Lessons from John 4 (Part 3)
John 4 tells the story of Jesus’ meeting and conversation with a woman of Samaria at a well. Jesus shows great patience and compassion to this woman as he reveals her need for a gracious Savior-King, and offers himself to her as her all-satisfying treasure (“living water”). Here are some more observations from this passage:
Jesus creates a longing for what only he can give (10-15). When Jesus says that he is able to provide her with “living water,” the woman assumes he is talking about running water, like that from a stream. So she asks, “Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” But Jesus is not talking about water from a stream or river. He is offering to give her God himself, in all of his all-satisfying goodness and grace. Jesus’ words are an echo of Jeremiah 2:13, where God describes himself as a fountain of living water: “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Similarly, in Zechariah 14:8, the prophet says that when God removes all evil from this world and dwells with his people in a restored creation, “on that day living waters will flow out from Jerusalem”. (Jerusalem refers to the heavenly city where God will dwell with his people and be their all-satisfying treasure and delight.) So Jesus is not offering this woman running water; he is offering her access to God, in all of his grace and mercy and goodness and glory. She is concerned for only water; he shows her that her greater need is to know her Maker.
Christians should help people to understand that the things which they are yearning for, unless they are yearning for God himself, will ultimately not satisfy. Augustine wrote in Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” Christians can confidently tell their friends, “You will never be satisfied unless you seek your satisfaction and delight in God.” Let us expose the emptiness of replacing God with wealth, possessions, fame, sexual pleasure, and other things. Let us create a longing for what only Jesus can provide.
Jesus patiently brings the woman from total ignorance to greater and greater understanding. He does not rebuke her or give up because she does not understand (10-26). As Jesus talks with the woman, she repeatedly reveals her ignorance about spiritual matters. First, she misunderstands him when he offers her living water. So Jesus patiently explains that he is not talking about liquid refreshment, but eternal life and the resulting joy and peace that comes from knowing God himself. Then when she recognizes that he is a prophet, she asks an irrelevant question about worshipping God on a mountain. So Jesus explains that what is truly important is not where God is worshipped, but how he is worshipped (in spirit and truth). Finally, the woman tells him that when the Christ comes, he’ll explain all of these things to her. So Jesus tells her, “I am the Christ.” The woman is slow to hear and slow to understand, but Jesus does not rebuke her or give up; he patiently guides her into truth.
Christians ought to follow this model of evangelism and spiritual instruction. Let us be patient with those whom we are teaching! Let us think of evangelism and discipleship not as a sprint (where you’ve got to cross the finish line as fast as possible) but as a marathon. Let us be patient with those who don’t understand, and guide them slowly but surely to more and more truth.