In John 4, Jesus is traveling through Samaria and encounters a woman at a well. He asks for a drink. At first glance, that might seem reasonable enough but by interacting with a Samaritan woman, Jesus was going against cultural norms.
As the passage continues, we discover that it’s ultimately not a story about water.
In verse 10, Jesus will totally change the subject from well water and instead point the woman to who he is and what he has to offer.
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.”
Jesus points out that she doesn’t know who he is. He’s not so much judging her for that, but he’s directing her to what she should be asking of him.
Jesus uses the phrase gift of God. The Greek word for gift which is used here is found 11 times in the New Testament. Each time, it refers to a gift which has been graciously bestowed by the Lord.
Jesus is referring to the gift of eternal life which comes from God through Jesus and the lifelong Spiritual renewal which was to be bestowed upon people through the Holy Spirit. Jesus says that if this woman recognized who he was and knew what the gift of God was, she would want this gift, and that he would have provided living water.
Quite the statement to make to a person he’s just met.
But what does he mean? What is living water? I think there are two facets to that answer.
First, the living water of which Jesus speaks is a reference to the Holy Spirit. That’s clear based on what Jesus says in John 7.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” 39 Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive
The Holy Spirit is undoubtedly rooted in the essence of living water. But I believe that this passage is implicitly getting at the work of all three persons in the Trinity in our salvation and sanctification.
All three persons are active in the process. If you don’t have faith, you don’t have the Holy Spirit, you don’t have living water. And if you don’t have God’s Holy Spirit, then you don’t have faith. You have not been born again, you do not have eternal life.
But the way to get living water is through the gospel and faith in Jesus.
Missing the point
The woman responds in verses 11-12:
“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.”
She misses the point! She looks at what Jesus has said in merely naturalistic terms.She considers the depth of the well and that Jesus doesn’t have any vessel to collect water.
How is it that Jesus could provide fresh water without the tools. How is Jesus to get water? Let alone living water?
It seems laughable. It seems like he’s making an impossible promise. They’re at Jacob’s well. Jacob, this venerated figure from the Old Testament. To the woman, it seems like he’s saying that he’s somehow greater than Jacob.
The irony is that Jesus is better than Jacob. And the water he provides is greater.
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.”
The water from the well will merely satisfy a physical need. But what Jesus is saying is that he provides the water that fulfills our Spiritual needs. It’s the water of salvation. It’s the water of grace. It’s the water of forgiveness.
And that when you believe in Jesus and trust in Jesus, the effort we put into justifying ourselves, the effort we put into trying to be good enough for God is forever quenched.
You must keep drinking regular water, returning to the well, the sink, the fridge, the water bottle. But Jesus eternally quenches our need for life and salvation with the living water that he provides because the water that he gives becomes a spring of water.
Because it’s from God and not our own efforts or merit, we cannot exhaust the supply.
The water that Jesus provides flows through the human soul.
And it wells up to eternal life.
And again, for Jesus, this language doesn’t come out of the blue.
Living water in the Old Testament
Jeremiah 17:3 refers to the Lord as a fountain of living water.
Isaiah 12:2-3 talked of a future time when the Lord would bring deliverance to his people and draw water from a well of salvation.
Behold, God is my salvation;
I will trust, and will not be afraid;
for the Lord God is my strength and my song,
and he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
Jesus gives us access to the living water and it is through Christ alone that we can have this living water because the only way we can have it is for him to give it to us.
Jesus has just told this woman something amazing.
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.”
The woman at the well and Nicodemus
In John 3, Jesus meets a Pharisee named Nicodemus. Nicodemus is a prominent Jewish leader and an expert in the law. He’s heard of Jesus and has come to find out more.
Jesus tells Nicodemus:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
Nicodemus also misses the point. He takes this rebirth literally. John 3:4:
Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?”
Just like Nicodemus, who when he was told that he needed to be born again, and responded by questioning how he could enter a second time into his mother’s womb, this woman is still merely looking at this as physical water.
Verse 16, Jesus changes the subject, but in doing that, he helps the woman see that he’s not merely talking about 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.”
This woman has had five husbands. And she has a sixth man who she lives with that’s not her husband.
Jesus knows. But she doesn’t know him. She’s never met him. Yet, he knows her background. He knows her situation. He knows her story. And in that, Jesus reveals to her that he’s not just some guy making grand claims. He reveals that he’s not just talking about water.
19 The woman said to him, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet.
Before this, the woman thought that Jesus was trying to offer her a way to an easier life. Never having to get water again.
But in Jesus showing that he knew her, he knew her life, and that he was pointing to something far greater.
The Samaritan woman and Nicodemus
Two encounters that Jesus has with two different people.
When considering these two stories side by side, it’s striking that these two people could not be more different.
Nicodemus is prestigious. The woman is part of a group who was hated.
Nicodemus is an expert in the Law. The woman has her sin exposed.
Nicodemus seeks Jesus out. The woman stumbles upon Jesus.
Nicodemus comes to Jesus at night. The woman finds Jesus in the middle of the day.
He’s a man. She’s a woman.
Nicodemus is mentioned by name. She’s simply called the Samaritan woman, or the woman.
Nicodemus never quite understands what Jesus is telling him. The woman grows in knowledge of who Jesus is throughout the passage.
But the one thing that they have in common is that they are both in need of Jesus.
The offer of salvation is there for both of them. The offer to be born again, the offer for living water. It’s for both of them. And not just for them, but the offer is for the whole world. To know Jesus, to follow Jesus, to believe in Jesus.
No matter how moral and righteous someone like Nicodemus was, Jesus told him “you must be born again” and that “unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
No matter how sinful the Samaritan woman was, Jesus could say to 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.”
No matter how righteous Nicodemus was, he still needed the saving grace of Christ.
No matter how much the Samaritan woman was looked down upon by society, Jesus still deemed her worthy of his grace.
Because we are all equally in need of grace. We are all dead in sin. And Jesus died for all who believe in him and his gospel.
With the gospel, you’re never so good that you don’t need grace, and you’re never so bad that you can’t have grace.
Are you going to the well of trying to justify yourself? Are you going to the well of self-righteousness?
Or have you believed in Jesus and been given the living water of eternal life?