This is the fourth message in a series on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well recorded in John 4.
- Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon (Jn 4:6).
It is noon, the hottest part of the day. It is the time that early Christians believed carried the particular temptation of acedia, the noonday demon–a physical lassitude, mental boredom and apathy that lulls one into dropping his or her spiritual guard and giving way to the desires of the flesh. Those of us who spend the day peering into monitors and hunched over desks can relate.
I don’t know about you, but it gives me great comfort to know that my Savior knows the exertion, the weariness, the heat and the sweat that marks the human struggle in this world and tempts us to quit or settle for the cheap and the easy. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).
The danger of the test is rarely in the big crisis, in the clear-cut choice between good and evil. Rather, it is in the banal and the dreary that flesh finds the need for indulgent action irresistible.
It is hot. Jesus is tired. The well was dug by his ancestor Jacob for his household and flocks. It is right there with cold, sweet water, but Jesus has no vessel and rope with which to reach it. What to do?
This is the Son of God. He is a co-creator with the Father, and One who “sustains all things by his powerful word” (Heb 1:2-3). He created the waters as the elixir of life for his creatures. He set free the springs and the fountains and brings the rains and the snows to the slopes of Mount Hermon, and looses the Jordan in glorious spring flood. He is the rock that gave water to his people in their long desert journey (1 Cor 10:4). “Even the wind and the sea obey him” (Mk 4:41).
One can hear the whispered taunts of the tempter–“If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread” (Mt 4:3). “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God come down from the cross. . . He saved others; he cannot save himself” (Mt 27:40). “If you can command the rains and the snow, why not bring the water up to you?”
And why not bring the water up with a word of Divine power? Hadn’t Jesus already proved his faith in forty days in the desert? Hadn’t he resisted Satan’s appeals by obedience to the Word of God (Mt 4:4). Is it a sin for a thirsty man to have a drink of water?
It depends on how that water is obtained.
Jesus Christ is most often portrayed to us as dynamic, powerful, active and on the move. We are exhorted to keep up with him, but struggle with despair and hopelessness when we find ourselves unable to do so. We find ourselves weary and listless in the heat of the day, bored with our routines, ashamed of our weakness, wondering why we have to “go back to the well” again and again to obtain what we cannot seem to maintain in conformance to his example.
Then we find him here also waiting at the well, and we wonder why that is? What hope is there for us if our Savior must wait and suffer the limitations of the human condition? We will die of thirst if we look no further than these shallows.
The temptation of Jesus is to his Divine power. An unguarded strength is the greatest weakness. Jesus, in his incarnation as a human, surrendered that strength in obedience to the Father. “He had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a faithful and merciful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested” (Heb 2:17-18).
The man Jesus speaks his truth plainly, “Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own; but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise” (Jn 5:19).
So, thirsty and yearning, Jesus yields his strength, sits by the well and waits upon the will and empowerment of the Father. That is precisely what it means to surrender. “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10). “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still” (Ex 14:14).
We likewise must yield our human strength and best intentions to God. As the Apostle Paul famously put it, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
- who, though he was in the form of God,
- did not regard equality with God
- as something to be exploited,
- but emptied himself,
- taking the form of a slave,
- being born in human likeness,
- and being found in human form,
- he humbled himself
- and became obedient to the point of death–
- even death on a cross” (Phil 2:5-8).
When you must approach the well, yet again, in the middle of the day, tired, thirsty, hungry and alone, needing refreshment just to trudge on, take heart! Jesus is already there before you and waiting. His secret is our secret–we share the same Father. “God, for whom and through whom everything was made, chose to bring many children into glory. And it was only right that he should make Jesus, through his suffering, a perfect leader, fit to bring them into their salvation. So now Jesus and the ones he makes holy have the same Father. That is why Jesus is not ashamed to call them his brothers and sisters” (Heb 2:10-11).
Instead of searching desperately for a rope and a bucket and a strategy to get to the water you crave, sit down beside Jesus with a heart turned prayerfully to the Father and wait for the salvation of the Lord. Your need will not be denied, but it may be filled in a most unexpected way.
Are you open to anyone or anything that the Father sends you in answer? That is the question we take up next.
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,