Theme: A Great Contrast
In this week’s lessons we look at the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and see that once the Lord brings someone to saving faith, one proof of their conversion is that they tell others.
Scripture: John 4:1-42
As we make our way through these studies of characters from John’s Gospel, we recognize, of course, that John is not just telling stories. What John is doing is teaching Christian theology through these very stories that we can in some way relate to. John is a great theological Gospel, and although we haven’t exhausted all of the theology that we find in these stories, we have begun to see some important things as we’ve studied them.
In John 3, which dealt with the story of Jesus and Nicodemus, we saw that in that conversation Jesus is teaching Nicodemus about the reality and need for the new birth in order to enter into the kingdom of God. In that chapter we do not see clear evidence whether Nicodemus was converted as a result of what Jesus told him.
But when we come to the very next chapter, chapter 4, here we have an example of somebody who was converted. You see, what we’re talking about are two things. We’re talking about the Word of God spoken by the human messengers, and the work of God through the power of his Holy Spirit to bring forth spiritual life. Here in John 4 it happens with this Samaritan woman, and it’s worth pausing for just a moment to think a little bit about the significance of this woman and how she fits into the story.
Jews despised Samaritans. They were a mixed race, going back to the Assyrian captivity. When the northern kingdom of Samaria was overthrown by the Assyrians in 721 B.C., one of the policies of the Assyrians was to repopulate the area with people from outside the nation of Israel. They deported many of the people from the northern kingdom and imported many of their people to try to make the land a friendly land to themselves. The result was a mixed population in Samaria with intermarriage between the remaining Israelites and the imported foreigners. So the Samaritans, while they had Jewish stock, nevertheless, were in large measure also Assyrian by their descent.
But it was not only a mixing of people in terms of race; it was of course a mixing of religion. When the Jews came back under Ezra and Nehemiah and were ready to rebuild the temple, there was an offer by the Samaritans to help them build it. It was declined by the Jews because they were very careful and desirous to maintain the purity of the nation, and that naturally was resented by the Samaritans. Consequently, they went ahead and built a temple of their own on Mount Gerizim in the north. And what grew up around that temple was a debased kind of religion. It was somewhat like the Jews’ religion, but not entirely so. Part of the problem was seen in the books that the Samaritans accepted as Scripture. They accepted only their version of the Pentateuch, which had some changes showing their preference for Mount Gerizim.
When John introduces this story by saying Jesus had to go through Samaria, and then mentions a Samaritan woman, it would have gotten any Jewish reader’s attention. Not only did they not like Samaritans, but in addition, he is going to interact with a Samaritan woman living an immoral life. Now part of the significance of this woman is also seen when you contrast her to Nicodemus. He was a well-respected leader of Israel. It would make sense to us that Jesus would go on to have a discussion with someone like that. Now look at this woman. Compared with Nicodemus she is the opposite in virtually every respect. He was a Jew, highly regarded; she was a Samaritan. He was man; she was a woman. He was educated; she was uneducated. He had status; she had no status. He was a Pharisee; she belonged to no religious party. He was moral; she was immoral. He came at night because he had a reputation to protect; she who had no reputation to protect met Jesus at noon. He had a name, and one that perhaps indicated a noble family; she is nameless.
You couldn’t have a greater contrast. And yet, just as Nicodemus needed to be born again, so did the woman need to be born again. And as the story unfolds, it’s actually the woman who is born again and gives evidence of it by her testifying that Jesus Christ is the Savior. Isn’t that interesting? Whether you are someone like Nicodemus or someone like this Samaritan woman, Jesus is the Savior both, and of everyone else in between. Now it’s in that context that we need to understand it.
Why did Jews despise Samaritans?
Contrast Nicodemus with the Samaritan woman. In spite of their differences, what did they have in common?