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“We know that this man really is the Saviour of the world…” (John 4vs42)

Given our familiarity with the title, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that the New Testament only twice refers to Jesus as ‘the Saviour of the world’. Both of the references are found in the writings of John, the first in John 4vs42, to which we will return in a moment, the second in 1 John 4vs14. In the latter reference, the title is used by John himself in words reminiscent of the famous John 3:16. Calling upon the believers to love one another, John reminds them that God Himself is love and that as a result He has sent His Son to be “the saviour of the world”. It was to this great demonstration of the love of God that John and his fellow apostles were sent to testify through the gospel in the power of God’s Spirit (see also Romans 5vs8). In the former reference, the title is used not by John or by any of the early disciples of Jesus. It is used, rather unexpectedly, by a group of Samaritan villagers who were themselves introduced to Jesus by an even more unlikely witness, a Samaritan woman of dubious background.

The delightful story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman and His conversation with her is of course well known to readers of John’s Gospel. In the structure of John, it stands as a deliberate counterpoint to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, the Jewish teacher of the Law, recorded in the previous chapter. Convinced that Jesus is a teacher come from God, Nicodemus approaches Jesus and is met with a vital, but perplexing declaration. Though he is a teacher of Israel, Nicodemus needs to be born again in order to see and enter the kingdom of heaven (John 3vs3,5). Despite his privileged position and great responsibility as a teacher of the scriptures to Israel, Nicodemus in fact shows a profound ignorance of what Jesus is saying. Like the Samaritan woman, though with far less excuse, his mind seems locked in to earthly, rather than heavenly things (John 3vs4&vs12; cf 4vs11-15). His failure to understand Jesus’ words is itself a sign that he needs to be born again. Despite Nicodemus’ ignorance and lack of understanding, Jesus continues to teach him (and us!) the truth about the kingdom of God. This is surely a sign that Jesus remains committed to saving people like Nicodemus from among the Jews, though always by means of the clear proclamation of the gospel about his death (see John 3vs14-17). It is only by faith in the Son of Man (Jesus) who was lifted up that anyone is saved. And it is only through the regenerating work of the Spirit of God giving new birth that anyone can believe!

These important facts must be kept in mind as we move into John 4, so that as we follow the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman, we know that her growing understanding of Jesus’ words is not due to her own natural insight, but to the Spirit’s work. Slowly but surely Jesus leads her to the point where the conversation turns, first to her own life and then to Jesus’ identity as the Messiah. She comes to see herself as she really is but also in the light of the grace that Jesus’ words hold out to her. Little wonder then that she leaves her water jar and rushes back to the village to talk about Jesus. “Come”, she says, and “see a man who told me everything I’ve ever done” (4vs29). The Spirit and the Truth work together and a woman whose notoriety and shame kept her away from the townsfolk, especially from the other women, now rushes among them bearing testimony to Jesus’ life changing grace.

The story ends with the remarkable testimony by the villagers – “we know that this man really is the saviour of the world”. It is clear from John 4vs42, that the woman’s words about Jesus did play an important part in bringing the Samaritans to this conclusion. It is however also clear that Jesus’ own words were absolutely essential in the opening of the eyes of the Samaritans to the truth about Himself. Formerly excluded from the promise of God’s kingdom blessing, they find in Jesus a saviour, not only for Israel, but also for themselves and therefore for the world. Their declaration about Jesus provides a fitting conclusion to the two stories found in John 3 & 4. Taken together with Nicodemus’ words about Jesus (“a teacher who has come from God”) (John 3vs2) and Jesus’ own description of Himself (“the Son of Man who must be lifted up” (John 3vs14), the words of the Samaritan villagers stand as a testimony to all who read the gospel of John so that they might believe in this Jesus as the Saviour, and that believing, they might receive His kingdom gift of eternal life.