Let the One Who is Thirsty Come to Jesus
Passage: John 4:1–4:5
Sermon from John 4:1-15 by Bret Rogers, Pastor
Delivered on April 21, 2013
Jesus Gives Eternal Life to Desperately Thirsty Peoples
The main point of today’s message is this: Jesus gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty. That implies that we have a desperate need for spiritual drink—that apart from this spiritual drink offered to us here, we will not have eternal life but suffer from eternal death. It also implies that Jesus alone supplies the spiritual drink we need to gain eternal life. We are desperately thirsty people, separated from God, heading for death and Jesus is the all-sufficient supplier who gives us life. Jesus gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty.
Setting the Stage with Jesus' Pursuit of the Father's Will
We see this in Jesus’ encounter with the woman from Samaria, but don’t miss how the apostle John takes us to Samaria with Jesus in verses 1-3. Don’t overlook how John sets the stage to ensure that once we arrive at the well with Jesus we know how to listen to his conversation with the woman. John is telling us how to read the rest of the story. He says, “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.”
Now this is the beginning of a pattern we see throughout John’s Gospel. As you read along in John’s Gospel, you’ll notice a pattern of events in which Jesus reveals his glory, he gains some followers, he heads to Jerusalem, he’s opposed by the Jews—especially the authorities—and then he departs from the city. This series of events happens at least four more times and with every recurrence the opposition to Jesus gaining glory gets stronger and stronger and stronger until you reach 12:23, where Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”—which basically means “the time has come for me to die for sinners according to my Father’s will.”
Now, here’s why that’s important for understanding verses 1-3. Jesus isn’t leaving town because he’s scared of the Pharisees—his Father loves him and has given all things into his hands, including what happens with the Pharisees (3:35). He’s not scared. The reason he’s leaving is that it’s not his appointed hour to die. By leaving Judea to come to Galilee he’s not following the impulses of a sinful nature like we do, because he doesn’t have a sinful nature. His nature always loves submitting to his Father’s will. By coming to Galilee, he’s obeying his Father’s will every step of the way in his journey to the cross.
And this story with the Samaritan woman confirms that’s what’s going on, because Jesus “had to pass through Samaria.” He had to. We’re not speaking merely of geography, here, and better roads to Galilee. It was his Father’s will; he had to pass through Samaria. Why? Because, 4:23, “…the Father is seeking people to worship him.” God wants this Samaritan woman worshipping him in truth—along with countless others—and the way he seeks her is by sending his Son to Galilee through Samaria. Jesus will even go on to say in verse 34, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.”
John is giving us another glimpse at Jesus obeying his Father’s will to show that everything Jesus does before his crucifixion helps us understand what he achieves through his crucifixion. Every encounter with Jesus in the Gospel gives us opportunity to stop and consider what Jesus achieves for sinners through his sacrificial death. In this case, we see that part of what Jesus achieves in his death is just what I said earlier: he gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty. John’s account of Jesus talking with the Samaritan woman unpacks this truth in three ways.
1. Jesus Pursues Us in Our Need Without Distinction
First, Jesus pursues us in our need without distinction. So if we broke down the main point of today’s message—he gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty—this would be the “to all peoples” part. Without distinction, Jesus pursues us in our need. According to his Father’s will, Jesus came to a town of Samaria where there was a well, Jacob’s well. And verses 6-7 say that he stopped at the well to rest and a woman came to draw water; and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink. (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.).” The Samaritan woman [then] said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” [And then John informs us why she responded to Jesus the way she did.] (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” The wording, “have no dealings with” suggests “not using together”—Jews and Samaritans don’t use together, even if it’s a bucket to draw water.
To a Jew, a Samaritan was a political rebel, a racial half-breed, a religious phony. You even get a sense of what they feel about them when they call Jesus a Samaritan in 8:48: “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?” The closest illustration—that I could think of—from our own country’s history that might help you understand what it means for Jews to have no dealings with Samaritans is that of public water fountains labeled “Whites” and “Colored” under the Jim Crow laws prior to the Civil Rights movement of 1964. Cruel, ugly hatred.
“Jews have no dealings with Samaritans, Jesus. How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” What we learn, here, is something we all need to take home with us about our Savior. Our Savior pursues sinners in their need without distinction. He pursues people like Nicodemus—a ruler of the Jews, proficient in religion, accepted by society, wealthy, morally upright—and he pursues people like this woman from Samaria—a foreigner, a social outcast, poor, a moral failure five marriages later and still sleeping with another man. So, whether a self-righteous moralist—like Nicodemus—or an unashamed prostitute—like this woman—Jesus pursues sinners without distinction.
Jesus knows it’s publicly awkward for him to sit down at the well, to speak with a Samaritan, to ask a woman for a drink, and an adulterous woman at that. He knows what’s in man (John 2:25). He knows what the people will be saying: “He reclines at the table with tax collectors and sinners (Luke 5:29-30). He receives sinners and eats with them (Luke 15:2).” He knows his disciples will be surprised to find their Rabbi talking with a woman in public at lunch time (John 4:27). He knows he’s acting against all the social stereotypes, and that’s just the point: Christ makes no distinctions in pursuing the salvation of others.
He doesn’t hesitate to relate to this woman for her eternal good—and he will not hesitate to relate to you either. Jesus pursues Jews and he pursues Gentiles. He pursues those who think they’ve got it all together; and he pursues those who could give a rip about anything. He pursues classy businessmen enslaved to their money; and he pursues bitter poor people who wish they had more money. He pursues Asian people and Indian people, black people and white people, bad sinners and the chief of sinners, married people and divorced people, people in high places and people in low places, American people and Chechen people.
Jesus makes no distinction in pursuing people in their need because they all have the same need—the need for him. He didn’t make distinctions when he saved any of us; there’s nothing in us that attracted him. He pursued us unworthy as we are. In all our many Gentile colors, with all our many pagan lifestyles, Jesus came after us to win our hearts to himself. He made no distinction in saving us; and therefore we should never make distinctions in wining others to him. Test yourself, here: how well do you follow Jesus in pursuing others in their need without distinction? I’m not denying that we should use discernment in bringing the gospel into the lives of others—there are precautions to take in certain settings depending on the nature of their sins; there are contexts that would be unwise to minister in alone; there’s also the question of upholding justice wherever we can in our engagements.
But assuming we faithfully seek answers to those questions, how well do you follow Jesus in pursuing others without distinction? Would you have been quick to speak a word about Jesus to this woman at the well? What about the woman down the street who gives herself over to sinful sex every weekend? Are you quick to condemn the man next door or speak a word of truth over him when you both check your mail box? Do you fear what others might think of you—even others in this church—if you show up to Care Group with the “awkward” guy—as if to say we’re not awkward ourselves? When a church gathering like this closes and we have visitors peppered throughout the congregation from all sorts of backgrounds, are you quick to love them and show them hospitality and invest in them—even when it might mean your tears and your time and your money? When we call for assistance in a neighborhood outreach—to get the gospel into the lives of the people in White Settlement—is any part of your choice not to come related to your preference to see nobody different than yourself as part of this assembly?
Or maybe it is that you just haven’t ever sat down and thought of how Christ saved you. He overcame the barrier between you and heaven by becoming a man (John 1:14); he overcame the barrier between you, a Gentile, and him, the Jew, by smashing the hostility through the blood of his cross (Eph 2:11-22); he overcame the barrier between you and God by suffering in your place on the cross (Eph 2:1-10). He overcame the barriers you sinfully erected between yourself and others by making you all fellow heirs with Christ through his justifying grace (Tit 3:3-7). At every turn, Jesus pursued you unhindered by your ethnicity, your social status, or your degree of sinfulness, and then says to you in 20:21, “As the Father has sent me [pursuer of those in need without distinction] even so I am sending you.” We must say with Paul, “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish…For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom 1:14, 16). So that’s what we gather first: Jesus pursues us in our need without distinction.
2. Jesus Exposes Our Greatest Need
Second, Jesus exposes our greatest need. If we think back to our main point—he gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty—this is the “desperately thirsty” piece. It highlights something about our need. It’s not that Jesus merely pursues sinners to strike up a good chat as if all is well on earth. As the Light of the world, Jesus came to expose our darkness. He cannot help but enlighten sinners of their greatest need. The Samaritan woman responded the way she did because ultimately she doesn’t know who Jesus is or why he has come. In this sense, she proves to have the same puzzlement as Nicodemus did. So she totally overlooks her true need for eternal life. She should have said, “I have nothing to give you, Jesus. If anything, it’s me that needs you.” But she doesn’t. So very patiently, Jesus guides her into the real truth of the matter. She needs to see—and we need to see—that our greatest need of all is something only Christ can give—living water. Verse 10, “Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
What’s the truth, here, of this woman and us? What’s the truth of the matter? The truth is that she is a desperately thirsty woman and only the living water Jesus offers is able to satisfy. This isn’t the first place we see “living water.” The Old Testament speaks of God himself as being the fountain of living water. For example, David says of the Lord in Psa 36:7-9, “How precious is your steadfast love, O God! The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house, and you give them drink from the river of your delights. For with you is the fountain of life…” David compares God himself to “the fountain of life,” he is the wellspring that sustains his people with life—with spiritual vitality, covenant blessings, the incalculable delights of heavenly abundance. Or many of you will remember Psa 42:1-2, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God [Do you hear the parallel? God is being compared to all-satisfying water, flowing streams. Then he goes on.]. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
So this is where every one of us is to find ultimate satisfaction—in the all-satisfying God of the universe. We were made to drink from the infinitely satisfying river of his delights; our souls are to be satisfied in him alone. Jesus is right, “If we knew the gift of the infinitely glorious God himself offered fully to us in the person of Jesus Christ, we would go to him for drink!
But here’s the problem: we don’t. We don’t find our satisfaction in God alone! We don’t come to Jesus for living water. We reject him in an attempt to find satisfaction in lesser things—more money, another job promotion, extra securities, fancier wardrobes, latest video game, classier cars, the next television series. Maybe you drink-in revenge, smothering your fellow students with your arguments, cutting down the next preacher on your blog, criticizing every church in town including your own. Maybe you thrive on knowledge but quite apart from humbly submitting yourself to God and using that knowledge to serve others. Or maybe you’ve sought satisfaction in life in the same way the Samaritan woman did, moving from one marriage to the next, one boyfriend to the next, seeking your fulfillment in relationship after relationship after relationship without satisfaction. Where is your life proving that you are not satisfied in God? Men, where do your eyes wander? When they wander in sinful ways, it’s exposing that you have a thirsty soul and your flesh is trying to satisfy itself with something foreign to what it was made for. Where are you discontent with Christ, unstable, moving from this church to the next church, from these friends to the next friends, from this thrill to the next thrill? You can name them.
Because we don’t seek our satisfaction in Christ, we are just like Israel was when God said of them in Jer 2:11-13, “Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods [That’s Israel seeking satisfaction in her idols over her covenant Lord.]? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the Lord, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” This is where we are in our sinfulness, just like them. This is how we respond to our spiritual thirst apart from Jesus Christ breaking in to change it. We have a desperate thirst, a thirst that will never be quenched by our own doings. We don’t make fountains; we make cisterns, and broken ones at that—silted bottoms and all. We are thirsty, desperately thirsty, just like this woman. And the only one who can truly satisfy us is Jesus Christ, God almighty in the flesh. Ask of him, and he will give you living water—not for your stomach, but for your soul.
Only the water that Jesus gives will satisfy your soul’s thirst. That’s why he pursued this woman in Samaria and why he came from heaven for you, too, to pursue you in your need, to expose your greatest need for true life-giving drink, and now, lastly, to show you that your greatest need is met in him. Let me say that again. Jesus came to pursue us all in our need; in his coming to us, he exposes our greatest need—the need for living water, for life with God.
3. Jesus Provides for Our Greatest Need
And now third, Jesus provides for our greatest need. Going back to our main point—he gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty—this is the “he gives eternal life” piece. The woman is still interpreting matters quite literally as she continues in verses 11-12: “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?” In other words, you forgot to bring your bucket! Jesus is offering to meet her deepest need with living water from God and she’s hung up on the fact that he forgot his water pail. [Jesus is so patient with us.]
She goes on, “Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” So not only “Where’s your bucket” but also “Who do you think you are, Jesus? Have you got a better source for living water than Jacob’s well?” Jesus’ response…essentially, “You can’t even begin to fathom the abundance of living water I’m talking about here, woman.” Read his words with me in verse 13: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again [that’s Jacob’s well], but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again [that’s Jesus’ well]. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” So, to answer her questions: “there’s not a bucket that can hold the life I’m talking about and I offer you something infinitely better than Jacob.”
Jacob’s gift could only go so far in providing physical sustenance for a time. But what Christ offers endures forever. How so? Because what he offers is a relationship with God himself made possible through his death and resurrection and the gift of the Holy Spirit to those who believe. Turn with me to 7:37-39: “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water’” [So the same imagery we’ve been seeing in chapter 4: we have a thirst; we come to Jesus for drink; and he gives us living water. Then John tells us what he means in verse 39]. Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified [that means in his death and resurrection].”
True spiritual drink, the living water, the spring of water welling up to eternal life, is God himself in the person of the Holy Spirit. This is why coming to Jesus for drink results in never going thirsty again; this is why the water Jesus gives is living; this is why when his water is inside your soul it wells up to eternal life—because the eternal Spirit of God is in you. He has infinite supply of grace. He has infinite love to pour out within our hearts. The life he has never runs out. He has infinite resources to satisfy our weary soul because he is God. He is God taking up residence in the soul of man to produce eternal life, to produce in us now the life we’re looking forward to in the age to come when there will be no more thirst (Rev 7, 22).
Jesus’ isn’t offering physical water such that once you’ve drunk, you still die; he’s offering to satisfy our desperate thirst by giving us God himself—such that we’re no longer spiritually dead, but alive; such that we’re no longer building broken cisterns that never satisfy, but drinking from God himself who always satisfies; such that when the longings for life and joy come, we no longer turn to the world’s emptiness to fix things, because we’re already receiving from God’s fullness.
And what makes this relationship available to us—the reason Jesus can offer such life to us who believe in him—is that he removed every obstacle to us obtaining it through his cross. It’s the reason we—unworthy as we are—can receive such life from him, because he’s already died to give us full access to eternal life. He took away your sins, he cleansed you from your filth, he clothed you with his righteousness that you might gain full access—not partial access—but full access to eternal life with God. And God raised Jesus from the dead that such life might now be mediated to you through receiving his Holy Spirit.
When you have a relationship with Christ, you gain what the prophets longed for in the day of salvation: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isa 12:3). “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.”
When we come to Christ, he forever satisfies our thirst with eternal life in God’s presence achieved through his cross and meditated through his Spirit. Jesus pursues us in our need without distinction; exposes our greatest need for eternal life; and meets our greatest need through his cross and Spirit. Jesus gives eternal life to all peoples who are desperately thirsty. Are you thirsty this morning, but finding satisfaction with the world? Forsake the world’s cheap imitations for life and come to Jesus that you may truly live. Are you striving for that which does not really satisfy? Come to Jesus and delight yourself in a loving relationship with the eternal God of heaven and earth. Is your soul weary and scared and tired and beat down and disappointed with the people or the circumstances around you? The answer is not “change locations,” “quit my job,” “become hopeless,” “get revenge.” The answer is “keep coming to Jesus,” “keep drinking from the Fountain of living waters.” He will never disappoint you. He never tires of you coming to him—he died that you may this life. He’s not overwhelmed by your need, but infinitely wise to discern your greatest need and infinitely powerful to meet your greatest need—eternal life. Come to him; he will satisfy you.
More in The Gospel According to John
May 24, 2015Eyewitness Testimony to the Greatness of Jesus
May 17, 2015Loving Jesus & Feeding His People at All Costs
May 10, 2015Believing the Apostle's Testimony When Not Seeing Jesus