John 4 – Overview

As May (for Australian Baptists) is “mission month,” we looked at the story of Jonah last week. And this week, we see Jesus on mission in John chapter 4.

A model witness

I like hearing the stories of how couples started going out; particularly the ways in which guys try to broach the subject. “Pick up lines” you might call them in less-reputable institutions. One of my favourites is a guy in my church who asked out a girl with the following phrase: “please bear with me; I haven’t done this before.” Surprisingly, she agreed to go out with him, and they’ve now married for quite some time.

A number of years ago, an email was doing the rounds, claiming to be the top seven Christian pick up lines:

  • ‘Nice bible’;
  • ‘Want to go on a Purpose Driven date?’;
  • ‘Let’s go get totally depraved’;
  • ‘How about a holy kiss?’;
  • ‘Excuse me, I think you have one of my ribs’;
  • ‘For you, I’d work seven years… and seven more for your sister’;
  • (and my personal favourite) ‘I never believed in predestination before tonight.’

By contrast, the pick up lines that are actually in the Bible – well, they do sound a touch lame. Like the very first pick up line, in Gen 24, when Isaac’s looking for a wife. For a start, Isaac doesn’t even deliver the line himself; his dad sends one of his servants to do it for him. He turns up at the local watering hole and essentially asks a young woman “How about you buy me a drink?” She replies “Sure thing – would you also like me to water your camels while I’m there…” and the wedding is on.

But the most significant thing about that story is where it occurs – at a well. You see, for us now – in the New Testament era – the place to find a spouse is, of course, beach mission. Or bible college. But under the old covenant, you’d go wife-shopping at a well. We see it with Isaac and Rebekah; Jacob and Rachel; Moses and Zipporah. They all get their wives after meeting a strange woman at a well.

So in this week’s passage – John chapter 4 – when Jesus is at a well, and starts chatting to a woman who’s there by herself, and asks for a drink… If you knew your Old Testament like John’s readers did, you’d be wondering what’s going on. Is Jesus looking for a wife? Is this material for a whole other Dan Brown novel? Are we about to get some tips on How Would Jesus Flirt? Single guys, get ready to take notes …

But as is often the case in John’s gospel, there’s more going on than meets the eye. Time and time again John portrays Jesus as setting people up with earthly expectations only to give a surprise spiritual twist.

  • In chapter 2, Jesus says ‘I’ll destroy this temple and raise it again in three days’ – oh, but not the temple we’re all standing in at the moment, I mean the temple of my body.
  • In chapter 3 ‘You must be born again’ – oh, but not by entering a second time into your mother’s womb, Nicodemus, we’re talking spiritual rebirth here.
  • And at the end of this story in ch4, we have Jesus telling his rather puzzled disciples ‘I’ve already eaten’ – oh, but not earthly food; my food is to do the will of the one who sent me.

So here at the well in chapter 4, we have another in a long line of situations in John’s gospel where we’re set up to expect one thing, and given another. As the story goes on, we see that Jesus is seeking a ‘bride’ alright – but a spiritual bride. He’s not simply a man courting a prospective spouse; rather, he’s the Messiah enticing people into a spiritual relationship with God.

I suppose you could almost use the term ‘flirting’, in that he’s deliberately being intriguing; he’s subtly raising interest – not sexual interest, of course, but spiritual interest. And this is where we can all take notes from the master. Not on how to meet women at wells, but on how to whet a person’s spiritual appetite; how to intrigue people with the gospel.

Jesus, in fact, seems to be giving us a model. A model of how to help people on their journey to faith (a key theme in John’s Gospel). How to guide them, through the twists and turns, and bring them to the destination: eternal life.

So this week, we’re going to look not at the top 7 Christian pick up lines – but at the top 7 things we can learn from Jesus about witness.

To think about

Today, read through the whole story in John 4:1-43 and write down how you think Jesus goes about intriguing the woman with the message of the kingdom and its messiah.

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