This is the ninth message in a series on Jesus’ encounter with the woman at Jacob’s well recorded in John 4.
- Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to be coming back here to draw water” (Jn 4:13-14).
The “gold standard” for water consumers is an artesian source. This is water that springs up under pressure from the earth and gushes out in a natural fountain. It does not require human effort or energy to obtain its benefits. This flow is an excellent metaphor for the grace of God and Jesus uses it to tell the woman about the refreshment that the Holy Spirit will bring to her thirsty soul.
Thinking of water evokes its sound, its velvet coolness, its power, its reflection of light. There is much to be learned about God from water. It is his favorite medium of creation. David makes the case that God founded creation on water, not dry land. “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it; for he has founded it on the seas, and established it on the rivers” (Ps 24:1-2).
On the first day of time, God’s Spirit moved over the waters (Genesis 1:2). Before he created dry land, he worked with the waters, adding the light and sky that give them so much of their beauty and separating the rain and snow of the heavens from the seas of the earth (Gen 1:3-10). God’s answer to Job’s questionings had more to do with God’s creation, control and use of water than any other subject (Job 38-41).
Think of the hydrology of God. He cleansed the world by flood. He parted the Red Sea and the Jordan. Much of the early story of God’s people takes place beside desert pools and springs, the wells of Isaac and Jacob, the Nile, the Jordan, the Rivers of Babylon, the Sea of Galilee, and the Mediterranean Ocean. Elijah, in a time of serious drought, poured out his remaining water on Mount Carmel in an entreaty to the Lord to send fire and then rain. Jesus, in moments of pure joy, changed water into wine and walked on the water.
Water is a manifestation of God’s redeeming, sustaining grace. Water seeks out the low places and softens or wears away what is hard. It cleanses and heals. It revives. It sweeps away death and enables new life. The sacrament of water baptism demarcates the beginning of our new life in Christ from the end of our old life of sin (Rom 6:4).
All known life forms depend on water to some degree. The metabolic processes of human life require water to convert food to fuel and energy. Water also serves as solvent in our bodies to cleanse organs and carry away wastes. God uses water to sort things out in our lives just as he did for the world in the beginning.
I once worked for a woman whose father was seriously wounded in World War II. The Army surgeons wanted to amputate his legs. He refused, obtained a discharge and returned to his native Eastern Oregon where he took his family high into the Wallowa Mountains. They camped for an entire summer beside a snow-fed stream. He soaked his torn, nearly gangrenous legs in the icy water for hours a day. He walked away from that stream at the end of that summer of healing.
Does anything satisfy quite like a cold glass of water on a hot day? Can anything rejuvenate a weary, sweaty body like a plunge into a cool pool? Water is so basic and necessary that Jesus chooses it as the enduring symbol of eternal life. Jesus’ final word of Revelation includes an invitation for “anyone who wishes to come take the water of life as a gift” (Rev 22:17). We will spend eternity beside the “river of the water of life” that originates in the throne of God and runs through the middle of the street of Heaven (Revelation 22:1-2).
The water of Christ is an incalculable flow of immeasurable power. The prophet Isaiah sings of this grace:
a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
nor stately ship can pass.
For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler,
the Lord is our king; he will save us” (Isaiah 33:21-22).
A galley with oars represents hard work, perhaps slave labor, rowing upstream. A stately ship represents the best human attempt to deal with the water. But note the key truth in this text, God himself is the water that will carry us where our best efforts will not take us–to Salvation.
You see, it is not enough to say that Christ will give us the water we need to fill and carry us. He is more than our Life-Giver, he is the Life (Jn 14:6). He is more than our Savior. He is our Salvation (1 Cor. 1:29-31). Isaiah wrote this truth in beautiful poetry.
I will trust, and not be afraid.
for the Lord God is my strength
and my might;
he has become my salvation.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day:
Give thanks to the Lord,
call on His name;
make known his deeds among the nations
proclaim that his name is exalted.
If one possesses the Source, the supply is not an issue of concern. This is God’s message of grace from Eden to eternity and Jesus delivers it to the Samaritan woman with the illustration of an artesian fountain upwelling within her with an abundant eternal flow.
She has come to the well thinking that she needs a drink to live. Instead, Jesus offers her limitless life, gushing wild and free within her soul.
It is an astounding offer, lavish, but unbelievable, except that he says it with a quiet authority that takes command of the driest crevices of her heart. He places no qualifying conditions on the offer, makes no demands on her. His only contingency is acceptance of the gift. To accept means she must believe him because his “I will give” makes him inseparable from the gift.
Each day she walks the path to the well. It is worn smooth by centuries of trudging feet. Every step, uneven place, toe-stubbing rock, overhanging shrub and gnarled sycamore is familiar to her.
She comes to draw the water essential for life and cleanliness. Her load is light with an empty jar on the way there; heavy and carefully balanced on the way back to protect every needed drop and the jar itself from loss.
Her daily walk to the well is like the relationships that have cycled through her life. Empty, but hopeful, at the beginning; protective, defensive, against loss; and then too quickly gone, leaving only the warm, brackish residue of regret that there isn’t more. Thirst is the defining focus of her life, exhausting in its requirements.
It occurs to her in this instant that she is tired–weary to the bone. She craves a change, a rest, a quenching. There is nothing more she wants than what he is offering. It is the moment of decision, unplanned, but real. The choice is simple after a lifetime of complications. “Yes,” she thinks. “Why not? Of course.”
“Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or having to keep coming back here to draw water.”
A dam bursts somewhere upstream of her soul. The flood rushes over the carefully-tended banks and cuts a new channel through her life. Thirst is no longer a problem. She plunges in.
“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,