Sermon title: People with Messed-Up Lives Come to Jesus Matthew 4:12 John 4:4-14
Immanuel Baptist Church – February 18, 2018
Last week we discussed why
John the Baptist was put in prison—
because he preached what God says about sin,
in the case of local ruler Herod
who had taken his brother’s wife.
Prison was meant to silence his public voice.
And we talked about how
the Herod of today,
the sinful men holding power
in government and the media
want to silence Christian voices
that speak what God says about their sins.
Now, I didn’t plan to go back to that subject
again in today’s sermon.
I planned to go on to talk about
Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
But, the day after I gave last Sunday’s sermon,
an article appeared in The Standard-Times
confirming what I said last week
about a modern Herod trying to silence Christians.
So, before I go on to talk about the Samaritan woman,
I wanted to share this article with you.
It talks about Bill H.767,
which is a piece of legislation
currently before the joint Judiciary Committeeon Beacon Hill.
The article is titled,
“Bill seeks to bar companies
from citing religious exemptions.”
The bill is supported by the Massachusetts TransPolitical Coalition,
whose director is quoted as
speaking for “LGBTQ people across the commonwealth”
and who said,
“when faith and religion are used
to hurt and discriminate,
that freedom becomes a weapon against our community – and that’s not something we can allow
And so the bill would take awaythe freedom
of people doing business in Massachusetts
to follow their religious beliefs
when it comes to
things like abortion,
and baking wedding cakes for gay marriages,
or catering or doing the photography
for same-sex weddings.
If this bill is passed,
there would be penalties under Massachusetts law
for Christians who refused to do those things.
The Standard-Times article reports that
a church group opposing the bill
“said the goal of the bill
isn’t to prevent discrimination,
but instead has ‘everything to do
with coercing the consciences of Christians
and enforcing homosexual ideology
on the rest of society.’”
It goes on to quote
the church group’s spokesman as saying,
“The same people who pleaded for tolerance
and an end to discrimination
when gay rights laws were being considered,
now demand that Christians be punished,
and if necessary, driven out of business
if they refuse to service
same-sex ‘marriage’ ceremonies.”
And then it added his thought that
“If this legal thuggery succeeds,
conscientious religious believers
will be effectively excluded –
which is to say discriminated against,
in entire professions – such as those
of printers, photographers, bakers,
florists, wedding planners,
along with jobs and businesses in the
After I read that article
I contacted several members
of the Massachusetts legislature’s Judiciary Committee
asking them not to move forward
with Bill H.767.
And I just wanted to share that information with you this morning,
since Bill H.767,
if passed into law,
would put new limits
on the religious freedom
of Christians here in Massachusetts.
And it’s an example of those in power
behaving like Herod did
when he jailed John the Baptist
for preaching about sin.
Now as we continue to go through the Gospels chronologically
we read in our responsive reading
a few moments ago, where Matthew 4:12 says,
12 When Jesus heard
that John had been put in prison,
he returned to Galilee.
And then John 4:4 continues,
4 . . . Now he had to go through Samaria.
If you can picture a map of that area
Jerusalem was the major city of Judea,
which lay to the south
in the Promised Land.
Judea lay along the western shore of the Dead Sea,
and stretched across to the Mediterranean coast.
If you followed the Jordan River north to its source,
you came to Galilee,
which included Nazareth
where Jesus grew up,
and Cana, where he turned water into wine.
But, to travel directly from Judea to Galilee,
you had to pass through Samaria.
Jewish people didn’t like to pass through Samaria,
because they had strong cultural taboos
against the Samaritan people.
Those cultural taboos went beyond God’s laws,
and amounted to a snobbish racial prejudice
against the Samaritans.
The Samaritans were an unusual mix of nationalities,
and they practiced a religion
that was a mixture
of Judaism and paganism.
That situation originated centuries earlier.
The main city of Samaria—which was also called Samaria—
was the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel,
after the kingdom ruled by David and Solomon
split up into two nations
following Solomon’s death.
For political reasons,
that northern kingdom of Israel
set up its own centers of worship
so that its people would not go down
to Jerusalem in the southern kingdom of Judah
to worship God.
Those centers of worship in the northern kingdom
featured golden calf idols
that were supposed to represent God.
It was also in that capital of Samaria
that pagan Jezebel ruled as Queen with King Ahab.
Jezebel personally sponsored
worship of the false ‘god’ Baal.
So, it’s not surprising
that God punished
that northern kingdom at Samaria.
God had the Assyrian Empire
invade and take the people away captive to other lands.
The Assyrian Empire did that as a common practice.
When they conquered a country,
they took much of the population away,
and transported them elsewhere,
so they could not organize a resistance
to take back their own land.
Then, rather than leave the conquered land empty,
the Assyrians would move in
people from other conquered lands.
And that’s what they did with that territory
that that was called “Samaria”
in Jesus’ day.
In our bulletin insert,
on other side from the responsive reading,
next to the illustration of Jesus
and the Samaritan woman at the well,
we have an excerpt from
the Bible book of 2nd Kings, chapter 17.
There in verses 24 and 33, it says,
“The king of Assyria brought people
from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath and Sephar-vaim
and settled them in the towns of Samaria
to replace the Israelites. . . .
They worshiped the Lord ,
but they also served their own gods
in accordance with the customs
of the nations from which they had been brought.”
So, they had a mixed-up, messed-up religion,
a mixture of Judaism and paganism.
Jews who passed through Samaria
when traveling between Judea and Galilee
avoided the Samaritan people as much as possible,
and certainly avoided getting into
religious discussions with them.
That’s why Jesus’ discussion in John Chapter 4
with the Samaritan woman at the well
was so unusual.
Let’s read about it,
beginning in John chapter 4, Verse 4, which says,
4 Now he had to go through Samaria.
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar,
near the plot of ground
Jacob had given to his son Joseph.
Now we know exactly where this town of Sychar was.
It was originally called Shechem
after the name of the man who sold that plot to Jacob.
The Romans renamed the place “Flavia Neapolis.”
Over the centuries, the local Arabs
corrupted “Neapolis” into “Nablus”—
the present name of the city in the West Bank.
We often hear news these days
about conflicts in Nablus between Israelis and Palestinians.
So, this town where Jesus spoke
with the woman at the well
is a real place that we still hear about in the news today.
Verse 6 says,
6 Jacob's well was there,
and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey,
sat down by the well.
It was about the sixth hour.
Counting the hours from sunrise,
the sixth hour was around noon time—
which explains why Jesus’ disciples
had gone into town to buy food.
Continuing in Verse 7, we read,
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water,
Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"
8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him,
"You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman.
How can you ask me for a drink?"
(For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
In the Old Covenant,
God intentionally kept the Jews separate,
to keep them from mixing with pagan nations,
and adopting pagan immorality and idolatry.
he had to keep beating-up on the Jews
to keep them in line.
To keep the Jews separate, God gave them:
-- a Kosher diet, so they couldn’t share meals with pagans,
-- a special way of dressing and grooming
so they would stand out as different,
if they tried to enter a pagan crowd,
-- and other laws that kept Jews separate.
Now, all of that was good—
to accomplish God’s will.
But by Jesus’ day
the Jewish scribes and Pharisees
went way beyond God’s law,
imposing their own interpretations
and their own supplementary laws.
And it was from the hypocrisy
of the Pharisees and others like them
that the Jews of Jesus’ day
had gotten their superior attitude
of snobbish racial prejudice
against the Samaritans.
Jesus shot down those prejudices
on more than one occasion—
not just by the way he treated
this Samaritan woman at the well,
but also by his “Parable of the Good Samaritan”
which we’ll discuss
when we reach that point in the Gospels.
By the way,
our modern expression “Good Samaritan”
comes from that parable of Jesus.
And under the New Covenant,
that Jesus was going to introduce,
the Gospel was to go out to the whole world—
every nation and every people.
So, Jesus was now breaking the Jewish cultural taboos,
by speaking with this Samaritan woman.
Verse 10 tells us,
10 Jesus answered her,
"If you knew the gift of God
and who it is that asks you for a drink,
you would have asked him
and he would have given you living water."
11 "Sir," the woman said,
"you have nothing to draw with
and the well is deep.
Where can you get this living water?
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob,
who gave us the well and drank from it himself,
as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"
The woman didn’t realize yet
that Jesus was talking about “living water”
in a spiritual sense.
So, she became somewhat argumentative,
pointing out that Jesus didn’t havea bucket and rope
to let down into the well.
And then she brought up that the patriarch Jacob
had given the well to her people—
as if to say to Jesus,
“Who do you think you are?—someone great?”
In Verse 13,
13 Jesus answered,
"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again,
14 but whoever drinks the water I give him
will never thirst.
Indeed, the water I give him
will become in him a spring of water
welling up to eternal life."
Well, this got the woman’s attention
and piqued her interest.
In Verse 15,
15 The woman said to him,
"Sir, give me this water
so that I won't get thirsty
and have to keep coming here to draw water."
She still thought Jesus was talking about
ordinary ‘drinking water’—
only without the inconvenience
of the daily trip to the edge of town
to draw from the well.
She wants the ‘water,’ so in Verse 16,
Jesus tells her:
"Go, call your husband and come back."
17 "I have no husband," she replied.
18 Jesus said to her,
"You are right when you say you have no husband.
The fact is, you have had five husbands,
and the man you now have is not your husband.
What you have just said is quite true."
We don’t know
if she had outlived those previous husbands,
and re-married each time as a widow,
or if she had scandalously divorced 5 times.
In any case,
she was currently living with a man outside of wedlock.
Her life was messy,
and the mixed-up Samaritan religion
had not helped her straighten it out.
The woman now changed the subject,
and asked Jesus a religious question.
Continuing in Verse 19,
19 "Sir," the woman said,
"I can see that you are a prophet.
20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain,
but you Jews claim
that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus’ answer must have come as a surprise to her,
because instead of upholding either
Jewish worship or Samaritan worship,
Jesus spoke of the new Christian worship in the Spirit,
that doesn’t depend on a physical location
like Jerusalem or a mountain in Samaria.
In Verse 21,
21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman,
a time is coming
when you will worship the Father
neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.
22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know;
we worship what we do know,
for salvation is from the Jews.
23 Yet a time is coming and has now come
when the true worshipers
will worship the Father in spirit and truth,
for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
24 God is spirit,
and his worshipers must worship
in spirit and in truth."
So, Jesus is hinting here
at what would become clear later in the New Testament:
that God intended the Jewish way of worship
to be only temporary,
eventually to be replaced by Christian worship.
The woman connected future changes in worship
with the coming of the Messiah.
So, in Verse 25 we read,
25 The woman said,
"I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming.
When he comes, he will explain everything to us."
26 Then Jesus declared, "I who speak to you am he."
This is one of only a couple of places in the Gospels,
where Jesus comes right out
and identifies himself as the Christ.
This woman had the honor
of hearing it from Jesus’ lips
even before Peter and the other Apostles did.
But now the conversation gets interrupted.
Verse 27 says,
27 Just then his disciples returned
and were surprised
to find him talking with a woman.
But no one asked, "What do you want?"
or "Why are you talking with her?"
At this point, Jesus’ disciples still had
their racial prejudice against the Samaritans
and their sexist prejudice
against having a serious discussion with a woman.
But they didn’t dare
say any of those things to Jesus.
Meanwhile, that conversation Jesus engaged in
began to bear fruit.
Verse 28 says,
28 Then, leaving her water jar,
the woman went back to the town
and said to the people,
29 "Come, see a man
who told me everything I ever did.
Could this be the Christ ?"
30 They came out of the town
and made their way toward him.
The disciples missed the significance
of Jesus’ conversation with the woman.
Instead, their attention was on the food
that they had just picked up and brought back from town.
In Verse 31 we read,
31 Meanwhile his disciples urged him,
"Rabbi, eat something."
32 But he said to them,
"I have food to eat that you know nothing about."
33 Then his disciples said to each other,
"Could someone have brought him food?"
34 "My food," said Jesus,
"is to do the will of him who sent me
and to finish his work.
35 Do you not say,
'Four months more and then the harvest'?
I tell you, open your eyes
and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.
36 Even now the reaper draws his wages,
even now he harvests the crop for eternal life,
so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.
37 Thus the saying
'One sows and another reaps' is true.
38 I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work,
and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."
Jesus’ focus wasn’t on getting something to eat,
but on the spiritual harvest
he was reaping among the Samaritan people—
bringing them to belief in Christ.
Verse 39 says,
39 Many of the Samaritans from that town
believed in him because of the woman's testimony,
"He told me everything I ever did."
To Jesus, that was his food.
He lived to accomplish that divine purpose,
not to satisfy the cravings of his stomach for food.
The spiritual harvest was much more important.
The Samaritans had enough knowledge
from spiritual seeds sown by Moses and early prophets
to recognize their need for the Messiah.
And Jesus rejoiced in reaping a spiritual harvest
Verse 40 says,
40 So when the Samaritans came to him,
they urged him to stay with them,
and he stayed two days.
41 And because of his words
many more became believers.
42 They said to the woman,
"We no longer believe
just because of what you said;
now we have heard for ourselves,
and we know
that this man really is the Savior of the world."
43 After the two days he left for Galilee.
I find great encouragement
in the harvest Jesus reaped among the Samaritans.
That’s because I’ve been discouraged,
thinking it’s almost impossible
to lead people of this generation to Christ.
But really, they are very much like the Samaritans.
So many people today are living immorally,
like that Samaritan woman who was on her 7th man,
and was living with him outside of wedlock.
But she came to Christ.
So many people today have a mixed-up religion,
half-of-the-Word watered-down Christianity
mixed with Hindu Yoga,
New Age mysticism,
and a ‘Jesus’ of popular culture.
How could they ever be led to Christ?
But the Samaritans were like that, too,
with half-of-the-Old Testament Judaism
mixed with pagan worship
of pagan ‘gods’
and free-wheeling sexual immorality.
And, yet, many of them became believers
when they heard Jesus speak.
Jesus showed compassion on people like that,
and spent time with them to help them.
So, we can certainly do the same
for people in today’s mixed-up world.
And Jesus reaped a harvest,
with many of those mixed-up Samaritans
turning to Christ and becoming believers.
So, we shouldn’t give up on the mixed-up, immoral people
we encounter today.
They, too, need Christ.
And, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit,
we, too, can reap a harvest among them,
leading many to Christ.