III. Early Ministry and Signs (John 2:1–4:54)

2:1-3 Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited to a wedding in Cana of Galilee (2:1-2). But as the festivities were proceeding, his mother informed him that they had run out of wine (2:3). Wedding celebrations often lasted for several days, so this was indeed an embarrassing problem. Though the Old Testament condemns drunkenness (e.g., Deut 21:20-21; Prov 20:1; 23:19-21; 31:4-5), wine is often spoken of in terms of celebration, blessing, and joy (e.g., Ps 4:7; 104:15; Prov 3:9-10; Songs 1:2; Isa 25:6; 55:1).

4:1-4 The Pharisees had heard about the ministry of Jesus and his disciples. Now that Jesus was making more disciples than John, the Jewish leaders focused their attention on him (4:1). So Jesus left Judea in the south and went to Galilee in the north (4:3). But to get there, he had to travel through Samaria (4:4).

The Jews disliked the Samaritans, considering them an unclean race. Originally, the name Samaria applied to the capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel, which was founded by King Omri (see 1 Kgs 16:23-24). But eventually the entire northern kingdom was referred to by this name. When the Assyrians conquered it, they deported many Israelites, but left others in the land. Then the Assyrians settled other conquered peoples there, who intermarried with the remaining Israelites. This mixture of peoples also involved the worship of various false gods (see 2 Kgs 17:24-41). The Samaritans of Jesus’s day were their descendants, a people of mixed ancestry and syncretistic religious practices. Thus, the Jews despised them.

It is also important to note that Jesus had to go through Samaria (4:4). This would not be the normal route for orthodox Jews, who sought to avoid contact with Samaritans. Thus, Jesus prioritized meeting spiritual needs over facilitating, endorsing, and practicing ungodly social and racial divisions.

4:5-6 Jesus stopped at a Samaritan town where Jacob’s well was. The well is not mentioned in the Old Testament, but the property that Jacob purchased and had given his son Joseph was in Shechem (see Gen 33:18-19; Josh 24:32). Jesus sat down to rest because he was worn out from his journey (4:6).

Notice that John emphasizes the full deity (“the Word was God,” 1:1) and the full humanity (he was “worn out,” 4:6) of Jesus. In theological terminology, the uniting of two distinct natures (divine and human) in one person (Jesus Christ) is known as the hypostatic union. Jesus Christ was, is, and ever will be the God-Man (see Phil 2:6-11). It is also important to note that Jacob’s well represents common ground, since both Jews and Samaritans revered Jacob.

4:7-10 Jesus was alone because his disciples had gone into town to buy groceries (4:8). Their absence implies that Jesus knew he couldn’t effectively minister to the woman with the presence of the racial and gender biases of the disciples. He sat down at the well at “about noon” (4:6) when a Samaritan woman . . . came to draw water (4:7). Typically people wouldn’t draw water during the heat of the day. So, why would she arrive at a time when no one would be around? We’ll soon see that she was a woman of questionable character.

The woman was shocked when Jesus asked her for a drink, since Jews [did] not associate with Samaritans (4:7, 9; see commentary on 4:1-4). Jesus told her that if she understood who he was, she would have been asking him for a drink of living water—that is, spiritual life (4:10). Thus, he used a conversation about something physical to introduce her to a spiritual reality. Notice too that Jesus did not give up his cultural and racial identity to minister to someone of a different race and culture. His willingness to engage her socially by drinking water from her cup opened the door for him to reach her spiritually. We should never ignore or reject the humanity of different people as we seek to share with them the good news of the gospel.

4:11-14 But she didn’t grasp the transition. She was still stuck thinking about physical water, wondering where and how Jesus was going to get it. This well was good enough for Jacob (4:11-12). Did this strange Jew think he was better than his own patriarch? So Jesus proceeded further down the spiritual road. Anyone who drinks from this water would be thirsty again, he told her, but anyone who drinks the water that only he could provide would have a well within, springing up . . . for eternal life (4:13-14). If you receive a drink from Jesus, you don’t have to come back for another. His living water becomes its own everlasting well. Thirst no more.

4:15-18 Apparently still not grasping the point, the woman smugly asked for some of this water so that she’d no longer get thirsty and have to keep coming out to draw water every day (4:15). So Jesus made the conversation a little more personal: Go call your husband (4:16). Her testimony that she had no husband was only half true, and Jesus knew it (4:17). She’d been married five times, and the man she currently lived with was not her husband (4:18). Because Jesus was willing to drink from her cup, he could now address her sin.

4:19-21 The Samaritan woman acknowledged Jesus’s divine insight by calling him a prophet since he accurately pinpointed her unrighteous lifestyle (4:19). Then (perhaps since his comments hit a little too close to home!) she changed the subject to the topic of worship. The Samaritans worshiped on Mount Gerizim, while the Jews worshiped at the temple in Jerusalem (4:20). So who was right? Jesus explained that an hour was coming when true worship of the Father wouldn’t involve a specific location (4:21). In John’s Gospel, Jesus’s “hour” is usually associated with his crucifixion and resurrection (see 2:4; 7:30; 8:20; 12:23, 27; 13:1; 16:32; 17:1). So through his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave, Jesus would transform worship for God’s people.

4:22-24 Jesus insisted that her ancestral understanding of worship was flawed and that salvation is from the Jews (4:22) because the Messiah would be of Jewish lineage, descended from the tribe of Judah. Jesus made it clear that truth trumps race and culture. An hour is coming (after his resurrection) and is now here (because the Messiah was present with her at that moment) when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth (4:23). To “worship the Father in Spirit” is to have a heart that is in pursuit of an intimate spiritual relationship with the God who is Spirit (4:24). To worship God “in truth” is to worship him in a biblically accurate way—through the one who is the truth (see 14:6). The Father wants such people to worship him (4:23). God is on the hunt for those who will worship him spiritually through Jesus Christ based on the truth of his Word.

4:25-26 The woman was in an immoral relationship and theologically confused. Nevertheless, she had a genuine messianic expectation: when the Messiah . . . comes, he will explain everything to us (4:25). Their conversation, then, had reached the destination Jesus had intended. He introduced himself: I, the one speaking to you, am he (4:26).

Jesus can deal with your sin (that’s why he came), and he can straighten out your confusion. What’s needed is an openness to receive him.

4:27-30 At that moment, the disciples returned from their food run (see 4:8) and were bewildered that Jesus was talking with a woman (4:27)—in particular with a Samaritan one (see commentary on 4:1-4). But the woman went into town, told everyone about Jesus, and asked, Could this be the Messiah? (4:28-29). Her testimony was so effective that the locals turned out in droves to see Jesus (4:30).

Notice this: The woman hadn’t attended seminary; she’d had no theological training. She had simply met Jesus. In fact, she’d only just met him. But she knew enough to want to share him with others. New believers should be encouraged to share their faith as soon as possible.

4:31-34 Having returned with lunch, the disciples urged Jesus to eat something (4:31). But he had food to eat that they knew nothing about (4:32). For Jesus, the spiritual trumped the physical: My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work (4:34). His greatest satisfaction and fulfillment, then, was not in filling his belly but in obeying God. To him, doing the will of God was not drudgery but joy. For us too, the spiritual must always take precedence over the physical (see Matt 4:3-4; 6:31-33).

4:35 Jesus repeated a proverb that was probably well known in such an agrarian society: There are still four months, and then comes the harvest. Crops take time to grow. But Jesus had a ministry harvest ready for them to reap. As he pointed to the crowd of Samaritan men who had heard the woman’s testimony and who were coming to see him, Jesus said, Open your eyes and look at the fields, because they are ready for harvest.

How often do we postpone sharing the gospel with others? How often do we put God’s kingdom second, when Jesus commands us to seek it first (see Matt 6:33)? If we pay close attention, we will see God at work all around us and discover ministry opportunities right before our eyes—if we have spiritual sight to see them.

4:36-38 Jesus compared gospel ministry to sowing seeds and reaping a harvest. Sometimes one sows and another reaps (4:37)—that is, it may take several encounters with the gospel delivered through more than one messenger before a person believes it. One Christian explains the gospel to an unbeliever, and later another Christian eventually leads that unbeliever to Christ. Seeds are sown by one believer, and a harvest is reaped by another (4:38). Such shared ministry allows us to share in the blessings of God’s kingdom with one another.

4:39-42 Though her faith in Jesus was brand new, the Samaritan woman testified, and many Samaritans from that town believed in Jesus (4:39). They came to Jesus because of the woman’s witness; they stayed because they encountered Jesus personally (4:42). There’s no telling what God can do with your passionate, genuine testimony about how the grace of God transformed your life.

John indicated earlier that “Jews [did] not associate with Samaritans” (4:9; see commentary on 4:1-4). Nevertheless, the Samaritans . . . asked [Jesus] to stay with them. So he and his disciples hung out with them for two days (4:40). So, is racial reconciliation possible? If you’re operating spiritually and united in Jesus, the answer is a resounding, “Yes!” And it doesn’t take long when people are right with Jesus.

4:43-45 After his brief sojourn in Samaria, Jesus went to Galilee, the region where he had grown up (4:43). The Galileans welcomed him because they had seen everything he did in Jerusalem (4:45); nevertheless, John lets the reader know that rejection is coming because Jesus himself had testified that a prophet has no honor in his own country (4:44). Not only would those from his hometown reject him, but they’d even seek to kill him (see Luke 4:16-30).

4:46-50 Jesus went to Cana of Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine (see 2:1-2). There a royal official begged Jesus to heal his dying son (4:46-47). But Jesus rebuked him and the other people who had gathered. Apparently, though they wanted to see and experience the benefits of Jesus’s miraculous signs and wonders, they were unwilling to believe that he was the Messiah based on his word, as the Samaritans did (4:48). In spite of this, Jesus mercifully healed the official’s son from a distance and told him, Go . . . your son will live. At that moment, the man believed. How do we know? Because his faith went into action: He obeyed Jesus and departed for his home (4:50).

4:51-54 As the official was on his way, his servants met him and said that his son had recovered—at the very hour that Jesus had spoken to him (4:51-53). (When Jesus is ready to move, don’t blink, or you may miss his work.) As a result, the official shared what happened with his whole household, and they all believed in Jesus as the Messiah and not just as a miracle worker (4:53).

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