READ : John 4:34-35
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him [that is Jesus] because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
John 4:39-42 rsv
Have you ever felt that, in matters of religion, you’d like to find out for yourself? You don’t want to simply go along with the crowd or borrow another person’s conviction. You want a faith, if you’re to have one at all, that’s first hand, personally real for you. I hope you do feel that way. I want to encourage you in that quest.
I was talking with an old friend at a sports event recently. He’s semi-retired and spends a good deal of his time in restaurants, talking to acquaintances. He told me that he’s always looking for persons who aren’t satisfied with simply belonging to a church, who seem to have a hunger to know the living God, to have a personal relationship with Him. I hope you’re on a search like that, because it brings great new possibilities to your life.
Here’s a passage of scripture that talks about that very thing. It’s from the Gospel according to John, chapter 4, at verse 39. Listen:
Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Did you notice that? “We have heard for ourselves, and now we know.” That’s full-orbed faith.
THE TESTIMONY OF OTHERS
Let’s look at the stages that led these people to that. First came the testimony of this woman who had met Jesus at the well. She was deeply impressed by the way He had shown interest in her, accepted her in spite of all of her past and seemed eager to impart to her a marvelous gift. She was most impressed, perhaps, at the way He knew so much about her past, about her marital history. She had actually left her water pot by the well and run back into the city to tell people about the remarkable person she had met. This is what she had said, with pardonable exaggeration, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”
Now this woman was obviously not a person of high repute in the community. She wasn’t the kind of person whose counsel people would normally follow. But there was something about her evident enthusiasm that sparked interest in the townspeople. They wanted to meet the man who had brought about what seemed to be a great change in this woman.
In almost every case, faith begins for us with the testimony of someone else. Think about the four books we call gospels in our New Testament. Those are not so much history books or even biographies as they are witnesses, testimonies to Jesus. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, all of the apostolic circle had seen and heard some wonderful things. They had come to believe that Jesus is indeed God’s Messiah and the Savior of the world. They had met Him risen from the dead, and had been commissioned to be His witnesses. When we read their gospels in our New Testament, we are listening to each of them telling us about Jesus. Faith begins for us when we take their witness seriously. We don’t start perhaps by believing or even understanding all that they write, but we’re at least interested; we’re impressed. We’d like to hear more.
How do children growing up in a Christian home come to faith, if they do? Maybe it’s what they hear in Sunday school or Daily Vacation Bible School or pick up in worship services. More likely, it’s the trust their parents have in Christ that touches them. They see the difference the Lord makes in the lives of mom and dad, and it makes them think about embracing the same faith. At least it prompts them to take it seriously.
Those of us who have come to Christ later in life have usually been affected by another person’s witness. I had a friend in high school to whom the Christian faith seemed to mean a great deal. I was impressed by the way he lived, both what he did and what he didn’t do. I could tell that his faith was important to him. So when he explained the gospel to me under a street light one evening in July, I was inclined to give it a careful hearing. Jack was convinced about Jesus and committed to Him. Maybe I should think about that, too. Jack was to me what that woman at the well was to the people back in the village. I began to believe because of what he believed and shared with me.
But for all of us who have become Christians, that was only the beginning, wasn’t it? What if all the Samaritan people knew was what the woman had told them? Their faith would never have gone very deep, just knowing that this man had told the woman about her past. And what if all children ever had was the memory of their parent’s faith? What if all I had received under that street light was just the impression that someone else believed in Jesus? Something like that can awaken our interest. It can get us started on the search. But there has to be much more if we’re really going to be followers of Jesus Christ.
Notice what happened next with these Samaritans. They came to Jesus. They asked Him to stay with them and He stayed there two days and many more believed, we read, because of His word. The witness of other people has done its intended work when it awakens in us a desire to meet the Lord. The woman, when she came back with her report into the village, didn’t simply say, “Somebody told me these things.” She said, “Come, see this man.” I don’t think faith would ever have gone very far with those people if they had simply said, “That’s interesting, but I don’t think I’ll bother to look Him up.” They were sufficiently affected by what she said, to get up and go where Jesus was.
If there’s anything I covet in life, it’s the ability to speak in the way that this woman apparently did. I’d like to tell people in a natural, enthusiastic way what Jesus Christ has done for me. I’d like to get them thinking about whether or not He really is the Christ, the Son of God, the hope of the world. And I’d like to invite them as winsomely and effectively as she did to come and see for themselves.
The Samaritans didn’t come to see Jesus merely out of curiosity, as though He were a kind of oddity. They engaged Him in conversation and asked Him to stay with them. In a sense, the woman is out of the picture now. She has persuaded them to come and see. She has told them her story. But now they’ve gotten to meet Jesus and their response to Him is taking them deeper. They listen carefully to what He’s saying. They sense in it the ring of truth. They’re drawn to Him. They want to hear more. Jesus, won’t You stay with us? Won’t You tell us more of these things? Won’t You help us to understand who You are and why You’ve come?
I’m glad to read here that He stayed with them two days. Jesus would never turn down a request like theirs. He might not accommodate people’s quest for a spectacular sign. He wouldn’t sign up self-confident volunteers. He wouldn’t always answer leading questions. But when someone really wanted to hear His word and get to know Him better, He always seemed to make Himself available. He told seekers how the Father delights to give to those who ask, how their asking, seeking and knocking would never be in vain, how God rejoices to give good gifts to His people.
And these Samaritans were surely on the right track. They didn’t simply want to see something remarkable. They weren’t asking for bread or anything else for themselves. They wanted Jesus. They wanted Him to be with them. They wanted to be near to the Lord, to be at His feet, to hear His word. And when people come to Him like that, they are never disappointed.
How about you? Are you there yet? You’re listening right now to somebody’s witness: this woman, the gospel writers, mine. Maybe someone close to you has already been talking to you about the Lord. You know about their faith. Have you taken any steps toward Jesus yourself? Have you shown any inclination to listen to what He says? Better still, have you invited Him to stay with you? If you have, you’re definitely on the way.
I’m impressed at the testimony of the apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians, chapter 3. He had been a Christian for a number of years. He was a profound theologian and a marvelously effective missionary. He was a pastor and leader of the church. And yet even at that stage in his mature life, this great man of God could say, “My one desire is to know Christ and the power of his resurrection, and to share his suffering in growing conformity with his death, in hope of somehow attaining the resurrection from the dead” (see 3:10). Faith was strong and growing in that man, just like it was with the Samaritans. He and they wanted to know Jesus. They wanted Him with them. They wanted to be identified with Him and to live in His presence.
That’s why Christians “on the grow” read the Scriptures every day, asking the Holy Spirit to be their guide. They want to hear Jesus speaking to them. They say from the heart: speak, Lord, Your servant is listening. They want to know the Lord better. And that’s also why they pray. That’s why they carve time out of the busy schedule every one of us has, to spend time with the Lord, to praise Him, to give Him thanks, to pray for others, to commit their lives afresh to Him, to pray for His name to be honored, His kingdom to come, His will to be done. That’s why they try to make all of life an unceasing prayer, one continuing miracle of fellowship with the Lord. That’s why they seek the fellowship of other Christians and attend gatherings for public worship. They’ve been captivated by Christ, and their great aim in Christ is to be with Him and know Him more and more.
Now listen to what happened to these Samaritans. First, “many more believed because of his word.” Apparently some had just come along mindlessly. Maybe they didn’t even hear what the woman had said. They just noticed that a crowd of people were moving out of town and decided they’d go along. But when they heard Him speak and stayed for a while with Him, they believed because of His word. Listen to what they all said to the woman: “It is no longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” Notice, they aren’t saying that she had nothing to do with it. In fact, they’re admitting that for a time, they had been sparked in faith by what she said. But now, that’s not the important thing – what someone else had told them. That’s not what has faith growing and moving in their hearts. They say, “We have heard for ourselves. We have met the Lord. We’ve listened to His word. That’s why we believe.”
Now it’s that first-hand faith we were talking about earlier, the faith that grows out of a living encounter with the Lord Himself, an eager listening to His word. And, they say, we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.
Their meeting with Jesus has now led them to full-orbed Christian faith. For them, it’s not simply Jesus, the wonder worker, the clairvoyant, who can tell people about their past. It’s even more than the conviction that He is the Messiah promised to Israel. They have come to believe in Him as the Savior, the One who rescues us from our danger and distress and who restores and renews us to what we are meant to be. Like them, we also believe that He, Jesus, is our deliverer, our hope. And not ours only but the hope, the Savior of the whole world, not only for the Jews, not only for the Samaritans, for the Greeks, not only for those of our circle, our set, our nation, our race. He is a Savior for everyone.
And because that’s true, friends, He’s a Savior for you. Will you this day acknowledge that you are one of those for whom He came? And having listened to His Word as you’re doing now, will you put your trust in Him, will you commit your life to Him? Will you say from your heart today, “I’ve heard for myself. This is real to me personally. I take Jesus as my Savior now.”
Prayer: O God, let everyone sharing this program pray like that, from the heart. In Jesus’ name. Amen.