These are not good days. Our culture is more and more divided. The fancy word for this is ‘identity politics’. It is creating a growing ‘us and them’. Rather than speak to an idea, those who adopt ‘identity politics’ are more interested in whose group you’re in. Partly it’s because we live in a world which is post-modern. It means we don’t share a common view on truth. So now we all retreat to own groups, whether it is ethnic, religious, or political. And the group that is the loudest, the rudest, or the funniest wins the argument. No one wants real conversations, because people attack the person for being in their group rather than discuss their idea. So if you’re in the wrong group, everything you say is wrong, no matter how well you speak on an issue. Rather than listening to an opinion, we just throw labels: “you racist!”, “you’re a feminist”, “you right wing bigot”, “you left wing trendy”. No one is listening to each other—there are just cheap and cruel one-liners thrown out on social media. As a result our culture is divided and we don’t care for the individual, hence the rude way people speak on Facebook.
It’s even more tragic when Christians mimic identity politics. This happens when Christians speak with the authority of the Bible on matters that the bible doesn’t speak on. This happens when they are just touting their group biases. The clue we are doing this is that we are failing to critique our own views and that we are failing to admire some positives in other groups’ views.
Friends, the only infallible position is that of Jesus. The only ‘–ism’ with which we label ourselves is ‘Jesus-ism’. Our core identity is not our political or ethnic group but Jesus. He alone cuts across every barrier and every group. And with Jesus the individual always matters. Notice in this passage that Jesus cuts across every barrier and every group—whether it is gender, religion, culture, or morality. In John chapter 4, Jesus speaks the truth tenderly to the individual person. For with Jesus. the individual matters. But notice how this Samaritan woman keeps reverting to ‘group-think’ to avoid the truth.
The Physical Thirst
Jesus meets this Samaritan woman at a well. He breaks protocol by asking an outcast Samaritan woman for water. He then he offers her living water, with the promise that she will never be thirsty again. That is an offer the Samaritan woman can’t refuse. John 4:15:
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (NIV)
She was an outcast in an outcast nation. She had five marriages under her belt, and her current one was a de facto. She may have been a victim of cheap divorces, or perhaps she played some part in moving from one man to another. Either way, these facts meant one thing—she was on the fringe of society and lived with shame. She had to wait until all the other respectable women had drawn water before she could. By that time it would be midday, and the sun bites hard in the Middle East. The well was deep, her mouth was dry, and she was tired. But she had misunderstood Jesus’ offer. John 4:13-14:
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (NIV)
Jesus contrasts his living water with the water that comes from Jacob’s well. The old has gone and the new has come. The water from Jacob’s well left the Samaritan woman thirsty and it always ran out. But the water that Jesus offers will never leave thirsty the one who drinks of it.
The water Jesus offered stands for the new covenant blessings that Jesus brings. These never run out. In John 7:36-39, the ‘living water’ is code for the Spirit. The Spirit would come to the disciples after Jesus died and rose again.
But right now, this woman is a long way off from understanding what Jesus means. She still thinks that her physical needs are her greatest needs. But Jesus looks deeper into her life and heart. She had a thirst that dug deep into her soul.
The Relational Thirst
Jesus gives her a command in John 4:16:
He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” (NIV)
The Samaritan woman tries to pretend with Jesus. “I have no husband”, she says, and Jesus agrees. He knows about the five husbands. Now she shares a bed with number six. Her life had become a sad and tragic story. She was a prime candidate for reality TV. There were many men but no husband. Jesus gently exposes her life. He knows her like no one else ever has. She eventually reports her encounter with Jesus to those in her village, in John 4.29:
“Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” (NIV)
Normally that would be scary, but for her it was thrilling. Finally, there was a man who knew her but didn’t want to abuse her.
Many years ago when I worked as a social worker I got to know a woman whose husband was a gambler and a drunkard. Every week her husband left the family without any money, and for years she was forced to endure the shame of going from one charity to another begging for money. One day she got fed up, so she picked up a .22 rifle and planted two bullets in him. He was lucky and survived. It had been six months and she was waiting for her case to come to court. And one day she told me, “Ray, I am going back to him.” I was so shocked, so I said “Why? You nearly killed him!” I will never forget her words. “Half a marriage is better than no marriage at all.”
How empty was this woman soul? How badly was she treated, that she would think that how she was treated was ok? The light of the world had shone on the misplaced longings in her tragic life. Like that country and western song says, she was “looking for love in all the wrong places, looking for love in too many faces”.
Jesus knows her—just as Jesus knows you inside out. There are no dark corners kept from his sight, no skeletons in our closets that he hasn’t seen, and no wounds that he is unaware of.
Yet as Christians, we still play our hiding games. We run away from him, failing to tell our stories to our Father in heaven. We hide behind lines like, “God knows anyway, What is the point?” But the real reason is that we don’t want to feel the pain again, so our faith remains stunted and our heart remains closed.
Jesus knows you, so delight in him. There is no part of you that only you know. There are parts of you that only he knows. You may feel alone, but as you come to Christ you come to the one who gets you.
When my kids were growing up, each week I had one on one time with each of them. The girls often wanted me to play the same guessing game: “Dad, guess what’s my favourite colour. Dad, guess who are my three best friends. Dad, who is my favorite teacher?” They wanted their Dad to know them.
Finally, the Samaritan woman stood in front of a man who knew her. Finally she had met the man of her dreams. You notice that Jesus does not rebuke her. John 3.17:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (NIV)
Jesus had come to save this woman from her own slavery—not just from loneliness but from sin and death. Jesus offers to quench a thirst and meet a need that she had probably never recognized. Her dry mouth and the distant well were not her only problems. Even her five husbands and her present de facto were only symptoms of the problem.
Her ultimate need was not to be in the arms of the perfect bachelor but the loving God. She had a God shaped hole that no man could fill. As Augustine said, “Our souls are restless until they find their rest in God”. She had made the most common mistake: she had turned her men into gods, and as every woman soon realizes, men make lousy gods. Her greatest need was for eternal life, to know the true and living God, and his Son the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus offered her a satisfaction that is only found in true worship. It is probably the last place she even thought of looking.
In my late teens, when my almost-fiancée ended our relationship I battled with a broken heart for two years. I thought I just needed to find another lover. My broken heart was only mended by worshiping Jesus, my Lord and my God.
The Spiritual Need: Worship
Jesus got too close to this women, so she redirects the conversation. She is playing ‘identity politics’. She brings up the fact that she is a Samaritan and that Jesus is a Jew, and discounts what he is saying by putting him in the ‘Jewish box’. John 4:9:
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.) (NIV)
Why was there this hatred between the Jews and the Samaritans?
First, the Samaritans were renegade half-cousins who had intermarried with those whom the Assyrians had brought into the land. It was said that even if the shadow of a Samaritan fell on the shadow of a Jew, the Jew was deemed to be unclean.
Second, the Samaritans and the Jews worshipped God differently and so worshipped a different God. The Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerizim, but the Jews worshipped in Jerusalem. The Jews didn’t help matters by destroying the Samaritan temple around 100 plus years previously.
Third, the Samaritans held only to the first five books of the Bible, Genesis to Deuteronomy, but ignored the other 34 Old Testament books. They ignored from Joshua to Malachi. God had spoken too much and they had listened too little. So Jesus pulls her up, John 4.22:
You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. (NIV)
Jesus is clear. Salvation comes from the Jews. It doesn’t come from the Macedonians, Malaysians, or Malawis. It doesn’t come for Mohammed, Buddha, or Confucius. The Jews and nobody else were the vehicles for God’s truth. Her people the Samaritans had got it badly wrong. That was not just an opinion but the decision of God in the flesh. The Samaritans worshipped a God they did not know.
Worship is built on truth. Sincerity is not enough. Jesus now radically redefines ‘worship’, in John 4:21:
“Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. (NIV)
This was revolutionary! A day was coming when the long drawn out argument between the two groups, the Jews and the Samaritans, was about to become irrelevant. True worship has always been on God’s terms, but now the terms have changed in this one fundamental respect. True worship is not about a place but a person. It’s not about Jerusalem but Jesus. There is not a place on the face of the earth, nor a building, nor part of a building that will bring you into the presence of God. The question is not where you worship but who you worship. The old has gone and the new has come. John 4:23-24:
Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.” (NIV)
The point here is that no one tells God how he is to be worshipped. He tells you. True worship is about relating to God, Gods way, on God’s terms. True worship is the only worship with which the Father is pleased. True worship is in the Spirit and according to the truth. It is according to the truth that tells us that Jesus is the only saviour of the world, and that it is the Spirit who opens our eyes to the truth that Jesus is the savior of the world. We do not tell God how he is to be worshipped—he tells us. That is basic to every friendship.
Have you ever received a present from someone you did not like? The present itself made it clear that when the person was buying the present, the last person that they were thinking about was you.
My friend Archie spoke at MBM’s 27th anniversary this year. But for my thirtieth birthday he bought me this … thing. It is a 45 centimeter tall piece of modern art, half pig and half human, with a sombrero hat. Let me tell you that this is one of the best presents I ever got. How so? Well, a few months before my thirtieth birthday, I was walking with Archie down King Street in Newtown. We walked past a modern art shop, and I saw it in the window, and I stopped and mentioned to him that I liked it. He said to me that he thought it was the ugliest thing he had ever seen. But months later, when I opened his birthday gift, there it was! Archie loved me by relating to me on my terms not his. This is why so many marriages and friendships are struggling. We are not listening and we are not loving people their way.
One of the best presents I ever got my wife Sandy was a big expensive red wheel barrow. You laugh because you don’t know my wife. She loved it. But I had a friend who heard what I did. So he goes out and buys his wife a second hand whipper snipper. It did not go down well. I said, “Bro, you’re not married to my wife. You do not tell your wife how she is to be loved. She tells you.”
You do not tell God how he is to be worshipped. He tells you, if you want to engage in true worship.
Jesus is saying to you today, “I am the Christ, the savior of the world”. If pleasing the Father is your concern, then trusting Jesus is your only response.
So worship is not just a 30 minute praise time on a Sunday. Worship is about being in a living, loving relationship with Jesus as king and saviour.
Notice firstly that this woman’s first worship instinct is to tell her people, “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did”. One of our sisters at church asked a woman she knows, “Would you like to read the Bible with me?” The woman said, “Yes”. She is a neo-Nazi. We must cross every barrier for Jesus.
Notice secondly that this woman’s greatest worship challenge is to be satisfied with her savior, to no longer drink in stagnant pools and to resist the urge of turning lovers into idols and her spouses into gods. To whom shall we go, he alone has the words of eternal life.
Notice thirdly that her ultimate worship calling is to be thankful, knowing that Jesus out of his own thirst would give life to this woman. The Samaritan woman’s thirst for love and relationship with God could only be quenched at the expense of his thirst. For at the cross, alone and forsaken, Jesus cries out, “I am thirsty”. Out of that thirst, he poured forth his Spirit on you.