Whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty ever again. Rather, the water I will give him will become in him a spring of water, bubbling up to eternal life.” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
Last week we heard Jesus tell Nicodemus “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:17). Jesus wanted to save Nicodemus, the Jewish council member. He told him that “God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
Today Jesus is seeking out another person—as different from Nicodemus as anyone could possibly be—for the same reason. Jesus wanted to save her. Scripture tells us Jesus “wants all people to be saved.” We are saved through faith in Jesus. Paul elaborated, He “wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth”(1 Timothy 2:4).
John 4 is one of the great evangelism texts in the Bible, where Jesus Himself is the evangelist. It’s remarkable, considering how eager He is to bring faith and forgiveness to this woman, that Jesus is so incredibly truthful with her even on touchy topics. But it really shouldn’t surprise us, because it is, after all, the truth that sets us free and saves us—especially the truth that Jesus is the One and Only Savior. The Gospel truth is Living Water in the dreary desert of life. The Gospel brings life, just like rain brings blooms amidst the sand and stones around us. Samaria was a parched land when it came to the Gospel, but on this day a super-bloom began.
Jesus Seeks People to Save Them
It was very rare for a Jew to pass through Samaria. In modern terms, it would be like a Jewish Israeli heading into the Palestinian territory of the West Bank. But Jesus went there intentionally because He wanted to save a Samaritan woman and her village by bringing them to “the knowledge of the truth.” Jesus sought her out. She wasn’t looking for Jesus. She didn’t venture into Jewish territory. Jesus came to her hometown. She wasn’t out looking for a spiritual awakening. She’d probably become a bit cynical about spiritual matters. After all, she was shunned by her own people. She certainly didn’t expect anything more than condemnation from a Jew. She was just looking for a bucket of water to do the dishes and cook the evening meal. All the other ladies went there in the evening, so she went at noon so she wouldn’t bump into any of them and have to feel their eyes looking at her.
But she didn’t find the solitude she was looking for. Someone was there. That’s because Jesus came to meet her. She didn’t know it, but He was there because He wanted to invite her to heaven, and through her, many others. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the piece of land Jacob gave to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there. Then Jesus, being tired from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. When it came to religion the Samaritans were a mixed breed. They only recognized the first five books of the Bible. They didn’t recognize the prophets other than Moses. They didn’t go to Jerusalem to worship. Jews thought of them the way we would about some far-out sects. But Jesus wasn’t afraid to witness to anyone. He “wants all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). The Samaritan woman wasn’t looking for Jesus, but Jesus was looking for her. He knew He would meet her there that day at noon. And sure enough, right on schedule, A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (His disciples had gone into town to buy food.) 9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Notice how Jesus treats this stranger. Jesus knew her heart and her unsavory life story. He knew that she had false beliefs and that she was “living in sin” with her boyfriend. But none of that held Him back. He not only talked to her politely, He even asked to drink from her ladle! Was He the only Jew not afraid of Samaritan germs?! Jesus wasn’t condoning her false religion or her tenuous relationship with the 6th Commandment, as we’ll see. But neither does He view her as irredeemable. He doesn’t regard her as a spiritual enemy. Rather He sees her as a victim of the Adversary—Satan. He sees her as someone who is lost and needs to be found.
Now that she’s curious, Jesus further piques her interest: [He] 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.”
“Living Water,” could have simply meant spring water to her, as opposed to well water. She still doesn’t get the spiritual meaning Jesus is driving at, so she answers with a touch of cynicism in her voice: “Sir,” she said, “you don’t even have a bucket, and the well is deep. So where do you get this living water? 12 You are not greater than our father Jacob, are you? He gave us this well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his animals.” 13 Jesus answered her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I will give him will never be thirsty ever again. Rather, the water I will give him will become in him a spring of water, bubbling up to eternal life.”
Now Jesus has made it perfectly clear that He’s not talking about ordinary liquid water. Jesus wanted her to see that He had something she really needed. He wanted to go from asking her for something, to getting her to ask Him for something. Notice that Jesus is doing all the work in this conversation, the work of directing her thoughts to God. You see, people don’t seek God by nature. We need God to seek us.
That’s why we want to reach out to people with the Gospel—not just wait for them to come to us. We’re believers because Jesus sought each of us out. He found us when we were lost just like this woman. If we ask Him for forgiveness, it’s because He prompted us to do so. If we believe in Him, it’s because He gave us faith. If we’re His children, it is because God adopted us through the gift of baptism.
Jesus Proclaims the Law
“Sir, give me this water,” the woman said to him, “so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” She’s still not following what Jesus is trying to tell her. But then, Jesus isn’t done with her yet. In fact, He’s only just begun. He sought her out and found her. He’s put her at ease. He’s showed her He’s caring and friendly. He’s made her curious, but she still doesn’t believe in Him. But now Jesus is in a position to get down to the nuts and bolts. She’s asked Him for Living Water. This is how Jesus, the all-knowing God answers: Jesus told her, “Go, call your husband, and come back here.” 17 “I have no husband,” the woman answered. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say, ‘I have no husband.’ 18 In fact, you have had five husbands, and the man you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true.”
Instead of immediately giving her the Gospel, Jesus touches her raw nerve—the one that made her come to the well at noon so she wouldn’t bump into anyone. Her life had been a mess: five failed marriages and a live-in boyfriend doesn’t sound like the life of someone bubbling with eternal life. And that’s exactly why Jesus brought it up. You can’t heal a wound by ignoring it or by putting make-up on it. Jesus’ question stung because her own conscience had not yet totally become silent. She was not a “well-adjusted” person, any more than your typical Hollywood celebrity. She had a problem which had never been dealt with. Her soul was an empty well.
Jesus wanted her to think about that hurt, that emptiness, so she’d recognize her need for His wonderful medicine. Jesus wasn’t looking for an earthly friendship. He wanted to cure her eternal soul.
Jesus pokes our sore spots too, not because He’s mean, but so we keep coming to Him for the medicine of the Gospel. That’s what our friends need too. They may not be looking for Jesus, but Jesus is looking for them—through us. Whether they’re outwardly happy or not—whether they look well-adjusted to us or not, whether they know it or not, without Christ unbelievers have a hole in their soul just like the Samaritan woman.
Jesus Pours out the Gospel
Now it was time to give her what she really needed: forgiveness, faith and eternal life—through the truth. 19 “Sir,” the woman replied, “I see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews insist that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” 21 Jesus said to her, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will not worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem.
Jesus doesn’t shy away from her question about which church to belong to. “Whose religion is right?” she asks him, “The Samaritan or the Jewish?” Jesus doesn’t say, “It doesn’t really matter, as long as you’re sincere,” or “Let’s not emphasize the differences, but concentrate instead on our similarities,” or any of those other popular bromides. No. He answers her with the truth. You Samaritans worship what you do not know. We worship what we do know, because salvation is from the Jews. 23 But a time is coming and now is here when the real worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for those are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth.”
The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (the one called Christ). “When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I, the one speaking to you, am he.”
Jesus Himself is the Water of Life He was offering. He is the Messiah, the Christ, the long-expected Savior of the world. Jesus doesn’t give her a five or ten-step list of “what to do to be saved.” He who has just convicted her of her sin through the Law, isn’t about to give her a new law. Instead, He tells her the simple Good News that He is the Christ, her Savior from sin, and lets that Water of Life become in [her] “a spring of water, bubbling up to eternal life.”
Because the Gospel is powerful, it brought her to faith and gave her the gift of life. We can see it in her reaction. Her cynicism is gone! Instead of hiding from her fellow townspeople any more, she was so excited, she left her water jar sitting there and hurried into town to tell them all she had found the Savior! Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony: “He told me everything I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them. And he stayed there two days. 41 Many more believed because of his message.
Look at how powerful the Good News is—all by itself! The truth—the message of Law and Gospel—is powerful. In fact, “It is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). The Gospel is pure and potent Living Water from God. It’s the cure for sin and death. God wants us to drink and drink and drink His Gospel in! And like the Samaritan woman at the well, He wants us to eagerly share our ladle and offer it to others, so they can share the joy and excitement of eternal life. Amen.