The Scarlet Woman
March 29th, 1987 @ 10:50 AM
THE SCARLET WOMAN
Dr. W. A. Criswell
3-29-87 10:50 a.m.
Once again we welcome the throngs of you who share this hour on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the message. It is an exposition of the central part of the fourth chapter of the Fourth Gospel, the Gospel of John. I have entitled it The Scarlet Woman. She is the central piece in the story. But actually, the message is a presentation of the Lord Jesus, who is a marvel to His disciples. That is in the twenty-seventh verse: “And the disciples marveled at Him” [John 4:27]. And no wonder, He was the great Dissimilar; He was the great Unlike; He was the great Incomparable, our Lord Jesus.
First, they were amazed at His Samaritan ministry. In the ninth verse of this fourth chapter: “For the Jews have no dealings,” sugchraomai, from which they get sugchrontai, no dealings, no anything, “with the Samaritans” [John 4:9]. They were publicly cursed in every synagogue, those Samaritans.
When the Assyrians took away into captivity the northern ten tribes, the Assyrians gathered heathen and placed them in the empty land where the ten tribes had lived. And those heathen from Mesopotamia intermarried with the remnant that was left in the land, and with renegade Jews from the Southern Kingdom, and that mixture of half-breeds were called Samaritans.
From the beginning there was bitterness between them to the north, and the Jews to the south. The Samaritans built a rival temple there on Mt. Gerizim, at the foot of which mountain Jesus is standing talking to this woman [John 4:6-7]. And John Hyrcanus, in the line of the Maccabees, destroyed it.
You know it’s an unusual thing; those disciples went in to Sychar to trade with the Samaritans [John 4:8], but it never entered their minds to tell them that the Messiah, the Savior of the world, was just outside the gate. Isn’t that an astonishing thing about God’s people, and God’s finest people? I had a businessman here in the city of Dallas many, many years ago. As I talked to him, the name of one of my deacons came up. And he said to me, “What!? Is he a deacon in your church?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said to me, “I’ve been doing business with him more than twenty years, and I did not know he was a Christian, much less that he was a Baptist, and a member of your church, and a deacon in your congregation.”
How often does that characterize us? We talk about everything under God’s heaven; and yet say no good word about our Lord. That’s these disciples: there in the city doing business, dealing with the Samaritans [John 4:8], and never occurred to them to tell them that just outside the way, Jesus is here. Oh, dear! But however the people thought about the Samaritans, the sugchraomai, just no dealings with them.
In the fourth verse, it says: “Jesus must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4]. And the disciples were astonished at His proposal. You see, all of these Jews, all of them, when they went to Jewish Galilee from the south, they crossed over the Jordan River clear into Perea, walked up through Perea, and then crossed back over the Jordan River into Galilee. Not Jesus, not Jesus. These despised Samaritans were in His purview also. “And He must needs go through Samaria” [John 4:4].
Not only were the disciples amazed at the Lord; that He goes through Samaria; that He traffics with them; that He deigns to walk on their territory and to speak to them—not only were they amazed at the Lord—but they were amazed, it says here in the Bible, that He talked with a woman [John 4:27]. And upon this came His disciples, and marveled that He talked with her. Now in the King James Version, out of which I preach, it says that “He talked with the woman.” That’s not what John wrote. John wrote it like this: “And when His disciples came, they marveled that He talked with a woman”…a woman!” [John 4:27]. He, a renowned and gifted and popular rabbi, teacher, master, talking with a woman!
Christianity and our Lord has brought more to elevate womanhood than any other factor or movement in human history, or human story, or human life. What an incomparable debt does woman owe to Christ Jesus our Lord! The greatest Greek of them all, Socrates, said, “I thank the gods that I’m a Greek and not a barbarian. I thank the gods I’m a freeman and not a slave. And I thank the gods that I’m a man and not a woman.” And in the Hindu reincarnation religion, if you are bad, you’ll come back as a dog. If you are worse, you’ll come back as a spider. If you are vile, you’ll come back as a serpent. But if you are incredibly wicked, you’ll come back as a woman! That is universal. That’s not isolated or unique or particular. That’s the universal story of mankind.
Woman! They marveled, it says, that Jesus talked with a woman [John 4:27]; and not only that, but this woman. This woman—she had five husbands; and the man she was then living with was not her husband [John 4:18]. Why in the world bother to divorce? After you divorce one time, two times, three times, four times, five times, it gets monotonous. So she just didn’t bother to divorce anymore. She just started living with all those series of men; five husbands, and the man she now lives with is not her husband [John 4:18].
Now I want you to look at the tremendous transformation in the life of this woman. It says here in the Bible, in verse : “And the woman left her waterpot, and went her way” [John 4:28], and declared to all creation around her what had happened to her through the grace, and love, and compassionate care of this Man, Jesus [Acts 4:29].
The marvelous thing! There is no woman in the East, ever, who would have gone off without her waterpot. That was a vital part of life. Coming to the well over a long, dry, dusty road; and so excited, and so exalted, and uplifted, and praiseworthy—she forgot it and went everywhere saying the marvelous things that happened to her in Christ Jesus [John 4:28-29].
A third amazement of the apostles: amazed that He walks through Samaria [John 4:4] and as a ministry with the Samaritans; amazed that He talks to a woman [John 4:27]; and amazed at the marvelous harvest. Verse : “Lift up your eyes, and look [John 4:35]—look at that throng of hungry-hearted, eager Samaritans coming out to listen to the Word of God…” Dear me! How those disciples—if they had any feelings at all—must have been ashamed! “We expected no additions to the kingdom of God among these hated and despised, outcast people, and just look at them. Look at them!” And how they must have felt rebuked! They: nothing! And this despised scarlet woman, in her testimony, bringing a whole throng to the Lord! [John 4:28-30, 39-42].
And that gave rise to one of the most meaningful of all the addresses of our Lord:
Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; they are white already to the harvest.
He that reapeth receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit unto life eternal: that both he that soweth and that he that reapeth may rejoice together.
And herein is that saying true, One man soweth, and another man reapeth…
Other man labored, and ye are entered into their labors.
I have three things to summarize what our Lord said in that beautiful and brief discourse. Number one: seed sowing is never in vain. It matters not how humble or how apparently lost our word of testimony. Seed sowing is never lost. It is never futile, or sterile, or in vain. God said in Isaiah 55: “My word shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that… for which I have sent it” [Isaiah 55:11].
Some of the seeds we sow may fall upon stony ground [Matthew 13:5]. That’s right! Some of the seed we sow may fall by the way side. And the dirty and unclean birds [Matthew 13:4], the infidel and the agnostic, the secularist and the humanist, may pick it up. Some of the seed that we sow may fall among thorns and be choked to death [Matthew 13:7] by the forms of materialism and worldliness that grow up around it. But some of it—some of it will always bring a reward and a fruit unto God [Matthew 13:8]. It never fails! It never fails! Seed sowing is never in vain! God blesses it, in God’s time, and in God’s way [Mark 4:2-20].
As you know, I have been a pastor for sixty years. And in that long period of ministry, I was thinking through a thousand instances of this: seed sowing is never futile, or sterile, or in vain. Out of a multitude of experiences, I lift one little page out of the book of my life. There was a young man and his young wife in my church. And they were called to be pastor of a county seat town. It was a very harsh and difficult situation. They worked and they testified, and they visited and they witnessed, apparently to no avail. They asked me to come and hold a revival meeting with them; I did. I laid this task down for a week; and I went to help them. I visited also, day and night, that young couple and I, from house to house.
I preached in the morning and I preached at night, to no avail. Nobody responded. Seemingly nobody was interested. On Sunday, we announced we’d have one service, Sunday school and worship hour put together; we’d have one service.
So when all the people were gathered together, jammed into that church house, I preached the best that I could; made the most prayerful appeal that I could; sang the hymn of appeal. Not a soul moved, not one! I continued to plead and sing, and plead and sing, and nobody responded, nobody. Think of the work of that sweet couple; and think of the days of that revival meeting, and the intercession, and the prayer—the seed sowing—and no harvest at all. But, as we pled, and as we prayed, and as we sang, and as we continued, one somebody responded—never forget that—one somebody responded.
And then, continuing the appeal and the singing, somebody else did, and somebody else did. Dear people, that’s the only church service I’ve ever held in my life where I knew that everyone present was in the kingdom of God. When that service was done, there was a multitude up there. About two-thirds of that congregation were up there at the front; accepting the Lord as their Savior; joining the church to be baptized; following in the appeal, and love, and grace, and mercy, and forgiveness, and salvation of our Lord Jesus! God never fails His people; He never lets us down. Seed sowing is never in vain [Isaiah 55:11; Matthew 13:8].
However apparently the stony ground, or the harshness of those in the world who deprecate it, or the materialism of this earth chokes it to death, seed sowing is never in vain. In God’s time, and in God’s way, it will always bear a fruit unto the Lord [Matthew 13:8; Mark 4:20].
A second thing, encapsulating what our Lord has said: the harvest is more ready than you think [John 4:35]. Our tendency always is, “These people are hard. It is difficult. They are indifferent.” That’s always our response. You do not know what providences of life have led to that moment where you are making an appeal for Christ. You never realize: these have witnessed; and these have testified; and these providences have poured their appeal into the heart of that man, and you don’t know it; you don’t realize it. And the harvest is more ready than you think [John 4:35].
We had here in our metroplex a marvelous, wonderful preacher and pastor, Dr. C.E. Matthews. He founded, and shepherded, and pastored the Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth for a generation, where Joel Gregory is now pastor. One of the great congregations of the world; he built that church. He was my friend from the days of my youth. I adored C.E. Matthews. He talked to me so many times. I had several revival meetings with him there in Travis Avenue Church. He said to me, “You know, I was converted when I was thirty years old.” By the time I was thirty, I’d been a pastor for thirteen years. He said, “I was converted when I was thirty years old. But,” he said, “you know, when I was seventeen years of age”—seventeen—“my friend and I went to a revival meeting. And we stood there in the invitation; and a personal worker came back where we were standing, and he talked to my friend.” And he said, “My friend gave his heart to the Lord Jesus right there.”
We don’t do that anymore. When I began my ministry, when we made appeal, people went to others and pled with them to accept the Lord, offered to walk down the aisle with them; we don’t ever do that anymore. This personal worker came and talked to C. E. Matthews’ friend and won him to the Lord, and walked down the aisle with him, and left Mr. Matthews, the seventeen year old boy—left him standing there by himself.
He said, “I was too timid and hesitated too deeply to step out on my own and go down there and give my heart to the Lord. But,” he said, “had just anybody said something to me about inviting me to the Lord, I would have accepted it, and I would have been saved when I was seventeen years of age. As it was,” he said to me, “I was not converted until I was thirty.”
The harvest, the harvest is more ready than you think [John 4:35]. There are providences in life that you don’t know about that bring a man to the Lord [John 4:38]. There’s a businessman, hard as he could be; I witnessed to him, talked to him, to no avail. I went back to his office one other time. And when I walked into his office, he was seated there behind his desk with his face in his hands, crying heart-brokenly. I sat down. There had come into the circle of his family an unspeakable sadness and tragedy. And he was there, having just received the word. He was there weeping at his desk. In no time at all I had that man into the kingdom, baptized him, baptized his wife, baptized his children. You don’t know the providences of life that lead a man into the kingdom. The harvest is more ready than you think [John 4:35].
And our Lord makes one other avowal. He says that they that sow and they that reap shall rejoice together [John 4:36]. Now that’s an amazing thing! They that sow shall rejoice, as well as they that reap rejoice. They that sow shall rejoice both in this earth and in the world to come; they that sow, who never know, who never realize what they have done.
There is a wonderful church in this big metroplex of ours. They invited me to speak to a banquet. And as I sat there by the wife of the deacon who emceed the program, as I set there by his wife at the banquet, she turned to me and told me, she said, “I gave my heart to Jesus listening to you preach on the radio. That’s why I’m a Christian, listening to you preach on the radio.” I had no idea. Never dreamed, it never entered my mind that the wife of that wonderful man who is emceeing that beautiful banquet, she gave her heart to the Lord listening to me on the radio. What an amazing thing!
I was preaching at a state convention in South Carolina. And the man who introduced me, who presented me, was a young man, a brilliant fellow. He had been a professor in one of our great seminaries, and now was pastor of one of their leading churches in South Carolina. When he presented me to the convention, he said, he said, “When I was a youth, my father committed suicide. And I was plunged into the depths of darkness and despair. Not a Christian; not brought up in the faith—just alone, without answers, in a world of death and darkness and despair.” And that brilliant young pastor said, “I went to a meeting where Dr. Criswell was speaking. And when he was done, he gave an invitation, made an appeal. And in answer to that appeal, I came out of the depths of darkness and despair; and I gave my life to Christ; and I gave my whole future into His hands to be a servant of the Lord.”
I never dreamed of such a thing. I never knew of such a thing. They that sow shall rejoice [John 4:36-37]. Saying words for Jesus; you’ve even forgotten about them. Testifying, and you don’t even remember it; and yet what wonderful fruit brought unto God! Isn’t that the twenty-fifth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew: “And these shall say, Lord when did we ever see You sick and visit You? Or in prison, or naked, or hungry and fed You, and clothed You, and ministered to You? [Matthew 25:37-39] When did we ever do that? I don’t remember it. When?”
And the Lord shall reply: “When you did it unto one of the very least of these that you have forgotten about, you did it unto Me” [Matthew 25:40].
Seed sowing, these who sow shall rejoice. And these who reap, and these who reap, shall rejoice [John 4:36]. Ah, I can just see that, these who reap shall rejoice. The real reward of a true scientist is not the emoluments that accompany his work, but all the world of truth into which he enters as a scientist, as a learner, as an explorer, as an experimenter; all the wonder of God’s world all around us.
Kepler, a dear friend of Galileo, the founder of modern astronomy, the science of astronomy, Kepler lived on a pittance, but he discovered all of the laws of planetary motion. And I can just think of the fullness of heart, and soul, and life of Kepler, half-starved, but seeing the hand of God in the great universe above us.
A true physician’s reward is not in the emoluments of his office; it’s in the wonderful reward of what he sees in his patients. There’s a doctor who has, in a little glass case, a dilapidated, one-eyed, one-eared teddy bear. And if you ask him, “Why do you so carefully preserve that?”
And he will say, “That little girl, blind, I operated on her eyes. And she looked at me; she could see.”
And the mother said, “Honey, what are you going to give the doctor who has opened your eyes that you can see?”
She had one little thing in her poverty: a one-eyed, one-eared teddy bear. And she said, “I will give him this. It is all that I have.”
And the doctor said, “That was the finest reward I’ve ever received in my life.”
These who reap, rejoice! [John 4:36]. I have been in the heart of Africa and have seen the missionary standing with his little flock around him, the reward of his labors. I have seen that in the heart of the South American jungle, the reward. These who reap shall rejoice [John 4:36]. And that is the soulwinner’s reward. The dying soldier in no man’s land said to the chaplain, “And chaplain, just one other thing: tell the Sunday school teacher who won me to Christ, tell her I thank her, and I’ll meet her in heaven.”
It never fails of its reward. What I do here in this life will ultimately come to naught. What I accumulate in this life, I will leave behind. Most of the things we attempt end dissatisfaction and failure, but we never fail with our Lord. That’s God! That’s His presence working with us; that’s His blessing upon our labors.
And I preach to myself when I’m preaching to you. I’m not to be discouraged. Never! God will bless the work in His time, in His way, in His purpose, in His grace, and in His elective will. I’m never to be discouraged. God will give the harvest in His goodness and grace. Never weary in well-doing, speaking, praying, visiting, inviting—always in the assurance that God is with us; always God is for us, and His presence is working with us [Matthew 28:19-20].
And in this moment of appeal, you, somebody you give himself in faith to the Lord Jesus [Romans 10:8-13]; or a family you to put your life with us in our dear church [Hebrews 10:24-25]; or to answer a call of the Spirit in your heart, make that decision now. Do it now. In a moment when we stand to sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, “Pastor, here I stand. God has spoken, and I am answering with my life.” Pray with me to that blessed end.
Our Lord, what and assurance, what an encouragement: God is with us. His Spirit works with us. The conscience of the man is on our side. The Spirit whispers in his deepest soul, “The testimony is true” [John 16:13-15]. And our Lord, give evidence of it this morning. Send us souls. Lord, when we stand and sing our appeal, may it be our joy to welcome into Thy kingdom and into this dear church these God hath prepared and called for this holy hour [Acts 13:48]. Lord, we are grateful for a listening people, a praying congregation, a visiting and testifying people who love God, who pray, who rejoice in the harvest. And our Lord, in their love and prayers, and in Thy goodness and grace, grant us a harvest even this hour [Matthew 9:38]. Thank Thee for it, precious Savior; in Thy wonderful name, amen.
While we sing, while we make appeal, from the balcony round, down one of these stairways; in the press of people on this lower floor, down one of these aisles, “Pastor, this is God’s day for me. Here I stand.” Come. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
I. A ministry to the Samaritans
A. Jews had no dealings
with them (John 4:9)
2. Rival temple
on Mt. Gerizim
traded at Sychar, never telling them of Messiah
B. Jesus “must needs go
through Samaria” (John 4:4)
II. Talking to a woman
A. Christianity and our
Lord elevate womanhood
2. Hindu religion
B. Talking to this
woman (John 4:17-18)
1. Had five
C. Her transformation
III. The abounding harvest
A. Lift up your eyes
and look (John 4:35-38)
1. Throng of
eager Samaritans coming to the Lord
B. The discourse of our
Lord on the harvest
1. Seed sowing is
never in vain (Isaiah 55:11, Matthew 13:1-8)
2. Harvest is
more ready than you think
3. The joy of the
harvest is greater than we realize (John 4:36)
a. The sower rejoices
here and in heaven