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Confession & The Woman at the Well – John 4:1-26

Steve Schantz – March 22st, 2020

John 4:1  Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John— although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. So 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 noon. 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.) 10 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.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 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.” 15 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.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied.  Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”  19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” 25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

No Accident

“You go nowhere by accident. Wherever you go, God is sending you. Wherever you are, God has put you there. God has a purpose in your being there. Christ lives in you and has something
he wants to do through you where you are. Believe this and go in the grace and love and
power of Jesus Christ.” — Rev. Richard Halverson (February 5, 1916 – November 28, 1995, Former US Senate Chaplain)


It’s no accident that Jesus is in Samaria and engaging this woman.  In the previous chapter we are introduced to a Messiah who is here on a mission.  John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.   And again in verse 34 For the one whom God has sent The Father’s lead and the Spirit’s presence go before him in every aspect of His ministry.  “Now he had to go through Samaria” (4:4) is a continuation of the intentionality of who He is and where He is. The gospel writer shares important Old Testament imagery lending credit to Jesus authority and person.  The well reminds us of Jacob’s well, and a woman asking him for sustenance harkens back to Elijah and the widow who asks the prophet to help her stay alive. Who Jesus is and where he comes from is grounded in this history and culture.  But He also challenges this Old Testament familiar turf in that she is a Samaritan, and a woman.  And He is a Jew, and a man.

The story of the Samaritan woman deals with the raw pain of failure in life and in relationships.  The thing that most readers seize on through this entire conversation is the woman’s marriage history – five times, really??  It grabs our attention like a Hollywood saga.

George Sanders was a man who appeared to have everything: four wives (including Zsa Zsa Gabor and her sister Magda), seven psychiatrists, more than 90 film appearances, and an Oscar. But all that wasn’t enough to keep him interested. On April 25, 1972, at age 65, Sanders took his own life by swallowing five bottles of Nembutal in a hotel room in Spain. He left a legacy in the form of his suicide note: “I have committed suicide because I am bored.  I feel I have lived long enough.  I leave you all in your sweet little cesspool and I wish you luck.” Sanders was a man of many affairs and was especially hateful when it came to women. He once said, “A woman, a dog, and a walnut tree — the more you beat them the better they be,”  George Sanders did not find the wellspring that satisfies before his death.

Parched Souls

Jesus recognized that this woman had a parched soul that had never found satisfaction.  He also knew that if he did not reach her, she would go on searching and not finding.  Always drinking but never quenched. She would go on searching vainly and bitterly. Her life was a miserable chain of unfulfilling relationships.  Note, there is no moral judgement on her situation, just a statement of fact.  We don’t know why she has had five husbands, scripture doesn’t tell us.  There could have been cultural reasons why she has been married five times.  Some of these relationships may have come through Levirate marriage rights.   Just as Boaz fulfilled his kinsman redeemer role toward Ruth in an upright and proper way, some of her husbands may have died and a male next of kin took her as his wife.  The example of Judah and Tamar in Genesis 38 was deceptively forced, and less than noble than that of Boaz and Ruth.  Marriage was often a vehicle for a woman to be protected in patriarchal societies.  For whatever reason she has had five husbands, Jesus engages her and first asks her for a drink of water.    She has come to the well at noon, not because it’s best to draw water during the hottest part of the day, but rather to avoid respectable people. She is worn down and despised. The people of Sychar have hurled abuses at her, and about the only thing she has left are her quick tongue and her wit.  And along comes a man who knows her history – every part of it!  He is looking directly into her soul.  The God who knows the thoughts of our heart offers us living waters!

Jesus is thirsting for the soul of the Samaritan woman, too. He is longing to bring her back into right relationship with God. And like the woman, He longs for us. He wants us to come to Him. He wants us to sit at His feet. He wants that time when it is just Him and us. He wants us to believe that we are that important to Him, because we are. He wants to fill us with life-giving water to banish once-and-for-all our sin, our fear, our doubt, and be redeemed by His overflowing mercy and love. All because He thirsts for you and for me.  Perhaps we can make use of this time of social isolation to go deeper with God?  To spend time in the spiritual disciplines of Prayer, fasting, soaking in God’s word, meditation and confession.  Confession before God is a type of well for our day, and Jesus is just waiting to lavishly pour out His mercy upon us, if only we ask and are open to receiving all that He has for us.

Living Waters

The community that John was writing to had experienced some religious persecution both from the outside and from inside the Jewish leadership.  But both Samaritan and Jew alike would have recognized Jesus’ references to living waters.  In Jer 2:13, Jehovah calls himself the ‘fountain of living waters’.  Psa 36:9 was an often quoted passage, as it is today:  “For with you is the fountain of life”.  Isa 55:1 says “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters.”   And through Psa 42:1 we hear the lyrics of a contemporary hymn, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you God.”  So when Jesus used the expression virtually everyone in the Hebrew or Samaritan tradition would have a good clue as to what he was saying. Taken together with the fact that in verse 10 he said:  “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” it is clear that the woman understood what he was saying and that her reply was more than a simple statement.  And so Jesus uses familiar turf, with familiar symbols, and then opens the door to where the gospel is going.  That God’s love and grace includes all through the work of the Spirit.  That this Spirit is life giving, and He moves (flows) beyond time and location, sex, and religious orientation.

To try to quench our thirst with the things of this world, even the good things of this world that are meant to be enjoyed, is like an unfortunate sailor in desperate thirst who begins to drink from the ocean, only to find himself much worse off.  Some have likened trying to “slake our thirst with the things of the world is like eating a Chinese dinner – no matter how much we eat, in a short time we are hungry again!”  [John – Than You May Believe – R. Kent Hughes  Preaching the Word series) pp 109-115]

“But not so with the water that Jesus offers.  Not only is there an outwardness here but an upwardness.  Jesus says in the last part of verse 14 that the well of water springs up into everlasting life.  The image has a vertical thrust, as if the law of gravity were taken away so that when the water springs up, it keeps going eternally.  Is that not an exquisite image?” (p. 113)

Rev 7:17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’(NIV)

Jesus’ Thirst and Ours

“Give me a drink”, Jesus said. (v. 7)  Have you ever tried to make sense of his request?  Jesus is the source, and yet he asks of this woman!  He is allowing her the privilege of coming to His aide, to answer His call with her actions if you will.  Recalling Jesus’ dying words from the cross: “I thirst.” (John 19:2) These two words run much deeper than mere human thirst. Jesus is thirsting for souls. He is dying (quite literally) for lives to turn back to the Father, so they may be where He is for all eternity. How these two passages speak to a deeper thirst of both the Son of Man and the Son of God!

Confession is Good for the Soul

The work of His saving grace and healing power take place in this woman’s life as she is able to know Him and trust Him with her own personal Confession of truth.   It is not so much as a guilt trip down bad memory lane as it is His invitational act of love toward us.  Why?  Because the truth will set you free!  Facing our own needs, and our own spiritual failure is the beginning of drinking from His living waters.  (As we have been revisiting this season in the Beatitudes of the sermon on the Mount.)  He waits so patiently for us to come to Him, and when we do, we quench His thirst for our souls. God longs to love you and for you to know that He loves you!   Jesus embodies the relationship that never fails, never gives up, is always faithful, and offers us eternal love without cost.  Our part is admitting our need and acknowledging who He is and what He has to offer… Just like this woman!

     Prayer of Confession:

    Gracious and merciful God, You see us as we are, and know our inmost thoughts.  You know our fears and our failures. That we have not always sought or done your will.  We have not lived as Your grateful children, nor loved as Christ loved us.  Lord, in your mercy, forgive us, heal us and make us whole.  Set us free from our sin, and restore to us the joy of your salvation that living waters may flow from us both now and forever.  – AMEN

    Friends hear the Good news: Christ died for us while we were yet sinners. That proves God’s love for us.  Through Christ, we are a forgiven people!


Questions for Journaling:

  1. Where do you need living water? How are you offering the love + living water of Christ during these challenging times?
  2. When has Jesus been present for you in the way he is present for the woman at the well?
  3. When have you witnessed to your community, the way that the woman witnesses to hers? Do you think there are different kinds of witnessing?
  4. How do you feel about corporate confession? (Being led in a prayer of confession in worship)
  5. What questions or insights do you have?

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