The Model - John 4:1-26
Another band, U2, has captured that same desire in one of their songs: I still haven't found what I'm looking for. I find the title haunting because it describes so many people's lives today. Here are the opening words: I have climbed the highest mountains, I have run through the fields only to be with you, only to be with you. I have run, I have crawled. I have scaled these city walls, these city walls, only to be with you. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. But I still haven't found what I'm looking for. At least you get the impression that Bono ( who wrote the words) has some idea of what it is he's looking for. Many don't even know that. Little wonder, then, that they haven't yet found it.
Please don't think that I'm looking down on people who are searching like that. Jesus certainly wouldn't. The plain truth is that none of us would have any idea what we're really looking for if Jesus hadn't shown us. The story we have before us this morning sees him speaking with a woman on exactly that quest for satisfaction. She's not found it, though, try as she might. She still hasn't found what she's looking for. And Jesus treats her with the greatest sensitivity and tenderness, wonderful compassion and gentleness, while at the same time exposing her real needs, even with the pain and hurt that goes with that.
His one desire is that she be satisfied at the deepest level and find what she's looking for. And in the end, he shows her, that won't happen until she realises that it's not a thing she's looking for, but a person. And that person is Jesus. Do you see that's where the whole conversation is driving? verse 26: I who speak to you am he. Who? The Christ. God's anointed one. God's promised king and servant. verse 25.....
If the woman walks away from this conversation without knowing that Jesus is the Christ and what that means, then she has missed the whole point of what Jesus is saying to her. If we close our Bibles on this passage without knowing that Jesus is the Christ and what that means, then we've missed the whole point of what God is saying to us.
1. Jesus is the Christ, through whom God gives eternal life (v4-15) This woman doesn't know what she's looking for yet. She certainly doesn't know that Jesus is the one who can give it to her. That's the drift of verse 10..... They're standing by the local well. She's come to draw water for herself. Jesus has asked her for a drink, so talking of water is highly relevant. But he's speaking of living water. What's that all about? He later explains, verses 13-14.... [this water = the water from this well which at its best can only deal with your thirst for a while]. Jesus wants to give her the Spirit, the Spirit of God himself, so that she can know God herself and be his for ever.
Do you recall Jesus' meeting with Nicodemus? (John chapter 3). The stories are a pair. The two characters could hardly be more different, and yet their deepest need is exactly the same. Jesus offers them both the gift of his Spirit and the eternal life that he brings. How different they are: we know his name, she's a nobody; he's a pure Jew, she's a Samaritan - of mixed race and mixed religion; he's a ruler in Jerusalem; she's a moral outcast; he's educated and learned, she's unschooled and illiterate; he's a powerful man, she has no influence whatsoever; he's highly and widely respected; she's deeply despised and even hated; he's theologically trained while she, at her best, can only manage a kind of fold religion.
Each of us, no doubt, feels more naturally drawn to one of these characters than the other - probably for dubious reasons. Jesus was drawn to both, with the purest of motives. He saw their need equally. He knows that neither of them is fit for life with God on their own. A fundamental change is required, whereby they're completely changed from within - changed by God himself. Have you discovered that need in yourself yet? Have you discovered that hunger for God which God himself put there? As Saint Augustine put it, O God, you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you. And yet most people look for that rest, that satisfaction, elsewhere. Where? Anywhere other than in Christ? All these things promise satisfaction, but they cannot provide it. And we shouldn't be surprised, because God has made us to find that satisfaction in Christ. Some look to money to be satisfied. But they never are - because they always want just a little bit more. Some are captive to television. Simon and Garfunkel sang: The people bowed and prayed to the neon god they'd made. Why? They're looking for something: excitement, entertainment, enlightenment. Some are controlled by their career, so that their occupation has become their preoccupation, as they look for fulfilment in work. Some are obsessed with sport, others are infatuated with beauty, while still others worship their family as well. I'm not wanting to point out the wrongness of these false gods, but the fact that they fail to satisfy. They cannot provide what the true and living God has made available only in himself.
Not only do these false gods fail to satisfy us. They actually destroy us.
In some cases, the destructiveness of these false gods is very obvious, tragically so. These words were, I'm told, found beside the body of a girl who died from heroine abuse:- King Heroin is my shepherd, I shall always want; He maketh me lie down in gutters, He leadeth me beside troubled waters, He destroyeth my soul. He leadeth me in paths of wickedness; Yea, I shall walk through the valley of the shadow of poverty, And will fear no evil, For thou, Heroin, art with me; Thy needle and capsule comfort me; Thou strippest the table of groceries in the presence of my family; Thou robbest my head of reason; My cup of sorrow runneth over. surely Heroin addiction will stalk me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the damned for ever.... But let's not kid ourselves that other false gods are any less addictive, any less enslaving, any less destructive. Indeed, because they don't appear to be so, they're all the more dangerous.
Contrast the tragic end of that poor girl with what the writer and journalist Malcolm Muggeridge discovered:- I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets - that's fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue - that's success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions - that's pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time - that's fulfilment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing - less than nothing, a positive impediment - measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the refreshment of drinking that water? [Jesus Rediscovered, p87-8].
2. Jesus is the Christ, in whom God seeks true worship (v16-26) The conversation between Jesus and the woman moves on, from talk of eternal life and living water, to the nature of true worship. How does it get there? verse 16..... Jesus knows she must admit she needs what he's offering, that she's not worthy of receiving it - if she's ever to accept his offer of the Spirit. verses 17-20..... Sounds like a brilliant diversionary tactic, doesn't it? The kind of evasion a politician would be proud of when cornered by Jeremy Paxman. "Isn't the weather hot for this time of year? Did you see how City got on at the weekend?" Is it that she's getting out of the kitchen because she's finding the heat a bit too much? Is she changing the subject to get off the hook?
It could be that, but I don't think so. She's been following Jesus all the way - misunderstanding at times, maybe even mocking him - but steadily drawn on by what he's saying. Now it seems she realises that, if she's to receive the eternal life which Jesus offers, that means dealing with the sin in her life - and that means she'll have to get her worship sorted out.
She must get that straight. So she raises the question in the only way she knows how. There isn't a crashing, grinding changing of gear here - like a sermon tape I was listening to last weekend, where the second half of the sermon had nothing to do with the first half. I had to rewind and listen again, to check the tape hadn't been spliced together. [Not from St John's, I might add].
Jesus' conversation with the woman is not like that. It follows on from what they've been talking about. Nor is that that Jesus is simply going with the flow and drifting with the tide. He is still the central focus of what they're talking about. He makes sure of that. Because he is the Christ in whom God seeks true worship.
It should make us stop and think for a start, that God is interested in the way we worship him. He's not so keen on 'worship' that any worship will do. verse 23..... It has to be true worship. And true worship is in spirit and truth. And that is all to do with Jesus, the Christ. It is he who is offering this woman the gift of the Spirit so that she can worship God. He is the one who is the truth, so that in knowing him she truly knows God. To worship God in spirit and in truth is to worship him in Christ. That's why it's no longer a question of where they worship God that matters - whether on the mountain in Samaria or in the temple in Jerusalem. [The Samaritans had built a temple on Mount Gerizim about 400 year before Jesus came. Some Jewish zealots had burned it down a couple of hundred years later - hardly likely to foster good racial relations between Jews and Samaritans]. It still does matter where we worship God, but that place is no longer either in Samaria or in Jerusalem. The place to worship God is in Jesus.
So many people get this wrong. We talk about our 'places of worship', and they're marked on our maps and town plans. Instead, it ought to say in the key to the map: Place of worship..... Jesus Christ. We even talk about coming to church to worship. What do we think we've been spending the rest of the week doing? I hope worshipping God hasn't been excluded! Or we get caught up in the style and form of what we call 'worship', rather than in the content. It's seen in the church which is more concerned to have the full liturgy with n'owt ta'en out, and in the church with nothing recognisably liturgical at all. It's seen in the church where all the hymns predate the nineteenth century, and in the church where anything before the nineties is out of date. I'm not saying that anything goes when it comes to worship. Jesus isn't saying anything goes when it comes to worship. Far from it. It must be in him if it's to be true worship.
In the parish I'm going to in Birmingham, there's a mosque. [I think we're going to find life there a little different to Hull]. These words of Jesus tell me that the Muslims who go there to say their prayers aren't worshipping God in the way he seeks. Whatever spirit they have, it isn't the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, the Holy Spirit. And whatever they know, they don't know the truth if they don't know Jesus. I've got to work out how to say that, gently, to any Muslims I meet. But these same words also tell me that we can call ourselves 'Christian' and be in a Christian gathering such as this and still fail to worship God truly. And that's even less excusable. Just because we're here this morning doesn't mean we've got it right. If we don't know Christ we aren't worshipping God as he seeks. It doesn't matter whether you're like Nicodemus or like the Samaritan woman.
I hope you're beginning to see how this sermon hangs together. More importantly, I hope you're beginning to see how what Jesus says hangs together. It hangs on him. He is the one through whom God gives eternal life. He is the one in whom God seeks true worship. Both eternal life and true worship are to be found in Christ, and nowhere else. I like the way John Piper has put it: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him. Have you found this kind of spiritual satisfaction for yourself? Have you experienced the true worship of God which only Christ brings? If you haven't, could it be that you're looking in the wrong place? Are you like the people of Jeremiah's day, whom God spoke about in these terms: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water [Jer 2v13]. The cisterns of money, relationships, security, family, career, pleasure. They're broken and can never satisfy your deepest needs. God has made you for Christ, and you will not be satisfied until you come to him. Perhaps you already have. Then be like this woman. It all happened in a short space of time, just a few days if you take in the whole chapter. Yet, as she tasted the living water which Jesus offered, she wanted more. Her thirst was satisfied and she longed for more. There was misunderstanding, there was doubt along the way, but she wanted more and more of Christ until she couldn't be stopped from introducing here friends to him. Keep looking to Christ to find your thirst satisfied and to worship God truly. Don't turn away anywhere else. Where else could you turn? Back to the broken cisterns?
Inevitably, our minds are very much on Jesus 2000, the parish mission in February. We want there to be many like this woman, who that Jesus is the Christ through whom God gives eternal life and in whom God seeks true worship. And if we're going to be any use in our own personal witness, we'll need to be people who show that we ourselves have found that. We probably sing this song more in the evening services than we do in the morning, but its words describe what we ourselves should know and also long for others to know: All I once held dear, built my life upon, all this world reveres, and wars to own, all I once thought gain I have counted loss; spent and worthless now, compared to this: Knowing you, Jesus, knowing you, there is no greater thing.
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