We have been looking at this story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman for a wee while. My desire is that we learn from Jesus about conversation, relationships, evangelism.
Let’s review their conversation so far. Jesus asked for a drink of water. The woman asked how He could ask her since he was a Jew and she a Samaritan woman. Jews did not associate with Samaritans and Jewish men did not speak to women in public.
Jesus said that if she knew who it was who was asking, she would ask Him and He would give living water. She asked where He was going to get this water. He had no bucket. Was He greater than their father Jacob who dug this well in the first place? It may have been that she was simply humouring this strange man but she was talkative and Jesus was engaging her in conversation.
Jesus then said that those who drank the water He gave would never thirst again. In fact, this water would well up within them to eternal life. She said, again maybe still mocking, “Sir, give me this water. Then I won’t have to keep coming back to this well.”
What if Jesus had then said, “Daughter, you are saved. Receive new life. Receive the Holy Spirit”?
She had asked for it: “Give me this water”. Will Jesus just give it? Is that how salvation works? There is no understanding, no repentance, no faith. There is no submission to the Lordship of Jesus – no expressed desire to serve Him and honour Him.
We say that salvation is a free gift but does it require nothing of us?
Suppose I told someone how fantastic it is being a Christian. God cares for you like a father in this life and after death there is eternal life in heaven where everything is perfect. Salvation is a free gift. You don’t have to do anything to earn it. All that would be true, would it not? Suppose the other person said, “That sounds great. I’d like that.” I’d be chuffed. Wow, here is someone who wants to be a Christian. I lead him/her is a short prayer. Then I say, “This is wonderful. This is the biggest moment in your life. You have just become a Christian. Satan may cause you to doubt but never doubt that you will be in heaven. Jesus said, “In my Father’s house…”
If I did that I would probably have just condemned that person to hell. I have assured him that his eternal salvation is taken care of, so he doesn’t have to worry about it anymore. But what I said to him was not the gospel. And there are many people in our churches who have heard some message like that and think they are going to heaven but it is not the gospel. And actually they are going to hell.
If I just tell people about the blessings of the gospel and it is all free, why wouldn’t they want it? Who doesn’t want to go to heaven! Why wouldn’t you put your hand up for that? But the question the gospel asks is not “Do you want to go to heaven?”
Jesus said, “First count the cost.” There is a cost. Jesus called people to follow Him. Following Him is costly. Jesus never went around offering free tickets to heaven. Maybe the closest was when people asked Him, “What must I do to be saved?”
How did Jesus answer that? Well, for example, to the rich young ruler he said, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor. Then come, follow me.” Following Jesus means living like Jesus and that is costly.
When the crowds on the Day of Pentecost called out, “What must we do to be saved?” what did Peter reply? “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus, for the forgiveness of your sins.” Repentance means to change direction, turning away from one way of life and to start living another – to stop living in disobedience and to start living a life in obedience to God. That is costly.
It is not just a case of saying, “Oh cool. That sounds good. I’ll have it please.” The Bible never teaches that, yet there are many people in our churches, and others in society, who have been told that if they prayed a certain prayer long ago they will go to heaven. The question the gospel asks is not “Do you want to go to heaven?” but “Will you follow Jesus?”
This woman said, “Give me that water” but Jesus didn’t. Instead, He said, “Go, call your husband and come back.” Why? That was completely out of the blue. It was not connected to anything that had gone before. What was His point? Why was it important that she got her husband?
Jesus put His finger on the issue in her life. Some things have to be faced in order to receive salvation and He brought her to that point. Up to now, she had been quite chatty but notice her next response: “I have no husband.” Brief. Brisk. She doesn’t want to go there. There is no expansion, no explanation.
Good conversations do not avoid the hard issues. She doesn’t want to go there but Jesus knows that she must. She must face this issue. There can be no salvation without going there. So Jesus pursued it even further: “That is true. You have had five husbands and the man you are now with is not your husband.”
He has come right out and identified the area of need –the area of rebellion and sin – in her life. This is a bit dangerous isn’t it? It is very possible that she will shut down the conversation. This could be the end.
But there is one thing that perhaps prevents that. How did He know? She had just witnessed a miracle and she knows it. Notice her response: “Sir, I see you are a prophet.” She has just experienced God. So, does she stop the conversation or does she open herself up to whatever it is that God wants to do? Do you see the position Jesus has put her in: face reality and find God or deny reality and turn your back on God?
That is the position all of us are in, even as Christians. God wants to do things in our lives. God wants to use us. God wants to take us to another level. But that means facing our current reality. Do we face reality and encounter God or do we deny reality and remain where we are?
What she did was very interesting. She tried to change the subject. “Sir, I see you are a prophet. Now, our ancestors worshipped on this mountain but you Jews say that we must worship in Jerusalem.” This was an old chestnut. This was one of the major points of dispute between the Jews and the Samaritans. She did not want to talk about her life but here was a prophet apparently so let’s diverted the conversation into a theological debate.
Jesus let her! Some approaches to evangelism teach that you should not follow any red herrings; just stay focused on what you want to achieve. But Jesus didn’t say, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no! Don’t try to change the subject. Let’s talk about your husbands.” He let her direct the conversation but He used even this attempted diversion to come again from another angle. A new age was coming. He was ushering in a new age. In the future where a person worshipped would be irrelevant. The whole argument between the Jews and Samaritans was about to become irrelevant. What is important is not where one worships but how. God is seeking – God is actively looking for – people who will worship in spirit and in truth.
To worship in spirit means it is not just a physical thing. It is not a case of going through the ritual. It is not about being in the right place. Worship is not about going to church. It is about meeting God. God is spirit. Those who worship Him must worship in spirit. Going through the motions is meaningless. God is looking for people who will meet with Him – and that can happen anywhere.
To worship in truth means engaging with the real God realistically. There are people in all sorts of religions who might have very spiritual worship. They might go into trances. They might engage with spirits – very spiritual – but they are worshipping a false god or worshipping with false understanding.
To worship in truth includes to worship recognising the true nature of God – His holiness, His majesty, His grace and mercy. It means to worship recognising that we can come to God only through Jesus and only by His grace. That is the truth. The truth for this woman meant facing her lifestyle.
In Jesus’ words, there is an implied invitation. God is actively looking for people who will worship in spirit and in truth. What about you? Will you be one of those people? Has God found in you someone who will encounter Him sincerely and facing reality?
She has maybe felt distant from God for a long time because of her lifestyle and yet here she is and God is encountering her and asking her to come into a genuine, no secrets, relationship with Him.
For some reason, this conversation has made her think of the Messiah. “When the Messiah comes, He will explain all these things to us.” It is almost as if she doesn’t quite know what to make of this or how to respond. She recognises that God is doing something but her only thought is that it is confusing and the Messiah will make it clear. Let’s wait for the Messiah to come. Again it is a delaying tactic.
Jesus replied, “I am He.”
Jesus hardly ever told people that He was the Messiah. Can you think of any examples? But He revealed Himself to this despised Samaritan woman beside the well. She was in the presence of someone who miraculously knew about her life and who claimed to be the Messiah. And again it is an implied invitation. “Will you follow me?”
How will she respond to this man who offers her living water and who claims to be the Messiah?
Again, we will have to wait to find out but what do we learn from this encounter?
Jesus did not present a gospel that would cost her nothing. He offered a wonderful gospel – good news that would quench her thirst forever and would well up to eternal life – but it required that she face reality. She had to face the reality of her sin. She had to face the reality of a relationship with God that was more than just a ritual visit to Mt Gerizim – the place where Samaritans worshipped.
Jesus did not preach a soft gospel but a costly gospel – a gospel that is a call to discipleship. Which gospel have you responded to? There is a so-called gospel preached that just promises lots of goodies. Are you just after the goodies or have you repented of your sin and are you now living for God?
Are we willing to talk about the need to turn away from sin and to live as an imitator of Jesus – because that is what the gospel is about? Discipleship is our response to God’s offer of salvation.
Even though the message was demanding, the approach was gentle and gracious. Jesus didn’t condemn her or back her into a corner with His irrefutable arguments. He simply invited her to face reality and to respond to the God who was encountering her. Even those invitations didn’t force her into a corner where she had to answer yes or no. They were just put out there without being explicitly stated. Do you want to face your reality? God is looking for people who will worship Him in spirit and in truth. Has He found one in you? Do you want a genuine, no secrets relationship with God? I am the Messiah. Nothing more was said but the implication is, “Will you trust me and follow me?” We might say that Jesus was purposeful but not forceful. He knew what He hoped for out of this conversation. He knew what He wanted this woman to receive. He was masterful in directing the conversation but He was gentle and respectful in leading her towards it.
And although He does challenge her to face reality, He holds out a gift for her if she wants it: living water that satisfies forever. Very gracious, very gentle – which is not always the image we have of evangelists.
The climax of this encounter was those words: “I am He. I am the Messiah.” All evangelism must lead to Jesus. It is interesting that, on this occasion at least, Jesus didn’t reveal Himself until the end. He first exposed the need and then revealed Himself as the One who could meet that need. In order to be ready to meet the Messiah, she had to face reality.
“I am He.” This is the Messiah. How do we respond to Him?