The Gift of God
Topic: Gospels Passage: John 4:1–4:26
“THE GIFT OF GOD”
1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples) 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food). 9 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.” 11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw 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.” 13 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.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
It has rightly been said that a gift finds its value in the one who gives it. No doubt there are occasions when you have personally found that to be true. Take, for example, when your young child or grandchild draws you a picture. It may not exactly be a work of art, but you treasure it and treat it as if it was. Perhaps you even have it laminated and displayed it in the most prominent place in your house...on the refrigerator. And every time you pass by it, you picture the child who drew it and feel the love that inspired it. That’s where its value is found.
Now amplify that thought an infinite number of times and you may begin to get a notion of “God’s gift to us. Such a “gift” can be difficult to conceptualize or comprehend because “the gift of God” is not something He makes for us...at least not tangibly that we can hold in our hands. Instead, “the gift of God” is the giving of Himself.
Rare is the person who does not enjoy receiving a gift, especially from someone we love. But if we are not careful, and depending upon how much we desire a particular gift, we may find ourselves valuing the gift more than the one who gave it. That can be true in our human relationships, and it can be true in our relationship with the Lord as well. And when it does happen, we need to have our perspective altered.
In the familiar story that we read in the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel, we find Jesus going out of His way to teach that truth to a person we might not expect him to be seeking. The account of “the woman at the well” has been used by many as a model for evangelism. And while there may be some practical principles for how we ought to be sharing the Gospel with others, to stop there is to miss the greater point, which is that Jesus is the gift of God to those who seek Him.
Pause for just a moment to consider that statement: Jesus Christ is the gift of God. Not the things that Jesus can give, but Jesus Himself. The Puritan writer, Richard Sibbes put it this way:
Heaven is not heaven without Christ. It is better to be in any place with Christ than to be in heaven itself without him. All delicacies without Christ are but as a funeral banquet. Where the master of the feast is away, there is nothing but solemnness. What is all without Christ? I say the joys of heaven are not the joys of heaven without Christ; he is the very heaven of heaven.
Please hear me: If you are seeking eternal life apart from Christ, then You will not receive it. How desperately today’s church needs to listen to and respond to those words. John Piper expressed it as well as cit could be said in his book, God is the Gospel where he writes:
Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God.
Let us be clear, Jesus Christ is “the gift of God.” There is no “gift” and there is no life apart from Him.
Let’s notice how Jesus demonstrates that truth in His encounter with this Samaritan woman. There are four movements in this passage that we want to consider. First of all, we find the setting in verses 1 through 6, when John takes us to...
The well (4:1-6).
Referring back to the previous chapter, Jesus and his small band of disciples have departed Jerusalem following the Passover and have begun their return trip to Galilee. The opening verse informs us that His notoriety and popularity were on the rise in Judea, and because it was not yet time for Him to fulfill the role for which He had come, it was expedient to depart that region for a season. As He began his trek back to Galilee, verse 4 tells us that “he had to pass through Samaria.”
If you were to look at a biblical map of that region from New Testament times, passing northward from Judea through Samaria and into Galilee was the shortest and most direct route. But what John’s early readers knew that is less known by us, is that there was no love-lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. At various times, their relationship with one another was strained at best and hateful and bitter at worst. They would literally go out of their way to avoid having contact with one another...not unlike us crossing the street to steer clear of someone we did not want to pass or speak with on the sidewalk. In this case, it meant crossing the Jordan River in order to circumvent having to deal with those of a different race and background.
The explanation for such animosity between the two groups dates back historically to the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. At that time the Assyrians conquered Israel and deported the inhabitants from their homeland, repopulating that area with captives from other nations. Those “squatters” intermarried with the remnant of those Jews who were left behind, bringing with them their pagan gods, the worship of which they blended with the remnants of Judaism. The result was the creation of their own “hybrid” form of religion having its own temple on Mount Gerazim and its own peculiar rites of worship (cf. 2 Kings 17:6-29). The Jews to the south considered the Samaritans as unclean “mongrels” and “half-breeds,” both physically and religiously. That explains the parenthetical statement found in verse 9 that “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.”
But Jesus was not willing to play that game. When the text says that “he had to pass through Samaria,” the reason was not geographical expediency, but Divine necessity (“δει”). For, you see, He had a preordained appointment to keep.
In verses 5 and 6 we are told that “he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there.” We don’t have time to trace the history of this particular parcel of ground this morning, but you can read about it in Genesis 33(:18-20) and again in Genesis 48(:21-22). It was at this location that “Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well.”
Here we are reminded—as we need to be from time to time as we progress through this Gospel—that, in addition to being fully God, Jesus was also fully human. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), remember. In other words, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had come as a man...a real man, a true human being. The writer of Hebrews (4:15) reminds us, He was “touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Like us, Jesus grew tired and became thirsty.
John adds that “It was about the sixth hour.” Throughout his account, John consistently employs the Roman means of marking time, so it would have been about six o’clock in the late afternoon.
Before leaving this setting, let me quote for you a statement I came across this past week that, I believe, has bearing on this passage and the message that Jesus will leave with the woman He speaks with. “Man may dig the well, but it is God who creates the spring that provides the water.” Keep that in mind.
Having established the setting, we are now introduced to the subject...the person for whom Jesus has made this unlikely journey through Samaria. Although we are never told her name, in verses 7 through 9 we meet...
The woman (4:7-9).
As the warm rays of the sun began to subside, the text says that “A woman from Samaria came to draw water” from the well. His disciples, having “gone...into the city to buy food,” Jesus broke with tradition and the cultural norm and spoke to the woman. By asking for a drink of water, He initiated a conversation with her that can be compared to and contrasted with the one He had with Nicodemus some days earlier.
In an attempt to show the parallels between Jesus’ conversation with this woman and the one with Nicodemus, Merrill Tenney has written,
She was all that Nicodemus was not. He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. He was a man; she was a woman. He was learned; she was unlearned. He was morally upright; she was sinful. He was wealthy and from the upper class of society; she was poor, and...an outcast. He recognized Jesus’ merits and sought Him out; she saw Him only as a curious traveler and was quite indifferent to Him. Nicodemus was serious and dignified; she was flippant...It is hard to imagine a greater contrast in personalities than that which existed between these two individuals.
And yet Jesus met them both at their point of need. But before a need can be met it must be recognized. Spiritually speaking, the woman was as empty as the water jar she had brought to the well. Jesus had traveled this far—going out of His way—in order to supply what she most needed.
Initially, she is taken aback by Jesus’ forwardness in asking for a drink of water and tells Him as much. His reply in verse 10 is what opens the door to an amazing conversation that is recorded through verse 26.
The water (4:10-15)
...that could be drawn from the well served as an appropriate illustration.
Jesus begins by saying, “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.” Please note that “the gift of God” is linked with “living water.” Just as He aroused Nicodemus’ curiosity by speaking of “the new birth,” so here He makes reference to an equally mysterious entity called “living water.” In both cases, the listener had difficulty comprehending at first what He was saying.
As with Nicodemus, the woman interprets Jesus’ words literally. “Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob?” And then, as if to impress this Jew that she was not as ignorant about biblical information as He may have thought her to be, she adds, “He (that is Jacob) gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”
Refusing to be diverted from His mission and His message, Jesus responds and forces her to make a personal application of His words: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,” He tells her, “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again.” That’s quite a statement. But then Jesus goes even further: “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Here in verse 14, Jesus is implying that the “living water” of which He speaks is not of natural origin. Back in verse 10 it was linked with “the gift of god,” and here it is equated with “eternal life.” Don’t miss that!
Does that equation make you mindful of any other Scripture? Perhaps you’re thinking—as I am—of Romans 6:23, where we read that “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This woman does not yet realize it, but Jesus is holding out to her “the gift of eternal life.”
By now the woman’s interest has peaked to the point where she asks, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” The last part of her statement indicates that she is still not clear in her understanding of what Jesus is impressing upon her. She is still thinking of the water that is able to quench physical thirst. But Jesus is offering to her so much more. And even though she cannot yet see what that is, there is something compelling in this Man that leads her forward in wanting to know more. “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
By now He has her full attention. But the mission with this woman is far from complete. She wants the “water,” but she does not yet realize what that means. There was more that she needed to learn about this Man...as well as about herself.
That brings us to the substance—the “heart and soul”—of this passage. For you see, with Jesus, it all comes down to...
The worship (4:16-26).
Before a person is ready to worship God, something else has to happen. “Worship” has been called “the ultimate priority.” It is not something that we do outside of ourselves. It comes from the inner person, the heart. But before it can begin in the heart, there must be the cleaning out of everything else that does not belong there. Just as Jesus cleansed the Temple in chapter 2(:13-22), so He must be the One to cleanse this woman’s heart before she would be able to worship God.
That kind of a catharsis requires the skilled hand of the Master Surgeon, and Jesus enters into that operation in verse 16 by exposing this woman’s sinful life. “Go, call your husband and come here.” Just as we are prone to do, she is hesitant to divulge her sinful past and immoral present. But at last she does. “I have no husband,” she reluctantly admits.
No doubt looking her in the eye, Jesus peered into her soul, and in doing so removed the thin yet protected layer under which her sin resided. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’” He gently replied, and then continuing with words that shocked her to her core adds: “For you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” She had told Him the truth...as far as it went. Jesus merely filled in the sordid details of her confession.
How much like us this woman is than we care to admit. One of the hardest things for any of us to do is confess sin...I mean truly face up to it, see it as an offense against a holy God, and admit it wholeheartedly to God. That is because we do not see our sinful depravity and proclivity toward evil in the same vein as Scripture describes us. Isaiah (64:6) wrote that “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” God is so holy that the so-called “smallest” single sin renders us guilty before God and leaves us open to His judicial wrath. Until we come to the place where we see our sin as exceedingly sinful, we will never adequately realize the price Jesus paid on the cross to forgive us and redeem us.
Jesus’ scalpel has opened up this woman and exposed her sin and her need. She now realizes that she is not dealing with just another man and is forced to admit that, although a stranger, He knows more about her than any of those men with whom she had been intimate.
How would she next respond? Just as we sometimes do...with a defense mechanism. She changes the subject. “Enough about me,” she seems to imply. “Let’s talk about religion. You are clearly a ‘holy man,’ so let’s discuss worship.” But please notice something in verse 19...her estimate of Jesus has risen to the level of calling Him “a prophet.” Who else could have seen so clearly into her life? This Man clearly had insight into her most private life. Nicodemus had referred to Him “a teacher come from God” (cf. John 3:2), and now this woman calls Him “a prophet.”
In raising the subject of “worship,” she inquires about the proper “place where people ought to worship.” Was it in Jerusalem, where the Jewish Temple was located, or was it on Mount Gerazim in Samaria, where the Samaritans worshiped? Jesus’ answer dug down even deeper, well beneath the surface-level of her question and into the very heart of what it means to “worship.” It’s a response worth reading again. Look with me at verses 21 through 25:
“Woman, believe me (He began), the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You (Samaritans) worship what you do not know; we (Jews) worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and truth, for the Father us seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
Ten times in these five verses “worship” is mentioned. It becomes clear to us that the very reason Jesus “had to pass through Samaria” was to teach this sinful Samaritan woman about “worship.” It is the very same reason that He traveled through time and space to come to those for whom He would give His life to save. Like the woman, you and I must realize that the ultimate goal of salvation is that we “worship the Father in Spirit and truth.” It is that for which the Father seeks, and it is that for which Christ lived sinlessly among us and died sacrificially for us.
William Cowper, who gave us hymns like “There is a Fountain Filled With Blood” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way,” has also penned these words:
Jesus, where’er thy people meet,
There they behold thy mercy-seat;
Where’er they seek thee, thou art found,
And evry place is hallowed ground.
Like the Samaritans, there are many today who “worship what (they) do not know.” They may come to church—or not—and go through all of the external motions and say all the right words. But in their heart of hearts they know that their “worship” is not “in spirit and truth.” It may be dressed in “worship attire,” but the motive is in getting something from God rather than giving to God the “worship” He desires and deserves.
Perhaps you feel the conviction of that in your own life today. If so, then as you put yourself in this woman’s sandals, “Do not harden your hearts” (cf. Hebrews 3:8, 15). May you, like she, be in the process of discovering that “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword...discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
“The hour” to which Jesus refers in verses 21 and 23 would not arrive before Jesus’ death and resurrection, which was still nearly three years away. But “the clock” leading to that “hour” had already begun ticking, and even at this moment at a well near Sychar in Samaria He was drawing people to “worship the Father in spirit and truth.” It is the only kind of “worship” that is acceptable to God. In verse 24, Jesus affirms that “those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” Mark it down, there are no artificial substitutes when it comes to worshiping God.
“Drinking in” more than she had expected to find when she arrived at the well, the woman responds, “I know that the Messiah is coming...When he comes, he will tell us all things.” The Samaritans actually had their own concept of an anticipated “messiah,” but one that differed significantly from the one foretold by the Old Testament prophets. Theirs would be a Moses-like figure known as “Taheb,” and his mission would be to restore all the ancient forms of Samaritan worship that had fallen into decline over the centuries.
“I am not that messiah,” Jesus would have made clear to the woman, but “I am the true Messiah.” The Greek text is even more revealing in the word order of His closing statement: “I AM,” Jesus declares, “the one speaking to you.” “I AM.”
Throughout John’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly employs the “I am” statement and applies it to Himself. As we proceed in coming weeks, we will see more clearly that it is a direct reference to the Divine name by which God identified Himself to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. You will recall from there that Moses was hesitant in responding to God’s call to deliver the Israelites from Egypt because he feared no one would listen to him. But give ear once again to this exchange from Exodus 3, verses 13 and 14:
“Then Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them? God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And he said, ‘Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Jesus is here laying claim here to being the “I AM”...the “Immanuel...(the) God (who is) with us” (cf. Matthew 1:23). That is because, as Scripture elsewhere testifies,“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
So, did the Samaritan woman “get it”? To fully answer that question, we will need to continue on into chapter 4, which we will do next Sunday. I encourage you to read ahead, and then come back next week so that we might reflect upon that passage together. While it may seem as if we are leaving the outcome in suspense for now, what we are able to determine is a clear progression in this woman’s understanding of who Jesus is. As we review the steps in that progression, be asking yourself where is it along this continuum that you personally find yourself.
- She began in verse 9 by calling Him “ a Jew,” merely a man who had a politically and religiously different background from her own. The very fact that he dared to speak with her publicly created discomfort, and possibly even suspicion.
- In verse 11 and again in verse 15, she addressed Him as “Sir,” suggesting that He was not like every other man she had met. Rather He was one who was at least deserving of being responded to with a certain levl of respect.
- Then in verse 20, His insight into her life and His knowledge of her background led her to see that He was “a prophet,” a holy man of God. The more He spoke, the greater she listened. He was telling her things she had never heard nor expected to hear...certainly not on that particular day.
- By the time we get to verse 25, she is beginning to wonder if this One could possibly be “the Messiah,” the Promised One who would come and deliver His people. The answer, of course, was “yes,” but as she was about to learn He would exceed her fondest messianic expectations. As she would hear and begin to process, this respected Jewish prophet was identifying Himself as none other than God.
So how does all of this relate to you? Or to state it most pointedly, who is Jesus to you? . The value of His gift truly does lie in the One who gives it. Jesus is “the gift of God.” He is the “living water.” And He is “eternal life.” He is more than “a good man” to be respected, and He is more than “a prophet” of God. He is God Himself! Jesus Christ is Lord!
As you ponder that—and I truly hope that you are—let me leave with you a lengthy quote from C.S. Lewis that I have shared with you many times before. Perhaps someone will hear it today and be awakened to respond by receiving “the gift of God” found in Jesus Christ today.
Writing in his classic book, Mere Christianity, Lewis challenges us with these words:
I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing that we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse, You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
Please bow your heads. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not as a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9)