Today we continue our study in the book of John. Keep the conversations of our previous weeks in mind as we get into today’s process and remember John’s objective in his writing.
But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
Our text today centers on the story of Jesus having an in-depth conversation with a Samaritan woman at a well. It’s a story that shows off the character of Jesus to great depth.
There had to be something about Jesus that drew people to him. Was it that he looked super beautiful? Probably not. Was it that he had a bunch of money? Maybe, but probably not. Was it that he did a bunch of shock value things? Well some of the things he did were shocking, but again, probably not.
I think there were character traits Jesus exhibited throughout his ministry that people were very attracted to.
What is character?
There are some differences between character and temperament and personality. We don’t really focus on personality so much, though it might be defined as temperament + character. But here are some really generalized definitions of temperament and character.
Temperament is the more natural, even genetic part of your personality. It’s a person's nature, the things that inherently have an effect on behavior. It’s our very humanness, and it’s also present in animals.
Character on the other hand is the part of our personality connected to our experiences, our social interactions and the like. It’s generally defined as the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. Character is something chosen, and it can show up even in opposition to our temperament. It’s things like compassion, courage, honesty, or their inverses, things that are more often chosen and built through experience rather than innate.
From these definitions, we can’t really change our temperament, though we can do things that shift some of it. But we do have some control over our character. We can’t control all of our experiences and social interactions but we can learn and grow in literally any experience. We can interact with and process and grow in every moment, whether it’s something we’d say is really good or something we’d say is really bad.
For me, character traits are something that I can have a hard time defining. When I think about some traits I would use to describe myself, my mind quickly goes to, “Okay what are the Jesus-y traits I’m supposed to have? And which ones of those do I have?”
But just think about the first things that come to mind.
What are some character traits that you would use to describe yourself?
Do you think your descriptors differ from what people closest to you would say about you?
The character of Jesus shows in our text today.
Jesus goes to a well at midday and asks a Samaritan woman for a drink. They have this whole conversation about how Jews and Samaritans shouldn’t even be in the same room together and about how things are changing because of what God is doing, and about this woman’s life and the fact that Jesus knows her even though He’s never met her before. It’s a fascinating moment, and I encourage you to read it and process it for yourself and in community.
We will see pieces of Jesus’ character today. He’s not afraid of confrontation. Or crossing over cultural boundaries. Or appearing “unacceptable.” Or connecting with the marginalized. Or asking for help. Or offering connection to people who might not reciprocate. Or, the most crazy thing, communicating the truth of the gospel for the first time to (1) a woman, and (2) a Samaritan.
And His character isn’t just because He’s God. He was fully human in his experience.
It was probably hot outside on this day and Jesus had been walking and sweating and getting gross. He was tired so He sat down. He was thirsty so He asked for a drink of water. There’s a lot of complexity in the text again today, but I think we can see Jesus’ character showing up.
Think about this narrative as we jump in but also think about your own learning experience and connection with God, and maybe even some of the incorrect things you’ve learned over the years. Again, John’s whole objective is that we would see Jesus for who He is and find life in Him. And all along Jesus invites us to just see Him for who He is, to see His character.
What are some character traits you would use to describe Jesus?
As John is moving with us towards his objective, that we would see Jesus as the Messiah and see that there is life in relationship with Him, I am going to take the next minutes and tell the story we see in chapter 4. It is a great moment, but as we hear and process it, it is important to remember John’s hyperlink style of writing.
Let me put a couple of them on the table before I share the story. One is water. We are about to walk into a narrative at a well where the focus of the discourse has water interwoven into it.
In John 1, we were introduced to John the Baptist who was baptising people in water and was pointing towards one to come that will be greater.
In John 2, we saw the moment where water was a key element to John’s narrative, at the wedding feast. Here in Jesus’ first miracle we see the picture forming that there is so much more to water than initially or normally thought. In this moment, water is turned into the best wine.
We turned the page to John 3 and Jesus’ interaction with a religious authority who didn’t get it. Jesus told Nicodemus: “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ (Born from above)
The complexity builds: born of water and the Spirit. The hyperlink points back to John 1.
Then John gave this testimony: “I saw the Spirit come down from heaven as a dove and remain on him. And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me, ‘The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and remain is the one who will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
I could go on and on and on. Water is a key theme. There are so many moments in Scripture where water is significant. Water is a focus of what we are looking at today.
One more perspective before I dive into the story is this: John has just finished telling a narrative where Nicodemus, a religious authority, didn’t get it. In the discourse Jesus calls it out:
“You are Israel’s teacher,” said Jesus, “and do you not understand these things?
This is going to stand in stark contrast to the narrative in John 4. Jesus has an interaction with a Samaritan woman. Between the Jews and the Samaritans there is a common heritage that broke at the Babalonian captivity. Foundationally, the Samaritans were a people group that the Jews openly were prejudiced against, and the feelings were mutual.
And she was a woman in a culture that was not known for its egalitarianism.
This woman had been marginalized. She’s had five husbands and the man she was currently with was not her husband. Marriage was security and safety for women. Marriage built honor and community connection. And divorce could not be initiated by women, so she had been dumped 5 times, and now she was in a relationship that didn’t come with any of the security that comes with marriage.
While she was marginalized, it is important to not carry the perspective that she was faultless. She had issues like everyone else, but those issues did not disqualify her from this connection point with Jesus.
So in John’s intentionality, he tells us of a person who should have gotten it but didn’t, and of a person and then a whole group of people that should not have gotten it, but did.
How do preconceived notions help and hurt in the formation of new relationships?
John 4:1-42 (Go read it!)
It is easy for me to quickly go to “what am I supposed to do” when I read this or any Biblical narrative. There is value in that, but our life and relationship with God is not just about doing.
While it is essential to have focus on being Christlike, it is foundational that we see Christ. Let’s set aside thinking about what we should do and remember who the Samaritan woman was, the mirrored / different experiences of Nicodemus and her, and the powerful theme of water.
What does this narrative show / remind you about who Jesus is?
Hold last week and this week together in tension.
Last week we were introduced to a religious authority by the name of Nicodemus. He came to Jesus, was impressed by Jesus, but it was quickly revealed that he didn't understand. He should have known, he should have understood, he should have seen Jesus for who He was.
Now today, we turn the page from Nicodemus and see another significant interaction. But this time it’s with the polar opposite of who Nicodemus was: the outsider of outsiders, and culturally viewed as the worst.
What do we learn by holding these two stories together?
The part of the story that surprises me the most is this:
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.”
This person that represented to the Jews everything that was broken in the world, this woman, this Samaritan, this woman who was divorced 5 times, this person that was viewed as having no worth in the society Jesus is from--Jesus takes this person and shares the reality of who He is.
As far as I can tell this is the first time Jesus definitively claims His Messiahship publicly.
While Nicodemus, whose job it was to look for the Messiah, couldn't understand, this cast-aside woman is gracefully given confirmation of who Jesus was.
What is the significance of Jesus revealing that He is the Messiah to the Samaritan woman first? What does it say about the purpose of the gospel?
Am I more like Nicodemous, where I should get it and don’t, or am I more like the Samaritan woman and should not get it, but I do?
How we view God matters. Our perspective on the character of Jesus matters. As Christians, how we view the character of Jesus is vital to informing the ways in which we are supposed to act and the values we are to espouse.
The name “Christians” was not a name chosen by early followers of Christ. It was a name given by the societal rulers of the day.
Then Barnabas went on to Tarsus to look for Saul. He found him and brought him back to Antioch. They were there a whole year, meeting with the church and teaching a lot of people. It was in Antioch that the disciples were for the first time called Christians.
Antioch was a cultural hub of its day. It would have been clearly segmented by people groups: the Jews over here, the Romans over here, everyone else in this area.
The early Christians moved into Antioch and started to break down these barriers and upset the existing categories. They were a group made up of Jew and Gentile alike, people discovering new identity in Christ and coming into relationship together for the first time. So a new word was needed to identify this new community-redefining group.
The name Christian was given to these people as they lived out the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman in their local community. Just like Jesus crossed the Jew and Samaritan division, so too the early Church crossed cultural and societal divisions.
How are we, the Church, supposed to live out the defined character of Jesus today?
Jesus, thank you for your example with the Samaritan woman and the early Church.
We believe that where there is division your gospel brings unity, and in brokenness there is healing. Division is an affront to your character and to the Church's purpose. Let us be redefiners of what it means to be “Christian” today and show that the gospel truly is good news for everyone, everywhere.
Take It Deeper Questions
How does implicit bias and/or prejudice impact your personal relationships? Your community? Our culture?
What does it take to overcome implicit bias and/or prejudices?
What are some traits about Jesus that become clear from this story?
How does Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman shape how you see Jesus interacting with others? Interacting with you?
How are you challenged, encouraged, focused and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan