“Many Samaritans from that town believed on him because of the woman’s testimony” RSV

In John 4 we have the record of a Samaritan woman and her interaction with the Lord. She remains unnamed. Her identity is unimportant because she can be any one of us. There are areas of our lives that need to be addressed by him who is the Son of God. We are sinners, idolaters and have loved one other than Christ. Yet by coming to him, and associating with him, he can change us. This is the story of one who was changed by the Christ. So let us through the story of this woman come to the Christ and allow him to change our minds and our hearts.

Her background: “You have had five husbands”

Jesus chose to travel through Samaria. In fact, the record says that “he had to go through Samaria” (v4 rsv). Many Jews travelled between Galilee and Judea for various feasts or ceremonies to be held at Jerusalem, but few of them ever travelled through Samaria. There may be many reasons why Jesus chose to go this way. But what is clear is that he had a work to do with this woman, who could not yet see her thirst and need of the living water.

Her life was not in the ways of God at all. Yes, she had something that could be called ‘Religion’, something that governed the way she acted in some respects. But her Lord and Master was not the true God. Rather, she had other masters, other lords that she worshipped. She had married herself to husbands other than Christ (v16–18; cp 1 Cor 6:13–19; 2 Cor 11:2–4), given over her life to the flesh and to her own desires (Hos 2:13; Isa 57:8; Rev 2:20–23). Despite this, Jesus chose to offer her the gift of living water. Her background did not stop him speaking with her. He was more interested in who she could become than who she was at that point in time.

So also with us. Jesus does not call us based on our past experiences. He sees who we are now, and he addresses those things and expects a change, but he calls us because of who we can become, of what he can do for us.

Her Saviour: “I who speak to you am he” RSV

When this woman first encountered Jesus she was going about her day-to-day business. As she made her regular journey to the well, she saw a Jew by the well; not just a Jew but also a man. What was he doing by the well? It was not normal to see Jews in this part of the country (cp v9 and cp John 8:48), nor did men congregate around wells very often (Manners and Customs of the Bible). Much to her surprise, he asked of her a drink. A Jew asking a drink of a Samaritan? Who was this man and why was he prepared to approach her?

Here, standing before her, though she could not yet see it, was the Son of God. Her satisfaction, her fulfilment in life would not come from any of her five husbands, nor the man she then had. It would come from Christ.

She did not yet know the gift of God. If she had known who this man was, and what he had to give, she would have had no need to ask the question. Paul explains what the gift is:

“By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God” (Eph 2:8).

“I [Paul] was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power” (Eph 3:7). “If through the offence of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift by grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, hath abounded unto many … they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:15,17).

“Which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2 Cor 9:14–15).

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

The gift of God is intimately linked to the work of Christ. The gift of God is the salvation that follows from His grace. It is the righteousness which is counted to men, though undeserving, because of the sacrifice of our Lord. This woman needed to know Christ and what his true work was. It was the only answer to the helpless situation she was in. Jesus knew her life and that it was filled with sin. But still, he called her. He wanted her to know the gift of God. But how? How could she receive that gift?

Christ explained to her who he is. He is a well of living water, and that water would ensure she would never thirst again. But more than that, the water would become in her a spring welling up to eternal life (v 13–14). What is this water? Often water represents the Word of God (Eph 5:26). But it is much more than that. The springs of water refer to the Spirit (Isa 44:2–6; John 7:38–39). The living water is the Spirit – the power in the Word of God which changes us (Rom 8:1–8; 2 Cor 3:3, 6, 8). It is this Word in action in the minds and hearts of individuals (Isa 55:10–11). The mind of the Spirit in Christ, who was the Word made flesh, is that water which springs out of him, and can spring out of us too. That Spirit searches us out and shows us the depths of our minds, who we really are (Heb 4:12; Eph 6:17). And the Word of God in Christ (John 1:14) saw that she was a sinner, but still offered hope. She needed a change of mindset – from that of the flesh to that of the Spirit (Rom 5:8–11).

Like the woman, our understanding of this man hinges on our understanding of the gift of God (Rom 5:15). Just as with this woman, Jesus knows our lives and that they are filled with sin. But still, he calls us. He wants us to know the gift of God. He wants us to experience God’s grace, the joy of being righteous and ultimately, the gift of eternal life (Luke 5:32). Then we leave behind a life of many masters – the old man and fleshly thinking – and take on the mind of the spirit and Christ in us (Gal 2:20; Rom 8:1–11; Col 3:5, 12). With this woman, we drink of him, the living water, and in turn become wells, offering that water to others (Jn 4:13–14).

Her worship: “in spirit and in truth”

But the woman was not yet ready for this. She was still wrestling with who this man was (v19). She realised that what he could offer her was incredible, but she had some concerns with him, because he was a Jew. She was trapped in her own preconceived ideas. She needed to open her heart and be freed from them before she could accept Jesus as the Christ. One of her objections to this man was that he – as a Jew – believed that they should worship in Jerusalem (v20). She had a wrong understanding of the Truth due to her religious background as a member of the Samaritan religion. They had never had a true understanding of God (v22; 1 Kings 17:41). She was still trapped in their thinking, worrying about the “where”. Jesus was prepared to answer her question, but he wanted her to think beyond the “where”. He wanted her to focus on the “how”!

She was not yet ready to accept who he was until she could see the need to worship God in sincerity and truth (v23–24). She needed to realise that God wanted true worshippers, who worshipped out of their heart and in sincerity, not those who were preoccupied with ritual concerns such as the location of worship (v21–22). God’s worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.

Yes, salvation was of the Jews. Her religion was misguided. She was not worshipping God in truth. But Jesus showed her that she could be acceptable to God nevertheless. She could accept that Jesus was the Christ. She would be able to drink of the living water and be changed.

Just like this woman, we must examine ourselves (1 Cor 11:28) and see if we really are worshipping God in spirit and in truth (v24). It is so easy to fool ourselves, to think that we are genuinely worshipping God when in reality we are worshipping self (cp Rom 10:2–3). We need to come to him who is the Christ (John 10:9, Matt 11:28). He has the words of eternal life, and he can reveal to each of us who we really are (John 6:68–69). That Word which was in him (John 1:17) discerns the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb 4:12–13). When we listen to that Word it tells us who we really are, what God wants each of us to do and how He wants us to be worshipping. And when we come to the one who is the Word made flesh, then we can truly receive the blessings of that living water. Jesus asks us to reconsider our worship, to ask “how” and to be prepared to embrace the changes he offers.

Her response: “a spring of water”

“So the woman left her water jar and went away into the town and said to the people, Come, see a man who told me all that ever I did. Can this be the Christ?”

The woman left and straight away went and told the whole community about the amazing things God had done for her. This would have taken a huge amount of humility. As she walked away she left her water jar behind. Why? Because she no longer had need of it. This woman, a sinner, an adulteress and worthy of death under the Law of Moses was completely transformed by her interaction with Jesus. She was now a well of living water in turn!

There is a transfer of roles here. We drink of Christ, the well of salvation, then we in turn become a well, making him known to all nations (v14; Isa 12:3–6). This woman now takes on the Word of God, the mind of the Spirit and becomes Jesus to others in turn. This is God-manifestation. The word of God in Christ becomes the Word of God in us.

Jesus knew who she was, he knew her faults and problems, but still she followed the Truth. She drank of that water. And though salvation would not come to these Samaritans because of her testimony alone, many believed on him. She became a fountain of life and turned many others from the snares of death (Prov 13:14).

She can be each of us!

In this woman we see ourselves. We see ourselves as sinners, as those very far from God’s ways, and yet as people who have been changed by Christ. Jesus is the Christ. And he is the answer to our problems and our weaknesses. And despite knowing exactly what they are, he is prepared to work with each of us and see beyond what we are now to what we can become (Heb 4:14–16).

The fields are white for harvest (v35–38). Let the Lord Jesus change you, despite your sins and weaknesses, so that you in turn can change others. Turning many to righteousness (cp Dan 12:3) is not only about preaching, though it does include that. It is about changing people’s lives – our children, other brothers and sisters, as well as those who have never heard the gospel. Jesus told his disciples that he thrives on the saving of other people (v32). We in turn can become the Lord Jesus to others by giving of that water which has become a well in us. This woman is unnamed. She can be each of us.

So let each of us now come to Christ and drink of that water. Then, no matter what happens in our lives, no matter how difficult or distressing life may become, we will be able to make springs in others throughout our lives, confident in the hope that one day we will appear before God in Zion.

“As they go through the valley of Baca (weeping) they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools. They go from strength to strength; each one appears before God in Zion” (Psa 84:6–7 rsv).