The Sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent
John 4:5–30, 39–42
St Paul Lutheran Church, Manito, IL
Rev. James T. Batchelor
One of the ways to add a little variety to daily Bible study is to vary the amount of the bible that you read from day to day. On some days, you can focus on one verse of the Bible. You can meditate on that verse all day as you go about your daily activities. At other times, you can choose to read a complete event of Bible history or on a complete teaching of doctrine at one time. You can do word studies where you search through the bible for a particular word or phrase and notice all the different ways the Bible uses that word or phrase. Then, every so often, it is good to read an entire book of the Bible in one sitting. When you read an entire book, you notice very instructive patterns that you may not notice when you meditate on shorter sections of the Bible.
There is a pattern between last week’s Gospel from John and the reading that we just heard a few minutes ago. Last week we heard about the conversation that Jesus had with a Pharisee named Nicodemus. This morning, we heard about a conversation that Jesus had with the woman at the well. The Holy Spirit inspired John to place these two conversations near one another. First, John recorded the conversation with Nicodemus where He spoke of the new birth of water and the Spirit. Then, he recorded a few verses that describe Jesus teaching His disciples to baptize near the place John the Baptist was baptizing. Then the verses after that record that Jesus walked straight north through Samaria to meet the woman at the well and talk to her about living water. The account of Nicodemus and the account of the woman at the well are only separated by this ministry of baptism that Jesus taught to His disciples. The accounts of Nicodemus and the woman at the well just invite us to make comparisons.
Last week, we heard “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews.” (John 3:1) Notice he was a man, a Pharisee, and a ruler. This is someone who is at the apex of society … respected … a teacher … the cream of the crop. Today, we heard that Jesus was sitting beside Jacob’s well when a woman from Samaria came to draw water. (John 4:6–7) We also heard that this woman had been married five times and was currently living with a man who was not her husband. (John 4:17–18) It would be hard to find someone who was more different than Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a male. The woman was a female. Nicodemus was a Jew. The woman was a Samaritan. Nicodemus was a Pharisee … a man who had high moral standards. The woman was living in adultery. Many people would point at Nicodemus and say, “Here is an example of the best.” Many people would point at the woman and say, “Here is an example of the worst.”
Jesus had three good reasons not to talk with this woman. She was a female. She was a Samaritan. She was an adulterer. Any one of these characteristics would be enough to prevent communication. No one would blame Jesus for ignoring this woman. In fact, they would expect Him to ignore her.
Furthermore, the Holy Spirit inspired John to tell us what time of the day it was. Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. (John 4:6) That would be about noon … when the sun would bear down in full power. It was one thing for a weary traveler like Jesus to be at the well in the middle of the day, but the locals would come out to the well after the sun was low in the sky … during the cool of the day. The well would become the focal point of community life in the late afternoon and early evening. The fact that this woman came out at noon tells us that she was not welcome in the community. Even they shunned her. This woman was an outcast in every respect of the word.
Never the less, Jesus had some challenging teaching for this woman just as He had challenging teaching for Nicodemus the Pharisee in the reading we heard last week. Jesus broke down the barriers between Himself and this woman and showed that His teaching is for all people in all times and in all places.
Jesus transcended the cultural barriers between Him and the woman in a very simple way. He asked for a drink of water. With this seemingly simple request, He blew away the barriers that stood between them. The Holy Spirit inspired John to bring out the tremendous cultural break that this was by recording the woman’s response and then adding an editorial comment of his own. The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) (John 4:9) It is clear that Jesus will break down any barrier that seeks to prevent Him from doing what is right and fulfilling His vocation as Messiah.
Once Jesus broke down the cultural barriers, He began teaching this woman just as He taught Nicodemus in last week’s reading. Jesus told the woman, “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.” (John 4:10)
The woman struggled with Jesus’ words. She said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? (John 4:11) The woman expressed confusion because what Jesus said did not make sense from their point of view. She was thinking in terms of the flesh and not in terms of the spirit.
Jesus then took her to a special kind of water. He said, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:13–14) Here is another time that Jesus prepared someone for baptism. He spoke of the spring of water welling up to eternal life. His words invite the woman to change her focus from her short life here in time to her life forever in eternity.
It was then that Jesus began dealing with her poor lifestyle choices. He confronted her lifestyle with a simple request. Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (John 4:16) This was a reasonable request. In fact, according to the culture of that day, this is what Jesus should have done to begin with. Men did not normally interact with women outside of their family. Instead, a man normally went through another man who was closely related to the woman – a husband, father, adult son, or some other close relative. In this case, however, this ordinary request began a process that would cause the woman to confront her guilt. The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” (John 4:17)
Then Jesus laid her sins out before her. He said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” (John 4:17–18) Jesus laid out this woman’s lifestyle of adultery … a sin that was punishable by death … a sin that is still evil in God’s eyes today … a sin that earns eternal punishment.
It may seem that God is cruel when He forces us to face our sin, but that is not the case. This is actually part of the love that God has for us. As the Holy Spirit shows our sin to us, He shows us that we cannot save ourselves. He shows us that we must receive our salvation from outside of ourselves. He shows us our need for a savior. This reality check with the law prepares us for the living water of the Gospel.
You see, once the Law has softened our hearts, the Holy Spirit uses the living water of the Gospel to show our savior to us. Notice how Jesus brought the Gospel to the woman. 25The woman said to [Jesus], “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (John 4:25–26) The same Jesus who presented this woman with her sin now shows her the salvation from that sin. Jesus is the Gospel in the flesh. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the anointed one. He is the savior from all our sins.
The Holy Spirit used these words to work faith in this woman. It was just as Jesus had said. She became a spring of living water. The living water of the Gospel quickly became a fountain in this woman. The woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:28–29) The living water in her produced an instant missionary.
God used the living water of the Gospel that came out of this adulterous woman to perform an immense miracle. A Samaritan town asked a Jewish rabbi to teach them. He taught them for two days. Can you imagine today’s Palestinians allowing a Jewish rabbi to teach them for two days?
Eventually, the people of this town confessed, “We know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42) These people only had the books of Moses, but that was enough. They knew that this was the Seed of the Woman that God had promised to Adam and Eve in the Garden. They knew that this was the offspring of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through whom all the nations of the world would be blessed. They knew this was the fulfillment of all the sacrifices required by the Law of Moses. They knew that this was God’s sacrifice who would give up His life for the sins of the world. Because Jesus lovingly hammered a Samaritan woman with the law, a Samaritan village came to the knowledge of God’s salvation through the teaching of a Jewish rabbi – a Jewish rabbi who is their savior.
It is interesting that the Holy Spirit seemed to convert this woman at the well much more quickly than He converted Nicodemus. We see this throughout the Gospels. Tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners came to Jesus in droves. Meanwhile, the people who thought they were righteous stayed away. The people who should get it, don’t get it and the people who should not get it, receive it with eager hearts. The people who felt their guilt the most came to Jesus first. The people who felt their guilt the least came to Jesus last, if at all.
The Bible’s main message is that the Son of God took on human flesh, lived a perfect life under the law, and died on the cross in order to save sinners. It is the duty of your pastor to proclaim that you qualify for that salvation.
When flight attendants give instructions for emergencies at the beginning of a flight, they tell the passengers to place the oxygen mask on themselves first and then on the people around them. In a similar way, when Jesus tells the church to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins in His name, I need to proclaim it to myself first. I need to begin with my own evil self and the forgiveness that Jesus has for me. Only then can I proclaim that message to others. It is only when the church proclaims that message to herself first that she can go on to proclaim it to the world.
Our message to the world is not that Christians are better than anyone else, but that Christians are in the process of becoming honest about our sin. It is only as we see our true depravity in the law that we begin to see the love that God has for us in that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8) Through that death we receive forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, for where there is forgiveness of sins there is also life and salvation. Amen