How did the Pharisees hear about people being baptized by Jesus? I’m not sure, but it could have been hearsay, or it could be that they had spies keeping track of him. He had gotten their attention by cleansing the temple so it makes sense that they would be concerned about what he was doing. Unfortunately, their reconnaissance wasn’t totally accurate. They were also mistaken about who was doing the baptizing as John clarified that Jesus’ disciples were the ones who were baptizing people. The point of this is that Jesus was also aware that they were keeping tabs on him. Their fear of him becoming too popular would interfere with his broader ministry and so he withdrew.
Do you ever wonder why Jesus never baptized anyone? I can only speculate but Paul had a problem with people saying they were following him or Cephas or Apollos because they were possibly baptized by them (1 Cor 1:12-17). Perhaps Jesus didn’t want to baptize anyone because they could then claim some kind of authority. “I was baptized by Jesus, so you must follow me.” This kind of thinking would only draw people away from Christ. It shows how vulnerable we are to temptations and vulnerable we are to follow people instead of Christ.
This also shows that we should assess our ministry or work in the same way. We have to keep an eye on the long-term goals so that we don’t get distracted by short-term circumstances. Unlike Jesus, we would most likely have looked at the success and believed God was calling us to increase the ministry at the Jordan. Jesus wasn’t called to a ministry of popularity. He knew his ministry was to become the Savior and it had to be done at the right time, so he left.
It's interesting that this information about Jacob giving Joseph a plot of ground isn’t recorded in the OT. Chasing down this rabbit hole could be a distraction. What is important is the location. It depicts a real place. It gives us some immediate information showing that Jesus didn’t have the snobbery of the Pharisees who wouldn’t even go through Samaria and become defiled by its people. It gives credibility to the reality of what is about to happen as well as the nature of Jesus to seek and save the lost. About noon – it was a pretty hot time of day. And Jesus was tired, it shows his human nature.
This is lesson one in evangelism. Look for a common interest in striking up a conversation. Even showing vulnerability. Don’t look at the person’s outward appearance, man, woman, ethnicity, education, social position, or anything else. You probably are aware that a Pharisee wouldn’t be caught dead speaking to a woman in public much less a Samaritan woman. Had any Pharisees been there they would have been totally shocked that Jesus intended to drink from her hands. He broke all the cultural taboos just talking to her.
One way of witnessing for the fainthearted is to pass out tracts. I do it at the gas station. I only have a few seconds to get a person interested. I often make a comment about their car or whatever the Holy Spirit brings to mind. As they finish filling their tank or I have to turn back to mine, I give them an attractive gospel tract. My favorite is a “Smile.” You can find it at https://on-tract.com. With the author’s permission, I’ve modified it slightly and is in color with our church’s information so they can have a good place to attend should they come to Christ.
John gives us this is information because we need to understand how radical Jesus’ request was. Not everyone who reads the Gospel of John knows this and it is vital to see that the gospel is for everyone, and we must penetrate all barriers to bring the good news.
Lesson two in evangelism is to introduce spiritual content into the conversation. Even though Jesus asked for a drink and the woman came back with an evasive response, he still persisted and talked of God and something she didn’t have a clue about – living water. Ask a question like where they go to church. Don’t ask if they go to church. Even if they say they don’t, it may be an opening. If they ignore it completely, or answer with a negative attitude, that may be the end of the conversation. It isn’t time to talk further with them about the Lord.
Lesson three, pay attention to the answer. Though she might have been curious about the gift of God, she ignored it. The water was the lead into spiritual things. She didn’t have the foggiest idea what Jesus was talking about. But her curiosity hit on it. Note that she was still defensive and challenged Jesus. She was claiming Jacob as her ancestor. She imagined her spiritual future was based on her ancestors just as the Jews did. In today’s world this would have been the same as answering about going to church that or that her great grandpappy was a deacon or a preacher.
We do the same when we depend on our denomination to define our relationship with God. Other ways of defining ourselves is by claiming to be Calvinist or Arminian, reformed, evangelical, dispensationalist or covenantalist. Identifying ourselves in these ways locks us into theology that will eventually come into conflict with Scripture. Though each has its good sides, they also have errors. It is best to identify with Christ and let the Bible determine your theology and have no other label.
Lesson four, look for any opening that will let you talk more about the gospel. Jesus immediately turned her focus away from the physical water to eternal life. Specifically, Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit. We don’t want to miss this in comparing this to our lessons in witnessing. He points her to the fact that there is eternal life. We would probably ask the person the two questions:
“If you were to die tonight, do you know where you would go?”
“If you did die and you stood before God and he ask you why he should let you into heaven, how would you answer him?”
These two questions reveal what they believe about eternity and what they are trusting to save them.
Lesson five, don’t be put off by a response that still doesn’t look like it will go any further. She is still thinking of physical things. Our subjects may be still thinking about salvation by works or may even say they don’t believe in heaven or hell. But they are responding. They haven’t told you to get out their face. So, press on. Tell them that the Bible tells us that heaven is a free gift and can’t be earned. Ask them if he would like to hear more.