2018 06 03 am The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert John 4:1-42

Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

I want you to pretend that there is a meeting on Tuesday to talk about evangelism.  The bulletin note says that everyone who attends can give their ideas about where to target our evangelism efforts.  What would you say?  Who would you identify as those most likely to respond to the sharing of the gospel?  Would it be immigrants/refugees, perhaps?  Neighbours and workmates?  The homeless?  University students?  Prisoners?  Where do you think we should target our evangelism efforts?


Well, today we begin with the bird’s eye view of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman.  We will come back and kind of zoom in on some of the detail of this conversation in the next week or two, but today we want to take in the whole event and see what it says about where we should target our evangelism.


I have mentioned before the book by Rosaria Butterfield called The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  Rosaria was living in a lesbian relationship and she was a LGBQT activist when she converted to Christianity.  This is why she calls herself an unlikely convert.  But she was not the first unlikely convert.  Today we have an astonishing example of an unlikely convert from the NT.  And as we read about her encounter with the Lord Jesus, we get a valuable evangelism lesson.


Now, if you have been here in recent weeks, you will remember that 2:23-25 are very important for the chapters that follow.  There we read that Jesus “knew what was in a man.”  And I told you that we would then read about a man, Nicodemus, and this unnamed woman from Samaria.  And as they talked with Jesus we would see how Jesus knew what was in their hearts.  And at the end of these conversations, Nicodemus would not respond in faith and the Samaritan woman would respond in faith.  And we are supposed to put these two, side by side, as a kind of study in evangelism.


So let’s do that as we think first about the differences between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman and then about the similarities between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.


  1. So, first of all, the differences between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.


  1. And the first difference is obvious – Nicodemus was a man and the Samaritan woman is a woman.
    1. It’s very Un-PC to note this today, but readers from John’s day would have naturally expected more from a man than they would from a woman.
    2. And we get a glimpse of this in v27 when Jesus’ disciples returned and were surprised and horrified to find Him “talking with a woman.”
    3. Even today, the morning prayer of all Orthodox Jewish men includes this line: Blessed are you Lord for not making me a Gentile, a slave, or a woman.”
    4. But as you find again and again in the Gospels, society’s ‘conventions’ will be turned completely upside down as we read about Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman.


  1. Secondly, Nicodemus was Jewish and the Samaritan woman was from Samaria.
    1. In OT times, God’s chosen people were the Jews. For about 1500 years, your chances of salvation, if you were not Jewish, were virtually zero.  Just think about that!
    2. But after King Solomon, Israel was divided into the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. The Southern Kingdom was ruled by the Sons of David and it had Jerusalem and the Temple.  It was where the ‘true blue Jews’ were.  And as we read, eventually the people of the Northern kingdom were invaded and sent into exile.  Then Non-Jews were brought into the Northern kingdom to marry the few Jews who were left behind.  So the people there were no longer even Jewish.  And because Samaria was their capital city, they came to be called Samaritans.
    3. And they were the people that the Jews most hated and despised because they were seen as especially unclean because of their heritage.
    4. So according to the general OT pattern of salvation, Nicodemus was in and the Samaritan woman was out. But this too will be turned on its head as we read about Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman


  1. Thirdly, Nicodemus’ name is Greek, which probably means that he came from an educated, upper class family, and we are not even told the Samaritan woman’s name! She is so lowly in society that she is nameless.
    1. And we can add to this that Nicodemus was a highly educated teacher, while she is largely uneducated, which we discern from the general tone and content of the conversation. Nicodemus was a politician; she had no status whatsoever.  He was a Pharisee; she did not belong to a religious party.
    2. She really is a nobody in comparison to Nicodemus.


  1. But the fourth difference is fascinating and revealingly: You might remember that Nicodemus came to Jesus at night, but Jesus met the Samaritan woman, as we read in the end of v6, “about the sixth hour,” which is midday.
    1. And we noted that Nicodemus coming at night was probably because he didn’t want anyone to see him speaking with Jesus. Nicodemus had a good reputation amongst the ruling Jewish elite and he did not want to tarnish that reputation by being seen talking to Jesus during daylight hours.
    2. But midday was an unusual time for this woman to be coming to the well to draw water. Usually, women would gather at the well early in the morning to get the water for the day.  But as Jesus starts talking with this woman, we learn, in vv17-18, that she has had five husbands and that she is currently living with a man to whom she is not married.  Ahh!  Now it becomes clear why she is there at Midday.  This is a woman with a bad  You can imagine the nasty names that she was called, either to her face or behind her back.  So she comes to the well when no one else is likely to be there.
    3. So Nicodemus is highly moral; she is immoral. Nicodemus comes at night to protect his good reputation; the Samaritan woman is there at Midday because she has a bad reputation.


  1. Well, fifthly and lastly, note also that Nicodemus came to Jesus, while Jesus came to the Samaritan woman. Nicodemus was a ‘seeker,’ if you like.  He had seen and heard Jesus and he was interested and ‘open’ to learning more about Jesus.  But this woman was probably clueless about Jesus.  She was just there to draw water.  So having been approached by the sophisticated, important, highly moral, devoutly religious, Jewish, man, who did not respond in faith, Jesus approaches this simple! no-name! immoral! Samaritan! Woman!


Do you see how staggering the contrast is?  You just could not get two more opposite people.  But you see, the fact that Jesus talks with Nicodemus demonstrates that there is no one too high in life as to be above salvation.  Jesus did not view Nicodemus as outside His ‘target audience.’  Nicodemus may not have responded with faith, there and then, but He was still an appropriate target of evangelism.  The well-to-do, the educated, the good/moral of society, need to hear the gospel.  But the fact that Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman demonstrates that there is no one too low in life as to be beneath salvation.  If you are sitting there today, feeling overwhelmed by your failures, or your guilt, or your messy family situation, or your poverty, or your lack of ability in comparison to others, be encouraged by the account of Jesus and this Samaritan woman – the Gospel, the good news of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus is for you!


  1. And this comes out also as we think secondly about the similarities between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman. And there are three similarities:


  1. The first is that they both thought that they were spiritually OK.
    1. As we saw with Nicodemus, his major problem was that he simply did not see that he needed saving. He saw himself as Jewish and a law-keeper, so he was OK.
    2. And it is similar with this Samaritan woman. In vv19-20 we see that she has religious knowledge and practices and beliefs.  And v25 reveals that she has knowledge of a coming Messiah who will “explain everything to us.”  So you getv the sense that she too, with her practices and beliefs, thinks she is OK with God.
    3. And this makes them both very much like many of the people we meet every day, right?
      1. Moslems, Jews, and people of pretty much every other religion, even a lot of those who would identify as Christian, basically think eternal life will be given to those who do more good than bad. And they really do think that when the final weigh up occurs, they will be OK.
      2. Then you have those who describe themselves as spiritual. They simply have a God-connection.  So they too are OK.
      3. And today, more and more, you have those who claim that there is no God and no eternal life; this world is all there is; we evolved, we live, and then we die, and that is all that there is. So they too are OK.  They don’t need to be saved.
      4. So if Jesus spoke with those who thought that they were spiritually OK, so should we. Our target audience is getting wider and wider isn’t it!


  1. But secondly, in terms of the similarities, notice how both Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman were very literal in their response to the teaching of Jesus.
    1. Remember how it was with Nicodemus? Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”  And Nicodemus thought that all of a sudden he was part of an ante-natal class J  And when Jesus tells this woman about living water in v10, she can’t figure out how He will get it out of the well because He has no bucket J  And then in v15, we see that she thinks it would be great if He could get it, because then she wouldn’t have to come back to the well every day J  Both interpreted hat Jesus said in a very literal and physical way.
    2. And this is highly instructive for our evangelism today.
      1. Science is, of course, a good thing. But today it has become an excuse to ignore God.  Many people today would say, If I can’t see/touch/smell/hear/taste it, I will not believe it.  Sin/creation/miracles/heaven/angels – Sorry.
      2. Please turn with me to 1 Corinthians 2:14 (p. 1194). This passage is about the preaching of the gospel – the message that all people are sinners whose only hope is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died on the cross for the forgiveness of sins.  So look at v14: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”  The point being made here is that the gospel only makes sense to those who have the Spirit of God at work in their hearts.
      3. And congregation, this is wonderfully liberating in terms of evangelism! Don’t be surprised that people don’t understand what you are saying or they reject what you are saying.  Don’t think that you have to have all the answers to convince them.  Don’t think that they have to be poor or broken or rich or successful before the gospel will make sense to them.  Just share the gospel!


  1. And this is because of the third and last similarity between Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman, which is that they were both lost in their sin and guilt.
    1. The Bible is plain: “We all like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned our own way.” We “all fall short of the glory of God.”  We all deserve death and condemnation.  Before a person comes to know Jesus Christ as Saviour, he or she is under God’s wrath.  Nicodemus and this Samaritan woman were both lost; they were both guilty sinners.
    2. But look again at 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” And this Samaritan woman is a stunning example of this reality.  She came to the well a lost woman.  But at the end of the chapter she is an evangelist!  She has told others about Jesus and in v42 we read, “They said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”
    3. Do you see? You do not need to target your evangelism; Jesus “really is the Saviour of the world.”  The homeless andthose in Remuera mansions, the corporate high-flyer and the rubbish collector, the rich and the poor, the ‘good’ and the ‘bad,’ men and women, your average Kiwi neighbour and your neighbour who fasts for Ramadan or wears head coverings, all these can be lost.  And their only hope of salvation is to hear that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.”  For it is in the sharing of the Gospel that the Holy Spirit does His work in a person’s heart.
    4. And let me just say here that I am not saying that it is wrong for a person or a group to focus on prisoners or the homeless or Uni-students. The point is that we are wrong to think that the gospel is only for certain types of people.


Romans 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.”

So ultimately, it is not about targeting, it is about whether or not you are ashamed of the gospel!  Are you too ashamed to tell others about Jesus?  Don’t be.  They need to see and hear from you that you wake up and live and work for Jesus!  That you have chosen to stick in your difficult marriage for Jesus.  That you don’t swear and get drunk and sleep around because you are a follower of Jesus.  That you are not angry about your cancer diagnosis because you trust in a loving Father in heaven.  That you do not fear the end of the world through Nuclear Holocaust or ISIS because the world will end when Jesus returns.  That you are a saved sinner and that they can be too, if they will believe in Jesus.


And remember what we heard earlier about the role of the Holy Spirit!  Your task is to share the gospel; it is His task to convince people.  And He can convince anyone!


Would you like to have a part in the salvation of unlikely converts like this Samaritan Woman?  Can you imagine how wonderful it would be to see that up close?  Well, it begins with prayer!  Pray that the Lord may use you in this way.

And then share the Gospel, widely.  Amen.