Of Light and Darkness, Spirit and Truth – John 4:1-42

The story of the Samaritan woman at the well is one of the most time honored stories in the Gospels. It breaks so many barriers and opens up so many points of discussion; Jesus speaking to a woman when no self-respecting rabbi would ever do such a thing in the first century, crossing racial bridges between Jews and Samaritans, when they typically wouldn’t even talk to each other, and the topic of sin, which in this story is presented as the woman is living with a man (in shame no doubt) and has had 5 previous husbands (bear in mind there is a reason she has to walk all this far to get her water, as opposed to getting it in the city).

The centerpiece of this story is actually not in chapter 4, it is in chapter 3, right between the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night, and Jesus meeting the woman at the well during the day. In fact the two stories were meant to be read and understood next to each other as they serve as a teaching contrast to a very important truth that Jesus has been teaching.

The central text is this.

20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” – John 3:20-21

The question here is what will people do? Will they come to the light (and expose their darkness, their sinful deeds, or will they remain in darkness and conceal them.

In Nicodemus’ story, he comes in the cover of night (3:2), probably on his own initiative to learn more about Jesus. He’s curious, but not fully engaged. Jesus knew what was in man and what the real reason is behind many of their questions (2:24-25). He knew that for the most part the religious leaders didn’t understand why he had come, or from where he had come, and what his mission and purpose was.

Jesus tries to teach Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit and what it means to be born again (Lit. from above). He doesn’t get it. Jesus even chides Nicodemus for being a teacher of the law and yet not understanding these promises that were given to Israel as a part of the new covenant (3:9-11; c.f. Is. 44:3-5; Ezek. 36:25, 37:9-10).

Jesus goes on to talk about the Son and the role that he plays as the Messiah, how that if anyone believes in him he will have eternal life. And then we get to the text between this one and the woman at the well…again…

20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” – John 3:20-21

You see, at this moment, at least right now, in the cover of night, Nicodemus is not willing to go this far with Jesus. He likes the truth, but he’s not come to live it yet and bring his deeds into the light. Perhaps it’s because of his influence in the Sanhedrin, the social pressure, etc. We don’t know. But at least here, he is not ready yet.

But then contrast this story with the one that follows immediately after it.

Instead of the cover of night, it’s now the light of day. Instead of a religion Pharisee, it’s a Samaritan woman. Instead of a “righteous man of the law,” here is a woman who has been in one bad relationship after another after another, and is currently so scarred she is just living with a man. Will she bring her deeds to the light? Again Jesus said, “whoever lives by the truth comes into the light.” Will she come?

After discussing the water at the well and making a spiritual application of telling about the “living water” that he had come to give her, she still doesn’t quite get what Jesus is saying. Jesus says in 4:14

14 “…but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

The woman wants this water. But how does she get it? Remember the central passage in John 3:20-21…

20 “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”

Will the woman come to the light? Will she confess her deeds? This seems to be the thing that is needed before she can have access to these living waters of life.

And so the story continues…

6 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.” 19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Remember, John 2:25 said that Jesus knew what was in mankind. He could see right into the heart of the person and know what was blocking their spiritual breakthrough. For this woman, it was the shame, self-loathing, and guilt and public shame of all her marriages (something looked down upon in her society).

Notice in verse 19 she quickly changes the subject, to debate church doctrine! Sound familiar? It’s so easy to debate doctrine when it takes the focus off the real issues of living right with God.

Listen finally to Jesus’ reply.

1 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, 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 the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

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, the one speaking to you—I am he.”

The true worshippers, hopefully that is you and me, will worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth. From the context what does that mean?

In Spirit means the Holy Spirit. We are the worship the Father from the Spirit he gives us, the one that “blows where it may” in Nicodemus’ story in 3:8, the one that causes us to be born again, according to 3:3-7), the one that moves us to expose our deeds of darkness and bring them into the light so they lose their hold of us in the unshackling of God’s grace (4:29, 39). It means that when we worship we don’t worship from the flesh, from reason, from my own efforts in righteousness. We worship surrendered to the God of the Universe who dwells in us.

And then secondly we worship in Truth. Certainly the truth of all we’ve just said, but even more to the point the truthfulness of our lives before God. Nicodemus concealed his sins. The woman revealed her sins. She didn’t deny them. She brought them to the light and found forgiveness. And when she found forgiveness, she found freedom. She effectively became the first evangelist to Samaria when she went around claiming around town, “Come see the man who told me all the things I’ve ever done!” They all knew the things she had done, so why is she now so excited about it?

She’s excited because she’s come to the light. She’s found the Messiah. He’s loved her and set her heart free. She been born, again.

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