Bearing Witness   Leave a comment

Contrary to what many want to believe about the Bible, Jesus did challenge sinners to live according to God’s principles and there are plenty of examples when you take the Bible in context rather than cherry-pick verses for your own ends. I believe that, as much as possible, we should take the Bible in context. Which means that I post long passages because you have to understand what is said in context with the general conversation in order to understand the message God is trying to convey.

In John 4, Jesus is passing through Samaria and he has an encounter with an unsaved, seeking sinner. The encounter is illustrative of how Jesus dealt with sinners and how we should as well.

John 4:5-26

Verse 5: Now he came to a Samaritan town called Sychar,near the plot of land that Jacob had given to his sonJoseph. Jacob’s well was there, so Jesus, since he was tiredfrom the journey, sat right down beside the well. It was aboutnoon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water. Jesus said to her,“Give me some water to drink.” (For his disciples had gone offinto the town to buy supplies.) So the Samaritan woman saidto him, “How can you – a Jew  – ask me, a Samaritan woman,for water to drink?” (For Jews use nothing in common with Samaritans.) John 4:5-9

A couple of things to recognize in this passage. The Jews avoided Samaria because they felt it was filled with sinful people. The Samaritans were descended from Jews who had been left behind during the Babylonian exile. They had intermarried with the Canaanites and formed a Judaic cult. Jesus didn’t avoid Samaria nor did he “keep kosher” when he encountered the woman. The woman came to the well at noon, which generally flies over most people’s heads. She was there alone in the heat of the day. Women in Middle East culture, then and now, went to the well in the morning before it got too hot. They went as a group and it was a social time. This woman had been ostracized by the women of her village.

Jesus answered her, “If you had known the gift of God and who it is who said to you, ‘Give me some water to drink,’ you wouldhave asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

Sir,” the woman said to him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep; where then do you get this living water? Surely you’renot greater than our ancestor Jacob, are you? For he gave us this well and drank from it himself, along with his sons and hislivestock.” 

Jesus replied, “Everyone who drinks some of this water will be thirsty again.But whoever drinks some of the water that I will givehim will never be thirsty again, but the water that I will give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to eternallife.” 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.” He said to her, “Go call your husband and come back here.” John 4: 10-16

Jesus used everyday life as a springboard to talk about salvation. At this point, the woman is still thinking of physical water, but she may have had some idea that it was magical. She was intrigued and seeking the water of which He spoke.

But, notice that Jesus doesn’t say “Here you go, here is salvation, go off an enjoy a wonderful life just as you are living it today.” He certainly had the power to do that and He had done so with others in the past. But He didn’t do it with this woman because He knew something we cannot. Remember, Jesus is God. He knows the hearts of men and women. So, instead, He cut to the heart of the matter.

Before she could accept this living water, she had to acknowledge that she was outside the will of God. She had failed God’s standard.

The woman replied, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “Right you are when you said, ‘I have no husband,’ for you have had five husbands, and the man you are living with now is not your husband. This you said truthfully!” John 4:17-18

Jesus cut right to the chase. “You have sinned,” he said, “but at least you’re truthful about it.” Contrary to popular belief, Jesus did deal with people’s sins. He had the power and authority to judge her. He didn’t ostracize her. He was still a Jewish man speaking to her directly in the heat of the day and asking her for water in violation of Jewish ritual regulations, but He didn’t let her walk away from Him without her sins acknowledged.

The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountainand you people say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, womana time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in JerusalemYou people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews. But a time is coming – and now is here – when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to be his worshipers. God is spiritand the people who worshiphim must worship in spirit and truth.” John 4:19-24

Misdirection much? The woman didn’t want to talk about her sin, so she switched the channel to a theological argument. Where is the right place to worship? Should I be a Baptist or an Episcopalian? Jesus didn’t pursue the red herring. He answered the larger question about Who she should worship — the God of the Jews, Who is seeking true worshipers to worship in spirit and in truth.

The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming(the one called Christ); “whenever he comes, he will tell us everything.” Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” John 4:25-26

At this point the woman admits that she believes in the Messiah and expects Him to come and explain “everything” to them. In this, she sounds very similar to skeptics Christians encounter today who say our interpretation of the Bible is wrong and that when Jesus comes we’ll learn the “real truth”. To my ears, she seems to be simply trying to avoid the implications of His knowing about her sin and His correcting her theological errors, but Jesus again KNEW her heart and accepted what she said as a confession of God’s grace working there. Of course, Jesus knew what we cannot because He could actually know what was in her heart, but we could learn from that, to be a little less argumentative and a bit more discerning. Jesus then revealed Himself  as the Messiah to her.

You can (and should) read the rest of passage for yourself. I recommend the NET Bible online because there are notes attached to the verses that explain the passage. You can even explore Greek translation of the passage all within an online environment. So much easier to carry with me than Strong’s Strongest, a comprehensive concordance and a Bible dictionary, although I do now need to do weight lifting at the gym to make up for the lack of hefting those sizable volumes.

The disciples, who had gone into town to get food, returned. The woman left her water bucket and ran into town to tell people “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did.” In other words, she acknowledged that Jesus had revealed her sin and made a change in her life.

Believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord and confess that belief before others = SALVATION (Romans 10:10)

How do I know that the woman was really saved?

Well, how do we know about this conversation? The disciples weren’t there, including apparently Matthew who appears to have been the note keeper for the group. John says Jesus was alone, so John must not have been there either. Did Jesus tell John about it? Maybe … they were best friends …

… except this passage isn’t written in John’s style, though it appears to have been part of an early version of the Gospel of John, suggesting that it was part of the original manuscript. So where’d it come from if John didn’t write it?

The best guess comes from the style. It has lots of details — the well of Sychar, noon, she was alone, she left her water jar. Scholars say it was almost certainly written by Luke and for some reason left out of the Gospel of Luke. Maybe he didn’t learn the story until after he circulated the Gospel. The Gospel of Luke was written in the AD 60s. The Gospel of John was written late AD 70s, early 80s. That’s a long time to meet new people. It’s highly likely Luke and John met in Ephesus where there was a large Christian community in which John was an elder and from which John wrote his gospel. They probably knew one another well enough for John to borrow passages from him or for Luke to say, “Hey, I wish I could have put this into my gospel, will you put it in yours?”

So where did Luke get the conversation? He wasn’t an original disciple so he wouldn’t have been there. Any journalist worth her salt recognizes when stories come from interviews and Luke seems to have been a dedicated historical interviewer. He includes incredible details from Mary, the mother of Jesus, that none of the other gospel writers do. There are so many historical details as well. My guess is he interviewed this woman from Sychar and for some reason he didn’t include it in his gospel. He then had a conversation with John who remembered the incident at Sychar. Maybe Luke even read John’s gospel while he was writing it and said “Hey, when you were at Sychar, did the conversion of the townfolks start with Jesus talking to an immoral woman at a well? Well, I have that interview.”

Bart Ehrmann believes it shouldn’t be in the Bible since we don’t know exactly who wrote it and it’s in the wrong gospel, but ultimately, this passage should be in the Bible because it tells us so much about how Jesus deals with sinners as He draws us to Him. I can totally see Luke and John having that conversation. Jesus offers us something wonderful while also confronting us with our sin and requiring that we acknowledge that we’ve failed God’s standard. He doesn’t expect us to clean up before we can become Christians, but He requires us to acknowledge that we’re outside the will of God. This is the narrow gate that John will speak of in Chapter 10. Jesus is less than concerned about what denomination we choose to attend at, so much as that we worship in spirit and in truth. And if we acknowledge in the barest of ways that by grace we are starting to believe He might be God, He reveals Himself. Then He uses our testimony of our encounter with Him to draw others to Himself.

We know this woman was saved by her encounter with Jesus because she left her water jar (water is extremely important in a hot climate) and ran to give testimony of Jesus in the town, where she was ostracized. She was willing to be uncomfortable and to talk about her sin in order to tell people of this encounter.

You notice nobody was directly saved by her testimony? They were made curious and they sought Jesus for themselves. This outcast showed a change in her behavior and it caused others to want to understand why. If she’d gone back to her old life, she would have had nothing of value to say them and that might have prevented some from coming to Christ, but because they received their salvation from Jesus Himself, her future behavior had nothing to do with their salvation.

And that is what witnesses with Jesus is all about, to point the way to Jesus for HIM to bring them to salvation. It’s not about us. We’re the signpost pointing to the wonder, not the wonder itself. We need to recognize that and simply tell people what we have experienced.

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