ARE YOU SATISFIED? – Our bodies hunger and thirst; so do our souls. But our souls need spiritual food and water. We don’t generally deprive our bodies of food and water when they hunger or thirst. Why then should we deprive our souls? The living Word, Jesus Christ, and the written Word, the Bible, can satisfy our hungry and thirsty souls.
This and other *Life Applications are in today’s reading. We see Jesus love and grace overcome prejudice. We see that the good news is for everyone! We also learn about true worship and faith.
Jesus Talks to a Woman at the Well / 4:1-26
Jesus had to pass through Samaria on his way to Galilee. In Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman and with the Samaritans in Sychar, he revealed that he is the expected Messiah (4:25-26). Furthermore, Jesus pointed the Samaritans to the truth about salvation, God’s nature, and the worship of God: Salvation comes from among the Jews (the Messiah is a Jew), God is spirit, and God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth.
*LIFE APPLICATION: EAR WITNESS
To our knowledge, no one was present during the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman. The details of the exchange must have come to John, therefore, from one of the two. Given the woman’s eagerness to proclaim to everyone that Jesus was “a man who told me everything I ever did” (4:29 niv), we can assume that she shared with the disciples the details of that conversation.
Hearing the experiences of other believers significantly affects our spiritual growth. The Bible itself is a collection of the firsthand experiences with God that people like us had in the past. As Christians we have the privilege of passing on to others what we have learned from God. Insights, lessons, and corrections that we receive from God can help and encourage other believers. We must be eager to tell others about the most important person in our lives!
4:1-2 Jesus realized that his popularity had come to the attention of the Pharisees. They had scrutinized the activities of John the Baptist and sent emissaries to question him about his identity (1:19-28). John always pointed his followers to a greater one, the coming Messiah. Because the greater one had come and was in fact drawing the crowds away from John, the Pharisees began to watch Jesus closely.
Jesus had gained many more disciples than just the Twelve. We know that he had at least seventy-two committed disciples (Luke 10:1-17). We are also told that various disciples came and went, especially when times were difficult or when Jesus predicted troubles ahead (Luke 9:57-62; John 6:66).
*LIFE APPLICATION: THE MEMBER GAME
Competition can be created when none is intended. John and Jesus were not competing. But as others compared their ministries, their analysis gave the impression of competition. Similarly, two churches in a city that both have effective programs in reaching their community for Christ may begin to be compared to each other and described as if they were competing for converts. This not only distorts the purpose of the church, it also trivializes the importance of the eternal destiny of persons. The real issue is not which church wins the “member game” but whether the gospel is being communicated and people are responding. If Christ is not becoming “greater,” then whoever or whatever else is growing doesn’t really matter. Don’t foster the false impression of competition by artificial comparisons.
Part of the information received by the Pharisees was incorrect because Jesus didn’t baptize anyone—his disciples did. This parenthetical remark helps to explain John the Baptist’s statement in 1:33 that the Messiah would baptize in the Holy Spirit—in contrast to John who baptized in water. Thus, Jesus never personally performed water baptism; his disciples continued to perform that task during the early years of the church. These baptisms, still following the pattern set by John the Baptist, indicated repentance and confession of sin (see Matthew 3:6).
4:3 Knowing that the Pharisees (in Jerusalem) had heard about his popularity and that they would begin watching him closely, and at the same time knowing that his “hour” had not yet come (see also 2:4), Jesus wisely decided to withdraw from possible conflict by leaving Judea and returning to Galilee. Thus, Jesus’ first Judean visit had come to an end—a visit begun by his coming to Jerusalem for the Passover (see 2:13). The other Gospels do not record this visit.
4:4 The territory of Samaria lay between Judea and Galilee—thus Jesus’ itinerary meant that he had to go through Samaria on the way. Since the Samaritans were hated by the Jews, many of the strict Jews traveling from Judea to Galilee took a route around Samaria (through Perea, east of the Jordan River), even though that route took more time. But for those who were trying to make the best time, it was faster to go through Samaria to Galilee. The context does not indicate that Jesus was in a hurry to get to Galilee (see 4:40, 43). Thus, the necessity must be understood in a different way: Jesus went to Samaria to give the Samaritans what he had given to Nicodemus—the offer of eternal life by being born again. And, furthermore, by going to Samaria and bringing the gospel to the despised Samaritans, he showed that he was above the Jewish prejudices.
Where did these prejudices come from? Samaria was a region between Judea and Galilee where Jews of “mixed blood” lived. In Old Testament days, when the northern kingdom of Israel, with its capital at Samaria, fell to the Assyrians, many Jews were deported to Assyria. King Sargon of Assyria repopulated the northern kingdom with captives from other lands to settle the territory and keep the peace (2 Kings 17:24). These captives eventually intermarried with the few Jews who remained in the land to form a mixed race of people who became known as Samaritans. The Jews hated the Samaritans because they were no longer “pure” Jews. The Jews who lived in the southern Kingdom felt these Jews had betrayed their people and nation through intermarriage with foreigners. And the hatred continued down through the years. The Samaritans had adopted the Pentateuch as their Scriptures and set up a place for worship on Mount Gerizim using for their guidelines Deuteronomy 11:26-29; 27:1-8. Although they knew about a coming Messiah, they were far from having an accurate knowledge of the truth.
4:5-6 According to Genesis 33:19, Jacob purchased a piece of land in this vicinity and then later gave Joseph some land in Shechem (Genesis 48:22). Joshua 24:32 says that Joseph was buried on that land (the Jews had brought Joseph’s bones with them when they made their Exodus from Egypt). Jacob’s well was there indicates that the land must have included the parcel on which Jacob’s well was dug. Thus, this well was highly valued by the Samaritans who claimed Jacob (also called Israel) as their father (4:12), just as the Jews do. The trip made Jesus tired. He had walked from Judea to Sychar—a trip that probably took two days. Jesus’ weariness shows his true humanity. He waited while his disciples, more rested, or hungrier, than he, went to find food. He never seemed to worry that the limitations he took in becoming human might somehow undermine his claims to be the Son of God. Such expressions about Jesus’ humanity help us identify with him. So he sat wearily beside the well at about noontime, the hottest part of the day.
*LIFE APPLICATION: A VALUED GIFT
The woman came to the well with shame on her mind. She was avoiding human contact, but the stranger at the well was probably little more than an inconvenience. How often at the supermarket, gas station, or even in church do we pass by people loaded down with guilt. They find themselves having to pursue life’s necessities, hoping to avoid anyone who knows their real needs. Dreading judgment and rejection, they live in fear. And yet, when shown real concern, when gently confronted, these same people find great relief in unburdening themselves. When you greet someone with “How are you?” do you stop long enough to show him or her that you really want to know? Simple caring is a gift valued infinitely more than it costs to give.
4:7 Two facts are unusual about the woman’s actions: (1) she could have gone to a closer well (scholars have identified wells that were closer to Sychar); (2) women generally drew water later in the day, when the temperature was cooler. This woman, whose reputation seems to have been well known in the small town (4:18), probably chose the well farther away from home and came to that well at an unusual hour in order to avoid contact with other women. It was also highly unusual for a man to address a woman, but Jesus said, “Please give me a drink.” Again, this statement reveals Jesus’ true humanity; he was really thirsty. Even though such a request startled her (4:9), it drew her into a conversation with Jesus.
4:8 This statement serves to inform the reader that Jesus was alone with this woman. Jesus could not ask his disciples to help him get water, for they had gone into Sychar to buy food. Thus, we see Jesus, weary from his journey, depending on others for food and drink.
4:9 The Samaritan woman was very surprised—first, that a Jew would even speak to a Samaritan; second, that a Jewish male would speak to a Samaritan woman (she also had a bad reputation and this was a public place); third, that a Jew would drink from a Samaritan’s cup. The Jewish ceremonial laws described not only certain people as ceremonially unclean, but also anything they touched. In strict religious terms, many Jews of Jesus’ time considered the Samaritans to be permanently unclean.
*LIFE APPLICATION: NO PREJUDICES ALLOWED
This woman (1) was a Samaritan, a member of the hated mixed race, (2) was known to be living in sin, and (3) was in a public place. No respectable Jewish man would talk to a woman under such circumstances. But Jesus did. The attitude of the Jews toward the Samaritans in Jesus’ day is not unlike that which has been frequently displayed in America by whites toward blacks. In the past, whites have not allowed blacks to share the same public facilities with them. For Jesus to ask for a drink of water from a utensil belonging to a Samaritan woman was to go against the accepted prejudices of the time.
The gospel is for every person, no matter what his or her race, social position, religious orientation, or past sins. We must be prepared to share this gospel at any time and in any place. We must also be prepared to deal with those who may be accustomed to being ill-treated and who are not sure of our motives. Jesus crossed all barriers to share the gospel, and we who follow him must do no less—even if misunderstood.
4:10 The woman was ignorant of the gift God had for her—the gift of life, represented by living water—and she did not know the giver, Jesus the Messiah. Jesus makes an extraordinary offer to this woman—living water that would quench her thirst forever.
4:11-12 Jesus’ remark concerning “living water” produced several practical questions in the mind of the Samaritan woman. Like Nicodemus, she did not immediately sense the depth of Jesus’ words. Obviously, if this living water was at the bottom of the well, Jesus was in no position to offer it because he had no rope or bucket for drawing it. She began to wonder if Jesus had access to some source of water other than Jacob’s well. She asked if he thought he was greater than their ancestor Jacob and could somehow offer better water. Perhaps the woman sensed in Jesus’ words a possible dishonoring of the well provided by their great ancestor. Or perhaps the woman was beginning to have some inkling of who Jesus was claiming to be. He certainly accepted her in a way that must have challenged her thinking.
4:13-14 People need water daily because they soon become thirsty again. The water from Jacob’s well would indeed satisfy the woman’s thirst, but only temporarily. So also are all the other “drinks” of life—they never satisfy. Some of them even create more thirst. The human needs for love, food, sex, security, and approval, even when met, do not give complete satisfaction. Attempts to find full satisfaction will lead only to disappointment and despair. But the water Jesus offers takes away thirst altogether. Jesus’ “water” continually satisfies the desire for God’s presence because it becomes a perpetual spring within them, giving them eternal life. The gift that Jesus gives—this perpetual spring—suggests the availability, accessibility, and abundance of the divine life for believers.
*LIFE APPLICATION: ARE YOU SATISFIED?
Spiritual functions often parallel physical functions. Our bodies hunger and thirst; so do our souls. But our souls need spiritual food and water. The woman confused the two kinds of water, perhaps because no one had ever told her about her spiritual hunger and thirst before. We would not think of depriving our bodies of food and water when they hunger or thirst. Why then should we deprive our souls? The living Word, Jesus Christ, and the written Word, the Bible, can satisfy our hungry and thirsty souls.
4:15 The woman’s response reveals that she took Jesus’ words literally. The woman must have been thrilled to think that this man could give her water that really quenches thirst and would not have to be drawn from a well. Obtaining water was hard work—requiring trips to the well twice a day and carrying heavy jars full of water home. If she had some of that water, she would never be thirsty again and wouldn’t have to haul water every day.
*LIFE APPLICATION: TROUBLED WATERS
Many people who claim to be Christians admit they feel unhappy and dissatisfied over the same problems mentioned by nonbelievers. Feelings of low self-esteem, lack of love, loneliness, and struggles over sex, money, work, and position in life are often as severe with believers as with unbelievers. Are differences between Christians and non-Christians merely on the surface or even imaginary? Did Jesus overstate his claim? Questions like these come from interpreting Jesus’ words as the Samaritan woman did—expecting that physical thirst and all other life-related needs will be satisfied by Jesus’ “living water.” But that is not what Jesus promised. He offered freedom within life, not freedom from life! Later he told his disciples in no uncertain terms: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (16:33 niv). Believers will experience many of the same difficulties encountered by unbelievers, but the presence of Jesus in our lives should make a significant difference in the way we respond. Living water gives us spiritual power to face the challenges of living, not escape from them.
4:16-18 Jesus abruptly shifted the subject from his living water to her style of living. The woman perceived her need for living water at one level; Jesus knew that her need was far deeper, so he turned the conversation to reveal his knowledge of her personal life—and her sin of adultery. By asking her to go and get her husband, Jesus wanted to make this woman see her sin and her need for forgiveness and then offer her the living water—salvation. She must have realized that this was not a man who could be fooled, for she answered transparently, “I don’t have a husband.” The woman spoke the truth without any explanation.
Although he confronted the woman’s sinful life, Jesus managed to affirm her truthfulness. He did not accuse or excuse; he simply described her life so that she could draw some clear conclusions about the mess in which she was living. The conclusions we reach without knowing the facts will usually err in one of two directions: We will accuse others and raise their defenses, or we will excuse others and enable their denial. We see in Jesus’ communication with this woman that when faced with an accepting confrontation, people will often respond positively. When we speak to others about themselves, we must limit our words to what we know.
4:19 The woman acknowledged the truthfulness of Jesus’ remarks about her life. At the same time, she recognized that he must be a prophet who had the power to “see” the hidden past as well as the future. The theme of people “seeing” Jesus appears several times in John (especially in chapter 9). The persons Jesus encountered saw him many different ways, but he consistently directed their attention to recognize him for who he really was—their Savior.
Many commentators have pointed out that the woman may have been purposely attempting to avert any further disclosure of her personal, sinful life by shifting the conversation to religion. Notice how Jesus responded to her change of direction. He was not presenting a system or a gospel outline; he was having a conversation with someone who needed the living water. Jesus made no attempt to turn the discussion back to her lifestyle; rather, he entered into a dialogue about the true place of worship. Jesus kept the woman’s interest by demonstrating his willingness to let her direct the discussion.
4:20 The unspoken question is, If you are a prophet, who’s right? The Samaritans had set up a place for worship on Mount Gerizim, basing their authority to do so on Deuteronomy 11:26-29; 27:1-8; the Jews had followed David in making Jerusalem the center of Jewish worship. The split had come in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 4:1-2; Nehemiah 4:1-2) when the Samaritans had offered to help rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem but had been rebuffed. So there was an ongoing debate between the two groups as to who was correct. The Scriptures authenticated Jerusalem as the place of worship (Deuteronomy 12:5; 2 Chronicles 6:6; 7:12; Psalm 78:67-68); thus, the Jews were correct and the Samaritans in error. The Samaritan woman wanted to hear what a Jewish prophet had to say about this.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WORSHIP-FULL
Do you depend on a physical building or a specific setting for the proper worship environment? God is Spirit and cannot be confined to a building. The location of worship is not nearly as important as the attitude of the worshipers. The specific conditions that enhance worship tend to be quite individual and should not be legislated. By emphasizing where we worship, we may neglect the substance of our worship where we are.
4:21 Both the Jews and the Samaritans were convinced the correct way to worship God depended on a particular geographical location. But Jesus pointed to a new realm—not at Mount Gerizim or in Jerusalem, but in the Spirit of God. He also knew that the Temple in Jerusalem soon would be destroyed. The first readers of John would have known this as a historical fact because it would have already happened!
4:22 The Samaritans worshiped, but their system of worship was incomplete and flawed because it had no clear object. Because the Samaritans only used the Pentateuch (Genesis through Deuteronomy) as their Scriptures, they did not know what the rest of the Old Testament taught about worship. The Jews, with whom Jesus explicitly identified himself here, did know whom they worshiped, for they had the full revelation in the Old Testament Scriptures. These Scriptures revealed that salvation comes through the Jews, for the Messiah would come from the Jewish race (Genesis 12:3). The message is: “You are demonstrating a good quality in desiring to worship, but your worship is misdirected; the perfect object to be worshiped, the Messiah, has come.” The living water that comes from Christ and is ever present in the believer makes the idea of continual worship a possibility. Worship becomes, at least in part, the enjoyment of our relationship with Christ wherever we are at any moment.
*LIFE APPLICATION-WORSHIPING IN TRUTH
If we are not worshiping “in spirit,” our worship will be dry and lifeless. Worship not done “in truth” becomes deceitful or irrelevant. “In spirit” reminds us who we are worshiping. “In truth” exposes the required genuineness of those doing the worshiping. To paraphrase Jesus, “True worshipers worship truthfully.” By contrast, fleshly or false worship would be: pretending to be someone or something we are not; displaying prejudice toward others who are also made in God’s image; practicing self-righteousness by denying our constant need for God’s mercy and grace; worshiping in ignorance or superstition without knowing the reality for ourselves; blindly worshiping out of habit with no heartfelt devotion.
4:23-24 The new worship is already here among Jesus’ followers (including both Jews and Samaritans who are united in Christ), although the end of worship in the Temple or on Mount Gerizim is still future—is coming. Jesus announced that a new time had come, a time in which true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. True worshipers are to be recognized by the way they worship. After making the place of worship and order of worship secondary to our spiritual relationship with God, Jesus defined real worship. According to him, worship would take on two new aspects: It would be in spirit and in truth (see also 4:24).
The expression “in spirit” refers to the human spirit—the immaterial, inner being in each person, the God-breathed entity that corresponds to the nature of God himself, who is Spirit. Using the terms of Jesus’ conversation, worship involves the person’s awareness of that personal “spring of living water” that God has planted in him or her. God indwells believers—that is where true worship takes place. Our body can be anywhere, yet worship occurs as our attention and praise are turned toward God. We need to consciously focus on God when we are in a house of worship because we easily assume that our presence in church is all that we need in order to worship. We can usually remember how long the worship service lasted, but can we remember exactly when we actually worshiped the Lord?
The phrase in truth means “in a true way” or “with genuineness.” This would speak to all people—Jews, Samaritans, and even Gentiles; all need to worship God by recognizing God’s character and nature as well as our common need for him. We worship in truth because we worship what is true.
In the Greek text, the word Spirit comes first for emphasis: “Spirit is what God is.” Here is a simple yet sublime definition of the nature of God. He is Spirit. God is not a physical being limited to place and time as we are. He is present everywhere, and he can be worshiped anywhere, anytime.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHAT GOD ISN’T
As spirit, God relates to us without the limitations that we possess:
- He is never tired.
- He is never distant.
- He is never distracted.
- He is not limited by time and space.
- He can be present in all people.
- He cannot be destroyed or overpowered.
In Christ, God experienced all our weaknesses firsthand. He knows them, but they do not control him. Someday we will leave our present limitations behind and be fully in God’s spiritual presence. Worship includes saying to God, “Thank you for understanding where I am; I can hardly wait to be where you are!”
*LIFE APPLICATION: ON HIS TERMS
When Jesus taught that worship must be “in spirit,” he was emphasizing the proper relationship with God. We approach him on his terms, not ours. But his terms are for our benefit. If God were to invade our world openly with his glory and holiness, we would be overwhelmed. Instead, God has chosen to reveal himself generally through his creation, specifically through the prophets and writers of the Bible, and fully (though humanly) in his Son, Jesus. We worship in submission to what God has revealed of himself. Worship includes our praise to God for the ways that he has revealed himself, our confession for the sins he has allowed us to see, our thanksgiving for all he has done for us, and our requests to learn more. True spiritual worship must have God at its center.
4:25 Talk of a new kind of worship must have reminded the Samaritan woman about the coming of the Messiah. Her comment was only loosely related to what Jesus had just said. She probably uttered it with a sigh, revealing her uncertainty about an unknown future. The Samaritans believed in the coming of “the Prophet” predicted by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-18), whom they called “the Restorer.” The Samaritans may have also heard of the coming Messiah from John the Baptist who had been baptizing in northern Samaria (3:23). They, as with the Jews, probably did not consider “the Prophet” and “the Messiah” to be the same person. Either way, both groups were expecting someone who would be a political liberator. They could not accept the idea that the long-awaited one would be a suffering servant before he would become the conquering king.
The woman had already perceived that Jesus was a prophet (4:19); his comments made her wish for the coming Prophet who would explain everything.
*LIFE APPLICATION: ANSWER MAN
The discussion had reached a point at which the Samaritan voiced her hope that someone would eventually be able to settle all her questions and problems. Sooner or later, in a conversation on life, people will reveal their hope. They will tell us what they rely on when worldly answers fail. At those times, we certainly should reveal our hope. Peter reminds us to “quietly trust yourself to Christ your Lord, and if anybody asks why you believe as you do, be ready to tell him, and do it in a gentle and respectful way” (1 Peter 3:15 tlb). Unlike Jesus, we cannot claim to be the Answer, but if we believe in Jesus, we can claim to know the Answer. When someone says, “Someday I’ll figure it all out,” we ought to respond, “I know someone who has the answers today!”
4:26 Although Jesus avoided telling the Jews directly that he was the Christ, he told this Samaritan woman that he, the one who sat there with her on the well, was the promised Messiah.
Jesus Tells about the Spiritual Harvest / 4:27-38
The sudden arrival of the disciples interrupted the conversation. Jesus seems to have made no effort to continue the exchange. He had placed himself before the woman as the one she was expecting. What the woman would have said in response to Jesus’ revelation is unknown. But what she did is clear. She immediately went and told her neighbors that she had just encountered a unique and wonderful person whom they should also meet.
4:27 The disciples returned from getting food (4:8) and were astonished to find Jesus talking to a woman. Jesus had broken two cultural taboos: (1) Jews did not speak with Samaritans, and (2) a male did not normally speak with a female stranger. Yet the disciples did not query him concerning his motives, for they must have come to realize that all of his motives were good. Anyone else would have been called to account.
4:28 Beyond displaying the woman’s excited state of mind, her action of leaving her water jar beside the well as she went back to the village has several significant explanations: On the one hand, it speaks of the woman leaving behind her water jar representing her thirst for true life and satisfaction; on the other hand, it also reveals her intention to return. The water jar was a valuable and practical household object. But as useful as it was to get water from the well, it was useless for obtaining the water of life. However, she had just met someone who promised living water and who had displayed intimate knowledge of her life and profound understanding of spiritual truths. We can’t be sure how much she understood of what Jesus had told her, but she was convinced that everyone in town ought to hear what he had to say.
4:29-30 In essence, the Samaritan woman was saying that Jesus could have told her everything about her life, for in telling her about her relationships with various men, he revealed his knowledge about her history. She made no promises about what Jesus might know about everyone else, but she appealed to their curiosity. What was it about this stranger that could make a woman who had every reason to be ashamed of her life now speak publicly about her experience of transparency before him? Yet she said to the townspeople, “Can this be the Messiah?” Her invitation proved irresistible. She probably knew that her reputation preceded her, and any assertion on her part regarding her belief in this man would go unheeded. But her question did serve to stir up curiosity and had the desired effect—the people came streaming from the village to see him.
*LIFE APPLICATION: WHAT TO LEAVE BEHIND
When we return to the world of family and friends after encountering Jesus, there are two kinds of “water jars” we must leave behind:
1. We must leave behind our shame about the past. Because Jesus knows all about us, we can repent and receive his forgiveness. God may use the emptiness of our past life to help us convey to others the wonder of forgiveness. But we must not dwell on or carry guilt about the past.
2. We must leave behind some habits and pleasures. Certain pleasures and relationships (not bad in themselves) may hinder our telling others about Christ. The water jar would have slowed the woman down. She probably retrieved it later, but was not concerned about it in the light of her discovery.
Are there possessions that threaten to own us rather than the other way around? These we must leave with Christ. We must lay down our useless former pursuits of pleasure and personal fulfillment. Even though we know that our old way of living never truly satisfies, the tempter deceives us into believing that there still may be an instant, easy source of happiness in the old empty ways. Have you turned your back on old habits, old treasures, old pleasures in order to seek what only God can give? Leave them behind and satisfy your thirst in Christ.
4:31-33 After the woman left for the town, the disciples urged their master to eat. His response was baffling: “I have food you don’t know about.” The disciples thought he was talking about physical food; instead, Jesus was saying that he was spiritually satisfied by having shared the Good News with the Samaritan woman.
*LIFE APPLICATION: HUNGRY?
Jesus spoke about the “food” that provided his spiritual nourishment. We are nourished by Bible study, prayer, and attending church. Spiritual nourishment also comes from doing God’s will in order to be his kind of people in the world. We are nourished not only by what we take in but also by what we give out for God.
Recognize the spiritual hunger to which Jesus referred in statements like, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6 niv); and “Do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ . . . But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:31, 33 niv). Don’t you hunger to do God’s will?
4:34 This statement shows that Jesus lived to please his Father and in so doing found spiritual nourishment (17:4). Doing the will of God meant that Jesus submitted himself to the Father’s plan and enjoyed carrying out his Father’s desires. Satisfying the Father gave Jesus true satisfaction. Finishing God’s work speaks of completing the task—all the way from sowing the seed to reaping the harvest (see following verses). According to 17:4, Jesus accomplished all that the Father wanted him to do before leaving this earth. Preeminently, Jesus had revealed the Father to the world.
4:35 For farmers, approximately four months elapsed between the end of sowing and the beginning of reaping. From Jesus’ spiritual perspective, the time for harvesting had already arrived. The Samaritans, who were coming from town, were ready to be harvested. In telling the disciples to look around and see the vast fields, Jesus may well have been directing them to look at the approaching Samaritans.
4:36-38 The harvester of this spiritual harvest derives satisfaction from bringing others to experience eternal life. This parallels Jesus’ experience with the Samaritan woman; he was satisfied by offering her the gift of life. Jesus also here mentions the planter in addition to the harvester. Jesus, as both, sowed the seed through a single Samaritan woman and reaped a harvest from many in a Samaritan city. This sowing and reaping transpired so quickly that the planter and harvester could rejoice together.
The planter and the harvester do not have the same role—the point of the next verse: “One person plants and someone else harvests.” This saying may have come from verses like Deuteronomy 20:6; 28:30; Micah 6:15; Job 31:8, but it is not a direct quotation of any known biblical passage. That the disciples would harvest where they didn’t plant probably refers to the coming harvest of Samaritan believers reaped by Jesus and his disciples, as well as to the harvest that would come after Pentecost (see Acts 1:8; 2:41; 9:31; 15:3). The others who labored may have been some of the Old Testament prophets or, more likely, John the Baptist and his followers (see 3:23).
*LIFE APPLICATION: HARVESTTIME
Sometimes Christians excuse themselves from witnessing by saying that their family or friends aren’t ready to believe. But our excuses don’t stand up very well before the example of the Samaritan woman, who spoke to the very people most likely to reject anything she had to say. Her message was attractive because she described how Jesus had met her needs; she did not attempt to expose their needs.
Jesus made it clear that a continual harvest awaits reaping. Don’t make excuses. If you are watchful and available, you will find people ready to hear God’s Word.
Many Samaritans Believe in Jesus / 4:39-42
As a result of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, her bold witness in town, and the people’s curiosity, many became believers. Jesus’ proof was compelling. John was convinced and believed; the Samaritans were convinced and believed; so have millions of others. The unavoidable question each person must ask is, “Have I believed in Jesus?”
*LIFE APPLICATION: God oversees the continual work of planting the seeds of the gospel (Luke 8:4-15) and then reaping the crop. That the fields are ripe for harvest reminds us that many are ready to receive salvation because others have sown the seed. Can you identify the process of sowing and reaping that occurred in your life? Perhaps your mother or father, a Sunday school teacher, a pastor, a camp director, or a youth group leader sowed or nourished the gospel seed in you. Then a “reaper” came along whose gospel message found you ripe to respond, and you accepted eternal life. At the moment of being “harvested,” we became sowers and reapers ourselves. Our lives ought to be an effort to sow wherever and reap whenever. As was done for us, we ought to seek to do for others. In the end, the sowers, reapers, and the harvest will all rejoice!
4:39-42 Many of the Samaritans who believed in Jesus were first drawn by the testimony of the woman about the mysterious man who told her everything she had ever done. They begged Jesus to stay at their village, and because of that, others believed when they heard Jesus for themselves. Many Samaritans had come to know absolutely and positively that Jesus was the Savior of the world. This last statement is the climax of this passage (4:1-42), for it speaks of how Jesus had come to be, not just the Jews’ Messiah, but the world’s Savior as well.
*LIFE APPLICATION: TAKING CREDIT
Think of all that farmers do—plowing, fertilizing, sowing, weeding, watering, harvesting. For the most part, however, farmers are a humble group when it comes to taking credit for the results. So much is out of their hands, yet what they do is vital. In spreading the gospel, God gives us a significant role, yet he deserves the credit. In fact, we can only claim to have done a small part of the job. Often we have only a slight idea of how others have contributed to what God accomplished in a person. But our testimony, kindness, encouragement, patience, or teaching of the gospel may be the turning point in someone’s life. Let us make the most of all our opportunities.
*LIFE APPLICATION: ON OUR OWN
When people become new believers they often depend on the individual who invited them to believe in Christ. That dependence helps in the beginning, but it can cause harm if it becomes central to their understanding of Christ. Spiritual maturity grows from one’s own direct relationship with God. At the human level, the giving should go both ways, not just one way. We will always be grateful to those who shared the gospel with us. But as we grow in Christ, God will help us minister to those who first ministered to us.
Jesus Preaches in Galilee / 4:43-45
After his wonderful experience in Samaria, Jesus went to Cana in Galilee, where he healed a government official’s son. But along with the healing came Jesus’ rebuke that the people’s belief was based on seeing signs and wonders, not on trusting in Jesus himself. These events stand in contrast to Jesus’ experience in Sychar (4:1-42), where without miracles and through an unexpected witness, many placed their trust in him.
4:43-44 According to verse 3, Jesus left Judea and headed for Galilee. He passed through Samaria on the way and stayed there for two days (4:40). So after those two days, Jesus went on into Galilee, called his own country, as he had been raised in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Jesus went to the Galileans, knowing that they would welcome him as miracle-worker but not as a prophet, much less as the Messiah.
4:45 This statement that the Galileans had seen all his miraculous signs refers to 2:23, which says that the people assembling in Jerusalem (among whom were these Galileans) during the Passover believed in Jesus because of the signs they saw him perform.
Jesus Heals a Government Official’s Son / 4:46-54
The story of Jesus turning water into wine was still news in Cana when he returned. The local welcome was tinged with interest over what new wonders he might perform. The opportunity would soon come. A child in nearby Capernaum lay sick, and an anxious father came to Jesus, begging for help.
4:46-50 Jesus arrived in Cana where he had done a miracle (see 2:1-11). Jesus’ name was known there, and so this government official went to find him. This man was very likely an official in Herod’s court, serving in some capacity in Capernaum, about twenty miles from Cana. Although this miracle bears similarities with the one recorded in Matthew 8:5-13 and Luke 7:2-10 (both deal with the healing of a soldier’s servant), they seem to be different incidents. All the Gospel writers imply that the miracles they recorded were nothing more than samples of Jesus’ work.
When the government official requested that Jesus heal his son, who was about to die, Jesus responded, “Must I do miraculous signs and wonders before you people will believe in me?” Jesus took the opportunity to address all the Galileans (2:23; 4:45) and reprimand them for being sign-seekers. But this Galilean was not merely a sign-seeker. He had a need, and he truly believed Jesus could meet that need. As a result, his need was met. The man believed the word that Jesus spoke, “Go back home. Your son will live!” and started on his way. The official believed Jesus’ word, and the healing was performed. He was the type of man whom Jesus would later call “blessed,” for he had not seen and yet he believed (see 20:29). Jesus’ word is a life-giving word (see 5:24-25; 6:68).
*LIFE APPLICATION: CAN HE BE TRUSTED?
This government official not only believed that Jesus could heal, he also obeyed Jesus by returning home, thus truly demonstrating his faith. It isn’t enough for us to say we believe that Jesus can take care of our problems. We need to act as if he can. We also need to leave the means, ways, and timing up to him. When we pray about a need or problem, we should live as though we believe Jesus can do what he says.
4:51-53 The details given in these verses tell the reader that the healing occurred at exactly the time Jesus spoke the words, “Your son will live!” Although the official’s son was twenty miles away, he was healed when Jesus spoke the word. Distance was no problem because Christ has mastery over space. This miracle produced faith in the officer and his entire household (including family members or servants). There are cultures where the word or belief of the head of the household represents what each member of the house believes. New Testament evidence points to these kinds of responses in more than one case (Acts 10:2; 16:15, 33).
*LIFE APPLICATION: EXERCISE YOUR FAITH
Notice how the official’s faith grew:
- He believed enough to ask Jesus to help his son.
- He believed to the point of insisting that Jesus come with him to heal his son.
- He trusted Jesus’ assurance that his son would live, and he acted on it.
- He and his whole household believed in Jesus.
Faith grows as we use it.
4:54 The first sign was changing the water into wine at the wedding in Cana (2:1-11). The second miraculous sign was healing a dying child. According to the Gospel of John, Jesus’ miracles were “signs”—pointing the people who witnessed them to the one who performed the signs, Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. If the miracle produced faith in Jesus only as a miracle worker and not as the Son of God, then the people missed the miracle as the sign it was intended to be.
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