A troubled women once told me that her life was like an onion. A psychiatrist helping her, led her to peel off layer after layer of her life until she was fearful that soon she would reach the centre and discover there was nothing there except tears. I think the woman of Samaria we read about in John would have agreed with her. She, like most of us, was looking for happiness, but it kept eluding her.
Her current man was number six. Our modern permissive society is not new. Modern sexual liberation is simply old immorality. She hoped love would make her life worthwhile, but every relationship had turned sour. Now she was growing older and men friends were turning to younger sport. She would give anything to relieve her depression. She felt insecure, lonely, dissatisfied. Take the wretched water pot she had carried from the village for instance. There it stood, empty again. She had filled it yesterday. She would fill it again tomorrow. It was like her life - a symbol of never-ending thirst. She would spend the remainder of her days filling that pot and at the end its appetite would be as insatiable as ever. Empty. Empty again. That was her water pot and that was her. (Roy Clements)
1. MANY PEOPLE POSSESS EMPTY LIVES.
Kirk Douglas, the Hollywood actor, said his life was like the script of a second-rate movie. "It is that corny, if someone offered me the screenplay of my life to film I'd turn it down flat." There are millions of people with lives far less exciting than Kirk Douglas' who would say something similar. They are bored - bored out of their minds by the sheer tedium of existence. They are empty, "hollow men" as T S Eliot called them.
The irony is they do not even know what it is that they really want, let alone where to find it. They try another job, another marriage, alcohol, drugs, the latest fantasy movie, the hypnotic stupor of the TV screen, gambling, holidays, the Mills and Boon romance. But nothing works! These things offer only temporary escapes. The emptiness remains. This is the inner anguish of millions, who daily peel off the layers of their onion-like existence only to discover nothing but tears.
2. JESUS CAME TO SATISFY OUR INNER NEED.
The theologians of "The Jesus Seminar" have explained Jesus in all kinds of pictures, as a sage, a religious genius, or a social revolutionary. But as M.J.Wilkins writes "These portraits, though clearly drawing their energies from live wires in the Gospels, leave us with a Jesus who is not big enough to explain His crucifixion, His following, or the development of the church. If we today are going to be honest about Jesus, we have to choose a Jesus who satisfies all the evidence historians have observed and who will also explain why it is that so many people have found him to be so wonderful that they attend churches every week to worship him." (p68) One basic problem I have with these theologians is they cannot explain a Jesus who satisfies our needs.
In 721 BC, when Israel was defeated by an Assyrian army of Tiglath-Pileser Ill, many Israelites were exiled and the land was repopulated with other defeated peoples. Over time, through intermarriage between the original Jewish settlers who were not exiled and the repopulated aliens, a people known as the Samaritans emerged in this region.
The exiled Jews and their descendants believed the Samaritans were neither ethnically pure nor religiously orthodox. The southern Jews dismissed the people of Samaria as half-breeds and heretics. By the time the Jews returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple and the walls of Jerusalem, Ezra and Nehemiah refused to let the Samaritans be involved. (Ezra 4:1-3; Neh. 4:7).
The Samaritans identified Mount Gerizim as the chosen place of worship, because of a tradition that Adam sacrificed there. Their scriptures were limited to the Pentateuch, the first five books of the Bible. Moses was regarded as the only prophet and intercessor in the final judgment. In the days of Christ, the relationship between the Jews and the Samaritans was greatly strained (Lk 9:52-54; 10:25-37; 17:11-19; Jn 8:48).
The animosity was so great that Jews bypassed Samaria as they travelled between Galilee and Judea, preferring the extra distance through the barren land of Perea on the eastern side of the Jordan to avoid going through Samaria. Yet Jesus rebuked His disciples for their hostility to the Samaritans (Lk 9:55-56), healed a Samaritan leper (Lk 17:16), honoured a Samaritan for his neighbourliness (Lk 10:30-37), praised a Samaritan for his gratitude (Lk 17:11-18), asked a drink of a Samaritan woman (Jn 4:7), preached to the Samaritans (Jn 4:40-42), Jesus challenged His disciples to witness in Samaria (Acts 1:8). Philip, a deacon, opened a mission in Samaria (Acts 8:5) and many were baptised as followers of Jesus Christ. Peter and John then visited the city in order to lay hands on the newly baptised so that they might receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus had a special regard for the Samaritans. Israel - both north and south - needed the Gospel, and their inner personal needs satisfied.
Jesus, on his way from Judea to Galilee, "had to pass through" Samaria. Yet Jesus, who was already in the Jordan valley went via the central hill country, a long detour. Sychar, the village mentioned has its own well and Jacob's well is 1000 paces away. Why did the woman not use the village well, but walked out about a kilometre to Jacob's well? Because she feared to use the local well because of the other women. Jesus, too, may have used this well, not wishing to encounter Samaritan hostility in the village itself. So two very different people, shunning the well closest to Sychar for very different reasons, met in momentous conversation.
3. THE SAMARITANS ARE STILL UNSATISFIED TODAY.
Samaritans today are the world's smallest minority. On Mt Gerizim, overlooking the turbulent Arab West Bank town of Nablus, a tiny community clings to its ancient rituals and dreams of more children to swell its numbers beyond the 561 surviving Samaritans. Girls are especially prized, for due to some curious genetic quirk, 60% of Samaritans are males.
It is a miracle the Samaritans, have survived at all. Invading armies of Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Muslims, Ottoman Turks, British and Israeli soldiers have fought on the stony hills of Samaria over 4,000 years. They alone are descended from the northern tribes of Israel, worship at Mt Gerizim, the Jews' first centre in Canaan, and they alone speak the authentic language of Jesus. The million Samaritans of 1,500 years ago, under Arab persecution, were reduced to only 561, yet, tenaciously, they preserve their rituals and language. The Palestinian-Israeli fighting on the West Bank has been particularly difficult for the Samaritans.
In Nablus, the largest and most radical town on the West Bank, it is difficult to be a Jew, but more difficult to be a Samaritan. So they shifted and today live on Mt Gerizim. They don't eat pork, separate meat and milk, keep the Sabbath, circumcise their boys and make sacrifices at the Passover. Samaritans recognise only the first five books of the Bible in the ancient form of Hebrew writing. This week, the Samaritan Passover rituals are being kept. Six sheep, representing the six Samaritan family groups, were brought to the summit of Mt Gerizim where they were slaughtered while the congregation raised its voice in prayer. The sheep's intestines were burned as a sacrifice on an altar. The Samaritan priests trace their ancestors back to Aaron the brother of Moses, 3,300 ago. They still dress in robes and turbans, like Islamic religious figures. (David Down "Archaeological Diggings") The Samaritans are without their land or rights, still awaiting a Redeemer, the most Orthodox of Jews, agonising over every death and the shortage of Samaritan wives. They are a people of needs.
4. JESUS STILL SATISFIES OUR NEEDS.
When Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman, He broke down barriers and satisfied her inner needs. Today Jesus still breaks down divisions and satisfies inner needs. Jesus, knowing her to be of dubious morals, not only spoke with her but promised to give her the water of eternal life. The result was the woman became the first evangelist telling her own people that Jesus was the Saviour. John 4:42 "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world."
Water was central in the life of every village. Here, early every morning the women gathered to draw water and late at night the flocks came to drink. It was the focal point of life, the reason why the village was built there, and the centre of community gossip. When Jesus came to Sychar and rested at their well, sitting on the round stone top that exists to this day, a woman, rejected by the other women of her town came out to the well at midday, long after the other women were resting from the heat. Jesus asked her to give Him a drink of water, and in so doing, crossed over social, religious, racial and sexual barriers that really amazed her: v9"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.)"
Jesus took that woman to spiritual depths:v10 "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." The woman could not understand how He could give water that was bubbling, running, sparkling - the spring water described as "life-giving" because there was no spring nearby and he had not even a bucket for well water and hers was empty. Jesus says: v13-15 "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 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." 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." She still had much to learn. She still had to discover spiritual life-giving water. Her life was as empty as her water-pot, but she knew Jesus could satisfy her needs.
She still had to face up to her own sin. She still had to discover that her old way of worshipping was not enough and that the Spirit of God could come to her. She still had to discover that Jesus was a prophet of God, and still had to witness to the women of the town who shunned her: v29 "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ ?" She still had to lead others to Jesus and see them believe because of her testimony. She still had to hear others declare their belief in Jesus 42 "They said to the woman, "We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world." All that was to follow. What was important, was that at that moment she desired to drink of the water of life!
Do you thirst after God like that? Do you wish you possessed that life-giving water? Do you want to find your deepest needs satisfied by Jesus? We Australians know the significance of water but how much more important is it to discover the water of life that springs up to eternal life! Yet so few seek the life-giving waters that alone satisfy. The pleasures of this world never satisfy. Like saltwater, the more we drink the more we crave, and the more we crave the more sure is our death.
Jesus alone gives life-giving water! And the life- giving water that Jesus Christ gives springs up to eternal life. If you were to peel off the layers of your life, would nothing be found at the very core except tears? Jesus Christ satisfies your deepest needs. Believe Him to be the Saviour of the world. Confess your sins to God and determine to live differently and drink of the water of life!
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
THE FIVE GOSPELS R W Funk, Macmillan 1993
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS P Barnett Aquilla 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
NEW INTERNATIONAL COMMENTARY:JOHN L.Morris Eerdmans 1971
JESUS WITHIN JUDAISM J H Charlesworth SPCK 1988
ARCHAEOLOGICAL DIGGINGS D.Down. Sydney 1995
Return to sermons home page