We have been looking at Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, trying to learn from the process Jesus led the woman through in the course of that conversation. Jesus took her deeper and you can see her changing. Look, for example, at the way she addressed Him. Initially she used no title, then she called him “Sir”, then “a prophet”, final “Can He be the Messiah?”
An old marketing technique is called AIDA. It stands for 1) getting people’s attention, 2) holding their interest, 3) stimulating a desire and 4) encouraging action. I think they must have learnt that from Jesus.
- Jesus got her attention by asking for a drink of water
- He got her interest by talking about giving her living water
- He stimulated a desire by talking about water that would mean she would never thirst again
- His pronouncement that he was the Messiah required action. She must decide how she will respond. Will Jesus’ conversation to her lead her to faith?
John doesn’t tell us. Or, at least, we have to read between the lines. Jesus announced that He was the Messiah and just then the disciples returned. Bother! Was this going to destroy the atmosphere and interrupt what Jesus had so carefully crafted?
It could well have because the disciples’ attitude was different from Jesus. They immediately thought, “What’s going on here? This isn’t right. Jesus shouldn’t be talking to a woman.” All the cultural barriers that Jesus had ignored, the disciples are in danger of rebuilding. They could have kicked up quite a fuss and got the woman very defensive again. Fortunately they kept their mouths shut. That has to be the next miracle in this story! In their heads they were questioning it. Praise God they didn’t say anything.
Here the story goes in two directions. Part of it is about the woman. Part of it is about Jesus and the disciples. Today, let’s follow the woman’s story.
She left her water jar behind and went back into town. Why does John include the odd little detail about leaving her water jar? People often say that it indicates that she had forgotten all about her original mission. Something far bigger and far more important was happening in her life. Can you imagine what it must have been like to, completely out of the blue, on an otherwise routine day, meet the Messiah?
Maybe she was still not 100% sure that He was the Messiah. She said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” “Christ” is simply the Greek word for Messiah so, can this be the Messiah? Is she in doubt?
How convinced do you think she is? I would say about 94%. Firstly, she had experienced the miracle. It is a little bit of an exaggeration to say that Jesus had told her everything she had ever done. In what we have recorded, He only said that she had had five husbands and was now with a man who wasn’t her husband. It is possible, of course, that they had had a longer conversation that we are not privy to but it is extremely unlikely that he had told her everything she had ever done – itemised each time she had cleaned her teeth, how many times she had sneezed. Nevertheless, it must have felt like that to her. She was overwhelmed by the fact that Jesus knew intimate details about her life. He has seen right through me.
Secondly, He had said that He was the Messiah. Words and sign. Often, in scripture the word is confirmed by a sign; the preaching is accompanied by miracles, and that is a compelling combination. The third clue is that she eagerly told others and that is even more telling when we suspect that she has been largely rejected by these people. She was so convinced that she didn’t care any more about their disdain for her. She had a story she simply must share with them. She didn’t give a hoot about the fact that they might ridicule her. Something so amazing had happened in her life she simply had to tell them. She couldn’t not tell them.
Can we learn anything from her? Today, in the west, most Christians are mute. We don’t talk with this sort of enthusiasm about what Jesus has done for us. What is the difference between this woman and us? We fear being rejected. She had every reason to expect that she might be rejected and she didn’t care.
There are others in scripture who couldn’t not talk about Jesus. Peter and John were commanded by the Sanhedrin to not speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Peter’s response was, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:19-20) “We have to do it.” Peter and John had been commissioned to make disciples of Jesus. Do they obey God or do they obey people? There was only one answer: we have to obey God; we have to speak about Jesus.
I read something this week that said most Christians don’t talk about their faith because we have lost the sense of awe at what God has done in our lives. We are no longer stunned by the grace of God that reached out to us when we were still sinners. We are no longer awed by the sacrifice of Jesus in our place. We are no longer awed by the fact that we have been forgiven; that we have been transferred from the Kingdom of Darkness into the Kingdom of Jesus Christ; that we have become children of the almighty God. How is it possible that such amazing things have happened and we remain silent?
I don’t understand it – which means I don’t understand myself either.
Let’s get back to the woman, shall we? It is easier not to think about our silence.
She said, ‘I’ve met this man who told me all about my life. Could he be the Messiah?” How did the townspeople react? They didn’t rubbish her. They left the town to go out to the well to see Jesus. Maybe they saw the change in her. Maybe they saw a new glow in her face. Certainly they were struck by the miracle that had taken place when Jesus showed that He knew about her life.
At this point in the passage we flick back to hear what was happening between Jesus and the disciples but we are not going to look at that today, so drop down to v.39. Many Samaritans believed because of her testimony – before they even met Jesus. V.39 they believed; v.40 they got to Jesus.
Isn’t that remarkable? Think what counted against her. She may not have even been sure herself yet. We don’t even know if she was really a Christian yet. She didn’t have a theological degree. She hadn’t been to any evangelism seminars. She didn’t have a fine reputation or social standing. On the contrary. What credibility did she have? Not much but she just told her story of her experience of Jesus. God used that. Many believed. She was a baby Christian yet she was a very effective missionary. In fact, she is without doubt the most effective missionary in the story of Jesus so far.
Consider her motivation. She had just experienced something wonderful. Her immediate reaction was that she wanted her townspeople to also experience it. She could have gone home and spent the rest of the week praising God. She could have punished her neighbours for their attitude to her by not telling them about Jesus. In fact, she immediately went back to tell them this news. She wanted them to also meet Jesus. How gracious of her.
What was her technique?
She did three things. She said “Come and see.” She told her story and she said ‘Could this be?”
We often think that evangelism is about persuading people, by our clever arguments, to believe certain truths. This woman didn’t try to persuade them of anything. Her style was invitational rather than confrontational. She invited them to experience Jesus themselves. She told what He had done for her and she simply asked a question: Can this be the Messiah? In other words, she invited them to experience Jesus; she told them of her experience of Jesus and she encouraged them to come to a conclusion. Let’s consider those three things.
Come and see was an invitation for them to not take her word for it but to find out for themselves. She wanted them to meet Jesus and experience Jesus. She invited them out to the well.
How could we invite people to experience Jesus? Where is Jesus present and active? If we invited them into our community (let’s say our small group) is Jesus present there? If we invited them into our church or our family, that might be one way they could see Jesus at work amongst our people. If we invited them to hang out with us, would they see Jesus? Could we just say, ‘Come and see”?
If we offered to pray for a need they had, that would be an invitation for them to experience Jesus. Offering to do a simply Bible study with them would be one way of saying, “Come and see. Come and see Jesus.”
I rather suspect that, instead of thinking we have to persuade them of things, we could invite people to come and see. Instead of persuading them about Christianity, why not invite them to meet Jesus? Leave the persuasion bit up to the Holy Spirit.
They took her up on her offer. They followed her out of the town.
Secondly, she told her story. People don’t want to hear a lot of theory. They want to be able to see that it works. There is something much more compelling about a personal story than about a lot of theory. Your story of the difference Jesus has made in your life says that this stuff really works.
It was the woman’s story of Jesus’ knowledge of her life that made the impression on the Samaritans. We are told that they believed because of her testimony. Later on they themselves say, “We did believe because of your testimony. Now we believe because of our own experience.” Her story led them to faith but the invitation to come and see Jesus for themselves took it to another level.
Thirdly, she said, “Could this be the Christ?” She didn’t force her belief on them; she invited them to come to their own conclusion. It wasn’t pushy and offensive. It was invitational. That doesn’t mean it was weak. She was definite about wanting them to come with her to Jesus. She pulled no punches in telling her story. She talked openly about Jesus. She suggested to them the conclusion they might reach. But she didn’t push them.
We have said several times in the last few weeks that Jesus, in His conversation with her, was gentle and gracious; that He held out invitations to her without pushing her; that He was purposeful but not forceful. We see the same thing in this woman. She hadn’t been to any evangelism seminars. She had hardly had time to even know what she was doing. Maybe Jesus’ style influenced her. Maybe the Holy Spirit graciously took control and guided her in doing the right thing.
Many of the Samaritans believed before they even got to Jesus. But after Jesus had stayed there for two days, many more believed and they said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”
Initially, they had believed because of her testimony. Fantastic! Their belief was real but it was second-hand. They believed because of her experience of Jesus. They saw and heard the evidence of Jesus in her life. But then they had their own experience of Jesus and their faith went to a new level.
Someone might believe because of our story. That would be fantastic but we would want them to have their own experience of Jesus and to be even more convinced.
The Samaritans said, “We know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.” The woman had invited them to consider if this might be the Messiah. They did that and came to a very clear conclusion.
What about that sort of evangelism: invitational rather than confrontational; inviting people to experience Jesus for themselves; telling them of your experience and encouraging them to draw their own conclusion? Biblical evangelism isn’t necessarily confrontational. Is there a model here that we would feel more comfortable with? Could we do it? Could you tell someone your story, invite them to experience Jesus themselves and encourage them to make a decision about Him? Invitational: would you like to meet this person I have met? Might Jesus be the Saviour?