This was a big text, in several ways. One, it’s long — twenty-one verses (vs. 7 or 8 for a typical text.) It’s just a lot to digest and think about. Two, the back-and-forth between Jesus and the woman is fascinating and demands closer scrutiny. Each word and statement holds a lot of meaning. Even the way the woman says that she has no husband — and no more than that — has more behind it. You can just about imagine her face as she realized how much Jesus must know about her, and yet He still loved her. Can He do any less for us, some of us who haven’t messed up our lives quite so obviously but nonetheless are in desperate need of God’s grace?
It’s often remarked that the Evangelist John writes with simple words, but he conveys profound concepts. That’s the challenge when preaching from John. The pictures he uses often communicate on a very direct, emotional level, but they’re definitely a challenge to unpack and expound upon. Jesus’ phrase “living water”, for example, is one of those kinds of phrases. It’s meant more to be pondered and contemplated rather than dissected and categorized. The entire Gospel of John is worthy of such meditative treatment.
The woman at the well is a very sympathetic character to me. Hard life, bad luck, lack of love, bad reputation — and yet when she encounters Christ, she doesn’t shy away or cut and run. She stays and in the end is glad she did, because she saw the face of true Love. That was a life-changing trip to the well she took that day, and it started out so ordinary. We too encounter Christ in the most ordinary settings when we open His Word and meet with Him there. Then the living water flows to us, and out of us to others.
I didn’t go much into the verses about worshipping in spirit and in truth, which I could have. I try to respect the limits of my listeners, and their goodwill, so I focused on what I thought stood out most for us where we are. Maybe another time I’ll have reason to recourse to those verses, but for now, I leave them for you to ponder. God bless you as you drink of His living water.
“So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)
9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”
19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”
21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”
25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.” (john 4.5-26 niv)
It seems like every time you turn on the TV or go into the store, there’s a new kind of beverage for sale. New soft drinks, new energy drinks – they come out all the time. Each one has a gimmick to get you to buy it. Brightly colored packaging and fancy ads are nice, but oftentimes there’s not a lot to these drinks. They list all sorts of exotic ingredients for health, energy, and taste, but more often than not the first two ingredients listed are high fructose corn syrup and water. Have you ever noticed how the drinks that have the least in them make the biggest claims? Their ads imply, if not actually say, that this particular drink will make your life more fun and exciting, give you more energy, make you more attractive to the opposite sex, and who knows what all. Their claims are so extravagant, and we’re so used to hearing them, that usually the ads just go in one ear and out the other. Today we encounter a beverage that more than lives up to its billing. Jesus will meet a woman with a checkered past. During the course of their conversation, we will hear about a drink that surpasses all others. Let’s listen as Jesus invites us Quench Your Thirst with Living Water.
Jesus is traveling through Samaria with His disciples, and it’s midday. They stop by a town. The disciples go into town to buy food, and Jesus sits by the well to rest for a moment. The sun beats down and He’s thirsty. Here comes a woman to draw water. She’s all alone. She doesn’t come at the normal time to gather, because she’d rather not have to deal with the sideways looks and the whispers. So she does what a lot of people do in that situation – tells herself it’s fine and tries to avoid it as much as possible. Then Jesus leans over and asks her for a drink. This catches her off guard. The Jews and the Samaritans historically did not get along. Their animosity ran so deep that they wouldn’t even talk to or go near each other. This was highly unusual for her, and she says so.
Jesus’ answer, even more than His question, grabs her attention. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water.” Right away Jesus’ answer has several different angles for her to follow up on. What was the gift of God? Who is this person, anyway? What or where is this living water?
Jesus’ answer is a little ambiguous at first. In an age of indoor plumbing, city water mains, and faucets in every kitchen and bathroom, the phrase “living water” sounds odd to us at first. At that time, water that flowed in a stream or bubbled out of a spring was called living water, because it was always moving. It was alive in that way, as opposed to water that sat at the bottom of a well or sat stagnant in a pool. So is Jesus talking about a spring nearby that she didn’t know about, or something more than that? She can’t tell at first.
We know what the living water is. It’s the life that Christ gives to each of His own. We have that life now, and we will enjoy it forever in heaven. The life Jesus gives us through right relationship with God comes from the forgiveness of our sins. Through faith we are assured that right now heaven is ours and we have a gracious God who is waiting to receive us when we leave this world. We know this because Christ gives us life out of His abundant life – the life He laid down in death on the cross, the life that He took up again of His own accord when He rose from the dead. Now He has life that cannot die – He has life in Himself that He gives to each of His own. He gives us more to look forward to than just dry bones that become dust, because we have life after death. His living water is the life that God Himself gives us, here and hereafter.
The woman doesn’t catch on to all of that at first. She can tell that something isn’t adding up in what Jesus is saying, and she wants to know more, but she’s still in the dark about much of what He means. She shrewdly notices that He doesn’t have a bucket and besides, He’s a stranger – she knows that this is the only place to draw water for miles around – isn’t it? Does He know about a new spring that she doesn’t? Jesus keeps drawing her in with His words.
Now Jesus makes some even more startling statements. He says, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” All sorts of beverages promise to quench your thirst, but we all understand that none of them are permanent. Eventually you get thirsty again. Some beverages actually increase your thirst. They’re diuretics. You might feel filled up for a little while, but they’re worse in the end because they dry your body out. Not so with the water Jesus gives. He satisfies us, totally and completely. He gives what nobody else can: the way to union with God, the way to know your Creator. If you have the water Jesus gives, your first and highest need is met, and if you don’t, no matter what else you have it can’t replace what Jesus gives. When you have peace and joy that comes from knowing Jesus as your Savior for all eternity, you have found the highest possible good for your soul, because when you know Jesus you know the Father too, and He gives you His Holy Spirit. Augustine, an early Christian teacher, once prayed, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.” That’s exactly what Jesus means here when He speaks of living water. We Christians who are gathered here today have something that the greater mass of people in the world who don’t believe in Christ are looking for and don’t know how to find.
I heard something interesting the other day. Apparently it’s easier than you think to become dehydrated, especially in cold weather. We can even get dehydrated without realizing it. Sometimes we mistake the feeling of thirst for hunger, so we go have a snack to feel better. It doesn’t work because we’re not hungry, we’re actually thirsty, and we’re still thirsty after the snack. That’s exactly how a lot of people are in this world. They’re thirsting to know God and they don’t know how to satisfy their thirst. People try all sorts of other things to quench their thirst. They fill up on family, on work, on fun, on a thousand different things, whether innocent or evil – but none of them really satisfy. Look at the woman Jesus is talking with. Five different husbands! And the man she was living with when Jesus met her wasn’t even legally her husband. Obviously this woman was looking for love in all the wrong places. She was looking for someone to love her, to accept her, to approve of her unconditionally, and she had been for a long time. Her sorry track record showed how well that had worked for her. It’s only when she met Jesus that she found what she’d been missing.
How often do you try to quench your thirst by doing something other than drinking living water? How often do you look for a vacation or a break from work or some pleasure to give you what you’re looking for, instead of turning to Jesus? How often do you deal with your spiritual thirst by reaching for something other than the One who will quench it? If that’s you, then reach for what will satisfy you. Look for the living water, and drink and drink until you’re satisfied. Hydrate your spirit. Find what you’ve been missing. Re-connect yourself to your Lord through His Word – and if you have been away from His Word for a while, or you’re not sure if God would want you to come back to Him, just look at Jesus here. He looks for and finds the people that everybody else shuns, the ones that others forget about or look down on or sneer at. He looks for you. Jesus’ loving attitude could be summed up with these words from Isaiah: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Drink from the river of the water of life, and quench your thirsty soul with Jesus’ living water. Amen.