Unexpected Story of Grace

by Sean Foster on March 23, 2014

John 4:1-26

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, “Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John” —although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee.

But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”


According to a recent study conducted in the US this month, it shows that most Christians do not know the stories of their faith. And we have great stories.
• Adam and Eve
• Noah which is a new movie starring Russell Crowe.
• Abraham’s story – full of twists and turns
• Joshua
• Samson
• Gideon
The greatest story ever – the story of our Savior.

According to the study I read at religions.pewforum.org – it is embarrassing to discover that atheists and agnostics score better than Christians. They know the story of non-faith – better than Christians know the story of having faith in a living God.

How is it that Christians do not know the stories of their faith? Probably because Christians do not spend much time in the Word. The study results provide an interesting commentary of the Church today. A Church that wonders and is seemingly confused over why the church is declining in numbers. But it’s no mystery.

Today we must live in the age of evangelism. The churches mission and mandate is clear: Invite. Invite all to be alive in Christ?

And if we are to invite – we must be confident in our faith. And to be confident in our faith – we must be growing in our faith. To be growing in our faith – we must know the stories of our faith. And according to the study I read – Christians do not know the stories of their faith.

Let’s look today. Let’s learn about this story that was shared with us from John’s Gospel chapter 4 today. This story as we read it in John’s Gospel is a fascinating story – but it would have been even more fascinating as the story circulated in this ancient time – when the event occurred.

A conversation between Jesus and an un-named woman at a well. The conversation should not have happened. In fact, Jesus being a Jew – he had no business being or traveling through this region of Samaria.

Let’s just back up a little bit and allow me to share a little bit of the history and even a geography lesson about the Holy Land in this ancient time.

The length of the Holy Land is just a little more than 200 kilometers in length. It’s really not a large area. But in this ancient time it was divided into three distinct regions. And each region had its own unique identity.
• In the North – region of Galilee
o Nazareth is located in North where Mary and Joseph lived.
• In the South – Judea
o Jerusalem
o Bethlehem
• In the middle – the region of Samaria


Jews lived in the North and South, and Samaritans lived in a region in the middle. Jews hated Samaritans.

The reason is because Samaritans were no longer fully Jewish. They married other peoples; they developed their own religion that borrowed from Judaism and the religions of other peoples. So their Jewishness was diluted. They were a mixed breed of people and because of that – hated and despised.

Samaria is part of the Holy Land. It’s roots are Jewish.

So, the history lesson.
• Father Abraham
• Has a son Isaac
• Isaac has a son Jacob.
• Jacob has twelve sons
Jacob purchased a piece of land in part of what later Samaria. He digs a well for his family and flocks.

In our lesson today, Jesus stops at a well. Guess who dug the well? Jacob: Abraham’s grandson.

But as I say, Jews hated Samaritans. A Jew traveling from Galilee to Judea or from Judea to Galilee would never travel through the region of Samaria. They would go around. Samaritans were considered unclean. They were despised and hated; they were not God’s chosen.

So, in verse 3 of our lesson today we learn that Jesus and his disciples are traveling from Judea to Galilee, and Jesus decides to travel through Samaria.

They stop just outside of the Town of Sychar by the well that Jacob dug. Jesus rests and the disciples go into town to get some lunch. We are told that it was the 6th hour, which means it was 12 noon, lunchtime.

Verse 7: a Samaritan woman comes to the well to draw water. This is a strange time of day to collect water from the well. Women would be seen gathering early in the morning, avoiding the heat of the day. It would become like a coffee shop atmosphere. Catching up on news, sharing stories as water was collected for their families for the day. They would gather early in the day, not in the middle of the day in the height of the heat.

This woman in our story comes in the middle of the day. But we find out later that there is a reason why she avoids collecting water with the other women. As the story plays out – we soon learn this woman is a sinner. She avoids the other women because she is avoided. This woman is often the topic of conversation around the well.

So, Jesus does something strange. In this ancient culture, men do not talk to women, and women do not talk to men. Jesus asks the woman for a drink.

It is even more scandalous that Jesus a Jew asks this woman a Samaritan for a drink. Jesus breaks etiquette again the fact that he is a Rabbi holiness is his occupation. This act of asking the Samaritan woman for a drink makes him look un-holy. He breaks the rules. And it is worse again because of the fact that this woman is a sinner. But Jesus is not concerned about the rules. He is not concerned about the etiquette. He asks the woman for a drink.

If he cared for his own reputation at all – he would not ask for a drink. If he cared about his reputation – he would have stayed thirsty and ignored the woman.

This is how loving, gracious and merciful our God is. He worries not; he thinks not about his reputation. He associates and spends time with sinners – because he loves them.

Let’s have a look at the conversation that develops between Jesus and this woman. The woman addresses the elephant in the room. How is it that you a Jew, asks for a drink from me – a Samaritan woman?

But Jesus is so wise. He makes it a teaching opportunity. He talks about living water. If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is asking you for a drink, say’s Jesus. You would have asked him, and would have given you living water.

Jesus makes it a teaching opportunity. He uses a code word to talk about the gift that he offers this woman.

In the Old Testament – Living Water is a metaphor for salvation. So, as we read this story, the clue for us is to not be distracted by the water. The woman, at first, she doesn’t quite understand what Jesus was really talking about. She keeps talking about water. But Jesus is talking about Salvation. It is the reason he came. The reason he left his heavenly glory. Here the words Jesus speaks with fresh ears today. If you knew who you were talking to – you would have asked me for salvation.

But as I say, the woman doesn’t get it at first. You have nothing to draw water – she say’s to him. Where can you get this living water? Now she is more curious. She say’s: Are you greater than our father Jacob who dug this well – who drank from it himself, who watered his flocks and herds?

John does this all through his Gospel. He uses metaphors to talk about the gift of God and salvation. But don’t miss what he is saying. Everyone who drinks the water from this well – he say’s will be thirsty again. The living water… [the salvation] that I give will forever quench your thirst. It will become a spring of water welling up into eternal life.

She still hasn’t quite caught on… Give me this water, she say’s, so I don’t have to come back to this well anymore.

So Jesus changes direction and makes the conversation more personal. Go get your husband and bring him back.

She say’s: I have no husband, which is actually only a partial truth. Jesus, the Way, the Truth and the Life – he is able to see into the woman’s life. He gets to the heart of who she is – and what separates her from God and her community.

You’re right, Jesus say’s to her. The fact is – you have had five husbands. And the one you’re with now – is not your husband. Now John doesn’t flesh verse 18 out for us, but let me provide some understanding here.

Five husbands! The man she is living with just uses her. He doesn’t even love her enough to marry her. She fetches water and cooks for a man who doesn’t even love her.

Five husbands. I don’t know Samaritan law – but Jewish law would only allow a woman to divorce twice. John, gives us enough information that we know this is a sinful woman. There is a reason why this woman does not fetch water with the other women. She is shunned by them. She has led a sinful life.

You see, although Samaritans borrowed from other religions – they did follow the Pentateuch – the first five books. The books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The books of law.

As Jesus reveals the woman’s sin, she can see that Jesus is a man of God. You are a prophet, she say’s to him.

But then she say’s something that I wrestled with. I wasn’t sure about what John was trying to communicate in the text. When she starts talking about: Our ancestors worshipped on the mountain; you Jews say we should worship in Jerusalem. You see, at first I thought – Ah, she’s just trying to avoid the conversation that Jesus was trying to have with her. I mean, there was a great debate between Jews and Samaritans as to the rightful place for worship.

But the more I read it – the more I came to understand – this woman wants to deal with her sin. I mean, it is the woman’s sin that separates her from God and from the gift of living water, the gift of salvation that Jesus can give to her.

As Jesus reveals her sin – she is convicted. You must be a prophet. I believe that this woman wants to get right with God. She wants to get back to worship. She is asking – so – where do I worship?

And Jesus responds – it doesn’t matter where you worship. A time is coming when true worshipers will worship in Spirit and Truth.

Part of the gift of salvation that Jesus gives to us is that he changes worship when he died on the cross for our sin. The rules of worship are stripped away. We have full access to God. No matter where we are – we can worship God in Spirit and in Truth. It doesn’t matter if we are in a car singing praise to God, or praying, or out in nature, surrounded by God’s good creation, beside our bed, or even gathered corporately as we are today.

Christ has given us this wonderful gift of full access to God.

As the conversation continues, as Jesus continues to teach, the woman does catch on. She say’s to him: you’re talking about the Messiah. I know that when he comes – he will proclaim all things to us.

And then finally – Jesus reveals it – You’re talking to him. I am the Messiah.

Now our lesson ends at verse 26 today, but the story actually continues. This is a beautiful story. About a God of Love who risks his own reputation so that we can have life.

The rules of the day – said that Jesus was not to talk to this woman. A woman who obviously knows about God, but her sin cuts her off from God.

Jesus is the first mover.
• He calls her into relationship.
• Jesus invites this woman.
• He helps her deal with her sin.
• He shares the gift of salvation.
• He restores her.
She receives the gift of Living Water that Jesus offers.

But as I say, the story actually continues past the lesson we read today. As she receives the gift of salvation what does she do? She goes and shares the good news. Come and see the man who told me everything I have ever done.

Lent. That season before Easter. A season to prepare for the gift of salvation that God gives to the world. Nailing our sin to the cross and giving us a resurrected life.
• Life eternal.
• Our broken relationship with God repaired.
• Because what separated us from God – is no longer an issue.
• Our sin is forgiven an atoned for.
God does all the work so that we can be in relationship with him.

Lent is a season to deal with our sin. To recognize, confess, and repent – turn away from it. So that we can embrace God with all of our hearts, minds, soul and strength.

Lent is a time to ask – what sin takes me away from God. What takes me away from the most important relationship I have. What distracts me from this wonderful God?
• Is it some habit?
• Is it pride?
• Is it anger,
• Is it the sin of not being reconciled with friend, family member, co-worker. Brother or sister in Christ.
• Is it because my priorities are wrong?
• Is it because I am too focused on myself?
• Wanting my own way.
• Too selfish.

Want sin keeps me from embracing God fully?

If we give up anything – this season of Lent – let us giving us sinning.

Let us draw close to God as God has drawn close to us.


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