The Woman at the Well is a clear example of what to do when you follow Jesus.
Let’s focus on an outcast with whom Jesus engaged. Many reading this will have heard the account of the “Good Samaritan,” which is a phrase of irony for to the Jewish mind. To them, the Samaritans were not good by any means. They were half-breeds. They were the outcasts of Jewish society.
Let’s focus on the “Bad Samaritan.” She’s otherwise known as the Woman at the Well in John 4. We are going to discover that the Samaritan woman’s story is many of our stories. We were once outcasts. We have experienced that same Jesus.
CLICK HERE to watch “Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well” segment of The Chosen (S.1, Ep. 8).
We are going to look at several implications of the Samaritan woman’s account. Every single one of us will see ourselves in different parts of this story. Our encounter with her story will demand a response … so get ready!
I. JESUS INVITES OUTCASTS TO BE A PART OF HIS FAMILY (JOHN 4:1–4)
It is important to remember that nothing about Jesus’ life and ministry was haphazard. He lived a very intentional and strategic life. In this account, Jesus decided to leave Judea due to the increasing hostility of the Pharisees and travel northward to Galilee. The most direct route from Judea to Galilee went through Samaria. While some may believe that Jesus took this route because of its shorter length, it is more likely that Jesus took this route because He had someone to meet at a well.
The history of poor relations between the Jews and Samaritans goes back to the Assyrian captivity (722 BC) when the most desired Israelites were removed from their homeland, and outsiders were brought in and intermarried with the remaining Israelites. Most of these outside foreigners worshipped false gods and caused the remaining Israelites to mix the false religion with their true religion. The Jews who later returned to Jerusalem viewed these residents of northern Israel (called Samaria) as religious compromisers and ethnic half-breeds. The Samaritans objected to Nehemiah’s rebuilding of the wall (Nehemiah 4:1–2), and they built a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, which they dedicated to a false god (C.K. Barrett, The Gospel According to St. John). All of these actions and others led to increased hostility.
So Jesus decided to intentionally travel through this region. He didn’t avoid it. Even before He gave it, Jesus was living out the Great Commission to preach the Gospel, making disciples in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. He was taking the initial step in inviting outcasts to be a part of God’s family.
Why? Because Jesus believed that outcasts were valuable. In just a bit, we well be introduced to a woman who did not have the greatest of reputations in her hometown. She was promiscuous. She was morally inferior. She was ethnically inferior. She was spiritually inferior. However, to God she, as an outcast, was valuable.
The Samaritan woman had lost respect for herself. She had had several unsuccessful marriages and most likely had very liberal sexual morals. This resulted in having a bad reputation and the status of an outcast. However, Jesus, who knew more about her than many people, still loved her more than anyone. Jesus viewed her as valuable.
God views us as valuable. We are fearfully and wonderfully made in God’s image (Psalm 139:13–16) and we’re bought with a price (1 Corinthians 7:23; 1 Peter 1:18–20). The world may view us as “junk,” but God loves to take what the world views as “no good” and make it “very good.”
According to Rick Warren, two things determine the value of something: 1) what someone is willing to pay for it (e.g., a baseball card) and 2) who owned it in the past (e.g., a simple guitar owned by John Lennon) (Rick Warren, God Says You Are Valuable).
When you realize that God values you so much that He was willing to make you His own by giving up His Son, you realize there is no longer any need for expending energy assessing other people’s assessment of you.
1 Peter 1:18–19 says, “knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.”
Jesus demonstrated the value of outcasts throughout His ministry, but especially so with the Samaritan woman.
II. JESUS SATISFIES OUTCASTS WITH HIMSELF (JOHN 4:5–26)
Against the backdrop of Mount Gerizim, Jesus enters Samaria and rests at Jacob’s Well (v. 6) during the noon hour. As Jesus sits at the well, we are told that a Samaritan woman came to draw water from the well. The text implies that she came alone. This is unusual because in those days, women did not travel alone, and they most likely did not draw water in the middle of the day. All of this implies that the reason she came by herself is because she did not want to be seen by anyone else. But then there was Jesus…. Her plan backfired.
QUESTION: Have you ever tried to escape from people only to have it backfire?
Seeing the waterpot in her hands, Jesus asked her for water (v. 7). According to our knowledge of Samaritans and the woman’s response (v. 8), this was a remarkable request from Jesus. The woman knew that Jews viewed Samaritans as unclean, and Jesus’ request confuses her. Jesus then promised living water (in the Greek, this phrase means “flowing water that does not stop”), but the Samaritan woman mistakenly thought He was talking about the physical water that she had originally come for. She missed Jesus’ point.
After the Samaritan woman expressed interest as to the water’s location, Jesus intentionally and strategically transitioned the conversation by slyly asking her to bring her husband back with her (v. 16). The woman responded by saying she had no husband. However, she revealed her lie and revealed that He knew more about her than she thought (v. 18). The woman did not object, but confessed that Jesus must be some sort of prophet. Then she quickly changed the subject because she is embarrassed.
The conversation then turned to spiritual matters. This is where Jesus wanted the conversation to go all along. The woman did not deny her sin, but seemed to desire acceptance and forgiveness in turning the conversation to that of worship. Remember that the Samaritans worshipped at Mount Gerizim, and the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem.
Jesus (v. 20) stated that that the place of worship is not as important as the motive of worship. He wanted worshippers who had pure hearts that desired Him (vv. 21–24). Then, she claimed belief in the coming Messiah, and Jesus revealed that the One she had been waiting for was right before her (v. 26).
There is a lot going on in this exchange, but in short, we see two insights that can apply to our lives:
#1: The Samaritan woman was looking in the wrong well for satisfaction (vv. 12–15).
Obviously, the Samaritan was looking for water and for love.
The things of this world will only temporarily satisfy us. Before long, we will come back, like retrieving water in a well, to find satisfaction again, but will leave wanting. Ecclesiastes 3:11 states that we were made for eternity, and we will not rest until we are satisfied through eternal things. Only the living water could truly and eternally satisfy the Samaritan woman. The same is true for us. When we meet Jesus at the well of our own thirstiness, only He can satisfy our longings.
QUESTION: Do you ever find yourself looking in the wrong well for satisfaction?
Like the Samaritan woman, we often look for satisfaction in the wrong well. We may excel at certain things, but they are the wrong things.
There is only one thing in which we need to excel … discovering that our satisfaction can be found only in Christ. Christ loves to satisfy the outcasts who are drinking from the wrong well.
#2: The Samaritan woman’s shame was an obstacle to her satisfaction (vv. 16–18).
Notice how the Samaritan woman responded to Jesus’ request to go get her husband. She didn’t outright lie, but she didn’t tell the complete truth. Why? She ashamed. The real story is that she is on her sixth lover, but they were not yet married. This was nothing to be proud of.
QUESTION: Have you ever allowed something from your past to block you from satisfaction?
Because of her poor reputation and having most likely been ostracized as an outcast, this woman had built up a wall to hide behind. Being behind this wall was comfortable for her. She could hide her shame. Maybe she was an outcast because of her own doing.
She feared that if people really knew her, they wouldn’t like her. Thus, the fear of rejection was too great for her to leave the comforts of the wall she had built. When confronted with the ultimate truth of her life, she actually tried to switch the subject. However, that is exactly what Jesus wanted.
We are like this. We are afraid to admit our secrets — to others, let alone God. We build walls for our own protection. But Jesus wants to tear them down. How can we be saved and delivered if we don’t admit we need help in the first place?
We practice the art of denial, but God will often lovingly orchestrate events in our life, so that in an unexpected place we have an unexpected encounter with Him. God values outcasts too much to leave them where they are. He intentionally goes after them and encounters them with His love.
Some of you are having one of those experiences right now. It may not feel like the love of God, but is it love for God to leave you in your sin? Christ took on your shame so that you would not have to feel shame.
Hebrews 12:2 says, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God.”
Shame silences us. As an author stated, “Because of shame you may feel unqualified to speak truth in areas where you have influence. But there’s hope. You don’t have to allow shame to silence you. You can live in the freedom of God’s grace. You can point people to Jesus who conquered shame. We can choose Jesus over shame every time.”
Jesus values outcasts so much that He satisfies them. He encounters them in unexpected places, confronts them lovingly with their sin, and calls them out. When Jesus calls us out of our sin and shame, He gives us a new purpose.
III. JESUS COMMISSIONS OUTCASTS TO A NEW PURPOSE (JOHN 4:27–42).
Do you want to live a life on mission? Very simply, go and fulfill your new purpose — tell people about Jesus.
As the disciples came back from their errand into the city, they gawked when they saw Jesus with the Samaritan woman. We see shifting scenes here.
As a result of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the woman dropped her water jar and ran back to her city. She told everyone she met about her experience with Jesus at the well (vv. 28–29). As a result, people started to come to Jesus.
As the woman ran toward the city to tell everyone her good news, it is easy to imagine Jesus, pointing in her direction and saying to the disciples, “See, the harvest is ripe. Look!” (vv. 31–38).
As a result of this woman’s testimony, “many Samaritans from that town believed in him” (v. 39). Amazingly, what the Samaritans simply believed, Nicodemus and the Pharisees had a hard time grasping. The truth of Jesus is easy enough for a child to understand and difficult enough that even the smartest professor misses it.
While we do not have an explicit statement that this woman believed in Jesus, the implications are strong that she did so. While Jesus did not have a commissioning service for her, in her heart was a new purpose.
The woman came to the well to get water, but she ended up leaving her jar behind when she met Jesus. He certainly changed her purpose.
QUESTION: How would you describe your purpose?
The Samaritan woman went from being man’s outcast to God’s angel. Since the word for angel means “messenger” (angelos), an angel is an accurate description of what the Samaritan woman did in response to her conversation with Jesus. It also describes God’s value of her, regardless of her “junk status” in the minds of others. In a remarkable turn of events, the story of the Samaritan woman was used to reach others who were far away from God.
Every one of us has a story. We all have examples where we experienced Jesus at the well. God wants us to use our story so that we invite others into the grand redemptive story of God. God will turn our past into a unique purpose that only we can live out. It may even be that God has ordained part of your past story in order that you use it for inviting others into His grand story.
God loves repairing broken vessels and showing them off and using them up as trophies of His grace. He can use us to help reap the harvest. Matthew 9:37 says, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
We have no option than to tell others about Jesus. It is an inward heart change that compels us.
“Jesus lived as an outcast. He was despised and rejected and misunderstood and alone. To dismiss the possibility of reaching those who are social outcasts is to risk not knowing Jesus” (Terry Brown and Michael Ross, I Believe: God’s Word on Truth, Jesus, Love, Sex, School, Friends, Church, and Living Life).
The “Bad Samaritan” wasn’t really bad per se. Jesus does not look at people like that. He saw a broken woman who had been drinking from the wrong well. She was an outcast whom Jesus wanted to be a part of His family.
God invites outcasts to be a part of His family. God values outcasts, and He gives former outcasts a new purpose in life. Where are you in this story? As soon as you receive Jesus, tell others about Him!