The Ambassador of Life – Faith’s Outreach
Lesson 4 in a four-part Bible course from the Gospel of John
By Pastor Bill Daniels
A “zealot”, as the word suggests, is someone who is zealous about something. On the other hand, a “zombie” is one who is dense, insensitive and seemingly half dead. In 4th chapter of the Gospel of John we find two kinds of people displayed – zealots and zombies. And we’re naturally led to the question, which kind of person best represents us.
John chapter 4 relates an interesting encounter between Jesus Christ and a woman of the country of Samaria, who lived in the city of Sychar. Samaria was north of Judah in the land of Palestine, and lay between the Jewish provinces of Judah and Galilee to the north. On their way north to Galilee, Jesus and His disciples were passing through Samaria one day and came to a well outside the city of Sychar. Jesus was tired and rested beside the well (John 4:6) while His disciples went into the city to buy food (vs. 8). And while the Lord waited there alone, a woman came out from the city to get water from the well. Jesus asked the woman for a drink of water (vs. 7). And that simple request led into a conversation between them, which would forever change the woman’s life, and the lives of many in her city. She very soon discovered who Jesus is, and how to find everlasting life and satisfaction in Him. But not before Jesus exposed her lifestyle and history of immorality (vs. 17-18). Let’s pick up the account at verse 25.
“The woman saith unto Him, I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when He is come, He will tell us all things. Jesus saith unto her, I that speak unto thee am He.”
This was Jesus’ first and clearest statement that He is the Messiah, that very special servant of God whose coming was promised in the Old Testament. The woman was stunned! We see it in her response, or lack of it. Six times in her conversation with Jesus, He had spoken and she had responded. But after this revelation of His identity she had nothing to say. And not only was she stunned, but she believed. For she immediately left her waterpot and went into the city seeking to bring others to meet the Messiah (vs. 28-29). This woman of Samaria was the first of several Gentiles (non-Jews) who would put their faith in Christ during His earthly ministry.
“And upon this came His disciples, and marvelled that He talked with the woman: yet no man said, What seekest Thou? or, Why talkest Thou with her?”
At this point the disciples returned from buying lunch (vs. 8), “and marveled that He talked with the woman.” It helps in our understanding of this statement to know that in the Greek (the original language in which the New Testament was written) there is no definite article (“the”) with the word “woman” here in vs. 27. The concern of the disciples was not that Christ was speaking to that particular woman (i.e. Samaritan or Gentile), but that He was speaking to a woman – any woman. This apparently wasn’t commonly accepted practice in that day and society. Oriental custom restricted public involvement of a man with a woman, even in simple conversation. From what I’ve read, the Jewish rabbis or teachers of that day would not have so spoken to a woman publicly as Jesus did here, except in the most extreme circumstances. Such was the social climate of that day and among those people. And the disciples had absorbed that prejudice, and thought it strange that Christ would speak to a woman. They had adopted, as well, the Jewish prejudice against Samaritans and other Gentiles. She herself, based upon her past experience with the Jews, had expressed surprise that Jesus, being a Jew, would speak to her, a Samaritan (vs. 9). Samaritans were not the most popular race of people among the Jews for various reasons.
The disciples were receiving a lesson here in large-heartedness. Notice how Christ ignored all such foolish prejudice. Do you see how He cuts through and casts aside all that might restrict God’s purposes for people, whether they be male or female, Jew or Gentile, black or white? He speaks freely to a Gentile, who is in fact a despised Samaritan, who is in fact a woman! He threw off His society’s insistence upon a heart constricted by pride.
“The woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men . . .”
Do you see that lonely waterpot left sitting on the side of the well? Think about what it means. The woman was so impressed with what she heard! She was so filled with joy at her discovery of Christ, and so stirred with an urgency to go and tell her city of that discovery, that she left her waterpot behind in her haste. See how her work, her waterpot, was nothing compared to this One she had found. As one writer pointed out, in her zeal she forgot her business, even as Christ in His zeal for her soul forgot His weariness and thirst. Do you see? The physical or temporal was forgotten in the pursuit of the spiritual and eternal. It was far more important for her to share her newfound faith and to seek to draw her own people out to meet Christ before He passed on.
She had found in this One, whom she now knew to be the promised Messiah, One who cared for her enough to throw off the restrictions of tradition for her sake. This One knew all about her checkered past (five husbands, and now living together with a man outside of marriage, vs. 17-18), but even that knowledge had not prejudiced Jesus against her. Still He had offered her the “living water” of eternal life (vs. 10-14). Though she was likely one who was rejected by respectable society, the Messiah Himself hadn’t rejected her. He had offered eternal life through faith in His word and she had received.
As I see her running into the city, I’m reminded of those happy lepers outside the walls of Samaria in II Kings 7. Are you familiar with that account? The city of Samaria was surrounded by the army of the nation of Syria, and the people trapped within the city walls of Samaria were dying of starvation. Then the Lord supernaturally rescued the city of Samaria by causing the Syrian army to become frightened and flee away, leaving all of their goods behind outside the city walls. And when some rejected, starving lepers came upon the bonanza of the great abundance of deserted provisions, they said, “We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings (good news) and we hold our peace”. They could not keep the good news to themselves, but quickly reported the abundance just outside the walls to those dying of starvation within the city.
Even so, this woman of John 4 could not keep so great a treasure to herself, but ran to share it with all. She wanted the whole town to receive the blessing she had received from Christ. I like this lady! She runs, like Philip to Nathaniel in John 1:45-46, announcing of Christ, “We have found Him . . . come and see!”
“Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”
Now, consider for a moment the obstacles that stood in the way of this woman's success in bringing the good news of Christ to the people of her city. Her background was against her. Her immoral past and present circumstances hardly qualified her to speak with authority on religious or spiritual matters. Her reputation among her people was less than publicly respectable. And her gender was against her. She was a woman in a woman-belittling society. And her ignorance was against her. She really knew so very little about Christ and the eternal life He offered.
Yet in spite of the obstacles we find that her efforts were crowned with success, and for a couple of very simple reasons. She appears to come across with the most earnest urgency. She convinced her hearers with bubbling, exuberant abandon. She was a newborn soul full of the impulse of the good news (like Philip). We see it in that waterpot standing abandoned on the well.
Also she showed tact. She asked the question, “is not this the Christ (Messiah)?” Something like, “He is not perhaps the Messiah is He?” She framed that of which she was convinced in a question. As one writer stated, “. . . she knew the people would not respond favourably to a dogmatic assertion from a woman, especially one of her reputation.” She does not say, “The Messiah has come! I have seen Him!” Instead she invites them to come and see and judge for themselves. She draws no following after herself and her discovery. Rather she turns their attention to Jesus that they might discover Him for themselves. She simply points them to Him. And look at the results of her earnest invitation.
“Then they went out of the city, and came unto Him.”
Regardless of her obstacles (reputation, gender, ignorance), this woman succeeded in stirring their curiosity and search for Christ. You don’t need to be a theologian to speak effectively of Christ. You don’t need to have all the answers. She didn't. In fact, she offered no answers, only a question, which drew their attention to the One who did have the answers. To avoid speaking to others about the Lord because you know you don't have all the answers is just an empty excuse, and you know it! You just need to be convinced of what you do know.
And now, while the men of the city were hearing of Jesus and beginning to make their way out to Him, the scene changes from events in the city, to Christ and His disciples at the well.
“In the mean while His disciples prayed Him, saying, Master, eat.”
While the people of the city were hearing the woman’s earnest words, the disciples had “in the mean while” pulled out the boerewors rolls and proceeded to get stuck in. Remember, they had just returned from this Samaritan city where they had purchased lunch. Far from being concerned, or even mindful of the lost condition of the people living there, they probably rather had made short business and a hasty retreat. After all, those were despised Samaritans – defiled people. And besides that, the disciples were thinking about their hollow stomachs. These followers of Christ had essentially crossed paths with a despised Samaritan woman, who even at that moment was zealously seeking to draw the attention of others to Jesus, while they were munching their lunch and wiping their whiskers.
And Jesus showed no interest in joining them. It was obvious that His thoughts were elsewhere. The following verses indicate that He was thinking of the benefit He had brought to the woman’s soul, and of her current evangelistic efforts in the city, and of the approaching harvest of souls among these people as they began to make their way out to Him. But of such concerns the disciples seemed completely out of touch. They perhaps dully sensed that something was different about Christ's mood. He had been tired and thirsty before. But now physical refreshments seemed to be of no interest to Him. He was preoccupied, for His eyes and prayers were turned toward the city and the developments there.
Can you begin to see the contrast in people? I see two zealots and twelve zombies here. It's not too difficult to pick them out, is it? Christ and the woman are the zealots. They both forgot earthly concerns in their earnest pursuit of heavenly interests (she, her waterpot, and He, His physical needs). They cast aside all of society’s limiting insistence upon a cramped heart (racism, chauvinism, nationalism), and opened wide their hearts to the needs of others. They both crashed right through all obstacles, whether imposed by others or self imposed, in their pursuit of the best for other souls. Genuine love does that – it overcomes all obstacles.
Oh the gracious Lord has a burden for all, and I love Him for it! His heart is large for all! He is no respecter of persons. He has no sympathy with our silly human prejudices. The white man wants to constrict the Lord’s heart, and portray Him as a lover only of those who are white. The Calvinist wants to see Him as a lover only of the elect. The Jew wants to cast the weight of the Lord's interest only on their side. How easy it is to be concerned with people who seem a benefit to you or your cause, people who love you or are like you. How easy to make the mistake of thinking God the same.
And what a stark contrast between these two zealots and the disciples! The hearts of the twelve were constricted by their petty prejudices. They didn’t see a woman and a city lost and in need of a Saviour. Rather, they saw despised Samaritans, and we don’t talk to Samaritans! And what’s the Lord doing talking to a woman anyway?! And hey what’s for lunch? They were glazed, insensitive, unmindful – Zombies! Walking around with their eyes open, yet unseeing. Looking down and seeing only their own feet, only their own little narrow world of interests.
“But He said unto them, I have meat to eat that ye know not of.”
Do I sense a bit of heat in the Lord’s response here? Their earth-bound minds were occupied with thoughts of bodily provision. But Christ’s heart was filled with the great object of His Father’s will and work, and the souls of men. His nourishment or refreshment was to do His Father’s will and to finish His work (vs. 34). So great was His interest and delight in the pursuit of this gracious purpose that food and drink were forgotten. Not that He had no need of food, but that His great passion was to do His Father’s will. His priorities are spiritual, not material. Such was food the disciples knew nothing about as yet (vs. 32).
And what is the will of His Father? That salvation by faith in Christ the Saviour be proclaimed to all. That the door of escape from sin and judgment, the door of mercy, be shown to all. Christ is that door (John 10:9)!
“Say not ye, There are yet four months, and then cometh harvest? behold, I say unto you, Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest.”
An illustration from the farm. Christ says, "Listen, I’m saying to you lift up your eyes (oh My zombies) and look on the fields (to the needs of others) for they are white already to harvest.” It’s a command Christ gives here. And the word “already” speaks of urgency. Get your mind off of your own concerns only. You’re so filled with your prejudices. And you're so caught up with your things, things that aren’t necessarily wrong (food, drink, physical refreshments), but things that have no business holding such priority over eternal things – over the Father’s business! As the Apostle Paul would later write, “Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others” (Phil. 2:4).
As the Lord spoke these words (vs. 35), He likely motioned toward the city gates, where even then people were streaming out, coming across the field perhaps, making their way to Him. Through the earnest testimony of that other zealot, the harvest was walking toward them right at that moment.
Look well at these two alert zealots and the twelve glazed zombies. Perhaps there shall always be similar proportions in God’s family (6 to 1 – zombies to zealots). That woman evangelized the same city in which the disciples did business. They came out with lunch. She came out with fruit for eternity. She showed far more insight and concern for the unsaved of that city than Christ’s own trained disciples. They were selfishly happy for the benefits their association with Christ brought them, but they were unwilling to adopt His heart. And if the Lord can’t reach the lost through His settled, lethargic, unconcerned, insensitive, prejudiced, small-hearted, older zombie children, then He’ll raise up soul-winners from the fiery hearts of newfound faith, as He did here.
“And many of the Samaritans of that city believed on Him for the saying of the woman, which testified, He told me all that ever I did.”
“Many” in Sychar became believers in Christ through the simple testimony of a woman sporting a bad reputation. Reputation does not disqualify us from testifying of Christ, nor does gender, age, ignorance, etc. The earnest words of one doubtful person became the means of the salvation of “many” souls. There was nothing remarkable about that woman’s words or wit. No elaborate reasonings. She possessed no ready-reference of Scripture verses. She was not cued up on the arguments and counter-arguments. There was no pithy opening line, rehearsed repeatedly in a small group technique training seminar. She was merely a woman running with what she had, a personal account of who Jesus Christ is, and what He had done for her. That disqualifies nobody and lets none off the hook! Here was merely a woman, given to the Lord. Yet a woman who stirred her city! How important is every single soul won to Christ, for each one opens the door of influence to others around them.
Don’t despise the means or instrument because of some supposed weakness or inability to do any good. When given into the hand of the Lord, He makes the difference. He multiplies the effect, as He did with a little boy’s lunch, willingly given into the Master’s hand (chap. 6). He makes the weakest instrument, when committed to Him, powerful. Even as He used a young boy (David), wholly given to Him, and a handful of five stones, to crush the Philistine champion and their army (I Sam. 17).
“And said unto the woman, Now we believe, not because of thy saying: for we have heard Him ourselves, and know that this is indeed the Christ, the Saviour of the world.”
Christ is the One through whom salvation is available to all. He is “the Saviour of the world.” He is the Light shining to all the world. His light, the light of His gospel, was never meant to be limited to any particular nation or racial group. Though His salvation was “of the Jews” (out of the Jews – vs. 22), it was never meant to be a salvation for the Jews alone.
The Jewish people had seen so many mighty miracles done by Christ. They had heard Him preach for many months. Yet with a handful of exceptions, they refused to believe. Yet these Samaritans saw no miracles, and had the Lord with them for but two days, yet here was a small revival among them.
It’s not surprising that 4 or 5 years later when Philip went down to preach in Samaria, his seed fell upon fertile soil. For his preaching was received with joy and many were baptized. “And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake . . .” (Acts 8:5-12). This, an abiding testimony to the earnest faith and labours of that one woman. What an amazing impact for the Lord just one faithful, sold out soul can make!
And what of you, my friend – zealot or zombie?
Lesson 4 Worksheet
A few final questions in this our last lesson together.
Who are the “zealots” discussed in this lesson? State briefly why I have called them this.
What does genuine love overcome, as shown in the actions of the zealots?
Who are the “zombies” in this lesson? Why?
Let’s pray that the Lord will make us both into zealots for Him!