John 4:1-30 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2 (although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3 he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4 And he had to pass through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 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.
7 A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8 (For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9 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.) 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.” 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? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.” 15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17 The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18 for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 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. 22 You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 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. 24 God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” 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.” 26 Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.”
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?” 28 So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29 “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30 They went out of the town and were coming to him.
Who is the most broken, unworthy-feeling person you’ve ever met? Maybe you are that person. Whoever comes to mind, what forms did the sense of brokenness and unworthiness take? What was their source? I’ve met people who felt that way because of things they’ve done, because of things done to them, and for reasons they couldn’t even explain.
One guy in particular stands out. A rough upbringing, terrible consequences of terrible decisions, and a destructive cycle all contributed to a constant sense of torment. It seemed that nothing he did could overcome feelings of brokenness and unworthiness…brokenness in that he never felt whole or complete, and unworthiness in that he never felt worthy of being loved or forgiven or belonging. These feelings were both horizontal (with the people in his life) and vertical (in relation to God). I remember him describing the regular feeling of walls closing in around him. As a result, he’d usually take whatever exit first presented itself (which is what caused the destructive cycle).
Generally speaking, with people like this, the problem is not convincing them of the need for salvation, it’s convincing them that they can be saved; that God would truly forgive them in spite of all the evil they’ve engaged in and encountered; that God would truly love them and welcome them into His presence.
Of course there are people on the other end of the spectrum as well; people who are filled with a sense of accomplishment and worthiness such that they can’t imagine having anything to be saved from. And there are people somewhere in the middle as well; people who don’t think much about any of that—about being worthy or unworthy, about being broken or whole, about salvation or condemnation.
This is a passage about salvation, but it is a passage about salvation for those who feel broken and unworthy in particular. It certainly has significant implications for everyone, but especially for those who have a hard time lifting their heads up.
The main points of the sermon are that (1) everyone needs saving, (2) salvation is in Jesus alone, (3) Jesus’ salvation is for all who will receive it in faith, and (4) that salvation is more than forgiveness of sins. Let’s pray that God would help us see and live in light of these truths.
To really make sense of what this passage teaches about salvation, we need to briefly revisit something I pointed out last week: a basic profile of the woman at the well. There are three main things to note: (1) she was a she, (2) she was a Samaritan, and (3) she was a Samaritan outcast.
She Was a She
Culturally, it’s important that this is the story of the “woman at the well” as opposed to the story of the “man at the well.” It’s important because culturally, Jesus shouldn’t have been talking to her at all. Men didn’t talk to women in public. Rabbis didn’t talk to immoral women most of all. But it’s important mainly because if you wanted to tell a 1st century Jew a story of the lowest of the low (as John was in his Gospel), it would most certainly start like this.
She Was a Samaritan
Lower still, in the Jewish eye, was the fact that she was a Samaritan woman. You may remember from last week that Samaritans were a group of Jews who had intermarried with conquering Assyrians, Babylonians and Medians. Worse still, they were a group of people who had intermarried with Assyrian, Babylonian, and Median gods. They had forsaken Yahweh as the one true God. On top of all of that, there were centuries of wars and atrocities that had been committed between the Samaritans and Jews. There was genuine hatred between them.
This woman was a part of a people who had formed a kind of cult and who despised the people to whom Jesus belonged. For all these reasons, He “shouldn’t” have been talking to her.
She Was a Samaritan Outcast
Lowest of all, she was not only a woman, and a Samaritan woman at that, but she was also a Samaritan woman outcast. She was an outcast because she was uneducated and poor. But mostly she was an outcast because of her immoral, promiscuous behavior. The text explicitly states that she had had five previous husbands and was currently living with a man she was not married to (v.18). Implied, however, is that she was not a five-time widow, but a five time divorcee. She was gathering water because she was uneducated and poor. She was gathering water alone, in the heat of the day, because she was despised even among the despised.
Again, the main reason we need to be clear on this profile is that it is of a woman who was about as far from righteous as it gets in the eyes of John’s readers. If there was anyone who needed to be saved, but didn’t deserve to be under the prevailing Jewish understanding, it was this woman. That leads to the first main point.
EVERYONE NEEDS TO BE SAVED
One danger in interpreting this passage, then, is that it might lead some to mistakenly believe that salvation is only necessary for those who are “really bad,” like the woman at the well. That’s certainly what I believed growing up. If you would have asked me if I thought I’d go to heaven when I died, I would have said “yes”. If you would have asked me why I thought that, I would have said something along the lines of, “because I’m not as bad as the bad people.” I suppose the long and short of my “theology” was that there were basically good people who were already right with God and there were really bad people who couldn’t get right with God. I don’t think I ever really thought in terms of salvation. I’m not sure exactly which camp I would have put the woman a the well, but I am sure that the readers of John’s Gospel would have understood her to be a terrible sinner, probably outside of the reach of God’s mercy.
Two of the biggest theological tragedies of Jesus day among the Israelites were the mistaken views that other people were sinners and that salvation was primarily about military liberation from the Romans.
Jesus addressed the first point in the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:10-14.
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers [like the woman at the well], or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Everyone is a sinner and, therefore, everyone needs to be saved (justified).
And at the beginning of Acts (1:6-7) we read of Jesus addressing the second doctrinal error with Peter and the other disciples, “So when [Jesus’ followers] had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Implied in the question is the mistaken belief that restoring the kingdom to Israel meant conquering the Romans. Jesus corrected them by telling them that they would receive power from God, but that it would be for the purpose of spreading good news, not military victory. Even after Jesus had died and risen from the dead, there was still confusion on this matter among His closest followers.
The keys for us to see from this passage are (1) that no matter our level of earthly oppression, our greatest need is always spiritual (not physical) salvation and (2) that everyone needs to be saved. It’s clear from this passage that the woman at the well needed to be rescued from her unrighteousness, but she is all of us. In that story, we are not righteous Jesus offering salvation to the world. In that story we are all the woman at the well needing Jesus to rescue us from our own sin and rebellion. If you don’t come in through that gate, you cannot be saved. And we all need to be saved.
All of this is especially clear when we remember that this passage comes on the heels of Nicodemus. He was everything the woman at the well wasn’t. She was poor. He was rich. She was week. He was strong. She was uneducated. He was well-learned. She was unrighteous. He was “righteous”. She was a social and religious outcast. He was an insider. But John told both stories together to highlight that both needed to be saved. In these two people, we have two ends of the earthly spectrum. And in that John cleverly helps us to see that if they needed to be saved, then everyone in between them (which is everyone) needs to be saved as well.
SALVATION IS FOUND IN JESUS ALONE
The second main point of this text concerning salvation is that salvation is found in Jesus alone. That’s the heart of v.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.’”
This idea of living water wasn’t something Jesus made up on the spot. He was claiming to be the fulfillment of several OT prophecies like Jeremiah 2:13, “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.”
Jesus is the fountain of living waters. He is the only fountain of living waters. “The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus is salvation, and there is salvation in no other.
We find this truth in this passage in two more places as well. In both cases, it’s a bit further embedded. First, the basic understanding among Jews was that handling something unclean, like the water jar of a Samaritan or an adulteress, would make the person unclean. There was truth to this according to God’s law. In other words, ordinary Jews would have feared and avoided eating or drinking with this woman because they believed she would make them unclean. But the key here is that Jesus is entirely different. Instead of being made unclean by the unclean things He touches, the unclean things Jesus touches become clean. In agreeing to accept water from this woman He was offering to make her clean!
The second, more embedded way that we see that salvation is found in Jesus alone is in the woman’s twin claims, “ you have nothing to draw water with, and  the well is deep.” This is a subtle reminder that all mankind since Adam has fallen into sin and death and needs to be reconciled with God. However, we have no way of doing so on our own (we have nothing to draw living, saving water with) because the well of our sin runs too deep. Grace, hear this and see it in the text: the reason Jesus came—to the woman and to us—was to do that for all who would receive Him; to go deep enough, to take on the entire wrath of God, to get to the bottom of our sin, and bring up from below it the living waters of eternal life.
It’s hard to overstate the amazing grace all of this is. Salvation is found in Jesus alone since He alone is the fountain of living water, that which makes unclean things clean, and since He alone is able to go sufficiently deep to draw grace with and to come back up with it for all to drink. Awesome.
SALVATION IN JESUS IS FOR ALL WHO WILL RECEIVE HIM IN FAITH
The third main point is that salvation in Jesus is for all who will receive Him. The profile at the beginning of this sermon was meant to help establish this point clearly. If Jesus would offer Himself to this woman, who would have been considered the lowest of the low by John’s readers, then salvation is truly for all who will receive Jesus. No one is beyond the reach of Jesus’ saving grace. This woman was of the wrong race, gender, education, lifestyle, and religion, according to every prevailing custom. And yet Jesus offered Himself to her without hesitation. In fact, as we saw, it was more than that. Jesus specifically went to this woman to offer salvation to her; in large measure to teach us this lesson.
Grace, I mentioned at the beginning that this is a message of salvation for all, but especially for the broken and “unworthy.” And it is. If you are hurting and lonely and caught in sin; if you are overwhelmed by a sense of guilt and shame; if it’s hard for you to lift your head up, let alone imagine God’s love being offered to you, then hear the good news that Jesus will receive you right now, precisely because of those things. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick (Luke 5:31). You need not clean yourself up first, Jesus will help you with that. You do not need to work harder, Jesus will help you with that. You do not need to learn everything, Jesus will help you with that. You need only to admit your need for a Savior and come to Jesus. He will receive you. He will forgive you. He will wash you clean. He will restore what sin has broken. And He will enable you to turn from your sins.
The very heartbeat of this story is that salvation in Jesus is available for all who will receive Him. If it teaches us anything, it teaches us this.
SALVATION IS MORE THAN MERE CLEANSING OF SINS
Finally, the salvation Jesus offers to all who will receive Him is more than mere cleansing of sins.
Beyond simply being a well of the patriarch, Jacob, the well that brought Jesus and the Samaritan woman together was fairly special. Most wells hold water simply because they are below the water table. This well, Jacob’s well, was that, but it was also fed by an active spring. It was, in a sense, a well of living water.
In a similar way, salvation in Jesus is unique. It is about deliverance from enemies, but it is more than simply getting a repressive regime off the back of the Jews. It is about forgiveness of sins, but it is also about more than simply canceling a debt. It is a “living salvation” that brings with it adoption into the family of God, God’s unwavering, sustaining grace, complete restoration and sanctification, and most of all, everlasting fellowship with, and complete satisfaction in, God.
Jesus does not merely clean us up, pat us on our back, and send us on our way. His salvation is much more than that. The salvation that Jesus brings is truly living water. It is a spiritual water that once drunk, will quench your thirst forever! When you receive it, when you take and drink, you will never want again.
“Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14 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.”
This is why the woman’s questioning was so importantly misguided. “Are you greater than our father Jacob” (v.12)? Yes. Are you greater than our father Isaac? Yes. Are you greater than our father Abraham? Yes. Moses? Yes. The prophets, Isaiah, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Daniel? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes. Are you greater than all of them combined? Yes. Are you greater than all of them combined and multiplied by one billion? One billion times, yes!
In other words, we are not saved to get everything we ever wanted on earth in heaven. We are saved by Jesus in order to be freed to worship Jesus forever and ever and ever. That is, the salvation of Jesus, found only in Jesus, that is available to all who will trust in Jesus, is a salvation from sin, to complete, total, perfect, and eternal joy in the presence and fellowship of God. That realization sets us up well for next week as we consider what this passage tells us about true worship.
In v.10, Jesus exclaimed, “If you knew the gift of God!” If you only knew what God offers in Me!. It’s so much greater than anything and everything you’ve imagined. Come to Me. Trust in Me. Receive My living, cleansing, restoring, satisfying waters.
What should our response be to all of this. Two things. First, we should echo the words of the woman at the well. We should cry out to Jesus, “give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” This is the means by which God has appointed for us to be saved. Turn to Him for salvation today, right now! He will give you living water if you will ask for it in faith.
Second, we should respond by echoing the actions of the woman at the well. Two things…first, leave behind your water jar (v.28). That is, leave behind your old ways of seeking satisfaction. Turn entirely to Jesus. And second, go to everyone we meet and say, “Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did.” When we’ve tasted this living water, we cannot continue to seek old, putrid water and we cannot keep it to ourselves. We must share it with others. We can’t not. It is the greatest news and the sweetest gift. It is the purest act of love and the most natural response to receiving God’s love.
Call out to Jesus today and be saved. In your salvation, turn from your old water and tell everyone of the living waters that they too might drink and be satisfied.