How to Quench the Thirst in Your Heart
August 12, 2017
Listen to this Sermon
Life can turn on a dime.
One phone call, an unexpected text, or even a chance meeting and suddenly you find yourself traveling down a new road.
Life can turn on a dime
A man and a woman met at a well on a hot afternoon in Samaria. We don’t know the woman’s name. The man was Jesus. Their brief conversation changed her life.
It was a hot day, and the sun beat down on the man’s head. The sweat poured off his brow as he walked along the dusty road. It was probably mid- to late-July when the temperature can top out at over 100 degrees. To make matters worse, he had been traveling with his friends since sunrise. Now the sun was directly overhead. They were hurrying to make their way through this part of the country as quickly as possible.
He came to a well with a rock ledge built up above the ground in the typical manner of the Middle East. As he sat down on the lip of the well, the thought came: “If only I could have a drink of water.” At precisely that moment, the woman came along. It wasn’t the normal time, and it was unusual for a woman to come to a well alone. But this woman was different.
Jesus “had” to go through Samaria
Four invisible walls stand between them. There is a religious wall, a gender wall, a racial wall, and a moral wall. Yet our Lord found a way through all of them. He found her, and then she found him!
We pick up the story in verse 4 where we are told Jesus “had to go through Samaria.” Geography is all-important in understanding what happened. In Jesus’ day there were three regions stacked on top of one another. There was Galilee in the north, Samaria in the middle, and Judea in the south. The easiest and quickest way to get to Galilee from Judea was to go due north right through Samaria. But many Jews would go east, cross the Jordan River, then go north, re-cross the Jordan River, and they would be in Galilee. This was out of the way, but it meant they wouldn’t have to go through Samaritan territory.
Many Jews took this circuitous route because they looked down on the Samaritans as religious and racial half-breed heretics. Why did Jesus “have to” go through Samaria when the Jews either didn’t go there at all or passed through as quickly as possible? The answer is simple and profound: Jesus went because he intended to meet this woman. He knew she would be coming to the well at precisely the moment he was sitting there weary from his journey. Nothing happens by chance in this story. Every detail is part of the outworking of God’s plan. The woman isn’t looking for Jesus. All she wants is water. But Jesus is looking for her. You have to go to Samaria if you want to reach Samaritans. He doesn’t avoid Samaria, and he doesn’t hurry through it. Though she does not know it, this woman has a “divine appointment” with the Son of God.
Nothing in this story happens by accident
This teaches us a very important principle for evangelism. Reaching people for Christ is not always comfortable and may at times be difficult. But you have to go where people are if you want to reach them. Jesus intended to save this woman so he went where she was.
She came alone to the well at noontime. This was potentially dangerous and somewhat unusual. Women normally came together to the well in the morning or the evening. It was something of a social event. The fact that this woman came alone may mean her checkered past was well known to the villagers. Perhaps she had been ostracized by the other women.
The conversation begins with a simple question from Jesus: “Will you give me a drink?”
She was thirsty and didn’t know it
He was thirsty and knew it.
She was thirsty and didn’t know it.
The woman did not come to the well seeking Christ, but he came to the well seeking her. We learn from this that our Lord Jesus is without prejudice. It doesn’t matter to him that other Jews would not go to Samaria. He welcomes all and shuns none.
Behold the simplicity of salvation. It’s like taking a drink of cold water on a hot day. All you have to do is ask for it.
“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” (v. 10).
There is a triple surprise in this passage. First, that a Jew would speak to a Samaritan. Second, that a man would speak to a woman he didn’t know in public. Third, that a Jew would drink from a Samaritan’s cup. In the first century, it was almost unheard of for a man to speak to a woman in public in those circumstances. Asking for a drink of water was even more unusual since Jewish rabbis taught it was a sin to touch a utensil that a Samaritan had touched.
Jews wouldn’t touch a utensil that Samaritans had touched
When Jesus offers her “living water,” he is being deliberately ambiguous, because the phrase could also mean running water. He is trying to incite her curiosity without making her suspicious. “You came here for water. I’ve got water you’ve never dreamed of before.” He is leading her step by step to saving faith. First, he leads her to see her need, then he reveals who he is, then he offers her something that could change her life. He is offering not to quench her thirst but to banish it once and for all.
I am struck by the fact that Jesus returns again and again to the central issue: “Do you know who I am? If you knew my true identity, you could ask and I would give you water that leads to eternal life. And not just a drink of water but a gushing spring that will well up within your heart.”
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say 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” (vv. 16-18).
On one level it appears Jesus is being insensitive. Is he trying to embarrass her? The answer is no. But his instruction to call her husband made her very uncomfortable. She doesn’t want to go into detail so she simply replies, “I have no husband.” That was true, but it wasn’t the whole story. She knew she was hiding the truth, but what she doesn’t know is that Jesus knows it too. He proceeds to reveal the rest of the story. This woman has had five husbands, and the man she is living with currently is not her husband.
She told the truth but not the whole truth
How could a woman in that day have had five husbands? Even today that would be very unusual. Did they all die? Possible, but not likely. Had she been divorced five times? Some of the men may have abandoned her, an all-too-common fate for women in the first century. It’s probably some combination of death and divorce. We also know she is currently living in a sinful relationship with a man outside of marriage.
The words of Jesus sound harsh, and yet it was the most loving thing he could have done for her. Without conviction of sin there can be no conversion. God sees behind the mask to the reality within. Until we come to grips with our sin, we cannot be saved.
Without conviction there can be no conversion
By asking about her husband, he exposes this woman’s lifelong pursuit of happiness. Evidently she has entered one failed relationship after another. Each time she said, “This is the man. This time I’ll be happy.” And each time she was disappointed. Now she won’t even risk marriage. But the words of Jesus reveal a deep-seated loneliness, a hole in her heart no man could fill. Far from being irrelevant, these words of Jesus go to the core of her problem—and of ours. We’ve been raised to believe that if you only find the right man or the right woman, you’ll be happy. So we jump from one relationship to another, or we take a quick trip to Temptation Island, hoping against hope that this time things will be different, this time we’ll make it, this time we’ll be happy. Yet no human relationship can satisfy our needs. We are spiritual beings made for a relationship with God. There is a “God-shaped vacuum” inside the human heart no man or woman can ever fill. We were made to know God, and until we know him through Jesus Christ, we are doomed to restlessness and despair.
Does Jesus love this woman? Yes, he does. Here is the wonder of God’s grace. Only someone who loves you can look at your past without blinking. Real love means knowing the truth about someone else and reaching out to them anyway. He’s not ashamed of her past, but he cannot help her until she gets beyond the shame and admits the truth.
Jesus laid bare what she thought she could keep hidden
She is almost-but-not-quite saved. She is near the kingdom but not in the door yet. Jesus laid bare what she thought she could keep hidden. That always makes sinners uncomfortable. She wants to change the subject, which is what she does.
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.” Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he” (vv. 23-26).
It is now clear to this woman that she has met a most unusual man. Because he knows her past, she thinks he must be a prophet. Since he is a Jew and she is a Samaritan, she begins to engage in a theological debate. In that day the Jews worshiped in Jerusalem, and the Samaritans worshiped at Mount Gerizim. She wants to know which mountain is the right one for worship. Jesus doesn’t bother debating her. He simply tells her a time is coming when geography won’t matter.
God is greater than geography!
God is greater than geography, race, class, sex, and religious tradition. He wants worship based on truth and a wholehearted personal commitment to him. Religious activity doesn’t count because anyone can go through the motions and still have a heart filled with anger, bitterness, profanity, hatred, lust, greed, envy, and pride. The worship God accepts must be based on the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ and offered to him from a humble heart of faith. If what God wants is spirit and truth, anyone can qualify. This is God’s “Equal Access” provision. Salvation is not about going to the right mountain. It’s about trusting Christ as your Savior.
Slowly the truth dawns on this woman. She has heard the Messiah will someday come to the earth. Imagine her surprise when Jesus says, “I who speak to you am he” (verse 26). What an amazing statement from our Lord. Here he plainly claims to be the Messiah. And he does it in a unique way. In the Greek it reads something like this: “The one who speaks to you, I AM.” But “I AM” was the name by which God revealed himself to Moses (Exodus 3:14). Jesus is claiming identity with God. No doubt this woman was blown away. She came for some water in the middle of the day, and she ends up meeting the Water of Life face to face.
Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” (vv. 28-29).
The woman is converted between verses 26 and 27. How do we know? Because she leaves her water pot and goes to tell the others in town. I am struck by how little the woman understands. All she says is, “He knows me.” That’s not exactly the Apostles Creed. And “I think he is the Messiah.” That’s not exactly the Four Spiritual Laws. She’s not a very likely witness at all. Most of us would want our new converts a bit better trained than that. But God uses those who are willing to be used. When Jesus gives you living water, you want to share it with someone else.
God uses those who are willing to be used
We come to the end of the story in verses 39-41:
Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.” So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.
Here is a lesson in the power of the gospel. One woman with inadequate knowledge and just a mustard seed of faith brings her whole town to Jesus. She never attended any classes or read any books. She met Jesus, he transformed her life, and she couldn’t stop talking about it. Sometimes we wonder how little a person can believe and still be saved. Or we ask, “How much do you have to understand to go to heaven?” Evidently the answer is, not much. We wonder, “How much can a person be wrong about and still be saved?” I think the answer is, quite a bit as long as you are solid on two things:
1) That you are a sinner, and
2) Jesus is the Savior you need.
If you know you are a sinner and you are willing to trust Christ as your Savior, you can be saved. There is plenty of time to fill in the rest of the details later.
Direction makes all the difference!
In the spiritual life, direction makes all the difference. It’s not where you’ve been but where you’re going that matters. This woman may have had a checkered past, but her future was as bright as the promises of God.
What can we learn from how Jesus treated the woman at the well?
- He broke custom to talk to her.
- He spent time with her.
- He knew her past but didn’t hold it against her.
- He gently led her to a brand-new life.
Here’s an amazing fact to consider. She’s the first one to whom Jesus revealed himself as Messiah. He told her something his disciples didn’t yet understand.
Think about this:
Her neighbors shunned her.
Her husbands rejected her.
The Jews hate her.
Rejected on earth, accepted in heaven
But God wants her!
She is rejected on earth but accepted in heaven.
John 4 teaches us Jesus does his best work with outcasts. He specializes in forgotten people because they are willing to listen to him. He populates heaven with earthly rejects.
We need to remember this because we’re living in a day of immorality and sexual confusion. Sometimes we talk as if the main issue is sexual sin, but that’s not right. The issue is Jesus! This means there is hope for people who today think they have fallen so far that Jesus will not take them. But there is no pit so deep that the love of God is not deeper still.
Don’t ever give up on anyone!
Don’t ever stop praying for sinners!
Don’t ever stop sharing the good news!
No one is too sinful to be saved
Let me summarize some of the things we learn from this wonderful story:
1. No one is too sinful to be saved.
2. No one is so lost that the Lord cannot find them.
3. No one who meets Jesus will ever be the same again.
For 49 years Priscilla Jane Owens taught in the Baltimore public schools. She was also actively involved at the Union Square Methodist Church in Baltimore. One day she was asked to write a new hymn for a Sunday School missionary service. She told her friends most missionary songs were ponderous and heavy and hard to sing. She wanted to write an uplifting message. So she sat down and penned these words:
We have heard the joyful sound:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Spread the tidings all around:
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide
The second verse starts this way:
Waft it on the rolling tide,
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Tell to sinners far and wide,
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
As I came to the end of this sermon, I couldn’t get those words out of my mind. Here’s the message we need to “tell to sinners far and wide.”
Jesus saves! Jesus saves!
Indeed he does. He saved the woman at the well. That morning she woke up with a heavy load of guilt. By the evening she was sharing the good news with everyone she knew. That’s what Jesus can do for you. Only Jesus can quench the thirst in your heart.
Jesus is ready to give you Living Water. It’s free for the asking. Are you ready to receive it?
What a story!
What a Christ!
What amazing grace!