We’ve noted this often in our study here in John’s Gospel that the Apostle’s purpose in writing was to make it clear that Jesus Christ is God in human flesh. I’ve pointed often to what is likely the verse that best describes John’s Gospel in John 20:31.
John 20:31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
John is making it clear here in chapter 20 verse 31 that Jesus is the subject of his writing. That’s just what we’ve seen in all of our previous studies in the first three chapters of John, that the focus is on Christ and him proclaimed as God in flesh. We’ve seen Jesus interacting with different people, yes, but the focus has always been on Christ. And what we’ve been seeing all supports Jesus’ claim of Messiahship.
Today we come to chapter 4 and Jesus’ interaction with and witness to the woman at the well. And here too the story isn’t really about the woman at the well, it’s about Jesus Christ. We’re going to look at verses 1-26 today and the point of this whole passage is seen in verse 26 when Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “I who speak to you am he.” He’s telling her he’s the Messiah. Keep that in mind as we read these first 26 verses of John 4 — this too is about Jesus Christ, the Messiah.
4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Note first as we enter chapter 4 that there’s this pointer back to what was happening in chapter 3 where we saw the disciples of John bringing their concern to him that Jesus was gaining more followers than he once had. John’s response was that this is just as things should be when he said back in John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”
Verse 2 clarifies that it wasn’t Jesus doing the baptizing but it was his disciples who were doing the baptizing as a part of his ministry. But note that as we enter chapter 4 we find Jesus’ response to this controversy about his baptizing more followers than John.
We see here that when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (vs. 1)… he left Judea and departed again for Galilee (vs. 3).
What was Jesus’ response? Jesus refused to be a part of the controversy. Rather than stay and add to what appeared to be a growing rivalry between the followers of John and Jesus, which would have given the Pharisees and opportunity to try to bring division between the ministries of Jesus and John, Jesus decides it’s best to move on.
And Jesus, by walking away from this controversy, makes it clear that this was nothing to divide over.
You may recall that Paul warned the church at Corinth about divisions like this when he wrote to them telling them they were acting like unbelievers with all the jealousy and strife. He says in 1 Corinthians 3:1-4,
3:1 But I, brothers, could not address you as spiritual people, but as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you with milk, not solid food, for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready, 3 for you are still of the flesh. For while there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving only in a human way? 4 For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?
How easily the church still divides today. We should learn from Jesus’ example here in John 4. He wouldn’t have anything to do with it dividing believers over petty squabbles. What we see here in John 4 is Jesus’ true concern and this should be the real concern of the church today. This is what these introductory verses are leading up to: Jesus loves people.
So he moves on to continue to take the Gospel elsewhere. Verses 3 and 4 say, he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria.
As Jesus arrives at the town of Sychar we have this vivid picture of his humanity. Yes Jesus is God but he was God in human flesh. So in the middle of the day, in the heat, and with the distance of his travels he’s exhausted and stops at a well; Jacob’s well. The well still exists and is used today. It’s a deep well that’s spring fed. And as Jesus rests beside the well along comes a woman from Samaria.
Now there’s an interesting contrast here between this woman of Samaria and Nicodemus whom we saw in chapter 3.
D.A. Carson writes, “[Nicodemus] was learned, powerful, respected, orthodox, theologically trained; she was unschooled, without influence, despised, capable only of folk religion. He was a man, a Jew, a ruler; she was a woman, a Samaritan, a moral outcast. And both needed Jesus.” (D.A. Carson, The Gospel According to John, pg. 216)
Indeed, both needed Jesus and Jesus loves people so he has time not only for the learned but also the unlearned. Jesus loves people so he comes to rescue the perishing whether they be well off, well known and well respected or not so. Jesus loves people so he gives himself to all who believe in him without distinction.
So as we see in verses 7 and 8 Jesus asks this Samaritan woman for a drink of water because the disciples had gone into town for food. Her response seen in verse 9 shows her surprise that he would even talk to her. Not only would Jews have no dealings with Samaritans but she was also a social outcast. There was also a well in the city but here she is outside the city to draw water because her immoral lifestyle had brought public ridicule.
Look at Jesus answer to her in verse 10. He knows just what she needs.
10 …“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
What does she need? She needs the life that only comes through faith in Christ. So what is Jesus doing? He’s showing her the only way to real joy and true satisfaction. She needs living water.
But she’s confused by this. We see her in verse 11 saying, “but wait, look at this deep well, you have nothing with which to draw water, so tell me where you’ll get this living water?” She’s thinking of running water — like water from a spring. Look at Jesus’ reply in verses 13 and 14.
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus knows what she needs most is not water to temporarily quench her thirst. He’s talking about the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the life giving, never ending spring of water that brings new life and eternal life.
She can’t quench her thirst. It’s one of the reasons she’s had five husbands. The unquenchable desire for “better”, for “more” can’t be satisfied in the flesh — it can’t be satisfied without the Holy Spirit and the spring of eternal life he brings.
But she still doesn’t understand. She’s still thinking about how nice it would be to not have to come all the way out here to draw water any more. And still, Jesus knows just what she needs.
She needs what he offers and it’s not water, it’s forgiveness of sin and the work of the Holy Spirit to overcome the sinful desires of the flesh. In Mark 5:32 Jesus says, I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance. She needs to understand that she’s a sinner of need of repentance which leads to life. So Jesus suggests she call her husband. Why? Because Jesus wants her to deal honestly with her sin.
She obviously has a desire and thirst from within that can’t be satisfied. She’s not only had five husbands but the man she lives with now is not her husband. What’s obvious to Jesus is that she’s done nothing but worship her own flesh. What she needs to see is that the only way she’ll ever have the thirst of her soul quenched is to repent of her sin and believe in Jesus who gives the Holy Spirit, a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Jesus was lovingly, gently, without condemnation, leading her to see this truth.
In verse 19 she’s finally starting to understand. “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” Then in verse 20 she brings up an issue that was a point of contention between Jews and Samaritans over where one should worship.
Jesus answered her question making it very clear that where one would worship would soon be of far less importance than how one worships. So how must one worship and how does this help this Samaritan woman see that repentance of sin and faith in Jesus is what she needs? Look at what Jesus says in verse 23.
23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
Jesus tells her that the real question of worship will not be about where but how. True worship can only happen from within. These are the people that God the Father is seeking — people who will worship him from the bottom of their hearts. True worship only takes place when it is honest and heartfelt. True worship isn’t about going through the motions to merely hold to some standard of worship laid down by men. What we call worship is only worship when it happens from the bottom of our hearts. So Jesus says in verse 24, God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Her reply in verse 25 shows that she still isn’t quite understanding when she says, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” It’s like she’s saying, “oh yes, this is all confusing, but the Messiah will one day show up and make it all clear.”
She still not quite following him, so Jesus makes it very plain by saying in verse 26, “I who speak to you am he.”
Jesus has just taken her from her place of unquenchable human thirst to the answer to that thirst, he’s just revealed to her that he is the Messiah. He is the only way to the true life giving water of the Spirit.
About whether or not she ever believed in Him the scriptures aren’t explicit. But we’ll see later in verse 29 that it certainly appears as though she did believe. When she goes to tell of Jesus to the townspeople, who before she’d been avoiding, she says excitedly, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
In this Samaritan woman we have a vivid illustration of each of us without Christ. Each struggling, even thrashing about through life trying to satisfy all our cravings, trying to quench the thirst of our souls, without the life giving water of the Spirit.
Then Jesus steps in and begins to show himself to us. He reveals the need of our souls is not the things with which we’re trying to satisfy ourselves — the need of our souls is really the spring of water welling up to eternal life. We need the new life that only the Holy Spirit brings and it’s only ours when we repent of our sin and trust in Jesus.