Jesus freely offers eternal life, but people don’t always respond in faith. Indeed, Christ castigated the religious leaders of first-century Israel for their refusal to believe: “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life” (John 5:39–40). Here were the people with the greatest access to divine revelation, and they utterly squandered that monumental privilege.
That stubborn rejection couldn’t be more unlike the response Jesus received from a Samaritan woman He briefly met just one chapter earlier. This was a woman deemed by most Jews—including the disciples (John 4:27)—unworthy of contact, let alone conversation. But as we’ve seen throughout this series, Jesus made a point of seeking out this ostracized woman as she drew water from a remote well in Samaria, and He offered her the “well of water springing up to eternal life” (John 4:14). There was nothing comfortable about their conversation, as Christ exposed the woman’s deep sinfulness (John 4:16–18), but unlike the self-righteous Pharisees, the Samaritan woman responded with genuine saving faith—as evidenced by her remarkable actions.
She immediately left the well, abandoning her water pot (John 4:28). It wasn’t absent-mindedness that made her leave it; she fully intended to come back. She intended to bring the leading men of the city and introduce them to Christ—she was privy to amazing knowledge that must not be kept secret.
Her response was typical of new believers and one of the evidences of authentic faith. The person who has just had the burden of sin and guilt lifted, always wants to share the good news with others. The woman’s excitement would have been palpable. And notice the first thing she told the men of her town: “Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done” (John 4:29). No longer was she evading the facts of her sin. She was basking in the glow of forgiveness, and there is simply no shame in that.
Her enthusiasm and determination were apparently hard to resist, because the men of the city went back with her to the well, where they all met Jesus.
The immediate impact of this woman’s testimony on the city of Sychar was profound. John wrote, “From that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done’” (John 4:39, emphasis added).
What a staggering contrast this makes with the reception Jesus got from the scribes and Pharisees in Jerusalem! Luke wrote, “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:2, emphasis added). The religious leaders were disgusted with Him because He was willing to converse with rogues and scoundrels such as this woman. They mocked Him openly, saying, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matt. 11:19). They were offended, for example, when Jesus went to the house of Zacchaeus. “They all began to grumble, saying, ‘He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner’” (Luke 19:7).
But Samaritans lacked the phony scruples of religious hypocrisy. The leading men of that Samaritan village were in many ways the polar opposites of the religious leaders in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders, of course, were convinced that when the Messiah came He would vindicate them. He would banish the Romans and set up His kingdom over the whole world, with Israel at the hub. He would triumph over all Israel’s enemies, including the Samaritans, and reign through the very political and religious structures they represented. Their messianic expectations were high for that very reason, and their contempt for Christ was acute for the same reason. He fit none of their preconceived notions of what the Messiah ought to be. He rebuked the religious leaders while fellowshiping openly with publicans and sinners. And the Jewish leaders hated Him for it.
The Samaritans had the opposite perspective. They knew the Messiah was promised. Although the books of Moses were the only part of the Old Testament they believed, the messianic promises were there. As Jesus told the Pharisees, “If you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me” (John 5:46). In Deuteronomy 18:18, for example, God promised a great Prophet—a national spokesman on the order of Moses or greater: “I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth.” The Pentateuch also included all the familiar promises about the seed of the woman who would crush the serpent, and the seed of Abraham in whom all the nations would be blessed. That is why the Samaritan woman knew the Messiah was coming.
But Samaritan society had been degraded and debased by years of false religion and immorality. Samaritans had a definite sense that they were sinners. They lacked the self-righteous swagger that colored the religion of the Pharisees and Sadducees. When the Samaritans pondered the coming Messiah, they likely anticipated His advent with a degree of fear.
So when this Samaritan woman announced so boldly that she had found the Messiah and that He knew everything about her sin but had received her anyway, the men of Sychar welcomed Jesus with enthusiasm.
They were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.” (John 4:40–42)
This was an amazing revival, and it must have utterly transformed that little town.
Jesus had indeed found true worshipers. Scripture doesn’t tell us what ultimately became of that Samaritan woman. Her heart was clearly changed by her encounter with Christ; it is an absolute certainty that her life changed as well, because “If anyone is in Christ, [she] is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Within three years of the Samaritan woman’s meeting with Christ at Jacob’s well, the church was founded. Its influence spread quickly from Jerusalem into all Judea and Samaria, and from there to the uttermost parts of the earth (Acts 1:8). That meant the Samaritan woman and the others from her city would soon be able to find fellowship and teaching in a context where there was neither Hebrew nor Samaritan, “Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for [they] are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).
I think it is a certainty that the Samaritan town of Sychar became a center of gospel activity and witness. Having gone out of His way to reveal Himself to that village, having given them the water of life that quenched their spiritual thirst, we can be certain that Jesus did not simply abandon them. This woman, who had begun her new life by bringing many others to Christ, no doubt continued her evangelistic ministry. She even continues it today through the record of Scripture. Multitudes have come to Christ through the influence of John 4 and “because of the word of the woman who testified, ‘He told me all the things that I have done’” (John 4:39). Only heaven will reveal the vast and far-reaching fruits of this extraordinary woman’s encounter with the Messiah.
(Adapted from Twelve Extraordinary Women)