Student Welcome Service: The Transformer - John 4:1-42

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the evening service on 30th September 2007.

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When Margaret Thatcher was Bristish Prime Minister she was known as the Iron Lady. She was Prime Minister between 1979 to 1990 and during that time she was involved in lots of memorable occasions, the Falklands War, the Poll Tax Riots, her dramatic dismissal from office. One of my favourite stories is when she went to a nursing home. One lady wasn’t paying any attention to her. She said, “Do you know who I am?” The lady replied, “Don’t worry love, matron will be along in a minute and she will know.”

I love those stories of misunderstandings which have a funny ending.

However, what I hate are serious misunderstandings which do not lead to amusement but which lead to tragedy. 

Sometimes we hear of these stories in daily life.

o Doctor misunderstands the test results.
o The pilot who misunderstands the layout of the land below.

We could mention many more. But tonight I want to speak about spiritual misunderstanding. In particular, I want to address two topics which are vital for us to have clear in our minds.

o The gift of God
o The identity of Jesus

Reason: these are the topics Jesus is concerned about in John 4. If you have your bibles open then look at what Jesus says in verse 10. It’s all part of a deeply moving and ultimately transformational encounter he has with a very unexpected woman – we’ll look at this in more detail in just a moment. But for now listen to what he says to her in verse 10.

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Sometimes people will say the Bible isn’t relevant for modern life. But right here in John 4 we meet a person who is exactly like so many people today.

Her misunderstandings are the same as ours.

What does she misunderstand? The gift of God and the identity of Jesus.

She has no idea what God is offering and she is completely clueless about the identity of the man sitting next to her.

Where are you spiritually? Some will have no idea what God has made available and some who are completely clueless about the true identity of Jesus of Nazareth.

Good news – this section of the Bible has been preserved to tell us all we need to know.

It has been written down to answer two important questions:

o What does God offer?
o Who is Jesus?

One of the features of the Bible I love is that’s it’s not a dull and boring academic text book. It’s full of real life stories. Interesting to read. So before we answer these two questions let me remind you of the story.

We’re told in verse 1 that, “the Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptising more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.”

Judea in the South and Galilee in the North.

Fascinating detail in verse 4. “He had to go through Samaria.”

At one level this is completely untrue. There was a route that went through this middle section of the country and it was a popular route that people travelled on. But it wasn’t the only route. There was an alternative for pious Jews who didn’t want to go that way. Longer, involved crossing the Jordon river and then coming back across but at least it avoided travelling through Samaritan country.

So it simply wasn’t true that geographically Jesus had to travel through Samaria. No major roadworks on the alternative route. He had two choices.

Why does it say that he had to go here? Well, for the simple reason that Jesus had an appointment in Samaria that he must keep.

And we’re told where this appointment was to take place in verse 5. “He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar [about 2 miles from modern day Nablus], near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the jounrey, sat down by the well. It was the sixth hour [12 noon by Jewish counting].”
Imagine the scene. Jesus the divine Son in human flesh. A real human being who feels everything we feel. And he is exhausted in the midday sun.

And then out of the corner of his eye who does he see coming towards him? Verse 7: “A Samaritan woman came to draw water.”

Very unusual. Women normally came in the morning or in the evening when it was cooler. They normally came together to hear all the latest gossip.

Here was this social outcast. And yet here was the very woman Jesus had travelled all the way to see.

Interesting detail in verse 8. “His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.” This is odd when you think about it. How many men does it take to buy the sandwiches? Hold hands. Look both ways when you cross the road. So why have all 12 of them been sent away. Not only does Jesus want to meet this woman but he wants to have a close encounter with her. He wants to make sure they are not distracted by other people. He needs to speak to her when she is alone.

God does this very frequently. Hard to hear his voice in when we are distracted by all sorts of things. When you are busy. When your diary is full. Maybe that is why you are here tonight. God has set up your life so you can be here to listen to these words of Jesus without distraction. He wants to speak to you. Well, let’s listen to what he says. Verse 7, “Will you give me a drink?”

To us his opening question seems very normal. They are both sitting by a well and Jesus asks for a drink.

Not a chat up line otherwise he would have asked her if she wanted a drink.

But listen to how the Samaritan woman responds. Verse 9, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink? [The understatement of this section of the Bible] (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans).”

She is a woman and he is a Jewish man. Culture of the day men did not speak to unknown women in public. Even a group of strict Jews called the “Bruised and Bleeding Pharisees” who refused to even look at a woman. They got their name because they frequently used to walk into doors and walls as a result of their piety!

He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan. Told they did not associate with each other. This is the understatement of the passage. They hated one another. All started in 722 when teh Assyrians deported the upper class and left a few people in the land. They imported others and the pure religion was corrupted. Got worse after the Jews returned from their own exile in 587BC. The Samaritans offered to rebuild the temple and the Jews said no. The Samaritans then built their own temple and the Jews destroyed it in 128BC. So Jews generally didn’t speak to Samaritans. Here was Jesus breaking cultural and religious barriers. Why? He was showing that he and what he offers is for everyone.

Also see this in the contrast between ch 3 and ch 4. Who did he meet in ch 3? Nicodemus. Contrast is amazing. He had a name, this woman is anonymous. He had influence, she was a nobody. He had friends, she was a loner. He was informed about religous matters, she was pretty clueless. He was respectable, whereas she had been rejected by her own people – when the Samritans reject you you know things are very bad. Jesus meets them both.

Where are you on a scale between the two? It doesn’t matter where because what Jesus offers is for everyone here.

Let’s work out what he offers. This brings us back to verse 10. Jesus mentions the gift of God and his identity. Let’s take the gift of God first.

What is this gift of God? Jesus calls it living water. Could literally mean running water so this explains why the conversation continues as it does.

Verse 11. Woman says, “You have no bucket and the well is deep. Where can you find this running water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well?”

Jesus is not speaking about literal water but is using picture language to speak about the satisfying spiritual life that is available from God to human beings.

Jeremiah 2:13, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

God is claiming to be the source of true spiritual life. We have been created to need a relationship with him and only when we have one will our souls be satisfied.

Did you see the problem? Not that human beings keep on trying to seek out God because they know something is missing but knowing something is missing they try and fill the gap with other things. They dig their own wells. Way of saying we try and seek life and purpose and destiny and meaning and satisfaction in anything but God.

It is of course possible to have fun without a relationship with God.

o The pleasure is short lived.
o The pleasure is nothing compared to an authentic relationship with the living God when we live our lives according to his good instructions.
o You end up being satisfied with too little.

Compare this to what Jesus is offering. Contemplate with me what he says in verse 13.

“Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Normal water doesn’t last. Our own futile attempts at filling the void are just the same.

Jesus says the water I give him. The spiritual life. The Holy Spirit. It’s a gift. Not something we earn or something we have naturally within us. But this gift will lead to authentic satisfaction.

This is how Malcolm Muggeridge, a very intelligent Christian writer put it. He says this: “I may, I suppose, regard myself as a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets, that’s fame; I can fairly easily earn enough money to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue. That’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame, even the eldery, if they care to, may partake of friendly diversions. That’s pleasure.

It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time. That’s fulfilment. Yet, I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by millions, add them all up together, and they are nothing, less than nothing. Indeed a positive impediment measured against one drop of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the refreshment of drinking that water?”

Holy Spirit reconnects us with God. Gives new spiritual desires and a deep joy and satisfaction which cannot be matched by anything else.

This new life will last forever. Welling up to eternal life.

This is the gift of God. Jesus claims to be able to give it. To understand why we must answer our second question: Who is Jesus?

This is what Jesus does next in the conversation. Some people think he is changing the subject when he asks this woman to go call her husband but in reality he wants her to understand who he is.

This is a painful part of the conversation. Like so many people today she has been through a number of relationships and would rather not talk about the past in too much detail. So her reply to Jesus is rather clipped. Verse 17, “I have no husband.”

Jesus then reveals to her that he already knows about her past. You are right when you say you have no husband. You’ve had five – divorce or death – and the man you are living with is not your husband. Our culture says so what? That’s normal. Normal doesn’t mean right. In that culture it would be deeply shameful. Why she’s on her own in the middle of the day. Well, not quite because she is having a close encounter with Jesus.

Great when you think about it. He already knew what she had done when he sat down beside her at the well. His attitude towards her wasn’t going to change when she told him about her sexual past.

Isn’t this the fear of so many people? If only they knew what would they do?

With God it’s different – he shows unconditional love towards us and he accepts us just as he finds us.

Her response in verse 19 explains one of the reasons why Jesus decided to bring up her past. “Sir, I can see that you are a prophet.” Not just a stranger asking for a drink or even a Jewish man in his 30’s trying to flirt with me but a prophet of God who knows secret things about me.

His identity is becoming clearer to her.

Another question that bothered me was this. Why does he speak about her relationships with these men?

Remember in ch 1. He met another man called Nathanael. He had to convince him that he was God’s chosen King and he said “I saw you while you were still under the fig-tree before Philip called you.” Nathanael replies, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.”

Why doesn’t Jesus say to this woman, “I saw you doing the dishes just after breakfast?” Or something else that only she would know about.

I think it’s because he wants to point out the particular place this woman is looking for satisfaction instead of God. He wants to show her the well of her own digging. She is drinking deeply but the wrong place. Not simply sex but relationships with other human beings. The idol in her life.

Human relationships are good. I’m getting married. But we must be careful not to seek even in the most intimate relationships with human beings only what God can provide.

Your idol might be different. What is it? Are you drinking deeply somewhere else? Where?

Before we come to God we must recognise where else we are seeking. Stop it and turn to Jesus and he will give us the gift of the Holy Spirit.

Some people think the woman is employing religious diversion tactics in verse 19. That’s enough about my sin, let’s talk about places of worship. Sometimes peopel do this. Lots of diversionary tactics and defence mechanisms set up.

But I don’t think she is doing this here. She knows he is a prophet, maybe someone more special. The promised messiah she was expected. She believed that when this person arrived he would explain everything.

So she asks him about places of worship to give him another opportunity to reveal who he is.

What Jesus says is completely radical. Forget your sacred mountain and forget Jerusalem with its temple for sacrifice.

Those days are gone. Bit like arguing about Betamax or VHS. Those days are gone.

A time is coming and is now here when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth.
Wait a minute – How can you forget the temple system and it’s sacrifices?

Reason: Jesus will now be the person of sacrifice and so the place of sacrifice will no longer be required.

Died on the cross to provide forgiveness for all who choose to follow him as King.

When we worship God today we can do so as forgiven people, who have the Holy Spirit of God and who do it in the right way. Sincerity is not enough. God wants us to worship him in the right way. That is by obeying the wishes of his chosen King Jesus in our lives.

People at different stages. Let’s finish by thinking about the different reactions to this close encounter. See who you can relate to.

o Disciples

They come back in verse 27. Surprised but keep their mouths shut. All they are concerned about is Jesus’ physical well fare.

Challenge of verse 35-36: “Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life.”

The sheer privilege of having three years at university. To learn and grow as a Christian and to win your friends for Christ. Will you take the challenge?

o Woman

She is so excited by her discovery that she leaves her water jar behind and dashes back to the town. “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” She doesn’t believe completely but knows enough to investigate more and get other people interested.

o People of the town

Verse 30, “They came out of the town and made their way towards him.”

Maybe that’s you. Come to CE and find out more.

Verse 39-42: “Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”  40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.  41 And because of his words many more became believers. 42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”

Are there some tonight who know they need to drink of this living water? Maybe you have heard this before. Maybe it is time to stop dithering and drink.

Finish with a prayer.

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