The Alarmy app for the iPhone has changed my life.
The genius of this alarm is that, in order for the wake tone to be disarmed, I have to grab my phone, get out of bed, walk into the bathroom, and take a photo of my sink faucet. Taking that photo turns off the alarm.
Since the hardest part of getting up is actually getting up, the biggest hurdle of the day is already conquered. I am just two steps away from the shower handle.
Using Alarmy has empowered me to get up every morning at 6:00 a.m. without fail, and without hitting the snooze button two, three, or seven times.
My mornings are now so much more productive than before.
I want to make it clear that the company hasn’t demanded or even requested that I tell anyone about their app.
But I can’t help it. This app has changed — no, revolutionized — my life.
As a result, I have become an Alarmy missionary.
It is the same way with the gospel.
When my life is revolutionized by the grace of God in Jesus, I will not have to be commanded to share the gospel.
Why? Because we share freely about things that have changed us deeply. I will want what has changed my life to change your’s, too.
This is what happened to a woman from Samaria in John 4 after she encounters Jesus. Although Jesus never commands her to share her testimony, she just can’t help it.
We need what happened to her to happen to us.
Let’s start in verses 1–4.
The Importance of Samaria
1 Now Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that he was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John — 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 So he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. 4 Now he had to go through Samaria.
A map of the region will help us get our bearings.
While the most direct route from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria, there were alternate routes that could have been taken along the Mediteranean coast to the west or the Jordan River to east.
Without going into great detail, let’s just say that Samaritans, who were descended from Israelites who had intermarried with non-Jews during the Assyrian exile in 700s B.C., were the black sheep in the Jewish family tree. Over centuries, there had been a tremendous amount of rivalry and animosity built up until, in 128 B.C., the Jews and Samaritans went to war that resulted in the Jews burning down the Samaritan temple on Mt. Gerazim. Travelling the extra miles to avoid exposure to Samaritans would have been worth the effort.
Therefore, when the text says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria,” we need to understand that he didn’t have to go that way geographically. But he did have to go that way in order to teach his disciples a lesson about why he was sent by the Father. So passing through Samaria was not a geographic necessity as much as a missional necessity.
Jesus Encounters a Woman at Jacob’s Well
5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 9 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.
There are three things for us to note in verses 5–9.
First, note the geography. The well is almost a mile and a half round trip from the nearby town of Sychar.
Second, note the time of day. It is noon.
Drawing water typically took place in the cool of the morning or the evening, not in the heat of the day. Not only would the mile and a half walk itself be tiring, but this well, which still exists, is over 130 feet deep (and probably was much deeper at the time). It is a depth which would demand a great deal of physical exertion and stamina to lower a leather bucket, let it fill, and then hoist it up that distance over and over again to fill a 20-gallon clay pot, which the woman would carry back to town on her head or shoulders.
Third, note the woman’s confusion.
She knows that Jesus has just crossed a well defined social barrier. A first-century Jew would rather die of thirst than drink out of a Samaritan’s cup.
But Jesus isn’t an ordinary Jew.
What We Need to Know
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.”
There are two things she needs to know that we need to know.
One, she needs to know Jesus’s true identity. “If you knew who it is that asks…”
He is unlike any other man she has ever known. He doesn’t come to take, use, and discard. He came to sacrifice, give, and bless.
Second, she needs to know the gift of God.
With this statement, Jesus has just introduced her to the mind-blowing, revolutionary concept… of grace which is represented by this living water, which can’t be bought, earned, deserved, or worked for in any way.
It must be received as a gift.
This woman is hopeful but understandably skeptical.
Skepticism Mixed with Desire
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?” 13 [Jesus replied,] “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 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.”
Do you hear the desperation in her voice?
She is so tired of the daily hike out to the well in the searing heat. Her muscles are weary from pulling up the rope over and over and over, day after day after day.
Oh, to have even one day of rest.
Most of us can relate to this, can’t we?
But Jesus knows that her physical exhaustion is merely a parable of her spiritual condition.
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”
Now we know why she went to draw water in the heat of the day rather than with the respectable ladies in the cool of the morning.
This woman was a social and moral outcast — a real sinner.
I think it is important to emphasize that Jesus does not expose the brokenness of her life to condemn her but to save her.
In this day, a woman couldn’t initiate a divorce. Only a man could legally sever the marriage, which reveals just how deep the wounds of rejection would have been.
We can imagine that like us, one of her deepest desires would have been to be loved and accepted. To be provided for and protected.
Instead of love and protection, she had experienced a lifetime of rejection and abuse, possibly homelessness. Unwanted as a friend and unloved as a wife.
She is so desperate for love that she is willing to live with a man who is not her husband, which would have been the scandal of scandals for a small community like that.
In the words of the old country song, she had been looking for love in all the wrong places and in too many faces.
Yet, we understand this because we do the same thing. Like her, some seek to quench our spiritual thirst with serial relationships. Others of us through career advancement, or shopping addictions, or vacations or libations.
A vacation may help reduce our spiritual thirst and exhaustion for the short term. A few drinks can provide a short term distraction. A new pair of shoes will give you a high for a moment.
But then the thirst returns.
Only the living water of the gospel can satisfy the deeper thirst in the soul.
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
The “mountain” to which she refers is Mt. Gerazim near Sychar, which was the Samaritans’ worship center, as opposed to the center of Jewish worship located to the south in Jerusalem.
Some think that the woman is deflecting, turning the conversation away from her personal sin.
I don’t think she is deflecting at all.
Her sin was no secret. She had nothing left to hide.
I believe she really wants to be right with God. She wants to be loved and forgiven. She wants to be wanted.
She is leaning in.
Up to this point, her understanding of religion and the process of being forgiven was much like drawing water. Whether pulling the rope of a well or climbing up a mountain to worship, both require a great deal of effort.
But this is the way every religion functions. In the same way that drawing water is hard work, getting right with God is hard work.
Do the right things. Attend the ceremonies. Say the right words. Make the necessary sacrifices.
Every religion in the world is about what we must do for God.
Except for the religion of Jesus, which is about what he does for us. It is not about the water we give to him but the water he gives to us.
Worship: Not a Duty but a Response
21 “Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”
In this reply, Jesus addresses two simple and related topics: (1) the necessity of salvation and (2) the source of true worship.
To be saved is to be rescued. And the predicament from which we need deliverance is not to be minimized.
For hundreds and hundreds of years, there had been sacrifices made to God at Mt. Gerizim and in Jerusalem where animals were burned on an altar, representing the severity of justice demanded by the law in view of sin.
What we learn is that Jesus wasn’t only a prophet of God, he would be the sacrificial lamb of God, crucified for sinners, enduring the flames of judgment on the altar of a cross, fulfilling the demands of justice so that we can drink the living water of mercy.
As John records in 7:37–38, “Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’”
For those who will drink from the well of grace, we don’t just get a drop, but rivers and rivers of grace upon grace as the Spirit floods us with a deep and abiding sense of the forgiving and reconciling love of God.
Now we see how rescue and worship are connected.
Being the recipient of such a rescue is what creates the response of worship. Thus, the true worshippers of God are not those who work for God’s approval but those who rest in God’s work centering in the cross of Jesus.
This is a lot to take in and took time to process.
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you — I am he.” 27 Just then his disciples returned and were surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?”
Without time for her to react to such a bombshell statement, Jesus’s disciples show up.
The timing is perfect because this encounter is the lesson the disciples needed to learn. This is why Jesus had to go through Samaria.
To encounter this woman in order to demonstrate the barricade shattering power of the gospel that breaks through social barriers, racial barriers, gender barriers, and moral barriers.
The lesson is not only being taught by Jesus but by the Samaritan woman.
Remember, they had just come from the town to buy food.
A Missionary is Born
28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” 30 They came out of the town and made their way toward him.
Why did she leave her water jar?
First, without the weight, she could run back to town. Speed was her concern. She wanted to get back quickly so that she could share the story with others.
Second, she was willing to leave the jar because she knew she was coming back.
The difference between the woman and the disciples is that she came back, not with produce, but with people.
Furthermore, the folks she went to reach were the very people who had despised and rejected her, making this sinful woman one of the most Christ-like people in the entire Bible — as Jesus himself was sent to a people who would despise and reject him, too.
We read later in the chapter that many, practically the entire village, ended up believing upon and receiving Jesus as the Messiah.
So, what will it take for me to become a missionary like the woman at the well?
A Three-Part Process
1) A Story of Ruin (and Desperate Need)
It is hard to believe that a missionary would begin her training at such a desperate place of brokenness, sin, and shame, but this is a consistent example throughout the Bible.
The best missionaries are the ones who most know their need for God’s mercy.
This is why Jesus came. Not to congratulate good people but to rescue ruined people.
And that is the second part of the process.
2) An Encounter with Grace
It is Jesus who pursues the woman. He builds a bridge into her life by breaking every ethnic, social, and religious custom in the books in order to rescue her from the ruins, giving her far more than she could have ever expected.
She just wanted some well water. Jesus provides living water.
She just wanted to make it another day. Jesus offers eternal life.
She just wanted a man to love her. Jesus reveals the love of God for her as Father.
It is this encounter with the gift of God in Jesus that leads to the final part of the missionary making process, where she manifests…
3) A Compulsion to Share
Her life is so radically affected that she is compelled to tell others about it.
Jesus never commands her to go back to the village and tell the townspeople anything.
She is not obeying an evangelism rule or an expectation to share her faith.
She just can’t help it!
An Atheist’s Deepest Desire
Madalyn Murray O’Hair is best known as the founder of the organization, American Atheists, and being instrumental in the early 60s lawsuit that led to the prohibition of mandatory prayer and Bible reading in public schools.
If there has ever been anyone who hated Jesus more than the pre-converted apostle Paul, it may have been Madalyn.
In an interview with Austin Miles, she reported that, “Christians drive by and throw eggs at our home daily… We get threatening phone calls every day of our lives from Christians quoting the Bible to prove my doom.” She also claimed that her son had been bullied and beaten up repeatedly and had to be hospitalized after the attacks on several occasions.
In 1995, O’Hair went missing, along with her son, Garth, and grand-daughter, Robin.
Their remains were found buried near a ranch in Real County, Texas, 90 miles west of San Antonio. According to The New York Times (3/16/01) all three had been tortured and killed by a former American Atheists employee who had been fired for embezzling $54,000 from the organization.
Not long after the O’Hairs were reported missing, Madalyn’s personal diary was discovered. In it was a surprising confession of a deep spiritual thirst.
She wrote: “I have failed in marriage, motherhood, and as a politician.”
Then, she added this line, which is repeated six times: “Somebody, somewhere, please love me.”
Making It Personal
Maybe you can relate to Madalyn Murray O’Hair more than you expected. Maybe we can have a greater compassion because any of us could write that line.
This had been the woman at the well’s refrain, too. “Somebody, somewhere, please love me.”
Then Jesus shows up. At a well. The very same well where we read in Genesis 29, that at midday, Jacob met Rachel — the woman who would become his wife.
In order to access the well in Jacob’s day, a large stone had to be removed from the covering of the well to access the water.
A similar stone would be rolled away to release the living water of God for thirsty sinners like you and me — not a stone exposing a well but a stone exposing an empty tomb.
Where the crucified and risen, beloved bridegroom, with nail-scarred hands responds to our refrain, “I will. Yes, I will love you unto death and I will never let you go.”
It is when I abide in that love that God makes me a missionary, bringing the living water of Jesus to a world dying of thirst.
If you have never received this gift of God in Christ, I bid you come and drink from the well of life by believing upon Jesus as the Rescuer and Lover of your soul.
- What is something that has changed your life that you share freely with others?
- What does it mean for the gospel to change a life? Not just positionally, but existentially — in the day in and day out.
- Why does Jesus expose her history with men? What is he trying to expose?
- Jesus doesn’t always reveal his divinity as explicitly as he does here. Why do you think he makes it clear that he is the Christ?
- Why does the 3-part process of missionary development lead to a compulsion to share? What is the hinge issue?
- In what way can every human relate to Madalyn Murray O’Hair’s cry for someone to love her? How might that impact a believer’s engagement with those who do not yet believe?