True satisfaction - John 4:1-26
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She was very much a woman of the world, a hardened veteran of life. Some called her a hussy- shameless. Others simply pitied her. Not that she wanted their pity; she just wanted to be left alone, left to get on with her own life her own way. Sure she had been hurt. But not anymore. By a masterful combination of resilient cynicism and social manoeuvring, she had developed the most effective means of self-protection. She didn’t much care where her life was heading and it didn’t seem to matter that much which way she could go. That is, until she met the Stranger, who asked her, her of all people, for a drink. Who was the Stranger? The stranger was Jesus. Who was the woman? She was a Samaritan and we read all about her life changing encounter in John chapter 4.
First we have a divine appointment, v4, ‘Now he [Jesus] had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.’ Now you may never have been too keen on geography at school, and the memory of learning the list of all the coal fields in Silesia leaves you cold, but biblical geography is often significant and that is certainly the case here, because by the way he relates the geography John is signalling to us why fact Jesus has come into the world. In chapter 3 Jesus has been in Jerusalem, that is where he had his encounter with the chief mufti of the religious establishment, Nicodemus. Then in v3 we are told he left Judea and in verse 4 that he had to go through Samaria.’ Well, the fact is that Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria at all. Indeed, most Jews would have taken a detour of several miles to go around Samaria rather than go through what was equivalent to Indian country. So there was a divine must about it. And there was, for this is exactly the pattern the Gospel would follow after Pentecost, as we hear the risen Jesus telling his disciples in Acts 1: 8 ‘ You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria , and to the ends of the earth.’ And of course this is the climax to which this story is leading in v 42 with the other Samaritans declaring ‘We know this man really is the Saviour of the world.’
And the truth that Jesus is everyone’s rescuer regardless of their status, background or location is underscored by the contrast deliberately being made between the person Jesus has just been speaking to in chapter 3- Nicodemus, and the person he is addressing in chapter 4, the Samaritan woman. They are poles apart. Just think about it. Nicodemus is a man, a Jew, a religious expert, ritually pure, a member of Israel’s religious elite. This is a woman (who remains nameless- she is that insignificant in the world’s eyes), a Samaritan, a religious half breed, biblically illiterate, immoral and an outcast. And yet to both Jesus says they need the same fresh start by the Spirit and he is the only one who can give it. This is the answer to both those who feel they are too good for Christianity and those who feel they are not good enough: Jesus offers his saving love to both and he is willing to go to extreme lengths so they can receive it.
And we see here how Jesus is willing to flout the social conventions of his day to give this poor soul a chance. So he is Jesus a man, and Jew to boot, asking a Samaritan woman for a drink and so the woman’s interest is immediately aroused v9 ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ Two barriers Jesus immediately breaks down. First the Jew/ Samaritan divide. For centuries these people had hated each others guts. But not this Jew. Secondly. The gender barrier is overcome. The woman literally says to Jesus, ‘Why are you, a Jewish male talking to me a woman, a Samaritan woman.’ The gender difference is stressed. Why? Well for a start it was scandalous for a single man to address a single woman in the open. In a Jewish writing a little after the time of Jesus called the Mishnah, we find this reflection on the thoughts of earlier rabbis: “Talk not much with womankind”. They said this of a man’s own wife; how much more of his fellow’s wife! Hence, the sages said: He that talks much with womankind brings evil upon himself and neglects the study of the law and at last will inherit hell (Gehenna).’ In other words, some treated women as non-people, but not Jesus. When we look at people we see all the distinctives which immediately place a barrier between us-they are the wrong class, the wrong colour, having the wrong education or the wrong background, with the wrong accent, we can’t possibly relate to them! But God in Jesus simply sees human beings aching with an emptiness he longs to fill.
But the other reason why the woman asks this question is that it might appear that Jesus the ‘come on’ if I may put it like that, why else should a male Jewish traveller speaking to her- perhaps he wants some ‘female company’- if you get my drift. And as we shall see this is a woman who has a reputation for being sexually loose and so such a thought would not be far from her mind.
But rather than refuting that suggestion, Jesus ignores it and makes it clear what he really is about, v 10 – 18, namely, he has come to meet a desperate need: ‘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." Jesus is beginning to challenge the spiritual emptiness within by speaking of the gift of ‘living’ water which comes from without, literally flowing water, crystal clear and ice cold bubbling up from a spring- that is the picture Jesus is using to depict the new spiritual life he brings. And look at how the woman responds v 11: ‘"Sir, you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob?’ Now this woman isn’t stupid, as Nicodemus wasn’t stupid. But whereas Nicodemus was being facetious with Jesus when he derisively said ‘How can a man be born again, can he go into his mother’s womb a second time?’, trying to make Jesus look small, this woman is, I think, being playful, maybe replying with feigned indignation: ‘Oh, go on with you. That is big talk coming from you. Fancy teasing a poor working girl like me with promises of running water when you haven’t even a bucket to draw with! I suppose water from the well of Jacob is not good enough for a Jew like you. Is that it?’ But Jesus isn’t deterred, he presses on, v 13: "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." Jesus is taking her, and us, back to some of the most wonderful promises God made in the OT through prophets like Isaiah 44: 3 ‘ I will pour water on a thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground. I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring and my blessing on your descendants.’ So just as Nicodemus needed the work of the Spirit in his life, the woman needs the same work of the Spirit in her life. And you know what? So do you.
Now she is really intrigued, v 15, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water." Now why say that? Is the woman simply lazy and wants to be spared the hassle of lugging a water pot up and down the hill every day? Is she treating Jesus like some do today, as a sort of divine salesman there to cater for our every need? Not really, there is something deep and serious lurking behind these words and Jesus knows it which is why he goes on in v 16 to ask her to call her husband. But then you have to ask, what has her marital state got to do with it? Well, everything: "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband. 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." Now we can see why she is desperate to be spared coming to this well day after day. Did it cross your mind to ask why in v6 this woman was drawing water all by herself at midday? That would have been the last point in the day you would come. The answer is glaringly obvious and sad. She was a social outcast. Normally, the women of the village would come together to collect water for a number of reasons. First for propriety’s sake- there is safety in a group. Secondly it was a social activity, a time to have a good old’ chin wag’. Also they would come at the beginning of the day or at the end when it was cooler. But here we have a woman alone at noon which suggests that she is a social pariah, a bad woman who the other women want nothing to do with.
No one wants to be near her, and she doesn’t want to be near them for the other women would have scolded her as being loose, she would have been the object of the piercing look and the cutting remark. You see, even the Samaritans were not this promiscuous, working through five husbands and then living with a man. This is a pathetic situation she is in. She is lonely and she is empty-longing for love and for ever being denied it. And every time she came to draw water from that well she was made painfully aware of that fact. And oh how she longed to escape! If Jesus could find a way whereby she could avoid this agonising social censure, then she would grasp it with both hands.
And that is when she began to see something which made her realise this was no ordinary man, for what he was to say was to have a delivering effect -v 19, "Sir I can see that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem." As with all the other Samaritans who only had the first five books of the Bible, this woman took Dt 18:15 seriously which promised that God would one day raise up a prophet like Moses. He was known as the Taheb, ‘the Restorer’. Just as Moses brought God’s revelation to the Jews and led God’s rescue from Egypt, then so this greater prophet would accomplish something even more remarkable. Now, she wonders, could this be him- the prophet, as it says in the original? If so, then he might have the answer to the greatest question which underlies our deepest need: How can we be rightly related to God? If our sense of emptiness is but a symptom of our essential lostness, cut off from our Maker, then how can we make contact again? In other words, how is God to be worshipped? The Samaritans, they pointed to Mount Gerizim saying this the place you are to go. The Jews said, no, it is Jerusalem. Who was right?
Actually, neither, v21: Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." Do you see what Jesus is saying? He is saying that we are now on the threshold of a new age when God is no longer approached on the basis of rituals in a certain place, but a relationship through a certain person. Whatever knowledge this woman had of God was at best partial, worshipping what she didn’t know and from that standpoint the Jews did have an advantage in that they had the whole of the OT to go on, but now both are on equal standing in that everyone who is to worship God as Father, must do so in ‘spirit and truth’. It is only by the gift of the Spirit that anyone can know God personally and that can only be received when we come to know the truth in Jesus. And this is a word for our own multi-faith age. The fact that someone uses the word ‘god’ does not mean they worship the true God. In Mein Kampf Hitler claimed to be doing the work of ‘Almighty God’ that doesn’t mean for a moment that he was. Salvation comes from the Jews, in that it is out of the Jewish race that the Christ was to come as the Saviour of the whole world. This means that the label we attach to ourselves is irrelevant if we do not know Jesus Christ. The Anglican who has not bowed his heart to Jesus is in the same position as the Muslim who has not bowed his heart to Jesus. The religious person like Nicodemus can still be as empty and bereft of saving knowledge as the irreligious Samaritan woman. Both have to come to the same position and the same person to be saved, and that is precisely where this woman now stands v 25 ‘The woman said, "I know that Messiah" (called Christ) "is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us." Then Jesus declared, “I, the one speaking to you—I am he.” And those last three words would have sent a shiver down her spine, for this is the self-designation of God in the Old Testament which distinguishes him from all false God’s for example Dt 32:39, where Yahweh is speaking, ‘See that I am he (same phrase) there is no god beside me.’ It is a form of divine self-declaration. That is the one who is asking her for water- God as man! And this is the one who offers her eternal life. And the moment those words were uttered, her life and that of the villagers were never to be the same again, as we read in v 28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" They came out of the town and made their way toward him. v39 -Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman's testimony, "He told me everything I ever did." So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.’
Notice that little detail, ‘Leaving her water jar.’ The symbol of her emptiness and estrangement was left behind. She went to meet the people she had previously so studiously avoided and she wanted to introduce them to Jesus. Isn’t that lovely? And the result as that many of them believed too- v42. That is the difference knowing God through Jesus makes. And you know the same is true today. Just listen to these words a client said to her counsellor after she had become a Christian: ‘Before I came here, I was involved in a life of sexual fun and games and in a real sense I felt good. It was exciting. Since I have decided to truly commit myself to Christ, I’ve found that life has become a struggle. The worldly life was easier and happier than the Christian life. But I wouldn’t go back for anything. I’ve tasted reality. Painful though it sometimes is, I want more. It’s what life is really all about. For the first time in my life I feel truly alive, I’m together. It hurts like blazes but it’s worth it, because now I am a person.’
Now could it be that there is someone here this morning who is in the same position as that Samaritan woman? For all the bravado and appearance of having got it all together deep down you are empty. Life is getting to you and you want a new start, you want to become a whole person again. Well, that can happen. And it happens in the same way as it did for this woman. It begins when you come to the Lord Jesus in your heart, acknowledging your need, the need for a restored relationship with God, for your sins to be washed away and to receive God’s cleansing, refreshing Spirit. If that is you, why not bow you head with me now as we pray.
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