One of the last things John said before he lost his beautiful head was that Jesus had come to call and prepare a bride for Himself. This bride is the church, the collective people of God. Her destiny is to be joined to Jesus.
Chapter three leaves us wondering who this bride is. In chapter four, we get to meet her.
The minute Jesus sits down by the well, if you’re familiar with the Old Testament you might expect a woman to show up. And here she comes (John 4:7).
Isaac, Jacob and Moses all found their wives at a well and so it seems that John is telling this story in such a way as to evoke a betrothal scene.
Jesus and the woman begin to discuss water and, rather than debate ethnic hostilities, Jesus, who knows what water is really for says,
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. (John 4:10)
She doesn’t get it (John 4:11-12). Sin does that. It makes you dull.
Not to be deterred, Jesus continues (13-15). The really amazing thing, Jesus implies, is not only that I can give you water without a bucket, but that the water I give will satisfy you forever and overflow in your life so as to satisfy others also.
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This woman is dead right now and hasn’t got a clue what Jesus is on about. But Jesus aims to win her heart and the quickest way to the heart is through an open wound – so in He goes.
Jesus: “Go and call your husband and come back”.
The Woman: “I don’t have a husband”.
Jesus: “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”.
Why does Jesus rip into her inner life like this?
When people are spiritually dead, there are times when you have to shock them or scandalise them if you want them to hear what you say. Jesus was particularly good at this.
“You’re right, you don’t have a husband”, says Jesus. The woman is shocked. We’re shocked, but Jesus just sits there on the edge of the well. Jesus is going to set this unloved woman free and He knows what that will take.
The Samaritans were a mixed race of Israelites from the Northern tribes. When the Assyrian’s conquered them around 800 BC, they brought with them five other ethnic groups (each with their own male patron deity) to repopulate Israel (2 Kings 17:24, 30-31).
These Israelites intermarried with the five immigrant peoples and worshipped their gods, until some point in history, perhaps after the return of Judah from Babylon, when they quit the paganism and returned to the worship of the God of Israel.
But not in the authorised way or place. Instead of going down to the temple in Jerusalem, they built their own sanctuary on Mt. Gerizim.
So the Samaritan people, after having participated in five different foreign cults, were now back “living with” the Lord, but not in a proper covenant relationship. And now Husband number seven shows up.
A Sabbath Husband who gives His people rest.
Like the burning coal that touched Isaiah’s lips and made him clean, she is being Kissed by God.
Jesus never returns to her adultery. He doesn’t need to. His aim is not her public humiliation but her purity as a bride who will worship the Father in Spirit and truth. And so Hosea 2:14-20,
Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her… And in that day, says the Lord, you will call me, ‘My husband,’ and no longer will you call me, ‘My Baal.’
…And I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord.
It’s hard not to notice the patience and kindness of Jesus in all of this and we should be aware of giving up on people too soon. Generations of dysfunctional families and corrupt worship can suddenly be turned around when someone starts listening to Jesus.
Notice also the way that Jesus deals with an open wound. He exposes it, true, but He does it tenderly.
We live in an unforgiving and often harsh world. The world opens wounds with callous words and leaves you bleeding in the papers.
Jesus comes and to be sure, He speaks some tough truths. But He does it from a heart that is as tender as it is tough. His is this way because His aim is not your demise, but your redemption.