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(John 4:1–42) Thirsty Anyone?

(John 4:1–42) Thirsty Anyone?

by Stephen Davey
Series: Sermons in John
Ref: John 4:1–42

One of Jesus' most memorable encounters in all of the Gospels is the one with the woman at the well. But while the conversation in itself is remarkable, an understanding of the historical background and cultural context takes the meaning to a whole new level! So join Stephen in this message as he reveals why Jesus' words to this needy woman are even more radical than you first thought.


Thirsty Anyone Part I

John 4:1-42

Jesus Christ has just ended a conversation with one of the most respectable men in the Jewish community - Nicodemus.  Now, in the next chapter, he will talk with one of the most unlikely characters in the New Testament.   An unamed, adulterous Samaritan woman.  Funny thing is, Nicodemus, the moral, religious man refused to be saved - this woman will place her faith in Christ within a matter of minutes!

Let's resume our study of John's gospel with chapter 4:1.  When therefore the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John, although Jesus Himself was not baptizing, but His disciples were; 3. he left Jeudea, and departed again into Galilee.  4.  And He had to pass through Samaria.

5.  So He came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph;  6.  And Jacob's well was there.  Jesus therefore, being wearied from his journey, was sitting thus by the well.

Few sites in the Holy Land enjoy a better claim to antiquity and authenticity than Jacob's well.  The well is today deep and noted for its delicious, cool water.  It was here that Jacob, centuries earlier had dug a well for his family and was this very ground which Jacob bequeathed to his son Joseph.  And it was here that Joseph had requested to be buried and indeed was. 

And now, the Son of God is resting on the ground, or perhaps he's sitting on the edge of the well. . .he's waiting - he has an appointment with a woman who doesn't know it yet.

Notice the last phrase of verse 6.  It was about the sixth hour 

7.  There came a woman of Samaria to draw water.  Jesus said to her, "Give Me a drink."

Now, as unbelievable as it may sound, with the utterance of that request, Jesus stands to commit three traditional taboos.

In order to understand the impact, let me back up into ancient history.  Way back, some 700 years before Jesus' birth, the Assyrians attacked the northern tribes of Israel.  They captured and took a great majority of the Jews into captivity. 

The people who remained in the country inter-married with the incoming Gentiles -that was the unforgivable crime - to the Jew. In a strict Jewish household even tot his day, if a son or a daughter marries a Gentile, his or her funeral service is carried out.  Such a person is dead in the eyes of orthodox Judaism.

When Ezra and Nehemia later, came to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple and ithe city, the Samaritans offered them their help.  They were refused.  Years later, in bitter anger they built their own temple on Mt. Gerezim with the permission of Alexander the Great who was ruler at the time.

This was some feud!  According to the Mishnah, the Samaritans were deemed "unclean from their cradle."

There were even some Pharisees who prayed that no Samaritan would be raised in the resurrection.  HA!  Keep 'em down Lord!

And so, by the time of Christ, this bitter feud was in full sway.

And here He is, committing taboo #1 - talking to a Samaritan!

There's more - he's not only talking to a Samaritan, but He's talking to a Samaritan woman.

#2 - Now, as hard as it may seem to understand, the men and women of Jesus' day lived separated lives...the women were beasts of burden - they were property to be bought and sold.

It would be the gospel and Christianity that would give women equal value.  It would be the New Testamement that taught, "Men, loves your wives just like you love your own selves." 

But, in this day, it was far different.  A Rabbi was forbidden to greet a woman in public.  There were even Pharisees who were known as the "bruised and bleeding" ... 

Well, here is Jesus, the Rabbi carrying on a conversation with this woman in public - but not just any woman -a woman of ill repute.   Look at verse 18 - Jesus said, "For you have had five husbands, and

the one whom you now have is not your husband."

By the way, did you notice that she's come to draw water at noon - the hottest time of the day.  Why not with the other women who come in the cool of the evening - becuase five of the women are probably married to her five former husbands.  They will talk and laugh and gossip as they draw water - she will be the object of their gossip.  And so she draws water at a time when she supposes no one else will be their to stare, or laugh, or sneer - she - five times divorced and now living as an adulterous.

Here is a woman who is lonely, sinful, needy, thirsty - for something real. . .for something that will last!

So she's coming up toward the well, and she sees this young Jewish man, about thirty years of age, wearing the traditional rabbinical robe, sitting with his back against the cool stones that form the mouth of the well. . .should she approach and draw water. . .yes, she will, and as she walks up he turns and looks at her and says, "Give me a drink"

That leads me to the third taboo!

Taboo #3

He's just asked her for a drink of water!

According to popular opinion of the day, to receive food or drink fromt he hand or vessel of a Samaritan would be to share in their impurity.

To the Jew, this was an amazing story.  Here was the holy Son of God breaking down the barriers of race, sex and orthodoxy.

But listen - here is the application of his conversation with Nicodemus - "For God so loved the world". . .not in theory but in action!

verse 9.  The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, "How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?" (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans..)

10.  Jesus answered and said to her, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, "Give Me a drink," you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water."

Now in the greek language, living water and running water could be translated from the same words.

11.  She said to Him, "Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?"

In other words, the woman is saying, "Look, you don't even have anything to draw water with from this well (still water);  where are you going to get pure stream water. . .and with what!"

But she's actually kurt with Jesus - 12.  "You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?"

The woman is saying, in effect, "This is blasphemous talk.  Jacob, our great ancestor, when he came here, had to dig this well to get water for his family and his cattle.   Are you claiming to be able to get fresh, running stream water?  If you are, you are claiming to be wiser and more powerful than Jacob..."

In other words, she's suggesting to this young man, "Just who do you think you are?"  In a moment he'll tell her!

But for now Jesus ignores her remark and goes on to describe this running/living water.  Jesus points at the well and says to her - 13. "Everyone who drinks of this water shall thirst again;

14.  but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.

15.  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the the way here to draw."

Jesus is talking about spiritual water, this woman is thinking only of physical water.

Here is a woman without any spiritual insight - she's missing the connection.  A connection by the way that repeatedly survaces in the Old and New Testament!

            !Isaiah prophecied that the chosen people would draw water with joy from the wells of salvation.

            !The Messiah prophecied through Isaiah, "I will pour out water on the thirsty land and streams on the dry ground.

            !Zechariah prophecied that in the heavenly kingdom there will be a cleansing fountain opened and that water will flow forth from Jerusalem

            !Jeremiah declared that it is the Lord who is the fountain of living water!

            !David wrote that his soul thirsted for God just as a deer thirsts for water

            !The Psalmist wrote, "With thee is the fountain of life.

            !In Revelation 22 we're told that a river of life is to flow from the very throne of God.

            !The glorified Lamb speaks from His heavenly throne in Revelation 21.  "I am the alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost."

The world is thirsty!!!   Only God can satisfy!!!

Now back in John v. 13 and 14 we have a significant characteristic. 

In the original text verse 13 and 14 are written with tenses that could be paraphrased this way - 13.  Everyone who continues to drink of this earthly water will thirst again.  But whoever takes just one drink of this heavenly water that I shall give him will never thirst again!

Sinclair Lewis in one of his books draws this truth into novel form as two of his characters are talking.  One a respectable businessman who is successful in life and he's talking to the beautiful girl he's in love with.  She says to him, "On the surface we seem quite different, but deep down we are fundamentally the same.  We are both desperately unhappy about something - and we don't know what it is."

Here in this text is, evidently an attractive woman who has had a passing parade of men; and the latest is a live-in affiar.  Noe of them are lasting, noe of them have brought fulfillment - none of them meaningful.

What a symbol of our own age - people who are restless, seeking satisfaction somehwere, anywhere!  Looking for that belonging; they go from one hobby to another -one activity to another - one relationship to another - why?  Becuase they are literally dying of thirst!  And maybe this new thing will satisfy my thirst!

Like the Billionare who weighed only 125 pounds, whose fingernails were long and curved, whose emaciated body was riddled with needle marks from his addiction - Howard Hughes who once had the world.

Like the millionaire tennis star who just last week was caught shoplifting a $15 dollar ring.

Likewise, this Samaritan woman was drinking from a well - in fact she had drunk deeply, but she was always thirsty!

Look back at verse 15.  The woman said to Him, "Sir, give me this


water, so I will not be thirsty, nor come all the the way here to draw."

In other words, "Hey if you can give me something that will make my life easier...I'll take it, where do I sign?!"

What can Jesus say to make her wake up?  What can he do to make her look deeper and recognize her thirst?  I've got it - he can let her in on the fact that he knows everything about her!

It's like you and I in the course of life.  You're sitting in this auditorium or in Sunday school class next to someone you don't know very well.  You talk about religous things - how you found the church, the crowded parking lot, the terrific preaching - just thought I'd suggest that one...the weather, the way Dallas smeared the Jets yesterday...unfortunately...but suppose you knew that this man's 18 year old daughter had just run away from home and left a note explaining why.  You really want to help?  Well then you might say, "Hey friend, you got any struggles on the home front I can join you in praying bout your marriage?!"

You'll move right past the weather, the latest sports page - right to the heart of the matter.

So what does Jesus say, to get past the fascade - 16.  He said to her, "Go, call your husband, and come here." 

17.  The woman answered and said, "I have no husband."

You know, this is the shortest sentence this woman speaks?!  She's just been gabbing away. . .but all of sudden, like she's just been shocked, she answers quickly, perhaps looking away or brushing dust from her clothes..."I have no husband!"

17b.  Jesus said to her, "You have well said, "I have no husband, for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband..."

            Well, ahhh, um, you see, I, well..."How'd he know that?"

Suddenly, she's caught sight of herself. . .she just had someone in loving authority point their finger in her face and say, "You've gon from one man to another and another and another and another.....

Has it ever occured to you that the first thing Jesus Christ does for a person is force him to do what he has spent his life refusing to do - look at himself.

You get into your car - turn on the radio...lest you think about your life..."Distractions please somebody; I don't want to think about where my life is taking me!"

And look at what she does - it's classic!

19.  The woman said to Him, "Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.

20.  Our fathers worshpped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship."

You know what she's just done - she's brought up the 500 year old religous debate between the Jews and the Samaritans - "Should we worship on Mt. Gerezim with the Samaritans or in Jerusalem..."

ZOOOOOOM - left turn!     I imagine that at least a dozen times, I've been pressing the gospel to someone; I can see that recognition of Biblical truth is beginning to take root - and then, at the very moment, when they would break in humility and say, "Yes, I need Christ!"  what do they say?

What about all those people in China who've never heard? Zooooom! What about the hypocrites in church? Zoooom! What about all the hunger in the third world countriezoooooom?

The truth is, what about you!  Let's talk about you -let's leave the chinese and the third world and the hypocrites alone for a minute! What about you??!!

She brings up this religous's much more comfortable to discuss religion than to face your sins.

In verses 21 to 24 - Jesus answers her briefly by telling her that there is coming a new age - a new dispensation...we'll cover the matter of worship in detail in our next discussion.

While Jesus was speaking about true worship, this woman was evidently listening...look at v. 25. 

The woman said to Him, I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us."

It's as if this woman sighed and said, "You know, it will be wonderful when the Messiah comes - he'll answer my questions - he'll bring meaning to life.

The Samaritan Messiah was referred to as the Tacheh, a term explained as the "restorer..."  Listen - according to Samaritan tradition, the Messiah would come as a the "restorer of true worship."

"Just wait until the Messiah comes!" 

            Verse 26.  Jesus said to her, "I who speak to you am He."

The Greek words are forceful and illuminating.  you've noticed in your Bibles the word He is in italics.  That means the translators supplied the word to make sense of the Greek text.  Most often it it helps, sometimes it clouds the impact.  Here it does just that.

The greek reads, ego eimi - literally translated - "I am".  It's the same construction found in the Greek translation of the Old Testament in Exodus where Moses asks God, "What is your name."  God says, "My name is ego eimi - I AM."

Jesus is using the divine title in reference to Himself.  You could translate this verse, "Jesus said to her, "It is I AM speaking to you."

Did Jesus Christ claim to be just another Rabbi - a good teacher -or like this article from the Raleigh News that highlighted a book recently published that said Jesus was just a social revolutionary?  Dr. John Crossan said "Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah."

I called Dr. Crossan's office at DePaul University in Chicago - he never returned my call.

Jesus said, "I am God!"

He is the fulfillment of Isaiah's prophecy - this is the Christmas story - "The prophecy declared, "His name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The Mighty GOD, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."

Jesus chose to reveal his divine identity to a woman - the Rabbis of Jesus' day thought so little of women that they taught it is better to burn to the words of the scirptures than to deliver them to a woman. 

But God spoke to a woman, He revealed divine truth to a Samaritan woman - to an immoral, needy, thirsty Samaritan woman.

v. 28.  So the woman left her waterpot (2 things: she's in a hurry and she plans on coming back!), and went into the city, and said to the men,  29.  Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done..."


I'm sure most of the city wanted to hear the stories of everything she'd done - and I'll bet there were some rather nervous people who weren't sure they wanted public awareness of everything she'd done - like Senator so and so's diary, and Madamm so and so's phone directory.  Proabably a few nail biters in Sychar today!

But what news - this woman turned evangelist - "This man must be the Messiah."

30.  they went out of the city, and were coming to Him

Literally, they went out of the city and were continually coming, continually coming, continually coming to him.

Who were these people - I'll tell you, they were thirsty people too!  And they were coming for a drink of living water!

Look at verse 39.  And from that city many of the Samaritans believed in Him becuase of the word of the woman who testified, "He told me all the things that I have done."

40.  So when the Samaritans came to Him, they were asking Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days.

41.  And many more believed becuase of His word;

42.  and they were saying to the woman, "It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world."

Interesting - the Savior of the world.   A title that appears only in John's writings, and only once in this gospel. 

Perhaps it is a unique title to John becuase at the time John was writing, the Roman Emperor had recently been given the title "Savior of the World."  It's as if John said, "Here's the real Savior!"

Truth is, ladies and gentlemen, you are surrounded by thirsty people who are drinking from wells that will never satisfy...perhaps you yourself have come to church because it's Christmas Sunday.  Coming here today won't satisfy your thirst - you have to come to Christ and facing yourself and your sin, realize that this water of eternal life is freely given to all who will believe and admit their need of saving.

I can't force you to drink - but I tell you where the water is - and I can also tell you that the world will only make you thirsty for more.


I read several years ago the story of a sports reporter going to the estate of once great Cassuis Clay - Mohammed Ali.  The reporter was invited by Ali to walk to the back where there was this huge barn - it had been converted to house Ali's trophies and memoabilia.  It was filled with pictures, articles, plaques, trophies.  On one wall there were a number of picutres that had appeared on the covers of magazines.  Ali by the way, still has the record for having his face on more sports magazine covers than any other athelete.  The color pictures had been enlarged to life size and they were framed in glass.  They were hanging on one wall.  Ali went over to them and peering up at them he noticed the traces of bird droppings made by birds who still made their home in the barn.  He seemed upset, mumbled a few things and then went and stood at the doorway of the barn and peered rather listlistely toward the horizon.  Gary, the reporter heard him mumble something. . .he asked him what he said, and Ali, slow moving, thick tongued aged superstar slurred, "I once had the world...and it was nothin'!

In other words, "I once had it all. . .but it never satisfied my thirst!"


            I heard the voice of Jesus say,

            Behold, I freely give

            The living water; thirsty one,

            Stoop down, and drink and live.

            I came to Jesus, and I drank

            Of that life-giving stream;

            My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,

            And now I live in Him.

My friends, that is the Christmas story - that God came down to offer living water to a thirsty world.

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