wrath for your sin was poured out on Jesus at Calvary and experience “everlasting life” in place of an eternal death.
Or you can reject Jesus and His offering and take God’s wrath for your sin upon yourself on the Day of Judgment. The core implications when you consider Jesus is life or death.
Friend, please hear me on this… In many ways it is true that all paths lead to God, but don’t be mistaken - what happens once you stand before God will be absolutely predicated upon what decisions you’ve made concerning Jesus and no one else! Your decision about Jesus is of such importance because your eternal life literally depends on it.
As we transition from chapter 3 to 4 we have presented an incredible story only recorded in this John’s Gospel of Grace… The story of Jesus and the Woman at the Well. Because there is a lot happening in this passage, I want to begin by reading the text in its entirety.
John 4:1-42, “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee. But He needed to go through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria which is called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.
Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied from His journey, sat thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman of Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Then the woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?’ For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.
Jesus answered and said to her, ‘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 woman said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where then do You get that living water? Are You greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as well as his sons and his livestock?’
Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’
The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have well said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; in that you spoke truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews say that in Jerusalem is the place where one ought to worship.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (who is called Christ). When He comes, He will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’
And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, ‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why are You talking with her?’ The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, ‘Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’ Then they went out of the city and came to Him.
In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But He said to them, ‘I have food to eat of which you do not know.’ Therefore the disciples said to one another, ‘Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?’
Jesus said to them, ‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.’
And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.
And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’”
There are a lot of ways we can approach this particular story (and I’ve wrestled with them all), but I’ve decided to work our way from the outside/in… This morning we’re going to look at this passage from the larger, macro-perspective of Jesus leaving Judea to specifically minister in Samaria. Then next Sunday we’ll examine the more particular micro-implications of this incredible exchange between Jesus and this woman at the well.
John 4 opens, “Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard” that His popularity was now eclipsing that of John the Baptizer, Jesus decided it was time to “leave Judea.” It appears there were fundamentally two reasons Jesus made this decision.
First, back in verse 25 we read that “a dispute had arisen between some of John’s disciples” and the religious establishment. It would seem John the Baptizer had grown so popular he was now taking some heat. Since a similar confrontation on account of His increasing popularity was likely inevitable, Jesus finds it wise to bounce with His crew as this type of showdown was the very thing He wanted to avoid this early into His earthly ministry.
Secondly, the text tells us Jesus “leaves Judea” because He had an important appointment elsewhere. While there is no question Jesus “left Judea” with “Galilee” as His destination, John provides for us this interesting detail that Jesus “needed to go” first “through Samaria!”
I like the way the old KJV translates this… It reads, “He must needs go.” The idea is that Jesus found it necessary, essential, required that He “leave Judea” to go “through Samaria” on His way to “Galilee.” And needless to say, to a Jew, such a trek was totally unexpected.
In the first-century the Jewish people held the Samaritans in such distain that they refused to even step foot in Samaria. It was more than just racism or bigotry. Their hatred for the Samaritans ran so deep Jewish pilgrims would take an additional days journey just to bypass the region. So… Who were the Samaritans and why did the Jews hate them so?
I’ll let Bible scholar David Guzik answer this question. He writes in his commentary, “When the Babylonians conquered the Southern Kingdom of Judah, they took almost all the population captive, exiling them to the Babylonian Empire. All they left behind were the lowest classes of society, because they didn’t want these lowly regarded people in Babylonia. These ones left behind intermarried with other non-Jewish peoples who slowly came into the region, and the Samaritans emerged as an ethnic and religious group.
Because the Samaritans had a historical connection to the people of Israel, their faith was a combination of commands and rituals from the Law of Moses, put together with various superstitions. Most of the Jews in Jesus’ time despised the Samaritans, disliking them even more than Gentiles – because they were, religiously speaking, “half-breeds” who had an eclectic, mongrel faith. The Samaritans built their own temple to Yahweh on Mount Gerizim, but the Jews burned it around 128 BC. This obviously made relations between the Jews and the Samaritans even worse.”
Right from the jump you need to understand Jesus deciding to “leave Judea” (the Jewish seat of religious power) to go to “Galilee” (the home of the Jewish populace) was one thing, but to intentionally go “through Samaria” was down right scandalous! No Jew would dare do such a thing, yet alone a respected Rabbi like Jesus! And yet, Jesus didn’t care about the cultural taboo or these societal norms and decided to go there anyway.
Keep in mind, the Jews stayed away from the Samaritans because they were seen as religiously heretical and morally detestable. And yet, neither deterred Jesus. The very folks religious people looked down upon Jesus came to reach! - A lesson for all of us.
Again, in light of the fact “He must needs go,” the answer as to why becomes clear with what actually happened during Jesus’ time in Samaria. Following this unique testimony of the women at the well who was first to encounter Jesus, we’re told beginning in verse 40, “So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Jesus to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. And many more believed because of His own word. Then they said to the woman, ‘Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.’”
It’s interesting that while in verse 39 “the Samaritans of that city believed in Jesus because of the word of the woman who testified” after spending just two days with Jesus “many more believed because of His own word.” There is no question Jesus left quite an impression!
In the flow of John’s Gospel of Grace it’s not an accident (and likely why he’s the only one to include this story) that the very first group of people he records accepting Jesus as “the Christ, the Savior of the world” was not Jews, but instead Samaritans! Amazing!
As you examine the disciples’ involvement in this story it becomes evident they were very uncomfortable being in Samaria. When they return from getting food only to see Jesus speaking with the woman at the well, they were all left wondering “why” though none of them dared verbalize their disbelief. How fascinating that Jesus responds in verse 35, “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for the are already white for the harvest!”
Internally the disciples want to know “why” Jesus was determined to go to Samaria and more specifically “why” He’d risk His reputation by having a conversation with this woman. Jesus answers their unspoken disbelief with a challenge to look beyond their prejudice.
He says, “Lift up your eyes and look!” They were in Samaria because Samaria was a “field white for the harvest!” Jesus was there to minister and He was willing to go against the societal taboo of speaking with this woman because He knew what was going on in her life.
I don’t want to over spiritualize the text, but I wonder how many harvests we miss out on because we refuse to venture into uncomfortable fields. I wonder how many ready fields remain unharvested because we’re unwilling to lift up our eyes and look! Could your office be “white for the harvest,” but you don’t know it because you aren’t looking?
From the macro-perspective John includes this story because it perfectly illustrated the radicle statement Jesus made to Nicodemus recorded in John 3:16-17, “For God so loved the world (not just Israel) that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him (even Samaritans) should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” There was no better way to hammer home God’s love for the world than going into Samaria!
While the Jews hated the Samaritans, Jesus clearly loved them. While the Jews would avoid the Samaritans at all cost, Jesus intentionally goes to minister to them. While the Jews saw the Samaritans as unredeemable, Jesus saw a harvest. While the Jews judged the Samaritans, Jesus came to save. Ironically, while the Jews rejected Jesus, the Samaritans willingly accepted Him as “the Christ, the Savior of the world!”
In His exchange with this women in verses 21-24 Jesus appears to tie the example He was setting in the moment with the ultimate plan of God soon to be enacted. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’”
How interesting that in the Great Commission Jesus gives before His ascension, He instructs His disciples to (Acts 1:8) “be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” In John’s Gospel Jesus began in Jerusalem, baptized in Judea, before then going specifically to Samaria where this incredible harvest existed.
If you continue to read the record of the early church in Acts, after Christians came to dominate Jerusalem and Judea and following an incredible persecution, in chapter 8 we see Philip followed by Peter and John going to Samaria - a place still ripe for the harvest. Once again it’s likely this is another reason John found it so important to include this story.
Aside from the obvious reason Jesus felt it necessary to go to Samaria, John tells us Jesus first decided to “leave Judea!” Though this seems very straightforward, this is one of those instances where the English translation fails to communicate the intention of the author.
The idea in the original Greek language is that Jesus made an intentional decision to literally “abandon Judea” - it’s what the word actually means. It wasn’t that Jesus was simply leaving Judea, He left her! The idea is so strong in the Greek the word that is used commonly described the act of a husband divorcing or leaving his wife.
As we’ve already seen in John 2:24 Jesus knew what was in the heart of man which is why “He did not commit Himself to them.” Jesus knew who these “Pharisees” really were. He knew the type of violence and evil they were capable of. He knew what the religious establishment would ultimately do to Him! And it’s for this reason that Jesus left Judea.
The marriage was over and in many ways Jesus was laying the framework to call out for Himself a new bride. (We’ll come back to this thought at the end of our study.)
You see, after celebrating Passover in Jerusalem where He cleansed the Temple and spending a period of time baptizing in the Jordan, Jesus decides to abandon the religious scene in “Judea” specifically to go “again to Galilee” where He’d spend most of His ministry.
But… Before going to “Galilee” Jesus had to go to Samaria. In a way Jesus leaves the halls of power to rub shoulders with the pagans. He leaves the church pew to hang out on the street corner. He leaves behind the “puritans” to spend time with the “half-breads.”
Jesus leaves Judea to go to Samaria! Once again Jesus’ activities illustrate the fact that following the rejection of the Gospel by the Jews, the Gospel would extend to the Gentiles. Jesus would call from the nations a new holy people unto Himself - The Bride of Christ!
Along these lines (and with the premise that John’s Gospel has a loose parallel with the Book of Genesis) I don’t think it’s an accident Jesus ends up in a city “called Sychar.” John adds that this city was “near the plot of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph” and that “Jacob’s well was there.” It’s also not an accident Jesus decides to camp out at this well.
This “city of Samaria,” known in Jesus’ day as “Sychar,” was in actuality the capital of Samaria. Historically speaking and as it pertains to the Genesis record, this city was known in ancient times as Shechem. Note: The city of Shechem possessed a rich, Biblical heritage.
In many ways Shechem was ground zero for God’s relationship with the Children of Israel. Initially, Shechem was the location where God first appeared to Abram when he arrived in Canaan promising to give the land to he and his descendants (Genesis 12).
Years later Shechem was the city where Jacob (who’d been renamed Israel) built an altar to the Lord following his return to the land after 20 years with Laban in Haran. Aside from this local being given to Joseph by his father Jacob, Shechem would be the ultimate burial place for Joseph when the Israelites returned to the land following their Egyptian captivity.
From the macro-perspective this detail is not coincidental. Consider… Jesus arrives in Jerusalem for Passover and disgusted by what He discovers ends up cleansing the Temple.
He then has a conversation with a Jewish religious leader named Nicodemus about the “new birth” and “everlasting life” - which in the moment seems to sail over this man’s head. While Nicodemus would later become a believer, he left that conversation still questioning.
Finally, after some time baptizing in the Jordan and with the Pharisees starting to circle in, Jesus appears completely over it. He leaves Judea and goes into Samaria specifically to the city of Shechem the very place His dealing with Abraham and later Israel all began.
Jesus then ministers to a broken Samaritan women by specifically contrasting Himself with Jacob. While Jacob’s well required hard work to draw water that would never satisfied (the flaw of religious works - dead water), Jesus gives living water that upon consumption does something supernatural within the heart of the individual so that they’d never thirst again!
Not only is Jesus illustrating the ineffectiveness of religion to address an internal thirst, but the reaction of this sinful woman with that of a pious Nicodemus also served to emphasize the fact religious moralism is the greatest wedge between a person and their Savior.
Think about the comparisons and contrasts between Nicodemus and this Samaritan women… Nicodemus came to Jesus, but Jesus specifically sought out this woman. One conversation took place under the cover of darkness. The other was in the light of the day.
Nicodemus was a moral man. This woman was a known sinner. Nicodemus was part of the establishment. This woman was a societal outcast. Nicodemus honored Jesus with flattering statements. This woman’s natural reaction was to immediately question His very motivation.
Nicodemus was inquisitive. This woman a skeptic. Nicodemus came with a question seeking an answer. The woman came to draw water because she was thirsty. Nicodemus left his encounter with Jesus wrestling with the theological implications. This woman left her encounter forever changed by an experience! Nicodemus left doubting. She left proclaiming. Nicodemus remained thirsty while this woman’s internal thirst had been quenched by Jesus.
And note… The only difference that really mattered is that while they were both drinking from Jacob’s well (one literally and the other figuratively) this woman (unlike Nicodemus) was ready to receive all that Jesus had to offer because she could admit her internal need had never been addressed by the water Jacob’s well provided!
Next Sunday we’re going to look again at this story from the particular micro-implications of this incredible exchange between Jesus and this woman at the well (there is much to discuss), but before we close there is one point we need to return to… In Genesis 12 God appeared to Abraham in Shechem and commissioned his family to be His special people.
How interesting that in John 4, after “leaving Judea,” God appeared to this Samaritan woman in Shechem and extended to her the same invitation. “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Friend, what makes this story so amazing is that Jesus is reestablishing who He calls to be part of His family. “For God so loved the world!” Like this woman you don’t have to be moral or religious… You don’t have to have your act together or for that matter be seeking. In Shechem Jesus extended the invitation beyond the descendants of Abraham and Jacob!
While we’ll explore all of this in more details next Sunday, please know Jesus does not seek out the religious moralist who has deceived themselves into thinking their good deeds make them right before God. Religion is a wedge that separates you from a Savior. Instead, Jesus (in His grace) invites those who thirst to take a drink from “living water” only He provides…
Yes, what Jesus offers first requires you admit the well you’ve been drawing from has left you thirsty, but what He’s offering you this morning doesn’t have to be earned. All it demands is that you receive it and then enjoy the life He wants to provide! Jesus promised, “What I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.”
As we close, if any of these truths concerning Jesus strike a cord in your heart you’re willing to accept and surrender yourself to, please in the depths of your soul pray…
“Dear Jesus, I know I am a sinner and that I cannot save myself. I believe You are the Son of God who died on the cross to atone for my sins. I place my complete faith in that work as the only basis for my forgiveness, restoration, and righteousness before You. I confess that on the 3rd day You rose from the dead providing me a relationship with You today. Right now, Jesus I choose to repent of my sins and ask that by Your grace You fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Take my broken life and make it whole. Transform who I am from the inside out. Jesus, I confess You as both my God, my personal Lord, and my eternal Savior. Amen.”
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