Now when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he departed from Judea and went again to Galilee. He had to pass through Samaria, so he came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son, Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and so Jesus, wearied as he was with his journey, sat down beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her: “Give me a drink,” for his disciples had gone away into 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? For Jews have no dealing 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 nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father, Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, and his sons and his cattle?” Jesus said to her: “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. The water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him: “Sir, give me this water that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” Jesus said to her: “Go, call your husband and come here.” 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 he whom you now have is not your husband. This you said truly.” The woman said to him: “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” Jesus said to her: “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the father. You worship what you do not know, we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jew. But the hour is coming and now is when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for such the Father seeks 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, he who is called Christ, when he comes he will show us all things.” Jesus said to her:I who speak to you am He.
John 4:1-26 RSV
Now last week, in our series on the soul winning of Jesus, we dealt with the encounter of our Lord with an intellectual, Nicodemus, one of these men who supposes that all knowledge is possible to human reasoning. Then we saw how the Lord brought him face to face with mystery, and Jesus spoke to him of the new birth, and what was involved in that, and illustrated it with the mystery of the wind, and thus brought him face to face with his own need.
Now tonight, the person that we have with us in quite a different person. The woman of Samaria is no intellectual by any means. In fact, she comes from the opposite end of the cultural spectrum. She’s what we would call a romanticist. I don’t know whether we could all agree on the definition of romanticism. I looked it up in Webster’s dictionary, and he described romance this way, among other meanings. He says, “it’s a dreamy, imaginative habit of mind, tending to dwell on the picturesquely unusual, as a girl full of romance.” And when I read that, I thought this was a very apt description of the woman of Samaria, at least when she was a girl.
Now I want to plunge right into the middle of this familiar story, and look at this woman as Jesus saw her. In the midst of this conversation as we’ve just read it, he said to her suddenly, “Go call thy husband,” and she must have been a bit taken aback by this. But she replied, “I have no husband.” And he said, “Yes, that’s right, you spoke truly, you have no husband. I know that. But the truth is, you’ve had five husbands, and the man you’re living with now is not your husband.” And she says, “I can see that you are a prophet.”
Now the question immediately comes to us as we read this account, how did Jesus know these facts about this woman? And that’s very difficult to answer, because we’re not told how he knew. I suppose the easiest answer to give, and I confess, one which has satisfied me for many years, is that he was acting out of his divine omniscience – that he knew all things, and he knew this as well, and as the son of God he could know everything in every human life. But the longer I’ve read and studied the Scriptures, the more I’ve become acquainted with the Lord, the less I believe that to be true. Perhaps it is true, but if it is divine omniscience that Jesus is exercising here, it’s not his as the Son, it’s the Father’s divine omniscience, because the Lord himself tells us that he did nothing by himself, or he knew nothing by himself. He says that the Father is the one who reveals all things to him, and tells him all things, and knows all things. So that, if this is an activity of divine omniscience – knowing all things – it is not his as the Son, but it’s the Father.
But I rather am inclined to think that this is neither; that this is nothing more than seeing in human perspective, that the Lord saw something about this woman that revealed these facts to him. You remember that, as we began this series last week, we read the verse in John 2 in which John records that Jesus knew what was in man. Therefore, Jesus knew it was not necessary for anyone to tell him about men. That is, Jesus knew from the Scriptures and from his own fellowship with the Father what man is like, and therefore he could quickly interpret, and properly see all the little revelations of ourselves that we’re continually giving, by gesture, by idiom, by attitude, by tone of voice, by the things we wear, and the way we walk, and the way we talk. He knew what was in man, and nobody needed to tell him. And I think this is true here.
I don’t know what it was about this woman that gave him this information. Perhaps she had five notches on her belt, and the beginning of another, but at least he knew something about her that revealed that she had had five husbands. Maybe she had five wedding rings on. I don’t know, but he knew. And he tells her this. He saw it all, doubtless as he watched her while he was sitting in weariness beside the well. And he sized her up as she came to the well, and he realized what kind of a woman she was. At any rate, the facts reveal her story, and as we see what our Lord brings out about this woman, we can see what kind of woman she was.
She had gone from man to man, in a fruitless search for happiness. She’d had five husbands, and that hadn’t satisfied her, and now she was on another romantic quest, living with another man who was not yet her husband. Now this woman’s name is not given to us. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find that it might have been Liz or Rita or Marilyn or something of that sort. At any rate, the same emotional drives are involved in her account as are involved in the lives of some of the famous women of our days, that go from husband to husband and never are satisfied. Now what is it? You can’t read this account without being confronted with this question. What it is that makes the woman have six men in a row? What kind of a drive in her is it that compels her to this activity?
Well, that’s why I called this woman a romanticist, because she’s engaged on a never-ending, fruitless search for romance. Now every young person here knows what romance is. At least if you don’t, you want to. It’s that magic, golden thrill of falling in love, that marvelous thing that transforms an ordinary boy into a Greek god, or makes a nice girl into a glorious, captivating creature, that makes the heart pound and the head swim. It’s a wonderful feeling.
I remember a night in Hawaii… oh well, I won’t go into that. It’s enough to realize that romance is a kind of glorious intoxication. It’s something that makes the whole world look different. It imparts a kind of an arm-flinging ecstasy. There’s a beat in the blood that you cannot still. And it’s a glorious, heady kind of joy, that all the world loves and loves to see. Now in the normal development of this heady intoxication of falling in love, it would be expected that this would lead to marriage, and simmer down into a steadier, deeper, even richer kind of love that’s intended to last for life. It’s fortunate if this were true. If we had to live all our life on the stimulating intoxication of falling in love, we’d quickly burn up. But God is designed that true romance, which is a perfectly normal and natural thing, will turn into this steadier, deeper, quieter, richer kind of love that keeps the heart satisfied over all of a lifetime.
C.S. Lewis says that it’s this steadier kind of love that is the fuel on which the engine of life runs, but falling in love is the explosion that starts it. And I think that’s an apt simile. But the trouble is in many people, especially today, under the impact of Hollywood, and false and voluptuous ideas of romance, there are many who are so entranced by the headiness of the explosion of falling into love that they are never willing to let the deeper kind of love form. Because it takes a while, it doesn’t just come automatically. And when the glory of falling in love begins to fade, then they become restless, and they feel cheated, and deprived and disappointed, and eventually all the glow fades out of their life and they become desperate, almost trapped. Then along comes a new man, and the fires begin to glow again, and a new intoxication follows which is never quite as strong, quite as delightful as the first one. So they go then, from jag to jag, from intoxication to intoxication, trying to live on this stimulating, heady wine of falling in love, mistaking that as the intention of God for the human life.
Now this is, I think you will recognize, the story of literally millions of people today, especially in our land, especially in our state, especially in our area. This is their story. They are slaves of a romantic alcoholism which is as binding and enslaving as true alcoholism could ever be. And these poor people are caught up in a vicious circle of passion that can only leave them spent in ruin, empty of the hopes of a once vibrant humanity. Well, that’s the picture I’m sure of this woman that comes to the well at Samaria. Now, how did Jesus treat her? What does the Lord of glory do with a creature like this, entranced with an illusion, trying to capture something she can never find, stumbling from the arms of one man into another, hoping once again to catch the glorious, exhilaration of that first headiness of falling in love, and never able to do it? What does he do with her?
Well, he first of all – and it’s wonderful to watch how he deals with her – he first of all revealed to her how fully he knew her deepest thirst, and it’s a record of amazing and infinite simplicity and delicacy. You remember how he overcame her suspicion by asking for a drink. Such a simple thing to do, and yet it was the one thing, probably, that he could have done to open up this conversation with this woman. As you know, she was also from a race that was regarded as inferior among the Jews, so that the barrier of race prejudice was raised immediately between them. He knew he was a Jew, he knew that she was a Samaritan, and she knew that he knew that she was a Samaritan. And immediately there was no expectation on her part that this Jewish stranger would have anything to do with her at all. But to her amazement he says to her, “Would you give me a drink?” And she’s immediately astonished, which is why she says, “Why do you ask me this? Don’t you know that Jews have no dealings with Samaritans?” Now, had he put it the other way around, had he said to her, “Would you let me give you a drink?” I think she would have rebuffed him instantly.
But when he asked a favor of her, whom she must feel he would regard as being inferior, it immediately demolishes all barriers, and she responds immediately to him. And then he awakened her curiosity by hiding the meaning of his words under a figurative form. Remember he said to her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying ‘give me a drink,’ you would have asked of him, and he would have given you living water.” I suggest to you that this is the best possible way that Jesus could have dealt with the woman. He aroused her curiosity. He immediately put before her, in veiled and enigmatic language, a mystery. And where is the woman who can withstand a mystery any more than a bargain? And so she says to him, “Sir,” trying to plumb the mystery, “you’ve got nothing to draw with and the well is deep. What do you mean? What are you talking about?” And again he arouses her curiosity. He says “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again. But whosoever shall drink of the water that I shall give him will never thirst, for the water that I will give him will be in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Well, that has her curiosity fully developed, and she’s instantly alert to what he has to say. She wants to know what this is all about.
And you know, in dealing with men and women concerning their need, this is a very important lesson to learn, this need to not immediately plunge into a theological exhortation or dissertation, or start opening the Bible and expounding the plan of salvation. It’s so much better to say something in such a way as to arouse curiosity. I remember Dr. Ironside telling about a time when he was riding on the train on a long journey. And at a certain station, a Catholic priest, all garbed in his robes and all, came aboard, and coming into the car noted that the only seat left was beside Ironside. So he sat down beside him. At first Dr. Ironside was a bit perplexed as to how to begin the conversation, and finally he just simply asked the man where he was going, and the priest told him, and they began to converse. After a moment the Catholic priest said to him: “Sir, what do you do for a living?” And this was Ironside’s golden moment. It would have been so easy for him to simply flip open his Bible and said, “Well, look I’ve got something to tell you. I’m a Protestant preacher, and I want to tell you the gospel.” And if he had, the man would have been gone.
But instead Dr. Ironside looked at him and said, “Well Sir, you may not believe this, but I’m a Catholic priest.” And the man was astounded! He drew back and said, “What do you mean? Why, you don’t have any vestments on.” He said, “You mean to say that you are a priest traveling in this kind of an outfit?” And Ironside said, “But you don’t understand, I said I was a Catholic priest. I’m not a Roman Catholic priest, I’m a priest of that great church, which the Lord Jesus Christ began, and that church is a Catholic, a universal church, and I’m a priest in that.” And he said, “Would you mind if I show you what I mean?” And the priest said, “I’d be delighted.” And so Ironside opened up the Scriptures and read to him, “Thou hast made them a kingdom of priests unto our God,” and explained what that means.
So you see it’s that kind of an approach that leaves a wide open door. And our Lord did that. He said to this woman, “I have something to give you, it’s living water, the gift of God. If you had it, you would never thirst again.” And her curiosity is tremendously aroused. And then, at that moment, instead of satisfying it as she expected he was ready to do, he began to deal with her sense of guilt. This is when he said to her, “Go call thy husband and come here.” And immediately comes the revelation of her true situation. Now why did he do that? Why does he suddenly switch the subject, when he got her all ready to listen to what he has to say?
Well, it’s because God is a complete realist. The Lord Jesus always dealt with things exactly as they are. He never kids himself; he never is put off by some coloration that seems to make something look a little more different than it really is. He deals with things in ultimate and complete realism. And he knew, therefore, that you can never live with grace until you’ve known forgiveness. That guilt is an eternal barrier between the soul and God. And no one can ever live in the glory of God’s presence without having first settled, somewhere and somehow, this crisis of guilt. And so he raises the issue himself.
This has entranced me, because I’ve come to see that this is one of the basic problems of human life. Psychologists tell us that all of us have, to some degree or another, a guilt complex, and probably the deepest and most serious problem in all our lives, even as Christians, is that of guilt. It’s guilt that keeps us under the bondage of legality, and keeps us from entering into the freedom and the glory of our inheritance in Christ. It’s this nagging sense of having failed God that keeps us running away from him, instead of enjoying the glory of His presence. And it’s because we don’t believe what God has told us about what he’s done about the crisis of guilt, that keeps us so defeated all the time, so that even in the Christian life guilt is serious problem.
Now it’s all the more so in the non-Christian. Guilt is that sense of violation of our consciousness of justice that all of us have. And God has imparted to every human heart a sense of justice; it’s what we call our conscience. And when we violate it we have a sense of guilt. And the strange thing about guilt is you can’t simply just say to the person who is suffering from guilt, “Well, why don’t you just forget about it? This is what is troubling you, so now, just forget about the guilt, and you’ll have no more trouble,” because they can’t do that. There is that within the human heart that simply will not forget this. And the only way that guilt can be dispelled is by satisfying the sense of human justice. That’s the glory of the gospel, because it tells us that God himself has completely met the demands of justice, and has paid the ultimate price, and has borne all the hurt and the guilt and the penalty himself. That’s the mystery of that cross. And when we believe that, we can let the matter rest with him, and immediately, if we have genuinely believed what God has said, there’s a lifting of the sense of guilt upon our own hearts. He has met it, and therefore, we don’t need to anymore.
Now our Lord begins to deal with this woman on the question of guilt, because this is the barrier that keeps her away from God. And immediately he reveals to her — her life. He doesn’t blame her. You notice that he doesn’t hurl recriminations upon her head. He doesn’t say, “Now you’re a poor, lost, filthy, guilty sinner, and unless you confess that you are a sinner, you never can be saved.” No, he doesn’t have to do that. This woman knows that she’s a sinner. She’s been running and hiding from this thing all her life. What he says to her is simply to reveal, and she says to him, “I perceive that you are a prophet.” That is, “I see that you know everything about me.”
And then she seems to change the subject, though she really doesn’t. She says, “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” And this looks like an abrupt, right-about face, and many reading this passage have wondered, “Is this woman simply trying to avoid any further probing from our Lord into her hidden life? Is she trying to change the subject and evade what he’s asking?” But I don’t think so. And the reason that I don’t think so is because she has just admitted that he is a prophet. She realizes that she is standing in front of someone who knows, and can know, all about her. To her he is a prophet, and what can you hide from a prophet? So she’s not trying to hide. Then why does she raise this question of worship? The reason is because she realizes, or she unconsciously understands, that worship is what she needs, and that guilt has been keeping her from worship; that she has never been able to properly lose herself in worship of God, because of this nagging consciousness of her guilt and the sin in which she has lived. And so that’s why she raises the question of worship. It’s all in line, you see, with this problem of the deep, grim guilt of her life.
Now the Lord immediately goes on, and answers her question about where to worship. He says, “Believe me woman, the hour is coming, when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship God. For the moment your question has some relevance,” that is, as he goes on to point out, “you Samaritans worship in ignorance; you don’t know what is back of your worship. But we Jews know what we worship. But in neither case is the place important, for the hour is coming and now is” – that’s the point– “and now is, when they that worship must pay no consideration at all as to where it’s done, or how it’s done, but simply that it is done in spirit and in truth, because that is what the Father seeks to worship Him.”
And he reveals this marvelous truth to her – “The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshippers will worship the Father there, in the honesty of their own hearts.” That’s all, down in the very depths of their being, in utter truthfulness, telling him the whole thing. That’s worship. That’s what he just led her to do; to unfold the secrets of her life, and without realizing it, she’d begun to worship. And then he says, “the Fathers seeks such to worship him.” Well, that’s the kind of God He is. God is a spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth. And then she says something very revealing. She says, “I know that Messiah is coming, he who is called the Christ. When he comes he will show us all things.” What does she mean by this?
Well, she knows that only the Messiah can adequately deal with the question of guilt. This is a woman who knows the Scriptures. You can see the hunger of her heart in all her knowledge, and in her interest in these religious questions. And she doubtless knows all those predictions of the Old Testament, that there is One coming who will enter into this whole question of human guilt. She’s read the 53rd chapter of Isaiah, “All we like sheep have gone astray, we’ve turned, every one, to our own way, but the Lord will lay on him the iniquity of us all.” And she says, “You’re right, I know, you’re right, that I can never worship in spirit and in truth until all the guilt of my life is dealt with. And there’s one coming someday who will do this.”
And then the Lord reveals himself to her. “I who speak to you am he.” And instantly, though the disciples interrupt at this point, instantly in this woman’s heart is the realization that what he says is the truth, and that all the question of guilt is settled in him. And in a moment, leaving her water pot, she’s off to city with the glad news that here indeed is the Christ, the one who had been promised.
Now linking these things together – and then I’m through this evening – do you see why our Lord dealt with her like this? Why he raised these questions of guilt and worship to a woman who is seeking romantic experience? It’s because, you see, romanticism is a search for worship. The experience of falling in love is a kind of worship. Amazingly enough, I think, in one of the ancient marriage ceremonies, the bridegroom would say to the bride as they stood before the altar, “With my body I thee worship.” And this is what the experience of falling in love is. It’s the intended glory of the human heart, which can only find its ultimate fulfillment in the worship of God.
And so, to this romanticist’s heart, searching ever for that which would bring again that exhilarating headiness that is like wine to the human spirit, our Lord reveals himself as the way of God, and the fact that in Him only is there the possibility of worship that fulfills this. I want to prove this by concluding with a quotation, taken from the biography of Jim Elliott, written by his wife. I’ve just been reading through this again, and what refreshment it is to my own heart. In one of Jim’s journals, written before he went out to Ecuador, he tells about going out on the hillside one night, right under the stars, and standing there, this is what he wrote: “It is exalting,” he says, “delicious to stand with the wind tugging your coat tails, and the heavens hailing your heart, to gaze and glory, and give oneself again to God.” That’s worship. That’s the answer to the tug of the human heart for romance.
Can we pray: Our Father, we realize as we read this account, that in the Lord Jesus we have one who knows the very depths of our being, one who knows the secret yearnings of the heart, those deep-seated longings that we cannot find words to express to another human about. But thou knowest them Lord. We thank thee that thou hast made provision for the satisfaction of these in thyself, that thou indeed hast made us for thyself. And our hearts are restless until we learn to rest in thee. Keep us Lord, then, from the folly of trying to satisfy ourselves on the dry husks and the empty cisterns of the world, seeking experiences there which never can meet our deep, painful cry. Turn our hearts unto thee. Teach us the meaning of these words – “They that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such to worship him.” We pray in Jesus name, Amen.