Evangelism Part 5 – Three Unexpected Evangelists #1: The Woman at the Well John 4
Continuing my look at Evangelism this year, I will spend the next three devotionals dedicated to some unexpected people who encountered Jesus and then went and told others about their experience of the good news – the gospel. The first of these folks is the woman at the well in John 4. This story should be familiar to all of us, but I encourage you to read the chapter for yourself if you are unfamiliar with the encounter. It is an incredible encounter for many reasons. However, I want to focus on Jesus’ engagement with the woman and what she did in response.
First, let’s look at how Jesus engaged her. As you may recall, the scene is set at Jacob’s well outside the city of Sychar. Jesus, a man, and a Jew were waiting at the well for a woman to arrive. When she did arrive, he asked her one thing – “Give me a drink.” By asking this one question, Jesus busted wide open all the religious and cultural rules surrounding Samaritans and Jews. First, he was a man talking to a woman, and second, he was a Jew talking to a Samaritan and asking for a drink of water. The response of the woman reflected these taboos, but Jesus wasn’t concerned. He had a mission in mind, and instead of rebuking her, he offered her the “gospel:”
Jesus answered, “If you knew the gift of God, and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would ask him, and he would give you living water.”
“Sir,” said the woman, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this ‘living water’? You aren’t greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and livestock.”
Jesus said, “Everyone who drinks from this water will get thirsty again. But whoever drinks from the water that I will give him will never get thirsty again. In fact, the water I will give him will become a well, of water springing up in him for eternal life.” CSB Jn 4:10–14.
Notice that Jesus did not first tell her what her sins were – he started with the gospel – that life only has meaning and purpose through him. When she asks for the “water” he is offering, she had actual liquid in her mind. But Jesus had something else in mind. It is at this point that Jesus, very gently and lovingly, exposes her sin:
“Go call your husband,” he told her, “and come back here.”
“I don’t have a husband,” she answered.
“You have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’” Jesus said. “For you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” CSB Jn 4:16– 18
The woman, obviously startled by Jesus’ exposure of sensitive areas of her life, appeals to a religious objection. Notice his response:
“Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.”
Jesus told her, “Believe me, woman, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. Yes, the Father wants such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” CSB Jn 4:16–24.
She objected that she, as a woman and as a Samaritan, was not good enough to be a part of God’s salvific work. Jesus responds that the gospel is open to everyone – even a disgraced Samaritan woman. The following two verses are the kicker:
The woman said to him, “I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Jesus told her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.” CSB Jn 4:25–26.
So let’s recap:
- Jesus started a conversation with someone the culture told him he should never approach.
- He first offered her the gospel – the good news.
- When she didn’t understand the metaphor he was using, he gently and lovingly exposed her hidden secrets.
- When she tried to change the subject, Jesus brought her back to the original conversation – the gospel.
- He revealed to her that he was the Messiah – she was the first human on earth to hear this message.
There much we can learn about evangelism from this encounter. First, Jesus calls us to speak to people we are uncomfortable with. I am very comfortable talking about Jesus with bikers. However, I tend to clam up when I talk to successful businesspeople. Jesus calls us out of our comfort and into relationships with people we would never otherwise engage. Second, we lead with the good news that God loves them and offers them hope. Let me repeat – we lead with that message. We don’t lead with judgment or condemnation. Third, however, Jesus does expose her sin but in a way that does not repel her. Yes, she tries to change the subject, but she doesn’t walk off offended and hurt. But the truth of her behavior has been exposed. This revelation will prove to be vitally important later. Finally, Jesus brings it back to the gospel and to who he is. Our evangelistic conversations need to come back to Jesus. The person we are sharing with might try to distract the conversation from that but always come back to the core truth – Jesus is the Messiah.
So, what was the result? Jesus not only had a new follower, but he also had his first evangelist:
Then the woman left her water jar, went into town, and told the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” They left the town and made their way to him. CSB Jn 4:28–30.
Did you catch that? She led people to Jesus. She was so overwhelmed with this new life that she had been offered, she went and led others – fellow Samaritans – to an encounter with Jesus. She is an example of an unexpected evangelist. Through her testimony, the ground was laid for Phillip in Acts 8:4-25. This passage describes when the gospel of the crucified and resurrected Jesus reached Samaria and was confirmed by Peter and John with the sending of the Holy Spirit. With the groundwork laid by this woman through her pain and sorrow, she led her community to an encounter with the Savior.