John 4:5-26 Breaking down the barriers
by Carl Carmody
International Conference Speaker


You are sitting next to a person on a train, new neighbour, a complete stranger. As the saying goes you would not know them from a bar of soap. You sit there thinking about the trip ahead and questions begin to run through your mind. How do I go about breaking the ice? How do I share my faith without making a complete fool of myself, or creating an embarrassing situation?

Let me say at the outset that evangelism is something that does not come easily to the majority of us. I can speak from personal experience that whenever I start sharing my faith it is not easy, and I get a little tight in the stomach and the heart beats a little faster, and no matter how many times I’ve shared my faith it is still the same.

For the older believer, one way of lessening the tension factor in evangelism is to have confidence in what you believe and why. This means you share from a point of conviction. Secondly have confidence in your understanding and use of Scripture. Don’t discount the power of your testimony. Nevertheless, I feel God in His wisdom would not have it any other way, because it causes us to throw ourselves into His ever-lasting arms in complete dependence upon Him to use us for His glory.

So I want to state that personal witnessing will never become just simply following a pat formula and hey presto we’ve made it. The problem with that is that ‘pat’ formulas don’t allow for variations in people, their personalities or their circumstances.

This means we need to be flexible and discerning in our approach to witnessing. Above all evangelism should be the spiritual outworking of the Christ-centred life, not the result of guilt.

So with those few thoughts in mind let’s take a look at our reading and see what Jesus’ example can teach us in the realm of witnessing.

The first thing that comes across to us was that Jesus had an evangelism mind set. Jesus was in the right place at the right time. He was constantly on the lookout for that opportunity to share the message of salvation.

“I have come to seek and save that which is lost,” Luke 19:10

He was constantly available to be used of His heavenly Father. Availability to be used of the Lord is a vital factor in effective evangelism. He went out of His way to make opportunity. Some have been praying for God to bring in the non Christian. No! God says, “go into all the world and make disciples”! Trust — Availability enables God to use us to make our own openings or contacts. (EE Program, Books, Seminars, etc. Good, but still need to be available.)

The majority of the Christian church has been conned or seduced into believing that it’s not worth evangelising because the non-Christian community is simply not interested. One only has to analyse the growth of the cults and the occult, to realise that people are searching to fill the spiritual vacuum that exists in their lives. Another important factor is that

Jesus spoke one to one. This is particularly important when witnessing if we want to avoid embarrassing the person we are sharing with.

So the scene is set. Jesus is sitting at this well in Samaria. It’s high noon, hot, sweaty and smelly with some dust thrown in for added colour and contrast. Then along comes this Samaritan woman to get her daily quota of water. She no doubt would have looked upon Jesus with suspicion and recognised that He was a Jew by His dress and so straight away there was a barrier to be overcome. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews because they were half-casts. When Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrian Empire, Jews and Assyrians intermarried to form the Samaritan race. The end result of this was that the Samaritans were hated and reviled by the pure Jewish race, so much so that they wouldn’t even talk to a Samaritan person.

So here was Jesus, a Jew, breaking the so called ‘golden rule’, and actually talking to this Samaritan woman. So the first thing Jesus did was to break down the barriers. These barriers came in the form of not only religion but race, social standing and the fact that she was a woman.

What do we mean then by breaking down the barriers? It simply means that we develop common links with whoever we are sharing with. For example, I took the Prospector train to Kalgoorlie and on the trip up there I was seated next to a young lady. We opened discussions on a magazine she was reading and then she informed me that she and her husband were expecting their first child. So that led me into discussing things about my wife and family and that I had 3 young daughters. This then led into discussion about what occupation her husband had and what I did. This led into me giving her a Challenge paper and so on. The common links began with the simplest of things -marriage and children. It wasn’t evangelism that was contrived or false but simple and natural.

Our evangelism should never be motivated by feelings of guilt, but rather motivated by love - which really stems from a God given burden for those outside of Christ, which stems from a constantly growing understanding of God’s love towards each and everyone of us. This is further born out by our desire to be praying for God to grant us opportunities to witness.

We notice then in verses 10-12 that Jesus arouses interest in spiritual issues. Here was this unlovable Samaritan woman being spoken to by a loving, gentle Jew. It really was too much for her. So much so that her curiosity is stirred so she questions Jesus. You can imagine that her mind is working overtime. This man has just broken every custom in the book; “after all I’m a nobody and worse still I’m a Samaritan woman”. So Jesus uses the situation to awaken this needy soul to spiritual matters. He picks up on the fact that she is getting water and uses this to develop the opening to bring home the gospel to her conscience. “If only you knew who it was that was asking you for a drink, you would ask Him and He would give you living water.” V10

Well now her mind is really working overtime. Notice verse 11. Jesus is fishing for this woman’s soul and He has put some very attractive bait on the hook. I was fishing down South of Perth on holidays.

“Sir the well is deep and you have nothing to draw with. Where then do you get this living water from?“

There is a very important principle here to observe. Our lives in Christ should cause people to develop a spiritual thirst. I have read or written in a testimony how a particular person noted the change in the life of a friend, or workmate or family member, and they wanted what they had. This is why our testimony in the world is so very important, because we are an open letter to the world, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3, and how people read us, determines what sort of spiritual thirst if any, they develop.

Acts 1:8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses to me in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”

Jesus then in verses 13-15 further develops His theme of living water by appealing to life’s realities.

In verses 13-14 “Jesus answers the woman’s question and said to her; “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst.“

Can you imagine the impact on this woman when Jesus said this? Here she was in the boiling noon day sun, hot and sweaty about to load up with another heavy water pot and lug it home, and Jesus says that there is water that quenches your thirst once and for all.
Of course like the Jews often did with Jesus she applies her practical literal understanding to the situation. Her mind is now thinking if only I can get some of this water then I won’t have to trek here day after day to lug this water out of this well. Bear in mind that Israel wasn’t exactly covered with lush rainforest. It was a dry arid parched land, where water was and still is a very precious commodity, which brings home the discerning theme that Jesus has used.

What then does this living water stand for? Jesus was referring to salvation. The physical water of this world never satisfies. Jesus was saying whatever this world has to offer will never satisfy but the spiritua1 water i.e. the very life of Jesus always satisfies. One has to only receive this life of Jesus once, and it not only satisfies for this life, but for eternity.

This thought is brought out in the two Greek terms used for well. The first term used denotes a well with its required framework to draw up the water. It infers that this sort of well is really only an underground soak and if a pump was used it could be pumped dry. However, the other word inferred not only a well, but a well that has been sunk until it has been tapped into an underground spring and no matter how much is drawn out it never diminishes, but keeps giving cool refreshing water. Thus Jesus says in verse 14 “But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting.” In verses 16-18 Jesus takes a different tack. What appears to be an odd request, in the context of the discussion, is designed to do something very important in bringing about genuine salvation. Many years ago I use to work as a gardener for the education department as a little school called Whiteside primary school. Jesus is bringing about, an awareness of sin, and to do it He puts His finger right on the open sore.

Jesus says, “Go call your husband and come here”, She replies that she doesn’t have one. Jesus then replies; “You have well said I have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband.”

What is Jesus teaching us here? Firstly He is allowing for the Holy Spirit to convict of sin. Sin is always the issue that must be dealt with, regardless of the problem the person has, sin is the key issue at hand. Unless our sin is brought to Calvary there is no salvation

Secondly Jesus was looking for this woman to acknowledge her own sin. Back in 2000 my sister Irene died.

This is important because many folk don’t come to Christ because they have the illusion that they are not a sinner and are acceptable to God. The usual clichés ensue: ‘I help my neighbour’ etc. Many people believe salvation is achieved not received. Jesus nails this very quickly by identifying the sin and indicating that it is indeed sin, and not some slip or hiccup. So Jesus awakens the conscience. Why? There is no forgiveness without confession and no restoration with out forsaking Proverbs 28:13.

Well how does this Samaritan woman respond? In verses 19-25 Jesus, shows us how to avoid red herrings when witnessing. In verses 19 & 20 she brings into the discussion the theme of worship. Much to the Jews horror, I’m sure the Samaritans had their own temple in which to worship and she brings into view the conflict of where is the right place to worship. Jesus picks up on the fact that she is endeavouring to shift the focus of attention from herself onto something that is secondary. Notice how Jesus deals with it.

In verses 21 & 22 He uses the personal pronoun ’you’ to keep that focus sharply on her, and He does it with boldness and accuracy. “You worship what you do not know; we know what we worship, for salvation is of the Jews.“ Let me add a little parenthesis here. If you are a young Christian in particular, maybe you think that you need a theological degree before you can be a witness for the Lord Jesus. My response to that is, no! Jesus said we worship what we know. Then when we witness, we share what we know. In fact for many Christians the most fruitful time of their life is the first 12-18 months of their new life. Keep that in mind because it can be something the enemy uses to stop you witnessing. These of you who are fearful of witnessing because you might not have all the answers – Don’t be. Share what you know in the Power of the Holy Spirit, because He convicts and converts.

Nevertheless, watch out for the ’red herrings’ that can deflect us from effective witnessing. Classic illustrations abound when confronted by Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. If you are not alert to their red herrings you can find yourself on a guided tour of their proof texts.

So Jesus brings it right down to what God wants of a Christian. Verse 23 “But the hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers will worship the Father Spirit and Truth: for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and Truth.“

Well words could not be plainer and Jesus left this woman in no doubt as to what God wants from those seeking salvation. Jesus was not interested so much where she worshipped but rather how she worshipped.

Well now the train of events has brought Jesus and this Samaritan woman to the business end of witnessing. He has broken down the barriers, aroused her interest in spiritual issues, appealed to life’s realities, brought about an uncomfortable awareness of sin, and cleverly avoided the red herrings.

Finally Jesus clinches the deal, so to speak in verses 25-26.

Remember that the Jews and also the Samaritans did not believe that the Messiah had in fact arrived. Consequently we read this response from her; in verse25 “I know the Messiah is coming.“

I’m sure that all through this discussion the Samaritan woman had a distinct inkling that who she was talking to was special. I would have loved to have seen the expression on her face when Jesus says to her; “I who speak to you am He.“

This was enough to clinch the deal and bring her through to a genuine commitment to Christ. Every one of us who have genuinely come to Christ has been brought to this place of coming face to face with Jesus and His claims on our lives. This woman met with Jesus and look at the outcome as a result of her changed life. Confession of her faith, change of priorities, concern for the lost and capped that with an invitation for people to come to Jesus.

Notice the response and result of a new soul in Christ. She just couldn’t contain herself. Verse 29 “Come, see a man who told me all things that I ever did. Then they went out of the city and came to Him.“

Note the result of a very young believer. Verse 39 “And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified ’He told me all I ever did.”

What did she testify? Simply what she knew - “He told me all I ever did.” Note: Evangelism is a process not an event. It takes time to sow and to reap, but occasionally the Lord gives us the privilege of being the final link in the chain.

 

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