Nestled in the Gospel of John is an encounter Jesus with woman from Samaria. In John 4:4, the gospel tells us, “And he had to pass through Samaria.” Did this mean this was the only route? No, not at all. He could have taken the route of other devout Jews at the time and simply walked around the perimeter. Yet, he had to walk through Samaria. He had an appointment that would change the course of the world!
Jesus takes something tangible, a drink of water (4:7) to springboard into a conversation about a spiritual conversation regarding ‘living water’ (4:10). When she inquired how he would draw out this living water with no instrument of any kind, she (she) brings up Jacob, since he dug that very well. Jesus said, “That water will make you thirsty, but the water I give will not only never thirst, but will provide a well inside the heart of the one who drinks up to eternal life.” She wants this living water. Do you blame her?
But then Jesus exposes an area in which her life contradict her desire to have this living water. Remember: when Jesus is magnified, our thirst is identified.
In December 2011, God called me to pastor a church in the Denver metro area of Centennial, Colorado. Having lived the majority of my life east of the Mississippi, altitude was never a problem. But living in the desert near the mountains in the Mile High City was an adjustment. The amount of sun we would get in an hour back east, we get in five minutes. Plus, the altitude obviously makes the air thinner, causing some significant adjustments: nosebleeds, breathing issues, dizziness, etc. It took me about 3-6 months to fully adjust.
The solution? The mantra for all those who are visiting or who have just moved to Denver is this: drink lots and lots and lots (and lots) of water. Otherwise, you’ll get dehydrated and very sick. Some heed the advice, while others don’t. In regards to those who do not, I guarantee this: they do not feel dehydrated. And if they do feel sick, dizzy, etc., they may not realize the cause of this is thirst. They need a physician to identify the issue.
Christ serves as the one who, when we see him in all His glory and in immense detail, our thirst is identified. And we react. We either say, “Give me some water to drink,” or we say, “I don’t know about that—I’d like a second opinion.” Or we can just not come near to Him—because if it’s not identified, we delude ourselves into thinking that we are not thirsty at all.
Another principle found here is this: our lives identify what we magnify. This woman is intrigued by this living water that will prevent her from coming to the well to drink. But why? Because Jesus is about to unlock an area of her life that she wishes to keep hidden from him. Everyone is aware of her past, so the less she has to come out and encounter those who stigmatize her because of this, the better. If she could get this water without it costing her any sort of change in direction in her life—yes! Sign me up, she says.
This is where so many of us trip up. We want the living water, but we don’t want the soul thirst that exists in us to be identified or taken away. Our lives scream to the world what our values are and what means the most to us. Sunday morning Bible study and church cannot erase what our lives exalt on Monday through Saturday. Most of us keep things close to the vest—and the moment that we find ourselves vulnerable even among our brothers and sisters in Christ, we become mortified in the aftermath and even feel the need to apologize for allowing ourselves to let down and lose control.
John Piper has famously said, “God is most glorified in us, when we are most satisfied in him.” C.S. Lewis noted something significant in his marvelous book The Weight of Glory.
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Look at Jesus next words: “Go, call your husband” (John 4:16). Attempting to hid this aspect of her life, Jesus exposes it not to be facetious but to provide her freedom! But we cannot be free until we recognize what keeps us in bondage. He does not set us free in theory or philosophically, he sets us free realistically and practically! She has little choice but to respond:
“I have no husband.”
Technically, she was correct (which Jesus acknowledged at the end of verse 17). But Jesus comes to have us deal with our past, to expose patterns, and ultimately to expose the life mechanism of our hearts. He doesn’t just get to what we do, but the what and the why. What are we magnifying? What is big in our lives? And why? Because the why exposes the motive. But this type of expositional witnessing was Jesus showing His love, not based upon race but upon grace.
“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” In alluding to Lewis’ quote above, one could try to give her an out by saying, “This woman’s temptations were too strong! Her desires are too strong.” No, they are too weak. She gave in. She thought this would fill the relationship-void in her heart—but that didn’t work, did it? As we will see, she knew something of the Scriptures—at least the Torah.
This is a big Savior standing before this woman—and He’s a big Savior that stands before us. Jesus just magnified the areas in her heart that are hidden. She has had five husbands—but they are no longer her husbands either by death or divorce. And now she is living with someone else. Maybe she blamed the institution itself for the issue! Even so, this woman was decimated—when God says that the two shall become one flesh when he joins them together in marriage, breaking that union is not just devastating as far as society is concern—it decimates spiritually! Married couples are joined spiritually, and Satan loves divorce because it wrecks those affected spiritually.
Ever since the garden of Eden, we’ve been hiding from our Creator. We’ve been naked and ashamed (see Genesis 2:25; 3:7-8) and our greatest fear is being exposed—not just physically, but spiritually. So we hide from God, ignore him, redefine him, or repent before Him.
So when Jesus unveiled her heart, she had to deal with him. “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet.” Then she starts a theological argument. A diversion? A serious inquiry? Both, I would say. It’s always easier to spar theologically than to stare at ourselves spiritually. So she asks about the proper place of worship, Mount Gerazim or Mount Zion. She is trying to put the inquiry back on Jesus and on something other than what it should be focused on: the condition of her heart.
In Titus, the apostle Paul warned him,
“But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned” (Titus 3:9-10).
So the apostle Paul is talking about those already in the church who should be pointing to Jesus, but instead are pointing to peripherals, simply trying to win an argument. Earlier, he tells Titus to be clothed in the doctrine of God (Titus 2:10). When winning arguments about a fine, peripheral point means more than winning someone to Christ, we have issues.
But when it comes to someone who doesn’t know Christ, we are talking about a different matter. If they bring up an issue, it’s an opening to share Christ and His work on our behalf. So how does Jesus answer this theological inquiry? Where should they worship? Mt. Gerazim or Jerusalem’s Mt. Zion?
Neither! He brings her back to what needs to be magnified in her life. At the end of all things, the worship will not take place in a geographical location but in a spiritual one: true worshipers will not need to make the thrice-a-year pilgrimages in order to properly worship. The Messiah has made His pilgrimage to us so that we may worship “in spirit and truth.” We worship in spirit because God is spirit—not a building (the Temple), not a box (the ark of the covenant), but spirit. In fact, Jesus not only said that He would be the Temple raised in three days, but that we as His body would become the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the place where God would dwell (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
In the end, she put off her pretenses of being able to control her own life, being able to understand the direction she had for it, unwittingly or no. “When [the Messiah] comes, he will tell us all things.” Underlying all this was a hope—a hope beyond sex, false companionship, and well-water. She directed this in a wrong way, but Christ set her on the proper path. “I who speak to you am he” (John 4:26).
We need to adjust the magnification in our spiritual lenses. If you have looked through a microscope or a telescope, you know the necessity of a magnifications that, for a telescope, can go up to 50X or 100X power which brings the object in closer and with more detail.
What type of magnification do our spiritual lenses have? “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” She comes to a fine point—there is someone who is coming that will put it all into perspective. We have come from water in a well to living water. We have come from a controversy of Gerazim vs. Zion to a confrontation about whether worship takes place in heart.
Now, the Christ has gone from a future hope to a present reality.
Now look at what she says to her fellow Samaritans:
Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Come, see. Adjust those spiritual lenses and really see the one. He brought to the surface all of her junk, all of her weaknesses, all of her need. There’s an old song, “He looked beyond my fault and saw my need.”
When the disciples asked about Jesus’ food, he says, “My have food to eat that you do not know about. . . . My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” Now see how Christ looks to adjust the magnification of our spiritual lenses: “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.”
Here’s where the magnifying affects the maturing, ministry, and mobilizing. The Samaritan woman knew some of the Bible, but it did not affect nor connect with her life at all. The lack of magnifying the things of God led to a lack of maturity. There was no knowing the Lord, thus there was no growing in the Lord.
But once she knew Christ, her eyes were opened. And once the disciples began to grow in Christ, they’re eyes are opened.
Are our eyes opened? Is Christ big before your eyes? Then the lost will be as well. Without Christ as #1 in our lives, we can walk out this door and people will only mean what value we place on them. With Christ, we will see the lost as He sees the lost.
C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1965), 1-2. Quoted in John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 1996), 17.