That’s similar to many people’s relationship with God. They try to please God and make God happy. So they try to do good things to accomplish this. But there’s a problem. Trying to earn God’s favor by the works you do is like drinking saltwater when you’re thirsty. It only makes things worse. It only brings death on faster — spiritual death.
No, when you’re stuck on a life raft in the middle of the ocean, you need fresh water. And how wonderful it is when you find it! And all you need in your relationship with God is his wonderful promise. God promised to be with you. God promised to send you a Savior. God promised you that in Jesus your sins are forgiven, you have new life in him, and your eternity is guaranteed. You can’t make yourself right with God; God already did it for you in his one and only Son. So don’t look to yourself; look to him. Drink in God’s promises!
Our text finds Jesus traveling. He was going from the area of Judea in the south (where Jerusalem was) to the area of Galilee in the north (where his hometown of Nazareth was). So on this travel, Jesus went through Samaria. Samaria was a foreign nation that most Jews hated. In fact, even though the fastest route from Judea to Galilee was through Samaria, many Jews took the long away around, just to avoid Samaria.
But not Jesus. He knew he had work to do. He came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour. (Jn. 4:5-6)
It’s so easy for us to take things for granted in our lives and then to transfer that to the world at the time of the Bible. We take traveling for granted. We take it for granted that you can jump in a car and get where you want to go relatively quickly. Not so in biblical times. Jesus and his disciples were traveling from Judea to Galilee, and it was a long trip! They didn’t ride anything; they walked. It’s hot there. This would’ve been exhausting. Our text says it was the sixth hour, which was probably John’s way of saying noon. So in the heat of the day, Jesus was tired out. His disciples were out looking for food, and he sat down on a well.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” (Jn. 4:7) Here are more examples of things we take for granted in our modern world. You want a drink? Well, here at church you can get water from the drinking fountain, or from any one of the eight sinks we have in the building. And you get water from them all almost instantly. Now think back to Jesus’ day. The well he was sitting on was a working well. You had to put a bucket or something like a bucket on a rope, lower it down into the well, and then pull the water up. This would’ve been a grueling process, especially in the heat of the day, especially if you were getting enough water to cook with or bathe with.
And that’s not the only thing that we might take for granted here. In our world, a man saying a couple words to a woman isn’t a big deal. But it was in Jesus’ day. First of all, Jews almost never talked to Samaritans, because they normally hated each other so much. Then, men almost never talked to women they didn’t know. It just didn’t happen. The woman herself was so surprised that Jesus would even speak to her that she asked about it.
But Jesus turned the conversation to something else. If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water. (Jn. 4:10) Jesus threw a lot of ideas at this woman in this little sentence. Here she thought he wanted a favor from her, but he brought up the gift of God, then mentioned how Jesus would have been happy to give her not regular water, but living water.
It’s not surprising that this left the woman a little confused. “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water?” (Jn. 4:11) It’s a fair question. The woman was confused and thought Jesus was talking about actual water. He wasn’t.
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 become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn. 4:13-14) Jesus is speaking to a spiritual truth here. He’s saying that he has something to give that will take away all our need to work again. Remember, drawing water out of a well takes a lot of work. Jesus is saying that the need for your working to continue will be gone when he gives you his gift. It will in fact lead to eternal life.
The woman still didn’t get it. She said, Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water. (Jn. 4:15) She didn’t get the spiritual truth that Jesus was getting at. She didn’t get that he, Jesus would bring a gift that wouldn’t require anything on our part, but would be all done by him.
Jesus is the ultimate promise of God. Jesus is God’s promise saying your works are nothing, but God’s work is everything. In Jesus God promises us that we never have to look to ourselves, we never have to count on our own abilities or actions to save us or condemn us. Instead, we have Jesus. And God has even given us the ability to believe and trust in him. That’s a promise! So drink in God’s promises!
But there’s still a tricky thing for us. We tend to not think we really need God’s gifts. Or, let me put that another way: we tend to not think we are completely dependent on God’s gifts. We know God is with us. We know he blesses us. We know he sent his son Jesus to save us. We believe in him. Those are all great things.
But at the end of the day, we’re still thankful that we’re pretty good. We still say, “well, at least I was in church today unlike…that other person.” “At least I’ve never done this like so and so did.” We give ourselves just a little bit of credit. Maybe we would never think it out loud, but there’s an idea that, “God must be happy with me because I’m doing the right thing.” That’s a dangerous thought to have.
It’s like we’re in that life raft in the middle of the ocean. We know the saltwater won’t quench our thirst, but after a while it starts looking good. After a while in this sinful world, as we see all the problems around us, our own works start looking good. We think maybe, just maybe, God thinks they’re pretty good, too.
We can bring nothing to God to save ourselves. Nothing! If you’re trusting in yourself; you’re not trusting in Jesus. Because he is the Savior. He’s not a helper; he’s not an aid that gets us where we need to be. He’s the Savior who brings us the whole way.
That’s why we need the law. Jesus knew that. His conversation with the woman in our text sounds a bit awkward when we first hear it. He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (Jn. 4:16-18)
This woman’s behavior may almost seem tame by today’s standards, but her sinful lifestyle was wrong and Jesus called her on it. He didn’t do it to make her feel guilty or somehow hurt her self-esteem or to be judgmental of her life-choices. No, the point is, he showed her that she was not perfect that she needed help outside of herself to make her right with God again.
We need the same thing. It doesn’t need to be the same thing that this woman dealt with. The fact is, you are sinful. You are flawed. You offend the one true God every single day in your own way. Your sins separate you from him. Without him you are lost forever, adrift in a sea of your own sins. With water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.
So drink in God’s promises! Drink in his sure promise that you are forgiven. That Jesus’ perfect life, his suffering, his crucifixion and death were all for you. Drink in the promise that because Jesus rose, because he lives, you will live. You have eternal life only through him!
Drink in that promise! That doesn’t mean we don’t try to obey him or don’t do good works. Not at all! Actually, now we can do works that are truly good because we’re not trying to earn eternal life for ourselves, we’re thanking Jesus for earning it for us! That’s the motivation for how we live. And it’s God’s promise that he will work in you by his spirit to produce those works. Even that comes from him.