Hey I'm Josh Hawkins, this is episode 52 of Opening up the Gospels. In episode 51 we left off in John 3 where Jesus' disciples were baptizing and the Pharisees found out that they were gaining popularity and baptizing more people than John the Baptist. At the recent Passover feast, Jesus had cleansed the temple and then brought a pretty strong correction to Nicodemus, so between both of those things there must have been a mounting resistance and anger towards Him. The most important people in Jerusalem - the Jewish authorities and all the religious folk - had already rejected him. And so when He finds out that the Pharisees are aware of his growing popularity, He decides to leave Judea and head north to Galilee.
Now for a good number of episodes we've been almost exclusively relying on John's gospel for the details of Jesus' early Judean ministry. Back when I introduced John's Gospel in episode 10, I made the point that John was "filling in the gaps" by providing details that the other Gospels don't. As we move forward, we'll begin to draw on the other Gospels because as I've said already, the Synoptics mostly start their narrative with Jesus up in Galilee. John alone narrates the early Judean ministry. So as we start drawing on the other Gospels, we can see that Mathew gives us another reason why Jesus left Judea and headed north to Galilee:
Now when he heard that John had been arrested, he withdrew into Galilee. (Matthew 4:12 ESV)
So it seems like Jesus is not only going north to preach in Galilee, but He leaves because John the Baptist had been arrested. The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that John was imprisoned in Machaerus, Herod's fortress that's just east of the Dead Sea. He was held there until his execution, which we'll look at in a future episode. Remember back in Episode 43 when we looked at the delegation of priests from Jerusalem who came to John and questioned him? Well, the Jewish authorities' initial resistance to John turned into a rejection that ended in his imprisonment and eventual death. This is exactly what would happen with Jesus, but the time for His death had not yet come, and He hadn't even appealed to Galilee yet. Would He find those who bore the fruits of repentance there?
Before Jesus reaches Galilee and begins ministering, John 4:4 said He had to pass through Samaria. And it's just outside of a town of Samaria that Jesus meets a woman by Jacob's well. We don't have time to read the full story in the episode so go back and read it in John 4. I'll highlight just a few passages, starting in John 4:3:
[Jesus] left Judea and departed again for Galilee. And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”
(John 4:3–7 ESV)
Let's look at our map and find Samaria - as you can see, it's sandwiched between Judea to the south and Galilee to the north. When the Assyrians invaded Israel after 722BC, foreigners began to populate the area and absorbed the Jewish religion, so the people who lived in Samaria were not purely Jewish. They were looked on as unclean by the Jews for that and for many other reasons. Not only did they believe that the only authoritative Scripture was the Pentateuch, which is just the technical name for the first five books of the Old Testament, but they also believed that Mount Gerizim was the place where Yahweh should be worshipped, not Jerusalem. Now John says Jesus came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, which was near the well that Jacob had given to Joseph. And at this well just south of town by about a half a mile, a Samaritan woman comes to draw water.
The first thing I want you to see here is that John says that Jesus is wearied from his journey. Think about who it is that we're looking at here. This is Yahweh in the flesh, the very maker and sustainer of all things, the God of Israel, sitting there tired, thirsty, and sweaty from walking under the hot noontime sun. Jesus didn't use His power to shield Himself from the human experience. There's so much to meditate on in this scene and so much to discover about what God is like, so don't skip by it too quickly.
Another thing I want to point out is that Jesus is talking to a Samaritan - and not only a Samaritan, but a Samaritan woman. This was absolutely unheard of in the culture of the day. Rabbis after Jesus' time would go on to make some pretty harsh rules about Jews interacting with Samaritans because of their ritual uncleanness. But here is the God of Israel Himself talking to what the Rabbis would consider an unclean outcast. Jesus would even go on to expose the woman's sin before her in telling her that she had been with five other husbands during her life, and the man she was with now was not actually her husband.
Let's read a bit more in John 4:
The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?”... Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
(John 4:9–14 ESV)
I want to look at some of these phrases that Jesus uses. First, He says "if you knew the gift of God". Remember what Jesus was just saying to Nicodemus just a chapter before? Participation in God's promises and in eternal life will not come from the strength of man or someone's ability to obey the law perfectly. Jesus is emphasizing that point once again here, but what's different about this scene is that He's not talking to a Jewish Pharisee, He's talking to a Samaritan woman. I believe this is a foreshadowing of the Gentiles receiving the gift of eternal life and participation in the promises made to Abraham. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would later write the same thing in the letter to the Ephesians:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”
(Ephesians 2:8–9 ESV)
Jesus also says that He would give "living water". A literal translation of this is a little strange to us in English. It could be taken as water that is full of life, like it has fish or tadpoles or algae in it or something. Or, it could be taken as some sort of magic water, like a potion or an elixir of some sort. I don't think either one of those is what Jesus was trying to say. The whole theme of the last couple of chapters has nothing to do with that. I think it's better translated as "the water which causes life" or "the water that causes people to live". And what is the "life" that Jesus is talking about? Eternal life, of course. Literally living forever in a resurrected body on a restored earth.
The prophet Jeremiah also mentioned living water, which surely must have been in Jesus' mind as He was talking to this outcast. Check out this passage from Jeremiah 2 where the Lord is speaking about Israel:
“for 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.”
(Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)
The comparison being used is like drinking from a sweet, clean fountain, versus drinking from an underground cistern or pit that collected runoff rainwater. Jeremiah is prophesying that Israel has rejected their God, who is the fountain of living waters, and they drink from broken cisterns instead. Jesus is pulling on this same analogy here at Jacob's well where I believe He's saying that Israel has rejected Him, the fountain of living waters. Their systems that they so vehemently cling to - the law and the Temple - do not have the ability to lead them into eternal life. This is exactly what John the Baptist was preaching - that Israel had a depraved heart and their ethnicity and their possession or obedience of the Law didn't qualify them to inherit the promises of blessing. Later in John's gospel, specifically in John 7:38 and 39, the Spirit is said to be the living water. Again, think about the themes that Jesus was just telling Nicodemus about just a chapter before. Recall what we looked at in episode 50 when I showed you the connections Jesus was making with Ezekiel 36 and 37 - specifically the idea of the Lord pouring clean water on Israel and the Spirit or breath of God being breathed into them. Israel would be given a new heart to obey and never turn from the Lord, and they would be raised from their graves so that they would live forever and be brought back to their land. That was all in John 3. Now Jesus isn't suddenly changing his message in John 4 - He's been talking about the same thing He's always been talking about and the same thing John the Baptist talked about. I hope you're continuing to see that Jesus' mission and purpose was well-defined and not just random or arbitrary. Repentance and faith in Jesus is what is required to inherit the blessing of living forever, and that ethnicity or the Temple or outward obedience to the Law of Moses would not give sufficient merit to receive what God had promised.
This is why Jesus goes on to say:
“Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.”
(John 4:21–23 ESV)
Jesus is saying that receiving the promises and being part of the Messiah's kingdom isn't based on where you worship - remember, the Samaritans disagreed with the Jews in saying that Mount Gerizim was the place to worship, not Jerusalem. He's saying that if you bear the fruits of repentance and recognize your need for a new heart, you will be well pleasing and truthful to God, worshipping Him how He ought to be worshipped. And here is where Jesus' Gentile mission begins to open up to us. John 4 says that Jesus stayed in the area for two days and many believed that He was the Christ and heard His words. Jesus' reception here is completely opposite of that in Jerusalem. Jesus is met with resistance in Jerusalem by the most “religious” people then he goes to a well in Samaria, he talks to a woman, a disreputable woman at that, and He stays there in 2 days and the whole town loved Him. Wow.
So does this make sense? I feel like there's been so much confusion about these verses and there's so much more I could say, but I hope this brings a little bit of clarity to you. Go back and check out Episode 50 if you missed it, it should bring some of this together a little bit more. You can find that episode and all the others in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. Well, God bless, see you next time.