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Thirsty – A sermon on John 4

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How are you surviving this April heat-wave? I trust that you’ve been taking on board plenty of fluids, keeping cool by any means possible – frozen peas under the arm-pits is my tip. Down on the sea front, the oppressive English sun beating down upon your heads, the sweat pouring from your brow, the glare from the relentless sunshine, it’s enough to send you barmy. So I’m sure if you are mad enough to go out in this Saharan sauna you must be very relieved to see this water fountain, just outside Fusciardi’s the Ice Cream parlour.

Have you noticed this before? You might have thought it was a mirage but no. Here is a water fountain to slake your thirst. And you know what the inscription says?

“Whosoever drinketh of this water shall be thirsty again.”

It’s a direct quote from our passage this morning. It’s verse 13 of John 4, read it with me:

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Now I was being a tad sarcastic about the English weather, I don’t know if you picked that up. But I’m trying to get you to imagine yourself in warmer climes. Imagine this water fountain in the desert.

I grew up in Canberra, the driest city of the driest continent on earth. But even though we’ve gone through terrible droughts there in recent years, still Australians don’t really know about true thirst. We don’t know about true thirst. But billions today do. I was looking up some statistics on the availability of drinking water this week.

Over a billion people have inadequate access to water in the world.

Of the 1.8 billion people who have to travel to get water, they use only 20 litres of water a day. We use many times that amount and think nothing of it – because we don’t have to carry it!

At any one time, half of the world's hospital beds are occupied by patients suffering from water-borne diseases. In developing countries, 80% of all diseases are linked to poor water and sanitation.

It’s a huge issue we rarely consider. We think nothing of showering in pure drinking water. But imagine yourself in a dry, hot land. No domestic plumbing. You get what you can and you carry it on your shoulders. Now imagine Jesus saying these words:

13 Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Jesus is saying as desperately as we thirst for water – and we desperately need water – we have a deeper thirst. And Jesus has a deeper satisfaction. Think of the hottest, driest day, the deepest most desperate thirst and then the coldest, purest most refreshing drink – that’s what Jesus offers in John chapter 4. That’s what Jesus offers today in your life and mine.

To prepare us for John chapter 4, let me very briefly tell you four little Old Testament stories about water in the desert.

The first one is in Genesis and it concerns Jacob. Verse 6 of our passage tells us that John 4 takes place at Jacob’s well in Samaria. Well the OT doesn’t record the time Jacob dug that particular well. But it does tell us about Jacob and another well. In Genesis 29 Jacob met his bride to be – Rachel – at a well. It was the hottest part of the day and Rachel came with her sheep to the well. But there was a massive great stone over the top of the well. As she came in the hottest part of the day she must have wondered to herself, who will roll the stone away. Well when Jacob saw the beautiful Rachel for the first time, he fell over himself to offer to roll away the stone and to water the sheep – like a Good Shepherd. And this was the first step towards Jacob winning his bride.

In fact Moses did a similar thing – that’s the second story I want to share. In Exodus chapter 2 Moses was in the desert by a well and the beautiful Zipporah came with some of her sisters to water her flocks. Some other shepherds tried to chase the women away but Moses stood up for them and saved them and he watered their flocks. Again at this well in the desert, it was the first step towards Moses winning his bride.

The third story occurred later in Exodus. Moses led the people out of Egypt into that same desert. They were parched with thirst – can you imagine it? They grumbled bitterly that the LORD couldn’t be trusted. The LORD stood on a rock and commanded Moses to take his rod and instead of striking the grumbling people, to strike the rock upon which He stood. And water came out of the rock to slake the thirst of the people. From then on the LORD was known as the Rock – He was just like that physical rock – He would be struck to slake the thirst of His people.

Finally in Jeremiah chapter 2 there’s a striking picture of water in the desert. It was our Old Testament reading this morning.

“Be appalled at this, O heavens and shudder with great horror” declares the LORD. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own wells, broken wells that cannot hold water.”

Can you picture this scene in your mind? Here is the LORD Almighty standing before a people with outstretched arms – offering living water. And we have all walked past Him and instead, to satisfy our thirst, we have taken a shovel to dry ground and we have dug our own little wells that can’t even hold the water we so desperately crave. All the while the Spring of Living Water stands, arms outstretched, to provide eternal satisfaction for our thirsty souls. And all the while we work to make our broken wells a little less broken.

Now the water here symbolizes the Holy Spirit and the fulness of life we experience in Him. So here the LORD is saying “I provide overflowing satisfaction for your soul. But instead you trudge on past Me and decide to try to make your own fun. And it will not work.”

We are like a desert people, looking for water everywhere except to the Fountain of Life Himself.

In John chapter 4, Jesus meets a woman by a well, in the heat of the day. And this woman is not just thirsty for physical water. Jesus says to her, v13

"Everyone who drinks this [physical] water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

There’s a deeper thirst that we all feel. And there’s deeper Water that Jesus offers.

What’s the deeper thirst for this woman? Well, v18 reveals that this woman has had five failed marriages and now she’s onto a sixth relationship. What broken wells is she digging? It doesn’t take Sigmund Freud to figure it out. She’s been trying to find life in the arms of another man. And each time she’s tried it’s turned out to be a broken well. The satisfaction didn’t last. The well ran dry. So onto the next well. And the next, and the next.

What are your broken wells? Think now, where do you try to find your ultimate happiness, ultimate meaning and significance, your ultimate reputation and status, your ultimate rest and satisfaction? What broken wells do you dig?

Complete this sentence: My life will be fine just as long as I have… what? I’d be ok, so long as I was… what? Or put it the other way – Life would not be worth living if I lost… what? Whatever that thing is – that’s where we find life. That’s the well that you’re drinking from.

And the LORD of Jeremiah 2 is the LORD of John 4 and He says – the human race has lost the plot. We keep on digging and going back to broken wells. And it works for a little bit but pleasures fade, businesses go bust, careers end, loved ones get sick and die – the water runs out, and we get a mouthful of mud. And all the while the LORD Himself offers Living Water. And all the time we keep going back to the mud.

We might look at this Samaritan woman, with her five failed marriages, and think – she’s looking for love in all the wrong places. And we’d be right. She is. But so are you. And so am I. So we need to see how Jesus deals with this woman, because this is how He will deal with each of us, if we ask Him.

Here in John 4 comes the Good Shepherd who takes care of His sheep. Here is the True Bridegroom who loves His bride. Here is the true Rock who would be struck to quench our thirst. Here is the Fountain of Living Waters Himself – let’s watch how he deals with our thirst.

Well the first thing to recognize is that He sympathises with thirst.

Read from verse 4:

4 Now Jesus had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, "Will you give me a drink?"

Here is the LORD of Jeremiah 2. Tired. And thirsty. Isn’t that extraordinary? Jesus created the universe – that’s how John’s Gospel began. In the beginning the Word created all things. Then 2000 years ago He became flesh. And now He gets tired and thirsty. In fact He gets thirstier than any of His creatures. We’ll think more about that shortly. But here is Jesus our Creator, sympathizing with us in the most incredible way.

And He asks a question of the Samaritan – “Will you give me a drink?” He draws her in, He invites relationship. The Samaritan woman is shocked. Verse 9 says ‘Jews do not associate with Samaritans.’ Samaritans were cousins of the Jews. They were once a part of Israel but when the northern kingdom broke off, they intermarried with the nations. The Jews thought of them as half-breeds. And their religion was a mish-mash of Judaism and other things brought in. Any upstanding Jew would tell you, this woman is the wrong race, the wrong religion. And in v9, she’s very aware herself – she’s not just a Samaritan, she’s a Samaritan WOMAN.

It was scandalous for Jesus to talk to her in public. So from the viewpoint of upstanding Jewish society, she’s the wrong race, wrong religion, wrong gender, and as we’ll see – wrong lifestyle.

She is NOT a suitable woman for the Good Shepherd to meet at the well.

And she is VERY different to the person Jesus met in chapter 3. Do you remember Nicodemus? Nicodemus was the right race, right religion, right gender, right lifestyle. And what did Jesus tell Nicodemus: “You must be born again.”

Here in John chapter 4, Jesus meets someone – the wrong race, wrong religion, wrong gender, wrong lifestyle and what does He do? Showers her with offers of Living Water. That’s the kind of Lord He is!

Verse 10:

“If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.”

If this woman only knew who was offering her relationship! Here is the Good Shepherd, the Great Bridegroom, the Rock, the LORD Himself. If she really knew Jesus her search for satisfaction would be at an end. He would give her God’s Gift – the Holy Spirit – and quench her thirst forevermore.

It’s great news, but the woman misunderstands:

"Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?

It’s comical – Jesus speaks of living water she can only think of running water. But Jesus tries again. He says, v13:

"Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

Jesus offers this woman a relationship of such satisfaction and security it would surpass everything she’s ever known. She wants a man who can be depended on – here’s THE Bridegroom. Jesus satisfied deeper than anything we could ever want or need. But unfortunately she still doesn’t quite get it:

The woman said to him, "Sir, give me this water so that I won't get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water."

She’s starting to understand that Jesus quenches our thirst but she’s still just thinking of physical thirst. Jesus just doesn’t seem to be getting through, so He cuts to the chase. He exposes her broken well.

He says verse 16:

“Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband” she replied.

And here Jesus latches onto the one honest and personal truth which the woman has offered.

Jesus said to her

“You are right in saying you have no husband. The fact is you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Finally we’re getting somewhere. Finally she says something true. Jesus has cut through all the masks of gender and nationality and religion and social nicety and He exposes the mess – all the failure and shame – and Jesus just brings it out into the daylight.

‘You’ve been divorced five times, the man you’re with won’t even marry you.’

It always sounds worse when it’s said out loud. When you keep things in the darkness – it’s contained and manageable. When you bring it out into the light – it is a confronting reality. Jesus exposes her.

That is how it felt to the woman. After Jesus says This to her the woman tells everyone in the town, verse 29: “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did.” Jesus puts His finger on her sin and because He does that He sees “everything she ever did”.

And He does it to say – “You’re well is broken isn’t it? You’re drinking mud aren’t you? Come to Me, I am a pure fountain of holy joy.”

Well the woman then does something that everyone who’s ever tried to have a gospel conversation has experienced. Things start getting interesting, you start talking about Jesus, people start getting real about it, and then… they switch the conversation and start talking religion. Nothing spoils a gospel conversation like talking religion.

Look at v19:

19 "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet. [So let me get your opinion as a prophet] 20 Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."

Enough about me and my failed marriages Jesus, let’s talk geography. What’s the holiest mountain?

Has that ever happened to you? You’re talking about deep issues and then they say “What do you think about the Archbishop of Canterbury? My sister’s marrying a Seventh Day Adventist, what do you think about them? I gave up chocolate for lent, what do you think of Lent?” Let’s talk religion, because religion is comfortable. When you talk about Living Water and broken wells – that can get personal.

Well Jesus steers the conversation back where it needs to be:

21 Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth."

God is not worshipped IN a particular place, He’s worshipped IN Spirit and IN Truth. Now in John’s Gospel, Jesus is called the Truth. So Jesus is saying – “If you want to go to the holy place, come to Me. The real place you worship is IN Me.” Not in Samaria or in Jerusalem or in a church or in a cathedral, but IN Jesus. There’s nowhere on planet earth you need to get to to worship God – except to Jesus. You must come to Jesus. Jesus says, “You come to Me, I give you My Spirit and then you are drawn into the worship of the Father.” Don’t worry about places – Jesus is the place you worship God from.

And God the Father (v23) is in the business of seeking worshippers. He actively seeks to draw in the whole world to come to Jesus, receive the Holy Spirit and so worship the Father.

Do you see how giving our God is? The Father seeking. Jesus, the Son offering. The Spirit quenching our thirst. We have such a giving God. A God who can be described as a Fountain for the thirsty.

And the place we see that most is at the end of John. You see there are two times in John’s Gospel where Jesus is described as thirsty. Here, and on the cross.

On the cross Jesus says “I am thirsty.” Which is incredible! He is the LORD who offers the whole world the living waters of the Spirit. And on the cross He cries out ‘I am thirsty’. Psalm 22 speaks about Him being parched and His tongue sticking to the roof of His mouth. Jesus, the Fountain of Living Waters, goes to the cross parched.

Because the bible says, on the cross Jesus takes our place. On the cross, Jesus steps into our guilty shoes and takes what’s coming to us. We dig broken wells, we should get thirsty. We reject His living waters, we should die of dehydration. But instead the LORD Jesus takes our place, He goes thirsty. And then when He dies, John records this:

One of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

Is that just a medical record of what happened, like a coroners report? No. John is explaining to us how we get the living waters. Don’t you see – the Rock is struck, and the waters come out. Jesus dies a parched husk of a man, so that from Him flow the living waters of the Spirit to any who ask for it. Could He be any more free in His offer of Living Water? He is a Fountain – the cross guarantees it.

And so it only remains for us to come to Him. To confess our broken wells. To confess that we look for life in everything BUT Him. And to receive Living Water.

Are you spiritually dry? Some of you are dry as dust. Some of you have never come to Christ for the Living Waters. Some have come in the past, but it’s a long time between drinks. We all naturally thirst. We all need to return to Jesus and receive His refreshment.

Recently I’ve been aware that my afternoons are spiritually barren. I spend time with Jesus in the bible and prayer in the morning. But by the middle of the afternoon I’ve become aware of a real spiritual dryness. And so being the professional clergyman that I am and diagnosing the spiritual problem so very keenly I hit upon the ultimate solution. A chocolate bar. But after a while it became obvious my cravings were for something deeper. And I started, recently, just stopping from all the other well-digging that I do. And simply saying the Lord’s prayer. Because in the Lord’s prayer Jesus invites us to come to Him, to receive His Spirit and then pray to the God of the universe as Father. And do you know, every time I’ve just stopped and said “Our Father” it has been like cold water for a thirsty soul. He’s more willing to give than we are to ask. More ready to refresh us than we’re ready to come. Are you spiritually dry? How can you take time to stop the well-digging and just receive from Jesus?

Are you busy? We all get busy, there’s things to do. But do you have a busy soul, an unsettled spirit. Never able to really rest, never able to stop and think? Let me suggest that you’re frantically shoring up a broken well. Or several. What are they? Do you need to identify these wells before Jesus and say to yourself and to Him – THIS IS NOT MY LIFE. Jesus, you are my life. THIS WILL NOT ULTIMATELY SATISFY. Jesus you will satisfy. I surrender that – I come to you.

Are you depressed? Maybe you were the busy person shoring up your broken well, but now it’s run dry. And you’re committed to this broken well, but you also know it won’t deliver. And you’ve fallen flat on your face and you don’t know why you should ever get up. Well I wonder – have you been trusting in something else as your Life – something else as your identity and reputation. Something else to give you satisfaction and significance. You need to identify that broken well before Jesus and say to yourself and to Him – THIS IS NOT MY LIFE. Jesus, you are my life. THIS WILL NOT ULTIMATELY SATISFY. Jesus you will satisfy. I surrender. Give it up – repent of that thing, it could be a very noble thing, but it can’t be your life. Jesus is your life. And He gushes with renewal and joy and peace. He showers You with His Spirit.

Wherever you are right now, whatever your struggle Jesus says to you, v13:

13 "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life."


8 thoughts on “Thirsty – A sermon on John 4

  1. Dave K

    I was so bowled over by the fact that Jesus became thirsty to satisfy my thirst on Wednesday after meeting with a friend and making that connection.

    Truly amazing grace.

    ... following so many of Heather's comments... it is spooky I was thinking about this recently and then you post on it.

  2. Heather

    Amen! Amen! Amen!

    Life offers so many opportunities for engaging in life-draining idolatry. And it's often "good" things rather than "wicked" things that distract from the Best.

    To be honest, I never really appreciate a big, cold drink of water until I realize I'm in early stages of dehydration. Then, it's almost impossible to get enough...

  3. Heather

    it is spooky I was thinking about this recently and then you post on it.

    The Lord has ways of getting our attention, for sure. Sometimes His methods just cause you to sit back in stunned silence wondering "How'd that guy get inside my head???"

    Guess it really shouldn't be all that unnerving when the Lord answers the queries of His children who are honestly seeking truth. Jesus told us to ask. And James did write that those who ask with the right attitude can expect to be answered.

  4. theoldadam

    Thanks be to God that He comes to me (us) again and again and again, as I settle for the earthly things to quench my thirst.

    He gives me (crams it down my throat!) His very life giving body and life giving blood.

  5. Heather

    He gives me (crams it down my throat!) His very life giving body and life giving blood.

    Force-fed the Bread of Life?
    Don't think I've ever heard it put that way before. Have to contemplate that one a while...

  6. Pedro

    Great - thanks for the reminder of the futility of drinking from broken cisterns - only Jesus can truly satisfy. I think we need to hear this regularly, and can we have this sermon in the evening sometime, please...

  7. Pingback: Some evangelistic resources « Christ the Truth

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