What is the proper response to becoming a disciple of the Messiah? That’s the question John explores in the second half of chapter 4. The chapter starts with the Samaritan woman at the well. She was a woman who lacked access to the truth of God. She was trapped in a false religious system. Now the Disciples return.
But unlike Jesus, the disciples are still very much respecter of people. When they return in verse 27, look at what they say…
John 4:27 (NKJV)
The Whitened Harvest
27 And at this point His disciples came, and they marveled that He talked with a woman; yet no one said, “What do You seek?” or, “Why are You talking with her?”
As the disciples approached the well on foot, they must have observed Jesus speaking to this Samaritan woman from a distance. They must have been completely perplexed.
They are completely amazed because Jesus is basically breaking one of the more important restrictions of Jewish society. He is speaking to a Samaritan – and a woman no less. Despite their curiosity, they don’t say anything to either of them. It’s obvious why their silence would have been directed toward Jesus. Out of respect, they wouldn’t have challenged His authority. But why don’t they say anything to the woman? Because they don’t want to break the same restriction because she is a Samaritan. Therefore, they are not going to talk to her. If they don’t say anything, why did John the writer say they don’t say anything? Why make a point of that? Why would John think to mention it?
I think it is to illustrate the disciples’ ongoing prejudice. Jesus has spoken kindly to an enemy and she has received His word as we have seen. But the disciples of the Lord are still living in their flesh, they’re unable to move past human prejudice. Why is this an issue? Because this verse becomes the turning point for the second half of the chapter. In the turning point of this verse, you get this nice contrast between what the disciples do next and what the Samaritan woman does next. The disciples of Jesus versus the woman who doesn’t know anything about religion. One of them goes off and does the right thing and the other ones don’t. That sets up a contrast that takes us into the second half of this story. What does it mean when you come to know the Lord. And what does that look like, is a life lived out as a disciple versus what does it mean when your religion is your faith as opposed to faith is your religion?
But on this day, she came to understand that Jesus was the Messiah. And through this encounter, the Lord gave her the gift of faith and by that faith, she has been transformed. Her spiritual transformation was similar to the one we saw earlier in chapter 3 with Nicodemus. For that matter, it was similar to the disciples back in chapter 2. Just as with this woman, those Jewish men were living in darkness until the moment they entered into the Light of the World, that is in Christ’s light, their hearts being enlightened.
Being Jew, you might expect that those men, both Nicodemus, and the disciples would have been the ones to set the standard for how disciples of the Lord are to serve Him.
Surely a Pharisee would be a strong witness for Christ among his peers in the Sanhedrin. Given all that he could appreciate from the Scripture. For that matter, the disciples of Jesus, these are the men who followed Him everywhere and listened to His teaching, surely they would be the first to reach out to the lost with a testimony of the Messiah. The very person they are following everywhere. And the last person we might expect to be one to set a standard as a follower of a Jesus would be a Samaritan woman. But as we saw in verse 27 last time the disciples did not react properly to finding Jesus speaking to that woman at the well. Instead, they refused even to address her in keeping with the prejudices of their day. Of course, they had no idea that this woman had been speaking to Jesus about spiritual matters. And even less idea that she had accepted the Messiah. They weren’t privy to the conversation. So if they didn’t know she had learned that Jesus was the Messiah. Is it really too much to ask if they might have considered this woman a likely candidate to follow Christ? Is it too much to ask if they might preach to her about Christ, the very Man standing next to her? But they didn’t do that. Instead, they continued the Jewish practice of shunning Samaritans. Seems they haven’t got the idea yet what it really means to be a disciple of Christ.
It’s Ironic because these Jews, both Nicodemus, and these disciples, they were the ones who had every advantage with respect to the truth of who the Messiah was. The Jews had the prophets, the covenants, the Temple service, and they had the full counsel of God’s word. Most of all, they had the Messiah born in their very midst. Yet they have no sense of mercy and charity to their fellow man when it comes to introducing the Messiah. It’s clear Jesus has His work cut out for Him with taking these guys and turning them into disciples.
Meanwhile, we have the Samaritan woman who ignores what these men say or didn’t say. She might have wondered why the Messiah was bothering with such poor disciples. But regardless, she presses on to more important matters and that is where we pick in John chapter 4 verse 28-30…
John 4:28-30 (NKJV)
28 The woman then left her waterpot, went her way into the city, and said to the men, 29 “Come, see a Man who told me all things that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” 30 Then they went out of the city and came to Him.
The woman says nothing to the disciples and simply leaves. But she leaves so excitedly, we are told, that she forgets her waterpot at the well. You might wonder, why did John choose to include a detail like this in his narrative? Why bother mentioning she left her waterpot? I think it is simply to illustrate how urgently and how excitedly she wants to leave that moment and share the news of what she’s learned. But I think there is also a great symbol in her absent-mindedness. Remember a moment earlier, she had been defending this well and chastising Jesus for having made the offer of a better source of water. And she had even mocked Him at one point for not having a bucket to draw the water from the well. But when Jesus spoke to her about Living Water as He promised her and as He shows her what that truly means in her heart, she gets so excited at having discovered the Messiah, she realizes she has no need for any other kind water. She leaves her waterpot behind. It’s like a beautiful picture of what happens in the heart as we come to know the Truth instead of what we claim as truth.
She leaves and we are told she goes into the city of Sychar and immediately she goes and finds men, we’re told, in the city. You have to understand when it says she goes to find men, it means she goes and find the leading men, the leaders of this city. To find these men, it means she went into the city gate. The place within the city where the commerce and the business of the city would have been conducted. Where leadership would be meeting. I want you to consider the courage that this required. This woman has brought with her into this moment, into this city gate on a normal day of business. She has brought her tattered reputation. She encounters probably few if any friends in this setting. It’s likely her arrival has provoked stares and perhaps mocking comments. But none of these things stop her. This is quite a contrast to the disciples. That group of Jewish men couldn’t bear the thought of talking to a single Samaritan woman standing next to their own Messiah. This shamed woman is willing to run right into the center of the business of the city, right up to the city leaders and she declares the arrival of a Christ that no one had even seen yet.
Faith leads us to do crazy things. But formulaic religion just leads us to conform to human expectations. That the difference between this woman and what is happening with the disciples. The most comical part of all of this is the woman’s testimony in the way she highlights her own sordid past as proof of her claims. She’s willing to point to the fact that this stranger could name all her sins and she is so impressed by what He knows about her, she says this might be the Messiah. Isn’t it interesting that she would be so upfront about those things? A woman who had so many reasons to hide it. As we said last time, it was the turning point for her experience when Jesus could bring out the sin of her life, He could bring her evil deeds into the light and do so with no condemnation. So now she neither worries about her past with respect to Christ nor does she worry about it as a matter of public discourse.
What a relief it must have been for this woman to live a life now that could put all that behind her. That’s the impact of Christ in our hearts. He removes the guilt for our past sins and takes away the burdens so we don’t have to bear them any longer. I want you to think about what was in this woman’s mind. In past days, even years, when she might have entertained a thought from time to time of the Messiah’s arrival. I assume anytime that thought popped into her mind it didn’t leave her feeling very optimistic. More than likely, she would have been terribly worried at the prospect of the Messiah’s arrival. The concept she would have to face God’s representative with the kind of past she had. It must have been a terrible burden. She must have assumed on the day she met the Messiah, it would not be a good day for her. That was the source of her guilt. That’s the source everyone carries with them. I think many people like to think themselves good enough, that day is not going to go poorly for them. But the truth of the Scripture tells us all men stand before God condemned. If a man is to say he has no sin, well he is a liar and the love of God is not in him according to John.
Now this woman having encountered the grace of the Messiah, can confidently and joyfully announce the good news to others, and do so despite her shameful past. That’s the power of the Gospel. The power of the Gospel is it sets us free from our own sin and in so doing gives us confidence we can declare this same compassion with others without the shame of our own sin weighing us down. Perhaps it was her insistence, or her bravery or just her lack of shame, whatever it was, something caused the leaders in the city gate to take this woman’s claims seriously…seriously enough they were willing to come out of the city, stop their business and follow her to the well. So we are told the leaders go out of the city and go out to investigate the woman’s claims.
As the Samaritans make their way to Jesus, the Lord is still sitting at the well with the disciples. They had brought Him food as He requested.
John 4:31-38 New King James Version (NKJV)
31 In the meantime His disciples urged Him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”
32 But He said to them, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.”
33 Therefore the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought Him anything to eat?”
34 Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work.35 Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! 36 And he who reaps receives wages and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. 37 For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’38 I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors.”
I like to imagine Jesus may be seated by the well somewhere, perhaps in the shade of a small tree nearby. The disciples have brought Him some food. Maybe some bread, maybe some fruit, perhaps some salted fish. But Jesus isn’t showing any interest in eating. He’s not really looking at them. He looks disappointed and He’s looking down perhaps. They can sense something is wrong and they are not sure what’s going on so they try to break the mood and get into a conversation by urging Him to have some food. Getting Him to eat. Then Jesus responds by teaching them a lesson using food as His example. He does so to chastise them. He says he has food they don’t know about.
Now, you and I know immediately what Jesus is talking about here, it is something spiritual. He’s not talking about literal food. We know this because as we’ve observed in John’s narrative, Jesus has not had any other source of food. No one has brought Him any food. He hasn’t eaten. But naturally, the disciples are assuming He’s talking about earthly physical food. So we enter into another of these “two ships passing in the night” kind of conversation. Because the disciples start asking one another if one of them gave Jesus food earlier, and of course no one did. Of course, these guys are missing the point of what Jesus means, just as the woman at the well did earlier when she was talking to Jesus about water. Isn’t it funny how the woman was too busy looking down her nose at Jesus in order to understand His conversation? But here come the disciples later and they’re too good to even talk to the Samaritan woman. But they are just as clueless when it comes to understanding spiritual matters. We are not all that much different today.
Anyway, Jesus takes some pity on the disciples and as He goes into the conversation He begins to explain the meaning of His comment about having food. Jesus says that His food is to do the will of the One Who sent Him. Obviously, we know Jesus is talking about the Father, having sent Jesus into the world. He’s doing the Father’s will. But that leaves us with the question, how is obeying the Father a “food” for Jesus? The answer comes by considering the conversation that came earlier in this chapter. This moment with Jesus and the disciples comes on the heels of the earlier moment with Jesus and the Samaritan woman. If you remember in that earlier conversation, Jesus directed the woman’s thoughts away from satisfying her fleshly need for water and toward her spiritual need for living water. Jesus wasn’t denying that the body needs water when He was saying those things to the woman. He was saying to the woman she shouldn’t be putting her physical needs ahead of her spiritual needs. She was more focus on satisfying her body’s need for water than her spirit’s need for salvation. The woman should have been far more interested in finding a source of eternal life for her soul than she should have been in finding a source of physical life for her body. That was Jesus’ point to the woman. It was let’s get your priorities straight. Eternal spiritual matters are more important at this moment than your physical needs.
By that same token, Jesus is not saying to these disciples that they do not have a need for food or He does not have a need for food for His physical body. What He’s asking them to consider is spiritual priorities above physical priorities. In this case, these disciples have been so focused on the task of getting food and bringing food and delivering food to Jesus that they had not even considered the possibility they might need to spend some time reaching this Samaritan woman with the message of the kingdom. Which is why they are disciples in the first place. The whole reason why they are following Jesus around, the whole reason they had to get Him food and try to take care of Him is so they can be His disciple and thereby spread the message of His kingdom. How ironic they are too busy with the food they don’t even fulfill the mission of being a disciple. When the time came they did nothing with regard to this woman’s spiritual needs. Jesus is teaching them a principle here, a lesson about priorities in life when you serve the Lord.
“The author’s biblical interpretations and conclusions presented in this document rely on original teaching used by permission of Verse By Verse Ministry International (VBVMI). The author’s views may not represent the views of VBVMI, it’s Directors or staff. Original VBVMI teaching may be found at http://www.vbvmi.org.”
Join our mailing list
Thank you for subscribing.
Something went wrong.