“Living Water” — Perfect Refreshment for the Sin-Parched Soul
“Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall
never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him
a well of water springing up into everlasting life.” — John 4:14
As our blessed Savior manifested Himself to the world in His holy Epiphany as the long-promised Messiah, as the God-appointed and God-anointed Redeemer of sinful men, He often identified Himself as such in picture language. Each picture portrayed Him in His relationship to poor sinners here in this world. Some were “a shadow [picture] of things to come” (Colossians 2:17), painted, as it were, by God’s prophets in the Old Testament, hundreds and even thousands of years before Jesus’ incarnation. Some of those images include Jesus pictured as the “Light of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 42:6), as “the Dayspring from on high” of whom Zacharias sang (Luke 1:78), that is, the dawning light of spiritual day, “to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death” (v. 79), as “the Lamb of God” to whom John the Baptist pointed (John 1:29), portrayed already in the Jewish Passover (Exodus 12:3, 13) as the perfect sacrifice to rescue poor sinners from bondage and from the plague of death, and as “the Sun of Righteousness” (Malachi 4:2), casting His bright and warming rays on a sin-darkened world.
And Jesus Himself provided many other such pictures in the New Testament Scriptures, to remind us constantly of our utter dependence upon Him for salvation. He pictured Himself, for example, as “the Bread of Life” for starving souls (John 6:35), “the Door” by which we enter into heaven itself (10:7), “the Vine” into which we have been grafted as tender branches and from which we receive life and strength to bear good fruit in abundance (15:5), and so on.
In Jesus’ Epiphany or manifestation of Himself to the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, we find another such picture of our Savior and His relationship to poor sinners. The setting in which this encounter takes place is used to full advantage by Jesus, as He pictures Himself, both to the woman and to US, as a fountain —a fountain of “living water” (John 4:10) — perfect refreshment for the sin-parched soul. This water, which only He can provide, relieves the sinner’s guilty thirst, as he staggers under the searing wrath of God; and it endures as an inexhaustible refreshment to the very gates of heaven itself.
In the narrative presented in John chapter 4, we encounter Jesus as our perfect example in Christian missionwork. In fact, as we read and analyze Jesus’ method in how He approached the woman at Jacob’s well, we see in Him the perfect “textbook” on personal mission work, which we would do well to emulate in our search for mission prospects and in our way of approaching and engaging them. Jesus shows us first of all that, if we want to get any mission work done, which, after all, is our priority task as His disciples (Acts 1:8; Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15; etc.), we have to be up-and-doing, not just sitting back and waiting for prospects to come to us. Jesus was constantly “on the move” as our Good Shepherd, seeking the lost and retrieving them for His flock. Mission work is no easy job, even on a one-to-one basis; and even our Savior, in His State of Humiliation, often became weary and worn out from preaching and teaching, from exhorting and beseeching. In John’s narrative we observe Him taking a break at noontime, sitting down on the edge of Jacob’s well just outside the city of Sychar, and waiting for His disciples, who had gone into town to pick up something for lunch. Having no means of getting water out of the well, He put His thirst on “hold” and just rested.
Soon the solitude was broken, however, as a woman of Samaria with pitcher in hand arrived on the scene to draw water; and “Jesus saith unto her: ‘Give me to drink.’” Jesus used both His own thirst and the woman’s obvious ability to help Him out as a sort of “ice-breaker” by which to engage her in conversation— a technique that you and I can easily learn from His example as we set out to be missionaries for Him. It doesn’t require a lot of talent and special training to talk even to a stranger about the ordinary things of life, does it? And so that’s often a good place to start.
“Then saith the woman of Samaria unto Him: ‘How is it that Thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.’” The conversation was barely off the ground, and they hit a snag! And what was it but plain old prejudice! “You Jews think that we Samaritans are the scum of the earth, unclean, and not worth a second glance —just because 500 years ago many of our people escaped the Babylonian Captivity, intermarried with heathen tribes round about us, and now have both a mixed race and a mixed religion. Normally speaking, you wouldn’t even touch my pitcher, much less drink out of it! And now you want me to draw you a drink of water? What’s with you anyway?”
Here indeed was a lost soul —a five-time loser in marriage (as we learn later on in this chapter), now living with a sixth man in an adulterous relationship. She was a “slut” by reputation —the women of the city had nothing to do with her, just the men— and her religion was a hodge-podge of truth and error, of faith and superstition, of Messianic Old Testament Christianity and plain paganism! No one who valued his good name in the community and in the church would have anything to do with the lady! (Perhaps even we today would give such a person the “cold shoulder” and look for a more up-and-coming prospect. Indeed, because of our rotten sinful flesh, we too find ourselves being rather “selective” in the people we target for our mission work; and in this incident the Lord Jesus shows us the very opposite example!)
The Lord Jesus, who, as the omniscient Son of God, knew all those things about the woman and even more, was interested in her, just as He is interested in you and me, who, by the perfect standards of God’s holy Law, are certainly no better! “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God,” the Bible tells us (Romans 3:23). “There is NONE that doeth good, no, NOT ONE!” (v. 12). Indeed, if we were judged according to our worth by nature and by the deeds we do, we would have more “heat” coming from God than the scorching heat of the Middle East at noon time! For the Bible says: “The wages of sin [what we have earned as sinners] is death” (Romans 6:23) —everlasting death in the fire of hell! To be sure, it is our guilt, as we see ourselves in the mirror of God’s holy Law, that parches our spiritual throats with the searing heat of God’s anger and makes us thirst for even one drop of cooling, soothing water to relieve our anguish!
“Jesus answered and said unto her: ‘If thou knewest the Gift of God and who it is that saith to thee, ‘Give me to drink,’ thou wouldest have asked of Him, and He would have given thee living water’” (John 4:10). Jesus knew just what this poor wretched sinner needed: The pure and “living water” of His Gospel —the good news of salvation for helpless good-for-nothings —the glad tidings of the Christmas angel that the Savior, “Christ the Lord,” had made peace between man and God —that by His perfect life in our place and by His innocent suffering and death in our stead, Christ paid the ransom price demanded by His Father in heaven, so that God’s anger is stilled for Jesus’ sake, and He has declared His “good will toward men” (Luke 2:14). In other words, God has given us a pardon— as His free gift undeserved by us. And that’s precisely what Jesus calls it here in verse ten of John 4: “The GIFT of GOD,” free for the taking! “Living water,” life-giving, thirst-quenching water poured out by Jesus, our Fountain of Salvation!
But the woman of Samaria was skeptical —as are so many in our world today, who mistakenly think that they can and somehow must earn their way to heaven, and that salvation is NOT “the Gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). “The woman saith unto Him, ‘Sir, Thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep. From whence then hast Thou that living water? Art Thou greater than our father, Jacob, which gave us the well, and drank thereof himself, and his children, and his cattle?’” She was looking for the wrong water, wasn’t she? She was looking for water she could see, water she had to draw with her pitcher, water from the well that Jacob dug by his own works and drank out of as the result of his own labor! —And, oh, how close she was to the truth when she asked Jesus whether He was greater than the patriarch Jacob (v. 12). Why, it was Jacob who confessed to the Lord, Genesis 32:10, “I am not worthy of the least of all the mercies and of all the truth which Thou hast showed unto Thy servant.” He himself was saved not by his works but by the mercy of God in Christ.
“Jesus answered and said unto her: ‘Whosoever drinketh of this water [this earthly water] shall thirst again; but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst.’” Spiritual thirst brought about by guilt before God cannot be relieved by water dug by men or drawn by men. It gives only temporary relief, false relief, as sinners look away from the mirror of God’s law to themselves. But when sinners are forced to look back and face their corrupt reflection, they “thirst again,” Jesus says,—and again! Only the perfect refreshment of the Gospel of salvation by God’s grace, God’s gift in Christ, can relieve the thirst — as long as one drinks it and doesn’t just look at it — as long as one accepts that Gospel by faith, by real confidence of the heart. For then, no one, not even Satan himself, can any longer successfully accuse us to God and bring back that awful thirst of guilt. For Jesus promised the woman of Samaria, and promises us as well: “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall not thirst forever,” the Greek original says — shall not suffer the eternal thirst, the shame and contempt and everlasting estrangement from God in hell.
And Jesus, our Fountain of “living water,” will not dry up on us like the wells of this world —He will not let us down like the assurances of this world in which people trust day by day. For Jesus tells the woman concerning His precious Gospel: “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water (or better from the original language, “a fountain of water”) springing up into everlasting life.” The perfect refreshment for sin-parched souls will never run out. That water is not lying stagnant, as it were, at the bottom of some hole in the ground, with a limit on how much of it can be drawn off in a period of “spiritual drought.” For, while that is often the case with shallow, hand-dug wells here in this world, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, is the eternal, unchangeable, almighty Son of God —a veritably inexhaustible supply of “living water,” as from an active artesian well, bubbling up and overflowing in abundance “into everlasting life” —a supply that will last until we have crossed over the barren wilderness of this sin-ridden world to the very gates of Heaven itself!
Earthly comforts and assurances can’t make and stand behind such a claim! The value of money fluctuates on a daily basis, stocks go up and down, and even the value of the gold that we are urged to have in our safes as a hedge against inflation rises and falls, so that the Bible calls it “gold that perisheth” (I Peter 1:7). Companies fail; health declines; friends desert us at the drop of a hat; and the “good times” are gone —dried up, evaporated into thin air like a shallow pool of water in the desert! And people who cling to such things for comfort, and live for such things their whole life long, will find themselves with parched, burning throats when they stand one day at death’s door; and their dry, brittle voices will be unable to make one “peep” in their own defense before the judgment throne of God!
They will not have the “gift of God” to rely on, because they rejected it in unbelief; they will not have Christ’s “living water” to quench their burning guilt, because they refused to drink of it when it was offered to them; they will not have “everlasting life” to look forward to, because they despised it in favor of the here-and-now. Oh, how foolish such people are who ignore the indictment of God’s Law and then wantonly cast aside the free pardon granted by Him to all men in the Gospel! And how doubly tragic the day of reckoning will be for those who once tasted the “water of life,” bathed their parched souls in its blissful refreshment, rejoiced in its comfort and assurance, and then, for the sake of some carnal gain or satisfaction, spued it out of their mouths, as if it had not been worth drinking in the first place! For “unto whomsoever much is given,” says Jesus, “of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48b).
And how about you and me, beloved fellow-sinners, wandering yet for an undetermined time in the wilderness of this wicked and perverse world? Are our spiritual canteens filled to the top with living, life-giving, and life-sustaining water? Do we drink from them regularly to keep up our vital spiritual strength? Do we fill them up at every opportunity at the bubbling fountain of our Savior’s precious Word? Are we constantly on the alert against those who would snatch those canteens from our hands and turn us on to other refreshment? Do we call out to fellow travelers and point them to the Fountain of Grace, so that they too can drink of the “living water” of the Savior’s Gospel? — Oh, my dear brethren, that sounds like a mighty long list of questions, doesn’t it? Sure it is! But it’s the ongoing inventory we must take of ourselves every day of our lives —without let-up— as we plod along as pilgrims in a barren land on our way to the heavenly Canaan above, where our true citizenship is, the inheritance bought and paid for by our Savior and received alone by faith in Him as our Redeemer. Continuance in His precious Word of life is crucial to our spiritual survival! Sacrificing it for any earthly consideration is spiritual suicide, more deadly than tossing away a full canteen on a Death Valley crossing!
Let us therefore implore our Lord and Savior to keep the fountain of His precious grace freely bubbling among us in the years to come, that, holding fast to His Word, we may never thirst but find enduring comfort and refreshment for our souls unto everlasting life! To that end we pray:
Preserve Thy Word and preaching, the truth that makes us whole,
the mirror of Thy glory, the power that saves the soul.
Oh, may this living water, this dew of heavenly grace,
sustain us while here living until we see Thy face. Amen.
(TLH 264, 5)
— D. T. M.