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John the Baptist defers to Jesus
John Chapter 3, verses 22-24
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were constantly coming to be baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.)
When Jesus and his disciples left Jerusalem, they spent time in the Judean countryside, probably near the Jordan River, where they were baptizing. Meanwhile, at a place apparently farther north and abounding with springs, John the Baptist also continued his baptizing.
Those who knew the other gospels might have wondered whether Jesus just picked up the baptizing after John was thrown in prison. The apostle John assures them that the two carried on parallel ministries for a time.
John Chapter 3, verses 25-26
An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
John was baptizing. Jesus was baptizing. Although both taught repentance and faith, it wasn’t long before a dispute broke out involving John’s disciples and an unnamed Jew. They spoke about the baptisms, apparently arguing whether one was “more beneficial” than the other.
At the root of the problem was an increasing sense of opposition and jealousy toward Jesus among John’s disciples. Since Jesus came on the scene, they complained, “everyone” was going to him. Bigger and bigger crowds followed Jesus as fewer and fewer came to John. Was that right?
To this day we see similar disputes played out in our churches, whenever we care too much about ourselves and our popularity instead of about Jesus and his gospel.
John Chapter 3, verses 27-30
To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.
John’s answer revealed that he clearly knew his place in God’s plan. Whatever place we have in life, he asserted, we have from God. He spoke the general truth. We have what we have and we are what we are because God has given it to us. We need to work within that reality to the glory of God.
John’s God-given role was to prepare the way for Christ. He found full joy in doing that. He likened himself to the friend of the bridegroom. Today we might think of him as the best man at a wedding. His great joy is to see the bride (the church) and the bridegroom (Christ) come together. He waits, in this case, with the bride. When the bridegroom appears, all attention necessarily turns to him. The best man says his toast and recedes gladly into the background.
So Christ must continue to increase, and John must continue to decrease. The Greek word for increase is the word used for a plant that grows and flourishes and bears fruit. To become less implies a diminishing importance, even to being counted inferior. John was working himself out of a job, so to speak, in favor of Jesus. Verse 30 stands out as reality for John and for all Christians. It makes an appropriate motto for believers. It shows what happens when we believe and live. Our purpose in life is to glorify Jesus.
John Chapter 3, verses 31-32
“The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all. He testifies to what he has seen and heard, but no one accepts his testimony.
Jesus, who is the eternal Word (1:1), came from heaven (1:14). He was above all. He deserved the attention he was getting. John was born on this earth like all ordinary human beings. He spoke only of the things God revealed to him on earth. Jesus, on the other hand, spoke of what he had seen and heard in heaven, for example, the heavenly things he had spoken of to Nicodemus.
Jesus’ heavenly testimony, however, fell mostly on deaf ears. “No one,” with the exception that follows, “accept[ed] his testimony.”
John Chapter 3, verses 33-35
The man who has accepted it has certified that God is truthful. For the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands.
Since verse 30 all verbs are in the third person, “he.” When John the Baptist spoke, he used the first person, “I.” Possibly, then, the words following verse 30 belong instead to the gospel writer John, who is expressing general truths for all people.
John the Baptist received the witness of Christ, realized that he was witnessing God’s truth, and set his seal on that truth. He certified it from his experience and identified with it. So it goes for everyone who believes in Jesus. When God has sent someone, as he did John the Baptist, that person speaks the words of God. We can do it because God gives his Spirit to us in full measure.
What God gives us, however, is in small measure compared to what he gave his Son. God’s purposeful, immeasurable love continued to extend to Christ from eternity and in his humanity, and God gave all things in his hand (Ephesians 1:10). The fullness of God’s Spirit, the fullness of heaven and earth, the fullness of life belong to Jesus Christ and are found in him.
John Chapter 3, verse 36
Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”
In case anyone could have missed or forgotten the point of this chapter, indeed of the entire gospel, this verse sums it all up again. Everyone born into this world is by nature an object of God’s wrath. Whoever believes in the Son of God has eternal life and has escaped God’s wrath. However, anyone who doesn’t believe the Son, but disobeys, will not see life. That person remains under God’s wrath.
We believe and live.
Jesus teaches the Samaritan woman about living water
John Chapter 4, verses 1-3
The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.
Word of Jesus’ success reached the Pharisees, who were continually looking for ways to discredit him. His success attracted increasing opposition. About this time, John the Baptist was thrown into prison. Rather than face unnecessary and premature trials now, Jesus left Judea for Galilee again, where he had turned the water into wine.
The apostle John notes that Jesus left the baptizing entirely to his disciples. No one could claim an extraordinary baptism because Jesus had done it.
John Chapter 4, verses 4-6
Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
Jesus had three routes he could have taken to Galilee. Many Jews elected not to go straight through Samaria because of lingering antagonism and hostility between them and the Samaritans. Some followed the Mediterranean coast north. Others crossed the Jordan and went north through Perea on the east bank. The text, however, says Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” Reasons other than geography dictated the move. God had a plan.
Going through Samaria for Jews was a little like walking into a neighborhood marked as gang territory in the United States today. It could lead to a hostile encounter (see verse 9). This condition existed from the time Assyria had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel, took most of its people into captivity, and resettled it with foreigners (722 B.C.). These people mingled with the Israelites who were allowed to remain. As a result, the mixed people in Samaria continuously combined false religions with worship to the Lord and harassed the Jews (2 Kings 17:24-41; Ezra 4:1-5).
Jesus and his disciples had reached Sychar in Samaria at the place where Jacob had long before purchased a piece of land and where Joseph was buried (Genesis 33:18,19; Joshua 24:32). Jacob had dug a spring-fed well there, where Jesus now sat down to rest. Being fully human, he was weary from walking over dusty roads in the hot sun. It was either noon or 6:00 P.M., depending on whether John was reckoning by Jewish or Roman time.
John Chapter 4, verses 7-9
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
While Jesus rested alone, the disciples went into town to buy food. Then a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Usually the women went out in groups to get their water. This woman came alone, possibly because she was a social outcast. In any case, Jesus was about to show why he “had to go through Samaria.”
“Give me something to drink,” he requested of the woman.
The request got the woman’s attention. She had recognized immediately from Jesus’ clothing or speech that he was a Jew. Not only did the Jews not associate with the Samaritans, but a Jewish man engaging in conversation with a Samaritan woman was doubly taboo.
Jesus’ thirst, however, and this woman’s intent to draw water provided enough common ground for Jesus to reach out to save her sin-parched soul.
John Chapter 4, verse 10
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
In response, much as he did with Nicodemus, Jesus turned the attention to the woman’s needs and what he could do to help her. Jesus scolded her slightly, but not to get that drink of water he had asked for. She needed to know who he was and what the water he had to give her was.
If only this Samaritan “knew the gift of God”! As Jesus had told Nicodemus, that gift was the one and only Son of God, the Savior. Had the woman known Jesus, she would have known God’s gift.
With Jesus also came the gift of “living water.” The term “living water” could be used to describe fresh spring water. The woman would surely think of the spring water in Jacob’s well. Jesus meant the water that gives life, however, the spiritual life that comes with the new birth, the eternal life for everyone who believes.
The woman didn’t understand, but she wanted to know more.
John Chapter 4, verses 11-12
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
Much like Nicodemus trying to understand new birth, the woman struggled with Jesus’ idea of living water. She thought of the well water but seemed to realize he didn’t mean that. He had no way to draw the water. She thought of the great patriarch Jacob, who provided this well water for the people. But the man before her could hardly be comparing himself to Jacob, could he? She needed more instruction, and Jesus was about to lead her, step by step, to see the truth.
John Chapter 4, verses 13-15
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
Jesus was greater than Jacob, and this water was different. It was spiritual, heavenly, permanent. One drink of this water quenched all thirst forever. This water becomes, said Jesus, a well of water in a person, springing up to eternal life. Drinking the water parallels believing in Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.
Jesus’ words bring echoes of Old Testament images and promises for the Messianic Age. “The burning sand will become a pool, the thirsty ground bubbling springs,” said Isaiah (35:7), who also foretold that the people would “neither hunger nor thirst” and that God would “lead them beside springs of water” (49:10). Jeremiah identified the Lord as a “spring of living water” (2:13). Also Psalm 42 comes to mind: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God” (verse 1).
The truth is simple, the image profound. Faith in Jesus gives eternal life now. Jesus and his Spirit can be understood to be the water. Faith is receiving the water. The water Jesus gives us becomes in us “a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Life with Jesus becomes a part of our being: dynamic, fresh, flowing, everlasting.
The woman wanted the water now, but she still thought of earthly water and physical thirst. She needed Jesus to reveal her real thirst to her.
John Chapter 4, verses 16-18
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
“I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
Jesus had been telling the Samaritan woman the saving truth of the gospel. But now he spoke law to her. Only this way could she realize the thirst that Jesus quenches forever. When he told her to get her husband, he effectively showed her sin to her and gave her the opportunity to confess.
Her short answer opened the door. Perhaps she said it with a sense of shame: “I have no husband.”
Jesus drove the point home. You have spoken the truth, he emphasized, a truth that encompassed a history of adultery, divorce, fornication: five husbands and a live-in!
John Chapter 4, verses 19-20
“Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
The woman could not deny what Jesus said. She marveled at what he, a stranger, knew about her, and she identified him as a prophet. What next?
Some think the woman changed the subject abruptly in order to take the spotlight off her sinful lifestyle. Just as likely, however, now that her sin was out and acknowledged, she was concerned with her spiritual welfare and turned her attention to matters of worship. Where could she go to confess to God and be cleansed of her sin?
The Samaritans had built their own temple on Mount Gerizim nearby and continued worshiping there even after their temple was destroyed years earlier. The Jews, however, insisted on worshiping in Jerusalem, where God had told them to build his temple. What was she to do?
John Chapter 4, verses 21-24
Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time 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, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The place does not determine the value or validity of the worship. Jesus knew that the Romans would destroy Jerusalem and the temple in A.D. 70. But that wouldn’t bring an end to true worship. We can worship the heavenly Father anywhere; however, what or whom we worship means everything.
The Samaritans had mingled their worship with idols and disregarded the Old Testament revelation except for the books of Moses. They didn’t know the real object of their worship. In contrast, the promised salvation was to come through the Jews. The Savior was to be the Seed of Abraham and the Son of David. The Jews who remained faithful to the Scriptures still worshiped the true God. As Psalm 147 declares: “He has revealed his word to Jacob, his laws and decrees to Israel” (verse 19).
The time had come, however, when things would change. God’s promised salvation was being worked out in Jesus Christ. The temple in Jerusalem with its sacrifices had foreshadowed the Messiah, but those would lose their significance with his coming. So now true worshipers should worship in spirit and truth.
When the truth of Jesus Christ reaches our souls and God’s Spirit touches ours so that we believe, true worship begins. We don’t merely go through the motions of worship. Our whole being is involved. But putting heart and soul into worship is only part of true worship. Many who fashion “God” according to their own ideas call on that god most fervently.
True worship is done “in spirit and truth.” It revolves around and is anchored in the truth of God’s revelation. It praises the true God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It sorrows over sin and rejoices in the undeserved love that brought about salvation. It trusts in Jesus for forgiveness and life eternal. It proclaims the Scriptures and rejoices in the message. True worship can use forms as we do today, or not, but it doesn’t need specific forms. It needs only “spirit and truth.”
The Father seeks true worshipers, as, even at that moment, he was seeking to reach the heart of that sinful woman. She need not go to a certain place to find God and be cleansed. “God is spirit” and not confined to any one place like Gerizim or Jerusalem. When God reached her spirit with his truth, her worship could begin. Once she, in faith, accepted God’s forgiveness offered in Jesus, she could raise thanks and praise to God for his great mercy and love.
John Chapter 4, verses 25-26
The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”
Jesus succeeded in getting the woman to think of the Messiah. Although the Samaritans used only the books of Moses for their scriptures, she knew of the seed of the woman who would crush the power of Satan (Genesis 3:15). She knew of the promise to Abraham (Genesis 18:18). She knew of the prophet to come, like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). She hoped to see the Messiah, called Christ in Greek. She knew he would proclaim and explain everything.
Maybe this was the woman’s last-ditch effort to dismiss Jesus and not have to deal with the whole confusing business. Or maybe she saw the messianic qualities in Jesus and was beginning to believe in or at least wonder about him.
Whichever it was, the reference to the Messiah allowed Jesus to forge the last link in the chain of revelation for the Samaritan. She said, “The Messiah will explain everything.” Jesus said, “I, the one who is speaking to you, am he.”
Jesus had left Judea, where hostile Jews were increasing their opposition to him. Such a revelation there would have brought the authorities out against him before his time. Also, many who followed him to see his miracles would have expected him soon to establish an earthly rule, as he was to experience at other times. The Samaritan woman, however, thought of the Messiah as a prophet and teacher. And Jesus’ revelation created faith in her heart.
Jesus’ witness was simple and direct. The woman couldn’t miss the message. The very Messiah, who came to save her from her sins, was talking with her. Jesus’ words apparently also had another, deeper significance, however. Although it isn’t clear in the NIV translation, in the Greek this appears to be the first of a series of “I AM” statements of Jesus recorded by John. He said to the woman, in literal translation, “I AM, the one who is speaking to you.”
The words “I AM” called to mind God speaking to Moses at the burning bush. When Moses asked God to reveal his name, God replied, “I AM WHO I AM.” Moses was to tell the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you” (Exodus 3:13,14). Jesus was the I AM God.