Sermon notes 03-15-20 Quenching our Soul-Thirst

(John 4:3-42): [Jesus] left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
7A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” ( For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) 10Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29″Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30They went out of the town and were coming to him.
31Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”
39Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.” (ESV)

During this season of Lent we are focusing on passages of Scripture from John’s Gospel describing ‘Jesus encounters,’ stories of what we might call divine appointments that Jesus makes and keeps with various people. We see in each of these ‘Jesus encounters’ that Jesus meets people right where they are and speaks very personally and directly to each one’s deepest needs. We also find in each encounter that Jesus reveals something about himself.

Last week’s divine appointment was an encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, a highly respected religious leader of the Jews who came to see Jesus secretly at night so that he would not lose the respect of the people in general or his fellow Pharisees in particular. That was just one chapter back, in chapter 3 of John’s Gospel. As we move into chapter 4 of John’s Gospel, we have this story of Jesus encountering another person who is on the opposite end of the social spectrum from Nicodemus. The woman at the well is not a well-respected person at all; in fact her encounter with Jesus takes place in the middle of the day in large part because she is trying to avoid the open disrespect and public humiliation she would likely have experienced at other times of the day. Some have named Nicodemus’s encounter with Jesus “Nick at Nite,” so maybe we could call this one “Chick at Noon.”

One thing we should notice right away in this story of the Woman at the Well is the intentionality behind this divine appointment, and that intentionality is on the part of Jesus. Unlike the story of Nicodemus who took the initiative to seek Jesus out and who came to him, Jesus is the one who takes the initiative and seeks this encounter with the woman at the well.

For reasons I will describe in a moment, there were various social and cultural restrictions that would have prevented this Samaritan woman from coming to Jesus as freely as Nicodemus could have come, and we have no reason to believe that she would have come to Jesus on her own even if she had felt free to do so, but Jesus is determined to have an encounter with this woman.

Notice it says in verse 4 that Jesus had to pass through Samaria. That is an interesting choice of words, because there was actually another route to get from Judea to Galilee. In fact most Jews took that other route, which required crossing the Jordan River twice in order to bypass Samaria. Jews considered Samaritans unclean, so they typically took this out-of-the-way route to avoid Samaria and Samaritans. But not Jesus; not on this day. Jesus had a divine appointment to keep.

It is important for us to understand that this woman Jesus “had” to meet was an outcast of outcasts. In that time and that patriarchal culture, all women were socially marginalized with very few rights and with virtually no power. This woman at the well was not only a woman; she was a Samaritan, who would have been shunned by the Jews. Moreover, this woman was almost certainly shunned and ostracized even by her own people. We draw that conclusion from the fact that John tells us she went to draw water at a well outside of town, at the sixth hour, which was noon. We know the well was outside of town because John tells us that the disciples left Jesus at the well while they went into town to buy food. The usual custom in those days was for women to come and draw water at the well in the morning or evening, in the cooler part of the day. This woman, however, came to draw water at noon, a time of day when she was not likely to meet others.

Her past and her lifestyle choices no doubt made this woman a target for abuse by the other women. The other women may have even considered her a threat because of the many men she had had. So she could hardly have been more of an outcast. Jesus knew this, and he also knew she had a thirst in her life and a hunger in her heart that her multiple relationships had not satisfied.

Jesus opens the encounter with this ultimate outcast by asking her to give him a drink. For all of the reasons I just named, the woman is stunned by this request. She says, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Jesus responds by offering to give the woman something to satisfy her spiritual thirst. He offers her “Living Water” that can be had simply for the asking. Jesus tells the woman in verse 10, if you had asked, I would have given it to you. Notice he didn’t say if you had earned it, or if you deserved it. All she had to do was ask for it.

At this point we see that the woman responds very much the way Nicodemus responded when Jesus spoke to him about being born again: she takes Jesus literally. Nicodemus spoke of the impossibility of a man entering a second time into his mother’s womb. The woman speaks of the depth of the well and the fact that Jesus has nothing with which to draw water. Jesus tells her that the water he is speaking of is very different from the water in the well. He says whoever drinks of the water he gives will never be thirsty again. By now the woman is thoroughly enticed. She says, “Sir, give me this water.” And here is where Jesus begins to reveal himself to her. He tells her he knows all about her, about the fact that she has had five husbands and that the man she is currently living with is not her husband. With gentleness and compassion, Jesus reveals the woman’s sin and his complete knowledge of her life.

The woman immediately perceives that she is in the presence of a prophet. And she is instantly aware of the spiritual thirst in her life. She begins talking about worship and the differences between the Jews and Samaritans regarding the location of worship. She is referring to the fact that the Samaritans believed God could only be worshipped in the temple they had built on Mt. Gerizim, while Jews believed that God must be worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem. Jesus tells her in essence that true worship is not confined to a place, because God is Spirit who can be worshipped in every place. That’s important for us to remember as we worship in our homes this weekend.

Next the woman tells Jesus that she knows Messiah, the Christ, is coming. Then Jesus responds by fully revealing himself. He says in effect, ‘You’re looking at him.’ “I who speak to you am he,” he says. The woman understands then that Jesus in the One for whom she and the entire world have been waiting.

As far as we know, these are the last words exchanged between Jesus and the woman. John tells us the disciples come back and the woman departs. But at this point we have what is to me the most intriguing verse in this entire passage. It’s verse 28 which says, “So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and (spoke) to the people…” Why would John bother to mention that the woman left her water jar behind? And why, after going to all the trouble to come to the well to get water in the heat of the day, would the woman leave her water jar behind anyway?

The answer is that the woman found a quench for her thirst that did not require a water jar. When the woman realized she had encountered the One for whom she and the whole world had been waiting all her life, her spiritual thirst was satisfied. She left her water jar behind to go and tell others what she had found, and how they could have their spiritual thirst satisfied.

This outcast who had gone to great lengths to stay out of sight went directly to the people she had gone out of her way to avoid. She said to them, ‘Come and see this man who told me everything I ever did. Can he be any other but the Messiah?’ This outcast woman is one of the first persons in John’s Gospel to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. John tells us many believed in Jesus because of her testimony (v. 39), and many more came to believe he was the Savior of the world because of his own word (v. 41).

So what does this mean for us? Brothers and sisters, in the same way Christ intentionally sought an encounter with this woman, so he does with each of us. He has something he wants to give us. He knows that apart from a relationship with God, we are spiritually hungry and thirsty. Bruce Springsteen sang about it a few decades ago: everybody has a hungry heart. Many centuries before Springsteen, St. Augustine wrote similar words: our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee. Jesus knows that we all have restlessness and hunger in our hearts that only he can satisfy.

The One who created us and who knows everything about us wants to fill us with himself, with the Living Water. But we humans often try to fill our lives and our spirits with other things, with worldly things, things like power, money, material possessions, inappropriate relationships, pornography and other various forms of sexual immorality, drugs, fame, the approval of others… but none of those things can fill the hunger in our hearts. Only our Lord can satisfy the hunger and thirst in our hearts and souls.

When Jesus revealed to the woman who he was, she was filled; her spiritual thirst was quenched. She left her water jar behind; she no longer had the need to cling to things that could not satisfy her spiritual thirst. And as it was for the Samaritan woman, so it is for us. When we realize the love that Jesus has for us and consider what he has done for us, we no longer need to cling to those things we have vainly used in an attempt to fill the emptiness in our hearts and our souls. When we get a taste of the living water that Jesus offers, we will gladly leave those other things behind.

Friends, Jesus intentionally seeks an encounter and a relationship with each of us. He came to give us living water, to satisfy our spiritual hunger and thirst once and for all. Thanks be to God for sending his Son Jesus to quench the thirsting of our souls. He alone can fill your cup and make you whole. In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.