Letters to the Prison - Week 37

Hello, Friends!
We keep waiting for the opportunity to come and see you and worship our great God together.  We miss the in-person fellowship we have with you.  There is nothing better in this life than being able to pray, worship, study God’s word, and walk through this amazing yet difficult life together with other people who believe in the saving power of Jesus Christ.  We encourage you to have fellowship with one another as you are able.  Pray for one another (and us!).  Consider God’s word together.  And walk with one another through the hard times.  We’ll join you in person when we can.  Until then, we’re with you in spirit.  We love you.

We’re starting John chapter 4 this week.  

Remember in chapter 3 how Jesus had a conversation with Nicodemus?  And remember who Nicodemus was?  “The teacher of Israel.”  And Nicodemus struggled to understand Jesus’ testimony… he went away scratching his head, you could say, over what Jesus said to him.
In chapter 4, Jesus is going to have another conversation but this time with an entirely different type of person and with an entirely different result.  We’ll see how it unfolds as we go, but it will be stunning to remember the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in Jerusalem and compare it to where he is about to go and who he is about to talk to… and, most importantly, what will happen as a result.

To begin, we see in John 4:1-4 that Jesus leaves the region of Judea and travels northward to Galilee.  In order to do so, he must travel through a region known as Samaria.  We could spend a lot of time discussing the terrible relationship between the people of Judea and the people of Samaria and how it got to be so bad and perhaps someday we will.  But for now, it’s enough to know that the Jews in Jesus’ day hated Samaritans so much that to even set foot in the region of Samaria was offensive to them.  They often travelled a long way around the area just to avoid it.  Further, the people of Samaria were so offensive to the Jews that for a Jew to call someone a “Samaritan” was the worst kind of insult.  In fact, the Jews hurled this insult at Jesus himself as we will see later in the study (John 8:48).  If you want to read more about the “bad blood” between the Jews and Samaritans, you can get a good start by reading 2 Kings chapter 17.

Meanwhile, in John 4:5-6, we see Jesus ignoring the prejudice against Samaritans as he travels to a place called Sychar in Samaria.  An interesting geographical and historical note is in verse 6:  the mention of Jacob’s well.  Jacob (also known as Israel) was literally the father of the nation of Israel (the Jews), all of whom are descended from Jacob’s twelve sons.  The well he dug here in Sychar is a site from ancient history that still exists today.  You can read the whole story of Jacob and his children in Genesis chapters 25-50.   This is a fascinating reminder that the Bible is about real people doing real things at real times in real places.  We’re even given the time of day Jesus arrives at the well –the sixth hour (John 4:6).

So that sets the place and time of the conversation.  Then, in verse 7, we meet the Samaritan woman, and the conversation begins.  Jesus asks a simple favor: “give me a drink.”  We are told in verse 8 that Jesus is alone.  His disciples had gone into town for food (a 1st-Century “McDonald’s run,” you could say…).  Then in verse 9, the conversation gets interesting:
•The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10 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.”-John 4:9-10

So, the woman is clearly aware that Jesus is a Jew (probably by the way he is dressed) and she is also aware of the hatred that exists between Jews and Samaritans.  What Jesus says in verse 10 is unusual.  He’s basically saying, “if you knew who and what I was, you would be asking me for a drink instead of the other way around.”  And what Jesus is offering this woman isn’t plain old well water.  What Jesus offers her is “living water.”  So, in this one simple sentence, Jesus flips the conversation around from his asking her for something to her need to ask him for something…  from his physical thirst to the Samaritan woman’s spiritual thirst… and from the mundane conversation about regular old well water to living water… the eternal life that only Jesus can provide.  But the Samaritan woman hasn’t realized that yet.  Look how she responds:
•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? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” -John 4:11-12

So, this woman knows her history.  She knows that Jacob dug the well.  When she calls Jacob “our father,” she is telling Jesus that she identifies herself as one of Jacob’s descendants --just like Jesus who is also biologically related to Jacob (Luke 23-38 traces Jesus’ heritage through his earthly mother Mary and Matthew 1:1-17 traces Jesus’ lineage through his earthly father Joseph).  But she hasn’t yet figured out that Jesus isn’t talking about earthly things anymore.  So, Jesus replies:
•Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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 4:13-14

This is another profound thing that Jesus says about himself.  Jesus is the source of eternal life.  He is the one who gives the “spring” of “living water.”  It is essential to notice here that Jesus must give the water… but the person he gives it to must drink it.  Yet, once they do, the living water becomes a permanent source of eternal life in them.  This is a picture of what happens when a person experiences salvation –when they become born again.  So, in one sense, salvation is a one-and-done event –Jesus offers the living water, and we drink it.  Yet it has an eternal ongoing life-sustaining (and transforming!) effect.  Likewise, there is work that Jesus does (he provides the living water), but there is also work that the person does (they drink it).  This is a picture of the eternal relationship a Christian has with Jesus Christ.  It’s amazing to think about.  What about you?  Have you tasted the living water Jesus has to offer?  We hope so!  Until next week, keep reading John 4.  We love you!

Dean A.

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