Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, 11/24/2002
"but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life" (John 4:14, RSV).
Our text this morning comes from the Gospel of John, where we can listen in on a remarkable encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. He and the disciples had been in Judea where the Pharisees had begun to take notice of the fact that He was baptizing more disciples than John (John 4:1). "When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now he had to go through Samaria" (Vs. 3-4). A quick look at a map of Israel during the time of Christ shows that Judea is at the southern end, and includes the towns of Jerusalem, Jericho, and Bethlehem. Galilee, where He did many miracles, is at the northern end, located near the Sea of Galilee. Samaria lies between the two provinces, and one traveling from North to South had to pass through it, unless they "avoided Samaria by crossing the Jordan and traveling on the east side." That's a little like an American going from Washington State north into Canada, and traveling across that country to get to New York, so as to avoid the Americans who live in the middle of the United States. Why go so far out of their way? The Jews always tried to avoid the Samaritans, who were "a mixed-blood race resulting from the intermarriage of Israelites left behind when the people of the northern kingdom were exiled and Gentiles brought into the land by the Assyrians (II Kings 17:24). Bitter hostility existed between Jews and Samaritans in Jesus' day." (NIV Study bible footnote.)
Jesus and His disciples did not try to avoid Samaria, but went right through it, stopping at "a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph (Gen. 48:21-22). Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour (noon)." Another footnote observes that this is the only reference in scripture to Jacob's well. It is unclear when Joseph took possession of the well, since he was kidnapped by his brothers as a young man, taken to Egypt, and sold to Potiphar, Captain of Pharaoh's guard. As you recall, to survive the famine, Jacob and his whole family were relocated to Egypt by Joseph and both father and son died there. Before he died, however, Jacob blessed each of his sons, and to Joseph, he said, "I am about to die, but God will be with you and take you back to the land of your fathers. And to you, as one who is over your brothers, I give the ridge of land I took from the Amorites with my sword and my bow" (Gen. 48:21-22). This land which contained the well was where Jesus sat talking with the Samaritan woman.
In his eloquent book, Christ, A Crisis in the Life of God (Published by Alfred A. Knopf and distributed by Random House), Jack Miles observes that this dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is the longest conversation recorded anywhere in scripture between God and a woman, and a heretic at that. Jesus was a Jew, tracing His lineage back to Judah, Jacob's fourth son. The Samaritans were descended from Joseph, to whom Jacob had bequeathed the well where they sat talking. "Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?" (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, "You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?" (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)" It is difficult for us today to realize how shocking Jesus' behavior appeared to the woman and later, to His disciples.
"Jesus answered her, "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."
"Sir," the woman said, "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?" Like the Jews, the Samaritans were tied to their lineage, their past. And like some today, this woman seemed more interested in drawing from the well of her own religious tradition ("old time religion") than from the spring of living water which presented itself in the person of Jesus, the Christ.
"Jesus answered, "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."
"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" (John 4: 7-15, NIV).
Now, Jesus took a different tack because He had a point to make. He told her, "'Go, call your husband and come back.' 'I have no husband,' she replied. Jesus said to her, '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.'"
"Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain (Mount Gerizim), but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem" (John 4: 16-20, NIV).
Quickly, the woman changed the subject from her checkered past to religion, possibly because she wanted to beat Jesus to the draw by stating the greatest problem between Jews and Samaritans. As it is between some Christians today, the issue was "What is the Scripturally correct way to worship God?" She reminded Jesus that their mutual forefathers Abraham and Jacob had built an altar on Mount Gerizim after their encounters with God (Gen. 12:7; 33:20). Because of that, the Samaritans said that Mount Gerizim was the mountain on which Moses had commanded an altar to be built, instead of Mount Ebal (See Deut. 27:4-6). "The Samaritans had built a temple on Mount Gerizim c. 400 BC, which the Jews destroyed c. 128. Both actions, of course, increased hostility between the two groups." (NIV Study note). Old Testament students will recall that Mount Gerizim was the Mount of Blessing and Mount Ebal the Mount of cursings (Deut. 11:29). To me, it would be more logical to have built the altar on Mount Gerizim, to celebrate the blessings, as the Samaritans did, but that's not what was commanded by Moses, and the Jews, then as now, were prepared to go to war in order to keep the Law by force.
I hear some Christians today proclaim that they are "born free." Actually, that's not quite true. We are "born-again free," but Jesus, born from above, truly was free from the laws and dictates of men, both Jew and Samaritan alike. So, to her statement that the Samaritans "worshipped on this mountain," Jesus replied, "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 truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
"The woman said, 'I know that Messiah (called Christ) is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.' Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he" (John 4: 21-26, NIV).
With this statement, Jesus blew out the sides of the religious box that held the woman captive, and ushered her and us into a whole new paradigm. He broke through the old argument of who served God better, Jews or Samaritans, and told her that it's time to get out of the box, to walk in freedom, in Spirit and in Truth. The obvious inference here is that neither Jew nor Samaritan had the truth, though each loudly proclaimed otherwise. Notice also, that He declared to her, a heretic in the eyes of the Jews, that He is the one whom both Jews and Samaritans are waiting for, the Messiah, the one who will explain everything. Not to the religious right (Pharisees), nor to those justified by law did He reveal Himself, but to this common woman, a physical and spiritual adulteress, He revealed that He was the I Am, the "Sonrise" the world had been waiting for, saying, "I who speak to you am he."
The deeper I dig into this, the more fascinating it is to me that Jesus, as always, ignored religious tradition, in order to converse with this woman. Since the Jews considered Samaritans to be "unclean," He would have been ceremonially unclean had He drunk from a vessel which she had handled. There were no Pharisees around to cast stones, but His disciples were very surprised when they saw Him talking to her; yet they did not question Him. "Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, "What do you want?" or "Why are you talking with her?" (John 4:27).
This woman, an adulteress who had gone through five husbands and was now living in sin, as some would put it, did a remarkable thing. "Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 'Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?' They came out of the town and made their way toward him" (John 4:28-30). The Lord did not rebuke her for her infidelities; He did not tell her to repent of her sins. Rather, He revealed who He was, and she, overcome with joy, ran to tell her neighbors. To me, this defines the difference between life in the Spirit and religion. Religion says you've got to condemn the sinner and threaten him with hell fire and damnation to get him to repent lest he be damned forever. Life in the Spirit rejoices, "Come, I've found the water of life. I've found the Christ, the light of the world, the salt of the earth, the only Begotten of the Father. He is beyond wonderful. He is all there is. Come with me and share in this glory that I have found and you will never thirst again." This sinful woman, whose punishment under Mosaic Law would have been death by stoning, spread the Good News among her neighbors:
"Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, 'He told me everything I ever did.' So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers. 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'" (John 4: 39-42, NIV). The Savior of the World revealed Himself to a sinful woman, who shared the living Word with her friends and neighbors. Because of her acceptance of the Lord of Life, many believed on Him.
The Jews and the Samaritans remind me of many Christians today, bickering over who is right, who has the purest doctrine, the most devotion, the greatest faithfulness. God is not impressed by any of that. He is interested in lives, in delivering souls from the hell in which they live right now, right here on earth and nothing will stay Him from His purpose or His will in our lives! (Eph. 1:11).
Let's backtrack a bit in the story and listen in on Jesus' conversation with His disciples, who still hadn't a clue about what was happening right in front of their eyes. "Meanwhile his disciples urged him, 'Rabbi, eat something.' But he said to them, 'I have food to eat that you know nothing about.' Then his disciples said to each other, 'Could someone have brought him food?'
"My food," said Jesus, "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 4:31-38, NIV). "I sent you to reap what you have not worked for." Isn't that an amazing concept? Most religion is built on work, work, work, to bring sheep into the fold. In actual practice, I have observed that the work is mostly built on the need to avoid the guilt laid on the flock by internal or external religious rules. Isaiah declared, "With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation" (Isa. 12:3, RSV). The Samaritan woman rushed to tell her neighbors about the Christ because of the joy that sprang up in her heart from a real encounter with God. Do you witness to the lost because of the joy that is within your heart, or because of the guilt you will feel if you do not? Are you hoping to save their souls from hell after they die, or to share living water with them now so they can be overcomers in this life? Is your spiritual life about flowing in the Spirit of the Lord, doing what the Father does and saying what He says, or merely about avoiding guilt for services not rendered?
Jesus said to His disciples, "Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor." Who are these others? Look at the eleventh chapter of Hebrews, for the short list, and notice that at the end of that chapter, it says, "All these won a glowing testimony to their faith, but they did not then and there receive the fulfillment of the promise. God had something better planned for our day, and it was not his plan that they should reach perfection without us" (Heb. 11:39,40, Phil). They cannot reach perfection until we do. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us" (Heb. 12:1, RSV). What race do we run, and what weight must we lay aside? The prize at the end of the race is the living water, which a thirsty world needs to live, and the weight is two-fold: sin consciousness and a work-your-way mentality. The work has been done. It was finished on the cross. Jesus declares, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the fountain of the water of life without payment" (Rev. 21:6, RSV). Lay aside the weight of guilt and sin and works, for "The Spirit and the Bride say, "Come." And let him who hears say, "Come." And let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price" (Rev. 22:17, RSV). Father, grant us your grace and mercy to see that the water of life is FREE, available to ALL. May the living water flow from our bellies like streams in the desert to a thirsty and dying world. Amen. Jan Antonsson.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850
The Glory Road
We always enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on 11/21/02
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 10/29/08.