by Canon Mark A. Pearson
[based on a sermon given at Campton, NH Baptist Church (morning) and Trinity Charismatic Episcopal Church, Newton Junction, NH, (afternoon) on June 28, 2009 and at Atkinson, NH Congregational Church on July 12, 2009.]
Please first read John 4:7-29
Who Are the Samaritans?
Around 722 B.C. the northern kingdom of Israel was invaded by the Assyrians. Like conquerors before and since, the Assyrians deported a significant number of this conquered people to other parts of their empire and brought in people of other cultures to replace them. After intermarriage had been going on for some generations, the Samaritan population became “mixed race.” The beliefs the newcomers brought, as well as the beliefs of the surrounding nations, led to blending of religion as well. To the Jews in Jerusalem both the people and their religion were considered impure or mongrelized.
It was surprising, therefore, to this woman that Jesus, a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan (verse 9). It was also surprising that He, a male, would speak to her, a female. The fact is, that while God does not wink at a person’s sin, He reaches out to sinners so that they might come to salvation. Do we reach out to those whose life circumstances might turn us off so that they might be saved?
She Thinks Superficially
The woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus, a wise evangelist, uses this as a jumping off point for His reaching out to her. He uses enticing phrases like “living water,” and water that will make a drinker “never thirst” (verses 10-14). All she can imagine is that she’ll never have to go to the well again (verse 15).
More than half a century ago British clergyman J. B. Phillips wrote a book Your God Is Too Small. He did not write this for non-believers to help them come to faith. He wrote it for people like us who do believe in God but place mental limits on how much we think God can or would actually do.
For example, often people ask me to pray that God will give their doctors wisdom and skill (which I do pray for) but think it a stretch to ask me to pray they would be supernaturally healed. When I ask them why the first but not the second, they evidence a limited faith. God can do some things, usually fairly small, but He cannot or does not usually choose to do anything bigger. They believe in God but their God is “too small.”
How do we over come this limited faith? First, read over and over again both the “God sized” promises and the accounts of Him keeping those problems as recorded in Scripture. Then read biographies of The Lives of the Saints / The Heroes of the Faith and see what God has done since “Bible times.” Listen to the testimonies of others, people who are not prone to exaggerate. Then recall times when, indeed, God intervened in a supernatural way in your life. As you do all of this, your faith will grow.
Jesus’ “Word of Knowledge”
Jesus knows some truths about this woman. She’s been married (and, we assume, divorced) five times and is now living with a man (verses 16-19). How does He know this? There’s no evidence that He either knows this woman nor has heard about her from others. We assume “He just knows.” How? Some might say, “Because He’s God.” Indeed, He is God (John 1:1 and 14). I do not believe, this is how He knows. I believe that He knows because His Holy Spirit-filled humanity received a “word of knowledge.”
This is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:8). It describes a supernatural working of God whereby someone comes to possess information not by observation, study or being told by someone else. Simply put, God told you directly. Among other purposes, Jesus came to model for us Christian experience. He said, “He who believes in me will also do the works that I do” (John 14:12). Since we do not have a divine nature like Jesus, in order for us to do His works, we must do them as He did — through a Spirit-filled human nature.
Sometimes when I minister to people God will give me such a word of knowledge. Sometimes it gets right to the heart of the matter cutting through ignorance and confusion. Other times it truly demonstrates God is supernatural and He works supernaturally today. (Of course this like any of the gifts of the Spirit must be used in a gentle, respectful way.)
The Woman Dodges the Issue
Jesus puts His finger on a central issue in the woman’s life. Her multiple divorces and her living with a man outside of marriage are moral failures (sin) requiring repentance and change in life style. They are a source of ongoing hurt which is why she is drawing water at the heat of the day — to avoid the catcalls of her fellow townspeople. (By the way, the danger in some “conservative” Christian circles would be to point the finger at her sin without loving her as a precious person who is hurting. The danger in some “liberal” Christian circles would be to treat her as a precious person who is hurting without calling her to account for her sin. Note Jesus, as always, engages in “tough love.” For a similar response, see His statement to the woman caught in the act of adultery in John 8:11.)
Here’s a great chance for her to get her life turned around. She realizes Jesus is a prophet (John 4:19) so here’s a great opportunity to get right with God. Instead, she brings up a theological dispute. Why does she do this? No doubt because if she focused on her own situation she would be told to repent and she doesn’t want to do it. How often does God send us such opportunities? Events that God orchestrates in our lives, words preached to many (but especially applicable to us) in sermons, gentle words from friends and even harsh judgments (though true in what they say) from critics are heaven-sent occasions for us to turn from sin and get right with God. Do not be like this woman and waste an opportunity for God to help you.
What is True Worship?
The woman’s question had to do with the correct place to worship. The Samaritans had erected a place of worship on Mt. Gerizim while the Jews said the correct place to worship was at the temple in Jerusalem. Which is right? Jesus said the answer was not where but how: “…in spirit and (in) truth…” (John 4:23).
I believe this has two parts. First, worship is to be “spirited.” Throw yourself into worship whether you feel like it or not. To use an old phrase, it’s your “bounden duty.” The old axiom is true: “You get out of worship what you put into it.” The word liturgy comes from two Greek words meaning “the work of the people.” Worship may be fun and it may feel good, but it’s also your job.
Secondly, worship is to be in the power of the Holy Spirit. Before you worship, ask God to empower you. Ask Him. Don’t just assume God will empower you.
This also has two parts. First, worship has a theological content to it. We worship God as He is defined in Scripture. All other worship is false worship. Anything we experience in worship — a vision, a feeling, a sense, a “word from God” — must be checked against what God says in Scripture and anything to the contrary quickly discarded as either “fleshly” (merely human) or even Satanic. Secondly, our worship should be our best offering. Musicians, for example, need to tune their instruments and rehearse. We’re not showing off, we’re not “jammin.” — we’re worshiping. If a musician is inexperienced, something simply done sincerely, reverently and well is far better than something complicated done poorly or to our own glory.
I remember what is now being called “The Music Wars” of the 1970s and 80s which pitted classical hymns accompanied on the organ against contemporary praise songs accompanied by a band. The war was fought on the wrong terms. The issue is not classical/organ versus contemporary/band. The issue is “In spirit and truth” verses NOT. Either kind of music can be done right; either can be done wrong.
Jesus Identifies Himself as the Christ, the Messiah
There are those, claiming to be knowledgeable, who flatly assert that Jesus never made great claims for Himself. Verse 26 is but one of many places where Jesus makes it clear he knows exactly Who He is. +