Sermon: "Jesus Gets Deep at the Well"

Second in a "Woman at the Well" series on John 4,
Delivered April 9, 2000 by Rev. Jerome D. Cooper
Other sermons in this series - 1 / 2 / 3

Theme: about how Jesus Christ meets our deepest needs, leading to the fullest possible life.

Sermon Text: John 4:10-18
10 Jesus answered her, "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."
11 "Sir," the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?
12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?"
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."
15 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."
16 He told her, "Go, call your husband and come back."
17 "I have no husband," she replied. Jesus said to her, "You are right when you say you have no husband.
18 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."

When I was growing up in Alaska, I had a friend whose father was very successful. I guess he was the richest man I knew. His dad, named Don, was president of an oil service company and oil is a pretty big deal up in Alaska. When I found out how much Don made, it was more money than I could imagine. In fact, I remember thinking that if I had that much money I'd be set for life; I would be completely satisfied.

But the interesting thing was that my friend's father, Don, wasn't satisfied. He was always looking for something more: more money, more success, more position. So nothing quite met what he wanted. In fact, when the owners of the company didn't give him a large enough stake in the ownership of the company, he decided he would leave and go on to something bigger and better. So, he left Alaska and took his family to Texas, another big oil state. The problem was that around that time the oil industry began to go into a slide. He found himself with a lot of big ideas, but each one fell short of expectations. It became very frustrating because he believed that if he could just make that next break, he'd be satisfied. Things would be finally right in his life. He would be satisfied and fulfilled.

But that never quite happened. Every dream he had failed him. It took him a long time to wake up to the truth. And in fact the wake up call came when he discovered his wife had become an alcoholic and his youngest daughter, who was a teenager, had bulimia and anorexia. The new reality began to shake him up to the fact that what he had been searching for could not be found in success or in wealth or in comfort, but probably had to be found in a completely different realm of life. He discovered what many people in our society are discovering: that we have a need for the spiritual side of life.

You don't need an advanced degree to see how popular spirituality is today, but Leonard Sweet, the dean of the Theological School at Drew University and also the professor of post-modern Christianity says, "our society is experiencing a greater spiritual hunger than our nation has ever seen." But he says the problem is that people are not turning to the Church as a place to find answers and a solution to that hunger, instead they are following after gurus, and self help books, and the new age movement, and all these places where you can custom design your own god ... to have the god that you need at this time in your life. Unfortunately, they are not going after the true God.

R.C. Sproul, a popular evangelical Presbyterian theologian was asked, "What do you think is the greatest spiritual need in the world today?" And he answered, "The greatest spiritual need in the world today is that people need to discover the true identity of God." You see, the unfortunate thing is that people out there are rejecting a God they don't even know. They don't even understand what they are ignoring or putting aside. The greatest need is to discover the true identity of God." Well, then R.C. Sproul was asked a follow-up question. He was asked, "What do you think is the greatest need in the Church today?" Interestingly, his answer was the same. "The greatest spiritual need in the Church today is to discover the true identity of God." He explains that if the Church, if Christians, would really come to understand the character and nature of God, it would revolutionize their lives, it would revolutionize the Church. And maybe society would begin to look at the Church again as a place where they could find answers, where they could come to understand where true spirituality is found.

Our scripture this morning finds Jesus with the woman at the well. And he begins his conversation with her by asking her the basic question that R.C. Sproul sees as so important, "Do you really understand who it is you are talking to? Do you understand the true identity of Jesus?"

If you would please turn with me to pg. 752 of your red pew Bible, John Chapter 4, verses 9 through18. If you remember, Jesus had been on a trip with his disciples, it's about noon, and Jesus was tired and thirsty. He sat down at a well and he sent his disciples into town to get food. As he was sitting there a woman came up. A woman of ill repute came up to draw water and Jesus asked her for a drink. And her response was, "How can you, a Jew, talk to me, a Samaritan? How can you, a man, talk to me, a woman? How can you, a rabbi, speak to me, a sinner?" Jesus broke all these barriers to speak to her and we find his response to her beginning in verse 10.

Jesus answered her, "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."

"Sir", the woman said, "you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank of it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and his herds?"

Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 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."

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

Jesus said, "Go call your husband and come back."

"I have no husband", she replied.

Jesus said to her, "You're 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."

May the Lord add his blessing to the reading of His Word. Please join me in prayer.

Lord, we thank you for the gift of your presence here with us now, and for the gift of your Word you've given us through the apostle John. And we pray now that you would take these words, that you would engrave them upon our hearts and that you would change us by them through your Holy Spirit, that we might be more faithful disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord, for it is in His name we pray, Amen.

Jesus counters this woman's question of "How can you ask me for a drink?" by saying, "If you really knew who was speaking to you then you wouldn't ask that question. In fact, if you really knew who was talking to you, you would ask me and I would give you living water." Now living water to her would have meant spring water, as opposed to stagnant water; water that springs up, water that is continually fresh. She looks at him and says, "I may not know who you are, but I can see what you look like." And what did Jesus look like? He was a lonely, tired, thirsty traveler who had walked many miles that day. He was all alone and seemed to have nothing to offer her. And here he was saying to her, "If you really knew who I was you'd ask me and I would give you living water." But she looks at him and says, "You don't even have a cup to draw with. This well is 100 feet deep; how are you going to give me any kind of water, much less living water, fresh spring water?"

She thought she knew who Jesus was, so she goes on and, probably laughing at Jesus, says, "Do you think you're greater than our father Jacob who gave us this well? Who drank from it himself as well as his household and all his cattle and herds?" She compares Jesus to Jacob, the one who gave them this well. He not only got water for himself, but Jacob also was able to give water that could satisfy and refresh his family and his herds. And not just during his own lifetime, but throughout the generations of that village, this people had been refreshed by this well that he left them. So she asks, "Do you think you are greater than our father Jacob who gave us THIS well?" Obviously in her mind the answer was "You're not even close!" If she only knew who it was who was speaking to her ... because he WAS greater than Jacob.

Listen to Jesus' indirect response to her: he says, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 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." You see, Jesus here is saying, "I AM greater than Jacob. For one, the water I give is even BETTER than the water Jacob gave." In fact, his water won't just feed one household, or one village and all of their cattle, the water that Jesus was to provide was water that would quench the thirst of the whole world. The woman wouldn't have to keep coming back to the same well and drinking over and over again. Jesus said, "If you drink of my water you will never thirst again."

Of course, the woman really couldn't be expected to know who Jesus was, could she? There's no way the woman could look at Jesus and understand that he was the Messiah, that Jesus was God incarnate; that God had come to earth in Jesus Christ to live in human form, to die on the cross as the penalty for our sins. She couldn't be expected to know that because it hadn't even happened yet.

But more than just dying to take the punishment of our sins, he was raised again to life in order that we might share in that life with him, eternal life, abundant life. The woman had no idea about all that, but she did catch one thing that Jesus said, she did catch the part about never thirsting again. And so in her mind she was thinking "Great! If I can get some of this water I will never have to come to this well again in the middle of the day when it's hot, I can just stay in my house where it's safe and cool.

Now it's tempting for us to look down on this woman and say "What a simpleton! Obviously Jesus is speaking spiritually here and not about the physical world." Yet aren't you and I like this woman. Don't we often have the same thought she did? If I just get this kind of water, life will be good. Fill in the blank for your own life: Life would be good if I just had a ....

Most often we have plenty of water around here, so we think: if I just had more money, more friends, or more love. If I had more success, more excitement in my life or if I had a better job; if I had a better husband or a better education; better opportunities or if I had a better church ... then life would be good. You see, we think the same things, we think if we just had more, if we just had something better, THEN life would be good. THEN I would be satisfied.

The problem is that this kind of thinking focuses on the blessings God has given us rather than the God who gives the blessing. You see, if we focus too much on the good things that God gives us, whether it's money, or a job, or friends, etc., if we look to those things for fulfillment - rather than looking to God to satisfy us - then we will always be disappointed. The things of life may satisfy us for a time, but we always need more, we always need to come back. We always thirst again - over and over and over again.

Then suddenly, Jesus radically shifts the conversation. Many people ask, "How in the world does asking about her husband fit with talking about living water and eternal life?" Jesus seems to do a 180-degree turn and begins to ask her about a totally different subject. Why? Because Jesus wants to get her to think more deeply about her life. He does this by raising what for her would be the most vulnerable area of her life, telling her, "go call your husband and come back." And her response is, "Well, I don't actually have a husband." And Jesus concludes with, "You're right when you say that, because you've had five husbands, five different husbands in a row and the man your living with now isn't even one of those five, it's a sixth man. What you said is true you don't have a husband." He was pointing out that she had gone from husband to husband to husband, probably hoping the next one might be better - PRAYING that the next one would be better - but every single one of them ended up disappointing her. Jesus was trying to communicate to her "You don't need a new husband, you don't even need a new water source. What you need is a new LIFE."

But isn't this woman really a mirror of our age. We go from experience to activity to experience, always on to the next one in line, hoping that it will be the thing that brings us joy; onto the next relationship, onto the next job, onto the next town. We even try to recreate ourselves several times during a lifetime hoping that will bring us joy and pleasure and satisfaction and fulfillment - but it doesn't. Each new venture, even if it satisfies for a time, ends up failing us ultimately - in the long run.

So we are faced with a question: Do we even know our own need? You see the woman didn't seem to get it that she had a need. That is why Jesus tried to shock her into seeing it. Just like my friend's father, Don, had to be shocked by his family falling apart before he realized there was a deeper need in life. We can get so focused on the blessings of God we don't even realize our need for God himself.

A writer once said we are like children out in the yard eating mud pies not realizing there is something far better in our mother's kitchen, a real pie with real apples, real cherries. We are satisfied because that's all we know. Do we know our need? Do we know what we could have if we just knew who it was who was talking to us? If we knew the gift of God and the true identity of Jesus Christ.

It reminds me of when I climbed Mt. Whitney several years ago. Mt. Whitney is the tallest mountain in the lower 48, the 48 contiguous states - fourteen and a half thousand feet - and it is a part of a beautiful mountain range with white granite jagged peaks. As you climb up from the eastern side, down below you see the desert stretching behind you. In fact, a couple desert ranges away is Death Valley, the lowest point on this continent, also the hottest point in the United States. As you climb up above 10,000 feet you leave the trees behind and from that point on it is just white granite rock.

I slept for the night at 12,000 feet and the next morning began my final ascent. For two hours I trudged up the trail making my way to the top - switch back after switch back across the face of the mountain as I was trying to make my way up. I was focused on the journey. I wanted success. And the view around me really was quite beautiful: the white granite peaks, the jagged rocks, the patches of snow and ice. In fact, the night before there had been a full moon and its bright light shining down on this white granite landscape had been just wonderful - an amazing sight.

As I continued my climb, step after step, I finally came to edge of the main ridge of the mountain range - a saddle between the mountain peaks - and as I came up and over that ridge I saw a new sight. That new sight was so beautiful it literally took my breath away. I physically could not breathe for a few seconds because I was caught by the beauty. What lay before me was a vast, dark green ocean - an ocean called the Sequoia National Forest, with the mighty redwoods stretching out before me - and about 6,000 feet directly below me were two of the bluest mountain lakes I had ever seen and all of this was ringed about by more mountain ranges. After the stark white beauty of the eastern slope I was not mentally prepared for the beauty and grandeur of the western side of that ridge that separates California from North to South.

My experience on that mountain ridge is a lot like the lives that we live. You see, we can be satisfied by the beauty we have around us and with the good things we have in life - and they are good. God is good to everyone in this world, especially those who don't deserve it - which includes all of us - and even to those who don't know him and aren't trying to serve him, God still gives them beauty and joy in life as part of His common grace. The question is, "Are we going to be satisfied with the lesser, or do we want the greater beauty of God's full panorama?" Once we move from this shadow of a life without God into full and abundant life knowing the true God, then we begin to really live.

That's what Jesus was trying to wake up the woman at the well to see. "There is something more; there is something beyond what you know and I am the source of that life!" Jesus says. "I am the source of that life."

Whether this morning you already know Jesus Christ, or whether you do not know him yet, the question is the same, "have you discovered the true identity of this man, Jesus Christ, who is far more than man, but is God Incarnate?" For Jesus himself asks, "Do you know the gift of God? Do you know the one who speaks to you? Do you know who I am and what I could bring to you and to your life, if you're willing to come to me and simply ask?"

God wants to give us life - eternal life, abundant life. It's what He wants to give us more than anything if we will recognize our need and simply ask. Look at your life with new eyes. What do you see? Do you want the water that Jesus is offering? Are you willing to ask for it and receive it from him?

Please join me as we pray.
Lord, we do thank you for the gift that you have given to us in Jesus Christ. Lord, whether we know you already or not yet, I pray for each one of us that you would give us a clearer glimpse of who you are, a deeper understanding of our need and how you want to satisfy every need, our deepest needs; that we might not just have eternal life in the future but that we might have abundant life here and now with you. For we ask it through Jesus Christ, our only Lord, our only Savior. Amen.

© 2000, Rev. Jerome D. Cooper
Central Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, MD 21204 410/823-6145
www.centralpc.org