Sermon – December 2, 2018
John 4:1-27 – Israel Reborn (mp3)
We do not stray far this morning from our text last week. The story of the woman at the well is told well by John. It is a poignant story of God’s love for those who are cast off by society, and Jesus’ love for those that many would consider unlovable. But the story does not end there. Woven into the fabric of the story is another story, one that plays out below the surface of the text and is a rather revolutionary retelling of the nature of Israel and of God’s people. Today we will examine this deeper level of John’s story, for in it we find much to consider and to give God praise for! Within this story, we will see John compare:
1. Jesus and Jacob
John provides some general introduction to his story in the first 6 verses of John 4. But many of these details, especially those considering Jacob, are unnecessary. Why include them? John is here giving us hints about a comparison he wishes to draw, brought out explicitly by the question of the woman in v. 12 – Is Jesus greater than Jacob?
The Pharisees are Esau. After Jacob cheats Esau, the fuming brother plans to kill him, so Jacob runs away. in what seems an innocuous comment, we are told that Jesus leaves for Galilee because the Pharisees heard about his ministry’s growth. However, as we read on in the Gospel, we find that the Pharisees continually grow in their hostility to the work of Jesus and to Jesus himself, repeatedly trying to arrest him and having a large role to play in his trial and crucifixion. Like Esau, these children of Isaac find that they are not the children of the promise. They are out of the promise, out of the elect, in their unbelief. No longer does standing with God depend on one’s physical and genealogical relationship to the fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but one’s spiritual relationship to Jesus.
Jesus is Israel. Like Jacob, Jesus is pushed north, to a well, where he finds a woman. John subtly hints here that Jesus is the new Israel, greater than Jacob, who will define the nature of God’s people. The poignant statements about his greatness in v. 13 are helpful here: he doesn’t simply say that he is great, but that to truly understand the difference, you must look at the gifts each provide. Jacob’s kingdom was an earthly one – with the strength of the flesh, physical protection, founded on the obedience of humans which was doomed to wear out. The woman herself is a great example of the destiny of Jacob’s kingdom: she is the product of the exile, the results of the brokenness of Jacob’s kingdom. Jesus, on the other hand, does not rule over an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly one (John 18:36). Therefore, his kingdom is unphased by the problems of the world, and his own life guarantees its defeat of sin. The water, then, is the perfect description for this reality. Jacob gave a well, filled with good but earthy water. Those who drink will be satisfied, but will thirst again. There is always something to fix, something more to do. But the water that Jesus gives is better, for it will satisfy completely. Jacob was great, but Jesus is greater.
The nations are the bride. Jacob shows up at the well and finds Rachael, his wife, whom he loves. Being tricked by Laban, he ends up with 2 wives, and their servants. From these women the entire nation of Israel is formed. Jesus shows up at this well, not to take a literal wife, but a wife nonetheless. The passage is foreshadowed by a marriage metaphor (John 3:29), for Jesus is the bridegroom, come to take his bride. The woman, then, is a picture of the nations, nameless as she is. She, like the nations, is prone to having many husbands, and doesn’t know the one true and living God. Adultery and sexual immorality are closely linked to idolatry throughout Scripture, and thus this sin is a fitting picture of the sin of the nations. But Jesus has come to offer them eternal life, freedom from sin, and the true worship of God. Let the nations come to the groom!
2. Nicodemus and the Woman
Finally, John likely also intends a comparison between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. Nicodemus is a man who has it all together: he is a Jewish man, a leader and teacher in Israel. He has standing and clout. The woman is a Samaritan and a sinner. She is a social outcast. Both need Jesus. Nicodemus must be born again, just as much as the woman does. No one is too good for Jesus, nor are any too far into sin to be out of his salvific grasp. Those who are thirsty, regardless of who they are, may come to Jesus and find living water. Come, and live!