Menu Close

“The Deepest Need”

John 4:1-42
Bob DeGray
August 14, 2016

Key Sentence

Jesus is the provision for all our deepest brokennesses.


I. Introduction (John 4:1-6)
II. Seeing all kinds of brokenness (John 4:7-24)
III. Offering all kinds of renewal (John 4:25-42)


The video series we studied this summer, “Helping without Hurting,” opened with a diagram that amplified our understanding of poverty. When God created man, there were four perfect relationships. Relationship with God, relationship with others, relationship with self and relationship to the rest of creation. We could explore Genesis 1 and 2 to see those things, but I want to save that for another sermon. In fact, that will be the first sermon in the new series we start in September on God’s Big Story. And Genesis 3, which shows these same four relationships broken by the fall, will be second in that series. Then we’re see how God gradually worked out his plan to redeem us from this brokenness.

Because every human being in every generation has shared those four brokennesses. That includes the generation Jesus came to in the incarnation, and the one we live in. Every one of us has been broken. Everyone walks with a limp. Every one is separated from God, everyone is hurt by and hurts others, and everyone is at war with our own sinful nature, if we haven’t succumbed to it completely.

Everyone. In John chapter 4 Jesus meets a Samaritan woman. John 4:1 Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus was making and baptizing more disciples than John 2(although Jesus himself did not baptize, but only his disciples), 3he left Judea and departed again for Galilee. 4And he had to pass through Samaria. 5So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6Jacob’s well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour. 7A woman from Samaria came to draw water.

The sixth hour is around noon. Women don’t come to the well in the heat of the day. They come early and take turns drawing and they talk and gossip and laugh and all the women enjoy themselves. A woman doesn’t come to the well in the heat of the day. Unless you’re the woman they are gossiping about.

“There was a time when men were kind, when their voices were soft, and their words inviting. There was a time when love was blind, and the world was a song, and the song was exciting. There was a time. Then it all went wrong. I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high, and life worth living. I dreamed that love would never die. I dreamed that God would be forgiving. Then I was young and unafraid. And dreams were made and used and wasted. There was no ransom to be paid. No song unsung, no wine untasted. But the tigers come at night. With their voices soft as thunder. As they tear your hope apart. As they turn your dream to shame.”

“He slept a summer by my side. He filled my days with endless wonder. He took my childhood in his stride. But he was gone when autumn came. And still I dream he'll come to me, that we will live the years together. But there are dreams that cannot be, and there are storms we cannot weather. I had a dream my life would be, so different from this hell I'm living, so different now from what it seemed. Now life has killed, the dream I dreamed.”

Like Fantine in Les Mis, a tragic life had killed the dreams of this woman who came to the well. We know this not just because she came at noon, but because Jesus showed compassion by addressing her brokenness. He still does. Jesus is the provision for all our deepest brokenness, our separation from God, conflicts with others and hatred of ourselves. Jesus reaches out in compassion. Verse 7: A woman from Samaria came to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink.” 8(For his disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 9The Samaritan woman said to him, “How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)

The broken relationships in our fallen world are not just personal, but also systemic, ingrained separation and conflict. But Jesus defies those norms. Being thirsty himself, he simply asks for a drink of water. The woman, however, is aware of the distance between them. “How can you ask me for a drink. You’re a Jew and I’m a Samaritan woman.” Many of the ancestors of the Samaritans had come when Israel was conquered 700 years earlier. Their religion mixed paganism with the faith of the Jewish remnant. The Jews of Jerusalem and Galilee shunned these heretics. Eating with Samaritans was rare; sharing a drinking vessel with a Samaritan, especially a woman, was unheard of. In fact the Pharisees had decided that Samaritan women were unclean all the time.

But Jesus shatters the taboos. He ignores her social status in order to give healing and life. Verses 10-14: 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.” 11The woman said to him, “Sir, you have nothing to draw water with, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? 12Are you greater than our father Jacob? He gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did his sons and his livestock.” 13Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, 14but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus wastes no time on the barriers between them and instead speaks directly to the woman’s deepest needs. He says that if she had known who she was talking to she would have broken the taboo herself and asked him for ‘living water’.

This phrase can simply refer to fresh, running water, as from a spring. In a dry and arid land like Palestine, people flocked to a source of fresh water. But this ‘living water’ became a great metaphor, for God’s provision. In Jeremiah God says “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Yet he promises “I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour out my Spirit on your offspring.” He says “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!” Water is a metaphor of life for the spiritually thirsty. Jesus offers this woman life giving refreshment for her weary soul.

But the woman doesn’t hear this deep offer. She thinks Jesus is talking about a new source of fresh water. If he could provide that, he would be greater than Jacob, who dug the well. She’s skeptical. Jesus, on the other hand, longs to address her deeper needs. So he says “This is just water. You drink it, you get thirsty again.” But the ‘living water’ Jesus gives satisfies thirst forever, not natural thirst, but our much deeper needs. The water he provides becomes a spring of life for the inner person that will flow for all eternity. But despite her relational and spiritual thirst, the woman still focuses on physical provision. Verse 15 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.” Some commentators think she already gets the deeper side of what Jesus is saying and is asking for that. I don’t think so, but in any event, Jesus ignores the question to focus on her deepest needs.

Verses 16-24: Jesus said, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” 17The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; 18for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true.” 19The woman said “Sir, I perceive you are a prophet. 20Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.” 21Jesus said, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such people to worship him. 24God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”

Jesus wants to get to the heart of a person’s deepest need, their broken relationship with God. But in many cases our physical, relational or emotional hurts outshout God’s call. This woman’s marriages and relationships have led to brokenness not only with others, but also with herself. So in asking about her husband Jesus is moving closer to her real needs, her deepest poverty.

The woman’s answer, ‘I have no husband’ is her shortest comment in the whole conversation, but in its brevity I believe you sense her pain. She didn’t want to deal with her sin, guilt, hurt, brokenness. In verse 18 Jesus exposes this, though very gently. He commends her truthfulness while pointing out that she has in fact had five husbands, each of whom must have either divorced her or died, and that the man she lives with is not her husband. The woman is taken back by this precise knowledge. She tells Jesus he must be a prophet.

But she’s dodging the soul work Jesus has in mind. She uses his words as an excuse to change the subject to the place of worship. Sometimes we find it easier to talk theology than o deal with distressing, personal truths. I’ve known too many people whose theology was sharp, but whose personal life was a failure. A few months ago the man who led the missionary agency of the Evangelical Free Church resigned due to moral failure. He’d written books on ministry. His last book asserted that effective leadership had to come from a deep heart relationship with Jesus. But apparently this had been a sham for a while. The heart is deceitful, and when you get close to its deepest needs, it often changes the subject. And we can’t just warn others. This has to call me to examine myself. Do I have ongoing sin in my life that I just don’t want to talk about?

Yet the issue she raises is worthy. The Samaritans had had a temple on Mt. Gerazim, and though that temple was now destroyed, they still worshiped there. They saw that as the place God had chosen to be worshiped, not Jerusalem, not Mt. Zion. The woman asks ‘who’s right?’ But again, Jesus won’t be side-tracked. He takes the whole category of worship to a deep heart level. He says ‘believe me, ma’am, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.’ In other words, both sites are about to become outdated, so why debate? Nevertheless, Jesus asserts in verse 22 that the Samaritans are acting in ignorance when they worship on Mt. Gerazim, and the Jews in knowledge when they worship on Mt. Zion, because, Jesus says, ‘salvation is from the Jews,’ and the Samaritans had taken a wrong turn.

But in the time that is coming, Jesus explains “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.’ It’s not on one mountain or another, it’s at a heart level and in a true restored relationship. That relationship would be achieved by salvation, by the Jew Jesus’ death and resurrection. Even before that Jesus was seeking those who were ready to worship his Father in spirit and in truth.

Verse 24 explains what he means. God is spirit, he says. God is invisible rather than physical, divine as opposed to human, life-giving rather than life receiving, and unknowable unless he chooses to reveal himself. As spirit, God is not limited to one physical location. All places are equally valid places of worship.

And since He is spirit, the key part of worship is not physical but spiritual, not outward activity but heart response. Even in the Psalms David said “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” Worship grows out of renewed spiritual life, the restoration of a relationship broken at the fall. This is what Jesus, in his deep compassion wanted for this woman and wants for all of us. He wants to make come true the dream of a love that would never die and a God who would be forgiving.

So Jesus is the source of Living Water. He is the beginning of true worship, and, he is the Messiah, the Savior. Verses 25-30 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” 26Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” 27Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, “What do you seek?” or, “Why are you talking with her?” 28So the woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, 29“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” 30They went out of the town and were coming to him.

The Samaritans didn’t use the term ‘messiah’. But since they lived near the Jews, who did, they knew of the Jewish expectation. And the woman’s comment that the Messiah ‘will tell us all things,” was more Samaritan than Jewish: they expected a prophet like Moses, who would reveal truth. Since this Jewish stranger talked about theological and personal matters with such insight, he must be their Messiah. Jesus agrees. “I who speak to you am he.” Sometimes Jesus is reluctant to declare himself. But here, to a Samaritan, away from the Jewish political maneuvering, he is quick to admit his true mission.

At this point the disciples come back, and their astonishment that Jesus is talking to a woman and a Samaritan, even if unvoiced, is enough to cause her to break off the conversation. She leaves her jar and heads back into the town. There she calls anyone she can find, to meet the one she has met. I think she’s pretty smart not to come right out and say ‘this is the Messiah’. Instead she leaves it tentative, “could this be the Christ?” so her fellow townspeople can decide for themselves. Overcoming her social stigma and shame, she transparently says “he told me everything I ever did.” So they were intrigued. In verse 39, we find her witness bore fruit, as it will when people deeply encounter Jesus. Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. 41And many more believed because of his word. 42They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Many of the Samaritans believed, initially because of the woman's testimony. But during the days Jesus spent with them, the Samaritans heard truth themselves and believed for themselves, as all true believers must. You can’t piggyback on anyone else’s faith, your parent’s or your pastor’s or your peers’. When I first believed it wasn’t clear whether I trusted Christ or trusted Pete Fosberg, the pastor who led me to Christ. God allowed him to forget who I was so I would know who I could really depend on. Whether you are 8 or 80 your faith is personal, a relationship between you and Jesus. Listen to the Samaritans: “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”

Jesus is their Savior. Maybe he told them something like John 3:17, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” That truth would have great impact on the Samaritan woman, whose life was full of condemnation and self-condemnation, now given salvation and eternal life. And this would deeply impact the Samaritans. Jesus didn’t come only as the Savior of the Jews, but of all people, the savior of the world.’ Jesus is not limited by geography or race: he is anyone’s savior.

As we study compassionate outreach, we can’t lose sight of his offer of salvation. Poverty is not just material poverty but also spiritual, relational and emotional poverty. We’re all broken, we’re all impoverished, we all need salvation. That’s the priority Jesus taught his disciples. Verses 31-38. Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.” 32But he said to them, “I have food to eat that you do not know about.” 33So the disciples said to one another, “Has anyone brought him something to eat?” 34Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. 35Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. 36Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together. 37For here the saying holds true, ‘One sows and another reaps.’ 38I sent you to reap that for which you did not labor. Others have labored, and you have entered into their labor.”

While the woman was away gathering the people of the town, the disciples returned with food, urging Jesus to eat. But Jesus, though probably hungry, is so fired up by his conversation that he wants to them his priorities: “I have food to eat that you know nothing about.” Naturally the disciples misunderstand, thinking Jesus had gotten food elsewhere. So he clarifies: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me.” This is what I thrive on, my relationship with the Father, and I rejoice to see that relationship restored in the life of these Samaritans. I long not for a harvest of wheat, but of souls, all over the world.

He asks the disciples “Do you not say, 'Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Physically the fields nearby were just planted, but spiritually people like the Samaritans were ready for a Savior, and all it took was someone to come and do the Father’s work of transforming lives broken and ruined by the fall into restored lives. And it’s awesome that Jesus says this not while looking out over the fields of Galilee, but in Samaria. Even here “the reaper draws his wages, he harvests the crop for eternal life.”

The deepest need all of us share is the need for rescue from sin, for restoration of the poverty of a broken relationship with God. Therefore, when someone is born again into eternal life it is a cause for rejoicing to anyone who had a part in sharing the Good News with that person. Jesus implies that it is typical for one person to sow the seeds of faith, and another to reap them. We know from studies in our own day that it typically takes six or seven significant contacts with the Good News before a person is ready to place their faith in Jesus. Many faithful people will sow before someone has the chance to reap.

But it is what Jesus did in obedience to the Father makes the harvest possible. He himself is the answer to our deepest need, and he will do whatever it takes to draw us to faith. Most of the people we meet have a poverty of relationships, with self, with others, and with God. But Jesu restores broken relationships by his audacious sacrifice. Jesus is the living water that wells up to eternal life, that brings people to worship God in spirit and in truth. Only through Jesus can we, and the hurting people all around us, leave behind the brokenness and the poverty of the past. Compassion outreach, for us, is to share his heart for that restoration, longing for the many around us who are outcast and ashamed to find that living water and joy in their relationships.

Like many of you, I’ve been following the Olympics. I haven’t watched any, because I don’t have time or a TV signal. But I’ve been following the stories on the Internet. There have been a number of stories of brokenness and restoration. A few days ago I read a story from National Review to my family at the dinner table. It was about Simone Biles. “The 19-year-old American gymnast, who at 4 feet 9 inches and 104 pounds is one of the world’s greatest living athletes both in absolute terms and certainly on a pound-for-pound basis, was abandoned by her father and left to a drug-addicted mother who was not capable of caring for her.” “Her upbringing was chaotic. Biles bounced back and forth between state and foster care until she was six years old. In 2001, her grandparents, Ron and Nellie Biles, who are devout Catholic Christians, officially adopted Simone and her sister and moved them to Spring, Texas.”

“When she was six years old, [Simone] went on a field trip to a local gymnastics school, and that was that.” On Thursday Simone blew away the world’s competition to become the gymnastics all-around gold medal winner. But I keep thinking about her story not in terms of gymnastics, but in terms of adoption. We talked about it last week, and this is not that sermon, but her rescue and God’s provision of connected relationships both human and Godward, that’s compassionate outreach.

Another example from this year’s Olympics is Michael Phelps. The most decorated Olympian in 2168 years, Phelps retired with 18 gold medals after the 2012 Olympics. “But behind the extraordinary success, Phelps was wounded. His father had abandoned his family when Phelps was 9, something that continued to haunt him into adulthood.” And when he retired, he experienced a deep lack of purpose. Swimming had dominated his life since he was a child, and when it was over, he didn’t know what to do with his life. So he threw himself into partying, and drinking. On September 30th, 2014, Phelps was pulled over for driving 81 in a 35 with a blood alcohol level twice the legal limit. For the next five days, Phelps says he stayed curled up in his bedroom. “For a moment, I thought it was going to be end of my life. . . “I was like, it would probably be better without me. I just figured it was the best thing to do to end my life.”

That’s when friend and former NFL player Ray Lewis stepped in to help. In addition to encouraging Phelps that he could make it through his dark time, and advising him to seek the help of a rehab center, Lewis, who is public about his Christian faith, gave Phelps a book: The Purpose Driven Life, by mega-church baptist pastor Rick Warren.” That’s compassionate outreach, folks.

After checking into a rehab center, Phelps started reading the book – and it changed his life. Just a few days into rehab, Lewis says Phelps called him to talk about the book. “Man, this book is crazy,” Lewis says Phelps told him, “I cannot thank you enough, man. You saved my life.”

It’s not clear whether Phelps became a Christian, though it seems to have made him more aware of God: “It’s turned me into believing there is a power greater than myself,” Phelps told ESPN, “and there is a purpose for me on this planet.” In addition to pulling him away from suicide, the book and his time in rehab convinced Phelps to try to reconcile with his father, which he has done.

Compassionate outreach. Restoration of impoverished relationships. Celebrate that. And pray for Michael Phelps, that if he doesn’t know it yet he would soon know that Jesus is the higher power, the living water, the provision for all our deepest brokenness.