The Living Water | John 4:1-26
If you have a Bible, I want to invite you to turn to John chapter 4. If you didn’t bring one, you are welcome to use our blue New Testaments in the seatbacks in front of you. We’ll be on page 48. In John chapter 4, we return to Jesus. In chapter 3 we saw Jesus interacting with Nicodemus, the well-known and educated Jew, then it switched to John the Baptist answering his disciples’ question about whether or not he was concerned that Jesus was now getting more attention than him.
But now we’re switching back to Jesus, as he’s heading back to Galilee and stopping in Samaria at Jacob’s well. Here he has a conversation with a Samaritan woman. What I want us to do is jump right in and walk through most of Jesus’conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. The conversation revolves around water. Yes, physical water at the well, but also Living Water. So, try your best to jump into the narrative. Let it capture your imagination as if you were there. Starting in verse 1, a few verses at a time, and we’ll only be working our way through verse 26.
Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.
So, Jesus is leaving for Galilee to avoid being confronted or even arrested by the Pharisees. We see that throughout the gospels, that Jesus is managing his time, is making sure certain things don’t happen before the appointed time. So, he leaves for Galilee. Verse 4:
4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.
So Jesus is on his way to Galilee and stops in Sychar in Samaria, at a well called Jacob’s well. He was sitting there tired and likely hot, which is yet another example of Jesus’ full humanity, right? That he could become physically tired, and yet still be, somehow, all-powerful in his divine nature. So, he’s sitting beside the well, and, verses 7-9:
7 A 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.) 9 The 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).
Now, Jesus is about to respond to her question, but I want us to see the weight of what she is saying. He asks her for a drink, and that was enough for her to be shocked! Why? Because, as John adds in the narrative, “Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.” There was a deep-seated tension, and often hatred between Jews and Samaritans. This is so much the case that Jews would sometimes avoid going through Samaria, even though it was the shortest distance between Judea and Galilee, because they thought they could become defiled! They’d go a substantially longer way, out of the way to avoid walking through Samaria.
Why so much hatred? Why such tension? Because the Samaritans were both Jewish and Gentile. They were a mixture, which often made both Jews and non-Jews not like them! This mixing started literally hundreds and hundreds of years before when the Assyrian King had brought in foreigners to settle in Samaria, and those foreigners intermarried with the Jewish people who were left, and they also kind-of compromised their culture and religion to become one with these foreigners.
So, after time the Jewish people from Judea and Galilee began to denounce the people of Samaria because they had intermarried and basically assimilated into foreign culture. And so, for Jesus to be saying anythingto a Samaritan was a big deal, especially asking her for a drink of water, implying that he was ok with using the same pitcher of water that she was using. So how did Jesus respond? Verse 10:
10 Jesus 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.”
There is a reason that Jesus was completely breaking from Jewish tradition and showing love and respect for all human beings, even those who were seen as the lowest of the low. Even those people who tried to claim the Jewish faith and yet had assimilated into foreign culture and foreign religion. Why was he so open to this woman? The answer in our first Truth about the Living Water. We will see three:
- Every person in the world needs the Living Water.(1-10)
I love that this woman represents the exact opposite kind of person from Nicodemus, who we saw in chapter 3. Nicodemus was the respected, educated, orthodox, Pharisee. This woman was the uneducated, hated, compromising adulterer! We find out in the next few verses that she’s had five husbands, and is living with a man that’s not her husband. These two are about as opposite as you can get in every way, and yet Jesus saw them both as needing Him! And needing the Living Water that he had to give.
Every person in the world needs the Living Water. So, what is the Living Water? Well, there’s multiple backgrounds here, one of which is in the Old Testament, in Jeremiah 2:13, where God says,
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
What does that mean? It means that the people of God had rejected God’s goodness, which is this always-running supply of grace and love and identity. And they had instead chosen to dig their own well for water. Trying to find satisfaction and meaning and identity of their own making. Ultimately, they rejected their identity as children of God. Jesus is now saying, “If you knew the gift of God [God’s salvation], 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.
This metaphor that Jesus uses refers to the grace and knowledge of God, the true Creator, and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. A few chapters later, Jesus speaks of the Living Water yet again. John 7:38-39, Jesus says:
“‘Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.”
Basically, the living water, if you want to put together all themes found in John’s gospel when using this metaphor, it’s the saving, sustaining, transforming, and all-satisfying power of God’s grace found by believing in Jesus and receiving His Holy Spirit. I know that’s a long definition, but I’m trying to include the multiple ways in which it’s used throughout John’s gospel. And that definition’s in your notes.
In this chapter, specifically, the Living Water is this eternal life that only Jesus can provide. And every person on the planet is in need of this Living Water. Jesus didn’t keep the gospel private and only share with certain people. Jesus was no respecter of persons. He didn’t treat people according to their perceived status or rank in society. He didn’t change his attitude toward people for reasons that you and I likely change our attitudes.
This was not only a Samaritan, who was racially and religiously corrupt from the Jewish perspective—this was also an immoral woman, who was cast out even from among fellows Samaritans! She was low on the totem pole even among her own people! How do we know that? According to verse 6, this was the sixth hour, meaning it was noon! This was the hottest part of the day, which was probably why Jesus and his disciples were taking a break on their journey from Judea to Galilee. Most of the time, though, women would draw water from a well in cooler parts of the day, but this woman was coming to the well at noon. Why? Because that’s when no one else was going to be there. No one to chastise her, or put her down! She could draw from the well and hope to not feel ashamed when other people look at her.
And yet, Jesus, the perfectly pure and holy God-man, asked her for water and talked with her just like anyone else. She was impure, she was a woman, which in this culture was very inappropriate, because men were more important than women. It was degrading for a man to address a woman as an equal, and yet Jesus spoke to her with as much dignity and respect as he spoke to anyone else.
The question we need to ask ourselves is this: “Do we treat people the same way Jesus did?” Do we see all people, no matter the culture, race, socio-economic status, or whatever, as those that need friendships and ultimately need the Living Water that we can point them to? Or are there certain types of people that we avoid? Just generally, are there certain kinds of people we avoid? Clingy? Uneducated? Unintelligent? Democrats? Republicans? Men? Women? Children? Those with special needs? Black? White? Hispanic? Asian? Muslim? Immigrant?
Do we see all people the way Jesus saw all people? As people made in the image of God and in need of Living Water. In need of Jesus? Do we see ourselves as equals? Do we see ourselves as needing Jesus in the exact same ways that they need Jesus? It’s so easy to see ourselves as different or somehow as the exception: “We don’t need anything. They do. Maybe we take on a Savior-complex and think somehow that we, in and of ourselves, have something to offer. We forget we need the Living Water just as much as anyone else. Outside of Christ, we’re all lost. Outside of God’s grace, we’re all wretches with no hope. Outside of this grace from God, we’re lost. We’re not too good to be around certain people. We all need God’s grace that flows through Jesus.
In verses 11 and 12, the woman responds to Jesus, apparently misunderstanding what he meant by “living water.”
11 The 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.”
So clearly the woman misunderstood and thought he was offering some kind of physical water that would make her never have to drink water again. So she asks, “Where do you get that water? Are you greater than our father Jacob?” In other words, Jacob dug this well to provide water. How can you provide water without even using a well? Then Jesus responds. Verses 13-15:
13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 but 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.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
This brings us to the 2ndtruth about this Living Water:
- The Living Water SatisfiesEvery Spiritual Need, Forever. (10-15)
Just think for a moment about what Jesus is saying here. “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again [meaning the water in the well], but 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.”
Every person on the planet is thirsty. Obviously, there’s physical thirst. When I think of quenching thirst, I think of being outside all day, or running Cross Country like I did in high school, and that moment when you drink water after not having it for so long. It seems like there’s nothing you would rather do in the entire world than drink water. Or, perhaps, in our day, truly quenching thirst, for me, the feeling of real, full satisfaction, comes when I get a can of ice-cold Dr. Pepper. 23 flavors of perfection. For me, that’s what I think of. Imagine the moment of feeling that real satisfaction, like there’s nothing else in the world that you need in that moment. That is perhaps the smallest glimpse of the satisfaction there is to be found in the Living Water we find in Christ.
Obviously, this goes far beyond physical thirst. We all thirst for something, whether it be money, or power, or respect, or maybe food, pleasure, leisure [maybe what you really desire is just to get to retirement to be able to sit and enjoy yourself]. There is nothing wrong with desiring some of these things, as long as we know that every real need we have, we find in Christ. Only Jesus can quench this deep thirst we all have. This thirst, whether we know it or not, is to be reconciled with our Creator, our Heavenly Father, and to find meaning, purpose, and value in being His child. There is no greater thirst or need for any human, and only in Christ can we be given this river of Living Water that never stops flowing, never stops satisfying, and never becomes any less pure and perfect.
To truly be content and deeply overflowing with joy simply knowing Christ and having God Himself live in us. There is no more satisfying, stabilizing, calming, and relieving truth even in this physical world. Maybe you’re chasing like everyone else in the world is chasing. Whatever it is that you think will bring you satisfaction; whatever it is that you think will bring you happiness. Hear from Solomon, the wisest man to ever have lived up to his time. Ecclesiastes 2:10-11:
I denied myself nothing my eyes desired; I refused my heart no pleasure. My heart took delight in all my labor, and this was the reward for all my toil. Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done and what I had toiled to achieve, everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind; nothing was gained under the sun.
And then later, after he thinks through everything that was meaningless, he comes to his conclusion at the very end of the book. He says in chapter 12, “Now all has been heard; and here is the conclusion of the matter; Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind.” He went after everything his heart desired, and then concluded that it really was all about understanding God for who he was (that’s what it means to fear God), and so live in obedience to him. That was the only thing he found to have true, lasting meaning!
God’s grace and love to us, this Living Water, satisfies every most deep need we have, and it satisfies us forever. Clearly, this Samaritan woman was searching too, for something. Let’s read on. Verses 16 all the way through 26:
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The 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.” 21 Jesus 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.
23 But 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
So, Jesus, being the omnipotent God-man, knew of this Samaritan woman’s five husbands, and even that she was now living with a man that was not her husband. And then, she recognized him as a prophet, someone who would speak on behalf of God. So, she immediately goes into what is THE contentious debate between Jews and Samaritans: should God’s people worship in Jerusalem, or on Mount Gerizim, which was where the Samaritans had built their temple. I mean they really did have their own form of Judaism that wasn’t really Judaism at all.
But Jesus wastes no time discussing the big debate between Jews and Samaritans. He does mention, in verse 22, that the Samaritans worship what they don’t know, meaning that they don’t even know who they’re trying to worship. They are outside of God’s revelation, because, salvation is from the Jews. This simply means that the Jewish people were God’s chosen people to bring about His salvation. Jesus himself was a Jew, the Messiah. So, he affirms that Jews are God’s chosen people, and then completely switches gears in verse 23, “But 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.”
In other words, God is seeking those who would worship him truly. Did you know that before Christ came, there were Jews who truly worshipped God and those who did not truly worship God. There were both. After Christ, there would come those who claimed to worship God and those who would trulyworship God. There are both. God is not concerned with just external labels, or even external pilgrimages to Jerusalem vs. Mount Gerizim. God wants our hearts.
This is the essence of what we’re aiming to do when we gather here on Sundays, and hopefully throughout the week as we live our lives. To worship in spirit and in truth. So, what does it mean to worship in spirit and in truth? Well, the truth part is Christ. To worship, we must center on Christ, who is the way, the truth, and the life (according to John 14:6). Christ, and his saving work, which is the message of the gospel, that is the truth that we center on when we worship.
So what about the “spirit” part of this? Honestly, I do think the best way to understand this is to say true worshippers worship “in heart and in head.” This is where we find the third truth about the Living Water:
- True worship involves the head and the heart (16-26).
Truly drinking from the living water involves the head and the heart. When Jesus says “spirit,” here, I do believe refers to emotion, affection for God. This makes perfect sense if you think about it. As we receive, and sit in the flowing river of God’s grace toward us, as we think about that grace shown to us in Christ (the truth), we also are filled with love and affection for God. Wow, this God that loves me so consistently despite my failures and inconsistencies.
Head and heart. Both parts are so important in worship, are they not? We must be thinking about God, using our minds. Not just getting emotional and having an experience, but thinking about God. And as we think about these awesome truths of who God is and what he has done for us in Christ, our hearts are stirred, yes? We become emotional, grateful, overwhelmed with joy. Honestly, I like to think that we are a thinking church. Meaning we use our God-given brains to think about God, and we enjoy doctrine and theology, because from that we grow in our love from God. Honestly, because we’re a thinking church and we try and dig deeply into the Word, we should be the most moved toward and affection. This is an emotnional thing! It’s LIVING WATER that never stops flowing, never stops satisfying, and will never be corrupted for eternity. And it’s yours and it’s mine only because of Christ! Not because we deserve it! True worship involves the head and the heart.
John Piper, who is probably my favorite author that’s alive, he puts it this way:
Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth. . . . Truth without emotion produces dead orthodoxy and a church full (or half-full) of artificial admirers . . . . On the other hand, emotion without truth produces empty frenzy and cultivates shallow people who refuse the discipline of rigorous thought. But true worship comes from people who are deeply emotional and who love deep and sound doctrine. Strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship.
I think he’s spot-on here with understanding what it is to worship in spirit and in truth.
So, my question for us today: First, do you know this Living Water? Do you know the love of God in Christ that flows and flows and flows and is all and ever-satisfying? Jesus is where you find it. He said it as clear as day: “I who speak to you am me.” I am the one to take away the sin of the world. I am the one to bring you eternal life. I am the one to reconcile you to the Father. Believe in me!
Are you tired of searching and searching and reaching and reaching and thirsting and thirsting for something more? For money, power, respect, food, pleasure, leisure, whatever? None of it will deliver what you think it will deliver. Because inside each and every one of us is a deeply real and spiritual need for God. Your thirst can be quenched and you can be satisfied, forever, by trusting in Christ, the Messiah, the one who died and rose again for us.
And the second question I have is for us who do believe. I want to take us back to Jeremiah 2:13, when God said,
“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”
Listen, Christian. Stop digging your own well. It will never hold. It will dry up. You have the spring of living water open to you! You have this fire-hydrant of God’s grace and satisfaction found in Christ, and yet you are grabbing your hammer and your shovel and all your tools to figure out a way to build your own spring. Stop! Rest! Drink, and never thirst again. Let’s pray.
other sermons in this series