Jesus on Bridge-Building (John 4:1-26)
Topic: One Mission: I am Not Ashamed Passage: John 4:21–4:26
I. Calling All Bridge-Builders
In light of both painful, currents events and lasting legacies of injustice and discrimination, it's fairly evident that there is a need in our society for what we might call cross-cultural bridge-building. Certainly this is already happening in many places, in many ways. But there is and always will be a need for more of us, for each of us, to step outside our comfortable circles and comfortable routines to connect with and listen to and bless those who, in some way, may be different than us. In fact, if and when you do that, it's usually you who walks away blessed.
Did you know that Jesus was a cross-cultural bridge-builder? This morning, we're going to read about a powerful example of this very thing. So let's watch Jesus in action by returning to the Gospel of John. If you haven't already, turn over to John chapter 4.
II. The Passage: “Are You Greater Than Our Father Jacob?” (4:1-26)
Let's begin by looking at verses 1-6 of John 4. As you'll see, these verses help us understand the context and the setting for this story about Jesus. Look at verse 1...
1. Bridge-Building: The Setting (4:1-6)
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John  (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples),  he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.  And he had to pass through Samaria.  So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph.  Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Now look at how John gets even more specific about the setting of this story the deeper we get into these opening verses. He begins with a broad note about the setting. Verses 1-3: Jesus had become aware of rumblings among the Pharisees about the popularity of his ministry in Judea. But based on his decision to leave and head north into Galilee, it seems he's being very careful about when and how to engage with the Jewish religious leadership.
But from that note about the political and cultural setting of John 4, we move to specifics about the geographical setting. To get to Galilee when he wanted to get to Galilee, Jesus had to pass through a region known as Samaria. There, in a town called Sychar (just to the east of Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim), he stopped at Jacob's well. (v. 6) “wearied as he was from his journey”. This is most likely a well that Jacob (a.k.a. Israel) dug or used when he lived in Shechem, according to Genesis 33. Notice that John also gives us the chronological setting in verse 6: “it was about the sixth hour”, that is, it was about noon.
2. Bridge-Building: Crossing Over (4:7-15)
So at that hour, at that well, in that town, this is what happened to Jesus (according to John):
A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.”  (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.)  The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)  Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?  Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.”  Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,  but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”  The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
So at the end of verse 9, we're told something about the need for bridge-building (do you see that): “for Jews have no dealings with Samaritans”. Even though the Jews and Samaritans had common ancestors, there were real historical grievances and real religious differences that generally inspired contempt for Samaritans among the Jewish people. So Jesus asking a Samaritan woman for a cup of water was quite out of the ordinary.
But Jesus was bridge-building, wasn't he? What did that bridge-building look like? Well...
Jesus starts by ignoring the boundaries of prejudice that society around him had drawn. He reaches out to this woman, not as a Samaritan, but simply as a spiritually-needy human being. Isn't it interesting how the beginning of the previous chapter highlighted Jesus' conversation with an esteemed Jew (Nicodemus). But one chapter later, John is highlighting Christ's conversation with a Samaritan of all people; and even more surprising, a Samaritan woman. That's Jesus!
But look how he begins with a basic need: “give me a drink”. Then using familiar ideas like thirst, refreshment, satisfaction, and sustenance, he seeks to pique her curiosity about something far, far better... even more importantly, someone far, far better (yes, even “greater than... Jacob”). Here's the key phrase in this passage: (v. 10) “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” So even though the woman is obviously struggling to understand where Jesus is taking the conversation, it's also obvious that Jesus is building a bridge from himself as the giver of life over to this woman in her position of need. And that's what Jesus seems to highlight next.
3. Bridge-Building: Walking Her Across (4:16-26)
Look again at verse 15: “Sir, give me this water...”. Now wait a minute. That's what Jesus described in verse 10 isn't it? Now she is the one asking for water, for this living water about which Jesus spoke. Again, even if she doesn't fully understand what he's saying, notice how Jesus begins to walk her back across the bridge that he's built. He does this, beginning in v. 16:
Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.”  The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’;  for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true."
So the conversation may have started with Jesus expressing his need for a drink of water, but as it continues, Jesus wants her to understand that he understands her spiritual need for living water. As a woman who has been in five different marriages, and is now 'shacking up' with yet another man, it's clear that she is spiritually, she is morally thirsty, and that she's trying to meet that need in fleshly, worldly ways (that may be why she is coming to the well at noon... to avoid the other women in her town). But notice where she takes the conversation in verse 19...
The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.  Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.”  Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.  You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.  But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.  God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”  The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.”  Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
Scholars disagree about the woman's intent in verse 20. She acknowledges that Jesus must be a prophet, since he couldn't possibly know the details of her past and present situation. But is she trying change the subject in verse 20, because things are getting uncomfortably personal? Maybe. But the identity of Jesus might also be driving her toward what she believes is a key spiritual question: “If this Jew really is a prophet, should I listen to him? Should I trust him, given what I've been told about the Jews: that they are wrong when it comes to the worship of God?”
Whatever her intent, the question works perfectly in terms of bringing this woman across the bridge, from where she was, over to where Jesus is; in fact, over to where God is. Where Jews and Samaritans only saw old animosities and walls of disagreement (and Samaritan doctrine certainly was wrong), Jesus points us to a new bridge, open to all people, that any and every person might become a true worshiper of God; for a true worshiper does not need to worry about location and ritual and ethnic identity. No, (v. 23) a true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.
Now notice how this talk of such radical change causes the woman to think about the Messiah: “When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Since the Samaritans only accepted the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, they knew very little about the Messiah. But understanding her thirst, understanding her longing for what a Messiah would bring, Jesus does something here that, according to the Gospel accounts, he never did on any other occasion before his trial: he acknowledged explicitly that he was in fact the Messiah.
III. Reaching as One Reached
So what have we seen? We've witnessed Jesus building a bridge, across ethnic lines, and in spite of societal boundaries. He used a conversation about thirst and water from a well to stir this woman, to offer her “living water”. What was this “living water”? In 7:38–39 Jesus declares, “Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive...
So Jesus is offering her the Holy Spirit; eternal life through the Holy Spirit; transformation through the Holy Spirit. Why does she need this “living water”? Jesus points out just one area of her life in which her moral and spiritual need is evident. And in doing so, He begins to reveal his glory to this woman. Suddenly, the conversation is no longer about well water. It's about God and true worship. And in the end, the woman comes to understand that this thirsty Jew at the well is none other than the Messiah of God, who has come to offer her the water of life.
Now, in light of this powerful story, I'd love to challenge you in two ways: First, be a bridge-builder like Jesus. “For God so loved the world...” Jesus came for all people, didn't he? He wasn't deterred by the lines that people draw between one another (and we do love to draw lines, don't we). He saw past those to the spiritual thirst that all of us have in common. He saw past those to the potential of all people as true worshipers of God. Shouldn't we do the same?
From this conversation around a Samaritan well to your conversations around the water cooler at work, God wants to take your everyday interactions and use them to point people to eternal satisfaction in Jesus. Do you believe that? We should. God wants us to learn from Jesus' example here. Maybe He'll use a conversation about someone's health to give you an opportunity to point them to eternal healing in Christ. Maybe He'll use a conversation about someone's finances to point them to the riches of God's grace in Jesus. Maybe a conversation about a broken relationship will lead to your testimony, that story of a restored relationship with God through Christ.
Jesus's first priority was not social change. He didn't engage this woman in order to cross ethnic lines for the sake of crossing ethnic lines. No. His priority was spiritual change. He understood that far more important than the relationship between Jews and Samaritans was the relationship between this woman and her Creator. Does that mean He was uninterested in social change? Absolutely not. But lasting social change, no matter the dividing line, is accomplished through spiritual change. And when we pursue God's agenda in all our relationships, without partiality, we highlight God's heart for all people... the very thing for which our world is thirsting.
A second challenge: remember the bridge Jesus built to you. This story will hardly be an inspiration for ministry if you have not yourself drunk deeply of the living water Jesus makes possible. God wants you to hear your story as you hear her story; how Jesus met you at a particular time and place in your everyday; how he reminded you of your desperate need; how he offered you living water and called you to true worship; how he confirmed his lordship to you, that he alone is the Savior you've longed for, even if you didn't know it.
Maybe that particular time and place is right now and right here. If it is, reach out to him in faith. “The gift of God” is being offered to you this morning. Living water. Eternal satisfaction. Or maybe that particular time and place was several years ago, maybe many years ago. Whenever, wherever, however it happened, let God stir your heart this morning as you remember how Jesus built a bridge to you. The lines that we draw in the sand between one another are so often inspired by sin. But sin itself is a trench between us and our Creator, a deep canyon that only Jesus can bridge.
Is spiritual thirst gripping you in this morning? Come to Jesus. Look back to Christ. And ask him to help you cross those lines with the “living water” of Jesus, those lines that the culture, or maybe, the lines that you personally have drawn. And may conversations about religion always lead to conversations about worship; about true worship. Amen? Let's take a minute to talk with God about these things.