‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ (John 4:29)
Introduction: A Gospel for Sinners
This discussion between the Lord Christ and the adulterous woman at the well is one of the most beautiful passages in Scripture. This woman’s life was mess of adulteries, sin, shame, and broken marriages. The men in her life were pigs. They treated here like dirt. She would have been spurned as an outcast by society and treated like a prostitute. The Lord Jesus however comes to her full of compassion with an abundance of mercy and grace. We are reminded that the Gospel of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is a Gospel for sinners. He did not come for the self righteous. He came for sinners. He came to rescue fallen people. He came for the down and outs; the broken, the helpless, the hopeless. He came to save the vilest offenders. He came for splendid sinners like Nicodemus and public sinners like the woman at the well. He came for those who've made a mess of their lives. Not the righteous but sinners Jesus came to save. The Gospel of our Lord is for all sorts of people. This chapter shows us clearly that the Gospel of our Lord is not inhibited by gender and sexuality or restricted by ethnic and cultural barriers. I have two points by way of introduction to our text:
1] Firstly, His Gospel transcends gender and sexuality. Women were treated as second class citizens in Jewish and Samaritan society. Men were not allowed to speak with women in public, not even with their own wives, and certainly not with someone else’s wife. The Lord Christ, however, is concerned about the salvation of women as much as men. Some of the greatest followers of Christ in the Bible and throughout Church history have been women. Men and women with respect to their value and personhood are completely equal, having been made in the image and likeness of God. Yes there is a distinction in role with the family of God, but not a distinction in significance. The Bible does insist upon male leadership within the Church (Acts 6:3, 1 Corinthians 11:13, 1 Timothy 2:11–13, 1 Timothy 3:2 & 12), but nowhere does Scripture teach us that women are inferior to men. On the contrary, it teaches that the Lord Christ loves and values women as much as He loves and values men. He came to save sinners of mankind lost: Eve as much as Adam was a sinner in need of the Saviour.
2] Secondly, His Gospel transcends social and cultural barriers. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews at this particular time. The Jewish people had ‘no dealings with Samaritans’ (v.9b). When the Ten Tribes of Israel were taken into captivity by the Assyrians, the King of Assyria sent foreign people to populate and look after Samaria. There was intermarriage between the foreigners and the Israelites who remained in Samaria. As far as the Judeans of the South were concerned, this intermarriage destroyed the religious and ethnic purity of the covenant people. Not only did the Samaritans intermarry, they mixed the worship of Jehovah with foreign gods, they rejected the Temple of David and built their own Temple in Samaria around 400BC, and they only recognised the first five books of Moses as authoritative Scripture. There was extreme tension and prejudice between the Jews and the Samaritans during the time of Christ. The Lord Jesus comes along and blows this prejudice out of the water by speaking with this Samarian woman. The Lord Christ did not come for the salvation of Israel only, but for sinners of mankind lost wherever they may be found in the world. His Gospel is not for the Jews only, but for the whole world. The Gospel is not only for middle class, British citizens it is for people from every corner and culture upon earth. The vision of John in Revelation speaks to us of a great multitude from every nation worshipping the Lord Jesus:
I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7: 9–10).
We are reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul: ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). We are called as Christians to reach out to all sorts of people. The adulterous woman at the well needed the Gospel of Christ as much as that proud professor Nicodemus. Christians must not be a prejudiced people. The business of saving souls is far more serious than the social and cultural barriers of our generation. There is a rich diversity in the Kingdom of Heaven but a glorious unity in Christ. We ought to reflect this in our evangelism by seeking to win all sorts of people for the glory of God and the expansion of His Kingdom.
Jesus and the Woman of Samaria
There are five lessons to be learned from the dealings of our Lord with the woman of Samaria:
1] Firstly, the Lord Christ goes out of His way to rescue sinners. He had left Judea and was on His way to Galilee (v.3). He had a reason for doing this. He had a divine appointment to fulfil. John says, ‘He had to pass through Samaria’ (v.4). The meaning is not that Samaria was the only possible way. There were other ways back to Galilee. Most Jews would have avoided travelling through Samaria at all costs. In fact, they would have gone out of their way to pass by Samaritan territory. The most common route for the Jew would have been to travel to the north of Judea, east of the Jordan, and then back to Galilee in order to avoid setting foot in hostile Samaria. The Lord Christ has a purpose in passing through Samaria. It is deliberate. The custom today within the Church is to do nothing without ostentation. There must be grand missions, great expense, thousands of invites, special speakers, and dramatic testimonies. The must be noise, fuss, and bustle. There must be crowds of people, bums on seats. Yet, we find the Lord Christ going out of His way to rescue a single soul. He doesn't seek the praise of men. He doesn't seek applause. He does this good work on the quiet, when there are no crowds, when His disciples are not around.
He is truly concerned for this woman. He has such a love for sinners of mankind lost that He is prepared to seek them out individually and call them by name. He had to pass through Samaria. He came into this world to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). The Lord Christ was prepared to sweep the whole house and turn it upside down to find a single lost coin. He would risk life and limb to return one stray sheep to the fold. He would forget His own dignity and run to embrace the repentant Prodigal with kisses and tears. He came to Samaria at just the right time to meet the woman at the well. He came because He loved her and longed that she would come to Him and drink the water of life. This was no accident. This is not chance. The woman at the well didn't ‘get lucky’. The Lord Christ had ordained this appointment from before the foundation of the world. Christians are a chosen people. This adulterous woman was graciously chosen by the Lord Christ to receive the living water of salvation and to worship and adore the Lord God in spirit and truth.
It is altogether remarkable that the Lord Christ should condescend to save miserable sinners who have dishonoured Him and broken His commandments. He is a Saviour most gracious, most merciful, most compassionate. The Lord of glory, the Light of light, the One who is very God of very God, goes out of His way to rescue sinners. Ours is a Gospel of grace. We are not saved because we somehow deserved it. Salvation is not a reward. It is not a prize. It cannot be earned. It is a gift. We are saved because Christ chose us for salvation from before the foundation of the world. We are saved because He assumed our nature and likeness. We are saved because He lived a holy life in our stead, and bore our sins in His own body, and suffered the wrath of God for us, and died that cursed death in our place. We have life and blessedness because He rose from the dead. If we are Christians today, we are saved because the Lord Christ took pains to rescue us. Salvation belongs to the Lord. He went out of His way to bring salvation to us. He had to go to Samaria. There was an elect sinner to save. There was lost sheep to be found by the Good Shepherd.
2] Secondly, the Lord Christ is no respecter of persons. The Lord Christ is exhausted from His journey. We are reminded that He is a real man. His humanity is very real. He is God in the flesh. He is God incarnate. He grows weary. He gets tired. He knows how that feels. He knows both physical and mental exhaustion. Yet at the very time when we would least feel like evangelising, the Lord Christ strikes at an opportunity. His dialogue with her is not forced. He hasn't learned a method by wrote. He doesn't have ‘four spiritual laws’, a ‘Romans road’, or even 'Christianity Explored'. He simply talks with this woman. It is completely natural. He is easy going. ‘Give me a drink’. That’s how it goes. Therein lies the great secret of evangelism. We don’t try to speak with sinners as anything other than human people in need of a gracious Saviour. This woman is made in the image and likeness of God. She knows that. Everyone knows that deep within their hearts. We cannot help but know it because we are by definition creatures of God. Moreover, she knows that she is a guilty sinner. We all know that deep down. Our conscience condemns us every time we sin. It gnaws at us. The point of contact with the natural man lies in the fact that every human being is a creature made in the image and likeness of God, but is a creature living in a state of rebellion and enmity toward God. Our conversation doesn't need to be forced or rehearsed. It needs to be honest and real.
This woman is amazed that the Lord Christ is speaking to her as if she were a real human being. ‘How is it that you, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman? (v.9). The Lord Christ is no respecter of persons. He is not looking to hold a conversation with the most important, or the most intelligent, or the most interesting, or the most religious, or the most affluent in the room. Those things don’t matter to Him. John MacArthur puts it like this:
Jesus was not ashamed to take a drink from the vessel of a woman for whom He had come to die. Nobody – not this woman, not a Pharisee like Nicodemus, not even the most loathsome leper – was beyond the reach of His divine love.
What kind of people do we hold conversations with? Would we speak to the beggar, the homeless, the prostitute, the drug addict, the ex-con, the low-life, and the poor about Jesus? Or do we target middle class families only? These are serious questions for us all to face in this generation. How dare we be ashamed to speak with someone for whom the Lord Christ suffered and died! We ourselves were once strangers to grace and to God. The Lord Christ is ready to welcome the worst of sinners with open arms. Would we turn them away? Do we have so little of the compassion and sweetness of Christ about us? ‘Our Divine Lord has more tenderness for sinners than the whole of us put together’ (Charles Spurgeon). Oh that our hearts would beat with loving desires to see sinners of mankind lost delivered from the wrath to come!
3] Thirdly, the Lord Christ freely offers living water. Jesus answered her and said to 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’ (v.10). The Lord Christ turns the whole conversation around. One moment He was the thirsty one in need of a drink, but now this woman is the one suffering from a deeper thirst, a spiritual thirst, and stands in need of living water. The water which the Lord Christ offers is everlasting life. His water brings true life to thirsty souls. The woman doesn't know who this man is. She doesn't realise that she is speaking with the Author of Salvation, the God who made the universe and came to rescue fallen sinners. She thinks that the Lord Christ is talking about spring-water from the depths of well, water which could be found only by using a rope and bucket because the well was deep. The Lord Christ would have freely given her eternal life, but in her ignorance she doesn't see the need for such water. To be ignorant of Christ is a terrible thing. Knowledge of the Lord Jesus, of His person and work, is essential for the eternal happiness and salvation of our souls. There is no going to heaven without knowing the Lord Christ: ‘This is life eternal: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent’ (John 17:3). If it is life eternal to know the Lord Jesus Christ, then it is eternal misery to be ignorant of Him. Of course, this is not merely a brute knowledge of the facts concerning the Lord Christ. It is that, but it is more than that. There is a world of difference between knowing about Christ, and knowing Christ. There must be an experiential knowledge of the Lord Jesus. We must know Him personally as our Lord and Saviour. He must be our heart’s desire.
He is ready and willing to give mercy and grace to the worst of sinners. If she had known Him, if she only had asked, ‘He would have given her living water’. He is not reluctant to pardon sinners. He is not mean-spirited. We must not think harsh thoughts of the Saviour. He is prepared of His own self to give the water of life to any and all who call upon His name. J. C. Ryle has these wonderful words of comfort for helpless sinners:
The Lord Jesus is far more ready to hear than we are to pray, and far more ready to give favours than we are to ask them. All day long He stretches out His hands to disobedient and [obstinate people]. He has thoughts of pity and compassion towards the vilest of sinners, even when they have no thoughts of Him. He stands waiting to bestow mercy and grace on the worst and most unworthy, if they will only cry out to Him.
He holds forth life, mercy, blessedness, happiness, and salvation to sinners of mankind lost. He is not reluctant to save. He desires that you come and drink of the water of life. He would give it to you freely if only you would ask. The many who now perish and thirst eternally in the fires of hell are there because they were too stubborn to ask. ‘Ask and you shall receive, seek and you shall find’. Ask for living water and keep on asking until you know and are refreshed with the waters of life eternal. What is keeping you from such a priceless treasure? Forget your pride, forget your high thoughts of self, forget what other may think of you, and come to the fountain of life eternal.
The woman is still somewhat perplexed by what the Lord Christ is saying. ‘Are you greater than our Father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock’ (v.12). If only she knew! The Lord Christ is infinitely greater than father Jacob. His living water is exceedingly more wonderful than the water of Jacob’s well. The Lord Christ is the ‘gift of God’. He is the Son of the Father’s love. In Him there dwells a treasure all divine. ‘In Him the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form’ (Colossians 2:9). He is the brightness of the Father’s glory, the exact representation of His being, the One who sustains all things by His powerful word (Hebrews 1:3a). ‘He is the richest token of the Father’s love to us’ (Matthew Henry). There could be no better person to reveal to helpless sinners the love and the mercy of God than His dearly beloved Son. ‘His water is infinitely better then Jacob’s water’ (John MacArthur). ‘Everyone who drinks of this water [from the well] 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’ (vv.13–14). The water of Christ has a dynamic, living, bubbling, excitableness. It is a pleasure divine that outlives time and last for eternity. It wells up like a spring in hearts of those who receive it leading to life eternal. When the grace of God enters a man’s heart, it is an immortal principle. The water of life is no temporal thing, it changes you forever. It washes away your sins, it takes away the constant thirst for worldly pleasures, it gives you eternal life, it purges us from the filth and pollution of sin, it extinguishes the fires of hell and the fear of condemnation, it brings forth Spiritual life and joyful obedience, and it lifts our hearts heavenward as a mighty fountain bursting from the ground.
The woman still does not understand what the Lord Christ is talking about, but she wants this water more than anything else in the world. Is this water physical or spiritual? She doesn’t know, but she wants it nonetheless. ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come to draw water’ (v.15). The Lord Christ has spoken so persuasively and attractively that she wants the living water this man has to offer. Notice, however, that the Lord Christ does not simply give her this water immediately. She must first recognise the seriousness of her sin, come to know for herself the identity of this wondrous man, and thereafter worship God in Spirit and in truth. There are three lessons for us here:
1] Firstly, there is no going to heaven without a heartfelt recognition of our sinfulness and unworthiness. The Lord Jesus is no believer in cheap grace. He came to save people from their sins. The conviction of sin is absolutely necessary for anyone to be truly converted to God. The unrepentant and the proud have no home in heaven. ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs – and theirs only – is the Kingdom of Heaven’ (Matthew 5:3). Heaven belongs to those who have felt something of this poverty of spirit. Heaven belongs to those only who have beat their breast and said, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner’ (Luke 18:13). The Lord Christ pierces the conscience of this woman with the words, ‘Go, call your husband and come here’ (v.16). The woman has no husband at the moment. She has had five husbands and the man she is with at the moment is not her husband. This woman is living in adultery. There is great shame in knowing that Lord Jesus is aware of our sins. He knows us inside out. He knows our open sins and our secret sins. The woman, having been shown her sin, begins to see something of who Jesus really is. ‘Sir, I perceive you are a prophet’ (v.19). You can see my sin. You know my deepest shame. You know my vilest offences. And yet, you offer me – even me – living water! There is mercy in His heart for even the most wretched sinner in the universe. His offer of life goes out to the whole earth. There is no sinner to foul for Christ. ‘Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters’ (Isaiah 55:1). His mercy is for everyone and anyone who thirsts. All are welcome to come and drink of the water of life and find pardon for sin and peace that endures for eternity. Will you not come to Christ? Will you not come and drink this living water? Only madness would keep you from coming and drinking this living water.
2] Secondly, there is no going to heaven without a true knowledge of the Saviour. She begins the discussion with our Lord thinking that He is just like any other man, but by the end of their conversation she realises that she is face to face with the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God. This woman knew that there was a promised Messiah who would reveal the truth to God’s people. She understood such things. She is not wholly ignorant of the truth. What she doesn't see is that the man before here is the Messiah. The Lord Christ reveals Himself to her in the most direct, plain, and simple manner: ‘I who speak to you am He’. It is essential to understand that the Lord Jesus is the Christ. He is the promised Saviour who came to rescue His people from their sins by living and dying in their place. You may have lived a life with loose religious notions, but now you are confronted with a tremendous reality: the Lord Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour of the World. He holds forth living water to helpless sinners and promises forgiveness, life, and eternal happiness for all who come to Him believing. What are you going to do with this Jesus? Eternal life belongs to those who trust in Him. Why not come to Him? Why not believe on Him? Why not rest your troubled soul in the arms of the Messiah. This man Jesus is no mere man. He is God. Literally translated the verse would read, ‘I AM is the one who speaks to you’. He is the great I AM. He is the God who made you, the God who gave you life, the God who brought you to Church today to listen to this very sermon. And as your God, He is most worthy of your love, adoration, and obedience. It would be folly to turn away from Him. Will you not come to Him, that you may have life?
3] Thirdly, there is no true religion where God is not worshipped in spirit and in truth. The Samaritan woman, having been woken up by the Lord Christ to the reality of her sin, looks to formal religion to rescue her. She compares the Jewish and Samaritan modes of worship. This is so often the way of things. Men and women feel some sense of guilt and shame, so they turn to the mechanics of formal religion. They look to the Pope and to Rome, or to the Church of England and her formalities, the look to ceremonies and sacraments. They look to the cults and false religions. They look for salvation in all the wrong places. The Lord Christ teaches her that the true believer, one who has truly tasted the living water, will worship God from the heart. Men and women so often make religion a matter of form. It is either all about the smells and bells or about the rock guitars and worship leaders. The Lord God looks upon the heart. The Lord Christ teaches her that God is Spirit. It is not by sense-experience that we relate to God. He is a most pure spirit. He has no physicality. He has no body, no parts.
Immortal, Invisible, God only wise,
In light inaccessible, hid from our eyes,
Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days,
Almighty, victorious, Thy great name we praise.
The Lord Christ sets before us two great principles concerning the worship of God:
i. We are to worship God ‘in Spirit’. God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power holiness, justice, goodness, and truth. The worship He desires must be spiritual worship. The worship and adoration of God should spring up like living water from the heart. The worship of the one true God is not characterised by physical factors. We don’t have smells, bells, paintings, rock bands, smoke, mirrors, icons or statues. The worship of God is plain, unadorned and simple. We worship Him in Spirit. The true worship of God can only take place in the heart of a man who has been born of the Spirit and washed in the blood. The man who worships God truly knows something of the life of God in the soul of man. There is an experiential reality to his worship. All other worship is false and blasphemous. Our worship is not to be characterised by hypocrisy and formality. It is not to be dry, dead and lifeless. We are not merely to go through the motions. It is meant to be living, vital, spiritual worship. Our worship is characterised by a spiritual reverence of the living God. There is something awesome, holy, uncanny, and majestic about coming into His presence. There is a sense of the divine that is overwhelming and awe-inspiring. Our worship comes from the heart.
ii. We are to worship God ‘in truth’. We must never worship a god of our own devising. That is idolatry. In our services, we read the Book of holy and infallible truth (the Bible), we pray the truth about the Lord God, we claim His promises in our prayers, we preach the truth and nothing but the truth as taught in Scripture, we sing the truth in psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs. That is true worship. Our worship must be sound, orthodox, Biblical, true. It must be according to the teaching of the Bible. The God we worship must be none other than the Triune God of Scripture. Any other God is no God at all. To worship God truly, we must therefore seek to know Him as He has revealed Himself. We must study our Bibles and learn who the Lord God is and what He has done for us. The great tragedy of our generation is that the doctrine of God is almost wholly neglected in pulpits and pews today. What do we know of God? What can we say about His name, His nature, and His works? What do we know of God by experience? What do we know of His felt-presence? What do we know of His glory? Let us labour to know and love the true and living God. ‘We will never honour God as we ought, until we know Him as He is’ (Stephen Charnock).
5] Finally, consider the invitation from the lips of a sinner saved by grace. This woman has been saved even as she speaks with the Lord Christ. Her first desire as a new believer is to go and speak a word for Jesus Christ. It is never wrong to speak a word for Jesus. ‘Come, see a man, who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ (v.29). She invites the men of the town to come and see Jesus. She invites them to come and see Him for themselves. Come and speak with this man. Come and try Jesus for yourself. And this is precisely what I want to say to every unconverted person today. In the words of Charles Spurgeon:
My Lord Jesus is the most precious Saviour that I ever dreamed of. Come and test Him! He is altogether lovely and He has blessed my soul unspeakably, but I do not want you to believe because of my saying so – come and see for yourselves!
Test His Gospel for yourselves. Don’t take my word for it. Come and find Christ personally. Read His Gospel, listen to men preach and teach about Him, seek Him in prayer! Salvation is a personal matter. You must come, you must repent, you must believe, you must lay hold of Christ, you must drink the living water. I cannot do these things for you. We must all go as sinners to Christ in repentance, seeking His mercy. He is most gracious and compassionate to all who fall upon their knees and seek His salvation. ‘Him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out’.
It may be that you know much about Jesus, but don’t know Him personally by faith. I ask you then, why not believe on Him and in Him? Why not make it personal? You know that He is God, then why not submit to Him as your God? You know that He is the Christ who came to take away the sins of the world, then why not entreat Him to take away your sins? If you know His blood can make the foulest sinner clean, then why not come and be washed in the blood of the Lamb? Why not come and have your sins washed away? Can this be the Christ? Come and see. Come see a man who told me all that I ever did!
References & Further Reading
I found the commentaries of Matthew Henry, Matthew Poole, J. C. Ryle and Hendriksen, Bruce Milne helpful when preparing this sermon.
MacArthur, John, ‘He demands true worship’, in The Gospel According to Jesus (Zondervan), pp. 62–72.
Spurgeon, Charles, ‘The Samaritan Woman and Her Mission’ (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 1678).
Spurgeon, Charles, ‘The Water of Life’ (Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, No. 770).