Christ Covenant Church
Jon Marq Toombs
1 May 2016
May the grace and truth of Christ be with you!
Our sermon text for today comes from John 4. It is printed in your worship order if you would like to follow along. If you are able, I invite you to stand and give your undivided attention to God’s Holy Word.
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. 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. A woman from Samaria came to draw water. 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.) 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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 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.” The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet…I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 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…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 two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
The word of the Lord. May God add his blessings to the reading, preaching, and hearing of his word. All the church says: Amen! You may be seated.
This is a well-known story to most of us. Rather than tell you what you already know, or re-tell you what you can easily read in the text, I want to share some things that are in the story, but not so easy to see at first glance. But once you see them, you wonder how you ever could have overlooked them.
CONTEXT AND BACKGROUND
I won’t burden you will all the nitty-gritty details, but suffice it to say that there was bad blood between Jews and Samaritans. Think about the bad blood between whites and blacks in America, especially before the Civil Rights Movement. Or think about the bad blood between radical right wing conservatives and brown skinned immigrants.
To put it mildly, Jews considered Samaria the wrong side of the tracks in the bad part of town. The Jews had one water fountain, and the Samaritans had the other.
The Samaritans were a racially mixed group of people–partly Jewish and partly Gentile. They were the stray dogs and “Heinz 57 mutts” of their day: mestizos, mulattoes, mudbloods. As such they were hated by both Jews and non-Jews alike (see Luke 10:33; 17:16; John 8:48; 2 Kings 17:24–31).
The Samaritans were a culturally mixed group of people made of Jews. They intermarried with non-Jewish foreigners and merged Jewish culture with many non-Jewish cultures.
The Samaritans were a religiously mixed group of people. They inter-mingled their own religious traditions, interpretations, and superstitions with Jewish traditions. They had their own version of the Pentateuch (Law of Moses), their own worship center on Mount Gerizim (their temple destroyed long before Jesus’ day), their own way of worshiping God, and their own version of Israel’s history.
So, in a nutshell, Samaria was a multi-cultural, pluralistic melting-pot. Like a really “un-cool” version of America.
And for some reason Jesus felt it was necessary (Gk. dei) to pass through there.
On his way through Samaria Jesus and his disciples stopped at Jacob’s well near the town of Sychar. This was a deep well that Jesus’ forefather Jacob dug about two thousand years earlier ( Genesis 33:18 ).
Remember, Jacob was a cheater and a trickers. His name was changed to Israel after he struggled with God in the mud of the Jabbok. As you know he had many sons. One of them was sold into slavery by his brothers, and taken down to Egypt. Jacob thought he was dead, but then he rose up from the pit and became a ruler of Egypt — and he was known as the savior of the world. His name was Joseph.
Right before he died he made his people promise to carry his bones out of Egypt whenever God brought them up out of Egypt. Four hundred years later, they kept their promise and carried his bones out of Egypt. When Joshua led Israel across the Jordan river into the promise land, the people gathered for a covenant renewal worship service at Mount Gerazim – the mount of blessing ( Joshua 8:33 ). Afterwards, they buried Joseph’s bones in Shechem ( Joshua 24:32 )– in the shadow of Gerazim, less than two miles away from the town of Sychar and Jacob’s well.
So, when Jesus sat down by the well in Samaria, he was sitting where his forefathers had once lived, moved, and existed.
Jesus sat down there because he was weary. The Word made flesh was a real man who experienced fatigue, thirst, and hunger just like us.
WOMAN: DIVORCEE AND WIDOW?
Now, it was the sixth hour when a woman from Samaria went out to draw water. The fact that she went to draw water at noon instead of early in the morning has led many preachers to assume the worst about her – that she must have been a terrible, horrible, person; a scandalous woman with a flaming scarlet letter “A” on her chest. I used to assume that as well. But you know what happens when you assume.
Personally, I think we have been too hard on her. We’re hyper-judgmental like that. More critical than compassionate.
There is nothing unusual about drawing water at the sixth hour. But there is something unusual about drawing water alone by yourself. Drawing water was a communal event, a communal activity. In reality, we should be more concerned that she was doing it alone than doing it at noon. [Note: See Gen 24:11; 29:10; 1 Sam 9:11.]
Now, it is obvious from the story that something is terribly wrong in her life; something is broken beyond repair.
But she is not the most sinful woman in the world. In fact, she appears to be a deeply spiritual woman who is both strong and smart and sassy.
Strong, because she draws water from a well and hauls it in clay jars half a mile back to town — at the sixth hour no less.
Smart, because she knows a thing or two about culture, history, and religion. Just look at the way she talks about social norms and taboos, worship wars, and messianic figures.
Sassy, because she is quick on her feet, and seems to enjoy a little snarky verbal sparring.
Spiritual, because she talks about the things of God intelligently, and she perceives far more than meets the eye.
Was she a saint? No. She was a sinner – just like you and me.
How do we know that?
She had been married five times and she was living with a man who was not her husband. This is a sore spot with her. She is sensitive to it and wants to avoid talking about it at all costs.
Again, most commentaries and ministers focus on her five divorces and her one live-in boyfriend. But is that treating her fairly? Where are the men? There is more to her story than meets the eye.
Just imagine how she must have felt about her life situation after all her failed marriages: imagine all the anger, sorrow, guilt, shame, confusion, and loneliness she must have felt.
A few days ago I spoke with a couple of female seminary students about the Samaritan woman. One of them (Nicole Foster) said that in light of her experience, and where she comes from, the Samaritan woman seems like a normal person who has experienced a crappy life. In other words, she knows lots of women who are in the same life-situation as the Samaritan woman. Not because they are so bad, but because some of the men are.
You probably know some people like that as well.
Now, let me try to put all this into perspective for you.
THE LAW ON DIVORCE
The word Samaritan means Keeper or Guardian. The Samaritans lived by the Law of Moses and considered themselves the guardians and keepers of the Law.
That means (according to a strict keeping of the Law) that the woman could not have divorced any of her five husbands. But each one of them could have divorced her for any and every reason. That was based on a bad interpretation of God’s Law which says, “if she found no favor in his eyes because he found some indecency in her” all he had to do was write her a certificate of divorce and put it in her hand and send her out of his house. (Deut 24:1-4) The phrase “some Indecency” was (wrongly) taken to mean “any and every reason” but in reality it had to do with sexual impropriety / immorality.
Now, she had five husbands, which means either she was sent away with a certificate of divorce five times; or some of those men died and she was a widow and a divorcee.
Either way, she was an un-wanted woman who had been used (and perhaps abused!) by several men.
To make matters worse, the man she was living with a man who was unwilling to make her his wife or to be her husband.
Why did those men divorce her? Not necessarily for adultery. If she had committed adultery, it is likely she (and her lover) would have been punished and perhaps even stoned to death. (Deut. 22:22)
No, there must have been some other “indecency” in her that her husbands found offensive. Perhaps she was a bad cook, or a know-it-all, or unable to bear children, or a quarrelsome woman.
Whatever the case, they found something in her that they did not like, and she did not find favor in the eyes of those men.
THE BRIDEGROOM’S PROPOSAL
But here’s the remarkable thing: She found favor in the eyes of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Over the past few weeks we have been watching the Word made flesh for the life of the world.
We have seen Jesus attend a wedding, fill clay jars with water, turn water into wine, and celebrate marriage. We have heard Jesus described as the Bridegroom. He comes to his sinful, adulterous people and declares:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the Lord delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
For as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride,
so shall your God rejoice over you. (Isaiah 62:4-5)
“You will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal [my master].’ … And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord.” (Hosea 2:16, 19-20)
In other words, you will find grace in the eyes of the Bridegroom.
This is how God loved the world: He sent his only son into the world to kill the dragon and get the girl. That’s precisely what Jesus is doing in this story. This is why it was necessary for Jesus to pass through Samaria.
In this story, Jesus comes in the love of God to propose marriage to the Samaritan woman. Not an earthly, temporal marriage, but a heavenly, eternal marriage.
She is like Rebekah who gave Eleazar the servant water from her jar. And Jesus is the true and better Eleazar who gave her gifts and worshipped the Lord. (Genesis 24:1ff)
She is like Ruth the Moabite woman, a foreigner, immigrant, and outsider. And Jesus is the true and better Boaz, her kinsmen-redeemer who promises to fill her (belly) with living water. (Ruth 1-4)
She is like Gomer, the unfaithful wife who went looking for love in all the wrong places. And Jesus is the true and better Hosea, who takes a wife of whoredom (Hos. 1:2ff); he is the Lord who allures her, and brings her into the wilderness, and speaks tenderly to her. (Hosea 2:14)
She is like her mother Samaria, who played the whore with many lovers; and worshiped false gods on every high hill and under every green tree. And Jesus is the true and better Master who says, “‘Return, O faithless [Samaria], I will not look on you in anger, for I am merciful, I will not be angry forever. Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreign gods, and that you have not obeyed my voice,” declares the LORD. “Return, for I am your master (lit. Baal). (Jeremiah 3:1, 12-14)
Jesus is the Bridegroom who comes into the world to take a bride for himself from all the nations of the world. He will pay the bride price for her by laying down his life and by taking it up again.
So, a woman from Samaria came to draw water at the sixth hour.
Like her forefathers, her lifestyle showed that she had forsaken the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for herself, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13 ESV)
The theme song of her life could have been “my Ex’s and the oh oh Oh’s they haunt me / Like gho-oh-ohsts they want me/ to make ’em who-o-ole / They won’t let go / Ex’s and oh’s.” (Elle King)
In other words, she went looking for love in all the wrong places — and even when she went to the well, she still hadn’t found what she was looking for.
But Jesus proposes to her in the love of God: “Everyone who drinks of this earthly water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the heavenly water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The heavenly water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Jesus made it clear that in order to receive the gift of God all the Samaritan woman had to do was ask for it. She didn’t have to hold out her hand, fill up a jar, sign a card, or prayer a special prayer.
All she had to do was acknowledge that she was thirsty and ask Christ to give her a drink.
In response to all this, the woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is the Anointed One called the Christ). When he comes, he will announce all things to us.”
That was her way of saying, It’s been good talking to you but I gotsta go. Peace out.
Jesus said to her, ἐγώ εἰμι, ὁ λαλῶν σοι. “I am — the one who speaks to you.” This was his way of saying, Not so fast. This is your burning bush moment.
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?”
THE GOSPEL AND REAL LIFE
Several years ago a woman came to see me in my office. She lived across the street from our church for several years, but she had never visited us. She ran a convenient store in our small town, and we became friends when I took her side and defended her against some local pastors who threatened to boycott her store. We were neighbors and it was no secret that she was a party animal. To put it mildly, she was wise in the ways of the world. Anyways, one day she came to my office crying her eyes out and confessing all sorts of sins. She kept saying, “I just wish I could start all over again, but it’s too late.” In response I shared a couple of stories with her from the Gospel of John. She was skeptical and asked to see it for herself. So I handed her my Bible and she read for a few minutes. Then she closed it, looked up, and handed back to me and said, “Well, that’s just way too easy. No. That’s too good to be true.” She thanked me for listening, got up and went home. A few weeks later she professed her faith in Christ, and confessed “Jesus is Lord” with her mouth, and I baptized her in water.
The gospel does seem too easy and too good to be true.
Especially compared to walking out to the watering hole, drawing water from a well, day after day, expending all that time and energy. Or compared to walking around with the guilt of past failures, the shame of a broken life, the lonely feeling that life has past you by, or the regrets of a thousands mistakes.
But receiving the stream of living water from Christ takes you no time, requires no effort, and costs you nothing.
The only thing you must do is come thirsty and drink freely.
As the authors of Bold Love say:
“The cost for the recipient of God’s grace is NOTHING — and no price could be higher for arrogant people to pay. Something within me (that feels noble) longs for a religion that requires payment. I may like an occasional free gift, but I cannot bear the loss of pride and swagger that occurs when I give my life and nothing is required. Grace is free, and that is disturbing. It is so distressing, in fact, that most who receive it work hard to find some way to preserve their arrogance by laborious piety. The often sincere, but arrogant, penance in many cases serves to retain their false pride and in turn obligate God to act on their behalf.” (Dan Allendar & Tremper Longman, Bold Love via a friend’s Facebook post)
The gift of God is free. The question is: Are you thirsty? Are you thirsty enough to lay down your jars? Are you thirsty enough to pour out your earthly water? Are you thirsty enough to run away from your wells of money, sex, and power?
The problem is that most of us seem to be easily amused and easily satisfied with the gods of lesser things. It’s not that our carnal appetite is so strong, it’s that our spiritual appetite is so weak.
We imagine that the next new dress, or the next naked image, or the next episode, or the next strong drink, or the next gaming level, or the next promotion, or the next risky investment, or the next degree, or the next affair, or the next vacation, or the next weight level, or the next degree, or the next youtube video, or the next book — will be the thing that slakes our thirst and satisfies our longing. So we chase after the mirage of an oasis in the desert.
As C.S. Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us; like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” (The Weight of Glory)
In a dry and weary land where is no living water, can’t you feel your soul thirsting for God?
DESIRE NOT DECISION
Now, nowhere in the story do we see the woman acknowledging her thirst, or hear the woman asking Jesus for living water.
But we know the Lord Jesus heard the desire of her heart and gave her what she asked for. He proposed to her and she said Yes! (deep in her heart).
How do we know? We know because —
She came to draw water from a well, but she was drawn into a spring of living water.
She came shackled by guilt, but was set free by saving grace.
She came unloved by men, but left truly, madly, deeply loved by God.
She came in the grip of death, but went away in the grace of life.
She came thirsty, but went away refreshed.
She came dirty, but left clean.
She came born of the flesh and blood, but went away born of water and the Spirit.
She came as a boy-toy, divorced, widowed, scorned by men, but she left as a bride, washed, radiant, adorned by God.
She came with a terrible past, but she left with a tremendous future. (She came with no future, and left with no past.)
How? The gift of God.
“Grace takes the blame
covers the shame
Removes the stain
Grace makes beauty
Out of ugly things” (u2/Grace)
She found grace in the eyes of the Savior of the world. And perhaps you will too — if you haven’t already.
Now, this grace is free to you. The living water costs you nothing, but it cost Jesus everything.
Remember: It was the sixth hour. Jesus was thirsty and asked for drink. The first time this happened Jesus was resting at a well. But the second time it happened Jesus was writhing in pain on the cross. It was the sixth hour. From the cross Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”(John 19:14, 28)
Thirst is a sign of curses, faith-testing, physical need, exile, and deep spiritual longing. All these come together in Jesus’ thirst on the cross.
Jesus was thirsty, but he thirsted for much more than earthly water.
His soul thirsted for God, for the living God (Psa. 42:2).
He thirsted for his Father,
his whole being longed for him,
in a dry land where there was no water (Psa 63:1).
He spread out his hands to the Father;
and thirsted for him like a parched land (Psa 143:6).
Jesus was thirsty.
Jesus was cursed to a waterless death so that you might blessed with the water of life.
Jesus gave us water from above to deliver us from the waters from below.
Jesus died thirsty so that you who thirst might drink deeply and thirst no more.
Jesus poured out the water of life to save you from the dust of death.
What is the gospel? The gospel is good news for people who have lived bad news.
Today’s message is for anyone who has ever been divorced, ditched, dissed, or damaged, and for everyone who desires to be delivered by the Savior of the world.
We have led you to the water, but we can’t make you drink. But now that you know the gift of God, all you have to do is ask, and Jesus will give you the Holy Spirit, the spring of living water overflowing to eternal life.
So let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who desires take the water of life without price and drink deeply of the gift of God.
O God, you are our God; earnestly we seek you; our soul thirsts for you; our flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So we have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, our lips will praise you. So we will bless you as long as we live; in your name we will lift up our hands, for you have been our help, and in the shadow of your wings we will sing for joy. Our soul clings to you; your right hand upholds us… (Psalm 63)