The SatisfierRev. Philip Miller | November 1, 2020
Selected highlights from this sermon
The Samaritan woman at the well was, by most of society, overlooked, shamed, and insignificant. And most of them would also assume that’s she’s on the margins of God’s blessings.
But Jesus, as He so often does, is about to turn those assumptions upside down. By examining the passage about the Samaritan woman and Jesus’ tender and personalized interaction with her, Pastor Miller shows us three truths about Jesus: He is the seeker of the lost, He is the satisfier of the soul, and He is the Savior of the world.
One of the things I deeply admire about Jesus is how utterly personable He is. You know, in all these conversations in the Bible, you never get the impression that He’s just giving His spiel, you know, sort of locking down His talking points, or giving His stump speech. No, He meets people exactly where they are and He speaks directly to their hearts. For example, just a little while back, we saw the story of Nicodemus and the conversation that he had with Jesus. It’s fascinating. Here you have a wealthy, powerful Jewish religious leader, and Jesus tells him, “You’ve got to be born again. Stop trusting in all your religious and moral goodness, which can never save you. Turn and look to Jesus alone to be saved, to be right with God.” And it was kind of like the Gospel, tailor-made for a religious person, the Gospel for a religious person.
And today we’re going to see another conversation, a conversation with someone we’ve come to know as the woman at the well. And if Nicodemus got the Gospel for the religious person, the woman at the well is going to get the Gospel for the irreligious person, because in many ways she’s just the opposite of Nicodemus. I mean, he’s a Jewish man from Jerusalem. He’s wealthy and powerful. He’s a teacher, a leader. He’s honorable, religiously pious. The assumption everyone would make is that he’s at the very center of the blessings of God. On the other hand, we have this woman at the well. She’s a Samaritan. She’s from nowhere. She’s overlooked. She’s shamed, insignificant. She’s on the very margins of society, and most people would assume on the margins of the blessings of God. But as He so often does, Jesus is about to turn all those assumptions on their heads. And in a very tender and personalized way He’s going to bring the Gospel to this irreligious woman. And that’s good news for us, friends, because if we’re honest, we have a lot more in common with the woman at the well than we do with Nicodemus. We are not those who have kept our nose clean and who are a part of the elite. Not most of us at least. Most of us have a lot of baggage in our lives.
There’s a lot to cover in this story, and we’re going to be looking at John 4:1–42 this morning. And we have to treat this all together though, because it’s one unit in Scripture here. And as we go through this conversation, we’re going to catch three glimpses of Jesus. We’re going to see that:
- He is the seeker of the lost,
- He is the satisfier of the soul, and
- He is the Savior of the world.
Okay? Before we turn to the Scriptures would you bow your heads and pray with me?
Heavenly Father, we come today thirsty. We pray that you would satisfy our souls. Help us see Jesus and trust Him anew, afresh, for it’s in His name we pray, Amen. Amen.
All right, first we see Jesus here, the seeker of the lost. Chapter 4, verse 1 of the Gospel of John: “Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John (although Jesus Himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), he left Judea and departed again for Galilee.” This picks up where we were last week in seeing that Jesus is eclipsing the ministry of John here. His rising influence comes to His attention, that the Pharisees are aware of this rising influence, and so He decides to leave Judea in the south and go north back to His homeland up in Galilee in the north. He takes the shortest route which cuts through a region called Samaria.
Now we’ll pick it up in verse 4: “And he had to pass through Samaria. So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour.”
Now, you may have picked up from the phrase here that He had to pass through Samaria, that the Jews and Samaritans didn’t really get on very well. Just a very brief history lesson for you here. But after King Solomon’s reign, the nation of Israel was divided, split in two into the northern and southern kingdoms. In the southern kingdom you had the capital city of Jerusalem, which remained the capital of the southern kingdom. But in the north they chose a new capital, the capital of Samaria. And so the term Samaria referred not only to the city, but to the region and ultimately it was adopted by the entire northern kingdom. And so you have a rivalry now between the two dueling capitals within the divided kingdom.
In 722 to 21 B.C. the Assyrians came in and captured the northern kingdom, captured Samaria. They deported all the Israelites of substance, and settled the land with foreigners who intermarried with the remaining Israelite population. And so what happened over the years is these Jewish people lost their Jewishness and they lost their religion, at least most of it. They retained little pieces of it. So they rejected, for example, 61 books of the Old Testament. They only held to the five books of the Pentateuch because they could twist those books to refer to Samaria as the capital. They even modified those Scriptures, and they called it the Samaritan Pentateuch. We even have copies of it to this day. They only believed that Moses was the true legitimate prophet. And then when the Jewish people returned from exile (they came back into the land), they were the people who had been faithful to God in exile, and they viewed Samaritans as those who were the children of their foreign oppressors. They were racial half-breeds whose religion had been twisted and was impure.
To make matters worse, in 400 B.C. the Samaritans actually erected their very own temple to rival the temple in Jerusalem, and they put this temple on Mount Gerizim. It was, again, a rival to the temple in Jerusalem, and just a couple hundred years before this conversation with Jesus and the Samaritan woman, a guy by the name of John Hyrcanus had come in and destroyed that temple because he was a ruler from Judea and he was trying to purify the religious worship of the Samaritans.
So, needless to say, putting all of this together, there was intense animosity between the Jewish and Samaritan people, that Jews viewed the Samaritans as unclean, unfit, and unwelcome. But in this narrative John is also reminding us of something, that despite all that separates the Jews from the Samaritans, they actually share a common ancestry. The all belong to the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and in fact, this is where Jacob’s well is located, near the field that Jacob gave Joseph, his son. In other words, these lands are part of the covenant of God. And so we’re reminded of these points of continuity here.
It is the sixth hour counting from sunrise. It is high noon in the desert. Verse 7: “A woman from Samaria came to draw water.” This is immediately odd to us, to anybody reading this from the first century. Why is a woman coming out in the heat of the day to draw water? The women normally came early or late. They came in groups for protection. Why is she alone? Why is she here in the heat of the day? We don’t have an answer, but the question lingers.
“Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink.’ (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)” Now she’s shocked by His request, a first-century Jewish man asking her for water. Jews don’t associate with Samaritans. They don’t have meals together. They don’t use the same dishes. They are considered unclean. Jesus is breaking all kinds of social protocol here. Why? Because Jesus, friends, comes to seek and to save the lost. Jesus comes to “seek and to save the lost.” You’ll know that quotation from Luke 19:10.
See, Jesus here is going after the long lost children of Israel because the Samaritans were once God’s people, at a time before all the political divisions, before all the genetic dilution, before all the theological distortions. And friends, Jesus is breaking down the barriers. He’s crossing over into their world. He’s reaching out for the long-lost children of Israel. He is here to bring them home. And friends, this is utterly shocking. These are the absolute last people we would ever think Jesus would pursue. Everybody had given up on the Samaritans, but not Jesus.
And here’s the takeaway for you and me, friends: We are never beyond Jesus’ reach. Don’t you see that? We are never beyond Jesus’ reach. No matter what we’ve done, no matter who we’ve become, no matter what’s been done to us, Jesus loves us. Jesus pursues us. There’s no barrier He won’t break down; there’s no chasm He won’t cross over; there’s no distance He won’t reach beyond. Friends, listen. There’s no place we can wander where Jesus will not find us, where He will not pursue us in His love, because He’s a seeker of the lost. Don’t you see? He’s a seeker of the lost. Not only that, He’s a satisfier of the soul. He’s the satisfier of the soul.
She asked Jesus, “How is it that You, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” Look how He responds. Verse 10: “Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink,” you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’” I love how Jesus piques her curiosity here. He says, “You think there’s something off with me asking you because of the Jew-Samaritan thing? You should be asking me for a drink because I’ve got a gift from God. I can give you living water.”
Now, the phrase “living water” here has a kind of double meaning. In its most literal sense, it simply means an artesian spring, like living water bubbling out of the ground, alive and bubbling up like the water that is feeding Jacob’s Well at the very bottom, but of course, Jesus is going to use this in a metaphorical sense to talk about spiritual life and vitality.
So let’s see where it goes. Verse 11: “The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.’” She says, “Look, if you’re going to give me this living spring water at the very bottom of the well, that’s really something, because you don’t even have a bucket, number one. And number two, even Jacob couldn’t get it directly. He had to dig all the way down to get to it. Are you greater than him? He couldn’t get it from all the way down there.”
Verse 13, “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’” “Because I’m not talking about the bubbling water at the bottom of the spring here. You drink that water, you’ll get thirsty again. I’m talking about water of endless supply that will satisfy you forever, that will well up into eternal life within you.”
Now, what is going on here? What is the connection here between water and eternal life? Where is Jesus getting this? Well, the people who live in the desert understand water in a different way than you and I do. See, when you live in the desert, water is life. And they didn’t have running water where you just turn on the tap and there it is. No, they had to dig for it. They had to find it. They had to protect it. Water was life, and so in the Bible water took on this rich symbolism of the spiritual life that only God could offer.
Psalm 42:1–2 says famously, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” Now, if you have in your mind a little picture of Bambi, you know, just lapping gently at a peaceful stream, this is not the picture. This is a desert deer. The wadis have dried up and this deer is stumbling along desperate, parched. If it doesn’t get water it dies, and the psalmist is saying, “That’s how my soul is. It is parched, panting after the living God, after the water of life that only you, the living God can supply.”
Or Psalm 63:1 says this, “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Do you see the language here, of soul thirst, of fainting flesh? It’s like a drought where there’s no water. That’s how I am before you, the Living God.
In Jeremiah 2:13 God says something very interesting. He says, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” What He’s doing in this passage is He’s confronting their idolatry, and He uses this metaphor. He says, “You’ve forsaken the living waters, the fountain of living waters, and in exchange what you’ve done is you’ve hewn out these cisterns, these water storage containers for yourself. The problem is they are broken. They are leaking, and instead of looking to me for life and worshiping me alone, and trusting in me to provide for the needs of your soul, you’ve run after these idols. You’ve looked to them instead to meet your spiritual needs and they are broken and leaky, and they always let you down.”
He reiterates this in Jeremiah 17:13: “They have forsaken the Lord, the fountain of living water.” See, friends, when we look anywhere other than to God for the deep soul needs that we have to be met, for things like security and satisfaction and significance, when we look to anything other than God for those deep spiritual needs to be met, we are looking to idols. We are forsaking the fountain of the living water that only God and His life can supply, the soul satisfaction that we need. That’s why in Isaiah 55, verses 1 and 3 it says this: “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters...Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live.” Come to the waters that your soul may live. That’s what Jesus’ invitation here is. And the woman in verse 15 says to Him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” See, she’s still operating on the literal, right? The literal level. And yet something has awakened in her, a longing for what He has offered. “Sir, give me this water.” Verse 16, “Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come here.’”
Now, this seems like a rather odd change in subject, doesn’t it? Why does He say, “Go, call your husband,” huh? What’s that all about? Well, put a pin in that. Verse 17, “The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.’”
Do you see what just happened? Jesus just took this conversation to a whole deeper level, didn’t He? And she realizes, “He knows me all the way down, like all the depths of my soul. He knows my deepest need,” because she’s carrying a deep pain in her life. She’s on her sixth man. Now, we don’t know the story, but no matter what it is, it’s heart-wrenching. Maybe they all died, in which case she would certainly feel cursed. Maybe they divorced her, in which case she would feel discarded. Maybe she divorced them, because she couldn’t be satisfied. Maybe it’s a mix of some of those different things. But friends, no matter what the story is, it’s a messy one, and she’s settled now. She has settled for the only love, protection, security, and life that she can find. She has to compromise.
And we’re beginning to realize now why it is that she probably came to draw water at noon. She’s an outcast. She has a reputation. She’s been shamed by the community. The other women don’t want to be around her. And don’t you see now why Jesus mentions her husband? This isn’t random. He mentions her husband because that’s her broken cistern. That’s her broken cistern. This is the broken cistern her thirsty soul keeps coming back to. It’s the cistern that keeps letting her down. And in verse 19 now, the woman says to Him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.” (laughs) For the Samaritans, this is a pretty big acknowledgment. Remember they only accepted one prophet and that was Moses. She’s saying, “You’re another one like him.” This is a big deal.
Verse 20: “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” Now this may seem like she’s just changing the subject, right? Like maybe He got a little too close to her heart, to home, and she’s feeling vulnerable, and she’s diverting the conversation. That’s possible, but I was looking at this this week and I said, “What if she’s not diverting? What if there’s actually a connection here?” You see, friends, Jesus has offered to satisfy her spiritual thirst in a way that no man ever could. And the Old Testament tells us that living water is found in relationship with the living God, so that when we worship Him, when we trust Him, when we look to Him, we have living water. What if she’s connecting these thoughts? What if she’s putting this together? She’s saying, “Look, you’re offering me the soul-satisfying presence of the Living God, and the only possible response would be to worship. But where do I worship? Is it here on Mount Gerizim, or is it in Jerusalem?”
Verse 21: “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.’” See, something’s coming here that’s going to supersede the worship here and there.
Verse 22: “You worship what you do not know; (you Samaritans) we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” Don’t get me wrong. The Jews have the right temple and the right Bible. Okay?
Verse 23: “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” So Jesus is saying, “Look, an hour is coming.”
Now remember, in the book of John whenever he refers to the hour of Jesus, it’s the hour of Jesus’ death when He is glorified and lays down His life on the cross. He says, “The hour is coming, and yet it’s now here. It’s coming in my death, but it’s already present in my person.” An hour will come when worship will not be defined by a place, whether here or there, but it will be defined by spirit and truth, which is to say it is defined not by a place, but by a Person, because, friends, Jesus Himself is the temple. And the worship of the Father will take place through Him. To be a true worshiper we must worship in spirit and truth.
Now, what’s up with that phrase, spirit and truth? Well, friends, do you realize as you look at the book of John, the only way to get the Spirit is through Jesus? He’s the one who baptizes with the Spirit. He’s the one who gives the Spirit of the New Covenant, the new heart and the new creation. As we look to Him we are born again by the Spirit. And Jesus Himself is the truth in the book of John. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. No one comes to the Father but by Him. He is the Truth. He is the Revelation. He is the Word of God so only Jesus can give us the Spirit, and only Jesus embodies the truth. So to worship in spirit and truth is to worship in Jesus because He’s the only source of living water. He’s the only temple that really matters. He’s the only way to the Father. And it begins to dawn on the woman who this Jesus really is.
Verse 25: “The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’”
Verse 26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he.’”
Friends, Jesus is the Messiah. He is the promised and Anointed One, and Jesus satisfies our souls which summons our worship. Jesus satisfies our souls which summons our worship. Do you see there is a connection between satisfaction and worship? Between satisfaction and worship. Satisfaction is the long drink at the well. Worship is the “Ah, that’s good!” in response to the drink we take.
Seeing this woman at the well, we are glimpsing something of ourselves. We all have a soul thirst that only God can satisfy, but we all try to quench it in all the wrong ways, don’t we? And no relationship is enough; no career is enough; no amount of success of money or clothes or square footage or sex or affirmation of pleasure or travel or experience will ever be enough. Nothing will ultimately fill the deep soul thirst within us. It’s what Saint Augustine said: “Thou hast made us for thyself...and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” But like the woman at the well, we have forsaken the fountain of living waters. We’ve hewn out broken cisterns for ourselves, and so we find ourselves with messy stories and shame-filled pasts, don’t we? But we’re learning that we’re never beyond Jesus’ redemption. We’re never beyond Jesus’ redemption.
I’m sure this woman at the well felt that she was too dirty, too far gone, too tainted. “How could God ever want me after I’ve drunk from so many broken cisterns, after I’ve worshiped in so many false temples?” And Jesus says to her, “The Father is seeking worshipers like you.” Like you. Like me? Like broken me? Like dirty me? Like tainted me? Like scarred me? Yes, like you.
Friends, we’re never beyond Jesus’ redemption. No matter what we’ve done, no matter who we’ve become, no matter what’s been done to us, Jesus loves us. He pursues us. He wants to satisfy our thirsty souls. He wants to seek our worship. He wants to redeem our stories because He’s not only the seeker of the lost, He’s the satisfier of our souls.
And thirdly, He’s the Savior of the world. He’s the Savior of the world. Verse 27: “Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’ So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?’ They went out of the town and were coming to him.”
So she leaves her water jar. This is not a random detail. John wants us to see that having had her spiritual thirst satisfied, she is no longer preoccupied with physical water. And she goes into the town and says, “Come, see a man,” which she had said six other times. “Come, see a man,” and now a seventh time, “but this man is different. He has told me all I ever did. Could He be the Christ?” And everyone starts coming out to see.
Verse 31: “Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, ‘Rabbi, eat.’ But he said to them, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about.’” So the disciples said to one another, “Did someone bring Him something to eat?” (chuckles) I love it. Jesus says (verse 34), “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work.” “Look, I can’t eat right now. What’s happening right in front of us is more important, more nourishing than anything you could give me to eat.”
Verse 35: “Do you not say, ‘There are four months, then comes the harvest?’” Normally there are four months between planting and reaping. He says, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” Imagine all these townspeople coming out in their white robes in the countryside.
Verse 36: “Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together. For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.” Look, I labored here. The woman labored here. We’ve been sowing this seed of the Good News, and now you’re going to get to be a part of the harvest.
Verse 39: “Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me all that I ever did.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his Word. They said to the woman, ‘It’s no longer because of what you said that we believe, but we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is (Look at this phrase) indeed the Savior of the world.’”
This is incredible. The irony here is that the Samaritans have greater theological clarity over who Jesus is than the Jews do at this point. Up until this point in the story, the Jewish faith has been characterized by John as superficial and untrustworthy. He’s been preparing us for this. In chapter 1, verses 11 and 12 he said, “He came to his own (Jesus did), and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” And here’s the irony. The Samaritans are becoming children of God ahead of the Jewish people, because John wants us to see that Jesus brings the hope of salvation to the nations. Jesus brings the hope of salvation to the nations. As the Samaritans put it, “He is indeed the Savior of the world.”
In chapter 1 John said, “Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” In chapter 3 he said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” And friends, we are seeing that Jesus has come, not just for Israel, but for the world. This is His first missionary foray to bring the Gospel, the Good News beyond the boundaries of Israel, to reconcile all peoples to Himself so that people from every nation, tribe, language, and tongue would one day surround the throne and worship in spirit and in truth, for Isaiah 49, verse 6 predicts, “It is too light a thing (the Father says) that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
And the takeaway, friends, is this. We are never beyond Jesus’ reconciliation. We are never beyond Jesus’ reconciliation. Friends, don’t you see Jesus is offering His salvation to all people everywhere? No matter what you’ve done, no matter who you’ve become, no matter what’s been done to you, and no matter how far off you might be, Jesus loves you. He’s pursuing you. He wants to satisfy your soul. He’s seeking your worship. He wants to redeem your story. He wants to reconcile your life. He wants to save your soul.
And friends, quickly as we close here, how will you do that? How will He actually do that? Well, He told the woman, “The hour is coming.” Again, it’s the hour of His glorious death on the cross where He dies in our place and for our sake, His life in exchange for ours. He’s our substitute because, friends, don’t you see on the cross Jesus was lost that we might be found. He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” On the cross, Jesus was thirsty so that we might be satisfied. What does He say on the cross? “I thirst.” On the cross, Jesus was estranged that we might be reconciled. See, Jesus comes to be the Savior of the world to put His life in exchange for ours, to die in our place and for our sake, to bear all of our sin and shame, to give us His own righteousness so that we might stand before God cleansed and forgiven and set free, children of God, that no matter what we’ve done, no matter who we’ve become, no matter what’s been done to us...
Listen, Jesus knows you completely. He loves you utterly, and He forgives you entirely. Won’t you come to the waters, friends? Won’t you come and drink that your soul may live? Come!
Won’t you pray?
Father, we acknowledge that we have looked in all the wrong places. We’ve forsaken the fountain of living water. We have looked to satisfy our souls in all the wrong spots, broken cisterns, leaky things that can never satisfy. And so we repent. We turn and we look to Jesus.
We ask that you would satisfy our souls in Him, that you would give us life on the inside, that you would draw us close to your heart. We are desperate for you. Our souls ache and long for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Thank you for the water of life in Jesus. May we drink and be satisfied in Him.
We pray this in His beautiful name, Amen.