Second Sunday after Epiphany January 17, 1999
9, 282, 277, 469
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Now Jacob’s well was there. Jesus therefore, being wearied with his journey, sat thus on the well: and it was about the sixth hour. There cometh a woman of Samaria to draw water: Jesus saith unto her, Give me to drink. (For his disciples were gone away unto the city to buy meat.) Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? Jesus answered and said unto her, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 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. Thus far our text.
In the Name of Jesus Christ, Who is a refreshing Spring of salvation in a parched and weary world, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
Sometimes you have to go a long way down to strike water. Some of you will recall a piece of land our church was looking at down in Lacey last year, on Johnson’s Point Road. It never did work out, but one of the attractive features of that property compared with others we looked at was that it had a water well already installed. The owner surprised me when he said that the well was 240’ deep! Even he was amazed that he had to go down that deep to find water.
One place you wouldn’t expect to have to look for water is somewhere where there’s already a well. Especially if that well is deep and reliable, and has been producing water for a long time. In our text for today, Jesus arrives at just such a well, after a long and weary journey on foot. He needs a drink of water, and asks a woman to provide it. But things are not as they seem. For the Holy Spirit reveals to us that it is the woman who is really in need of water—the water of life!—and it is Jesus who alone is able to provide it for her. If you’ve ever felt parched and thirsty for righteousness, if you’ve ever found yourself so wrapped up in the mundane tasks of day-to-day life that you’ve thirsted for something real, something satisfying, then you’ve come to the right place! This morning we consider the theme,
Jesus and His disciples were travelling from Jerusalem, in the southern part of Israel, to Galilee in the north. They chose the most direct route, which passed through the land of the Samaritans. This in itself was striking. Most Jews travelling north took the alternate route through Perea specifically to avoid Samaria. If you know anything about Bible history, you know why—the Jews hated the Samaritans. They were a renegade religious sect. They recognized only the first five books of the Bible. The Jews considered them mongrels, a mixed race of Jewish and foreign blood, and they avoided them whenever possible. A Jewish man would no more drink from a Samaritan well, than would a white man in Alabama in the 1950’s drink from a fountain labeled, “Colored Only”.
That’s why this woman was so amazed at Jesus’ request. Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans. To further heighten the irony, it would soon become clear that it was the woman who really needed a drink, not Jesus. And she would get it! She was a sinner who was about to strike water. The fact that Jesus was even sitting there talking to this woman showed something important. The water Jesus gives—the water of life—is for everyone.
The water Jesus offers is for everyone, even the Gentiles. This idea was repugnant to the Jewish religious leaders. They had rejected Jesus and His preaching. So when the Jews turned away from Christ, the Gospel was given to the Gentiles. Paul later said to the Jews, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you: but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. —Acts 13:46. The woman at the well was once such non-Jewish person who would be offered the water of life. I am another. You are another!
The water Jesus offers is for everyone, especially for wretched sinners. The woman at Jacob’s well qualified in that category, too. Jesus probing would later reveal that this woman had previously had five different husbands, and the man she was living with at the time she wasn’t even married to! She had been a very great sinner for a very long time, and yet here was the Lord of Life, offering her the Living Water. Truly, this sinner struck water at Jacob’s well! Does that fact comfort you? It certainly comforts me, for the category of “wretched sinner” is one to which I, too, must confess I belong.
The water Jesus offers is for everyone, including those too ignorant to ask for a drink! Jesus said, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water. But she didn’t know, and she didn’t ask. She didn’t “make her decision for Christ.” In her unbelief she was too blind even to understand what Jesus was offering her. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. She was talking about the physical water in the well before them. But Jesus was talking about something different. For the water Jesus gives is living water!
Our Lord is here painting a vivid picture of the grace of God. In Bible times, there were two kinds of wells—springs and cisterns. The phrase “living water” always referred to a spring, a source of water which was fresh, free-flowing and self-replenishing. A spring was much preferred over a cistern, and for very good reason. A cistern was just a large holding tank, designed to catch rainwater. The water in a cistern quickly became stale and stagnant. Cisterns were notoriously unreliable and would frequently develop cracks. They could leave you without water, often when you most needed it.
What had the Jews of Jesus’ time done? They had had traded a spring for a cistern. They had forsaken the salvation God promised them in Christ, and were trying to save themselves through outward piety and good works. The Lord said through Jeremiah, “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, And hewn themselves cisterns; broken cisterns that can hold no water.” Jer 2:13.
But the Samaritan woman had struck a spring. Jesus was sitting before her, offering her the gift living water! Not the stagnant, polluted water of her own righteousness, but the pure, refreshing streams of His righteousness.
There was a glass of water which stood for a long time on the window ledge above our kitchen sink at home. In the water was a cutting from a house plant that we were hoping to grow. Each time I went to the tap for a drink, I saw that glass of water getting more and stagnant, more and more green and vile. Needless to say, I would never have dreamed of turning off the freshwater tap and taking a drink of that polluted water! Would you? But my friends, that is exactly what we’re doing if we allow ourselves to rely—even the least little bit!—upon our own good works to stand justified in the eyes of God. Are you guilty of sinful pride when you look at your upright life and your honest lifestyle? Do you find yourself looking down upon those who don’t attend church as often as you do, or don’t put as much money in the collection plate as you do? Beware! When it comes to justification, let us not take so much as a sip from the brackish water of our own good deeds. Let us rather go to our Savior, the One who says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. Rev 21:6.
The woman at the well assumed (rightly) that if Jesus had “living” water, then it didn’t come from the well they were standing at. The woman saith unto him, Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep: from whence then hast thou that living water? The water must have come from some other source. And she was right, for this water comes only from Jesus Himself!
She asked Jesus, Art thou greater than our father Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle? The original Greek here reveals that she was expecting a negative answer. She assumed it was false: “You’re not greater than Jacob, are you?”
This woman of Sychar had probably been drinking from this well her whole life. A great man—the patriarch Jacob!—had provided this well. It had been serving her people for many hundreds of years. Who could have greater power or prestige than Jacob? Certainly not this weary traveler by the well! But appearances can be deceiving. Truly, a greater than Jacob was here, as she was soon to find out. Unbeknownst to her, she had struck water at Jacob’s well! Here was One who knew her whole life inside and out. One who knew the deep stain of her sinfulness, and loved her nevertheless. One who knew her desperate thirst for righteousness, and who was prepared to satisfy that thirst. Jesus Christ is the only One who can supply the water of life!
This woman’s question was asked of Jesus over and over again. “Who do you think You are?” The Jews of Jerusalem asked, “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead? And the prophets are dead. Whom do You make Yourself out to be?” And the skepticism continues to this day. The world asks, “Who do you think you are, Jesus? Who do you think You are, that You ask us to ignore all the learned scientists and believe what Your Word tells us about creation?? Who do you think You are, that you expect us to abandon Allah and Buddha and all the other gods of this world and cling only to you? Who do you think you are that ask us to forsake all our good deeds and trust only in your merits and righteousness??” To these questions, Jesus simply replies, “I AM.” John 8:58. “I am the only God who is or exists.” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by ME.” To the woman He answered in this fashion: He pointed to the old well before them and said, Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: 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. And that’s another important thing about this water which Jesus offers: this water leads to everlasting life.
The Samaritan woman was so focused on the mundane aspects of her life that she couldn’t take in the wonderful nature of what Jesus was offering her. In the very next verse she says, Sir, give me this water, that I thirst not, neither come hither to draw. She was just hoping she could get out of drawing water every day. She was thinking too small.
What about you? Have you been thinking too small? Have you been rushing around so frantically in your life—trying to take care of business—that you’ve forgotten to ask God for His blessings? When you do pray, do you devote 90% of your time in asking for worldly, material things, and 10% asking for spiritual blessings? Do you read and listen to the Word of God, but never really get around to applying it in your life? “What a shame it is,” said one Christian author, “that so many lift the cup of living water to their lips, but never taste it.”
My Christian friends—taste the water of eternal life! “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” Leave the mundane details of your life behind for a moment—Jesus has much greater things to offer! Lift your head from the details of daily existence and look to the eternal horizon. You and I have tasted the water of eternal life. Your Savior is alive, and He has said, “Because I live, you shall live also.” Because Jesus bore your punishment for you on the cross of Calvary, you are guaranteed a place in heaven. Jesus said, “In My Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am, there ye may be also.” We are walking together, you and I, toward a future life whose joys we can scarcely imagine!
In 1521, the Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon landed in North America, and spent several years in a fruitless search for the legendary “fountain of youth”. He was convinced there was a spring whose waters would restore youth and vigor to an aged man, and allow him to live forever. We know now, of course, that such a fountain couldn’t exist.—Or could it? That Samaritan woman found discovered a fountain of eternal life. The rest of this chapter of John reveals that not only did she receive Jesus as her Savior, she also shared that good news with many of her countrymen. Truly she was the sinner who struck water at Jacob’s well! Let’s you and I, too, plumb the depths of this wonderful fountain. We know now that the water there is for everyone, it is living, it comes from Jesus and it leads to everlasting life. With joy, therefore, let us answer the invitation of our Savior: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.” Jn 7:37-38. AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.