. If you have your Bibles, please turn with me to John, chapter 4, verses 1 through 42. John says:
When Jesus knew that the Pharisees heard He was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (though Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were), 3 He left Judea and went again to Galilee. 4 He had to travel through Samaria, 5 so He came to a town of Samaria called Sychar near the property that Jacob had given his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, worn out from His journey, sat down at the well. It was about six in the evening.
7 A woman of Samaria came to draw water.
“Give Me a drink,” Jesus said to her, 8 for His disciples had gone into town to buy food.
9 “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” she asked Him. For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.
10 Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would ask Him, and He would give you living water.”
11 “Sir,” said the woman, “You don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do You get this ‘living water’? 12 You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are You? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
13 Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. 14 But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again—ever! In fact, the water I will give him will become a well of water springing up within him for eternal life.”
15 “Sir,” the woman said to Him, “give me this water so I won’t get thirsty and come here to draw water.”
16 “Go call your husband,” He told her, “and come back here.”
17 “I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. 18 “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that You are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, yet you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus told her, “Believe Me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship Him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.”
25 The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will explain everything to us.”
26 “I am He,” Jesus told her, “the One speaking to you.”
27 Just then His disciples arrived, and they were amazed that He was talking with a woman. Yet no one said, “What do You want?” or “Why are You talking with her?”
28 Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the men, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did! Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They left the town and made their way to Him.
31 In the meantime the disciples kept urging Him, “Rabbi, eat something.”
32 But He said, “I have food to eat that you don’t know about.”
33 The disciples said to one another, “Could someone have brought Him something to eat?”
34 “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to finish His work,” Jesus told them. 35 “Don’t you say, ‘There are still four more months, then comes the harvest’? Listen to what I’m telling you: Open your eyes and look at the fields, for they are ready for harvest. 36 The reaper is already receiving pay and gathering fruit for eternal life, so the sower and reaper can rejoice together. 37 For in this case the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38 I sent you to reap what you didn’t labor for; others have labored, and you have benefited from their labor.”
39 Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of what He said. 42 And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
This is the word of the Lord.
Well, good morning, everyone. We had a nice vacation, but we are extremely glad to be back. We flew in yesterday evening, headed back to our apartment, and crashed about as hard as we’ve ever crashed. That’s the thing about family vacation, right? It’s vacation, but it still takes it out of you. Even if you’ve got a pretty easy going family, like Elyse and I do, no matter what, at the end of the day, you want to be back in your own bed, back in your own city, back on your own, just in general. And so we are glad to be getting back to our routine, if nothing else because it’s just slower.
Now, I am not going to try to transition into our passage today by making some kind of “vacation” connection. Today’s passage is about Jesus leaving his hometown – leaving Nazareth, leaving Galilee – and heading out into an unfamiliar territory, Samaria. But it’s not a vacation. What Jesus is up to here is the opposite of vacation.
If you remember the story of the Good Samaritan, part of the backdrop of that story was that the main character has to pass through a road that leads through Samaria. And the road is dangerous, and scary, and you can’t really trust the people you meet there, and in our passage today, Jesus is passing on through to his next destination, but instead of taking the main road that most Jews would have taken to avoid Samaria, Jesus decides to go straight through Samaria, and as we find out, it has everything to do with the fact that he’s got a divine appointment with a Samaritan woman.
So let’s dive in: We see that that Jesus comes up to a well. He’s thirsty. His disciples are tired and hungry. He sends them off to get food. And for the first time in who-knows-how-long, Jesus has a moment or two to himself.
That doesn’t last very long, though, because soon enough a Samaritan woman shows up.
And as we see all throughout the Gospels, Jesus sees an opportunity to reach out to somebody who’s been passed over by the rest of society, and he pounces on it.
He says, “Give me a drink.” And she’s surprised. She would be surprised. For two reasons, really. The first is that he’s a Jew, and she’s a Samaritan. At this particular point in time, Jews did not like Samaritans. There’s a whole host of reasons behind why those two groups didn’t really like each other, but we won’t get into it now, just suffice it to say that Jews did not like Samaritans, and even with as little social power as Jews had in the Roman Empire, Samaritans had even less. So Jesus, as a Jewish person, was speaking to a “social inferior.”
This Samaritan woman was lower on the social ladder than him, and that in itself made it unbelievably surprising that Jesus would ever talk to her. But there’s more. Jesus is a man, and the Samaritan woman is a woman. And to understand the significance of this passage it’s important to grasp the way that gender relations worked back then.
Because not only was Jesus a social superior speaking to a social inferior, like we mentioned a moment ago, but he was also a man speaking to a woman, and that was almost unheard of. This is the Son of God, sitting alone in a tucked-away corner with a woman. At that particular point in time, that would have gotten you slapped with a social stigma that you would never live down.
If you read much literature from the Ancient Near East, you see just how extreme the social norms that Jesus is rejecting here were: You see old poets, you see old philosophers saying again and again and again, “Watch out for women, because they’ll draw you in and ensnare you into sin.” It’s not quite as bad today, but you still hear that sort of thing, right? They’d say, “Stay away from women, cuz they’re just waiting to catch you in their death grip.”
It gets even worse if you look through any of the old Ancient Near Eastern Court cases that we have documents of – if that’s the way you decide to spend a Saturday afternoon, reading through 3000 year old court cases – you’ll see a whole lot of the same thing: You’ll see a court case where a man saw a woman bathing through a crack in the curtains of the window of her tenement, marched over and kidnapped her, assaulted her, and then sued her for being a temptation to him. That sound familiar?
A lot of y’all have daughters. Any of y’all ever have to correct some really terrible advice your daughters got in the sex ed class at school or something like that? Ever had to correct some really terrible advice from a Sunday school teacher or a school counselor or something, where they said, “If a man harasses you, it’s your fault for leaving yourself open to harassment?” You know what I’m talking about?
That’s bad enough in itself, but take that, multiply it by infinity-thousand, and that’s what the culture throughout the ancient Roman Empire was like. Jesus sat down alone with this Samaritan woman, and it shocked her to no end because no man in his right mind would ever leave himself open to accusations of impropriety like that.
Except Jesus, apparently.
Jesus gave exactly zero credence to that concern. That’s not what you’d expect. You’d expect the Messiah to go out of his way to avoid anything that would give the Pharisees ammunition against him, right? But instead, He sees a tired, lonely, spiritually-empty woman that society has chewed up and spit back out. And instead of running for the hills to avoid any semblance of impropriety, he dives straight in and starts to connect with her on a deep spiritual level.
Now, you would think that what I am about to say would be obvious, but if you do a quick Google search, you’ll find that apparently it isn’t: The Lord is not hitting on this Samaritan woman. None of the things he says here are pickup lines. But Jesus did exactly what his culture told him not to do – he approached a woman alone, but he wasn’t approaching her to “pick her up.” He was approaching her to share the good news with her. He was doing what apparently no man in her life had ever done up to this point. He recognized her actual needs and he met them.
Now, as you may have gathered, this is about to become yet another sermon about evangelism. I want to make sure and clarify, here, that I do not have a fixation on “evangelism.” I am not obsessed with this issue. I never just up and decide that I want to preach on evangelism and then pick a text based on that desire, but it just keeps coming up in these sermons, and the reason it keeps coming up in these sermons is that it just keeps coming up in the Bible. You know what I’m talking about? Evangelism just keeps coming up throughout the Bible.
It is impossible to read the Bible with a straight face and not come away recognizing that evangelism is at the center of our faith and practice. So much so that the old dead Baptist preacher Charles Spurgeon once said that “Every Christian is either a missionary or an imposter.” Billy Graham said something very similar about 50 years ago, when he said that “It’s a mistake to think that there are evangelists, like Billy Graham, on the one hand, and everybody else, like John and Jane Doe, on the other hand.”
He said that “The reality is that John and Jane Doe do most of the work for the kingdom but you don’t ever hear about it.” He says, they’re the real evangelists. He says, “There are mass evangelists, like Billy Graham, and they get a lot of the credit, but they don’t actually make that much of a difference.” Remember, that’s not some anti-evangelism guru. That’s Billy Graham, the “Mass Evangelist Par Excellence,” and according to Billy Graham, “The work of the Kingdom is in the hands of the regular, plain Jane, everyday Christians in our churches.”
He’s not telling us “Mass Evangelism” is bad. He’s telling us, “Do not think of evangelism as something that just happens at revivals.” “Do not think of evangelism as something that just happens overseas, through the missionaries that we fund either through the Cooperative Program or individually as a church.” “Think of evangelism as what you do everyday.” “Think of evangelism as a normal part of your everyday life.”
That absolutely does not mean that you run up and down the streets of Louisburg, running up to people asking if they have “a moment to talk about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” But it absolutely does mean that you are publicly, visibly, noticeably Christian. That’s what it means. That’s pretty much the whole thing.
Take a look at the example that Jesus actually gives us here in John chapter 4. He sits down with this Samaritan woman at the well, and he has a genuine human connection with her. That’s step one. In reality, that’s really more like steps one through ten. You forge a genuine connection with people, and if you don’t it is profoundly unlikely that your evangelism is going to do much of anything.
Looking at our passage, it’s almost kinda funny how simple the connection is: We see Jesus and the Samaritan woman bonding over the fact that they’re both thirsty. That’s a pretty universal human quality, right?
It’s very much a universal human trait that everybody, everywhere has to drink at some point, and so the woman at the well has at least one thing in common with Jesus. But the fact that she is physically thirsty doesn’t even halfway compare to her spiritual thirst. The woman at the well is thirsty for more than just water, she’s hungry for more than just food, she is lonely for more than just friendship, or family, or romance.
All of these normal human needs and desires are important in themselves, but all of them point to something much deeper. And that is that all of us have a deep spiritual thirst; all of us have a deep spiritual hunger; you have a deep spiritual loneliness within yourself, and that loneliness will never go away no matter how many friends you have or how stable your family relationships are or how fulfilling your love life is, because at the end of the day all of those things, though good, are incomplete apart from the deep spiritual needs that they are pointing towards.
And so Jesus and the Samaritan woman get to talking about water, Jesus flips the script and says, “You know, we both drink this water, but we’re just gonna get thirsty again.” Hard to argue with that, right? But he goes on, and says “If you knew who I was, you’d be asking me to give you Living Water, and you’d drink it, and you would never thirst again.”
That kind of sounds like Jesus is saying a whole lot of nothing, right? Like, generally speaking, if somebody is starving, and what you hand them is a gospel tract, you’re a jerk. I guess they can eat the gospel tract, but what they need is food. The kind of stuff that goes into your stomach. And provides the necessary nutrition.
Generally speaking, if somebody is parched to the point of death, what they need from you is literal, actual water. The kind of water you get from the sink, or a well, or the city water supply. Do not offer people spiritual something-or-others when what they need is regular old Plain Jane something-or-others.
But what Jesus is doing here is a million miles away from that. He’s doing something completely different. Jesus is saying, “Your thirst is important. But your thirst is more than just thirst. Your hunger is more than just hunger. Your loneliness is more than just loneliness. Your curiosity is more than just curiosity. All of those things you find within yourself are echoes of something deeper. Your physical thirst points towards your spiritual thirst. And I’d like to tell you how to meet those deep spiritual needs you maybe never knew you had until today.”
Notice how wildly different the evangelism methods that Jesus uses are from the evangelism methods we are usually sold by self-proclaimed “Evangelism Aficionados,” right? Most of the time what you see on television is about tricking people into signing off on a handful of propositions and then ringing the bell and saying, “I got another one!” Right?
Ever seen one of those videos where certain very popular evangelists will go up to somebody out of nowhere and say, “Hey, I got a couple questions for you.” And the person they’re talking to will say “Okay.”
And he’ll say, “Out of curiosity, you ever told a lie before?” And they’ll say, “Well, yeah, everybody has.”
And the evangelist’ll say, “So you admit it, you’re a liar. You know where liars go when they die?” And they probably very confused person they’re talking to will say, “I don’t know.” And they’ll say, “Liars go to hell. Do you want to go to hell?” And they’ll say “Not particularly.”
And the Evangelist’ll say “Well, then repeat this prayer after me.” He’ll say a few lines out of a prayer and then they’ll copy after him and then he’ll have them sign a release form so they can put the video on the internet, and that’s that.
That’s what passes for evangelism most of the time in the United States of America at this particular point in time – but, tell me: Would anybody in their right mind say that has any resemblance to the evangelism that we see throughout the New Testament? Obviously not. The New Testament really doesn’t have a category for making somebody super scared about getting lit on fire and then saying, “But hey, don’t worry, if you repeat this prayer after me, that won’t happen to you.” There’s no category in the New Testament for that, because that isn’t evangelism. That isn’t sharing the gospel. That’s a far cry from the evangelism we actually see throughout the New Testament.
But what we do see, in passages like John chapter 4 is Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman, recognizing her deep spiritual need, and then showing her how that deep spiritual need is met in Jesus Christ. That’s one element that goes into evangelism as the Bible actually depicts it. He says “You’re going to drink this water and eventually get thirsty again, but there’s a thirst that goes beyond thirst. What you need is Living Water. The kind that’ll quench your thirst in such a way that you will never thirst again.”
But maybe the most noteworthy thing about the way this passage portrays evangelism is how unbelievably little goes into it. We see Jesus showing the Samaritan Woman the deeper spiritual need beneath her otherwise very typical human need, we see the light bulb go off, we see her realize that Jesus is the Messiah, devote herself to him, then dead-sprint back into the town where she lives to grab just about everybody she knows, bring them back and introduce them to him. That is the whole thing.
You know why I think so many churches do jack when it comes to evangelism? Because they hyper-complicate it. That’s really what I think it comes down to. You know why to so many people are so unbelievably nervous when it comes to evangelism? Because they make it a million times more complicated than the Samaritan woman made it.
For the Samaritan woman, it was so unbelievably simple. It was very much, “Y’all knew me. Ya’ll know everything I’ve ever done. Ya’ll know what I was like. So did Jesus. This guy just told me everything about my life. This guy just understood me better than I understood me. This guy just showed me the deeper spiritual need beneath my very typical human needs. This guy showed me that I was thirsty for a Living Water, that I was thirsty with a thirst I didn’t even know I had. That I was hungry with a hunger I didn’t even know I had. That I was lonely with a loneliness I didn’t even realize I was carrying around.”
She goes to everybody that she used to know, everybody that she used to wrong, everybody that she used to exploit, everybody that she used to take advantage of, And she says “I bet you have that same underlying emptiness as me.” “I bet you have that same deep, overwhelming, thoroughgoing spiritual thirst that I’ve had.” “And if that’s true, I can show you exactly who can meet that need.”
That’s a bold claim. But in the case of the Samaritan woman, it wasn’t too bold of a claim to believe, because the changes that it brought about in her life were too obvious to ignore. Like Jesus said earlier in the passage, she had five husbands in the past, and the man that she was with now wasn’t her husband. The Samaritan woman had five consecutive spouses. If you have five consecutive failed marriages, that probably either means that you have been married to 5 absolute dirtbags who just keep throwing you aside, or that you are desperately searching for something that marriage cannot provide to you. And it’s probably the latter.
That was the Samaritan woman. She was looking for more than any marriage could possibly provide for her. She was desperate for more than any one person could ever possibly fulfill for her. She was grasping frantically for more than any one human being could ever possibly provide to her, because that’s just how that goes. That’s what it’s like to be human. You are born with deep, overwhelming emotional needs that your spouse cannot possibly satisfy. That your parents cannot possibly satisfy. That your children cannot possibly satisfy. That your friends cannot possibly satisfy.
And unless you’re genuinely defining yourself through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, in all likelihood you’re going to try your absolute hardest to force them to satisfy those needs. Right? Metaphorically speaking, you’re going to grab your spouse by the collar and either openly or subtly demand that they meet those deep emotional needs in yourself that they do not have the capacity to fill. And so you’ll burn that bridge all the way down to the ground and probably not even regret it because the bitterness that will grow up in you as a result of your unmet emotional needs will turn you so radically against them that it’s a wonder you don’t kill them. That’s what happens when you try to force other people to meet the deepest needs within your soul.
You will do the same thing to your children. You will warp and wreck your children because you demand more out of them than they can possibly provide you. You will demand that they fulfill your emotional needs as a parent in a way that no children could possibly do because children are not created for that.
You will come to resent your parents, not because they were abusive or anything like that, but because your parents were parents, not superheroes. Because your parents were human, not divine. You will resent your parents, no matter how good they are, because they cannot fill up that vacuum in you.
That’s what happens when you try to force regular, plain Jane water to do what only Living Water can do. That’s what happens when you trying to quench your deep, abiding spiritual thirst with other people’s sweat and blood and tears. That’s what the Samaritan woman used to do, and the result is that there was absolutely no husband that could satisfy her – no friend, no family member, no anything. That was her lonely existence before she met Jesus that fateful day at the well.
And, if we’re honest, that’s probably all of us. That is very much what we are when left to our own devices. But the Gospel of Jesus Christ changed everything about her. And as a result, everybody in town had to meet the guy who changed her. Our passages closes in verse 39-42, saying:
“Now many Samaritans from that town believed in Him because of what the woman said when she testified, “He told me everything I ever did.” Therefore, when the Samaritans came to Him, they asked Him to stay with them, and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of what He said. And they told the woman, “We no longer believe because of what you said, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this really is the Savior of the world.”
That’s very much what evangelism is. It’s not about impressing people. It’s not about out-smarting people. It’s about pointing people towards the God that their deep, spiritual needs are pointing them towards. It’s exactly that simple.
That’s why, when the disciples get back and lose their minds over the fact that Jesus was talking to that Samaritan woman, he says, “Open your eyes.”
He says, “Look at the fields.”
And when they opened their eyes and turned to look at the fields, they realized what everyone has to realize eventually: He says, “The fields are ready for harvest.”
I don’t know about you, but I regularly forget that. The fields are ready for the harvest, and our field is everybody outside those doors. While I was writing this, I couldn’t shake off the weight of my own hypocrisy. I am like the disciples. Jesus says, “Open your eyes,” because the disciples had their eyes closed. There was someone right there waiting to be introduced to the good news of Jesus Christ and they didn’t even see her. Because their eyes were shut. So are mine, most of the time.
I think that’s probably a common condition. We are very much like the disciples, here. We keep our eyes shut and we keep our line of vision away from the harvest. But Jesus shows us another way.
He seeks out the lost and invites them into his family. And he calls us to do the same.
That means that if you’re in the sanctuary this morning, you may very well be part of the fields were meant to harvest. Maybe you’ve heard about Jesus throughout your life, but you’ve never really understood what people are talking about, or maybe you’ve been a member of this church since before I existed, but you’ve never actually surrendered yourself to the Jesus this passage describes – whatever the case – we would like to invite you to throw yourself on the mercy of Jesus exactly the way that the Samaritan Woman models in our passage today.
So I’ll be standing at the front as we respond to the Lord in worship through song in just a moment, waiting for you.