Transforming Light

  • Transforming Light
  • John 4:4-18
  • Bill Couch
  • February 21, 2016
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Jesus said, “I am the Light of the World.” During this season of Lent, we are looking at the theme of light that saturates the Gospel of John. The passage we are looking at today does not specifically mention light. In fact the whole conversation is about water. Light is essential for life as we know it and so is water. When scientists look for signs of life on other planets, one of the things they look for is any evidence of water. While this passage does not mention the word light, I think we can see as the story unfolds that it is an example of where Jesus brought light and life to a woman dwelling in darkness.


4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 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.7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) 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.) 10 Jesus answered her, “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.” 11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?” 13 Jesus answered, “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.” 16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” 17 “I have no husband,” she replied. Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 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.”

28 Then, leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people,29 “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?”  John 4:4-18 & 28-29

Jesus encountered this woman at the sixth hour—what we call high noon. It was broad daylight, but she was living in darkness. Darkness describes many conditions in life. For this woman, the darkness was being an outcast. In the first century Middle Eastern world, women were considered at best second class citizens. They were treated like property by their husbands. Women still struggle for equality today in many parts of the Middle East. They cannot leave their homes unless accompanied by a man. They cannot drive a car, much less vote. We have made great strides for the equality of women in our country, but much of that freedom has only come in the last 100 years—they were denied the right to vote until 1920.

This woman was an outcast—a lesser than—not only because she was a woman, but she was a Samaritan. The Jews rejected the Samaritans as half-breeds. When the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 BC, they forced most of the Jewish people into slavery and scattered them throughout the Assyrian Empire. A few of the lower class citizens were left behind. They began to intermarry with the Assyrians and worship their gods. They continued to worship Yahweh, but also the idols of other religions. When the Jews returned to Israel, they sought to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. The Samaritans wanted to help, but those who considered themselves “pure” Jews refused their help. The Samaritans were half-breeds who worshipped idols. So the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim and started worshipping there. There was a lot of animosity between Jews and Samaritans. This woman was an outcast because she was a woman and a Samaritan.

And there was another reason we know she was an outcast. She came to the well at high-noon in the heat of the day. Most of the women came to the well in the cool of the morning hours or late in the afternoon. It was also a social time, when the women carried on conversations as they drew water for their families. This woman came in the hottest part of the day when she knew no other women would be there. We can speculate that she had borne the brunt of their ridicule and gossip. They ostracized her because she had been married five times and was now living with a man out of wedlock. So not only did men and Jews ostracize her, but her own women as well.

Whenever we experience rejection and are left out, we know what darkness feels like. There are many outcasts in our world today. Refugees are fleeing Syria and parts of Africa due to oppression and mass killings by their governments. They are second-class citizens and they are fleeing for their lives. I know many are concerned about these refugees relocating near us because of the terrorists that infiltrate these groups. And it is a valid concern. Nonetheless, many refugees through no fault of their own are living in darkness and are looking for light.

Victims of bullying know what it is like to be rejected, to live in darkness. Some bully has put a target on them. These bullies label someone as lesser than, inferior. They belittle them, ostracize them, make fun of them and sometimes even physically assault their targets. It can get so severe that the person who is bullied commits suicide as the only way they know how to stop the pain. Whenever we feel rejection, we know what it is like to dwell in darkness.

This woman was an outcast–she was rejected by everyone—even her own people. Into her darkness came the Light of the World. Jesus began a conversation with this woman by asking for a drink. She had come to draw water from the well and Jesus was thirsty and tired. She was shocked and perplexed. She replied perhaps sarcastically, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink!” Jesus had just done something unheard of—he reached out to a total outcast—crossed all the lines of respectability for a Jewish rabbi.

Jesus replied, “If you knew who I was, you would ask me for a drink and I would give you living water.” She has no idea what he is talking about. She says, “How are you going to get this living water? The well is deep and you don’t have a bucket or a long rope!” Jesus keeps the conversation going and says that if she drinks the water from the well, she will get thirsty again. If she drinks the water he will give her, she will not be thirsty again. She is intrigued and says: “Give me some of the water you are talking about.” Jesus says, “Go get your husband.” “I don’t have a husband.” “You are right,” Jesus said. “You’ve had five husbands and the man you are living with now is not your husband.”

In this conversation, Jesus reveals that the way she is living her life will result in continuous thirst. She will never be satisfied or fulfilled. Jesus has not been talking to her about drinking water but about living water—what we really thirst for. We are all thirsty—craving for more than we can find in this world. Jesus says to her, if you keep drinking the same water you will never be satisfied. We will always want something different or something more! She was looking for satisfaction from men. At first she thought it was marriage. Each time she felt unsatisfied, unfulfilled, she left and went to another man. Then another and another and another. Then she gave up on marriage as a way to bring her the fulfillment she was looking for and just settled for a man without marrying him. If she could just find the right man—then she would be happy, fulfilled. She just kept drinking the same water and it never satisfied. She worshipped God. She even diverted the conversation with Jesus to talk about where it was appropriate to worship God on Mount Gerizim (where the Samaritan temple was) or in Jerusalem (where the Jewish Temple was). She worshipped God, but she needed something more than God to feel fulfilled. Tim Keller defines an idol as anything we have to add to Jesus in order to be fulfilled. We want Jesusand something else. God made it clear in the Ten Commandants that we were to worship only one God—to find our ultimate fulfillment only in him. “You shall have no other gods before me.”

If we feel unsatisfied in life—unfulfilled—it could be because we have allowed an idol to come into our lives. And like all idols it, requires more and more but it never delivers—we keep getting thirsty for more of the same. If our idol is cars—we have to have more and better cars, hoping each time it will bring us fulfillment. If I can just get this car, then I will have arrived. Every time it disappoints us. It could be houses, or jewelry, or books, or businesses or properties, or money, or clothes, or guns, or fishing equipment—it can be lots of things. All of those are fine to have—as long as we are not looking for real satisfaction in life from them. The sign that we may have allowed something to become an idol is if we are not satisfied with what we have and we start craving for more within a short period of time. What are your idols? As long as you seek them in addition to Jesus you will be thirsty for more. It could be success, or fame, or status, or prestige, or academic degrees, or even children. All good things—unless we have to have them in addition to Jesus to be satisfied and fulfilled. Whoever drinks those waters will thirst again. All of those things we have to strive for, spend money and time for—but they never get us what we are seeking.

Jesus said he could give us living water. “Give” is the key word. He uses it four times in his conversation with this woman. “10Jesus answered her, ‘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.’” (John 4:10) The water he gives will become a spring welling up to eternal life. Eternal life refers to more than being in heaven with God. It refers to the quality of life here and now. It is abundant life that Jesus offers us here and now. We don’t have to wait until we die to experience it! Eternal life is about a relationship with God. It begins right here, right now and gets better and better, deeper and deeper.

Only a relationship with God can quench our thirst for purpose. When we know our Creator has made us for a purpose—we are not a cosmic accident–then we have something worth living for. He has a plan for us and he has gifted us to join with him in bringing his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. You have a part to play in that plan—a unique contribution to making the world what he intended it to be. The only way you can do that is by finding your fulfillment in your relationship with God. You have been created for a reason. You have a purpose—and God will reveal that to you.

Only a relationship with God can quench our thirst for love. We remain thirsty for love because we look for love in all the wrong places. The Samaritan woman looked for ultimate love in men and marriage. We can experience wonderful love from a human being, but human love, even at its best, cannot satisfy our thirst for ultimate love. In order to feel fulfilled, we need unconditional love from someone who is always available and will never die or leave us or forsake us. We need someone to give us total acceptance, who is absolutely patient with us, totally committed to what is best for us. We need perfect love. And no human being can give us that. When we expect to receive that love from a parent or spouse or child or friend or pastor—we will always be thirsty. They cannot deliver. There is only one perfect parent who can satisfy our thirst for unconditional love–and that is our Heavenly Father.

Jesus says that the relationship with him is like a spring of water welling up to eternal life. There is a difference between a spring and a well. A well consists of a limited amount of water underground. And we can use it up. We are all aware that we may be using up the Ogallala Aquifer and we may run out of water.  A spring is a continuously flowing source of water. Jesus says he is like a spring, not a well. He will continuously fill us with purpose and love until our hearts overflow.

How do we get this relationship with the source of living water? It is almost so simple that we stumble over it. All of the other things in this world that we thirst for, we have to strive for. We finally figure out they are not what we are looking for—they will not satisfy. We hear Jesus offering us a gift—something we cannot earn and we don’t deserve. He simply says, “Open your heart and I will come in and fill you to overflowing with love and purpose.” All you have to do is accept the gift. And then thank him for it and begin to let him purge your heart of all the idols that have been accumulated there. It will take some time for the spring to flow and wash out all the pollutants we have stored in our hearts. But as we receive his love and return his love—the spring of living water will continue to flow.

Are you thirsty this morning for unconditional love and a purpose greater than yourself? Let go of your idol and receive the gift of Jesus’ transforming presence in your heart. He will satisfy your thirst. His light will shine into your darkness.