Spend enough time on an Australian walkabout, and you might stumble upon Lake Hillier, a shockingly bubblegum-pink body of water. The fourth chapter of John felt a bit like this to me—we’re traveling along, admiring the dirt-colored scenery, and then BAM! Pink! (I never knew how intently Jesus waited at that well in Samaria for the woman or for me, but it’s been a beautiful revelation.) Let’s pause on this tour through the gospel, slip off our sandals, and dip our toes into the water as we encounter the truer and better Source who will never leave us thirsty.
Scripture writing: Verses 23-24 in The Message were lovely to copy out (and super applicable in the middle of a global pandemic causing churches to meet online):
But the time is coming—it has, in fact, come—when what you’re called will not matter and where you go to worship will not matter. It’s who you are and the way you live that count before God. Your worship must engage your spirit in the pursuit of truth. That’s the kind of people the Father is out looking for: those who are simply and honestly themselves before Him in their worship. God is sheer being itself—Spirit. Those who worship Him must do it out of their very being, their spirits, their true selves, in adoration.
Studying: I found my favorite textual insight from the notes in The Gospel Transformation Study Bible over verses 39-42:
The gospel comes to us in order that it might run through us. Having believed on Jesus, the Samaritan woman went back to her community to share the good news with her family and friends. In doing so, she gives us the paradigm of a good testimony. Jesus is the Hero of her story. She drew attention to the One who exposed her sin and gave her life; and in doing so, she invited her friends to do the same. The gospel is personal, but it is not private. (Emphasis added)
If the American Church deeply understood the first and final sentences of that paragraph, our culture would be eternally impacted.
Commentaries: Matthew Henry provided two observations that blew me away. First up was his brilliant remark on how a poor, defeated, confused, desperate woman racked with sin and shame was crowned with beauty, purpose, and strength after a single conversation:
This woman becomes an apostle … Christ had told her to call her husband, which she thought was warrant enough to call everybody.
No longer is she hiding her voice by isolation or warping it with lust to protect herself—she’s using it to invite others to find life. What profound redemption!
Secondly, when I got to the following statement (about verses 48-50) in which Jesus relents and grants healing to the official’s son, I honestly had to stop and sit in it for a bit:
Christ dropped the reproof, and gave him assurance of the recovery of his child; for He knows how a father pities his children. (Emphasis added)
Matty H certainly knows the power of an understatement. It was the Father’s great earth-moving pity for His children that sent Jesus to this dust in the first place; of course He’s intimately acquainted with the heart of a distraught daddy.
I found D.A. Carson’s note on verses 27-30 extremely interesting:
Some (though by no means all) Jewish thought held that for a rabbi to talk much with a woman, even his own wife, was at best a waste of time and at worst a diversion from the study of Torah, and therefore potentially a great evil that could lead to Gehenna, hell. Some rabbis went so far as to suggest that to provide their daughters with a knowledge of the Torah was as inappropriate as … to sell them into prostitution … Add to this the fact that this woman was a Samaritan, and the disciples’ surprise is understandable.
Over and over, Jesus delights in thwarting the misconceptions of the privileged. He deliberately spends precious time (and a significant chunk of this chapter) pouring scriptural truth into a woman who is both culturally and personally despised. He bestows real personhood on her, and I love that about Him.
Sermons: In teaching about the official who knew little but trusted much, Mark Driscoll says,
Faith is obeying what we know, the leap not into the unknown but into our Father’s arms.
I find that sentiment a deep comfort in the face of so many questions. We’re not blindly walking off a cliff here, checking our brains at the altar; we’re mindfully choosing to believe that God’s love is bigger than our fears because He’s proved it so many times in the past.
My favorite quote from John MacArthur highlights the evidence of transformation in the Samaritan woman’s encouragement to “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did”:
Her sin, which was once part of her shame, was now part of her testimony.
This broken daughter so used to fleeing the presence of others (which was why she was at the well in the heat of the day) now joyfully approached them all, declaring freedom and healing in the very areas that had caused such pain for her in the past. And, hallelujah, Jesus is still interrupting our shame today.
Finally, in his “guest sermon” for our study, Tim Downs illuminated several distinct jobs of spiritual sowers:
Shatter a stereotype. Raise a question. Pique interest. Just a little something in each conversation.
What a freeing concept! I don’t have to give a whole overview of Scripture to scatter seeds and help prepare the soil of someone’s heart—I can walk in step with the Spirit and trust that He’ll continue working behind me.
Journaling: It struck a deep chord that Christ’s proposition for evangelism (in verse 36) wasn’t based on obligation, shame, or manipulation—He used joy as the best motivator. I realized how often I rely on the first three to either spur myself to action or to berate myself for inaction, as well as how seldom joy enters into the equation at all. To place the shared gladness of God at the center of my ‘why’ changes everything.
Meditation: Verses 13-14 in the Passion translation go like this:
Jesus answered, “If you drink from Jacob’s well you’ll be thirsty again and again, but if anyone drinks the living water I give them, they will never thirst again and will be forever satisfied! For when you drink the water I give you it becomes a gushing fountain of the Holy Spirit, springing up and flooding you with endless life!”
The amazing thing about meditating on a single passage is that you begin to see it come alive everywhere. During the weeks I mulled over these two verses, I watched the Nickelodeon movie Rango. The townspeople live in a dusty desert and are constantly parched. Once a week, they line up with their empty pitchers and jars, do a crazy dance to inspire the “holy spigot,” and receive just enough liquid to survive. But when the pipe hidden beneath the town is broken, there’s a great moment in which water geysers through the ground and blows the cart crammed with empty jugs away. I nearly stood up and cheered at this picture of what Jesus does in the lives of those used to living thirsty.
Now that we’ve thoroughly soaked in this lovely pink lake until our fingers have wrinkled, it’s time to dry off and move on to the next chapter of our journey. Further up and further in, friends!
*Following the study schedule right along, my binder is beginning to thicken up a bit with doodles, prayers, and tons of background information on the text. This summary is just the condensed version, the highlights of each approach—you can find my full binder notes for John 4 here.