Sunday 8 December 2013

Water (John 4:1-26)

1. Woman

1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptising more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptised, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

     The scene changes from the crowds in Judea to the empty desert road in Samaria.
     Back in Judea, everyone knew Jesus. Everyone came to Jesus to get baptised. People were comparing him to the most famous preacher at the time, John the Baptist.
     But Jesus leaves all that behind. He makes his way up north to Galilee, a journey of seventy miles by foot (which would have taken him and his disciples four days to reach) - and enroute, stops in the middle of nowhere, at a well in Samaria, just so he can speak to one woman.
     Unlike Nicodemus in Chapter 3 who is a well-respected Jewish leader, this woman is a Samaritan who has been married five times and lives with her boyfriend. In fact, we don’t even know her name.
     But the amazing thing is: She becomes a Christian and because of her witness, the whole village turns to Christ.

7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

     Remember, Jesus is alone and here he is talking to a woman. His friends have gone to get lunch from Boots. It’s just Jesus and the Samaritan woman, and frankly, what Jesus did in asking her for a drink was quite scandalous.
     Verse 9: The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” And John adds: (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
     Jews and Samaritans are like North and South Korea: Neighbours who hate each other’s guts. These guys have had a long history of racial conflict and religious disagreement.
     But it’s more than that. Notice how shocked she is when she says, “How can you ask me for a drink?” Jesus is breaking social taboo. If anyone saw him speaking to her, they might get the wrong idea. What would they think? (Look at the reaction of the disciples when they get back from their shopping trip in verse 27. They are surprised. Yet no-one dared to say to her, “What do you want?” or to ask Jesus, “Why were you talking with her?”)
     Meaning: Jesus is risking his own reputation by speaking to the woman. It’s like seeing your pastor sitting in a gay bar or your bible study leader waiting for the bus at the red light district. One instagram and the church elders will be knocking at your door!
     Jesus did not avoid her. He didn’t ignore her either (though she expected him to). Instead, Jesus came all this way to talk to her and to offer her something called living water.

2. Water

10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?”

     “Living” water, as we have it here in verses 10 and 11, can also be an expression meaning “running” water. That is: water that is fresh from it’s source. Water from a spring or tap.
     And from the woman’s response in verse 11, that is clearly how she understands the phrase. She thinks Jesus is offering fresh running water and says, “Where can you get this running water? You don’t even have a bucket.”
     You can hear the cynicism in her voice. “Who does this guy think he is? A minute ago he is asking me for a drink. Now he says I should be asking him for a drink?”

     But Jesus says something that completely changes her mind. Something that makes her go, “Sir, give me this water…” and it’s verse 13.

13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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 speaks about something that is real for this woman and it’s her thirst. I doubt she understood what Jesus meant he talked about eternal life. Or back in verse 10 when he said, “If you knew the gift of God,” she didn’t know what that was about. She wasn’t thinking about God or salvation or heaven or anything like that.
     But she was thinking about her thirst. I know that’s hard to get across here in Cambridge in the middle of a stormy winter but this was the Middle East at twelve noon at the hottest time of the day.
     Every day, this woman had to come to this well with her water jar to get water.
     Verse 15: The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

     Out of nowhere, Jesus says, “Go call your husband.”
     Why does he do that?
     “I have no husband,” she replies in verse 17. Why does Jesus suddenly tell her to call her husband and to bring him? Because Jesus knows the man she is living with right now isn’t her husband.
     And because Jesus knows that her thirst goes beyond the physical. It goes beyond relationships. It’s a spiritual thirst for something that will give her true meaning and satisfaction.

17 Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”

     Have you noticed that she’s the only person from the village there at the well? Where are the other women? Don’t they need to draw water?
     That’s the significance of verse 6 when John tells us, “It was about the sixth hour.” The sixth hour - or noon - was the hottest time of the day. Most sensible people fetch the water they need from the well at the beginning of the day, when the weather is cool and the sun is at its lowest. They do not wait till noon when the sun is at its highest.
     The reason why she’s there at this time of day is to avoid the other women. I think everyone in the village - they all know about her past, they all know about her previous marriages, as well as her current live-in boyfriend. She is avoiding them by going to the well at the hottest time of day.
     So when she says, in verse 15, “Give me this water… so I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here,” it’s frustration. She hates coming to this well day after day.

     But Jesus knows all about her past and very lovingly confronts her with her sin. The truth is her love life is no different from her daily trips to the well: a constant search for fulfilment and a never-ending thirst for satisfaction. Again and again she comes back to the well. Again and again she looks for happiness in arms of a man. Each time she gets more disappointed and disillusioned. Each time she gets more and more thirsty.

     Sin in the bible is pictured in two ways. The first is rebellion; saying to God, “Get out of my life. I don’t want you in my life.” But the other way sin is pictured is idolatry - that is, treating something other than God as God. We look to something other than God to give us happiness, meaning and fulfilment.
     Jeremiah 2:13 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.”
     It’s this second sin that Jesus deals with here. It’s turning our relationships into God. It’s turning our career and our exam results into God. And the bible says when we do this, we look to something other than God to quench our thirst. It never delivers. It always leaves us dry and disillusioned.

     Which is why, the conversation turns to worship. Notice, it’s she who brings it up. She asks Jesus, “How can I worship God in a way that I know is true?”

3. Worship

19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.”

     “My pastor says our church is true place of worship but your pastor says your church is the true place of worship. Who is right and who is wrong?” We hear something like that and tend to think, “Both of them are wrong!” or we might say, “How arrogant for those pastors to claim that their church is better than the other guy’s church.”
     And at first glance, it looks as if Jesus is saying just that, “A time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Now if that’s what you think Jesus is saying (“It doesn’t matter. Those who fight over these things are idiots!”) then read on to verse 22. Because there Jesus says…

22 “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews.”

     Jesus is saying, “You’ve got it wrong. You don’t know God.” That’s serious. Jesus is saying: You don’t actually know whom you are worshipping.
     God has revealed himself in his Word, specifically in the history of his relationship with the Jews as recorded in the Old Testament. That’s where we get the instructions for worship with the sacrifices and the temple in Jerusalem and the priests and the offerings. It comes from God’s revelation of himself in his word. And Jesus says, “Salvation is from the Jews.”
     The Samaritans reject most of the Old Testament, accepting only the five books of Moses to be authoritative. They never get to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel when God gave the blessing to King Solomon to build the temple in Jerusalem.
     In effect, Jesus is saying to the Samaritan woman, “You’re wrong. And as offensive as it might sound, they are right. The temple should be in Jerusalem, not Mount Gerizim.”
     Yet in the same breath, Jesus says, “A time is coming when this, too, will change.”

23 “Yet at time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship him in spirit and in truth.”

     Jesus is still speaking into the Samaritan woman’s thirst. She wants to know the right place to worship. She wants to know, “How can I worship God?” and that’s a fantastic response. She finally sees that what she yearns for and longs for is God.
     But interestingly, Jesus answers by pointing her to God’s thirst. God is seeking for, God is searching for, God is longing for true worshippers. “These are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks,” Jesus says.
     A time is coming, when God will make this happen. Friends, whenever you see that expression - “a time if coming” in John’s gospel - it is always, always referring to the time of his death on the cross.

     Do you know what Jesus said just before he died on the cross? Look with me John Chapter 19 verse 28 (page 765).
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
     Jesus didn’t simply die on the cross. He experienced all the consequences of our sin on the cross. The bible says he became sin, meaning, his body became a sponge that soaked up all our sin, all our rejection, all of shame, all of our thirst and only after he did that did he say, “It is finished.” John is saying this: On the cross, Jesus took our thirst in such a way we would never thirst again. He took our sin, our emptiness, our death so that we would never die again.

     Now I can’t imagine that the Samaritan understood all of that in one go, but here at the point when she finally acknowledges her longing for God - she wants to worship God truly in the right way - Jesus answers by pointing her to God’s longing for worshippers like her. It’s not our love for God that saves us, it’s his love for us. It is never our desire, our sincerity or our earnestness that redeems us, it’s always his grace and mercy shown to sinners like us through the death of Jesus Christ on cross. We need to keep that in mind when we talk about worshipping God and serving God - even our worship was paid for on the cross.

25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”
26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

     It just made sense to her when Jesus said, “It’s me.” She was waiting for answers. She knew the Messiah would be the one to explain everything to them. Jesus says, “It’s me,” literally, “I am.”
     Back in verse 10, Jesus said, “If only you knew…” “If you knew the gift of God.” “If you knew who it is who asks you for a drink.” She knows now, doesn’t she?
     Friends, what should we do in response to this? If by God’s grace you hear these words and something in you says, “I know this is Jesus. I know it’s him.” How should you respond?
     Ask him. “If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would ask him and he would have given you living water.”
     That’s what she did, didn’t she? "Sir, give me this water."

     You know, the book of Revelation uses this “thirst” to describe believers who long for Jesus’ return

     The Spirit and the bride says, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life. (Revelation 21:17)

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