Story 32: A Broken Woman in a Broken World and the Cleansing Streams of Living Water

John 4:1-26

Water drop and splash

As the ministry of Jesus began to grow in influence, a lot of people weren’t happy. John the Baptist’s disciples weren’t the only ones who noticed how popular Jesus was becoming. The Pharisees were taking notice of Him, too. As the people went out to see Jesus, the Lord’s disciples were doing the baptizing, but it was His name that was on everyone’s lips and His teaching that the more and more people wanted to hear.

Somewhere around that time, King Herod learned that John had spoken out against him. This King Herod was the son of the Herod who ruled over Israel when Christ was born. The older Herod was the one who ordered the murder of the baby boys of Bethlehem. This new pretender king was no better than his father. He was doing wretched things, and he didn’t want John talking about it, so he threw John in prison. The Lord heard about John’s imprisonment. He also learned that the Pharisees were taking an interest in His ministry, so He left Judea and went back north to Galilee.

Can you imagine what people were saying all over the countryside? John the Baptist was in jail, and this Jesus who had become so popular was on the move. Who were these men? Were they sent from God? Was their ministry over with?

As the Lord journeyed towards Galilee, He went through an area called Samaria. It was about forty-two miles north of Jerusalem. It is interesting that He took the road that went through Samaria. That wasn’t the way the Jewish people normally went. The Jews hated the Samaritan people. Whenever they travelled between the Jewish regions of Galilee in the north down and Judea in the south, they would took a longer, more difficult path just to avoid going through Samaritan territory!

Hundreds of years before, their own Jewish ancestors had lived in the Samaritan region. It was part of the Land of Promise. Back then it was called the Northern Kingdom of Israel.   But for hundreds of years, the Jews of the Northern Kingdom rebelled against God with despicable badness. Their sin was horrific and the manner in which they worshipped their idols was revolting and destructive to their whole community. God warned them through His bold and brave prophets over and over again, but still they refused to change. Their kings persecuted God’s messengers and kept leading the people into deeper sin. Finally, after hundreds of years of warning, the judgment of God came down on them. He sent a nation called Assyria to invade the Northern Kingdom and take the Jews who lived there captive. The Assyrian army forced them to march to lands far away to work as captured slaves. Only a few were allowed to stay in the land. Then the Assyrians brought in people from far away nations they had conquered and settled them among the Jews that had remained behind.

The Jewish people called anyone who was not a descendent of Abraham and who did not follow their Bible a Gentile. The Bible told them not to marry Gentiles or follow after their idols. They were called to be a culture set apart from other cultures. It wasn’t that God was racist.  This was a part of God’s plan to bring goodness and light to every race and culture. But sin is not something that people simply commit on their own without outside influences. Each culture has its own patterns of sin. Each of us tends to commit the kinds of sins that are encouraged by the culture we belong to. Often, a culture can put tremendous pressure on its members to sin. Every culture has powerful ways it emphasizes certain good ways of living and certain bad ways of living.

God chose His servant Abraham to have the descendants that would become the nation of Israel.  They would be raised  up to be the nation that lived God’s culture in the midst of the cursed world. Israel was supposed to be the light that showed the rest of the world how to live in God’s goodness together as a people. The Law of Moses spelled out how the people of Israel should treat each other so that it would be a place where everyone was protected and provided for. They were supposed to marry other people who were just as committed to God’s ways and raise children with the same commitment. That way, a whole culture would rise up in their ability to honor God’s goodness. Then they could invite people from other cultures into that goodness…in the safety of people who honored God’s laws by being trustworthy, kind, and generous.

That was God’s beautiful plan, but the Jewish people kept failing to follow it. They failed to bring a community of justice and peace. Often, they set an even worse example than the cultures around them in the name of Yahweh. So the Lord brought an end to His special blessing on the Jews in the Northern Kingdom.  He lifted His protection. He allowed them to fall under the full sway of the evils of this world that they had chosen instead of Him, and they fell to the powers of the Assyrian Army.

The Jews that were left behind could have cried out to God and asked Him to help them walk in goodness and light. They could have sought to love Him and obey His holy commands and bring a new era of justice, compassion, and peace. But they didn’t. They fell into the ways of the cultures around them. They worshipped their idols and married their children. They also taught false things about the Most High God. They believed in the Torah, but not the rest of the Old Testament. They said that Moses was the only prophet. They also said that their own mountain, Mount Gerizim, was God’s chosen place of worship instead of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

The Jewish people of the south in Judea hated them. They resented how the Jews of the Northern Kingdom had betrayed the ways of the Living God and lost their portion of the Land of Promise.   The betrayal of those who had been left behind was even worse, for they combined the worship of the One, true God with false worship and idolatry. By the time of Jesus, the hostility had been going on for hundreds and hundreds of years.

But Jesus was not bound by the entrenched hatreds of this world. He only did the perfect will of His Father in Heaven, and God was going to do a new thing through His Son. The Lord took His disciples through the region of Samaria until they reached a place called Sychar. This region was remembered by the Jewish people because it was near the land that their great ancestor, Jacob, had given to his son Joseph.   There was a well there called Jacob’s well, and when they came to it, Jesus stopped to rest. It was about noontime, and the Lord was weary from all their travels. Meanwhile, His disciples went off to find some food.

As Jesus sat there, a woman came to the well to draw some water. This was a strange time for her to come. Why choose to lift heavy buckets of water out of a deep well during the hottest time of the day? Why hadn’t she come in the evening when it was cool with the rest of the women from town? Well, there was a reason she could not come with them. This woman had a bad reputation…and for good reason. She deserved it.

When Jesus saw her, He asked, “‘Will you give me a drink?’”

The woman was shocked. Jews didn’t talk to Samaritan’s! And they certainly didn’t talk to women like her! She asked Him, “‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan. How can you ask me for a drink?’”

What the woman didn’t understand was that Jesus was not really asking for water. He was searching for her heart, looking for something much deeper. So He said, “‘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.’”

What a strange answer. What do you think Jesus meant? What was this living water she should have asked Him for? A lot of times Jesus asked hard questions where there was no easy answer.  His listeners wouldn’t be able to give Him the automatic, everyday, unthinking response they would normally say. It provoked them to think harder and search deeper. Jesus was giving them a chance to see truths that were greater than they had recognized before. Jesus was giving this Samaritan woman a chance to see Him as something more than the normal Jewish men who would hate her or use her. He was going to show her that He was the Messiah!

The woman said back to Him, “‘Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?’”

The Samaritan woman did not understand what Jesus was trying to say. In fact, she might have been picking a fight. She knew that any Jew would be enraged that a Samaritan woman had called Jacob her father! They would consider it a terrible insult to one of the great father’s of their nation. Surely she knew this. Was she trying to provoke Jesus?

Jesus had not come to argue with her. He had come to show her truth. So He said, “‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the 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.’”

Hm. Read that again. What do you think Jesus means? Have you ever heard of water that can take away your thirst forever? Do you think He is talking about real water? Or do you think He was using water as a symbol for something else? What was this spring that Jesus said would leap up inside her?

The woman said to him, “‘Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.’”

Jesus was planning to give her the living water, but there were areas in her life that were still full of sin. Her soul was full of the toxic consequences of wrong, and she needed the sweet freedom of being cleansed. So Jesus said, “‘Go, call your husband to me.’”

“‘I have no husband’” she answered.

Then the Lord said, “‘You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.’”

Wow. Can you imagine how it felt for the woman to hear a stranger tell her these things…these secrets…about her own life?

“‘Sir,’” she said, “ ‘I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.’”

The woman knew that what Jesus said was exactly right about her, but she didn’t want to talk about it. So she changed the subject! She tried to start another argument with this Jewish man who understood far too much about her life and her sin.

God had given the Jewish people very specific directions about how to build the Temple in Jerusalem. After King Solomon’s workers finished building it, they held a great celebration. In the middle of their jubilant national worship, they watched as the presence of the Living God descended on the Temple and into the Holy of holies. Yet this woman was claiming the old Samaritan lie. She claimed that their own Mount Gerizim was God’s holy place. If she had said this to most Jews, they would have raged with anger!   But Jesus had bigger goals for the day, and once again He wouldn’t let Himself be distracted. He said:

“‘Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and His worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.’”

John 4:21-24

Wow. Jesus was proclaiming a lot of important things here. First of all, He told this broken Samaritan woman that she would worship the Father. He treated her like she had something to offer to God, as if she had worth. Her chances with God were not over yet.

For hundreds of years, God Himself had ordained that His worship would be at the Temple in Jerusalem. But now the Lord Jesus was declaring that all of that was going to change. God was doing a New Thing. The Temple in Jerusalem was not going to be the center of worship of the Most High God any more. God wanted worshipers who came to Himself. They would come in spirit and truth. The woman’s argument wasn’t going to matter anymore, because neither the Temple nor Mount Gerizim were going to matter. Jesus was declaring that after a thousand years of Temple worship, God was going to do something totally different. The way God operated in the world was about to change, and the world would change with it!

Why would Jesus choose to tell this woman the mystery of these high and mighty plans of God? He hadn’t told the important religious leaders in Jerusalem who ran the Temple. There is no record of Him explaining it this clearly to His disciples or John the Baptist up to this point in the story. Why her?

As the woman listened, she wondered who this Man must be that He could make such bold proclamations. “‘I know that Messiah is coming. When He comes, He will explain everything to us.’”

Then Jesus declared the most stunning statement of all, “‘I who speak to you am He.’” Wow. For the first time in the recordings of Scripture, Jesus announced who He truly was! But why would He choose this timing…and to this woman?   He hadn’t been that clear to anyone else! Why would He speak in riddles to so many, but speak openly to a woman of ill repute? He didn’t tell it to the crowds of Jews that had come to be baptized. He hadn’t told the disciples. Yet He proclaimed it to a broken, shamed foreign woman who was still living in the middle of her sin. Why?

Part of the reason John told this story is because he knew that many Jews of his time would not like the idea that their Messiah had come to anyone but the Jews. As they read this story, they wouldn’t have liked that Jesus spoke to a Samaritan. And they really wouldn’t have liked that He spoke to a woman that even the Samaritans rejected! But that was the message the Jewish people…and all people needed (and need) to hear. Jesus violated the social rules of His time to show the greatness of the love that had come. The grace of the Messiah was far more lavish than anyone had imagined, and it was going to be poured out on even the lowest of the low. The Lord Jesus had come to open wide the doors to the Kingdom of Heaven.  Even the greatest of sinners could receive the honor of belonging to Him.  This lonely, broken woman was the first person that the Messiah declared Himself to.  She was also the first person in the Bible to respond to Him with proclaiming faith. What a breathtaking honor, indeed! Watch what she does next.

Just as Jesus was finished telling this woman that He was the Messiah, His disciples came walking up. They were shocked to see the Lord talking to a woman. Men were not supposed to talk to women they didn’t know, but none of them asked Jesus why.

Meanwhile, the woman got up and rushed back to town. She was so urgent that she left her water jug behind. She began to declare to all the townspeople, “‘Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?’” How bold of this woman to speak to all those people who had probably rejected her for years! What faith and humility to speak out about her sin in order to give glory to the stranger at the well! And how beautiful that this woman whose life was so torn by the curse was raised to be the first herald of the Messiah to the nations!   Jesus had come to break the power of the curse, and the healing of her heart was a symbol of the deep of blessings to come!

The townspeople heard the woman’s testimony about Jesus and walked out to meet Him. Meanwhile, His disciples were telling Him to eat some of the food they had brought. They had probably purchased it in the same town the woman was now proclaiming the message of Christ to, but His disciples had been nowhere near as faithful. The Lord told them, “‘I have food to eat that you know nothing about.’”

That confused the disciples. It would confuse me, too! What did he mean? They asked each other, “‘Could someone have brought Him food?’”

Jesus knew they didn’t understand, so He explained what He meant:

“‘My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work. 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, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying “One sows and another reaps” is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.’”

John 4:34-38

 As the townspeople came to listen to Jesus, they saw that all His words were true. Many of them heard the word of the Samaritan woman as well. Her truthful confession and freedom pierced the hearts of her neighbors. They had seen her life, so they understood the power of what Christ had done at the well!

These wonderful events were a feast to the heart of Christ Jesus as the hearts of many turned to the Kingdom of God. The Samaritan townspeople begged the Lord to stay.   There was so much to learn! So Jesus and the disciples spent another two days with them. He taught them from His perfect wisdom, and even more put their faith in Him. They told 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.’”

Wow! The harvest was truly great! Their hearts were open and ready to hear the Word of God!

Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to sit and listen in as Jesus taught? How bright and free the atmosphere of the room as people laid down the burdens on their hearts and accepted the wonderful relief of knowing their Savior? These were a group of people that had been rejected and hated for centuries, but now the Messiah had come to them with His arms open wide. He welcomed them into His Kingdom, and by faith, they entered in! How the angels in Heaven must have rejoiced that day!

From that day on, Jesus began His ministry of preaching. He wanted to declare the Gospel, which is the breathtakingly good news of God’s unimaginably loving plan to bring salvation from the Kingdom of Darkness that has fallen over this broken world. Jesus declared that the time of the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies had finally come. John the Baptist had prepared the way, and now it was here! “‘Repent!’” cried out the Lord, “‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!’”

How the Lord Jesus must have longed for them to trust His words! How deep His joy when they did! This great love was the reason He had come!

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