September 11, 1994
When Jesus told the Samaritan woman that He was the Messiah, she left her water pot to go and tell others. Alistair Begg summarizes their powerful interaction, considering the woman’s invitation to seek Jesus, Jesus’ explanation to His disciples, and the people’s affirmation of faith. As followers of Christ, we too should have an undivided heart to do God’s will as we proclaim the good news of our salvation to a watching, thirsting world.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Now, to John chapter 4 once again, if you’d turn with me—page 753 if you are using a pew Bible and are unfamiliar with your way around. And if you have your Bible open, you’ll be able to follow the concluding study here in what has been a four-part study in prospect for our outreach this afternoon.
Before we look at this together, let’s pause in prayer:
Gracious and eternal God, open our eyes that we may behold wonderful things in your Word. For Christ’s sake we ask it. Amen.
We resume our studies here in this fourth chapter, in the twenty-seventh verse—the twenty-sixth, twenty-seventh—where it is recorded for us that the declaration of the messiahship of Jesus has just been made very, very clear to this individual. A nameless lady, in many ways, from a human perspective, a strange individual to be on the receiving end of such a bold and point-blank declaration—something that has not occurred very often to this point in the Gospel record. But Jesus has declared to her that while she had an expectation of the Messiah coming and explaining things, he said, “I who speak to you am the very one you anticipate.”
Now, the disciples had gone into the town, you will recall from the opening verses of the chapter, to buy some food. It was around lunchtime when they had left Jesus, and now they return. They arrive back, in verse 27, not too soon to interrupt what’s going on nor too late to miss what has actually happened. We’re told by John that they were surprised at finding Jesus talking with this woman. Now, that may even be a surprise to us: Why would they be surprised at such an encounter and such a conversation? Well, the culture of the day was so very different. Indeed, there was a rabbinical rule to the effect—and I quote—“Let no one talk with a woman in the street, no, not with his own wife.” And so, for rabbis, you would often see them walking down the street with their wives perhaps trundling along behind them or beside them, but they were not talking with one another. I suppose this was a wonderful excuse when you’d actually fallen out with your wife; you could claim the rabbinical rule when in point of fact it had nothing to do with that. But the context was such that the disciples, knowing Jesus to be rabbi and teacher, were intrigued, and perhaps more than a little confused, that Jesus would be addressing the lady in this way.
However, their reverence for the Master superseded their surprise, and John tells us that none of them were bold enough to ask the question, “What did you want?” or “What do you want of the lady?” Had they done so, Jesus would have said, “I just wanted a drink of water.” Nor did anyone ask, “Why are you talking with her?” for if they had asked the question, Jesus would straightforwardly have let them know, the reason he spoke with her was in order that he might offer to her living water. And in passing, we have a wonderful example of the true emancipation of women in the fact that Jesus speaks to this lady concerning her soul, a matter of far greater import than the cultural configurations that apparently made it impossible for such a conversation to take place.
Now, it is with this concluding section up into verse 42 that we will spend the remainder of our time. And I’d like, in an endeavor to summarize it, to gather our thoughts under three headings: First of all, that we would consider the woman’s invitation, and then the explanation of Jesus to his disciples, and then the people’s affirmation of faith with which John concludes this little section.
First then, we consider the woman’s invitation in verse 28: “Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘I want you to come and see a man who told me everything I ever did. Do you think that this might be the Christ?’” Her invitation to them.
We may spend just a moment thinking about this water jar. It is interesting that all this time, if you have any thirst about you at all in reading this record, you’re intrigued to find out, does Jesus ever get a drink of water? Because this has been going on a long time since he asked, “Do you think I could have a drink of water?” And we’re now well into the thing, and apparently there’s no drink of water. The irony is that the guys are already long gone to get food. When they come back with the food, he doesn’t eat the sandwiches either. And so, the whole thing is elevated to a different level.
And the matter of what was going on here with the water is not insignificant, nor is the question, “Why did the lady leave her jar?” Was it, as some have suggested, that when she arrived at the well, before she had occasion to draw any water, she was interrupted by the question from Christ, the conversation then followed as it is recorded for us—there was no water drawing and there was no water drinking—and when she finally heard the news concerning the nature of her condition and the need for her response, she suddenly, in all of her excitement, went away into the town, leaving the waterpot empty behind her? That’s one possible explanation.
Another possible explanation, which I tend to favor—although we’ll have to wait until heaven to find out what the true answer is, ’cause it’s something of conjecture in any case—is this: that the lady came to draw water, she drew the water, filled it up to the brim, set it down, and just as she set it down, Jesus looked across at it and said to the lady, “Do you think I could have a drink of that water?” She, looking back at him, realized that he had nothing to draw water with, and so, if he was going to have a drink of water, she would have to be the provider in this instance. But instead of responding to his request, she follows it up with a series of questions, which begins the conversation. And as the conversation proceeds, she hears the message of her true condition; she is convinced of the nature of her sin, of the presence of the Messiah. And as a result of that, she leaves the waterpot behind; she proceeds to go to the town, because she has more significant business now to care for than that of simply returning with the water. Furthermore, since Jesus had made it clear to her that this discrepancy between Jew and Samaritan—this racial overtone, if you like—was completely obliterated when men and women understood what it means to worship in Spirit and in truth, it may well be that the lady left the jar, knowing she was returning for it and recognizing that Jesus could drink from it in her absence. Because he was the one who had declared that this divergence between them racially was irrelevant in light of the message that he brings.
Now, irrespective of which answer is correct, I think that the latter is more likely. Because the word which is used here for the leaving of her waterpot, in verse 28—“Then, leaving her water jar…”—it is the same verb that is used in verse 3 describing Jesus leaving Judea. And John does not use the verb for forget, and the notion is that she forgot the jar. But John says, “She left the jar”—and she left it purposefully. We can’t be certain as to the nature of her motives; one day we’ll get the chance to ask her and find out. But it seems at least possible.
Now, what was this invitation that she offered to the townspeople when she saw them? You’ll find it in verse 29: “Come, see a man…” Now just stop there for a moment. That’s not where she stops. But imagine that you’re in the town; perhaps you’re a tradesperson. It’s not a particularly large community. Everybody knows everybody else. Family members are known to one another. The various shops and stores would be well acquainted with each other, and it would be unlikely that this lady would have been able to move about on a daily basis without actually being identifiable. Because after all, as we’ve said, she was probably a social outcast. She was probably at the well at this time of day because of her checkered history. And indeed, when the people began to hear her walking back into the community, as presumably she did—I can’t imagine that she went from person-to-person; she maybe did a combination of both—but the chances are that she began to walk in amongst the crowd, and she began to say, “Come, see a man. I want you to come and see a man.”
Now, you can imagine the response of some of the cynics in the group. After all, this lady had been seeing a lot of men. She’d had five husbands, and she had a live-in lover. And now she’s walking up and down the street shouting, “Come on and see a man!” And the people probably are saying to one another, “Goodness gracious, I can’t believe she’s blown the next one out. She’s on number seven! What is she talking about today?” And then they began to listen a little carefully. “No, she’s not saying just ‘Come see a man.’ This man is a different man. She’s saying, ‘Come on and see a man who told me everything I ever did.’ Everything she ever did! We know some of the things she did. Now this man told her everything she did.”
There’s a pardonable kind of exaggeration here on the part of the woman, because the profound impact of Jesus’ insight into her life, whereby he, as it were, peeled back the layers of her existence and showed to her that he knew her inside, made her feel as though this man had just actually laid her whole existence bare, and he had told her everything about herself.
And you’ll notice the way in which she gives this invitation. She doesn’t say to the people, “I have met the Christ, and I want you to meet him”—although she might surely have said so, because that is clearly the conviction of her heart. But she puts it in a negative way, hoping for a positive response. She says to them, “Do you think that maybe this is the Messiah?” Interesting that she would approach it in that way, wouldn’t you say? After all, isn’t that just what Jesus had done some moments before? He didn’t say to her, “Could I have a drink? And while you’re getting that, let me introduce myself to you: I am the Messiah.” He coulda done that. No, no. She says, “Well, it’s a strange thing you’re asking me for a drink.” And then he said, “Well, you know, if you knew who it was who asked you for a drink, you would ask him for a drink, he’d give you water, you’d never thirst again.” He intrigued her. Remember that point?
Do you think this lady was a smart lady? I think she was. I think she not only got ahold of the message; I think she got ahold of his methodology. I think she understood his approach, instantaneously! She learned from him! She realized: “He drew me in. He didn’t jam me. He drew me!” Some of us are experts at jamming—a big wheelbarrow full of biblical information, dropped on the poor souls. We go to visit somebody in the hospital; now they’re lying on their backs. Boom! We’ll give them everything: “Here, try this, and this, and this.” Poor fellow has to press the button for the emergency nurse, drowning under the weight of all this literature.
No, she says, “Do you think this might be the Messiah?” It was enough to intrigue them, enough for them to say, “I don’t know what happened to this lady, but something happened to her. I think we’d better go and find out what she’s on about.” That’s the way to speak to people about Jesus. Salt makes people thirsty. And when we’re salty, people get thirsty. When we’re saltless, people get sick of us. We’re just obnoxious. We’re just a nuisance. But salt creates a thirst. And there was a tang about this lady. Oh, to have a tang about our lives! The tang which comes from the Master’s touch.
Now, her invitation was no great shakes in many ways. It was clear, it was concise, it was convincing. And as a result of that, verse 30 says that “they came out of the town and [they] made their way toward[s] him.” I find that phenomenally interesting. I mean, it’s not as if this lady had been appointed by a group of townspeople to go out to the well and meet this traveling religious figure and come back and report. I mean, that would have been one thing. It’s highly unlikely that she would have been designated for the job; probably they would have sent some kind of religious figure with long robes and a kind of frown on their face. But the lady had gone out, and she had come back, and she’d gone into the thoroughfare of life, and she said, “I want you to come and see a man.” And then verse 30: “They came out of the town and made their way toward[s] him.”
I want to ask you: How does that happen? How does that happen? ’Cause after all, if we visited seventeen thousand homes with a possibility of fifty thousand people and we’re talking about a one-percent response, we presumably don’t have what this lady had. What happened here? Well, somehow or another, the Spirit of God accompanied her. The Spirit of God preceded her. The Spirit of God enlivened her life and spoke through her words in such a way that an ordinary woman with ordinary words was extraordinarily used.
I love this, you see. I love this about Jesus. All the Pharisees are expecting that they’re going to his house for dinner. Some little scuzz-wad gets to bring him home. He’s been cheating forever. Jesus is coming through Samaria. The people presumably think, “You know, after he shows up, we can probably have him over to our home.” And the lady that comes into the town to tell ’em that they should come and meet Jesus is a lady with a checkered past.
What gave us the idea that God is on the side of the religious establishment, huh? We spend all our energy trying to establish religion in the continental United States. The place is full of religion! It’s absent of Jesus.
Now, what can we learn from this? We can learn, I think, from the lady’s unashamed enthusiasm. Her unashamed enthusiasm. Presumably, that was it. There is no record of Jesus sending her; she just went. There was no time for her to go through a course on the foundations of the faith. No time for her to be trained in discipleship. No opportunity for her to be schooled in personal evangelism. She just went! And she said, “I met a man, and I think you ought to meet him.”
Loved ones, that’s all it takes, ultimately. Not that the principles and the learning is unimportant; it’s very important. But here’s the thing: How much do you need to know to tell somebody else about Jesus? Just that he changed your life. That’s what happened to the blind man. Born blind! Blind from his youth. Jesus touches his life, he’s changed. The Pharisees come to his parents: “Could you please explain this?” “No, we don’t know what’s going on.” They come to the man: “And how ’bout you, sir? Give us some explanation of this.” The man said, “Hey, all I know is this: I was blind; now I can see.”
Some of us are hiding behind the absence of training. You get enthusiastic about a product; you’ll get out there and sell it like nobody’s business. You believe in it, you’re gone! Forget the jolly manuals! Just give me one enthusiastic guy who loves this stuff, and watch people buy it. “Hey, you gotta have one of these!” “Why?” I mean, how else could they sell that dumb, stupid thing that you put on your steering wheel, for crying out loud? The Club! Did you ever see an uglier thing in all your days? “The Club!” In a different context, I’d ask you to put up your hands if you have one. Enthusiasm!
And what does she say? She said, “I want you to come and see a man.” Her approach was straightforward. Just straightforward: “I want you to come and see this man.” That’s what our task is. Not “I want you to come and see our church,” ultimately. Not “I want you to come and encounter religion.” Certainly not “I want you to come and experience spirituality.” We’re not going out to speak about a specter or about a ghost or about a theory, but we go out to speak about an historical Christ. Put your hand in your pocket and bring out a coin, and look and see what date is on the coin, and say to the person, say, “You know, why is it this date on the coin and not another?” If I had my glasses, I could see what date it is. 1974. Why is it 1974? Because of a man. What man? Jesus of Nazareth.
This is the message of Christianity. We’re not up there on the stage with the multiple religions of the world, offering our wares. We have a simple mandate. We need unashamed enthusiasm, and we need a straightforward approach: “Come on, I’d like you to meet this man.”
There was a song years ago in the coffee bar scene in England, and the groups used to sing it: “I have met the Master. Won’t you come and meet him too?” It was based right out of John 4.
That’s enough on that. Let’s go to Jesus’ explanation. Spent too long on the first one, as usual. Jesus’ explanation.
She goes away, issues the invitation. As they begin to make their way towards the town, we’re back at the sandwich bar with the boys: “Meanwhile his disciples urged him, ‘Rabbi, eat something.’” Now, we don’t know whether they were motivated—we must assume they were motivated by a desire for his well-being. But they may also have been motivated by the fact that they had just walked their dusty little feet down the road and back up and brought the stuff, and now it appears that he doesn’t even want the stuff they went to get. And they said, “Come on! Eat the stuff! I mean, we went all the way down there for it. The deal was, you stay here, you get a drink, you get a rest, we go down there, we get the stuff, we bring it back; some woman’s here, she takes off, now you don’t even want the food!”
Oh, you don’t think the disciples ever spoke like that? That’s because you’ve seen too many of these pictures of Jesus hanging in shrines. You got Jesus in a glass box. He wasn’t in a glass box, he’s not going in a glass box, no time, nohow. He was an ordinary man extraordinarily endued; he was a hundred percent man and a hundred percent God, and they did speak to him like that. That’s why Jesus turned to ’em one day and says, “Hey, Peter, get behind me, Satan!”
“Come on, Rabbi. Eat the sandwiches.” Jesus says, “Nah. I’ve got food to eat that you don’t know about.” Now, we all think, because we read the whole story, that we would have immediately said, “Oh, yes. Spiritual food, Jesus, huh?” ’Cause we all think we’re really bright, ’cause we read the end of the story. But let’s be honest: you go away expressly to get food, you come back, he says he doesn’t want the food ’cause he’s got food to eat that we don’t know about, what do you say? “Where’d he get the food? Did the woman give him food? Did one of those vans, you know, that workman buy stuff from, did that come by?” They presumably had those things: a couple of camels and, well, you know, “Diet Pepsi” hanging on the side. I mean, where did he get the stuff?
And once again, we’ve got this wonderful, wonderful paradox and irony that pervade the whole of John’s Gospel. Jesus speaks about water; the lady misses the point. Jesus speaks about food; the people miss the point. “No,” says Jesus, “let me tell you: my food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” And in that statement, he declares his mission, his devotion, and his ultimate satisfaction.
I spoke to a group of men this week, and I said to them, “Take a sheet of paper and write down in six words the reason for your existence. You have six words to write your mission statement for life. Write it down. Why do you exist on this planet at all? Just write it down in six words.” It was interesting. You wanna try it? You got a bulletin in front of you; you got a pen. Write down in six words why you exist. What’s your mission? Why are we here?
Jesus says, “My mission is really clear. I can tell you it in a phrase.” Every successful company is able to do so. “It’s to do the will of him who sent me. It’s to finish his work.” That’s why, by the time you get to John 17, Jesus says, “Father, I have given you the glory that was due your name, and I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” And he was looking forward into the very face of the cross, where from the cross he would cry out in one word, “completed,” “finished,” “tetelestai.” Obedience to the Father’s will was for Jesus his major concern.
And so, in his explanation, he provides us with a lesson in priorities. And he also provides us with a lesson in Christian service. This little piece here about the harvest is quite wonderful. Any of you who were brought up in farming communities will know that in the realm of nature, it is possible that somebody may reap where another has sown. It is possible that I might get to reap where I didn’t sow, but it’s unlikely. It is actually quite likely that I may sow and never reap. I may sow, and as a result of illness or as a result of death, I may never be around to reap the harvest, and so I sow, do all the hard work, and I’m never there to reap it.
But, says Jesus, here’s the wonderful thing: when we deal in the spiritual realm, it is the usual pattern that one reaps where another has sown. Do you get that? It is the usual pattern that we reap where others have sown. Today, in all of our lives, we are reaping the benefits of those who have labored in the past. And indeed, one of the great challenges for us at a time like this is that we realize that God may have chosen to make this period of time a period of sowing rather than a period of reaping. And that, you see, is one of the great dangers of buying into the numbers game in evangelical Christianity, believing that success will always be quantified by the numbers involved. What we’re saying there is that we must always, always be adding and reaping, when in point of fact, history reveals that there are significant periods in time where it’s all about sowing. And here’s a thought: as focused as we are on the now, it may be the generations that are presently in the nursery who will be those who reap the benefits of the work of these days. The implications are clear: the reapers need to remain humble and the sowers should not be discouraged. Some of us are suffering from what I call “the sower syndrome”: “Woe is me, I don’t see anything happening. I just go out there, and I sow, and I sow.” It’s kinda discouraging, isn’t it?
One of my daughters brought back, in the summertime, two funny little heads that are stuffed full of… something, I don’t know. It’s like… you’ve probably seen these things; I’d never encountered them. They have… I think they’re full of sawdust and earth, and they’re wrapped together in a lady’s tights or something like that. I don’t know if you’ve seen these things; I really should have brought them with me. And they’re all stored in there, and then they have a couple of eyes and a cheery face and a pair of glasses. So it’s just like a little egg—a little egg—and she brought them home and she said, “You know, if you put these in water, their hair grows.”
So, the other two were relatively unimpressed, but they said, “Fair enough,” and they put them in the water. Now, we’re talking, what, two or three weeks? And every day, we look at these little stupid things’ heads. Nothing! But just this morning before I left, outta one side of this thing’s head, just growing right up on the one side, there’s about three green shoots, you know. I don’t know if this thing’s gonna get a full head of hair or what; I don’t know what’s going… But I do know this: that I was ready to take these heads and just nail a couple of crows with them. Because I said, “This hair’s never going to grow. This grass’ll never grow!”
And you know what? You walk out of a Sunday school class, out of a Bible class, out of the area of service, out of the tape ministry, out of parking the cars, out of doing the nursery duty, out of being an usher, out of going out and serving your faith, and basically you have this baldy little egg head experience, and there’s nothing growing at all. Let me tell you this: keep sowing! Keep sowing! Because when the harvest is garnered, it’ll be the sowers who did the hard work who will lead the procession. “Those who are apparently first will be last, and those who are apparently last will be first.” Do you believe that? Jesus said that.
I’ve got one point left. I’ve only time to mention it: the people’s affirmation. The lady’s invitation, Jesus’ explanation, the people’s affirmation. Verse 42. In response to the woman, they said, “Listen, we no longer believe just because of what you said. We’re thankful for what you said; you stirred our hearts, we came out to see, but now we’ve heard.” Verse 40 tells it that they actually urged Jesus to stay with them for two days. And as a result of the two days of hearing his word—and it’s interesting: because of his words, not because of his miracles! Very, very important. People say, “Oh, well, if only he did the miracles! If only he did the miracles right now in Parkside Church, lots of people would believe.” No. It was because of his words. And it is because of his words that people believe. That’s why we preach. That’s why we teach. That’s why we set forward the Scriptures.
And so, these people’s lives were changed. He broke the chains that bound them to their past, gave them power to live in the present and joy to face the future. And why was there this great affirmation from the townspeople? Because of the impact of one life. Just one life.
One of the great lies of the devil, you see, is to say to us, “X or Y,” whatever our name might be, “you know what? You really can’t do much. In fact, what you do is so insignificant that you ought to just stop doing it altogether.” You ever feel like that?
The Anglican bishop put it in this way: “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. What I can do, I ought to do, and what I ought to do, with God’s help, I will do.”
You prepared this morning to go out and say to people, “Come, and see a man”?
Let us pray together:
Father, we thank you for the way you worked in that lady’s life and changed all of her distractions to a whole new focus and gave her an undivided heart. Will you give us one too? For your name’s sake. Amen.
 See Psalm 119:18.
 William Barclay, The Gospel of John, rev. ed., vol. 1, Chapters 1 to 7, The Daily Bible Series (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975), 162.
 John 9:25 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 16:23 (paraphrased). See also Mark 8:33.
 John 17:4 (paraphrased).
 Matthew 20:16 (paraphrased).
 Commonly attributed to Edward Everett Hale. Paraphrased.
Copyright © 2023, 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.