The fourth chapter of John’s gospel tells a dramatic story of a planned encounter between Jesus and a woman from the area of Samaria. The point of the story is the same as all the stories we have seen thus far in this gospel: to show Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John records this event for us as another convincing proof for who Jesus is. The first six verses set the scene for how this encounter comes about. Jesus learns that the Pharisees know that his popularity is greatly increasing. Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John. The Pharisees’ attention is turning away from John (cf. John 1:24) and now they are going to focus their opposition to Jesus. Because of this, Jesus is going to leave Judea and go north to Galilee, away from Jerusalem, the heart of the Jewish leadership and rule.
Before we move forward with our background of the story, I am compelled to spend a moment noting the parenthetical statement recorded in verse 2. Jesus himself did not actually baptize people, but his disciples did. John MacArthur makes an outlandish statement based on this verse.
“The parenthetical note that Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were is impossible to reconcile with the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, the false teaching that baptism is necessary for salvation. Surely the Lord Jesus Christ, who came to ‘seek and to save that which was lost’ (Luke 19:10), would Himself have done whatever was necessary to bring sinners to salvation.” (MacArthur New Testament Commentary)
Friends, I hope sitting in your chairs you can quickly come up with a reason why Jesus would not be physically baptizing people himself, but having his disciples do it. I hope you can figure out the most obvious way to reconcile this information. What do you suppose would happen if Jesus was the person baptizing along with his disciples? Put yourself in the first century. If you were standing in line to be baptized, whose line do you think would be longer: Jesus or Bartholomew? Do you think there could be a problem if Jesus was actually baptizing people himself? Further, can you imagine what people would have said? There would have been boasting about being baptized by Jesus himself and not one of the apostles. In 1 Corinthians we see those Christians were boasting over which apostle baptized them. Paul is glad he did not baptize any of them because of that very problem (1 Corinthians 1:14-17). It happens even today where people want to be baptized by a particular preacher, as if who baptizes you has any meaning or impact at all. Jesus not baptizing does not point that baptism is not necessary. If baptism was not necessary, why are his disciples wasting time doing it? Jesus could use his time better teaching more people, not overseeing baptism in Judea! And why are people are submitting to it? The answer is obvious: if Jesus baptized people himself, numerous problems would occur.
Verse 4 tells us that Jesus had to pass through Samaria. I do not believe this is talking about the geographical situation. To get to Galilee from Judea, many Jews would travel through Samaria. But this was not the only way to Galilee. One could cross the Jordan River to the east and travel through Perea and cross back to the west into Galilee. John’s point is bigger than geography. The Lord has an appointment in Samaria. What is about to happen is not an accident, but part of the plan of God. So Jesus goes to Sychar in Samaria. Notice the emphasis that is being made because it is relevant to our story. The location is near the field that Jacob gave Joseph. In fact, this is well is Jacob’s well. Jesus goes to this well and sits beside it. Please also notice verse 6. Jesus was wearied from his journey. The humanity of Jesus is being expressed. The gospel writers never hide but acknowledge the humanity of Jesus. God is in a body. Remember how this gospel began: “The Word became flesh and tabernacled among us.” Jesus is God experiencing the limitations and challenges of being in a human body.
The Discussion (4:9-24)
Jesus’ disciples have gone into the city to get food. No doubt Jesus has sent them away to prepare for this encounter with this woman. She comes to the well and Jesus asks her to give him a drink. His words startle her, and John explains why in verse 9. Most Jews were very disdainful toward the Samaritans. This is why the parable of the good Samaritans is such a shocking parable. She asks how it is that he would ask her for a drink. Jesus’ responds that she should ask him for a drink. Now think about how this discussion has started. Jesus asks her for a drink. She asks, “You are asking me for a drink?” Jesus responds, “You should ask me for a drink.” If you knew who I was and the gift of God, you would have asked me and I would have given you living water. If I was the woman I would say, “You asked me for a drink and now you are telling me that I should have asked you for a drink.” But she is very cordial toward Jesus.
In verse 11, she asks how he is going to provide water considering he does not have a bucket and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? It is important for us to understand that living water was very valuable. Rather than having to work with a bucket to draw water from a deep well, you could go to flowing water. A river was very valuable so that you could with great simplicity draw water. So she is asking where is this flowing water that he knows about. Further, she says in verse 12 that having living, flowing water would make Jesus greater than Jacob. Jacob dug this well for us that we have survived on because there is no flowing water around here. If you are offering flowing, living water, then you are greater than Jacob.
Jesus agrees with her assessment. The water Jesus is offering is better than what Jacob gave. When you drink this water you will never be thirsty again. Further the water Jesus has becomes a spring of water welling up to eternal life. Jesus is using prophetic language to describe the water he is offering.
“Behold, God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid; for the LORD GOD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: “Give thanks to the LORD, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the peoples, proclaim that his name is exalted. (Isaiah 12:2–4 ESV)
On that day living waters shall flow out from Jerusalem, half of them to the eastern sea and half of them to the western sea. It shall continue in summer as in winter. 9 And the LORD will be king over all the earth. On that day the LORD will be one and his name one. (Zechariah 14:8–9 ESV)
As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other. 8 And he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh. 9 And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish. For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so everything will live where the river goes. (Ezekiel 47:7–9 ESV)
However, she does not understand what he is offering yet. She responds in verse 15 to give her this water so that she will not be thirsty or have to come to the well to draw water any longer. We need to see a common theme in these chapters. In chapter 2 the people misunderstood Jesus saying that he would destroy the temple and raise it in three days. In chapter 3 Nicodemus does not understand how the new birth works. Here we see the woman not grasping the living water being offered. At the end of this story we are going to see Jesus’ disciples not understand how Jesus is not hungry and who gave him lunch. We are so physically and materially minded. We become so consumed by life that we no longer can see with spiritual eyes. We lose our spiritual discernment. Jesus can be quoting scripture and we do not even know scripture is being quoted. We become, as the writer of Hebrews warns against, dull of hearing (Hebrews 5:11). We are the woman in this story. Jesus has to try to move our hearts from the physical to the spiritual. We lose focus on eternity and live in the now. In verse 14 Jesus just offered eternal life and she doesn’t want to have to come out in the heat of the day and draw water. The same occurs today. The offer of eternal life is made by our Lord and all we want to do is figure out how we can relax and take it easy. We want “easy Christianity” and “easy grace” where I can treat Jesus like a club where I pay some dues occasionally and show up when I want. Jesus is offering eternal life and we are asking if we have to come to church on Sunday night. Jesus is proclaiming living water and we are asking how Jesus will make my life more convenient. Jesus has to wake us up.
So Jesus tells her to go get her husband. She says that she does not have a husband. Jesus knows this. Jesus says that he knows and that is why he said what he said. He is trying to make her think about something. You have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband. Notice her response: You are a prophet! Let me expose your sin so that you can realize who you are talking to. Now she is awaken to a spiritual discussion. Jesus exposing our sins is a loving act he does toward us. It would be cruel on God’s part to sit silently and hope it works out for us. We need to know our sins so that we can wake up. When we see our sins then we will be far more concerned about eternal life. When we forget about our sins and forget that we are condemned and perishing then we concern ourselves with worldly things. When I remember my condition as a sinner then I will care about eternal life and I will keep my eyes on spiritual things and on Jesus.
So the woman has a spiritual question. Where are we supposed to worship God? The Jews say that God must be worshipped in Jerusalem. Her Samaritan ancestors worshipped God on this mountain because Moses had commanded an altar be built here in Deuteronomy 27. Who is right? Jesus responds that the time is coming when God will not be worshiped at a place but through Jesus. The message of John 2 fills in at this point. Jesus is the new temple where people worship God, meet God, and find atonement. Salvation comes from the Jews means that the Messiah would come from the Jewish people and he will be the source of eternal life and he will be the one who is worshiped. Jerusalem is irrelevant. Jesus is what matters. The time has come when worshippers are not identified by their attachment to a shrine but by the worship of the Father. Further, the Father is looking for people who will worship him properly (4:23-24). The implication is that the worship in both places is not proper. The Father is seeking people who will properly worship him. Since God is spirit, proper worship of God is also a matter of the spirit rather than a physical location, physical posture, or external ritual. God wants worship from the heart because worship from the heart leads to proper worship. If I truly love the Lord and understand his grace toward me, then I will worship him the way that he wants with the heart that he wants.
She responds that she knows the Messiah is coming and when he comes, he will explain all things. She does not seem to fully accept this answer. But verse 26 is the main point of the story. Jesus is the Messiah. I, the one speaking to you, I am. I know what I am talking about concerning worship because I am the Christ. I am the Savior. I am here and that is why I can offer eternal life. The light bulb now kicks on. This is not an academic discussion any longer. Jesus is the Christ. Her mind must be reeling from all the things that Jesus has just said to her. If you knew who I was and the gift of God, you would have asked me and I would have given you living water. Jesus offered to give something to her so that she could experience full, true satisfaction. Think about those words: “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again” (4:14). What you are lacking in your life Jesus is supplying. You think it is everything else in life that is the problem. But we fail to realize that when our life is not right with God that we are thirsty and unsatisfied. This woman has had five husbands and now is on her sixth man. She is thirsting but water she is drinking is only giving temporary relief. This is exactly the description of this world. We try something, find temporary enjoyment, only to thirst again.
What false well are we running to only to find disappointment and loss? Jesus offers living water to the condemned, to call them to eternal life. We need to move our hearts from physical concerns to spiritual concerns. The light is shining in the world so that we do not have to be blinded by the darkness any longer. Satan is blinding us with the things of this world, causing us to not see the treasure that is Jesus and the living water he provides. We need to see what Jesus is offering is more valuable than anything this world can offer. Jesus is the pearl of great value that people should sell all they have to acquire. Jesus is the treasure. He is worth everything.