The Woman at the Well
Today we come to the fourth of the encounters with Christ that we’re going to consider as we work through the book of John, observing Jesus as He interacts with the various people He comes across. I must say that this encounter was the beginning place for them all in my mind. As I was on vacation back in August, I spent part of the week reading this passage over and over, and became quite fascinated by this unnamed lady’s encounter with the Lord.
She came to the well ready to draw water, just as she had been doing for years, but in just a few moments, an hour or two maybe, she left that place changed for all eternity. Is that not what every encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ is supposed to bring about in our lives? Do we not believe that when Jesus interrupts the daily routine of our lives that something great occurs?
Folk, that’s the point of all these encounters. John the Baptist, Andrew, Nicodemus, this woman and the few others we’ll meet in weeks to come ought to communicate to your hearts and minds this one thought above all – that Jesus wants to break into your life and change it, transform it, radically altering you in such a way that you can’t go home and return to life as usual, so that you can’t return to your routine without knowing deep in your heart that all is not well so long as Jesus is reserved for Sundays.
I presented Nicodemus to you last week and told you that Jesus Christ wants to meet the spiritual needs that we have, and that there is one spiritual need that stands out above them all – our need for acceptance from God. Every human being longs for God’s acceptance, but what we have to learn is that acceptance doesn’t come from performance – acceptance from God comes from our recognition that we have nothing to offer – it is a gift of grace from God to you when you position yourself to receive it. That’s man’s greatest need – whether he knows it or not.
But what about God? What is God’s greatest desire? It would be wrong for us to talk about God’s greatest need, because God doesn’t have any needs – He is completely self-sufficient and independent of you and me. If God had a need that we could meet, then He would be dependent on man and would cease to be God. However, God does have a great desire that I want to share with you from our passage this morning, and it is this: God’s greatest desire is that He be worshipped. Do you remember me saying to you before that God’s chief aim is to glorify God and enjoy Himself forever? Man’s chief purpose then is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever – and that purpose culminates in one act – the act of worship!
But we have a problem when we speak of worship: What is it? Let me give you the opportunity to answer that question this morning – What do you think worship is? You see, almost everyone tries to explain worship with some sort of outward act. The Hebrew word means to bow down. In the Bible, worship is bowing, lifting hands, praying, singing, reciting, preaching, cleansing, ordaining, and so on. But the startling fact is that all these things can be done in vain! They can be pointless and useless and empty. Jesus said as much to the Pharisees in Matthew 15:7-9 when He said,
“You hypocrites, Isaiah did well when he prophesied of you, saying, This people draws near unto me with their mouth, and they honor me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me…”
Listen, according to Jesus an act of worship is vain and futile when it doesn’t come from the heart. Look at those verses again. Do you see the parallel between the phrases “honor me” and “worship me?” Worship is essentially a way of honoring God. That doesn’t mean you make Him honorable or that you increase His honor. It means recognizing His honor and feeling the worth of it and ascribing it to Him in all the ways appropriate to His character! Listen to the words of Psalm 96:6-8.
“Honor and majesty are before him: strength and beauty are in his sanctuary. Give unto the Lord, O ye kindreds of the people, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto his name: bring an offering, and come into his courts.”
So the Lord longs for you to worship Him, to give unto Him the glory He is due. We know that He’s worthy – so how do we worship Him? Jesus gives us the answer in John 4:24.
“God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Why did Jesus say that? Let’s back up to the beginning and get the rest of the story. I’m not going to read all the verses and then explain the story – it’ll take too much time. Instead I’m just going to tell the story and you can follow along in your Bibles beginning in verse 1 to make sure I’m telling it correctly.
Jesus had been in Judea, but the Pharisees there were getting upset that so many people were following Him. In fact, Christ’s disciples were baptizing more people now than John the Baptist was, and they already had a great problem with him. It appears that at this early point in His ministry, Jesus decided to head north to Galilee. Now the direct route to Galilee went straight through Samaria, but the Jews despised the Samaritans. They were considered to be half-breeds, and there was a long-standing feud between the two groups. Most Jews never traveled through Samaria. Instead, they walked around it. Skirting around Samaria could require as many as three extra days of travel, but the Jews were willing to spend the extra time and energy because their hatred for the Samaritans was so great. On top of all of that, Jewish customs forbade a man from talking to a woman in public.
The Samaritans felt an equal animosity toward the Jews. When the Jews had come back from Babylonian exile to rebuild their temple, they offered to help, but were not allowed. There were many other factors involved, but it was obvious to them that they were socially unacceptable. They responded to Jewish animosity by withdrawing and creating an independent sub-culture. They built their own temple on Mount Gerizim, and they rejected all of the Old Testament except their own version of the first five books of the law. I really cannot find words adequate to describe to you the hatred the two groups felt toward one another, but it was there and it was centuries old.
Now here’s the beautiful part: Jesus walks right into this hostility, sits down, and asks for a drink of water. The woman is stunned that Jesus would even speak to her. The woman was surprised, so she says to Jesus,
“You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”
“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who I am, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”
“But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this is a very deep well. Where would you get this living water? And besides, are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his cattle enjoyed?”
Jesus replied, “People soon become thirsty again after drinking this water. But the water I give them takes away thirst altogether. It becomes an eternal spring within them, giving them eternal life.”
“Please, sir,” the woman said, “give me some of that water! Then I’ll never be thirsty again, and I won’t have to come here to haul water.”
Now, let’s think through some of this. We may think that as Jesus talks to this woman that He is just following her along as she jumps from one thing to the next, but the reality is that He is baiting her as He leads her right into our discussion on worship. He says, “I want to give you this living water, this wonderful life giving, eternal, thirst quenching water.” But what is it? Look at verse 14 with me.
“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
What is this water that will be a well springing up into everlasting life? Proverbs 13:14 says, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life.” Maybe then, Jesus means that His teaching is a fountain of life. When thirsty people drink it, they revive and then give it to others. Look with me at what Jesus said in John 6:63.
“It is the spirit that quickeneth (gives life); the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.”
So, Jesus’ teachings, His words, are the life giving water. However, the closest parallel to the image of a soul becoming a spring is in John 7:37-39.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
Here the water that Jesus gives is the Holy Spirit. The presence of God’s Spirit in your life takes away the frustrated soul-thirst and turns you into a fountain where others can find life. But now we have the water meaning two things: Jesus’ words, or His teachings, and the Holy Spirit. Which is it? Maybe it is both, that is, both the teaching of Jesus and the Holy Spirit satisfy the longing of our hearts and make us into fountains for others. Jesus held the Word and the Spirit together. For example, in John 14:26, Jesus said,
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.”
Think about this with me now – the work of the Spirit of Christ is to make the Word of Christ clear and satisfying to the thirsty soul. The water offered to the Samaritan adultress was the Word of truth and the power of the Spirit. When we come to Christ to drink, what we drink is truth – not dry, lifeless, powerless truth, but truth soaked with the life-giving Spirit of God! The Word of promise and the power of the Spirit are the life-giving water held out to the Samaritan woman.
Jesus offers this woman this water. She, like Him, is thirsty, but thirsty in a different way. Jesus is thirsty from His journey into Samaria. She is thirsty from her journey through life, but she still hasn’t caught on to what Jesus is saying. She says to Jesus in verse 15, “Sir, give me this water. I’m tired of walking to this well anyway.”
Now, remember what Jesus is after here? I think we often reduce the story to a salvation message, and it certainly is that – but it is more than that – Jesus isn’t just after salvation here – He’s trying to create a worshipper here – a worshipper of God “in spirit and in truth.” He’s been trying to elevate her thinking, trying to get her mind out of the physical and into the spiritual, but she isn’t catching on – so now watch what He does just out of the clear blue in verse 16. She says, “Give me a drink of your water then.”
“Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.”
Ouch! Why would Jesus strip open a woman’s inner life like this? Why would he take this one area of her life that has caused her so much shame, and bring it out into the open for all to see? Let me tell you why – because concealed sin keeps us from seeing the light of Christ. Isn’t that what Jesus said in John 3:20?
“For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.”
Mark it down, and this isn’t original with me, the quickest way to the heart is through a wound. Sin is like spiritual leprosy. It deadens your spiritual senses so that you rip your soul to shreds and don’t even feel it. But Christ lays bare her spiritual leprosy: “You’ve had five husbands, and the man you are sleeping with now is not your husband.”
I’m reminded of Hebrews 4:12,
“The Word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”
You see, Jesus’ words here are like a surgeon’s scalpel, laying open the wound for all to see, but why does He cut us open like that? In order that we might be healed. Jesus wasn’t trying to hurt the woman, He’s after her heart, but she is like a hunted animal, evasive and hard to pin down. Watch what she does after Jesus touches this most sensitive and vulnerable spot in her life. Verse 19:
“The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.”
Do you get it? “Why yes, as long as we are talking about my adultery, what is your stance on the issue of where people should worship?” Now let me ask you something, do you suppose Jesus knew all along that the conversation would come around to this? She brought up the where of worship, but read with me verses 21-23 to see how Jesus responds.
“Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father. Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeketh such to worship him.”
I want you to see two things in what Jesus says to her. First, the where of worship is not nearly so important as how we worship. You see, your mountain, my mountain, that’s unimportant – the question is whether the Father is being worshipped. God can be worshipped in vain anywhere, and He can be genuinely worshipped anywhere, so its not a question of where, but how. But secondly, Jesus points out that just as the how is more important than where, so is the whom of worship. The Samaritans didn’t know who or what they were worshipping Jesus said, salvation was of the Jews. You see, her knowledge of God was deficient. You can go through the motions of worship all day long, but if you don’t know who you’re worshipping its all in vain!
How and whom are crucial, now where. Worship must be vital and real in the heart, and worship must rest on a true perception of God. There must be spirit and there must be truth. You see, spirit and truth correspond to the how and whom of worship.
Worshipping in spirit is the opposite of just worshipping in external ways. It is the opposite of empty formalism and traditionalism. Worshipping in truth is the opposite of worship based on an inadequate view of God. Worship must have heart and head. It must engage emotions and thought.
So what happens? Watch in verses 25 & 26, then in verses 28-30,
“I know that the Messiah is coming, the Christ, and when He comes, He will tell us all things. Then Jesus said unto her, I that speak unto thee am he…The woman then left her water pot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ? Then they went out of the city, and came unto him.”
Something beautiful happened that day. You remember that I have told you that your heart longs for more than what you settle for in this life. It’s that heart cry for abundant life, not life – that heart cry for something real and genuine, but we suppress it and drown it out. You see, God creates within the heart of every man and woman that emptiness that can’t be filled with new stuff. It can’t be filled with religion, with church, with your Bible, with your prayers, not with anything you do or try or become. Its thirsting, not for a drink from those wells of water that only satisfy for a short while – its thirsting for a drink from the living water, the soul satisfying Word of God empowered by the life giving Spirit of God.
The woman at the well found that water that day. She tasted of it, quenched her thirst from the well that never runs dry until her cup overflowed into the supreme act of worship right there in front of Jesus! But what does it all mean for you? What does it mean for me? Let me sum it up in just a few quick thoughts.
God desires your worship. He created you for that purpose and none other. Have you ever stopped to think about why you’re here? Have you ever wondered why you’ve been kept alive? All the reasons we usually come up with are so self-centered. You need to see the bigger picture this morning! God gave you life and He sustains your life for one supreme purpose, to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever! That’s why you exist.
Worship begins in salvation. Think about it with me. This woman had been a worshipper for a long time, but Jesus comes along and tells her that her worship is all wrong. She didn’t even know the Father. Her spirit had never been made alive by the Holy Spirit, but on that day long ago she heard the life-giving Words of Christ and was drawn by the Spirit of Christ, her sins were laid bare and then she realized that the man she was speaking to was Jesus, the Messiah! She drank that living water, the Word of truth and the power of the Spirit and was saved that day! She left that place having worshipped at the feet of Jesus!
Worship has to do with real life. For some reason we have come to believe that worship is what happens in “church” during the “church” services. It is about having the right music and preaching and “feeling” something. Nothing could be further from the truth! Certainly those things can be involved in worship – but like I have said before – you can do all this stuff and never worship – your heart can be and in fact many times is far from God. Worship has to do with real life. It is not a mystical interlude in a week of reality. It’s not something that just happens on Sundays. It’s not something that Ron produces or that I can manufacture. Worship has to do with adultery and hunger and racial conflict. It happened here by a well. As a matter of fact, most of the worshipping you do ought to happen outside of this place. Let me tell you what will revolutionize our church services. When you leave this place and begin to encounter Christ on a daily basis, you’ll begin to enjoy moments of personal worship all through the week. If you’ll worship personally Monday through Saturday, then I promise you we’ll come together to experience a whole new level of corporate worship on Sunday.
Worship must engage your heart as well as your head. I believe with everything I am that for too long Missionary Baptists have overemphasized the head of worship over the heart of worship, probably in an attempt to battle the charismatic movement and our natural tendencies as emotional people, but we have been wrong in doing so. We are proud to worship in truth. We love our doctrine. We stand on the Word, and all that stuff, and rightly so I say, but listen, what we’ve created is a monster. We’ve created a form of religion, but our hearts are so far from God. I’m not advocating doing crazy stuff in the services, and in fact really don’t mean to talk about our services at all. It’s just that we’ve become a people who are afraid to show any emotion, afraid to break out in praise in response to God’s goodness. Afraid to respond with a holy hush when God moves in our presence. Afraid to weep when our hearts are broken. Listen, where feelings for God are dead, worship is dead. True worship must include inward feelings that reflect the worth of God’s glory.
Folk, today you and I sit at the well with Jesus, and that same penetrating glare comes at us as Jesus is searching our hearts. I wonder as I look out at you – are you a genuine worshipper? God wants to make you one this morning through a fresh encounter with Him. Are you thirsting for a drink from that living water? Have you ever been saved? Perhaps today you know the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, and you’ve been going through all the outward motions of worship, but your heart has been far from Christ. Will you return this morning? Jesus confronts you and wants to know why you’ve been so distant, why you’ve been so far from Him when He’s right here in your very presence. Will you give Him your heart today, responding to His great desire for worship, and all the while satisfying your heart’s longing for Him as well?
New Living Translation. http://www.blueletterbible.org/cgi-bin/tools/printer-friendly.pl?book=Jhn&chapter=4&startv=1&endv=54&version=nlt&Go.x=30&Go.y=10
Piper, John. Desiring God (Multnomah Publishers, Inc. Sisters, OR) 2003 p. 79-83 (I must give due credit for many of the thoughts in this message to Piper for his work on this subject)