When a Samaritan woman encountered Jesus at a well, a daily task became an event of eternal significance. Exploring this biblical scene, Alistair Begg lays out the context of the conversation that followed, focusing on Christ’s passion to obey God’s will and finish His work. Like the woman’s journey to draw water, the ordinary experiences we share with our friends, relatives, associates, and neighbors offer precious opportunities to share the hope of the Gospel.
I invite you to turn once again to John chapter 4. And with your Bible open on your lap, we’ll pause once again in prayer:
Our God and our Father, we thank you for your grace, and for the way in which you have chosen to reveal yourself in your Word. We pray now that the Spirit of God might be our teacher; that you would set both the speaker and the listeners free from wrongful expectations; that you will fill our hearts with a genuine sense of expecting that through your written Word, through the audible voice of a mere man, that you, the living God, will speak into the lives of men and women—all of our lives, here, at this time and in this place, for your glory. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
A number of us are of the vintage to recall when the song “Sound[s] of Silence” catapulted Simon and Garfunkel from obscurity—and with names that frankly deserved obscurity—into the mainstream and into transatlantic success. Some of us learned that song off by heart—one of the earliest songs for us—and we sang it with fervor, not really knowing exactly what it was all about, many of us. But recalling the description of the great crowd of people:
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
[’Cause] no one dare
Disturb the sound[s] of silence
Familiar words, and a wonderful word picture on the part of Paul Simon.
The reason I mention it is because there is a very similar picture that is provided for us here in John chapter 4. And I thought that if I mentioned “talking without speaking” and “hearing without listening,” then it may set our minds along the right kind of line to think about the predicament which faced the disciples, insofar as they were men who were looking without seeing. They were looking without seeing. Despite the fact that the disciples of Jesus lived closed to him, listened to him, were part of seeing his miraculous deeds, and were, if you like, as tuned in as any group might be, they were guilty of taking care of practical matters to the detriment of ultimate issues. Indeed, what Jesus says to them here is that they’re living with their eyes closed.
Now, that would be one thing if it were merely an historical description and we could look back on it and say, “Boy, those guys really made a mess of it. I’m glad we’re not like that at all”—until we read the verses, and it begins to scratch where we itch, begins to cut into our lives. And we realize that this is a telling picture not simply of the disciples on that day, but it is to some degree a picture of many local churches—and actually, to a certain measure, a description of the church as a whole: taking care of what it believes to be priorities, while all the time failing to see that the issues, as good and as important as they may be, are subservient to the timeless and pressing issue of the souls of men and women. Indeed, if you like, living in the midst of time without acknowledging that eternity casts its shadow across it all.
So Jesus, you will notice, in John chapter 4, exhorts his disciples in relationship to this, and in the thirty-fifth verse he says to them, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” The disciples obviously were not noticing this; they hadn’t grasped it, nor had they been grasped by it. And again, it is vitally relevant, because I find myself—I don’t know if you’re prepared to acknowledge this—but I find myself, like them, inclined to be preoccupied with the immediate and the material, and that I constantly need to be refocused to the spiritual and to the eternal.
It strikes me in all kinds of ways. In the summertime, many of us have had the opportunity of at least a little bit of travel; we’ve moved from place to place, gone into situations we’ve never seen before, perhaps visited some of the great cities of America. And when we go into those places, we’re struck by their architecture, by their sports arenas, by their retail districts, and we get the little brochures that people give us, and we look at them, and we rightly involve ourselves in the opportunities of the culture. But I often lie in my bed at night and wonder, what is wrong with my heart? That it took for me just to lie down for a moment and be silent to think about the thousands and thousands and thousands of people who have passed through my eye gaze in the day, and I never once gave a thought to the fact that they live Christless. They are without God, they are without hope in the world. That is the ultimate truth about them. Why is it that I can be so consumed with the assumption that because my neighbors and my friends are relatively okay, they are materially satisfied, they are intellectually stable, they are emotionally not total basket cases, that really, in point of fact, all is well, when in actuality the real issue is, again, that when we see folks as Jesus saw them, as men with souls that will live on in all of eternity, it changes our perspective completely.
We look at indigent people, at a crime-laden society, criminal elements, poor people, and so on, and we’re often sucked in to thinking that if only we would do what people tell us to do—namely, to increase the social benefits towards these folks—that actually, all would be well for them—failing to recognize that no matter what we do in that regard, still will not address the ultimate issues of these people’s lives. And in it all, the harvest is obscured.
Now, the picture which Jesus employs here is a wonderful picture. “I tell you,” he says, “open your eyes and look at the fields!” Now, what does Jesus mean? I mean, they obviously weren’t standing around with their eyes closed. It’s highly unlikely that we were; we can’t say that categorically. They may well have had their eyes closed; it seems unlikely—although many, when they’re listening to lesser mortals speak, often have their eyes closed. People always ask me if I can see people’s eyes. Yes, if their eyes are open! But not always, so… Somebody wrote the little doggerel, “The color of my pastor’s eyes, in truth, I cannot well define, for when he prays he closes his, and when he preaches I close mine.” So, there is a possibility that they did have their eyes closed; they certainly had their ears closed. But metaphorically, it was true.
Now, the key to answering this question is backed up to verse 29. The lady with whom Jesus has the conversation which we’ll begin to consider this morning had left Jesus behind, left the well, left the waterpot, gone into the town, and said to the people in the town, “Come on and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Do you think this could possibly be the Christ?” And then in verse 30, if we’re making a movie of this, the camera angle goes wide, it pans out, we go on a long lens, we shoot down the line, and we begin to see the picture of an emerging crowd from the town. Once we’ve fastened on that, the editor cuts it, it goes in close and tight to the disciples and to Jesus, and the disciples and Jesus have this little interchange which ends with Jesus saying, “I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields!” And at that point we draw the camera angle back again, it opens out, and we bring into vista this amazing sight coming out of the town. For it was true that there were yet four months to harvest in relationship to the actual fields of grain through which the people were walking, but Jesus wasn’t talking about the field through which they were coming; he was talking about the fact that the people who were coming were themselves a field. And he says, “Look! I tell you! Open your eyes and you can see!” And it may even be that the headdresses of the people in Middle Eastern garb, in the distance, bobbing in the sunlight, could actually take on from this vantage point the picture of the waving of grain ready and ripe for harvest. And Jesus says to these fellas, “I want you to take a look at this and understand that the harvest is ready.”
You see, the disciples were focused on food that Jesus was actually not ultimately interested in, and they were thinking about the wrong stuff. I don’t feel that I could condemn them very quickly. I know for sure, if I’d been with them, I would’ve been thinking the same way they were thinking, and I would have been in need of the same exhortation, and despite the fact that we are now some thousands of miles removed and geographically separated and historically removed from this, the word of Jesus is still a relevant word to an individual, to a church, to a nation of churches this morning: “I tell you,” he says, “open your eyes and look at the fields! They’re ripe for harvest.”
Now, our emphasis on these things in these mornings is directly related to the urgency that we feel as a church family to be meaningfully involved in the lives of our friends and so on. And indeed, that’s why you’ll find that little heading in your bulletin notes this morning, if you’re interested in them, where it simply reads, “FRANgelism.” Some of you looked at that and said, “The secretary’s gonna get a rocket for this one; it should be ‘Evangelism.’” But in actual fact, it is true. It is FRANgelism.
In May, when I was with my friend Rodney Madden, he announced when I was preaching there that the following Sunday he was going to begin a month’s series on evangelism, which he announced was going to be called FRANgelism. And I liked it so much that I made a note of it and decided it would fit very well this weekend.
He said that he would address the issues of how to reach your friends, your relatives, your associates, and your neighbors—which gives you “FRAN”—for Jesus Christ. And so he said they were doing a series on FRANgelism—and excellent I’m sure it was.
Now, as we think of reaching people, John chapter 4 is as good a place in the New Testament as any to which we might turn to learn certain principles in relationship to it.
Now, the temptation is to dive immediately into this conversation. And so, I want to resist that. We’ll come to the conversation, albeit briefly, at the end of our time and come back to it in the following weeks. But I want to set the thing in context this morning, if I might. How and where and when did this conversation take place? And surely it is significant to address those issues.
Let me give you four elements contextually—in terms of the context. First of all, understanding it historically. Historically.
The immediate history as it relates to the events described for us here is very clear. Verse 1: “The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John.” An interesting way to begin the chapter. Obviously significant. It is not padding on the part of John; he is writing everything under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, and every piece of Scripture is there for our edification. And so, when he writes this, it is in order to instruct us.
Now, the fact of the matter is that the immediately preceding factor to this was the imprisonment of John the Baptist. You can read about it in Mark chapter 6. Why would the imprisonment of John the Baptist be significant? Well, simply because John the Baptist was a pain in the neck—to the Pharisees, that is. He was a good servant of the Lord, but the Pharisees couldn’t stand him. They didn’t like his clothes, they didn’t like his style, they didn’t like his way he spoke, they certainly didn’t like his message, and perhaps more than anything else, they hated the fact that he was drawing big crowds and they just had their same little deal going on. And so they were pursuing him, and they eventually made it possible to have him arrested. So, they got rid of a major problem. And then, we’re told, their joy was short-lived, because Jesus of Nazareth now begins to exercise a far greater influence than John the Baptist had ever done before him. That’s the immediate history.
The ancient history which relates to this issue that is immediately addressed in verse 9 by the Samaritan woman, where she points to this problem between the Jews and the Samaritans—this long-term historical factor goes way back about eight hundred years, seven hundred plus. Seven hundred and twenty BC, the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom of Samaria. Was that significant? Very significant. What did they do? Well, they carried away the majority of the population into exile. All of them? Not all of them. There were some left behind—largely the people that they didn’t want. And so, staying behind in the context, they were impoverished in relationship to their ability to provide for the natural common functions of everyday life. And in order to address that, the Assyrians needed to populate these ghost towns. ’Cause they’d come in, vanquished the place, took all the people away; now they’ve got relatively few people living there. Who’s gonna pick up the garbage, you know? Who’s gonna deliver the milk? Who’s gonna do the various things? So what they needed to do was bring people in from the outside.
If you wondered where we get all this from, you could turn to 2 Kings and chapter 17, or at least make note of it, because I’m going to quote from there right now. You can read of this in 2 Kings 17, where in verse 24 it says that “the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon,” and then a whole host of places, “and settled them in the towns of Samaria to replace the Israelites.” And the result was that “they took over Samaria and they lived in its towns.” There then’s a very interesting thing, a wonderful historical record about what they were doing with lions. And then, in verse 33, you have a virtual summary of the problem: this amalgamation of people who became known as Samaritans were no longer marked by the purity of worship of a monotheistic Judaism but were now marked by the syncretism and pluralism represented in the fact that all these other people had come in and intermarried with them. And so we read, “They worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought.” And verse 34: “To this day they persist in their former practices. They neither worship the Lord nor adhere to the decrees and ordinances.”
So you have this group of people that emerge as the Samaritans. You then turn forward into the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. (At least with Nehemiah we ought to be familiar.) And when you get to Nehemiah chapter 4—actually, in Ezra 3 and 4 it comes as well—but you discover there that the Jews, the returning Jews from exile, reject the fellows who’d stayed behind. So the Samaritans, who wanted an interest in the rebuilding project, are snubbed. And, of course, when you snub people, you usually live with the implications of that. And that began to establish a pattern of activities. The Samaritans only dealt with, and only to this day—the few that are left—deal with the Pentateuch; that is, the first five books of the Bible. That’s all they pay attention to. There is no other Bible for the Samaritans. Therefore, the Jews, who are speaking in terms of the prophetic literature and the Psalms and so on, they are regarded as completely out of touch with reality.
In 400 BC, as a result of all of this resistance, the Samaritans decided, “Forget it. We’ll build our own operation.” So they go to Gerizim, and they build a temple of their own. And they say, “We will worship on Gerizim.” One hundred and twenty BC, the Jews come along, torch the temple, burn the thing to the ground—which, of course, is not good for public relations, and certainly is not helping in terms of the kind of racial divide. And so, we now fast-forward about a hundred and forty years, and the lady says to Jesus, “You’re a Jew; I’m a Samaritan. You want a drink of water? Get real! This has been going on for seven hundred years! We don’t talk!” That is the long-term historical context.
Secondly, then, let us set it in context geographically. Geographically.
Let me say a word about the site of the well. This well, as it is pinpointed for us here in John 4, is just outside a place called Sychar, which is the ancient equivalent of the modern-day city of Aschar. If you take a good map of the region and look at it, you’ll find Aschar; if you go to the north and the west, you’ll find Gerizim; and on the foothills of Gerizim you’ll find a modern city called Nablus. It’s good to do this! It’s fun, actually, to take an atlas, open it up, and look, and say, “At this piece of latitude and longitude, Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son of God, had this exact conversation.” A reminder to us that when we read our Bibles, we don’t read them in some kind of tunnel. We’re not reading our Bibles as if they were some little promise book that you open up, and flip it up, and dip your finger in, and find a piece you like, and turn it into a card to stick on your vanity or something so it gives you a cozy feeling for the rest of the day. No, no. It demands much more than that. It demands careful study. It demands honest endeavor. It is not for the fainthearted. It is not for the indolent. It is for those who will give themselves, like the Bereans, to the Scriptures every day, to examine the Scriptures and to see if the things that are taught are actually so. And when you study around it, you will find that what I’m telling you is actually true.
Now, geographically, we also know that there were several roads from Judea to Galilee. I mention this because in verse 4 it says that Jesus had to go through Samaria—or, if you have a King James Version, it might read, “he needs must go through Samaria,” or something like that, or “he must go through Samaria.” Interesting statement. Why must he go through Samaria?
This is the kind of thing that, incidentally, in home Bible studies you can get off on until about 9:30, and you never get back to what you’re supposed to be studying because you come up with about forty-seven explanations that are all totally bogus, because nobody—if we’re really told, you know, it would be helpful, but as it is, it’s mere conjecture. [Inaudible.] I think we can make an approximation at answering the question.
First of all, we should note that the Samaritans were detested by the Pharisees, and so, when the Pharisees were making the journey from Judea to Galilee, there was no way in the world they were going through Samaria. They didn’t want to see the people, touch the people, hear from the people, buy from the people, do anything with the people, and so they took the long road which went through the area of the Jordan. That was one road. Those who weren’t so scrupulous about their dealings with them were quite happy to go right slap-bang through the middle of Samaria. And indeed, anyone who was in a hurry to get from Judea to Galilee would take the short route, and the short route would run right through Samaria.
So John says Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” Well, one possibility is that he had to go because he had to go; he was in a hurry, he wanted to get to where he was going quickly, and he wasn’t going to fool around going on the long journey, and he had to go through there. I think that’s highly unlikely, and I’ll address that now as we come to the third aspect of context, which is to view the verses not simply in an historical context, in a geographical context, but then in a theological context.
Now, don’t let anybody be put off by that word. It’s a kinda highfaluting sounding word, but it simply means “that which deals with God.” If geography has to do with places and people, and history has to do with times and seasons, theology has to do with what we know of God, what we know of ourselves, and what the implications are of those two things coalescing—coming together—and making sense for tomorrow being a Monday. We need to set it in a theological context.
Let’s just stay, then, with this idea of the necessity of Jesus going through Samaria: “He had to go through Samaria.” I think the answer to that has probably little to do with time, and it has everything to do with the nature of the mission of Jesus. Jesus is seen leaving Judea at a time when, apparently, he was being very, very successful. “The Pharisees” were concerned “that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John.” The ministry was exploding; more and more people were seeing his miracles, hearing his words, getting baptized, following him. And Jesus says to his disciples, “That’s it, we’re outta here. We’re going to Galilee.” That doesn’t seem right. You would assume that since everything was going so well, the urgency would be, “Now, let’s just capitalize on this! Let’s develop this.” But no, Jesus says, “We’re going.”
Now, how do you understand that? Only in terms of the fact that Jesus was working within the framework of, if you like, a divine calendar. He did not want any kind of premature crisis in Judea to move forward the timing of what he knew would be his eventual demise. And he resists this all the way through the Gospels. Whenever people are prepared to come and make him king, for example, he’s gone. When people come and they think they’re gonna shut him down, he’s gone. Why? Because he knew that he was moving towards a point in time. In the wedding at Cana of Galilee, when his mother comes to him and says, “We’ve got a bit of a problem here with the drink situation,” Jesus says, “Woman … my time has not yet come.” By the time he gets to John 17, he says in his High Priestly Prayer, “Father, the time has come. Glorify me now with the glory that I had with you, before I ever came into this time-space capsule.”
And so, what we see here in Jesus, in this event in Samaria, is Jesus recognizing the fact that he was there, according to verse 34, to do his will and “to finish his work.” Whose will? The Father’s will. Whose work? The Father’s work.
“Jesus, why are we leaving Judea?”
“Because I must do his will and finish his work.”
“Jesus, why are we going to Galilee?”
“To do his will and finish his work.”
“Jesus, why are you talking to this person?”
“To do his will and finish his work.”
Do you get the focus? It’s an all-consuming passion. There’s no question with Jesus and his operation about whether he had a purpose statement.
“Could you give us your purpose statement, Jesus? Could you reduce it to a verse? Could you reduce it to a phrase?”
“I’ll give you it in a phrase. I’ll give you it in two phrases: to do his will, to finish his work.”
Now, can we expand on that? Yes, we can. But it is the irreducible minimum: “What are you doing Jesus?” “This is what I’m doing.”
Now, when you understand this, loved ones, and realize that when he finishes up, he says, “Listen: as the Father sent me, so send I you”—it’s the same purpose statement! It’s the same commission! To do his will, to finish his work! Not to play at church, not to scratch one another’s backs, not to become the perfect husbands, the most wonderful wives. All of those things are means to an end. If I spend my last breath proclaiming Jesus, all will be well. And the same for each of us. If our last conversation in leaving the office on a day that we will never know to be our last day sets forward the work of Christ, then we’re within the line of his great preoccupation and his great passion. And in this, the apostles followed him.
Paul himself, in 1 Corinthians 9: “Paul, what are you doing? What’s the passion of your life, Paul?”
“Well,” he says, “let me tell you. I can give it in a phrase: ‘Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone’”—and here it comes—“‘to win as many as possible.’”
“What are you doing Paul?”
“I’m seeking to win as many as possible.”
Verse 22: “To the weak I [become] weak …. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
I tell you, my heart is stirred by this this morning, loved ones. I spend my life—I spend my days—in the work of the church. Every so often I get myself out of this building, I go to McDonald’s, I go anywhere to find anyone who may just be sitting around that I could share Jesus Christ with, to get myself back in focus and remember what it is that I’m supposed to be doing. It’s not about running an organization, it’s not about building buildings, it’s not about phase two or phase six or whatever it is. It is that I may do his will and finish his work. You’re a typist? What’s your objective? To do his will and finish his work. You’re a doctor? The same. A teacher? The same. A carpenter? The same. A sweeper? The same. His will, his work. And our children and our friends and our neighbors and our loved ones will know if we are driven by such a passion.
That’s the first thing we learn theologically. The second thing we learn theologically is in verse 23, and that is what we spent our time on last Sunday, so I only mention it. If you weren’t here last Sunday, you can pick up the tape at the conclusion in the vestibule, if you’re interested. But the second thing we understand is that God the Father is seeking worshipers. He is an initiative-taking God. In the coming of Jesus, he is the one seeking to save that which is lost.
“Did you come to do miracles, Jesus?”
“Did you come to teach great sermons?”
“No. I came to seek and to save the lost.” Why? Because God the Father is seeking worshipers. It’s very clear.
The third thing that we notice theologically—and this brings us close to the beginning of our message, of next Sunday—is “that God is no respecter of persons.” “God is no respecter of persons.” If you turn back one page, if your Bible is open, you’ll turn back to John chapter 3. And there in John chapter 3 we’re introduced to another encounter between Jesus and an individual. This individual is a man, not a woman. His name is given to us, unlike John 4, where no name is given. And also, this man is “a member of the Jewish ruling council.” He’s a member of the Sanhedrin. He is a representative of orthodox Judaism, and Jesus addresses him in chapter 3. You turn the page into chapter 4, and here Jesus addresses a woman who comes from a group that was wholeheartedly despised by orthodox Judaism. You couldn’t get a greater contrast. In 3, Jesus is addressing the individual from all of his religious background and all of his finery and all of his business, and then in chapter 4 he turns aside and he addresses somebody that this individual would never have spoken to.
And incidentally, that’s the fabulous thing about the body of Christ. That should be the fabulous thing about the body of Christ. None of this homogeneous stuff: all from the same group, all from the same background, all the same color, all the same interests, just a bunch of clones sitting around. But no! Jesus comes to this man, so unlike this one, redeems them in the same way, and unites them in his purposes.
It’s an interesting thing, is it not, that between chapter 3 and chapter 4, the encounter of Jesus with these two individuals puts them both in heaven, and here you have two folks, although they never met in time, will be up in heaven. They’re having a conversation:
“My name’s Nicodemus. What’s your name?”
I’ve got to give her a name now…
“Ah, Sylvia, uh-huh. Where were you, down there?”
“Oh, ah, Samaria.”
“Uh-huh? You weren’t a… Samaritan, were you?”
“Yeah, I was. Why, you weren’t a… Jew, were you?”
“You weren’t, like, a big-time, you know, Pharisee, Sanhedrin Jew, were you?”
“I’m not supposed to like you. But I love you.”
I told you the story the other Sunday about the IRA guy, and I mean it from my heart. I mean, God has got to stir our hearts up with this. Crosses ethnic backgrounds, racial backgrounds, financial backgrounds, all kinds of backgrounds. You see, the redeeming work of Jesus Christ has gotta make a variegated community. Now, I understand all the social implications of where a church is, and it represents the community, and I buy all that stuff. We are what we are because of where we’ve been placed, and we want to represent the community in which we’ve been placed—but not in any exclusive sense! We want to go out into the highways and byways; we want to live in John 3, and we want to also live in John 4. Why? Because God is no respecter of persons. All the rivalries and hatreds that marked chapter 4 were of little import to Jesus. His ministry was for all: for the Samaritan as well as the Jew; the ignorant as well as the learned; the poor, for the rich; women and men; religious and irreligious; those who were morally corrupt and those who were morally upright. And Jesus sits down as easily with this intellectual, religious chap as he does with a woman with a checkered history and a live-in lover.
Now, be honest: Don’t you fight the sneaking tendency to believe that we might do better with the sort of people with a religious interest, and we like to talk to them a little more, but we’ll let somebody else handle the five-times married with the live-in lover? Jesus says, “I want you to open your eyes. The fields are white for the harvest.”
Last thing by way of the context is to notice it not only geographically, historically, theologically, but immediately. The immediacy of this should not pass us by. We don’t want to be guilty of trying to make this something other than it is, but I think it is not wrong for us to recognize the intense humanity that is represented in this scene. For the divine Christ is the human Christ, and he was on a journey with a group of men who were his colleagues in ministry and his friends and those who were learning from him. And as they made their journey from Judea and on their way to Galilee, there is little doubt that at some point somebody must have said, “Am I the only one that’s hungry?” Or, “Does anybody want to stop and get anything?” I mean, anybody that goes on a journey as a group, eventually that question comes up: “Are we stopping any time?” Now, admittedly, when you have your children in the car, it comes up about five minutes after you’ve left your house, but by and large, if you’ve got a relatively sensible group, there are certain key points in the day where somebody says, “It’s not unlikely that we would get something to eat and drink.” It’s the sixth hour—it’s noon—it’s the middle of the day, and somebody says, “I’ll tell you what, I’m hungry if nobody else is.”
And so, presumably they said, “Fine, let’s go. We’ll get something.” Jesus stays by the well, perhaps in the hope that someone’ll come; after all, he’s got nothing with which to draw. And he says to the disciples, “You go get the food, and I’ll see what we can do here with water. Maybe somebody’ll come by, and I can get the water arranged before you come back.” This is the immediate context.
Try in your mind’s eye to look and see the incarnate Son of God sitting by a well, as I said, at a point in the longitude and latitude scale, at a moment in historical time, tired, dusty, hot from the rising sun, and thirsty. And suddenly, into the scene walks a woman: “A Samaritan woman came to draw water.”
Well, why did she come to draw water? When did she come? She came in the middle of the day. Was that normal? Abnormal. Was it normal to come on your own? Abnormal. What was normal was to draw water in the early hours of the evening. What was normal was to go as a group of ladies to the well. It was highly unusual for a woman to make the journey on her own, and it was decidedly strange that she would do it at high noon in the middle of the day. Why then would the lady make this journey at this time? When you put the pieces together, it would seem that the career that she had of five husbands, plus her live-in lover, had made her a social outcast. Would we have spoken with her? Would we have asked a favor of her? Would we have begun a conversation?
That’s all the context. Now we come to the conversation. Let me just begin this and then stop. At least you’ll know where we’ll be next time.
Look at how the conversation begins: “Will you give me a drink?” Got a sort of ring to it, doesn’t it? Sort of down-to-earth ring. Sort of thirsty feel to it. Sort of lunchtime, hungry, tired, hot, sticky, drink-of-water-time sort of feel to it, doesn’t it? That’s exactly what it has to it, ’cause that’s exactly what it is. Jesus was not reading a manual on personal evangelism, you understand? And chapter four, subpoint B said, “A very good way to start a conversation is to ask people for drinks for water.” So he said, “Oh! This is one of the ‘drink of water’ times. Must try the ‘drink of water’ question.” No! This is thirsty Jesus, deep well, no way down a well, lady with pot, chance for drink of water. “May I have a drink of water, please?”
Okay, we’ve established one thing: that was a very natural beginning, wasn’t it? Jesus doesn’t launch into the lady and say, “Excuse me, madame. Have you ever read Leviticus chapter 18? Leviticus 18 would be a good chapter for you. I’ve heard a little about you.” He doesn’t do that. But you know, some of our approaches to people are embarrassing. I mean, really embarrassing! I don’t mean a wee bit embarrassing. I don’t mean marginally embarrassing. I mean downright, totally, obnoxiously embarrassing! We think that somehow or another what we’re supposed to do is get fired up with this big, semiautomatic machine gun full of verses and just go roaming the neighborhoods looking for unsuspecting people like you’re looking for crows or something. He’s just roaming around; the first person that stays still long enough, he’s giving it a John 3, Romans 3, Romans 6, Romans 10, Revelation 3:20, ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba. After that he says, “Have you got that now? Jolly sinners!”
How about, “Would you like a hamburger, on the eleventh?”
“Yeah. I don’t usually go around offering people hamburgers, but man, I’m in this church. You may have seen it down there. It appeared from nowhere. You’re probably fed up with it, actually, if you drive down this road trying to get places on Sundays. And I’m here to apologize for that in measure, but I’m basically here to say, are you interested in coming down for a hamburger?”
“I… no, we don’t eat red meat.”
“Not a problem. We got chicken. Would you like to come down for chicken?”
“I might come for chicken. I don’t know. What’s the thing? What are you going to do to us when we get there?”
“Why, is it money?”
“No, free. Look at this thing. Free! Big F-R-E-E. Nothing!”
“You tell me you’re Scottish, you’re from a church, and it’s free? This is…”
Now, let me just say this to you. We go up driveways this afternoon and into people’s yards—please, please don’t go up there with some thumping great Thompson Chain Reference Bible. Do you hear me? Some big wad of stuff sticking out—John 3s outta here, Romans 9s, and hats: “Repent, scuzz-wads!” I know some of you are getting… you got all your battle gear ready for goin’. If you do that, tell them you’re from another church when they ask you. We’re gonna say, “Would you like a hamburger? You wanna come? We built this house, and we moved into the community, and frankly, we feel we ought to have done this a long time ago. We just want to invite you in. Please come.”
The great temptation, I think—for me at least—is to forget that when Jesus spoke to this person, he spoke to her as a person. And that when we go to people, we go to people; we don’t go to numbers, statistics, entities, demographics.
We used to do this regularly in Edinburgh. We went one night to the home of a couple in an apartment building. We always went on Monday nights; it was prayer meeting night. Most of the people stayed and prayed, and the rest of the souls went out and visited, and we used to knock the door and simply say, “We come from the church down the street here, and we wanted to let you know that we are having a friendship service, and we just thought that you may care to come.” And if the person expressed any interest at all, we would say, “If you would like the opportunity, we would be glad to take the chance just to tell you why it is that we would even make this visit.” The strategy was a little different from this open house.
And on one night we went to this door, and there was an elderly couple, and the gentleman came to the door, and he had the door a crack open—initial introduction, “No, I don’t think so. Well, maybe.” And eventually, I don’t quite know how it happened, but the two visitors were inside. They’re sitting down, they have the literature, they explain. One of them says, “Well, we should go.” The lady, who had said nothing, said to one of the two visitors, “Could you say a prayer before you leave?” Person said, “Yeah.” She said, “Could you say a prayer for people who have cancer?” He said, “Yeah.” So they bowed their heads, and one of them prayed, and when he prayed, he says, “Lord, I do pray that you bless those people who are suffering from illness and facing difficulty and everything else, and that you’ll be to them,” etc. “Amen.” Brief prayer. Opened his eyes, and the couple—the tears were running down their faces.
Now, I don’t want to tell you all the story except to tell you the end. I conducted the funeral service of that lady. She was a French Huguenot. She was from a very rarefied, interesting background—long, long story—in the center of Edinburgh. She chose her own funeral hymns. She chose her own Scripture readings. She put in the Scotsman newspaper, for all her fancy friends to see, the fact that she was not having a funeral service, but she was having a celebration of thanksgiving. And she insisted that we made it clear that she had come from darkness into light and from fear into faith.
Why? Because, out of a sense of total routine, with no splash and no hype, two people walked up the door and said, “Hey, we got a little friendship thing coming. Would you like to come?” That was their part. What was God’s part? Through all the years of her life, preparing that lady for that couple to knock that door in that moment so that she might come to faith in Jesus Christ.
And Jesus said, “I tell you, open your eyes!” Let’s open our eyes and look at the fields. They are already white for the harvest.
 Paul Simon, “The Sound of Silence” (1964).
 See Ephesians 2:12.
 John 4:29 (paraphrased).
 See 2 Timothy 3:16.
 See Acts 17:11.
 John 2:4 (NIV 1984).
 John 17:1 (paraphrased).
 John 20:21 (paraphrased).
 1 Corinthians 9:19 (NIV 1984).
 1 Corinthians 9:22–23 (NIV 1984).
 Luke 19:10 (paraphrased).
 Acts 10:34 (KJV).
 John 3:1 (NIV 1984).
Copyright © 2021, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.