In our contemporary society we are constantly being told to never be satisfied or content with what you have. In 1965 the Rolling Stones (much like King Solomon in the Old Testament) told us that they have tried everything to be content and yet still “(Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”. The entertainment industry has a slogan “Always leave the audience wanting more.” This is why so many TV shows, books, movies etc. end in cliff hangers. We are also constantly bombarded with ads for products that are “New and Improved”, “Bigger and Better” or version “2.0” because companies are continually “improving” their product and also leaving consumers never fully satisfied. As humans not only are we never satisfied but I believe we are molded into believing that true satisfaction and contentment can be found in possessions or true satisfaction can never be found. But you and I know this is far from the truth.
Have you ever spent a long time saving up for something you really thought you needed (T.V., computer, home, car, some electronic gadget etc.) and when you finally purchased it you find that it isn’t as great as you were expecting or maybe it was even disappointing. This has happened to me numerous times and it just serves as a reminder… True fulfillment and satisfaction is not found in stuff. It seems as though more often than not just the opposite is the case… The more stuff you have the less fulfilled and satisfied you are. Why is this so? Well, I believe the answer is found in today’s passage in John 4:1-26 in this simple little encounter with Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.
We meet, yet again, another person who has an encounter with Jesus and has her world rocked and her encounter results in a life that will never be the same again. This remains true for us today and it will remain true forevermore. When we truly meet with Jesus face to face (figuratively) we will and can never ever be the same.
Before we get into the text for this morning I need to give some background information on the land of Samaria and its inhabitants. Their history goes back to the time when Israel was divided into two kingdoms (during the son of Solomon; Rehoboam’s reign) the North and the South. The Northern Kingdom was called Israel and the Southern Kingdom was called Judah. Samaria was located in the Northern Kingdom and was the capital city. In 722 B.C. the Assyrian defeated the Northern Kingdom and had many of its inhabitants deported from the North to the South. The Assyrians also had Gentiles and Pagans moved into the Northern Kingdom and they intermarried with the remaining Israelites. Their offspring were called Samaritans and they were half Israelite and half Gentile. Not only did they intermarry but they also merged religious practices. The Samaritans only adhered to the Pentateuch (the first five books of Moses) and more specifically they rejected anything that spoke of Jerusalem (Southern Kingdom). They did not go to Jerusalem to worship God in the Temple; in fact they erected their own temple on Mount Gerizim.
Needless to say Jews and Samaritans did not get along. The Jews saw them as second class citizens. The Jews were actually hostile against them and when traveling would often go out of their way and travel around Samaria instead of going through it.
This information I just gave to you is important because you will see how truly significant this conversation is for us as non-Jewish believers. At the outset many just think this is a conversation Jesus had with a woman but knowing the background of the hostility between Jews and Samaritans we know that much more is going on here than meets the eye.
Read John 4:1 – 26
One of the first things I noticed about this conversation is the similarities with Nicodemus. 1) Jesus meets privately with this person. 2) He uses everyday language and symbolism to point to salvation. 3) He declares that he is the way to eternal life. Nicodemus was a Jewish male & follower of law (respected Jewish leader). He had all this going for him and yet Jesus told him he needed to be born again. Whereas the woman at well was a Samaritan, a woman and immoral (five husbands and living with a man currently). She had all the odds stacked against her and yet Jesus informs her she needs to drink of the living water to have life. What I can take from these two encounters is that Jesus is for all people – those who (seemingly) have it all together and those who have been shunned from society.
Verses 1- 9: Once the Pharisees heard about Jesus’ popularity in Judea he decides to head north to Galilee. We are not sure what prompted him to go there but we do know that according to verse 4 “he had to pass through Samaria”. This can be interpreted two ways 1) Jesus went through Samaria out of logistical necessity (it was quicker and easier to go through than around) or 2) more probable it meant that it was God’s will or plan that he had to go.
As he was travelling at around the noon hour he was tired, hot and thirsty as he came to Jacob’s well. It is traditionally believed this well is located on the land Jacob (Israel) gave to Joseph in Genesis 48:22. Interestingly it is still a functioning well/spring to this day. Since it was noon the sun was at its peak and Jesus was weary from his travels. He encounters a woman at this well and asks her for a drink. Once again, without the background information and understanding of the culture at this time we would think nothing of this encounter.
Water was drawn in the morning hours or the cool of the day by the women. Typically they came in groups so they could assist one another in drawing the water and before it became too hot. Yet here we have a woman who comes later in the day and alone. This tells us that she is probably a shunned woman because she comes at the point of day when she knows no one will be around and she comes by herself. So Jesus is not only breaking tradition by talking to a Samaritan and a woman, he is talking with a shunned (immoral) Samaritan woman which would put her pretty much at the bottom of the barrel in societies eyes.
Jesus asks her for some water and the woman is certainly surprised because a Jewish male is asking her for a drink of water. He has no utensils so he would have to use her cup. According to Jews Samaritans were ceremonially unclean and a Jew who used a Samaritan’s cup would also be considered unclean as well. This is what the writer John meant when he wrote that Jews and Samaritans use nothing in common.
Verse 10 - 18: She apparently has no reason to even know that she is speaking to the Messiah. She was surprised that this tired Jewish traveler was not only talking to her but as Jesus said to her had she known who she was talking to she would not only be getting him water but would be asking him for the living water. Living water – literally translated as flowing water or moving water. In the Bible water is symbolic for cleansing, refreshing and in the Holy Spirit. Jesus is speaking to this woman in spiritual terms as D.A. Carson writes, “(Living Water is) the satisfying eternal life mediated by the Spirit that only Jesus, the Messiah and Savior of the world can provide.” As Jesus talks about this water the woman thinks he is speaking of some unknown water source (or Jesus is speaking literally) so she asks Jesus how he plans on giving her this water since he has no utensils. She, like Nicodemus, doesn’t understand Jesus is speaking in a spiritual sense.
In verse 13 Jesus takes the opportunity to further explain what he is talking about. He says the physical water that we drink is temporary and never TRULY satisfies. We can drink all the water we want (to the point of getting sick) but eventually we will get thirsty again. The living water, which is not a liquid but the everlasting life of God through the Holy Spirit satisfies our spiritual thirst. In our search for satisfaction and contentment in life we seek fulfillment in physical things (cars, homes, electronics, substances, food, drink etc.) and we can never truly be satisfied. Satisfaction is only attained when we have drunk of the living water of Jesus Christ. Not only will the water of life satisfy but it will spring up or gush up like an artesian well of eternal life and life here on earth through the Holy Spirit (an abundant life).
Hearing Jesus’ description of this water the woman now desires this water and asks how to get it. Jesus then makes a prophecy about her life and her immoral acts which cuts to her heart and convicts her of her immoral lifestyle. This shows that when we desire to drink the living water of Jesus we will also have to confront our sins. Sure, it is easy to come to Jesus and drink of the living water, the hard part is realizing our sins and handing them over to God.
Verse 19 - 26: This revelation certainly convinced the woman that Jesus was indeed an inspired man. In fact her words could be translated as “I can see you are the prophet” (the one like Moses who will come).
In verse 20 the woman changes the subject (maybe to avoid the discussion about her immoral life choices) and starts talking theology (location of worshiping God). How common this is when talking to someone about God or Jesus that when you start hitting home in your discussion about the need for a savior the person you are speaking to changes the subject (i.e. well how can a loving God…)
Jesus responds, “The hour is coming…and is here…” He says there is a day and that day is here when God is no longer to be worshiped in the Temple only but will be worshiped in Spirit and in truth. Worship of God is not confined to a building but God can be worshiped anywhere. Through the Holy Spirit God is present everywhere and can be worshiped everywhere. He is omnipresent and can be worshiped at home, school, work, on the road, at church etc. God is not confined to a building but he will be in hearts (this will be his dwelling place).
As I conclude today may we take these truths home with us from this encounter Jesus had with the Samaritan woman at the well.
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