Everyone, Everywhere


Everyone, Everywhere

John 4:1-16

Main Idea: A comparison between Nicodemus and the woman at the well reveals two opposite people in opposite situations who both need Jesus.

  1. Everyone, Everywhere Needs Jesus.
  2. Application
    1. The need for Jesus is universal.
    2. The need for Jesus is personal.

It’s fascinating to become immersed in a culture completely different from your own. When I went on a trip to Mexico, I was amazed at the differences between Mexico and the United States. They spoke a different language, and all I could say was, “No comprendo Español.” They ate different food, which was nothing like Taco Bell’s. Their schedule was different; I quickly got used to the hour-long siesta in the middle of the afternoon. Spending time immersed in Mexican culture helped me understand the differences in culture from one country to the next.

Despite the differences one thing is always the same, no matter where you travel: you always discover sin. No matter where you look or how far you go, you find men and women who are sinners in need of Jesus Christ. For instance, in 2008 in Mexico, more than thirteen thousand people were murdered. In the United States it was more than sixteen thousand. That same year in Mexico, more than two hundred thousand adults were incarcerated. In the United States it was ten times as many. We could search the globe, investigating every nook and cranny on planet Earth, and everywhere we found people we would find sin. We can’t escape sin because sin travels with us. It’s woven into the core of our hearts.

In John 4 salvation spreads beyond the borders of Israel. In the previous chapter we eavesdropped on a conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus in which Jesus showed Nicodemus his need for a Savior. Now we’ll study Jesus’s encounter with a Samaritan woman. These are two different people from two different cultures with one common need. Just as the great religious leader Nicodemus needed Jesus, so too did this foreign woman.

Everyone Everywhere Needs Jesus

Jesus has been ministering publicly in and around Jerusalem and has decided it’s time to head back to Galilee. He leaves Jerusalem, the center of Jewish worship, and heads to Samaria, a foreign land. These six verses are the setting for the spread of salvation to non-Jews (vv. 1-6). Jesus leaves the adoring crowds in Jerusalem to go rescue a needy woman.

Jesus and his disciples are taking a long and taxing trip from Judea to Galilee and decide in the heat of the day to stop and rest. The disciples head into town to pick up some food while Jesus rests by the well. He’s not there long when a woman approaches the well to draw water. Jesus turns to her and asks for a drink.

She answers, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (v. 9; emphasis added). This verse is the key to understanding this passage. In addition, the placement of this account right after the account of Nicodemus in chapter 3 is important. When you compare the two individuals—Nicodemus and this woman at the well—you discover two opposite people in opposite situations who both desperately need the same thing: Jesus. Everyone, everywhere needs Jesus. Rich or poor, religious or secular, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, African, Asian, or American. Consider three striking differences between these two.

Their gender. This culture considered men more important than women. It was unusual for a man even to speak to a woman. When the disciples got back from their visit to town, “they were amazed that he was talking with a woman” (v. 27). Religious conversation between two men was great, but it was inappropriate between a man and a woman.

Their status. Nicodemus was respected. He was a Pharisee, which means he would have claimed obedience to every one of God’s laws and more. Pharisees were known for their morality and concern for keeping every command, no matter how small. For instance, they would strain a drink before taking a sip, just in case a gnat had gotten in their cup and died. They didn’t want the dead gnat to make them unclean.

This woman did not share Nicodemus’s commitment to keeping the rules. Later in this conversation with Jesus, he asks her about her husband. Apparently she’d tried marriage and failed. So she tried it again and failed four more times. Having five divorces on her record, she went a different route: cohabitation.

While any conversation with Nicodemus would have been an honor, it would have been socially unacceptable to talk with the sinful Samaritan woman, but that didn’t stop Jesus. In fact, Jesus was criticized repeatedly for his interaction with sinners (Mark 2:15-16).

Their nationality. He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan, and Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along. I read a fascinating book on the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the twelve-day manhunt for his assassin. I was amazed to read of the deep hatred the two sides of the nation had for each other, epitomized in the person of John Wilkes Booth. After killing Lincoln, Booth wrote about it in his diary:

Our country owed all her troubles to him [Lincoln], and God simply made me the instrument of his punishment . . . and yet for striking down a greater tyrant than they ever knew I am looked upon as a common cutthroat. (Swanson, Manhunt, 389–90)

Many shared his contempt. Some families still hold an annual celebration on April 15 to commemorate the assassination of Lincoln and to honor Booth.

This same type of contempt marked the relationship between Jews and Samaritans. We get a taste of their deep-seated animosity in verse 9: “For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.” A footnote in the NIV provides an alternate translation of this same phrase: “[Jews] do not use dishes Samaritans have used.” The surprise on the part of the woman was not just that Jesus was talking to her—a woman, a sinner, and a Samaritan—but that he wanted to drink from a vessel a Samaritan had taken a drink from. The hatred of the Jews for the Samaritans was so strong they considered themselves unclean for even touching, much less drinking from the same cup as, a Samaritan.

The roots of this contempt were hundreds of years old. The nation of Israel had divided into two separate kingdoms, the northern and southern. In 722 BC the Assyrians captured the northern kingdom, whose capitol was Samaria. In the book of Kings, we read of the decision by the Assyrians to deport many of the Israelites from the northern kingdom, particularly from its capital Samaria. Many Assyrian and other foreigners settled in Samaria and intermarried with the remaining Jews. The result of these marriages was not only blended nationalities but also blended worship. The region of the northern kingdom, now known as Samaria, was a place that worshiped the true God along with false idols. Because of the mixed marriages and corrupt religion, the Jews from the southern kingdom treated the Samaritans with disgust. For centuries the contempt between Jews and Samaritans had grown.

Jesus had every reason not to talk with this woman, but just as he did with Nicodemus, he begins a conversation with her that penetrates to the root of the issue. He understands her heart. He understands her condition, and she doesn’t. Jesus reached out to the moral Pharisee and the immoral Samaritan. Both of them were in desperate need of salvation from sin—a salvation that could only come through Jesus.

We see this same pattern in a famous story Jesus told about two brothers (Luke 15). One brother—the younger one—was like the Samaritan woman. He selfishly left his family to go party with his friends. He lived a lifestyle of drunkenness and immorality. He was a rebel, looking for love in all the wrong places. The older brother was moral and religious like Nicodemus. He had a high opinion of himself. He was arrogant (though that was probably hidden under the guise of humility). He was self-righteous and blind to his own sin. He looked down on other people, especially his younger brother. Though he kept all the rules and lived morally, he was miserable and unhappy. Both brothers—just like the Samaritan woman and the Jewish leader—desperately needed Jesus to rescue them.

Everyone, everywhere needs Jesus. The moral can’t be saved by their morality; they can only be saved by Jesus. Also, the immoral are never too immoral to find salvation in Jesus.


The Need for Jesus Is Universal

An Israelite needs Jesus and so does a Gentile. Everyone, everywhere needs him. The gospel of Jesus Christ is a universal message. No matter who a person is, no matter what language he speaks, no matter where he calls home, every person needs Jesus. How does this story end? After Jesus dies and rises again, he sends his disciples to every nation, and they go. For two thousand years Christians have followed Jesus’s example and taken his message around the globe. First throughout the Roman Empire, then down into Africa and throughout Europe. After that Christian missionaries went east to India and China and west to the New World. I write this today as a testimony that the need for Jesus is universal. I’m a long way geographically from a well in Samaria, yet I’m in the same place spiritually as that sinful woman.

The spread of the message of Jesus will eventually culminate when people from every tribe, tongue, and nation gather around the throne of Jesus to worship and enjoy him forever (Rev 5). Someone from every people group on the planet will be in heaven.

This reality should fuel our missionary zeal. We should pray for the nations. We should give sacrificially to see the gospel spread. What better way to use your money than to partner in the spread of the gospel around the world? That investment will outlive a boat or beach house any day. We also should go—whether for a week or a lifetime—to be a part of the global plan of King Jesus.

The Need for Jesus Is Personal

Jesus could have appeared on Samaritan television to spread the message. He could have written a book and placed it in every bookstore in Samaria. He could have held a huge evangelistic crusade in Samaria’s capital city. But he didn’t. He went out of his way to find this one woman and show her her greatest need. He came to her personally.

Jesus is after your heart. He’s after your worship. He’s after your joy. He loves you and wants to make you whole. Whether you’re religious or an atheist, moral or immoral, an outcast or an insider, you need Jesus personally.

We often act as if the gospel can best be shared through big programs and events. We think it can be a large-scale, automated, impersonal process. God always works personally, and he sends us to individual people to tell them about Jesus. Jesus went to an everyday place—a well—and found a woman who needed him, and he told her the good news. Where’s your well? Maybe you need to go to the cafeteria at work and talk with someone. Maybe you need to lean over the fence in your backyard. Maybe you need to sit by someone at a sports practice this week. The gospel isn’t spread group to group but person to person. Every person you see shares the same need for Jesus. Jesus used this one conversation to change this woman’s life. Then she went into town and started telling others. What might God do if we would each engage the people around us personally?

Reflect and Discuss

  1. What trait do Nicodemus and the woman at the well share?
  2. What does this passage reveal about the character of Jesus?
  3. Why is it so shocking for Jesus to speak with the woman at the well?
  4. Why does Jesus speak to the woman at the well?
  5. Do you believe everyone, everywhere needs Jesus? How is this reflected in your life?
  6. Have you ever thought your sin is not as bad as other people’s sin? How does this passage refute that belief?
  7. Why is the fact that Jesus spoke to the woman at the well good news for us?
  8. Do you ever seek out certain types of people to serve while ignoring others?
  9. Imagine what it will look like for someone from every people group on the planet to be in heaven. How might this image fuel your missionary zeal?
  10. Are there places where you know people who are far from Jesus gather? How might you start a conversation with one of these people? What will you say about Jesus and why his gospel is good news?