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Believing Because of Signs and Because of the Word

 

Malachi 1:11; John 4:7-30; 39-42 (text)

November 15, 2015 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Congregation of Christ: Nothing has changed in 2,000 years since our Lord Jesus Christ first appeared preaching and teaching in Palestine. In the Gospel of John, Jesus performed so many signs, or miracles as we call them today, that John says, “Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 21:25). Today, many people still look for all sorts of signs and wonders in churches and crusades, most of which are staged performances, rather than read God’s Word.

well_bucket2Last Sunday, we studied Jesus’ conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus, who came during the night so no one could see. Today, we study Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman in the middle of the day. There are similarities to the timing of this meeting at the well. In our previous studies, we saw that in performing miracles, Jesus is both challenging and fulfilling Jewish institutions and festivals. In the wedding at Cana in Chapter 2, he shows that he is fulfilling Jewish purification rites with his coming as the Messiah who would purify his people from uncleanness. Later, he went to the Jerusalem temple during the Passover feast and showed that he is the new and final temple of God. In his conversation with the teacher Nicodemus here in Chapter 4, he showed him that he is far better than all the Pharisees.

Today, we will study how he again demonstrates to the woman at the well that he is inaugurating a far better, true worship of the true God. That he is the only true temple found wherever true believers are present. Also, the Samaritan woman believed that he is the Messiah, the true Prophet, through a sign that Jesus showed her. But the Samaritans to whom the woman testified believed in Jesus because of his Word alone.

Today, our theme is: “Believing Because of Signs and Because of the Word” under three headings: (1) The Sign Given to the Woman; (2) The Word Preached to the Samaritans; and (3) Sign or Word to Believe.

The Sign Given to the Woman

After he cleansed the temple, Jesus taught for sometime in Jerusalem, including his conversation with Nicodemus. But after Jesus heard that John was arrested, he left Judea and traveled back towards Galilee. The usual travel route from Judea to Galilee is to go east to Jericho, then north and west to Galilee. It was a longer route, but it was the route to avoid passing through the despised region of Samaritans.

Click image to enlarge

Click image to enlarge

So when Jesus passed by the village of Sychar in the region of Shechem. Being tired, thirsty and hungry at about noon, Jesus sat beside Jacob’s well. He was by himself since his disciples went away to buy food. It is here where the Samaritan woman came to draw water. One of the tasks of women in ancient Palestine is to draw water from the well. They usually did this early morning or before sunset to avoid the noontime heat. Drawing water was usually an opportunity for them to socialize with other women. Why did this particular Samaritan woman come at noon when no other women were around? We will find out as we listen to their conversation.

When she came to the well, the first thing that Jesus says to her was, “Give me a drink.” The woman was probably dumbfounded, since in those days, men hardly talk to women in public, even with their wives. Confounding this was that Jews and Samaritans were not in speaking terms. They despised each other, because of their very different historical experience. After King Solomon’s death, the kingdom of Israel was divided into the northern kingdom, called Israel, and the southern kingdom, called Judah. Because of the sins of the Israelites, foremost of which is idolatry, God was angry and gave them to foreign invaders. After the Assyrians conquered Samaria, the Assyrians exiled the Israelites into different parts of their empire, and in turn, people from Babylon, Syria, and other pagan lands were resettled in Samaria (2 Kgs 17).

The Israelites then intermarried with these peoples and so also worshipped their gods, and they were called the derogatory name “Samaritans” in 2 Kings 17:29. The Samaritans “feared the Lord but also served their own gods.” But in reality, they did not fear or worship the Lord (2 Kgs 17:33-34). Their worship of the Lord was not genuine. Over the centuries, perhaps through faithful Jews in the southern kingdom, the Samaritans got rid of their pantheon of idols. The Samaritan religion slowly turned back to a form of monotheism, and by the beginning of the New Testament, they had returned to the worship of one God. But their religion was still different from the Jews in Judah. They still worshipped in their own temple in Gerizim. And they received only the Law of Moses, not the whole Old Testament. This is the reason why Jews despised Samaritans whom they considered as ethnically and religiously corrupt, and therefore “unclean.” To them, Samaritans are traitors to their Jewish heritage.

Because of this history, and because she is a woman, it was unthinkable for Jesus to speak to the Samaritan woman. But in the course of their conversation about water, Jesus offered the woman “a spring of water welling up to eternal life,” water that will quench her thirst forever. The woman, just like Nicodemus, took his words literally, so he asked Jesus to give him this “magic” water. But Jesus asked her to go and call her husband. Why did Jesus answered her with a seemingly unrelated command? Because he wanted to reveal himself as the Messiah to the woman by a sign. What was this sign? The sign of him knowing her whole life. How did this stranger, who was just passing by her little village, know her whole distasteful life? How did he know she has had five husbands, and the man she has now is not her husband? This is the reason why she goes to the well at midday. She was isolated from the villagers, and did not want to socialize with the other women because of her bad reputation.

The woman knew that no one is able to discern human heart and mind except God. Can this be the long-awaited Messiah, the Prophet of whom Moses spoke about? (Deut 18:18) This is what the woman testified to her village after she returned from the well, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” It was the beginning of her faith. She acknowledged her sinfulness, and she repented and believed in Jesus as the Christ. She believed because of the sign that Jesus showed her: the sign that he is the All-Knowing God. Earlier in Chapter 2, we read John saying this about Jesus, “he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:24-25). She also saw that Jesus is not only the Divine Messiah, but also a man who was tired, hungry and thirsty, just like everyone else.

The Word Preached to the Samaritans

After the villagers heard the woman’s testimony, they hurriedly went out of the town to see this “Messiah” that the woman was talking about. What amazed them was the woman’s witness, “He told me all that I ever did.” How would a complete stranger outside of their village know about the distasteful life of this woman?

But the life of this adulterous woman exposed by a complete stranger was not the only reason why the people got interested. She may have told them about the two other subjects of her conversation with Jesus.

The first was about “living water.” The villagers were probably curious as to what this “living water” is that Jesus was offering them. Water that will satisfy their thirst forever? Running or “living” water in the desert? Even Jacob did not find running water there, so he dug a well. They all wanted to have this water too. It would not be inconceivable that Jesus taught them that this “living water” is the Holy Spirit himself who brings about a new heart and a new mind to all who believe in him. He is the source of the gift of the life-giving Spirit, “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Perhaps Jesus taught them too what he would later teach the crowds in Jerusalem, “whoever believes in me shall never thirst” (John 6:35), and “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).

To avoid further humiliation about her adulterous life, the woman turned to another subject: Which is the true temple, their temple on Mount Gerizim, or the Jews’ temple in Jerusalem? She pointed out to Jesus that her people worshiped on their mountain, but Jesus countered by declaring that “the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” (John 4:21-24). The woman retorted that she was waiting for the coming Messiah who will tell all truth. And Jesus revealed to her that he is the “I Am,” that Messiah the Samaritans have been waiting for (verse 26), the very name that God used to reveal himself to Moses (Exod 3:14).

Since Jesus showed her that he is a prophet because he knew her whole life of sexual immorality, she started believing. She left her water jar in a hurry to go back to the town to tell the people that she has spoken to a man, “Can this be the Christ?” And the people immediately went out of the town to see for themselves if this man was truly the Messiah. After Jesus taught them for two days, many Samaritans believed his word, that he is “the Savior of the world.” This is the same declaration Jesus made in John 3:16-17, “that the world might be saved through him.”

Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman came true. The woman became the first true Samaritan worshipper, and the people in her town were the first of many true Samaritan worshippers. Before he ascended into heaven, Jesus commissioned his disciples, “And you will be my witness in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Philip, Peter and John fulfilled Jesus’ commission when they went to Samaria to preach the gospel of Christ, and many believed (Acts 8). The hour had finally come when Samaritans and Jews will worship God not in man-made temples in Gerizim and Jerusalem, but in buildings and homes, farms and deserts, and in mountains and valleys in all the nations of the earth. Wherever there are true worshippers of the one true God, there is the temple of God.

True worship was only possible for the Samaritans and for all the nations if they worshiped God in spirit and in truth. These Samaritan believers turned away from their false idol-gods to worship the true God. They worshipped in truth when they rejected their false temple to worship with all true worshippers – the true temple – wherever they are found. The Spirit revealed to them that Jesus is the Christ (John 14:6). Therefore the Word and the Spirit cannot be separated in the true worship of God, because the Spirit is the Spirit of truth (John 14:17).

Sign or Word to Believe

Unlike most of us who would avoid “awkward” conversations, the Samaritan woman did not leave when Jesus graciously pointed out her immoral life. She remained to continue her conversation with Jesus. In the end, she believed. Her transformation can be seen in the progression of her addressing Jesus: a Jew (9), Sir (11), a prophet (19), and finally, the Christ (29).

So when she had testified about Jesus as the Christ, the villagers came to him. They asked him to stay with them for two days. No doubt, he taught them what he taught the woman. Jesus did not perform a sign or miracle before them, but in spite of this, “many more believed because of his word.” They told the woman that after hearing Jesus’ own words, they believed him. They did not believe because of a sign, or the testimony of a woman of ill reputation, but because they heard the Word of Christ himself. They were like the Jews who believed in him after they listened to his teachings on the Mount of Olives (John 8:30). These villagers might have been the same Samaritans to whom Philip, Peter and John preached to in Acts 8.

The route that Jesus took on the way to Galilee was intentional. He wanted to preach to the Samaritans. Throughout most his ministry, his own hometown Nazareth, his own people the Jews, rejected him. They only wanted to see signs. They did not want any of his teachings. But he preached to a woman from a despised nation who became a true believer. And the woman testified about him to the villagers, even if she knew that they all knew her bad reputation.

This is the mission of Christians. We are to testify about Jesus our Savior and Lord to those around us. We are not to worry about what we will say, for the Spirit will put words into our mouths. We are not to worry about who we are, for God uses the weak, the lowly, the simple, even those who do not have good reputations. This is also the mission of the church. We are to meet every Lord’s Day, study God’s Word, sing praises to God, and pray together. These will nourish our souls, so we may be enabled and prepared to go out into our world to testify of Christ, just like the Samaritan woman.

Beloved people of God, the whole civilized world mourns these last two days over the death and destruction wrought upon by terrorists in Paris. Since the terrorist attack on 9/11, no nation on earth has been exempt from this violence. And much of these violence has been directed against our Christian brothers and sisters, particularly in places where they are the minority, including Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Nigeria and Sudan. These terrorists vow to destroy Christianity.

But be encouraged. Our Lord Jesus Christ has promised that his kingdom will prevail against all evildoers. King David wrote that as the nations rage and plot against God and his people, God laughs at them in derision. Because in the end, his Anointed Son, Jesus the Christ in his fury, “shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psa 2). By the sharp sword of his Word, God will strike down all wicked nations in his fury (Rev 19:15). Let us pray that our brothers and sisters in Christ will be protected from all the unrepentant enemies of God, until the Lord exacts vengeance upon them on the last day.

But there is another dimension in God’s plan from eternity. Our reading in Malachi 1:11 says that in the end as well, “in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the LORD of hosts.” Here we see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words to the Samaritan woman that the day has come when true worshipers will worship God in every place on earth.

Long before Jesus preached this, Isaiah prophesied,

In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and Assyria will come into Egypt, and Egypt into Assyria, and the Egyptians will worship with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be the third with Egypt and Assyria, a blessing in the midst of the earth, whom the LORD of hosts has blessed, saying, “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my inheritance” (Isa 19:23-25).

Egypt and Assyria are symbolically the pagan nations of the world where the gospel will be preached by Christians who take up the challenge of witnessing to unbelievers like the Samaritan woman. The Holy Spirit can transform even the hearts of the most wicked evildoers like terror­ists. So let us pray for their salvation too.

Let us Pray: O merciful God, who has made all men, and hates nothing that you have made, nor rejoices in the death of a sinner, but rather that he should be converted and live: Have mercy upon all Jews, Muslims and all followers of false religions, unfaithful ones, and false teachers, and take from them all ignorance, hardness of heart, and contempt of your word; and so bring them home, blessed Lord, to your flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of the true believers, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen. (adopted from the Book of Common Prayer)

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