Is anyone thirsty? (John 4:1-25)

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Were you there in the petrol queues panic buying fuel the other week? I wonder how you would have reacted if someone promised you access to a secret stash of petrol or diesel? What if they could guarantee that once you filled up, the fuel wouldn’t run out.   It’s a relief that the crisis has subsided although I understand in some places there are still shortages and a tour local petrol station there’s a £35 limit at the pumps.

The crisis along with other shortages in shops and restaurants high-lights that we are a hungry and thirsty people. Our vehicles are thirsty for fuel -and all of those things remind us of our fragility.  It is easy to bring life to a stand-still.

Burt beyond the thirst for fuel and hunger for food and longing for consumer goods there’s a deeper hunger, a deeper thirst.  We long, hunger and thirst for meaning in life, peace in a troubled world, love, relationships, and intimacy. We  are thirsty for hope because we look around at this world, we consider our own experiences and something deep within says “there must be more than this.”

Does that describe you? Well here in John 4 is good news just for you.

A chance meeting – or a planned meeting? (v1-15)

Jesus’ disciples have been following the same practice as John the Baptist and his disciples in baptising for repentance. This has begun to lead to tension between the two groups. They are meant to be on the same side, John has been preparing the way for Jesus and has pointed to him as the greater one, as the one who has come to bring life and forgiveness. However, to avoid the potential tension here, Jesus moves his disciples away from where John is operating near the Jordan (v1-3).

On a side point, the imagery of conflict around water and wells echoes Old Testament conflict. Think of Abraham and Lot separating or Isaac experiencing tensions with the Philistines of well digging. One of the things the Gospel writers do is use the events and structure the story to place Jesus in the redemptive history of Israel. Jesus is like, in fact he is greater  than the patriarchs as we will see shortly.

To get to Galilee, his route takes him through Samaria. That’s not a route you would expect him to take.  Jews and Samaritans didn’t get on.  What has happened? Has his first century sat-nav locked onto the most direct route possible as happened to my dad a few weeks back when his Sat-Nav sent him home direct through the centre of Leeds and into congestion when he would have preferred to take the Motorway around and like all good Bradfordians avoid Leeds altogether?  No, Jesus has in fact a planned appointment.

He arrives with his disciples at a well that had been dug many years before by Jacob and sits down to rest whilst his disciples head off into town to get food.  Jesus is both fully God and fully man and so like you and me he experienced hunger, thirst, tiredness, pain.  (v4-6).

As he is resting a woman turns up to get water and Jesus asks her to give him some to drink She is shocked. As I said previously, Jews and Samaritans have nothing to do with each other. It’s like Bradfordians and people from Leeds or Arsenal and Spurs fans but far ore serious than that. When the people of Israel, the northern kingdom had been taken into exile by Assyria about 700 years previously, the Assyrians had devastated the country. A remnant had been left in the land but then their new overlords brought people from other parts of the empire in and resettled them there, They intermarried with the locals and the result was what was seen as a “mongrel race” and furthermore it led to a mixing of religious ideas. So the Samaritans were considered ethnically and religiously impure by the Jews.  They were despised hated and rejected. In chapter 8, the Jews will use the term “Samaritan Demonic” to insult Jesus and he famously tells a parable with a twist where the Samaritan turns out to be the good guy So she wants to know what Jesus wants  with her. Oh and not only is she a Samaritan but she is a woman and Jewish men looked down on women. Jesus was crossing all kinds of cultural boundaries and taboos (v7-9)..

Jesus responds and says “if you knew who I was and what I had to offer then you’d be asking me for a drink.” This throws her (v10-12).

“But you don’t have anything to draw water with.  Are you hiding a secret stash somewhere?”

And notice too the question arising. If Jesus is offering something better than what was on hand, then is he claiming to be able to go one better than Jacob. A theme throughout John is that Jesus is greater than the OT heroes, than Abraham, Moses, Elijah, Jacob.

Jesus insists again that he has water to offer, not from the well but “living water” or “the water of life.”  Living water perhaps suggests that it is from a spring that never runs out, that keeps on bubbling up as opposed to a finite source in a cistern. However, Jesus is hinting at something more. It’s not just that this water is living and so won’t run out, it’s that it is living because it gives life, it quenches thirst and the affect is permanent.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but certain foods are addictive, particularly junk foods, fizzy drinks, biscuits, caffeine etc.  Do you remember the old advert for Pringles “once you pop you can’t stop.”   Well that’s not a good thing. The reality is that you keep eating them because you still feel hungry.  

Jesus is saying that he offers something that is unlike that. When you meet Jesus, when you receive his gift you are satisfied. This brings us to our first application (v13-15)

Receive life from Jesus – life that satisfies and never disappoints (v16z-18)

In John chapter 7, Jesus will repeat the claim that he is the one who offers living, life giving water.  There John explains that Jesus is speaking about the Holy Spirit. Jesus uses the image of water as aa metaphor for what he has come to do. His death and resurrection mean that he has defeated sin, Satan and death, that he has received the penalty for our sin on himself so that he in exchange gves us life.  This means that if you put your trust in him and ask him to forgive you then he does, he takes charge of your life and makes his home with you and in you through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

This is good news for Spiritually thirsty people. We see it at work in the passage here. The woman wants some of this water. Jesus says

“go and fetch your husband.”

“I don’t have one”

She answers. And Jesus says

“I know”

You see, Jesus knew that she was currently living with someone outside of marriage with five marriages previously behind her. We’re not told whether her previous husbands had died or divorced her but there is a sense here isn’t there of someone moving from relationship to relationship, never finding what she is looking for.  Here is someone desperate for love, intimacy acceptance and home, longing to belong. Here is someone who is thirsty and never satisfied. I want to suggest that in Jesus’s words here are compassion for her need, conviction of sin (sin is sometimes referred to as both abandoning the true source of water and seeking it in broken cisterns) and forgiveness all rolled up together.

So I want to speak to hungry and thirsty people. I don’t know where you have been searching and looking for identity, intimacy, satisfaction but I know that you haven’t found it there. We’ve mentioned the addictive power of food but there are so many things that we look to for meaning, fulfilment, satisfaction, pornography, drugs, sex, relationships, work, money, power. None of these things can satisfy indeed they are designed not to. They are designed to make you want to come back for more.

By the way, we can even seek after satisfaction in religion.  It’s good to come to church and get involved but if we look for our identity and purpose, hoping that we can please God and please others by throwing ourselves into church work we will find that this too is unsatisfying and addictive.

We need Christ. He offers himself to us and it is in him that we find life, forgiveness, love.

Entrust your life to him in worship that glorifies, honours and enjoys him(v19-25)

I am reminded of the first question from the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

“What is the chief end (purpose) of man (humanity)?”

“To glorify God and enjoy him forever?”

It is sometimes assumed that the woman’s next question is a diversion. That she feels uncomfortable with the intense pastoral and personal insight that Jesus has so she attempt to move him onto the safer ground of a theoretical discussion about theology.”

“Where should we worship?” (v19-20)

Yet I am not convinced. I want to suggest that her response to Jesus is exactly right. She has met someone who is able to speak truth into her life, he is trustworthy. He has offered her the gift of God and now she realises that he isn’t talking about physical water or cocoa-cola or such like.  She realises that her need is spiritual -that she needs to be right with God.

So the question about which mountain to go and meet God on isn’t theoretical or academic, its real and personal.  Where is this water? Where can she meet God and have her thirsty soul revived? Jesus observes that in fact the Jews are a little bit more right than the Samaritans. This isn’t about ethnic superiority or pride but the simple fact that they have had access to God’s Word (even though we see that they don’t benefit from this gift) and so should know how to come to God. 

But Jesus says that she doesn’t need to go to this or that holy place. You see we are called to worship in Spirit and truth. We can meet God at anyplace and any time.  It is good and right to gather for worship with God’s people but we don’t do that because this building is special. WE are constantly able to pray to him and to worship him with our lives (v20-24).

Well, she  is taken by this but hasn’t quite grapsed it yet. So she says

“The Messiah will sort it all out for us when he comes”

And Jesus responds by saying

“I am he.”(v25)

One of the big questions in John’s Gospel that pervades the book is the identity of Jesus. Who is he? What authority does he have for his words and actions? We discover through the book that he is the Christ or the Messiah.

In other words in Jesus we see God himself coming to rescue his people and coming to rule over them.  That’s what the Cross and the Resurrection are all about.

What this means for you and me is that we have been forgiven from sin, he is the one who completely satisfies, who restores and reconciles, who gives life, peace hope. But this also means that he calls us to follow him, serve him, worship him

And that’s why I mentioned the old puritan catechism. You see, the question is not just about where but how we worship. The answer to that depends upon how we understand God and his gift to us.  If see grace as a kind of discreet, finite transaction, something God did only in the past then we may be tempted to think that our response now is to some-how repay him out of gratitude.

John Piper uses this imagery. If we think of God’s gift as like water from the well, then we might think that we can take water back to the well to refill it. However, you don’t try to replenish springs of living water because they are constantly overflowing.  You don’t need to replenish it and you can’t repay it.  So what are we to do?  How are we to glorify God? How are we to worship Christ?

The answer is that we are to enjoy his infinite grace outpoured to us. To recognise that there is

  • Past grace :  His death on the Cross
  • Present grace – The Holy Spirit with and in us
  • Future Grace – Christ’s return and the new creation.


Now, it risks looking like there are two applications here but in fact there is one. The whole point of John 4 is that Jesus the messiah offers the life giving spirit (living water) and calls thirsty people to come to him and be satisfied. So our response should be simply to come to him, to receive from him and to enjoy him.

What does it mean to enjoy and delight in him? What does it mean to discover real joy, real happiness?  Well, it doesn’t mean that we are to go around pretending that our circumstances don’t exist. I know that some of you are experiencing real pain and heartache right now. That may come from physical suffering and bereavement, or it may come from the pain of watching others in your family struggle.

Delighting in Christ and enjoying him means that whilst those circumstances are real, that they don’t have to overwhelm and dictate my life. It means that I can say I can contented, that I am not anxious, that I’m patiently trusting Christ through the storms of life.

Delighting in Christ and enjoying him means that when temptation knocks on the door and that craving is there, I remind myself that Christ is enough for me. 

Delighting in Christ and enjoying him means that when the pressure is on to go for that promotion and I am actually content in my current job that I can say no to the pressures of ambition. It also means that I can choose to go for it if it’s a good thing to do and yet remain humble.   It means that I don’t feel the pressure to keep up with others in status or materially.

It means that I learn to cling to Christ. I’ve said this often but I think that for many of us we’ve experienced a stripping away of the things we’ve learnt to depend on over these past 18 months in  order that we might learn to depend more on him and to say that he is enough for me. 

  1. What is it that I’m seeking satisfaction in?
  • How can I move from finding satisfaction in that to enjoying God?
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