Some Sidelights from Samaria
W. H. Wills, Belfast
We shall trace some lessons from
1. The Open Door, John 4.
2. The Closed Door, Luke 9.
3. Another Opening, Acts 8.
1. The Open Door
John 4. 4 Here we see the Lord Jesus Christ as the evangelist, heralding the good news of God's thirst-satisfying provision in Himself. We do well to note the ministry of the One of whom God had said, 'My servant shall deal prudently', Isa. 52. 13. Not only was His work characterized by a wisdom so obviously from above, but it achieved its objectives; it was divinely successful. For the well instructed ruler of chapter 3, He deals with the new birth, but now to a simple, superstitious woman of alien race, He directs attention to worship. How careful we need to be in dealing with individuals. Personal ministry cannot be carried out on a mass-production basis. We need to be in touch with the throne if we are to know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary.
What need there is for a sense of necessity to be laid upon us in connection with service. We read 'He must needs go through Samaria'. Sensitive to the directings of the Spirit, the Saviour of the world arrived at the well and sat there.
The historical associations of the scene cast their own light on the incident. True, this was Jacob's well, but Joseph's also (see Genesis 48). This parcel of ground had been given to the man with the coat of many colours. Rejected of his brethren and persecuted in the world, he had been exalted ultimately, becoming a saviour to his own generation. Little wonder we read that he was 'a fruitful bough by a well; whose branches run over the wall', Gen. 49. 22. Yet to none could this be applied so fittingly as to God's Christ, here seen at the well, His branches running over the wall of the Jews to reach and bless the Samaritans. Delightful confidence in God is manifested here. Evangelists, take note! The Lord was not worried about meat to eat. How often the disciples were; how often we are! He was not fretting about a congregation, though those outside were interested in numbers. Their statistics showed that 'Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John'. On the contrary, He quietly awaited the drawing of the Spirit. Faith was tested but wonderfully rewarded also. Large rivers have small beginnings and so had this work in Samaria, as had the 1859 revival and many a good work since then, by the grace of God.
We hear the Master speak. It reminds us of Genesis 3. 9 when God's voice broke the fearful silence with 'Where art thou?'. The Lord's request, not seemingly as pointed, was none the less to lead to an unmasking of sin. 'Give me to drink', He asked, completely disarming the woman. The voice of the Lord which 'breaketh the cedars of Lebanon and maketh the hinds to calve' reached her ear and stirred her conscience.
This simple request amazed her, as her response indicated. She spoke of national feelings which ran high between Jew and Samaritan. Yet here was a Jew who was having dealings with a Samaritan. She set forth her knowledge of the patriarch Jacob at length, as though she felt that she could not be silent in the august presence of this unusual Man. How readily the sinner speaks of anything, even religious topics, to avert the pressing problem of his own need.
The Lord was not to be side-tracked. Here was a needy soul and He spoke to her heart of a free gift. The ambassador's message is ever terse, personal and challenging; 'be ye reconciled to God', 2 Cor. 5. 20.
None the less, there still was not that acknowledgment of sin and need which would drive her to the feet of the Saviour. The Master pricked her conscience with 'Go call thy husband'. His second request not only surprised her but faced her with her sin. She stood condemned before Him who has eyes of fire. Now she perceived that He was not only a Jew but a prophet, yea verily, the prophet whom the Lord should raise up, Deut. 18. 18. Still she could not deflect the piercing words of the stranger, 'he whom thou now hast is not thy husband'.
Her final appeal was to her fathers' worship, namely this mountain versus Jerusalem, ignorant versus intelligent worship. She hinted at the promise of Genesis 3. 15 by referring to the coming Messiah. It is here that she was brought to realize in whose presence she stood. 'I that speak unto thee am he'. What change was wrought as the light burst in upon her darkened soul and mind. The revealing of Christ to the soul is the vital part of conversion. Then 'old things are passed away, behold all things are become new'.
This was a seed sown, a heart won, a fire kindled. But it was only the first fruit for the Man at Sychar's well. Happy the evangelist who sows seed on good ground, since it is but the beginning of a cycle of blessing. The work of God often has a humble and seemingly insignificant beginning, but the end manifests the multiplicity of His grace. In Galatians chapter 3, verse 8, we find that God evangelized Abraham. With him God began a new work of grace. Consider the stupendous results of such a quiet beginning.
Seed brings forth its kind in the purpose of God (compare Gen. 1). The woman of Samaria told others of Him, who in turn confessed Him as Christ, the Saviour of the world. Thus the one became many. May the Lord encourage us who have tasted the thirst-quenching waters, to speak of Him to others thereby making us channels of blessing today.
2. The Closed Door
Luke 9. 52 Here we find quite a different response. The Lord was about to leave Galilee and pass through the land to Jerusalem. He sent the disciples before Him. On entering a certain Samaritan village they found the people did not want the Lord to visit them because He was set on passing through to Jerusalem. Oh the tragedy of religious prejudice! This was their last opportunity of having Him in their midst in the flesh. Soon His hands and feet would be nailed to a felon's cross at Jerusalem. How many refuse Christ because of the cross!
James and John on recounting this to the Lord suggested a line of action. Destroy them! But is this the Gospel? Whilst there is a day appointed when God will judge the world, 'now is the accepted time: behold now is the day of salvation'. The Lord in quoting Isaiah chapter 61 (Luke 4.18-19) significantly terminated His reading before arriving at the end of the sentence. His ministry among men was one of binding up and grace; we live in the day of grace. Judgment looms ahead for the guilty, Christ-rejecting world, but He came not to destroy but to save.
What a test for the servant of God! Opened doors are sometimes closed. There is to be no retaliation, no vengeance, no hard preaching. There is another village, v. 56, one of a different type, where the message will be heeded and the Christ welcomed. Paul knew what it was to be forbidden to enter some areas and he submissively sought and fully exploited God's openings in others.
3. Another Opening
Acts 8. 5, 6
Ere the Lord ascended, He spoke of the widening circle of blessing which would radiate from Jerusalem. Judea, Samaria and even the uttermost parts would hear the glad evangel, Acts 1. 8. How slow the saints were to grasp this! The hatred, opposition and persecution of men were permitted, in the sovereign purpose of God, to scatter the church at Jerusalem. Brethren and sisters, fleeing from the wrath of man, carried the message with them and gossipped the Gospel as they went. Among the many witnesses scattered we read of Philip, who went to Samaria. In John 4, the fields were white to harvest. In Luke 10, following the seeming reversal of chapter 9, the Lord speaks of a harvest ready and the fewness of the labourers. Now, we read of the ripened harvest being reaped. They spoke of the cross, the grave, the resurrection and ascension of Christ as God's answer to man's need. There was joy in the hearts of those who believed, v. 8; obedience expressed in the waters of baptism, v. 12; and the receiving of the Holy Ghost, v. 17. Closed doors and persecution are never appreciated at the time. Let us not be swallowed up with despair, or develop a harsh spirit of retaliation through these things. We do well to use opportunities as they are continued to us and move on as doors close or we are prevented from furthering the Lord's work. There are great doors and effectual open today. Use them, brethren! There are still needs crying out to be met, men of Macedonia crying 'come over and help us'.