John: Temptation at the Well

Sermon by Derek Thomas on December 18, 2002

John 4:1-26

John 4:1-26
Temptation at
the Well

Please turn with me to the gospel of John, chapter 4.

The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing
more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but
His disciples. When the Lord learned of this, He left Judea and went back once
more to Galilee. Now He had to go through Samaria. So He came to a town in
Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son
Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as He was from the journey, sat
down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When a Samaritan woman came to
draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had
gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew
and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not
associate with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and
who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have
given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep.
Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who
gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks
and herds?” Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty
again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the
water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal
life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get
thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call
your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to
her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had
five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just
said is quite true.” “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet.
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where
we must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is
coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in
Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do
know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when
the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are
the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is Spirit, and His worshipers must
worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called
Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then
Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am He.”

Let’s pray together:

Our gracious God and ever blessed Father, we thank you
for your word and we ask just now, that by Your Spirit, You would illuminate
this familiar story to our hearts and minds and souls, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

John tells us in the gospel why he writes it. He has
a very definite purpose in mind. He tells us at the end, at the close of the
gospel, that his purpose in writing this gospel was in order that men and women
might believe that Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of God. He has an evangelistic
purpose as he writes the gospel. He makes no bones about it; he is perfectly
open and frank about it, he tells the stories that he tells and why he tells
them in the way that he does.

You’ll remember, of course, that the gospel of John
begins in a different way from the other gospels. Whereas the other gospels
begin with the birth of Jesus and then recount the tale leading to His death and
crucifixion, John begins, as it were, not so much from below, but from above. He
begins with a statement, “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with
God and the Word was God, the same was in the beginning with God.” Then a little
later in that same chapter, he tells us that the Word was made flesh and dwelt
among us.

John has been selecting certain stories. He’s told us
about the preaching of John the Baptist. He’s told us about the wedding in Cana
of Galilee. He’s told us of an encounter that Jesus had with Nicodemus. And now
in chapter four another story, not found in any of the other gospels, of a
journey that Jesus makes northwards to Galilee from Jerusalem going through the
territory known as Samaria.

I. Jesus is God in the flesh, who came to earth to give
Himself to atone for our sins.
The telling of this tale, too, has an evangelistic
purpose. He wants us to realize in the first place, that the Jesus whom this
Samaritan woman encountered at the well of Jacob is none other than the Word
made flesh. The Jesus who became incarnate is the very person whom this woman of
Samaria met at the well. The scene is set for us in the opening couple of
verses. There’s a confrontation with the Pharisees a little like the opening of
the seventh chapter of John’s gospel, and Jesus, because His time has not yet
come, goes northwards to Galilee.

John tells us a little lesson in geography. He “must
needs go through Samaria.” If you were to look at a map, of course, Samaria
would have been the obvious direction. Samaria would have gone northwards to
Galilee; it was the shortest point between the two locations. But that was not
the usual way to go to Galilee. Because of the relationships between Jews and
Samaritans, the usual way to traverse northwards to Galilee was along the Jordan
valley. This is not the way Jesus goes, and John wants us to appreciate that
there’s once again a reason why he is in Samaria. Because, as John puts it, He “must
needs go through Samaria.”

And the necessity, of course, lies in the purpose of
John’s writing of this gospel. It is, of course, an evangelistic purpose. Jesus
must encounter this woman. Had He gone in a different direction, He would never
have met her. And there is then, a divine compulsion upon Him that He cannot go
in any other direction but through Samaria and to this well of Jacob. And there
He meets this woman. Jesus is tired and sits down at the well, and John goes
into a fair amount of detail. The scenery is set for us. It’s another Bible
story about a well. And those of you who know your Bibles well will remember
that there is something very familiar about the way John tells this story,
because it reminds us of the opening chapters of Exodus, where there too, a man
sat by a well and met a woman. And that story of Moses at the well led to the
Exodus and the deliverance of God’s people.

In a sense John wants us to pick up on that and he is
saying, “A new Moses is here.” As you read this story, John is saying to you, “I
want you to understand now, people of God, as you read this story I’m relating
to you, a new deliverer has come.” One who is going to lead His people
forth into liberty from bondage and sin. John tells us that Jesus sat down at
the well because He was tired, and the way John says it is interesting because
it’s a construction that seems to imply that Jesus not only was tired but looked
tired. Isn’t this a wonderful demonstration that Jesus has been tempted in
every point like as we are, yet without sin! He relates to your tiredness; He
related to your sense of physical exhaustion, when you end the day after a long
day’s hard labor and toil, and you just want to rest in that favorite arm chair
and maybe put on a favorite piece of music and just blot out everything, and
Jesus is saying to us, “Yes, I’ve been there, too.” He was tired and He looked

And a woman of Samaria comes to Him and He says to
her, “Give me a drink.” The fact that He’s speaking to this woman at all is a
great mystery because normally the etiquette would be that men did not talk
to women in public–certainly not at a well scene like this and already
something of the alarm bells in your antennae are already going off as John is
relating this, but there’s more than that because this is no ordinary
woman. This is a woman of ill repute. This is a Samaritan hussy, and Jesus is
talking to her. He asks of her that she might give Him a drink. And as
you read this story in all of its details, John is giving you details, that in
the very language that this woman used about wells and drawing from the
fountains of wells, are loaded imagery.

And you get the impression, and more, than that John
is intending that you pick up the signals. This woman in her conversation with
Jesus is actually tempting Him. And everything in you is now saying, “Oh no, not
my sweet Savior.” Every instinct in your body is saying, “Not so!” And I
understand that because I want to resist that notion too, but read the story
again and you will see that when the Bible tells us about our sweet Savior, that
He was tempted in every point like as we are, yet without sin. Even in this
place also. Even in the most distressing of all temptations, even in the
allurement of this woman, Jesus is being tempted. And Jesus in His tiredness and
physical exhaustion, when your resources, as it were, are spent and your energy
to resist temptation is almost altogether gone, Jesus is in danger here. He is
in as much danger here in this story as anywhere in the gospel narratives of
Him. The Word is made flesh.

John also tells us something else. It was about the
sixth hour. Now, that seems of such little significance that he tells us that,
and maybe there is no significance to it, but maybe also, when you remember
later when John recounts the crucifixion of Christ and when this Savior was
nailed to a cross and wicked men slew Him, John says, “It was about the sixth
hour.” It was as though he was saying, “You remember that story I told you on
the journey through Samaria, there where Jesus was tempted in every point, but
with victory and triumph, and now He is being cursed in your stead for the sins
with which you are tempted and perhaps have failed and have not resisted, and
have not come out with cleanliness and purity and righteousness and integrity as
Jesus did here. And John is saying, “The Word was made flesh.” The Jesus with
whom this woman engaged in conversation was the Word made flesh and incarnate
for sinners like you and me.

II. Jesus is the only true life and light.
But in the second place, the Jesus that is set before
us in this story is the only true life and light. He talks in verses 10-18 about
living water, and it is the beginning of an exchange of discourse between Jesus
and the Samaritan woman, and John is relating the story to us, almost begging us
in the hearing of this story, to ask the question, “Does this woman really
who Jesus is?” And, “Is this woman actually going to discover the
living water of which Jesus speaks?”

Water, of course, is deeply significant in John’s
gospel. In the very opening chapter, he tells us about John’s baptizing with
water. In chapter two, we are led immediately into a wedding ceremony in Cana of
Galilee and, there also, water pots of purification were changed from water into
wine. In chapter three, Jesus tells us the story of Nicodemus and to him Jesus
says, “Unless a man is born again of water and the Spirit,” referring to the Old
Testament rituals of cleansing; and now, in chapter four again, there is this
reference is to water. And just a few chapters on, in chapter seven at the feast
of tabernacles, Jesus again will say something very similar, and He will say,
“If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as
the Scripture said, from his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”
And these references to water symbolize, I think, from the references in John
seven to the giving of the Holy Spirit in part on the day of Pentecost, that
when we trust in Jesus Christ, from within us the Holy Spirit will come and
cleanse us and renew us and make us fit for God. He is the only true source of

But not just life, but light too, because this woman
is in darkness. She says to Him, “I perceive that you are a prophet.” And some
commentators will always want to suggest that in a sense, she is trying to
deviate from the conversation. Jesus has asked her to go and fetch her husband
and of course, this introduces a huge problem in her life. Maybe she is indeed
trying to fence off the question of Jesus and introduces a red
herring–introduces a completely irrelevant point of conversation. You have
experienced it yourselves many times when you try to speak to others about the
gospel, when the gospel is hitting home, you’ll see them squirming, trying to
change the conversation. And maybe that’s what this woman is doing here–but
perhaps not. Perhaps this is a genuine reflection of her confusion, the genuine
paucity of her understanding of what true religion is all about. And
people have all kinds of weird notions of what true and genuine Christianity is
all about. And Jesus is being presented to her as the true source of life and
the true source of light.

III. Jesus is the great example of evangelism.
But in the third place, Jesus is being set before us
here in this encounter with this woman as the great evangelist. In a sense,
Christ is wooing this woman. Here you have a glimpse into the personal
evangelistic strategy of Jesus.

And in this well scene, again you remember your Bible
stories in the Old Testament. In Genesis 24, Isaac and Rebecca at the well; and
in Genesis 29 it’s Jacob and Rachel; in Exodus 2 it’s Moses and Zipporah. Wells
scenes in the Bible are scenes of betrothal and marriage–highly significant
moments. And John is doing something startling isn’t he? Whereas this woman is
tempting Jesus; Jesus is wooing her also in an altogether different sense. It’s
not so much this woman that is advancing toward Jesus, but Jesus who is
advancing towards her. He’s come for His bride, you might say. There’s a
strategy at work here.

I’m always intrigued, when I read this story, at how
complex Jesus’ presentation of the gospel is here. It’s not a simple
presentation. And though there is a place, of course, for the simple
presentation of the gospel, but the gospel is always much more complex than
that. And here in this narrative John is giving us a glimpse; He’s giving us a
lesson on evangelism and mission and ministry and how to relate to unbelievers.

There’s a seven-fold stage through which this woman
seems to pass. In the first place, she comes from a spirit of total alienation.
As the story begins, she is standing above Christ, knows better than Christ, and
she thinks that she’s in control of the conversation. She knows things that He
doesn’t. And yet she’s blind and she cannot see at all. Her intentions are
altogether hostile. And then she is brought to a position of apparent curiosity.
She is drawn to a state of fascination. How much did this woman make of what
Jesus said? Did she understand His presentation of the gospel? He says things
that seem almost certain to confuse. And yet, by the ministry of God’s Holy
Spirit, in the presentation of this message and the outflow of this
conversation, this woman’s curiosity is engaged.

And then, seemingly, a state of confusion, in verse
15 she says, “Sir, give me this water so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the
way here to draw.” When she hears Jesus speak about waters of life and waters
that if she drinks from, she would never thirst again, and her heart and mind
begin to race. And all this drudgery of coming out to the well to draw water and
the necessity of it would go away and she asks in her confusion that she might
experience this water.

And then comes conviction. “Are you greater that
Jacob?” she asked Him. The woman has a vision of Jesus that sees Him merely as a
man. That’s all she sees. She’s like Jacob. But Jacob’s well only brought
perennial thirst. And the well of Jacob could never satisfy the human heart, and
Jesus brings this line of conversation to a radical end. And He knows now that
the next touch will light upon the very pain–like a doctor, you know when they
press on your stomach because you’ve got a pain. And they say, “Is it here?” And
you say, “No.” “And is it here?” “Yes! It’s there.” And Jesus knows now where to
touch and it will hurt and He says to her, “Go, call your husband.” And her
response is a mixture of conviction and self protection. “I have no husband,”
she said. And she has five husbands. And the man she is now with is not her
husband, and it suddenly dawns on this woman that Jesus knew things about her
that she thought he didn’t know.

And there comes a dawning realization that here was
one standing before her who knew the deepest secrets of her heart and exposed
the sinfulness and the waywardness of her lifestyle. And she begins to grope
near the truth, and she says in verse 19, “Sir, I perceive that you are a
prophet.” And in all of her confusion, something of the realization that here
was a teacher the like of which she had never seen or experienced before. And
there’s a dawning that finds a fulfillment in Jesus in the words in verse 26. “I
who speak to you am He.” That is, the Christ, the Messiah. The one that she had
vaguely heard about, the one that she knew the Jews were looking and longing

And now John spoke to her directly, face to face, and
said to her, “I am He.” I am the one that the Old Testament Scriptures speak of
and prophesy. I am the fulfillment of all those hopes and dreams; I am the
fulfillment of all those prophecies. I am the Christ. And then there’s the
breath of grace in her soul as she leaves her water pots and goes into the city
and says to the men, “Come, see the man who told me all the things that I have
done. Is this not the Christ?”

If the fourth chapter of John’s gospel were a movie,
I guess Steven Spielberg would end the movie with a camera coming closer and
closer in its shot to the empty water pot at the well of Sychar–the water pot
that had never been used that day. The water pot that she had brought with her,
day after day after day, in the routine of coming to that well to draw water,
but that day, she leaves the well and leaves the water pot behind.
Symbolic as it is of a life that has been radically changed and transformed by
the person and ministry of Jesus Christ that is presented here as the word of
God made flesh and dwelling amongst the people, a single water pot–symbol of the
change that Jesus can bring into the lives of the most hardened sinners in all
the world–even a hussy like this one. And Jesus transformed her and changed her
and took away that stony heart of unbelief and gave her a new heart. Here is a
woman who has had six men and now lives with a seventh, and He stands before her
drawing her to Himself, not offended by her depravity or offended by her
lifestyle so that He would have nothing to do with her. That He would speak to
her despite the shock that the disciples sensed when they come back from the
village and they say, “Why is He talking with this woman?” And John is saying to
us. He is talking with her because His heart overflowed with love and compassion
for sinners–sinners in need of Christ, sinners in need of salvation, sinners
lost and in bondage to a wayward lifestyle and to whom Jesus, in the power of
His sovereign majesty, can take and transform and renew and change.

What has happened in this story is that this woman
has come to believe and to trust in Jesus Christ. She has come to see Him as the
only solution, the only answer to the problem of sin and the problem of her
life; and she’s cast her all on Him. And John says that when she went back into
that city there was the awakening in that city–a beginning of a work of revival
in that city. It was the dawning of the outpouring of the Spirit on that
locality where others–tens, hundreds–came to know the Savior partly through

We worship the same Jesus, today, who was dead and is
alive forevermore; who is the same yesterday, today, and forever. If you, in
this congregation today, are still without Christ in this hour of worship, if
you are conscious of something in your life that is terribly amiss and you do
not know the source of light and life, may I point you to Him? Jesus the Son of
God, who lived and died for sinners like you and me, and who calls sinners to
Himself and says, “Come unto Me all ye that are weary and heavy laden and I will
give you rest.” May God the Holy Spirit write these truths on our hearts. May we
stand and pronounce the benediction?

Now may the
grace of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and
the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with each one of you now and forevermore.

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