October 31-November 1, 2020
Pastor Joe Wittwer
Have you ever had a chance encounter with someone that changed the trajectory of your life?
ILL: I recently gave a eulogy for my lifelong friend, Robert “Rapid” Isitt. Rapid got his nickname at Camp Reed—there, he was Rapid Robert because of his running ability. He went on to run for Whitworth, where he set a 5k school record that still stands today, almost 50 years later! He had a Hall of Fame career coaching track and cross country at Shadle Park High School. Rapid passed away a few weeks ago from cancer—a huge loss to all of us who knew and loved him.
So Rapid was a local running legend, but here’s a little known fact. In high school, he played baseball. On his way to a baseball meeting at the start of the season, a friend asked Bob (as he was known then) to join him on the track team. Not interested. Then that friend got a pretty girl to ask Bob to come to the track meeting—for her—and he said yes. And the rest is history. That encounter changed the trajectory of his life—and Bob became Rapid, the track star and coach.
Today, we’re going to look at a story in John 4 about a seemingly chance encounter between Jesus and a lost, lonely woman. Open you Bible to John 4. Rather than reading the story, I’d like to show it to you, but leave your Bible open; we’ll be coming back. This video is from The Chosen. They take some liberties with the dialogue, but the story is beautifully done. Here’s the story of the woman at the well.
Video: 8 minutes
And there she goes! Do you know what she does? Find Tell Bring!
- Find someone you love. She found her neighbors.
- Tell them what you know. “Come meet a man who told me everything I’ve ever done. Could this be the Messiah?”
- Bring them to Jesus. “Come and see.” She brought them to Jesus.
And that’s what we do to help people meet Jesus. Find someone you love. Tell them what you know. Bring them with you!
Here’s what I want to focus on today: What does this story tell you about Jesus? John wrote all these stories down so that you might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and have life in His name. Life to the full! So what does this story tell us about Jesus? Solicit answers.
Lots! Lots more than we have time to cover—so let me hit a few highlights.
1. Jesus had to go through Samaria.
Look at verse 4: Now He had to go through Samaria.
No, He didn’t. In fact, many Jews refused to go that way, even though it was the shortest route from Judea to Galilee. (Map). Because of the animosity between Jews and Samaritans, traveling through Samaria was dangerous, so many Jews avoided it. They gladly went the longer way, across the Jordan River, up the east side of the river, and back across into Galilee.
So Jesus didn’t have to go this way—unless…unless He was sent there by His Father. Some scholars believe that little word “had” indicates divine necessity. Jesus had to go that way because His Father wanted Him to, because there was something important God wanted to do.
Jesus had to do what His Father wanted. This idea is all over in the gospels, particularly in John. Later in this chapter, Jesus tells His disciples:
John 4:34 “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.”
Jesus lived to do the will of God, and if God wanted Him to go through Samaria, then He had to do it. In the next chapter, Jesus says:
John 5:19 “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”
Jesus only does what the Father does or wants done—so if the Father wanted Him to go through Samaria, He had to do it. So I tend to think that the “had” was divine necessity. The Father wanted Jesus to meet this woman, and her Samaritan neighbors. The Father wanted Jesus to break down this ancient barrier.
In the video, Jesus told the woman, “I came to Samaria just to meet you.” That’s the “had”—Jesus had to come this way for this woman.
Don’t you love that? Jesus had to come looking for one lost sheep. She mattered to Him. Jesus was never too busy with the crowds to care for the one.
- When He came into Jericho, crowds lined the street to see Him. Jesus spotted Zacchaeus, perhaps the most hated man in town, up in a tree. Jesus said, “Come down, Zacchaeus. I must stay at your house today.” The “must” is the same Greek word as the “had” in our story—He had to spend the day with Zac. Divine necessity. Jesus spent the day with Zacchaeus and it changed Zac’s life. Big crowds, but Jesus focused on the one.
- When He was leaving Jericho on His way to Jerusalem to give His life, great crowds followed Him, but Jesus heard a blind beggar’s cry for help, and stopped for Bartimaeus and healed him. Everyone else told Bartimaeus to be quiet—he was a nobody. But Jesus heard him and stopped and it changed Bart’s life. Big crowds, but Jesus focused on the one.
- Jesus was on His way to Jairus’ house to heal his daughter. Jairus was a synagogue leader—a big shot. A large crowd pressed around Jesus. A sick woman pushed through the crowd and touched Jesus and was healed. And Jesus stopped. “Who touched me?” He asked. Peter was incredulous. “What do you mean, ‘who touched me?’ Everyone is trying to touch you.” But Jesus knew what had happened and waited until the lady came forward. On His way to take care of a big shot, He had time to stop for a nobody and it changed her life. Big crowds, but Jesus focused on the one.
I could go on…but you get the idea. The good shepherd leaves the 99 safe in the fold to go looking for the one lost sheep. Jesus had to meet this woman—it was a divine appointment. And He has to meet you! Jesus is saying, “I came just to meet you.”
But we can’t stop there. He came for me, but not just me. He came for you, but not just you. He came for this woman at the well, but not just her. He came for all the Samaritans. And when this woman told her neighbors they all came out to meet Jesus and He ended up spending two more days with them. The result:
John 4:42 They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.”
Not just the Savior of the Jews—but whole world…including the hated Samaritans. That leads to the next thing I think John wants us to know about Jesus.
2. Jesus is for everyone.
Sociologists talk about “in-group/out-group theory.” An in-group is a group with which you identify as being a member. An out-group is a group with which you don’t identify. We tend to show favoritism for our in-group, and against out-groups. And of course, this kind of group thinking tends to be polarizing: think Democrat or Republican, white or black, Huskies or Cougars—or in our story, Jews or Samaritans.
We live in a deeply divided and polarized culture. So did Jesus. Jews and Samaritans had a long and bitter hatred for each other going back centuries. In 721 BC, the Assyrians conquered (map) the northern kingdom of Israel and took them into exile, and repopulated the land with foreigners, who intermarried with the remaining Israelites, and mixed their religions. Jews living in the southern kingdom of Judah viewed their northern neighbors as racial half-breeds whose religion was tainted. Thus began centuries of distrust and hatred. In-group/out-group.
A Jewish legal expert asked Jesus what was the greatest commandment. When Jesus said it was to love God with all you’ve got and love your neighbor as yourself, the man asked, “Who is my neighbor?” He was hoping for an in-group definition. Jesus rejected that kind of thinking and gave an out-group answer. He told a famous story featuring an out-group hero: the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man was attacked by thieves and left unconscious in the road. Along came a Jewish priest—in-group to the max! But he walked on by. Then a Jewish Levite, another big-time in-grouper, walked on by. Then a hated Samaritan came by—the out-group—but he stopped and helped the man. An out-group hero! Jesus’ story was meant to blur the lines between groups, to show that everyone is in God’s in-group—and should be in ours. To love your neighbor means that you not only love your in-group, but your out-group too!
When Jesus’ disciples found him at the well talking with this woman, they were shocked. Jewish men didn’t speak with strange women in public places. Not only that, she was a Samaritan—and with a questionable past! Jesus ignored all the in-group/out-group restrictions and gave this woman living water! In many ways, she was the ultimate out-grouper:
- She was a Samaritan—the wrong race, the wrong religion.
- She was a woman—the wrong gender.
- She had a checkered past—the wrong morals. We don’t know why she was married 5 times and was now living with a man. Did all five husbands die? Did she leave all five men? Did they leave her? Was there infidelity? Abuse? We don’t know the details of her story, but they were salacious enough that she was shunned by most people.
Any way you cut it, she was an out-grouper. No one expected Jesus to care about her. But He did, because Jesus is for everyone. Everyone is in Jesus’ in-group.
This is accentuated even more by the contrast between John 3 and 4—between Nicodemus and this woman. He is everything that she isn’t. Nicodemus, you’ll remember, was:
- a Pharisee (super religious),
- a member of the Jewish ruling council (super powerful and important),
- and the teacher of Israel (super influential).
Super in-grouper! Jesus had time for Nicodemus. “Of course,” you say. But Jesus, who is no respecter of persons, surprised him by saying, “Nicodemus, you need to be born again by the Spirit.” He needed a new start, a new life from Jesus.
And Jesus tells this woman that she needs the same thing—living water, new life from Jesus.
From Nicodemus (super in-grouper) to the Samaritan woman (super out-grouper)—everyone needs Jesus. Everyone needs the life He came to bring. Everyone is in Jesus’ in-group.
Including you. Including the person in your in-group that you love—and the person in your out-group that you hate.
ILL: A pastor friend of mine posted last week who he was going to vote for. He was overwhelmed by hundreds of angry responses. People whom he had pastored for years, even other pastors whom he had mentored, angrily told him they were done with him. Wrote him off. Cancelled him. Friends, if you are a follower of Jesus, you can’t behave like that. That’s not how Jesus treats people—Jesus is not a fan of our cancel culture.
Contrast that story with my conversation this week with two lifelong friends. We had a lively 2 hour discussion about race and politics, and disagreed about a number of things. But at the end of it, one of my friends thanked me and said, “I don’t have anybody I can talk about these things like this. I treasure our friendship.”
To love your neighbor means that you not only love your in-group, but your out-group too!
Friends, if you’re going to follow Jesus, you need to be born again. You need a new heart. You need a new and bigger in-group. You can’t hate or dislike people who’ve been your out-group: different race, different religion, different morals, different politics. This lady was all of those to Jesus, and He loved her anyway and offered her new life.
Jesus is for everyone. And if you’re going to follow Him, you need to be for everyone too.
3. Jesus knows us inside and out.
Jesus knew this woman…and went straight to her heart.
Jesus knew Nicodemus…and went straight to his heart.
Jesus knows you too. We read a couple weeks ago in John 2:
John 2:24–25 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.
Jesus knows all about you. He knows what is in your heart, what you think, what you say, what you believe, what you do—He knows it all. There is nothing hidden from Him. He knows you—inside and out.
ILL: We are able to fool each other because we can hide our thoughts and feelings, and even some of our actions. But what if we couldn’t hide anything? What if you had a screen on your forehead that showed exactly what you were thinking at any moment? I’ll bet people wouldn’t like you near as well if they knew all about you, what you were thinking and feeling.
Here’s the good news: Jesus knows you inside and out—and loves you anyway. Jesus knows my stupid thoughts—and loves me anyway. Jesus knows my mixed motives—and loves me anyway.
Jesus knew all about this woman—how many failed marriages, that she was shacking up with a guy now, what she was thinking—all of it—and loved her anyway. She expected judgment, rejection, condemnation—and instead received love and living water.
There’s another story in Luke 7 about a woman who had lived a sinful life—she was notorious. Jesus was eating at a Pharisee’s house when this woman began to cry on His feet, wipe away her tears with her hair, pour perfume on His feet and kiss them. Awkward! Simon the Pharisee thought, “If Jesus was a prophet, He would know what kind of woman is touching Him, that she is a sinner.” The implication is that if Jesus knew, He would have nothing to do with this woman.
Well…Jesus knew. He knew what Simon was thinking, and called him out. And He knew all about this woman, and He forgave her sins, which were many. Jesus knew them both inside and out.
What does this mean for us?
First, it means that you don’t have to hide from God any more. He sees you, He knows you, and He loves you. Come to Him just as you are. You fear rejection, but you’ll find acceptance. You fear judgment, but you’ll find forgiveness. Stop running, stop hiding—come to One who knows you inside and out and loves you anyway.
Second, it means that as Jesus’ follower, you must extend the same grace to others. People are literally dying to be loved and accepted and forgiven.
ILL: A number of years ago, I received a beautiful letter from Kari. I’ll read just the first paragraph.
On January 25th, 1998 I embarked on the most terrifying day of my life. It was the first day in a very long time that I did not put methamphetamine into my body to kill my pain. Due to my drug addiction, I had lost everything that mattered to me – my children, my home, my job, my cars, and almost my life. I was a walking skeleton and I just wanted my life to end. Three days later I stood outside of Life Center on the steps sobbing because I knew I would never be accepted inside the front doors. I knew people would do double takes, looking at me in disgust because of the way I looked. I honestly didn’t think I had the physical stamina to make it up the stairs on my own. Somehow I managed to control my sobbing and make it up the stairs through the front doors and into the most loving place I think I have ever been. Two people met me within my first few minutes inside the building… Neither one of them looked at me funny, dismissed me, or made me feel inferior in any way. They just welcomed me and loved me the way JESUS would have.
Kari gave her life to Jesus, became a mainstay at Life Center and a force for ministry in our community. BTW…her daughter is on our staff.
Kari was the woman at the well—expecting to be rejected, but surprised by love and living water. Jesus knows us inside and out and loves us anyway.
4. Jesus satisfies: He gives us living water.
Look again at what Jesus offered this woman.
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman has come to the well for water, so Jesus uses water as a metaphor for what she really wants: life. Life that is full, abundant and eternal. Life that satisfies and fulfills. It’s what we all want.
In other settings, Jesus uses other metaphors. In John 6, after feeding hungry crowds, Jesus uses bread as a metaphor for eternal life.
John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
Jesus makes this wild claim that He can satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. He is the living water that satisfies our thirst; He is the bread of life that satisfies our hunger. Friends—it turns out that what you’ve been looking for all along is…Jesus. He is the one who satisfies your hunger and thirst for life as it’s meant to be. “Jesus, You are what I’m looking for.”
Just to be clear: does that mean that once we meet Jesus, we never want or need anything else? Of course not. The woman still had to come back to the well every day for water, and to Albertsons for groceries. She still needed clothes to wear, and a roof over her head. And I’ll bet she still wanted friends and maybe a vacation. When we say that Jesus satisfies, we don’t mean that you never want or need anything else.
We mean that ultimately the life you long for is found in Him, not in anything else. All those other things are good and to be enjoyed—but by themselves, they won’t satisfy. They’ll leave you hungry for more, thirsty for more—still going back to the well every day.
But the deepest longings of your heart—to satisfy those, you need Jesus.
Augustine said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in You, Lord.”
Pascal said that there is a God-shaped vacuum in every heart that only God can fill.
Jesus said, “Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst again.”