The Thirteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Gospel of John
Jesus’ encounter at Jacob’s well with a woman from Samaria is the first indication in John’s gospel that Jesus’ messianic mission will extend beyond the Jewish people to the ends of the earth. Our Lord’s mission will include people from every race, tribe, and tongue under heaven. Without any apparent regard for the long-standing cultural, political, and religious differences between Jews and Samaritans, Jesus speaks to this woman of the gift of eternal life, he informs her of a “living water” which takes away all human thirst, before explaining to her that the centuries old rift between Jews and Samaritans over the location of God’s temple is about to rendered moot, because in his very person a new age in redemptive history was dawning before her eyes.
When we left off last time (we wrapped-up our study of John chapter 3), Jesus and his disciples had left Jerusalem and were heading north back to Capernaum. On the way, they entered the hill country where John the Baptist was now baptizing. We saw that the Baptist once again affirmed to his followers that he is not the Messiah, but that he is the one whom God had sent to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah. When a debate arose between an unnamed Jew and the followers of John the Baptist over the nature of purification and the baptism of John, as reported in John 3:25, it is certainly not an accident that John (the disciple and author of the Gospel) continues his account of Jesus’ messianic mission with another incident involving water symbolism–this time with another unnamed person, a woman from Samaria.
The account of Jesus’ encounter with this woman (running from verses 1-42 of John 4) ideally should be covered in one sermon because the account (like many of the discourses in John) is seamless and does not really lend itself to division. But the reality is that to do the passage justice we would need to spend an hour or more to do so, so out of necessity we will tackle this section of John in two sermons. We will cover Jesus’ encounter and dialogue with this woman (the first 26 verses), and then next time we will take up the reaction of the disciples and the Samaritans to Jesus’ words (vv. 27-42).
According the opening verses of chapter 4, “now when Jesus learned 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 left Judea and departed again for Galilee.” The one thing that should jump out at us from this brief report is that at some point between the wedding in Cana (John 2) and Jesus leaving Jerusalem as recounted in the previous section of John 3, John the Baptist’s ministry has already begun to diminish while Jesus’ is increasing. This is exactly what John the Baptist said would happen (John 3:30).
No doubt, the Jewish religious leaders were increasingly worried about the popularity of John the Baptist as multitudes were flocking to him, first out in the wilderness east of the Jordan River, and now in the hill country just to the north of Jerusalem. But once Jesus made his first appearance in Jerusalem, cast the merchants and the money-changers from the Jerusalem Temple, all the while performing a number of unspecified miracles (signs which confirmed that the messianic age had dawned), Jesus was now on the Pharisees’ radar as yet another possible threat to their sect’s influence over the Jewish people.
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