Jesus was travelling from southern Palestine to the north and had to go through Samaria. As Jesus sits on the well and waits for his disciples to return, the woman comes to the well to draw water - noon wasn't the normal time when women came to get water - unusual for a woman to come alone. Jesus makes a simple request - "could you draw me a drink of the water from this well?"- begins a dialogue which turns out to be life-changing for the woman. Provides answers to 3 very basic questions that most people have about God.
The first question - "what does God really want from us?" In the conversation that takes place, we discover that what God really wants is our worship. Worship is a gift that every human has the capacity to give and, in fact, every human chooses something or someone to receive that gift. We can give it to our possessions, our career, our status, our family and even ourselves. But what the Father really wants is for us to give it to Him and Him alone. He wants us to continually engage both our hearts and our heads in the act of humbling ourselves before him, revering him and surrendering our lives to his service - which is the definition of worship. God wants that from us because He alone is the only object in the Universe worthy and deserving of it. Worshiping God alone is in our own best interest.
Another basic question about God typically follows close on the heels of the first one. Usually goes something like this: "So God wants me to worship him and Him alone. But what do I get out of it? God wants something from me but does He offer anything to me?" Answer - "yes, He does offer something" - something of great value to every human being. We'll discover what it is as we look again at this story of the woman at the well.
A lot of people believe that God offers us a set of rules and regulations - which are better than any other and which we do need if we're going to ever get our act together. But if we mess up - and we always do - then He's ready to pull out the "really big stick." So, what about that perception? Is it accurate? What does God really offer to us?
1. The Offer v. 9
She had good reason to be surprised. Jews of the 1st century hated the people of Samaria. Jews considered Samaritans to be spiritually "unclean" - odd that Jesus would even consider drinking from her utensils. Men in Middle Eastern culture never spoke to a woman in public the way Jesus had done.
But Jesus doesn't even consider her question – v. 10 – 15.
There is some kind of disconnect going on here. Jesus is talking about spiritual realities, but the woman is not following. Either she misunderstands, thinking that he is talking about some way to generate a flow of H2O on demand, or she's mocking him as some weird Jewish traveller who's been out in the sun too long. (Samaritans weren't too fond of the Jews, either!) In any case, she doesn't see that Jesus is making a serious offer here. We have the benefit of time and distance - we know that He is.
So what is the offer? Jesus is offering "living water" which he describes as "a perpetual inner spring that gives eternal life." Well, what does that mean? The term "eternal life" in the NT has a very special meaning. It describes a lot more than quantity of time. It means a lot more than just "accept Jesus and you get to go to Heaven and live forever when you die." That's true, but there is a qualitative difference as well as a quantitative difference. It's the difference between the kind of life that people experience and the kind of life that God the Father, Son and Spirit experience together.
When Jesus offers this woman "living water" - a perpetual inner spring that will bring her eternal life - he is offering her the opportunity to experience the very life that the Trinity experiences. She'll get to live forever, for sure, but her life in the here and now will take on a whole new quality with a whole new purpose and meaning. I'll have more to say about that next week.
2. The Need
There is something implied in this offer of living water that needs to be considered: what kind of a person has a need for living water? What kind of a person has a need for eternal life? The answer - somebody who is not really alive; somebody who is dead on the inside. That condition would certainly describe this woman to whom Jesus was speaking.
After she says, "sure, I'll take your water - whatever it is" - v. 16 – 18. I think her mouth probably dropped open at this point, because she made no attempt to deny what Jesus said. All she could manage to get out was: v. 19.
Let's stop a minute and ask a question: why did Jesus say these things to her? This is a pretty blunt approach, even if you are a prophet. Why did he go from talk of "living water" and "eternal life" to bringing up the deepest, darkest, ugliest, most painful junk of her life? I think what he was doing was pointing out to her that she really was dead on the inside. I think he was putting his finger on the 2 things that proved that she needed what he was offering.
A. She was dead because of her foolishness in seeking life in the wrong places.
This is a woman who had been married 5 times - a lot in any period of history - but unheard of in that day and time. Had she been widowed 5 times? Not very likely. Did she just keep picking losers who she ended up having to divorce? Not possible - in that culture, women could not divorce men. Most likely, she had been married 5 times because all of her husbands had divorced her.
Can you think of a reason why a woman would be courted, married and then divorced 5 times? How does someone go from "highly desirable" to "out on the street" - how does that happen?
It happens if you cheat on all of your husbands and they put you out. I think that's what happened. I think she believed - foolishly - that there was always some other guy out there who could "make her dreams come true." She believed that life - real satisfying life - could be found in having the right lover. (Sounds like a lot of people in our day and time, doesn't it?) But her strategy wasn't working - it could never work, in fact - as Jesus pointed out by observing that she was living with a sixth man whom she didn't even bother to marry! No question about it - she was dead on the inside from seeking life in the wrong places.
B. She was dead internally because of sin (breaking God's rules for living).
It was more than just being foolish and making a few bad choices. This woman was choosing to live in wilful disobedience to God's commands. The Bible says again and again that the result of sin is death. It kills physically; it kills emotionally; it kills spiritually. Sin always produces death. So, why did Jesus bring up this junk in her life? Because you can't have the living water of eternal life until you admit your need for it. You won't even consider drinking of it until you admit that your foolishness and sin is deadly.
That sounds really simple but it's amazing how many people will not make those admissions - yet they are true of every person who has ever lived! All of us foolishly believe that we can live apart from God; that we can work out how to experience real life without Him. Just take this one issue that the woman was dealing with - having the right man or woman in your life. Turn on the TV or go to the movies and what is the constant message? If you can just find the right man or the right woman, you'll be happy.
So we jump from one relationship to another - we take a quick trip to Temptation Island, desperately hoping against hope that this time things will be different; this time we'll make it; this time we'll be happy; this time we'll find life ... foolishness, because no human relationship can do that. The kind of life we're looking for comes only from God Himself. There is a "God-shaped vacuum" inside the human heart that no man or woman - or possession or job or child or hobby or anything else - can ever fill.
Like this woman we don't stop with foolishness. All of us cross the line into rebellion: "God, I know what you say about this or that, but to hell with that. I'm doing what I want to do anyway." Do you see it? This woman is not unique. Her form of deadness may be different from ours, but we're all just like her. That's the bad news. The good news is - because we are just like her, Jesus puts the same offer on the table to us: "You don't have to die in foolishness and sin. If you knew the gift that God offers and who I am, you would ask me and I would give you living water."
3. The Bonus Offer
This is implied by the setting of the story. She is a Samaritan, Jesus is a Jew. She's a woman, he's a man. She's a sinner and he is, in her mind, at least a prophet. She is one-down in every category. But none of that matters to Jesus. He is having an intimate, public, life-giving conversation with her. Why? Because He loves her and He wants a relationship with her that's based on grace ("unearned and undeserved favour") and not rule-keeping.
The one called the "friend of sinners" wants it so much that He has chosen to be at the well at this particular time. John said that Jesus "had to" go through Samaria? Really - it was common practice for Jews to take other routes to avoid that "God-forsaken area and its people." Jesus went through Samaria because he wanted to meet this woman.
She didn't know it, but she had a "divine appointment" with the Son of God. She wasn't looking for Jesus. All she wanted was water. But Jesus was looking for her despite knowing the truth about her - that she was foolish and sinful. He was seeking her, not to condemn her as she deserved but to draw her to himself. He wanted a relationship with her.
He wants that with you and me, too. Not only does God offer us living water that springs up to eternal life, he offers a relationship with us based on grace. That's a good thing because, just like this woman, we can't keep the rules. If God wanted to, He would be justified in using that stick on us. But that's not what He wants.
Let's draw this to a conclusion. We've learned that God offers 2 things of incredible value. He offers "living water" - eternal life, the life that He himself experiences - and a relationship based on grace, not rules. How does the woman respond to all of this?
4. The Response
Last week we saw that she finally sees that Jesus isn't talking about H2O. He's talking about spiritual things. So she sincerely asks what God wants from her. Jesus tells her that what God really wants from people is their worship. Maybe there’s a lull in the conversation. Maybe everything begins to sink in for this woman and all the talk of living water and God's desire to be worshiped comes crashing into the reality of her foolishness and sin. Maybe she does a mental rewind of the whole scene: "I came here to draw water alone in the middle of the day because I have been so foolish and disobedient that I ashamed to be around anyone else. Here I am talking about spiritual and moral realities with a prophet who not only understands all of those things, but also knows that I'm a moral loser."
Then it hits her: "I am so far from what I should be. God help me." v. 25 - "all of this is too overwhelming for me to deal with. It's going to take no less than the Messiah to get me straightened out and up to speed. There's no doubt about it. He's my only hope"- v. 26. "I am the one you are looking for and waiting for. I am the one you need." She believes him, but the way it plays out is very interesting and is worth a whole message - and answers the 3rd question that people tend to ask about God - so we'll save it for next week.
But for now, I want to ask you 2 questions. 1. Is your hope in the Messiah - Jesus? 2. Have you accepted God's offer of life and relationship with him?
Have you come to the point in your life where you have said, "You know, I really am a sinner. I really have been filling myself up with things that do not satisfy - even worshiping some of those things, putting them before God. My only hope is to turn to Jesus just like this woman did and receive what He did for me personally on the cross and in his resurrection from the dead."
Have you come to the point in your life where you have ceased trying to keep the rules and rested in God's goodness instead? You know, Jesus went to the cross and died there to pay for the fact that you and I can't keep rules. Have you put your trust in that instead of pretending that you're good enough?