Maybe you have heard of Paul Harvey. He had a radio program years ago and one of his segments was “The rest of the story.” He would tell you about some historical event or invention or some other interesting subject and then tell you the rest of the story or the story behind the story. These stories were always very entertaining and gave you new insight. I want to share “the rest of the story” for a woman at a famous well.
You may know the story from John 4 about “the woman at the well.” It is a famous story about an interaction between Jesus and this woman who visits the well to get water in the middle of the day. She is a Samaritan and Jesus is a Jew. An intentional conversation between a Samaritan and Jew would have been unheard of so that tag line alone makes it a very unique story. Next there is the gender problem. The man asks the woman for a drink. Again a man asking a strange woman for anything would have been socially unacceptable. So the backdrop is pretty exciting by itself. Here are a few more exciting stories behind the story.
Did you know Jesus used a word out of context? Well sort of. Here is the verse:
John 4:14 “but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (ESV)
The word translated “welling up” in all other occurrences is translated as “leaping” and is reserved for living creatures. The woman would have understood this. In His discussion of living water Jesus is making a very explicit reference to the Holy Spirit inside us. She would have understood the reference of living water and leaping.
John 4:13 Jesus answered, “If you drink from Jacob’s well you’ll be thirsty again and again, 14 but if anyone drinks the living water I give them they will never thirst again and will be forever satisfied! For when you drink the water I give you it becomes a gushing fountain of the Holy Spirit, springing up and flooding you with endless life!” (Passion Translation)
The woman agrees that no thirst and no trips to the well is a good idea. Then the conversation shifts abruptly. Jesus says this:
John 4:16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” (ESV)
We find out that she has been married many times and now she lives with a man who isn’t her husband. Remember they just had a talked about water. Want to know the rest of the story? Check this out:
Numbers 5:11 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “Speak to the people of Israel, If any man’s wife goes astray and breaks faith with him…20 But if you have gone astray, though you are under your husband’s authority, and if you have defiled yourself, and some man other than your husband has lain with you,… 24 And he shall make the woman drink the water of bitterness that brings the curse, and the water that brings the curse shall enter into her and cause bitter pain. (ESV)
OK, here is Jesus an Israelite. He is obvious a Holy man of some kind. She even calls Him a prophet. She is a Samaritan woman who has likely had some infidelity in her lifetime. She would have been familiar with this Jewish law. Jesus just offered her water and followed up with a reference to her current infidelity. Can you see it? His water is the Holy Spirit. A Jewish Holy man would offer her bitter water. Her response now makes more sense:
John 4:20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” (ESV)
She has started her defense. She is ready to argue theology and doctrine. This is the first response of religion. The attack is on, “my way is right how you dare tell me your way is right? Your laws don’t apply to me since your ways are wrong and my way is right.” Can you hear it? Does it sound familiar? She is ready to defend herself with her best argument.
This is the pivotal point of the conversation. Jesus is going to do what He does best, set her free. Jesus declares the old is gone. The law is no more. The old way of worshiping is finished.
John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
When you see “the rest of the story” you can begin to understand what Jesus came to do for all of us. He came to set us free from us. He came to set us free from the law, our law keeping, and our lawyer nature. God has always been a God of Grace. He is a God of mercy. He died to prove it. The law was our idea, it was our plan, and it was our dysfunctional response to bad fruit consumption. God has always been pursuing us. His master plan was to do it all for us. He only wants His kids back in the family. He only wants our love. He only wants to love us.
Jesus uses this opportunity to reveal God’s true nature. This woman had no idea what was coming. She stepped right into His love for her. Jesus set her free from the greatest bondage in her life, herself. She already knew how broken her life was. She already expected condemnation from others and punishment from the law. She goes to the well when others aren’t there. She defends herself when challenged. She is living in guilt and shame. Jesus sets her free. He does it in a way that makes her free indeed. He changes the rules of the game completely.
Somehow this woman knows the heart of God. I really believe she does because she says this:
John 4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” (ESV)
She said Messiah not priest. She didn’t say family. She didn’t say husband…well. She says Messiah, (Savior, Immanuel, Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace)… She isn’t looking for doctrine or rules she is looking for God’s answers. Jesus has the answer she needs the most.
John 4:26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” (ESV)
Jesus has just declared a new thing. He has declared Holy Spirit welling up into eternal life. He has declared worship in Spirit and truth. He has declared “Christ in us the hope of glory.” He engages in an unlikely conversation with an unlikely theologian to set her and all of us free. Now you know the rest of the story.